Saturday, September 22, 2007

It's Not The End Of The World Or Anything

Snooping around over at The Dizzies, I found myself entranced by Ed’s ”livebloggery” of Cormac McCarthy’s appearance on Oprah. McCarthy’s latest book, The Road, has received acclaim from sources as diverse as the big O and the Pulitzer Prize committee. It’s also right up my alley, as speculative fiction by masterful artistss is always special treat for me, a dyed-in-the-wool science fiction/fantasy dork. I loved Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and leapt at the chance to see Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046. So why haven’t I already filled up a Facebook profile with quotes from The Road, aside from the fairly repugnant quality of that idea?

Because I’m terrified of The Road, and not only because reading an excerpt of it forced me to learn the meaning of the word "catamite".The truth is that I have a very dysfunctional relationship with post-apocalyptic and dystopic fiction. I enjoy it – a lot – but it scares the crap out of me. As a child, I often dreamed of directing horror films, not because I particularly wanted to be a director, but because I thought that if I could see how scary movies were made, they might not frighten me so much (I also said that I wanted to be a nurse so that I could “hurt people,” but that’s a different story). When I was a toddler, my parents were great fans of the Hellraiser series, and often watched the films in our living room after putting me to bed. On these nights, without fail, I crept downstairs to peep out from behind the couch, saw something awful, and refused to sleep for weeks. For whatever reason, stories where the world ends, or has ended, are still a bit much for me. Today, with valid warnings of a real Ragnarok at every turn, I try to keep my mind calm by avoiding any unnecessary terror. This is not something I have always done. Here’s a list of apocalyptic media that scared me in the past and scares me now.

If I saw T2 in theatres, then I must have been seven at my first viewing. I find this hard to believe. I mean, as previously noted, my parents were certainly a little laissez faire about what they let me watch, and I loved them for it. But this movie? Arnold Swarzenegger looking like a leather daddy and acting like a real daddy to poor screwed up Edward Furlong, and then sacrificing himself for humankind? This movie terrified me not because it was psychotically violent and not because that nice black computer scientist had to kill himself, but because there was no happy ending. Everything was fucked. Cut to shot of highway at night.

I read Pat Frank’s 1959 surviving-the-nuclear-holocaust tale in my eighth grade advanced English class, which was cryptically called “A.T.P. Humanities” and taught by one Arlene Jarzab, who ran marathons and drove a red convertible. Ms. Jarzab had nothing but faith in her students’ ability to understand books typically assigned to high schoolers, which was why I read The Grapes of Wrath in fifth grade, The Good Earth in sixth grade, The Crucible in seventh grade and wrote a paper about population control in India in eighth grade. Alas, Babylon isn’t exactly one of the great works of the Western canon, but it is cannily gripping. The Russians drop the bomb on America, forcing the inhabitants of a surviving Florida town to recreate society. Diabetics die from lack of insulin, “highwaymen” are summarily executed for theft, and racial integration takes place out of necessity. The book is supposed to show how society could survive even the worst of all possible fears – by the end the survivors are serving fresh-squeezed orange juice and eating delicious roasted pigeon, and the spinsterish bluestocking is married and has chubby babies – but all I can ever think about is the telegram a military man sends his brother with their secret code for disaster: “Alas, Babylon.”

Ayn Rand’s 1938 “Careful what you wish for, Socialists” novella was also assigned to me in eighth grade by Ms. Jarzab. In a distant future, collectivism has sent humankind back to the dark ages (but now with Communism!) and rendered them unable to use singular pronouns, meaning that the titular hero Equality 7-2521 begins every sentence with “we.” Equality is smart, but his independent thinking gets him assigned to menial labor by the Council of Vocations. He rediscovers electricity and attempts to use it for the greater good, but is imprisoned and tortured. Meanwhile, he falls in love (also a no-no) with a farm laborer. They run away together and find a preserved house in the woods, where they take the names of Prometheus and Gaea from a book. Now that I think about it, Anthem didn’t scare me so much as it pissed me off, because as soon as the woman (Gaea, nee Liberty 5-3000) learns to use the word “I,” she just starts spouting earth-mothery dreck like “I love you” and “I want to have your children,” and I kind of preferred the before version where she was reaping wheat and doing strong communist lady stuff. Also, my eighth-grade reading list looks kind of hysterically anti-Communist on second glance.

I wonder if there’s anyone my age who read The Giver and didn’t find themselves haunted by the book’s strange blend of dystopic fiction and soft-core philosophy. I can’t recall whether or not I read Lois Lowry’s novel in school or on my own, but it almost doesn’t matter. The Giver was a genuine pop culture phenomenon among fifth- and sixth-graders in the mid-1990s, and probably still is. I remember carrying the book down the halls of my middle school and noticing who else had it, and having hushed conversations with my few friends about how very, very sad the book is. As in Anthem (and that granddaddy of dystopias, Brave New World), one of the most disturbing elements of the novel is the destruction of the family, although the infant distribution center and “birthmothers” of The Giver are somehow creepier than the straight-up kibbutz-style Home of the Infants in the Rand book (especially the scene where Jonas’s little sister mentions that she’d like to be a birthmother, and her parents admonish her…shudder). Jonas, the deep-blue-eyed, sensitive-boy protragonist, was also extremely crush-worthy. Lowry’s deft handling of adolescent sexuality stuck with me for long enough that I wrote some Giver slash when I was thirteen. I mean, Jonas’s dream about bathing Fiona? Hot.

I read Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel when I was 18, so I don’t know if it qualifies as a apocalyptic work that terrified me in childhood. It did, however, upset me more than pretty much anything I had ever read, and also established Atwood as one of my favorite authors. In my opinion The Handmaid’s Tale should be required reading for every high school junior, particularly the legions of girls ready to go wild who don’t understand what all the fuss about feminism is. The book’s funny, smart, angry narrator, Offred (quote my best friend Ben: “Offred was so fucking hot,”) explains in simple steps how Reagan-era America is destroyed by the violent religious right and transformed into the Republic of Gilead, where nuclear warfare has made fertile women a hot commodity. There as so many moments in the book that still disturb my sleep; the re-education center (really an old high school gym) where women are sent to become Handmaids, Offred’s realization that her husband must have killed their cat when they were trying to escape, the photograph of Offred’s daughter shown her by Serena Joy, and the miserable nightclub where Jezebels are kept. Atwood lights a tiny candle of hope with the epilogue, which implies that Gilead is long gone and has been replaced with churlish Inuit academics. I may demolish any respect my three readers have for me by noting that the first time I read the book, I failed to recognize its setting as Cambridge, Massachusetts. But after I figured it out, I sure couldn’t take the playful antics of those Harvard types lightly anymore. The Handmaid's Tale has been adapted into a film, play, opera, and radio play, none of which I've seen.

