The proper use of the Lifewriting system depends on being able to see yourself as a character in a story you are creating--your life. Yes, there are elements out of our control. But there are many, many aspects that are controlled by our actions and thoughts. And those actions and thoughts impact our families, friends, communities. So...I ask you seriously: what is your definition of a hero?
A long time ago, in exploring these questions, I was asked if there was another, more "feminine" aspect of this, perhaps a "Siren's Journey." I have to say that I don't know. Perhaps so. But every man and woman I've ever met has experienced life paths that correspond to the steps of the HJ as laid out for thousands of years: that is, to accept challenges in spite of fear. To begin the slow process of accomplishment. To gather allies, teachers and associates, and to refine skills. To face the spectre of failure, and defeat it with faith (and hard work!) and to accept the need to teach others what we have learned. So, without denigrating any other way of organizing our reality, this one works just fine for most goals that can be expressed in language.
There are, of course, spiritual goals that are more difficult to express. How do you quantify "achieve oneness with nature"? While one of the most valuable goals I can imagine, I have also known too many people who wandered into hallucination, lost for years or decades, swearing they were becoming incredibly spiritual people...while their earthly relationships suffered, they suffered poverty (and the important word here is "suffered." If one accepts poverty joyously, that's rather different, isn't it?) And their bodies balooned to grotesque proportion. Then, years later, they confessed to lying about the amount of fear and pain they were in at the time. Sad. So those outer goals are valuable.
The most intractable problems will do the most to convince you you need not address them. If you are, say, 100 pounds overweight, you can lose and re-gain, say, 20 of those pounds and never come close to the key issues. But wow! When you're losing them, you get to crow and expect people to congratulate you on the huge change. What if you have a dreadful relationship history? You can tell people you've decided to concentrate on career and physical health...while secretly negotiating the waters of yet another emotional disaster. And don't even get me started on the people who lurch from financial failure to financial failure, always planning some huge project, when they can't even balance their checkbooks.
In every case, they've let fear defeat them, distract them. They have failed to accept the responsibility for being a hero. Without goals, without micro-goals that can be assessed on a weekly or daily basis, you can wander for months, years, and decades with no real feedback as to your progress. I beg you not to make that mistake. Take that first step. Take responsibility, perhaps for the first time in your life, for these three arenas. Look at your history and take responsibility for where you are--stop blaming others. Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime.
Friday, May 27, 2005
The proper use of the Lifewriting system depends on being able to see yourself as a character in a story you are creating--your life. Yes, there are elements out of our control. But there are many, many aspects that are controlled by our actions and thoughts. And those actions and thoughts impact our families, friends, communities. So...I ask you seriously: what is your definition of a hero?
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:16 AM
Thursday, May 26, 2005
In researching the recent "Downing Street Memo" flap I came across another reason why I felt compelled to give the benifit of the doubt to the word "Fix." The reason is that language is so damned fluid and subjective. During the Clinton impeachment hearings, much has been made of the fact that he lied about having sex with Monica. I'm not so sure he did. For all my life, I'd heard that in much of Southern society, oral sex was not considered "sexual relations", a term which was applied exclusively to penetrative, vaginal intercourse. That being a widely-held opinion, it is entirely plausible that, if someone had had the clarity to ask Bill: "was your penis ever in Monica's mouth?" he would have answered "yes." Now, this clearly implies that he wasn't trying to cooperate, but neither was he exactly lying. I'm afraid that I have to give the same flexibility of language to both sides, guys.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:43 AM
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
I've complained about a lot of films that deal with race, so I'm delighted to wholeheartedly reccomend one. Paul Haggis' CRASH deals with one 24-hour period in Los Angeles, with people of many ethnicities colliding in an "impersonal" city, yearning for some kind of contact. And contact they make. Alternately they are humiliated, ennobled, embarassed, terrified, threatened, and in one case, killed. The acting, even by rapper "Ludicris", is uniformly excellent. Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Thandie Newton...not a star turn in the bunch, and in some cases (for instance Matt Dillon) the work is devastating. No easy answers here...except perhaps to notice how much of the human damage is motivated by fear disguised as anger, or how often simple courtesy might have changed the outcome of terrible events. Compare this to 1991's GRAND CANYON, a similarly themed, well-intentioned but far more 2-dimensional film. Have we really learned so much so quickly? I hope so, for it bodes well. I give this one a solid "A"
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:29 AM
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Just spent a couple of days out of town, during which time I had the chance to visit with an old friend. We spoke on a variety of topics, but one that came up had to do with an opinion, held by his wife, that we can't change our essential natures. He expected me to disagree--after all, I seem to actively promote the concept that we can change. Somewhat to his surprise, though, I agreed. We can't change our essential natures. There's a trick, though...
That trick is that we don't know who we really are. We can only see our "presenting natures", our manefesting behaviors, our apparent personalities. All of that stuff is ephemeral, all of it can change. The true nature, the essential self that cannott change is not available to the ordinary mind. It is very similar to saying that matter and energy can't be created or destroyed, only changed in form. What we ordinarily do is identify with our outer shells, our circumstances, our actions. Then we say that these things are "us" and that they cannot change. How wrong, how tragically wrong we are. However difficult it can sometimes be to make shifts, those shifts can be made, and must be made, if we are to live our true lives.
What stops us from changing? Fear. That is the simplest answer. Fear. We are afraid to die, to change, to lose. And by identifying with the very behaviors and circumstances that keep us in chains, we sacrifice the potential of an infinite, joyous life for the false safety of a limiting ego prison. "this is me" we say. No, it isn't . It is merely all that you have allowed yourself to know of you.
The road out is a daily practise that takes us closer to our true selves. The twin arms of meditation (inner) and I.D.E.A. (outer. The practise of setting balanced, measurable goals in a balance of body, career, and relationship) will begin to reveal our true selves. This will trigger massive stress as we approach a true change point, a jump across quantum personality levels. The stress coping mechanisms must be in place BEFORE we get to these spots. The Five Minute Miracle is such a stress coping mechanism. There are others, but in all honesty, the specific breathing exercise revealed within is the best I've found in forty years of searching. Better, once you've learned it, you can combine it with running, weight training, kettlebells, or clubbells or body-weight calisthenics. By doing so, you increase your stress-coping ability MASSIVELY. Stay on the balanced path, continue to meditate (dredging up you old "crap" that keeps you from seeing yourself clearly!) and you will change. Massively.
Do yourself a huge favor. Set balanced goals. Take responsibility for your results. Meditate or keep a dream diary. And get the Five Minute Miracle. And once you've got it, for goodness sake use it. It will do you no good sitting on the shelf.
Your future is in your hands.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:16 AM
Monday, May 23, 2005
Here's advice to take the "Five Minute Miracle" technique to a new level. Practise this for five minutes every other day, and your unconscious competance with the "Miracle" will skyrocket! Versions of this exercise can be found in Chito-Ryu karate and yoga. A version of it is being sold on the web for about fifty dollars! Here it is for free...
1.) Stand Erect with your feet shoulder-width apart and
your toes pointed directly forward
2.) Relax your shoulders. Let your your arms hang at your
sides. Inhale through your nose, while touching your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
3.) Inhale as deeply as you can, filling your lungs. As you do, hold your abdominal muscles tight--don't let them expand.
4) When you have filled yoru lungs, close your mouth and tighten your throat. Force the air out, making a "hissing sound" Contract the stomach muscles tightly, driving that air out with all the strength you've got. Clinch your fists and exert more power.
5) You can make this more martial-arts specific by making a "pulling" motion with your arms on the inhale, and a "pushing" motion with the exhale.
6) Perform this exercise for five minutes. You may feel dizzy the first time you try it...it is a bear!
The "Five Minute Miracle" is just that--a stress-busting, stomach-flattening, energizing powerhouse of a technique that can change your life. We've only scratched the surface of what you can do, once you begin the habit of "checking in" with your body five times a day. Believe in miracles. Believe in YOURSELF. Do yourself the biggest favor you ever have--order the Five Minute Miracle today!
Posted by Steven Barnes at 11:08 PM
by now, some of you may have heard of the "Downing Street Memo," a document written before the invasion of Iraq that many (on both sides of the aisle) find disturbing politically. The text can be found here:
I am hoping that this will be investigated to the limits. A friend believed that the American press' apparent reluctance to jump on this with both feet is a symptom of them being administration "lapdogs" (so much for hte liberal press!) but I think there are valid reasons to be cautious. I'm no fan of the Bush administration, but the press has taken some whacking recently, and I can understand why they'd want to proceed carefully.
