The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, January 31, 2005

Elektra (2005)

This adaptation of the Marvel/Frank Miller comic book character is better than Daredevil, the movie that spawned it.  That may be damning with faint praise, but I'll do it anyway.  The tale of an assassin earning her redemption by protecting a widower and his daughter is predictable but still a much better time than I'd expected.  Got to stop reading those reviews.  Anyway, it's filled with artistic flourishes, some decent acting (except for Terrance Stamp, unconvincing as a blind martial arts teacher) and some B-grade CGI wizardry.  Popcorn movie, but I like popcorn movies.  Give it a "B".

A gloomy prediction for "XXX"

Just saw the trailer for the sequel to "XXX", and make this unhappy prediction.  Just this: the Ice Cube starrer, due out in April, will have less sex than the Vin Diesel film.  And I am predicting this on one clue alone: his skin is darker.  I just hate having to come back to this again and again, but at a time when I see black and Asian women sexualized like crazy--as long as they are with white guys--this barrier is still uber-difficult to cross.  I have very nice, very smart, relatively sensitive white friends who don't get my attitude on this at all, who think I am feeling sorry for Wesley Snipes if he is denied nooky in "Blade."
No, that's not it, and I thought I'd try to lay out my reasoning here, just so I don't have the thoughts rattling around in my head.
1)  I don't feel sorry for Wesley.  I feel sorry for myself, because I've gone so many years in my life with damned few images of men who look like myself and are powerful, sexual, intelligent, independent...and survive the movie.  Frankly, "Shaft in Africa," made in 1973, is the last film I can think of clearly that had all of these elements and succeeded at the box office.  That's right, it's been an entire generation.  Meanwhile, white kids have been able to see this kind of imagery of themselves day in/day out every week of the year, every year since.
2)  I don't just think this is a matter of "Hollywood."  Hollywood is a machine that feeds on money.  It is, in my mind, the accurate judgment of Hollywood executives that white guys will be less likely to put down their money if they think they will see a black or Asian's bare ass on screen. 
So Hollywood gives them what they have good reason to believe they want to see.
3) It is not a matter of white folks finding nonwhites unattractive (an interesting theory).  If this were true, we wouldn't have seen such an explosion of white guys boffing dusky-skinned women onscreen.  Look at a very very partial list of the non-white women who've been paired with white guys over the last years, at the exact same time black and Asian men have gotten no action (or if they get action, the movies bomb in the box office, or top out at around 50 million--the cinematic ghetto): Rosario Dawson, Beyonce, Whoopi Goldberg, Thandie Newton, Lucy Lui, Halle Berry, Whitney Houston...virtually any brown female artist of any note has been coupling on-screen with white guys, in the exact same cinematic period when black and Asian actors have gotten nada.  In case you think this was a choice on the part of said brown actors, it is not.  Sometimes in print, but gladly in person they will speak honestly of their disappointment that America will not embrace their sexuality.  my wife Tananarive wrote an article about it for Essence, and I've spoken to some of them personally.  It has to be off the record, though--the one time Denzel spoke out honestly, people accused him of racism!
4)  "But isn't this just entertainment?" Well, no.  It is a symptom of the way that America sees me, and people who look like me.  Every time I hear about white cops shooting an unarmed black man, I wonder if the same urge to turn away from a sexual image isn't part of the "reduced perceived humanity" that makes the trigger finger a bit more itchy.  Just a bit.  The threat/value ratio is just a hair out of balance. It makes it just a hair more dangerous for me in this world.  It hurts when I sit in a movie theater filled with Caucasians, and hear guys go "yuck" if a black man is kissing a woman.  Any woman.  But especially an Asian, and if it's a white woman, the audience goes dead, dead silent.  Dead.  And doesn't recover for at least five minutes.  I've seen it happen dozens of times over the years, and am sick of people telling me it's my imagination.
Second--young males will do anything to get laid, people.  They will follow whatever images will show them as powerful, intelligent, sexual, dynamic.  This is obviously an important image system--human beings have been pretty reliably selling it for thousands of years.  I defy you to find a single week in the last twenty years when there hasn't been at least one movie with these elements aimed at white audiences.  And like I said--it's been THIRTY-TWO YEARS since a major studio released such a film, with a black lead, which succeeded at the box office.  That is heartbreaking.
When there are no decent images of such power, young men will turn to indecent ones.  Currently, the only place they can see themselves as powerful, successful, and sexual is rap videos.
It makes me want to vomit. 
Outnumbered ten to one, without a single brown person capable of "green-lighting" a movie in Hollywood, people ask me why I meditate so much, why I am so insistent on a philosophy that places all human beings in a context of understandable flaws rather than "evil."  The answer is simple: I would explode with fear and hate if I didn't.  My conservative friends  would love for me to take the position that black folks don't have the genetic "stuff."  Frankly, if I did, that would make me actually look better than I see myself.  Wow!  The wondrousness of me!  But wait...if I was that unforgiving of black people for the dysfunction in their community and the crime statistics, what would I make of white folks, who have all the advantages I yearned for as a child, and are STILL screwed up?  Hmmm.  Either I'm going to love everyone, and treat everyone with compassion and understanding, or I'm going to be a monster, folks.  Take your pick.
What can I say?  Maybe I shouldn't complain, but it bothers me that the most "Family Friendly" movie studio, Disney, in its entire 20th century output of animated feature films, had not a single frame of an animated image of a black man or woman.  We just didn't live in their imagination.  Millions of frames to ZERO.  That is, I am terribly afraid, the truth.  We're not wanted here.  But we're here, and have nowhere else to go.
Please understand.  It's important for me to be able to speak these things, to get it out in public rather than just sitting on it, letting the fears and angers twist and coil in my mind like a nest of snakes.  I promised you when I started this blog that I'd let you see what was going on inside my head, honestly, not just the good stuff. The nice stuff.  Oh, that's there as well, but there are times I see shadows.  Times I hear chains rattling.  I contain multitudes, and some of them are not happy at all.


Dwight Swain Part Two: Motivation-Reaction units.

The second part of the Swain writing model has to do with the dynamics of process within a story:
The character has a goal, and if she can accomplish it easily, there is no story.  There must be a conflict.  The attempt to resolve the conflict leads to bad or awkward stuff--your "disaster".  Now, these first three steps comprise the "Scene" or the "Motivation"
Your character will have a reaction to the disaster.  Their reaction will place them on the horns of a Dilemma--choice A versus choice B, neither choice being great.  She must choose...or synthesize a new choice (The superior approach).  This choice represents a decision, which leads to a new goal...and the process begins anew.  It's a loop, don't you see?  And a story might only have one or two micro-cycles of this, while a book has dozens.  This second section is the "Reaction," and coupled together this is a "Motivation-Reaction Unit."  This is the power train within story, and as a simple model, it rocks.
Let's see how this works in, say, "The Godfather" for Michael Corleone:
Goal: to visit his father (who has been shot)
Conflict: the guards have been removed from the hospital.  This is no simple visit.
Disaster: Assassins are on the way.
Reaction: Fear
Dilemma: Self-preservation versus protection of father
Decision: To pretend to be armed and dangerous to stand off the assassins.
New Goal: to protect father
Conflict: This places Michael, an outsider to the family "business," firmly in the cross-hairs.
Disaster: A crooked policeman confronts Michael physically, trying to force him from the hospital...
And so it goes.  Take a section of a film you like, and start breaking it down.  Get to work!

No Subject

Okay, here's one. Using "Moulin Rouge," one of my fave movies.

SITUATION: When a dance hall tries to convert into a legitimate theater in turn of the century Paris,
CHARACTER: Christian, a poet and provencial boy,
OBJECTIVE: gets hired to write the play the troupe will perform. But he doesn't understand that
OPPONENT: the Duke is in love with Satin, the dance hall star who is also Christian's first love. Christian and Satin's illicit affair
DISASTER: will enrage the Duke, who can get away with murdering Christian and destroying the entire company rather than see Satin in the hands of another man.

That appears to almost work..
Pam |
Email | 01.31.05 - 2:50 am | #
Seems to work pretty well.  It allows you to grasp challenge, opposition, setting--all of the stuff you need to begin your writing process.  I would suggest changing the names and writing a VERY short story about people in an analogous situation...perhaps from the Duke's point of view?  if re-writing other people's work was good enough for Shakespeare, it's good enough for us.


On "Soldier"

But on a less racial-political and more gender-political note, doesn't the song speak to the phenomenon of women chasing the Bad Boy Archetype?
Absolutely.  Which reflects the need for survival (1st chakra) as primary, and overriding the higher, more spiritual or intellectual chakras, or even the need for emotional health. This is the pattern for people who are operating in the "live for today" mode.  The downside of the "the present moment is all that exists" mode.  In proper context, this is quite positive.  For the inner-city denizen who sees no future, it is the doorway to hell.  I believe that Beyonce and Destiny's Child are operating well above this level.  To promote songs which praise it amounts to little more than pandering. 


Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Dwight Swain Model--part one

In the wonderful TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER by Dwight V. Swain, he lays down the simplest story model that I find actually useful:
This is basic, kindergarten stuff, but workable.  My favorite example is the classic James Bond movie, "Goldfinger"--
SITUATION:  When gold is being smuggled out of England in large quantities,
CHARACTER: Secret agent 007 James Bond
OBJECTIVE: Is assigned to learn how it's being done.  But little does he realize that
OPPONENT: Super-Industrialist Auric Goldfinger
DISASTER: Is smuggling gold to finance his real operation--the destruction of Fort Knox with an atom bomb.
Once this is laid out, could the thrust of this film be any more obvious?  The goals, oppositions, values, and implied actions are all laid right out there.
Try this with a few of your favorite movies.  Post your thoughts, and I'll give you feedback where it will benefit the entire Lifewriting tribe.  Go for it!

WEEK #3--Be a published writer in one year!

All right, we get to a few more brass tacks this week.  Let's take a look at what you should have done, if you follow my system:
Week #1: write 1st draft of a short story.  I suggest no more than 2000 words. Put it aside.
Week #2: Write 1st draft of a second short story.
Week #3: Write 1st Draft of a third short story.  Polish the 1st week's story.  Submit  1st week's story  to a magazine .
Do you grasp the pattern?  You are to write the rough draft of one story per week.  And re-write/polish one story per week.  Give the rough draft time to filter out of your consciousness.  This will teach you to let go and flow.  Working one hour a day, five days a week, you can write a short-short story.  Give that two hours, and you can do the rough on a 2000 word story easily--as long as  you don't choke!
Read WRITER'S MARKET to get a better idea of the form of submission, and a preliminary list of magazines.  But you should be doing your own market research!
"But I want to write novels, not short stories," you say.  Fine.  I've heard this a thousand times, and my advice doesn't change.  If you want to run a marathon, start with a single mile.  A novel is such a sprawling monster that it can hide a thousand problems.  It takes so long to write that you can spend decades re-working a single one, and your learning curve will be agonizingly slow.  Working a short story a week (or every other week, in which case this process will take two years.   Or fifty stories.  Whichever is longest.)

Get to work!

Destiny Child's "Soldier"

Being black myself, I discuss racial matters on this blog, partially because I believe any writer should have an internally consistent philosophy, and I want to let people see how I think on a variety of issues. Partially because I feel there is much insanity on this very touchy issue. But let no one think that I believe the problems in the black community are solely the creation of those outside it. Case in point, the lyrics of the song "Soldier" by Destiny's Child, an extremely popular song on the radio and, I believe, in the clubs. I think it is disgraceful. Allow me to take it apart line by line to tell you why.
Hey (I need a soldier)
May I assume she is referring to a gentleman known for the capacity to resist or inflict physical damage? A fighter. Of course, the temptation is to suggest she wants a "soldier" for a local drug dealer--someone who carries a gun, and gang-bangs.
Well you got it, I'm the hottest around
The lady is implying she is sexually aggressive and available. Fine. Young men pay careful attention to such words. The world over, young men behave in whatever way they believe will get them laid. In a very real way, women are the standard-bearers for responsible behavior. When they offer sex without commitment or responsible performance, the community suffers.
They'll know it when they see rollin' Impalas around
(I got a soldier)
With the top down, feelin' the sounds
Quakin' and vibratin' them thighs
Ridin' harder than guys
Wow! We're flashier and more aggressive than the men! In that wonderful line from "EdTV", "Men are the gas. Women are the brakes." Well, the motor is revving in the inner city, but no one's at the wheel.
With the chrome wheels at the bottom, white leather inside
When them flames be spittin' at you, tell 'em don't even try it
To shoot it with 'Chelle, and kick it with Kelly, or holla at B
You gotta be G's, you way outta ya league
My my. In order to have sex with these highly desirable women, you can't be a doctor, or a lawyer, or an Indian chief. You have to be a low-life, violent, criminal thug. Wow. How inspiring.

We like them boys that be in them Lacs leanin' (leanin')
Open they mouth, they grill gleamin' (gleamin')
A mouth full of gold teeth! The dental community must be drooling.
Candy paint, keep that whip clean and (clean and)
They always be talkin' that country slang we like
And be certain that you don't accidentally speak in complete sentences or with correct grammar, or we'll boot you out of bed. Yassah!
They keep that beat that be in the back beatin' (beatin')
Eyes be so low from that chiefin' (chiefin')
Chiefin'? Never heard this. Might one suspect it is a term for some kind of drug usage? We're describing a real winner here.
I love how he keep my body screamin' (screamin')
A rude boy that's good to me, with street credibility
"Street credibility." Hmmm. Someone who has established his bona fides as a thug. By going to jail, perhaps? Killing someone? What standards do you think they accept?

If his status ain't hood, I ain't checkin' for him
Better be street if he lookin' at me
I need a soldier
That ain't scared to stand up for me
Known to carry big things, if you know what I mean
Wow. Subtlety. "Big things." Could they be referring to his wallet? His genitals? The size of his "gun"? That sounds about right.

If his status ain't hood, I ain't checkin' for him
Better be street if he lookin' at me
I need a soldier
That ain't scared to stand up for me
Gotta know to get dough and he better be street
He'd better be loud, ignorant, violent, and criminal---with money. Do you think he earned it selling cookies door to door?

I know some soldiers in here (where they at, where they at)
They wanna take care of me (where they at)
I know some soldiers in here (where they at, where they at)
Don't mind takin' one for me (where they at)
Another wonderful support of correct grammar. And hey! A call out to a man willing to get shot for his hoochie. Who says romance is dead?
I know some soldiers in here (where they at, where they at)
They wanna spend that on me (where they at)
Wow! I love the vast difference between these girls and common street whores. And the difference me out here...

[Lil' Wayne]
Hey, see cash, money is a army
I'm walkin' with Purple Hearts on me
In other words, I've been shot in the process of earning money. Think his 7-11 got stuck up? Me neither.
You're talkin' to the sargeant
Body marked up like the subway in Harlem
I run a crew, and carry more lead in my body than "Fifty Cent." Just the kind of guy moms used to love for their daughters to bring home.

I like them boys over there, they lookin' strong tonight (strong tonight)
Just might give one the phone tonight (phone tonight)
Homie in the Dickies, in my zone tonight (zone tonight)
He don't know it might be on tonight (on tonight)
In other words, I lubricate for hoodlums. Step right up.
Ooh he lookin' good, and he talkin' right (talkin' right)
He the type that might change my life (change my life)
Everytime he look at me, my girls be like (girls be like)
That one may be the one tonight
And my friends support me in my values. Charming.
When I speak to a morbidly obese person, my bet is that, dollars to doughnuts, there was emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in their past. I've already compared the black community in general to an abused child. Fine. But regardless of whether there is abuse in your past, YOU have the responsibility for working your way toward a meaningful, healthy life. I am ashamed of the way black intellectuals have given a pass to the hip-hop community. "It's the inner city perspective," they say. Bullcrap. Plenty of people in the inner cities are raising families, working jobs, caring for ailing parents, living lives of grace under pressure. How many songs about these things do we hear? This is pimping out the impressionable young girls who worship Destiny's Child, for the almighty dollar. This is cultural SUICIDE, people. Self-inflicted genocide. And nothing less.


Saturday, January 29, 2005

More on Triangle goal setting

I know, I know.  "Diamond" goals, "Triangle" goals...I'm still working with terminology, folks.  this is new to me, too.
Think about the different aspects of life that can be contained within a triangle:
1) Body, Mind, Spirit
2) Breath, movement, alignment
3) Plot, Character, Theme
4) Base, Angle, Leverage (silat)
5) Affirming, Denying, Reconciling (Sufism)
There are many more.   One way to make maximum use of this technique is to take advantage of the tripartite nature of the system.  Have your three goals, your three role models. LEARN THE "BE BREATHED" TECHNIQUE as taught in the Five Minute Miracle.  Then five times a day when you perform your breaths, pause on the exhalation (the "control pause"), leaving your lungs empty for a moment.  During this empty phase, visualize your triangle.  Hold it.  Then release and go to  your next rep.
More advanced: On the "control pause", visualize the triangle.  Now, in turn, visualize each of your role models.  Release and go to the next rep.
Even More advanced.  "Cross Hatch" your goals so that you see how each of them benifits all arenas.  Now perform "Be Breathed."   On the "Control Pause", visualize  your triangle.  Now center it in your "Belly Brain".  Visualize your role models.  In rotation, see how mastering each of their skills benifits your physical health.  Release.  Repeat for Heart Center and Head Center.
Most Advanced.  Do the above exercise once for each Chakra.  That's seven breaths.  Seven "Be Breathed" exercises.  Takes about two minutes.  Do that five times a day and you will be SHOCKED at the amount you accomplish, how much energy you will have, and how positive your mood will be.  But remember to work through the progressions as stated above.  It may take months or years, but it will be worth it.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Marijuana prohibition--a modest proposal