From my first blog, called “Madrant:”

Tonight, I went to see a movie which was the most moving, touching, beautifuk [sic], and horrifying film which I have ever seen. It was tragic, heartbreaking, suspenseful and humourous at times...and you know what? You Titanic freaks can all go stare at a wall, because Deep Impact KICKS ASS!
It's the story of how a comet predicted to hit earth changes the lives of so many, I no feel like explaining. But it made me cry..and if you knew me, you'd know that I NEVER cry in movies. You could show me a half-hour of children starving to death, and I'd think it was sad, but I wouldn't cry. Deep Impact Made me many valiant few shelters...ARRRGGHH! Depression!
I will see Deep Impact over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again for the rest of my is beautiful. And it kicks Titanic in the ass. So, to all Titanic fans: To females, stop staring at your Leo posters, use a Biore pore strip and go see this movie. YOu can see another, more appropriately aged attractive male in it, Elijah Wood(*sigh*) and ogle Males, stop staring so fixatedly at your pictures of Kate Winslet nude and get off your ass, wash your hair and go outside. That glare is the sun you haven't seen in so long. Now, go to a movie theatre and see Deep Impact. Trtue, there's no naked chicks, but depending on your taste, there is Tea Leoni. Gosee [sic] it anyway...
Tired and hungry. K'bye.


7. The Book of Revelations, especially as seen in the X-Files episode “All Souls” originally aired April 26, 1998

Although both of my parents were fairly burnt out on religion after decades of Catholic school and guilt, they made a valiant effort to inculcate the faith in our home. They weren’t about to send us to St. Mary-of-the-Ruler-Whack, however, so my sister and I went to extracurricular “CCD” or “Catholic class” held on Wednesday nights. I was a nightmare to the nice ladies who volunteered to teach these classes; I mean, I didn’t even process until the end of high school that they probably weren’t paid for their hour of sanctimonious workbook exercises. The highlight of my extremely splotchy CCD career was definitely seventh grade, when we were given Bibles and told to read the thing front to back. Not only did this give me bragging rights in my borderline-agnostic social circle for the rest of time, it also exposed me to Revelations, in which a woman in the sky gives birth to a dragon who swallows the sun. In “All Souls,” Scully has another forty minutes of religious guilt when she and Mulder have to figure out what’s going on with a series of handicapped girls who have died while in foster care. The girls were born with six fingers, and if I remember correctly, Lucifer is coming for them – but God gets them first, orchestrating their deaths so that they can ascend to heaven? I think? What I remember most is Scully reading some Revelations description of angels as having six wings: two to shield their eyes, two to stand on, and two to fly with. Scary. Also terrifying: Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans, especially the title song. Religious terror was never so hot or cuddly.

What books and movies scared you when you were small? Did the end of the world seem foreboding to you, too?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Good Ideas, Poorly Executed

It’s just my luck that the first novel I read and the first movie I saw upon returning to New York this autumn have been massive disappointments, despite their seemingly engaging premises. Admittedly, I had higher hopes for Felicia Luna Lemus’s Like Son than I did for Julie Taymor’s cloying Beatles singalong Across The Universe. I first heard of Like Son via a feature interview in the April 12 Time Out New York. The novel follows the pilgrim’s process of Frank Cruz, nee Francisca, a Mexican-American trans man whose father dies, leaving him an Edward Weston photograph of Nahui Olin, a mysterious woman. The picture of Olin – a real-life member of the Mexican avant-garde movement in the 1920s and a fascinating figure in her own right – obsesses Frank over the course of a decade, during which he moves from Los Angeles to New York City, falls in love, and becomes a man. I’m fascinated by trans culture, particularly with the under-looked demographic of female-to-male transsexuals, and the Olin angle made the book even more attractive to me, because god knows I love forgotten female artists. Various other themes Like Son promised to examine included race, class, and 9/11.

The curious thing about Like Son is that it flatly does not discuss most of its supposed themes. Frank’s sexuality is only addressed when it can’t be avoided or ignored. Early on, he states that as a troubled teenager, “All I knew was that I was a boy and that being a boy felt safe and true and right” – a statement that almost directly treats his male identity as a salve for the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. It’s not that I wanted Frank to constantly justify his transsexuality, but it does seem odd how little attention the topic receives, especially in the context of Frank’s eight-year sexual relationship with his girlfriend Nathalie; they “fuck” constantly, and Nathalie wants a baby, but Lemus never addresses how all of this physical love takes place. In fact, Nathalie herself is another black hole of a character. The woman is a standard-issue indie sexpot, all messy beehive hairdo and chipped nail polish, the kind of dame who wears vintage silk cocktail dresses all the time (despite the fact that she’s apparently an office temp) and vacuums in the nude. May I suggest an industry-wide ban on these dreamy, weepy, skinny wet-dreams of the thick-framed-glasses set? These chicks have been popping up in literature like mushrooms in a dirty shower. But I digress.

Most of Like Son focuses on cutesy-for-cutesy’s sake vignettes from Nathalie and Frank’s domestic life. Nathalie is flaky and sensitive, with a tendency to run off to different states when she feels sad. Frank steals trees from the outer boroughs and replants them in Tompkins Square Park. They go to a movie at the East Village Cinemas and drink coffee from bodegas. Nahui Olin takes a backseat to this thrilling litany of fin-de-siecle New York life, emerging from time to time to enchant Frank for about an hour before he goes on to the next melodramatic thing, like getting an ill-advised tattoo before boarding a train in search of his runaway girlfriend. Most frustratingly, at the end of the book, nothing is resolved: Nahui’s picture gets put in the safe-deposit box, along with Frank’s past, which he has completely failed to explore. Like Son reads like YA author Francesca Lia Block – that progenitor of Weetzie Bat and anorexia glamour - for grownups. It would have thrilled me when I was thirteen and obsessed with anything that seemed new and different, but unfortunately now I’m just obsessed with finding novels that earn their page count.

I can't say that I thought Across The Universewas even a good idea for a movie. I’ve enjoyed Julie Taymor’s previous work, especially Titus, but a Beatles musical just seems like a terrible idea no matter who directs it. The band itself covered this territory satisfactorily during their career, and besides, what about that Cirque de Soleil thing? Mightn’t the latter be a better exploitation of the music in question than a zany Taymor-a-thon, especially considering that live performance would at least inject some energy into the proceedings? Alas, my entreaties seem to have fallen on deaf ears, because the showing I saw was packed at four in the afternoon. The film’s crimes are almost too diverse to list. Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess, as the story’s titular lovers (if you’ve seen the trailer, I doubt you need a plot summary, but here’s one anyway: “In a time of change, they loved”) have about as much chemistry as my seventh-grade self trying to light a Bunsen burner. They both behave in a peculiarly modern fashion – Wood, especially, seems more like her character from Thirteen than a hippie-turned-political activist, although probably less fun in the sack.

