Shooting #Catfish in a Barrel

***I wrote this a while ago and just re-discovered it. It brings up questions I'm always curious about, so I thought I'd share and hear what you think*** One of the first blog posts I ever wrote was around the time when there were all sorts of scandalous reports challenging the accuracy of James Frey’s memoirs, A Million Little Pieces and his follow up, My Friend Leonard.  Jt Leroy, the troubled, young, writing wunderkind, had also just been outed as a creative scheme with a middle-aged San Francisco woman at the helm. In all honesty, despite my intellectual musings about how all our stories are ultimately fiction, I felt sad and disappointed, and a bit of a fool. I had devoured James Frey’s A Milion Little Pieces. I cried when his words sang into the hollows of my own despair; I sighed when his imagery echoed the experiences of my own father’s struggle with substance abuse; I laughed when his self-conscious inner monologues sounded all too familiar. Needless to say, I was moved. Just as I was moved reading JT Leroy’s far more raw and provocative works. Evidently, I’d read all his books before he became a counter-culture icon; Asia Argento directing and starring in the film version of one of his books. I was a fan. I had friends who were “friends” with him. I’d even met him at a film festival party in Toronto. I was too shy to introduce myself or share how much I’d enjoyed his work. As was typical, he was wearing massive sunglasses, a hat and I think even a wig. He had a whole persona. He was brilliant, shy, tortured and innocent all at once. That’s what made him so appealing.

So what does it mean when our illusions are shattered? When what we think is real—people, stories, events—turns out to be fiction? Does it matter? Yes, it matters. Of course it matters. If we don’t have truth, then what are we left with? Well, I think that’s the most important question of all, because in the end, there is no truth. The past doesn’t exist in the way we think it does, or want to believe it does. There’s no magical history book that documents life’s events, ensuring an accurate record we can reference at will. No, the past only exists in our experience, in the present. And since time is always moving forward (presumably), and the present is always changing, so are we—along with our thoughts and memories. So when I ask again, does it matter if our stories are fact or fiction? Does it make our tears any less real if we discover a tale to be tall? My answer is no. It shouldn’t. Or at least I don’t think it should, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel compelled to protest against false advertising (which is really the underlying moral issue). No, I have those feelings because I’m a human being and I want to feel like I know what’s real and what’s not. It even makes me more survivable to know the difference between a real tiger and an Imax 3D one. The only real danger is when I’m so afraid of the feeling of unpredictability that I think the tiger isn’t real when it is.

I feel like I’m sort of shooting fish in a barrel here, since I was fortunate enough to play a character on tv who was faced with this exact struggle. Très apropos. Everything she knew to be true was dismantled right before her eyes. I mean, we’ve all had experiences when the truth stung, when the cold, dismal reality of someone not being who we thought left us shattered and untrusting, but you have to admit Cally met a particularly unfortunate fate. Not only was her husband not who he said *spoiler alert* (she was torn up at the idea of him having a measly affair), but he turned out to be the epitome of everything she feared and had fought against her entire life. He wasn’t just not human, he was the enemy. And he wasn’t just her husband, he was the father of her child and the only person she ever truly trusted. So yeah, pretty harsh. Needless to say, she didn’t handle it very well, and who can blame her? But it’s unsettling to recognize how much our identity is wrapped up in what we think we know. Not to get too spiritual or anything, but I have a hard time believing we’re solely made up of atoms and energy that ferments into some sort of “consciousness.” I believe we are more than just our bodies, more than our minds even. And if we knew this, maybe we wouldn’t disintegrate if we discovered something we thought was true to be false. We would simply be “ourselves” with a new perspective. Is that really so bad? It certainly feels like it at times, but perhaps that’s the beauty of being human—discovering the truth beyond “knowledge.”

So I just finished watching the movie Catfish. *spoiler alert - watch it!* Let me just start by saying I thought it was brilliant. Intentional or not, the fact it pissed people off and caused speculation as to its “authenticity” is win/win. I was so uncomfortable through the whole thing. I was uncomfortable with what was happening in the film, enthralled with its characters and their unlikely story, and I was uncomfortable with what was happening in my living room, frustrated with my own inability categorize what I was seeing and make sense of my own emotions. I fell into this recursive loop of existential uncertainty, only to be sucked in by scenes where I thought to myself, “You couldn’t make this shit up!” Only to be violently pulled in the other direction, thinking, "There's no way this is real!" I’m not going to give an opinion as to whether I think the film is real or fake because, quite honestly, I don’t care, and it doesn't matter. That’s the best part! It was so well done and the questions it raised are questions we should all be asking regardless; whether it’s by projecting on people having experiences in a documentary, or whether it’s through our own experience watching a “documentary” and speculating its legitimacy. Like a chinese finger trap, hating on it only distracts you from the truth, wrapping you tighter in your own limiting and warped delusions. And yet, I am only human after all, and I would just sleep a little sounder if I knew, like, was that shit for real or what?!?!

Further reading...

review of Catfish on The Documentary Blog

musings on "authenticity" by Andrew Potter

"Jt Leroy"

James Frey on Oprah

Merry Christmas to the Ground!!!

