Well, not really...
I’ve often noted how much easier it is to solve other people’s problems than your own. Simple reason: it’s a lot easier to say: “do 100 push ups” than it is to actually do them. And it’s easier to think you have an accurate map than to actually explore the territory and find out.
And how much more does this apply to the larger arena, politics? Hell, as far as I’ve concerned, I’ve solved several major issues plaguing our country:
1) Health Care. A two-tiered system similar to the education system: government-sponsored health care for everyone, and the availability of private care for those who choose it.
2) War on Drugs: legalize everything less or equal in toxicity to alcohol. Have plain-label “package stores” sell it at 10% above cost. Use every dime of profit to fund anti-drug campaign and rehab clinics. Pushers out of business, gangs no longer able to buy guns, law enforcement no longer corrupted by drug billions, Central America no longer destabilized by narcobillions. Yeah, right.
3) Education: Pay the best teachers more than the worst teachers. Study what they do, and teach those at the bottom to model those at the top. Let a joint parental/student/administration/teacher board create the standards for “best” and “worst”
4) Illegal immigration: (well, it’s an SF solution, but I can dream. Even if the dream is a little nasty). Penalize employers who hired illegals, on a sliding scale: more every time they get caught. Offer green cards to illegals who turn in their employers (!). Deported illegals get affixed with “unremovable” ankle bracelets conducting mild electric current to their nervous systems, and an electronic fence along the border—and cellular broadcasts through the country, make it HURT for them to be here. Meanwhile, work on rehauling the immigration system to make it more humane and efficient. WARNING: I already know that this is outrageous. And that the technology would inevitably go wrong. And I admit that I had an evil smile while I typed it.
And so forth. I mean, heck—it all sounds reasonable to ME (except that last one, which had an Ellisonian feel to it.) World saved, problems solved. Yeah, right. I know it can’t, because as soon as I offer my list to one other person, she’ll point out everything she doesn’t like about it, and I have to modify. We spend a day hashing it out, and then we add another person to the mix, and spend TWO days hashing THAT out…
There’s a more important reason. Man, I’m fighting to ground my I.F. in reasons that go deeper than mere weight or appearance. Frankly, got both of those nailed. So my motivations for being a “good boy” at night weaken, and a little ice cream sounds great. Every have ice cream after a 36 hour fast? Talk about screwing up your blood sugar! And the next day I wake up feeling like crap.
So…my motivations have to clarify. Not a huge thing, just something we have to continuously do. I don’t believe in lazy people. I believe in people without clear goals and a belief they can have them. Some people don’t need goals—those had better be contented with their lives as-is, however.
Anyway, when I fall on my face in the middle of my own map, pretty naïve of me to think I have an accurate map of the REST of the world, isn’t it?
My “Five Minute Miracle” was interesting yesterday. I Bikram’d (and it was pretty good, actually. Surprising, as I hadn’t been in six weeks due to travel). And then at 3, 6, and 9 I did:
1) 10 “Television Meditation” Over-and-under punches. (Using the change in the t.v. screen image to generate a random reaction stimulus
2) 1 Clean and Jerk, each side, with 54 pound KB
3) 100 speed jumprope/set of FlowFit
All of this working to “be breathed” by the motion rather than consciously exhaling. Would have done more C&J, but wasn’t sure how I’d feel today. I feel great. Was a little worried about the jump-rope (did I have adequate warm-up?) Felt tight last night but fine this morning. Hmmm. Just playing here. Sophisticating the 5MM means I have a damned fine range of benefits:
1) Meditation (Be Breathed)
2) Tabata-style endurance
3) Fat burning
And more, all in teeny little 3-minute increments. More of a “15 minute miracle” but you don’t feel it because it’s scattered. Just checking. What would happen if I concentrated on Yoga in the morning (health), and then did skill/fitness stuff in increments during the day? Not sure I’ll try that…right now I’m ramping up for a M.A. seminar with Steve Mohammad next weekend. But maybe one day…
Friday, November 30, 2007
Well, not really...
