I never thought I'd see a live action version of "Team America, World Police" but this jingoistic, simplistic, stupid, spectacular and exciting movie fits the bill. Damn. I wantd to dislike it--I KNEW just from the coming attractions that they would pull a Sacrifical Negro, clearing the way for white characters to have sex...and I was right, by the way...but I ended up liking the movie anyway. It rips off 2001, Top Gun, Dr. Strangelove, Wargames, and any number of other, better films. But the tale of a computerized super-fighter/bomber jet just kept getting my pulse up. There are these three super pilots selected for the program (as Mod Squad used to say: "One Black. One White. One blonde.") and thn there's EDI, the HAL-9000-voiced killer machine. Well, some of the plot twists are predictable months away, others are a bit subtler than that. The dialogue actually isn't bad in its own cheesy way, the effects are often GREAT, Jamie Foxx gets to die protecting not just white people, but white people's MACHINES (is that a step up? back? Sideways? Good question. But if I can suffer through watching black folks die for the entertainment of white audiences...and trust me, the statistics show that white audiences LOVE to watch us die...then you can suffer through spoilers. Heh heh.) At any rate, in some way I'm not completely certain I understand, they won me over. The puppet strings were so nakedly apparent that some part of me relaxed. the idea of a super-anti-terrorist force willng to cross national borders to Git Them Ter'rists was sort of sick in a good ol' boy kinda way. And man oh man, there's a parachuting sequence that would have been at home in the hottest James Bond pre-title sequence imaginable. And there's Jessica Biel's super-hot body. Yum. You know, it's stupid, offensive and jingoistic, but God help me, I liked it just fine. Put your brain on hold and give it a "B"
Friday, July 29, 2005
Slap that trick! (Get 'em!)....er, well, if you saw this film about a low-rent hustler (played beautifully by Terrance Howard) you'd probably get such an unlikely hook stuck in your head as well. Tananarive and Nicki went to go see it, and came back humming and tapping and raving. The hit of Sundance, the tale o fa Memphis pimp (who works out of his car. Jeeze, not exactly "Player's Ball" potential here, with big dreams, is a winner. The core of it isn' the rap score (which smokes) or the performances per se (impeccable) but the depiction of family, in several different forms, healthy and toxic as hell. To see that DJay and his "girls" have createdwhat is, in all probability, the healthiest family any of them have ever known, is terrifying, heart-breaking and convencing. The movie has heart...you really bleed for these losers, and despite their massive flaws, dream along with them. You know, it's hard out there for a pimp...oops, another musical flashback. Not exactly Astair and Rogers, but then again, they were never Hustle and Flow. A-.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:43 AM
Thursday, July 28, 2005
A popular and quite descriptive term used by nice people, often quite smart people, to describe non-obtimal behavior. From the Lifewriting perspective, what is Self Sabotage, and how can we deal with it?
A couple of principles and thoughts. Since this is just stream of consciousness, I'll enumerate for clarification, but please understand that if I was writing a more formal article, I'd probably use another format.
1) A Hawaiian Huna principle: The primary dictate of the subconcious mind is to protect us. That means that a lot of what you consider "self-sabotaging" behavior is actually an attempt to protect you. That means that it is quite possible that some part of you considers your current status to be one of safety. Shall we look at some of this?
a) financial. Do you put off doing the bills? Thre's probably pain associated with them. YOu don't really want to KNOW how short on money you are. Put off doing your homework till the last minute? (Who doesn't?) This kind of procrastination is damned near universal. Avoidance of pain is easy to see here.
b) Personal. Sabotage relationships? Cheat on a partner? Fail to make calls, or keep appointments, or fly into inappropriate rages? There are few things in the world more frightening than true intimacy. And I think most of us have done stupid things here, feeling we weren't worthy of a truely loving partner, or that if we open ourselves, we
ll just be hurt, or what's the point--if we care, we'll just be revealed as vulnerable and silly. I know that both men and women feel that their vulnerabilities are used against them in relationships. They'd feel the same way if they were gay. Relationships can be very fang-and-claw affairs.
c) Physical. Who among us hasn't dealt with the pains, real and imagined, of changing a fitness level, or losing weight? I mention weight issues o often because they are a major concern for America right now--they reveal one of our Achilles' heels. We like to eat. We don't like to move. Teh combination is deadly. Add to this the fact that sexual abuse, insecurity, and self-image problems can manefest in the same arena. We associate with our bodies, and if we change them, who are we? We store resentments and fears by the bucket inourbodies. How are we to process this stuff?
One day at a time. I recently sponsored a little Hoodia experiment in the household, partially to allow Nicki to visit her friends in Washington in about 10 days with a greater sense of pride in accomplishment. She's been working our for a long time, using disicpline and trying to keep her spirits high. But I'm pushing her in all three major arenas--body, mind, and spirit, and that is some major self-confrontation, folks. From time to time, a little help isn't hte worst thing in the world. She's still done the work, this just reduces the friction a little bit.
2) All living systems crave homeostasis. We want to stay the way we are. Inertia is a bitch. Once you're moving, it's easy to keep moving. but when your base-line has been constant for a long time, your body and mind will give you absolute hell on the way to change. You want and need allthe allies you can get.
The study of the Hero's Journey suggests three steps that are important.
A) Assumption of responsibility. You have to commit to the journey, although you KNOW that you will encounter dragons along the way.
B) Gathering of allies and powers. You must assume that you do not currently have the abilities necessary to get there. Look around for the people who can help support you. Look also into the question of whether current associations are toxic or healthy.
C) The dark night of the soul WILL come. Always. It is absolutely inevitable if you are moving from one serious arena to another. What gets us through is faith. What manefestation of faith has helped you in the past? Talk to others who have accomplished your goal (stay away from those who have failed at it, if possible--they can infect you with their own negative attitudes!) and try to ferret out the critical differences between those who have succeeded, and those who have failed. The differences are there.
And above all, self-love is vital. Why go through all of this nonsense, if you don't love yourself? Don't have faith in yourself? Don't beleive that, at the very core, we are eternal and beautiful, wonderful and wise, and made of the same stuff as the stars. Why? Luminous beings are we, not this crude flesh. You have the right and responsibillity to build your life into a temple in praise of the Creator, however you envision that force. Believe me, the world is filled with people who say there is no home. Leave the pity party. Take a step toward your true magnificence. Five times a day, breathe deeply and remind yourself of your three most critical goals.
And fail successfully, with a sense of humor about it all. Do these things, and nothing can stop you.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:54 AM
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Again, this is just incredibly common-sensical, and I find it simply amazing how many people don't take care of business here. Simply put, what does a positive or negative result look like in your endeavor? Do you know when you're getting closer to your goal or further away? FEEDBACK, friends. Feedback. One presentation of the Ultimate Success Formula is:
1) Choose a goal
2) Learn the behaviors and beliefs that will lead to the goal.
