Sometime last fall, while biking, the word Sisyphus popped into my mind. I did not know what it meant. I knew it was familiar, but I could not remember why. It’s a weird word. Not a word you hear on a daily basis, not even a word you hear on a decade basis, unless perhaps you are a scholar. But, it kept popping into my mind randomly at least a dozen times or more into the beginning of 2021.
I Was Just Looking for Something Good to Watch
I was looking for a new series to watch on Netflix. I’d finished a score of good series, and then hit a patch of bad ones. I wanted something good…something I could sink into and get lost inside. I was looking for something like the shows I had recently finished watching such as:
Outlander: I never read Diana Gabaldon‘s books, but once I started watching this series, I was hooked. I was trying to find a replacement for Masterpiece’s Poldark series based on Winston Graham’s books, which is absolutely amazing. And when I saw Ronald D. Moore was producing this series, I was intrigued because his last big hit series was the updated Battlestar Galactica series, a TV drama I loved immensely in the 70s, and Caprica (this tells the tale of how that fictional human civilization fell by showing how the Cylon androids took over their worlds, but then it got abruptly and cruelly canceled before the whole story could be told).
Outlander does not disappoint from the very first episode onward. Its characters are complexed, nuanced, and compelling. The series does not rush the story, reveals each character honestly and humanely, and tells the tale in a captivating, mysterious way. Each season builds upon the last one. The characters grow as the times change around them. The difficulties and battles feel real and vital. Each character has layers of complexities that influence their choices and actions, just like real people do, making the story relatable; indeed, a symbol that transforms the complexities encountered in novel and unexpected ways. And isn’t that what you are really hungry for when you sit down to watch a story?
His Dark Materials
His Dark Materials: I never read Pullman’s novels but I loved the Golden Compass, which was made for the big screen in 2007. However, due to the financial crisis of 2008/2009, the next parts of this series never materialized. Then in 2019, HBO teamed up with BBC to reimagine this fantastic tale for the smaller screen/TV. They did an amazing job translating a complicated story to the screen. I found it believable, compelling, and thrilling. The characters are complicated. You think you’ve pegged one as evil and then realize later critical nuances that force you to reconsider your views. They mystery of the story is revealed slowly and unevenly, so you have to guess or imagine for yourself why this or that happened. Each new character has something new to offer in understanding the whole story. The special effects add to the story rather than overly dominate it.
I love this scene where the researcher and scholar Mary talks to Dust, then she realizes the Dust itself are the Angels. (From His Dark Materials | Season 2, episode 4. The Tower of Angels).
She asks: “Angels are creatures made up of shadow matter of dust?”
The Mysterious Something answers: “Yes.”
Mary further inquires: “And shadow matter is what we call spirit?”
The Mysterious Something replies: “From what we are, spirit, from what we do, matter. Matter and spirit are one.”
Mary asks: “You’ve always been there?”
The Mysterious Something says: “Making, stimulating, guiding.”
Mary queries: “So does that mean angels have intervened in human evolution?”
The Mysterious Something answers: “Yes.”
Mary asks: “But why?”
The Mysterious Something says plainly: “Vengeance.”
Now, I wonder what that means? I didn’t find out in Season 2, so waiting for Season 3. But after that exchange, Mary starts working with the I Ching–which is our world’s equivalent to the Golden Compass from Lyra’s world. Because of Mary, I got the I Ching for my birthday and learned to read the yarrow straws. I supposed that now I too am talking to the angels.
I use good TV drama like a support system, especially during this year of COVID where social distancing has put so many of us into isolation to extremes. My own Indra’s Network was already partially destroyed and broken. The connections I still maintained with friends and family were sorely stretched by time and distance. They were incredibly nourishing when time and attention permitted, but these moments were punctuated by long bouts of silence and little to no meaningful interactions with people who care.
Good stories, powerful dramas are ways I have found that soothe and nourish my soul, especially during times when kindness and caring human contact is in short supply.
