The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Why Even Care?

I was asked about “Assassin’s Creed” and I’ve got bad news: the book isn’t going to be published. No, there was nothing wrong with it: Marco Palmieri at Pocket Books was perfectly happy with it. But it seems that the video company got visits from descendants of the ORIGINAL ASSASSINS, members of the Ismaeli sect currently led by the Agha Khan in India. They…suggested that Ubisoft, the game company, show more respect for their ancestors, and Ubisoft went all pitter-patter. Next thing we knew, they wanted to remove all religious references from the book. I guess the Crusades were about shoe size or something. Then they hired an expert to vet the book. Curious that they hadn’t thought about that before, eh? And finally, they wanted to send the book to the Agha Khan’s people for their suggestions. By this time, Marco was thoroughly disenchanted. The book was turning into puree of bat shit, and I was no longer amused. The whole three-book project died.

Wow. Strange. Still got paid for the first one, though…

Here’s an article stating that EIGHTY PERCENT of white people harbor some subconscious distaste for black people. Generalize this to a statement about how people of group X feel about group Y, jigger the numbers a bit, and you have my feeling for why we have so much strife. Specifically, this should help you understand why black people feel so angry and threatened. Wouldn’t you, if outnumbered ten to one by people who don’t like you, and have vast and pervasive power over you?

Interesting to note that many of the ones in the 20% who AREN’T racist basically don’t form negative associations at all. Do 80% of black people have negative associations toward whites? They darned well should, but I simply don’t know. On the one hand you have 400 years of hideous history. On the other, the brainwashing of countless images of strong, brave, smart, holy, impossibly noble and heroic white folks, begun in infancy and repeated countless times a day every day since, for the rest of their lives.

There will be quite reasonable chicken-and-egg speculation, of course. Which came first, negative attitudes and actions, triggering loss of faith in the system, rage and pain, followed by negative behaviors in black people? Or: negative behaviors in black people, leading to negative reactions on the part of whites?

You know my belief: this stuff is hard-wired, unless you program and brainwash otherwise. I find it impossible to believe that the average white American in the 21st Century has a lower opinion of blacks than did 17th=18th Century whites. In terms of world history, it is impossible to figure out which group threw the first stone. But in terms of the American Experiment, it’s pretty clear that we got hosed, and no one ever made a serious attempt to compensate for that thorough, multi-generational, 360-degree hosing.

Fine. I don’t expect people to be fair enough to actually undo the damage done. But try being honest enough to grasp the enormity of it…
I had a student ask why, if nothing ultimately matters, we should care about anything at all. Well, that’s why no world religion will take you all the way to clarity: there’s no social benefit. However, encoded within each major religion seems to be a hidden path to dis-assembling the ego walls without turning you into a bum, madman, or wandering Saint. It seems to be the inculcation of core values at a young age, such that the residual ego shell still functions appropriately even after you’ve shed the illusions. It’s tricky stuff.

My guess is that the gate of Adulthood—responsibility for the core values held by the culture (my version of this is body-mind-spirit) MUST be passed before deeper, more secret teachings are offered. Most will try to go straight for the goodies. But religions are what Buddhism refers to as the “large boat” while direct experience of the divine is the “small boat”, not for everyone. I don’t recommend it. I just speak about it because, as I realized yesterday, this blog is my version of Literary Autolysis.

But to more directly, try this: a baseball game doesn’t “matter”. But if you decide to play, you learn the rules and play hard, to the best of your ability. If you don’t want to play, you lose the right to complain about the results you get in this world.

The challenge is to be “in the world, but not of the world.” To play hard, to learn the rules, to clarify our understandings, and then to move on.

To say “it doesn’t matter” falls right back into dualistic thinking, and logic breaks down a bit. “It matters/it doesn’t matter.” They don’t exist separate from perception.

If you can’t play hard, work hard, care for your family, engage with your community, preserve your body, provide goods and services, and grasp the fact that we can know NOTHING other than the “I am”—then please, please, please don’t try this. Don’t use “nothing matters” as an excuse to ignore your worldly affairs.

Remember the chakras? Master the lower ones BEFORE you get to spirit. Otherwise, I promise you, rather than clarity, you will be lost in illusion, and feeling holy about it. Obese, broke, and lonely…and feeling smugly superior to all us idiots who act as if the world is real. And then secretly weeping at night, confused as hell: with all this wisdom, why am I so miserable?

Trust me: you don’t want to go down that road.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Where does "further" lead?

“Impartial Distrust, combined with an understanding of the word `further’, is all that is necessary to awaken from the dream state.”
--Jed McKenna

While at the African Martial Arts symposium this last weekend, an Afrocentric gentleman expressed disbelief that I didn’t agree with his contention that white people, white culture, is especially violent and corrupt. How could I see and acknowledge the injustice, lying and prejudice, the colonialization and mass murder, without seeing that, well, white people are as inferior as white racists think black people are..?

Ahem. Sorry, can’t go there. My new friend is trapped in the dualistic mind-set, I’m afraid. But the corker was that he suspects that I don’t let myself think that “truth” because I want white folks to buy my books. Wow. That’s actually kind of interesting. He’s close to a truth there, but not squatting on it. The truth is that if I didn’t have to live in a world dominated by white faces, that I might not have begun the philosophical inquiry that led me to mistrusting all of presented reality, and eventually to the spiritual path I find myself walking.

To believe that whites were especially corrupt would demand the same kind of thinking I’ve always loathed in bigots: to assume that the presenting situation is equivalent to a peek into the soul. In gradeschool, I KNEW that I was smarter than the teachers assumed I was, and while it hurt, I felt myself sort of bifurcating…a quasi-personality disorder where I was compartmentalizing the pain while acting cheerful and upbeat.

The fear was indeed that I would not be able to survive if I let people know how angry and hurt I was. But the outgrowth was that I trusted nothing, and no one, to tell me what reality was. Not the church or the state, not my parents or teachers, not men or women. No one. I had to work it out for myself.

Wherever I looked, I watched people organizing their reality to make themselves look good. Realized that from every human perspective, the world is revolving around whatever group the viewer belongs to. Wow. And that their entire philosophical set will exist to justify their greed and fear, while making it look noble and loving. Double wow.

Sorry, but I can’t buy into any of this crap. And that was what separated me-I had no tribe, really until I met science fiction fandom. And you all know the problems I have THERE.

Now, we’re all alone. Every one of us goes in the box by ourselves. But we deal with that reality differently. For me, every time I thought I had an answer, I assumed it was just another question, and went further.

The whole “Lifewriting” thing with balance and the Hero’s Journey and so forth, is designed to point in the direction of Truth. That Truth is ascertained by taking action, not by reading philosophy. It can be glimpsed as we try to balance our lives, but never quite put into words. Want me to try?

“There’s nothing. And that nothing is everything.” Pretty bad, huh? If you can make true sense of that, (not fortune-cookie sense) you’ve glimpsed it. If you feel a bit sad, but simultaneously exhilarated, you’ve glimpsed it. If you laugh at the cosmic joke, you’ve glimpsed it.

And that glimpse makes a mockery of black versus white, gay versus straight, male versus female, Christianity versus Islam, Right versus Left. They are all part of the same thing, the differences created by human perception, even the perception of individuality created by perception, like a snake eating its own tail. It’s a joke, the biggest joke there is.

While I’m alive in this world, I feel like I’m sitting in a movie theater watching a flick. And it’s entertaining. But I don’t buy it for a moment. Watching each side of a political argument using the same data to come to different conclusions is like watching two men argue about which side of a sandwich is better.

And yet, it doesn’t mean that, from the perspective of the game, there is not truth or “better or worse.” But you can never forget it’s a game, or you’ll go right to sleep.

One of the most interesting signs of the ability of human beings to perceive flaws in others that they cannot see in themselves is in the accusation of blind sheep-hood, made by the Left and the Right about each other.

Global Warming, according to the Right, is a boondoggle slavishly adhered to by lock-stepping eco-zombies worshiping at the church of science. No thinking person could possibly believe this crap.

Support for Iraq, according to the Left, is a mind-warp inhabited only by Bush-worshipers who can’t see the forest OR the trees, people so frozen with fear that they’ve done a horrible thing that they cannot even process the truth.

Each side is so self-righteous. Each side is employing the exact intellectual plowshares that get beaten into swords as soon as the voices get out of control…or the talking stops.

It would be sad, except that I remember that I’m just watching the show. As soon as Jason is grown, however, I’m looking for the exit. I’ve enjoyed about all of this I can stand.

No, I’m not talking suicide. That’s that life-death duality thing again. This is bigger than life and death.
The whole “adulthood” thing is necessary at least because only an adult can raise a child. Want to see what happens when children raise children? Look at the disintegrating aspects of the inner cities. Look at the percentage of violent criminals who never had a biological father in the home. Look at people who spend their money on depreciating goods. Watch the infomercials promising something for nothing. Watch the politicians who can sway the country by punching the fear or shame buttons, the lawyers who free murderers by playing the race card, the pundits who sell hate-speech disguised as satire.

It’s all so sad. And funny.

God, I love this life.
“Further” is the key. When you think you’ve got it, you don’t. If you think you’ve run out of “it” you’re close. If you can resolve those dualities, you’ve got it. As long as you know that “it” is nothing. And everything.