As The A.V. Club noted, by far the worst musical number is Eddie Izzard’s performance of “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” but equally excreable is anything that comes out of the lame mouths of Hendrix and Joplin rip-offs "Jojo" and "Sadie." Ultimately the film proves so frustrating, and so wildly inconsistent – why is there an Asian-American lesbian from the Midwest in the mix? Why can’t the movie make up its mind where it cares about the civil rights movement or not? Why does Vietnam look suspiciously like a museum diorama about war? – that the true sweetness of certain of its moments its completely obliterated (anachronism or nor, T.V. Carpio’s performance of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is lovely). Weirdest of all, Across the Universe presents a Sixties America where free love and radical politics don’t deadend into the interesting, fucked-up seventies, but blossom into an endless hugfest. In a world where the Beatles are endlessly abused but never even mentioned by name, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Loose Ends

Lynch's Emily, who went with him to visit the Maharishi and was invited to stay at the holy man's house, is in fact Emily Stofle, who played "Lanni," one of the Greek chorus of prostitutes in INLAND EMPIRE. No word on why Lynch and Mary Sweeney divorced after two months of marriage in 2006, but Stofle stepped out publicly with Lynch for the first time at the Venice Film Festival, below:

I came home seriously considering signing up to learn Transcendental Meditation, and discovered that it costs $2500 to become a part of the practice. I did invest in a sort of generic-brand version called Natural Stress Relief ($25), which I have practiced intermittently since. It's good when I remember to do it.

The movie theatre in downtown Fairfield is called the Co-Ed.

David Lynch Weekend, c'est fin

The Donovan concert was held in the mysteriously titled Men’s Dome on Sunday night, free to the public. My earnest chauffeur drove me around a low hill and through gold-tipped gates to the edge of a large round building. Fairfield residents walked towards the Dome laughing and talking, their Birkenstocks and linen outfits somehow color-coordinated with the landscape. The forceful presence of TM transformed the familiar Midwestern environment – rolling fields, thick stands of trees in purple dusk – into a sort of spiritual moonscape. Inside the Dome, posters praised the Maharishi and announced community events. Money was being raised to renovate the building. I removed my shoes and placed them on a rack that held hundreds of other pairs and padded into the sanctuary.

The interior of the Dome was wood; bright orange light from the saffron-curtained windows that ringed the room framed the silhouettes of the audience. I sat on the floor of interlocking foam mattresses and saw that nearly every other attendant had brought a portable chair-back, of the sort parents sometimes put on the floor for children to sit on. After a few minutes, I understood why: the cushy floor made it impossible not to slouch painfully, and lying down would eliminate my view of the stage. An enormous American flag hung from the ceiling directly above my head. On the stage stood a large icon of the Maharishi garlanded with flowers.

The woman next to me wore a flower-print prairie dress and a long brown ponytail. “Don’t you have a chair?” she asked me. I shook my head forlornly. “Oh, don’t worry – they’re for everybody,” she said, and walked off, returning with a chair-back. Somewhat more comfortably seated, I peered around at the crowd. The average age was fifty – a few people had brought young children, but nearly everyone in the Dome looked old enough to have enjoyed Donovan’s music during its heyday. The lights dimmed, and Bobby Roth came onstage, singing praises to Lynch, Donovan, MUM, and hey, all of us, too. Lynch walked on, followed by Donovan. MUM presented an award to Lynch for, well – the exact wording escapes me, but it was something along the lines of “For promoting peace and wellness through meditation in education.” Two standing ovations followed. Lynch and Donovan were photographed with a very large framed certificate. Glancing around, I recalled the numerous Fairfield residents I had encountered throughout the weekend who had had very little idea of who Lynch was, people who had never seen any of his movies but came anyway. The conference was about evenly split between Lynch enthusiasts and meditation enthusiasts, but the crowd in the Dome seemed to appreciate the director simply because he was a vocal proponent of TM.

Bobby Roth introduced one of the head educators from the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. This man had worked in “a public school on the East Coast that was widely considered the worst high school in America. There were security guards posted every 50 feet in the hallway, and stabbings and beatings regularly took place at the school. The graduation rate was very low. And we come in saying ‘life is bliss.’

“At first the principal arranged our meditation sessions so that students had to miss study halls if they wanted to learn TM. There was one boy who had been in over one hundred and fifty fights, and he was widely considered one of the most violent people in the school. After a few sessions with us, he said: ‘I get angry, but my body won’t let me fight.’ Another boy, considered the most dangerous gang member at the high school, kept his head down at the end of a session. This was in a lecture hall, so after we called his name a few times, we climbed up and touched him on the shoulder. When he looked up, there were tears in his eyes. ‘I’ve never felt happiness before,’ he told us. A gang tried to dissuade students from attending our sessions, saying that it was a form of White mind control. But the students resisted and risked bodily harm to come. Another boy was homeless. He collected cans and spent the deposits on clothes from the Salvation Army. His family had just fallen apart. But he was a talented artist, and always wanted to pursue his talent. He got involved with us, and meditation seemed to work for him. He won first-place in a state competition for talented young artists, and he’s now attending school on a full scholarship.

“At the end of the year the principal of the school called us into his office and put the master schedule for the next semester in front of us. ‘We want you to put meditation on the schedule first,’ the principal said. ‘We’re making it mandatory for all students.’”

It was the second time I had heard this success story, and the second time it choked me up (It would probably behoove the reader to know that I am an unreliable narrator in that I am extremely susceptible to sentimental stories of unlikely success, in every category from education to athletics). It had elements that made me suspicious – why, for example, was each success story about a boy who had evidently been voted “worst” by a shadowy faculty committee? But I innately trusted the speaker, probably because he was a more realistic beefy Midwestern type, a guy my dad might know, than the ethereal clerks of the MUM bureaucracy I had been exposed to thus far.

Transcendental meditation has elements that might be generously described as eccentric and more accurately called cultish: a professed belief in something called “yogic flying” (about which Bobby Roth did at one point joke, saying “I mean, if you really want to start thinking I’m weird…”) and the reverence for the Maharishi himself. During the weekend I encountered Helena and Ronald Olson’s His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: A Living Saint for the New Millennium : Stories of His First Visit to the USA, a memoir by the Southern California couple who housed the Maharishi on his first trip to America. The Maharishi turned the Olsons’ lives upside down, bringing in his own laundress, overstaying his welcome and hosting impromptu gatherings that lasted long into the night, and the American family responded by building an addition onto their house especially for him. The fervent devotion to a living man was too Messianic for my taste. But after two days of Lynch Weekend, I was completely onboard with the integration meditation into education. I was neither an over- nor underachiever in my primary and secondary school days, and yet I would still sometimes fall into paroxysms of guilt and worry over the mountains of work I wasn’t doing. Mightn’t a twice-daily calm down soothe so many of the problems rampant in American schools, administering a chill pill with no known side effects?

