Video Fridays: R.I.P., Leonard Nimoy

mr-spockWow. I’m shocked by the passing this morning of Leonard Nimoy.

I’d gone years without watching any Star Trek: The Original Series, or any of the movies featuring the original cast, before I decided recently to do a series of Video Fridays posts on a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth, a lineup that included Star Trek, and I published my post on Star Trek just two weeks ago.

In preparation for writing that post, I watched many episodes of the TV show, reconnecting with what I loved so much about it. And then, this past week, I was home sick in bed for two days and binged on more Star Trek, including the movies.

That Leonard Nimoy should die today, frankly, creeps me out as much it saddens me.

I think it must be nearly impossible to grow up Jewish in the late 1960s, 70s, 80s, etc., and NOT know, with enormous pride, that the two main characters in Star Trek, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Nimoy), were played by Jewish actors.

Years later I learned that the Vulcan salute (seen in the photo above), was derived by Leonard Nimoy from a blessing bestowed by Rabbis, where the hands form an approximation of the Hebrew letter shin, shorthand for the Hebrew word Shaddai, one of numerous Hebrew names for God.

As an actor, I think the best compliment one could give would be that his portrayal of Mr. Spock was defining and masterful. While Gene Roddenberry may have dreamed up the character, Leonard Nimoy brought him to life and was always believable as that half-human-half-Vulcan caught between the competing aspects of his nature.

While I was very impressed by Zachary Quinto‘s performances as Spock in the recent reboots, Quinto’s was an act of imitation and Nimoy’s an act of creation.

I couldn’t pick just one video to accompany this obituary, and so I’ve included two. The first is perhaps the most moving scene from all of the TV episodes and movies, a scene that epitomizes Spock’s Vulcan logic, as well as his very human emotional bond to Captain Kirk. The second is a compilation of clips from the TV series that highlight Spock’s human-Vulcan conflict, often to comedic effect.

As my fellow Jews say, upon the death of a loved one, “May his memory be a blessing.”

Rest in peace, Leonard, and thanks so much for the many years of thought-provoking entertainment.

Live long, and prosper.

Being Sick Sucks, Revisited

(Since I’m bedridden by some bug or another, and consequently not feeling inspired to write anything new, I thought I’d re-post something from about four years ago on the topic of being sick. I did edit a bit, because I didn’t like the ending. Hopefully, I’ll be back with something new tomorrow.)

Seriously! Being sick really sucks.

When I was a kid, a sick day at least had a silver lining, it meant missing school. But now, every hour I miss at work is an hour I’m getting behind in my work.

I wrote back in August about how vacation is a double-edged sword, a badly needed break from the daily grind for sure, but that there’s often so much prep work to prepare for a vacation and so much catch-up work when you return, that the time off might not register as having been as relaxing and renewing as one would like.

Well, sick days are worse. There was no warning, no chance to prep, I’ll have tons of catch-up when I’m back at the office, AND I’m lying here in bed in physical distress.

I, of course, am very thankful that I have plenty of accrued sick leave and good health insurance. And so now, in addition to being sick, I feel guilty for complaining about being ill, while millions of people on this planet don’t have the luxury of calling in sick and getting paid for it; while millions of people don’t have any health insurance or access to adequate healthcare.

Being sick sucks, indeed, but for me and my fellow First Worlders, hopefully it engenders compassion for those less fortunate than us.

Willie & Trigger & Me: ‘As long as it keeps going, I’ll keep going.’

triggerI came across a wonderful short documentary film today at Rolling Stone about Willie Nelson and his legendary Martin N-20 guitar (shown here), nicknamed Trigger. And, as I watched the video, it triggered a very vivid memory of mine.

About 15 years ago, I attended a weekend retreat, held at one of those camps where they have boy and girl scout events most of the time, a scenic lakeside property, dotted with towering Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and a mixture of little cabins, barrack-style dormitories, and larger lodges, and as I was walking between two buildings with an acoustic guitar strapped on, I played as I strolled, probably some well-worn and well-loved Dylan or Neil Young song. It was an old, cheap guitar that I’d had for years, bought for $200, brand new, including a hard-shell case, but it had a surprisingly decent tone, especially by then, because I played it as often and as hard as I possibly could, which ‘opened up‘ the guitar significantly. And, I was strolling along with a friend who happened to be a guitar player as well, although a very different type of player, a performing classical guitarist, who played a guitar that probably cost him ten times as much as mine, and all of a sudden my guitar’s strap came loose from the guitar, and the guitar fell to the ground, onto a course gravel trail, the guitar suffered two significant dings, one on the headstock and the other on the upper bout, so deep that they penetrated the high-gloss finish down to the bare wood, and…

Me: Oops! Ha, ha, ha. (Picking up the guitar, barely missing a step, strapping it back on, and starting to play again.)