Isn’t this fun?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why define adulthood?

Actually, I would say that in a perfect society, only adults would have say in adult matters. That might well include voting and holding public office. That probably isn’t achievable, however, and setting an arbitrary age standard for these things plus marriage, purchasing alcohol, running for public office, etc., is the best we can hope for.

Most traditional cultures have standards that separate the “child” from the “adult” stage. In the West, we prolong the “child” stage so that our citizens can have a more extensive education phase…but the downside is that people are easier to manipulate.

Children are to Adults as dogs are to wolves. In that sense, social organizations find it useful to prolong the childhood of a citizenry, because it makes them better cogs—easier to manipulate.

I wouldn’t think that marriage and children would be necessary for adulthood, although adulthood should be required for marriage and children. Nor would I think being independently wealthy. Willingness to be a teacher, police officer, fireman, etc. implies working within the system, but I suspect that a true adult would be “in the system, but not OF the system.” Same with artists. Only a fraction of artists will ever be “independently wealthy,” as the population as a whole has a limited degree of support available for the arts. That doesn’t mean that said artist can’t explore mature themes, concern herself with the safety of the children, and face the limitations of life and human experience without blinking.

Why define Adulthood?

I think that the concept of Adulthood is valuable because it allows us to more swiftly sort out the nature and value of perceptions, opinions and actions of those around us. If you are committed to seeking truth, it is valuable to have a way to hack through the forest of differing opinions. If I hear an opinion I am uncertain of, if the person presenting it doesn’t match my broad criteria of “adult” I am likely to discount said opinion until I hear it from someone who has a more accurate grasp of the adult world.

That certainly means I’ll miss out on some solid and reasonable information, but it also allows me to discard a mighty heap of drek. As “unfair” as it may be to sort ad hominim, it’s also saved me a gigantic amount of time and energy.

I remember checking out a spiritual teacher once who had come highly recommended. I liked his teachings immensely, but noticed that there was dysfunction among his followers:
1) They struggled for money.
2) Their physical bodies were not disciplined.
3) Their long-term relationships were in bad shape—more divorces and so forth than statistics would predict.

I kept my radar up high, and over the years watched the followers make very little psychological progress. And listened to them express frustration about their lack of spiritual growth, despite their intense and sometimes grueling work. Twenty years after exposure to these people, they are drifting away from this teacher, with a vague sense that they wasted their lives.

As “unfair” as my standards might have been, they saved me twenty years. Children follow indefinitely, because a strong leader seems confident in his teaching or leading. Children say “I’m scared. Save me!” and suspend their judgments and values.
Children still believe in Santa Claus.
I know this is a bit tautological, but adults recognize each other pretty quickly. Fortunately, they are also usually kind to children.

Why define adulthood? There are so many things wrong that are obviously the result of children playing adult games: burying themselves in credit. Having babies without taking responsibility. Stealing because you believe the myth of “fast money.” Road rage because someone “dared” to cut you off. Obesity because you refuse to take responsibility for your actions and emotions. And on and on. No, I wouldn’t want to try to legislate that the age of adulthood be tied to some standard of mine. I’m not political, and have no interest in manipulating groups to my notion of proper behavior.

I merely am interested in the path that leads to clarity, the awakened mind, and that quality referred to as “enlightenment.” Enlightenment itself involves the destruction of the ego—and right now, my ego is still tied up in being Daddy to Jason. I can’t disassemble myself without risking emotional pain to my boy, and I choose not to do that. Eternity isn’t going anywhere. I can wait.

But between the common human experience and enlightenment is this thing called “adulthood” which I believe everyone CAN aspire to. So I think it’s useful to define it, so that we can determine when we are NOT being adults, or when those around us are NOT being adults. In general, the good and lasting works in the world are created by adults—although children can follow them and contribute.

We need all the adults we can get. Enlightenment, on the other hand, isn’t particularly “useful” in a cultural sense. It encourages people to awaken from the shared consensual dream. We tend to crucify people like that.
There are so many martial arts because of:
1) Cultural differences in rhythm, perception, availability of tools, etc.
2) Historical differences dealing with frequency and variety of warfare, terrain, social organization.
3) Individual differences that deal with size, psychology, philosophy, available time, etc.
4) Specialized differences dealing with: emphasis on weapons, punching, kicking, grappling, aggression, defense, etc.
5) Perceptual differences dealing with: available teachers or inspirations, reality filters, religious preferences, etc.

No two human beings are exactly the same. Even in the same environment, one person might drift toward Judo while his brother studies the sword and his sister takes Karate. No one art can really encompass everything without stretching mighty thin.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What is an adult?

Back from Detroit. Was at the African Martial Arts conference, hosted by a gentleman named Kilindi. More later, but I had a fabulous time. Much of what I saw was similar to an Indonesian or Filipino art—but there was some material that was so archtypically African, so clearly extrapolated from (or evolved in parallel with) African dance forms that it opened my eyes to the way arts like Capoeira actually work (as opposed to the stuff shown to tourists.) Very serious, very lethal, very very non-Asian.
Flew in Sunday to do the CASANEGRA signing at Eso Won. We had a couple of hundred people there. Thanks to all of you who came out in support.
Got two more days to turn in the script to Fox, so this is brief. But I would love for you guys to send in questions you’d like me to answer about writing, I.F., Human Adulthood, or whatever.
What is an adult? Well, considering that only an adult can help a child through the rite of passage, I can hardly think of a more important question. This can be a difficult one to touch on. But clearly, an adult is one who takes responsibility for his or her own life, in all major arenas. And yes, from time to time we all blame others for stuff, but let’s just consider that a momentary failure, as long as we get back up on the horse and keep going. But there are vital distinctions.
1) Adults take responsibility for their lives and actions.
2) Adults factor the inevitability of their own deaths into their philosophies and values.
3) Adults don’t think someone is going to come and rescue them from their lives.
4) Adults can admit when they are wrong without it diminishing their sense of self.
5) Adults know that their goals must be time-bound and supported by actions: otherwise they are merely dreams.

Those are the first thoughts off the top of my head. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Eaten by our blind spots?

Had a wonderful and grueling 5-hour read-through of our “Good House” script yesterday. Had real, live actors in doing the reading, and that makes a hell of a difference…
Not interested in flame wars. That’s not the point of this blog at all. But I think an interesting impasse was reached a few days ago, dealing with issues like whether Bush lied, and whether there is an international consensus on the issue of man-made global warming, and if such a consensus represents “proof.” The yea or nay of it is NOT what I am talking about today.

What I’m discussing today is why wars happen. Please note that, unless people on either side of these issues are openly, consciously lying, what we apparently have is people of roughly equivalent intelligence, education, and personal responsibility (and I have no reason to think otherwise) interpreting identical information completely differently. To the point where, despite efforts to be polite (and people on this board tend to be VERY polite. Thank you!) note the comments coming to the edge of active insult and impugning of motives and intellect? Did you catch that?

What does this mean? Well, I have my own opinions about what is “true” in each of these cases, but that’s irrelevant. What IS relevant is to grasp that there is more flexibility to our apprehension of reality than most people want to admit. Want to see why people of different religions or political orientations kill each other? Why people die rather than negotiate?

Start with each side having a belief that they are the logical ones. The intelligent ones. “I just don’t understand how anyone can believe Bush lied/deny that he lied!” “I don’t see how any thinking person could join the cult of Global Warming/deny the obvious fact that scientists agree on Global Warming!”

In each case, what I suggest is that you back down, step out of the system, and generalize. What is it about human beings that makes us—ALL of us (from time to time) back into a corner, put our fur up, and support positions that make others of us, more or less identical in capacity, shake our heads in disbelief?

It is easy to see this tendency in others, and I think that everyone reading this blog believes that (on one side of the issue or the other) we’ve seen some examples of straight-out brainfreeze and groupthink. The problem is that this is probably right, but that tendency exists on both sides of any human issue imaginable.

What is the tendency? Herd think? My side is fighting for X, “Y” is also under the same tent, so I’ll support “Y”? I don’t think it’s that simple.

But do people who support the man-made Global Warming concept hate money, or industry? Not that I’ve noticed. Do those who oppose it strongly hate their children and grandchildren? Not that I’ve noticed. But the clear sense from those who have a settled position on either side is that the other side is nutty.

Divorce, war, incredibly bitter election cycles…hell, deciphering the Kennedy Assassination data, arguing over the basic nature of reality…

Don’t make the mistake of getting caught up in the “is it this or that”-ness of this discussion. There is something far more basic going on here. If on the external signs two people have equally accurate reality maps but see things completely differently, how do you explain that?

To me, it’s that a mountain can look one way from the south, and another way from the North. Some see a reality that consists of resolved dualities. Others one with absolute blacks and whites. Some believe that our inner essence governs our reality, others that it is primarily our programming and experience. But it seems clear to me that many of these basic positions exist at the unconscious level, and that they drastically effect our ability to sort reality afterward.

I’m not saying that one or the other side is “wrong.” I’m not qualified to say that. I can say I agree with one or the other position, but hell, I’ve been wrong before. Far more interesting to me is the ability to sum up the same data and reach drastically different conclusions—and then, of course, each side thinks the other is either lying or blind.