As I was working on this blog, Liz Cheney spoke before Congress on the eve before the impending vote tomorrow (5/12/21) to remove her from her leadership position as the 3rd most powerful Republican Leader in the House. Republicans are doing this to her because she took a stand not to support Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. She named Trump as the chief sower of doubt in the hearts and minds of Americans.
The Dark Force
By the way, the I Ching says doubt is the Dark Force. Now, who is being a superhero here in the United States on this very day of May 12, 2021? Who is growing the fabric of time and space rather than ripping it to tiny shards of broken light?
The Tibetan Book of the Dead
The Tibetan Book of the Dead warns the soul of a dying individual not to follow the illusionary images and lights they have created inside of themselves and then projected into the world around them. They did this because they did not understood their true Self in life. They did not descend and understand their true identity as a space-time being. They did not understand the meaning and purpose of life. Death is a time thats unravels the net of confused pain each individual becomes entangled within throughout the course of their life on Earth. To not do so, condemns the eternal soul to return again and again and again–sometimes (perhaps often) as a lesser being in order to learn the lessons not mastered in the life before. This returning can occur again and again for the world of rock and buildings and money and power is like water–it continually flows, dissolving everything in time.
Those who use the power of the Dark Force may indeed achieve tremendous riches, success, and power on Earth. However, all this will turn to dust and scatter into nothingness at the time of death. Nothing here is permanent. At death, we lose everything. Nothing that we thought is real is real. If we don’t let go of everything we have clung to in life, the tiny light of consciousness every human being is born into at the beginning of their life will be born into another painful life, again and again and again.
Those who peddle in doubt and fear can live 10 billion, million lives, each one diminishing his/her original source of light until there is nothing left of that light.
Leonard Cohen narrated a beautiful documentary about the practices and wisdom contained and known within the Buddhist tradition. It is elegant knowledge, beautiful knowledge. It shows how we can grow as space-time beings, as we are suppose to grow, rather than collapsing into smaller and smaller living beings.
“People make hell realms out of their own anger. They make worlds out of passions, out of envy or complacency. We project our emotional states, and then believe it is the real world. But no matter what, everyone longs for compassion. Everyone wishes to be awake. So the best thing is to develop genuine compassion for all living beings and for ourselves too. And our compassion should extend beyond our friends and family and the people we like. It must extend to all people and to all living beings.” — From Documentary about The Tibetan Book of the Dead
This is how to wake up as a living conscious being.
The OA: This series is a mind-bending SyFy fantasy that often leaves viewers with more questions than answers. Word has it this is one of the reasons this show was cancelled after season 2 when 5 seasons were planned. Apparently the average viewer does not have the attention span or interests to dabble in complexity–perhaps this is the inevitable end to Carmel Marvel storytelling–everything has to be blunt, not complex, and nothing left to the imagination, much less to dabble with moral ambiguity. I loved this series. I guess I drank the Kool-aide and became part of its cult following late. And I agree with 110% with Brit Marling that storytelling in America has become not as good as it could or should be.
When the show was cancelled, one viewer went outside of Netflix’s headquarters and held an 8 day hunger strike. Refinery29 interviewed her and wrote a compelling article about why she did this.
"Emperial Young is on day eight of a hunger strike. It’s not over the burning of the Amazon, or gun violence, or the latest controversial move by the current Commander-in-Chief. Young, 35, wants Netflix to renew The OA for a third season — and she’s willing to go to extreme lengths of what she calls “internal violence” to make it happen.
“We are living in a time where it seems that things are going to go very badly,” explains Young in front of the Netflix building in Hollywood, where she has been protesting since August 15 and hunger striking since August 19. “The response to that has been ‘Okay, we’re going to make darker, grittier television.’ But in times of darkness, light is most important, and The OA is filled with light. We need something to let us know, ‘Yes, we can do something,’ because all the media around us is telling us that these are dark, grim times and there is nothing you can do about it.”
