17  Oct

“Now, I take full blame for all that came next. For I continued the story…but departed the text.” – Berkeley Breathed, Goodnight Opus

Once upon a time there was a young man named Erminio. Grab your popcorn. Or else skip to the last paragraph for the cliff notes. The story of Erminio is being told by Ione, Ilmar’s sister. And Ilmar was such a great storyteller that his son was very moved when he watched Big Fish by Tim Burton, a movie about other great stories. Cut back to Erminio. It’s the early 70s in the Brazilian countryside of Minas Gerais.  Erminio stopped the car to rest because he was too tired to drive. This was told to Joel who told his mother Conceição, who told Ione. Erminio’s wife Bianca was also in the car. Erminio took a nap and was woken when the car was surrounded by bright lights and being lifted up in the air. Cut to Erminio and Bianca inside the lab. The tall being was communicating with him but he wasn’t sure how, or what language he was using. If you’ve seen Arrival, you know why I liked this part, the communication bit. (And if you haven’t seen Arrival, we can’t be friends, unless you have seen all the Christopher Nolan movies).
The “being” examined Erminio and was happy to answer his questions. “Why are you here?”, to which they replied “To study you”. Where are you from? A place very far. This part made me laugh. I heard the alien saying “a galaxy far, far away” in that Star Wars narrator voice. This being was friendly and had no qualms telling Erminio that he just had scientific curiosity about us, sounded like the same curiosity we humans have to study any animal, really. He also said he “tagged” Bianca, his wife, with some kind of implant. 

Erminio’s family searched for him for a few days, and had assumed that he had been arrested or was dead. When he returned home, he thought the whole thing had only lasted about a half hour. They questioned Erminio and Bianca separately, and their stories matched. They also examined the car and the damage done to it by “the craft” lined up with his story. Also, Erminio had no motive to make this up. He did tell the story to Flavio Cavalcanti, a TV presenter. His local church was not happy. Erminio and his wife lived the rest of their lives being reclusives. The end. 

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night | Snoopy pictures, Snoopy images, Stormy  night

Cut to Ione walking alongside me and the pink sunset over the Long Island Sound, the extraordinarily bright moonlight, and the gargantuan Halloween decorations in every half-acre-wide lawn we were passing. The McMansions on the waterfront went all out this year to make up for last year. You didn’t think one starts telling alien abduction stories for no reason, did you? Whether there’s accuracy or truth behind Erminio’s story is besides the point. The spookiness of the overly manicured lawns with the RIP tombstones and skeletons hanging from trees and string lights definitely set the tone. It was getting dark by the time she finished this story (and cut to a new one, one told by her brother Ilmar). 

Fall in this part of the world is stunning, it is visually striking in ways that are hard to describe, and it smells of acorns, pine and cypress trees. The overpowering smell lingers as you move along. It’s feathery beige pampas grass and subtle touches of copper (at this point) and twenty-pound pumpkins that look like they have been airbrushed to look that perfect. The silverlight reflection of the trees on the water surface shimmers and tessellates with the ripples from the landing of the graceful long-legged cranes and seagulls.   

Ilmar took this same walk with me many times in 2019, telling stories the whole time. Alice’s beach house is on this route, and he stayed there for some time. His sister is here now telling me new stories he never told me. Ilmar would say to us that if you wanted to be happy, you should pull a chair, in the country (light pollution and all), and look at the night sky. When the Halley comet passed closest to Earth, we went out late at night to the top of a mountain in Rio to see it. I was in pajamas, awake way past my bedtime, driving to the utmost quietest place we could find to use a telescope to marvel at Halley’s beauty. Ilmar would sit there staring at the sun, quoting Diogenes, when Diogenes was face-to-face with Alexander the Great, and was asked what he wished for, and he said: “stand a little out of my sun”, or something along those lines. Staring at the sun is enough. Not directly, of course. Ilmar would also bring you film negatives to watch a solar eclipse. He’d give them out to the whole family. My father Ilmar was happy with a bowl of shrimp udon and Sapporo beer. My daughter is happy to stop during a walk and point out that the clouds are actually moving, bit by bit, even though they seem still. The smell of lavender makes me happy, or saltwater. Some might say that’s just passing joy. Ilmar would have told you that’s happiness, if you treasure it right. That’s the meaning of life right there, in those moments. You don’t have to be rich, cool, mighty, or pretty. 

Ilmar was the happiest person, and the best storyteller (ask anybody) that anyone had ever met. Much like him, I’m the prime audience for mysterious stories. And my daughter is the apple that fell very close to this tree. She can make the proverbial big fish sound a thousand times more intriguing in her tales.

