The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, July 31, 2006

Mel Gibson and entrenched racism

By now, everyone has heard about superstar Mel Gibson’s alcoholic meltdown, and the anti-Semitic comments caught on tape by the Malibu PD. Understandably, his "Jews run the world" comments, follwowing the controversial "Passion of the Christ" (considered by many to be anti-Semitic, or capable of stirring such...passions) are raising eyebrows around the world.

I am certainly not Jewish, so it requires a thought experiment to really get into this: I asked myself: what would I think if he had, say, made a gigantically popular Civil War era film suggesting blacks were happily and appropriately enslaved, and then followed up with a tirade about “Niggers are ruining this country, and polluting our women.”

It would be reasonable for me to suspect that on some level, that was exactly what he actually thought. Alcohol is no excuse—it releases monsters of the id, but those monsters had to be in there to begin with, didn’t they? In this case, I suspect they were monsters of the Superego—programmed attitudes given him by his father, which he has struggled against his whole life.

In the aforementioned case, my first response would be to speak to black people who had worked with Gibson, to see what their experience had been. If it had been positive, I would assume that Gibson, like most of us, is dealing with very serious issues that scramble his perceptual equipment. He’s been known as an ultra-Conservative Christian, and anytime someone swings strongly to one extreme or the other, it is reasonable to suggest that they are viewing reality through a powerful belief filter. Such filters are generally tucked into place with our bedtime stories, long before conscious, rational thought can evaluate them.

So, I believe Gibson’s protestations that anti-Semitism is unChristian. I also believe it to be quite possible that he has warred with it all his life. You know, I have an interesting attitude about alcohol. The first time you do something crappy under its influence, you have an excuse: you didn’t know. After that, you CHOSE to use a substance that you KNEW would make you violent, profane, promiscuous, whatever. You chose that. And as a result, you can no longer blame the substance quite so readily. My guess? Gibson will have several very, very grim huddles with Jewish friends, and members of the Jewish community. Groveling apologies will be made, donations offered, public service arranged. Perhaps his production company will make a film about the Holocaust. In time, Hollywood will forget most of this, because it is profitable to do so. But you can believe that many of his Jewish fans will not. Nor should we.

I think it is vital not to point the finger: who among us does not have ugly thoughts and voices lurking in our heads? We must be vigilant, especially those of us with access to media. The country is so divided right now. The world is in such turmoil. We really didn’t need this. But since it happened…let it trigger healthy conversation about the depths of the human heart, and how we might best come to live together. Stardom elevated Gibson to god status. It is best we remember that he is just a man, heir to the same fleshly and spiritual failings that devil us all.

But Mel…there is a limit to my understanding and compassion. Third time’s the charm.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Miami Vice (2006)

Wish I could say that this one was a winner, but it doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped, is definitely a triumph of style over substance—to the degree that it is a triumph.  This updating—or re-boot—of the groundbreaking  1980’s television series is shot on HDV, has a pounding soundtrack, and two ultra-cool heroes.  Heck, even if I was disappointed with the amount of time Foxx is offscreen (they lavish time and attention on the relationship between Colin Ferrel’s “Sonny” Crockett and Gong Li as a mysterious money launderer, Micheal Mann has the heuvos to give Jamie Foxx an actual relationship (including a very nice love scene).  But truth be told, it is overlong, it drags, characters are often sketched rather than filled in.  There are basically three action set pieces, beautifully done.  But overall I found myself feeling restless at times, and can’t give it more than a “B.”
Warning: Sambo alert!
Yes, it’s time to discuss racial politics in film a bit.  I predict that “Vice” will be a disappointment at the box office, and would have been willing to predict that before I saw it, based on the rumor that Foxx had  a love scene. 

We’ll see.  A hint: looking around the Internet for movie reviews, and seeing how few of them even mentioned Foxx’s relationship, as opposed to the amount of attention given to Ferrel’s.  True, there was more screen time and intensity there (of course.)

Another problem: the arc of relationships in movies goes
1)     Boy Meets Girl
2)     Boy Loses Girl
3)     Boy Gets Girl.

This is probably the most common pattern in all of Cinema, perhaps even of world literature.  Variations are played upon this theme, of course.  Now…consider the “Boy Meets Girl” arc to contain an intense, involving, hot-blooded love scene, and you’ll have refined this successful and consistent pattern.  I dare you to find a single week in the past twenty years when at least one movie playing in major cities did not contain this pattern.  And I equally dare you to find a single instance of this pattern given to non-white males, where the movie was considered a mainstream success.

Of course, blacks are doing somewhat better than Asians.  Asian men must be pretty disgusted looking at the number of their women presented as love interests for white guys…at the same time that Asian men get no play at all.  Not at all.  If they get leads in movies, it is only as emasculated, celibate martial arts monks.  In the entire history of American film, I can remember only one film where an Asian man got laid: “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.”  Nothing else that I can remember at all. 
Reading reviews and reader’s comments, it’s interesting to note some of the reactions.  Reading between the lines, it is easy to see very, very serious issues.  Guys talking about “not wanting to see Jamie Foxx’s butt” or “there were too many sex scenes” and implying that Foxx’s should have been cut…completely predictable.

But there is something else I wonder about.  Yes, all movies with non-white males having sex underperform at the box office.  No, I’m not saying that these are all wonderful movies, torpedoed by racism.  In fact, I often see flaws in these movies myself.

And I wonder about that.  Could it actually be true that the average film in white non-white males drop trou could actually be below-average in quality?  That’s a little boggling, trying to figure out what in the living hell might cause THAT.  Because it certainly isn’t true when white guys do it.  And there is a possibility that occurs, one rather disturbing in implication.

It is this.  Please follow my reasoning, and I’m sorry if it is a bit torturous, but here it goes:

1) racism is so hard-wired into the human (especially the male human) nervous system.  This results in an average   10% aversion  factor.  A feeling of discomfort seeing “the other” outside of their familiar, supportive, non-threatening roles. 
2)This factor would cause an average 10% drop-off in box office in any film depicting images disturbing on this level.  Say, mating behavior.  Of course, if the mating behavior was interracial (black man, white woman) the box office would take an even bigger hit.  Explicit love scenes would be even worse.
4)     NO ONE will admit to being racist on this level, unless they have anonymity (note the internet chats).  But that racism will subtly influence reviews (“I didn’t believe the relationships” “the love scenes stopped the movie” or criticisms of completely different aspects of the film.  You see this commonly when films contain a political content contrary to the orientation of the viewer.  The whole movie just feels “lousy.”
5)     Because of the above factors, a director who DOES put such images into their film has gone just a little crazy.  If he doesn’t understand the risk he is putting his film under, and listening to the nudging “advice” of his studio to trim this or that bit of dark-skinned flesh…well, such a person is probably going to make other mistakes in judgement too.  In essence, he is well-intentioned, but committing a bit of career suicide.
6)     Film is a collaborative medium.  Hundreds of people have input into pacing, effects, music, scripting, acting, etc.  No one person can really do it alone, despite the auteur theories of filmmaking.  Now take another look at that 10% disconnect theory.  I think that when people are working on a film that touches their hearts, they put extra time and energy into it.  And when they work on a film that offends them…even subliminally, they simply put in a day’s work.  And great films require more than that.  They require people willing to go the extra mile.  When that 10% disconnect kicks in, technicians and craft people smile, come to work, go home…and never understand why they aren’t QUITE as invested in this project.  As a result, the director doesn’t get the kind of brutal, honest, creative feedback he needs to lift the film from the pedestrian.