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:13 AM
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Fanboy movies were mentioned in connection with race. It might be instructive to note that of the approximately 130 SF/Fantasy films that have ever earned over 100 million dollars, only two black stars can be found: Will Smith and Eddie Murphy. Why? I think that both of them are funny enough to disarm the negative reaction. Murphy has sold out pretty completely, but Smith still has a decent chance in the race. Next up? “I am Legend.” Anyone want to bet whether he gets any, as Charlton Heston did in the previous version of Matheson’s story, “The Omega Man”? I thought not. However, I’m still betting he’ll be the first to pull off a blockbuster with…dare I say…balls.
Hell, I’m a trained SF writer, capable of extrapolation into nasty realms.
Want the most disturbing implication of these statistics? Well, IF one granted the following propositions:
1) black men don’t engage in breeding behavior in successful films as often as whites. That, in other words, sexual behavior in black men is repulsive to white men sufficiently to depress box office.
2) That black men die disproportunately. Often protecting whites. In other words, SURVIVAL at all is frowned upon.
3) That these trends reflect not some prejudice on the part of a tiny group of “Hollywood Executives” but rather the culture as a whole.
4) That similar trends may exist in general printed fiction across the board (the trend of exclusion most certainly exists in Science Fiction. I haven’t analyzed numbers in other fields)
5) That when blacks do exist in these worlds, they have a clownish (i.e. non-threatening) aspect.
Then it is not unreasonable to hypothesize that the fantasy world of white people excludes minorities. When said minorities exist they are non-reproductive (fat, gay, old, children, etc.) or female (sexual targets). If the preference is for them either dying or failing to have sex, clearly the subconscious preference is for the entire group to die.
Hmmm. Would this reflect itself in, say…police shootings of unarmed black men? Debates over health care for minority communities? How about international aid for dark-skinned countries as opposed to light? How about political sanctuary for lighter-skinned aliens (Cuba) as opposed to darker (Haiti?) . A preference for adopting lighter-skinned foreign babies over darker-skinned (would Madonna or Angelina Jolie have been as criticized publicly if all their adopted children had been, say, Serbian? Or even Chinese?)
In other words, were I to attempt to make such a case, how hard would it be? Now, clearly we’re only talking about my 10-20% “disconnect” which mean that there would be plenty of “Negrophiles” to behave in positive ways. And our national mythology prevents almost anyone from publicly stating such attitudes. Most wouldn’t even have the permission to admit to themselves that they have them. Cognitive/emotional dissonance, anyone?
Oh, we could have a great time extrapolating out from these unconscious attitudes to social, educational, fiscal, and law enforcement attitudes. You could just go crazy.
Of course, it would be important to note that these are probably universal tendencies. The fact that blacks happen to be outnumbered and outgunned is just a sorry twist of fate for me. It sucks. But while I don’t take it personally, I do like to look at the problem from all directions. I do see answers: communication, conscious awareness, the “Browning” of America, and the march of time. There may be other answers as well. I know that sticking my head in the sand accomplishes nothing.
Swear to God, though…I wish there was someone else who thought like me, who’d say this stuff. I never, ever, ever wanted to prate on about this garbage. I just have this horrible feeling that if I don’t talk about it, no one will.
Noticed that as I’ve reached my I.F. goal, it gets harder to keep myself completely honest. I do reach for the stray Mochi at night. That’s not good…I’m more sensitive to sugar these days. Sigh. I have to change my motivations. It’s odd how you have to hook yourself into deeper and deeper levels. If it’s not about raw performance, or weight, or “how you look,” I have to eat today for how I wanna feel next week. Or perform nxt year. Jeeze.
Two days to finish the 1st draft on Shadow Valley. Everything’s going pretty well. Will do Bikram Yoga today at 11am after about six weeks off. It’s gonna be brutal. Have to remember it’s a breathing exercise, keep my ego out of it, remember that I’m doing the best I can. Also remember it’s not a fitness activity: it’s HEALTH, creating a foundation for fitness. That’s very, very different, and, again, harder to motivate myself toward.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:58 AM
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Interesting thing this morning: Barbara Streisand came out in support of Hillary, saying that it would be great to say "Madame President." That's fine, and I've heard it before...and noticed that female celebrities and commentators are free to openly state they are voting (at least partially) by gender in a way that black celebrities and commentators supporting Obama CANNOT do in relation to race. Oprah can't say "because it would be great to have a Brother in the White House." Part of this is just numbers: Hillary can evote gender and thereby appeal to 51% of the voting public: a winning position. If Obama related to a black constituency only, it would be just 11% of the vote--an automatic losing position. Interesting how this game is being played here in the 4th quarter, with the score getting closer...