I really hate politics, but if there is anything in the American political scene that would motivate me to get involved, it is the insanity of our drug laws.  I have a proposal that I would love to have criticized.  Tell me please why this would not make more sense than the current situation.
I have a proposal that would be far more fair, and would cut drug use by 50% in three years.  Promise.
It works like this:
1) Put together an evaluation system for measuring the danger/toxicity/addiction potential and/or any other standards of health and mental impact for drugs.  LD-50, addicts produced per thousand users, fatalities per thousand users, percentage of users that go on to other drugs, percentage of   users of drug "X" who began with drug "Y" (the "gateway" theory), etc., 
2)  Apply it to all psychoactive drugs  in the market, including alcohol and tobacco.
3) Any drug that gets a lower overall score than alcohol or tobacco (assuming a low score means less danger) is legalized.  Let's assume for argument's sake this is marijuana.
4)  The newly legalized drugs are sold only in plain generic wrapper, and taxed at a rate to make it approximately 10% cheaper than that sold by illegal street venders.
5)  The profits are all put into anti-drug campaigns and rehabilitation programs.
What would the results be?  Well,
1) the street drug trade collapses for Marijuana, and probably cocaine as well (not sure, but I believe that Nicotine takes the cake for addictive potential and fatalities, as well as gateway action).  As the street trade collapses, street gangs funding activities with drugs go bankrupt. 
2) The multibillion dollar drug cartels go bankrupt.  They can no longer afford the vast bribery that has kept them from prosecution.  Nor can they pay the armies that keep their rivals from killing them.  A feeding frenzy takes place, ending with greater stability in South America, the Asian Golden Triangle, and even sections of the Middle East.
3) Billions on nonviolent criminal incarceration is saved.
4) Billions in law enforcement can be shifted to violent crime.
5) Hundreds of thousands of otherwise innocent citizens are saved from jail, increasing overall social respect for law, and preventing the disruption of inner-city communities due to drug-related arrests.
6)  The vast sums poured into anti-drug programs would have a terrific effect.  What consumer product that cannot advertise could survive such an onslaught, backed by billions of dollars of research and airtime?
We could balance the budget in five years, I think, between the profit, and the reduction of expenditure, and the return to the workplace of otherwise harmless citizens.
And beside that, there are few things that irritate me more than Cocktail parties in support of "Just Say No" programs.  That has to be one of the most massive hypocrisies I have ever seen in my life.

The Aviator (2004)

A wondrous meditation on madness and genius, excess and success, an American Icon and tragedy, the story of Howard Hughes humanizes the man in a manner I, for one, had never expected to see.  I felt shocked at how little I knew of this pioneering aviator who owned so much of the world he inhabited that there was no one to help him as his neurosis spiraled out of control.  Terrific, and a Must-See, and possibly the best film of 2004.  I'm not sure, but it's possible.  A solid, solid "A"

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Harlan Ellison on success

This was recently sent to me, words from one of my favorite human beings in all the world on the topic of success. Ellipses added...
(On the subject of: what is the path to success)
Mostly, it’s a boxcar full of incomprehensible terminology. Mandelbrot sets. Linear versus non-linear systems. That trite and wearying “butterfly effect” everyone uses when they want to sound informed. Fractals. Simple attractors. Strange attractors. Iterated growth and erosion. Self-similarity. The Koch Curve (same as fractal). Random behavior, in seemingly normal patterns. The manner in which smoke disperses; the manner in which cream permeates a cup of coffee; a lone walker standing at a fork in the road. Chaos Theory.None of that gibberish will help you. But…
Using the underlying concept of Chaos Theory and its universal application to flawed, fallible, mostly ridiculous human beings -- that’s you and me, kiddo -- I can codify for you The Big Secret. I can tell you how to attain riches, fame, true love, avoid accidents, reap the benefits of being well-liked, assure your future and, in short, make Life a Sweet Song for you. Pay attention.
“Chance favors the prepared mind.”—Louis Pasteur
I’ll start with an anecdote. It never fails, not even once; at every lecture I deliver, whether at the Yale Political Union or MIT or the London School of Economics or Caltech or Estrella Mountain Community College -- hundreds and hundreds of lectures over more than 50 years -- it never fails: someone will come up and ask me for The Secret.Like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, where he demands of the hallucination of his brother Ben, “What’s the secret? What is it, Ben! Tell me how to achieve success! What is it, Ben?!” And the ghost says something useless like, “be well-liked Willy” or “I went into the jungle and hewed an empire out of the vast waste…it’s diamonds, Willy!”That’s what they want to know. The Secret. As if we who have made something of our life ascend to the attic at dead midnight, bearing a chamois bag filled with the knucklebones of a chacma baboon, and we cast the runes and come down in the foggy morning light with The Secret. All that is as useless as Chaos Theory terminology. But Chaos Theory itself isn’t. Because, as Pasteur said, chance favors the prepared mind. So when a student or a businessman asks me -- in one way or another -- “What’s The Secret?” I tell him or her: “Read the Sherlock Holmes stories. The entire Conan Doyle canon.” Because all the stories are built on the concept of using logic, of ratiocination as a weapon and tool to control your own existence.The more you know, the more clearly you look at all aspects of the problem, the more likely you are not to wind up in bad situations with lovers, not to enter into illogical and blue-sky business plans, never to get involved with time-wasting or demented leaners who will lead you into the morass.
If you understand that there is no such thing as chance, but only patterns we do not understand, you will cease to believe in phony religions, astrology, flying saucers, heroes and demons, good and evil (most of what we call “evil” is usually only ineptitude), ghosts, the infallibility of politicians and all the other coo-coo distractions from clear thinking.There is no chance. There is Chaos. And Chaos is Entropy Misunderstood. The world is not run by secret cabals, it is run by people who do not understand the systems within which they operate; and so they attempt to bend them to alternate purposes.But Chaos will have its way. Those rivers will find their true courses, no matter how many dams of bigotry, greed, hatred and frenzy are erected. Chance favors the prepared mind. Chaos works to your benefit. Know as much as you can. Understand and remember.Life has only one great lesson. It says to you Pay Attention. Whether in Chaos or Entropy, the more you know, the cleverer and more well-informed you are…the easier it is to ride the tide of Chaos, to achieve The Secret.You’re welcome. And you didn’t even have to sign up for a seminar. Chaos is a highwayman, wild and free.Chaos is when a man walks ahead, but his soul lags behind.
Award-winning author, journalist and screenwriter Harlan Ellison® has written or edited 75 novels and 1,700 short stories, essays and articles. His books include Deathbird Stories, Slippage, Mind Fields and The Essential Ellison, a 50-year retrospective. His television work includes writing for Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, and he’s the only member of the Writers Guild of America to win Most Outstanding Teleplay four times for solo work. He has also received the Silver Pen for Journalism from P.E.N. Copyright © 2003 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. Harlan Ellison® is a registeredtrademark of the Kilimanjaro Corporation.
A note from Steve: Harlan is one of the ten human beings I am most honored to know. Period.

Mind Reading

Do you want to know how never to be lied to again? How to know people within the first five minutes of meeting them? To develop an instinct about people within the first five seconds? Then listen, and begin to apply.
This method was developed spontaneously, during the teaching of a Lifewriting workshop, and I can take no conscious credit for it. Please start with several basic assumptions:
1) Every tree will grow as tall as it can. In other words, we all seek to fulfill our potential. If you are walking in a forest and see a burned and blasted stump, you can guess there's been a lightning fire. SOMETHING HAPPENED. And we intuit this. And truth is, we can see the same thing in human beings. Let's start with the idea that the average person is capable of great achievement, were they to focus all their being. He or she could become a great athlete, a captain of industry, and the kind of loving, self-sacrificing person who could run into a burning school bus to save children. Few of us rise so high. Why not? Yes, there are innate qualities, but external environment also shapes us greatly. Look at all three arenas of life:
a) Body. How close to an ideal body does this person have? (Adjusted for her age)
b) Mind. How close to the ideal does this person come: to support themselves contentedly at a job they would perform as a hobby, for free. This doesn't mean being rich--but they should FEEL rich. Contented.
c) Spirit. What is her relationship history? Remember that our partners are the mirror-image of our selves, and our self-concept. A person with a string of disastrous relationships is telling you huge amounts about themselves. A woman in relationship with a brutal or unresponsive man is speaking volumes about her own psyche. Listen to what she is saying.
Now, then--only the body is obvious in the first seconds, so notice that first. Then gather additional information directly and indirectly.
2) Everyone feels alone and afraid. The only question is: what do you do with your loneliness and your fear? Me? I practice martial arts (fear) and cultivate close relations with friends and family. What does your target do?
3) No one can tell the absolute truth about who and what they are. And in some cases, the observation from the outside will be more accurate than the inner "story." A person who is obese and emotionally dysfunctional cannot have an accurate map of reality. They lie to themselves and others about the rules of reality. Learn to trust your own intuition, and what you see, more than what people say. People lie. It's one of the ways they survive.
4) Use this technique on yourself first. Look deeply into your own relationships, your physical fitness and health, and your career. Go deeper. Learn to ask yourself the hardest questions imaginable. The more deeply you go, the easier it is to develop the "Mind Reading" technique.
5) Never, ever, ever volunteer the information that you learn. Do not. And NEVER use it against the ones you love, beating them up with it in arguments. "I know what you really are..." This is a great way to destroy a relationship in a single blow. We have the right to our privacy. Nonetheless, we hide our dysfunction in plain sight, and then have social agreements not to talk about it, or notice it. Then we act surprised when people act according to their demonstrated nature.
Remember Beatrix Kiddo in "Kill Bill Vol 2"? When she says that she knew Bill was capable of mass murder, but just never believed he would do it to her? This is a woman in deep, deep delusion. That refusal to look at truth was necessary to live with herself, and the monster that she was (I love that movie!) We ALL do this. Start figuring out where you do it to yourself. Get ahead of the game. Wake up! The clock is ticking. Life is not a dress rehersal.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Coach Carter (2005)

This inspirational basketball film starring Samuel L. Jackson is somewhat by-the-numbers, but rousing nonetheless.  The tale of a basketball coach who instills academic values into a team where the term "student athlete" is only half true is filled with platitudes, but I'm tellin' ya, I loved every minute of it.  Bless MTV for trying.  Sam Jackson gives another intense performance, even if it covers no new emotional ground for him.  The performances in general are decent, the values top-notch (if a bit cavalier on the issue of abortion) and the basketball sequences great.  Almost a precise mirror-image of "Friday Night Lights", that darling of the media, in which none of the black characters had any inner life, and the single family conversation between non-whites was viewed through a pane of glass.  "Coach Carter" is a fine, solid piece of work, and deserves an appreciative "B".

