I might almost wonder if the MPAA was asleep at the switch on this one...Saw II, the sequel to the 2004 sleeper horror film, is one of the grisliest, bloodiest pieces of work I've ever seen get an "R" rating. This is definitely NOT your mommy's PG-13 horror film, I kid you not. The original film, a minor masterpiece of indy, not-for-the-squeamish terror dealing with two men chained in a basement, while Danny Glover tries to figure out what's going on, had one of the neatest twists I've ever seen, and that's saying a lot. While "Saw II" has its twists (and at least one of 'em is a humdinger" this tale of six (I think) folks trapped in a house after being doused with nerve gas, stuggling to find an exit, while Donnie Wahlberg (in a straight-ahead performance as a burned out cop) tries to rescue his son (one of the six) by interrogating "Jigsaw," the mastermind behind this whole mess, kept me hopping, and on the edge of my seat, and actually wincing at some of the action. I'd have a difficult time justifying the morality of something like this, but have to admit I had a great time. For lovers of the genre, give it a B+. All others should think twice before buying tickets!
Friday, October 28, 2005
I've had a number of people ask me my opinion of these two fantastic tools, and I wanted to address that question directly. Personally, I own both, and love them. But I would weight them slightly differently, depending upon the intent of the user. In whatever case, however, the difference is in the 5-10% range, nothing drastic.
1) For martial arts, racquet sports, baseball-softball, or any sport requiring special grip strength, the clubbell reigns supreme. The long leverage allows you to create torque like you wouldn't believe. I think the CB has about a 10% advantage over Kettlebells here. Let me tell you--the Clubbell Bruiser, a 45-pound monster, has to be experienced to be believed.
2) For the general fitness seeker, kettlebells may be superior by about 5%. They allow you to trash your cardio system without testing the "weak link" of your wrists to the same extreme degree. It also delivers a different sensation, one that I associate more with "fitness" than "strength-skill"
Most importantly, both tools provide endless variation and experimentation, which in my mind is critical to a sustained physical regimin. If you can find a way to engage your creativity as you explore your body-mind connection, you are far more likely to keep your practice alive.
That said, if I could ONLY have one tool, it would probably be the Bruiser. You can create a cardio effect like you wouldn't believe, unreal grip strength, leverage strength to put a smile on an old-time strongman's face, and power arcs to turn your throws and blows into real bone-crushers. Heh heh. Once again, just my opinion. Either tool can transform your life.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:54 AM
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Yesterday, my daughter whupped my butt in our exercise session. I was encouraging her to wake up earlier in the day (a college student, she sometimes sleeps till noon, bless her!) and as a reward, I let her plan our workout. As many of you know, she's been working with her baby fat since we got down here to L.A. Anyone with a teenaged daughter who has a few extra pounds knows that you have to approach this gingerly: she can't associate her self-worth with the weight, or feel that her discipline or success here have anything to do with my love or regard for her. Simultaneously, I needed to motivate her, because I KNEW what kind of body she wanted. Just by looking at the hot guys she has posters of in her room, I knew that she wasnted to be a woman who is just as desirable on a physical level. One should live up to one's own standards! So it's been a push, and I figured that the best thing would be for me to go on any eating plan right with her, and coach and exercise with her, and help her get to yoga class.
I've implied that a break-through has occurred in my understanding of certain fitness elements. I'll go into it at greater depth later, but lets just say that I've devised an exercise routine which, in 45 minutes, seems equivilent to 90 minutes of Bikram Yoga--you know, the hot room stuff? Very interesting. A mixture of Warrior Wellness, the "Eclipse" exercises devised by Coach Sonnon (they will be available on DVD soon. I'm still testing them, but I think he has done a brilliant job of synthesizing a system almost as deep as yoga or Tai Chi, but learnable in two hours! Man oh man, I love Scott. For those who don't know, he's at www.rmax.tv) and kettlebells. When I combined these three things, the quality of my workouts seemed to shift drastically, but I still need more testing. Believe me, if I continue to be impressed by the results, I'll share everything, and as fast as I can.
Anyway, Nicki's been doing great. She has accepted a higher level of physical discipline, and loves the feeling of her clothes getting loose on her (even though sometimes the scale doesn't change!) so yesterday, I let her choose the workout. She wanted to play Cards with me. That's the protocol where you shuffle a deck of cards and then designate a different exercise for each suit or color. Flip the cards one at a time, and do that number of that exercise. If you choose exercises carefully, you can get one monster of a workout, and it can be a rediculous amount of evil fun.
Well, she chose Hindu Squats for the red cards, Hindu Pushups for the black cards, and Eclipse for the Face Cards. Sounded interesting. We began, with Warrior Wellness (as always), and then began Cards, aiming for 30 minutes. Good Lord. Now, we were doing this side by side, but Nicki modifies her exercises to make them easier (an easier version of Eclipse, and Hindu Pushups from her knees.) All I'll say is that the combined sensation was completely unexpected. My gym was cold, and we were dripping sweat within minutes, every muscle in our bodies screaming for mercy. But oddly, we were laughing, exercising to good music, making jokes about our suffering. At 25 minutes Nicki called "quit" and I was grateful. Yeah, I could have gutted it out, or made my versions easier, but I was hurtin'. In a good way.
All day long I felt the "buzz" of the effect, and couldn't believe how powerful that short little workout had been. But the cream came last night, when my daughter ran into the room to show us...her abs. There, beneath a thinning wall of fat, was the beginning of a six-pack. For the very first time in her life, Nicki is beginning to touch the far edge of her true, mature body. She was thrilled. I was thrilled. All this and straight A's too. Daddy is just so proud. Oh, and by the way...Tananarive and I watched her perform a scene from "As You Like It" in her "Acting Shakespeare" class Tuesday. She was wonderful, and we taped it for her to send up to her Mom Toni this weekend.
Life is just exceptionally good right now.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:18 AM
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Now we're at the heart space, which represents emotion. This is the fourth level, beyond survival, sexuality, and power. In other words, when we no longer fear pain (survival), have our sensual needs satisfied, and feel that we have some control in our lives, we begin to seek deeper emotional connections with ourselves and our fellow human beings. One really interesting thing I heard once concerning chakras was "you can awaken your Kundalini from the root up, or from the heart out, but never from the top down." What in the world could that mean?
To me, it means that you can build your map of the world from the most basic physical levels--survival, pain, pleasure. When we've mastered that, and learned to please ourselves, and learned to have some control over ourselves and our environments, we have learned a huge amount about the world, and our "maps" are accurate enough to survive the turmoil of the heart. As we learn to integrate our needs into a reciprocal relationship, combining sexual and security needs, a gigantic amount of negotiation and communication ensues. And more importantly, I think we take our first step into a truely larger world--the world where Other is as important as Self.
We can also begin to relate to the world on the basis of love. That sense of connection can guide us through much of the conceptual wilderness that devils humanity: what shall I do? What is right? Every religion I know has the answer that begins with love: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Yes, if you're suicidal or masochistic one might have a non-optimal result from such a dictate, but I can think of no other that is as widely applicable, generally healthy, and contributes to a healthy society. Even if you said "do unto others as they would have you do unto them," in many cases you are left to wonder what the other person might want...and forced to make your best guess, based on your own needs and wants and desires. Ultimately, it comes back to knowing ourselves and extending empathy to others.
the heart, then, is a safe place to start. But what might it mean to never awaken our vital forces "from the top down?" To me, that means that to attempt to directly approach spirit is folly. Personally, I love the "householder" vision of spiritual growth, where a man or woman completes their education, starts a business, marries, raises the family, and only then when the children are old enough to take over the business, begin an ascetic, wandering life of the spirit. I've seen few things screw people up more than chasing spiritual enlightenment without ever having mastered the lower levels.
