Tuesday, October 29, 2019

National Cat Day

Today is National Cat Day, an American reminder to adopt a cat.

If you can't do so, the next best thing would be to get a book about cats, such as my newly published THE CAT WHO CONVERTED THE POPE, a comic tale of a snobbish English cat who finds himself in Rome and has to adjust to life in he Vatican. The real subject is mindfulness and the spiritual lessons cats can teach us. 

The book is available at Amazon for $15.00.  So far, it has received rave reviews.


Monday, October 28, 2019


Iris Murdoch is quoted (in the current issue of "Brain Pickings" by Maria Popova) as stating that beauty in art or nature is a crucial means of unselfing, a word she coined to mean "taken out of herself."

She recounts looking out her window, worried and preoccupied, until a bird appeared on the window sill. Suddenly, she was so totally absorbed in the wonder of looking at the bird that her worries vanished. And after the bird flew away and she returned to her writing, her mood had lightened. She had been transformed by the experience.

Haven't we all had such moments when a sunset or dazzling photograph stops us in the usual train of thinking, analyzing, and worrying?  We may not call it "unselfing," but maybe we sense that our ego is set aside so we can participate fully in the present moment and feel connected with something larger than ourselves.

Such moments are special.  They bring us into instant mindfulness, attentive to the now.

Whether you go to a museum and sit before a favorite painting and look at it, or go to a lake or beach and become absorbed in nature, the effect is the same: you are transformed, transported out of ordinary time and into a timeless present, with all the wonder you had in childhood when you were unaware of being subject to the demands of time.

When we are totally absorbed in ourselves, in that unhealthy act of worrying, we are not in communion with others and with the life (and beauty) around us.  Meditation, in which we empty our minds of self-preoccupation, takes a lot of disciplined practice to master, but encountering beauty is easy.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Hitchcock and Halloween

I have never really liked outdoor decorations celebrating Halloween, but one display in my neighborhood recently caught my eye because it was clever:  Three skeletons with hard hats and shovels in their hands were digging, so to speak; and the display said to me "Skeleton Crew."

This visual pun would have amused Alfred Hitchcock, about whom I've been reading lately.  He was a complicated man with a controversial reputation despite his stellar career as one of our greatest filmmakers.

I have always been attracted to Hitch, as he was called, because of his wry, deadpan, often irreverent humor.  Watching again his TV shows from the 1955-65 period, I am struck by his understated wit and gift for silliness.   His comic introductions to these often masterful short tales of murder and mayhem turn them into original entertainments. It's as if he winds us up with a bit of suspense, then releases us from the tension.

When asked why he never made comedies, he replied, "Why, all of my movies are comedies."

Hitch's best movies--which for me include Psycho, Notorious, North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, and Rear Window (but not Vertigo)--show his talent for combining the macabre with a Halloween-like trick, as if to tell the viewer that the crime and madness is, after all, a bit of a joke--sadistic perhaps but nonetheless an experience akin to riding on a roller coaster, where people enjoy screaming in terror because at some level they know they're at an amusement park.

Hitchcock's combination of romantic comedy with the thriller is a hallmark of his 50-plus movies, or at least the best of them, and highlight his delight in ambivalence, that sense of uncertainty that he instills in his audiences. The worst of his films, like "The Paradine Case," lack the quality that makes his 1946 classic "Notorious" such a pleasure to watch as Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant carry on under the watchful gaze of ex-Nazis in Argentina--and of the viewer, who is, as always, turned into a voyeur of sorts.

But if you want to celebrate Halloween with Hitchcock, why not see "Psycho" again and enjoy being tricked? Or at least watch Mrs. Danvers in "Rebecca."