There is something here that needs discussing, and I’m actually not certain that I have described the problem adequately. I know that it is disturbing as hell that some of these issues seem to have come down to political orientation. In some cases that feels natural. In others, it’s “what the hell happened?”
Here’s a thought. What if, behind the scenes, there is a death-battle going on between two different and over-lapping forms of organization: political and commercial. Government and Industry. Now, the extremists on either side would like to gather all of the power in their corner. Call it Socialism and Free-Market Capitalism? Each side throws interesting fast-balls at the other. Note that in Global Warming, for instance, that each side claims that the other is swayed by money: in one case government grants, in the other, oil money. The same dragon with two different heads?

In other words, each side accuses the other of actual intellectual dishonesty.

But that wouldn’t explain why people who stand to make no direct profit (the average consumer) would take a drastic position. Are we back at herd instincts? The tendency to become rigid under pressure?

I like that one, because stress tends to conceal itself. Post 9/11 I watched a political death-struggle playing out in America, and some of the rhetoric, frankly, is alarming in its tendency to vilify. And it reminds me of bitter divorces, where each side believes the other was at fault.

More to the point, it reminds me of imbalanced people—those who have real problems with money, relationships, or their bodies, and the perfectly rational explanations they offer for why they don’t have the time or interest or capacity to have a healthy life.

We lie to ourselves to conceal pain, guilt, and greed. And then we point the finger and accuse the other side of doing exactly what we’ve done. I don’t have an answer. I just want you to look at it. Try to identify ways you’ve done this IN YOUR OWN LIFE. It is easy to see it in others. If you can’t see it in yourself, the safest assumption to make is that your blind-spot may be in danger of consuming you.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Monday Thoughts

1) I don’t believe that Bush passed along everything he got. I believe that it was filtered to reflect what he believed. The “American People” or Congress, did not have the same range of information Bush got, and therefore are not remotely as responsible for their vote. ONLY if evidence was presented to Congress contrary to the position of "Saddam has WMDs." Sorry, but I believe Richard Clark's assertion that the White House seemed set to go into Iraq from the get-go. And after he has left the White House, and no longer has so much leverage to distort and shut people up, I think that this will become clearer. It is totally possible that he believed that everything done was done for the good of America, however. Ultimately, this is between Bush and his soul. I do think that as evidence emerges, the case for him having deliberately distorted and filtered information will do nothing but get stronger.
2) It is certainly possible that torture resulted in information, available no other way, that saved American lives. Yes. It is possible. But I’ve seen no evidence to suggest torture works better than other methods, and some to suggest that it is inferior—but DOES appeal to the righteous and revenge-seeking part of our personalities.
3) Tananarive, Blair and I will be signing CASANGEGRA at EsoWon books in Leimert Park from 3-5 next Sunday. Tananarive and Blair are going to be there too—don’t miss it! 4331 Degnan Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90008 323-290-1048 website: email:
4) I don’t think its racist to suggest that a country isn’t ready for Democracy. It would be racist to say that “those people will NEVER” be ready, or to suggest that there is something intrinsic to their genetics. If you believe that a child adopted out of Iraq and raised in America would be pretty much just another kid, then racism isn’t the issue. To suggest that there are developmental stages that a people have to move through to be ready for Democracy, and that they are still operating at a tribal level (for instance) isn’t racist in my mind, although there are people who will say it is.
5) Tyler Perry’s new movie “Why Did I Get Married?” opened at the #1 position with 21 million dollars. Critics wonder why, when the films are admittedly clunky and populist. I offer an explanation: ask what they are offering that their intended audience hungers for. If you haven’t eaten in a week, you’ll swallow a sandwich with sand in it. I’ve yet to see this one, but will.
6) The blogosphere is buzzing about Al Gore's Nobel Prize win. The most often quoted objection I see has to do with the British judge who had 9 (0r 11) points of contention with the film "An Inconvenient Truth." He requested that the substance of those objections be offered to British students watching the film. All across the Internet (and I heard it first on El Rushbo) this was described as "Eleven Lies" in the film. But the thing that disturbed me was that the judge also said that the content of the film was "substantially accurate." Excuse me? If you trust this judge enough to quote him, doesn't it hit you that if the content of the movie is "substantially accurate" then this is a frightening and dire situation, worthy of rapid action? I literally don't understand. To say "yes, anthropogenic global warming is a hypothesis with growing support. But we don't no quite what to do yet" might be a responsible reaction. But denial? That seems like some kind of odd death wish--for your grandchildren. I really don't understand, and the easiest answer I can come up with is that there is a schatoma tied to political position, a sort of: "don't give the Left an inch" mindset that even obscures doomsday scenarios. This is kind of frightening, actually.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Z is for...Zero Tolerance

Dear %$firstname$%,

Z is for…Zero Tolerance

For sloth. For dishonesty in your writing. For the
voices in the back of your head that tell you
you’re not good enough. One of my students
is ex-military, a man who has been and done
in more dangerous theaters of war than he
can ever tell a civilian about. In discussing
writing with him, he confessed that he is
totally frozen by comparing himself to the
masters he admires: Faulkner, Hemingway,
Shakespeare, Dickens. He just can’t get past
the voices. This man, who has lived for decades
in a world where the slightest mistake could
cost him dearly, is up agains the fight of his life.
As I’ve said before, one of the smartest men
I’ve ever known said that if you only had two
things to maximize your chances of success in life, they would be
1) Well defined, written goals and
2) The ability to take action despite the
voices in your head.

And what would be a fine goal? How about
1000 words a day. And watching one movie
a week, while reading the script? Or reading
10,000 words a day. Somewhere in there
is a damned fine goal, one which will get
you to your optimum function in just a few years.

As for the voices in your head, you need to
integrate some form of meditation,
contemplation, exercise or activity that
allows you to either shut up the voices,
or separate yourself from them. Prayer.
Playing music. Dancing until you reach
second wind. There are many techniques,
and you’ll need to find one that works for you.
The point of these twenty-six mini-lessons
is to give you an overview of a set of skills
and attitudes that can help you reach your
goals as a writer—whether you want to
write books, stories, or for the screen.
The truth is that you’re going to have to
develop new skills. To work like a field
hand. To deal with disappointment, fear,
fatigue, and betrayal. To learn something
new every day, and to overlearn those
skills until you have them integrated
at the level of unconscious competence.

It is a long road. Start walking!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bush and Clinton—separated at birth?

Regardless of which you hold in more esteem, there is an interesting way in which these two former presidents (oops! Did I say that? I must be engaging in a bit of wish fulfillment…) have accomplished the exact same thing: degrading the English language. I mean, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” and “We do not Torture” are functionally exactly the same kind of sentences. Both are based on the fact that no word exists in a vacuum, that no word means exactly the same thing to two different people, and that there must be an intent to honest communication between speaker and listener.

Clinton took advantage of a linguistic peculiarity I’d noticed maybe twenty years ago. That is that, among a wide swath of Southerners I’ve known, the term “sexual relations” means, specifically, genital intercourse. Everything else, and I mean everything, isn’t “sexual relations.” Its oral sex, anal sex, mutual masturbation, whatever. But the term “sexual relations”, much to my amusement, means only an act that can cause pregnancy. It was explained to me that a bride could wear white at her wedding even if she’d gone down on half the men in church. Nice image. But as soon as he said “sexual relations” I knew the game he was playing. There was no intent to honest communication. But it wasn’t exactly lying, either. That’s probably why he didn’t get convicted—too many of the men and women in Congress understood the game.

Now, Bush has defined “torture” as something very, very specific, allowing him to say “America does not torture.” To my knowledge, his definition was not the generally accepted definition prior to 9/11—in other words, if someone had done those things to our soldiers, we sure as hell would have defined it as torture. And the Geneva Convention certainly seems to define it that way. But nonetheless, by using that definition, and sticking to it, there is a queasy echo of the Clinton testimony. No intend to communicate honestly. But not exactly a lie, if he really believes that. Does he? I can’t read his mind. I know what I think, but I can’t prove it. So those who love him have their wiggle room, their gray zone. Just as Clinton’s fans did.

Sigh. I hate politics. I really, really do.
A student who has been in personal crisis for a while was advised to try the “Fear Removal” process. He started by saying that he pretty much couldn’t find anything he was afraid of. Then he dug deeper:

“I've got it.

My greatest, deepest and most secret fear is of finding that I am correct in my
internal assertion that I am completely inconsequential. Of not mattering to
anyone or not having any purpose. (even though I do understand now that purpose
is all internal, nothing external could ever really 'create' purpose for me, its
all in how I decide to act)

It's why I stopped writing, it's why I can't connect with my kids or my wife,
it's why I won't pursue an obvious increase in pay and happiness by doing my own
business. It's why I started drinking and stopped bodybuilding.

I have slowly convinced myself that in the scheme of my own life I don't matter.

Hell it was easy. I tend to allow people to ignore me anyway so making the
intuitive leap from - ignore = doesn't count - wasn't a stretch at all.

It also explains the disconnect within my own feelings. If I don't matter, then
neither does how I feel. It becomes a self-fulfilling cycle.

Hmm. Lots of work to do yet...

I'm not going to try the exercise yet; the stuff above came to me while

This is excellent, excellent work. He is very close to the core, existential realization of “nothingness” that lives at the center of so much of our damage, hate, and anger. My advice: do NOT try to deal with this directly. He’s not balanced and focused enough to take that ride and keep his sense of priorities and dynamism in this world.