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:34 AM
Watched Michael Moore’s “Sicko” over the weekend. Man, is he a slick propagandist. Manipulative as hell, no doubt. Still, the question remains in my mind…
I hated South Africa with a passion during its Apartheid days. In conversations with Jerry (naturally) I mentioned my standards for the health of a people: Infant mortality rate, and life expectancy. He suggested, in defense of South Africa, that I compare black statistics in these two areas with surrounding black countries. I did, and had to admit that they were higher. On a physical level, blacks were healthier in South Africa, despite what I saw as the damaging effects of Apartheid. I didn’t hide and run from the facts, as uncomfortable as they were.
Now, when I try to apply the same standards to the question of our own health here in America, opponents of a Universal Health Plan strike me as…well, as arguing backwards from the premise that it’s a bad idea. Again, I propose looking at sweeping statistics: Infant Mortality Rate, Life Expectancy. We could add: Average time to see a doctor, Subjective patient satisfaction. How about Percentage of GNP devoted to medical research? Those five stats, crunched properly, should give us a damned good indication of whether our medical system stacks up against the rest of the Western world. Otherwise…hell, you can find anecdotal evidence to support anything, including a Flat Earth and co-existence of Man and Dinosaurs.
My meditation this morning was way cooler than the last few days. My body feels cool and light. My “little boy” image and my “warrior” image were standing side by side, laughing at me. I love it. The light isn’t as bright as it could be, but it’s getting there.
The rope jumping experiment is way interesting. I have one of Buddy Lee’s Aerospeed jump ropes (how cool is it to get an absolute world-class top-of-the-line piece of sports equipment for about thirty bucks?) and am working on a pattern of 100 jumps/one FlowFit rep for five sets. Interesting balancing the aerobic/anaerobic power/coordination requirements of that. If I do FlowFit 1, it takes me about 10 minutes. My 100 jumps are clumsy the first set—too much tripping, leading to a set time of about 50 seconds. After that, coordination improves, but cumulative fatigue from the FlowFit sets in. I have to use easier and easier versions of it to stay within a 60 second window. The trick is going to be to get the jumps down to 30 seconds for 100 reps while simultaneously doing one set of FlowFit 2 in 60 seconds, for five sets—total work time of about 7.5 minutes. I end my workout with this, and trust me, I’m ready. Right now, to do the Jump/FlowFit 2 routine for five sets takes me almost 24 minutes. Pitiful. But fun. Man oh man, you have to concentrate. Keeping the Be Breathed pattern while putting yourself through this is like solving a Rubik’s Cube while running from a lion. Jesus. When I’ve got my time down to, say, 10 minutes, I’ll start working on more complex jumping patterns.
And by the way: I can now do sets of 20 Gama Casts with the Bruiser. I remember when I couldn’t do even one. Wow. Thanks, Scott!
Watched “Hairspray” last night. The musical, not the original John Waters film. What a fun film. And I actually teared up a couple of times. Nikki Blonsky, the chubby wonder who stars as the dance-struck teenager caught in social revolution, is absolutely adorable. Wow. She floats. I hope she has a terrific career waiting for her. She just radiates everything good in life. Who ever thought that John Waters, who brought us the spectacle of a 300 pound transvestite eating poodle poo, would one day birth a PG family-friendly musical? I do wish it had been PG-13, however: the dancing could have been a little hotter. And the little Taylor Parks, who played Queen Latifah’s daughter Inez, really wasn’t that hot a dancer. They should have trained her harder. She was adorable, though…and overall, the movie is surprisingly heartfelt.