Created by Brit Marling and creative partner Zal Batmanglij, The OA tells the story of Prairie (Marling), a blind woman who returns after years in captivity with her sight restored. Season 1 of the series mostly exists within the narrative that Prairie tells a group of soon-to-be friends about her time in captivity and before it, in which she transcended time and space and found herself in alternate dimensions. Along the way, the show tackles themes of trauma, and of the importance of a human connection amongst it. Young isn’t wrong about The OA being different: There’s a hopefulness to The OA that is unmatched by more gritty prestige TV offerings like The Handmaid’s Tale, Westworld, even Game of Thrones.
Learning about this woman, Brit Marling and Zal Batmangli came and brought her water. Afterward, Brit posted this about her reaction to OA’s cancellation and how storytelling in America has become not as good as it could or should be.
This is no small thing that Emperial Young and Brit Marling are drawing our attention to in this protest and post, particularly this part: “… the role of storytelling and its fate inside late capitalism’s push toward consolidation and economies of scale.” This is a post about Sisyphus: Is Late Capitalism and its push towards consolidation and economies of scale perhaps not the rock Sisyphus not pushing up the mountain getting it to the top after great effort only to have it fall back down to the bottom again and again and again.
Invisible City (Brazil): This is a new Brazilian fantasy that is streaming on Netflik television series created by Carlos Saldanha that is based on a story co-developed by the screenwriters and best-selling authors Raphael Draccon and Carolina Munhóz. It is in Portuguese, so you have to read subtitles if you are only an English speaker. I was born in Brazil and once knew Portuguese, but have forgotten all of it. I loved listening to the characters speaking in Portuguese. It felt familiar and lovely. It is a musical language and the music in this series is alive and vibrant. I soon forgot I was reading subtitles and got lost in the rich and depth of storytelling unfolding through this complex, invigorating story. The characters are treated with dignity and respect. The puzzle of the drama unfolds in surprising reveals that add depth to the story and bring this mysterious world into vivid view.
Glitch (Australian): This is an older series that begins with a bang when a police officer and a doctor face an emotionally charged mystery as seven local residents inexplicably return from the dead. It is three seasons long, and the first two open up so many innovative ideas and possibilities, but season 3 falls flat on its face and destroys all the wonder and the miracle being explored, in my opinion. I am glad I watched it because I learned what I do not want to do as I write my tale.
I was so bothered by how they ended this series, I went on online to see if others were too and found this great blog: Old Ain’t Dead | Reviews of movies and TV focused on women … specifically Season 3 (so if you intend to watch Glitch, save this site for later because there are definitely spoilers, including my comment there).
Carmel Marvel Syndrome
When it comes to science fiction and fantasy, I have come to realize I am picky, and not all are the same. In fact in the United States, we are suffering from what I have come to term the Carmel Marvel Syndrome. It is a widespread a syndrome that is dumbing down how stories are being told in books and reimagined on screens. The good-bad divide in Carmel Marvel stories is stark, uncreative, and boring. Nothing is left in-between–you are either the good guy or girl or you’re the bad one. The bad ones almost always lose in the end, but you get there in terribly unimaginative, brutal, evil ways…as the good guy or gal finally finds a morsel of moral or spiritual strength and prevails. Romance is reduced to uninspiring sex scenes that clearly come from basal fantasies of pale males.
What bothers me most is Carmel Marvel storytelling is that they are not honest to the characters. They tend to stripe away their complexity and humanity and force them to do things against their character’s moral underpinnings. Yes, imagined characters have moral underpinnings, they are real and must strive for meaning, purpose and dignity too. I am not going to explain this now, but Carmel Marvel stories like to put their characters into highly contrived situations that they would never do unless forced to by their bored and uninspired creators. They are put into these situations purely for entertainment reasons, which really translates to money. Because Carmel Marvel producers and creators hope for billions and billions of viewers–and they think only highly fantasized modern gladiators well do this. After watching such a sickly story, nothing sticks or stays in the psyche or soul from the story. That is because there is nothing real there. There is nothing nearing the human experience of meaning, truth, reality, or wonder. Everyone knows these types of stories are junk food for the soul. They are cheap imitation of images meant to trick, deceive, and fill you up with a whole lot of nothing, just like if you ate only Carmel candy for all your daily nutrient requirements.