Can you deal with extinction of ego and not decrease your motivation, joy of life, ability to express love? Can you grasp the non-dualistic position that nothing and everything are two sides of the same coin? I don’t’ blame you if you can’t. But until or unless you can, best to stay away from that edge of the reality map. Don’t pry it up.

Start with self-love and self-esteem. The ability to live to give love and support to others, and then learning to accept it as well. The BOTTOM of Maslow’s hierarchy, up to the 4th Chakra. When ALL four bottom chakras are lit up, then you have a foundation to lead to full and honest expression, deepening your grasp of reality, and finally letting go of all material expectations and surrendering to spirit.

Try to do these things without proper rooting, and many people spiral into despair, disconnection, and even a bizarre “spiritual amorality.” Hell, you could be an enlightened serial killer. No joke. So…first root. Then grow.

To my student: damned good work.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Do Homeless People Enjoy Being Homeless?

“Across The Universe” (2007)

Anyone who grew up with the Beatles and remembers the dreadful “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” film could help but have serious reservations about Julie Taymor’s ode to the 60’s, a psychdelic extravaganza like nothing I’ve seen in a decade or more…certainly not since Foreman’s film version of “Hair.” Weaving several stories together, and featuring archetypes more than characters (the radical chick, the immigrant Brit, the antiwar draftee, the Black Guitar Hero, the Rock Goddess) traversing a map of 60’s America—drugs, war, class struggle, racial strife, musical transformation, political activism and more—using the Beatles songbook. Because the songs are used (roughly) in order of their actual composition, it is fascinating to see the progression from simpl love songs and bouncy dance ditties to meditations on reality and sanity itself (Goo goo goo Joob!) and there is a use of the phrase “she’s so heavy” that made me laugh louder and harder than I have in months. Ultimately, though, I think this is the kind of movie that you either get, or you don’t. I got it, and loved it. Be warned—it’s a mind-bender, and the narrative is secondary to the emotional threads woven by the music itself. For most viewers, a “B.” For old Beatlemaniacs like me, an “A.”
A reader opined that America provides the basic services I suggested that we should provide as a safety net. He didn’t state whether he thought this was a good idea, but shall we assume he does? If so, all I’m saying is that these basic services provide a foundation from which an even more gracious, successful and dynamic society. Now, I think that this belief of mine is rooted in a basic sense of what human beings are—and at the most basic level, you can’t come to any universal conclusions. This stuff has been debated for thousands of years, and we ain’t gonna settle it here. I WILL say that I think our attitudes about these things relates to our basic sense of self. What we think WE are. And that the things inside ourselves we like the least we project onto others.

I believe (and I try very hard to label these opinions of mine AS opinions, rather than “facts”) that people on average aren’t “good” or “bad” but rather trying to move away from pain and toward pleasure. And as the levels of abstraction grow more complex, we tend to learn to cooperate to get what we want, to give and receive affection, to learn to be honest. In other words, we learn to do the things which are considered “good.” We want to survive.

But it seems to me that the average person is capable of performing, accepting or justifying horrors, given the right (wrong) situation. The more I researched slavery, the more it seemed clear to me that slave owners, and their neighbors, were just ordinary people who saw an economic necessity. And because of that necessity, they supported or participated in a system which inevitably led to murder, torture, rape, and brainwashing on a stupendous scale. I know their descendants. I’ve read letters and speeches by the people who profited by slavery directly or indirectly. The people who fought to maintain it, even if they didn’t own a slave (most Southern whites did not). Utter, raving horror. And people had to be in SERIOUS denial about its effects, create an entire mythology suggesting that blacks were sub-human, in order to justify the institution they felt they needed.

Evil actions. Evil people? Not in my mind. Most of the time, just people doing what they felt they needed to do to get by. I’m sorry, but I see human nature as damned flexible, that the standards and ethics we’re programmed with in childhood—explicitly (by parents, schools, churches) or implicitly (by observing the actions of the society around us.) determine our behaviors and beliefs to a degree most people would be terrified to admit.

Do homeless people enjoy being homeless? I had a friend say that he’d researched this, and found a world of hustlers and con-artists who “enjoy the life” on the streets. All right. I’ve had to rescue friends from homelessness, and that was certainly not my experience. Perhaps it would be more useful to say: “I believe that X percentage of homeless people are on the street because they consciously refuse to “play the game” of society” What would that percentage be?

All of these discussions really come back to the question of how shall we live together in society. And that question rests on the beliefs we have about human nature, what is it that we are. “What is Man that thou art mindful of him.” My position is that we are one family, that the evil we see in others is a reflection of what we fear in ourselves. THAT is why I say the things I say, and I’m very clear on that. To have less compassion would be to begin to judge the injustices I see in the world—and in history—in a very different way. I won’t go there. Wouldn’t be healthy.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Prison amenities and Maslow's Hierarchy

“"But then they'll shoot you back!" I can expect you to reply. But, you're postulating a situation where I'm sitting here minding my own business and somebody else demands my subsidies on the basis that they're able to hit me in the head. Notice the asymmetry of that situation; also notice that mostly what I want is to be left alone, and that the threat of violence on my part is a response to the threat of violence towards me and my loved one that you're invoking. So, big whoop. You want to impress me, start by making an argument that doesn't begin by treating mugging as a morally neutral phenomenon.”
You miss my point. Anyone who would consciously shoot you—or anyone in the head, or demand “money with menaces” is the last person I would want to pay off. But in most of the industrialized world, we DON’T execute people. So say: “crack you over the head with a pipe, and then run to the police.” Now you’re still stuck—we’re not going to execute someone for putting you in the hospital, and doing so wouldn’t make it a better world, in my opinion.

What would? Certainly some people need to be locked away (and if it were really possible for it to be fair, capital punishment seems a sound idea in many cases) and that includes, as I said, anyone who would have the basic necessities of life and still contemplate violence.

But how many good, decent, honest people would steal if they were hungry? If their children were hungry? I think that the average person, pushed far enough by hunger, would certainly steal. And the instant you decide to steal, you risk having to do violence to back that up.

The ability to kill, to steal, to take by whatever means the substance necessary to maintain life is probably in 99% of the human beings on this planet. When we perceive others as being of the “Other” tribe it gets easier. You make a sociopath at least partially by completely withholding affection and connection early in life. Obviously this is a bell curve. Some people won’t break down into criminal action, no matter what. And others won’t be good citizens no matter what.

But I think that most of us are somewhere in the middle. Most would kill to defend family and friends. And if society broke down, the rules by which one decides what is “us” and what is not get mighty fluid.

Take the average person and put them under perceived threat and they’ll o.k. a government’s plan to bomb strangers, even given the statistical certainty that innocent people will die. Those who feel the system works for them often have a difficult time believing that anyone could think otherwise.

I’d guess that 80% of people would steal if you denied them food for two days. They would try to keep violence out of it, but if you tried to jail everyone who WOULD commit violence if hungry and frustrated, I think there would be more people in jails than outside them.

Nature says some percentage of people will be bad, no matter what. Nurture says that the majority of otherwise good and decent human beings, if they believe themselves to be in a no-man’s-land where there are no rules, will revert to the law of the jungle. Again, they may not WANT to hurt you, but if you are between them and the food they need, or the food their child needs, someone is going to be hurt.

This doesn’t mean that they are bad, or that human nature is bad. It means that the gentler tendencies, the spiritual tendencies, the civilized and intellectual tendencies, are based on a foundation of survival, security, and satisfaction of basic physical hungers. That’s Maslow’s Heirarchy.

It takes a saint to remain true to higher values when it seems that cheats and robbers and dominators are getting rich. You don’t want to go down that road.

A huge amount of civilization, I think, is designed to channel the basic aspects of human nature into higher stages. And there are damned good selfish reasons to engage in charity. Not only is it good for its own sake, but it helps remind those who receive it that there is good in Mankind.

When I say that I feel we will have raised up a notch in our level of society when we provide those basic benefits it is because I think that caring for the least among us is a healthy thing in every way. I believe that human beings given love and safety during early development are far, far more likely to develop into healthy adults. And that providing a security net helps people feel that they have not fallen off the edge of the world, into a place where law and morality seem to be lies created to keep an unfair social order in place.

I don’t want that. I feel that it increases my chances of living to a ripe old age, and my children being the same, if no sane person needs to crack my head to get food and shelter. That still leaves the crazy and the bad, but you know something? I think that is actually a pretty small percentage of humanity.

Most of the rest? Bad reality maps.

What do the Haves owe the Have-Nots?

“Different people have different likes when it comes to job styles, and it's been my personal experiences that teaching attracts a certain type of person; usually not the go-go-go competition-competition type. Some people might fear that rewarding teachers based upon results could change their job into the type of job they never wanted to have.

That's not to say that their preferences are more important than giving the best education possible to the students, just that that info may be useful to understand the position of the teaching unions.
Mike R”
Yep, this precisely matches my sense of teachers. Considering that I am almost pitifully grateful to some of the teachers I’ve had over the course of my life, I also feel that they are less competitive than the average person. All I care about is their ability to function so as to transmit data, experience, and maturity to students. And the fact that the best and worst teachers get paid about the same drives me nuts.

