A Holiday Lights Show

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Jones Beach, New York, USA

NYC Skyline Views

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Up In The Air

V-T Day

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Washington, District of Columbia, United States

Fall Foliage at Rock Creek

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Rock Creek Park; Washington, District of Columbia, United States

Theodore Roosevelt Island

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Theodore Roosevelt Island; Washington, District of Columbia, United States

A Most Difficult Year

“The first year I can remember in my lifetime where expectations are dashed, lives are thrown off course, and uncertainty is the norm rather than the exception is 2020.”

When you begin a new year, you expect the most out of it in terms of happiness, health, and opportunities. You hope for the best and pray to avoid the worst. However, there are going to be years that don’t live up to expectations and if anything, topple over any kind of expectations you had to begin on January 1st. The first year I can remember in my lifetime where expectations are dashed, lives are thrown off course, and uncertainty is the norm rather than the exception is 2020.

For the vast majority of people, 2020 has been a year to forget and to put behind us. Still though, there is a lot that we can and should learn from this year to make the next one a more forgiving and hopeful year. 2020 was a most difficult year and one long, seemingly almost never-ending ‘Black Mirror’ episode but I take solace in the fact that those of us who made it through this year are more resilient, better able to deal with uncertainty, and able to be happy with less instead of more.

We will always remember 2020 and while I am looking forward to putting it behind me, there are certain lessons to be drawn from a year like this one to ensure we never have a year as uniquely horrible as this one if only we start to change our behaviors and our actions collectively as a society. Beyond climate change, racial injustice, rampant inequalities, and a raging pandemic, there is also the sense that we are failing each other not just in terms of our institutions but also in terms of our commitment towards one another. Revitalizing faith, trust, and kindness as fundamental tenets of our society will be an important benchmark in seeing how much we have learned from the ills of 2020 and how not to repeat these failures in a future crisis of our own making.  

In a time where our institutions are increasingly unable to meet the challenges placed upon them, I hope we will recommit to them additional resources rather than letting them atrophy and decay after the pandemic is over. I think most of us have learned how necessary it is to have functioning and responsive institutions in a crisis and how much we can be hurt by not having them be available to us especially when time is of the essence. Institutions will only work as much as we allow them to so it’s up to us collectively to believe in them, to fund them properly, and to have leaders who will tell us the truth, understand our needs, and be able to respond effectively. When our institutions fail us, we are all put in the precarious position of relying heavily on our friends and our families, which is sometimes a luxury that not everyone has available to them.

Our personal connections cannot help us though when it comes to securing masks, getting us tests, or giving us financial relief when we have no other option. A pandemic shows us how vital it is to have both local and national institutions in place who can help and are there to help rather than leaving every man or woman for him or herself causing us to act more selfish or more distrustful of others. Pandemics can bring the best out of people and they can bring the worst out of people. It is my belief that this pandemic has shown us how much our institutions have become dysfunctional, how our leaders have been corrupted, and how our society has become way too individualistic especially in a time where cooperation and unity are so desperately needed.

Individuals have been heroic for all of us whether its health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery people, teachers, first responders, etc. who have shown more care and urgency than many larger institutions who have taken months to actually do anything substantive to help people. They are doing their job well under extremely difficult circumstances and hopefully after this year, we will reward them more not just with our thanks but also with better treatment in terms of financial payment, respect, and providing them with more resources when they need them.

Those people on the frontlines like the rest of us have had to become much more resilient in the face of such difficult circumstances. As I have mentioned before in previous articles, Resiliency is one of the most important traits you can have in a year that has been so difficult. The ability to overcome challenges, break down barriers, and surpass obstacles has been so important in 2020 where our resiliency has been tested each and every day practically. Some have had to be more resilient than others, but we have all had to play our part in keeping each other healthy and safe.

Resiliency is also about keeping your spirits up, not letting yourself get too down, and reminding yourself that tough times don’t last forever but tough people do. If you thought you were going to make it through your entire life without facing a challenging or historic year, you would be mistaken. Whether it’s the Great Depression, World War II, or the tumultuous upheavals brought on by the 1960s or the end of the Cold War, each generation is inevitably going to face moments where their resiliency is tested, where comfort is hard to find, and where good days may be hard to come by.