Christmas shopping is pretty low on the totem pole of priorities for me, but this year I had a hilarious experience as I attempted to avoid complete Scrooge status. It unfolded like an after-school-special: too good, and too absurd, to be true. It started when I heard some guy talking on the radio about the Stanley Cup. I just happened on it after all the usual channels were playing garbage (and I don’t mean the band). The guy was the author of a new book detailing the adventures and exploits of hockey’s coveted prize, along with its faithful handlers. Apparently every player of the winning team gets to spend twenty-four hours with the cup, no matter where they are in the world, and no matter what they want to do with it. All I can say is, if that thing could talk... But anyway, I immediately thought of a good friend of mine who I would endearingly label a “sports junkie.” I met up with him at a sports bar once and when we left, we got into his car only to listen to the game on the radio all the way home... Where he proceeded to turn on the television... Well, you get the idea. So naturally, I thought the book would be perfect! And it was just a few days before Christmas! Score! Needless to say, I was disheartened to learn it was completely sold out at both Barnes & Noble AND Borders--it was even out of stock on Amazon! I didn’t know that was even possible! Cut to December 23rd, I was driving past a little local bookstore. On a whim, I decided to go in and check. You never know, right? Stranger things have happened. So I ran in. It was five minutes before they closed. They didn’t have the book. The guy informed me that even the distributors were out, so he didn’t know when they’d be getting them in. Then he asked if I’d tried their other store. I told him I hadn’t. So he gave them a call and, to my joy and disbelief, they had it! To be more specific, they had one copy. So I gave him my name and went on my merry way. I had it all planned out. The next day was Christmas Eve and I would stop by a couple stores to get some goodies for friends, pick up some food for dinner that night, then get to the bookstore before it closed and pick up the holy grail of gifts. I got to the store in plenty of time. I gave the guy behind the counter my name and he dipped under the counter to grab the book. It was to good to be true. Everything was working out perfectly. I proceeded to tell the guy how hard it was to find and how I couldn’t believe my luck. He shrugged a little and raised his eye-brows in rapport. I told him I would just grab it because I wanted to look around for a bit. He said they had a special place behind the counter and I could just pick it up when I was ready. Seemed logical enough, so I looked around for about ten minutes. Nothing jumped out at me, so I headed to the counter and asked for my book. That’s when the slow motion kicked in. He looked on the counter then under, his eyes getting wider with each glance, until his eyes finally met mine. He didn’t know where it was. He looked horrified, like a kid who came home from the playground, only to find his mom saying, “Where’s your little sister?” It was pretty entertaining actually. I don’t even think there was one moment where I felt angry or upset, I was laughing too hard on the inside. Murphy’s law was at it again. He went all over the place looking for it, but ultimately gave up and deduced he had mixed it with another pile of books and put it in the previous customer’s bag-which only sweetens the story really. It’s not like someone came along and bought it. Someone was going to open their bag and find a book they didn’t buy and didn’t even want. I tried to convince myself they might see the mistake and bring it back to the store, but no such luck. So to that customer: Merry Christmas!!! As for my friend the sports fan, he got a hilarious story instead. Oh, and an empty amazon box containing a picture of the book.

Please note, the clerk was incredibly apologetic and kind. He gave me a gift certificate and phoned me as soon as the book came in. And my friend says it’s a great read! Highly recommended!!!

no but seriously

if you woke up tomorrow and found out you had 24 hours to live, what would you do?  who would you see?  what would you eat?  where would you go? 


i sometimes wonder if we even so much as asked ourselves these questions, how our lives might be different; how we might make different choices or use our resources differently.  to say that it's a lack of awareness that plagues our technologically advanced society seems somewhat irresponsible.  we live in a world where we can communicate to people across the world in seconds.  we are aware more than ever of the troubles and travails of the modern world and yet we hide behind the luxuries of convenience and comfort.   for the most part, it appears people are motivated by the fear of not having what they want, as if they would somehow be less without their belongings, their status, or their illusion of control.  it is my belief that it is not a lack of resources that is at the root cause of problems we face in the world today, but a lack of integrity and critical thought.  even so called 'causes' that so righteously espouse a better way of life are focusing on effects and not causes.  you've heard the old adage about teaching a man to fish.  well nevermind fishing, people need to learn how to think!  it's unfortunate that possessing a brain does not seem to assume its use.  nor does possessing life seem to assume valuing it.  if this were true, do you think we would be killing each other over land, money, power, convenience, jealousy, petty thievery or any other myriad reasons people are dying every day?  i can think of no civilized justification for violence, yet nor do i pretend to not participate in the system that supports it.  i think that to assume that because you've never held a weapon, that you are not responsible for the violence and injustice that occurs in our world, in our society and in our thoughts, is a confusion.  a very dangerous and destructive confusion.  because then who is responsible?  who is at the helm if you will?  if each of us as individuals turns a blind eye on our participation in the whole, there is no integrity and there is no humanity. 

Albert Einstein said it beautifully when he said:
"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

i think it is essential, in order for human evolution to continue, that the citizens of this global community begin to evaluate what's really important in life and in living.  what do you value and why?  and are these values being expressed in everything that you do?