My Friend: Dude! Your guitar!

Me: No biggie. Gives it character!

I remember, later on, feeling conflicted about that incident. On one hand, for millions and millions of people, a guitar, any guitar, even a “cheap” $200 guitar, would be a treasured luxury item. And so, it was an embarrassing display of economic privilege for me to have acted like a $200 instrument was practically a disposable item that could be replaced with ease.

j-guitarOn the other hand, I work hard at my Buddhist non-attachment, a guitar is just a material object, and it’s a tool not a museum piece, it’s meant to be handled and used vigorously, doing so causes wear, and I happen to love this wear, what some guitarists refer to as mojo. I think Willie Nelson’s Trigger, Joe Strummer’s road-worn Telecaster, and Neil Young’s Old Black are beautiful, because they symbolize passion over pretense.

My son has now inherited my old guitar (shown here, with damaged headstock), and it gives me great pleasure that he plays it and appreciates it despite the damage. Meanwhile, I moved on to my own Martin, a 000-15s (shown here in a photo I snapped 4 years ago), now replete with all kinds of scratches and a few dings and just about the loveliest tone you can image, a tone that seems to contain all of the accumulated notes and chords I’ve played over the past 10 years, a tone so dear to me that I feel as Willie does, when he says about Trigger:

As long as it keeps going, I’ll keep going.

Anyway, check out this great short doc on Trigger.

Headline of the Day: Mummy Monk

Mongolia_monkWhen you see a headline like the following, you expect it to be a hoax or from The Onion.

Instead, this story is making its way into mainstream news outlets.

Mongolian scientists study 200-year-old mummified monk who is ‘still alive’

The Telegraph

Meanwhile, Hollywood agents have expressed interest in casting the monk in the next Night At The Museum sequel. (just kidding)

Tweet of the Day: @LionsRoarOnline

suluI love George Takei!

He will always be Sulu to me (sorry John Cho), I appreciate how he leveraged his celebrity by coming out as a gay man in 2005, becoming a strong, vocal LGBT advocate, and I find his Facebook feed consistently entertaining.

That he’s also a Buddhist is news to me, and since I dabble in the teachings of the Buddha, another reason to like him.

Today’s Tweet of the Day installment is from Lion’s Roar, an online Buddhist publication, and if you follow the included link you get to read Mr. Takei telling his own, inspiring story:

Eyecatchers: Little Plastic Army Men, Revisited

yoga-joes-2A week ago, I wrote about Yoga Joes, the brainchild of designer, entrepreneur, and Yoga enthusiast, Dan Abramson, who put his own spin on the classic little plastic army men of yesteryear, placing them in a variety of Yoga poses, evoking a wonderful tension between images of war and peace.

I shared my own childhood experience, having been raised on war movies on television, having played with these little plastic army men, until, that is, I became a pacifist and embraced the concept of Ahimsa that is central to the Buddhism and Yoga practices I came to dabble in.

Amazing timing, then, that yesterday, when my wife and I stopped in at the Smith & Vallee Gallery in nearby Edison, Washington, we should see this piece by Pieter VanZanden, a woodworker in Smith & Vallee’s Woodworks shop, working here not with wood but with little plastic army men, riffing on Auguste Rodin‘s most famous sculpture, The Thinker, and conveying what could be interpreted as an anti-war sentiment similar to that of the Yoga Joes:

VanZanden-3 VanZanden-4

If you can’t quite tell what’s going on here, click on these images to enlarge them.

I think this is fantastic and a powerful statement. Titled Think About It, clearly the suggestion here is that, perhaps, if we would think more about the consequences of war, the horrific loss of life, symbolized by this pile of bodies, then maybe we might be less inclined to rush into military conflict.

In a related work by VanZanden, the centerpiece of his exhibit, standing a good six feet high, he uses this same material on a huge scale, recreating one of the classic little plastic army men poses:

army-man-dyptich

Here’s a closeup of the soldier’s head, which you can click on to enlarge for more fine detail:

VanZanden-2

Subversive and oh so cool!

Yoga Joes: War meets Ahimsa

yoga-joes-2This is fantastic!

Via Inhabitat, check out San Francisco designer, entrepreneur, and yoga enthusiast Dan Abramson’s Yoga Joes. (see more photos below!)

Like millions of young American boys, I had an extensive collection of little green plastic army men, and I had them before I totally understood the horrors of war, before the Vietnam War bruised America’s war ego, when every day after school WABC TV from New York City showed The 4:30 Movie, known for week-long themes, based on either sequels (e.g. Planet of the Apes Week), actor (e.g. John Wayne Week), or genre (e.g. Monster Week), and once in a while they’d do War Week, showing a different war movie each day, and me and my next door neighbor and best friend would watch and take it all in, and then we’d set up our little green plastic army men, numbering in the hundreds, in an enormous battlefield covering the entire living room floor, and then we’d shoot rubber bands at the little green plastic army men, making gunfire and explosion sound effects, not a drop of blood in sight.

