Traverse City Film Festival

TC’s State Theatre named by the Motion Picture Association. of America as the #1 Movie Theater In The World.

TC’s State Theatre named by the Motion Picture Association. of America as the #1 Movie Theater In The World.

I caught my first Traverse City Film Festival this weekend, 15 summers into this northern Michigan gathering bringing together hundreds of thousands of people to marvel at the power of film and storytelling. “It’s been a rockin’ 15 years,” per Michael Moore, director, founder and TCFF President, in his program introduction, this year’s program booklet proclaiming One Great Movie Can Change The World. “This is not the TC of 15 years ago with its closed down theaters, boarded up stores, and its youth hoping to move on somewhere else. Today it’s alive and vibrant and progressive. The arts are a dominant force. The environment, health care, and equality are the top priorities… The Traverse City Film Festival is recognized locally as the spark that lit the fuse to make this one of the most livable cities in the country… We began this endeavor believing that movies uplift and agitate and Heal and inform. We watch them in large groups of neighbors and fellow citizens of the world. This collective experience of feeling and laughing and crying and thinking together is the first step to making things better, of elevating us all out of the malaise – the madness – we are in. We can do this! WE ARE DOING THIS!  

Moore lead a talk with screenwriter and author Sarfraz Manzoor, who published a memoir Greetings from Bury Park about growing up in small UK town and the impact upon his life of the music of Bruce Springsteen, the inspiration for the Michigan premiere of Blinded By The Light. If you’re a Bruce fan, and I am, you’ll be dancing in the dark and playing air guitar the entire feel good flick long. If you’re not… there were alternatives. The new David Crosby documentary Remember My Name offered stunning archival videos and interviews that traced back through Crosby’s career with The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The heartfelt and brutally honest introspection of Crosby — laying bare the best and worst of his experiences as a counter cultural icon whose lost every past musical friendship undone by his own ego and drug abuse — made this a moving rock biography. The stories told were standout, from the opening recount of an insane drug-fueled jam session with John Coltrane to Crosby describing musical icons like Joni Mitchell, as “Damaged, brilliant, lonely and fantastic.” The magic that was CSN started in “All of 40 seconds, that’s all it took.”

In addition, I caught The Story of CREEM Magazine, The Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams film After The Wedding (Eh), the Danish but nearly dialogue free thriller Arctic, the late night horror offering The Wretched and equally spooky Them That Follow, as well as the documentary Framing John Delorean. Saturday morning was cartoon-central with animated Shorts For All Kids, 80% of which celebrated the young’s adoration for animals, with titles like Birds of a Feather, Who Moved My Penguin, The Bird and The Whale, Sheep, Peacock and Sloth. A funny Japanese anima short with dialogue between the cartoon raccoon and buffalo translated subtitles like, “You wretched untrustworthy traitor! I am done with you!” - which were a lot of fun to hear in Japanese.

 But then there was the one film that stood alone, stood apart, like its legendary subject matter, both the man and the movie seriously moving. Billed as the Native American offering and showcased early Sunday morning, Words from a Bear examines the enigmatic life and mind of Kiowa Pulitzer Prize winning author Navarro Scott Momaday. Delving into the psyche behind one of Native America's most celebrated authors of poetry and prose, the film visually captures the essence of the Master storyteller’s writings and crazy body of work, including his achievement of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1969 with the novel House Made of Dawn. Later efforts solidified his place as the founding member of the "Native American Renaissance" in art and literature, influencing a generation of Native American artists, scholars, and political activists. What a discovery.

Springing forth from a unique cultural heritage, Momaday's work asks the questions every audience can relate to: what are our origins and how do we connect to them through our collective memories? “The most important question one can ask is: Who Am I?”, states the artist at the film’s opening, as he then unearths answers relevant to us all. Relating from his own imaginative, indigenous upbringing, he speaks of his ancestors, who, although at the bottom of the poverty scale, were “rich in their lives, delighting in life and being in nature. Native peoples more than anyone are invested deeply in the landscape… always moored to the land with an attitude, a yearning, a loyalty, and reverence for it.” Of Momaday, The New York Times said he is “a man with a sacred investiture. Strong medicine, strong art indeed.” 

Giving presence to Momaday’s extraordinary creative vision and evolution as one of America’s most gifted artists, the film use of historical photos, original animation, and stunning aerial landscapes complemented captivating interviews with Robert Redford, Jeff and Beau Bridges, James Earle Jones and others. From the origin story of Devil’s Tower, a sacred spot to the Kiowa people, to the telling of the tale of Tai-Mai, the Sun Dance Spirit that “was a concerted expression of tribal wholeness”, the artist continuously inspired. Speaking of his relatives, they were “rich in spirit and deeply invested in a spiritual psychological view of the world with an ability, a power to see beyond reality, to see into that farther world… this was in our blood and in our Spirits… a connection to ancestry and a power impossible to speak of… out of which grew storytelling and the power to create as if it were ‘the very breath of God.’”

