Interstellar and the Self

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Interstellar

 

(photo source)

First off, if you have not seen the movie yet, then stop reading.

Second, if you are a film enthusiast or a film critic, then pardon my own humble review of the movie. I am often told that I miss the point of a movie, to which I reply (but only in my head), so what? I see other things in a movie that move me, and to me that is what matters. I do not have to have the same analysis as everybody else. Our understanding and appreciation of a movie or even a book is ultimately shaped by our own individual experiences, our knowledge of the things around us,  our values, culture and many other factors.

That may have sounded like an attempt at apologetics, so I will move on.

I watched Interstellar a week ago, but waited until today to write about it because I had to give myself time to think and discuss with my husband (a physics major in university) about one of the ideas the movie presented that really fascinated me.

Cooper (not my dearest Bradley), Matthew McConaughey’s character, left earth and entered another galaxy through a wormhole. His travel with the other space explorers took, for them, just hours, but what was hours for them was years for the earthlings.

I cannot and will not even attempt to explain how the element of time was used in this story, but in my own simple understanding of what happened and in my humble second-language-learner English, let me say that Cooper was able to go back to a certain place in time, specifically that period when his daughter thought there was a ghost in her bedroom that was trying to tell her something. It turned out that that “ghost” was actually Cooper himself, from the future, (future Cooper)  trying to stop past Cooper from leaving his family. But then he was told he could not change the past.

Let me pause here to say something about Biblical allusions or religious undertones of which there is a prevalence in today’s science-fiction movies. Interstellar is definitely not an exception. the most obvious allusion is to the man Jesus raised from the dead, Lazarus. NASA’s mission in the film is called “Lazarus.”

The Bible contains a few stories about how lives had been sacrificed for something new or better to start. Death for some for the birth of new ones, like when God flooded the world and spared only Noah and his family and a few animals; or when innocent children were killed because King Herod was afraid that the child who had been prophesied to become king was born, and he wanted to be certain the child would not live to be king; or when Jesus had to die to save the people.

In the same way, Dr. Brand had concluded that it was impossible to evacuate the whole population from earth, so he formulated plan B which was to start a new population from the fertilized embryos. He was willing to abandon the living for the survival of the species. This is not new or uncommon. I think people are constantly sacrificing other people’s lives for a cause, be they good or bad.

One other thing that I was reminded of when I saw that scene where  Future Cooper was begging his daughter (who, of course could not hear him) not to let him, Past Cooper leave, was hell. Would it not be hell to be able to see our past selves making a decision that at present we know to be very wrong, but we have no way to correct it? The way we live our lives is not like how a movie is made where we do several takes. It is hell to watch ourselves making mistakes that affect not only our lives but also the lives of the ones we love  and knowing we cannot undo those mistakes.

That scene from the movie spoke to me the most — the father’s anguish at seeing his daughter again and wishing he had listened to her and not left her. I love Matthew McConaughey (not the same way I love Bradley Cooper, but yes) I think he is a great actor.

That scene also made me think of “conscience,” that tiny voice in the head that tells  one what is morally right or wrong, the guide to making decisions. I would like to think that our conscience is simply our “future selves” trying to guide us to the right direction. Sometimes we listen to our conscience, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we even feel it is absent. Maybe on a holiday.

I do not like movies about aliens, but somehow I am a little disappointed that in this movie, the human being seems to be alone in the universe, that there are no other creatures out there, that it is just us in the vastness of the universe. Are we truly this special? That we have such a huge place all to ourselves? I prefer the idea presented by Stephen Hawking that there are other creatures apart from us that are way more advanced  than our civilization. I would like to think that there are other beings out there, that it is not just us on this tiny planet in the infinite universe. This feeling is the same as when I stand on the shore facing the horizon and wondering if on the other side, there is also somebody standing on their shore wondering the same about the other side.

I have so many questions about our existence. I used to think the answer was in philosophy, and then in neuropsychology, but as years pass, I feel the answer can only be found not within ourselves, not within our planet, but out there in the universe, which means I may never know the answers to my questions. It is sad, but I am hopeful one day somebody will find those answers. And that hope and faith is enough to make me go on living my life, hopefully not disappointing my future self too much.

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The Egret on Campus

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Egret on holiday

Our campus has a sanctuary for egrets. In the summer, one can see the beautiful white egrets perched on the trees by the lake –beautifully white on a green background.