Re: [lifewritingdiscussionlist] 5 MM and Diet

In a message dated 1/25/05 12:17:10 PM, writes:


Where does one's eating habits/tastes play into the 5MM practice? 
This is the one area that concerns me because part of my regimen is
geared towards ending my addiction to refined sugar(s). Since I work
at a desk during the week, and since said desk is located in close
proximity to several vending machines full of junk, my first priority
right now (other than completing my work) is to focus on getting this
Sugar monkey off of my back.  The 5MM provides me with the framework
to visualize and create the positive eating habits I need to grow,
but what are those eating habits?  What does a body need when
undergoing such a change? And what does a body need to maintain after
the change has come to fruition?


Jason in Bmore

Considered as a way to raise energy (with energy being a primary tool to facilitate growth), eating is at least 25% of the puzzle.  (Eating, exercise, rest, and focus are the four tools to increase energy). The five Minute Miracle works very nicely with the "Body for Life" eating plan of 5-6 small meals a day.  Your problem is that your blood sugar is set to crash every couple of hours. Then you need to eat more (processed, simple) sugars to get it back up.  Which triggers the insulin response, pulling the sugar from your bloodstream (and storing it as fat), and starting the cycle over again.
The way out of this is manyfold.  On a strictly dietary level, begin to substitute complex unprocessed carbohydrates for simple ones--they metabolize more slowly, and won't cause the same magnitude of crash.  Eating a spoon-sized shredded wheat instead of a Twix bar is probably a sane approach.  Or, you could eat a piece of fruit instead of that candy.  While it's high in sugar, it also contains nutritional factors, and the TYPE of sugar (fructose) doesn't cause the insulin response as drastically.  Eating a couple of orange slices after performing your 5MM might be a smart approach.
In general, no diet that you cannot sustain for the rest of your life is going to work.  You have to shift to an eating pattern that is long-term.  Then, of course, you have to deal with whatever emotional stuff is keeping you stuck in the first place: until you deal with the emotional needs,  your subconscious will sabotage any efforts you make to change.  This is where meditation, dream-journaling and quiet, focused introspection work great.
A last thought: having one day a week on which you get to break your discipline is a great idea.  For me, it's Friday, and we call it "Cheat day."  If I've been moderately good the rest of the week, I get to be moderately bad on Friday.  But if I've been SPECTACULARLY good and disciplined the rest of the week--guess what?  I get to be SPECTACULARLY bad on Friday, if I really want to be.  It's a nice pressure valve!


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

A question on Priorities

A question:
Dear Steve,

When pushed against a sudden deadline are there things you give up to
get there?  My grandmother's stuff is getting here in two-weeks, she'll
get here whenever rehab (for a stroke, not addiction) feels she's
ready.  I'm still doing twenty minutes on my bike, and either yoga or
bellydancing later in the day, but no longer both.  The kids make it
quite clear that they can not be put off and the housework is kinda key
to being ready for the stuff and grandma.  I've considered giving up
the time I spend cooking in favor of convenience foods but we'll all be
sniffly, cranky and tired if I don't cook real food for two weeks.  So
I've given up creativity to create more time and I'm jonesing. 
ANSWER:  life always intervenes, and it must be coped with.  But some irreducable amount of the day belongs to YOU.  Call it five minutes (although I'd like it if it were more.)  I've never met anyone so busy that they didn't have five minutes.  If it feels as if  you don't, that's just the dragon of mediocrity trying to steal your life.  Tell it to shut the #@$$ up.  My priorities are clear:
1) Family
2) Writing
3) Martial arts.
But note: there is a minimum amount of writing I need to say sane, and a minimum amount of physical movement to stay healthy.  and a minimum amount of meditation to stay centered.  When life gets so busy that it seems I don't have time for these things, I GET SUSPICIOUS.  Remember:  your life will try to maintain homeostasis.  You will have to FIGHT for every inch of growth.  Try to steal one hour back from the world.  Remember the "Golden Hour?"  Well, maybe for  the time being it's the "golden half-hour."  Prioritize.  What do you need to stay healthy?  Less than this , and you are NOT benifiting your family, regardless of what your inner demons say.  If you spend less than 10-15 minutes on your body, this is just pathology, not outer pressure.  If you don't have five minutes to breathe properly, this is pathology.  If you don't have five minutes to write out your goals for the day, this is pathology.
We must learn to tell the difference between what is urgent, and what is important.  Inevitably, an individual day or week may come that throws our ordinary lives out of whack.  this is when we go back to our simplest, most basic 5-15 minutes of meditation, movement.  but if it becomes common, look at it more closely.  Remember that change is HARD, hon.  If it was easy, we'd all be angels.



A question from Erich...
"... daily input of positive, nourishing ideas and affirmation ..."

OK, what do you do if (no doubt because your life is out of balance) you don't already have what feels like the daily input of affirmation?

I recognize that this is a classic naive question, but I'm finding that this is actually a big stumbling block in pushing ahead with all of these tools -- sheer emotional starvation. Even being on the wrong coast during a bicoastal marriage didn't come close to the starvation quotient I'm feeling nowadays. What then?
Create, or adopt, a positive affirmation.  Use it five times a day, during your 5MM breaks.  My personal favorite is: "I improve one percent daily in amplitude and congruence of body, mind, and spirit".  It must be positive, and it should represent small and consistant daily/ weekly growth.  "I love myself enough to expect and demand the very best."  "I learn one new and positive thing about my mind and body daily."  "I give the world twice the love I expect to receive."  "I find new ways daily to be valuable to myself and others."  "Every day I find new sources of joy and energy."
Believe me, the dragons in the back of  your head will have a field day with you at first.  this is why it is valuable to learn to meditate--to clear those dragons away so you can plant your own seeds.  And also why it is so important to BEGIN your day with positive input.  Wake up, clear the mind, positive input and action for an hour.  If you can do this daily for six weeks,  your life will change.



There are so many models and maps of reality I want to share with you, but we need to slow down and examine what we already have.  A perfect tool is this idea of "Becoming a published writer in a year."  Together, the Hero's Journey and the Chakras present a lifetime of work and investigation. but let me lead you by the hand a bit longer.  the Hero's Journey (go back and read my articles if you are unfamiliar with this) are the process of growth--how one puts one foot in front of another.  The process of makign decisions, gathering allies and powers, confronting weakness and evil, coping with disaster.  The Chakras (in one sense) represent the goal--constant growth through the  different stages of our life, the different stages of physical, mental, and spiritual development.  A useful model is to think of the Hero's Journey as the path from one chakra to another, going from "lower" to "higher".  Don't think of the lower chakras as "lesser" than the higher, any more than roots are less important than leaves.  This is EXACTLY the mistake many seekers make, just as others make the mistake of thinking that the lower, animal sensory experiences and power acquisition comprise all that there is in life.  Both attitudes are limiting.
Let's talk about a story dealing with the first Chakra.  People often talk to me of motivation.  "I have no motivation."  "Nothing matters," etc.  They are lying to themselves.  If I threw a plastic bag over their heads and started choking them, every single one of them would struggle.  Every one.  This  is the natural, engrained response of all organisms.  All else is dysfunction and lies.  You have to get down to the truth, and then build from there.  So, biologically:
1)  All organisms seek to live.
2) All organisms seek to avoid pain and seek pleasure. 
Now, sometimes #2 will lead to suicide.  Understand why?  The attempt to avoid pain can cause problems when you are so confused that life seems nothing BUT pain.  In that case, death of the body can seem preferable to death "of the spirit."  Death is moving away from pain, do you see?
I think that one of the reasons that all world spiritual disciplines use the breath is that when you begin to elongate the exhalation, or hold the exhaled position, the hind brain kicks in the Cardio Respiratory Distress response--in other words, you get in touch with something that is realer than any of your supposed "problems." CRD trumps EVERYTHING.  if you want to find your motivation to succeed, to work, to exercise, to love and learn, get back to the most basic things about yourself:
1) you want to live
2) you want to feel good, and avoid pain.
The heart of the Lifewriting system is to write stories that deal with our own problems, to create metaphors that communicate to our own subconscious.  So if you write a story about a man or a woman who cannot motivate themselves to take a necessary action, how might such a story be resolved?
1) By increasing their motivation (the situation gets worse, or the reward gets better)
2) By increasing their clarity (so that they can see how they have been limiting themselves)
3) By changing their resource base--giving them a new ally to motivate and support them.  this can be external or internal.
4) By Having a natural pattern of growth or aging take them to a new level.
5) By having some catastrophic occurance or "breakthrough" moment force their hand.  In retrospect, they then see what they have done, and what they can be.
Conversely, you can have them fail to take action, and watch the consequences.
Of course, there are other options, but these will get you started.  Let them get in touch with their most basic, life and death drives.  Chakra #1.  It's always there.  Always.  The only way we lose touch is by lying to ourselves.  By allowing our fear and lonliness to mask our needs and true natures.
You can use this exercise to increase your understanding of motivation in the physical, mental, or emotional/spiritual arenas--it's up to you.
Get to work!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Flow State Performance Spiral

