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On a Lighter Note

+ People have been onto the animation of Don Hertzfeldt for awhile now but I’ll be totally honest — I actually had never encountered his work until.he did a credits sequence for “The Simpsons” that was probably the most deeply weird 2 minutes of TV I’d ever seen. (I put it up there with the midget dancing scene in “Twin Peaks.”)

Hertzfeldt does deceptively simple-looking hand-drawn animation, coupled with surreal strokes of humor and strange, naked neurotic emotions; his work’s been at Sundance a bazillion times over the years, and he’s got a bit of a cult going on. I had never really seen it — animation is kind of its own thing, and certainly during my film school years it was never quite treated on the same level as, you know, “cinema.”

But I was aimlessly browsing Netflix’s streaming movies one night, though, and finally checked out Hertzfeldt’s feature “It’s Such a Beautiful Day.” I kind of fell in love: his work starts off funny, off-beat and quirky, but as it proceeds and the main character unravels mentally, the story becomes poignant and even tragic. Even though he draws stick figures, Hertzfeldt’s work is so human — so much about the frailty of human existence, and how unhappy we can be. In the end, not a light, fun breezy story, but a deeply resonant, sad one.

+ We went to see “Inherent Vice” the other night and while it’s not the most cohesive work, or even P.T. Anderson’s best film — I think for sentimental reasons I will always love “Magnolia,” though I have to see if it holds up over the years — I still mightily enjoyed it. Sometimes a movie is a well laid-out architecture of story events and ideas, and sometimes it’s just a shaggy dog running from one sprinkler to the next — this film’s a shaggy dog and an oddly loveable one. I really enjoyed Joaquin Phoenix doing a funnier, lighter role, and that second-to-last showdown scene between him and Josh Brolin’s square cop character is kind of worth the whole ride for me. Oh, and any film with Can on the soundtrack = aces!

+ Oh! And I wanted to tell everyone about the best book I read last year, which I should’ve wrote about last year, but I was busy being anxious and emotional. And in truth, I didn’t read it until the end of the year, anyway.

But! Now I’m telling everyone I know: Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings is a deeply genius read. Not an easy one, by any means — just to give you a sense, James has cited Faulkner as an influence on this book, and the multiple narrators and many layers of history and politics make it a dense, sometimes difficult book, which can get a little tangled, too, in the Jamaican patois James uses for some of the characters.

It starts off detailing the patchwork of circumstances and characters surrounding the attempted assassination of Bob Marley — still a very shadowy incident in Jamaican history — but then leaps off into cocaine-era NYC. But after awhile, you find your groove and it’s so worth the ride. I put down the book feeling hopeful, devastated, as if I’d time-traveled into the past and had an eagle-eye view to connect the butterfly effect of one historical almost-event with the sociopolitics of a seemingly unconnected time. Read it!

Anyway, I went on a big James kick after finishing Seven Killings and read his previous book, The Book of Night Women, a historical novel about a female slave on a sugar plantation in 19th century Jamaican. That might be a better place to start if you want to read James: the story is more compressed and linear, though again, it’s mostly written in patois — which you quickly get the hang of, really, but it takes a bit of time. But it’s also a brilliant book: brutal in its unflinching portrayal of slaver’s physical and emotional violence, yet beautifully rich and unexpectedly tender in its characterizations. Seriously: Best. Writer. Ever. Seriously!

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Art + Culture on January 27th, 2015 | No Comments »

Gifts From a Year

I’m going about this New Year’s business all wrong, I know — aren’t I supposed to leave 2014 in the dust and head boldly into 2015? I guess it’s taken until the end of the holidays to give me enough clarity and calm to see the lessons of 2014.

The thing about insights is that they always seem to carry over into the next year or two, or even three — it’s a little like going deeper and deeper into the ocean, one strata of pressure at a time. (I’d love to read a book analyzing the life cycle of insights, actually — does anyone have any suggestions?) So perhaps it’s okay to reckon a little later with what a year has taught me, now that the dust has cleared and I can see a little more clearly.

I think last year was the first where I realized just what an anxious little human I can be. I’m not talking clinical anxiety, but the garden everyday mental static that can really pull and tug at your peace of mind. Last year I felt such a lot of it — over so many seemingly out-of-control areas of my life that interlocked with one another — and for the first time I felt sometimes I just couldn’t deal because I was so overwhelmed.

The crazy thing was that so many of the changes and circumstances were so positive — love, family, creative opportunities — but there was just so much unexpected stuff alongside it all that it made me worry and fret to the point of not enjoying anything.

