The Walking Dead Isn’t About the Zombies

A fan webcast was talking about Season 8, so for close to a decade I’ve heard Walking Dead fans say that WD is NOT ABOUT ZOMBIES.

WD is about the people. About the relationships. About overcoming adversity and grief and horror. WD is about being human.

I finally get it. I got it by rethinking favorite (and non-fave) shows and films and plays and books.

Jaws is not about the shark. It’s about salt of the earth people in a small town expanding their sense of community and individuals transcending their instinct for self-preservation to protect everyone.

Star Trek is not about space. It’s about people of all races, genders, even species, learning about each other and treating each other with respect and dignity.

Jurassic Park is not about the dinosaurs. It’s about humility (instead of hubris), environmental consciousness and scientific ethics (even if we can, maybe we shouldn’t), and about family (even if you don’t have one).

Mad Men isn’t about advertising. It’s about combat veterans understanding the stupidity of war metaphors, about sexual license existing in the most prudish society, nostalgia for cancer sticks, boozy lunches, and history lessons in (or nostalgia for) racism and sexism.

So, enough already. Let’s bring it back around to women’s mixed martial arts, now that women warriors are being recognized and paid. All you anti-sports or apathetic-about-sports people need to realize that women’s MMA is not about women beating each other’s face bloody. It’s about overcoming childhood trauma, coming out of the closet, recovering from injury or homelessness. Most basic of all, it is about overcoming the disbelief that women can be strong and tough and determined. It’s about the beauty of the human spirit.

Remember this as they beat each other’s face bloody. Also remember that the blood doesn’t mean they have a brain-eating virus.

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I Have A Superpower

I have a superpower. I possessed it all my life, exercised it all my life. I took it for granted, thought it was nothing special. I thought everyone wielded this ability as much as I did.

I make people happy.

My superpower is joy. I can generate it and share it like an energy field, like an aura. I can turn the sea of life into an ocean of joy. Together we can float, swim, and cavort.

Okay, I took that metaphor a little far. I don’t cavort.

A friend reading this said I kind of do cavort. Not physically, but somehow I do. I’m not sure about that. I know people that do a version of Snoopy’s happy dance and look good doing it. I’m not them.

Sometimes my wife tells me I’m smiling too much or laughing too loud, and to cool it. I’m not a suavé-bolo guy.

I’m certainly not a saint. I mean, not even saints aren’t saints. Or they are, by definition; what I mean is they aren’t perfect everywhere, all the time.

My bad moods also roll out in emotional waves. With rude or careless words and actions I unconsciously share my frustration, anger, sadness, or pain. Those vibrations return to me as reflected waves of negativity.

Bullies act out to mask their unhappiness. They make others more miserable than they are so they can deny their unhappiness. It only works briefly, so they keep acting out. They are cruelty addicts.

Recently as I conducted an interview a passing person said, “You have a very friendly voice.” I felt buoyed by his joyful smile and voice. I gratefully thanked him for the compliment.

Only upon reflection that evening did I realize I had sparked his joy. He radiated it back to me, sharing it with me.

A friend whom I considered a happy person told me he is usually grumpy. I didn’t realize he is unusually happy when he is with me.

I do it habitually, this spreading of cheer and goodwill. I do it because I feel good being kind and attentive. I like shaking hands and sharing a warm moment. I like saying hi with a smile. I guess I just internalized the Golden Rule.

By being happy more consciously, more mindfully, I can do even more good. With gentle words and helpful actions I lift others’ spirits even if I don’t notice, even beyond my perception, like making that person happy with my voice while I focused on an interview.

You have this superpower, too. You are a super powerful being. You affect the world around you constantly. You comfort, uplift, and inspire, when you care to do so. You can increase joy and happiness in this world.

To all of you who share your goodness and gladness with me every day, thank you.