In other words (and this is spooky) one can look at the history of racial images in film (and television.  And literature) and see a mirror of the evolution of race relations in America.  That such relations have been twisted not only by an ugly history (slaver) but also the actual neurophysiological structure of the brain (Amydalic response to “the Other” when visually identifiable.
But note: saying “10% aversion” does not, in any way, mean things are hopeless.  I watch Will Smith and Jamie Foxx, and I suspect one of these fine performers are going to find a way to break through.  Audiences, are, slowly, learning and opening their hearts to embrace the humanity of other groups.  This stuff is TOUGH.  In fact, if you follow my reasoning, you see one of the reasons peace has been so hard to achieve, why war and rape and massive denial are so common.

What is the way out?  Forward.  I see nothing in our past that gives me more hope than our present, or our future.
The truth is that this is one of the main problems I have with Conservatism.  In speaking with my Conservative friends, I find them harking back to “the old days” when, in their thought, people were better, and we were freer.  And they are damned uncomfortable when it is pointed out that there was NOT more freedom.  There was less.  But that freedom was concentrated in the white community, especially white male heterosexual Christians.  If you are not of this group, you are VERY unlikely to look backwards to any “Good Old Days.”

And they look at me, and suddenly remember that I’m black, and the room gets a little chillier.  No, I don’t want to go backwards—I want to go ahead.  But nor do I want to throw the baby out with the bath-water.  Gun Control, Child-Rearing, Education, National Defense—on many issues I tend to be far more “Conservative” than my Liberal friends.  Truth is, I get it from both sides, until they relax and say, “oh, that’s just Steve.”

And I guess I can be content with that.  I guess, ultimately, I have to be.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Writing--and Living--From the Inside Out

The trick with Lifewriting is to grasp that you are your own primary audience.  That sales or awards or anything else are entirely secondary to being honest to YOU. 

How to do this?  You must develop a set of theories about how human beings operate, what the world is, how we can best live together.  What is love?  What is worth dying for?  How much freedom shall we sacrifice for security, or vice versa?

These questions have plagued philosophers, psychologists, and politicians for generations.  I have my own answers to each of these.  Some of them are clear, and solid.  Others are more flexible and less dogmatic (my dabbling in politics is notoriously likely to be more philosophical than historical in basis.)  But still, you must be prepared to defend your positions, because in essence, that is what a story is: a conversation setting out part of your beliefs about the structure of the universe.

An example: in my Outer Limits episode “A Stitch In Time” there is a moment when a woman has the opportunity to travel back in time and kill the man who raped her.  Executives at the company wanted me to have her walk away, realizing that if she changed her own past in such a fashion, many other women would suffer.  I stared at them, and  said “It’s easy for us to say that.  We’re all guys.”  And indeed, there wasn’t a woman in the room.  “Go home and ask your wives about that one.”

I rarely push back hard against television and film folks, but this was a matter of principle.  I’ve dealt with rape victims for decades, and I haven’t met one who wouldn’t move heaven and earth to go back and change that part of their past.  This ties in intimately with my beliefs about the most basic motivations in the human spirit: survival, and a healthy sexual expression.  We’ll do almost anything to live without fear and dysfunction in these arenas.

Well, they came back the next day looking pretty sheepish.  To a woman, their wives agreed with me.  They shot it my way.
I tell my students often: “I’m not asking you to accept my values and beliefs.  I want you to develop YOURS.  To be prepared to die defending them, because ultimately that is what life is, a daily expression of your deepest values.” 

The LIFEWRITING YEAR LONG is based on ideas like this: to clarify what we are as human beings, and then find ways to communicate it in our work.  More, to integrate our world view into the STRUCTURE of our work, and our lives. 

Monster House (2006)

My favorite movie so far this year. Wow. This Spielberg production hits all the notes right, feeling like a stellar collaboration with, say, Steven King. Somehow, the filmmakers remembered all of the fear, wonder, and hope of childhood, and created a computer-generated film with the first fully human characters I've ever seen in the medium. Well...the characters and situations are SLIGHTLY flattened out (where the heck are all the adults?) but I had the clear and continual sense that I was watching a breakthrough in the field. The story is basic, and deceptively complex. A local neighborhood Mean Old Man lives in a Spooky House. Local kids are terrified to step onto his lawn, and for damned good reason. Then one Halloween...
Heck, I'm not going to spoil it. No, the movie isn't perfect. But it is a virutally perfect (pun intended) realization of an idea. More, the human beings work as human beings, without that spooky, empy, zomboid appearance that kept me away from "Polar Express." This one is a minor classic, and my hat is absolutely off to all involved. WARNING: this movie has genuinely scarey moments. Think before you take the kids. I give it, warts and all, an A+ for vastly exceeding my expectations, and thrilling me from opening to closing credits.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

No Gain, No Loss

“When all things are seen equally the timeless Self-essence is reached. No comparisons or analogies are possible in this causeless, relationless state.”

Boy, does this ever sound like a fever dream of Liberal philosophical excess. It would seem that such a position on life would lead to an inability to defend or differentiate between friends and enemies, good and bad, right and wrong, gain and loss.And yet some of the deadliest warriors who have ever lived embraced such a path.

And some of the smartest people I’ve ever known have guided their lives in such a manner.

I remember a conversation with a Scientologist (I have to assume that it was that aspect of his life that prompted his comments) in which he asserted that any human experience or thought could be communicated linguistically. As the above quote suggests, there are some states which, if they have not been experienced, simply exceed language’s capacity.

But is it useful? Well…I currently have a situation in my life where an opportunity MAY be arising. If it happens, it will be the single greatest thing that has ever happened in my career. Too many of my interests and talents, hopes and dreams come together in this particular situation. And as we all know, most such situations don’t work out.

I absolutely CANNOT allow myself to hope too much.And yet…I must also bring 100% of my skill, energy, creativity, integrity, and enthusiasm to the table, or there is even LESS chance of it happening.

I mean…the truth is that people’s dreams are fulfilled every day. I have had wonderful, wonderful things happen to me over the course of my life. This could well be another one.

In speaking to Mushtaq about this situation, I asked what he thought my perfect reaction to all of this might be. And what he said was that I must approach this potential career move as if it is a service to God, a natural unfolding of the universal plan. Seek neither victory nor defeat. He was coming from a Sufi perspective, and the above quote is Zen. Truth is truth.

And the truth is, I must raise my son with 100% commitment every day, although I have no way to control what will happen to him, or who he will be.I must write my heart out every day, although I cannot control how the public will view my work. I must do my best, protect my interests, without being attached to the balance sheets or sales figures.I must love my life and do my best to preserve it at every moment…without caring if I live or die.

Damn, this is hard. But then, if it weren’t I doubt I’d get such joy out of life.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Basic Instinct 2 (2006)

Warning!  Sambo Alert!

We all knew this one was a loser.  The original was a delirious fever-dream of male-female combat, two killers (Micheal Douglas and Sharon Stone) locked in an erotic dance where either of them might die at any moment.  It had a sleezy charm to it, and a genuine erotic sizzle.  Well, this long-delayed sequel isn’t as bad as I’d feared…about the level of a decent direct-to-video movie, but man oh man, I understand why it bombed.  Sharon Stone looks great, but she is simply paired with a British actor of no power or authority.  Not for a moment do we believe them to be equally matched.

