The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Y is for "You"

Y is for “You”

This is, of course, the core of everything we talk about in Lifewriting. All roads lead here. The question is “Who are you?” you, after all, are the one who dreams, and types, and pitches, and hopefully cashes the checks. What does it all mean?

If you’re writing something scary—are you writing to frighten yourself? If sexy, are you turned on? I can’t help but think that the sleazy fun of something like “Basic Instinct” arose from the fact that Esterhauz was turning himself on. It was a trainwreck of a film in many ways, but potent, and incredibly successful. Movies like “The Exorcist” are best created by people who grew up within the Catholic framework, in which demonic possession is an affirmation of God’s existence. An atheist would surely have winked at the camera at some point.

But the question of quality of writing is actually secondary to the question of the quality of your life. If you’re going to spend hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of hours writing and planning to write, shouldn’t there be some connection between your work and your inner self? Shouldn’t you have a point of view in all you do?

I believe that the best writing comes from someone who is trying to say something, to give something. A person who yearns to express some essential spark of their core, their soul. To become excellent at anything (and I assume you want to be excellent!) you have to be somewhat obsessed. In every case where I’ve ever been close to someone at the top of their game, they inevitably spent more time practicing it than anyone else. How can you do that unless the activity is something that is as important as breathing?

For me, the driving obsessions of my work have probably stemmed from a sense of lack. Here are three:
1) Manhood. What is it to be an adult male, as opposed to an adolescent, or a woman? Is there a difference, and if so, what? This obviously is rooted in a childhood sense of lack: of father, of role models, of physical size and aggression, of courage.
2) Race. What is the distinction between different racial groups—not necessarily biologically, but sociologically, and psychologically? What are the historical forces that shape us in these regards?
3) Psychology and spiritual evolution. What is the relationship between nature and nurture? How shall we best live our lives? This comes from a sense that the external culture was reflecting my spiritual essence in a distorted fashion. I could trust nothing outside myself, and had a desperate need to determine truth.

There are others. What are yours? What do they stem from? What in your life would you die for? For me, that would be the ability to communicate clearly what I feel about the vastness of human potential, and the way our fear, selfishness and jealousy inhibit our ability to express and receive love…and our ability to grow toward our destiny.

Each of us has to work this stuff out for ourselves. There is no nobler way to busy up our days as we wait for the undertaker to call our number.

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