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Eckhart Tolle is changing my life.  

By which I mean – reading his books is changing my perspective.  Which is actually so much more important than any external change in circumstances.  Without a change in perspective we just keep repeating the same patterns in different ways.  A fundamental change in perspective is much more transformative – most importantly of the inner life, but this can’t help but then flow over into external life circumstances as well.
 
Those of you who have followed my writing for a long time know that I have spent most of my adult life searching.  Searching for…. what?  Purpose, meaning, my place in things, the reason for it all.  Searching for my ‘yes’.
 
In reading Tolle recently, he summed up perfectly the mistake I had been making in all of this for so many years:
 
Don’t seek happiness.  If you seek it, you won’t find it, because seeking is the antithesis of happiness.
 
Seeking is the antithesis of happiness.  Reading that sentence was like the universe handed me a note entitled: What You Have Been Doing Wrong.  I’ve spent my whole adult life seeking and believing that the search was noble, that the search was the whole point of life.
 
In fact, I have been missing the point.  Happiness is not out there.  Happiness is a natural state of being that resides only and ever in the now, and is covered up by unhappiness, searching, confusion.  You cannot find it.  You can only become aware of it in each moment.  Trying to find it only perpetuates the confusion, the sense of lacking that blocks the awareness of its presence.
 
One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself in any moment is: “In this moment, what is lacking?”
 
If you focus purely on the present moment – not your wider life situation, not the moment before or the moment after but always and only RIGHT NOW – I think you will find that the answer is pretty much always: nothing.
 
Nothing is lacking.  You are whole unto yourself in each moment.  There is nothing you need seek.  Seeking is the antithesis of happiness.  In letting go of the need to seek, you become aware of a peacefulness beneath the seeking that is really much more fundamental and pure than ‘happiness’.  Happiness, really, is a human invention.  Who and what you are just is. 
 
And that is more than enough.
 
Mastery of life is not a question of control, but of finding a balance between human and Being.
~ Eckhart Tolle

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nonzeroAt the moment I’m reading a book called “Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny”.  In it, Robert Wright applies game theory (non-zero vs zero-sumness – don’t worry, the book explains it) to cultural and biological evolution to “isolate the impetus behind life’s basic direction”.  In the first section, which I’m currently reading, he applies this theory to the entire evolution of civilisation.  The next section will do the same for biological evolution, with the intention in the end to show how the direction of life on this planet so far gives us a clear indication of where it is going.  I can’t wait for that part! 

Basically I’m hoping this book will explain the meaning of life to me.  No pressure, Rob me old mate.

But as this book progresses through it’s sweeping evaluation of the evolution of the world as we know it, I’m noticing another pattern.  A pattern all scientists are aware of (2nd law of thermodynamics anyone?), it was only in reading this book that it’s truth and application to life became clear to me. 

What I noticed is this: chaos breeds growth and progress.  Stability (/peace) breeds stagnation.

Now I guess it depends what you want from life and what you see the point as being.  Maybe stagnation sounds pretty damn calm and lovely and who cares about a bit of algae around the edges.  But personally, I can’t see why we’d come here just to stagnate, why we’d be here if not to grow and progress.  And growth doesn’t happen when everything’s hunky dory – why would it?  There is no impetus for change or innovation when everything is just dandy the way it is.

Chaos breeds growth.

In which case I must be almost 6 foot frickin tall by now. 

Which is a good thing… Right?

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wacknessPart homage to the nineties, part coming-of-age story, The Wackness is a little indie movie that has been getting great reviews, about a teenage boy who swaps marijuana for friendship and counselling sessions from a barely-holding-it-together psychiatrist while harbouring a crush on said psychiatrist’s step-daughter.To be honest, I didn’t get what all the fuss is about with this movie. It was kind of like a depressed Juno with way more grit and way less sweetness. It seems like Stephanie (the step-daughter) may equally have been talking to the movie’s writer/creator as to protagonist Luke Shapiro when she says:

“Know what your problem is, Shapiro? It’s that you just have this really shitty way of looking at things, ya know? I don’t have that problem. I just look at the dopeness. But you, it’s like you just look at the wackness, ya know?”
This movie certainly seems to emphasise the wackness. But to me it was redeemed by a standout little moment towards the end as Luke is stepping into an elevator and savours the experience of one of life’s true wacknesses:

Luke Shapiro: Do me a favor, Steph?
Stephanie: Huh?
Luke Shapiro: Don’t say nothin, ok? Just stand there til I leave. I wanna remember this. I’ve never done it before.
Stephanie: Never done what?
Luke Shapiro: Had my heart broken.