Worse (for me) the movie opens with Stone rocketing through London being digitally pleasured by a black soccer player as she drives.  Of course, the car goes off a bridge, and the poor Negro dies a dog’s death.  Sniff.  Who didn’t see THAT coming? 

At any rate, the film contains a tiny bit of interesting violence, some appropriately nasty sex, and no real entertainment value at all.  I want my two hours back.

The power went out yesterday, a rolling blackout said to last until three pm today.  So I went out and got some dry ice to keep the food cool in the refrigerator.  Then…the lights came back on, and I ended up using the stuff to cool my office, and to entertain my son Jason.  He’d never seen the stuff boil water…which is way cool.  He’s going through some kind of emotional/intellectual growth spurt, and I think the (mostly) Spanish-speaking ladies at his day care may be having a bit of trouble communicating with him.  Of course, maybe he’s just being stubborn and fractious, but we’re looking into alternative daycare.  Maybe preschool—he’s about ready for it…
Some delicate conversations going on on the radio about Israel.  You know, the history of that region is sufficiently murky that I feel like I couldn’t get the truth from anyone who is either a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim.  Sad.  I wonder if anyone knows a Middle-East tome written by a Japanese Buddhist?

While it seems to me that Israel can overreact, God, I sure understand how that can happen.  They ARE surrounded by people sworn to kill them.  That kind of stress produces some pretty bad behavior, and I feel terrible all around.

I remember when I was on publicity tour for LION’S BLOOD, and a man came up to me and asked me if the Muslim background of the book meant I thought Israel had no right to exist.  I had the odd sense that this man was a bit unbalanced, and that my answer was more important than logic might suggest, so I thought carefully.

And what I came up with was this: if there was one other country, anywhere in the world, that was Jewish, I might doubt Israel’s right to exist.  But there is no other place.  Literally, then, nowhere for Jews, as Jews, to go where they are in control of their own fate. If we tell Israel it has no right to exist, we are in essence telling them we don’t care if they live or die, and the only reasonable response is for them to say “screw you.”  There is an imperative with all living things: survive.  And after WW2 and the horrors of the Holocaust, it is easy to see that the Jews needed a patch of ground that was theirs.  Should it have been THAT patch of ground?  I cannot say.  Entirely too ignorant. 

It is quite possible that that was a flawed decision.  But now we’re stuck with it.  I pray, I really pray, that there is a way to peace.  The entire Middle-East situation reminds me of an awful, lethal, dysfunctional family argument.
Unfortunately, I feel that this Administration will have more difficulty than most maintaining any kind of neutrality.  We’ve lost a huge amount of any moral highground in our current actions, including Abu Gharib and Guantanamo.  With those, and the invasion of a sovereign nation that had not attacked us, it is ENTIRELY reasonable for Arabs to doubt our intent.

Further, there has been too much talk of the Christian God in our White House.  This creates a problem as follows: a President, as a political leader, can speak to the Theocratic leader of a Muslim nation.  But when that President wears his Christianity on his sleeve, well, you have to ask what he really thinks of Islam, or Judaism.  Doesn’t he really HAVE to consider Muslims just flat wrong in their beliefs?  Doesn’t he HAVE to consider Jews wrong, sort of like Alzheimer-ridden parents who got you started in life and then lost their way, misinterpreting the signs?

This lack of neutrality would almost HAVE to create misunderstandings…and that is assuming the very, very best of intentions.

But…supposing that about 10% of human beings don’t have good intentions.  If they are encouraged to think of themselves as Christians first, political creatures second (and I’m not saying this has happened) wouldn’t some of them have downright contempt for those of other beliefs?  Wouldn’t that affect any plans for, say, re-structuring governments?  When you think you will be greeted as liberators, and are instead greeted with a vicious insurgency, don’t you have to wonder if someone had thinly-veiled contempt for the Iraqi people, thinking that they would be happier to have an occupying army (from their POV) on their soil than we Americans would be?

That kind of miscalculation can come from thinking we are the pinnacle of creation, the ones closest to God.   I can’t help but think that there is real, serious danger in having Conservative religious zealots…of whatever stripe…in charge of political maneuverings.
A thought on Global Warming.  While no one can say for CERTAIN what is happening with climate change, it is increasingly clear that the majority of scientists are concerned with anthropogenic warming.  That doesn’t make them correct, but it does lend an interesting tone to the conversation, when one hears people suggesting the opposite.

I remember twenty-five years ago, during the Nuclear Power debate.  I noticed something: most of the technical people, the engineers and physicists, were in favor of nuclear energy.  Most of the opponents were Leftists, with inferior academic credentials, or high academic credentials in areas only tangential at best.  Many of those in opposition struck me as good-hearted environmentalists who were acting more from an emotional than an intellectual basis.  I remember talking to some Conservative friends at the time, telling them that I’d pretty much come down in favor of nuclear power based on this observation.  I was applauded for my perspicacity.

Well, the shoe is on the other foot now.  Virtually everyone I hear doubting Global Warming is way over on the Right.  The clear majority of anyone who would seem to me to have a real academic, scientifically based opinion believes its happening. There are many, many intelligent people in opposition to this notion: but most of these are in tangential areas at best.  The exact same situation, in reverse.   

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Free Teleseminar

This is the first time I've ever cross-promoted
with another teacher, but the gentleman involved is
offering a perfectly free teleseminar for Lifewriters,
and I thought this was too good to pass up!
I have arranged for you to join this special one-time
event coming up this Wednesday, July 26th.
Mark your calendar!

Whether you want to write, direct, produce or act
in your first feature film, this FRE(E) TeleConference,
happening tomorrow, will start you on your
path to filmmaking.

Learn the same strategies that launched the careers of
Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, Chris Nolan, and many more.

But you'll need to sign up now before all spots are taken.

Go here now:


And remember, it's free!



“If the mind makes no discrimination, the ten thousand things are as they are, of single essence.  To understand the mystery of this One-essence is reached.  No comparisons or analogies are possible in this causeless, relationless state.”

Balancing this state with the (apparent) NEED to discriminate,   is a killer.  I don’t want to plunge into hierarchicalism, nor drift in an ocean of undifferentiated thought.

The solution as I feel it today is to allow my ordinary mind to function in the world of choices and gradients.  While I continue to hone that higher function, the observer self.  It watches me screw up, and helps me re-align after I have.  It watches me flinch from negative images, and points out that I still have much healing to do…but then encourages me to dissociate from the wounded being himself.  I am more than my wounds.

To do this, I have to maintain a position difficult to even describe.  How do I know when I am there?  How can I feel confident that my efforts are taking me closer to truth?

One very clear answer: when the voices in my head quiet.  In my meditations, I go through several layers, or membranes.  The first is apparent quiet: there doesn’t seem to be anything going on in my mind.  The next is a descent into cacophony, and I realize that what I took for peace was actually a screaming whirlwind of thoughts, desires, and fears behind a thin, thin sheet of glass.  Drop far enough through this, and you reach more peace…and then another layer of emotional crud, and then more peace…

If I’ve been meditating VERY regularly, I can reach a place where there is a kind of “drifting stability” and you know?  It’s kind of odd, but from that place everything looks, well, it looks RIGHT.  Appropriate.  Life is just as it is. 

I don’t mistake this state for some advanced form of enlightenment, but it seems to be a doorway.  Of course, the problem is  that, properly, I shouldn’t prefer enlightenment to any other state.  Arrgh. 