I haven’t written about my father since he passed in January until now. The pandemic losses were multi fold, and at some point I felt guilty about being almost more shaken by Karen Trujillo’s passing than the loss of my own father. They were different types of grief. Karen had been hit by a mini-van while walking her dog. The horribleness of this hit me out of left field. Thanks to Kübler-Ross I was able to understand and process the progression through the stages of grief. There is a point to Karen’s story. I struggle with Act 2 of any script- thus this meandering… Beginnings just sprout, and ends are pretty straight forward. Sad/happy; Open/closed- endings are binary. Middles are analog signals, full of static. 

My father may have left me with a treasured (and simple) happiness recipe, but – like many in my family- he was a know-it-all. He was the truth Oracle, the almighty elder figure that the family consulted because he allegedly “knew everything”, and was very proud of that. He lived an incredible life with a wide array of experiences that practically made him James Bond-meets-Yoda. 

One thing that the late Karen Trujillo taught me was the real value of modesty. It never really landed until I met her- the sincere appreciation of feeling humbled by something or someone whom you help, of realizing how little you actually know, how much they have to teach you. And to know that even when you turn a corner, you’ll always have more that you don’t know (that you don’t even realize). I grew up in a culture and in a household that didn’t reward modesty as a value. It was an underrated quality until I came to work with some of the event speakers I now know. One of them actually said: “And I’m certainly not intelligent enough to know that or to guess that…” This came from likely the smartest person in the room, possibly one of brightest and most articulate men I ever met, so that humility just floored me. 

Last week, I was in Orlando, with Dr. Adolph Brown III, who speaks of being “balcony people”. Balcony people cheer others, stay humble, serve others, and also let go of grudges, so they can be lighter, which brings me full circle to Ione. She forgave a lot of silly things I said over the years, overlooked my flaws and continued to be by my side, coaching me to get outside the comfort zone.

If you keep at the “same sports”, it’s easy to be confident but you don’t grow. When faced with adversity, as a defense mechanism or out of self-preservation, we gravitate to the hobbies and routines that we know we have mastered. This brings us self-confidence, intentionally doing something that we are great at, which we need in order to get over a momentary set of unusually hard circumstances. Once that short chapter ends and another one begins, we must bring ourselves back to “learning mode” and venture to be bad at something new. I took that from Tracy Anderson. “Be brave enough to be bad at something new.” (Stay real, Tamily, you may be the only ones reading this). Modesty never came easily to me, but I now know how much I don’t know. You should do the things you suck at because they are hard, not in spite of it. 

It shouldn’t take “big decision” moments for one to realize all this but on the other hand, it’s much harder to have epiphanies while following daily routines. The thing about having an insightful moment is that it’s like when your ears pop and you had no idea that they were even blocked in the first place. You don’t know how much you don’t know until you do know. It instantly humbles you.

The storytellers in my life taught me this much: the ever-so-simple happiness recipe, and the value of modesty. They also taught me to forgive. Forgiving is hard, but well worth it. It’s necessary. The cost of not doing it is much greater to you than to those who wronged you. In the wake of my father’s passing a year ago, I chose to embrace modesty and the simple joy of being (guilt-free) happy. That “Wow, all the things I never knew” feeling sank in. The mentors I have met pushed me to examine the ways in which I need to improve, and challenged me once again to make a departure from the comfort zone. 

Cut to the Departures lounge on a sunny but chilly afternoon. Not the end. Just another one of many flights. Same skies, different latitudes.  

Posted by Kaz, filed under No tag for this post.. Date: October 17, 2021, 11:04 pm | No Comments »

The holidays are challenging because anyone going through a rough patch in life is inclined to compare their own plight with all the joy and abundance around them and feel even more sorry for their woes. This is your guide on how to stay zen through this joyful and maddening time of year.

1. Mind over matter

The most important part of overcoming a challenge is believing that you can do it. Confidence is something you CAN “fake until you make”.

That internal belief has to be there, you have to sell it to yourself first. Dealing with someone difficult in your daily life, getting a new job, making it in a new city, getting over a breakup: it starts with your mindset.

Don’t try to do it alone. Surround yourself with personal cheerleaders, your friends, family, your personal trainer, coach, priest, mentor or doctor. The more time you spend with people who are outspoken “fans” of yours, the more confident you get.

2. Metacognition

Knowing yourself is also an important part to this. Lead with your core values. Are you aware of what those values are, and how they differ from others’ core values?