Much of the bruhaha comes from the comment that "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" of military action as the only way. The interpretation is that the word "fixed" is synonomous with "fabricated." Let's be careful here. I can see where the temptation would be high, but that MAY be an American euphemism, not in common usage in British speech, especially in official documents. Looking at the dictionary, "Fixed" also means "to put in place" or "to repair." In other words, it is possible that the sentence means that (to paraphrase) "Because the Bush administration believes military action is justified and inevitable, they are building their intelligence case to support this alternative."
Later in the memo, it mentions Saddam's use of WMDs in a way that clearly indicates that the British believed he had them. CLEARLY. If they believed he had them, then they would hardly think America was "fabricating" evidence. There would be no need.
Having said that, the document is still disturbing, indicating that America was NOT doing all it could to avoid military confrontation, rather they were doing all they could to get to military confrontation as quickly as possible. Quite possibly, they believed themselves justified. But the American public was misled about how hard they were trying to avoid war. As about all we've gotten when the WMD's didn't materialize was an "oops! Well, we had other good reasons..." I think it reasonable to press this point. WMDs were what was used to sell this to our public, and our allies. They weren't there. And I don't think enough heads have rolled for this. I'm not suggesting jail time, but THOUSANDS of people have died for this mistake, and this memo, while not absolutely damning, is disturbing as hell. I'd like to see it investigated and interpreted by cool, calm heads--not discounted, or used to inflame either Left or Right.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:08 AM
Just wanted to finish up on my thoughts about the Star Wars cycle. I've already praised it: yes, I loved SITH. Now let's take a look at how it could have been better. Understand that I'm not saying I can think of another filmmaker who could have done a better job. Much has been made (and justifiably so) about Peter Jackon and LOTR. (I mean--who could have watched MEET THE FEEBLES or DEAD ALIVE and seen THAT coming?). But you have to factor in the reality that Jackson didn't create the story. He adapted probably the most popular fantasy ever, but in that sense, he has to be compared to other adaptations, NOT original work like Star Wars. Also, Lucas sustained his efforts over 30 years and six films. That has to be entered in as well. Wow.
So...complaints, given that I loved it. SOME LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD.
1) Weak female characters. My sister noticed this. Padme is sidelined for much of the film, being seriously preggers and all. The introduction of a female character for the girls in the audience to identify with would have been nice. She is almost completely reactive.
2) the feminine "energy" of the movie is out of balance. It is almost all bang, bang, bang. We visit several planets and really don't get to know the aliens at all. Even the vaunted Wookie planet depends on our preexisting affection for Chewbacca. They would have had a stronger effect by slowing down, letting us know these folks better, and then hitting us with killer action. Even the frantic (and in my mind, inferior) Return of the Jedi let us know the Ewoks a bit before the action clicked in.
3) A single line of dialogue explaining that the Emperor's mental powers drive people a bit bonkers would be nice. Some were confused about whether Anakin's decisions were motivated by logic or emotion. I believe that he THOUGHT they were logical, that the emperor was seductive as hell.
4) There are certain questions about Anakin's origins that aren't answered directly. I felt this was a cheat, as we'll never have another film to answer them.
5) Anakin slaughters the "younglings." Well, o.k.--but I would have liked it better if he'd killed a couple of other Jedi first, to get warmed up. That seemed like quite a leap. But as nastiness goes, I liked it.
6) The rescue of the Emperor. You know, in the early part of the film Anakin and Obi-Wan rescue the Emperor. And the emotions just aren't there--partially because we don't like the Emperor, and partially because the actor is playing it so cold. The same sequences would have been SO much more exciting if there had been a character there we gave a damn about, and who might have been at risk. In fact, this was exactly the type of scene where a female character would have pumped up the juice. Where was Princess Leia when we needed her? If we could conceivably have had a pregnant Padme also at risk...WOW! And if she had done something brilliant and brave and good here in addition? DOUBLE WOW!
That's all for now. And I'm sure there's other stuff. Some of the dialogue is still wooden, some of the performances still stiff. Lucas was definitely keeping to a Saturday Morning Serial tone, and it grates a bit. But overall, Well Done George. May the Force Be With You. Now, go out and make little, intimate films. Grow up and get on with your life. If there are any more Star Wars movies to be made, let someone else make 'em. You, and we, deserve a rest.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:46 AM
Friday, May 20, 2005
It's late. I have to get up early, and I'll be gone all weekend. But I wanted to get my basic thoughts down now. My thought is this: George Lucas is one of the most phenomenal storytellers in human history. Yes, the films are often stilted in dialogue, and there seems an adolescent aura around his character's sexuality, and an over-enthusiasm for pretty visuals at the expense of genuine character development. Offhand, know a dozen writers who could have done a better job with the script, especially if Lucas had handed them an outline to work from. But you know what? None of that matters. I don't know of another human being who could have done what he did. Peter Jackson, making the superior "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, did not produce an equivilent creative act--he did not create the story. This act of creativity, carried out over almost 30 years, is almost unprecedented, and I think people should chill out and realize that this guy didn't create, say, six novels over thirty years--he also directed, produced, and created a special effects studio that could bring the images to life. For anyone who has worked even tangentially in the industry, to understand the amount of work, the wide variety of skills, the ability to organize people, to manage a multi-billion dollar empire that was necessary to, in essence, make these the largest independant films ever made, to direct four of them himself (it is easily arguable that the best of all of them was directed and written by someone else, yes) but exactly who in film history do you compare him to? And what original dramatic and visual composition do you compare it to? This was the great original myth cycle of the last half of the 20th century. It opened the door to entirely new ways to conceptualize entertainment...not always to the positive, to be sure. It might have been the first truly international myth, embracing more human archtypes than any other single myth I can think of. For all of its flaws, Revenge of the Sith links all of this together. Lucas, and Star Wars, have my respect. A perfect movie? Hell, no. Was it as good as it might have been? Probably not--if Lucas had let other writers and directors in there to do their stuff. But people, let me tell you--the mind that can create something like this would have a very hard time letting go. This man is the real deal. Don't for a second think he created this out of greed. No one can sustain greed as a motivation over this period of time. Lotsa people have tried to use the Star Wars "formula". They have all disappeared. This was a labor of love in the very realest sense. Lucas is an extraordinarily impressive human being, and we need to acknowledge that.
When I get back, maybe I'll criticize some stuff, or at least look at it more closely. Right now I'm grinning. Imperfect, yes, but still a B+, (I'd give PHANTOM MENACE a C, and ATTACK OF THE CLONES a B-) but I'd give the six STAR WARS films, as a whole, a resounding A. We won't see something like this again in our lifetimes. Thirty years. Damn.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 12:51 AM
Thursday, May 19, 2005
In discussing images of sexuality in film, a very familiar comment arose about the white male tendency to present females of other groups as welcoming the domination, and the white male urge to impregnate the other. My comment was that this is (relatively) universal, but that, in our time, white males have just been more successful. The following comment was posted:
no , what i'm referring to goes deeper than just impregnating or conquering sexually the women of other tribes.
it includes turning those women into female "gunga dins" where said female would kill her own people ,or give her own life to save her white man.
for example , there was an old charleston heston , brian keith movie called "the mountain men" , i think .
heston's character "turns" an indian woman to the point where she kills the "bad indian" who was leading the other indians in trying to stop the white settlers from encroaching upon their tribal lands.
the "bad indian" had finally gotten the best of mountain man heston in hand to hand combat and was about to finish him off when "BAM"-- a rifle shot rings out and dead falls the bad indian --shot dead by someone who had literally been his own wife--and of course after that , the "uprising " was just as dead as the bad indian ---resulting in another territory made safe for the trappers ,wagon trains , ranchers and farmers waiting impatiently to pour in and grab the "land that is there for the taking"--there for the taking minus a few minor "inconveniences"--like the people already living there.
in flicks like that one , it's not just impregnation --its an image of indoctrination and complete sell out that movies like these presented .
I don't think that this is something different--just an elaboration of the same theme. It is a quirk of human psychology that we can't do "wrong" to someone without thinking of ourselves as "better" than them. That male urge to dominate and control and impregnate is wedded to the belief in superiority. My guess is that every dominant culture, be it Ghengis Khan, Chaka Zulu, or Cortez, considered themselves "better than" and therefore fantasized that raping and controlling the women of the other tribe was doing them a favor--and that they would recognize the favor done. The problem with slavery wasn't just the institution, it was the mythologies put in place to justify it. Those mythologies outlived the institution they were designed to protect.