3) Analyze your current behaviors and beliefs, and see what the difference is. Then, commit to either changing the goal, or changing the beliefs and behaviors. Get the point? If your actions are not in alignment with your intentions, start changing one or the other, or you're in serious crap.
4) Raise your energy level
5) Begin to live as if the beliefs and behaviors are yours. All kindsa techniques work here: NLP, and positive thinking, and Psycho-Cybernetics, and self-hypnosis and affirmations, and God knows what all. They all work, if you pay attention.
6) Keep tabs of your results. Do they take you toward or away from your goal? Do you actually even do what you're committed to doing, separate from the issue of the efficiency of the act? OU MUST GAIN SENSITIVITY TO THIS.
7) Fail successfully. Push yourself until the behaviors and habits break down. "Test to failure." Then
8) Start over again.
This Success Cycle will, with proper learning and effort, take you about anywhere you want to go. But it works if you pay attention, if you learn to know when things are going well, and when they're not...and more importantly, know what is actually important. What things will actually bring you closer to your goal? What is REALLY winning in life. Some people would say that getting into an accident because you refused to let some idiot cut them off on the freeway is "winning." For others, getting home alive and safe is the prize. Be VERY clear on what is and is not important in life. Listen to the men and women who have led healthy, happy, successful lives. Chose them carefully. Listen to what they say about what matters. And if you find that is greatly different from the way you see life or deal with the world? Consider changing.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 3:16 PM
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
There's a little yoga teacher named Asako at the local Bikram, and she's started teaching classes with no English corrections--only Japanese. Now, I guess I wouldn't recommend them to people who haven't been studying for a while, but my family and I find it to be a hoot. First of all, the classes are later in the morning, so we late-sleeping types dig the heck out of that. Second, there are far fewer people in the class (no duh!) so there's more room, and possibly less heat. the heat doesn't bother me anymore, but Nicki and Tananarive are still suffering. so we'll try it again today.
The truth is that a big chunk of any esoteric or movement system has little to do with what is said. It's all about the vibe in the room. A good instructor is like a tuning fork--you literally resonate with their energy. If they've got it, great. If not, well...better hope there's another student in the room who does, because otherwise you might get lost.
Asako is good enough that she can represent the space called "Yoga" quite nicely. Her English is only adequate anyway, so a class in which she demonstrates more is actually rather nice.
I took my nephew Stevie to yoga class last Saturday, and he loved it. And he performed like a natural. Honestly, his alignment was off, of course, but his focus and endurance were almost incredible. I am SO proud of that boy!
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:10 AM
As Great Sky Woman nears completion, it is interesting to think about the things I did right, and the things I did wrong on this project. I'll be musing and talking more about his over time, but just wanted to go over my current work structure.
1) Spend some months planning, outlining, researching. This involved dozens of books on wildlife, medicinal plants, climbing Kilimanjaro, volcanos, history, biological and cultural anthropology, the life of the San and !Kung Bushmen, the history of ancient civilizations, and more than I can remember at the moment. The thought of it still exhausts me.
2) Traveled to Tanzania to spend two weeks on the Serengeti, and some time on Kili himself. Big frigging mountain. Havin ga chance to actually wake up under the East African night sky was beyond wonderful. By the way--we're planning to do to Ethiopia in January.
3) Collate notes and rework outline.
4) Get out my copy of final Draft, and create a script. I do this because scripts consist of narrative and dialogue, without much description (compared to a book). Therefore, they can be written more rapidly. This forms an expanded outline, where I can test all character and plot elements, and insinuate layers of visual and auditory symbolism. final Draft is great because of the different views of the project I can conjure up--the "Index Card" view is simply superb, allowing you to have an entire book/movie on the screen at one time.
5) Flesh out the script. In essence, 'Novelize" it. There will be much discovery at this point, and new scenes pop up like crazy.
6) The final polishing process is a matter of printing the book, making corrections on paper, then inputting the corrections on the computer. The process of going back and forth between paper and screen seems to be quite valuable--I catch mistakes on paper I don't catch on the screen, and vice versa.
7) At some point, I send it out to be read by a select group of pre-readers who I can trust to give me tough, honest feedback. This is also likely to be the time when I tap into a circle of experts in various fields who have provided me with research pointers along the way. Oh--also my editor and agent.
8) I take their comments, re-write, and polish.
9) At some point a book has to be torn loose from my trembling fingers. I continue to polish in manuscript and then galley form, until the hardcover comes and I have to surrender.
the whole time, I'm doing my Golden Hour, and reading one scene of Shakespeare aloud every day.
This process has worked very well for my last six novels, and I intend to keep it.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:10 AM
Monday, July 25, 2005
Wow. this is a fine and wonderful principle for several reasons.
1) First of all, if you re interested specifically in martial arts, this principle will lead you to investigate the question of excellence. How is it that people succeed and fail in the world? Excellence, and the pursuit thereof, is separate from any specific application.
2) Knowing the different ways that people earn a living helps us to understand human nature itself. We all sell, we all produce. We all attempt to protect the proceeds of our labor. Understanding this, and the things that human beings do to try to increase safety for themselves and their famiies will help you to understand human motivations. When you understand that, it is far easier to avoid conflict...and in essence, not NEED to fight as often.
3) What if you are interested in the arts, say, writing? Well, how much more obvious could it be? The more you understand about different professions, the easier it is to write about them convincingly.
4) Moreover, remember that your customers make their livings in some way other than writing. YOu must learn to communicate with people who see the world differently.
5) Being genuinely interested in other people makes YOU interesting. You can always find something to talk about at a party--just ask questions about other people's lives. Being interested in them make you automatically a less self-centered person. and helps you build rapport rapidly.
But in my mind, the most important reason is to be continually searching to understand yourself, and the people around you. Continually searching for the answer to the question: how can I improve 1% this week. If you know a goood baker, ask her what makes her kitchen special. Know a great Cellist? Ask her how much she practises. Keep asking these questions, and you will slowly get a picture of the road that leads to success in any field. Don't believe me. Go out and start asking! Humanity itself is the best education in existence.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 11:03 AM
Saturday, July 23, 2005
This aggressively stupid movie makes I, ROBOT look like 2001. I mean, there was definitely a better, smarter, more thoughtful movie hidden in there (what? Without consciousness the cloned tissue is rejected? For a moment I thought we were heading into some kind of meditation on the nature of the soul. No such luck.) But that movie would have been smaller, and not half so cocksure that they were making a smart piece of social commentary. Social commentary? Well...