Make Me A Channel of Your Spokój (Peace)

Where there’s despair in Life let me bring Hope, where there is darkness only Light.

Where there’s despair in Life let me bring Hope, where there is darkness only Light.

Sto lat! Sto lat!
Niech zyje, zyje nam. 
Sto lat! Sto lat!
Niech zyje, zyje nam. 
Jeszcze raz! Jeszcze raz! Niech zyje, zyje nam. 
Niech zyje nam. 

100 years! 100 years!
They live, live (among) us!
100 years! 100 years!
They live, live (among) us!
Again, again! They live, live (among) us!
Live (among) us!

Sto Lat (One Hundred Years), the traditional Polish tune sung to express good wishes, good health, and long life to a person, is a common way of wishing someone a happy birthday po Polska, the phrase "Sto lat!" expressing good fortune, or, sans the song, as a toast. Those are the very wishes we sent earlier this summer to my Mom, Louise Teresa Wrobel Tootalian, aka Ludmilla, aka Louis, aka Lou Lou aka “The Pollack” per her husband Sark, as she entered her tenth earthly decade, turning the big 9-0 on July 13th. Our Polish Eagle — Nasz Polski Orzeł — born in the heart of Hamtramck, Michigan on a hot summer night in July of 1928 — could cut one mean Polka and cook a killer Golumpki back in the day, with her colorful cache of Babushkas and those infamous knee-high panty hose favored by female poles. 

 Appropriately pictured above at the feet of Our Lady of Orchard Lake, we’re rolling into the Chapel of the same name, the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. John Paul II. Serving as pontiff from 1978 to 2005, the Polish Pope was a great source of pride for my Mom and her sisters, shrines in the lives of Catholics in general being very important institutions, places to ground and renew their faith. Supporting Lou Lou is often eased by putting her in a wheelchair and just cruising her in — one of my jokes being that it’s a lot of fun to (Holy) Ghost ride her into groups of people out front, as she gets a kick out of mowing down small packs of parishioners. This Sunday, Louise had a mid-summer spring in her step, walking by my armed escort and her cane all the way from the handicapped parking area to the church entryway. My Mom enjoys being up front near the altar where all the action is, so upon entering the chapel’s annex, faced with rows of pews, she whispered, “Whoah do we have a long way to go” ~ actually not so far now Mom, just a little ways further. Because of our Polish heritage, we love Mass at St Mary’s, with hand-carved polyptychs around the dais copied from those of the Cathedral Church of St. Mary’s in Krakow. Wood etchings honor the Saints of European history who were instrumental in bringing the faith to North America — John de Breboeuf, Isaac Jogues, who worked with the Iroquois, Huron and other Native populations, and Katherine Takakwitha, known as Lilly of the Mohawks. One page of the missalette reads Thanks Be to God; on the other, Bogu niech beda dzieki. It’s a Holy place where the Polish Eagle can feel comfort in her final days, pursuing spokój (peace), mílość (love) and wiara (faith), before she flies away free.

 I was obviously raised Catholic and I feel comfortable with the gestures, the prayers, the kneeling, the whole deal. I wrote of my brother Mark’s funeral in May, a Ceremony in which the Priest created an incredible opening for the Holy Spirit. As my friend Doug, a devout Catholic has counseled me, “You just can’t box in the Holy Spirit”. My deep Catholic roots considered, I’ve grown heavenward over the last few decades of spiritual practice, becoming an ardent meditator, a student of Native American Ceremony, and today consider myself a healthy, poly-spiritual seeker. I certainly don’t worship some angry, predatory Supernatural being with dysfunctional human emotions who’s out to settle some score, and have come to the eye and heart opening realization that there are many ways to clothe oneself with the Armor of God. Ergo, Sunday’s taking in of the Mass was invigorated likewise by a another spiritual tradition, as the second weekend of every month is set aside by my meditation teacher Shinzen Young  for his home practice program. I wrote a previous piece on the Home Practice Program, a monthly meditation weekend retreat where people from around the world sit together via conference call. Interestingly, part of the focus of this weekend was on The Way ofThe Physical Senses and a particular technique called Focus Out. From Shinny’s introduction: “Noting the outside world – seeing, hearing, feeling creation — is what we do, but we can do it in an unconscious way. This approach to mindfulness — and by mindfulness we mean something new and utterly extraordinary which is the modern-day mindfulness movement – takes contemplative practice broadly defined interacting or co-evolving with modern science in a way that is mutually beneficial. And as to the benefits to humanity, there is an awful lot here.”