Ah, I know: “I” shouldn’t prefer enlightenment to another state.  My true essence IS enlightenment.  The trick is to calm the “ego-I” so that it ceases its endless quest for more and better and deeper and so forth.

Note how tricky this is?  You need to head in the direction of truth, but even preferring truth to lies can take you from the path.  It requires a sort of disinterested commitment, something that sounds truly wonky, unless you’ve experienced it…

Does Talent Exist?

Does Talent Exist?

Probably, in the same sense that “height” exists…but in the game of life, how high you can jump, and how hard you train to increase agility, counts for more than whatever genetic gifts you may or may not have been given.

Similarly, most people think of talent in connection with writing, and wince.  Either they have it, or they don’t.  And they fear that if they don’t, what’s the point?
Just Sunday, I was speaking to a television writer, who spoke of an acquaintance, a man who worked on a show with him.  The man, he said, was a genius.  Understood structure intuitively, had a phenomenal grasp of dialogue and character, and wrote like a whirlwind.  He could only ask himself: “why do I bother?”

Well, there are multiple answers to that.  The first is:
Because you must.  Because you are a writer, and that is what writers do. They write. 
The second is: because there are very, very few such people, and they can’t write everything themselves!  Just look at film, television, books, stage…and you will see very swiftly that the majority of the work is NOT written by blessed, intuitive geniuses.  No, at best most of it is written by people with moderate talent who work very hard at creating the contacts and skills necessary to survive in the writing game.

Never be intimidated by “talent.”  Rather, spend all of your time and energy improving your own skills, cutting closer to the bone, being more honest, reading a higher level of work.  THAT is the way to move forward in your life and career, not by envying the few “natural talents” you will encounter in life.

And by the way: the writer I spoke to is healthy, with a lovely family.  The “natural” talent was just working on his third divorce.  To me, this indicates not “natural talent” but a willingness to sacrifice emotional health for career boost.  And this is not the Lifewriting way.

Monday, July 24, 2006

It's Kinda Warm...

Hot here—108 degrees Saturday, considerably cooler Sunday because of overcast. But that worried me too…an extremely hot day seems to draw mist off the ocean, leading to a cooler day…but there are blistering times ahead. 

No, I don’t blame George Bush for the temperatures.  Only a fool would do that.  But you know what?  Ten years from now, if the Global Warming model is correct, and anthrogenic (is that the right word?) we may be cursing each and every politician who didn’t sound the emergency claxon.  And Bush would certainly be among them.

Geeze, I war with bitterness about that guy.  I’ve never hated him.  I’ve never thought he was stupid.  But there seems to be a uniquely ugly list of problems in the world right now.  If the President of the United States is the powerful, influential figure he has always been stated to be, then surely he has some connection.  I’d be contemptuous of a Left-Winger who suggests Bush is responsible for all of it.  But equally contemptuous  of a Right-wing partisan who suggests that Bush had nothing to do with ANY of it, or worse, tries to blame a President out of office for six years.    Shall we take a look at a partial list?

1)     Katrina.  Even if you say that the fault was New Orleans’, and that the people screwed themselves over with lack of foresight, wouldn’t this have been a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate our national readiness for an emergency?  Instead, we watched the government flounder on every level.  Worst natural disaster in American history?  Maybe.

2)     Iran.  Seeking Nukes!  Somebody took their eye off the ball here.

3)     Korea.  Testing missiles!  Again, eyes off the ball.

4)     Iraq.  Arguably the worst foreign policy decision in our nation’s history.  Oops!  No weapons of mass destruction here…

5)     Israel-Lebanon.  Arrgh.  I was in a restaurant in DC, and saw a CNN bullitin: “WW2: Yea or Nay?”  What the hell? 

6)     Worst deficit in American history.

7)     Worst indebtedness in American history

8)     Most indicted members of a sitting administration in history.  (I might be wrong about this—I’m sure I’ll have this pointed out to me if I am.)

9)     President taking the most vacation days in history.  Something is very, very wrong with this, considering the number of problems we have.

10)     Highest gas prices in history.  People wondered what the impact would be of having so many energy-related folks working in the White House.  You know: the secret energy meetings and so forth.  Now we know!  (I know, I know.  Temporal sequence does not imply causality.  But man, it’s tempting…)

11)      9/11 itself.  The worst attack on American soil in history.

I could go on, but don’t have the heart.  Absolutely, it would be ridiculous to blame Bush for all of this.  But…isn’t it reasonable to think that the man at the helm of the ship has responsibility for something?  If he isn’t responsible for ANYTHING aren’t you saying that he is not “Response-Able”: that he is, in essence, unable to respond effectively.

The same side of the political spectrum is in charge of both Houses, the White House, and the Supreme Court.  If Liberal Democrats were in charge of all these things, and the country was in the shape it’s in, I would be SCREAMING to get them out.  But then, I’m not a partisan hack.

We have had great conservative, Republican presidents.  Bush is not one of them.  The health of this country is, I think, determined by the BALANCE between the Right and the Left.  And right now, we are more imbalanced than I’ve ever seen, and seem to be careening toward an ice berg. 

I hope, I really, really hope, that I’m wrong. 


“Rest and unrest derive from illusion; with enlightenment there is no liking and disliking.  All dualities come from ignorant inference…”

This is a fragment of the verses Tim is having me memorize for the Friday morning class.  The resolution of dualities is one of the doorways to wisdom.  This is hard.  It is so difficult to look past male/female, black/white, left/right.  Most human beings cannot hold two competing ideas simultaneously in their minds.

At the Hurston Wright workshop, I concentrated on plot and characterization, and the way they interact to create theme.  Ultimately, plot is character, and character is plot.

But I also wanted them to erase the perceived separation between their art and their lives.  By using the Hero’s Journey not only to plot books but to understand the process of conducting their career, I was able to give them a glimpse of this higher, more complex reality.

The Path workshop takes this further: by concentrating on the smallest cycle of the Journey that can be voluntarily influenced: a single breath.  The road to understanding how a single breath relates to the Journey is found in the meta-cycle of say, 14-20 minutes of rhythmic endurance exercise (in the workshop, we use Flowfit for this).  The phenomenon of “Second Wind” contains all the elements of the Hero’s Journey: commitment to the path, girding our psychological loins, encountering deep resistance, pushing through with Faith, victory through blissful embrace of challenge.

To understand this is to grasp a secret every culture has known.  Most of the citizens of those cultures have been entirely ignorant of the potential of these patterns, the power of such daily cleansing.

I strongly encourage you to find some healthful physical discipline which will help you to explore this aspect of our brains.  Walking, running, dancing, rowing, striding, swimming…there are many, many rhythmic endurance activities that open this neurological doorway.  Embrace one.  The rewards are entirely disproportunate to the effort.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

My Super ex-Girlfriend (2006) and other topics...

Saw this sporadically funny movie last night…and felt that there was a much, much funnier movie lurking in there.  Uma Thurman plays “G-Girl”, a superheroine who falls in love with a normal guy (Luke Wilson).  The relationship falls apart, and that is, as they say, when the fun begins.  Don’t get me wrong…there is much genuine hilarity to be had here.  But Uma’s twitchy characterization, of a woman who is plagued by the need to continuously save the world, while her personal life falls to pieces, suggests another, deeper, funnier, more honest film lurking in there.  It needed to be crazier, more creative visually.  The relationship between “G-Girl” and the villain “Professor Bedlam” needed to be tarted up.  We NEVER get to see exactly what villainy Bedlam has been up to, and that creates some problems understanding the characters’ reactions to each other.  Is he a Lex Luthor type?  Does he kill?  Or just steal?  We need to know that in order to know what to feel about the rest of the film.  And we never do.  I’m going to give it a “C+” for a few hysterical scenes, and an all-out performance by Thurman.  Director Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”) just didn’t have his comic rhythm fully in hand.

