My Boy, Cello (2002 – 2013)

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Most dogs respond to the words “sit”.  Cello preferred “Why don’t you have a seat… please?”  That was my boy, the majestic, the aristocratic, Cello the magnificent.

I found him at a fish store, Jack’s Aquarium, in Hilliard, Ohio on June 18, 2002.  He was sitting in a small aquarium, and at 9 weeks old, he was almost the size of my hand. The moment I saw him, even though I had never grown up with a dog, I knew that my life would change forever.  I knew that I was willing to commit everything in me to adopt this boy and make him my soul mate. Being a huge fan of the musical performances of Yo Yo Ma, I decided I would call him after my favorite instrument, “Cello”.

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He was small, but everyday, like something out of a cartoon, when I got home from work, he would double in size.  I had no idea that this little cub would become a 130 pound beast, a hulk that could stand on his hind legs six feet high, so tall that he could smell what I had for lunch.  He once jumped up and caught a bird in mid-air.  He also traumatized me by crushing two squirrels to death.  He was a bear, a hunter, a magnificent wild beast, and he knew it.  If he was to live within the tame confines of a human house, he demanded my respect first.

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Our relationship was completely mutual, 50/50, not master and dog, but truly best friends teaching each other about life.  I set the rules and he showed me how easy they were to break.  I got him a baby brother (Oboe), and he employed him as his assistant.  When Claire came into our life, he took his time before signing off his approval, and then he spent his entire life making us laugh.  He was no ordinary dog.  He had a voice and an opinion, and he made sure it was heard.  When I threw him a tennis ball to catch, he looked at me with ridicule, as if to say “you go fetch it yourself.  Do I look like a dog?”

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He permitted me to take his photographs, and posed, ever so dignified, like a king, while Oboe rolled on his back playing in the grass with his tongue hanging out.

Cello was my protector.  Once, while walking in Hollywood, a group of gang-bangers jumped out of a van with sticks to pull off an initiation on me (thinking I was walking alone), before they came around the parked cars revealing the two giant beasts walking before me.  Cello rose up and growled threateningly, and I kid you not, like something out of a movie, the cowardly thugs backed away and ran back into the van, taking off.  Cello was my monster.

He was also the gentlest creature you’d ever meet.  Around children, he became a puppy again, crouching down, curling up his tail and spinning it like a helicopter blade, giving away his child-like happiness.  When he saw our friends come into our apartment, he ran to his collection of toys and stuffed as many as he could into his mouth, bringing them up as an offering to show that it’s time to play.  When we went for car rides, he would stick his head up through the roof, like Dino on the Flinstones, bringing smiles to people out on the street.

Cello loved to eat from my hand, and I loved sharing my meals with him.  Whenever we sat down to eat, he would diplomatically position himself between Claire and I so he could maximize his pivot range to manipulate us with his soft puppy eyes, putting his chin up on the edge of the couch.  And if we ignored him, he would get up and bark at the neighbors to make us run out after him, and he’d continue a full circle back to the meal awaiting him at the table.  He put us to work, and deep down, we loved it, because he made it all fun.

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He was my best friend and my teacher.  He taught me how to love completely.  I never knew I had this much in me.  Despite all pretenses of being the proud lion that he is, his puppy love instincts always betrayed him.  As soon as I would come home from wherever I was, he would be waiting for me at the door, eager to play and share hugs.  And quite honestly, is there anything happier than rolling on the ground with your living breathing Teddy Bear?  Image

He taught me how to be present and live in the moment.  Because of him, I became compassionate towards animals, and gave up my treasured hamburgers and chicken (I became pescatarian).  Because of him, I had my awakening to life, I moved from Ohio to California to pursue my dreams of filmmaking, and he was with me every step of the way.  He acted in one of my early short films, and when I was in film school, he patiently waited at home for me.  He was beside me when I wrote Captain Abu Raed, and even slept on the editing room couch when we were cutting in post.  And lastly, I had the good fortune to share a cameo with Mister Cello in my last film, Strangely In Love.

My Lulu kept me balanced and reminded me that no matter what success or failure, the most important thing in the world was that we go for our walks every day.  Nothing else really mattered, and quite honestly, nothing could be more true.

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My greatest fear throughout our eleven and half years together was that I would lose my boy.  He was my anchor.  My home.  But now looking back, I couldn’t have asked for more.  We’ve experienced life’s happiest memories together.  From the snow of Ohio to the canyons and beaches of California, to camping in the woods together and hiking Runyon everyday.  From the single life to married life.  Making movies, celebrating with friends, and going through the private tough times too.  He was especially there for those.  Right by our side.  In his final days, he lost control of his hind leg due to a tumor growing behind his eye. I had to carry him with my two arms for his last ride up the steps to our door, as I did when I brought him home in Ohio. I hurt my back, but I was happy to have my boy completely in my arms, like a giant baby, one final time.  Cello was my universe.

He was born on April 9, 2002 and left this world on October 10, 2013, sleeping on our bedroom floor, surrounded by Claire and I, after a good night where all his friends came and bade him farewell, playing him music, kissing his giant head, combing hands through his thick double-coated fur.  I miss him beyond words, yet somehow, though our apartment has now become all too quiet, I feel him everywhere I go.  I carry him with me, in my heart and in my mind.  His spirit is in my spirit.  We are one, till the day I die.