Donovan played the same setlist as the night before. Around me, people leaned closer together, closed their eyes and smiled, leapt to their feet for multiple ovations. Lynch was again seated next to the mysterious Emily, of whom I could see only a full head of dark hair. At the end of the evening, the audience walked out calmly. I felt the dangerous pull of fandom. Lynch was still in the Dome, presumably waiting to leave. I knew I shouldn’t wait. I wanted to wait. Admirers in the same position fanned out around me like trees on a barren stretch of prairie, leaning towards the director as he crossed to the side of the room, Emily in tow. She departed his side and gathered a chair. “Come on,” I heard her tell him. “Sit down.” Collectively, we began to gather forward in hope: he was sitting still. But as soon as we had the thought, Lynch and his lady were up and out the door, done with us.

The ride I was supposed to get from one of the men who had driven me to and from my hotel before failed to materialize. I wandered around the rapidly emptying parking lot, wondering how I would get back to my room. It was a quiet and safe night. I bumped into a street sign bearing my mother's maiden name. If I had to hitchhike, Fairfield was the best place to do it.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

David Lynch Weekend, Day 3

(I am currently out of the country and have intermittent access to email, so please forgive the erratic posting.)

“Hi! My husband and I attended your birthday party last year, and we gave you a book about meteorology, and I was wondering if you got a chance to read it? My husband is a meteorologist in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, if that helps you remember?” The woman turned her voice up slightly at the end of every sentence. She had short, curly blonde hair, and her outfit leaned more towards affluent housewife than spiritual seeker. She smiled at David Lynch expectantly, clearly expecting him to be impressed by her knowledge of his interest in the weather.

“Well, no,” the director answered, smiling apologetically. “And I’ll tell you why. That’s because I haven’t been home – honestly, really haven’t been home – in six months. I’ve been promoting my movie, and I haven’t been back at my house in a long time.” The woman actually looked at him with some disappointment before retiring from the microphone. Although there had been a great deal of over-familiar address used in the Q & A sessions – the previous day’s question for Donovan that began with “Hello, brother,” was memorable – I couldn’t get used to the innocent expectation many of these people had that Lynch would remember them from a previous meeting or take them under his wing as collaborators.

It was the middle of Sunday, the final day of Lynch Weekend. The morning’s lectures had included a historical perspective on meditation from MUM’s executive vice president titled “From Lao Tzu to Einstein: Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness” and a short tutorial called “Ayurveda and Mind-Body Balance” delivered by Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D. Through a brief quiz Lonsdorf helped the audience determine their Ayurvedic type – my memory fails me, but I believe the types were dry, moist, and something else. The type dictated a particular self-care regime. The doctor shared anecdotes about the efficacy of Ayurvedic medicine as well. “I used to work with a very overweight lady, and she asked me for tips on how to lose weight. Well, I told her a lot of things she could do, and then when I saw her a little later, I asked her how it was going. ‘I don’t really care for a lot of it,’ she told me, ‘but I do like the hot water part.’ I had told her to drink hot water; it helps the digestion. Well, anyway, it happened that I was out of town and didn’t see her for number of months, and when I returned I went into the kitchen of the building. There was another woman in the room with me, like a girl really, and her back was turned to me. I had never seen her before: she was slim and had long braids. She turned around, and it was the overweight lady; she had lost about one hundred pounds.”

The story, like many I had heard during the weekend, was enchanting but slightly suspect. None of the Ayurvedic health suggestions were groundbreaking or outré – Lonsdorf spoke a great deal about going to bed early regularly, getting enough exercise, cutting down on fat and sugar, and drinking plenty of fluids. Couldn’t the overweight lady have suddenly taken up bicycling or gotten gastric bypass surgery? The possible reasons didn’t matter; what mattered was that she had drunk the hot water and then lost weight. When Bobby Roth took the podium back from Nancy Lonsdorf, he said proudly, “And Dr. Lonsdorf is just about to turn fifty, folks.” There was applause; indeed, with her soft blonde hair and slim body – covered in a figure-skimming tan suit just like Bobby Roth’s – Dr. Lonsdorf looked very young.

When the second Q&A with Lynch and Donovan began, I resolved to stand in line to ask a question. I had no idea what I would ask, but I felt strongly that I must take advantage of the opportunity to speak to David Lynch. One of my somewhat unfounded assumptions about Lynch Weekend was that the event would give me the chance to happen upon the director in a hallway or at the dessert table and speak with him in a leisurely fashion. One of the photographs from Lynch Weekend 2006 shows the director standing the center of a room surrounded by admirers as he smiles patiently and signs a DVD. I kept waiting for that same photo op to arrive, but it never did. Perhaps this was because I was very dependent on the bus that took me to and from my hotel – I could not linger in the hallway after an event but had to make haste towards the driveway, where a van driven by a member of the community was waiting.

For most of my life I have maintained the gauche activity of admiring celebrities. When I was four, largely through the influence of my parents, I began a lifelong interest in Madonna – a home movie from this period shows me singing and dancing enthusiastically along with the video for “Papa Don’t Preach.” In fifth grade I had a crush on Elijah Wood in Flipper and in sixth grade on the Ewan McGregor in Brassed Out (a Scottish film about a coal mining brass band that features a charmingly oily McGregor). The sparkling centerpiece of my idol worship commenced in 1998 with my great love generally for The Smashing Pumpkins and specifically for Billy Corgan. The band’s lead singer is a singularly devise figure – his nasal snarl and hairless pretension made immediate enemies of about half the populace – but to me at age thirteen he was a tantalizing mixture of mystic bard and rock god (a description, it occurs to me, that Donovan would probably like to apply to himself). I collected Pumpkins memorabilia through eBay auctions and obscure mailorder catalogues in the days before cohesive internet fandom and grappled with embittered thirty-year-old fans on Listessa, the SP mailing list. On October 17, 1998, the band – now reduced to Corgan, guitarist James Iha and bassist D’Arcy, having ejected drummer Jimmy Chamberlain for drug use – held a promotional signing for their new album with radio station Q101 at Navy Pier. I had a water polo game that same day, but my dad resolved to take me over to the event during our lunch break. As I walked into the room – hair wet, glasses fogging up – and spotted Corgan in the corner, I nearly fainted. The idea that I was mere feet from my man flabbergasted me, all the way through my stumbling, dumb-smile trip over to the table where the band sat. “Here you go,” the once and future king of my heart said to me, handing the CD back, and I mumbled “Thank you,” then had to go sit down*.