Just got back from the Hurston-Wright writing workshop.  It was intense, and I wanted to do a core dump of things I saw there, and thoughts I’ve had in the last week.

1)     There are a lot of good writers out there.  I was blessed to have several of them in my class.  In fact, there wasn’t a loser in the bunch, thank God.  And one of them…well, one of them might just be a genius.  I’m not sure.  Hope so…

2)     Women outnumbered men by a wide margin. We had high school students from across the country, and all but two of them were girls.  They complained that the boys were so quiet…the girls were brash, funny, confident, and kicked butt.  This grew into general discussions of black men and women in America…and some of the discussions weren’t fun.  You all know that I straddle a fence that can make me unpopular with people who are strongly to the left or right: One, that we as individuals, especially Black American individuals, must take responsibility for our individual fates—there is no one else to do it.  Two, that historically, we were indeed screwed over major league big time.  I don’t suggest to “just get over it.”  I say that if you want to bring your dreams into existence, you must find a way to move forward despite your wounds and pain.  Black women have taken point right now—and the reasons are the same reason you see black and Asian women having sex with white men in movies, but you don’t see non-white men having sex with ANYBODY.  If you want to know the core difference, look at the Oscars two years ago.  Halle Berry got her Oscar for whoring herself to Billy Bob Thornton.  Denzel got his  for dying in the street like a mad dog.  And that, right there, in the secret greasy heart of men, is the secret: we’d like access to all the females of all groups, and we’d like the men of other groups to…well, to crawl away and die.  As men and women, we aren’t terribly attractive.  As black or white, we’re less attractive still.  As human beings, on the other hand, there is hope.  As spirits, there is light itself.

3)     Was listening to Michael Savage on the radio yesterday.  My sister likes him quite a bit.  I don’t.  But I wanted to give him a chance.  He was saying something positive about an Muslim who wrote a book about the silent Muslim majority, and I kinda liked that.  Then he got off on Global Warming.  He accused Al Gore of lying without being specific about the lies, which bothered me.  He then took note of the current heat wave, and said the “left wing media” was scientifically ignorant, and rattled off the dates for all-time hottest days in various states, many of which were before the invention of the internal combustion engine.  I had the terrible feeling that his audience was nodding their heads “yup!  Lyin’ Liberals!” like little bobble-head dolls.  The problem is that all the facts about cyclic weather and solar fluctuations, which anti-Global Warming folks often quote, are covered quite nicely in the works of various climatologists I’ve seen addressing these issues.  Those attacking them seem to be speaking to an audience who thinks this is new data.  My other problem is that these guys are starting to sound to me like the Tobacco companies, who set an impossibly high standard for “proof” that tobacco (and now second-hand smoke) causes cancer, and then sat back to see who they had conned into accepting an impossible challenge. 

4)     He also said that the Liberal Media was attacking Israel horribly.  I’ve seen a lot fo news shows on Israel’s attacks on Lebanon.  It may be ignorance on my part, but it seems to me that they are just as likely to show Islamic extremist attacks on Israel.  Does anyone out there have an opinion on this?

5)     While I was in Washington D.C. I went on an Afro-Centric tour of the city.  I vastly enjoyed most of it, especially talk of Benjamin Banneker, an African-American who was integral to the design of Washington D.C.  I was grieved, once again, that I had never even heard of him until after I graduated college.  On numerous occasions, I’ve had white Conservatives ask me: “why does there need to be Black History? Why isn’t American History enough?”  Because any given group will tend to over-state their own contributions, and minimalize the contributions of others.  The ONLY way blacks have gotten into the history books is by voting and thinking as a bloc, and forcing the majority group to change.  This has been an horrifically slow and painful process, fighting all the way.  Whether that :outsider” group is women, gays, blacks, the disabled, the non-Christian, or whatever—don’t stop fighting, and don’t assume you are morally superior to the oppressing group.  Blacks, women, gays, and non-Christians, when holding the reins of power, display the same grasping pathologies.  The key to freedom is balance and love.

6)     While on the tour, I was disturbed when the tour guide brought up that old wive’s tale about Napoleon shooting off the nose of the Sphinx, supposedly offended at the “Negro-ness” of the features.  Sigh. Would anyone with knowledge of the slightest actual original documentation on this please stand up?   A diary entry?  A letter by a soldier at the time?  I understand the need to establish a history that includes black people, but when you get your facts wrong, it gives bigots a chance to reject everything else you are saying.

7)     I had only Scott Sonnon’s FlowFit 2 to exercise with while I was there.  When I first arrived, my body looked pretty carved—I’d been doing Kettlebells, yoga, and FlowFit for my fitness.  After a week of just doing 20 minutes of Flowfit, most of my muscle mass was intact, and I was more flexible.  My wind had decreased a bit—I’m not advanced at FF2 yet, still working on the coordination and recovery aspect.  But I’ll tell you this…Scott has created a graduated path from couch potato to world-class athlete.  NO ONE who can do FF2 for twenty minutes, at one rep per minute, would be anything other than a paragon.  I kid you not.  And because of his brilliant instinctive training methods, it is really more a mental than a physical system.  I am seriously impressed, and can only HOPE that one day I’ll do just that.  Twenty minutes.  Sixty seconds per rep (right now, it takes me about 2 1/2 minutes per rep.)  Mother of God.
The first Two-Day Path workshop is at the end of September.  I’m going to be talking about every aspect of it, working out how we’re going to handle it.  This is the One.  This is what I’ve been waiting for for three years.  It’s going to be fabulous!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Little Man (2006)

Staggeringly bad taste.  This clumsy Wayans Brothers comedy about a diminutive thief masquerading as a baby is one of the most honestly advertised films I’ve seen in a long time.  If you are amused by the sight of a little black baby with a grotesque adult head punching people in the groin and French-kissing blondes, you’re going to howl.  I did.  It’s hysterically uneven, a live-action cartoon that breaks more social taboos than I can count.  I KNEW that critics were going to tear this one apart, before I ever knew what it’s values and problems actually were.  The Wayans’ understand the underbelly of certain aspects of American culture with laser precision, and go straight for the jugular.

I suspect this movie is going to make a ton of money, that they may have found the right way to package a lot of actually interesting and intelligent observation—in the form of a tasteless, calculatedly artless fart-joke fest. I can’t exactly recommend it, but it really gets the job done.  Hell, I haven’t laughed that hard in a very long time.  I’m going to give it a politically-incorrect “B+”

A grab-bag...