Regarding the home retreat, we sat Friday night from 10pm to 12am Eastern time, Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm, and Saturday night from 4 to 8 pm, with Sunday’s morning session personally preempted by Mass with my Mom. As to the guided technique, Saturday we practiced See Out, looking at the outer world, noting objects and shifting the eyes in a spontaneous or intentional way whether the shift was due to a physical movement of the eye or just a movement in attention. We practiced Hear Out, working with physical, external sound, either those naturally occurring around us or sounds that we liked and chose to play through a speaker or headset. If for a moment there were no sounds, we’d focus on silence as a restful state, creating an experience of being deeply anchored in the here-and-now of sound. If emotional-type body sensations or thoughts, external sights or sounds pulled us away, we gently returned to the physical side of our body experience. We were Seeing Hearing and Feeling Out the world as we do on a daily basis, but in a more highly concentrated, meditative fashion. In this way, we experienced the world that, in Shinzen’s words, “we so often feel imbedded in, imprisoned by, put upon, and stuck in.” But the same world presented itself now more in the way it truly was and is - nothing more than light, and color and vibrating space.

There are more than a few good reasons why I take the time to practice in this way, and though the advantages are vast, the quick and dirty (in Shin parlance) is that the practice significantly reduces my human suffering. In the chapel, I noted the large, looming crucifix, a picture of life’s eternal but painful nature. With all the scores of people sporting crosses in the world and others with Bible verses tattooed on their physical forms, I wondered how many of them have the willingness to to go beyond the easy answers of religions of the mind and actually give themselves over to dying in the service of being made more fully alive, being nailed to a cross, and to do so joyously, in order to kill the old nature. This is the spirit that poet Reiner Maria Rilke evoked when he said, “Whomsoever does not at some time or another give their full and joyous consent to the dreadfulness of life as well as its beauty can never take possession of the unutterable abundance of our existence and will only skirt along the edge of it. And on the day when the final judgment is given, those people will be judged as neither been alive nor dead.” Christ was crucified at a spot called Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. Rozumiesz? (the Polish Capiche?). 

 Back in church, I took in the Polish polyptychs, statues of the Polish Saints, and large looming sculpture of Christ on the cross, letting my eyes shift in an intentional way. The closing song, Make Me A Channel of Your Peace, adapted from The Prayer of Saint Francis and my Mom’s old favorite, vibrantly filled the sanctuary as well as my ear canals, inside and outside becoming one in an exhilarating state of merging with sound. I blew off the padded kneeler and instead pressed my legs into the marble floor, as to better feel the raw physicality and urgency of my petition. As Lou Lou and I rose up and slowly made our way out the center aisle, she leaned over, whispering, “Let’s go to Dunkin Donuts”, another one of my Mom’s favs. If you enjoyed this read and would like to learn more about the thread that runs through all the spiritual paths of the world that, when properly pulled, leads to unconditional human happiness, check out our Fall Equinox Female Empowerment Retreat in September, our Fall Comprehensive Spiritual Development Retreat in October, and other upcoming events where the underlining theme is always Jedność (Oneness and Unity).

 Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is hatred let me bring your love
Where there is injury, your pardon Lord
And where there's doubt, True Faith in you

Make me a channel of your peace
Where there's despair in life let me bring hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there's sadness ever joy

Our Summer 2019 Herbal Immersive

“Got my own way of Prayin’ but every one’s begun, with a Southern accent where I come from” - Tom Petty

“Got my own way of Prayin’ but every one’s begun, with a Southern accent where I come from” - Tom Petty

The Southern Herbalist Darryl Patton was in the house and on the land this weekend. Making the trip from his northeast Alabama homestead, the Pejuta Wicasa Master Plant Medicine Man shared his extensive knowledge, treating attendees of the Southwest Michigan Summer Herbal Immersive weekend to talks, treks and sessions on both the culinary and medicinal value of herbal formulas. Walking in the footsteps of old-school Mountain Medicine Men like his teacher A.L. “Tommie” Bass and other elder herbalist of the Southern Appalachians, Darryl offered a glimpse into his vast pharmacopeia as well as his skills as chief cook of a wild woods kitchen. Crossing paths with him last year at his summer 2018 workshop hosted by Maggie Baker Conklin of Douglas, Michigan’s Ladyhawk Holistic Nutrition, I was impressed with Darryl’s knowledge, easy-going, engaging, storyteller style, and the way he treated his wife Jane. “The ability of a bark, leaf, or root to transform the body in a positive manner,” states Darryl, “is a mystery that serves to daily rekindle my passion for the natural world.” A passion that clearly fires the same ardor in others.