In the intervening years I like to think I have gotten better at meeting the people I admire. Living in New York has endowed me with the ability to pretend like I don’t notice celebrities immediately, but it has not taken away the impulse to run home and call everyone I know to tell them that I saw Josh Hartnett on Bowery and Bond Street and I don’t even like him but Josh Hartnett! In a situation like David Lynch Weekend, where I had actually paid for the privilege to share air with the object of my adoration, it seemed imperative to make the most of my proximity. But any idea of what to say to a famous person you admire seems highly boring, including doing something zany like jumping on stage or asking for a personal favor. Indeed, the sweetly naïve expectations of my co-attendees had begun to irritate me. The best questions were the ones about craft or decisions that prompted spontaneous reactions from Lynch, like the teacher who was worried about integrating TM into her school’s curriculum for fear it might be seen as a religious program. “Meditation isn’t religion,” Lynch answered. “There’s enough religion!”

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Father's Day present, courtesy of Donovan

And now, a break from your regularly scheduled David Lynch Weekend programming.

As I’ve noted, my affection for Donovan stems from my experience of listening to him in the car with my mother. But there’s a more involved story about my history with Donovan’s music. One weekend in February 1995, my mother went to New York City to visit my grandmother, leaving my sister and I with my dad. I was on swim team then, which meant early-morning meets at the high school about once a month in the winter. I dreaded jumping into the cold sweaty pool at seven in the morning, and the constant beeping that meant “go” during the races made me a nervous wreck. Because of the high stress of the swim meets, I could usually finagle some sort of gift out of my dad afterwards – a couple of new pogs (or one special slammer!), say, or a trip to a movie. I wanted to see a movie that day, but only two were showing at the local theatre: The Big Green, some sort of soccer movie for kids starring a chubby boy with curly red hair (Patrick Renna, it turns out) and Gus Van Sant’s To Die For.

My dad and I both knew which movie we should see, and which movie we wanted to see. The latter had Nicole Kidman and ugly-hot teenage Joaquin Phoenix (together! naked!), and that’s the movie we ended up seeing. It was the type of snap judgment call that my parents have often made in favor of nudity, violence, and ordering me wine at restaurants when I was fifteen, and I love them for it. “Season of The Witch” is used to great effect in the last scene of To Die For (no spoilers). After the movie, my dad took me to Coconuts, where we bought a copy of Donovan’s greatest hits. We played it in the car while we drove to Long John Silver’s. The song “There Is A Mountain” came on, with the memorable lyric “First there is a mountain, / then there is no mountain, / then there is!” My dad started laughing. “What is this guy on?” he asked me. Knowing rhetorical questions about drug references (although I'm sure Donovan maintains his song is about the ocean of bliss within the self, not acid) after a disturbing movie, set to a soundtrack of psychedelia and crunchy fried shrimp: my dad was treating me like an adult, or how I imagined he would treat an adult.I was in heaven.

David Lynch Weekend, Day Two: Donovan in Concert

I walked back into downtown Fairfield in search of a meal with meat. It had been raining on and off since the early morning, and I dodged pondlike puddles every few steps. I had asked a tan-suited man at the information desk where was a good place to eat in town, but he had stared at me uncomprehendingly and answered, “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t eat out.” After passing the BP, which sold coffee but nothing worth eating, I crossed the street every few paces or so to remain on the side with the sidewalk – the paved strips were not constant but alternated on either side of the road. I passed Every Body’s, a combination organic grocery store and vegetarian restaurant. Then a few more blocks of houses and empty lots, and when I rounded the corner towards my hotel I saw a monumental building of red stone, complete with a clock tower.

It was the Fairfield court house, clearly dating from another, more prosperous time, when passenger trains stopped at the town’s tracks instead of twenty-two miles to the east in Mount Pleasant. Like many small Midwestern towns, Fairfield is arranged around a large town square. The town boasts a surprising number of restaurants, including a “Thai Deli,” several places specializing in ayurvedic cuisine, and some pleasantly new-age coffee shops. One such spot is Revelations, which is a combined bookstore and wood-oven pizza emporium. Directly across from my hotel was Azteca, a Mexican restaurant. Although I have had bad experiences with “ethnic” cuisine in isolated locales (and airport sushi, but that’s another story) it looked like my best bet to get some meat and hot sauce in my system; the blandness of MUM’s food was beginning to make me feel faint.

After a surprisingly good meal of beef tacos, I retired to my hotel room. The rain had begun again, and I had no desire to tough out the twenty-minute walk back to campus, as I was utterly without umbrella or slicker. Fairfield has no public transportation to speak of; I had made the journey from Mount Pleasant with the aid of a man whose number I had found on the David Lynch Weekend website, who had in turn sent his sister to pick me up at the train station. Through this woman I discovered Fairfield’s intricate network of the retiree chauffers, calm, friendly people who seemed slightly bemused as to what all the fuss about Lynch was. I called her on her cell phone and asked if she would be willing to drive me back to MUM for Donovan’s concert. I felt slightly bad every time I called to ask for a ride, because I knew I would interrupt her gardening or doing something else she enjoyed; her chauffering was incidental, not vocational. Of course, she told me. It would cost me six dollars. On the ride there, she asked me if I thought Lynch’s movies would be in the Fairfield library. “I’d like to watch one,” she told me.

Donovan was to play two concerts over the course of the weekend; one at the Ogden Auditorium, and another at something called the Men’s Dome. Saturday evening’s was in the auditorium, the same smallish room where I had thus far heard Lynch, Donovan, John Hagelin and various others rapturously introduced by Bobby Roth. My overflow badge damned me to the same wait for entry, but I no longer worried that I would have to watch the concert in the empty broadcast tent beside the auditorium which I had yet to enter. A local paper had noted that two Native American school groups were attending the conference, ostensibly because of its emphasis on integrating meditation into education. I recognized the students passing me into the auditorium. Not only were they by far the youngest attendees, but they were herded by a woman who chose her words carefully – “All right, ladies and gentlemen, now I would appreciate it if we could all move in a straight line and quietly towards that door” – and spoke in the measured field trip voice I remembered from my middle school teachers. I settled in the last row of white plastic chairs, a vast improvement over the bleachers from the day before, and waited.

Bobby Roth, glowing in a fashion normally reserved for expectant mothers, took the podium. I regret not bringing a tape recorder to the Weekend, if for no other reason than that I have no recordings of Roth’s introductions. I feel that my descriptions here have reduced them to a ridiculous stream of repetitive superlatives, but in truth they were all distinct, and genuine; Roth truly felt excited and impressed by everyone who spoke. He was a fine speaker, and as a sort of proxy contained the excitement of the entire room. Donovan was praised and feted, his recent history noted, and then the man himself emerged, dressed in rockerly clothes: a close-fitting black sweater with some sort of white pattern and black pants. He carried a green guitar with a small gold emblem of a deer on its body. As the applause soared and Donovan settled in his chair, I glanced around at the crowd. Many couples resembled each other, as a dog begins to look like its owner: pairs of people with lank dishwater blond hair spilling over their collars or wearing matching black jackets, their hands clasped in polite affection. The anxious, calm faces of the teachers in the audience interested in what TM had to offer them bobbed like hopeful lightbulbs over their bodies. Here and there were MUM students, their unlined faces serene in a fashion that belied their youth.