Each "side" in a war considers themselves justified: how else could they live with the slaughter? But breeding another group out of existence is a kind of "slow war" and our brains come up with the same solution: our penises are sacred, our sperm a sacrament, we're doing the women a favor by improving the gene pool. And if this is true, of course, they will respond with loyalty and love. However...
Don't for a moment think that this is purely male fantasy. Any time a conquerer dominates another people, SOME OF the women of that conquered people will respond favorably and with genuine sexual heat. Biologically, it makes perfect sense--their children will carry the protective coloration, and improve their chance for survival. Your men were defeated, so let's get some new blood in there! And if a soldier or representative of the conquerer is, as an individual, a decent, kind man, WOW! The response can be off the charts. Note the "War bride" phenomenon after any military engagement. Note the deep resentment Japanese men had toward American soldiers as their women went gah-gah for them post WW2. I've seen similar comments about the women of virtually every conquered people, regardless of the conquerer. This stuff is hard-wired into us.
Frankly, I think that some of the stress between Black men and women boils down to this, as well. On a subconscious level, I think a piece of the Black female psyche looks at Black men and says: "assholes. If you guys had had your shit together, we wouldn't be IN this mess!" And there's some truth to that, too. It wasn't Europe's responsibility to be nice and peaceful and fair. It was the rest of the world's responsibility to kill every European who landed on their soil. And that didn't happen, did it? And unless one accepts a thesis like "Guns, Germs, and Steel", in all likelihood the only answers you can come up with for why one group dominated another is either Non-white superiority (the designated group was too spiritual and peaceful to master war in such a manner. Yeah, right).. Or white superiority (just plain smarter and better.) Both are pretty poisonous.
We're dealing with basic, basic human stuff. It's my understanding that more marriages break up over money than infidelity. Why? Someone else shtupping your sweetie, absent V.D. or pregnancy, is a pair-bond insult, an ego interrupt. But when the money runs out, that is frigging REAL. Your children starve. There is no where to live. And every guy reading this knows (perhaps intimately) someone whose "good" relationship fell apart when he fell on hard times financially. I've lost count of the number of times that a relationship died when the man lost his job, the woman worked, and she became attracted to the men ranked higher than her at her employment. It is an utter cliche, and the "balancing" cliche is the man who loses attraction for an obese wife and starts flirting with the secretary.
All of this stuff is being talked about not to point fingers at black or white, or men or women, but to cut through the b.s. so that we can organize our resources to satisfy our most basic needs. Only when our basic needs are satisfied do we have the chance to evolve to the position where these basic, dualistic principles hold less sway.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:12 AM
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
So, then, let's take a look at our basic ideas. From time to time, it's a good idea to go back to the foundation...and because the basic ideas behind LIFEWRITING, the FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE, and THE MASTERY TECHNIQUE are very very simple, we have to look at them from every angle, and see how they apply in every situation. You may by now grasp that I'm trying to build a four-dimensional model that can lurk about in your subconscious, giving you greater and greater access to your intuitive intelligence and personal energy.
Again, I am fully aware that this is an oversimplification. All models are. Please grasp what I'm saying "between the lines" and forgive me for being so dualistic. Life has one aspect, two aspects, three, four, seven, all the way up to infinite. Each way of looking at the universe produces different results, and has different disadvantages and advantages. That said, here we go again...
Are you clear on your fear reactions, and how they manefest appropriately and inappropriately? The questions of life and death plague us all, and I've met very few human beings without some kind of an ab-reaction here. They over or under react, carry fear from things that happened in childhood, react to power or relationship issues as if they were mortal concerns. We have two basic nervous systems: sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system, which responds to the "Fight or Flight" drive, might be said to be powered by Fear. The parasympathetic nervous system "cools you down" and is what most forms of meditation seek to trigger. It might be said to be powered by Love. The following oversimplifications might help to clarify how these aspects can be visualized or conceptualized:
Ida-Pingala (yogic energy)
Right Brain-Left Brain
Conservative - Liberal
Pick your own metaphor. They all work, as long as you don't mistake them for the reality of existence, or attach scalar values to one or the other. Note how often each "side" considers itself "correct" and tries to norm its values to the exclusion of the other. But in the yogic model (ida and pingala) these two energetic "channels" wind up the spine, and only by balancing them does the kundalini energy rise up "shusumna" and produce an evolutionary effect. It is in the willingness to explore the concept of balance--WITHOUT getting locked into the "this and not that" box, that we confront one of the prime paradoxes of existence, and in resolving the paradox, move on to the next phase in our lives.
This is similar to studying anatomy (individual organ systems) one day, and physiology (the interaction of organ systems) the next. We move back and forth between over-isolation and over-generalization, because the actual balance point is so delicate as to be almost invisible. Play with these concepts. Where does your own fear manefest? In relationships? Career? Your body? Are you equally comfortable in artistic and management modes? Can you enter flow state while you balance your checkbook? think of the horrible arguments between artists and the book companies or movie studios they work for. Villains! they shriek. And yet, if artists or writers start publishing companies or studios, the artists who come to work for them will complain in the exact same way. What happens here?
there are different life roles, different positions from which we look at the same mountain. To understand this is to embrace all of the myriad aspects of the human experience, and seek communication rather than blame. There are monsters on both sides. And great, loving folk on both sides. And when those men and women...or liberals and conservatives...or artists and managers...or adults and children...reach out to each other to understand, the world gets a little brighter. Fear and Love join together to create an energy for which we have no effective label. It is the pure white energy, like pure light before it strikes the prism of experience. One has to go beyond words. It can be experienced. The path to it can be pointed to. But it can't quite be spoken of...unless you too have seen it.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:39 AM
Monday, May 16, 2005
I'd been waiting almost a year to see this, ever since I'd heard of the casting (Jet Li, Bob Hoskins, Morgan Freeman) and the original title ("Danny the Dog") and the writer/producer (Luc Besson). finally saw this tale of a man (Jet Li) who has been abused (by a snarling Bob Hoskins) into being an attack dog, and his slow climb to humanity at the hands of a blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman, in best Spiritual Guide mode) and his daughter. One critic suggested that it is as if someone built an entire film around the Frankenstein monster's encounter with the blind man...and that's a pretty good comment. I'll say this: the movie is good enough that I wish it was better. It is certainly and by far Jet Li's best English-language film, so good that I can easily see how it could have been a classic, given certain changes. But also, it was probably about as good as it was ever going to be.
for those of you sick of my rantings about certain sociobiological problems manefesting in the rigid roles of non-whites in film, I'd suggest you stop reading now. Rant time is about to begin. ##
Basic premise: that non-white males are not allowed to have sex in movies. That this is due to audience distaste, not "Hollywood" squeamishness, and that the fact of this can be determined simply by looking at box-office receipts over the entire history of film.
How could "Unleashed" have been better? Well, let's start with the obvious fact that if this had been a film starring, say, Jean-Claude Van Damme (back when he was a star of consequence), it would have included his sexual awakening. In fact, there is clearly a moment in the film where he is supposed to get his first kiss. He states that it is "wet...and nice." Much like the comment made by Dustin Hoffman in "Rainman." Of course, in that film, Hoffman is kissed on the lips, and in "Unleashed" he is kissed on the cheek. The lack of this core reality, that human beings are sexual, creates an uncomfortable unreality about films like this, where the directors and writers strain to portray humanity without allowing the characters to do what they would naturally do. Morgan Freeman is a beautiful example of this. This great actor has had...wait for it...exactly ONE screen kiss in his entire career. Please stop and think about how incredibly artificial that makes many of his movies, including the two suspense films "Along Came a Spider" and "Kiss The Girls", both made from novels in which the lead character was quite sexual. Both converted, on screen, into the kind neutered male image white America seems most comfortable with. (Remember, people, that my premise is that if the conditions were reversed, black males would be just as aversive to allowing whites to drop trou onscreen. In no way am I suggesting that whites are special in this, or any other regard.) What is a "Spiritual Guide"? An image of a white or black person, usually male, who exists only to help a white person succeed, or learn a life lesson. Spiritual guides have no outside interests or relationships or on-screen human connections. "Bagger Vance," "The Karate Kid," "Crossroads", "Bruce Almighty", "Driving Miss Daisy" and countless other films contain this beloved, acceptable, non-threatening image. In all fairness, Morgan Freeman's role in "Unleashed" isn't quite a spiritual guide by this definition. He has another human connection--a daughter. And, of course, Jet Li isn't white. But it is interesting that his daughter is white--a step-daughter. Sociobiologically, he is a genetic dead-end investing in another man's progeny. But even I can admit that is a bit mean-spirited of me...