Very Zen

In the months I have shared my car through Lyft (I’ve given 1,005 rides as of this posting) I’ve rediscovered my love of driving. I lost that enthusiasm during fifteen years of commuting 25 miles across Los Angeles and back, anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours each way depending on day of the week, time of day, Dodger game, Laker game, traffic accident, or natural disasters.

Natural disasters would certainly include the windstorm a few years ago that blew down thousands of trees across the county, literally on every block in some neighborhoods. However, a single tree across a canyon road forces the miles long caterpillar of cars to reverse back downhill to join the already numerous hordes on alternative routes.

Sadly, yes, this is from personal experience crawling halfway up to Mulholland Drive only to U-turn and start over.

When I commuted not only did I drive, I also fretted about non-driving stuff: getting to work on time; tasks for current projects; follow ups for completed projects; presentations; planning sessions; emails; phone calls; interviews; meetings; canceling meetings; shopping lists; household repairs and chores; and various other concerns ad nauseam.

Now while getting Lyft riders to their jobs or flights or events or friends I of course still deal with traffic, but I don’t pile my psychological stuff on top. I navigate, drive, and enhance the riders’ experience by being friendly, chatting, keeping quiet, or playing music depending on the rider’s needs.

With my rediscovered Zen mindset in the background, I reread a favorite novel of mine with my book club. (In this particular club we recommend a book only if we have read it in its entirety. We all read each month’s selection and discuss.)

The Cold Dish by Wyoming resident Craig Johnson introduces protagonist Sheriff Walt Longmire. I enjoy the camaraderie of Mr. Johnson’s sparkling characters, seeing in my mind’s eye the New West and the old (and young) Cheyenne. I read the first six of the Walt Longmire Mystery series and now need to catch up on the latest books.

I also enjoy the TV series, currently on streaming Netflix. The creators/producers have changed a lot for the medium of episodic television, of course, but have translated the characters and ambiance very well.

After I reread The Cold Dish for pleasure, I inspected certain parts analytically. At first I thought Walt (as protagonist and first person narrator) states the theme in the Epilogue in his thoughts about revenge, and I took issue with that character’s conclusions. Then I found the real theme at the end of the Epilogue and realized that Lonnie Little Bird repeats the theme throughout the book.

Lonnie emphasizes his statements with a follow up sentence: “Um-hmm, yes it is so.” As I read for pleasure I saw this as an idiosyncratic and humorous speech pattern marking Lonnie’s character. During analysis I recognized this as another version of an oft-heard Japanese phrase.

Shikata ga nai is usually translated in English as “It can’t be helped.” It is invoked to express resigned acceptance of a sad situation. In mundane matters its equivalent is “No use crying over spilt milk.” In serious matters, like death in the family, its equivalent is “They’ve gone to a better place.” My parents’ generation reiterated this stoic phrase as they faced their World War II internment in desolate mountain and desert camps from Wyoming to Arizona to Arkansas.

Shikata ga nai is proactive, not passive. Accept the situation and deal with it. Say it with the serenity to accept the things you cannot change. Lonnie says, “Um-hmm, yes it is so.” Our current zeitgeist version: “It is what it is.”

Some folks recoil upon hearing “It is what it is.” They feel it says nothing, adds nothing to a discussion.

I like this phrase. It is an acceptance of what exists, an acknowledgement of the real, the here and now. It is a concise rephrasing of the Buddhist adage “The meaning of life is in its meaninglessness.”

Life happens. Often we cannot reason logic in an event, but we can make sense of it, literal sense of the experience. It just is, like a fumbled punt. Like desert sand blowing through shrinking boards in a camp wall. Like an accident, or a crime, or a war.

Like the extra Canadian goose on one side of the flying V. Or the speed of traffic on an L.A. freeway.

Rachel Scorpio Has A Very Cool Name

We can get to know a person quite well in one conversation. First impressions count. Impressions go beyond the surface. We all tend to judge a book by its cover, a person by appearance, but for most of us our impressions go deeper. (For a cogent explanation of why, see Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.)