The campus has provided the egrets with a safe haven where they can freely get food and not fear being hunted. True, a lot of of people — students and tourists alike — take pictures of them, but there is no threat.

As winter is approaching, most egrets migrate to the south where it is warmer, like my country.

Walking to work the other day, I saw this lone egret on the wooden bridge. I looked around for other egrets, and there were none. I strained my ear for the kraaa-aaa sound, but there was none.

I’m always guilty of overthinking things and over-empathizing. I imagined what it is like for the egret if it has really been left behind by the other egrets.

Let’s call the egret Trista. Is Trista happy that she can have all the food she wants as she has the lake all to her self, after all it really is not winter yet? If she has parents and siblings, is she happy that she can finally do what she wants to do without them watching every move she makes and criticizing her for not doing things well?

Did she choose to stay, or had she no choice but to stay?

Perhaps when evening comes and it is time to sleep, Trista will begin to feel the pang of loneliness. As it gets darker and she sails through the sky alone, and she looks down and sees human families relaxing at the well-lit park and lovers sitting close to each other on the wooden bridge on the lake, maybe she will feel so alone. And lonely.

When she goes back to her home where her mother’s constant nagging used to annoy her, and her siblings never-ending chatter used to drive her crazy, does she wish they had not left, or that she had left with them?

I watched its movements and thought it was really enjoying its time. Or maybe it's just my imagination.

I watched its movements and thought it was really enjoying its time. Or maybe it’s just my imagination.

Serenity in Solitude

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The other day I read about a father who sang a song and played the guitar for his dying baby.

I couldn’t stop crying, and just wanted to hold my sleeping Eli as tightly as I could.

There is so much pain and suffering in this world, but since I was 19, I have always believed and seen pain and suffering coming to an end, joy taking their place, and making people stronger, until the next round of pain and suffering comes.

A friend once called me masochistic because I said I liked feeling sad and experiencing pain because the experience made me think and introspect, thereby making me know myself better. And thinking and introspecting always give me peace and the energy to go on living in such an absurd world.

When I am down or just want to vanish from this world, I am blessed enough to remember the only time I had a one-week retreat in a Carmelite Monastery by the sea. It was so long ago, almost twenty years ago when I was at the height of searching for answers to questions that my mother worried were driving me crazy. (She always complained that it took me forever to finish doing the dishes because I was always lost in thought!)

For one week I was mostly alone in a 4-story building that was the retreat house. My retreat guide came to visit me twice and did not stay longer than two hours each time. I had a room on the top floor which was close to the big balcony that faced the sea, where every half an hour, a ferry from the west port would cross to the south port. I stayed out in the balcony in late afternoons and waited for the sky to turn from orange to gray and then black; and then the lights from the ports came on, and I could see the lights from the ferry moving in the darkness. In the morning I went to a wooden gazebo on stilts right in the water connected to the retreat house by footbridge made of bamboo. I would listen to the sound of the small waves as they hit the bamboo stilts underneath, smell the briny scent of seawater, and hear the occasional squawk of a bird overhead. These images, sensations come back to me as clearly as the time I was there.

My theosophist friend with whom I used to spend a lot of time talking TO (she just listened most of the time, bless her) once told me that one reason we miss somebody or something too much when they/its gone, is that when they were there, we did not give our whole self to them. Our mind perhaps wandered to somewhere else, and so our experience of them was incomplete. So that time when I was on a retreat, I made sure I was completely there. I watched,listened and felt my surroundings. I will say I miss being there, but I can also “go back” to that place whenever I need to. I can have a few minutes of peace and serenity just by remembering my time in that retreat house.

I do not mean to offend people who suffer because I, too, have suffered, but I find beauty in suffering and pain. I get energy from knowing that this suffering would come to an end, and when it does, I will experience joy, and it will be very sweet just as sweet food tastes even sweeter after eating bitter food.

But to find beauty in suffering, one needs to get away from everything. One needs to be quiet and look within to be able see better what is outside. This is nothing new, and I’m not trying to sound like an expert on this subject, but I speak (write) from experience.

These days it is extremely difficult to have some real quiet. People cannot get away from their cellphones. For everything that happens in their life, no matter how trivial, they feel somebody else has to know. Or they feel they have to know what other people are up to. People are so concerned with what they look like on the outside that they have forgotten to look within and know themselves, who they really are and of what they are capable. There is more self-absorption than self-awareness    , and it does not help anyone.

I hope we can all find time, especially when we are down, to get away from it all and go to a place –physical and/or spiritual — where we can recharge and be better equipped to face life’s absurdities.

