I arrived back in Akron, Ohio at about midnight last night. I don't have car insurance. I thought I did. When I was in California I called my insurance company and discovered that my insurance had lapsed in December. Today I'll sign up with another company. But I'll have to drive to that company because this is Akron, Ohio and you can't get anywhere on foot. I hope I don't crash.
We finished filming the Los Angeles scenes of the movie Shoplifting From American Apparel on Monday. The photo above is from the scenes we shot on Saturday on Hollywood Boulevard. The people in the picture from left to right are me, director Pirooz Kaleyah, novelist Jordan Castro who plays "the real Tao Lin" as opposed to me who is (I who am? I whom am?) playing "Brad Warner as Tao Lin," and author Noah Cicero, who I think is basically playing himself.
Also in the film are internet hottie Bebe Zeva, actress Jennifer Angela Bishop, comedian Travis McFarland and James Roehl, who is acting, co-producing, holding the boom mic and all sorts of other stuff.
It's slowly dawning on me that I am playing the largest role in this movie. I play the nameless main character of the novel Shoplifting From American Apparel (this is an excerpt) based on the real-life writer of said novel, Tao Lin. As such, I have the most lines and am the focal character. I'm playing the guy who shoplifts from American Apparel, the title character. I'm glad I didn't realize this until it was too late or I'd have been intimidated to even do it.
Saturday and Monday were the most interesting scenes to film. They were two parts of a scene in which Tao Lin (me) does a reading at Skylight Books in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. It's one of my favorite bookstores in LA in spite of the fact that they turned my publicist down when she tried to schedule a reading for me there and I didn't see any of my books on the shelves (though I have seen them there in the past). Are you reading this, Skylight Books people?
Tao's reading is attended by Audrey (Bebe Zeva) and Jeffery (Travis McFarland). Tao is trying to get with Audrey. But Jeffery keeps hanging around and may, for all Tao knows, be Audrey's boyfriend. Tao doesn't care and keeps acting like a dick to Jeffery to try to get rid of him. Eventually this works and Tao bags Audrey. But the next morning he is cold and distant to her. It's clear the whole thing meant nothing to him and she is hurt by this.
I suppose I should have put "spoiler alert" before that explanation since it's a key scene near the end of the film. But by the time the movie comes out most of you will have forgotten this, I hope.
Anyhow, I had to play this character who goes through this stuff. The weird part for me is that I have been in situations somewhat similar to this. Every writer has, especially those of us who are single. You meet fans of your preferred gender who seem to be attracted to you. But often they're with someone else.
In my case I have all this Buddhist morality shit hanging over me. When I'm in that situation I deliberately try not to interfere with people's existing relationships. I don't think it's right to do so. And I know that my own life will also be improved if I behave in a way that is morally sound.
But I found myself having to play a character who does all the things I am often very much tempted to do but don't do. It was difficult overcoming my own inhibitions and becoming this character. It was even harder playing the scene in which I had to be cold and distant to "Audrey" the next morning. As Bebe (playing Audrey) got more and more into character I began to feel worse and worse about myself. Even though it was all completely fictional, and even though there were all kinds of people with cameras and microphones and all kinds of retakes and so forth, as I said the lines it began feeling real. I was getting cotton mouth during the shoot.
I think a good actor gets a sense of what Buddha meant when he talked about the unreality of the permanent self. In order to act out a scene as a character you have to drop your attachment to the person you think you are and, at least for the duration of the scene, become someone else.
It's funny how easy that can be once you find the ability to drop who you think you are. There seems to be a corner you can turn or a switch you can flip after which you just slide into being this other person. After a few hours of shooting I found I had to make a certain degree of effort to return to my normal self.
As Mr. Spock would say, "Fascinating."
In the past week I have received three different variations on the same question. There must be something in the air. The latest goes like this: "I guess my first questions are 'does Zen Buddhism have any crazy and hard to digest stories and ideas behind it? how much does it differ to other forms of Buddhism? And if these stories/concepts/mantras exist in the Zen world, do you take them with a pinch of salt?'."
The answer about crazy and hard to digest stories is yes and no. But mostly no. In Zen there is no importance attached to matters of belief. What you believe is largely irrelevant. Belief is just more stuff that your mind does. It might have some relevance, but only in terms of how your beliefs affect your behavior. There is no God or Buddha or anyone else who gives a shit one way or the other what you do or do not believe.
That being said, there are as many weird hard to swallow stories associated with Zen as with any other religion. The Lotus Sutra, Dogen's favorite sutra, has passages in which Buddha does all kinds of crazy miraculous things like shooting beams out of his forehead and suchlike. The koans have stories about people transforming themselves into animals or chopping off other people's fingers just to prove a point. If you took that stuff literally it would be pretty much like any other religion.
The great thing about Zen, though, is that there is never any pressure to believe any of this stuff. You can take it any way you want to. Very few Zen people take most of it literally. Gudo Nishijima used to be adamant that it was all metaphorical, especially the references to reincarnation.
A good example of this is the way we deal with the Heart Sutra, which is considered by many to be the single most important sutra in Zen, the one that defines Zen as a distinct form of Buddhism. It ends with a whole big long section that says how wonderful this one mantra is and how everyone should proclaim it. I do not know, nor have I even heard rumors about, a single Zen Buddhist who chants that mantra.
OK. Also remember my new/old book Death To All Monsters is available now as a downloadable eBook or print-on-demand. Here are the links where you can get it:
http://tiny.cc/g38eg (Barnes & Noble)