Remember the name Rachel Scorpio. I am quite impressed by this young actor’s centeredness and down-to-earth confidence. She considers tenacity the key trait for success in the entertainment industry and understands the calm focus required to do the work.

I am reminded of meeting Harley Jane Kozak before her first significant roles, before I would see her on screen. Authenticity, sincerity. Intelligence, humor. Quiet yet palpable charisma. Likability that we now see pop through the camera.

As with Harley Jane Kozak and Keira Knightley, Rachel Scorpio starts with a cool, memorable name. (Family from Caserta, I believe). She also has the cool demeanor to walk the walk, and she has her team in place. I’m sure she will have a fast rise and an extended acting career. You can’t see her now, in August 2015, but maybe in 2016, probably 2017. Keep watching.

reflections on a memory

One person who heard my reading of a vignette, part of an intended family epic novel, asked me if it was fiction or nonfiction. “Fiction,” I said. A precise answer for the form, a direct response to her choice of words. I wrote the character’s thoughts from my writer’s imagination and years of perspective.

However, in reflection I think she might also been asking if the vignette’s events actually happened.

The setting, the actions, the few words spoken – all are exactly as I remember them.

A lifetime ago, I was that twenty-something-working-stiff-with-four-years-of-college. I remember working that gardening job in Pebble Beach, mostly low-stress duty working with plants more than people. Back in the now-forgotten-days when West Coast landscapers and yard and park maintenance workers were mostly Japanese Americans, so much so that the term “Japanese gardener” was redundant.

Most of us now alive were not yet born in those days of California de facto segregated churches and clubs, and exclusive housing. In the days before black folks migrated from the South to work at World War II munitions factories in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, “exclusive” housing in California meant neighborhoods closed to Orientals (a more polite term than other words in common use). Realtors and sales reps used the code word “restricted” for no-Jews housing or membership. Most black kids today don’t realize “ghetto” was the word for a part of a European city to which Jews were restricted.

Many of us now couldn’t imagine it, not in these days when Asian Americans make up half of many ritzy neighborhoods and everybody eats at Canters. Lox, eggs, and onions 24 hours! (Substitute tomatoes for the onions as needed.)

I remember many little or not so little slights over the years delivered by people of other colors, most what we generally call white, but also various other races. Those incidents were rare enough that I was always shocked.

The incident in this vignette did not come close to an actual threat to livelihood, much less life, and being innocent I felt no fear in the moment. I didn’t feel much of anything in the moment except surprise. Over the next minutes and hours, with reflection, I felt embarrassment and anger. Then I felt a touch of fear. After all, how many people have been innocent victims of revenge over perceived crimes? Of merely perceived errors in manners? Almost every Chinatown in the western states was burnt to the ground in the 19th century and lynchings occurred in many black communities.

Shootings still occur; I guess this is still the Wild West. The white supremacist that shot several Jewish kids a few years ago later that same day gunned down a Filipino letter carrier (a friend of a friend).

What if the pink- and red-faced man did not have a more observant companion to find whatever he thought I had stolen and carried down the hillside? What if he had actually accused me and later been too embarrassed to admit he simply misplaced the item?

A lot of what-ifs, enough for me to make into another story. One far more fictional, but not far fetched.

Iron Bowl

Finally home to watch the second half of the 2013 Iron Bowl. Was in a critique session for my first draft of a short story, bank deposit, quick shopping trip with daughter.

I’m feeling pretty good about my prediction of an Auburn upset at halftime. Alabama misses a field goal. I’m feeling confident in my pick. Auburn Tigers are the team of destiny.

Auburn punts to the Bama 1-yard line. Looking even better for Tigers now.

Wow, McCarron to Cooper for a 99-yard touchdown. Auburn turns it over on downs. Bama on top. Looks as hopeless for Auburn as last week against Georgia.