Donovan announced “And I am, the Sunshine Superman,” launching into that song. It was just he and his acoustic guitar – he had no backup band – and his solo performance lent some credence to the somewhat pretentious things he had said in his Q & A about being a troubadour, a single poet, who sang and wrote alone. “Even John [Lennon] and Paul [McCartney] didn’t truly collaborate; each were individual artists,” he had instructed one questioner. His guitar playing was efficient and impressive, and the pall of snark that had fallen on him during his Q&A sessions seemed to lift. My favorite part of Donovan’s music has always been the unexpected sounds with which he dressed up his songs: the hum-om vocal modulation on “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” the organ on “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” the careening whir on “Sunshine Superman.” Absent these effects, however, his music was just as compelling, stripped of excess but not of feeling. I was struck again by how wonderful his music is for children, not only in its sunny psychedelic subject but also in its repeated belief that everything will be all right. Unfortunately, that part of me that never made a good babysitter when every other twelve-year-old girl in my suburb was raking in the dough ignoring children for a few hours on a weeknight kicked in when the school group behind me screamed in a shrill, alarming tone and clapped offbeat throughout most of the performance. One of them sang repetitive snatches of a Rihanna song.

Here is Donovan’s setlist from Saturday night:

Sunshine Superman
Catch The Wind
Gentle Heart (a song he explained would be on his new album)
Hurdy Gurdy Man
Wear Your Love Like Heaven
Season of the Witch
Jennifer Juniper
The Universal Soldier
Happiness Runs


A whispery blues song, also on the new album, whose title was not given
Mellow Yellow

Earlier, to a questioner who had wanted to know about his thoughts on performing, Donovan had said “Play three fantastic songs, and then you’ve got them, and you can do whatever you want.” This was precisely what he did in the Ogden auditorium. He had a carefully crafted set of patter that he kept coming between and during the songs. In the middle of “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” Donovan launched into a story about how George Harrison had written a verse of the song when they were in India with the Maharishi. Would we like to hear it, he asked? Well, he would too. Unfortunately, no pen was available when Harrison composed his verse. It wasn’t included in the recorded song, he explained, because at the time London studios required songs to be less than three minutes long. The crowd let out a collective sigh of disappointment. But! Donovan had memorized it, and would sing it for us tonight. It involved time being buried and truth coming to light. “Season of the Witch,” Donovan noted, was Lynch’s favorite of his songs. The audience was often invited to sing along, especially on “Happiness Runs,” a song about meditation that Donovan noted was now being used to sell cereal. I had never heard the song before, but as he instructed us to sing “Happiness runs, happiness runs,” (“First the gents! Now the ladies!") and trilled “Thought is just a little boat upon the sea,” above the crowd’s eager chorus, we all fell into clapping pattycake-style, like a room full of five-year-olds at a singalong. I love concerts, but I’ve rarely felt the sort of togetherness Donovan managed to forge between the Eraserhead devotees, people who had meditated for more than thirty years, and his own bliss-conscious fans. When he left the stage, it was to a roaring ovation.

I had seen Donovan in person once before, in February 2007 at the Anthology Film Archives’ showing of Jacques Demy’s The Pied Piper. The theatre at that cinema is always freezing in the winter, and Donovan emerged on stage to introduce the movie wearing a silky scarf, his hair a dark corona over his black jacket. “In 1972,” he said, “I was the Pied Piper. The question is,” he paused, “Am I still the Pied Piper?” Another pause. “And the answer is yes. I am still the Pied Piper.” He smiled mysteriously and backed into the eaves, moving in a way that reminded me of the albino in Wild At Heart who walks by Sailor and Lula, gesticulating with ecstasy while Koko Taylor performs in a bar in New Orleans.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

David Lynch Weekend, Day Two

At five after eight the shuttle to the university’s campus had yet to arrive. Torrential rain fell outside my hotel’s window, and there was no number to call to check whether or not I had transportation to the day’s events, which were to begin at nine-thirty with a videoconference appearance by John Hagelin. Breakfast, my schedule informed me, was from eight to nine-thirty. An endless series of nondescript white cars passed in front of the hotel, and then finally a small yellow school bus skidded around the corner. A few moments later a fit man with a white mustache appeared in the front door of the hotel. “You waiting for a shuttle?” he asked. The driver, it turned out, was a gym teacher at the local high school, and the school bus was the chariot of choice for the girls’ tennis team he coached. He had accidentally left the top hatch open overnight, so almost every seat was covered in water. After he dropped me in front of MUM’s Student Union, I hoofed it around to the entrance, which was in the back of building, a Vedic quirk it shared with many of the MUM buildings I had seen thus far.

This breakfast would be my first taste of the university’s much-vaunted all-organic vegetarian cuisine. The three steaming rows of heated trays at the far end of the room looked promising from afar, but their contents were sparse and baffling. Two held liquid – one brown, the other white – and then there were some few scrapings of what could only be oatmeal. Then there were two empty trays, and after that one half-full of hash browns. There were also long plates of muffins and scones and vast bowls of the type of fruit salad you find at McDonald's: cantaloupe, honeydew melon, canned pineapple and red grapes. A large heated tank of was optimistically labeled ROOIBOS and LEMONGRASS but proved to be empty. There were barely twenty-five people in the room, and almost no food. Breakfast had been in session for twenty minutes. I scraped up some oatmeal and topped it with the white liquid – warmed milk – and felt silly for expecting scrambled eggs.

After consuming a meal that needed little chewing (hash browns, oatmeal, water and a banana) I headed over to the Henry Ogden Clark auditorium. I was an “overflow” attendee, having registered late and at a great discount, and as such was supposed to watch the live events on a screen in another room. When I attempted to cross into the overflow room, however, one of the amiable Fairfield police officers milling around told me that it was likely I would be seated in the main auditorium, as it seemed there was enough room for everyone. Thus I began the wait that I would regularly engage in, watching blue-badged “Guests” and green-badged “Visitors” (I never quite understood the distinction between the two) pass down the hall while I waited in orange-badge steerage.

Eventually I was ushered into the room and settled on the same bleachers at the back of the room I had perched on the night before. Robert – hereafter “Bobby,” as Lynch called him – Roth took the stage and delivered another effusive introduction, this one for Hagelin, whom I learned had worked at several prestigious physics labs with acryonym names, such as CERN, and had been the Natural Law party’s candidate for the presidency in 2000 (somewhat less impressively, Hagelin appeared in the films What The Bleep Do We Know and The Secret). The physicist’s visage appeared on two large screens on either side of the stage, a golden map stretching behind him and the words “Raja New York” printed beneath his torso. Balding, with kind blue eyes, he looked exactly like the fellow in the Napster logo.

