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Ray Carney's Mailbag -- This section of the site contains letters written to Prof. Carney by students and artists, announcements of news, events, and screenings, and miscellaneous observations about life and art by Ray Carney. Letters and notices submitted by readers are in black. Prof. Carney's responses, observations, and recommendations are in blue. Note that Prof. Carney receives many more letters and announcements than he can possibly include on the site. The material on these pages has been selected as being that which will be the most interesting, inspiring, useful, or informative to site readers. Click on the first page (via the links at the top or bottom of the page) to read an explanation of this material, why it is being posted, and how this relatively small selection was made from among the tens of thousands of messages Prof. Carney has received.

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"Reality-check" department, or how America treats its greatest artists: I received the following email yesterday morning from one of the most important American independent filmmakers. (I have removed a few personal references and deleted a long second-part from the email to protect the filmmaker's identity; but I promise you that site readers know this filmmaker's name.) The author of the email has been working for more than twenty-five years as an independent filmmaker, has created an extensive, widely screened and discussed, body of work, and is as well-known and "successful" in the field as anyone I have ever met. And yet he/she is still unable to obtain a mortgage for a house or to finance a significant down-payment on it.

I'd emphasize that this artist's situation is not the exception. I personally know at least 50 other filmmakers in the same situation -- many of them in their 50s and 60s, who have been practicing their art for two, three, or four decades. Many have had to go to other countries to work or live. They can find more support for their art in Canada, France, or Korea than they can in their native country.

Something is very, very wrong with this picture -- when brokers at Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers make ten, twenty, fifty million dollars a year and end up bankrupting their investors, while America's greatest artists have to take up a begging bowl and appeal to friends and strangers for contributions.  What has gone wrong with our culture? What has gone wrong with our personal value systems?

And I'll add a disconnected personal note from my own institutional perspective: Who do the majority of film production programs in America hire and pay salaries to? Not to these artists or anyone like them. Most of the most important and creative artists I know cannot get even temporary positions teaching in universities to help them supplement their incomes from their work. The film production teaching jobs in most middle-level colleges and universities (almost all schools below the Ivy League level) are staffed by filmmaking non-entities who don't do anything that remotely could be classified as creating "art." To invoke a metaphor I've used elsewhere on these pages -- use the site Search engine in the left margin to find mentions of it -- the paying positions in academia are filled with "auto mechanics." Is this the best we can do? -- R.C.

Dear friend and colleague

I'm writing you as part of a group of film teachers, writers, curators, etc. whom I've known for many years and who have been supportive of my work (and thank you for that in so many ways).

My reason is money and my question is whether you know some film-loving person with deep pockets who would help me out in a small (or big) way.

Please understand that this isn't a direct request to you. I think of you somehow in my area of finances-having to have a job, etc.-not someone with reserves of cash you can hand around. A worker in the arts rather than a patron of....

This is because I wonder if you know someone "behind the scenes"-someone who has given money to a museum you work in, etc. who feels attuned enough to the sort of film culture I'm part of that they would make a donation (or loan) to help me have a place to live and work.

There's a long description (deleted by RC to protect the artist's privacy) of my situation which I wrote to my family and close friends asking them for small loans. I've adapted it so that it could be shown to someone who doesn't know me as well, etc.

But the very short version is that we're losing our loft of 20 years and I'm in my mid-fifties and terrified of the current and future state of the economy and realize that now I have to buy something (having lost so many good chances in the past because I never had enough capital to invest) and despite my determined feelings, I simply don't have enough for a good down payment.

The absurdity (comedy?) of this is that for the last 2+ years I've been shooting footage of our neighborhood ... for a film about how it has gone, and so rapidly, from a nice artists' and working families neighborhood into a new and bizarre Condo-burg.... Over the past few years, so many artists I know have already been pushed out of the neighborhood into the further reaches of Brooklyn because of the onslaught of developers, and we're a part of that mass forced exodus/evacuation. New York's cultural life is being strangled; most students with hopes of coming to NY (as we all did) are now moving to Portland or Philly; it's a sad time for this city, for the thousands of artists who have called it home for so long and for the thousands who aspire to do that.