Still, Auburn defense holds twice. A third time. Blocked field goal! Tack on another Alabama penalty. Bama late substitution made Saban use a time out. I think Auburn will actually drive 60 yards for the tying touchdown.

Auburn in Crimson Tide territory. Run for a first down. Run for a first down. Play action pass for touchdown. 28-28. Omigod. Bama gets the ball with 25 seconds inside its own 30-yard line. McCarron drops back, but coverage blankets receivers. McCarron throws it out of bounds. Draw play close to first down, but short, so Bama calls time out. Third and one with seven seconds in regulation. Clever, they run the ball fifteen yards and almost get out of bounds to stop the clock and get one more play for a Hail Mary attempt.

Wait, official review of the clock. Might get the Hail Mary chance after all. Yes, one second put back on the clock.

Wait again – a 57-yard field goal attempt?

Looks really good, but fading. Short. Caught by a skill player, probably a safety, who goes toward the sideline, turns the corner, and he’s gone. Chris Davis, cornerback, from deep in his own end zone, for official 100-yard return. Auburn wins on the final play of regulation two games in a row. (Two weeks ago Auburn scored a touchdown on a tipped pass with no time left.)

I’m happy I got a prediction right, but I’m more happy anticipating the debate – how will the rankings shake out?

USC-UCLA in the Rain – November 18, 2012

I like football best in real autumn elements. Sure, a glorious sunny day is great, but any weather is okay on the gridiron. Cold and wet, that’s football weather.

So for a change I anticipate my kind of weather at the Rose Bowl during the 82nd meeting of USC and UCLA. I also expect UCLA to compete for the first time in years. Both are talented, well-coached teams ranked in the Top 25. No blowout either way this time.

I’m wearing a western-style wide-brim wool hat, ski parka, and Doc Martens, sitting on my shoulder bag that holds my water bottle, game program, and sports section of the L.A. Times. Couples and families lay blankets on the aluminum bleachers, most red or blue with corresponding logo. Everyone’s dressed for what’s just beginning to fall out of the sky.

My cousin Bob and I are getting excited sitting in the cold wind during warm ups, spotting the coaches – a more challenging game since they don’t wear numbers.

Bob says, “I think Silas Redd is still hurt. I’m not sure how well the Trojans will run the ball.”

I shrug. “The Bruins give up a lot of yards. Key is how many points they allow.”

“I think the key is Brett Hundley. End of the year, he’s not really a freshman anymore.”

“He’s looked good. He’s got to manage the game. The turnovers will decide.”

Bob nods. “Hey, anything can happen in a rivalry game.”

Blue and red outfits pepper the stands, many couples sporting both. I’m surprised at the empty seats, but they fill up after the announced kickoff time. I guess many were tailgating while TV commentators recited their keys to the game. We prefer watching the teams run onto the field and warm up.

“Fight on!” rings out repeatedly, as do eight-claps. Two fingered salutes poke toward the Trojan Band in concert formation. The Bruin Band revs up the home crowd – for once the Bruins seem to have a home field advantage and this feels like a rivalry again.

The Trojans opt to receive. With the wind Jeff Locke drills the kickoff, Marquise Lee watching the ball soar past the end zone. Touchback.

Matt Barkley behind center, we all expect a running play, but Barkley takes a short drop, throws just past the line of scrimmage on the left – it’s picked off! Bruin fans roar with fists in the air, Trojan fans gasp with hands to cheeks or top of head, everyone’s jaw hanging down to the bleachers. We hardly believe it even as we watch the replay on the stadium screens.

Barkley threw between the slot receiver and the split end and the Bruin defenders outnumbered them. Good scouting, well-designed defensive call – I gotta say both, plus great execution.

A talented young secondary going against talented young receivers. Yes, the rivalry is back. Aaron Hester gets the best of Barkley and SC’s receivers on the very first play from scrimmage.