There are millions of dogs in the world, but there will only be one Cello.

My boy, my son, I love you forever and ever.  You made me a better human being through your doggy love.  No words will ever do justice to what you signify to me, but I will honor your memory by loving the way you loved, and smiling every time I feel the pain of your loss in my heart.

Your person,

Amin

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Goodbye 2012. Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana (Intermezzo)

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My friend Danny Klein was right, this might be one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.  The Intermezzo from Mascagni’s 1890 Italian Opera Cavalleria Rusticana.  Martin Scorsese famously used it in the opening of Raging Bull.  You could put this piece of music to anything and it will turn it into poetry. 

Today I stood at the edge of Runyon Canyon watching the sunset while listening to the Intermezzo.  It was a good way to say goodbye to 2012, one of the most difficult years of my life and for so many of my dear friends who lost loved ones.  It was also a horrible year for the people of Syria, the mother who found her children killed in Manhattan, and the thousands of tragedies around the world… most recently the shocking massacre in Newtown, CT and the horrible rape incident in India.  As a friend once told me, the world is big. That’s the only way to accept the ugliness and beauty. They co-exist and the world is big.

So 2012, we bid you farewell.  Let’s hope for a healthy, happy and peaceful 2013. 

An ancient Sanskrit quote I just read in a beautiful Russian film called Elephant (2010):

“All those who are happy in the world are so because of their desire for the happiness of others.  All those who are unhappy are so because of their desire for their own happiness” – Santideva

 

(paintings by Leonid Afremov)

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Charles Dickens: 200 and forever immortal


Today was Charles Dickens’ 200th Birthday.  In these tough economic times, his stories of overcoming hardships  are probably more relevant than ever.  Last August, my wife and I had the great pleasure of visiting his home, The Dickens Museum in London.   There you can see and feel the environment where he lived for a portion of his life, when he wrote some of his great books and socialized with his close friends, putting up plays in one of his special playing rooms.  The visit to the museum gave me a new-found appreciation and a curiosity to read his books as an adult, so I started with David Copperfield.  Not surprisingly, it was deeply moving, and months later, its reflection on childhood and growing up still resonates with me.  

The above painting (unfinished due to the painter’s death) really inspired me.  Here’s this man sitting in his chair, manifesting fictional friends and characters from all walks of life in puffs of his imagination.  And here we are 200 years later, still talking about David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Little Dorrit, and a Tale of Two Cities.  Charles Dickens, through his imagination, like Beethoven and all the creative legends, will be forever immortal.

On Daily Perseverance

Often when I watch a great film or read a book that blows me away, I find myself thinking Jeez, how did this actually get pulled off?!  Then I remember that like all great accomplishments out there, it takes perseverance.  If you look at the mountain in front of you before you climb it, don’t think about how impossible it will be to reach the top.  Rather, think about how possible every baby footstep is, and somehow, with consistency and perseverance, you’ll find yourself standing at the top looking down and wondering, how did I actually pull this off?  It’s all about the attitude you take while you’re climbing the mountain.

Looking back at the two feature films that I feel so lucky to have completed, I find it hard to believe that all these little miracles happened and brought together all these people from different corners of the world in some strangely harmonious way, and we made two movies that we’re proud of (The United will eventually come out sometime this year. It’s sitting in Disney’s pipeline inherited from the shutting down of Disney International).  It took  perseverance wrestling with challenges and obstacles every single day from beginning to end to eventually arrive at a finished film that feels otherwise impossible to pull off. From script development, to getting the financing, then the green light, to setting up the production, finding the cast, building the crew, finding the locations, building the sets, rehearsing the scenes, designing the look, then going into production, fitting into a schedule, coordinating the logistics, racing daily to shoot and get the right performances, the right coverage, the right tone, the right rhythm, working around the unpredictable weather surprises, to finishing the shoot without leaving scenes behind, to then editing the film, getting the music right, recording the music, applying the sound effects, recording ADR, mixing the sound, coloring the film, and getting the subtitles right.  It all seems like an impossible feat, but somehow it gets done and we have a movie. 

So I take those experiences as a reminder that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it and show up everyday with a focused commitment to make it to the finish line.  And if you put your heart into it, no matter what it is (whether making movies, building a house, becoming a doctor, a musician, an actuary, a pilot, an astronaut, or opening your own private business) the reward at the end will be all the better.  

And now I’m back to building a new boat, planning another movie, and taking what I’ve learned from the past to show up daily, solve one problem at a time, piece by piece, to make my next movie and fight the good fight to get to the next finish line.  And along the way, I’m learning new things and growing special creative friendships. 

 

The Wolf You Feed

Good morning from London! A quick blog to share something lovely I heard yesterday at my brother’s graduation from military school. Maybe you’ve heard it before, but I hadn’t, and I found its simplicity to be quite beautiful.

An old man told a little boy, life is a battle between two wolves inside you. One wolf represents anger, jealousy, shame, guilt, and hate. The other represents serenity, triumph, joy, happiness, and love. The old boy then asked, which one wins in the end? And the old man answered, the wolf you feed.