Anyway, I'm sorry to trouble you, and I totally understand if this is something you can't help me with. As you can imagine, I just thought I'd throw the net as widely as possible in the hopes of perhaps getting one or two small fish.

Best wishes, thanks, etc...

(name of filmmaker)

P.S. Yes, this is crazy. But I am. Just wanted to put that on the table....

A note from Ray Carney: Though I've never heard anyone talk about it as a separate issue, institutional secrecy is one of the great evils of our time. Most of the horrors of history have been the result of secrecy. And not only at the CIA or the NSC. If one-tenth of what was said and done behind closed doors in our universities, in corporate boardrooms, and in our marketplaces was made public, or admitted openly, the earth would instantly become a better, wiser, more rational, and kinder place to live. People would be able to detect deliberate lies and  inadvertent deceits; reply to smear "whispering" campaigns designed to undermine their lives, their work, and their reputations; and correct problems and mistakes that it now takes them decades to unearth and deal with.

I have not seen the following film, but for the reasons alluded to above, the title got my attention, and I wanted to post a notice about a local Boston premiere at a theater that deserves support. - R.C.

Special Engagement
Exclusive Area Premiere!
(2008) dir Robb Moss, Peter Galison [81 min]

Harvard professors Moss and Galison deliver this thoroughly engaging documentary about the history of government secrecy in the United States. Using a combination of interviews, archival and artistic footage and interweaving multiple storylines, SECRECY paints an at-times disturbing picture that still manages to touch compellingly on all sides of the issue. Though an emphasis is put on the damage done by and consequences of keeping secrets, there is considerable attention given to the benefit of the various 'Alphabet Agencies' and the sensible use of the Top Secret stamp. Touching on events from the military incidents that helped to create many of the laws governing state secrets to Pearl Harbor to 9/11, Guantanamo, Iraq and beyond, SECRECY's strength lies in its ability to combine facts and figures with dramatic stories and characters - notably military lawyer Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift who successfully defended Gitmo prisoner Salim Hamdan.

"SECRECY, the stylistically elegant and provocative new film by Robb Moss and Peter Galison, explores the hidden world of national security policy by examining the many implications of secrecy, both for government and individuals. Combining animation, installations, a mesmerizing score, and riveting interviews, the film takes us inside the inverted world of government secrecy as we share the experiences of lawyers, CIA analysts, and the ordinary people for whom secrecy becomes a matter of life and death." - Sundance Film Festival

For more information on the film including the trailer and showtime for the entire engagement, you can visit

Filmmakers will be present at select screenings.  Please visit our website (listed above) for more information.

Andrea O'Meara
Associate Director
Brattle Theatre
Brattle Film Foundation

Cultivating the empty field: A site regular who asked to remain anonymous sent me the following quotation from a book on Buddhism she is reading. She did not cite the source or author, but the passage deserves to be posted, even without that information.  The idea of "seeing" in the third paragraph is the key to the whole piece. We must learn to "see" our lives, indeed to "see" all of life, in this open, receptive, and non-judgmental way. Easier said than done.

I'll take this opportunity to recommend a book by Ezra Bayda titled Being Zen. I read it a few months ago. Bayda has many similar, and similarly wise and deep, meditations on how to deal with and respond to sadness, pain, fear, and suffering.

The great artists do not avoid this territory, but bravely move into it and take it as their subject. Listen to Bach's Cantatas, his Passions, and his B-minor Mass, and Beethoven's late (Opus 59 and later) Quartets. Study and absorb the meaning of Rembrandt's paintings. Master the films of Tarkovsky, Kiarostami, Rossellini, and the post-1928 Dreyer. (By coincidence I was just describing the depth of the depiction of suffering in Rossellini's Viaggio in Italia  and Dreyer's amazingly neglected and even more amazingly unavailable Two People to a friend yesterday afternoon.)  These artists "see" the pain and, in the very activity of their "seeing," heal and  transform it. -- R.C.