Then I Stumbled onto Something Spectacular: Sisyphus
So let’s get back to that word Sisyphus that kept popping into my mind.
After being disappointed by another Carmel Marvel HBO series, I switched back to Netflix to hunt for a new series to watch. That’s when a 2021 Netflix out of South Korea caught my eye. It was called Sisyphus! Normally, I would have put it on my To Watch Later list since it required reading subtitles again. But because of the synchronicity, I thought what the heck, go for it!
I loved it! And I discovered that I love the Korean way of telling stories!!!!
The fabric of this story is rich woven with little bits of gold and silver throughout the 16 episodes. Each one takes the viewer on a journey, revealing a little bit more in surprising ways that adds depth to each character, even the evil ones. The villains have backstories that are as complex as the heroes. Villains and heroes alike are treated honestly and no high tech short cuts are used to substitute good storytelling. Throughout the 16 episodes, the viewer enters a journey (a world) that grows more and more complex as you go: you grow as the characters grow.
Sisyphus masters the art of subtle storytelling. This is a subject I briefly touched upon early in my blogging efforts in a blog questioning if Collective Transformation Possible. In it I talk about the Black Magician and the White Magician and their roles in our human psyche. I drew them while listening to a Chinese business-financial scholar talk about Trump’s power play back in 2018 with China on trade. (It’s didn’t end well by the way… this power play Trump tried… for Americans or for Trump who placed the livelihood of hundreds of small soybean and other farmers in jeopardy.)
Dr. Peter Chen pointed out Western ideas of negotiation are quite different from Eastern ideas. He said in Chinese, the most similar word they have to negotiation is tánpàn, which means talking and judging. For the Chinese, it is considered the dark side of economics with the East preferring to focus on conversation when working out deals. However, there are huge differences in how conversation is conducted by a Western diplomat versus an Eastern diplomat. By Eastern standards, Westerners are considered low-context communicators (i.e., direct and forceful, which can be considered very rude by Eastern standards). Eastern culture dictates a much more high-context style of communication, which is reserved, relies more on body language, and is based on relationships.
This why I loved Sisyphus. They tell this story using a much more high-context style of storytelling. I also love listening to the actors speak Korean. Every word they utter is full of meaning, purpose, and emotion. The tone and way a word is said is more important than the word itself. You understand a song by how the singer sings it, so too with Eastern languages. They are full of images, meaning, context, and emotion. And isn’t that what we are really craving in watching or reading a story? Deep meaning and purpose? Sure, lots of people will say they just want to escape into something entertaining… but if you discover something about yourself and others while doing so, isn’t that a whole lot better. Stuff that stick to you and makes you a better individual… helps you grow as a conscious living being?!
Even though we deny how powerful and essential good storytelling is in Western culture, we are starving for good, wholesome, spirituous stories that fed our souls as well as our fractured, confused minds. Stories that awaken sleeping spirits needed to defeat doubt: the force that splinters our psyche and traps us in endless delusions and illusions that only make us smaller, meaner, and contribute to the demise of all life on Earth.
A new friend I’ve made during runs with Pumper (another mom of dogs and kids) recommended another Korean Netflix show called Crash Landing on You. I didn’t think I would like it better than Sisyphus, but I love it even more. The depth of each character grows and spills out in unexpected ways in each episode. And don’t miss the little peaks at the very end after you think the episode has concluded. Not always, but often, they show you something not shown earlier. It is often something that fills in a gap and fills out the depth of the character–how they are thinking, perceiving, and acting in the world. How they are transforming through time and space.
