Director of narrative, commercial, and virtual reality

Film Portfolio

Project Greenlight finalist | Short about sex, death, existence, time

Lily in the Grinder

Shabbat Dinner

Comedy short about coming out | Featured in 55+ festivals

Search is Back

Featured on TechCrunch | 7k users per day

Global event handing out nametags on first Sat in June

Nametag Day

Uber Forecast

Tracking Uber's surge pricing to guess what the weather might be

Archive for January, 2013

Why I Still Opt Out

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

After traveling extensively to film festivals with my film this year, I’ve gotten good at the airport game. A few weeks ago, I arrived at LAX one hour before takeoff, boarding pass already in hand and laden only with the backpack on my back. I faced a nearly empty security line, but felt trepidation.

I handed my ID and boarding pass to a TSA agent. I pulled out my bag of 3 oz or less toiletries and my laptop. I removed my shoes, sweatshirt, wallet, keys, cell phone, belt. When I’m nervous at an airport, I begin to get nervous about being nervous. Whether or not the TSA employees were watching to guess at my psychology, I felt scrutinized.

At the front of the line came the moment of truth. I looked ahead. There were two machines — a classic metal detector and a millimeter wave body scanner. The TSA employee was directing people semi-randomly into one machine or the other. I watched the two people ahead of me go into the metal detector and I swallowed. The TSA agent motioned to the body scanner.

“I opt out,” I said, cursing in my head.

“Male opt out!” she yelled, loud enough to be heard several terminals over. Once I opt out, I witness what seems to be a carefully scripted piece of theater. In most cases I am walked through the metal detector, (which doesn’t go off, making me want to yell “look! see! according to your other screening technology I am clean!”), and asked to identify my bags. This time, a nice man gave a particularly detailed description of what he was going to do.

I decided that I didn’t want to do this any more. The thought of the body scanner virtual strip search was abhorrent, but this time I just didn’t want to be groped in public. I asked to go back through the scanner and he told me that once I opted out, returning was not an option.

The search commenced. He ran his fingers inside my waistband and up the inseam of my pants on both sides until he could distinctly feel my genitals. He touched all parts of my chest and back to be sure I wasn’t hiding anything there.

It may have just been this man’s procedure and mannerisms, but this felt different than the cursory exams I’d gotten several years ago when the TSA introduced the body scanners. It felt more invasive. The explicit narration of a stranger’s fingers, followed by an almost chiding reminder that the millimeter technology is totally safe, ratcheted the whole thing to a new notch of offensiveness.

And I remembered why I opt out.

The TSA inspires a culture of fear. The indignities we are made to suffer at airports are a manifestation of a government that does not trust its people, and believes that the way to security is to encourage us not to trust each other. Traveling through a country owned by us, the people, we are asked to present identification at numerous checkpoints as if we have something to prove; we are asked to strip down and be observed as if we are suspects.

I don’t say the word “bomb” at an airport. There are no jokes about bombs at an airport. I don’t laugh when I’m at the police checkpoints dotting our country. We fear our policemen for what they might do to us. We’re afraid to film them. When I send texts that might sound like terrorist threats, I add a joking disclaimer afterwards because I think — no, I am certain — that my communications are being monitored by a computer for signs of suspicious activity. If I must be frank, I’m a bit nervous about publishing this article.

That this elaborate stageplay of airport security has been shown to be ineffective adds further offense.

And so the government official touching me to be sure that yes, that is indeed my penis and not a weapon, keeps me grounded in awareness that I am not happy with this current state. Rather than standing in the body scanner and lifting up my hands (in a literal posture of submission), it is a government-provided opportunity to experience the indignity in its fullest and most complete form. And it keeps me open to future opportunities to ameliorate these conditions.

This is, in its own way, non-violent resistance (though I wouldn’t actually compare the issue to civil rights.) In the words of Martin Luther King, “The goal is not to defeat or humiliate the opponent but rather to win him or her over to understanding new ways to create cooperation and community.” Only when we acknowledge what is not working and commit to finding new solutions will those solutions appear.

MUSIC VIDEO! Blue Kid – Next To You

I’m seriously, insanely excited to share some work I’m very proud of. The fruits of my music video collaboration with singer/songwriter Lydia Benecke and her band Blue Kid just hit the Internet this week, so you can now click to watch Lydia’s delicious croon explode at you in technicolor.

We work like crazy to get this to you at no charge, so please — if you like the video, the only payment we ask is that you share them on Facebook or Twitter and tell your friends about them. It makes a world of difference to us and the success of the video.

For our other music video, check out We Were Out Again Too Late.

Meditate…Now!

Cross-posted with, and featured in, the Huffington Post.