"An intelligent person does not escape from any fact.  If it is fear he will go into it, because the way out is through.  If he feels fear and trembling arising in him, he will leave everything else aside: first this fear has to be gone through.  He will go into it; he will try to understand.  He will not try to figure out how not to be afraid; he will not ask that question.  He will simply ask one question: "What is fear?  If it is there, it is part of me, it is my reality. I have to go into it, I have to understand it.  If I don't understand it then a part of me will always remain unknown to me.  And how am I going to know who I am if I go on avoiding parts of myself?  I will not understand fear, I will not understand death, I will not understand anger.  I will not understand my hatred, I will not understand my jealousy, I will not understand this and that...

"Then how are you going to know yourself?  All these things are you!  This is your being.  You have to go into everything that is there, every nook and corner.  You have to explore fear.  Even if you are trembling it is nothing to be worried about; tremble but go in.  It is far better to tremble than to escape, because once you escape, that part will remain unknown to you.  And you will become more and more afraid to look at it, because the fear will go on accumulating.  It will become bigger and bigger if you don't do it right now, this moment.  Tomorrow it will have lived twenty-four hours more.  Beware! -  it will have grown roots, it will have bigger foliage, it will have become stronger, and then it will be more difficult to tackle.  It is better to go right now.  It is already late.

"Go into it and see it...  And seeing means without prejudice.  Seeing means that you don't condemn fear as bad from the very beginning.  Who knows? - it is not bad - who knows that it is?  The explorer has to remain open to all the possibilities; he cannot afford a closed mind.  A closed mind and exploration don't go together.  He will go into it.  If it brings suffering and pain, he will suffer the pain but he will go into it.  Trembling, hesitant, but he will go into it: "It is my territory, I have to know what it is.  Maybe it is carrying some treasure for me?  Maybe the fear is only there to protect the treasure."

"That's my experience; that's my understanding: if you go deep into your fear you will find love.  That's why it happens that when you are in love, fear disappears.  And when you are afraid, you cannot be in love.  What does this mean?  A simple arithmetic - fear and love don't exist together.  That means it must be the same energy that becomes fear; then there is nothing left to become love.  It becomes love; then there is nothing left to become fear."

A note from Ray Carney: I hadn't intended to turn this page over to a consideration of spiritual responses to fear or sadness, but I can't resist adding the following note and passage as a continuation of the previous posting, which was up for no more than an hour, when I received a letter and gift of another text sent from a site regular. There is a lot of wisdom in Pema Chodron's words, particularly in the concept of "staying awake." Too much of the world is asleep, or enmeshed in a net of intellectual habits and habitual emotional responses. If you don't understand what that means, I'd recommend reading the following. -- R.C.

Dear Ray Carney,

So much wonderful, wonderful material on your new website pages! I wish I had more time to spend with all of it, but it will keep. The last posting on fear sent from an anonymous reader was wonderful, and is a great complement to something I read last night in the Pema Chodron book I'm reading. I thought I'd share it with you, forgive the length but to my mind it ties together many of the themes you've recently posted. And I think so much could be righted with the world if individuals could learn to live their lives this way, not making war due to fear and insecurity. I feel so much better since I let go of desiring stability and security, they don't exist in reality and are only illusions.... (omitted personal material about a private experience) My recent experiences have affected me to the core, and left me with much to try to understand and embrace. Ha, Rome wasn't built in a day! I keep reminding myself it's not a race, The main thing is, as you say, stay open, receptive, attentive and receptive, and I can't go too far wrong.


P.S. I'm reading more this afternoon and have one more thing to share.."to be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest..."..reminds me of the Appolinaire quote of standing on the edge of the abyss with the fear of falling..being pushed only to discover the joy of flying. (A note from Ray Carney: the writer is alluding to the statement I make on this page of the site about the nature of teaching and learning.)

"...Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn't want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, "May I have permission to go into battle with you?" Fear said, "Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask me permission." Then the young warrior said, "How can I defeat you?" Fear replied, "My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don't do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. But if you don't do what I say, I have no power." In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.

