Monday, May 30, 2016

The Old City of Jerusalem

Temples, Mosques, Churches, Walls, Tunnels, Religious relics, and plenty of gift shops.

Entering the Jaffa Gate

 Arch of the Virgin Mary

 David’s Tower

 Hakotel. Western Wall of the Temple Mount. It has been the cinter of Jewish yearning and memory for more than 2,000 years. Only fragments of the Great Temple survived, but Jews believe Divine Presence has never departed from the wall. It is the most sacred structure of the Jewish people. It is the focus of Jewish longing and prayer for redemption and renewal. This was the spot where Abraham came to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Jacob slept here, dreaming of a ladder to heaven. Solomon built the Great Temple there 3,000 years ago, and Herod rebuilt it after Babylonian destroyed it, 2,000 year ago.

Entering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Where Jesus died.

Pilgrims at the slab of stone Jesus died on.

View of The Dome of the Rock from the Moslem Quarter. For some reason, they had it blocked off while we were there.

Shops on the Via Dolorosa.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

My Villain

I recently read that Steven Spielberg, in a commencement speech, told the Harvard University graduating class to “Find a villain to vanquish.”

I found that advice interesting, because I identified my villain over thirty years ago, and I’ve been fighting him ever since. I’ve tried numerous methods to vanquish this foe, but he keeps coming back, hounding me, making my life miserable. It does no good to simply wound him. I know now I have to kill him in order to be forever free.

That villain? My nemesis? It’s the voice in my head—the ego self-identified as Alan Chin.

And why is he so hard to defeat? Because he often masquerades as a compassionate soul. He more often than not convinces me that he is me, and to hurt him means hurting myself. It’s not true of course. He is a devious creation, and I’ve learned through experience that it is the source of all my anxiety and unhappiness.

Unhappiness? How you ask: because my ego compares and contrasts my life and accomplishments with others, which turns into judgments about them and about me, and I so often come up short and find fault with others in order to defend myself. My ego creates a prison from the expectations of others, and makes me condemn myself and belittle my accomplishments because they don’t measure up to those expectations.

I’m convinced that in all religious myths, including Christianity and Islam, that speak of God vs. Satan and Heaven vs. Hell, these mythical beings and places represent the following: Satan represents the ego; God (or Christ) represents the mind without ego; Heaven is the state of mind without ego dominating thought; and hell is identifying the self as the ego, rather than the true self.

In other words, what’s known as Heaven or Enlightenment or a State of Grace is living in the here and now without ego. I’m not there yet, but each day I know my foe better and better, and I keep fighting the important battle.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Writing Tip: Story Starter Questions

I recently talked to a writer who claimed that she simply started with a blank page and an idea for a character and began writing to see where the story would take her. She seemed amazed that I put so much work—premise statement, outline, character profiles—in before I ever write the first sentence. I’m not saying one way is better than another, but I do think there are some basic questions that need answering before a writer plows into chapter one. Below is what I consider bare minimum to flush out a story idea.

1.     Who is the protagonist?
2.     What is his clear and tangible external goal? You must be specific about this so that the reader will know whether or not the protagonist accomplishes his goal.
3.     What does the protagonist stand to lose if he doesn’t accomplish his goal and is it primal enough for the audience to care about the outcome? Here are some primal goals:
a.     Safety – shelter, sustenance, financial security and even life or death
b.     Reproduction – finding a mate, becoming pregnant or making someone pregnant (or adopting), protecting the children that you already have
c.     Identity – finding out who you are or how you became the way that you are, confirming your sanity or lack thereof
4.     What internal flaw or problem would make it particularly difficult for the protagonist to accomplish his external goal?
5.     What would a person be like who has the worst possible version of that internal flaw? This is your antagonist.
6.     What is the worst thing that the antagonist could do to stop the protagonist from accomplishing his goal? Can it involve exposing the protagonist’s internal problem or a secret the protagonist has kept hidden? Whatever this “worst thing” is, it will be the second plot point at the end of act two. 
7.     What skill does the protagonist have that can help him accomplish his goal?
8.     What job and environment would both take advantage of that skill and also help the protagonist to avoid confronting his internal problem? This is the setup that should go in the first 10% of the story. 
9.     What two things could happen to the protagonist to jolt him out of this comfortable environment and force him to begin pursuing his external goal? These are the catalysts at 10% and 17%. 
10.  What event could occur that would force the protagonist to step outside of his comfort zone and begin to pursue his external goal? This is plot point one at the 25% point of your story.
11.  What event would raise the stakes enough to force the protagonist to commit 100% to accomplishing his external goal? This is the mid-point. 
12.  Should the protagonist overcome his internal problem or not? Should the protagonist accomplish his external goal or not? What external forces are working against him to keep him from accomplishing his goal? This will be the resolution of your story.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Jerusalem During Yom Haatzmaut

We left Jordan and drove to Jerusalem just in time for Yom Haatamaut (Israeli Independence Day), and the streets were packed with people, the military was out in force, and the sky was lit with fireworks. The Israelis' are a very, very patriotic people. It was a loud, fun time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Wadi Rum, Searching for Lawrence

After two days at Petra, Herman and I retreated to an even more desolate place, Wadi Rum. It’s a vast desert with fantastic rock formations, rather like the Monument Valley of Jordan. We drove into the heart of silence and spent a night. It was as close as being Lawrence Of Arabia as I’ll ever get.

But to prove how small a world this is, even out in the center of all that empty space, we ran into another gay couple on a similar tour, and after a few minutes of excited talk, we realized we four had a mutual friend who now lives in Bangkok.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Visiting Petra, in Jordan

Anyone who knows me, understands I love to crawl through ancient ruins. I’ve climbed the pyramids at Giza, crawled all through Angkor Wat, walked Borobudur, and hiked to Machu Picchu, just to name a few. This last week I had the opportunity to travel from Tel Aviv into Jordan to visit Petra. Herman and I spent two days at Petra, and it turned out to be one of the most interesting and inspiring hikes of our lives. We loved it.

More than two thousand years old, Petra was built by the Nabataeans in the heart of the Shara Mountains. It prospered in the first centuries BC and AD as was a vital part of a major trading route connecting ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Today, intricate facades sculpted into the sandstone cliffs of the area can still be seen, along with other remarkably preserved structures and monument of this fascinating civilization. At its peak, it housed fifty-thousand inhabitance. By the middle of the 7th century Petra appears to have been largely deserted and it was then lost to all except local Bedouin from the area.

Petra was also known as the rose-red city, a name it gets from the color of the rock from with the city's magnificent structures were carved. The city has numerous tombs cut into the mountainside, along with temples, a theater, and a colonnade street with two free-standing churches.

Needless to say, I was in hog heaven.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Hello Jafa

Another day spent in Jafa, just south of the White City in Tel Aviv. What we found was a Hungarian festival and the Jafa flea market.

Hungarian Days. There are roughly 22,000 people of Hungarian decent living in Israel, so why not have a Hungarian festival? Great music and dancing, along with arts and crafts. Ever try dancing with a wine bottle on your head? Apparently Hungarians do.

The Hungarian Days festival took place in what was once a train station, the HaTachana Station. It's now converted into a row of shops.

There are market areas and flea and art markets just about every weekend.