One of those few things that screws people up as badly is trying to "understand" life from an intellectual perspective...again, before the more basic levels have been mastered. God, I spent so many years in the company of hugely intelligent, unsuccessful people who talked a great game, had all the theories about life you could want, but couldn't accomplish any of their dreams, couldn't sustain a healthy relationship, couldn't control their physical hungers. But boy, did they ever know how to run the world! It was so incredibly sad. Literally, they wasted their lives because they didn't pay attention to the objective evidence that something was terribly wrong with their grasp of reality. Any worm will try to move away from pain. When humans fail to do this, one cannot attribute it to lack of intellect. Something else is going on.
Applying this idea to fictional characters is easy. "Forrest Gump" deals with a young man of great physical gifts (his running) and an extraordinarily open and loving heart. His intellect is negligible, but still he hobnobs with the great and powerful, becomes a multimillionare, a decorated war hero, and gets everything in life one could want...with the exception of the girl he loved his whole life. A beautiful film, the one that made Tom Hanks' career, and one could easily look at it as an odd, comic tragedy about the strength of the human heart.
What is the emotional makeup of your lead character? What do they need and want? Or even more tellingly, what is YOUR greatest emotional need? Wound? Strength? Where have some of your deepest yearnings taken you in life? What have you learned? There isn't a single major emotional incident in your entire life that can't be used to create greater depth of character, greater unity of purpose and action in your stories.
What stories, films, or books can you think of that seem, to you, to be dominated by emotional needs, by the heart space?
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:12 AM
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
A reader asked me to throw my hat in the ring with an analysis of Bush, so here goes:
I would say this in chakra analysis of Bush: while an intelligent man, he seems to be the least intellectual president of my lifetime. He seems to operate on pure instinct, and "heart"--but isn't that understandable? If you were born into such a fail-safe position in life, wouldn't you feel blessed? You'd know your accomplishments weren't due to your own efforts, but rather those of your ancestors, or perhaps just getting the divine nod. Certainly, you wouldn't trust your own mind as much as you would "listen" for the voice of God in your head. He seems to be very good at binding women to him. Both Condi and Harriett seem to have emotional resonses to him more appropriate to lovers or husbands than Presidents. This suggests to me that he is strongly sexual, but probably channels it in an openly ethical fashion (monogamy) while flirting like crazy in an "only kidding" fashion. We know he is extremely physical, all that running and weight lifting and so forth. He strikes me as having a very open heart, and a spiritual bent. I think he believes much of what he says, sees himself as the guardian Father of the American dream, and trusts the people around him to a fault. How else could he spend so much time on vacation? His employees at the White House are some kind of surrogate family, with Cheney as Daddy, and probably Rove as big brother or Mentor/Uncle figure.
My honest impression is that this is a "good guy." A "nice guy." I just think that the Peter Principle has kicked in something fierce, and this man is just out of his depth, and has gathered around him a group of people who, frankly, are smarter than he, but less honest. They feed him what he wants to hear.
I think Iraq, seen from this light, was motivated by a tangle of ideas:
1) Crush a sovereign country as an example that no one in the world should mess with us, or harbor our enemies...if we even THINK you helped kill Americans, we will drag you out of your palace and execute you.
2) Get a solid American presence in the Middle East (we might be losing Saudi Arabia!)
3) Remember #1? Look at Saudi Arabia. Clearly, they were infinitely more complicit in 9/11 than Iraq. But we can't attack them--they hold too much of our financial paper, and considering the number of holy sites there, it would enflame the Muslim world. Notice that we attacked one of the only sectarian regimes? Think that was an accident?
4) Of course there is oil, but as we've seen, the best way to make money isn't direct theft. It is to support gigantic infrastructure rebuilding, and give out no-bid contracts to your friends, with insufficient oversite. When billions are being spent, syphoning off millions isn't hard. Corruption is as natural as the cook taking first taste in the kitchen. You find it anywhere in the world that there are resources to horde. So pure money-hunger HAS to be factored in, even if one thinks it a minor motivation.
5) Here's a nasty one. If Bush is as much a Christian as he says, then deep inside he HAS to consider Islam to be, well, just wrong. And to have a subtle but inerasable contempt for the culture. Remember Ann Coulter talking about how we should "kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity"? Do you think that she invented that bit of horror all on her leggy own? I think not. I think that was lurking just behind the curtain on much of the decision-making here. That "our culture is superior" is another universal human trait. And when you have power to back it up, it's easy to believe your own b.s.
So there it is. Bush is strongly sexual, but consciously channels it into monogamy and charisma. He is quite physical, but I think it might be armor against something of an inferiority/daddy complex. His heart is more open than his head, creating problems when he tries to communicate (public speaking) in any non-scripted way. And spiritually, his eye is on the sparrow as he trods rather blindly on less lofty creatures.
Just my thoughts. Of course, I could be wrong.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:52 AM
Monday, October 24, 2005
My daughter loved this film. I found myself struggling to say something nice about it. The story of Domino Harvey, the privileged daughter of actor Laurence Harvey ("The Manchurian Candidate") who became a bounty hunter in Los Angeles, is director Tony Scott's attempt to make some kind of truth out of what was obviously a drug-befuddled, adrenaline-junkie, utterly amoral twit of a doomed soul's story. The fact that Scott claims to be surprised by her "accidental" overdose says that he had absolutely no understanding of this troubled young woman. Are we supposed to overlook the utter lack of regard for human life displayed by these people living in a moral shadowland? I could care about the faux-family she builds for herself (with Micky Roarke as her surrogate father and mentor in the bounty game) until they show that they are just as repugnantly violent as the people they are dragging in. There's no center of good, so what we're left with is ultimately our own complicity in their actions. Just how amused are we by casual mutilations? Well, in my case, considerably. But I don't mistake the mutilators for heroes. About he time her "love interest" Chaco shotgun's a man's arm off just because someone on a phone told him to...no, wait, he told Domino to have it done, and Chaco does it without hesitation...no, wait, it was a MISUNDERSTOOD order, you see, it wasn't their fault...
No, wait. The entire thing is so obviously a tissue of lies and confused, egocentric fever dreams as she is wound up in a "caper" involving a crooked bail-bondsman trying to raise money for a child's operation (that's right--everything is o.k. because it was all for "the children.") and Domino, who has never killed anyone, suddenly becomes Rambo at the proper moment. She effortlessly swings between lap-dancing and Nunchaku-wielding at the drop of a hat, because she "has no fear of death."