The fact that the film-makers would not allow Jet Li to be a fully fleshed male (even a dog has the instinct to rut), and that they are flirting with the image of the sexless Spiritual guide in the same film where the white character, Bob Hoskins, is presented as a fully-sexed hyper-male banging white and Asian women, borders on the offensive, and suggests that they were at a bit of a remove from the very questions of humanity that might have led them to balance the story a bit. You'll rarely hear this from me, but...they could have used a bit less violence. It didn't need to be so cartoony if you allow the characters to be more than two-dimensional. And this story of a fragile, wounded family in a hostile world could have used more threat at the end, with a not-so-invulnerable Jet Li, suddenly aware that he is flesh and blood, struggling to keep the only people he has ever loved, and have ever loved him, safe from harm. This was, potentially, a martial arts masterpiece. Hell, forget that--it was potentially an action-film masterpiece, a suspense masterpiece. Well, that might be a LITTLE bit much, because although Li did the best acting of his English-language career, he is still only adequate in that regard. His real acting is his incredibly kinetic body, which can do things far beyond the norm, and, surrounded by the right cast, and the right script, and the right people, might have created a breakthrough blockbuster. But on the other hand, it is entirely possible that that film still would have been rejected by the audience, for reasons we have addressed.
What do I think? I think that the audience is ready. That the right film, made with courage and vision, could break through and even become a social event, making money hand over fist. But someone would have to have taken a risk. And no one wanted to. So instead of a classic, it's just the best film Jet Li has done outside of Asia. No small thing, but it could have been so much more. I'll give it a "B+", and pray for better days to come.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:23 AM
Saturday, May 14, 2005
One of the things most interesting about the entire process of increasing or maintaining fitness is the necessity to maintain...(wait for it) balance between three aspects: rest, exercise, and nutrition. You know, if you have too much or too little of any of these things, the organism will not adapt successfull. Remember: as you attempt to increase stress on your body, you have to give yourself time to adapt to that stress. Your body doesn't grow stronger when you stress it: it grows stronger when you rest. The exercise, in that sense, is just a message to your brain that you have to get more physically fit in order to function in your world. There is a great deal of specificity in this: tell your body you need more endurance, you get more endurance. More strength, and you get more strength. More explosiveness, and you get more of this.
Recently, I was pushing myself in some core ways, playing with the Bruiser (more on that later), Hindu Squats and Pushups, and a new exercise protocol I won't talk about yet that Coach Sonnon is working with. I'll just say that it's arguably his most significant development, and will make his ideas available to an entirely new market. Very exciting.
But over the last year and a half, I've been dealing with mega-stress: new baby, moving, massive career upheavals. I've told you guys about some of the good stuff, but what I haven't stressed is the magnitude of the "Dark Night" that I had to go through to get there. Wow. Trust me, I will at some point. The reason I bring this up, however, is that rest has been hard to come by, at the same time that I've been hitting myself with massive physical, intellectual, and emotional stress. I'm afraid that that stress was doing everything in its power to become strain, and I had to use every trick I know to keep that from happening. Wasn't always successful, and that manefested as a sore, tired, weighed-down feeling, a descending spiral of fatigue and discouragement. The physical and emotional reinforce each other (which is why its so powerful to work on both simultaneously) so this felt like slogging through mud with a log across my shoulders.
So, I worked on every aspect of the Energy question I could think of. Rest: was I meditating enough? Getting enough quality sleep? Nutrition: was I eating well enough? Of the right quality and quantity of food? You know, both of these areas were pretty good. But in the exercise arena, I think I found a culpret. I'd actually been pushing myself too hard. The yoga, martial arts, Hindu Squats and so forth were simply taxing my recovery ability beyond its threshold, leading to a chronic sense of fatigue, where I never had a chance to catch my breath. Yuck. So as much as I hated the idea (ah! An exercise addiction symptom!) I backed off from the six day a week plan, and am now floating at around four days. We'll see how it works out, but today, having done nothign but the Warrior Wellness drills yesterday, I awoke feeling considerably better. And that's a necessity: the opportunities opening right now are vast and wonderful. I have to be ready for the challenge!
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:08 AM
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Alternately exhilarating and deeply disappointing, this thinly disguised propaganda tract for a woman channeling a 25,000 year old Atlantean warrior named Ramtha (!) actually has some good ideas concerning Quantum Physics and the way our consciousness affects our reality. But by mixing science, philosophy and psuedo-science so blatantly, they have done the public no service.
Understand my delimma: much of what they say, I agree with, but I don't like the way it was presented, with their talking heads commentators not identified clearly until the end of the film, when their lack of rigorous credentials felt, to me, deeply disappointing. (A chiropractor, A grad student, What?) Sigh.
Worst of all are occassional comments like "Earth is the only planet in the entire Milky Way" where the God-concept has been so corrupted. What? I almost wanted to cry. Marley Matlan filmed dramatic sequences demonstrating how an uptight wedding photographer has created netagive results in her life through her attitude (and I'm sorry--it was VERY difficult to understand her doubtless painstakingly cultivated speech.
She's done better, believe me. To have everyone acting as if she was perfectly comprehensible was, in itself, a distraction.) I wanted to love this movie. I came within a hair's breath of leaping to Amazon to buy a copy, thinking that I knew people who needed to see its insights into the way consciousness affects health. And now...I'm not sure. Need to think about it more carefully. Folks, when you are playing with the "edges" of reality here, it is important to clearly label what is opinion and what is current scientific fact. Cherry-picking your experts is one thing. By the end of this overlong tract, they've entered new territory.
Still, with that caveat, it's worth a look, and I'd give it a "B". Without that caveat, I give it a "D". Sigh.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:20 AM
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Some of you think that I haven't been supporting the year-long writer's program. Hah! Read between the lines, people. There is Art, and there is Craft. Craft has been addressed rather thoroughly on the structural level--the Hero's Journey, which comprises the best, and most universal story structure that has ever existed in this world: becuase it mirrors the course of our lives. Please note that you aren't supposed to simply line up your story elements, one for each of the ten steps, and think you have a story: no more than you can jsut play the 88 keys of a piano in order, and think you have a composition. But Once you understand the emotional resonance each of these steps has, you are free to create.
If I were you, I wouldn't listen tot he cynics who blame the Lucasfilm prmo machine for "creating" a link between Campbell's work and Star Wars. If promotion machines could create a hit, no movie would ever fail. Believe me, the studios would love to believe that all they needed to do to make a profit was promote. What happened to most of the American Idols? What happened to the synthetic pop groups created by reality shows? What happened to Gigli or Cleopatra or any of the countless high-profile studio films that just flat tanked? They didn't catch the public's eye and ear and heart. And they bombed. No. Lucas didn't create the link. You can look at any film that has earned over 100 million dollars, and you will see, quite clearly, the mark of the Hero's Journey. Because it is life. And when film, book, or story does not reflect life, all you have left is some individual's philosophical or conceptual position, which appeals to a much smaller audience. Nothing wrong with that--but jsut understand that that is what happens.
The Chakras are the most comprehensive model of human psychology known t man. For six thousand years, they have reigned supreme. Jung believed that in comparison, Western psychology was only half-way to the top. All you need to do to create an endless source of stories is look at every single human being around you. All are flawed and damaged. None are perfect in every chakra. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Now...ask yourself which chakra seems to hold the most damage for them? this will be an arena where they react with fear and anger. This may also be an arena where they have achieved unusual levels of excellence. For instance, I know several martial arts masters who had a stunningly horrific home life in early childhood. Where they were physically and emotionally threatened almost daily. What else would motivate them to achieve such advanced levels of lethality? Organisms are quite parsimonious. They do the minimum necessary to get an effect. When you see someone who has invested huge amounts of energy, do the math.
Sexuality? Rape, abuse, and premature sexual awakening leave clues and scars. I know several men and women who engaged in sex quite early in life. Sometimes abuse, sometimes seduction, often representing the betrayal of an older authority figure. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM is having enormous problems, or had enormous problems, creating that conservative, one-on-one bonded relationship. Every one. Most have stormy, short-term relationships, are serial cheaters, or reject such relationships altogether. Many are obese and emotionally dysfunctional. Some became predators themselves.
Power issues? That's my arena. Being raised by my mother and sister, my father not being there, and the culture telling me I was garbage, I became obsessed with the "what is it to be a man" question. The added burden of my skin color made it difficult to accept the cultural answers. I went into the martial arts, but my geekdom and blackness combined in some really poisonous ways, such that I was never able to simply enjoy the give-and-take of sparring like normal guys. It always impacted emotionally on me as if it was actual combat, and took an enormous toll, anchoring massive pain to what shouldhave been a pleasurable activity. One of the great regrets of my life. Yeah, I stuck with it long enough to get two black belts, but as my confidence in my ability to defend myself rose, my internal motivation to continue putting myself thorugh the grief was harder and harder to sustain. Like I said: one of my life's great regrets, and those who have worked out with me over the years know exactly what I'm talking about. Just being honest here. By the way, in actual confrontations I actually have LESS adrenal overload response than in "play sparring."! Go figure.