Let's start at the beginning. THE ISLAND tells of a society of people raised in an underground environment. They have only months or a few years of memory, and supposedly survived some kind of terrible biological holocaust that makes the surface so deadly that the discovery of a single moth is big news. (this turn into the film's most insanely stupid scene, when these people, who, we are told, ALL believe that the world outside is poisonous, witness a rupture of the walls, not ONE of them runs for shelter. Instead, they wander out into the sunlight with childlike curiosity. Must have brought tears to their eyes in the pitch room, but was even ONE of them thinking realistically? 95% of people , convinced that on the other side of a wall was contamination and death, would RUN, dammit. Not one did. Suspension of disbelieve out the window. There were many others). Ah, well, the "Science fiction" aspect doesn't really matter--it was all in the service of a buncha neat explosions and stunts. but when you can't believe the situation, that's al you're looking at onscreen. Stuntwork. CGI. Not for a moment do you believe. You know, I can watch a stage play and BELIEVE I'm watching the edge of a great battle, although only three men are onstage. Or, I can watch 70 million worth of special effects and think: "ooh. effects." And that was the problem here.
and there's another. SPOILER WARNING. STEVE'S PET PEEVE ABOUT TO SURFACE.
There is a big, honking, obvious, blatant slavery metaphor operating here. Djimon Hansou, a very very African actor of considerable skills and presence, plays a mercenary hired to pursue folks escaped from this facility. they keep rubbing it in our faces that he is thinking of these people as slaves. that because he is black, he begins to empathize with them sufficiently to ultimate trash his own career. Well, that's fine, and one can almost hear Michael Bay and the white guys who dreamed this thing up slapping each other on the back and congratulating themselves on how daring and relevant it all was. Guess again, guys, your secret attitudes are showing.
this is one of the whitest films I've ever seen. There are a few black men walking around in that colony, almost no non-Caucasian women. You know, that's all right, because they make it clear that it costs 5 million to "buy in" to this game, and the economics are about right. Fine. But there are three black characters with speaking lines. What are they?
1) Michael Clark Duncan, the human boulder, playing a childlike clone who babbles his gratitude, and later runs like a terrified animal and is dragged back in metaphorical chains, crying and screaming like a bitch. A big, buck slave. Wow, how original.
2) A fat black Sista-girl who does the typical incompetant/oblivious black receptionist routine.
3) Djimon Hounsou, the enigmatic mercenary/sopiritual guide, who destroys his career so that "enslaved" (mostly white) clones can discover the joys of sex. He, of course, has no human relationships. This is one of Hollywood, and America's very very favorite black images. Watch out for Jamie Foxx coming up in "STEALTH" next week, who will, I predict, give his life so that his white co-stars can screw. No, I haven't seen it yet. Yes, I'm willing to bet I'm right. I've been right about this stuff for thirty years. I don't figure anything's going to prove me terribly wrong anytime soon.
Anyway, for fun, loud explosions if you're stoned enough to turn off the logic centers, a "B." For paper-thin characters, plot stupidity, and the most egregious misuse of racial guilt since Johnny Cochran got O.J. off, the Island gets a "D+". At best.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:23 AM
Because I agree with Mr. Perry--anything that messes with brain chemistry should be considered a drug. If it has positive effects, it also has counterindications. I'm trying to take this very seriously, and exposing all rational thoughts to the Group Mind for analysis. Here's a note Steve sent me:
Yo, Barnes --
A quick web search for interactions/contraindications on hoodia:
Phytopharm owns the patent to P57, and no other company or individual can sell hoodia as a weight loss aid.
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer entered a deal with Phytopharm and tried to isolate P57 into a form that could be marketed to the public. After several years of research, they determined that this was not possible, and they pulled out of the agreement.
Hoodia is currently being sold online by various companies and individuals. They are selling dried, powdered hoodia. However, the appetite suppressing ability of hoodia gordonii is only found in large fresh pieces of the plant. The powder that you purchase contains such a small amount of P57 that it cannot produce the desired effect. These products are not regulated or inspected, and the exact contents are not known
Phytopharm is still working on developing a viable source of hoodia gordonii that can be marketed to the public. They expect this to take several years. When this is available, it will only be sold by companies that are certified by Phytopharm as being authentic and having the correct amount of P57 to benefit the user.
The current supply of genuine hoodia gordonii is very limited, and is considered rare. The South African government has chosen to protect hoodia gordonii as an endangered plant. In October, 2004, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) provided added protection. Hoodia gordonii cannot be exported as a weight loss product. Limited amounts of the plant can be exported, but only as herbarium collections. The extent of illegal trade is unknown.
Bold type is mine.
If Phytopharm is selling this stuff in pill form after saying it only works if it is in fresh pieces? Your basic contradiction there, seems like to me ...
Doesn't seem to be much in the way of interactions/contraindications, save don't take it if you are pregnant or have high blood pressure, or are taking other meds. I'm guessing that if there's no active ingredient in it, that would probably account for these lacks. Doesn't sound dangerous per se, but caveat ingestor ...
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:59 AM
Friday, July 22, 2005
I've seen this translated as "every martial art" or "every fine art form." the implications are different, and let's see why. If a warrior becomes familiar with all other martial arts forms, he starts seeing how there is a single 360-degree rotating sphere of motion, comprising throws, locks, holds, punches, kicks, etc. Add weapons and you have stabbing, slashing and striking--extrapolations on the empty-hand motions. From a further distance you have arrows and spears--extrapolations of rock-throwing, which are extrapolations of punching: the joints rotate in sequence, and technique translates rotary to linear momentum. Guns, of course, lift the entire equation to another level: they barely depend upon musucular strength, or in some cases even coordination. They have more in common with catapults--in other words, a purely mechanical approach to killing. Somewhere within these arenas will be found most of the tools of warfare, or the things that a warrior will deal with.
But a warrior (by my definition) is one willing to kill or die for what he believes in, his dearest values. That means that he is also happiily prepared to live in the world, seeks peace, hopes for a bloodless victory. That means that politics (myu personal weak suit), commerse, interpersonal communication, spiritual harmony, and other factors must be at optimum level--n the sense that war is always a failure of diplomacy. the position of warrior should be one of a balanced series of options for a human being--including healer, teacher, lover, merchant. Some of us will specialize in one position or another, but all of us should, in emergency, be able to fill in. (Emergency lovers, anyone?)
To this end, then, we should all strive to be, as the Chinese say, "Masters of the five Excellences"--or folk committed to a balanced path. Much of the deep nature of human beings is revealed in their art works. I would say that anywhere excellence is to be found, you should be sniffing about. Painting, writing, acting, dancing, photography...can you converse with people in these different fields, learn what they think creates excellence? And if you speak to enough different ones, can you begin to read "between the lines" and sense the path that leads to excellence in ANY endeavor?