You cannot solve problems the same way others do. You are competing with your old self, all the time. Part of the problem is that we lose sight of that. The other big problem is that the clarity with which I write this now was not present in the room when I was down. That’s precisely why I looked to rational people to guide me out of my setback mindset. Once your supporters coach you out half way, you regain your ability to steer your own life, and it’s smooth sailing from there.

Understanding your own thought processes is particularly important when there are times when you have to make sacrifices, those tough choices that require you to let go of one thing in order to have another.

3. Motivation, and daily reminders

Start with why. Find a way to remind yourself regularly of why you want to transcend your weaknesses. Platitudes are silly… At the same time, they are NOT, if you personalize them. If you can find an example of how you can apply a platitude to your everyday life in a small way and that pays off, you can now literally solve (almost) any problem.

4. What you resist, persists

Familiarize yourself with this whole concept, which is a separate whole chapter by Carl Jung. Mel Robbins, the motivational speaker, has helped me put this principle into practice. Acknowledge, embrace and label your problem and how you feel about it before you even start to try to solve it. It’s ok to linger on this particular step, as it pays off. Lingering and dwelling are different things. You are not dwelling if your dealing looks like this: out of one week, 4 out of 7 days you felt like you were greater than the challenge.

Be grateful that you have embraced something you want to overcome, or even better, transcend. Think of the millions of people out there who live in denial. You are already better off than they are. It’s the allegory of the cave, and you are that powerful character who has seen things in the light.

5. Have Role Models

This one is a bit obvious, but worth remembering when you are struggling. Say the challenge is as simple as “I want to have J. Lo’s body” Maybe it’s just me but asking myself “What would J. Lo do?” helps me make nutritional choices and get running.

Whenever possible, have a couple of role models who are authors or icons and a couple of role models whom you know personally. That way, you can share your progress and small victories with those people, and they can hold you to your goals if you stop making progress.

6. Patience

Some problems take 3 days, some 3 years to solve. In order to overcome your own impatience, practice being in the moment. Have some “baby steps” in place that align with your every day tasks that set you on the right path. Have you ever seen a 3-year old learning how to play the violin? The time they spend on those seemingly silly exercises help them become virtuosos. It’s hard to believe it when you see them at three, but they have to start somewhere. So does everyone, with everything.

Form good habits. It helps the mind put aside the main life challenge and let it “simmer” while other types of positive growth take place. Having hobbies and strong cultural interests that serve as momentary distractions from the problem are valid ways of recharging before another round of proactive problem-solving action.

7. Resilience is built, not born

In spite of many out there being stoic all the time, most people gain the ability to “bounce back” over time. It takes taking risks, and showing vulnerability to become a better version of yourself. When you factor in all the people in this world who are not even attempting to become better versions of themselves, you can’t always win, in spite of your best efforts. Sometimes you have to overcome that internal bit of embarrassment that comes with acknowledging your failures before you become resilient.

We set our own standards for ourselves. We set the bar. If that bar is high, it’s obvious that it’s going to be hard to live up to it. Adjust it accordingly as you go along. The world does not set that bar for you, so don’t let others dictate it, or make you feel inferior.

8. Borrow pride from your future self

Be very proud of yourself (in advance) for the personal growth that comes with overcoming a challenge, whether it be fitness goals, money woes, breakup, “life slump” or family squabble. The point of tackling a very tough problem is that it leads to internal balance. Cliché as it may be, the experience from climbing short hills makes you apt to climb higher mountains.

Advice can only go so far, but some of the things I said here apply to so many case scenarios that it was worth sharing. Take it with a grain of salt, as your unique personal circumstances may call for different strategies. If nothing else, and you read this post this far, you can pull this up when you have a friend who is in distress and offer them one of these tools to get over their hurdles.

Posted by Kaz, filed under No tag for this post.. Date: November 25, 2018, 5:02 pm | No Comments »

“Your Greatest resource is your time,” said the fortune cookie I just opened. Just in time, I thought, as DST has ended and I have a whole extra hour of it to choose how to spend.

The human notion of time, and our futile attempts to control it, is a concept that could easily become my doctorate thesis in anthropology (if and when I attempt to become an anthropologist). I can’t be the first one to think of this for a thesis anyway. Filmmakers have had a field day/year/lifetime with narrative techniques to jump in time, stretch it, bend it, split it, reverse it, and make the viewers revisit scenes in hindsight while rearranging a story told out of chronological order.