Scott Sonnon's Flow State Performance Spiral is a critical piece of the puzzle, that puzzle being: how can we address life in such a way as to grow and evolve as beings?  The Spiral states that stress "dis-integrates" the Triumverate of Breathing, Movement, and Structure.  When it comes apart, we spiral into the "Vortex" (Scott's term).  When we are continuously re-integrating the three, we move into the "Zone," the flow state nirvana of higher performance.  If you have ANY physical discipline that teaches posture, relaxation, and belly breathing, you can use it to take advantage of this spiral.  Five times a day (9,12,3,6,9) stop and check to see if you are breathing properly, if your posture is good, and if you are relaxed.  Need help remembering?  Get a digital watch with a countdown timer, and set it for 3-hour intervals.
ADVERTISEMENT: if you DON'T have such a discipline (yoga, Tai chi, etc.), the five Minute Miracle tape is for you.  Get it.  End of ad.
If you will do this, you are creating a stimulus-response loop between stress and excellence.  Remember: Hans Selye, the guy who "invented" stress, said that stress isn't the problem!  It's STRAIN that's the problem.  From an engineering standpoint, stress is pressure per unit area.  Strain, on the other hand, is deformation per unit length.  It is being warped and twisted by the challenges of life.  Stay balanced and focused, on the other hand, and "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger." 
Amen. This is a practical, workable plan to make it happen.  This works like gangbusters if y ou have an office job, and even better if you can integrate more strenuous motion into the mix.  But whereever you are starting, it is a genuine, no-b.s. doorway to higher mental and emotional performance.

Here's Johnny

Johnny Carson died.  I tried hard to think of some way to see what I knew of his life, so thta I could comment, and realized that the most important thing is that he simply did his job for thirty years, and then retired from public life.  He was in our living rooms, he made us laugh, he introduced countles new comics to America, he was genteel and intelligent and excellent at his work.  He seemed a good and decent man.  I grew up with Johnny, although I remember Steve Allen and Jack Paar.  Johnny was the man.  And he is gone.  I hope his last years were joyful, and filled with thoughts of a life well lived.  I hope he was surrounded by family and friends who loved him for who he was, and not just his public image.  I hope he was as excellent behind the curtain as before it.  I will miss him.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

I am Ageless

You know something?  Just two weeks ago, looking at a Bikram Yoga book, I finally understood the concept of "agelessness."  There are pictures of Freda Payne and other students taken 25 years apart--and they look darned good. Yeah, sure, they look somewhat older.  And that was the cynical part of my brain speaking, every time I've heard Chi Gung or tai chi or Yoga or health food adepts talk about "agelessness."  "What in the world is THIS crap?"  I'd say to myself.  I could SEE them getting older. And yet, and yet...there was something, if only I could grasp it.
And two weeks ago, I did.  I came up with a definition of "Agelessness" that works for me.  It is knowing that your aliveness, your dynamism, your enthusiasm, your sex life, your physical appearance, your joy in living have more to do with your attitudes and actions than your years.  Perhaps that means a healthy physical discipline.  Or a joyously strict diet, or a meditation routine that re-connects you with spirit.  Or a beautiful garden that constantly replenishes your spirit. Or a connection to your family that constantly amazes and awakens you.  Or a career that makes you remember the simple joys of childhood.  My dear friend Harlan Ellison, at 70, is utterly ageless.  BKS Iyengar is ageless.  Kali Master danny Inosanto, in his 60's, moves like a teenager.  He said to me: "Steve, you can keep the physical just takes a little more discipline every day to do it."  How incredibly true.  And if you choose the right selection of of disciplines, you will show far less wear and tear than your contemporaries...but that isn't the only advantage.  You remain YOU. You are not your body, but if you treat it well, it can be the best and truest friend you ever had.  You are not your family, but they are an expression of your energies and heart.  You are not your career, but the product of your life shows the path you have walked since childhood.
I choose to be a mature adult, one of the elders of my tribe. I am no longer "young", but by God,  I am ageless. 

Hit the Deck! Part Dieu

Nicki and I did the Card Game again on Saturday, this time for 20 minutes.  I like it more and more.  The built-in randomization means it's IMPOSSIBLE to know what's coming next, and keeps the body guessing.  We used four exercises:
Black card--Hindu Pushups
Red Cards--Hindu Squats
Red Face Cards--Be Breathed
Black Face Cards--Roller Wheel.
When I do it by myself, I use Clubbells instead of Hindu Squats, but for right now, the freehand stuff is great.
There's a perspective shift I want you to begin to incorporate.  What if exercise isn't primarily about your body?  You're not just working your body like a hamster in a cage.  You are using your body to communicate with your mind.  You do a chin-up.  That's not to "exercise" your bicep, but rather to say to your mind: "we need to be able to do this motion."  Now, obviously, the more focus you have while doing this, the sharper the mental message.  The more emotional intensity, the more you are saying: "if we can't do this motion, we may die!"
Seen from that perspective, the more focus, the fewer reps and sets are needed.  Reps and sets can lead to mindless practise.  Remember, we are using the body to support mind and spirit.  We must therefore learn to bring mind and spirit into our exercise.  It CANNOT be just about the muscles.  Every moment must be alive and aware...or it's just sweaty tussling, not a doorway to body-mind unity that can set our lives on a higher path.

Can Democracy replace Dictatorship?

The question of how human beings should live together is one wise men have debated for a thousand years, at least.  Because it is in the news today, let's examine it from the perspectives we have been discussing.
Human beings are basically selfish, and unlikely to work as hard to support someone else as they will to support themselves and their own families.  This suggests that capitalism is more "natural" to our stage of development than, say, communism.  These are economic systems, however, not governing systems.
Human beings have both hierarchical and egalitarian aspects (for the sake of argument, one might almost call these male and female aspects, but that would be too simplistic by far).  The founding fathers of the U.S. agreed with this, and decided upon a democratic republic, which would have aspects embracing both the power of the masses and the inevitable reality of entrenched wealth and authority--as well as a barrier against the "ignorant mob." 
The average person has an average capacity, by definition.  We would like our leaders to be above average, for obvious reasons.  Most people make decisions based upon fear, greed, slogans, and unconscious belief systems (essence preceding existence or existence preceding essence being two powerful ones).  Because a lot of this stuff is unconscious, politicians on both sides of the political aisle can manipulate masses by pushing buttons, and do, all the time.  And have, since the days of Rome.
If it is true that the "best" form of government would be a benign dictator, the only problem is that no two people would ever agree completely on what that dictator's attributes, beliefs, values, and actions should be.  This would breed discontent, and eventually revolution.  Said dictator would then need greater and greater amounts of power to keep the rebels in line, leading to a level of oppression that would be phenomenal--or some kind of social engineering program designed to keep people from rebelling.  Ugh.
On the other hand, an absolute democracy would allow fad idea and mob rule to overcome the hard-won wisdom of thousands of years.  Some kind of constitutional democracy, with a balance of popular approval and ancient wisdom is probably the best idea human beings have come up with yet for a WORKABLE government.
But because power tends to collect in the hands of those strong enough to grasp it, ("who will inherit your empire?"  Alexander was asked by his eager generals.  "The strongest" he said.  And history professors have argued what he might have meant by this for centuries.  I have to laugh.  It seems obvious to me that he meant that the strongest would TAKE it, regardless of what anyone said or thought.)  and once people have power, they use everything in their control to hold onto it.  Like, say, the claim of divine right.  Hmmm.  I have beloved Moslem friends who feel the Arab royal families and ruling elites have hijacked Islam to legitimize their power, fostering a spiral of fanatical radical conservative Islam that has now become one of the most dangerous forces in the world.
It is probably this force, and the tyrannies that spawned it, that will be an obvious target of an attempt to democratize the world. 
Are there ugly, selfish aspects to this...ummm, dare we say crusade?  (Ouch!).  Sure.  There's oil out there.  Capitalism wants access to cheap labor, cheap materials, and open markets.  But then, ANY system tries to grow and dominate.  Compared to most other forms of political domination, Capitalism ain't bad. 
But is there another choice?  If we see ourselves entering into perhaps a century of conflict, is the end game just more domination?  It doesn't have to be.  All of this conflict is on the level of first and Third Chakra.  but in the 20th Century, there was an undeniable and fascinating attempt to move beyond Nationalism.  However fragile and impotent the initial efforts of the League of Nations, NATO, the U.N., etc. may seem to some, it was just amazing...and inevitable.
Life continually attempts to reorganize itself at higher and higher levels.  What is really going on here, is that the concept of Nations is obsolete. That within a few generations (say...200 years?) there will be less difference between America and China than there is between California and Texas. Commerce, communication, travel, the fall of language barriers due to computers, nonlinear interaction via the Web and its unimagined descendants, all point toward human beings having a unique opportunity to become...whatever they really are.
My belief?   We are constantly evolving protoplasm.  We are creatures moving away from pain and toward pleasure.  We are beings who live in a constant state of loneliness and fear.  And those basic drives mean we are also angels pretending to be ants.  I have no fear of what we are, in our potential.  I have nothing but raw optimism for where we are going.  I do not endorse Bush's program, but I pray that whatever comes out of it will cause more growth than destruction. I do not know: my eyes are too small.
But I believe in US, brothers and sisters.  I believe in human beings, and what we have always been, and in what we have the capacity to be.  And the challenge of the 21st Century is to wake up, in a way we never have.  To each and every one of us be beacons of truth, as I am, in my own small way, trying to do in this blog.  To join hands.  To speak our hearts. To be strong, and compassionate, and loving, and filled with unconquerable energy.
The future awaits.  Our children and grandchildren need us to shed our cynicism and fear, and show that we are capable of controlling our fates, that we need no dictators...for trust me, they will always be there to pick up the reins if we do not.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Is your Machine in tune?