Mny brilliant human breakthroughs came from people studying one arena, and applying somethign there to another. I've gotten ideas for writing from dance. For martial arts from music. For parenting from watching clay sculpting. And on, and on. go beyond the bounds of what is "obviously" applicable to your life, and learn to appreciate excellence everywhere, in every form you find it. You will be enriched.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 12:41 PM
Well, the Barnes household has discovered Hoodia, and we all love it. Hoodia Gordonii is a South African cactus used by San bushmen to repress hunger on long hunts. At this point, I know of no counterindications (if anyone has heard anythign negative, PLEASE provide the data!). There is a lot of fake Hoodia on the market ritght now--stuff from china, stuff mixed with fillers, etc. I wanted to try the real thing, so I called a major phytochemical assay company, and asked them if they'd done work with Hoodia, and they said yes. They gave me the name of three different companies who had passed their tests, and mentioned that one of them had been a "blind buy"--they had purchased the Hoodia through the mail through a consumer account, so they were recieving the exact same product any customer might get. The brand was "Desert Burn," and they checked out pretty well--seemed to have a good attitude toward the Bushmen, had their certificates in order, etc., so I bought three bottles. It comes in bottles of 60 750 mg capsules. They advise taking two in the mornign, and then one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. I've never taken that many, but T and Nicki vary. the judgement:
IT WORKS. It's just spooky. Your brain simply gets a signal saying your stomach is already full. Carb cravings disappear. I think you need to actually be careful to eat proprely, and healthfully--you can damn near "forget" to do so! And strangely, the energy level stays pretty far up--there doesn't seem to be as much blood sugar drop as you'd expect.
My estimation? This stuff is the bomb. Assuming no drastic side effects are discovered, Hoodia, in combination with a decent exercise program (walking?) will take weight off just fine, thank you. Combine it with a serious exercise proogram (clubbells? Kettlebells? Running?) and you'd actually lose weight at an unsafe speed. I'd say drik PLENTY of water, and make certain that at least one meal a day is designed for maximum, full-spectrum nutrition. Tananarive LOVES this stuff. Nici was glowing over her results. No speediness, no sleep disruption. You just aren't as hungry. wow.
For more details on the product, either go to Desertburn.com, or type "Hoodia" into a search engine and do your research. Fascinating.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:00 AM
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Actually, I liked it better than "Willie Wonka". This story, dealign with a poor child and his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the ultimate candy factory,, is a riot of visual invention. Johnny Depp is rather creepy as Wonka (evoking thoughts of Michael Jackson), and my only real compaint is that it feels a little long at times, and the songs aren't as good as the original song. There's anothre complaint, too--I have a bit of problem with the spiritual Guide element. There are no black people in the movie at all, really, save for the man in whose store Charlie finds his ticket, and Geoffry Holder ("this is a cola-nut!") narrating. I have some problems in using black voices when the filmmakers don't want to use black faces, but that's just me. And self-sacrificing, noble black characters who exist only to provide white people with the necessary (and often magical) help bothers me more (Morgan Freemanin "Miss Daisy" or "Bruce Almighty", anyone?")
At any rate, there are time swhen you could feel Dr. Seuss under driector Tim Burton's skin, and that's a very good thing indeed. I'd give "Charlie" a "B"
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:22 AM
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
I thought I'd comment specifically on my thoughts concerning race and I.Q., since that is an issue as volatile as any in the American dialogue.
1) My most basic belief is that there are probably genetic differences in mental attributes between major racial groups, but those differences are not primarily responsible for the differences in performance on IQ tests or life itself. What are those differences? Don't know, but it would make sense that they might exist. But I hold any "ranking" of different racial groups with great suspicion and doubt.
2) One of the reasons I hold such rankings in doubt is that there seems an interesting breakdown in people who believe one way or another about, let's say, The Bell Curve. I see people across the political and racial spectrum who believe "Guns, Germs, and Steel" (primarily an environmental explanation for cultural differences), whereas 99% of the supporters for the Bell Curve are white conservative males. A little vested interest, there?
3) There are highly intelligent people who take both sides, but mainstream geneticist, the American Psychiatic Association, damned near every cultural or biological anthropologist I've ever read or spoken to seems to shade stongly toward "GGS". The other side of the argument seems to be, well, kinda fringie to me.
4) A disproportunate percentage of the "BC" supporters seemed to be of Southern heritage, constructing apologies for the misdeeds of their ancestors, maybe?
5) A VERY telling point to me: all the "BC" supporters think that genetics are such a strong factor that, in essence, they explain 95%+ of the social and performance difference between, say, whites and blacks. Very interesting. In other words, they think that 300+ years of slavery, jim crow, segregation and prejudice, which only REALLY broke down in the 70's, would have no difference on performance. Wow. We black folk are really resiliant. On the other hand, the closest to an admission that environment might hurt performance was an analysis by a conservative think tank basically saying that the black family survived all of that just fine, but was murdered by Welfare and "The Great Society." Damn those pesky liberals! If the "BC" supporters had ever said something like: "we think this is responsible for 50% of the difference, and the rest is the horrific social conditions imposed for 300 years..." I would have been willing to consider that they were not as politicized as I think they are.
6) To me, "Bell Curve" is a hyper-conservative political tract written backwards from a premise, that premise being that social programs to improve performance do not work, so why spend money on them? All the rest is a justification for that position, and they are being disingenuous to say otherwise.
7) I like "guns, Germs and Steel" because it's conclusions can be studied whereever you see small, isolated groups of human beings, regardless of racial background. Population density is important for social progress, and you can't have that without other kinds of preconditions. If Asians are said to be the highest on the IQ rank, then isolated Asian groups out on islands and in Polynesia or the Arctic should have developed technological civilizations. As far as I can see, what they developed was roughly comperable to what was developed in Sub-Saharan Africa. Location, location, location.
8) One of my favorite metaphors: if you saw three men running over broken ground, and that race continued for a thousand years, and at the end of that race they were within a fingernail's distance of each other, is there some huge difference in their abilities? If you saw two men running, and one was fifty feet in front of the other, and you came back a year later, and there was only a forty foot gap, would you assume the runner in front was better? Wouldn't you ask questions about the time and position in which they began their race? I often hear those who like the Bell curve that, because blacks haven't completely closed several gaps in social measurement, this must be proof of genetic inferiority. My sense is that, if black genes were inferior, then the gap would WIDEN year after year, not remain stable. And certainly not narrow, as it has in most measures. And IQ? The so-called "Flynn Effect" suggests that IQ is raising by several points per decade, across racial divides. Anyone who thinks this is genetic needs to post to me immediately--I'd love to hear that argument. And, again, the gap has remained roughly the same--which I interpret to mean that the starting positions were different socially.