I’ll be at the Hurston-Wright novel writing workshop in D.C. for the next week—it’ll be a little difficult to get to my blog, but I’ll try.  Just wanted you to know…
Meanwhile, a grab-bag of thoughts that have been rolling around in my mind.
   Pavel Tsatsouline’s “Enter the Kettlebell” is excellent, containing another of those super-brief routines that are so much fun.  A total investment of 34 minutes a week for basic strength and endurance training…and more.  This is extremely well thought out work, guys, and deserving of a look.
Scott Sonnon’s Flow Fit 2 video is for madmen.  Where the first one provided basic fitness in about 45 minutes a week (with some important health and meditative components included), this one is for athletes.  Anyone who can perform even the lowest level of FF2 for 15 minutes is a Junior Ninja, and I’m not kidding.  The miracle?  It’s incremental, and internal.  This isn’t just a measure of your genetic potential—this is about how tightly and gently you can concentrate, which makes a high level of physical performance available to just about anyone.  Unreal.
Had a pitch meeting yesterday at MTV films. It is possible that it was our best ever.  A major major musician/actor was in the room with us, interested in producing/acting in the project, and everything went terrific.  That doesn’t mean we have the job, of course—there are many factors involved in such decisions.  But right now?  Promising.
SAMBO ALERT.  Well, not really.  I finally read a review of “Miami Vice” and…oh my God…the Jamie Foxx character actually gets laid!  Be still my beating heart…we’ll see. 
Saw the trailer for “Rocky Balboa” (it’s available online) and I have to admit it looks great.  They’re not ignoring Rocky’s age…in fact, that is a central point in the whole thing. Seems that someone did a computer fight of Balboa against the current champ, saying that Rocky would have won.  This get’s the Italian Stallion thinking of doing a little fighting…nothing big, just some local stuff…which of course leads to bigger things.  I love the Rocky movies, even the bad ones (2, 4, 5) because they capture the ecstasy of extreme physical effort more purely than any other films I’ve ever seen.  But they also trade on racial tension, as I’m sure that Stallone is aware.  The Rocky movies work when they pit the White American against the Other.  Apollo Creed (black), Clubber Lang (black and brutal), Drago (Russian).  The one time they pitted Rocky against a home-grown, corn-fed white boy, the movie BOMBED.  Now he’s back to beating up  Negroes, and I’m  sure it will make 200 million dollars.  Hell, I’ll be there.
Seen the Spike TV “Blade”?  Starring a rapper, the producer, David Goyer, completed what he began with Blade—taking one of the only iconic Black superheroes, stripping him of internal motivation (he lives for nothing other than killing vampires…and rescuing white people in the process), completely emasculating him (he has to be the most sexless vampire in the history of film.  Even the hideous Nosferatu got more action than Blade!  In the films, Goyer promised Wesley Snipes that Blade would have a relationship in the 3rd film.  Got him to sign the contract, and then reneged on the deal.  If you wonder why Blade III is incoherent, it’s because Goyer wanted to kill Blade off and bring in some hot, sexy white vampire hunters…and Snipes refused to film the scenes, God bless him. Expect Wesley’s career to suffer, as did Avery Brooks’ career when he refused to be a Sacrificial Negro on the last episode of D.S. 9.

Well, Goyer doesn’t have to worry about that now. By casting a Rapper instead of a trained actor as Blade, they now have a puppet they can manipulate any way they want.  All the white vampires will be sexy and internally motivated, and Blade will be a symbol, not a human being.  He will sweep in when the plot demands, and in a monotone voice spout second-rate quips and kick butt.  But he will have no love, no drives of his own, will be nothing except a torpedo Goyer can motor down his derivative plots.  Disgusting.

We had a panel at Westercon on Octavia Butler.  I’m getting tired of trying to explain to people who don’t want to hear.  It HURTS them to hear.  But they really believe this crap about the SF field being progressive and open racially.  And they say: “where are the black fans?  Where are the black writers?”  As if black fans and writers are motivated by drives other than the ones they themselves feel.  And insist to me that aliens represent non-whites in SF, so why aren’t black people flocking?  This is so sad.  They don’t realize that the truth is right under their fingers, lurking right in the comment they just made.  To put it another way: “white people consider non-whites to be aliens.” There it is.  Put our faces on books or comic books, and the sales (in general) plummet.  Critical editors and writers in the field, of vast influence, considered blacks second-class human beings, of inferior intellect.  I won’t name names, but they influenced an entire generation of readers and writers.  And the readers themselves are vulnerable to the exact same racism as any other human beings, while considering themselves above it.  Meaning that if black people don’t enter a field where they are barely represented (what’s the percentage of LEAD black characters?  1% ?  Less?) then there must be something wrong with them…while it is normal for whites to avoid books that don’t depict them. I think that people are largely incapable of learning anything that would paint a less-than-flattering picture of themselves. 
Life is good.  My daughter Nicki is doing great in school, Jason is acting like a brat in daycare (we may have to find a new one for him) and Tananarive and I are blazing on our book projects.  My weight is 178, solid, and since I cut one workout day out of my week, I’m feeling better and stronger and more energetic. 
Looking forward to teaching at Hurston-Wright.  I’ll have them write a story every day, and then read them in class to workshop ‘em HARD.  That’s the best way I know of transferring skills at Mach speed.  Anyway…I’ll try to blog in the next few days, but if I can’t—see you in a week!

No Subject

"Rest and unrest derive from illusion; with enlightenment there is no liking and disliking.  All dualities come from ignorant inference.  They are like dreams or flowers in the air; foolish try to grasp them.  Gain and loss, right and wrong: such thoughts must finally be abolished at once.  If the eye never sleeps, all dreams will naturally cease.  If the mind makes no discriminations, the ten thousand things are as they are, of single essence. To understand the  mystery of this One-essence is to be released from all entanglements.  When all things are seen equally the timeless Self-essence is reached.  No comparisons or analogies are possible in this causeless, relationless state…" --Hsing Hsing Ming

So..the above text is my next meditation assignment.  The difficulty is finding my way in to a place of understanding…or being.  What Tim Piering is having us do is recite such texts, and then alternate with sparring or self-defense motion…then he will calm us down with a Chi Gung style motion, have us recite again, and then more intense work.

I’ve never trained like this before, and it’s simply fabulous, interesting enough to get me up at 5 in the morning (one day a week!) to play with these guys.  It is an honor.

But what do such words mean?  I have a few hints, based on experience.  During an exceptionally deep Yoga Nidra exercise years ago, I found myself in a place where my body was asleep and my mind was awake.  As Neo said, “whoa!”  I was lying there listening to myself snore.  Amazing, and I THINK I experienced that particular phenomenon one more time.

The point is that there are at least three different positions from which to view an action: the thing itself, the person doing the thing, and an outside observer watching the person doing the thing.  This third position is rarest, most evolved, and most enlightening.

During writing, for instance, I occasionally find myself in a position where I am watching myself sit and write.  This is strange—one of those “out of body” moments.   The curious thing is that my writing is rather mindless…but when I read it, it feels absolutely polished, highly creative, and sometimes mind-blowingly dead-on.

I suspect that we all have such moments, and if you can identify one or a series of them, you have the key to a level of excellence and conscious-subconscious integration that completely evades most human beings.  Give it a try!  Meditate, or walk, or wash dishes, or play with your dog, or write…but maintain conscious awareness of the fact that you are doing this.  Try to find the observer mode.  No, you don’t want to be there all the time (I think) but it can be extremely valuable in learning to get out of your own way, and let your trained instincts take over. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I am...a father

I Am…

A Father.  Tananarive spent the night with her sister, at a cozy little hideaway in Beverly Hills. I  came home to keep the fires burning.  Woke up at about 5 this morning, feeling rested, and began to meditate.

I am…wow, all of the crap started bubbling up: anger, disappointment, ear, sexual adventurism (how do you like THAT euphemism?) and resentment…

And then, glimpses of light. Ahhhhhh.