I am ill equipped to properly summarize his talk, for although he continually mentioned that he “didn’t want to get too technical,” the lecture involved several slides of physics equations, indecipherable charts, and a hand-drawn illustration of some sort of bubbling. To be very short, he explained the scientific proof of the existence of consciousness and of the unified field. Hagelin did not strike me as a charlatan but rather as a man wholly preoccupied with his work, and possibly somewhat blinded by the excitement it gave him. When the audience was invited to ask questions of the physicist, each questioner was projected onto the large screen as they spoke. A young man wanted to know what dark matter had to do with the unified field, and a woman was curious about the fact that many great meditators chose to “drop” their bodies and live solely in the blissful consciousness. Their voices shared a tentative quality and Hagelin’s warm responses visibly softened their worry. Dark matter had no light of it and was not part of the unified field, although it was a natural part of the universe. One could leave their body, but there is so much bliss and joy in life that no one need depart before they were ready.

After the physicist was bid adieu with much fanfare, Roth trilled praise for Lynch and the director appeared on stage. Long lines had already formed behind each of the microphones, and many of the questioners looked strangely similar: men in their late twenties or early thirties armored in nondescript baseball caps and faded heather gray t-shirts, women with a single quirky item of clothing – a red leather jacket, spike heels – to compliment their organic outfits. One called Lynch Dave, some called him David, and most called him Mr. Lynch. They thanked him at the beginning and the end of their queries, and they tried to sneak in a second question when he’d answered their first. They shook and wrung their hands when they spoke and smiled. All of the questioners reached toward David Lynch with their whole bodies, as if they wanted to embrace him, to be nearer to his person.

“Where do you get your ideas?”
“I am a filmmaker, and I have been working on some projects, and I was interested how you motivate people into working on your ideas.”
“Sometimes I have an idea, and I get so excited about having caught the big fish that I can’t cook it. Do you know what I mean?”
“I have watched all of your movies, and I have to say that I like The Straight Story the best. I feel that you have really captured the feeling of the Midwest. I wanted to ask if you lived here before you made that movie?”
To this last, Lynch answered: “No…The Straight Story is the only one of my films that I did not write. At the time I was going with a girl named Mary [Sweeney, Lynch’s editor of many years and the mother of his son Riley, born in 1992] and she had a friend named John Roach from kindergarten, and they were working on a script. I lived in Madison, Wisconsin in the summers, right on the water. And they talked about it, and I wasn’t interested, but then when it was done they asked me to take a look. And then I decided I wanted to do it.”

A woman asked how he planned the color in his movies. Lynch said that he did not, but admitted that it was an important aspect of his films: “Frank Booth wouldn’t exactly wear pink.” Blue Velvet’s titular villain came up in other questions; a man wanted to know how Lynch “got such amazing performances out of actors, particularly Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet.” In almost every answer, Lynch repeated his conviction that an idea, once properly caught, contains all of the specifics of an art project. No element is left to fate of decision; the idea comes fully formed, a little homunculus waiting for incubation. A woman explained that she was an English teacher from Fairfield and asked if Lynch could please explain what Mullholland Drive was about.

The director smiled. “When I was making Eraserhead,” he answered, “I had no idea what it was about. And I thought about it and thought about it, and at this time I was reading the Bible. And one day I found a line that explained to me exactly what Eraserhead was about.” The audience held its breath. “But it doesn’t help for me to explain what the idea means to me. Your reaction is more important and interesting.” A young man with a bleached crew cut and several long strands of prayer beads hung around his neck explained that he had come to David Lynch Weekend the year before, become interested in TM, and was now hoping to attend the school itself. “Things have really gotten better for me,” he told Lynch, smiling. He wanted to know what was the name of the book that had encouraged Lynch’s artistic goals as a young man.

“I’m really happy to hear that,” Lynch answered, beaming, and then named The Art Spirit by Robert Henri again. Lynch took at least five minutes answering each question. He gestured in his inimitable way, wiggling all of the fingers on one or both of his hands like the fronds of an undersea plant. He was patient with the questioners even when they interrupted him or tried to prompt him. Then it was time to ask Donovan questions, and Lynch was led offstage smiling.
The first guy up to the microphone looked to be in his early twenties, and had bleached a random hank of the hair behind his ear. His question was almost incomprehensible and involved something about the politics of Donovan’s performances. He spoke meanderingly for over three minutes, when Donovan crisply interrupted him, saying, “I think I know what you’re talking about, yes.”

Another man addressed Donovan with “Brother, I too am a singer-songwriter, like you.” And then the guy with the bleached hair and the prayer beads was back. “Will you play ‘Ferris Wheel’ tonight?” he wanted to know. Donovan did not project the boundless goodwill that Lynch had; he seemed somehow miffed about the whole situation, as if nobody in the auditorium was giving him his proper due. He gave long, considered answers, however, complete with encouraging if stretched smiles at the end.

We filtered out to lunch, held in a gym shaped like an airplane hanger across the way from the auditorium. There was more food to be had than at breakfast, but it proved disappointingly bland: veggie burgers, a sort of cream of mushroom soup, steamed cauliflower and carrots, and boiled squash. Aside form a pair of regulation-issue plastic salt and pepper shakers – the pepper shaker and pepper itself a dispiriting shade of beige – no seasoning was offered. I was impressed with the strict delineation of waste – biodegradable forks and knives in one bin, food in another – and with the claim that all of the food was organic, and much of it locally grown – but this was the type of mushy, tasteless meal that made people hate vegans. I felt faint and cranky, wishing there was some damn coffee somewhere, and too full of bland starch to try the ice cream being served out of a large white cooler at the center of the gym. When I tried to leave the lunchroom via some open doors at closest to my table, an MUM employee told me that I had to leave through the entrance I had come in.

I was beginning to recognize certain Vedic restrictions in MUM’s campus architecture. In addition to the nifty pagoda-like structure atop several of the buildings, cars could only enter the campus from one direction. The man who told me that I couldn’t exit the building from that direction wore a natty tan suit on his thin runners frame. His hairline was receding somewhat, but otherwise he looked younger than I somehow knew he was. The restricted doors, piles of bland vegetables and eerily healthy men with eager smiles underscored TM’s reputation as a cult in my head. But I gritted my teeth and went out another door.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

David Lynch Weekend, Day One

The woman to my right wore her long silver hair in a sort of anime chignon held up by chopsticks. Wavy tendrils fell down her long neck, on which balanced a smooth walnut head. I watched her large “transitioning” glasses fade clear from a warm, rosy brown. Her coral silk dress fell in generous folds around her yoga-toned body. Stopping before the bleachers at the back of the room, she took a cushion made of saffron fabric from her bag and placed it on the bench. She sat and removed a thin journal from her bag. The book had flowers printed on the front, and a word in black print that I couldn’t make out, but it looked like it said “dreams.”