Pure flow state--separate from application, is an essential part of the Machine, the core of the "Golden Hour" concept that triggers daily access to the "Genius Zone."  If you have optimal input, and optimal output, then the thing that lubricates the entire system is Flow.  It is the rest period between heartbeats.  It is neutral gear, which allows you to change ratios.  Flow is the moment between moments, and learning to expand this state allows you to have access to the doorway between conscious and unconscious minds.  This, in essence, allows you to access your own highest good.  You, as an individual, simply don't get smarter than that.  It is your "Genius Zone." 
It is critical that you find an activity that triggers this Flow response.  If you are already relatively healthy, then it might be something in your daily life: gardening, artwork, housecleaning, holding the baby, driving on the freeway...all MIGHT be Flow state activities, although you would be better served by finding a specific, dedicated activity like meditation, belly breathing, Tai chi, yoga, Be Breathed, listening to Vivaldi string quartets, etc.  If you are very imbalanced in any of the three arenas (career, body, or relationship) I can almost promise you that your Machine is broken.  That is, that you do NOT approach optimal input, output, focus, and flow.
1) Input.  What is the daily input of positive, nurishing ideas and affirmation?  How many minutes a day of positive, healing input?  The further from 60 minutes, the more work you have to do. How close to an optimal diet pattern?
2) Output.  How many minutes of focused physical effort?  If you're healthy and lean, you might be able to get away with 5 minutes of focused work--because the rest of your lifestyle apparently contains the work you need.  But if you need to raise your energy, or you are overweight, you need about 30 minutes of daily low-intensity sweating to get your metabolism up.  Better still would be 20 minutes of "spiking" exercise: sprints followed by 30 seconds of low-intensity work.  More  on this later.  How many pages of writing, or brainstorming?
3)Focus.  do you have well-defined, written goals in all three arenas, and dated plans for their accomplishment?
4)  Flow.  Do you meditate or center in some fashion for 20 minutes a day?  If your life is approximately what you want, this might be applied work--something that involves a hobby or interest.  But if you need a shift in your life, this should be pure.  Heartbeat meditation, breath counting, yoga, Be Breathed, focused walking (NOT just ambling, but breath counting or doing Be Breathed), etc.
This is the Machine: input, output, focus, flow.  These four aspects, in balance, will put you into the Genius Zone, where every day you are producing ideas and actions that begin to spiral UPWARD in terms of average efficiency and excellence.


Red-Headed Step child of the American Dream

Got into one of those Nature-versus-nurture conversations with a dear friend who is Jewish, and somewhat conservative, and about 100 pounds overweight.  I made the comment that being born black was about like being born 50 pounds overweight.  We argued around in a circle, and I commented about the lack of role models of sexuality in cinema.  She commented that she never sees obese people as sexual, and I felt she'd made my point for me.  A critical difference, of course, is that obese people lose weight every day, and with the exception of Michael Jackson, people born black stay black. (Of course they do everything possible to minimize the visual difference, like straightening their hair, but this "protective coloration" discussion is for another time.
But this opened a little door for me, and I started thinking about this.  This lady was sexually molested by her father.  Many of the morbidly obese people I know have similar, specific emotional damage that they are coping with--and in essence use their bodies as a "dumping ground" for their pain and rage.  Hmmm.  Could I build a bridge of understanding here?
Because I absolutely see a huge amount of toxic, damaging, stupid, self-destructive behavior in inner-city black life.  If I use the Lifewriting approach, and also maintain my basic position that most of this can be explained without demonizing either side, what can I say about this?  Well, if I take the position that being born black is kinda like being born 50 pounds overweight, what am I saying?  Well, I think I'm saying that black culture in the U.S. is the Redheaded stepchild of the American dream. Yeah, it grew up under the same roof, but was beaten, given hand-me-down clothes, told it was second rate, laughed at, force to go to inferior schools...and then told consistently it was responsible for its own failures.  Hmmm.  When we see people treated like this in families, don't we expect to see them come out somewhat dysfunctional?  Let's be honest.
Of course, I believe in individual responsibility.  I talk about it constantly.  But also, compassion, and the extension of our own humanity to others.  And while it is the responsibility of every black person--and every obese person--to deal with their lives in an adult, focussed manner, it is also true that we are the result of both our environment and our genetics.  And the environment for the average black person was NOT the same.  Talk to a room-full of fat people, and you will hear a litany of poverty, sexual abuse, neglect, shame and despair.  And until they are willing to deal with their emotional pain, they cannot change.  Until black people are willing to deal with their conflicted emotions about America, to find a way to embrace those who wronged them, and understand that we are all part of the same massive human realize that they, as black people, are responsible for healing the inner cities and the culture surrounding them, (even though they had LOTSA negative help creating said culture)---they will not heal and grow and reach their potential.  As fat people, white and black, won't lose that weight, and keep it off, until they come to terms with their anger and fear.
Hmmm.  You know something?  I like that metaphor just fine.  I remember the brilliant Chris Rock saying once that being a black American is kinda like having an uncle who sent you to college and paid your bills---but molested you.  Wow.  Profundity, disguised as humor.  It doesn't get much better than that.


My golden hour

Nicki is beginning to embrace Yoga.  Huzzah!  Yoga is one of the holistic disciplines that can serves as a metaphor for all of life.  Great.  So I'm going to put a bit more of my attention in the Yoga direction, because it opens a channel of communication to my children (Heart chakra, throat chakra).
So my morning will be Warrior Wellness drills, one set of Bikram Yoga asanas while listening to tape #9 of the "Theories of Psychology" tapes from the Teaching Company.  Then I'll do Djurus.  Later in the day, I'll do 20 minutes of the "card game" with Nicki, using Hindu pushups (she does 'em from her knees), Hindu Squats (I'll do squat-casts with clubbells), and roller-wheel.  Should be brutal!
BTW--in Yoga class Wednesday, the teacher complemented Nicki more than everyone else in class combined.  She is starting to get a glimmer that she could be good with this stuff.  I'm so proud of her I have no words!
Later in the day, my beloved sister Joyce is coming to visit.  Maybe we'll have a second birthday party for Jason.  At some further point, I'll print the draft of the BLOOD BROTHERS script, and start working on it.  I  need a finished 1st draft by the end of next week.
NOTE:  I need to be more focused on my FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE practice.  The stress is increasing.  Can't let it turn into strain!


Week #1--For Writers!

So let's consider this the end of the first week.  What is your homework, if you want to be a published writer one year from today? Write a short story.  Yes,  even if you want to write screenplays, stageplays, or novels.  What I'm teaching is the craft of marrying plot to character, and linking plot to your intuitive grasp of life, and character to your intuitive grasp of human nature.  This goes beyond specific mode of expression, down into the core of the process itself.
Your story can be (perhasp should be) no more than about five pages long.  What is it about?  Well, what have we discussed over the last week or so?  A few movie plots, race relations, gender relations, the inauguration (gee, that rhymes!), the American dream, the flow state.  Combine any two of these together, and see what kind of ideas you get.  For instance: (and remember, these idea don't have to be "good"--they are practise.  And in general, quality, if it arises, will arise because of execution.  And as you write, your understanding of what the story was "really" about will evolve.  I'm coming up with ten ideas now, and not editing for "quality."
1) A girl's sorority under seige by a sexist male fraternity one stormy winter night.
2) A president who feels like a fraud and refuses to take the inaugural pledge
3) A would-be presidential assassin who is overwhelmed by the spectacle of a class of school children along the inaugural route, and changes his mind.
4) A meditator who achieves great bliss while his family suffers.
5) A husband and wife who each blame the other for the sad state of the marriage.  One is an alcoholic, the other obese.
6) A man and woman searching for love who learn to extend the same kindness and understanding that they expect for themselves.
7) A black bigot who realizes that he has more in common with white bigots than with loving people of any color.
8) A would-be writer who never finishes his projects.
9) A child who is being told everything in life except how to be happy.
10) A man who commits suicide as a final attempt to get his family's attention. (Try to figure out where I came up with THAT!)
Took me about three minutes to come up with those.  The trick is I didn't edit. 
Write your first draft.  Put it aside for a week, while you write your second story. In the third week, you'll re-write story #1 as you're writing the 1st draft of story #3. 