All right. But what to make of her, and the path she walked? On the hero's Journey, it would be clear that within the text of the film, everything ends with an incredibly pat and unearned "happy ending" that completely eluded her in real life. I am tempted to wonder if director Scott wasn't being a bit more disingenuous, whether he sensed the rot at the core of her spirit, and pretended to be pulled in to tell a story shaded by his intuitive grasp of her inevitiable self-destruction. Not sure. But she failed any conceivable leap of faith or maturation point, and what we are left with is a juvenile lack of self-examination, ultimately as sad as anything I've seen in quite a long time. It's a C-, and I struggle not to give "Domino" even less. But ultimately, that would be whipping a dog that's already died. Just sort of sad, really.
How does your character make his way in the world? And the first three levels combined make up the “Belly Brain,” the realm of the physical. It is time to be very certain that you know the PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION AND BODY COMPOSITION OF your character. Is this person athletic? Stoop-shouldered? Physically confident? And what exactly are your theories of how people become this way? Genetic gift? Training? What combination of these? How about other factors? Where do you believe that emotions interact with the body? Does her body display anger? Fear? Lust? And speaking of that, let’s take a look at the way that physical power interacts with the previous two arenas: sex and survival. When a human being has been brutalized, or pushed to an extreme physically, they can easily develop a shell around the “wounds”. That shell can be fat…or it can be muscle. There are (literally!) tons of body-builders who have plated armor around a small, frightened child. Martial arts skills can function much the same way (ever wonder why martial artists don’t seem to be able to act? Here’s the reason. They have learned to hide their real emotions, while actors must learn to express them).
Movies dealing strongly with these first three chakras, with an emphasis on “body” would be:
1) Almost anything by Stallone (except the 1st Rocky, which strongly engaged the Heart chakra)
2) “Basic Instinct” uses survival, sex, and physicality. Does anyone mistake those sexual bouts for love scenes? No…this is sex as an extreme sport, with the danger just adding spice. No heart engagement at all.
3) “La Femme Nikita” roots in these first chakras, but ultimately creates a context in which Nikita can explore her damaged emotions a bit.
4) Most James Bond movies. There is little intellectual action, and very little emotion going on. It’s all flash and tease, with sex substituting for heart. Pierce Brosnan added a touch of genuine longing to the role—Bond is a man who cannot have a real relationship, and knows he will die alone. But in general, adolescent boys are encouraged to believe in the fantasy of a self-sufficient man who can walk through hell untouched. Whatever Bond is, he is not a human being.
What other films have you seen that deal with these first three chakras?
Friday, October 21, 2005
ah, let's go back to when Steve was nineteen years old. I'd promised myself that I would "score" before I left my teens, and was running out of options. My mother had sold a house to a local big-wig (whose name I will not mention) and his sister had told me, in no uncertain terms, "I'm a nympho, Steve. Come over any time and get some." Ahem.
Well, one Friday night I showed up at her doorstep, and she let me in. Call her "Fedex", 'cause she certainly delivered me unto a brand new time-zone. We flirted for a bit, and smooched for a bit, and then she looked at me a bit cock-eyed (ahem) and said, "Steven Barnes, are you in a lovin' mood?" Well, I certainly was, so she said "let it be!" And off with the clothes.
I wish I could say that I performed like a stallion. Well, yeah, if that stallion was a miler, 'cause it was over in about a minute. I talked the whole time to cover my nervousness, and left as soon as I could afterward, filled with both relief, excitement, and a certain sense of loss. Even after all these years, there is a part of me that tries to sort out those emotions, and why there was a sadness mixed in. I suspect that I could feel that powerful post-coital pull afterwards, that urge to bond. And there was nothing to bond to. No relationship. No real friendship, just the heat. I wanted to shout that there was something special here, that I had arrived, that an entire new chapter of my life had begun. Instead, I felt a bit queasy. Strange.
With the passage of years, I created a set of rules that governed my sexual relationships: I would always try to treat women the way I'd want someone to treat my sister, mother, or daughter. I would always try to at least be a friend. There have been times I let myself down, hurt someone inadvertantly. Sigh. I could be, and have been, completely oblivious to what ladies were actually feeling, and made poor choices as a result, but in all but one single case in my entire life, I'm still on friendly terms with every woman I've ever been intimate with, and that's a blessing. Why? Because I genuinely love 'em, I genuinely think that sexuality is a blessing to be shared, that it is unutterably delicious, and I never wanted to feel that sense of dis-connection that I felt with Fedex again. It was painful. I wanted to be able to laugh, and celebrate...even if there wasn't some deep eternal bonding.
Years passed, and I had the blessing of actually studying Native American sexual practises, a chance to put orgasm in the context of spiritual growth, and to learn to tap into that energy directly. Wow. I can't begin to count the number of times I've brushed up against my real beliefs in this arena in my writing...but have still never quite gotten it right, but will keep trying. But it all goes back to that first night, when a woman who made me a plain, unvarnished offer moved a nineteen-year-old boy from one side of the line to another. I hope she is happy in her life, and loved, and nurtured, and happy with her days and the path she has walked. But more, I wish I knew. I wish I had cared enough about her to follow up, and didn't have that vague sense of embarassment about what my first time was. I wish we'd been in love, even a little bit. Or even friends.
But more than anything, I wish I'd met her earlier. So much for spirituality.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:00 AM
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Sexuality. Can you think of anything else that is so much fun that botches us up as much? I know of otherwise happily married men who can't get past the fact that there will always be new women unplucked. Women who make one horrific choice after anothr in their intimate lives, and slowly kill their hearts. People who got married because of a pregnancy, and spent the next twenty years hating their lives. Ugh. How much guilt, pain, joy, regret...how about a woman I know, sexually denied by her husband, who fell in love with the voices of Right-Wing radio guys, because they were the only male voices she could "interact" with? The guy who let himself believe that sexual attraction to a 14-year old girl was an indication that she was brilliant and mature and capable of deciding when to have intercourse. He's now in jail in New Mexico, his life shattered.
And yet...some of the very greatest memories of my entire life have been sexual in nature. New friends, old friends converted...spontaneous actions, well-planned rendevous...intimacy and group gropes...good lord, there's just too much, and every one has a different meaning and a different story. I'm tell one on myself tomorrow. But does anyone out there have a good one today?
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:42 AM
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
This is going to be fun, I think. As some of you have noticed, I have a new product advertised on the blog. Trust me--I'm not going to start holding back in these writings trying to get you to buy something. In fact, what I really want is to create an entirely different promotional stream for the "Lifewriting Year Long" so that you folks, who have tolerated my rantings for the last years, actually get marketed to LESS. The reasoning is this: quite often on this blog I talk about social issues. Every time I do, the number of readrs jumps. To me, it would be swinish to reference natural disasters, racism and the like just to try to attract people ot sell to. Ugh. Feels wrong. Yet I want to talk about these things, and I also like to run my business. My solution--to build this community, here, with as personal a series of discussions as possible. Yes, I'm proud of the Five Minute Miracle. I'm even prouder of the Year-Long course. but this blog is where I vent, and I want to keep it as pure as possible.
The core of Lifewriting is the concept of connecting the inner and outer worlds of the artist. So let's take a real down-to-earth practical look at how we can do that. The First chakra is Muladhara, and represents core survival. Take someone's head and stick it underwater, and the lack of oxygen will instantly trigger this response: powerful, irrational, every engine of the human psyche revved up and roaring in seconds. Think you know someone who lacks motivation? Nonsense. What you know is someone who doesn't believe that their efforts will accomplish anything worth having. In other words, they
1) have no clear, empowering goal or
2) Have no belief that they can reach their goal.