And in the secret nasty depths of my heart? I look at the two men running a race for three hundred years, with the one behind traversing brutally more severe territory, and see the gap narrowing. And I wonder if those who believe the Bell Curve hypothesis cling to it so desperately because, deep in THEIR hearts, they wonder if the reverse might be true.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:34 AM
I was recently asked if I thought Condoleeza Rice could win the presidency. The answer is "no," and part of the reason is that she is not, and has never been, married. This may sound kinda strange (and I've even been accused of sexism), but my defense is simple: when was the last time a bachelor ran for President? I don't think this is just some statistical anomaly. Nor is it just to get "the women's vote." No, I think on a subconscious level, we know we can learn a huge amount by looking at the woman by a man's side. People DEFINITELY judged John Kerry by the behavior and demeanor of his wife. No question about it. Ms. Rice might be perfect for the job, an exemplary human being in every way. On the other hand, there could be very, very serious flaws that would be immediately obvious if she married a weenie, or some domineering hulk, or someone who displayed some other personality problem. If she has never found that life partner, I'm sorry--I'm going to assume something is out of balance, because the pair bond instinct is simply too strong in most human beings for me to give the benefit of the doubt. Yep, I've met what seemed to be perfectly healthy, sane, wonderful people who never married. But most of the time, there seemed to me good and obvious reasons why that connection never happened. And if we make judgments based on what we see--then one damned fine window into the invisible world of her heart would be her partner. Absent that, too many of us--me included--just don't know who this human being is, and won't take the chance. Oh, you might say, she sacrificed relationship on the altar of ambition. Well, I don't consider that balanced or healthy enough to trust with one finger on the Button. What else that most people hold dear might she be willing to sacrifice? Sorry, not interested. And I think an awful lot of Americans would agree. Add that to her race and gender, and I think you have insurmountable obstacles. Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:21 AM
The second principle is "The Way is in training."
I read this as: the "Way", (the path, the door, the goal, the method.) is in ceaseless, daily effort. There is a great scene in John Steinbeck's WW2 memoir "Once There Was a War." In it, he describes the expression on the face of a naval cook, when he realizes there is no way to "feed a man once and for all." Loved that. The concept of ceaseless, incremental daily improvement, or constant engagement with the processes of life, goes back to every wise person in every culture since the beginning of time. "Before Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water." The tasks of life go on, and it is in engaging with them that our momentum is maintained. Just try slacking off after you've gained fitness. Every run into that high school quarterback about twenty years later?
Let's take a look at this second principle in our three arenas.
1) Body. You need to stretch, move, connect with your body EVERY DAY. You should stress it at least a couple of times a week, and build to "peaks" a few times a year, just allowing a gentle fluctuation of intensity. Treated like this, constantly seeking to learn something new about the body-mind connection, is enough to keep you busy for a thousand years.
2) Career/Mind. Well, we're being specific to writing. Write every day. Write a story a week, or a thousand words a day. Constantly seek to improve in small ways. Seek higher and higher levels of criticism and feedback. Improve your resistance to failure, fear, and disappointment. Work to tap more deeply into your creativity. Every damned day.
3) Spirit/Relationship. I start every day with meditation. Finding that calm center within me, that connection with the divine, that essence that is, in actuality, the only thing any of us need. Connecting with that space erases fear of abandonment or rejection. Failing to make that connection leads one to believing that outside relationships will complete us. They will not. We must complete ourselves, otherwise we will attract only wounded people to us. Otherwise, we will pass our fears and neediness on to our children. Otherwise, we will reinforce our dear friend's dysfunction, because we need them to reinforce ours. We will live lives of quiet desperation, and begin to consider our wounds to be spiritual strengths. But beyond that, relationships, friendships, love, marriages, require daily work. You have to be there emotionally, physically, financially, mentally, energetically. All it takes to have a healthy relationship is everything you've got, every day, with complete honesty, compassion, and self-confidence. This is why I consider our relationships to be our best and finest mirrors for who we are.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:19 AM
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
A minor film with some major laughs, this sexy comedy with Owen Wilson and the slightly creepy Vince Vaughn drags at times, but never sputters out. Basically, these two guys are divorce negotiators who are incredibly cynical about marriage, and attend weddings for the sport of bagging lusty bridesmaids. I have a serious suspicion that the script was based on someone's real experiences, by the way--psychologically, it makes a certain amount of loony sense. There is one absolutely great line ("they say we only use ten percent of our brains...I think we only use 10% of our hearts..." WOW!) amid the shameless pick-up tactics, and enough general, genial hilarity to keep me in chuckles for the two hours this confection lasts. Christopher Walken plays the Secretary of State, and doesn't get quite as wierd as we might like, but is still great fun. All in all, I'd give it a "B" and say check it out. I am SO glad to see an R-rated comedy, after so damned many PG-13 "sexy" romps.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:27 AM
Monday, July 18, 2005
Musashi's Principles andMastery
Trying to communicate something that can't quite be put into words is an interesting challenge. A path to mastery is, (I honestly believe) revealed in the balance of body, mind, and spirit, as we have defined them on my blog. YES, there are other paths, of course. Possibly better paths. I only comment on this one because I think it's available to anyone who can accept the three major goal arenas
1) A healthy, primary intimate relationship
2) A healthy, fit body
3) A healthy, prosperous career
If you accept ALL THREE of these, and take responsibility for both past and future results, you are taking the first steps. You understand that as you move toward these goals, there will be massive stress--and this is where the BE BREATHED technique and the FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE come in--they take that stress, keep it from becoming strain, and deepen your work in all three arenas.
Another thing that you need is a way to reduce fear. Remember? The Dark Night of the Soul is the gateway to excellence. The way through (according to the Hero's Journey) is Faith. But note that fear destroys faith. Note also that these stroies often contain violent action sequences, in which fightened people are forced to cope, or die. Long action sequences. Long enough to reach second wind...
In other words, many of our greatest, oldest stories contain sequences where people are running, climbing, fighting, carrying, working, or whatever, while under masive emotional stress. The "Fear Removal" technique we have spoken of, thereofre, AUTOMATICALLY kicks in! Even though people didn't know wht they were talking about, there was an instinctive understandign of the resources necessary to move from one level of efficiency in your life to the next, and these stories encoded those resources at either the conscious or unconscious levels.
IF you accept all three goals, IF you keep learning and modeling successful behaviors in all three, IF you have a stress reduction method, and IF you learn to deal with your fear--or better still, have a daily discipline that does this for you automatically (yoga, Tai Chi, Body Flow--all will work if you have a meditation practise that brings up your honest emotions) then you are on your way.
