Go See Tomorrowland

May 22nd, 2015

The Disney blockbuster holds hope (and a warning) for the future.

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Britt Robertson stars in the time-twisting Tomorrowland.

As we were driving home from Tomorrowland, my wife offered up an idea for Detroit. “All the abandoned, vacant land could be turned into wind farms or solar panel forests or even subterranean geothermal facilities.”

That’s the sort of thinking that the new Disney film inspires. Centered around a brilliant young teen (Britt Robertson, who’s actually 25) and a grizzled older genius (George Clooney, who’s also actually 25), the movie offers a peek into parallel worlds. One is our current reality, racing toward full-on global destruction. The other is a utopian existence, created and comprised by the best and brightest minds in science and the arts.

The movie — written and directed by Brad Bird (Up, The Incredibles) — offers equal doses of hope and warning. But even though some may view it as a little preachy, it’s really earth-conscious preachy. And we can’t get enough of that. You can’t help but wish you were part of that alternative world, where kids fly around on jet packs (crashing safely with a laugh), and their peers platform dive — but through platforms of water. Just go with it.

It appears that reviewers across America either love or hate the movie, garnering it a 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. So add my little gold star on the positive side of the scale. The Detroit News’ Tom Long said it best: “This should be required viewing. Come for the humor and thrills and visual delights — there are many. Leave with the thought in your head: We can, we need to, do better. This is summer moviemaking at its best.”

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Hopefully future views won’t confuse Britt Robertson (left) and Chloe Grace Moretz (right)

Being a fan of cool quantum physics and fun alternate reality theories, this movie had me hooked with its previews. Sure, there are times when the writers didn’t fully explain their complex dimension shifting narrative. But like I said before, just go with it.

There are enough action sequences to keep younger viewers mesmerized and the special effects are spectacular. The storyline has some great twists, bending time & space to suit its will. Unlike my other recent favorite futuristic film, Ex Machina, this movie sports a mild PG rating, assuring you it’s fine for the whole family.

Look for Britt Robertson to emerge as a first rate talent. Though I kept confusing her with Chloë Grace Moretz (Hugo, 30 Rock). That Clooney guy’s gonna hit it big one day too. Raffey Cassidy is a stunning young actress who carries a lot of the show’s weight. And I loved the cameo by Keegan-Michael Key as well.

More than anything else, this film — with all its Disneyesque glory and morality — is a fun, exciting ride. And if their tomorrow is half as cool, I want my own secret admission pin.

(Just go with it.)

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Britt Robertson, George Clooney and Raffey Cassidy look to the past for help with the future in Tomorrowland.

Mildlife

May 16th, 2015

I’ll take this, any day.

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Nestling into her nest, a mother robin has taken up residence in our hanging geranium.

I’m surrounded by a bunch of animals.

As I sit here writing this, just outside my window sits a mother robin nesting in our hanging plant. The red in the flowers must’ve drawn her in: like attracts like.

And when Mr. Excitement does electronic yoga with his Wii balance board, Bernie and Alex show me a better pose — Downward Dog, instead of my Child’s Pose.

It’s good to have dedicated instructors like them.

Watering our porch plants has become a bit tricky. Mother robin flaps at me sometimes, so I have to sneak up from behind with a hose set to heavy mist. Apparently that’s okay by her.

I’ll take an occasional “flapping at me” as opposed to what transpired with my wife and daughter on a recent Mother’s Day bike ride. Riding along Big Beaver, we apparently angered a couple geese and their goslings. My wife was flapped at with what — she reports afterward — felt like a baseball bat striking her arm. They let me pass, oddly enough, then went after my daughter, pecking at her for having the audacity to pass them with, what we thought, was many yards of leeway.

I’ll take angry birds any day, compared with a recent story I shared with my family about a southern community “terrorized” by a wayward alligator. And heck, didn’t a killer whale in captivity attack someone down in Florida during a live performance a while back?

Even though the dead of winter can be tough up here and I find it increasingly necessary to escape to some place warm each year, I’ll take our mildlife as opposed to the south’s wildlife.

I’m happy with just letting sleeping dogs lie.

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My dogs “help” me, by correcting my yoga pose.