However, if we can get through the hard years in our life like 2020, there’s not much you cannot overcome if you are able to maintain your resiliency. 2020 teaches us that life can go sideways, and that uncertainty is more part of the human conditions than we would like to admit. While we strive for some sense of predictability or comfort in our lives, we inherently know that is just not possible and that we are never guaranteed tomorrow. I hope 2020 also teaches us not to take anything for granted especially our health or our financial security.

Inevitably, we must always plan for uncertainty because it may be coming to us when we least expect it as it did in the early months of 2020. Whether it’s trying to save more money, keeping ourselves that much more physically fit, or keeping some extra food around the house in case of an emergency, I hope that we will plan for uncertainty to come our way again because you never know when it can rear its ugly head again.

Learning how to be more resilient and also knowing how to face uncertainty have been keys to overcoming 2020 but it’s also been about how to be more kind to others. You never know what someone else is going through, how they have been affected by the pandemic, and what they are risking by coming in to work every day when they can’t stay home. If you can’t be kind, then you shouldn’t say anything to anyone. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be kind to one another, to look out for your fellow man, to donate money if you are able to, and even if you’re feeling particularly generous, donate your time and effort to a food bank or a homeless shelter to help those most in need right now.

Also, be sure to check in on those people most close to you whether it’s a close friend, a family member, or someone who you are close to at your workplace or school. Now is the time to make sure everyone is doing as well as can be, that they are not isolated without hearing your voice or seeing your face virtually indefinitely. It is very hard to spend the holidays alone so now is the best time before a new year begins to check in on those people who matter to you the most. Lastly, do not forget to support your local businesses during these hard times whether it’s the mom-and-pop store down the street or your favorite restaurant since they could all use the business right now and it’s the right thing to do to support the economy.

Kindness is going to be even more important in the coming year than ever. Between economic troubles, a continuing pandemic, and political strife, it’s best to be kind always and to empathize with what other people are going through even if they are complete strangers. Give help to those you need and fight for those with less. Make sure you continue to hold people accountable for their actions whether it’s your neighbor next door or the mayor of your town or city. Only by strengthening the bonds of trust through kindness, honesty, and transparency can we begin to heal the divisions and disparities within our society.

The pandemic and other events in 2020 have shown us how important it is to work together, to look for one another, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and to deal with uncertainty and stay resilient as much as possible. I hope things get better for all of us in 2021 and I want to encourage everyone to follow the public health guidelines throughout next year.

Keep wearing a mask, stay socially distant, wash your hands frequently, take care of yourself physically with enough exercise and healthy eating. Make your New Year’s resolutions too if you believe in them so as to strive for new goals and opportunities in 2021. Be kind to others again, stay positive, and don’t let adversity throw you into despair.

I wish all of my readers a very Happy New Year and for a healthy, prosperous, and safe 2021 to come to each and every one of us.

The Wharf

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: The Wharf Commercial District; Washington, District of Columbia, United States

Anatomy of a Scene – ‘Why do we fall?’

“It feels more real than any other comic book movie and the character development is better than most other movies due to the major scenes having a deeper meaning behind them that continue throughout the Nolan Batman trilogy.”

As I have written in a previous blog article, ‘Batman Begins’, directed by Christopher Nolan is one of my all-time favorite movies and still my favorite comic book movie. It feels more real than any other comic book movie and the character development is better than most other movies due to the major scenes having a deeper meaning behind them that continue throughout the Nolan Batman trilogy. One of the scenes from ‘Batman Begins’ that really sum up the core message of this trio of Batman films from 2005-2012 is asking the question of ‘Why do we fall?’. This question not only summarizes the trilogy’s main message of not letting adversity or failure keep us from trying and eventually succeeding but also regarding the need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward in life.