In fiction, since the very beginning, survival goals have moved characters out of their doldrums and into action. I can't count the stories--real or fictional--where the discovery of a serious ailment has motivated a character to drop YEARS of family hostility and strive for re-connection. This is what we really are, beings that crave connection. The fear and anger that separates us from the people we love is usually based on triviality. Near-death experience clears this stuff up beautifully. So...what have you experienced in your own life that touches this space? Ever had a...
1) near-fatal car accident? How did you behave for the next week?
2) REALLY bad plane landing? What did you think about during the descent?
3) A "mystery" ailment that had doctors and nurses giving you "those" looks? How did you spend your time waiting for the test results?
4) Close friend die unexpectedly? How did you react? What thoughts about yourself flashed or lingered in your mind? What did you think about things unsaid?
5) Have either or both of your parents died? I promise you, this is a powerful eye-opener. When both of your parents die, it is as if an unknown room opens in your mind, and suddenly you GET IT, that you are going to die, too. You can't deceive yourself about it, and that realization can come with shocking clarity.
6) Had a child become terribly sick? What ran through your head as you sat at their bedside? How did you deal with stresses at work? What new perspectives were yours?
there are countless other examples of what happens to us when death's fickle finger brushes our spine. We are terrified of death, but when we are forced into confrontation with us, we often find that that contact lends an eerie clarity to other aspects of our lives. Hoe many movies and books have we seen where personal relationships, formerly complicated, get very simple under life-and-death stress? (Die Hard, The River Wild, Terms of Endearment, etc.)
Why not take one of the instances you've had of grief, or fear, or exhilaration, and give that gift---or curse--to a character in a story? What would you say to someone mourning the death of a parent, or a child, or dealing with a terminal ailment? Whatever that is, believe me, you can use that thought as a primary or secondary plot point quite easily. A character who is too cocky, too sure, can be brought to earth swiftly by makign their son or daughter ill. There is nothing quite so powerless as a parent with a sick child.
Again, over the course of your life you have been forced into contact with death again and again. What happened? What did you learn? It was his initial contact with death and illness that set the Buddha on the road to enlightenment. What did it do for you? What movies and books have you experienced that touched this space with grace and power? Who dealt with it in a trivial, superficial fashion?
I invite you to dig. The ocean of life and death is limitless. From this perspective, all human life is both triumph and tragedy, depending on your perspective. What IS your perspective? Let's probe this a bit, and then move up to the next chakra!
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:59 AM
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
I am deeply touched by the notes from the VSAA students, and watned to bring all of this back around to the major point of this blog. Yes, I talk about what I see in the world, but it's all in the service of helping to explore the thought patterns of one obsessed with balance (that's me). Male/female, black/white, right/left, etc. And, most importantly inside/outside. It is the task of the artist to find a way to connect the inner and outer worlds. The inner world of the soul, the emotions, the heart, and the outer world of skill and commerce and communication. There is simply no substitute for the daily deepening of this connection, and the daily commitment to both truth and the path ahead. I'm going to be starting a seven-part series about this connection in just a couple of days, but thought it important to explain why this is the most important thing you can do.
There are no guarantees in life, or art. Tomorrow is not owed us. Therefore, we must live every single day as if it is the last day we will ever have. Our friends, allies, and loved ones each stand at the center of their own worlds, seeing everything in existence from their own perspective. In order to honor them, we MUST grasp that their hopes, dreams, and pains are not so different from our own. Only such an understanding allows each and every one of them to be unique and beautiful in her own way. Only this can motivate us to dig beyond the easy answers, and find the difficult truths. Can keep us working late at night and get us up early in the morning, eager for another day of rigor. Only a deep and abiding love for our own potential, and the ability to see ourselves in the audience, the consumer of our work, can we address commerse without prostituting ourselves. The world is us. Art is the spiritual blood of the world. We must create, or die. We must tell the truth of our own existence, or our lives are in vain. We must lift up our fellows, or be lost in the abyss, alone forever.
We must create. We must tell the truth.
We must, or lose ourselves, forever.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:41 AM
Monday, October 17, 2005
Last week I had the honor of lecturing at the School of Arts and Academics in Vancouver, Washington. I have to tell you that it is a slightly disorienting experience, walking in through the front doors and watching kids line up to play classical music on a hall piano. Susan, my contact, has been there for over ten years, and can remember only one fight. Kids smile and hold hands as they walk through the halls, and this grade 7-12 school is, in many ways, the very best I have ever seen. Classes in dance, music, performance, video and art braid with traditional math, history, and science. It's like an episode of "Fame" come to life. I understand that this is special, a "magnet" school that kids compete to get into, but the aura is so darned positive, the kids so eager to learn, that it makes me wonder what would be necessary to give more kids this opportunity, to lift more institutions of learning to this level.
I have to think that a major reason that VSAA is so successful is that the kids want to be there. They can visualize a future in the arts, and understand that this school is helping them move along their road of Trials. That the teachers are their Allies, offering opportunities to refine their Powers and abilities. That perspective is missing in most educational experiences. In most cases, the kids are there because their parents told them to go. the students have on ly the vaguest sense of how their studies will translate to real-world happiness and success. "Just do it," we tell them. And the parents who tell them to go are not in jobs that make them happy. Their teachers often aren't happy, feelign underpaid and overworked. What exactly do students have to be happy about?
If you are the parent of a high school kid, the best thing you can possibly do is find contentment in your own life, to be workign toward your own dream. Then, and only then, will your children feel that if they follow in your footsteps, if they listen to your words, they have an excellent chance of fulfilling their deepest dreams. It is when we feel we are "becoming" that we are happiest and healthiest. It is then that we can teach, and parent, when we can legitimately say "follow me" and mean, with every fiber of our being, that it is possible to be the Hero in the adventure of our own lifetimes. This is Lifewriting...this is everything that I've been teaching for the last decade. Those kids at VSAA can see their future in front of them, and know that it is bright, and that every step they take is bringing them closer. That is why they sing in the halls. That is why they smile, and why they are so easy to teach. Their teachers love to teach. Their parents support their dreams. The way ahead is clear.
Don't all our children deserve as much? Don't we all?
Posted by Steven Barnes at 11:42 AM
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Not from my point of view. They do tend to be high-Alpha types who see the world in slightly black-and-white terms. And like anyone who deals in a world of victims and predators, they tend toward a bleak view of the world. but I believe that most of them started out wanting to protect "their" community. And here is where things can go wrong, racially. Stress these guys out, and their real feelings--not the socially constructed politeness--comes to the surface. These beatings we've seen are, I have to think, examples of the way high-testosterone types would love to treat each other, if that pesky law didn't get in the way. Yes, it's brutal, and sometimes deadly, and reprehensible. But there's a reason why there are referees and judges in every sport, and penalties for fouls. These aggressive types will break rules. They play by instinct. In a low-light environment, where they have a fraction of a second to act, they will act according to their deepest psychological leanings...much like people deciding what movie they'll see or won't see. So, just as one measure of social equality and real healing will be when black men can have sex in movies, and it doesn't hurt the box office, another, more dreadful sign will be when one is equally likely to see black cops beating white perps as white cops whooping on black perps.