Particularly fascinating creatures are New Yorkers, with their power naps and New-York-Minutes and eye rolling every time their lattes take longer than 30 seconds to get ready. New Yorkers complain that they don’t have enough time to show how busy (and supposedly important) they are, and then take anti-depressants if they find themselves alone with their thoughts in silence with too much time in their hands. And then you have the ones who incessantly brag about how much they did with their time, which is just another way to avoid feeling guilty for doing absolutely nothing sometimes.

Before I bore you reader with my own musings, here is a better post you can read, by Tim Urban, TED Speaker and blogger-who-writes-way-better-than-me:

Your Life in Weeks

If you are still reading, you must have plenty of time… fair warning: it’s about to get whimsical. Beyond the economic (supposed) reasons for DST, the interesting phenomenon is watching people assign meaning to DST, and how they develop a love/hate relationship with the rituals of re-setting their clocks twice a year. Humans are creatures of habit, they tend to inevitably fall into patterns of sleeping and waking at the same time every day, eating at the same time every day and so forth. For this reason, I am guilty as charged of being thrown off and confused every Spring when DST begins, and delighted when it ends, and yelling at the microwave (as if it would hear me and fix itself) for not having the same time as my smartphone.

What is time to a grasshopper, though? Or to stardust? What does time mean if you are a bear who hibernates , or one of Jupiter’s moons? It means cycles, the beginnings and endings of a winter season or a rotation around a planet. The pretext we have as humans to live by our clocks, and why we feel entitled to complain about them so much, is that we all have to agree on timetables for work, for transportation and to be able to find one another on a given corner at xyz time. Yet the reason why it matters is that we all have plans and memories. Our plans, hopes and dreams live in this “future” thing, while our memories of boat rides with friends or snow falling on our noses in the moonlight of a certain date and year, or whatever other moments have been etched onto a certain point of our timeline, have a fixed time stamp that says “where” in the past they may be found. Our obsession with controlling time is the drawing of an emotional geo map more than a progression of light through time and space. The coordinates of “the cherry blossom in the market square” are not the latitudes and longitudes of the market square that still exists somewhere, but the date when you were there, when you wrote the memory.

The person who manages to really harness the power of now, to truly try to be in the moment, is usually happiest. The most interesting thing about experiencing time as not just any human, but a modern dweller in the high-tech age, living in a metropolis, is how long does one hour actually seem to stretch on for when you are doing something like waiting at the DMV. And the opposite scenario: how time literally flies when you are having fun. “Living in the now”, even if you master the practice, still doesn’t stop that one hour from stretching on for soooooooo many hours when you are waiting for something you really need. Being cognizant of our tendencies to be frustrated with the passage of time, even though it doesn’t tick any faster or slower when you are exhilarated or bored, frees us from the tyranny of time-related stress. Just being aware that I have an “extra hour” today and yet spend almost all of it writing this, which I wouldn’t have done if the clocks hadn’t changed, makes me laugh at myself, in a good way. I don’t claim to live on Aloha time, like the Hawaiians do, or anywhere near that pace, but I have been able to do nothing more often lately. And proudly so. It is our moral duty to help people realize this. Next time you talk to someone who complains or brags too much about how they spend their time, buy them tea and ask them to share a favorite memory.



Posted by Kaz, filed under

. Date: November 5, 2017, 8:33 pm | No Comments »

This past Saturday, thousands of people gathered at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York City to celebrate Spring, friendship and equality for all.

Organized by Bhangra NYC, the festival really brought to life the meaning of Holi Hai.

The “joie de vivre” that emanates from the sculptures currently on view at the Plaza, and the vibrant colors in the works of Brazilian artist Mazeredo, really suited the mood. The artist’s Dialogue series was meant to bring people from different backgrounds together. The Festival happened to converge on the same theme and brought performing arts to visual arts before the United Nations building on a beautiful Spring morning. Part of the coverage can be seen below.

This post is part of the series “Awe inspiring!”. More on the topic to come after the opening of the Frieze New York Art Fair.









Posted by Kaz, filed under

. Date: May 1, 2016, 7:33 pm | No Comments »

The Matrix

(The following post is purely opinion/commentary and should not be deemed as my academic view on post-modernism, post-structuralism, social studies or media theory.)

So these two influential figures walk into a bar… Having looked around and not spotted Steve Jobs anywhere in this fictional bar, Jean Baudrillard went up to Zuckerberg: “Facebook is the hall of mirrors, the simulacra.”  Zuckerberg, naturally, was intrigued, as he had no idea who Baudrillard was, but somewhere in the Harvard halls someone had once said “simulacrum”, so he kept listening.