Life might be wack a hell of a lot of the time. But if you can savour every little bit of it, wack and dope, then maybe you’re getting the point.

Word.

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watchmen-movieSome of the most gratuitous violence I’ve ever hidden behind my hands from (granted I generally avoid violent movies at all costs). Superheroes. In lyrca and PVC. Having sex. Nuclear explosions. Awful, awful pseudo-philosophising. Innards.  The Forrest Gump soundtrack.Did I miss something?

If the point was that human beings are by nature base, violent and depraved, then it was really best demonstrated by the fact that so many people put so much time and effort into creating and viewing this movie in the name of entertainment.

That’s all I really have to say about that. One for the fans maybe. I didn’t get it.

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hesjustnotthatintoyou2He’s Just Not That Into You has to be one of the first self-help books to be turned into a fictionalised Hollywood movie. It is based on the book of the same name – which to be honest, I haven’t actually read. Let’s bear in mind that it was written by former Sex In The City writers, one of whom is a comedian. Yes. As the man said himself in an interview I read recently, if you’re taking relationship advice from a comedian, it kind of says something about the state of your relationships.

Where do I even start with this movie? Initially, it seemed to be making some very valid points. Especially for someone like me who saw so much of herself in the bumbling, eager and self-doubting Gigi – a sweet girl who’s just looking for love and just doesn’t quite know the rules of these things. I’m pretty sure I’m not quite as cringe-worthy or as silly as Gigi but to be honest, I see far more of myself in her than I should really admit. How many girls didn’t quietly identify with a girl who, when told she shouldn’t go out with guys who aren’t that into her, wonders innocently “But then who will go out with me?”

So at first the message hit home – look at how pathetic you are, the movie cried! Can’t you see how obvious it is, dummy? If he doesn’t call, if he doesn’t text, if he treats you like crap, if he won’t marry you – he’s just not that into you! Don’t listen to all the people who have stories about friends of friends who ended up being the exception to the rule. You are not the exception, you are never the exception, don’t sit around waiting to be the exception. You are the rule!

This was up until about the last 10 minutes of the movie. And then, true to Hollywood and yet completely going against the entire message and premise of the whole movie, the final 10 minutes proceeded to undo everything the whole movie had been putting across. Suddenly the rules went out the window and all the girls were the exception. Suddenly the jerk really did care, the commitment-phobe really did want to get married – suddenly it seemed that maybe, just maybe, if you wait around for him just long enough – maybe you really will finally be the exception, maybe he really is into you after all and just didn’t know it. They actually took the whole ‘just get over it, be strong and move on’ message and totally turned it around, and in doing so perpetuated just exactly what the book and the first part of the movie was trying to make you let go of.

If the people sitting behind me in the movie weren’t sure of what I thought of this movie from my splutterings up til this point, I’m pretty sure they had a fairly good idea when a wedding festooned yacht exploded victoriously on screen and I couldn’t quite hold back the exclaimation of ‘Oh come ON!’ that burst forth in disgust.

The other bone I have to pick with this movie is the way it portrays women as pathetic, grasping beings just desperately groping after a man. The man, of course, being the one in control, who can grant or withdraw his attention at his cold-hearted whim. The basic message I got was: just accept that men are jerks and stop sitting around expecting them to act in any way like decent human beings.

I went to this movie as a fun ‘girl’s night’ with my female friends. We all came out of it feeling utterly defeated and drowned our incredible despair in glasses of wine, sitting around in stunned silence, occasionally muttering ‘man, I feel so depressed!’. I came out feeling so incredibly glad to be single and felt like I never ever wanted to go near another man ever again. This was about the time I started contemplating the advantages of life as a crazy old cat lady. I actually felt kind of disgusted at the thought of the whole male gender and didn’t want any of those bastards anywhere near me.

Well, when I say we all felt like this – I should say, all of us who were single. The one of us who was newly in a couple admitted to tearing up a little at the yacht scene. I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.

Do I sound bitter?

The worst part of it is that it wasn’t even funny. It was really more cringe-worthy than funny at any point. It was long, not funny, internally contradictory… I’m struggling to find any redeeming feature at all. Even the hot guy somehow lost so much hotness by being a complete asshole.