In working with the chakras, I am reminded that Survival and Sex are down below Tribe. If racism works on the level of tribe, even if you seek to override it by including, say, blacks as members of your group, deeper autonomic patterns still crop up. This doesn’t mean that we won’t pass that magic 100 million dollar mark—I expect that to happen within the next 24 months. It means that the stats will never be even. I have to be willing to do whatever I can to keep a hand out to anyone caught in the system who has the heart and mind to rise above. Truly, we’re all in this together. I’ll never turn my back on anyone genuinely committed to self-improvement (yeah, I know, there is no “self.” Sigh. Whatcha gonna do?) but while not limiting myself to any racial tribe I have to remember that I have a special gift to offer there. As rare as my interests, experiences and skills are in the wider world, I’m virtually a singularity in the black community. And I cant discount my impact as a role model. MAN is it important that I not fuck up! Strange when you feel you don’t belong to yourself any more…
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:00 AM
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Tananarive is finishing up her new book, and has a question about Latin that I thought you guys might be able to facilitate:
"I have a passage in my book in which my character comes across a phrase in Latin I want to read: "The Order of Holy Blood." I've used a couple of online translation sites, and it always comes back as "Ordo of Sanctus Cruor." My copyeditor says "of" is not a Latin word...so what gives? What would be the correct way to phrase it?"
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:48 PM
Regarding my previous post about sex, race and movies, Frank accepted my data without being able to cross-check it, and said that he had no idea what could be done.
1) You can go to the Internet Movie Data Base and check all-time box office records. Look at the movies that have earned over 100 million.
2) There is nothing that can be “done.” Time will do it: the browning of America, and the progressive death of white males born prior to 1950. I figure when 80% of them are dead, it will be a non-issue. The younger guys have been raised to think and act differently from their parents. They had role models in sports, politics, and entertainment, as well as on their jobs and in their schools, that stretch their little minds JUST enough, I think. Each generation can move only so far.
3) The real reason I point it out is to make it clear why I think that the idea of a “level playing field” or anything like it, is absurd as long as we are human beings. Without taking race into account in social programs, you are absolutely guaranteeing that blacks, cut off from their heritage and outnumbered ten to one, will always underperform. We’d have to be superpeople not to—as a group. You have no obligation to do anything, or change voting patterns. But I politely request that you not make the “what’s wrong with them?”-style comments I hear at Cocktail parties and on talk radio whenever the subject of crime, educational statistics, or whatever arises. What’s wrong with us is that we’re human. If you stab us, we bleed.
I originally entered Science Fiction fandom because I simply fit in nowhere. And that was one of the strengths of the social dynamic. In Fandom, I found friends, mentors, lovers…support. The Science I was always most interested in was human mental and physical development, what I called “Self Directed Human Evolution.” I concentrated on the question, “what happens over time if you devote yourself obsessively to the concept of balance, and quantify that as body, career, and relationship?” Now I know. The I.D.E.A. concept suggested to me that your intuitive sense for Reality Maps would grow…what I didn’t grasp is the degree you also sensitize yourself to people’s “stories.” It’s inevitable. As you sort your way through your own bullshit around your physical fitness/weight, or your career movement and finances, or about your love/sex life…you start noticing that others use the same excuses. Listening more closely over time, you start grasping that there are similar stories behind similar mental, physical, or spiritual destinations. Hear enough dozens or hundreds of them, and you start being able to second-guess with accuracy.
And then one day the circle completes, and the sphere implodes. You SEE. You walk into a crowd…or a convention…and you don’t see bodies and smell B.O. any more. You see a cluster of abused, ignored, discarded souls. I remember the first time it happened. I was GOH at a convention in Houston, and was teaching Tai Chi in the morning. A girl came to the class, and it was all I could do not to stare. She looked like one extremely obese woman pushed into the middle of a second one. It was horrible. Even worse is that her teeth were rotted out. And yet, despite that, she had the sweetest face, the kindest, softest eyes, the most gentle voice…and I broke.
Right after the class, I got onto the phone with my first wife, Toni, and cried my eyes out. I knew that something horrible, HORRIBLE, had happened to this woman. Something that made it a survival issue to hide her beauty from the world. She dared not let herself be seen. And yet, behind the wall of flesh she was pleading for someone…anyone…to see her. To really see HER. To reach through the barricade and touch her. God, I felt so sorry for her.
And as it often happened in those days, after the second day at the convention, she came to trust me. And she talked to me. About her family. And the little girl she had once been, and how she had been used by those she should have been able to trust. I held her hand while she cried, and we cried together, and I spoke of hope. I have no idea what ever happened to her, but I wish I could kill the men who hurt her.