So I agree about the teacher’s unions being problematic. Of course, being a balance freak, I’d feel obligated to point out that the management structure is likely to be just as big a problem.

Here’s another underyling problem I have. And this is PURE thought experiment. Remember my position that

1) I see Liberals being more Nurture over Nature, and Conservatives more Nature over Nurture?
2)Combine this with the natural human tendency to selfishness (present in all human beings, regardless of political orientation) and 3) the tendency of people to try to justify their actions to themselves and others. (Prime example: slavery. The institution per se was less ruinous than the justifications. Rather than saying “we did this to you because we could” it was “we did this to you because you are natural slaves, and it’s GOOD for you.” That was hellaceously more poisonous, and the repercussions lasted for generations. They’re still operating.)

Now remember: I’m not saying the following is true. I’m saying that it is an honest representation of the way I think, presented for your amusement.

All right. Now, since the majority of the people I’ve heard promoting Voucher programs are Conservative in general politics, I am automatically looking for traces of the Nature before Nurture position. I ask myself: why might someone who believes that some groups defined by race or ethnicity to be superior or inferior to others promote such an idea? Since it feels to me that Conservatives are consistently pushing for lower taxes, reduced “entitlements” and smaller centralized government, if every human being automatically tries to maximize advantage to whatever they perceive “their” social class to be, wouldn’t it be reasonable that there would be a core of Americans who believe that:
1) Some people are more educable than others.
2) Whites happen to be better at this.
3) Blacks (my own personal interest is showing here) are worse at this.
4) That innate capacity is the hidden factor in the failure of inner-city schools, the “elephant in the living room” that no one has the courage to talk about.

Now, according to things I’ve said, where do I think you will find the majority of people who think this way? On the Right. And if you thought this way, and were in favor of vouchers, is the real point to equalize the performance of these children? How could that be true if you don’t believe that they are intrinsically capable of parity?

Now, the majority of Conservatives I’ve met seem to believe in the equality of human beings…but I have to admit that it seems that they have to work to remind themselves of their position. They tend to shade toward the Republic aspect of the “Democratic republic” equation—that some are more suited to make decisions than others.

In truth, I think anyone who has been in the world will notice that, indeed, some people are more capable than others. The question is what you think is responsible for this—in individuals, or in groups. And we can take the difference between the Right and Left in this regard to be however small a percentage tendency that you wish—but I do feel that I detect it, and have in countless conversations, articles, and speeches over the years.

So…no one I’ve heard speaking of Vouchers seems to believe that this will be MORE expensive than the current system. So the natural conclusion is to think that people think it will be less of a tax burden.

The more money you have, the less dependent you are on public education, at least for your own kids. And the more the average person will think it a burden to pay for services you yourself don’t need. But almost NO ONE will come straight out and say “I don’t give a crap about other people—I’ve got mine and I’m keeping it.” Even really mean people will justify their greed.

So I see a situation where part of the group promoting vouchers will be people who:
1) Believe Government should do as little as possible
2) Taxes should be non-existent
3) Blacks have less innate capacity, and this genetic roadblock is actually responsible for the failure of inner-city schools.

If this group is only 5% of the Right (let’s say. And remember that I believe that there are also equally poisonous attitudes on the Left. They just don’t hit my personal buttons in quite the same way) can you detect their rhetoric? Can you hear the code words when they speak publicly?

Remember, my base contention is that the average person has a 5-15% prejudicial affinity for (and exalted opinion of) “their” group, and that 5-15% of people have a seriously stronger affinity that might be labeled “prejudiced” or “bigoted.” Where is their interest in all of this? What tent are they in?

Now, please remember that I clearly labeled this my own personal speculation, with the understanding that NONE of this means that the Voucher concept can’t work, or that the majority of its adherents have anything other than positive intentions. It means that these are the reasons that the hair on the back of my neck stands up:
1) I see no reason to believe that commercial interests are more ethical or effective in serving the disadvantaged. This simply doesn’t match the shoddy services and predatory lending practices I’ve seen all my life.
2) People who seem to be prone to “us-themism” in one arena are, in my opinion, more likely to make the same kinds of judgments in others. Racism is so un-PC that no one this side of David Duke will cop to it publicly. But its still there, still virulent.
3) The rich will tend to side with the rich, the poor with the poor. Does this mean that, considering my background, I would take a position disadvantageous to the wealthy? And if so, would this be fair? Well, the way I look at it is that a more basic level of Maslow’s Hierarchy trumps a higher level. Survival trumps self-expression. If a wealthy person says that they have no obligation to pay taxes to provide health care or other entitlements, I can get where they’re coming from. But I look at the most stable and healthy societies as those in which everyone feels that there is an investment in the health of said society. And a wealthy person who can’t purchase a Picasso is not, in my mind, as disadvantaged as a poor one who can’t get medical care for their child. The two positions are not equivalent, in my mind. Note that it is this kind of reasoning that leads me to support Israel—not that the Palestinians are not getting the short end of the stick, but that the Israelis, as Jews, have only that one little piece of land. Whereas the Palestinians, as Muslims, have a vastly larger selection of places to live where they are the majority. To deny the Jews Israel is almost like saying “I don’t care if you live or die.” And to say that is to give permission to exit the community of civilized nations, and do whatever the hell you want.

How does this play out in life? I think that we will have evolved to the next level as a society when we see we can afford to offer every citizen the level of medical care, education and basic amenities that they would get in a state prison. Since all they have to do to get it is break your head, isn't it best to cover these basic necessities? I think that we all have a capacity for evil and violence. Love and nurturance early in life helps prevent sociopathic behavior. On the societal level, showing "Lifestyles of the rich" while claiming we can't afford school lunch programs fosters a sense than those who benefit most from our society just don't give a damn. And if they don't, what is the motivation for reciprocal courtesy? Don't most people obey the law because they believe it to be in their own self-interest? If you think the deck is stacked, don't you leave the game or kick the table over? I have NEVER seen human beings behave in any other way.


The natural human tendency to think that “your” group is better, to hold onto everything you can get, and to try to make selfishness look like enlightenment, can cloud the water.

I believe that the people writing on this topic on this blog are being honest about their position. That they believe that Vouchers will be the best for the children, and for society. I freely offer that.

But I started life hearing politicians--and the general public-- openly taking racist positions, and being driven slowly underground. And I sure as hell don’t think people don’t think that way anymore. They just don’t TALK that way. And I know I’m hypersensitive.

My fear: I see a situation where Vouchers are distributed, funded with tax dollars. Followed by the natural tendency of money and services to be superior in advantaged neighborhoods. And as for people who claim that poor people will shuttle their kids around to the better schools…well, to put it bluntly, if they were that savvy, they wouldn’t be likely to be poor. That’s kind of like saying that there are tax breaks for the poor written into the codes…but they’re written in such legalese that your chances of finding them without an accounting degree are pretty slim. Down the road, as the march toward privatization, smaller government and lower taxes increases, what do I fear? The natural human tendency toward “I want to keep as much of what I have as I can” kicks in, and the tax money allotted for vouchers is nibbled away. I mean, rich people didn’t need it in the first place, right? And excuse me for being naïve, but are there many poor people writing and passing laws?

So…the question of Privatization versus State-run schools will really only be settled in a generation or so. And if in the process of that, the school system, starved of a larger chunk of its income, buckles and snaps, and down the road someone says: “oops! This isn’t working!” the gap between the have’s and have-nots will have widened dramatically. And it will be terribly difficult to build the public schools back up again.

And meanwhile, it looks an awful lot as if the other countries out-competing us are using public education just fine. And the majority of the successful human beings I’ve known came out of public education. And yes, private schools DO provide extra value—that’s why people are willing to pay the extra money. But would they provide it if they weren’t operating as a “value added” commodity? That I don’t know.

Smelling rancid milk in inner-city supermarkets REALLY makes me doubt it, though.
In my mind, what I WOULD like to see is a few towns in each state trying Vouchers. Wait ten years. See what happens. If it works, expand the program. Otherwise, if you want to increase the efficiency of schools, you need to
1) Create a metric to measure the efficiency of schools, programs, and individual teachers.
2) See which schools, systems, and teachers are “best.”
3) Specifically contrast them with the “worst” to isolate the attitudes, strategies and actions that produce the positive results.
4) Get the creators of these programs, the administrators of the systems, and the best teachers together to synthesize their approach into something that can be replicated.
5) Implement this.

Now, given such a metric, it would be easy to determine, for instance, if private schools are better than public, religious than secular, small than large, etc. Does money make a difference? Personal philosophy?

Now, I openly admit that my position is that environment is the critical factor in the non-performance of inner city schools. But I also believe that a big chunk of that environment has to do with parents who don’t provide a healthy, safe, emotionally balanced situation at home. Who feed their kids crap, don’t provide a two-parent household, don’t read, and program their children with buggy social software.