Heart/emotion? Who hasn't taken blows here? Who hasn't blown relationships, or had them blow up around us in devastating ways? Those kinds of hits create scar tissue, and as our emotions become less flexible, we lose our spontaneous joy in living, and start building small, careful, joyless lives.
Communication? Who ever feels that the world really, truely, deeply, understands us? That is an existential delimma that cult recruiters and abusive husbands play on to vast effect.
Intellect? Who doesn't struggle to understand the world, to gain that elusive sense of "having it all together" and grasping the total meaning. Who isn't intimidated by someone's intellect, or hasn't dealt with the world being intimidated by our own?
Spirit? Who does not fear death? Who does not wonder about the ultimate destiny of those parents, friends, and mentors we have lost? Who does not want to knowo where we fit inthe overall structure of Things?
The road from one of these chakras to the next is the Hero's Journey, a process of accepting responsibility, moving forward (or inward) , gathering allies and abililties, facing our limitations, finding our faith, and teaching others. Identify the wounds in the people around us. Heck--identify your own frigging wounds. Design a series of events that would force that person (or yourself!) to grow, or give them a chance to fail tellingly. And then write the story, ladies and gentlemen. Don't worry about being clever. Just be honest. You can run out of clever, but you can never run out of the truth.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 12:54 PM
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
One of the most frequent questions I get is: "where is spirituality in your equation? Fitness, Relationship, career...doesn't seem to be much room for God there, now is there..?"
I'd laugh, if this weren't such a serious issue. And if I have to explain this a thousand times, it could never be too often. Look again at the chakras. Spirit is the tip of the tree, the top of the chakra ladder. As such, it is dangerous to attempt to approach it directly. "You can awaken the kundalini from the base up, or from the heart out, but never from the top down." I have known many, many people who considered themselves spiritual, but were completely blown out in the more basic arenas, and spent their lives wandering from church to church, guru to guru, seeking inner peace. they craved relationships or material success, and hadn't the slightest idea how to find it. They wanted healthy bodies, but would rapidly lose the first five or ten pounds...and then be stimied. And not understand why. After all, they are spiritual. God (in all His/Her worldwide aspects) promises health and happiness to those on the true path. The ability to manefest miracles. Why, then, are these simple arenas of fulfillment denied?
All right, I'm going to come out of the closet on this one, and speak plainly. Because these people are deluded. They think they have spiritual connection, and what they have is a despreate grip on a mirage. Yes, I've known people I considered deeply spiritual who were "overweight", or "broke" or "celebate." But that is not the same as a person who fails at diet and exercise, struggles with their finances through failed business after business, or is stuck in a loveless, sexless marriage. Sorry. You can't take your failures and hold them up as badges of honor. The acetic "small boat" is not for most of us, and I'd say that better than 99% of the people who claim to have a direct connection to God while their families splinter into dysfunction are simply conning themselves. It is so sad.
The reverse, on the other hand, is much more direct. It is my believe that in 99% of the cases, a person who is healthy in body, who provides goods and services valued by his community--and has the self-love and self-respect to demand what he is worth, and has a healthy, sexy relationship with his spouse and a loving intimacy with his children...that person lives in the light of God. It is very difficult to imagine otherwise, although I'm sure there are cases out there. It is the "big boat", the path to spiritual development that is available to all who are willing to take responsibility for their past results, and commit to a balanced, healthy future.
Connie Rae Andreas of NLP Comprehensive in Colorado has a process she calls "Core Transformation." It is unbelievably beautiful, and a major breakthrough in my conceptualization of these things. What I believe she proved is that all human behaviors, no matter how brutal and destructive, are attempts to access the divine. That's right--including rape, murder, arson, and robbery. We are trying to satisfy those basic Maslowian needs for power and security in such a way that we can feel secure, and rise to the next level. And if those needs are fullfilled, the natural and indeed inevitable result is that evolutionary surge. It is natural, as natural as all water eventually making its way to the sea.
God is like the wind. Invisible. You can't see the wind, but you CAN see the effects of the wind--the grass blowing. Our eyes and minds cannot directly address the divine. but by chosing our "grass" carefully, we can see which way the wind blows. I've chosed body, career, relationship. Some of those on this board have made other choices, and I honor and love them. I can't pretend to read minds, to know if those choices are genuinely satisfying, or if t hey are deluding themselves (as, indeed, I may be deluding myself. There are no absolute answers this side of the grave. That's why they call it Faith). However, I've never seen a single person hurt themselves if they DO take responsibility for these three arenas as I've described them. And, as long as they understand progress is slow and gradual, and will involve many Dark Nights of the Soul along the way, they grow and change and blossom. That is what I wish for all of you.
So where is spirituality? It is in the center of the triangle describe by body, career, and relationship. It is the place behind your eyes, the thing you cannot see. It is the human soul itself, hidden in the last place you would ever look.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:57 AM
Monday, May 09, 2005
I spent some time recently with a friend who is in a bad marriage, and who struggles with health issues: weight, energy, etc. It was interesting to note that, pressed for explanations, every bad circumstance in her life was the responsibility of someone else. The bad marriage? Her husband talked her into marrying him. He wasn't really her type, but there was no one else around. Her chances of re-marriage are nill: look at the statistics, and you'll see it's easier for men than women. Her weight? Genetics. Alienation of friends? She didn't want to invite them to her home, because then her husband would invite HIS friends, and she didn't want them around. She had no choice...
Yada, yada, yada. When she looks into the future, she is worried because she sees no way to have control or serious influence on what happens. When she looks back, she has no responsibility for the way her life has turned out. And there, of course, is the problem.
She can't see that if she divorces her husband, she will simply go out and find another version of him: old wine in new skins. And of course, she won't recognize the similarities until it is too late, because she'll be focussed on the external aspects. And because she doesn't see how she and her husband are mirror-images. He just "happened" to her. Her lack of self-confidence, personal responsibility, and clarity are precisely matched by elements in his own personality I won't go into: I have no right to identify them in any way. But trust me, it's there. And until she takes control of herself, and takes responsibility for the decisions she's made, the same patterns will repeat.
Why does this happen? Because we're afraid to really see ourselves, really look within. This is a person I've told for over a decade to meditate, and she simply won't do it. She is afraid of what she might find inside. My interpretation? On a deep, deep level, she does not love herself, treasure herself, value herself as a precious daughter of God. This is borne out in some other attitudes she has, which, once again, I won't go into here.
But this self-love is so incredibly vital. It gives us the strength to begin that inner journey, knowing that all we will find within in the divine. As we run into layers of ca-ca, (which is inevitable), no matter how painful it may be, be can have faith that, deeper down, we will reach spirit once again. Without this faith, we wait for someone to rescue us, or sell ourselves short, or believe we have no power to affect our lives. We have some vague, fragile sense of our own worth, one easily shattered, and throw ourselves into the arms of any doctor, therapist, pundit, politician, or lover who says that they have answers. The answers we are looking for are within. The world outside is, inevitably, impossibly complex for our conscious minds to control or ultimately understand. But within, there is peace, as there is in the eye of the hurricane.
Within, there is the assurance we need to let our egos die. And the motion from any one phase or level of our lives to another involves the fear of ego death. We can either take these steps deliberately, or wait for life to force our hand. There is no avoiding the death...but we can take it small doses at a time, more on our schedual than according to the vagaries of fate.
The path to "control" of your future is "responsibility" for your past. Your body, your relationships, your career. The less control you feel you have in life, the more stress rips you apart. Go within, and you gain responsibility and control. Go deeper, and you will find that "you" have no control at all, but that something deeper and wiser and more powerful within "you" does. The ego must surrender to discover this. Ultimately, your ego always surrenders. Don't wait until your dying breath to discover this. "Die before you die."