This simple message of ‘why do we fall?’ is more than just about Batman’s own struggles in terms of having a traumatic experience of falling through a well, getting harassed by a swarm of bats, and injuring himself but it’s about our own setbacks in life and what we can do to put them behind us rather than dwell on them. This peculiar scene from ‘Batman Begins’ is central to the theme of the movie as Batman, an ordinary man who while having inherited obscene wealth and prestige, still suffers from tragedy early in life despite his well-to-do circumstances of birth.

This scene starts with a young Bruce Wayne falling into a boarded up well near his father’s mansion while playing with a childhood friend, Rachel, as they search for an arrow relic. Not only is the fall quite steep causing young Bruce to fracture his arm, after also falling to the bottom of the well, Bruce’s presence agitates a flock of bats who come out rapidly to surround and pester Bruce who is afraid by their mere presence. While his fright appears to be very real, it is likely that they are more frightened of him then he is of them. Luckily, Rachel tells Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne, about the incident who comes rushing with Alfred to get his young boy out of the well. The elder Wayne is a doctor who can set the bone and care for his son as a doctor would for any patient.

As Dr. Wayne and Alfred carry Bruce to his bedroom, he asks his son, ‘Why do we fall, Bruce?’ and he answers his own question as he knows the boy to not have picked up on the inherent wisdom that comes from falling: ‘So we can learn to pick ourselves up.’ This is the exact kind of fatherly advice that Bruce will remember not only as a child but as an adult as well.

Facing adversity not only as Bruce Wayne but also as Batman will cause him to remember the quote that his father imparts on him. There will be challenges, failures, and setbacks that he must deal with but the only way to get through them is to ‘pick yourself up’ and to keep moving forward. Dr. Wayne’s advice is key also in imparting to Bruce that only through ourselves can we overcome adversity and that we cannot rely on others to do it for us. While he was there for Bruce to help him get out of the well and to heal his bones, he like all fathers will not always be there for his children. Any child including Bruce Wayne must face the passage through adulthood, often by themselves, and be forced to reckon with life’s challenges head on and by yourself without the help of family and friends even when you are an eccentric billionaire born into wealth.

“All creatures feel fear…even the scary ones? Especially the scary ones.” Another key part of the scene that resonates is that the Bats did not attack Bruce because of who he was but because of what he did. All creatures including humans tend to lash out when they are fearful sadly and that includes the bats when Bruce unknowingly invades their territory in the well causing him to be attacked. This part of the scene is also a precursor to a later scene in the Opera house where a man, seemingly both desperate and homeless, steals from the Wayne’s and kills them out of both out of fear, self-loathing, and pain as he murders them to be able to live off the stolen goods to keep himself from economic deprivation.

A good film like this one develops side characters like Bruce Wayne’s characters to show how much they meant to Bruce before their deaths and how devastating the memory is for the young boy whose unfortunate murders would change his life forever. You really feel for Bruce given how wise, caring, and kind he was both to Bruce, to his wife, and to Gotham City.

In the scene, you also see Thomas Wayne plan to surprise his wife with a necklace of pearls and to ask for his son’s opinion before he plans to give it to her on a family outing to the opera house. He cajoles his son out of bed, seemingly healed from his injury, to join them at the opera house.

My favorite part of the scene is Dr. Wayne’s philanthropic efforts directed not just at charities, foundations, and such but also right to the city that helped made the Wayne’s very wealthy as a family. Bruce asks his father, “Did you build this train, Dad?” His father responds, “Gotham’s been good to our family. But the city’s been suffering. People less fortunate than us have been enduring very hard times.”

He goes on to say, “So, we built a new cheap public transportation system to unite the city. And at the center, Wayne Tower.” His son asks if he works at the gleaming financial center with his name, but Thomas says that he works at the hospital where he is most needed and leaves his company’s financial dealings to those men ‘better and more interested’ in that kind of work than he is.