Naturally, I wish this dialogue had taken place while Baudrillard was still alive, and it hasn’t, and I almost attempted to turn this post into Socratic dialogue but it would have turned into a Platonic monologue instead, since I am biased to make the elder of the two look better.  Once social networking (i.e.: meeting others to gain social, cultural or professional status in “real life”) became social media, and personal updates became content, this digital data became its own system of sign-values, with cultural arms and legs that stand on their own, marking “the end of transcendence”- (a phrase borrowed from Marcuse) where individuals can neither perceive their own true needs or another way of life. (1998 [1970], The Consumer Society, Paris: Gallimard.) The evolution of the meaning of words such as “content”, a word which used to hold a symbolic meaning which is completely different than what it has come to signify, is evidence that the framework of communication and symbolic exchange we used to base our social beliefs on has dissolved. Social networking and social media are interchangeable terms, as are communication and media. For example, instead of a letter, e-mail or a phone call (one-on-one communication), a twitter message is broadcast to a mass of recipients that may or may not read it. The expectation of feedback is obsolete.

Social media profiles create a pastiche of images that are “published” for their own sake, multiple narratives, many of them contradictory, all of them incomplete, with no referent to reality. Notice the word “publish” has changed meaning as well.  This is an example of what one may witness on a Facebook news feed, a series of disjointed narratives mislabeled as “stories”:  A teenage girl fully covered in tattoos; random inspirational quotes (taken out of context, never containing a reference to their original source); song lyrics; photos of carved pumpkins; babies; live accounts from the Burning Man festival; someone broke up; someone just got married; turtles being rescued; a celebrity having coffee down the street from the neighbor’s daughter’s cousin’s new place; someone tagged a person in a photo (the tagged person is no longer alive but they still have a profile). It is the post-modern equivalent of a time capsule where random objects were taken from various people and thrown into a box as their entire civilization was being burned to the ground.

With the constant changes in Facebook settings and style, the home page displays arbitrary stories by relevant people.  The definition of what is top-of-the-page-relevant is entirely based on a mysterious algorithm.  One person’s inner social circle is perceived as true (to the user or to their friends) when the real user – the last link to the real – doesn’t interact or intersect with any of those narratives in the material world. These “recent stories” become available as they are still happening and become obsolete quickly. The sheer force of new data occupying the top of the feed is rendering cultural memory shorter and shorter with every interaction between content creator and hall of mirrors.  The content creator (that’s you) loses power over the system of signs and meanings that can be attributed to those signs.  A new hierarchy of rules, codes, and logics takes over, entertaining the authors and erasing the previous (ten-minutes old) systems of codes at the same time.  Post-modernism critics’ most radical Blade-Runner-like fears have come to life. Our acts of re-posting of other people’s content (text, photo or video form), perpetuate this hyperreality, making it harder to discern the real from the hyperreal than discerning dreams of electric sheep from actual sheep.

Post-modern art exposes the falsehood of meaning. Thus the “hall of mirrors” becomes an essential metaphor for postmodernism. One imagines the image of art continually bouncing from surface to surface, the original meaning or location impossible to discern.

Finally, Social Media has done for personal relationships what Google did for knowledge.  It made relationships “on-demand”, available for download, and therefore diminished any effort required on the part of the user.  The impact of social media on interpersonal communications is a seed for another posting.

In the meanwhile, if you are interested in human communication and art, please leave the simulacra, go outside and take a photo of someone or something and then write about it, with ink on paper (the kind of paper that comes from wood).  My advice is that you also watch a play or a fiction film, a story about human behavior with a beginning, middle and an end, imbued with values and references to historical context or art.  The hyperreal that one can extrapolate from the chaos of social media (especially if you also believe that the “medium is the message”) is a frightening cacophony of ideas that could have been made into art.  So much potential, so little effort in organizing it… Neil Postman has said, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, that the act of watching cultural junk on television was not detrimental to one’s perception of reality, so long as they read such content as pure entertainment, not to be considered information (or something along those lines, it has been a while since I read Postman, so I suggest you read that book for his theories).  The same can be said about this hyperreality.

A narrative that can help one’s intellectual pursuits or experiments in gaining status through networking can only be found in cultural products whose meanings can still be argued in an actual dialogue between users who retain control of that discourse.  Art, on the other hand, can have a liberal vehicle of distribution to the masses through Facebook or twitter, so long as that artwork has a referent in the real world, and is not the mere reflection of the perversion of the pretence of reality- or the simulacra.




Posted by Kaz, filed under

. Date: October 23, 2011, 7:24 am | No Comments »

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