One of the reasons that this method seems to work, is that you are forced to find "wisdom", not just "knowledge". In other words, to function in all three arenas, you have to have philosophical positions that do not conflict, and are generative inthe sense that a simple rule can be applied in multiple areas. You look for highly successful people, and see how their principles impact EACH of the Big Three (Body, Mind, Spirit). For instance, one of my favoirites is Musashi Miyamoto.
Arguably the greatest swordsman in Japanese history, Musashi was also an excellent artist. The principles he wrote about in his book "A Book of Five rings" will yield great riches to those who look at their application in non-martial arenas. I'm going to look at these nine principles, and discuss their application in all three arenas.
PRINCIPLE #1: DO NOT THINK DISHONESTLY
Interesting principle for a man who was, in essence, a killing machine. But Think about it: how better to get killed quickly than to be dishonest with yourself about your level of ability? How quickly might one become a monster if one lied about motivations or values or intents? In the arena of the physical body, I've met a huge number of people who simply aren't honest about how much or what they eat, or the intensity and frequency of their workouts. Fear of one kind or another stops them from being true to themselves. Or they lie about how much time they have. THIS is why I created the FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE--to have an exercise routine so short that NO ONE can say they don't have time. Sure, you can spend more time, but if you say you don' thave five minutes--you are lying to yourself.
What about business? Well, my business is writing. I've said a thousand times that I don't believe in talent. I believe in hard work and honesty, over time. but you need to pay damned close attention to those two areas. HARD work. BRUTAL honesty. Most people can't do those things, so they fall back on "talent". And if their first few works get rejected, they lie to themselves and say it "means" they can't do it. Pity. Be honest about what you want to write--it should be about he same as what you enjoy reading. It should thrill YOU, turn YOU on, horrify YOU, make YOU laugh. There is no better way of cutting through the b.s. to get to your true capacities.
What about relationships? There is nothing that kills relationships faster than dishonesty. Lying about money, sex, emotions. Witholding vital information, misleading, misinforming...all of it is horrible. I've watched so many relationships die because the partners couldn't be honest. I've watched so many co-dependent friendships fail to nurture either partner because they won't tell the truth (I jsut had to deal with yet another sob story about a girl who has been in one bad relationship after another. Why? According to her longtime friend, "because she's too sweet. Too nice." Bullcrap. She makes bad choices. She has crappy judgement. And Doesn't have the clarity to see what people are, the self-respect to demand the best, or the health to offer value for value. People's whole lives go down the toilet becauseof lies like this, and I simply won't collaborate in it any longer.
Anyway--that's the first principle. We'll go over the other eight in the next couple of weeks...
Posted by Steven Barnes at 11:32 AM
Saturday, July 16, 2005
A recent note asked how one develops a personal writing style. The most straightforward answer is by writing a million words. However, those of you looking for a shortcut might try the following.
1) Choose two favorite writers with very different styles. Call them "A" and "B".
2) Write one story imitating writer "A"
3) Write a second story, imitating writer "B"
4) Write a third story, imitating the way "A" would imitate "B"
5) Write a fourth, imitating the way "B" would imitate "A."
By the time you're done, you'll be thoroughly confused. You'll also be well on your way to your own voice.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 12:33 PM
Friday, July 15, 2005
the book that would not die. It feels as if I've been working on this forever, and meanwhile, other contracts are piling up. Frankly, I made some mistakes working on this book:
1) I tried writing without as complete an outline as I usually use, a more "organic" approach like that used by my wifie, Tananarive. Oops. Not on something THIS complicated! I should have outlined it to the last twist and turn, to have a more direct road map.
2) I originally experiemnted with changing tenses, to represent the different mental states of the different characters. Ugh. Didn't work at all.
3) I let myself get intimidated by the importance of the project. Betsy Mitchell, my editor, really trusted me on this one, and I let that get mixed up with my own urge to do something right here. This project is different from anything I've ever tried before, and that difference will be a very good thing--if I can hold my head together.
It's odd how stress can make you feel stupid if you don't balance it properly. (Remember that it isn't stress that hurts you...it's strain). With EVERY SINGLE PROJECT I've ever written, I reach a point where it all feels like its turned into pureee of batshit, and that I've lost whatever small capacity I ever had. this is why its important to break a task down into component parts. The larger and more complicated it is, the more vital this becomes. overwhelm is an absolute bitch-kitty, and will drain your self-confidence and eat your mind. One day at a time, friends.
So...what is my daily program right now? I wake up, and meditate for fifteen minutes until I get the white light moving inside me. Up, make tea, check e-mail. Then my golden hour. This month I'm studying Argumentation, the study of effective reasoning. Great Stuff. Enormous fun listening to the various radio talk show hosts and specificaly deconstructing the b.s. arguments they use to sway their audiences. Tsk. today, I'll be starting with Warrior Wellness (joint circles), and then Silat, then Kettlebells for 15-20 minutes. Then I'll play with some of Coach Sonnon's Prasara until I feel loose and connected (I know that sounds like a contradiction, but...)
Then I'll play with Jason some, and after that, get to work. Work-time will start with reading the last scene of Troillus and Cressida (Jeeze! Achilles and his myrmidons just put a hurtin' on Hector!). I read one scene of Shakespeare aloud every day--for many, many reasons. When possible, I read it to Jason.
then into Great Sky Woman. Right now, I'm correcting fifty pages a day. When I've finished this run-through, one more read-through, and I'll actually have a book. Wow. I can't believe it.
Then at some point I'll quit, maybe watch a movie (I Netflix'd "ffolkes" with Roger Moore, a guilty pleasure of mine, Anthony Perkins hamming it up like crazy...) and later tonight Tananarive and I will get together with physicist and Shotokan karate maven and Chili expert Keith Kato to see the play "Purlie." Life is good.
And by the way--it's cheat day. That means I get to eat chocolate. Yum.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:51 AM
Just a quick note before I plunge into the day's work:
character and plot are two sides of the same coin. When you get stuck, ask questions such as:
1) Why is this character the perfect POV to explore this situation?
2) Why is this situation my character's worst nightmare, and how could it turn into the best thing that ever happened to him?
3) or: why is this situation the best thing that ever happened to my character, and how could it turn into his worst nightmare?
Asking questions of this nature forces you to explore the connection between plot and character. And it is in this exploration that you will find the bones of your work.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:50 AM
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Had great fun yesterday at Tananarive's management agency. There, for the first time we pitched a television series idea we've been fooling around with. They wre both xcited, not only by the idea, but by the fact that they think we will KILL in a room. YOu have to understand--Hollywood is a game of both image and performance. And another thing...