Ah, Spring

May 3rd, 2015

Shorts and t-shirt weather is here.

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Last fall I secretly planted some bright red tulip bulbs to surprise my wife this spring.


“There ain’t no better time of year.”

That’s what I wrote to my college roommate who has been going through his mother’s death, a divorce, a job loss, long-term unemployment and then, whoosh, finally a new job.

We’ve been there for each other over the years. He for me during my insane sicknesses and now me for him. I tell ya, it’s great to give back.

We were assigned other roommates for our first couple years at Alma College, but he was the first roommate I chose. So there’s something long-term and deep about our relationship. I was reminded of that when we visited him a few weeks back and saw a picture he kept on his bureau. I haven’t decided yet whether I’m going to share it here; we were wearing underwear on our heads.

Hey give me a break; it was Halloween.

Visiting his family and seeing him bouncing back from all the struggles did my heart good. He agreed with me about spring — this spring in particular — holding a lot of promise and potential.

As we get older, the winters seem to stretch on longer, colder and darker. Sure, that could very well be climate change, but it could also be acclimate change as well. We are less willing or able to force our bodies into hibernation. I can understand now why old folks retire to Florida.

The onset of green and warmth and the secret tulips that I planted last fall for my wife are all the sweeter after the harshness of winter. This year we set all-time record low temperatures. Last year, at least here in Michigan, we set all-time record snow depths.

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What caption could I possibly add?

So the blooming and budding feels like a deep, long exhale for both myself and my college buddy after his turmoil. We can take life and ourselves less seriously now. These days of sunshine and mild weather remind us of our youth, with all the promise that the future held.

Ah, youth.

Okay, okay, on that note, here’s the photo.

I will keep his name out of this, since he’s recently been named a Chief Operating Officer at his new job. They almost got it right. COO is one acronym shy of what he really is, COOL.

I don’t know why we didn’t think to re-stage that photo nowadays. Perhaps on our next meeting?

A long time ago in Armenia

April 22nd, 2015

Recalling a visit to the most holy place I’ve ever been.

With the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide happening this month,

I’m re-sharing my personal experience at the memorial to its the slain citizens.

This story appeared in my first book, Spiritual Wanderer, from which this website gets its name.

The trip was exhausting. We were behind the Iron Curtain and at the mercy of the official Soviet travel agency, Intourist. It was 1984. The Cold War was showing no real signs of flaring up or calming down, and my intestines were wracked with what I liked to refer as the commie crud. I sat in a hotel in downtown Moscow, across the street from an enormous statue depicting Russian space flight and all I wanted to do was bend over the toilet. I felt worse than the embalmed body of Lenin who laid in state just down the street.

Our church peace mission, to come visit the USSR, was going along wonderfully up until that point. We were traveling to several different republics including Soviet Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. But what struck me as odd, as totally incomprehensible, was the bizarre fact that here I was with my borscht coming out both ends and all the while American missiles were pointing directly at my butt as I heaved yet another peace offering into the politburo porcelain. I couldn’t get over the fact that I was one renegade soldier in South Dakota away from witnessing Ground Zero up close at the beginning of the end of civilization as we knew it. Then I puked again.

Earlier in the trip — or later, I can’t remember when — my priest-friend Ron and I were walking near Vladimir Lenin’s tomb singing John Lennon songs. It was surreal as we strolled along Red Square knowing we were some of the only Americans the Russian citizenry had seen up until that point. And there we were singing “Back in the USSR.”

Imagine!

Our trip was meant to be a non-political journey through the lands of our mortal enemy in order to meet normal everyday folks and say, “We don’t really feel like bombing you. Do you really wanna destroy us?”

Everywhere it seemed, I had to explain that all of us weren’t like our president. I became quite good at uttering my favorite phrase at just the right time, “Reagan nyet, Mir da!” Which roughly translated to “No, I’m not a Ronald Reagan fan and I prefer Peace to its alternative.”