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:00 AM
Yeah, it sucks, but I have to admit that it was better than I had feared. After reading a whole host of reviews about this teens-versus-slasher re-imagining of the old Vincent Price classic, I was pleasantly surprised that Paris Hilton's acting was no worse than the typical blond sex object in such films, her black boyfriend's death no more humiliating than average, the teens acted in general with less idiocy than average,and that the third act was actually creative and fun. Quite violent once it gets started, it's more of a "Friday the 13th" type death-a-thon than a suspense movie, but does generate some suspense. Dark Castle, the production company responsible, probably has a modest winner here. I'll give it a B- for horror fans. For those who like entertainingly bloody FX, however, a solid B. All others beware.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:00 AM
Friday, May 06, 2005
Wow. I love Will Smith's new album "Lost and Found." Not only does it feature some great dance jams, but for the first time he seems to be taking a page from Eminem's book and actually dealing with the circumstances of his life, his real feelings, the only true source of art. Not that I'm saying its art, but it strikes me as a quantum jump ahead of what I've heard from this remarkable man in the past.
One of the tracks hits me especially hard, considering that we're wrapping up the chakras, dealing with issues of spirit. That track, dealing with "an old friend" of his (who I strongly suspect was his ex-wife) who has become "a holy roller." This lady, according to Smith, spent a lifetime screwing up and around, and now has found Jesus and screetches at the top of her lungs that anyone who doesn't act and believe as she does will attract the wrath of God. The hook goes:
"Miss Holy Roller new Angel
Got your Bible out shoutin' and you're ringin' a bell
Mid-life Reborn! Can't wait to tell
How if I don't believe what you believe, I'm goin' to hell."
The song is so dancable, so well done in a playfully-angry sense that it would be possible to miss the deadly serious intent, despite the fact that at one point Will drops the rhyme and speaks directly to his "friend" about her bigoted, fearful fundamentalism. It's blistering, and I can't hear it often enough. I hope it makes "Holy Roller" makes it to the radio, but I doubt it.
Because spirituality is so intensely personal, our individual ways of making peace with the inevitability of our mortality must be treated with kid gloves, respected. This is one of the things about America I love--it's intent to preserve religious freedom. That is something worth dying for. I've often said that I would rather live in a country run by the Mafia than the Church. At least the Godfather won't torture you to death and tell you its for your own good. I strongly suggest that meditation and prayer are avenues to vast reservoirs of inner strength. I also suggest that if you have genuinely made that journey, you will see God everywhere, and aspects of God in all religions, and develop a vastly deeper ability to understand the myriad ways human beings have attempted to approach this ultimate question. Some of the most spiritual people I've known were atheists, strange as that may sound to some of you. Me personally, I describe myself as a Zen Christian--in other words, any of the principles of Christ I can verify in the interactions of animals and natural forces, I believe. The rest, for me, is just politics. Spirituality is like a beautiful tree bearing delicious, nourishing fruit. The creators of all of these spiritual systems saw the Divine and planted trees...but as soon as they died, their followers, not blessed with the same vision, cut the trees down and built lovely buildings. Those buildings are shelters, certainly. But they're not alive, and they don't bear fruit. The individual buildings must be animated by the spirit of the ministers, Shaykhs, Rabbis, priests, priestesses, whatever. You must be a discriminating consumer, especially in this most vital arena of your life. And genuinely spiritual people are rarer than rappers who don't curse.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 11:06 AM
Thursday, May 05, 2005
A reader notes:"Good post, but at the top of it you wrote:> I will also answer a question here about the younger generation of Black Americans, and some differences, positive and negative, that I see.
Mike is correct. I DIDN'T answer that. As I've noted several times, these entries are just about stream of consciousness. I don't edit myself much, barely spell-check, and in the above case, didn't read back over to see what I'd promised to do. So, I will now.
Do you want to know what I think of the opportunities available to black Americans right now? I think that this generation--the post WW2 generation and beyond, are, in those classic words, the Hope and the Dream of the slave. When slaves held each other and lay in their shacks, bones aching from labor, not knowing when the overseer might come and rape their wives or daughters, they could only pray for milk and honey on the other side. Or some few of them might pray for a better day, when bone-cracking effort from dawn till dusk might actually be invested in their own children rather than their masters. If those slaves knew that so many kids today believe that "nothing has changed" they would laugh and laugh...and cry and cry at the chilling, frightening ignorance of that attitude.
Those born post 1970 have no idea at all of the suffering and deprivation their parents and grandparents went through, and in general they wouldn't WANT to know. I watch how little my darling Nicki wants to know about those days, and who can blame her? There is so much pain there, and so little joy.
the cynical side of me says that Black Americans gained their rights exactly one generation after large numbers of Black men returned from WW2 knowing how to kill white people. But that's just my cynical side. The truth is that America isn't a nation, it's a dream of freedom that has been building in te human race for about three thousand years, ideas twining together from around the globe, with some major evolutionary bumps among the Algonquin, the Greeks, and with the writing of the Magna Carta, among others. The seeds took root on the last major piece of un-Westernized or Easternized land--the Americas. Unfortunate for the Native Americans, of course, but, heck, almost everybody's gotten screwed in this game.
Young Americans, especially those who have not traveled outside the country, sometimes have some bizarre notion that America is some horrific, vampiric entity crouching over the planet and sucking its resources, the most evil and dominating force that has ever existed. Young African-Americans, lacking the historical perspective that plagues kids white AND black, often see nothing but the downside, in the same way that fish don't know they're wet. We've got a strange situation in America where obesity is a sign of POVERTY. What? If that isn't the most topsy-turvy bizarro-world reality imaginable, I don't know what is. Black Americans are, in the main, the wealthiest, most powerful, best educated Black people who have ever walked this planet, but it is hard to see that, because our only points of comparison are whites, who have (on the average) even more. Being black in America is like being an abused child in a wealthy house. But that is the material side. What of the spiritual?
And there, Africans have us hands down. they know who they are. they have their land, their language, their gods (although many of them have accepted Christianity or Islam, every African also knows someone in his family who knows the old ways), their names. They know who they are, and even if paralyzed by the deprivations of colonialism, they know what they lost. Black Americans don't even know what they lost, and often deal with a crippling fear that they ARE as inferior as many whites consider them to be. And that is the most horrific legacy of slavery.
I remember when "The Bell Curve" came out. I bought and read a copy of that vile piece of propadanda immediately. If the premise was false (and so I believe it to be) then I needed to be able to refute it. If the book was accurate, on the other hand, then the disease needed to be properly diagnosed and remedies found, if remedies there were. One does a patient no favor to ignore the symptoms of a deadly disease. But my black friends gave me ENDLESS crap about reading that book. They virtually accused me of being a race traitor. Remember what I say about anger being a mask over fear? Well, if they were angry (and they were) then what were they afraid of? THAT THE BOOK MIGHT HAVE BEEN RIGHT. That blacks really WERE and ARE inferior intellectually. Hell, we'd been told that, directly and indirectly, every day for four hundred years. You don't think that that sinks in? The most egregious legacy of slavery is the belief systems that kept it in place. Slavery could exist because whites told themselves, each other, and black folks that slavery was good for black people. Heck, these poor ignorant stupid savages were being uplifted by their imprisonment and brainwashing. Rape was good for their gene pool. Go ahead--do your research. This was their position. The real problem is that the belief systems outlived the institution that they were designed to support.
And there is the problem. As segregation crumbled in the 60's, the integrity of the black community, as a geopolitical entity, crumbled with it. I was there. Once upon a time, pretty much all blacks lived in the same neighborhoods: rich and poor, educated and ignorant, preacher and junkie. It was a full community, with all the strengths and weaknesses of any other community. There were limitations: we were told point-blank that there were schools we could not attend, jobs we could not hold, hotels we could not sleep in, restaurants we could not eat in, neighborhoods we could not live in, women we could not marry--although white males could, and have always, had access to our women. Come integration, the most visible barriers crumbled, and those who could get out generally did. Instead of holding together the schools and businesses in the inner cities, in the "ghettos", they went to good jobs on Wall Street, Beverly Hills, Washington, Century City...whereever else competant, capable, energetic people went. And if it took them 110% effort to get what white people got for only 100%, well, what of it? Their parents reminded them daily that once upon a time, a black man could exert 200% effort and get only 50% of the results. In comparison, that looked damned good!
And now? There is virtually no arena of human endeavor where I don't see intelligent, well-educated, focussed black people kicking much ass. Are they represented in the proportions I would like? Nope. But the progress, just in my lifetime, has been stunning. And please note--that progress would have been IMPOSSIBLE if the majority of white people were not good, decent, caring people who basically just want to create safety and security for their own families. the number of helping hands out there are literally countless. Liberals want to help you out of guilt and love. Conservatives want to help you because, if you measure up, you can help make a stronger America...and out of love. Yes, there are bigots, but they no longer have the force of law behind them, and just two generations ago, they did.
