Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Silent Films

I am greatly attracted to quiet movies that speak mainly in silent images. "Death in Venice" comes to mind as a film in which the dialogue is for the most part unimportant compared to the mood.

Just recently we watched another Italian film "A Tree of Wooden Clogs," which has no real plot or story in the usual sense. Rather,the viewer, for three hours, watches the passage of time during a year in rural Lombardy as three families deal with the complex process of living. They are poor but seem unaware of it; there is no complaining or bitterness or hysteria,and the parents are seldom cross with their children. At night, the families tell stories and pray the rosary, as one season unfolds into another.

This is pure cinema. And, like "Into Great Silence," the documentary about the monks at the Grande Chartreuse, it takes the viewer into the calm center of lives lived with simple beauty.

Like some music, film, too, can be a welcome invitation to silence.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Talking to Myself

Who am I talking to when I talk to myself? I don't mean talk out loud, but that running monologue--or is it dialogue?--I have with myself in which I seem to be explaining things, as if to unseen students, or rehearsing what I will say to someone. We all do it, I suppose.

The answser has something to do with the true self, the secret self that no one knows, not even ourselves. That is a mystery to be explored elsewhere.

Maybe the question is, Why do I talk to myself? Am I having an ongoing conversation with God, who alone knows my true self? As I strive for more and more silence, I struggle to quiet that inner voice down, to turn off the tape player in my head which, like Newscrawl on CNN, never stops until I force myself to focus on just one thing and thereby hope for peace of mind.

All of this occurred to me last night as I was trying to fall asleep, and I realized again how difficult, and important, meditation is in the evening before bedtime. I wonder how many other minds are overly busy at night, reviewing and rehearsing things that do not exist since they are either in the past or in the future and so utterly useless and unreal.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


When the novelist Anthony Burgess was a young man, he was told he had a brain tumor and would die in a year. Did he despair?

No, he plunged into a frenzy of writing that resulted in nine books, a heroic effort to outrun death and make a name for himself. Fortunately for this multi-talented writer and musician, the doctor was wrong, but the diagnosis prompted a creative outburst. Is there a lesson here for writers, one I can share in an upcoming seminar I am planning? Perhaps.

I have always valued deadlines, although in the case of Burgess, the connection between "dead" and "deadline" is too grim. Writers don't need death sentences to motivate them. Still, I know that the more time I have, the less I do and that having a time limit is essential in getting a project underway and completed.

Although I doubt I would act as Burgess did, I know how fear can be a useful means of motivation. Yet too much fear, in the form of worry, can produce writer's block (a topic I address in some of my workshops). As always, the middle way has to be the goal.