It was a jolly good time, really. Knowing that I was probably being watched every minute of my journey. One guy tried to buy my pants, but I think he might have been a KGB agent just testing to see if I would dip my toes into the infamous black market. One night up in Leningrad — with the sun not really setting and it being light until after 11 pm — I ventured out into the public square around the hotel. After meeting some kids my age and giving them a few trinkets, including a “Say Yes to Michigan” t-shirt, the doorman at the hotel wouldn’t let me back in.

“Nyet, Ruskie,” he said pointing at me, implying that I was Russian and somehow not welcome in. I had heard about this earlier and knew that Soviet citizens weren’t allowed in the official tourist hotels due to some weird fear that perhaps we’d influence their thinking. Or that they’d try to rip us off. Anyway, the doorman was adamant about keeping me out even when I showed him my room key. I’m not proud of this, but the only thing I could think to do was repeat an old car commercial to show I was, like in the old war movies, a Yank.

“Look, I’m an American,” I pleaded. “Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet … you gotta let me in!” I think that swayed him. No Russian kid would be that silly. He waved his arm gruffly and allowed me to walk in.

 __________

The highlight of the peace mission, though, was our trip to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. The city was beautiful and the people were very nice to us foreigners. Throughout our entire stay, Mt. Ararat was visible outside the bustling city. The mountain is the mythic final resting place of Noah’s ark and its rightful boundaries were hotly disputed between the Turks and the Armenians.

Outside of Yerevan, on one of the many hills surrounding the city, was a memorial to the slain Armenians. The early part of the 1900s was a rotten time for Armenia and our guides explained to us that 1/3 of the population was killed by the Turks, 1/3 emigrated and only a third remained in the country. This memorial was a powerful shrine to those who died.

In Yerevan, the monument symbolizes the national rebirth of Armenians. Twelve slabs are positioned in a circle, representing 12 lost provinces in present day Turkey. At the center of the circle there is an eternal flame. Each April 24, hundreds of thousands of people walk to the genocide monument and lay flowers around the eternal flame. Photo by Rita Willaert, Belgium

In Yerevan, the monument symbolizes the national rebirth of Armenians. Twelve slabs are positioned in a circle, representing 12 lost provinces in present day Turkey. At the center of the circle there is an eternal flame. Each April 24, hundreds of thousands of people walk to the genocide monument and lay flowers around the eternal flame. Photo by Rita Willaert, Belgium

It was an impressive structure that looked like an enormous unfolding flower, with giant stone or concrete arms where the petals would be. Inside, where the bud might be, was an eternal flame burning in remembrance. You could walk inside the memorial and stand around the fire.

Our group did just that, about 20 of us or so. And there — the furthest point I’d ever been from home — I felt the most powerful, otherworldly feeling I’ve ever experienced. It wasn’t just me either. All the people in our group, those my age up through retirees, felt the same phenomenon. We were standing there and the most overpowering feeling of sadness hit us all. A young seminarian in our group broke into a spontaneous prayer and later he was escorted out, arm in arm, by an old white-haired woman who was normally the life of the party. And they were both crying.

It hit us pretty hard, just how mournful that place was. Sure, we were acutely aware of war and genocide; after all, that’s why we were on the mission in the first place. But there was something more. The deep, internal, visceral sadness that swept over us was an undeniable message that we were in the presence of something bigger and more powerful than ourselves. Sure, the horrific events that the memorial stood for had happened 70 years prior, but the emotion swirling around the grounds was as real and pervasive as if the genocide had just occurred.

I still haven’t come to understand exactly what we were feeling that day in Yerevan, but I haven’t probed too deeply either. I imagine other people have witnessed the same effect either there or in other holy shrines around the world. My guess is that the best thing to do, is honor those remembered by such shrines and then not stick around for too long afterward.

There was a sense, inside, that we were somehow intruding. But we were also forced to experience something that we weren’t expecting, or used to feeling.

In the end, the message I got — soft yet clear — was if we don’t fully remember our abhorrent past in all its shameful detail, we’re more likely to repeat or simply gloss over our tragedies.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever experience such a powerful, otherworldly emotion. I’m not sure if I want to either. But I feel lucky to have had such an experience.

April 24, 2015 marks the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of Armenia’s Genocide.

To read more about it, visit the Wikipedia page addressing the issue of the 1.5 million slain Armenians.