Well, I eventually did come to understand the horrors of war, and I came to be a full-on pacifist, and then I discovered Buddhism and Yoga and the concept of Ahimsa, the principles of nonviolence that totally aligned with the anti-war stance that I’d already assumed.

Delightful, then, to see these two worlds come together in Yoga Joes!

Below, check out some additional photos and the Kickstarter video.

yoga-joes-1

yoga-joes-3

yoga-joes-5

yoga-joes-6

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Video Fridays: Long Live Hippies

Originally Published: July 26, 2011


A friend of mine recently tweeted a wonderful YouTube clip (video embedded below) of a joint performance by The Flaming Lips and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros of the Lips song Do You Realize?, filmed in a cemetery in Los Angeles, CA.

I dare anyone to watch the video and NOT have the word “hippies” come to mind, and I’m reminded of a post I wrote back in April 2010, a lament on the fact that for some, in my opinion too many, the word “hippies” carries a negative connotation.

I watch that video of Do You Realize? and it’s quite bittersweet for me. While it’s heartening to see hippie culture surviving, it breaks my heart to think of how squashed the movement got, as I wrote previously, by cynicism and conservatism.

What I see when I watch that video is a crowd of people being incredibly peaceful, lovingly joining their voices together in song, singing about how precious life is and how we should, together, make the most of every single second. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of similar experiences, and while I was raised Jewish and now dabble in Buddhism, I’d have to say that gatherings like that, especially when they involve making music, are really the only church I’ll ever need.

Back in April 2010 I quoted a line by Pete Townshend of The Who, a line that I remembered but couldn’t recall exactly where it came from. Well, I’ve since remembered.

In 1993, Townshend released an album titled Psychoderelict, a concept album about an aging rock star lamenting the fact that back in the late 60s and through much of the 70s artists and their fans really did believe that their music and art, along with their love and community, could change the world for the better.

Townshend’s aging rocker says at one point, “Whatever happened to all that lovely hippie shit?”

Well, despite all the cynicism in our screwed up world, that hippie shit is alive and well and recently showed up in a Los Angeles cemetery. And, it really has very little to do with how people dress or how often they do drugs and drink, and everything to do with a sincere belief that love; peaceful, supportive, inclusive community; and freedom of expression, are the most important things.

Tweet of the Day: @soulpancake

soul-pancakeI gotta say, the more I see of actor Rainn Wilson, the more impressed I am with him.

I first discovered Rainn, appearing as Arthur Martin, the quirky/slightly-creepy/yet-endearing intern at the Fisher Funeral Home, in the 2001-2005 HBO series Six Feet Under. And then, very soon after, he appeared in his most-known role, as Dwight Schrute in the U.S. version of The Office.

He has also appeared in a couple of movies, and has hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live, but the project I’m most impressed with is his website, Soul Pancake, and the the book of the same name. Soul Pancake is a kind of Web 2.0 platform, best described by this blurb from the site:

Our brain batter of art, culture, science, philosophy, spirituality and humor is designed to open your mind, challenge your friends, and feel damn good.

I particularly like Rainn’s video series, Metaphysical Milkshake, filmed in the back of a van, in which he has hosted a wide range of guests, from musicians to actors to entrepreneurs to Deepak Chopra. Now, plenty of fun has been poked at people who are inquisitive and think about life’s big questions, spiritual questions, but Rainn Wilson has achieved a wonderful balance between comedy and seriousness. He keeps things very funny, but the jokes don’t rob the discussions of their sincerity.

If you read up a little on Rainn, you find out that he’s from right here in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle), his mom was a yoga instructor, he’s very open about being a member of the Bahá’í Faith, and, while his humor can be as dark and risqué as it gets, he doesn’t allow it to be mutually exclusive with his spiritual side.

And so we arrive at the reason for today’s Tweet of the Day installment, something that, despite the typo in the tweet, I found very sweet and meaningful and representative of Rainn’s sincere big heart.

Enjoy!

The Boston Marathon & The Cycle Of Violence

meditationMy heart aches for the victims of the explosions today at the Boston Marathon

…just as it aches for all victims of violence everywhere, as well as the conditions that drive people to act out in violence.

I’m a longtime pacifist and aspiring Buddhist, who passionately agrees with the notion, commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

The belief, held by some, that injuring and killing people is ever warranted, for any reason, is just about the most alien, incomprehensible, indefensible concept that I can think of.

For sure, outrage is an understandable reaction to acts of this sort, and yet allowing that outrage to transform into a desire for revenge is at the heart of a cycle of violence that we humans are so tragically susceptible to.

I pray for peace.