This is, quite purely, a matter of cultural privilege, to be able to see and feel oneself the center of the universe. OF COURSE this is an unenlightened point of view, but virtually by definition, few people are enlightened--if there were more of 'em, the world would be a better place.
Maslow's Heirarchy of needs--and the Chakras--suggest that until lower needs are satisfied, you can't (or are less likely to)evolve on to the higher levels. Little white boys and girls can believe they are safe, and protected, and special, and the center of the universe at a far higher rate than non-whites. This gives them a foundation upon which to develop healthy emotions, and security, and move to a higher level, where compassion, love, creativity, intellectual freedom, and spirituality can be found. Without this foundation of egotistical self-love, it is difficult. The ego of babies, that balance of helplessness and "I am God!" is legendary. Yes, this is primarily the responsibility of the parents. Yet and still, every culture on this planet plays "secondary parent" providing vast amounts of feedback saying "yes! you are special!" and the children see that reflected back to them from every direction. At its best, this provides a foundation for maturity. At its worse, it produces egotistical monsters. Cops live in a twilight world, and are both some of the most aggressive among us, and walk in an environment most likely to trigger that latent aggression. Just as a culture can be measured by the way it treats the most helpless, it can also be measured by the transgressions of the most powerful. While I don't measure all cops by the actions of a few, I have never known A SINGLE BLACK COP who didn't talk privately about the culture of racism in his department. What? Not a single one? could they ALL be wrong? But then isn't that saying that all white cops are racist? Or all whites? No, back up for a moment. What is really being said is that racism lurks in the human heart, and among the most aggressive--the very ones we need the most, at certain times and situations--this tendency is not only common, but damned near necessary.
Several of the readers talked about the anger they feel around cops. Don't you get it? What you are actually experiencing is fear, and your mind converts it to anger so that you won't be paralyzed. Anger is better than fear, peace better than anger, love better than peace. It is a step in the right direction. But you'd better grasp that those cops are in terror of those black people. Terror. And the anger and violence they project is their defense from their own weakness. And they are afraid, and have been afraid for 400 years, knowing what would happen if the social roles were ever reversed. Black culture has been astonishingly forgiving (the non-violent Civil right movement in America. The "Truth and Reconciliation" trials in South Africa) but that is, in part, because more violent action simply wouldn't have succeeded as well. I maintain that what we face in these cops is what we are--both angels and killer apes. If we own both, we will never be surprised by our behaviors, the children can be safe, and we can keep our eyes on the way ahead. But if we believe we are angels, we will be continuously surprised by the horrendous actions of a few still mired in the muck. And if we think human beings are merely killer apes, we nurture the capacity for brutality in the Nth degree whenever the cameras are off. It is in accepting both ends of the Chakras that we understand ourselves, can heal our wounds, can forgive ourselves and others.
But remember--forgiving does not, and has never implied forgetting.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:05 AM
SF giant John Varley sent me this link. The idea of someone telling me that I can't protect my own work, which feeds my family, makes me far beyond angry. Perhaps you guys can offer a perspective on this matter. To me, the fact that technology makes it easy to steal doesn't justify the theft.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:43 AM
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
The above link will take you to one of the articles, dealing with an allegedly drunken 64-year old black man beaten by several cops, apparently without resisting. The cops went on to abuse a news crew producer. All are under suspension. I think that boths apologists and activists can ave a field day, talking about exhausted police pushed past ordinary human limits, etc. And activists talking about a pervasive climate of racial oppression. I sympathize with both points of view, but...
Is it just me, or is it odd that I've NEVER seen comparable video footage of, say, several black cops beating the hell out of a white perp? How in the hell, statistically, could that be avoided? I can't believe that news crews wouldn't want to tape it. Are they just smart enough not to beat a white person with the camera rolling? Are we to believe that white people simply don't act in amanner that would make a reasonable cop beat his head in? Or that only white cops are racially corrupt, or what?
The Lifewriting position on all of this is that, from the beginning of our country, white police officers have not only had permission to do this, but have been subtly encouraged by a lack of criminal penalties. During slavery and the following Jim Crow days, it was simply business as usual--a way of keeping the serving class in its place. Following slavery, there was a need to keep the social order as tightly controlled as possible--both to protect the economic and social order, and to prevent any thought of retaliation for 300 years of oppression. The mythology that blacks were less intelligent and moral was necessary to justify the economic institution, and outlived slavery itself...it remains woven tightly into the popular culture (I remember an Encyclopedia Britannica article from about 1945 stating this explicitly. Man, what a bummer THAT was to read!). Look at popular culture--remember that sexuality in film conversation we've been having? That only white men get to engage in reproductive activity, and that if you cross that line you risk your box office? That's a direct relation to the same phenomenon. Used to be that you could be certain that the black guy would die--an extraordinarily honest expression of this same urge.
What do I think goes on here? I think that whites are subtly and not-so-subtly taught, from the cradle, that they are the lords of the universe, and that all other groups are less than them. Now, there's nothing particularly startling or evil about this. EVERYBODY tells their children this...in a natural situation. But black Americans have been programmed for 400 years to think they are less-than, and to be very, very careful about their interactions with white people. No black cop would think he could beat the hell out of a white man without risk of prosecution. Not ever in American history could a black cop have been naive enough to believe this. But white cops have been told this, and shown this, forever. Black Americans have screamed that cops bust their heads ever since emancipation, and America didn't want to believe it--or didn't care. When video began to show it as a reality, there was a real disconnect. I remember after Rodney King, there was a persistent rumor that there was additional video footage, repressed by the Liberal Media, showing King behaving like Conan the Barbarian, such that the cops wre acting out of mortal terror of this insane, gigantic, invulnerable black man. Boy oh boy, do I remember certain white folks of my acquaintence clinging to THAT image, desperately trying to believe that the "Thin Blue Line" would never abuse its power, despite evidence from all over the world, probably going back to the first Roman Centurian who busted a Pict's head and received a pat on the back. This is human nature, a natural expression of power in an unequal situation, and bless those news crews for forcing the world to watch.
And so those cops, who would have been winked at a generation ago, are going on trial, and probably wondering what they did wrong, why everyone doesn't understand that that old man had no value, that that's the way you HAVE to treat "his kind" or you can't keep "those people" in line. There is no place for attitudes like that, but I hope you can all understand exactly why this happens, and what it means for our own individual responsiblity to be vigilent. Where in your life do you abuse your power? Where do you allow yourself to put large numbers of people into groups and simply label them? Where do you allow yourself to justify the immoral simply because you don't believe you'll be caught and punished?
And to relate all of this to writing, who can't see the material for a good book or story in this? As cultural mores change, the high-testostrone Alpha-males who patrol our streets and fight for us tend to make snap decisions under high stress and with little sleep. In essence, they become what we really are, not what we want to believe ourselves to be. They treat those Iraquis like the sand niggers so many people whisper of under their breaths. They beat the heads out of old porch monkeys, and brag on the radios about "big time use of force tonight." They are us. Don't turn away. Unless you heal the holes in your own hearts, unless you take responsibility for your own guilt and pain, you too will be part of the mindless, marching, hateful hordes who have perpetuated racism and war throughout human history...all the while wondering why you get a trial instead of a parade. We are the guards at Abu Gharib. We are the cops in New Orleans.