"This is how it actually works. There has to be some kind of respect for the jitters, some understanding of how our emotions have the power to run us around in circles. That understanding helps us to discover how we increase our pain, how we increase our confusion, how we cause harm to ourselves. Because we have basic goodness, basic wisdom, basic intelligence, we can stop harming ourselves and harming others. Because of mindfulness, we see things when they arise. Because of our understanding, we don't buy into the chain reaction that makes things grow from minute to expansive. We leave things minute. They stay tiny. They don't keep expanding into World War III violence or domestic violence. It all comes through learning to pause for a moment, learning not to just impulsively do the same thing again and again. It's a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filling up the space. By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness and fundamental spaciousness.

"The result is that we cease to cause harm. We begin to know ourselves thoroughly and to respect ourselves. Anything can co me up, anything can walk into our house; we can find anything sitting on our living-room couch, and we don't freak out. We have been thoroughly processed by coming to know ourselves, thoroughly processed by this honest, gentle mindfulness.

"This process connects us with the fruition of not causing harm - fundamental well-being of our body, speech, and mind. Well-being of body is like a mountain. A lot happens on a mountain. It hails, and the winds come up, and it rains and snows. The sun gets very hot, clouds cross over, animals shit and piss on the mountain, and so do people. People leave their trash, and other people clean it up. Many things come and go on this mountain, but it just sits there. When we've seen ourselves completely, there's a stillness of body that is like a mountain. We no longer get jumpy and have to scratch our noses, pull our ears, punch somebody, go running from the room, or drink ourselves into oblivion. A thoroughly good relationship with ourselves results in being still, which doesn't mean we don't run and jump and dance about. It means there's no compulsiveness. We don't overwork, overeat, oversmoke, overseduce. In short, we begin to stop doing harm.

"Well-being of speech is like a lute without strings. Even without strings, the musical instrument proclaims itself. This is an image of our speech being settled. It doesn't mean that we're controlling, uptight, or trying hard not to say the wrong thing. It means that our speech is straightforward and disciplined. We don't start blurting out words just because no one else is talking and we're nervous. We don't chatter away like magpies and crows. We've heard it all; we've been insulted and we've been praised. We know what it is to be in situations where everyone is angry, where everyone is peaceful. We're at home in the world because we're at home with ourselves, so we don't feel that out of nervousness, out of our habitual pattern, we have to run at the mouth. Our speech is tamed, and when we speak, it communicates. We don't waste the gift of speech in expressing our neurosis.

"Well-being of mind is like a mountain lake without ripples. When the lake has no ripples, everything in the lake can be seen. When the water is all churned up, nothing can be seen. The still lake without ripples is an image of our minds at ease, so full of unlimited friendliness for all the junk at the bottom of the the lake that we don't feel the need to churn up the waters just to avoid looking at what's there.

"Not causing harm requires staying awake. Part of being awake is slowing down enough to notice what we say and do. The more we witness our emotional chain reactions and understand how they work, the easier it is to refrain. It becomes a way of life to stay awake, to slow down and notice.

"At the root of all the harm we cause is ignorance. Through meditation, that's what we begin to undo. If we see that we have no mindfulness, that we rarely refrain, that we have little well-being, that is not confusion, that is the beginning of clarity. As the moments of our lives go by, our ability to be deaf, dumb and blind just doesn't work so well anymore. Rather than making us more uptight, interestingly enough, this process liberates us. This is the liberation that naturally arises when we are completely here, wihtout anxiety about imperfection..."

A note from Ray Carney: A little background is necessary to understand the following submission to the site. On Mailbag page 106, site regular Darren Pardee offered some incidental comments about Barak Obama. On Mailbag page 109, another site regular, Tom Russell, responded to them. I recommend reading both of these posts before reading what follows. (And, to complete the backgrounding: I'd recommend that you also read my own comments about the importance of the upcoming election, which are posted on Mailbag page 107.)

In the following email Darren Pardee responds to Tom Russell's critique of his initial post. But please note that I consider the political debate closed at this point. I have included Darren's and Russell's words as a courtesy to them and to site readers, and I reiterate that I deeply believe in what I myself wrote on page 107 of the Mailbag about the life-or-death importance of participating in the upcoming election, but the site is not intended to be a political forum, and I do not intend to post other political comments about Obama or McCain or other responses to this debate. Stop writing and arguing and go out and work for the candidate of your choice! -- R.C.