Do the Haves have responsibility to the Have-Nots? I think most people would say yes, within limits. But grasp that if you secretly believe that minorities simply aren’t as capable as whites, that the key strategy would be to stop “wasting” money on programs to achieve the “impossible.” You probably wouldn’t phrase it that way, but isn’t that what you’d do?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Esowon Bookstore needs your help

Esowon bookstore in the Leimert Park area of Los Angeles is having the same troubles independent bookstores across the country have faced for years. Specializing in black-themed material, Esowon has been a friend for a long long time. If any of your friends or family would appreciate books dealing with art, history or drama of the African Diaspora, I’d suggest stocking up for Christmas now, and doing your shopping at this fine small store.
I find myself grimly amused that many of the same people who are stalwart Nationalists also seem to believe that Privatization is the way to go. That’s odd to me. Give more power to corporate interests? Unfettered capitalism? Privatize the Military? School vouchers? Sure.

But do you really think that Corporations give a rat’s ass about national boundaries? Aren’t they eager to place their assets offshore? Go wherever labor is cheapest, natural resources most plentiful, and taxes lowest? Multinational corporations are, I think, one of the strongest forces that will reduce the primacy of governments as geopolitical forces. Hell, they’ve even got their own armies now. And they are composed of the same rapacious human beings that run governments. With no allegiance to anything except increasing return. Go ahead. Turn over your security and education to the very powers most antagonistic to the concept of government. Watch and see what happens.

Are you gonna say “oops!?” or what..?
I tried something a little different last week: running and FlowFit. Decided I wanted to ramp up my cardio a little. Tananarive has been running at a little track a few minutes’ walk from the house, so I could combine fitness and a bit of family time. Cool. But I decided to do one rep of FlowFit for ever lap. This is because my Bruiser Gama Cast Work is intense now (9 sets of 12 reps, starting one set every 120 seconds) and I could feel that the 15 sets of FF were, in combination with my other work, pushing the edge of recovery a little much. But what if I combined them with running..?

Well…it felt strange. Really, really strange. FF does odd things to your breathing, contracting and twisting your body in every which way. It is a really odd interruption of the rhythm you’re trying to develop for running, and heightens the exertion considerably. On the other hand…due to Coach Sonnon’s rather brilliant choreography, FF takes your body through the “Six Degrees of Freedom” that break the chains of emotional and physical stress. So it’s like stretching once a lap. Without letting your heartbeat calm completely. So there is also an aspect of the Tabata protocol, known as one of the most efficient means of increasing cardio fitness. That is: wind sprints.

Also, of course, running is primarily a lower-body activity. FF 2 engages the upper body considerably, evening out the level of stress, allowing you to push your heart while under a lower perceived level of exertion.

I have no idea where this is going, just thought I’d report back that the effects were really odd. I felt different—good different—all day. More powerful at yoga. More focused on my work. Placebo effect, maybe. But my entire body felt extremely compact, light, energetic, and flexible. Very strange for a single exercise to shift that much subjective experience.

I’m just scratching the surface here, of course, but it sure felt interesting.
Steve Perry wondered what Bruce Lee’s speed would do against Serak’s phenomenal use of center line. It always depends upon the relative skill of the practitioners, of course, but assuming the defender has the ability to attack with smooth explosive and penetrative precision, then unless the attacker also has a fine sense of center line, I would expect Serak to do just fine. The Serak player’s job would be to keep that floating center line active, so that the attacker can’t change lines and angles to nullify the advantage: you can’t be a static fortress, or you’ll get flanked.

But then, it’s a paper-rock-scissors world, isn’t it? As Bruce slowed with age, timing and positioning would HAVE to compensate. We know he had Wing Chun, and sufficient practical experience to learn whatever he needed to know. And advanced experts in any martial art start looking more and more alike in approach.

Different roads up the same mountain, as it were.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

How much waterboarding...?

So the memo comes to light specifying what techniques can be used to extract information. I doubt it will convince anyone one way or the other. But I am flat certain that if these identical techniques were being used against OUR servicemen, anyone who claimed it wasn't torture would be thought an insane liar.

Torture, according to international law, is "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."

That was the United Nations. How about the American Heritage dictionary:

1. Infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion.
2. An instrument or a method for inflicting such pain.
2. Excruciating physical or mental pain; agony: the torture of waiting in suspense.
3. Something causing severe pain or anguish.

tr.v., -tured, -tur·ing, -tures.

1. To subject (a person or an animal) to torture.
2. To bring great physical or mental pain upon (another). See synonyms at afflict.
4. To twist or turn abnormally; distort: torture a rule to make it fit a case.”

Wow! That last definition sounds to me EXACTLY like what the Bush administration has done to make Waterboarding not a “torture.” And remember: this is the stuff that they’ll put down on paper. Do you really believe that people don’t exceed their given limits under stress? You have to build in a safety tolerance, knowing that going over the line 5-10% can be absolutely expected. Trying to pretend that’s not true is just naive.

To those who say that torture is only sufficient damage to cause death or organ failure, I can only say: really? Cutting off your toes one at a time, putting a blowtorch to a woman’s breasts, slicing the skin off someone’s stomach and rubbing salt in the wounds…none of these things are torture? I can’t believe that you believe this. I have to think that some people’s terror of death is so gigantic that they are willing to do ANYTHING to save their bodies, even if it costs their souls.

And those folks will not consider the techniques allowed to be torture, no matter what I say. Fine. But answer me one question:

Even if his precious legacy was at stake, how much waterboarding do you think it would take to get Bush to say it WAS torture?

Would Industry run schools better than government?

It’s possible, but by my reckoning, at best, not by much. Here’s my reasoning:
I’ve spent my life zig-zagging between upper and lower income communities, and one thing I’ve definitely noticed is that there is a difference in the quality and quantity of goods and services available in the upper-scale communities. Of course. That’s why everyone wants money. No-brainer.

However…the differential between the quality of goods and services in, say, Compton and Beverly Hills is in many ways starker when it comes to COMMERCIAL concerns than PUBLIC services. Banks, grocery stores, book stores, movie theaters…no comparison in quality. Water and power, street maintenance, etc.—closer to comparable. Police? Well, I’ve seen cops take DAYS to show up in poorer neighborhoods. Restaurants? Fast food is about the same (and to be fair, I’ve had a joke for years where I observe that “the worse run MacDonald’s I’ve ever seen is more efficient than the best run post office I’ve ever seen.) Looking at that, I see no reason, no reason at all, in the slightest, to trust that private industry would serve poorer areas better than government. None. Here’s an example: public transportation, say, buses and taxis. Buses running along Santa Monica, right through Beverly Hills, are definitely neater and cleaner than buses running through Compton. But the Compton buses do run on a schedule, and they’ll get you there. But the difference between taxis is enormous. Not only rattier and ricketier, but it’s damned near impossible to get one. In areas of the country where Taxi service is more important: New York, Chicago, etc, it looks to me as if this difference is even broader.

It isn’t that government is wonderful, but there seems to be a movement to promote the idea that private industry can solve everything. Just coincidentally, if we privatized these things, there are a lot of people who would get frigging RICH. Suggesting that they don’t have a motivation to strongly promote industry as a cure for everything is naïve. I had a conversation with a neighbor on this subject yesterday. He’s an educator, a very bright man, and a very good man. On the subject of voucher, he offered that children would have the option of going outside their neighborhoods to find better schools.

O.K….but that has NOTHING to do with whether the schools are run by government or private industry, and EVERYTHING to do with how the schools are set up to accept students. That particular objection could be dealt with by proposing that public schools take students from whatever area they come.

Now, there may be those who would say that they believe private industry would be more flexible in this, and other regards. Probably true. But in my experience, that will only be true at the top end. I’ve shopped in chain stores in poor neighborhoods (when you can find them), and at the very least, there is as much variation in quality as you get in, say, post offices in poor and wealthy neighborhoods. But in poor neighborhoods, you get pawn shops, not banks. I offer to you the thought that this is EXACTLY the difference you’d get in education, once the bruhaha had died down.

I’m sure that the majority of the people in favor of vouchers are just trying to make the system fairer for everyone, and have the best of intentions. I just ask them to look at the commercial concerns available to the people in the affected areas, and see if their apparently a priori assumptions about the wonderful effectiveness of the free market really holds up.
“Good Luck Chuck” (2007)

Well, dentist Dane Cook had a curse placed on him: any woman he sleeps with will find true love with the NEXT guy she meets. This gets him a lot of nookie, of course, but once he meets a drop-dead gorgeous Jessica Alba, he gets nervous. He doesn’t want HER to fall for the next guy. And therein hangs a slight, very raunchy piece of fluff, with probably more explicit sex than I’ve seen in a movie in many years. It all comes out about as you’d expect. There is some fairly cruel humor directed at the obese—be careful of this. But I also laughed. There are too few movies where stuffed penguins are give the erotic attention they deserve.

Yes, the dentist has an enormously fat black receptionist. Yes, she pounces on him, looking for “luck.” She is the only black person in a movie populated 99% with toned, perfectly athletic and sensual white people. And boy, is she a Mammy. Yes, he has a chubby best friend. Yes, there is a white woman who is…well, frighteningly obese and acne-scarred. But both of these are balanced by countless images of attractive, sexy white folks. I wish they’d warned me in the coming attractions.

And for those of you who (in my humble opinion) have your heads in the sand and will knee-jerk reflex “that’s racist Hollywood!” I can only shake my head. Yeah. And the fact that there’s never been a black President is due to “that racist Washington.” And the fact that there are so few black SF writers or characters is “that racist New York.” So few blacks in Country Western? That racist Nashville! Wow! Isn’t this fun? Encapsulating the worst human tendencies so that it’s just those OTHERS who have it? And if there are few female, say auto executives, its that sexist Detroit! How many more examples of denial can you think of?