I think the problems of the world aren’t caused by people coming together and saying “let’s make problems.” They’re caused by people coming together and saying “let’s make solutions” without having solved the problem of their own suffering. — Shinzen Young

Shinzen’s words inspire me, because they remind me that, while we all desire to improve ourselves and the world, our clouded minds are generally unable to parse the world enough to do so. I believe that in this endeavor, meditation is the key. In the written word, it’s easier to be convincing than emphatic, so I’ll try to be as convincing as I know how to be.

Meditation will change your life — drastically, and there’s a very good chance it is the answer you are looking for. In the short term, it provides more focused attention, ability to deal with emotions, and fulfilling relationships. In the long term, it will drastically transform you into a person in control of your own mind, mindful of the world around you, and liberated from mental chaos.

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The bowl is rung at the start and end of a group meditation sit.

Our minds are out of control. If you’re anything like me, a quick look into your thoughts will reveal that while a few are productive or new, the majority are ruminations and critical statements borne of a mind constantly spinning its wheels. Any attempt to stop or control these thoughts will quickly reveal that willpower alone is not enough; it takes careful training.

Consider, then, a reality where your mind has even 20 percent less clutter… or 40 percent, or almost none. Where thoughts, observations, and intentions are felt clearly. This is the promise of meditation.

My first attempts at meditation were half-hearted. A friend convinced me to sit for about 15 minutes several times per month, which was just enough to notice how badly I needed meditation and nowhere near enough to do much about it. It was unbearable sitting still and being in my own mind. Practicing more seriously was a way to directly address this aversion, and doing so has been so helpful to so many parts of my life. Practice in sitting still has already helped me in all elements of life — a writing project that used to take several days can now (on a good day) be done in a few hours, because I’m able to sit still and focus.

The black box of machinery that is my mind has become a touch more transparent, and I’m a touch more able to see what is going on inside. Our minds are composed of disparate pieces, many of which want different things, and understanding these processes better has helped me accept when some of these parts are unhappy. By extension, I’ve been better able to deal with unpleasant situations and conflicting emotions without fear.

There is plenty further for me to go. I have not reached a point where I can spend 45 minutes focusing solely on my breath; most of the time, to even sit down involves a mental battle, with half of my mind dragging the other kicking and screaming onto the meditation cushion. But these same sits end with a feeling of clarity and an uptick in joy that can last the entire day.

You can start right here, right now. In fact, before you read on to the next sentence, give yourself a full minute. Close your eyes, breathe, and observe your mind in the present moment. Are you joyful? Tired? (You’re probably tired.) Do you see thoughts in your mind, or is it fuzzy and obscure? Are you able to be present in the moment, or are your thoughts racing?

Now, before you begin to meditate, it’s important to understand what meditation is and isn’t. It’s not thinking or contemplating — it is an exercise in focus. It’s not intrinsically religious, though the wisdom traditions of Buddhism and many other religions provide insightful guidance. It is usually one part of a spiritual path that includes study and moral living, but it doesn’t have to be.

The first step, and what will at first feel like a gargantuan effort, is to establish a consistent sitting practice. This step in itself can be life changing as your realize that many of your reasons to not meditate are spurious, an outgrowth of an overactive and panicky mind. Set a timer (I recommend starting with about 15 minutes per day and working your way up to 45) and don’t move until it rings. One of the first observations of the Buddha was that the human body is constantly shifting to avoid discomfort — learn to stay still, and the discomfort or pain will teach you a lot (and it does go away over time).

Most meditation is a variation on a theme: Pick an object of meditation and focus on it — I recommend the sensations of my natural breath on the tip of the nose (I use my mouth whenever I’m congested). When you realize that you can’t follow it, practice redirecting your attention back to the breath without judgment. In fact, this moment of realization is the muscle you are trying to strengthen, so encouraging it will further your practice. Training your mind is like training a pack of animals — consistency and positive reinforcement, not will or frustration, will make a change over time.

And over time it will change. I am inspired by the examples of people who have clarified their lives and discovered a new level of empathy and understanding.

If you are interested, there are plenty of places online to learn more! My teacher Upasaka Culadasa (a former neuroscience professor) explains the technique and the spiritual path with a clarity like no other (most of my wording here has been directly borrowed from his teachings, though I make no claim to represent them fully), and I highly recommend his website Dharma Treasure. The front page provides instructions for beginners, an overview of the steps of meditation, and an extensive archive of fascinating talks on topics ranging from the self to the nature of consciousness and reality.

If you’re not interested, if you’re not convinced, try it just twice. And then try it twice more. Consistency is difficult, but that’s how to turn the practice into something that will change your life. I guarantee that you are standing at the precipice of the solution you’ve been looking for.

For more, I recommend the aforementioned Dharma Treasure website and Daniel Ingram’s “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha,” which is available for free online.

Check out my photo album of the beautiful landscapes at Roslyn Center in Richmond, Va.

“Seven Nation Army” cover – Ben L’Oncle Soul

My god, I’m loving this more each play. WATCH IT.

For more White Stripes joy, check out the quotes Jack White puts on his home page. Embracing rejection is part of being a happy artist.