The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, January 13, 2006

Basic Building Blocks

The awe-inspiring physicist Richard Feynman said that if the entire history of Western Science was to be wiped out, the single concept that would reconstitute it most rapidly is the atomic theory: that everything is made out of these little tiny primal building blocks, and that all natural phenomena can be explained by their interactions and structures.

Well, I think that’s a terrific way to start a conversation.  Trying to ride on such mighty coattails, I’d say that the entire Lifewriting concept is based on the idea that our quality of life reflects our quality as human beings: the outer world we experience is a reflection of our inner world.

In respect to writing, this means that our energy, our perception, our ability to access our knowledge, our empathy, our extrapolative capacity, our poetic potential, our discipline…all of these things relate not merely to our educations, but to the bedrock of our consciousness and the height of our spiritual vision.

This is why I talk about relationships, politics, physical fitness, mental health, and so forth, in addition to the traditional subjects for writers and writing teachers such as plot, characterization, and so forth.  This is why you hear me rant about things like racial stereotyping and so on…because they are MY personal demons.  The question of race relations in America has impacted my life since childhood.  For years I pretty much ignored it in my writing, and then due to a conversation with a friend, I was forced to face it.  The conversation was with a brilliant computer engineer named Darnell Gadberry, with whom I’ve had tons of wonderful debates on subjects so wide-ranging I couldn’t begin to list them.

I said to Darnell that I’d noticed that in the almost twenty years since I’d come into the science fiction field, no other black male writers had entered professionally.  I was beginning to feel like a coward not to specifically address racial issues, felt that I was avoiding them out of fear that the market would reject me, and that my career would fail. 

Darnell looked at me, and said one of the wisest things anyone has ever said to me.  “Steve,” he said.  “Eventually, someone is going to have to address these issues.  Write these stories.  If not you, who?  If not now, when?  And why in the world would you want to write stories for the pleasure of people you wouldn’t want to have in your home?”

Ouch.  And so I wrote “Blood Brothers,” and “Lion’s Blood”, and “Great Sky Woman.”  Because they are true to the boy I was who wanted to write, and because there is no one else.  And that is an honest quest.

What is YOUR truth?  What is most important to you in your life? What are you most afraid of?  What is your secret love?  These will be the core of your writing, as they should be the core of your life.

Try this thought: what are the three most important things in your life, one in each of the three major areas?  For me, they are

3) The martial arts, and things relating to them.
2) Writing, and things relating to it.
My relationship with my family and friends.

That’s it.  If it doesn’t related to one of those three arenas, I don’t care.  You might ask where spirit lies.  For me, spirit is the invisible space marked off by these three points.  The divine is the Name that Cannot be Named.  It is like the wind: we cannot see it, but we CAN see the grass bending, and can attend to that. 

I beg you to clarify, in your own mind, the three things most important to you.  The things you are willing to die for.  Those are the things it is worthwhile to live for.  Clarify this, and you gain a kind of power you may never have known, and take another step in the direction of your own highest good.

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