I forgot where I read this, but I remember reading somewhere that physiologically speaking, from the body’s perspective, anxiety and excitement resemble each other so much that they are almost identical biological responses — there’s the elevated heartbeat, the shortness of breath, a tightening in the chest. The biggest difference is the mental story we lay over it. Excitement is a kind of burst of wild anticipation of joy, opportunity and happiness; anxiety is an anticipation of failure, calamity, catastrophe. One response is joy-based, but the other arises from fear.

When I read this, something inside me clicked: a lot of my anxiety was fear of fucking everything up. I was facing a lot of wonderful life changes but I was practicing for failure already in my imagination; I had no faith in the resilience and endurance of happiness.

I had learned this fear early on; I’ve written in my newsletter about growing up with an anxious parent, and I had, despite many of my best efforts, internalized this tendency as well. In a way, this humbled me. I think many of us fear becoming our parents on some level, but if the New Age adage of “what you resists, persists,” then here was my comeuppance to the arrogance to think I could escape my familial legacy. It gave me a sense of compassion, though — for myself and for my parents, because it’s not easy to escape anxiety. And for myself, because on some level, it made me feel better. Of course I’d be so anxious in the face of such dramatic emotional, financial and creative tidal changes happening all at once! Those are the instincts I inherited, the quickest tools to draw upon when faced with the nervous tiger that is anxiety.

Anxiety, too, reflects a strange, almost dysmorphic relationship to time. By projecting your past fears into a future of failure and disaster, you’re psychologically existing in two temporal dimensions at the same time…past and future, duh! Your poor brain is taking input from one and putting it into the other. Of course, what gets squeezed out of the equation? The present moment, which is where gurus, psychologists and all sorts of wise types say is the only real time we truly possess.

Ironically enough, getting back to the present moment during an anxiety attack is one of the few ways I’ve found to stave it off. Luckily, my other familial legacy is Buddhism, and meditation does help, even the cheat-y kinds of meditations I do. Yoga helps, as does doing anything physically challenging. A beautiful walk, a heartfelt conversation, making art, riding horses or otherwise spending time with creatures with a gift for being in the moment — they help to keep your attention in the here and now. Which helps, honestly.

I also think mental states like anxiety can be triggered or exacerbated by hunger, thirst and being tired, so sometimes I have to be hypervigilant about making sure I’m not hungry, thirsty or sleepy. Sometimes I just tell myself I need to make it through the day, the hour, the minute — not every action I take has to have its long-term effects accounted for before I take it. Sometimes it is okay, and human, and real, to be fragile and vulnerable and to not have the answers or all the ducks lined up in a row. We all do our best, and hope that’s enough.

+++++

The nice thing about the past few weeks is that life has gotten very quiet, and it’s been perfect — everything is a lot calmer and I feel so much less mental and emotional static with more “white space” in my schedule and mind. I don’t doubt that the nervous tiger will be back — I don’t think there is any cure, and to hope for one is almost like inviting anxiety to have a permanent seat at the dinner table — but it is nice to hit it at the ebb point. Hope everyone’s New Year is proceeding beautifully!

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Soul + Wisdom on January 20th, 2015 | No Comments »

Years That Ask Questions and Years That Answer

Ah, yes, a happy new year — a fresh beginning, a set of resolutions, a word-of-the-year, a reset/renew, a detox, a turning of the page. Only, for me, not this round.

Don’t get me wrong: I still did my little hippie productivity yearly planner, I still set up my little time-keeping/scheduling system, I have goals and desires and things I’d like to accomplish. But in 2015, I’m cutting myself some slack.

Not that I’m pooh-poohing anyone who’s embarking on a type-A super-planning kind of thing in terms of setting up their new year. There are some years that call for that — years where time is malleable, putty in your hands, able to be molded and filled with whatever your endeavor. Where intention and action align with ease, and everything on your to-do list seems to expand and move you to growth.

I think of these as kind of “Athenian” years — you know, after the Greek goddess of wisdom, the great war strategist and city-builder and patroness of craftspeople, the great grey-eyed lady of discernment and skilled action. These are years that weave threads into fabric, fabric into useful shapes and garments — years that build, solidify, consolidate.

But then there are other kinds of years. To keep with the Greek goddess groove (bear with me here, I’m feeling Jungian!), perhaps you could call some years “Persephone” years — years of walking in shadow, treading the underworld, confronting fears, anxieties, sadness and unresolved wounds and griefs.

(Of course, you can expand this whole metaphor towards the entire mythological pantheon — I’ve definitely had my Artemisian years of trawling the psychological wilderness in a glorious solitude, as well as those super-fun, glamorous Aphrodite years of romance, good times and carousing!)