Since that day, it’s happened more and more often: I see a person or hear a “presenting story” and get an intuitive flash of what is beneath it. Over time, my suspicions are verified. And now it’s to the point where I don’t have to hear anything, or think about it at all. I get a flash. And to this point, my intuition is ALWAYS more accurate than the story people tell me about themselves initially. I trust my intuition.
So it’s getting harder to walk into conventions. I don’t see the flesh, or the faces, or smell the body odor left behind in elevators, or hear the brilliant people speaking of irrelevancies, re-arranging deck chairs while the Titanic sinks. Its like they’re wearing T-Shirts. And with far too many of them, those shirts read: “I was raped by my Uncle.” “My mother told me she wishes she’d gotten an abortion.” “My husband brought another woman into our bed.” “I am grotesquely underemployed.” “I have no dreams or hope…only fantasies.” And on and on.
Not all. I also see people finding love, and genuinely supportive friendships, and acceptance. And there are many, many folk who are weird but healthy, and just love to play. But I see too much, and it hurts if I don’t shield myself. Sunday at Loscon I didn’t, and awoke Monday morning feeling as if I’d been hit by a bus. I’m better now. I have to remember to center myself, or I’ll have to stay away. I have too much to do in the years I have remaining to me. Too many people to help. I can’t let the back-wash make me sick. Happens to too many doctors, therapists, body workers. Miles to go before I sleep.
I have a friend who leans very far to the Right. He complains about illegal immigration (don’t blame him) and he attributes this to what he calls the Feminizing of America. His own marriage is loveless and sexless, and has been for over a decade. My friend is more Yin than his wife. His son is a fine young…boy…in his twenties, with less Yang energy than the average girl. And my friend complains about how active and aggressive Jason is. That I let him roughhouse with me, and hit me, and bare his teeth at me and jump on me. I tell him that my philosophy about this is similar to letting Nicki curse as a child. I let Nicki use swear words, but ONLY at home. In this way, I gave her an outlet, and simultaneously was teaching her the appropriate and inappropriate times to express behavior. The theory was similar to making a puppy crap only on Newspaper.
Jason is a little Alpha-pup. I won’t neuter him. He is intelligent, energetic, creative, affectionate, and willful. Good for him. He is a boy-child who I want to help grow to be a man. He may not EVER express aggression toward his teachers, schoolmates, playmates, or his mother. But…he can go right ahead and bop me all he wants, as long as he is a “good boy.” I am his playmate and friend when he is good. When he is bad, I am only his father. I am always his father—and love him. But only when he is “good”: when he obeys, is cooperative, obedient, goes potty properly…am I his “friend” or “buddy.” He is starting to understand the difference. He wants me as his buddy. He wants to wrestle and fight me. Hell—he can’t WAIT to be able to kick my ass, and I’ve promised to help him learn to do it. But he has to be a good boy. I will have zero tolerance for aggressive behavior outside those boundaries.
This scares my friend. He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t have to. Jason’s my boy, and while I will listen to what anyone says, and debate any opinion, and look at any evidence, ultimately my relationship with him isn’t about my marriage, or family, or friendships with others. It is about my relationship with him. And if it makes others uncomfortable, AS LONG AS MY ACTIONS WITH HIM ARE HEALTHY, that discomfort is just their stuff. He’s my boy. He’s not a girl. If society doesn’t produce a certain percentage of rough, tough, aggressive boys…it will die.
But what is their proper role in society? I have to admit to being old fashioned here. I think that the perfect warrior boy-spirit (the warrior girl-spirit is a bit different, but no less lethal, by the way. See “Mama G.” for reference) is similar to the cultural image of the European Knight. The mighty warrior in gleaming armor with deadly weapons on the fiery steed. But all of that lethal skill was…(flourish of hat)… “at your service, m’lady.”
The masculine only has meaning in service to the feminine. Someone has to fight the wolves at the cave mouth until the mother can deliver her child and stand by her mate’s side. It is inevitable that as a culture grows more comfortable, we would like to forget this uncomfortable reality. It is the “bare wiring” of the basic human dyad. My son will be both powerful and gentle. He’ll be the one other kids come to for help. Any woman will know that he is not only absolutely trustworthy, but will tolerate NO ONE transgressing upon the feminine. This is what I want for him, and I will give it to him, or die trying.