Apparently, it is very comforting to believe such nonsense. It’s us. It’s the folks in the mirror. There’s no one else out there.

And by the way: do “Good Luck Chuck” and the question of school vouchers connect? Sure they do. The very same people who make decisions about movies like “Chuck”—whether in the executive offices or buying tickets, all of whom are in complete denial about the fact that it is their own unprocessed emotional crapola that creates racist imagery, are in positions to make decisions about whose children get what resources. So the only question I have is: which model, private industry or government service, has the greatest degree of upward mobility? I honestly don’t know the answer, but I’m willing to grant that the degree to which a person can be born at the bottom and work their way to the top might be roughly similar.

But under no circumstances do I believe that Old Money is more flexible than Old Political power. Although I sure do see the forces of capital working hard to convince people they are.

Anyone have any statistics? Because otherwise its welcome to the new boss, same as the old boss. A shell game of saying “we’ll take better care of you!” while we siphon off billions.

I don’t buy it. I’ve lived with at the effect of differential power all my life. Everybody gathers power to their own. Anyone who says that they’re making a change for MY benefit, or the benefit of others not of their group…and that change just happens to put vast resources in the pockets of members of THEIR group (and make no mistake: everyone in a position to write such legislation knows lotsa lotsa rich people)…I reserve the right to remember “Good Luck Chuck.”

Oh. By the way. I give it a “C-“

Friday, October 05, 2007

Would you want to know..?

That university professor who has six months to live and conducted a marvelous lecture on the meaning of life has created a minor storm: eight hundred thousand hits on YouTube in a week. I heard a radio commentator say that he thought it would be a nightmare to know the time of his death. His co-host thought that it would be a freeing and focusing experience, a gift. In my personal experience, once people know they are dying, it is wonderfully clarifying, and every one of them has grown to some degree, many times grown to a remarkable degree. I would like to ask you a question: Do you think it would be a positive or negative thing to know the time of your death?
I'm almost finished with my A-Z through writing. If you have questions about anything connected to writing you'd like me to address here and in my mailing list, please let me know...
A few weeks back I spoke of my friend Al Harvey, superb martial artist and terrific guy, one of Grandmaster Steve Mohammad's original students. I mistakenly identified him as an L.A. City Councilman. Honest to a fault, Al wrote me and politely hinted that I should correct the record. Al says:

"My position with the City of Los Angeles is Commissioner, for Council District 10. The Councilman who I am a Commissioner for is, the Honorable Herb J. Wesson, Jr.'

Sorry, Al!

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.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

X is for X-Rated

Well, actually it’s called NC-17 these days, but I think we all know what I’m talking about. Sex. And like violence, sex can be used to reveal character, move the plot, or simply to add spice.

Adding spice is probably the least (legitimate) usage of sex in writing. There are other, lower uses: to degrade characters, to shock the audience, to deliberately flirt with taboos, etc. There is a line that is difficult to define, and ultimately, this is where that ephemeral thing called “taste” slips in. For some people, the bounds of good taste are “what would my mother think of this.” Fine, but that often leads to excessive limitations, especially among those people who don’t have a healthy line of communication with their parents about sex.

I can probably do nothing more honest than to present my own views here. In novels, I consider that sex is the single time in our lives when every aspect of our personality is most clearly revealed. All human senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing are simultaneously engaged. Intelligence, creativity, emotional health, morality maturity and judgment are all on the table. Sex is such a universal that the safest assumption to make is that EVERYONE is having it, and if they aren’t, there is something specifically wrong. Not always true, but the way to bet.

What will your character do to supply himself/herself with sex? What lines will he cross? What aspects of her personality will she repress to have that intimacy? You would be well served to seriously, deeply, consider what sex means to you and to others. Look at the way it has been controlled in religions around the world and through time. Look at sexual attitudes in different cultures and societies at different levels of technological development. Devise a theory that makes sense to you.

Then—as you take your character through his journey, you may find that sexuality rears its lovely head. What is the dance that the two characters choreograph on the way to bed? How do they negotiate their needs and wants? How much is subtextual, how much explicit? How much is controlled by social rules, how much by animal needs? Where and when does the spiritual realm enter into this?

Years ago (long before I was married!) I was unhappy with the way I wrote love scenes. It bothered me that I could write fight scenes better than love scenes—after all, I’d had a lot more sex than street fights. But that touched on the problem. In fighting, I’m used to analyzing distances, pace of engagement, environment, psychology of the opponent, techniques, etc. In sex, there was no such separation of mind from action.

What I felt I needed was a dispassionate engagement, where I could observe the dance without getting caught up in it. So what I did was choose a love scene from a good movie (specifically, THE BIG EASY) and find an actress to act it out with. For weeks, we practiced the scene, and then performed and videotaped it. Perfect. For the first time, I felt I could understand both the inner and outer aspects of a love scene.

Find your own way to understanding. But the primary rule is one of FEELING. You need to be clear on the emotion you want your audience to feel, and work to convey that as elegantly as possible. Study great love scenes with different emotional contents in different films and books.

And then, of course, there is home practice.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Britney, Tyson, and Bruce Lee

Watching an apparently nice person completely implode is never fun. Always sad, but fascinating in a queasy way. Tananarive loves tabloids, and I admit that when they come in the house I brouse ‘em. And they had a lot to say about Ms. Spears and her coming melt-down.

Who didn’t look at her marriage to Kevin Federline and say “ouch!” I mean, the guy dumped the mother of his first two kids, so we knew he was scum. But now it looks as if he was considerably smarter than Britney. He saw an opportunity to raise the level of his game, and went for it. What was disaster for her was the chance of a lifetime for him.

Watching Tyson disintegrate was similar, in some ways. He was a violent boy who was adopted by a man (Cus D’Amato) who knew how to channel that violence into something fairly constructive: the practice and demonstration of the “manly art of self-defense.” Tyson was a genius. At his peak, his defense was so good it looked as if he didn’t have one. He brought lightning in both hands, and terrified his opponents like no one since Sonny Liston. Amazing. But D’Amato died just before Tyson gained the championship. He was 19 years old, just a boy. He didn’t have control of his emotions yet. If Cus had only lived a few more years…but he didn’t. And the sharks circled. And Tyson was offered the world, a world in which there were apparently no limits. I don’t know what happened in his hotel room the night he was accused of rape, but his public treatment of women suggests he is capable of the crime he was convicted of. Whatever that reality, he lost touch. Lost his way. Doesn’t know who or what he is any more.

Michael Jackson is, I think, the same. With more money than his own parents, he was a human being turned inside out, a machine designed to solicit approval from the crowd. He wanted so desperately to be the most loved performer in the world. Looks as if he tried to turn himself into Elvis, doesn’t it? Marrying the King’s daughter. Straightening his hair, thinning his nose, whitening his skin, adopting white children. So incredibly sad. I don’t know what happened in the bedroom between Jackson and those children, but I know that if he isn’t a pederast, he’s some even sadder, sicker creature, who destroyed his life not out of an unnatural appetite, but because he couldn’t seem to understand that his behaviors were so bizarre that he would be considered such. I mean, all he had to do was install a video camera in the bedroom to have a record that this was all just snores and giggles. Maybe hire a nanny to pop in on them with milk and cookies. A strange world…but he could have protected himself. He didn’t get it. Or, he’s a pederast. My money is on the latter, but I don’t know.

Britney has generated much good will. Seems to be a decent human being, but confused beyond belief. She had a one-note act: perfect face and body, and innocent sexuality. It is perfectly reasonable for people to criticize her body: hell, what else was she ever selling? If she was an opera singer, would it be unfair to criticize her voice? A ballet dancer, couldn’t we criticize her dancing? Britney never had much voice, or much ability to dance. But she could project a perfect image. And as that image began to erode, she didn’t have the chops to re-invent herself like a Madonna or even Christina Aguilara. And now she’s lost her children.

Britney, get help. Grow up. Take responsibility for your life. There’s still time. But not a lot of it.
Mike R. made a perfectly reasonable challenge to my position about the external world reflecting our internal state:

“To take some extreme examples: I doubt the world within European Jews in the 1940's was accurately reflected in their world without, or that the middle passage reflected the world within of African slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries.”

Mike: perfection. My answer: no map is the territory itself. Any philosophical position is not a “this is what is” but rather a “how does the world look if I look at it through this lens?” And like a map, it breaks down into dots if you look too closely. But have you looked too closely? I don’t know—let’s investigate and see where the edge of the map is.

I remember watching an episode of “Human Weapon,” the show where two fighters travel around the world, studying different martial arts for a week or so, and then jumping in the ring with a local champion. Fun stuff. One week, they went to Israel, to study Krav Maga. I watched a young officer demonstrating baton techniques with a rifle. He looked so much like Jewish kids I’d known in school—except for his attitude. Man oh man, his attitude was pure: NEVER AGAIN. The young Jews of Israel grew up with their parents and grandparents telling them of the ghettos, and the Holocaust. Clearly, they have educated themselves that it is THEIR RESPONSIBILITY to keep Jews safe. That, in other words, their forbears made a mistake to think that anyone else could be trusted to defend their lives and freedom.