Jonathan B., one of the managers, cleared his throat, looked a little embarassed, and said that being "African American" would work to our favor. There are many reasons for this, and I think that he may be right For the very first time in American history, it just might be right. Whether one has racist tendencies or not, almost EVERYONE likes to think that they are tolerant. bigots like to think that they simply understand something about race that it's not "Plitically correct" to admit. Therefore, when they meet "smart" darkies (a tribe I am certainly proud to count myself among) they slobber all over us, and get the "if only the rest of them were like you" look in their eyes. Die-hard racial radicals black and white want to find anyone black who won't embarass them, and help 'em up. And most of the folks in the middle consider us exotic--we are a bit mysterious. They're not sure why the crime and poverty statistics are skewed, and love meeting black people they can talk with as "equals." Hmmm.
then, of course, somewhere in the discussions their real attitudes will come out, positive or negative. I can often tell if they make the comment that "X" or "Y" is easier for black people than for whites--usually because of Affirmative Action or some such. Hmmm.
All right, here's my attitude. A black person who has survived the gauntlet of bullshit thrown at us from the cradle, who has survived the lack of role models, the constant ego-pounding and denigration of our sexuality and distortion of our history, who has managed to be strong enough to pass through that with her head high and sense of self intact--that person will see that there really ARE opportunities now that never existed before. For THAT person, life can be sweet. I really believe that. But that's a little like saying: "if you can just lift 500 pounds, you'll find that most household chores are simple..."
At any rate, a new adventure is at hand. Yeah, I'll have sour grapes from time to time, but Faithful Readers, you know that I love you all, and love this country, and this world, and the people God put in it, and just want a chance to play with Hollywood's erector set. And I'll do my best to keep my personal wounds hidden, and just let the work speak for itself.
But from time to time you, my cherubs, will hear my danker thoughts.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:35 AM
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Well, its been about a month, and what I learned (as I kinda suspected), trying to losemore than about a pund a week isn't a particularly good idea for me. My habits are already pretty good--diet, exercise, rest--and when I try to push it harder, my body tries to "snap back" to its original weight--or even more! My current weight: 189.7, so I lost about 6 pounds in about six weeks. Go figure.
1) When you break diet, your body seems to grab those calories and hold onto them for dear life.
2) You have to combine aerobic and strength training for best effect.
3) Maintaining a balanced diet while cutting carbs a bit seems to work very well. Make up the extra bulk with leafy vegetables.
4) Drink plenty of water--it helps to kill hunger. Much hunger seems to be thirst misinterpreted.
5) Watch "The Machinist." Christian Bale is a madman.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:48 AM
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
A reader's note:
E's husband here. The Traceless Warrior introduced me to your blog. Anyway, just one question about the story/week. Is the process dependent on getting all of those 50 or so stories sold, or just out there in circulation?
Thanks for the great site!
Well, Don--if you sell fifty stories, I'd say you are all the way to pro land! What I'm marking out here is not a destination, but a path. Write stories, finish stories, send them out for publication, move on to the next story. By the time you've sold, say...five of them, you'll be a very different writer than you are today, and ready to move to the next level!
Posted by Steven Barnes at 4:10 PM
Went out to hermosa Beach yesterday with Niven and Pournelle to talk about the possibility of a third "Heorot" novel. It was kindo f amazing how easily it all came together. Although my politics and Jerry's could hardly be further apart (he's got 'em, I really don't--sort of), it's fun to see how many arenas we have agreement on.
At any rate, I had to get up early to drive into L.A. for the meeting, and didn't have as much time as I might have wanted--and this is after several days of interrupted workouts. I've been working with Mushtaq on the new LIFEWRITING CD, the SOULMATE and FEAR CD, and a WRITING FOR BLOGGERS package we're putting together. Great fun, but having to do eight hours of taping in two days (!) was just grueling. Thank God for the Five Minute Miracle!
Remember what I said: once you've learned the basic technique and methodology (the Be Breathed technique, and performing for five short periods every day) the way to improve isn't necessarily to add more time (although that can be important as well) but to increase the intensity and/or neurological complexity of the motion, or to take them more deeply into the reserves of Fear Reactivity. For instance, if you have the Body Flow tapes, you can perform a quick combination therefrom. Afew clubbell swings, concentrating on Breathing-Movement-Structure gives you a good edge, as will a few kettlebell Clean and Jerks. Performance of a martial arts kata or Djuru is excellent--jsut keep your attention on that triumverate, so that all of your exercises are different versions of the same work.
Hindu Squats and Pushups are also excellent. In fact, one of my favorite 5MM "breaks" is
1) Hindu Pushups (until very lightly winded)
2) Hindu Squats (twice as many)
3) Be Breathed
This all takes me about three minutes, max. Those who want to invest less time could alternate during the day. If you want to push for more fitness, you could add a 5-15 minute workout session in the morning, and stress your CB, KB, Hindus, or whatever.
The point is that you can start with only Five Minutes a day, and make a solid impact on your fitness. Adding the right 5 minutes is effective, even for an athlete--it keeps that Body-Mind connection alive.
Do yourself a huge favor, and get on the Five Minute Miracle bandwagon. If you've already got your copy--are you using it? Are you pushing forward? Are you keeping that connection alive? If you don't have it yet...what are you waiting for?
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:59 AM
Saturday, July 09, 2005
Well, it could have been worse. I read so many terrible reviews that I was ready for an absolute piece of crap, and Fantastic Four, the film version of the landmark Marvel comic, was not that. The saga of four friends who, exposed to a cosmic storm, transform into The Invisible Girl, Mr Fantastic (stretching), The Thing (strength and massive orangeness) and The Human Torch, could have been a cinematic gem in the right hands. These weren't the hands. Tim Story, who brought us Barber Shop, directs like a decent TV movie director. To take him from Barber Shop to this with a stop at "Taxi" might have been asking a bit much, but the problem goes beyond weak direction. The script is WAY under-developed, and the character interaction is sometimes weak. The re-imagining of Dr. Doom is just painfully stupid and bad. What were they thinking? Add to that some painful special effects (the stretching effects are particularly bad, and are often edited away from, or shown only at night, thank God) but there are good things. Some decent stuntwork, the gorgeous Jessica Alba, a good sense of byplay between the guy who plays the Human Torch, and Micheal Chiklis. Chiklis is just the best part of the whole movie, and is excellent, both in makeup and out. He IS the tragic Ben Grimm, and I'm hoping for a sequel just to give him another chance to do his Thing. So to speak.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 12:26 AM
Thursday, July 07, 2005
What about those people who simply plan to self-publish their work, or just put it on their websites? How do those people gauge improvement in their work?
Vince | 07.05.05 - 4:25 pm | #
The exact same approach can be used--you are sending material for publishing because
1) The sincerest complement in the world is a check from a stranger.