I was inside Maharishi University of Management’s (MUM) Henry Ogden Clark Auditorium for the opening reception of the second annual David Lynch Weekend. The subtitle of the event was “Exploring the frontiers of consciousness, creativity and the brain,” and the schedule promised seminars on creativity with director David Lynch and Donovan. About three years ago, Lynch became suddenly loquacious about his thirty-year involvement with Transcendental Meditation (TM). In the fall of 2005 the previously interview-wary Lynch undertook a campus tour across America, lecturing about meditation’s effect on his creative process. Fans of the director crowded into theaters with questions about the filmmaker’s most beloved movies and production secrets. Lynch’s answers were both elucidating and evasive, towing the publicity line of mystery and apocryphal stories long since established in Lynch lore: The director does not have a favorite of his films, but Dune is his least favorite. He discovered he wanted to make movies when, as an art student in the late 1960s, he looked at a painting and decided he’d like it to move. A book called The Art Spirit by Robert Henri bolstered his early interest in art. He does not talk about the baby in Eraserhead.

But another, somewhat cuddlier Lynch emerged on his lecture tour. Wiggling his hands in the air, face shining, Lynch explained over and over again – in answer to almost every question – about the blissful process of “diving within” to an “ocean of pure energy” where ideas like “big fish” were abundant for the catching. In 2005, David Lynch founded the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, an initiative promoting the incorporation of meditation into education. The first David Lynch Weekend was held at MUM (located in Fairfield, Iowa) in March of last year, and in December Lynch published Catching the Big Fish, a sort of creative memoir detailing his relationship with meditation. Along with Lynch, the event’s keynote speaker was John Hagelin, Ph.D., a physicist who claimed to have found scientific evidence of a “unified field” – Lynch’s energy ocean – on the molecular level. For the weekend’s second year, British singer-songwriter Donovan had joined the roster of luminaries.

On the opening night of the second David Lynch Weekend, the average age of an attendee seemed to be around forty-five. Sensible shoes, beige flax outfits and long, straight hair were favored by men and women alike. Lynch Weekend fell on the same three days as prospective student and alumni weekends at MUM. All visitors to the university had passes to the Lynch events. “Student hosts” in flashy green t-shirts congregated around the punch table in the lobby. MUM operates a tobacco-, alcohol-, drug-, and meat-free campus, so the punch was a mixture of white grape juice and apple cider and the students were uniformly earthy, self-assured young people. Although I envied their nattily designed green t-shirts, which featured a triumvirate of stylized portraits of Lynch, Donovan and John Hagelin, their smiling authority proved unreliable; other than directions around the campus, they could provide little in the way of information. “Do you know when the shuttle is running?” I asked one of them. “No,” she answered, “But let me check with someone else.” When she came back, she simply shook her head sadly.

Inside the auditorium, the silver-haired woman scribbled a few words inside her journal and closed it quickly as Robert Roth, the vice president of the David Lynch Foundation and event coordinator for the weekend, took the stage. He deemed the strange couple of Lynch and Donovan “two of the greatest creative artists of our time.” Both were accorded a short video introduction. Donovan’s was a quick-moving montage of images of the musician walking near the ocean, wearing a variety of hats, and singing on television to an audience of contemplative girls in black and white, set to a sound collage of each of his top singles, beginning with “Catch the Wind.” The video also included Dylan’s proclamation of hatred for Donovan from Don’t Look Back and strategically placed pictures of the singer with the Beatles. As a young man, Donovan had a full halo of dark curly hair, a mischievous Pied Piper (whom he played in a Jacques Demy movie) face and snaggleteeth. After Roth murmured through a crescendoing introduction, pronouncing Donovan “the poet…the man that forty years ago returned from India with the mission of spreading the ideals of meditation…the most extraordinary musician,” the man himself entered stage left from behind a thick velvet curtain. His hair has rearranged itself slightly but lost none of its fullness, and Donovan’s eyes have, if anything, become brighter in the lined map of his face. His teeth, presumably, have remained constant. He spoke about muses, five-stringed instruments, “the Goddess” and his wife, Linda, whom he identified as his muse and connection to the Goddess.

Then Lynch’s video intro was cued; the audience was told it had been directed by one Sam Lee, and featured “Lynch’s own music.” What followed was a somewhat blah slideshow of Lynch headshots and candids set to the Twin Peaks theme, intercut with quotes from the director relating to the weekend’s raison d’etre. The music segued into Julee Cruise’s “Mysteries of Love,” the song that plays in the penultimate moments of Blue Velvet, and the content of the photographs changed to shots of Lynch at schools, embracing children. Then with little ado, Lynch also pushed through the curtain, wearing his trademark flyaway pompadour, black suit and skinny tie. He took the podium and remarked that his journey had begun in a mud puddle with a childhood friend named Little Dickie, and joked that there were not many fish to be caught in that pond. “There is a big pond in every human being,” Lynch said. Roth explained that the director and someone named Emily had just arrived from Cannes, where he had debuted a new short film and “been lauded beyond what any of us can imagine.” Both he and Donovan were very tired, but each would answer one pre-selected question, submitted by an audience member.

The question was “What does the creative process feel like for you?” Considering that Catching the Big Fish is essentially a 176-page answer to this question, it seemed a bit redundant, and Lynch responded by paraphrasing the book: “Very, very good,” followed by a long pause. “Nothing is happening, and then something happens. And the whole process is just so blissful. I guess I just could have said blissful.” Donovan explained that when he found himself in connection with the goddess, he began to have poetic thoughts, and it didn’t matter whether what he was doing was any good or not. “But then, I start to think my poetic connection might help another person’s poetic connection, and I want to share it.” The great artists were thanked, and Roth announced there would be desserts in the lobby, followed by some “student entertainment.” I followed the woman with the rose-colored glasses into the lobby, where she delicately nibbled some olive tapenade on a melba toast.

I came to Lynch Weekend largely because of my love of Lynch’s work, but I also admire Donovan; I grew up listening to him in the car with my mother every morning on the way to school. The combination of these two men struck me as an unlikely event, made all the more remarkable by the fact that their pairing took place in small-town Iowa. Transcendental Meditation has sometimes been called a cult. The campus’s corps of smiling thin people in light colored clothing and strict all-vegetarian dining halls made this allegation easy to understand, but as I waited for the shuttle back to my hotel I did not feel as if I were being indoctrinated. “Student entertainment” trailed out of the auditorium in the form of an old-timey electric guitar riff. A girl wearing a prospective student badge talked excitedly to a green-shirted boy. The air held a heady mixture of 1960s idealism and postmodern spiritual seeking. The diverse other attendees, including two Native American school groups, milled around, speaking their own patois of mixed accents and unique vocabulary: “yogic flying,” “energy node,” “troubadour experience.” These people had come to the center of the country to celebrate the power of thought. I watched their shadows streak down and away from inside the shuttle that had finally come, bearing me smoothly back to the hotel.