Thank you for posting Tom Russell's thoughts on my "Obama" post (which was not really about Obama, but I had a feeling it might generate some attention). If only the mainstream media would allow such a dialogue, but as George Orwell pointed out, there are just certain things it wouldn't do to say in so-called "civilized" (i.e. mainstream) society. For what it's worth, I'd like to defend my views, which of course you can choose to post or not. I wouldn't fault you if you decided not to post, because it IS rather lengthy and off-topic from the purposes of your site.


My post was about the media's (and via the media and entertainment industry, the American public's) treatment of "heroes" or politicians AS heroes and what was wrong with that approach -not meant to be disparaging to Obama or his supporters. For the record, I am registering to vote for the first time in 10 years. I am going to go out and cast my vote for Barack Obama. I think he is a good man, and the most hopeful politician we have seen in ages. More importantly, it will take a vote away from McCain, probably the most terrifying candidate I have ever seen, even more extreme than George W. Bush (something I never even imagined was possible).

As for why I would say what I did: You ask me to be critical, think deeply, ask questions, and that is precisely what I was doing. I understand that Obama has made promises for change, but all politicians make such promises. Once elected, the cynics such as myself know all too well what happens to those promises. Ray had an earlier posting on his site (a few months ago, I believe) that had to do with the power and money system in the United States and how one person in the White House is never going to be able to buck the tide (I think it was in response to someone asking him about Hillary Clinton). I think what he said is certainly true. That change can be affected by people working together, and in how we affect one another, but that America , sadly, has been all too apathetic. And his latest political post (on page 107) is an attempt to encourage his readers to shrug off that apathy and do something important, which I applaud. The visionaries, the TRUE heroes, the Jesuses, the Apostle Pauls, the Gandhis, the Martin Luther King Jrs, are still here with us, their voices may be vibrant, their visions hopeful, and Obama may very well be one of them -BUT....their voices and visions are impotent if we the people have stopped listening to them. The change must start with US, we the people, not with any one "hero" of a politician. And that was where the cynicism was coming from. The media treatment. Politics as entertainment. The American notion, nurtured and depended on by most politicians, that democracy begins and ends with one trip to the ballot box every four years. And of course, Obama's own campaign managers who have, to an ever-increasing degree, begun to play the typical politician campaigning game. The vague promises. The messianic buzz-words. The negative attacks. They have to play that game, of course, in order to get elected -the triumph of the American mainstream media again. Once elected, will he deliver? Or will there be disappointment? I just don't have as much confidence as you. Yes, I'm jaded.

Getting a bit more specific (and addressing a couple of your points):

Change in health care: Obama is still to the right of 2/3 of the American public that supports a single-payer system. Obama's plan is not a single-payer system. This isn't to say that his Administration might not actually listen to the public (a lost art in our so-called democracy). There is certainly room for hope. But as the old saying goes, hope in one hand...

[As a side note, have you ever wondered why we still don't have universal health care while the rest of the civilized world does -and that a majority of American people have largely supported universal health care for the last 30 or 40 years? And why all of a sudden it is "politically viable" in this election? What drowned out our voices for so long? And why is government opting to listen now (I assure you it had nothing to do with Moore 's Sicko). Noam Chomsky has written some very interesting things about this recently, you can find some of it on his official website. I'll give you a hint though: there is a very very very large and deep chasm between that which is popularly desired and that which is "politically viable." This, in a supposed democracy!]