I would really love to hear a male perspective on this film. Are all guys really like this? Is there any hope?

Perhaps I better start adding cat food to my shopping list…

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[Update 1 Dec 08: published here]

Having been promised an ‘electrifying stage show’ from ‘a performer unlike anyone else in Godzone’ by practically every events website in town, Sheba Williams had a lot to live up to when she took to the San Francisco Bathhouse stage on Saturday night (November 22nd, 2008) to support the debut of her self-titled first album.

However, it would have taken the most hardened cynic not to sense, as the pulsing drum beats were joined by guitar, trumpet, saxophone and bass, that something very special was about to happen.  And then, there she was, replete with headdress and various leotards throughout the night, commanding the stage with the graciousness of some majestic African queen.

Not just another singer behind a microphone, Sheba Williams is a writer, musician and performer extraordinaire.  Quite appropriately, she has coined her own genre to describe her music: ‘Calyptro’ – a sound unlike any other, a fusion of hip-hip, soul, funk, electro, afrobeat, and then some, calling on influences as varied as her Caribbean heritage, her Aotearoa upbringing,  and her extensive travels, ranging from Berlin to Kyoto to Shanghai.  This merges into an exotic and vivacious sound unable to be boxed into any particular place or time.  Standing in the San Francisco Bathhouse on Saturday, you could have been anywhere in the world, and were somehow being taken to a place quite beyond it.

For example, what Kiwi girl couldn’t sympathise when she prefaced her song ‘Shy Guy’ with the dedication “This is to all the Kiwi guys – so dear to my heart, so far from my ass”, before launching into her song about the reticence of Kiwi men in their (lack of) amorous advances.  But far from leaving it there as a witty little ditty, the song progressed into a tour de force of the world, the afro-Kiwi diva singing verses in Chinese, Korean and German.

With music that was like Fat Freddy’s mixed with Cabaret mixed with afro-carribean funk, and a stage performance that was a patchwork quilt of theatrics, dance, amazing instrumental solos, and uniquely Sheba monologues and stories from her travels, this really was something else – a true show, and one unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.  Did I mention those leotards?

While Sheba owned the stage like some kind of worldly African queen, she never let you forget that “My grandmother lives in Parnell, bitch!”  A Kiwi girl who grew up in ‘the KKKs: Khandallah, Karori and Kelburn’ and yet made belting out Chinese rock ‘n’ roll in a red silk cape and leopard print leotard into an art form.  A gracious regent of her avid crowd and minions, she ended the show by thanking pretty much everyone under the sun, and had seemed just as happy to gyrate her fantastic figure to the skilful funk of her superb supporting band or hand over the stage to the antics of her supporting dancing act, as she was to take the microphone herself with her powerful and playful vocals.  Later in the night she could be found cavorting in full costume at the back of Mighty Mighty, a royal gracing the masses.

Her debut album can be seen as a metaphor for herself, a wide-ranging collection of pieces into an eclectic whole.  It comes in two parts: the 12-track studio-recorded Black Album, and the White Album, consisting of a live performance recording, three music videos, and an excerpt from her as-yet unpublished book Shanghai Sheba and the China Monologues, some of which she has read on Radio New Zealand. 

This was a true performance by a true performer, a unique and yes, I would even say ‘electrifying’, experience.  I would go so far as to say that Sheba Williams is not just ‘unlike anyone else in Godzone,’ but that you would be hard-pressed to find any one comparable in the world.  A world and law unto herself, she really must be experienced to be fully appreciated – but until she graces a stage near you, you can just do as she suggested and ‘buy my CD, then rip it and give it to someone for Christmas.’  Really.  She’s cool with it.

Seeing her emerge from backstage at the end of the night, I couldn’t resist grabbing her attention to praise the awesomeness of her show.  Her response – to kiss me graciously on the cheek and then admonish ‘Don’t wash that off!’ – really summed up the whole experience:

Sheba, the down-to-earth diva.

www.myspace.com/shebawilliams

www.shebawilliams.com

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[update 19 Nov 08: this review has now been published here]

My first thought, on hearing that Auckland band Body Corporate would be playing their Wellington release gig for debut album Howlaround at The Adelaide, was: ‘well, that’s a little random’. The Adelaide is what I would tend to describe as a ‘seedy old man pub’ on the outskirts of Newtown, one of Wellington’s dodgiest suburbs (slowly becoming the height of contrary cool for the mere fact of its dodginess).