In this version of Batman, Thomas Wayne is a philanthropist and billionaire you can’t help but be proud of in a way. He doesn’t shirk responsibilities and puts the money directly to help those who are less fortunate in a real manner while he is running the company. He may like to direct attention to himself and his name by having the public transportation system be centrally located in Wayne Tower but it’s a small price to pay for an investment project like that for those who need to get around the city in a cheap and efficient manner. For a billionaire to not hoard his wealth, to invest in the city he loves with an actual, physical embodiment of helping others get to work or to school such as a public transportation network, so the city’s residents can have greater opportunities, it makes his untimely death that much more tragic.

Not only a doctor helping at a city hospital but a man willing to put money towards an actual public good like transportation is an example of the rich and powerful galvanizing resources together to help people less fortunate than they are in a concrete way. Whether its building new schools, constructing a train system, or adding more hospitals, that is a real kind of philanthropy to a city that the wealthy of a society should realize their civic duty to do so beyond paying taxes.

Beyond Thomas Wayne’s message of ‘picking yourself up’ when you have an accident, or a tragedy happen to you, his willingness to invest money back into a city that made his family wealthy is a real example in a movie of how to give a fictional character real development in just one two-minute scene. It is a good example for other filmmakers and directors how to really start to care for a character before an untimely demise and to learn about why drives the other characters in the film who were affected by their death or demise. I highly recommend viewing this ‘why do we fall’ scene to better understand character development but also the Batman film franchise of Christopher Nolan as well.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, our world today could use more men and fathers like Thomas Wayne from ‘Batman Begins.’

Movie Scene link here: https://www.youtube.com/watchv=CPvGLawULKw&pbjreload=101

Whitehaven Trails

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Whitehaven Trails and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal; Washington, District of Columbia, United States

The Whiskey Philosopher

“In a year of ‘red lights’, it’s been both enlightening and refreshing to read a book by a man who has spent his first fifty years on the planet chasing ‘greenlights.’ That phrase of catching ‘greenlights’ is also the formal title of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir / autobiography / personal growth tale that quickly draws the reader in.”

In a year of ‘red lights’, it’s been both enlightening and refreshing to read a book by a man who has spent his first fifty years on the planet chasing ‘greenlights.’ That phrase of catching ‘greenlights’ is also the formal title of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir / autobiography / personal growth tale that quickly draws the reader in. I first heard about Mr. McConaughey’s book when he appeared on the ‘Joe Rogan Experience’, Joe Rogan’s popular podcast. Mr. Rogan coined the book as being ‘whiskey philosophy’ with McConaughey being the philosopher over a glass of whiskey.

I found this metaphor to be quite fitting for the book ‘greenlights’ as the author talks about his life foremost as an observer and a reflector who is able to take a step back and analyze his decisions, his perspectives, and his overall views on his life and how he got to be who he is today. You immediately feel comfortable with McConaughey’s narrative and his ability to tell stories like you were sitting with an old friend over a fire pit drinking whiskey and regaling each other with both good times and bad. Throughout the book, you feel welcomed in and embraced as if you were right there with Matthew having a chat.

What I do love most about ‘Greenlights’ is the raw honesty and the ability to peer into a life like his, which I would argue is different from your average celebrity. Instead of obsessing over the glitz and glamour of being famous in Hollywood, you spend more time with McConaughey in different places around the world. I, for one, did not know that he was an avid traveler ever since he took a gap year in high school to go to Australia on an exchange program. He has often felt the call to go out in the wild, to be secluded from others, and to meet new people along the way.

Surprisingly, the book takes us from the Chihuahua Desert of West Texas to the autobahns of Germany to the jungles of the Peruvian Amazon and across the ocean to the small villages of Mali. One story of Matthew’s that stood out in particular was his wrestling match with a local Malian villager who challenges him as the only white man who has shown up as a guest to wrestle together. It’s not clear to the reader who wins the match, but it doesn’t matter to the village who sees Matthew wrestle. What is most important to them is that he accepted the challenge and not about who won or who lost.

I find that this particular story resonates across Matthew’s life so far and his willingness to put himself out there. Whether it’s going up to ask the woman he eventually marries if he can make her a margarita to seeking his permission from his father to go into acting as long as he doesn’t ‘half-ass it’ to keeping his promise to become a father because that was the most important thing for him to do in life, McConaughey is always willing to accept a challenge and embrace the possibility of failure. His ten guiding goals of what he wanted out of his life back in 1992 when he begun to keep a journal and of which he details in the book of what they were shows the readers how he may have taken a few detours but was able to stay true to his values and his desires even though he’s still working on a few of them.