Have a pleasant week!

“Everybody’s somebody’s fool…”

It was supposed to be a rock music day –I started with U2’s The Joshua Tree album and sang along with Bono, and then it was Freddie Mercury and the Queen. But as I went over the Lyrics folder in my old portable hard drive I saw “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” and remembered the song.

I first heard this song when I bought a CD called “When Love Goes Wrong” a few years back.

Everybody’s somebody’s fool

The world is the biggest school
As you live, you learn though a torch will burn
Everybody’s somebody’s fool

You go through life making fools of others
Pretending you’re giving them love
But remember sister or brother
You all have to answer to the one up above

It’s beautiful to watch love begin
But oh so sad when it ends
As you go through life remember this rule
Everybody’s somebody’s fool

It’s beautiful to watch love begin
But oh so sad when it ends
As you go through life remember this rule
Everybody’s somebody’s fool

It seems like ages ago when I felt I could have written those lyrics myself. I think many have played the fool at one point in his or her life — when one gave all and left almost nothing for oneself — to someone who, as one looks back, was not really deserving of it, and not just because the love that was offered was not reciprocated, but because the person was not what you thought. But c’est la vie. Perhaps at one time, too, we fooled somebody into believing we loved them, when, really, we were just fond of them like we are fond of pets.

This song also reminds me of the first line of one of my favorite contemporary novels written by Andrew Sean Greer, The Confessions of Max Tivoli: “We are each the love of someone’s life”. This sentence really moved me at the time. My mentor/spiritual director/idol mentioned it to me, and I looked it up and read the book and emailed Mr. Greer and, I think because he wasn’t as famous that time and had the time to read and reply to emails, he replied to my email, and I was in heaven. It is so true. There is that one person who truly loves us, and remains faithful to us despite the many shortcomings or hurts we have caused them. They are our angels. Of course psychology will have a different explanation, but who cares? Somebody loves us more than we can ever love ourselves or them, and it’s enough.

You maybe a fool now (perhaps you fooled somebody in the past), but know that someone out there loves you. You are the love of someone’s life. Be grateful for that love.

Rain must fall…

It rained the other day, and I unhappily walked to work. The sky was gray, the roads were wet, and it was a little chilly. Then I saw the plants and how green they seemed in the rain, and I stopped to look at one tiny plant with droplets of rain on its leaves. It was beautiful. I took a picture of it, and later showed it to a friend who reminded me that without water there’d be no life or growth.

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Though I agree with it, I still find walking in the rain in the morning depressing. Somehow it’s different from walking in the rain at night when you don’t really see anything but just hear the sound of the rain on your umbrella, and the smell of dry earth as the rain touches it. And that’s nice.

Looking at the picture of that tiny plant I saw yesterday, these lines came to mind:

“Into each life some rain must fall,/ Some days must be dark and dreary.”

Must. 

Who wants sadness? “Normal” people will say nobody. But some people actually like sadness as it brings them closer to themselves, makes them see the world and its people from a different perspective, and consequently helps them gain confidence in themselves.

The Chinese often wish their friends “happy everyday”. I would like to be happy everyday, but I am all too aware that it is impossible; so, my awareness of its impossibility makes me savor every second of that moment of happiness when it comes.  Its ephemerality is what actually makes it worth experiencing.

Imagine if you were happy everyday: you do whatever you like, and nobody makes you feel guilty for doing so;  no one that you dislike bothers you; no one upsets you (especially your boss or spouse  or boss/spouse); everyday you have only happiness. I’m almost certain you will get bored with happiness, and you will say to yourself, “There must be more to this life than just being happy.”

We appreciate the sunshine more after the rain. And we appreciate the rain after the drought.

When I look back at my life, I find that all those times I suffered, wept, and felt like it was better to put an end to my life were the times I came to know myself better and to love myself a little more, and it gave me the confidence that I could survive whatever came my way.

Without water there would be no growth. Without rain in our lives, without sad and dreary days, we would never grow stronger, never learn to cherish the little happiness we experience every now and then.

Thank God for the rain (but not for the typhoon!)

On writing and inspiration

For as long as I can remember I have always said to myself I could never be a Writer. But, I can always be an aspiring writer. My uni professor  had my story, a tale I wrote for his Creative Writing class, published, and it was then I started to hope to become a writer.

To hope to become a writer.