Looking back at my 2014, though, I realized a lot of my angst was wanting to have an Athenian year so badly, but being immersed in a huge Persephone kind of year. Beyond the actual specifics of the circumstances and events, underneath I was grappling with a sense of disappointment and failure that my intentions were so derailed. I still did a lot of what I wanted, but I also was so overwhelmed with stress, anxiety and fear that I couldn’t savor any accomplishment or experience very much. It kind of sucked. There’s no use knocking off items on your bucket list or to-do list or whatever if the experience of them is so clouded and polluted with negative emotions.

So for 2015, yes, I still have intentions and goals and such, but I’m holding onto them lightly. Already, looking ahead, I can see huge mountains to scale on the path. The big changes set into motion last year are still unfolding, and even bigger ones are coming — ones whose outcomes and tranformations I can’t predict in the least. In the face of such challenges, I think all I can do is be present as possible, be kind and gentle to myself and others around me and have as much fun and joy as I can. I think that’s just the perfect amount of enough to begin my New Year.

Zora Neale Hurston actually has one of my favorite quotes about years, and it’s one that gives the title to this post:

There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.

Whatever year you desire, I hope yours is off to a beautiful start!

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Soul + Wisdom on January 3rd, 2015 | No Comments »

The Care and Feeding of Your Sad Little Panda

I’ve been sort of a droopy little person these past few weeks. Part of it is the time change and the season — such a bummer that it gets so dark so early! — and part of it is moving, the end-of-year pile-up of obligations, work and events, some health/medical stuff and such.

I had been holding up well in all the sturm-und-drang, keeping things organized and humming along….but it’s funny how the smallest thing can derail you, the things you don’t expect and plan for and anticipate. Comcast royally fucked up my moving order and prematurely disconnected the Internet from my old home before I could move into my new address. Yes, a First World Problem, I know, but I work from home via the Internet, so it really messes with my operations. And when I realized the problem was basically a quagmire that would require freaking HOURS to unravel — time I don’t have! — I basically had a full-on meltdown: tears, sobbing, that feeling of wanting to lock myself in a dark room. So much for aspirations of Zen composure! Since then, everything’s kind of set me off, and I have no real sense of equanimity.

Still, you know me, wringing out some kind of insight in a rather shitty situation. Even in all the glory of my meltdown drama, I couldn’t help but observe that part of me is always fighting how I feel, especially when I’m not feeling all puppies-and-rainbows. I grew up being told always to “cheer up” or “think positive” when I was sad; I know my parents meant well, but I internalized this feeling that having “negative” emotions were a BAD THING and a burden to those around me. It’s not just my parents, though; we live in a culture where we absolutely must be fine all the time.

So now, when I feel crappy, I immediately want to rush in and fix it, just because it is so unbearable to feel so crappy. Who wants to feel sad or angry or awkward? No wonder we immediately rush into fixing how we feel, whether it’s shopping, exercise, chocolate, essential oils, your libertine substance of choice or whatever. Sometimes you just need relief, and there are lots of “100 things to do when you hear the sad trombones” types of lists out there that cater to relieving sadness.

Lately though, I find the best thing is to just let myself be sad. Not really wallow or get paralyzed by it, but just acknowledge the full shittiness of the way I feel and let myself sit with it for awhile, letting it work its way through my system. Telling myself: It’s okay to have a grey day, it’s okay to sit in bed for awhile and cry. It’s fine to have a few days of accomplishing nothing, being unproductive, dissatisfied. So that’s what I did — I went about my days and my tasks, but I didn’t force myself to cheer up, be positive, exercise to get my endorphins up, or whatever. I just did soothing things, slept a lot, felt blue and stayed quiet. And then, after awhile, the sad-panda feeling passed and I woke up feeling…right. Like I’d honored myself and my need to be sad. And was left with a nice open space inside of me, filled with a genuine peace and quiet.

That’s life, what the Buddhists call dukkha, or just the discomforts and dissatisfactions that come from everyday existence. Just kind of let myself be quiet instead of throwing myself into the busyness of solving or fixing things. It’s a little scary and uncomfortable, but it passes through you so much faster than immediately going for that psychic Band-aid. And then after a few hours, or a few days, it just kinds of mists away.

That’s one of the gifts of the constant ebb and flow of existence: if life is impermanent, then as much as we’re told that we can’t grasp onto the things in life we want to stay, the things that frustrate us don’t last forever as well. There’s always motion in emotions.

Of course, sometimes you just need cheering up: you need that silly comedy, that retail therapy, that panacea. But every now and then, maybe sometimes it’s fine to just let yourself be absolutely truthful to yourself and just be sad — and see what lessons, thoughts and realizations bubble up from that.

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Soul + Wisdom on December 10th, 2014 | No Comments »

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