Young black Americans are, too often, unaware of their history. So are white Americans, but their safety net is vastly stronger. They don't need the strength that comes from knowing your roots, knowing what you have survived. Remember the Dark Night of the Soul? The accomplishment of ANY goal takes you to that point. And brothers and sisters, if you have ANY excuse for failure,--too black, too young, too old, too short, too gay, too female, too fat, WHATEVER, then your inner demons will whisper to you, and you will succumb to the "I Can't because" crowd. And they are legion.
So what do I see? I see legions of smart, proud, capable young black people in colleges all over the country. They are starting businesses. They are working their way up the corporate ladders (more females than males, for obvious sociobiological reasons--they're less threatening). they are doing well in countless ways. And, they are also filling jails and projecting negative images through some of the most ignorant, lowest common denominator music and popular entertainment in the history of the communication media. Popular radio now has a far wider spectrum of possibilities, and blacks sing opera, play classical music and jazz and rock--but the specific image systems of rebellion and pain have always been intoxicating to rebellious teens, so white teenage money drives the engine of the Rap moguls. Political rap is driven to the edges, angry and vulgar rap with simplistic beat and zero melody takes center stage, and there is a gigantic money engine keeping it that way for the time being. And young black Americans, if they are as angry and alienated as their white counterparts, can find a hundred times as many reasons to believe they can't make it--even if, as I stated earlier, the answers for how to focus and uplift your life can be found in any Waldenbooks in the country. Unfortunately, too many of these kids, because of the collapse of the geopolitical black community, have no role models of possibility, so they slide into the belief that they cannot.
I have criss-crossed this country, and seen some of the wealthiest and poorest people in America. I've traveled to Europe and Africa, and seen poverty the likes of which most of these kids cannot even imagine. I know that people the world over have watched America flail like a wounded giant, and make bad choices, but still love us. Still know that, in the main, we have used our power with greater conscience than any empire in the history of this planet. America is a dream worth sharing and preserving. And this generation of black Americans is the hope and the dream of the slave.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:40 AM
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
And now, at last, we come to Sahasrara, the seventh chakra, the abode of spirit. Faith. God. Goddess. However you conceptualize the ultimate realities of existence, that frontier beyond our rational minds. "What was the shape of your face before your parents were born?" and "what is our ultimate destiny after death?" Every civilization on the planet has wrestled with these questions, and because flesh is mortal, so must we all. However you engage with them, the answers you evolve must work for you. You're not going to be able to lay this one off on parents, or society, or church...no one is responsible for your soul but you. No one will be taking the step across the line between life and death with you. This is your journey, and you have to come to conclusions about it that will get you through the night.
This arena is so incredibly rich. More people have fought and died for its answers and questions than for any other single reason in human history. The potential power locked within the issues of life and death and ultimate meaning is simply beyond calculation. Some say there is nothing beyond the veil. Others, that there is everything. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON IT? YOUR BELIEFS? If you haven't questioned the explanations given to you in childhood, it may be time to examine them anew. You need to have serious reasons for your position on the universe, whatever that position is.
Remember the Hero's Journey? It states, very clearly, that no worthwhile goal can be approached without entering the Dark Night of the Soul, the moment of dispair, when all of your personal resources have been exhausted. A completely disproportionate number of world-class champions in every endeavor of life have a belief in the divine. This, of course, doesn't prove the existence of God--it does, however, suggest that a belief in something larger than yourself is one of the most useful things to have if your intent is to reach your ultimate potential. In striving for excellence, we all reach the end of ourselves. We all have times when there is nothing left. What then sustains us? Well, according to the Hero's Journey, there are only three things:
1) Belief in Self
2) Belief in Companions
3) Belief in a Higher Power.
That's it. And if you run out of all three, man, THERE is some depression for your butt. It is horrifying to encounter someone who has run out of all three. They can be absolutely paralyzed with fear and fatigue. Believing there is nothing left, they just wait to die, give up completely. The trick, of course, is that there is always something left. The truth is that we never know how close to victory we are. We never know if one more shovel of dirt will hit the mother load, one more pitch get the sale, one more push will beat the opponent. We don't know. It is not ours to know such things. It is ours to choose life paths worth dying for, and then spend our life in the pursuit of excellence.
So we come to the end of the basic structure of Lifewriting: the Hero's Journey on the X axis (horizontal), and the Chakras on the Y axis (vertical). Meld the two, and you have the beginning of a truely profound understanding of your life. Because the Hero's Journey is a description of the path from one chakra--one level of development--to the next. Because every good story is the tale of a human being rising from one level to the next. Meditate on this, and the value of balance, and the management of stress, and you will find the secret of mastery. You won't need teachers, or gurus, or therapist, if you can walk this road. It is not for everyone. It is for people who are basically healthy, capable of self-governance, and willing to seek career success, fitness, and a bonded relationship. You now have the basic pattern. Next, we begin to play with it. See you then.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 4:07 PM
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Well, friends and neighbors, I had pitch meetings for THE GOOD HOUSE, the movie Tananarive and I are writing from her novel, set up at Gold Circle Films and Fox Searchlight and Fox 2000. The meeting with Gold Circle went great (the president of the company asking, of course, if the race of the characters could be changed. He's a great guy who dealt with us honestly and in a refreshingly straightforward manner. The racial politics of his concern is another matter.) At any rate, after that meeting, we were on Cloud Nine. Forest Whittaker (our director--another great guy, who, by the way, practices Silat!) was enthusiastic, and Nia Hill, our producer, was ecstatic. I knew that even more important meetings were coming the next day. That's today.
I woke up this morning feeling stressed out. In many ways, these meetings were what my professional career has been aiming at for all my life. These were the highest-level pitches I'd ever had, and I knew I could do it...but was also roasting with stress. I called my good friend Mushtaq to ask his advice. He suggested that I use the Be Breathed technique as a meditation to center myself. And I did.
First, I spent 90 seconds generating the fear response, then did 15 minutes of Hindu Squats, Hindu pushups, and Be Breathed (using the Cards technique). I came out of that recharged. Driving to 20th Century Fox, every time the butterflies began to surface, I steadied my breathing with Be Breathed. Before the meetings I did the same thing. And the result? Well...let's just say the whole day was golden.
First, we found out that T's movie MY SOUL TO KEEP is going into production in the Fall. Fox is cutting us a "big check" next week. Heh heh. The president of Fox Searchlight came to the commisary table where Nia, Forrest, Tananarive, Blair Underwood and I were having lunch. The SOUL director, Rick Famiyuwa, just happened to be in town, and stopped by the table. And having lunch just behind us was...Steven Spielberg. Yep. Doing post-production on WAR OF THE WORLDS. Both Blair and Forrest have worked with him, and Forrest introduced us. Nice man.
I sailed through today. I think we have a movie deal (knock on wood!). I turned stress into energy by keeping it from becoming strain, using the FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE. Folks, I don't make my money selling these things. Most of the money has gone back into the product, trying to make it better. I wish you'd believe that if I could give you all free copies of it, I would. But I can't, and my business partner would kill me. So what I can do is try to let you get to know who I am, and tell you that I absolutely believe that we can have our dreams--if we define them clearly, keep them balanced, proceed toward them slowly and methodically, embrace our passion...and keep stress in check. Get a copy today, guys. You won't regret it. You may or may not shake hands with E.T.'s poppa, but you'll deal with stress a heck of a lot better. And that, in itself, is out of this world.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 6:31 PM
Sunday, May 01, 2005
Remember, this is a core tenant of Lifewriting and what we’re calling The Mastery Technique: to see the balance point in all things (especially life) to have goals in all three arenas, to plunge into the maelstrom of life with the tools to prevent stress from becoming strain, and to process the emotional crap that arises from such a purifying process.If there is a pattern to some of my ranting on this blog, you are just seeing MY damage coming up. This is one of the places I’m venting. However, I try to see it all, once again, in balance. Some comments on how this all works out.RACE. Well, that’s a black and white issue (for me.) Anyone who looks at my picture knows that I am quite mixed: Black, White, and Native American. Because of the “One Drop” rule, of course, White America considered those who look like me to be black—so that they could be sold. Black America took this and tried to turn it into something to be proud of (“one drop makes you whole.”) Neither approach has the slightest amount of anthropological sense. It is purely social. I look at racial designations that way too—they don’t really shake out anthropologically or genetically, but they sure do socially. Looked at Socially, then, it is possible (but not inevitable) to say that there are three “real” racial groups: Caucasian, Negro, Asian. Black, White, Yellow. Call them the “primary colors” of the human race, from which all other groups can be formed. (Again, I’m speaking in terms of social reaction, not some biological distinction). Latinos, then, are not a separate group. Some are Black, some Yellow, some White, and most are a mixture. But socially, Latinos are mostly reacted to as if they are “exotic white people.” Why do I say this? The standard is this: how does America react to seeing a white woman being sexual or married to one? If there is some slight irritation, but mostly acceptance, then on a deep psychological level, they are “white.” For instance, Lucille Ball, America’s Sweetheart in the 50’s, and Desi Arnez. Ricardo Mantelban or Fernando Lamas as heartthrobs. No problem at all. What you won’t see is a bonified Asian or Black actor “crossing that line.” Dark-Skinned natives of India are also kinda “exotic white people” in the main. They also don’t seem to trip that negative reaction TO THE SAME DEGREE. And neither do Arabs. Danny Thomas (Lebanese), Omar Shariff, etc. etc. Exotic, yes, but “across the line” fully to being “Other”, no.