The Bruins cash in on Trojan turnovers, sprinting out to a 24-point lead. Unthinkable, even for UCLAn optimists. Bruins look dominant. Most impressive is their yardage running the ball with Jonathan Franklin’s multiple cuts and second and third efforts for first downs behind the young Bruin offensive line. Franklin dashes into the end zone. Brett Hundley also runs in for a score and is passing efficiently. UCLA 24, USC 0.

“No, no, no!” I shout. “It’s too much time to run off the clock.” Heavy rain bothers the Bruins end of the second quarter, but while they seem to go conservative, predictable, run-run-incompletion-punt two series in a row, USC keeps passing. Barkley seems in rhythm for the first time, UCLA mostly rushing three with no blitzes.

“The Bruins need more than 24 points,” I say to Bob. “Whoever wins is going to score more than thirty points, maybe more than forty.” Barkley tosses touchdowns to Lee and Telfer in the last five minutes of the half, coming most of the way back – UCLA 24, USC 14.

Bob goes for food late in halftime after the lines die down and misses the first possession of the second half. Bruins receive. Third down at the twenty-yard-line. In pouring rain the snap gets nowhere near Hundley in the shotgun set. Franklin picks up the bouncing ball but gets hit before he can tuck it. Hundley reaches for it but also gets hit, watching the ball squib past him into the end zone. Linebacker George Uko recovers for a Trojan touchdown – UCLA 24, USC 20. Nervous time for fans in blue; cardinal-clothed faithful get loud for the first time since the start of the game.

USC misses the extra point, the teams trade touchdowns, and USC makes a 2-point conversion to get within a field goal – UCLA 31, USC 28.

In the fourth Jonathan Franklin takes over. Like all great running backs he gets in rhythm as the game goes on, and as the defense tires he runs over, past, and around them. Franklin makes three cuts on a 29-yard touchdown run, staking UCLA to a ten-point lead that the defense cashes in.

Barkley has looked sharp on only two possessions. With Jeff Locke kicking through the end zone six times – with and against the wind – Marquise Lee got only one chance for a kick return after a UCLA penalty backed up Locke and put the kick into play. A good return but not a field flipper. Lee got loose for one touchdown in USC’s comeback, but he also fumbled a handoff he received in the tailback position. As the old saw goes, “You cannot hope to stop him.” The Bruin defenders have done a great job of containment.

Near the end, with just a wisp of a hope left, Barkley doesn’t sense impending doom rushing him from the backside. Converted H-back turned All-American linebacker Anthony Barr sacks Barkley, the full weight of both their bodies landing on Barkley’s shoulder – end of collegiate career. Get ready for Pro Day and the Combines.

Trojans go to 7-4 overall and a reduced impact date with The Irish in South Bend. Surprise, look who’s Number One now.

Bruins go to 9-3, Jim Mora tying Terry Donahue for most wins for a first-year UCLA head coach. UCLA clinches the championship of the Pac-12 South Division, next week’s final regular season game more important to Stanford and Oregon. Win or lose against The Tree on this same field Friday night, the Bruins will play the Pac-12 championship game on the road.

The Bruin players dash to the student section in the far corner opposite our seats. The UCLA Band plays on. The Trojan players trudge out of the stadium.

I am soaking wet, my black leather dress gloves bleeding dye that discolors my hands. Other than that I’m dry under my clothes. I’ll need to wear rain or ski gloves next time.

Bob and I watch the celebrations for a while, let the throngs exit the Rose Bowl, pick our way past the Trojan Band playing to grey concrete of an almost deserted section that had been clothed in red all game, find the serpentine line to board the shuttle buses to Parsons Engineering parking lot.

Hey, a glorious Saturday of football at the New Year’s Day site of the Granddaddy of Them All. An exciting game, a competitive game – eventually. Both teams came to play, it was the Bruins day.

The Victory Bell comes home for a coat of bright blue paint. Give me an eight-clap!

Sorry, Bob. Good luck against The Irish.