He’s my boy.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:42 AM
Monday, November 26, 2007
My comments about "The Mist" and "The Green Mile" triggered some comments leading back to the sociobiological observation that images in successful films NEVER include a complete path to reproductive success for non-whites: Boy meets girl, boy screws girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, boy and girl live happily ever after. The major and most consistant missing piece is the sex. Another major missing piece is that pesky survival thingie.
Nancy asked: "I get the impression that even if black viewers were viewed as a niche market, they would still be considerably underserved. If I've got this right, you aren't just saying that movies in which black men have satisfactory sex lives don't make much money, there are incredibly few such movies.
Wouldn't some moderately ambitious producers want to have a lock on over 10% of the market? It's easy enough to explain if you assume that prejudice frequently overrides the desire for money, though.”
I want to address this, and also the difficulty people have with avoiding the conclusion that this is “just Hollywood.” The frequency with which people say this would be irritating if it weren’t so common…and therefore, I think, indicative of a deeper problem than simple denial. Of course, one could take the position that my own perceptions on the matter are simply WRONG. Granted, that’s possibility. However, I’m going to proceed bravely on the assumption that I’m right, and see where that leads me.
Remember: my personal position is that most human social dysfunction is the result of universal tendencies gone awry rather than problems specific to group X of Y. I present that perception clearly and bluntly, and not hide it under layers of obfuscation. Here we go…
I'm saying that the movies make less money, and that THEREFORE fewer of them are produced. There IS a niche market, and it's called Direct-To-Video. You can find it in video stores, but not distributed through mainstream channels. What does this mean? Less money for writers, directors, actors, craftspeople, technicians--a cheaper, lower-quality product. Also, film is a collaborative medium, and most of the people who have the knowledge are white. It's just true. And if they are less inclined to help you, then you are floundering without the development assistance absolutely critical to produce work of substance.
Well, shouldn’t “true artists” do the most important work, regardless of monetary reward? Well, sure, but that is some tiny percentage of artists and artisans. Most work for money. The same percentage of blacks as whites as Asians. Nothing particularly special about this. Which means that blacks would have to be DIFFERENT from whites to produce a different result. If they are essentially the same, the material aimed at black audiences will be of lower quality.
So the standard I look at to make my little straw poll of American racial attitudes is: movie that makes over 100 million dollars where a black male has sex. The percentage of movies making over this amount with black stars is approximately the same as their distribution in the population…they just don’t have physical intimacy. White guys have it in about 25% of such films. The statistical gap is telling: this isn’t Hollywood. It’s the audience. There ARE films in which black men have sex—they just fall far below this level of success, indicating that the percentage of white moviegoers who will support them drops off drastically. So yes, they’re out there, but I use their lack of success to indicate unconscious racism on the part of audiences.
Now, then, having clearly stated my thesis (for the hundredth time) I wanted to look at why it seems to be so difficult for people to get out of the “it’s Hollywood” mindset.
1) They have no idea how Hollywood works. Does anyone out there doubt that “Hollywood” (accepted here as a global term for the American movie industry) operates as, well, an industry? In other words, that it follows the money. This is why any time a film is successful, they INSTANTLY try to figure out sequels, copies, remakes, etc. Anyone disagree? Anyone seen a big hit not instantly copied by Hollywood? Exactly the same way it is in any other industry. That’s all it is, or has ever been.
2) The idea that the exclusion of non-white male reproductive behavior is based on universals is too depressing. If you’re black, it would feel like you’re surrounded by enemies. If you’re white, you are guilt-ridden to realize “your team” may be responsible for more human pain than you’ve acknowledged. If you’re on the Left you doubt your faith in human Goodness. If you’re on the Right, you doubt the Level Playing Field necessary to believe there should be no Entitlement programs. If you’re a Racist, you lose the Level Playing Field you need to believe in to insist that differential social results must be the expression of innate tendencies. I feel no depression at all. Innate “wiring” can be overcome, but only with conscious action and internal monitoring.