His main goals of being a father, meeting the woman who was best for him on Earth, putting family first, and even winning a Best Actor award did not happen automatically and he had to run through a number of ‘red lights’ in order to get his ‘greenlights’ eventually. While ‘red lights’ would dissuade a lot of people to keep pushing such as being placed in romcoms for over ten years like Matthew was or perhaps having a falling out with his mother due to his having children out of wedlock, these ‘red lights’ did not discourage him from staying committed to who he was as an actor and as a person.

I think the main message of ‘greenlights’ is to not let the inevitable ‘red lights’ stop you from pursuing your goals and once you see an opportunity, you have to run with it and work hard to turn those lights green. Another particular example from the book that stood out to me was Matthew’s insight to playing Ron Woodroof in the acclaimed film, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, an immensely emotional role, which led McConaughey to win the Best Actor award for his performance. The role itself wasn’t probably the highest paying role for an actor nor was it going to be a huge box office hit like his previous romcoms.

I believe Matthew took the role because how moving the personal story of Woodroof was and how he was moved to tears talking to Ron’s family and learning about his life through Ron’s own personal journals. While the actor and the man portrayed are very different, they are both native Texans and avid journal keepers. Matthew details his intense diet of losing up to 50 pounds to play the role in the movie and how he had to put himself in the mind of a man quietly dying from the horrific AIDS virus, which was stigmatized at the time. Even if they had to do the film over-budget, it was being made because Matthew, like all good actors, knows a good passion project when he finds one and puts all of his effort into acting the role to make the film as good as it can be. In this case, he won the Best Actor award and made his father proud who tells him the book to not ‘half-ass it’ and those words of encouragement stuck with Matthew.

In addition to seeing Matthew’s life play out since he was a child growing up in Texas, you get to see his really well-written poems, notes, anecdotes, and short stories, which really do convey an intuitive wisdom to them. From discussing love to pleasure to pain to truth to meaning, these poems scattered throughout the book are refreshing to read and relate to his life as a whole. His scribbles, notes, and recollection of different events in life is quite impressive. I do believe even more so after reading ‘Greenlights’ how I should start keeping my own journal for the long-term. Matthew was successfully able to turn his journal full of notes, memories, poems, and stories in a really good book about self-discovery, personal growth, the stages of life from childhood through adulthood, and one’s journey in seeking out ‘greenlights’ even when they can be few and far between as they have been for many of us throughout 2020.

At 285 pages, this is a great memoir and autobiography that doesn’t feel like its length. It is very much an easy page turner that doesn’t feel forced or slow-going. It really grips you for the ride and McConaughey’s life has been full of adventures, events, and precious memories up to year 50 where the book concludes. My only suggestion for improving the book or adding on to it in the future is to really focus more on the ‘red lights’ that happened in the author’s life and what specifically did he learn from those lean times as someone struggling as an actor or having family troubles or being tired of singledom.

I would be curious to learn more from Matthew about what advice he would give to someone during those ‘red lights’ times and how to make the most of them or how to best turn them green in the future. I did find that part to be missing from ‘Greenlights’ a bit too much as the ‘greenlights’ got a lot of the book space whereas I think it’s the ‘red lights’ in life that cause us to reflect more, learn more about who we are, and challenge us to be more creative in overcoming adversity.

In conclusion, ‘Greenlights’ by Matthew McConaughey is one of the best books of 2020. It is an engaging, emotional, and insightful look into a man’s life who has been one of the most important actors and entertainers of the past few decades. You learn a lot more about who Matthew is, what drives him, what’s important to him, how he views family, friends, his career, and what truly matters in life. I enjoy his whiskey philosophy and if I happened to be hanging out in Texas with anyone such as having a stiff drink and swapping stories together, it would be with Matthew McConaughey.

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