I did a signing yesterday, and during my talk with the audience (tiny, but attentive and interactive and greatly appreciated) I spoke of a Chinese Puzzle Ball, you know, one of those games where you revolve wooden shells to create a direct path through the balls, large enough to accept a dowel.  I said that creativity is much like this.  We have to arrange our lives and days and consciousness to allow our true selves to emerge. And that true self is pure creative lava.

Touching that place within me was wonderful…and then Jason began to wake up.  “Mommy…Daddy…Mommy…Daddy…” he isn’t really quite awake yet, just preparing to enter the day.  His sleeping consciousness is reaching out to the people who  love him.  Mommy.  Daddy.  Sister.  It is what he knows, and all that keeps him alive. 

Yesterday he was “bad” at day care. One of the hardest things I do in life is pretending to be angry for this.  Is punishing him, whether with looks, words or what I refer to as “talking directly to his nervous system”.  Ahem.  I remember that one of the happiest days of my life was the moment I realized that Nicki, at 7, was old enough to reason with, and that I would never have to spank her again.  WOW I’ll be glad to hit that point with Jason.  He needs me.

And he needs me to be me.  Really me.  Not the wounds, the pain, the hopes and dreams, the resentments and fears.  Me.  Nothing else will see him through.

When he sees me, all he sees is the potential of life.  The possibility of growth.  His hero.  He does not see my flaws and failings…not yet.  Time enough for that, God knows.  If I love him, and I do, I must be the very best I can be.  No.  I have to be better than the best “I” can be. The perceived limitations of ego cannot be allowed to define my existence.

So, every day I have to clear my mind, stress and rest my body, work at my chosen profession, hug my children, tell my wife I love her, cling to the path of self-discovery, and give myself away as much as I can.  Every day is one day less to do what I came here to do.

And in one very important sense, I came here to be a father.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I am…

A spirit, clothed in flesh.  It is so easy to forget this, to slip into the illusion that I “am” any number of the roles I play, or the aspects I represent.  In my meditations this morning, I found myself scanning the various small and large torments I inflicted during yesterday’s workouts, and felt grateful that today is a recovery day…yoga only…

Then I realized that that voice was just a voice, and, although today remains a recovery day, my body actually feels fine.

I am a man…

Arrgh.  Boy oh boy, do I hear, loud and clear, the rattle of the naked ape in the back of my head.  It wants out of responsibility.  It wants out of obligation.  It is tired of fidelity, and wants to go after everything female with the proper waist-to-hip ratio.  It seeks to justify its prospective transgressions on evolutionary grounds.  It would destroy my marriage, my career, my life for momentary gratification, and then grin at me and shrug.

I am black…

Yeah.  And also white.  And Asian.  But the socialization is mostly black, and that’s where my most vulnerable wiring is.  Recently, we had some posts dealing with slavery, and the damage done Africa by the institution.  Undeniable.  The only problem is that, (in my mind) people who go too far down that road bear the risk of becoming reverse racists.  After all, if Africa’s problems are all the fault of Europeans, does that not imply a rather grotesque moral failing on their part?  And what then differentiates such a thinker from the white racist who says that Africa’s problems are because of intrinsic flaws on the part of Africans?  Each racist, white and black, sits on opposite sides of a table yelling at each other.  The situation reminds me of male and female supremists blaming each other for the state of the world.

But what is the alternative?  To me, it is to seek answers in universal human traits.  Anyone who has read Lion’s Blood knows that, in my opinion, if the relative levels of social/technological development had been reversed, Africa would have screwed Europe over just as badly.  I can’t count the number of black folks who have objected to this idea, clinging  to the belief that Africans are somehow spiritually superior.  And not realizing that if they take that position, they have no right to complain about white racists who say blacks are inferior.  In fact, I suspect that if they were white, that’s the way they’d feel about it…after all, they see the world in absolutes, where one group is superior to another.  I can’t be a part of that.

And yet…I can’t begin to express the pain and loneliness I’ve felt navigating the waters of my career, the flat astonishment I’ve felt when I realized how few whites seemed to have any idea at all of the social advantages they enjoy.  It is so easy to identify with this aspect of my being.  I have every justification for doing so. 

And if I take that road, it will lead me away from my true self.
In meditation, in certain aspects of martial or gymnastic or yogic motion, I can catch a glimpse of the true flow of my life.  In my son’s morning smile, in my wife’s warm embrace, in songs that trigger old and fond memories, I can escape my ego’s clutch and remember that I am not my history.  Not my wounds.  Not my scars, or my gender, or my skin color. 

Not that.  Not that.  Wow.  It’s astounding how hard it can be to hold onto that insight.  But really, it’s the only game in town…

Monday, July 10, 2006

Question about ads

I'm wondering if anyone out there has seen any of Random House's  advertising for "Great Sky Woman."  I personally have not, and I need to know if I should be concerned.  They had a bit of difficulty figuring out where and how to promote it, and I want to make sure it doesn't get lost...
So let me know, would you?

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

There is a moment in the original smash “Pirates” movie which, for me, defines the film: undead pirates walking beneath the hull of their ship, sneaking up on our unsuspecting heroes.  The scene is beautifully shot and framed, takes maximum and creative advantage of their status as zombies, and is just flat out beautifully composed and presented by the director, Gor Verbinski.  That movie is about five times better than the best I was hoping for.  After all, it’s just a movie based on a theme park ride.  How good could it be?  It was terrific.

And unfortunately, “Dead Man’s Chest,” the continuation of the saga of Captain Jack Sparrow, is not.  Oh, it’s good.  Occasionally, it’s terrific in its own kinetic way.  But this time around, Johnny Depp’s portrayal of his arch pirate Sparrow isn’t quite as surprising.  The 2003 film was absolutely elevated by an unexpected and wholly original portrayal. Sparrow was rogue, comic  relief, hero, scoundrel…and such a mincer one suspected he’d gotten his pirate training as cabin boy on a very un-Disney cruise indeed.  But here, they act as if this is an episode of the Captain Jack television show, with no need to earn our respect, love, or attention.  Plunged into a tale of how his former friends Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly) are forced to track Sparrow down to save their hides and marriage, all of these fine actors thrash about to little real effect. 

There are sights and sounds to thrill the eye, stunts to make the bottom of your stomach drop out, and yo-ho-ho pirate action, but I felt like I was at a thrill ride, not a movie.  This was how I expected to feel the first time, and it wasn’t quite enough.  So…it’s fun (and ends on a pretty darned good cliff-hanger reminiscent of “The empire Strikes Back”) and I left the theater grinning.  But there is a hazy sense of geography (where are these islands?  How close together are these ships?  People travel from one place to another, are lost and found and transported with odd rapidity.  Ships turn 90 degrees in seconds in denial of the basic laws of physics…it’s kind of a mess, really) and let’s not even get into the non-existent character arcs.  Well, with the exception of Swann, who discovers that she is as attracted to Sparrow as we are. 

But attraction isn’t enough to make a relationship, and spectacle isn’t enough to make a movie.  I’m going to give this one a “B” in hopes that the second half makes all of this fit together with unexpected elegance.  We can hope.

Friday, July 07, 2006

It's not who you know...