Darryl’s eyes on the land open one’s own understanding to the natural world’s abundance of healing plants, herbs that can help establish a sustainable, natural approach to well-being. Whipping up syrups made from Chaga and Milkweed turned us on to nourishing ourselves at home with healing foods. Crafting fusion tacitos with kimche venison and wild vegtables, coupled with spicy Fina’denne’ — a condiment found in many Guam households — we were also treated to Yellow Dock pancakes and small, savory, deep-fried hushpuppies made from a Chicken of the Woods-based batter. He brought along tinctures of Lion’s Mane Mushroom — offering a range of health benefits from improved cognitive functioning, to memory and brain cell rejuvenation — along with Wild Lettuce, a natural remedy promoting sleep and muscle or joint pain relief. 

In a discourse on the benefits of Chaga, a parasitic on birch trees with the appearance of burnt charcoal well-known today for its cancer fighting properties, Darryl expounded: “When I was first doing primitive skills, no one was into Chaga except as a fire starter. And it was cheap - no big deal getting it. Then people in this country discovered its medicinal value — for cancer, for the immune system — and all of a sudden it went bonkers, and can be quite expensive at times.” Darryl recounted the history of Chaga, citing Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian Dissident writer who was also a doctor and author of the novel Cancer Ward. As an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism helping to raise global awareness of its Gulag forced labor camp system, Solzhenitsyn was sent off to Gulag Archipelagos prison camps every few years to shut him up. Applying his skills as a physician, he’d seek out black market medicines for groups of 40-50,000 prisoners, an assemblage with all the health challenges and diseases of a small city. Yet amongst these populations, cancer was oddly statistically non-existence. What were these people doing collectively to prevent the disease?

Solzhenitsyn soon realized that the poor people of the rural area area only drank Chaga coffee, made from a rich Chaga syrup tasting like hot chocolate, and when boiled down thick becomes Hershey cocoa-like. Looking into the phenomena and its properties more closely, Russia and China made Chaga a prescription drug for cancer. “It’s the one I like to put anybody on for cancer because of the way it works overall,” Darryl explained. “What’s the big therapy in cancer now? Immunotherapy. They rev your immune system up to fight cancer, but sometimes that system in its firing can kill you, because its out to kill something. And if it doesn’t have cancer cells to kill, it can go after healthy cells. Chaga gives you a very strong immune response, but resets the system so that it doesn’t see the body as the enemy”

On wooded walkabouts, Darryl expounded on the virtues of Indian Ghost Pipe (once referred to as Fit Root, acting on opium receptor sights and increasing pain tolerance), Bitter Dock (boiling it down for its asthmatic curative powers) and Wild Sweet Violet (with leaves that contain more Vitamin C than an Orange and a Rhizome – the subterranean plant stem - that stops heartburn in its tracks. There was talk of warm potatoes sucking the poison out of Brown Recluse bites, maggot therapy, frying up Queen Ann’s Lace in pancake batter (just confirm that under skirt and the central purple flower), Alchemists like Sir Isaac Newton and others, the story of a Chinese Governor who faked his own death just to acquire a drop of Reishi on his tongue, and mushroom folklore. Speaking of mushrooms, Anthony Michael Blowers, our local, well-loved amateur Mycologist also showed up, identifying an aggressive patch of Purple Tooth, expounding on the intelligence and nimble nature of Slime Mold, and pointing out some incredibly yummy ramps that grow all along the river bed, “if (you) can get to them before the deer do”. 

As to future happenings, I heard through the Vitis Vinifera Vine that Darryl runs a hardcore primitive excursion, leading a circle of dudes into the wilderness with a knife and little more. I dubbed it the Darryl Patton Weight Loss Program and am hoping to learn more, with an eye toward the Summer of 2020 and Lake Huron’s Les Cheneaux Islands archipelago. Anthony will certainly be back this Fall for a ‘Shroom Stroll akin to our first as we work on rolling a mushroom hunt in with a culinary experience. Anthony creates a legendary ice cream from Blue Spruce tips, along with his butter poached Chanterelles, Black Trumpets and other wild mushroom inspired dishes. If there’s an interest shout me out, as we gear up for our monthly Ceremonial gathering this coming weekend, our upcoming Fall Women’s Retreat, a Men’s Retreat Weekend in the works, and other upcoming Fall classes and workshops. Toksha