2) A professional editor can give you insight you'll never get from your friends, teachers, or family.
Then, after you can get paid for your work--go right ahead and self-publish or put it up for free on your blog. Yeah, right. We both know that almost no one would give away for free what they can joyfully sell. I think that in the majority of cases, people self-publish because they are afraid that they can't publish in more traditional patterns. That's not always true--but people who are doing well in the publsihing world almost NEVER self-publish. I think it's often (not always) a way of avoiding the work necessary to get to the next level, the pain of rejection.
However, if none of that motivates you, you can still write a story a week, and just circulate them among your friends, or post them. but you won't have the same growth curve.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:53 AM
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
a question on writing a story a week:
While I think this is a good idea, it dosen't tell people *how* to write a story a week. Some people write slower than others, and some people write in burtst, and then slow down for a while.
I think there's an emotional stamina that might need to be built up to hit the kind of pace you're talking about.
Josh Jasper | 07.04.05 - 10:20 pm
If you write more slowly, swrite shorter stories, dude. A story can be one page long, if it's compressed enough. The number of words per day shouldn't be an obstacle--unless fear is stopping you. In other words, a lot of times the real object of a behavior pattern is to stop you from growing too quickly, to give your ego time to adjust, or even to hold you back completely. This path I'm laying out WORKS. And brothers and sisters, you'd better believe that there is a part of you that FULLY unerstands that if you write a story a week, or a story every other week, and send them out for publication, you are going to get rejected like crazy---and thenn you are going to succeed. that means that whether you are afraid of success, or of failure, this is going to push your buttons like crazy. this technique is the "here's the button. Push it, and get what you say you want" method. Now what? What if you can have what you say you've wanted your whole life? Be very careful what you ask for. Once you see how you can get it, you'll run flat into who and what you really are, and it's not always pretty.
In terms of "how to do it"--well, you study story structure, especially the technique of the short or short-short story. You write 500-1000 words a day. Saying "some people write slowly" is suggesting that there is no volition, no variance uneer conscious control. Nonsense. ou can talk slowly or quickly. Walk slowly or quickly. the only thing stopping you is fear. If fear is stopping you, address that DIRECTLY rather than using it for an excuse. Say: "Fear stops me from going further. How can I deal with that fear? How can I turn it into energy to sustain and motivate me?" On this website, I've talked about techniques for dealing with fear and anxiety. There are others. Find and use them!
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:12 AM
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Lost another friend yesterday. A warrior, a storyteller, a good man. One who lived hard, laughed loud and loved much. He was my friend, a man who served his country and refused to compromise about damn near anything. He didn't take care of his health. Please, people...take care of yourselves, and each other. You do your loved ones no favor not to give them honest feedback on the damage they do to themselves. We are here to mirror each other, to help each other through.
I'll miss you, Chris.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 3:10 PM
Saturday, July 02, 2005
The difference between people who succeed and those who fail is rarely talent. Persistence means more than almost anything. That, and the ability to find appropriate models of behaviro and imitate them, so that you aren't trying to re-invent the wheel. A simple approach to developing professional writing skills, one that has worked for hundreds of writers is:
1) Write a story a week, or a story every other week
2) Finish them
3) Put them in the mail, keep them in the mail until they sell.
4) Don't re-write except to editorial request.
What if you want to write novels? Still write stories. The reason is the same reason that, if trainign for a marathon, you start with shorter distances. No one suggests you train for a marathon (if you've never run before) "by running 26.2 miles." that would be absurd. No, there are literally countless sub-skills of breath control, relaxation, rhythm, let alone just fitness stuff of accustoming joints to the stress load.
There are so many sub-skills to writing that MUST be placed at the level of unconscious competance. gigantic numbers. I'm going to spend some time over the next few days trying to lay out the basic ones. And all of them are contained within the short story.
What about poetry? Easy. A poem a week. Maybe a Haiku every day!
What about screenplays? Easy. A short script every week, or every other week. Say 10-20 pages. The second iteration of the "Twilight Zone" bought stories that short. that will allow you to refine your skills in a similar way. True, there's no place to sell such work right now (that I know of), so the effectiveness decreases--part of the point of the short story route is the ability to interact with professional editors.
There are innumerable reasons not to go directly for the novel. One of the best is that every successful novelist I know CAN write short stories. The majority of people who go directly for the novel never publish. I know of NO ONE who has gone the short story route, stuck it out past, say, fifty stories, and not been published. Personally, I set myself a goal of 100. What does this mean?
What it means is that most people who say they want to do something, anything, don't have the stick-to-it-iveness. That means that if someone is more talented than you, but you've got more guts, and stay with it, you will outperform them in the long run. That's the way life actually is. the hares tend to burn out fast. The tortoises stay in there. Going to your 10th or 20th High School reunion is an eye-opener, if you never, ever quit.
50-100 stories from now, you can be publishing regularly. If you're willing to pay that price, you can have your dream. If you're not, PLEASE don't lie to yourself and say you didn't have the "talent." No. You didn't have the endurance.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:00 AM
Friday, July 01, 2005
O.K.--after Bikram Yoga today (I sweat like a pig, but drink lots of water, and finish up with a 20 oz. Smoothie) I weighed in at 190.2 pounds.
I think I've figured something out. One of my problems is always balancing all of the working otu, and fighting burnout. One of the problems is that, if I'm not careful, after a brutal workout ther eis still so much tension in my obdy that I don't sleep well that night, creating a vicious burnout cycle. You have to RECOVER from a workout for it to be useful. Well, this week I carefully, VERY carefully experiemented with a little Clubbell or kettlebell work before yoga. A couple of weeks ago I started experimenting with doing a few Hindu Squts and Pushups IN the heated yoga room.
Today, I did a little of body. The idea is to do no more than 15 minutes of kettlebell or Clubbell (or less) and then as many Hindu Pushups as I can do in the yoga room, and double that number of squats. Then survive yoga. The next day---Five Minute Miracle (using Body-Flow variations), with Warrior Wellness and Silat ONLY. Don't push the tissues. In other words--pure active recovery day. I felt like superman after class. it was terrific.
1) I figured that the heat would reduce my endurance so much that any Hindus I did were worth twice the actual count, while not taxing my joint and tendon recovery as much.
2)the KB and CB work "pre-exhausts" me for the Yoga, making it more effective as an endurance builder.
3) The Yoga is active recovery from the KB/CB work, guaranteeing me a deep, healing night's sleep.
4) I confess it's actually good, evil fun to watch the people suffering around me in Yoga, because they have no idea what I put myself through before I even got there. Does my old heart good. When I see people half my age crawling out of the room....well, sniff, I get all sentimental inside...
Really, really interesting. Keep you posted!
Posted by Steven Barnes at 12:24 PM