The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Canary in the Coal Mine

Lost, or rather invested, an entire day yesterday getting some papers signed.  No, it shouldn’t have taken the whole day, but we needed to be in Beverly Hills at 12:30, which meant driving through the rain for an hour and fifteen minutes to Blair Underwood’s lawyer’s office, and then having lunch with Blair (always a pleasure.  It is hysterical watching waitresses fall all over themselves trying to catch his eye!  And he is SO blasé about it…and genteel.  What a terrific guy.)

At any rate, by the time we drove back to Covina, it was almost four o’clock. Jason gets home from child care at 6.  You do the math.

Why was it necessary to do this?  Because the contract was damned near a year overdue.  Yes, my friends, you read that right A YEAR. It is the contract for a three-way collaboration between me, Tananarive, and Blair, a detective novel we’re hoping to spin into a film series.  Due to the complexity of a three-way collab with three different agents and two sets of lawyers, a bi-coastal monstrosity linking te publishing and movie industries, this thing took so long to work out that we are breathing fumes financially.  Wow!  If it wasn’t for that Fox Searchlight project…

Oh, wait, THAT was only signed this week as well!  After ten months of negotiation.  Oh my dear God.

The stress over the last year has been absolutely fantastic.  And you know something?  I knew, in my heart, it would be like this.  Hollywood money is fantastic…when you cash the checks.  Waiting for them can be like having a slow-motion root canal, without Novocain.   
A little while ago, I saw an old friend.  She has gained quite a bit of weight, and during conversation, she implied that it was due to business.  Her days are just so full.  I prodded a bit, asking if it was really true that  EVERYTHING she did, every day, was really more important than her health.  Her face changed.  She tried to dodge me a bit, and then began crying.  “Please stop attacking me, Steve,” she said. 

I wasn’t trying to attack her.  I was, however, attacking her position.  She is a fine artist. She teaches, and creates, and has real skills.  She would like to take those skills to the next level.  I want her to do so.

Her chances are not good.
Why?  And what in the hell do this two stories have to do with each other?  And with the newly minted theme of this blog:  Self Directed Personal Evolution.  And what does three weeks of discussing race have to do with it?  And what about sex?
We have energies: physical, mental, spiritual.  In order to rise to our highest levels, those energies must be both increased, purified, and channeled. There is limited time in the day, and limited resource in our lives to accomplish what we want.

Fear blocks the energy.  Sex can be a tremendous distraction—or one of the healthiest, most motivating and reinforcing powers in the world.  And our bodies trap our emotions, store our pain and fear.  Our bodies represent death, and decay.  If we numb ourselves to what is happening in our bodies (especially after the age of thirty-five) we can delude ourselves  into thinking we have infinite time to accomplish the things that move us forward in life, that will allow us to make the contributions that lift up our children and our communities, help us see the face of God in the mirror, and in the visage of strangers.

We need these first three chakras. We need them aligned. We need them clean of guilt, blame, and shame. We need to face our fears—or at the very least not be surrounded and trapped by them.
For MONTHS now, I’ve dealt, daily with the fear that the book and film projects I’ve invested so much time in would not come through.  That there was literally nothing I could do to move them forward.  Helpless, there is no way to push these guys.  And when you’re talking serious six figures, you want to nurture the situation, not make them mad.  That stress—money tied to art tied to family tied to self-image, brings up every ghost and demon in your psyche.  Race is a big one for me.  Being one of a very very tiny tribe of non-whites working in this industry, it is hard to ignore the voice in the back of my head that says I cannot, will not, should never have tried. That says no one cares, I don’t have the skills, I am despised and pitied for my lack of whiteness.  The voices rave at me. I’m too old, not educated enough, insufficiently talented, haven’t the allies.  On.  And on.  Every day.  Every day.  Every god-damned day.
Every day of my life, I wake up, and have to remind myself who I am, who  I am committed to being.  And then, having brought the white light into my body, having stirred the pot and brought up the sediment of fear and emotional debris, I have to move.

I have to MOVE.  All of that negative emotion collects in your body, which becomes a “black bag” of unprocessed psychic garbage if you aren’t careful.  You have to stir it up to give your mind a chance to process it.  And “fitness” alone don’t cut it.  I have to start from the most basic component:
Emotional health.  Represented by morning meditation.  Raise the energy, and then direct it with
Goals.  Visualize where I want to be at the end of the  year, and then see the intervening steps.  Can I see it?  Feel it?  Taste it?
Break up the protective cocoon woven by sleep.  Your body is stiff in the morning.  Working the joints gently.  Tai Chi or yoga or Warrior Wellness or a carefully thought-out stretching program.
Raise the energy.  Aerobic work. Raising the pulse, teaching the body to burn fat for fuel.  Focus the mind as the fatigue toxins build.
Strengthen the body. As the energy rises, if the body is not strong you will “blow out” weakened systems.  Progressive resistance exercise: weights, body-weight exercises (like Hindu Squats and Pushups), kettlebells or the fantastic Club-Bells.
Peak the energy.  Push  yourself, once you’ve learned what you are capable of.
Channel the energy.  Us a “perfect template”—a skill you are working to acquire.  Dance, martial arts, whatever.  Some activity that calls for perfect form.
Unkink the body.  Begin to calm it down.  Slow down.  Stretch and relax and unwind.
Calm the body.  At least a minute of rest  at the end.  Feel what is happening inside you.


     Without some such program, your body simply marches toward deterioration, taking your energy and promise with it.  This need not take a huge amount of time—but you have to be SMART in the way you work the sequence. 
     There are numerous disciplines that have structured much of this into their process.  Tai Chi is good. Yoga is better—arguably the most evolved discipline available to the general public.  Martial arts.  A dance class taught by a teacher over 40.
     SOME fitness classes.  But remember that fitness and health are two different things. They overlap, but are NOT identical.  Health is far more important.
     Coach Sonnon’s “FlowFit” exercise routine (formerly known as “Eclipse”) is absolute dynamite, and provides values beyond the current discussion.
I never would have survived the last year with my head high and a smile on my face, if I hadn’t had my meditations, and my physical discipline.  Tananarive and I work out together, do yoga together…and other, even more intense things together that are none of your business.  It’s made the difference.
In the last week I finished my new screenplay, submitted the outline for the new Dream Park book, signed two vital contracts, and am flying to New York to speak at Medgar Evers University.  I’m preparing for the Path workshop with Scott in April, and adjusting my weight down to 175 pounds. 

The stress is fantastic.  I can see the effects in my body: my energy, my fluidity of motion, my weight, my need for sleep, my addiction to carbohydrates—long before those effects can be seen in the quality of my work or the integrity of my marriage.  Your body is the canary in the coal mine.  It will show the signs of stress before they metastasize elsewhere.  Care for it like a toy, a tool, and a pet…and it will reward you beyond belief.  Ignore it…and your demons have discovered a place where they can store the poison with which they kill your  dreams.

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