Get to work!


Friday, January 21, 2005

Smashing Writer's Block

As some of you may have guessed from the volume of my posts, I NEVER get writer's block, and can teach you to be the same way. 
I remember making this comment to an audience at UCLA.  Afterward, one of the instructors, a very nice lady, came up to me and said, "why did you lie to them?  It's not possible to break writer's block." 
Poor baby.  She thought that the limits of her own understanding were the limits of reality.  Always a mistake.
Writer's block can be defined as the inability to produce text, or to finish projects.   Seen this way, it is ALWAYS a result of the confusion of two states:
1) The "Flow" state, where you are producing text.
2) The "Editing" state, where you are judging the quality and appropriateness of what you have written.
You see?  If you weren't concerned with quality, you could sit all day and type complete nonsense.  No block at all.  Of course--I didn't promise you the daily work would be good.  But the following belifs are quite useful:
1) the only way to have a good idea is to have a lot of bad ideas.
2)  Everyone has a million words of b.s. they have to work through.
3)  If I learn one new thing every time I sit down to work, I improve at a steady, butt-kicking pace.
So.  What is necessary is to learn to go into flow state, the origin of the "Genius Zone" from which your greatest performances will emerge.  There are many things that trigger this state:
1) 60 beat per minute Vivaldi largo-rhythm string music. 
2) Yoga meditation
3) distance running or walking
4) Alpha state light and sound machines.
5) the Five Minute Miracle, performed lightly in a seated position for 15 mintues or more.
6) The "hypnogogic state" immediately before falling asleep.
7) the "contour drawing" exercise found in the excellent book "Drawing on the right side of the brain.
8) Tai chi
There are others.  Find one.  Master it it.  Your ability to cultivate and hold "flow" is essential to your success as a writer--or in any creative endeavor.  More on this another time.
Second, you need to learn to identify when the Editor voice in your head turns on.  This is often a negative, sarcastic voice that keeps saying that this or that aspect of the work isn't good enough.  You know what?  Re-read the following several times:  IT'S COMPLETELY O.K. FOR YOUR FIRST DRAFTS TO SUCK.  Who cares?  Re-writing reigns supreme.  It's why God made word processors, folks.  Give yourselves a break. 
Write in flow.
Re-write in Editor.
NEVER confuse the two states, and you will never be blocked.  Becoming a published writer in a year becomes a real possibility...and damned near inevitable if you actually let yourself become a Lifewriter!


Be a Published Writer in One Year!

I'm sorry.  I should have thought of this weeks ago.  I know that about half of the people who come to this blog are interested in writing, and that would have made this specific focus perfect for them.  So I will continue the idea of improving our minds, bodies, and relationships MASSIVELY within one year.  By December 31st (yes, I know that's a little less than a year, but...)
One thing:  this is NOT about guilt, blame, or shame.  It is about opportunity.  Don't measure yourself against what you think other people are doing, or what you think you should do.  Each and every one of you will do the best you can.  If you will honestly do the best you can, you will get better and better, like a plane taxiing down a runway, until you achieve flight.  But make no mistake about it: if you don't raise your energy, and refine its usage, you will just scoot along the runway until you run out of gas, never experiencing the exhilaration of flight.
So.  One year from today you want to be a published writer?  Great.  Here's what you do:
First, you're going to adopt a combination of writing philosophies, melded together from all-time greats Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein, and my own spin:
1) Write a story a week.  It can be only three pages long---who cares?  But write it.  Or one every other week.
2) Finish what you write.
3) Put it in the mail. 
4) Keep it in the mail.  Constantly research markets.  Make it a market that pays money, even a small amount.  There is no more sincere complement than a check that clears the bank.
5) Don't re-write except to editorial request.
6) Read this blog daily for tips.  Post to the 5MM forum.  Post your thoughts here.
7)  Set goals in all three major arenas.  Five times a day, stop and do 60 seconds of deep belly breathing (or BE BREATHED from the 5MM tape!) and visualize your goal triangle.
If you follow this advice, by the time you've got fifty stories finished and circulating to editors, I can virtually guarantee you you will have made at least one sale.  Does this mean anyone and everyone can succeed?  Obviously not.  But if you have the grit to write 50 stories and send them out, trying every single week to learn a new thing about both writing and the "Instrument" that writes--YOU, I promise that you are one of the few who can make it. 

Get going, Future Pro!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

February Calendar

February 4-6 I'll be presenting several workshops and lectures at Rob Kall's incredible Storycon in Palm Springs.  Do yourself a favor and check out his web site.  Love to see you there!

Our Meritocratic Grandeur

A recent note contained the following:

As one person put it in describing this week's confirmation hearings for Condoleeza Rice:

"Is it just me, or is it a testament to a certain meritocratic grandeur we have in this country, that the two people at the top of their game during these hearings (a star freshman senator and the first minority female Secretary of State) were both African-Americans?"

This is interesting, for many reasons.  I find it terribly interesting that the three most respected African-Americans are a black woman, and two black men who were the children of immigrants (Powell--both parents [I believe] and Obama, his father.)
What are the statistical chances of this being true, and what might it mean, in light of what we've been discussing concerning human nature?
If my observations carry any validity, this would easily relate to my sense that the negative programs run by America, and black America, pertaining to young black men are absolutely poisonous.  That black immigrants who come from a culture in which there are role models and mythologies that support excellence, as opposed to young black men, who, faced with countless dehumanizing and emasculating images in the majority culture (remember: Members of group X will always do what they can to confine goodness to their group, and demonize others.  Male members of group X will be quicker to violence toward those of other groups.  Male members of group X will seek sexual access to females of the other group, while denying males of groups Y and Z to their own females) turn to the only powerful images they can find.  In America, this happens to be Hip-Hop culture right now.  Ouch.  To choose between emasculation and violent, stupid, irresponsible behavior ain't much of a choice.  Me personally, while growing up I chose Science Fiction--I went out the side door, escaped to a world of imagination, despite the fact that it was either exclusionary or derogatory to minorities. 
But I digress.
Black females are out-performing black males across the board, but that makes sense from a sociobiological perspective as well.  After all--the females of a group aren't competitors for reproductive space. They are potential sexual/reproductive partners.  Also, women tend to empathize across cultural/racial lines more readily than men (want proof?  Pick up ten women's magazines.  Then ten men's magazines.  Count the images of non-white models in each.  Get back to me.)  Therefore, black women are more likely to find mentors, male and female, in college and the business world.  They are less likely to be targeted for violence and oppression, and are more encouraged to display excellence and intelligence.
I'm not suggesting that the answer is to be found in sweeping social programs.  I don't believe people are unselfish enough to give back as much as was stolen.  Fine.  The answer is in those who care, who FEEL the need to do something, to get off their butts and provide positive role models.  Opportunities.  To speak out about the lack of balanced, healthy images in rap (which is money driven, by the way.  Gee...I wonder where most of the money comes from..?)
I recently heard from a reader who said that her white friends are irritated to be forced to remember "ancient racial history."  I have to laugh every time I hear that.  Such folks would make terrible black people.  The average white person who feels a powerful negative emotion when someone expresses anger or pain concerning past or present racial injustices would absolutely melt-down if they were a black person actually having to deal with the current manifestations of those injustices.  I know for a fact that if I were white, and heard these things, my attitude would be "let me strive every day to be the best person I can be, for our animal nature is so terribly close to the surface."  But then, I can look at slavery, and prejudice, and Jim Crow laws, and hate crimes, and still love humanity, and see how all this comes from the universal human tendency toward lonliness and fear.  If I didn't have this, I would hate white people for the evil they have done, their smugness, and their belief in their superiority--in other words, for being human.  For doing what every group is guilty of, when they have power over others.
Grow up, people.  Wake up.  We're all in this together.


Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)

For the first time in my life, I watched a fine original and a fine remake within the same 24 hour period.  The new film has better acting (Lawrence Fishburne and Ethan Hawke and Drea De Matteo) but loses a bit to the old in terms of sheer visceral intensity.  The sexual tension still cuts like a knife, the amorality of the combatants still works like gangbusters.  The addition of real motivation for the assault both helps and hurts--it certainly makes it more "believable," but that in itself is slightly problematic, since no one really believes something like this would happen.  So Gabriel Byrne really thinks that thousands of rounds of police-issue bullets could be fired without someone tumbling to the fact that this was a rogue police operation?  Ah, well.  The basic set-up, that crooked cops are willing to go to any extent to kill the gangster who can put them all away, including slaughtering innocent cops and civilians in a semi-deserted police station, is still chilling (pun intended, considering the snowstorm).  It is intense, violent, funny, sexy, suspenseful, and the best pure exploitation film to come out of Hollywood in a loooong time.  I'd give it a B+, only a hair less  interesting than the original.  Hell, even John Carpenter liked it!