I hope they get the book thrown at them. I hope just as hard that we can see ourselves in their faces. If not, we'll simply spawn a newer, subtler generation of hate-mongers. They are us. Hope to God they're not our children, as well.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:10 AM
Monday, October 10, 2005
A phenomenal, how-did-they-get-that-made type film starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz as a British diplomat and his activist wife thrown into the economic/political maelstrom of contemporary Africa. My wife's first reaction was that she didn't want to see it, that it, like "The Interpreter," would end up being another film about Africa with no Africans in it, something we both find rather offensive. But that isn't true. Africa herself is an important character, and her people, in all their various nobility, brilliance, ignorance, and poverty, are central. Based on a novel by John Le Carre, "Gardener" seems to be almost a documentary, dealing with pharmaceutical companies making vast profits off shoddy drugs in Africa, and willing to kill to protect secrets. And those secrets...wow. And the director, damned near one-upping his fabulous work on "City of God," stole scenes in one of the poorest and most intimidating ghettos I've ever seen, creating a sense of reality that takes hold and won't let go. This is an important film, part of a collage of early 21st-century wealth and power as the 3rd World scrambles for its share of the pie, and Industrialized nations strive to develop a conscience. Heartbreaking and ultimately deeply troubling, offering no easy answers and a slightly pat ending, Constant Gardener is ultimately a love story...between a man and a woman, a woman and a continent, and an audience and a bleak vision of post-Colonialism. Wow. Give it an "A"
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:59 AM
"...at what point do you think a new writer should begin to focus on rewriting?"
Here is the process:
1) Write a first draft in Week #1.
2) Write a second story in Week #2.
3) Write a third story in Week #3. Polish Story #1 as well.
4) Write a fourth story in Week #4. Polish Story #2...
and so on.
This process is designed to burn the basic story elements into your subconscious at a very deep level indeed. the week-long gap between 1st draft and rewrite enables you to "cleanse your palate" and approach the story with fresh eyes.
But specifically, you can concentrate on re-writing at any time. Just don't neglect that original writing as well. You are all autonomous, free, thinking human beings and can take actions contrary to my suggestions any time. If you felt it was critical, you could take a week and practise re-writing. But I would seriously suggest writing 1st draft three days a week, and re-writing 2-3 days a week, alternate days. Let one part of your brain rest while you work other aspects. This can work spectacularly well, allowing me to produce large amounts of finished work with a minimum of stress. And excellence comes only from volume work, performed with an eye to constant improvement. So it is important not to get "stuck" at any level of the process. For you fiction writers, remember:
1) Write a story a week, or a story every other week.
2) Put them in the mail
3) Keep them in the mail until they sell.
4) Don't re-write (again) except to editorial request.
A time will come when you feel you have a story that needs deeper re-writing. If you have confidence that taking the additional time isn't a distraction from your production scedual, then go right ahead. But be careful--endless re-writing is just procrastination, masquerading as quality control.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:50 AM
Friday, October 07, 2005
I'm in the final rewrite for Great Sky Woman, and what I see is tht I have many of the pieces, the overall flow is only intermittantly free and deep. The trick now is to look at what is missing: deep character, increased sensory awareness, thematic elements woven smoothly, poetics of imagery and language...there is just so much to do. So here's are three things to think about in the middle of rewriting:
1) What is the end of your story? Remember that the meaning of a piece can be found in its ending. That being true, what does every other scene add to the impact of this ultimate moment?
2) What is your thesis? What are you trying to say in this piece? Remember that you don't start by trying to make a point. Just tell the story honestly. A theme will emerge in retrospect. Once you have it, strengthen it. Never state it directly, but play with it as motivation and counter-motivation for your characters and the actions within your universe.
3) Look at your characters. Do they form a balance in your mind? Can you see them all as aspects of some cohesive whole, pieces of a puzzle or stars in a constellation? If you can sense some kind of unity between the characters, it is easier to see where they fit in your world, and fine-tune their attitudes and dialogue.
4) Listen to your language. The words themselves, and the successive sensory impressions. What kind of emotional cascade do they create? You want to guide the reader's mind with a poetic flow designed to evoke emotional response. It is one of your most important tools.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:03 AM
Thursday, October 06, 2005
She's coming in at LAX at about 4. She'll take the limo in, so I'll see her at about 5:30. Can't begin to say how glad I'll be to see her! Bet Jason will grin until his head falls in half.
It is very, very difficult to express how much it means to me to have a partner like T. She is simply perfect for me at this phase of my life, and I pray that that doesn't change. I doubt it will--we have a kid to raise, and our values on that issue are pretty darned similar.
More importantly, I feel so relaxed and confident that I've found the woman who expresses the best part of myself. Sure, we both have flaws, but our strengths are complementary in the very best way, and that is what makes this so incredible. It is so painful to listen to people thrashing around in the outer darkness of dating hell, or marriage purgatory, unable to see themselves clearly, and therefore find their way to the light. They blame their partner--or the opposite sex in general, because they are afraid to look more deeply at the fact that it is their choices that created their lives, and their lovers--or lack thereof--are direct mirrors of their own being. If you want different people to be attracted to you, you have to mirror the essence of your ideal man or woman. You have to heal yourself--a relationship should be a union between two autonomous human beings, not a co-dependant two-step between wounded beasts fanging and clawing each other in the tar-pits of love.
It's awful to watch, especially when one or both lack the honesty requisite to prevent finger-pointing.
Life is so damned short, and love is so damned precious. Can't wait to see her!
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:21 AM
Daughter Nicki had a fender-bender Saturday night, and her left shoulder was sore, come workout time. I've been having her work on Coach Sonnon's Eclipse series (more on this later), and she wasn't able to stress her left side, although she WAS able to continue the exercise for the full twenty minutes. This is a good thing. The next exercises I'd set up for her were a series of double kettlebell exercises. This is all from an article that Steve Maxwell wrote for Pavel, and its designed to produce "Power Endurance" for mixed martial arts types. I also figure it will jack up her metabolism something fierce:
1) Double Snatch
2) Double clean and push-press
3) Front Squat/Push Press
4) Clean and Squat
5) Deadlift Squat Thrusts (sort lof like burpees with a KB in each hand. Wicked!)
Anyway, you're supposed to perform an exercise for 30 seconds, and then rest for thirty seconds, then go on to the next one. When you've completed all five, rest for 60 seconds and begin again. this is a killer series. At any rate, her shoulder bothered her too much, even when we went to a smaller bell on the left side.
So I switched gears completely, and had her work on abdominals. The KB is excellent for a lot of very odd and painful abdominal exercises. And this is great, because if there was just one part of your body you had time to work, it should be the abs. Why?
1) When your abs look great, the rest of your body tends to look good as well.
2) Aids digestion
3) Aids posture, thereby increasing energy
4) Great for sports--all power is transferred from the lower to the upper body by various abdominal muscles.
5) Protects your back. Most people with bad backs have weak abdominals.
6) Increases strength. Lifting strength is produced by intra-abdominal pressure. The more powerfully you can contract these muscles, the stronger and safer you can lift.
7)The abdominal muscles can be worked laying down, standing, sitting, driving, walking. They are perfect for the "Five Minute Miracle" approach.
anyway, I expect that Nicki's abs will be sore as hell this morning. Can't wait to wake her up and hustle her to yoga!