And that is a mature, adult position. I remember Dawn Callan, the finest women’s self defense instructor I’ve ever known, say that her biggest problem in teaching rape victims is to get them to take responsibility for their rape. Not guilt, blame, or shame: responsibility. The ability to respond, get it? Without that, you are a victim, and victims attract predators. It is the natural order of the universe.

Go deeper. What is the nature of man? If one considers us to be part of the natural order, then violence has to be accepted as part of our spirit, because violence, the cruelty, death and terror of the constant dance of predator and prey, is part of our existence, and always has been. It is in our hearts, and because we long to be angels, we try to ignore it, push it away, pretend it is not true, externalize it onto the Other.

This denial can make us too optimistic. Foolishly blind. I look at the Jews who could see what was coming and flee Germany and think them not lucky but clear-headed. Of course, there were Jews without the resources to flee—as there were citizens of New Orleans who hadn’t the resources to flee. Blame them for their fates? No. But hold them responsible, yes. If they aren’t, no one is. And the children die.

The Jews of Israel respect their ancestors. But hold themselves responsible for the safety of their children. And that young man I saw with the rifle had fire in his eye. He was an animal in a uniform. An animal that walks upright and drives a car and speaks Hebrew and English. Scratch his surface, and you have war to the knife. THAT is something so easy for civilization to numb us to. If you don’t work in the slaughterhouse, it is so easy to forget the blood.

We must never forget. There is a war inside us, and external to us as well. Don’t prize the world of the mind and spirit so highly that you forget the drives of the body. Lethal mistake.
and as for my own African ancestors: there was little that they could have done, if the basic theories I accept about the formation of civilizations was correct. The difference between levels of technology and social organization meant pretty inevitable pain.

And human beings exploit each other. Always have. Slavery may well have mutated into something even more horrible than usual in the New World, but it was the same continuum: treating human beings as machines, as animals. Valuing their external aspects at the expense of their inwardness. We all do this to greater or lesser degrees. Africans did it to each other, Europeans did it to each other, and that’s the way of the world.

But even had they realized this, they didn’t have the communications or trade or social organization to create weapons systems that could have resisted the European advance. And from the position of adulthood, it wasn’t Europe’s responsibility to be “nice.” It was Africa’s responsibility to slaughter every European who landed on African soil. And they couldn’t do it.

Now, if you can’t resist physically, you can try negotiation, or non-resistance, of course. It takes time: maybe your great-grandchildren will succeed. Ghandi thought that it could have worked even against Nazis. That’s a lot of faith, right there. Certainly more than I’ve got.

So what else is there? Well, not everyone was caught and captured and dragged onto the ships in chains. What possible place might personal power, perception, clarity have had in this? On an absolute level, probably none. But on a practical level, those who run fastest and first, who have the best social connections, who understand human motivations, and who are best at achieving and holding rapport have always been most likely to survive wars, pestilence, captivity. Clarity of perception, practiced within, benefits without.

No matter what, it is likely that great numbers of Africans would have suffered the Middle Passage. But I’ll bet there was some individual wiggle room. If only two people from my village were going to escape, I would sure as hell try to be one of them.
Of course, in a broader philosophical sense, what does it all matter? There was nothing really happening. Life is what it is. This is all just a dream anyway. Of course, that’s why you have to be careful about broader philosophical senses.
Ever wondered just how good Bruce Lee actually was? There are very few direct comments from anyone other than worshipful sycophants. A few people like Joon Rhee (“the father of American Tae Kwon Do”) who said that Lee was so fast that he, Rhee, couldn’t even get set. Or Louis Delgado, a fine competitor in the 60’s, who said he couldn’t touch Lee. Of course, there’s also the very believable story that grappler Gene LeBell simply tied Bruce into a knot—but then again, LeBell did that to EVERYONE. He’s simply the baddest bear on the block.

But regarding Lee, I came across an interesting clue yesterday. 60’s Karate legend and kickboxing pioneer Joe Lewis wrote a book called ‘How to master Bruce Lee’s fighting system.” Now, Lewis was arguably the greatest Karate Fighter in American history, and one of three people to be considered Lee’s private student/competitors at that time. The other two were Chuck Norris and Mike Stone. You might remember Stone as the guy who took Pricilla Presley away from Elvis. Elvis is rumored to have tried to take a hit out on Stone, and no one would take it. Stone, you see, was an absolutely awe-inspiring fighter. Earned his black belt in six months. Was unbeaten in individual black belt competition. Was never even scored on to the face! Considered an absolute animal, with a level of athleticism, speed, and aggression that was simply phenomenal. I saw the guy on “the Guiness Game” trying to break the world record for the flying side kick, many years ago. He injured his leg on one of the metal clamps used to hold the target board. Was bleeding all over the stage. But every time he made an attempt at the jump, he moved as if he had no injury at all. It was frightening to watch. What the hell kind of human being is THAT?

At any rate, Stone was, and remains, pure ego. I mean, he had no respect for ANYONE as a fighter. Thought there was no one any good at the time he was competing, and that he hasn’t seen anyone he thought was good to this day on the tournament circuit. Just not impressed by other fighters, at all. What does he say about Lee? Two things jumped out at me.
1) “He was much too fast to have competed in tournaments.”
2) When people thought that Stone was Lee’s student, he generally corrected them, stating that they worked out together. He thought that Lee had nothing to teach him about techniques. He didn’t consider Lee his teacher, he considered himself an equal. Wow. For a man with this record, that level of ability, that great an impact on the men competing against him, that much pure ego to say “I considered myself an equal” even though he was at least four inches taller suggests that Bruce Lee was, indeed, an absolutely superlative fighter, I kid you not.

Monday, October 01, 2007

More on Adulthood

The Kingdom (2007)

The new Jamie Foxx/Jennifer Garner film directed by Peter Berg is most certainly not a political film with action. It is an action film with political context. Those looking for Syriana will be disappointed. But if you want a movie with one of the tensest final 20 minutes I’ve ever seen on film, you’ve come to the right place. It’s set in Saudi Arabia, and begins with a pocket history of the region, and the discovery of oil. The attempt to establish a holy kingdom is instantly corrupted by a level of wealth so fantastic that even saints would be tempted, and the Royal Family are hardly saints. A movement to overthrow the royals is thwarted by western allies, especially America. And fanatics like Bin Laden don’t like this—culminating in the 9/11 attacks. History in a thimble. Flash-forward to an American oil worker compound in Saudi Arabia, attacked by terrorists. An FBI response team weasels and blackmails its way past pencil-pushers to investigate, and from there on it’s pretty much a formulaic Hollywood movie, with Arabs either impenetrable enigmas, insanely wealthy and distant aristocrats, helpless onlookers or vicious revolutionaries in a shooting-gallery. Great fun, and because they have the obligatory “good” Arab for Foxx to buddy-team with, by my definitions they skirt overt cultural bigotry. But just barely. Exciting stuff, and insanely topical. I’d give it a B for the water-cooler conversations alone.


“Eastern Promises” (2007)

Very John Woo-ish film dealing with a driver for the Russian Mafia in London (Viggo Mortensen) who meets a midwife (Naomi Watts) who delivered a dying teenaged prostitute’s baby. The diary left behind by the dying mother is…explosive, and entwines their fates. Violent, darkly sexy, well-directed by David Cronenberg and featuring one truly memorable fight scene (yes, THAT one), the less said about “Promises” the better. I loved it. It was a good weekend. “A-“

More on Adulthood.

Got this note this morning from a student who moved his family from one coast to another, only to find that the guy in the mirror is experiencing the same problems…

“I think I get part of it now.

The struggle that I am going through with (my wife) and life in general here in (the new city) mirrors the struggle that I am having inside? So long as I am not balanced within myself, nothing else that happens in my universe will be balanced. I’m beginning to understand that we create the worlds we live in. If I am not happy on the inside, then the outside cannot be happy, by definition.

But then it also makes sense as to why we are so close to losing our house. Inside, I don’t want to be here, so I am shunning part of the responsibility for being a home owner. And instead of building my business and doing something I care about that will pay more, I am choosing to stay in a job that is guaranteed to keep us from having the money we need.

It also stands to reason that should we lose the house, I will then have a built in excuse that the job and its bad pay caused the problem, and it allows me to shift blame away from the real reason: me…

Wow, how insidious…”

Indeed. And this is one of the reasons why I consider adulthood to be the first step to enlightenment. And adulthood requires accepting responsibility for our own actions. Look around: most of the people you see around you, of whatever religion, political orientation, gender or race, are children. They are not fully responsible for their own emotions or actions, and are terrified of the gap between their essence and their self-image. They blame society, their parents, their spouses, or the “other” for their happiness or lack thereof.

Taking the position that the world outside us mirrors the world within us opens a different door. Positing that we are mirrors of our spouses, that we create the world we experience, that until we can trust ourselves to keep our own word, we have no right to complain when others lie and cheat…these steps are painful, but create bridges of understanding, interpersonal and intrapersonal connections. It allows the various levels of our personalities to communicate with each other, rather than our past fears and angers breeding in the dark like rabid rats, ready to chew up our dreams and spit out nightmares.

This stuff isn’t funny. And the demons will devour your life if you aren’t careful. Life is not a dress rehearsal.