That was over twenty years ago, and I am still hoping. I have had a few of my short stories published in literary journals back home, but having them published does not make me a writer. How do I know I am not a writer? I still depend on inspiration to make me write.

Recently I watched a movie called The Words. I would never have heard of this movie here if not for my best friend #3 who knows I’m crazy about Bradley Cooper (I know I’m 42 and married and have a child, so what?) And he was right about me liking the movie because gorgeous Bradley Cooper plays a writer in this movie (a gorgeous writer!)Bradley-Cooper1

(photo source)

I keep digressing.

Although the movie is about making mistakes, trying to correct them and redeeming oneself, what moved me most was a couple of lines uttered, not by gorgeous Bradley Cooper, but by Jeremy Irons.

The old man (Jeremy Irons) spoke about that period when he wrote the novel, how he forgot to eat, how the words just flowed from nowhere, and he just kept on writing. He was inspired. The muse came to visit him, but never came back after that. That’s my favorite scene.

When I watched that scene, I felt like it was I telling the story. I experienced those same feelings over twenty years ago when I wrote my very first short story –a love story– at two o’clock in the morning. Earlier that evening I saw a scene from a romantic movie, the silhouette of a man and a woman standing on the beach, watching the sunset. That scene stayed with me even after I fell asleep. Then in the middle of the night, I woke up and felt the need to write something. And I did. My hand shook as I was writing, and I was writing so quickly as the words just kept coming, flowing, and I was afraid I would lose them if I failed to write them right away, like sands slipping through the fingers. When I finished I felt exhausted but at the same time relieved that it was over. That was the first time the muse came to me. And it never came again.

Last week I could not write anything. Or I could have, but I did not and still do not want to write about anything  depressingly  sad  and those were all I encountered last week: a friend getting divorced, a friend thinking of breaking up with his girlfriend, a young person I know passed away (RIP). When I told my husband I could not write anything, he just said “Don’t force yourself to write or you will just write something that says nothing.”

And he’s right. I cannot will myself to write. I always need something to make me write. I am not a writer.

But I can always be an aspiring writer.

Remembering Papa

I  don’t remember ever celebrating Halloween as a child. We observed All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day by going to church and the cemetery to clean the graves and light candles for our departed loved ones. When my grandparents passed on, my mother would “offer” some of their favorite delicacies and tobacco leaves for my grandfather, (he rolled his own cigar) on our small altar which had small statues of Jesus and several saints. As children we eagerly waited for our parents to finish praying (for the souls’ “eternal repose”), so we could eat what had been “offered.” That was fun.

When my father passed on 12 years ago, I started my own tradition of drinking and smoking a cigarette twice a year — on All Saints’ or All Souls’ Day and on his birthday/death anniversary. I’m alcohol intolerant so one glass of rum (okay, rum and cola) is enough. He never liked beer.  I’m not into smoking, so one or two is all. I used to like watching him blow smoke rings, so now when I do smoke I try doing the same.

So Halloween is here again. I cannot really get into the spirit of this festival. Tonight when people party celebrating life, I’ll be lighting a candle and smoking a cigarette and drinking rum (and cola) while listening to Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, remembering one of the most important people in my life.

 For Papa

(This was written 8 years ago. I know it’s sentimental, but I think we are all entitled to be sentimental once in a while. So bear with me.) 

Is it true?
You see your entire life
Flash in front of your eyes
The second before you die?

And if it is,
What did you see?

Did you see yourself
Smiling and waving
To people who called out your name
When you won that basketball game?

Did you feel proud
Being in that moment again when
Your opponent shook your hand
After you beat him at tennis?

And what was it like,
When you relived that moment
At the altar, with that young woman
With whom you exchanged “I do’s”?

Was it as amazing as the first time
In May, when you first saw
And then held your first child,
So tiny and fragile in your arms?

Was that October day vivid still,
Or did tears make the flashback hazy,
As to the altar, you led your second daughter,
To where her groom was waiting?

Did it make you laugh hearing
Your third daughter’s ringing laughter,
The one you always tried to copy
And made her laugh all the more?

And did it pain you again,
When your youngest daughter came home
That night you would pass away, when she barely looked at you
As she hurried to her room to work on her thesis?

Did you feel that love
That we sometimes were too greedy
To give you, yet, you know we had inside.
Did you feel it as we surrounded you

On your death bed?

Did you hear my mother and my sisters crying out your name?
And did you hear me whisper, “Don’t go, Pa. Please fight.”
Was that why there were tears in your eyes
That few seconds before you died?

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