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:13 AM
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
A note from a student--
I also finally caught up on your blogs, adding my two-cents worth on a few of your topics. But there are two things I wanted to personally write to you about. First, I wanted to thank you for your suggestions on how to strengthen the poetics side of my "writer's triangle." Every day, I've been reading a poem aloud, writing a poem and writing 1000 words of fiction a day. The reading part started off on a humorous note. The first day I put this ritual into practice, I took my Riverside Shakespeare (which contains all of his works), spun it around and randomly pointed at a section of the book. I opened this tome, looked down and discovered that I had chosen the last scene from the last act of the most emotionally draining play he had ever wrote: King Freaking Lear!!!! "Howl!! Howl!!! The Bard is going to kill me!!!!" Ha, Ha. Still, I attacked that scene as I do with my writing and with each passing day, the creative flow is slowing returning. I'm even going to apply some of my poetry to a couple of my stories. We shall soon see. Again, thank you for helping me back "on the road again." :))
You're very welcome, Peter. You'll remember that my theory is that one hour out of every day belongs to you. In this hour, you can get your basic exercise (20 minutes three times a week can cover the very basics, if you're smart enough), meditation, reading, even writing (30 minutes a day can produce 3000 words a week if you separate flow from editing). But one of the most important things is your reading. This is the source of poetics--the way words, images, and themes interrelate to guide the mind in a fluid, dreamlike fashion. This usually isn't the domain of conscious thought, except in re-write. The key is to read material which is bettter than you intend to write--in Peter's cas (and mine) that would be Shakespeare. The Bard is on almost everyone's list of best English-language writers, and based on several reasonable criteria, has a shot at being Best writer of all time (number of languages work translated into , number of cultures who have adopted his work into their own theater and film, centuries of popularity, translation into different forms and genres, etc.) I treasure my daily Bard, even when reading something like Pericles, Prince Of Tyre, which frankly sucks. Yuckka.
My own Golden Hour is a Godsend. Right now I'm listening to a Teaching Company CD on political theory, working with Coach Sonnon's Eclipse and Prasara (I'm also beginning to teach Eclipse to students. I'm not sure, but it is possible that Scott has created something not only powerful, but VERY available to the average person--something that he hasn't quite done before now. Interesting!), kettlebells (Steve Maxwell's Ab program, and a "power endurance" routine he created for Pavel) and silat. Having a good time, and enjoying the game of seeing if I can plan a "perfect"work and workout week. I'm never satisfied, but really entertain myself with the effort.
Well, have to take Jason to day care. Tananarive's been gone for a week, promoting JOPLIN'S GHOST across the country. Woman is a power-house, and can't wait to see her tomorrow night!
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Saw Joss Whedon's "Serenity" last night, and the news is mostly good. Based on the cult fan favorite "Firefly" (which I never saw) this big-screen version does contain some tasty elements: nice interaction between the characters, some niftily choreographed hand-to-hand fight scenes, a couple of spectacular space battles, and a damned fine idea for a conspiracy. On the negative side, it does bear a bit of that "blown up from TV level" look and feel, like a 16mm film blown up to project on a 70mm screen. A little grainy, if you catch my drift. The basic plot deals with the crew of the Serenity, a rag-tag bunch of thieves and smugglers living on the edge of a galactic Alliance and making their living any way they can. Their Captain, "Mal" Reynolds (a fine Nathan Fillion) has accidentally taken on board a telepath with a deadly secret, River Tam (Summer Glau) who is herself a walking weapon. She and Reynold's nemesis Chiwetel Ejiofor damned near stole the show, but I'm sure that for fans of the original series, a chance to see their favorite characters back in saddle overshadowed all else. Look. I'm not a fan, and there were definitely moments I was shifting in my seat, looking at my watch. But it start well, ends well, and has a lot of fun in-between. Probably the best "Space Opera" I've seen in a decade, really, with its own quirky sense of humor, and an off-centered style that kept me guessing. That, some decent action sequences, a plot dealing with the need to keep "The Alliance" away from lethal little River, and some truly mischievous dialogue made me, ultimately, like this a lot. Give it an A- for Space Opera fans, a B for moviegoers in general. And I'd guess for "Firefly" fans--you hit the jackpot.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:36 AM
Monday, October 03, 2005
I'm going to be changign the format a bit very soon. You'll notice that I rarely talk about the 5MM--that is rather deliberate. I didn't want to be having political and philosophical discussions constantly intersperced with ads. It would be very very easy for someone to say to themselves "he's just trying to make a dollar." And that could lead someone to suspecting that I'm being other than honest on these pages.
Add to this the fact that I'm about to roll out the Lifewriting Year-long course. You'll hear about it, and there will be a link to it from this page, but what you need to know is that I'll be working to create a separate stream of readers for that. Yeah, I want to make money, but it's more important to me to continue these conversations. So I'll be doing my level best to put out everything I've been giving, plus more, and try not to specifically mention the products I sell--these communications are important to me.
But, let's put this in a nutshell. What is the Five Minute Miracle, and why is it important? In general, we want certain results in life...like "feeling good" in some arena or another. When positive emotions are attached to actions, then if we take those actions, we get the results. Internally, we might not "understand our motivations" or have internal conflict, or whatever, but if you can take the actions, you will get the results. In yogic psychology, it is said that you can awaken the kundalini from the heart out, or the body up, but never from the mind down. The conscious mind just isn't very reliable.
But if you can change the way you breathe under stress, you will change your body's entire stress response. If stress does not become strain, you will function at a higher level at everything you do. The FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE was skimmed off the body of Soviet research expressed in fabulous detail and depth in Coach Sonnon's various teachings. It is a very specific breathing technique teaching you a different way of relating to breath. This is critical, because breathing, as the only process which is both conscious and autonomic, is the door to the unconscious mind. Then, by practising the technique for sixty seconds multiple times a day (hence the title) you are literally re-programming the way your body/mind connection operates. The effect is startling. There is simply no other investment of five minutes a day that could even vaguely come close. You can aid your digestion, flatten your stomach, reduce stress, and improve posture...all with this simple exercise. It works remarkably well, and the concept has become foundational to my teaching. If you haven't picked up your copy, do it, and today. There's a 100% money-back guarantee, so there is no risk at ALL. Go ahead--check it out now!
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:52 AM
Saturday, October 01, 2005
My "elephant" metaphor was taken a bit too literally. Or, perhaps not literally enough. Saying that elephants at the zoo only have a rope around them is EXACTLY my point. That the elephant doesn't know it is freer than it is, doesn't understand its own strength. When you look at the degree to which blacks have, for instance, accepted white beauty standards, you'd grasp my meaning. If you talk to your grandparents about how they had to avoid direct confrontation with whites, even if the law was supposedly on their side, you'd grasp what I was saying. The "bad software" comment has to do with the fact that, after studying success for forty years, I honestly believe that there are thought patterns that create opportunity, and those that minimize it. When I find white OR black people with those positive patterns, they are far more likely to be doing well. When I find white OR black people with the negative patterns, they are far more likely to be doing sucky. I find that wisdom about success in any culture that has had an opportunity to really develop--and anthropologically, it takes hundreds or thousands of years of isolation to create a "culture." Black American culture bears little resemblance to African culture--ask any African. Or travel to Africa yourself, and you will feel the difference, believe me. To make a slave, you have to convince them that they can't get away, that they have no control over their bodies, that their masters are untouchable. To do this, a gigantic effort, generations long and employing vast amounts of political, military, economic and legal obstacles to keep those people under control. This was followed by another hundred years of Jim Crow. Sorry, but you can't beat someone over the head for generations and not leave damage. ANY people would be hurt by all of that--we'd have to be superpeople not to, and last time I noticed, kryptonite has no effect on black folks. So yes, I believe we are incredibly strong. Yes, I also believe there was real damage done that is taking generations to undo.