My friend Fabian Navin has just posted something very insightful about why I loved this show. The Facebook embedding is not working, so I am copying below what Fabian has posted (go to his site above to see more of his posts):
*Warriorhood in Marriage and Relationship* Conscious fighting is a great help in relationships between men and women. Jung said, “American marriages are the saddest in the whole world, because the man does all his fighting at the office.”
When a man and a woman are standing toe-to-toe arguing, what is it that the man wants? Often he does not know. He wants the conflict to end because he is afraid, because he doesn’t know how to fight, because he “doesn’t believe in fighting,” because he never saw his mother and father fight in a fruitful way, because his boundaries are so poorly maintained that every sword thrust penetrates to the very center of his chest, which is tender and fearful. When shouts of rage come out of the man, it means that his warriors have not been able to protect his chest; the lances have already entered, and it is too late.
Michael Meade has suggested that both marital partners begin by identifying the weapons that have come down through their family lines. Perhaps the woman has inherited the short dagger, used unexpectedly, and the spiked mace, which she swings down late in the argument onto the foot soldier’s head. The husband may have inherited a broad sword, which he swings when frightened in large indiscriminate circles; it says “never” and “always.” “You always talk like your mother.” He might add the slender witticism spear to that.
Some people also use the “doorway lance.” When the argument is over, and the woman, let’s say, is about to go to work, the man says: “By the way,” and the lance pins her to the doorframe.
Man and wife might say which weapons he or she plans to use in the particular fight coming up. During such preliminary conversations the man’s warrior and woman’s warrior are welcomed in the house and honored. A good fight gets things clear, and I think women long to fight and be with men who know how to fight well.
When both use their weapons unconsciously or without naming them, both man and woman stumble into the battle, and when it is over the two interior children can be badly wounded. The adult warrior inside both men and women, when trained, can receive a blow without sulking or collapsing, knows how to fight for limited goals, keeps the rules of combat in mind, and in general is able to keep the fighting clean and to establish limits.
Marie-Louise von Franz once told a story about a woman friend. “This woman had gone through several marriages. Each marriage would go well until an argument came. Then she would throw a fit, and say damaging things. The terrible quarrels would continue, and finally the man would leave. One day we heard she had found a new husband, and we said, ‘Oh-oh, here it goes again.’ But something else happened. A few weeks after the honeymoon, the same old quarrel arrived and she brought out her poison and said terrible things. The husband turned pale, but to her surprise, said nothing, and left the room. She found him upstairs packing his bags. ‘What are you doing?’ she said. I know,’ he said, ‘that I am supposed to act like a man now and shout and hit you, but I am not that sort of man. I will not allow anyone to talk to me in the way you have, and I am leaving.’ She was astounded. She asked him not to leave, and he didn’t. The marriage is still going on.”
This story is not perfect. If a woman has a fair argument, it is not right for the man to leave; he should stay and fight. But von Franz’s use of the word fit implies that her friend had a habit of going over the line into possession. Her fits belonged metaphorically to Kali’s realm, rather than to the human realm. Men cross that line often as well. The inner warrior can tell a person when the partner is on this side of the human line, and when on the other side.
Marion Woodman remarks in The Ravaged Bridegroom, “Anger comes from the personal level, rage from an archetypal core. . . . The rage in both sexes comes out of centuries of abuse.
If it is taken into relationships, it destroys. Attacking each other in a state of possession has nothing to do with liberation.” The interior warrior in both men and women can help them to fight on the human plane. If men and women have only soldiers or shamed children inside, they will have to settle for damaging battles constantly. ~Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men
I am totally hooked now on the Korean way of telling stories!!
The stories we tell can liberate us or chain us to the rock we must push up the mountain of life only to watch it fall back down, again and again and again, like poor old Sisyphus. Who do you want to be in life? How are you going to become the best version of yourself, a better person than you have been so far? How will you grow you fragile light of consciousness and help others do the same?