Inauguration Day

So, today Mr. Bush takes the oath for his second term.  I am saddened by my friends on the Left who have voiced their hopes that he falls on his face.  Of course, eight years ago I was saddened by my friends on the Right who said the same thing about Mr. Clinton.  It is one thing to want your guy to win in '08.  But like him or not, THIS IS OUR PRESIDENT.  He is the chief executive.  If he does a bad job, people will die.  Lose jobs.  Education will suffer.  The saner approach for  a Dem would be to pray that he is enlightened, that he performs at every moment at the top of his game, that he becomes a genuinely great man and a great president, as he doubtless wishes to be.  Then...hope that whatever Republican  runs after him in '08 loses.
But wouldn't an even better approach be to hope that the best candidate wins?  Regardless of political affiliation?  You can cling to one polarity or another, but for goodness sake remember: YOU MIGHT BE WRONG.  That's right.  You can do all your sums, surround yourself with experts, read every pundit, think on the matter for years...AND STILL BE WRONG. So our prayers should be that whatever is BEST for America, and the world, should be what happens next, regardless of whether it matches the way you voted, or the way you feel about the world.
When you feel most dogmatic, most certain, most convinced that the answer is glaringly obvious, remember what Dennis Miller used to say before 9/11 broke his back and gave him a permanent lean to the Right:  "Of course, that's just my opinion.  I could be wrong."
God bless Mr. Bush.  And make him our best President ever.  Hoping for anything less at a time like this is suicide.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A political storm at Harvard

President of Harvard University Lawrence H. Summers set off a tsunami of outrage with his recent suggestion that women may be limited from success in math and science due to innate differences.  Well, THERE'S a debate that will be raging for some time.  Suffice it to say that the "Nature" crowd will tend to believe that, and the "nurture" crowd will tend to believe the opposite.  I certainly believe there are innate differences between men and women, but also think that they do not fully explain the gaps in performance.  However, that's not the reason I wanted to speak about this.
It was probably only ten times as likely for this comment to be made by a man.  As a comment damning the male of the species is far more likely to be made by a woman.  As a comment that genetic differences explain the crime or poverty rate is to be made by a white, or a comment that Western European civilization is demonic, warlike and genocidal is more likely to be made by a black or Asian.  What one might conclude from this is that "any member of group X is more likely to embrace a negative belief about group Y than is a member of group Y."  And that is true whether the belief is accurate or not. 
It is one thing to think that men have some innate superiorities.  But one HAS to notice that men are more likely to agree with this than women.  Does one then also take the position that men are more innately honest?  If you do, can you see how this creates a perceptual spiral? (Men are more intelligent, men are more likely to admit this therefore they are more honest and perceptive, therefore more moral, therefore better as both intellectual and spiritual beings, and the natural leaders of mankind...)  Or of course my favorite:  Whites are smarter than blacks, differential crime rates suggest they are also more moral, whites are more likely than blacks to admit this difference and therefore more honest and perceptive, therefore they are superior spiritual, moral, and intellectual creatures, not to mention closer to God and the natural inheritors of the Earth...). Of course women play this game with men (Men are genetically broken women, men are responsible for most of the violence in the world, men are less likely to see or admit this than women.  Therefore men are less intelligent, perceptive, and honest than women...), and blacks play it with whites (White culture has infected the world with false values, white people are in complete denial about the damage they've done to black Americans, white men are clearly inferior in sports...and whites cannot see or admit these obvious truths.  Therefore whites are mentally, morally, and physically inferior to blacks...)
And, of course, the Japanese are all related to the Emperor, and the Emperor is directly related to God. 
And so it goes.  Sorting through all of this is probably one of the major tasks in the 21st Century.  Are there innate differences between genders, races, nationalities?  Probably.  Do they explain the "presenting variations" in performance?  Not exclusively.  To what degree to social and environmentaly conditions affect these things?  Well, considering the apparently Universal tendency to claim all good things for whatever YOUR group is, and blame the other group for their problems, we'd probably be better off assuming that the majority of the differences can be manipulated environmentally until proven otherwise.   Frankly, me personally, I'd rather assume people are pretty much the same and make a few too many allowances than make too few allowances, and be responsible for crushing the spirits of people who might have accomplished far more if my group hadn't used unfair advantages to put heel to throat.  But that's just me.  Each of us has to come to our own conclusion about these things.  As did  Lawrence H. Summers.

It Takes Time

Beware of anyone who tells you that meaningful change can be created in a startlingly short time frame.  You know: heal your credit overnight, lose weight overnight, heal your busted love life with one call.  They are trading on the fact that the part of you that holds you back does NOT want to change. 
the average person makes an average income, has an average love life, and has an average body.  By definition this is pretty close to true.  So if you are getting much better results than average in any of these arenas, by definition you are operating above average.  There are aspects of human performance that are genetic, inborn, unchangable by effort.  True.  But there are so many that ARE manipulable based upon our focus that it behooves us to concentrate our attention there. 
The theoretical model we're playing with here is that if you're getting worse than average results, your "reality map" is distorted.  In essence, you are as lost as if you headed toward Chicago and ended up in Mexico City.  Your ego will try to tell you that it's not your responsibillity (and overweight people will often try to blame their bodies for the shape they are in: their bodies "betrayed them", they "have bad genetics", they can "eat nothing and still gain weight" etc.   this reflects the underlying belief that they are not their bodies.  We'll deal with that another time, but suffice it to say that they are both right and wrong about this.) 
I encourage you to take the position that it IS your responsiblity.  Yes, you can blame society, genetics, etc.  Frankly, many do.  There is a popular term for such people.  They are generally called fat people, poor people, and lonely people.   And there are typical ways such people think.  I call those thought patterns "Negative Software."  In other words, they are belief systems, value hierarchies, and emotional charges which, if you were to download them into the average human being, they would suddenly begin to perform poorly in that arena.  Similarly, there are what might be called "Positive Software"--belief systems, value hierarchies, and emotional charges which, were you to download into the average human being, they would suddenly begin to perform with greater efficiency and elegance. 
If you are more than 30 pounds overweight, if you are consistently struggling with money, if you have a string of dysfunctional relationships--or have been in a dysfunctional relationship for over a year, it is reasonable to assume that you  are running a "Negative Software" package.  If you've been running it long enough (or if the dysfunction is severe enough) it is reasonable to expect that your ego actually thinks that is you, and that there is no other choice than the choices you have made in life.  It distorts the "reality map" so that you don't seem so far from the mainstream:  YOu believe that the average person is 50 pounds overweight, that no one has money unles they steal and cheat, and that all marriages are secretly miserable. 
Listen carefully: IF YOU TRY TO CHANGE YOUR STATUS TOO SWIFTLY, YOUR EGO WILL THINK IT IS DYING, AND DO ALL IN ITS POWER TO SABOTAGE YOUR EFFORTS.  Read that again.  And then again.  Real, no b.s., meaningful change can't happen in less than about a year, unless it is literally a bolt-of-lightning, Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus sort of ah-hah breakthrough.  And those cannot be predicted, although it is possible to set up your life to reap more of them.  think in terms of a year.  Fifty-Two weeks.  364 days.  In a year, you can safely lose 104 pounds, you can clear yourself from debt, you can heal your heart and create a space for love to find you.  But the more toxic the current state, the more important that you follow basic principles that have worked for uncounted millions before you, for thousands of years:
1) Clearly stated objectives.  I would suggest that they represent about 1% improvement per week, or a 50% improvement over the course of a year.  WRITE THEM DOWN.  Make certain that they bring only good into the world.
2) Read them over daily.  And think about them five times a day for 60 seconds (Five Minute Miracle, anyone?)
3) Create a practice designed to open the door between conscious and unconscious: prayer, meditation, dream diary, sacred dance, Tai Chi, Yoga.  The more extreme  your problem, the more important this is, and the more important it is that you find a teacher you can trust, and follow their advice.  Until you find such a teacher, heartbeat meditation combined with a dream diary will keep you going.
4)  "Let Go and Let God."  I don't mean this in a religious sense--unless that is to your taste.  But you have to find the place inside yourself that is separate from Ego Identity.  If you have never had a meditation practise, or embraced prayer, or had an ego-shattering breakthrough experience, it may be difficult to believe or even to understand how vital and practical this is.  I can only swear to you that every single high-performing human being I have ever met or heard of has some routine or capacity to do this.  Every single one.  It is the way through the dark night of the soul, and without it, you are limited to your own perceived capacity.  That ain't enough.
5) It takes time.  Give yourself a year.  Work at it every day.  Journal your results.  find a community of like-minded people to support you.  If you don' thave one locally, there's one right here.  Use it.

I love you guys.