Advantages to being the descendants of slaves? Black Americans are the wealthiest, most powerful black people in the world. Africans clamor to get here, and there is no other country in the world with the same degree of immigration pressure. While Africans rather pitied my lack of knowing my name, my ancestors, the language of my fathers, or indeed my mixed blood, they were in awe of my wealth and opportunity.
If you accept the basic tenant of "Guns, Germs, and Steel"--and I do, then there were very real, non-genetic reasons why Europe was able to "take" Africa and not the other way around. And those reasons prevented certain types of social organization from spreading widely, as well as certain accompanying technological development south of the Sahara. The differential in social development made it possible, when Europe came in contact with Africa, for the rape to begin in earnest--and more importantly, for Europeans to harvest the children of Africa damned near like a crop. If the two levels of development had been closer (if sub-Saharan Africans had, for instance, developed and produced large quantities of rifles) there would have been a much more equal situation, and you would have had something closer to a real war, rather than a rape. When those closer to equal meet, there is a chance for honest commerse. Otherwise, the stronger simply takes the weaker, and usually has, through most of human history.
So, given the differential in levels of technological development, I see few opportunities for Africans to interact with Europeans in a "fair" fashion. They could trade natural resources, perhaps, but that's asking Europeans to be "nice" and not take what they're strong enough to take. People aren't like that. Ultimately, I can't see the fate being much different than it was with the Native Americans. "Nice land--we'll take it!" Because I accept Jared Diamond's hypothesis, I have to ask questions about the likelihood that I would have been born into the class of those who immigrate. If not, might I have been born into a relatively pastoral life? Given my myopia and early prediliction for illness, I'd have been useless to my community, or dead by now. What is the chance I would have traveled as much as I have? Or know the people I know? Or have done the things I've done? In all likelihood, I would have lived the same life as my fathers and grandfathers...a satisfying life, and I can squint and see what that might have been and felt like.
And it feels good.
But I'm not that person. I see the fact that people all over the world are dying (figuratively and literally) to get here, to replicate our success and lifestyle. While in some ways this isn't a positive thing, in others it is understandable. I'd say that it IS possible to compare the success of different civilizations, especially if you don't imply that the differences are intrinsic to the inhabitants. While many standards of wealth and power and many cultural goals vary, one thing pretty constant around the world is that we all love our children and want as many of them to survive as possible. Hell, even infanticide is an attempt to control population so that it doesn't outpace resources, resulting in starvation for all. And that means that Infant Mortality Rate is a great basic, fast-and-dirty measurement of a culture's success. Western medicine has been GREAT at this, and I like it just fine. Africans can't wait to go to western schools to learn it, and I don't wonder why. And once they've learned it, they make innovations and contributions just like Europeans and Asians.
My point of view? Africa, the cradle of mankind, got screwed. It wasn't set up geographically to develop certain resources (damn those zebras! If they'd been domesticable, the history of Africa would have been completely different!). Sub-Saharan Africa was damned near as isolated as Australia, Melanesia, Polynesia or the Americas when it came to hooking into the Road of Silk, a primary vehicle for trade and information. And the gap in development made its children vulnerable. Given that vulnerability, I see little that they could have done to stop that rape. I look at Africa now, and for that matter the rest of the world, and consider myself incredibly lucky to be an American for a variety of reasons. And if my ancestors suffered to bridge that thousand-year cultural gap, so be it. So would anyone else. I am standing on their corpses, and I try never to forget it. I would dishonor them, and their suffering, if I didn't both acknowledge their involuntary sacrifice, and for God's sake TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT. If they are watching me, I hope they know that they didn't die in vain, that I, and my children, and their children will reap the benifits, never take a backward step, and make this country offer up the incredible bounty of wealth and power and freedom...while simultaneously reminding America from time to time that it ain't all that...that the "we're the best" attitude is one every culture has, that this is our time in the sun but that, indeed, the very concept of nations is, I think, on its last legs (I'll give it another couple hundred years max). Yeah, I love being an American, and think this country has more kick-ass opportunity to create the life of your dreams than any other country that has ever existed. And I think that if my ancestors hadn't been enslaved, I'd be less likely to be here. I also know I would kill anyone--twice--who tried to do to my children was was done to my ancestors. It was hideous, and reprehensible...and very, very human. If we don't understand that aspect of human history, we are indeed doomed to repeat it.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 12:10 PM
Just for the fun of it, I thought I'd propose a rebuttal to Mr. Bennett, and toss it out for you guys to criticize.
REALLY want to drop the crime rate? Abort all male babies. Really, though, what I'm suggesting is that in large part blacks commit more crimes (proportionately) than whites for some of the same reasons males commit more than females. Now, that reason (males-females) is generally considered to be a combination of physical (hormonal) and cultural factors. Let's assume that the physical factors between whites and blacks are relatively constant. Do the cultural factors change? Let's look at the ones I can think of off hand...
1) poverty. Certainly a stresser. Men have much of their self-identity tied in with being "breadwinner". Deny them an honest way to make money, and they seem more likely than women to resort to violence. Increase poverty, and you increase crime--all other things being equal.
2) Perception of unequal justice. Someone who BELIEVES the justice system is unequal (whether or not it is) will be less likely to obey it. Throughout most of our history, men get more time in jail, are arrested more often, and prosecuted more often for the same crimes women commit. the same is true of poor versus rich, and black versus white.
3) Perception of unequal opportunity. Get a white guy who believes "they" are in control and "they" kept him and his daddy down, and you certainly create an outlaw. Since for 3/4 of black history in America this was a demonstrable, inarguable fact, even if one believed the opportunities are equal now (!), it is clear to see that cultural mythologies, which take generations to mold or break down, would lag behind reality.
4)Gee, I'm having fun. How about cultural images? If males are shown dying in film and books to "bring home the bacon" or "protect the homefront", and this affects behavior, then what are we to make of images of blacks? They are clearly presented in most film and television prior to 1990 as second-class, subservient, violent and/or stupid. From my own personal experience, I can tell you that this was beyond disheartening--it was an horrific betrayal of trust. I was taught to love America, and it was clear America didn't love me. What do you make of that? What happens when a young boy loves his father, and there is neglect, abuse, or conflicted emotion? Violent and criminal behavior is often considered to be associated with such. I suggest a social parallel to this psychological, family dynamic. Not all abused children become abusers, but most abusers were abused. Or so the theory goes.
Anyway, just doodling, and thought I'd throw that out. At the very least, statistically, the proposal to abort all male fetuses is sounder than the proposal to abort black babies. And if some left-wing feminist had proposed such a thing, even jokingly, it would be considered hateful, sexist, and anti-male.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:17 AM