This of course relates to the recent ranting about black men not being allowed to be sexual in films. A recent review of “House of Wax” in the L.A. Times makes much of the fact that Paris Hilton’s boyfriend in the film is black. And that nothing is made of it. NONSENSE. I don’t need to see the film to know that the “comment” is in the subtext. Both Paris Hilton and her boyfriend are doomed. They will both die horrible deaths—they crossed the color line. Again, this is 100% predictable without even seeing the film. If anyone out there has seen it and can tell me I’m wrong, please do so. Some will protest that it can’t be that cut and dried. Sorry. Yes, it is. I’ve been predicting this stuff for thirty years, and almost never been wrong. ##But this has less to do with black and white than it has with the natural tendency of human beings to assume “their” side is right and the “other” side is wrong. This leads to the next division:
RIGHT versus LEFT. What fun this is to watch, especially on the touchy issue of race. The right tries to pretend that there are no substantive differences in the basic life situations that, say, blacks and whites find themselves. Then, they try to pretend that, given that premise, they aren’t saying that blacks are inferior. Wow! You can’t have it both ways, guys. The statistics clearly show blacks with higher incarceration rates, lower I.Q. scores, lower life expectancies, lower incomes, higher illegitimacy rates, you name it. You know, some of this stuff can be explained as invalid measurement systems, but some is pretty glaring. And when you look at it from a heads-or-tails perspective (which is, quite admittedly, too simplistic, but sometimes you need to be to cut to the chase), either the CONTEXT of the situation where black Americans find themselves is radically different, or the CONTENT of their genetics and/or character is radically different. Why mince words, guys? Stand up and be honest about what you’re saying! To me, the problem on the Right (in this regard) is that they can’t admit there are serious and pervasive difference. And the problem on the Left (in this regard—there are certainly others) is that there are deep and serious dysfunctional elements in black culture (hell, James Earl Jones probably put it better than I would dare to: “there is no Black culture.” No, not in the sense that Anthropologists speak of culture. That requires hundreds or thousands of years of relative isolation. That indicates separate languages, religions, cultural stories, philosophies, etc. etc.) There are hundreds of valid, deep, wise African cultures. But in the continental United States, the vast majority of black Americans are descended from those who specifically had culture, language, religion, names, and history stripped away from them, leaving them to be “programmed” with slave software. The problem is that they can’t go back to African culture, and they can’t just adapt the software of the majority culture—which holds that they are absolutely second-class human beings. The solution in my mind is to commit to going down into the “machine language” of humanity, to go deeper than culture, deeper than appearances, deeper than most groups of people ever have to go, and connect with the truth of this aspect of our existence—and then spread that knowledge. But to do it demands going beyond race, or left and right, to forgive, to find absolute self-love, and then embrace the totality of humanity. Nothing less will work. But you have to be able to look unblinkingly at the problems of being human AS THEY MANEFEST in left and right, white and black, male and female, etc. Nothing less will do.
MALE and FEMALE. Men and women both have elements of “male” and “female” energy. Trying to designate these is a cause of much division and disagreement. I won’t get into that here. But both sides try to claim the majority of the “good stuff” for their side. Talk to a feminist about women being more nurturing, more intuitive, more peaceful and wise, and chances are you can lull her into agreeing with you. Ask her to list the balancing advantages of male energy, and you are likely to come up blank: anything men can do, women can do better. Talk to a typical piggy male and he will easily be lured into discussions about why 95% of the great art, science, political movements, etc. have been created by men—and they will (regretfully perhaps) have to do with, ahem, innate superiorities in men that it is not politically correct to discuss publicly. Both side do this crap. I remember in writing class I have a nasty habit of getting discussions of “male” and “female” energy going as follows (and please remember that this was designed to be deliberately provoking, not to reveal some deep, eternal, immutable truths). I would say: “If there was nothing but male energy in the world, the world would be a burned-out shell, strip-mined and hunted to extinction.” And the women in the class would cheer “right on.” Then I would continue: “and if there was nothing but female energy in the world, the entire population would consist of a few scattered bands of people living in grass huts in temperate zones, getting wiped out by the first predators that came along.” Needless to say, this always evoked yelps of protest. What? The second comment was less honest than the first? Really?
The truth is going to be found BETWEEN the extremes. Be very, very careful of people who believe that it is heads or tails. No, it’s a nickel. It only looks like “heads” or “tails” to an ant crawling across the surface.
What other issues can be peered into more deeply? Try: GAY and STRAIGHT (wow. The lies and hysteria around this issue, ranging from AIDS to gay marriage to what the differences between gay male and Lesbian lifestyles reveal about gender differences. I could write a dozen books…). AMERICAN and NON-AMERICAN. OLD and YOUNG, or one of my favorites…
FAT and SKINNYIt’s interesting to see articles starting to appear on the Hollywood fad of actors losing and gaining weight apparently on cue. Robert Di Nero, Rene Zellwegger, Christian Bale…they just slide around the weight scale almost as if…as if…it’s relatively easy. And I think that’s what’s really causing the discomfort. The truth is that on a PHYSIOLOGICAL level, it IS relatively easy. Tie someone to a bed, feed them and don’t let them move, and despite the fastest metabolism, they will get fat. On the other hand, put someone in a concentration camp, deny them food, make them work eight hours a day, and despite the slowest metabolism, they will get skinnier. Period. It’s physics. Why, then, the difficulty losing weight for most people? Why the multi-billion dollar diet industry? Because our bodies are where we store PSYCHOLOGICAL AND EMOTIONAL PAIN. Lose the weight, and you lose your armor. That, for many people, feels like death. I knew a guy who was already pretty skinny. At his job, a number of heavier people went on a diet program to lose twenty pounds, each of them putting in a hundred bucks to a “pot” to go to the winner. The skinny guy said, “hell, I can win that!” On the surface, you might have thought that it would be harder for him, because he didn’t have much to lose. Nope, it was easier, because he had no emotional attachments to the weight. He didn’t have circles of people around him who needed him to be fat. He was merely dealing with the physiology of it, not the night-sweats and nightmares, and fears and resentments and sexual damage. He won hands down. It wasn’t even close.
What we don’t want to deal with here is that obesity (not just that extra 10 or 15 pounds, but when it gets up above, say 50 pounds of excess weight) is about emotion more often than physical disease. Everyone knows it, no one wants to admit it. So an obese person is almost exactly like an alcoholic carrying his bottle in plain sight. Then, of course, they complain that people judge them. Like we don’t’ judge alcoholics? We don’t judge people who can’t support themselves financially? We don’t judge people who have ANY dysfunction that we can determine easily?
Does society treat the obese cruelly? Yep. And it should not. It treats them as sexless, lazy, over-indulgent slobs. None of which is true in my experience (well, maybe they get less sex than average. I guess that tends to be true). But that is no excuse for the jokes and cruelty. Not an excuse—but it is a reason…we project our own pain and fear and insecurities OUT of ourselves onto others who have the same problems, or represent what we fear in ourselves. The answer is not to suggest that fat people are not responsible for their condition, but also not to project guilt, blame, or shame upon them. Both are inappropriate, dishonest, and non-productive.Well, enough ranting for right now. But take a look at the dualities in your life: RICH-POOR, SHORT-TALL, CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM…where are you clear on what you really think? Where are you ashamed of what you really think, and would make public statements different from your private ones? There is no power, no joy, no truth in such behavior, and in the final analysis, you are robbing yourself of power. Because there are no fat people, no skinny people, no black or white or Jew or Christian or rich or poor or gay or straight or Right or Left. There is only you, friend. You create the world you see. And if it seems to be a confused world devoid of love or logic, that tells you more about yourself than it ever will of what is “out there.”
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:03 AM