Yesterday I had a major, major pitch meeting that seemed to go well…we’ll see about that.  Also heard that a major actor-director who is co-producing another project of mine has finished negotiations with the studio, and they’re presently just chasing him down in Mexico to get his signature.  Sigh.  It’s taken over a YEAR to get that deal in place, and talk about frustrating!
But perhaps all is well after all…
The more important thing at the moment is a writer’s meeting I attended yesterday.  Actually, there were writers, producers, directors and actors there, all invited by an incredibly generous writer named Marc Scott Zicree, whose name will be familiar to anyone in the television or science fiction field.  This was important for me, because I’m now in my second career.  Ten years ago I was writing all over Hollywood, then went North to raise my daughter.  When I got back, it was as if I’d never written at all—couldn’t even get a meeting!  Wow, now THAT was a bummer.

The point is that the old expression “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has a great deal of truth to it.  In Hollywood, most deals seem to be done while socializing.  Parties, dinners, galas, informal meetings, etc.  People meet you, they like you, they give you work.  Just as important, the new people you meet can critique your writing, give you advice, and teach  you the things you don’t know.  If you’re like most people, some aspects of the writing game come more easily than others…and what you don’t know can absolutely kill your career.

THIS is another reason to start or join a writer’s group.  You simply can’t get there alone.  Your allies need to include people who understand business better than you…networking better than you…writing better than you.  Bring what you can to these meetings, and listen with an open mind and heart.  You won’t be disappointed with the results.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


By the first book review for NPR's "All Things Considered" airs today at, I believe, 7:20 est. What fun!  I'd say more, but today is a pitching day...have to run into Hollywood, which is always entertaining.  Give a listen to my review if you can...and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Slavery Was Fair To Slaves. Yeah, Right.

The capacity for human self-delusion never ceases to amaze me.  Over the weekend, I spoke with one of the few black SF fans at a local convention.  He spoke of conversations with a famous SF writer (of Southern heritage and Conservative bent) who insists that slavery was good for slaves, and not a damaging institution.  Sigh.  Just for fun, I did a bit of research.  If you find yourself in such a conversation with someone with a desperate need to justify the inhumanity of his ancestors, you might try pointing them at the following statistics.

Very clear.  During slavery, the black life expectancy was about 23 years, as opposed to almost 40 for whites.  Within thirty years after emancipation, black life expectancy had risen to 41.8, narrowing the gap between black and white by 6 years. 

In my humble opinion, anyone who can’t grasp the implications of malnutrition, overwork, infant mortality, torture, and murder is in a pathological state of denial, and the conversation should be terminated.

Raising Our Inner children

I was at the park with Tananarive and 2 1/2 year old Jason Monday, and the little monster (affectionately meant) started acting up.  He was so uncooperative, that I put him in “the corner” which means isolating him, making him face any convenient wall, sometimes with a little swat to make sure he doesn’t think it’s a game.

He went to the nearest wall, and stood there.  An Hispanic lady watching nearby approached us and in an incredulous voice, asked how we got Jason to obey us.  Her three-year old, she said, is a terror.

Wow.  I knew a couple of things without even asking:
Her son had no father in the home.
She feels guilty about fact #1
The guilt stops her from being effective at drawing the line for her son.

In speaking with her, I congratulated her on having the courage and honesty to ask the question.  Without proper limits, her son will seek something to “push back” against. He is looking for a male energy strong enough to control him.  If he can’t find it in the home (and there are many women who can project this beautifully, just as there are men who can take the nurturing role.  I’m using “male” and “female” here for convenience, not as a limiting label) he will look for it in the street, until he ends up getting “pushed back” by the police.  And ends up dead, or in jail.

She looked stricken, and admitted that the boy’s father was already in jail.  I rest my case.  God, I hate being right so often. 

The question of what children need is one that human beings have been asking for thousands of years.  I would say that, more than anything other than the basic physical necessities, they need attention, divided into love and discipline.  Children need to know their limits.  If their parents aren’t stronger than they are, little kids are in terrible danger, and “act out” in terrible fear.  They KNOW that they aren’t strong enough to provide for themselves.  If they can manipulate their parents, dear God in heaven…who will protect them?
Here’s the point.  What children need, adults need as well. Only for an adult, you have the strange need to be both adult and child simultaneously.  Your child self (which correlates very roughly with the Id) wants what it wants when it wants it.  Because it is, in many ways the most powerful part of your personality, it is easiest to just give it what it wants.
But that can be fatal, if you haven’t aligned child and adult selves.  Remember Harlan Ellison’s definition of success: “to bring into existence, in adult form, your childhood dreams.”

Brilliant. But how do you do it?  If you don’t have an instinctive, healthy connection (I’d guess that fewer than 5% of people do)  it is possible to reach this part of your personality through therapy, journaling, meditation, or ceremony.  In punishing my son Jason, I NEVER forget that he’s gonna be bigger and stronger than me.  I imagine that the adult Jason is by my side, watching everything I do.  My job is to prepare child Jason to take control of his own life.  Jason wants to be a good boy, he just can’t quite figure out how.  He will run into the street, stick his tongue in a light socket, snack out of the cat box.  He just doesn’t know any better.

It is my job to teach him. Not to be his buddy (although I love playing “Secret Boy’s Club” under a makeshift tent with him) it is to suck it up and draw the line.  To give him something to push back against.  To demand that he be polite, and gentle, and genteel.  And every time he learns a lesson, he gets more GENUINELY secure and relaxed.  He loves knowing that he is behaving in a manner his mommy and daddy approve of.
The child part of ourselves is just the same.  It will twist and turn and complain amazingly…but if you are strong enough to demand that it do its homework, or eat its vegetables, or be honest and considerate…when it learns the lesson, the benefits are just astounding.  You get connection with all of that youthful energy and hope, regardless of the age of the body you now house it in.  A phenomenal experience, if you haven’t had it.  But it takes discipline, and maturity, and a willingness to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long term gain.

It’s worth it.  Every time I look at my sleeping son, I know its worth it.  Every time I realize I’ve had a good, solid, disciplined day, it’s worth it.  There is simply nothing in the world more important than protecting, disciplining, and loving our children…whether they be children of flesh or spirit.
Parents out there: I would love to hear your thoughts on child-rearing, and how it relates to self-discipline and personal development.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Thoughts on the Path

Now that I’ve had a week to depressurize from the second Path workshop, I want to go back through everything we’ve done, with the thought to improve every aspect.  There are several ways to look at the core of the process, and the “flavor” of the workshop will depend on which of these “cores” we consider most paramount.

Here are some possible ways to look at it.  In fact, I suspect that it will NEVER be possible to refine it to a formula…if human transformation could be boiled down to words easily understood and applied, we’d all be enlightened.  Having met a few (just a very few) human beings I genuinely consider enlightened (and none of them lurk in my bathroom mirror) I just don’t think it’s that easy.  But it IS possible…
The first “core aspect” has to do with Reconnecting with our childhood dreams, and aligning them with our adult goals.  Making our work our play, in other words.  To do this requires re-wiring our beliefs, diminishing the negative emotional anchors, and prioritizing our values.  This is part of what I call being a “room temperature superconductor”—not fighting ourselves, not resisting our own excellence.

We have to have permission to dream, to hope. To place both our successes and catastrophic failures in perspective.  We have to dream our futures as clearly as, when children, we saw ourselves as astronauts or models or dads or cowboys. We have to re-connect with the river of energy flowing within us.  This last is so important: as we run out of energy, we run out of hope.  Double your energy, and your optimism, sexuality, intellectual agility and resilience increase hugely.

So, then, connecting childhood dreams and adult goals is one way of looking at the Path…but not the only, and not necessarily the best.  But it works.