Change in America's reputation: Obama has been a vocal critic of Bush's abhorrent Iraq war, which is fantastic, but he has not been a vocal critic of "humanitarian intervention", which is simply a euphemism for killing in the name of the common good (something Hitler and Stalin both claimed to be doing). Bill Clinton was certainly more centrist than both Bushes, but still far to the right of public opinion: case in point, the bombing of Kosovo, a "humanitarian intervention". Bill Clinton, as leader of the West, helmed the warship USS NATO into interventions with not only Kosovo, but also Bosnia and yes, Iraq (which was bombed on a fairly regular basis during the Clinton Administration). Getting to the point, Obama will likewise move White House politics more to the center, but I don't see much difference (at least in terms of foreign policy) than the Clinton administration. Yes, we need to move in that left-tending direction, but is it far enough? Obama has already made threats of attacking Iran -as a "last resort", sure, but a threat is a threat. By the way, threats of aggression are a criminal violation of the UN Charter (which means it's also a violation of the United States Constitution according to Article VI, but who's even keeping score anymore?). Obama has stated (along with all the neoconservatives and mainstream Democrats) that we are engaged in a "War on Terror", which is a ridiculous phrase (how can you have a war with an abstract concept?) that even the federally-funded Rand Corporation has strongly advised discontinuing. What we need is "policing" of terrorists. Calling it a "war" insinuates a battlefield, and justifies the radicals' flawed conception that they are engaged in a "holy war". And of course, using tanks and artillery and soldiers to fight terrorism is a doomed strategy. As you point out, diplomacy is the way to go, but as far as I can tell I am not hearing much about "diplomacy" from the Obama camp when they refer to Afghanistan or Iran . I am hearing a lot about being "tough on Iran" (which usually indicates aggression and threats of aggression) and "imposing sanctions" (sanctions, by the way, are essentially terrorist actions: they target the civilian population, strangling them economically, so that they starve: a great book to read on this subject is H.C. von Sponeck's book on the horrible Iraq sanctions imposed after the first Gulf War by the UN, supervised by and largely run by the United States, including both Bush administrations and the Clinton administration. It is called A Different Kind of War.)

Overall, in all of the issues you mentioned, Obama is certainly the preferred choice over McSame, but I think there is still room for my cynicism that is not nor was ever intended to be "reciting talking points that are blatant B.S." Because of the power structures that have shunted aside our "democracy", I simply wish Obama would stop playing the political game (stop it with the ads about McCain's computer skills, for example; stop harping on non-essential arguments about how McCain's own people have said that he wouldn't be fit to run Hewlett-Packard, for another) and vow to give us our voice back -and I want Obama to detail explicitly and precisely how he will fight the power structures in order to do so. Not bullet lists of all the things he proposes to "change"; healthcare, education, foreign policy, the economy -but SPECIFICALLY how he will do it. How he will fight those power systems when they are all aligned against him. But of course he won't, because I don't think he has a very clear idea himself. I admire his desire to change them, but I think he might get a big wake-up call when he (God-willing) takes his seat in the Oval Office. And even if he did outline in detail his strategies for success, the media wouldn't report it anyway. Because the issues don't attract the lowest common denominators. Because the media doesn't make it look like entertainment. And on and on. The cyclical cynical Darren again. But again, that's OUR fault for being suckered into this whole scheme in the first place, not Barack's. He's just playing the game the way he's expected to. If he did it truly differently, against the grain of the mainstream, he would never have become a "politically viable" candidate in the first place. And that, I suppose, was the not-so-visible point of the thoughts I sent to Ray.

To put an end to my rambling before it gets out of hand (and it probably already has), let me reiterate that I fully intend to vote for Barack Obama in the upcoming elections. I am absolutely terrified of a McCain presidency. I have nothing against Obama or his avid supporters, and in fact I admire Barack's courage and vision as it was outlined in his book The Audacity of Hope. I am just the type of person that takes all those campaign promises with a grain of salt. A "hope for the best, prepare for the worst" philosophy. It's cynicism, sure, it's the height of pessimism, absolutely, but it keeps me less affected after the inevitable disappointment.

If you are interested, I have many pro-Obama and anti-Bush/McCain essays on my personal blog at My most recent post talks about my cynicism and why I feel that way (and in my best Bill Hicks impression, it's even a little bit funny). It is called "Despair." I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Also, I highly recommend visiting a very brave man's website (pro-Obama, by the way) at . Click on Journal on the left. The first entry you see (dated June 25) is one of the most amazing essays I've read in recent memory.

Darren Pardee


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© Text Copyright 2008 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.