As it turns out, I was right – ‘random’ really is the best word to describe it. But that, however, is precisely the point, drummer Paul educated me (myself being newcomer to this whole alt-indie business). Preferring to steer clear of the mainstream masses and play just another standard bar like just another standard band, they purposely seek out the random backstreet pubs wherever they go – which, after their launch gigs in Auckland on Friday (November 14) and Wellington on Saturday (November 15), will soon be including some gigs in Australia and the South Island as well.

Well, random is certainly what they got. My friend and I arrived painfully early due to my chronic over-punctualness (really must work on the ‘fashionably late’ thing!), but there was a certain enjoyment to be found in watching The Adelaide metamorphose from old man pub to… well… old man pub with some devoted and swaying indie fans in it. The place is a strange breed of venue – it has the atmosphere of an old school English local where the village drunks go on a Sunday to shoot pool, have a nosh up and drown in beer – and yet, high above, the walls are scattered with gothic photography of girls crying blood with flesh-stained teeth. As my friend said, you kind of get the feeling that at midnight the place becomes some kind of vampire coven, ghouls crawling out of the walls to drink each others’ blood. Even the girl behind the bar sported the blue hair of anarchy and damn-the-man-ism, and we arrived to be greeted by a lot of pirate speak, before the barman admonished the punters to ‘leave the normal people alone’.

Being preceded by quality toe-tapping to fairly fun and vivacious Wellington band Cougar Cougar Cougar (who seem to be invariably described as a ‘dirty 3-piece rock ‘n’ roll act’), drummer Paul exited my barrage of questions to join his Body Corporate mates in playing a sweet but very short set for the oddly assorted ‘crowd’ that had accumulated. Trying to blend in to a crowd of at maximum about 14, each doing their own little unique sway in an audience about three meagre lines deep (highlights being Random Old Drunk Guy Who Hates The English and the chick with the Emilie Le Strange hair cut who proclaimed to all and sundry that her beer was ‘cumming’), I was reminded of two things. Firstly I couldn’t quite escape flashing images of the closing credits of that Simpsons episode where grungy audience members sway morosely to the Smashing Pumpkins. Secondly, I kind of had the feeling like I was hanging out at my mates’ place, watching a bunch of guys jam in the back of the garage and sharing a beer. Which I found myself enjoying rather much more than feeling like just another skirt on Courtenay Place.

Their all-too-brief set was followed by an all-too-lengthy one by Wellington indie-progressive-rock band Captain Sergeant Major, playing what Paul described to me as ‘math rock’. I dunno about that – all I know is there was a hell of a lot of long boring guitar and not much else. The drummer himself proclaimed somewhat indignantly after the first song “You all sat down! We made you all sit down!” Technically proficient certainly – but not exactly foot tapping or even hold-your-beer-and-sway inducing.  Just not my cup of tea, I guess.

When I told Paul that his band should have played longer, he told me that it’s best to be considerate when there is a band on after you. He had told me previously that the band was really just an excuse to have a good time with mates and play a bit of music. The debut album itself was released only on vinyl (complete with mp3 download voucher – as the 3 News article said “They may be romantic about the vinyl, but they are not stupid”), ensuring only a particular subset of people with a certain dedication to their music, and to music in general, as buyers. And finally I realised that, rather than some misplaced modesty or typical Kiwi tall-poppy-avoidance, perhaps this choice of album medium and release gig venue was exactly what they were after. Who wants hordes of meat-market teeny boppers wielding made-in-China CDs hoping to hear something just like the band that played last night, when you can carve out a little niche of truly dedicated fans and experiment a little? Sure, it means you’ll be playing about 4 songs to a ‘crowd’ of 14 in a seedy old man bar to release your album which most people don’t even have the mechanism to play (download notwithstanding). But it also means you’ll be playing whatever the hell you want to play however the hell you want to play it, and your fans will feel like they’re part of some special little club that includes you. It also helps when they buy you beer.

Somehow though, I couldn’t quite escape the feeling that they could back themselves just a little bit more. Maybe they don’t want to be music for the masses, but surely they could at least play more than 4 or 5 songs for those dedicated enough to brave The Adelaide and its resident Old Drunk Guy to see them perform. A good night – but one that left me feeling like I wanted more. Which, come to think of it, is probably not a bad result at all.

www.myspace.com/thebodycorp – Aussies and South Islanders keep an eye out early 2009 for the post-Christmas leg of their release ‘tour’!

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