3) The idea that, if what Steve is saying is true, we must march, or have social programs, or protest, or some such. Hell, no. I’ve never said that, and never will. I just point it out because otherwise I’m carrying it around in MY mind. I carry the weight of all of it, and look out at a society—black and white, Left and Right, in denial. Innate human tendency means Everyone, or 80% of us. That would go along with the Discover magazine article (80% of whites have unconscious negative responses to blacks. I read that as: 80% of tribe X will have negative reactions to tribe Y, especially if there is a visual difference.) Or the research on the Amygdalic response to the “Other.” Or as I put it: “Racism is like Sexism, if Men and women didn’t want each other for Sex.” All the hostility, none of the advantages.
4) Acknowledging that there is this IHT (Innate Human Tendency) doesn’t mean you have to change your political orientation, sacrifice, contribute, or anything else. It DOES say that if can’t pretend that you are interested in social justice in this arena. You don’t give a shit? Fine. That’s you’re right. But the problem is that people aren’t wired up that way. They HAVE to believe they’re the good guys. Want to keep your tax dollars in your pocket, and people are asking for money for minority school lunch programs? You have to believe that they don’t work. Or aren’t necessary. You literally aren’t capable of believing they’re a great idea to help a people who got totally rat-fucked on their way to the American Dream—and not saying “yes.” I challenge one single reader to deny that. You literally have to either say they don’t work, or aren’t necessary. That means that if I’m right, and the popular acceptance of certain images (sex) is indicative of deep and pervasive problems in society that influence blacks on a daily basis, you can’t believe you’re a good, Christian American and not do something about it. So you can’t believe it. You have to try to isolate it: “it’s just Hollywood” you think. It’s just those damned Liberals. Wow. Talk about cognitive dissonance.
So there you go. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, be ye black or white, male or female, looking at what I’ve been staring at for thirty years is PAINFUL. Live with it. I’ve been. The way out of the woods is an accurate map. You can’t live with delusion and simultaneously build a life of authentic meaning.
So…grasp the reality, and have the courage to say you don’t care. Fine. Or grasp the reality, and do all you can to help. Fine. Or grasp the reality and hate. Fine! I’d certainly rather you hate “the Man” than yourself. Or grasp the reality and try to understand the universal human condition. Better still. But don’t hide your head in the sand and pretend. That is pure cowardly, delusional crap. There is no awareness, awakeness, or adulthood lurking there.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:15 AM
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Meditating this morning, looking for my heart light, I ran into a ton of muck. Exhaustion muck. Ah! THERE’S the fatigue I should have been feeling for the past month! I must have just gone into emergency mode and shoved it away. Wow. Lots of cleaning to do.
The usual meditative progression: listen to heartbeat. Find heartlight. Coalesce it into the image of my own infant self. Create a mirror-image that transforms into Jason. Listen to see if there is anything he wants to say to me. Expand out into Nicki, Tananarive, Joyce (my darling sister). Out into my closest friends, and other family. Spend five minutes visualizing my heart goals. Condense back into an undifferentiated light ball again, and drop it down to the base of my spine. Visualize a perfect physical specimen (with specific skills that are none of your business. I call this image the “Golden Man.” If he is clear and strong, I spend five minutes visualizing my physical goals. Let the light magma erupt upwards to my head. Visualize my mental/career goals for five minutes. Condense the light back to my heart, project it out into the next year. Pull it back to the next month. Back to the next week. Then the day to come. Am I clear on what I must do? Any blockages? If so, clear them up. If not, cool. Open my eyes.
I mentioned that I was working on Coach Sonnon’s FlowFit II (“Ground Engagement”) in combination with running. While on the road in Florida, I decided that I spend too much time traveling to depend on running for basic health and fitness (although I still enjoy it), and looked into jumping rope. Leading me to the Buddy Lee system of athletic enhancement through jumping in the anaerobic zone. So I tried combining those two: 100 jumps at top speed (I still catch my feet too often) with sets of FlowFit. The beautiful thing about FF is how it moves your whole body through the Six Degrees of Freedom-every basic human motion. Every major muscle group where emotional/Karmic tension is stored. Combining these two exercises is REALLY interesting, and comes closer to a whole-body burn than anything I’ve ever felt. Seems to max out everything except limit strength. I mean, every muscle from toes to neck. Pulling and pushing. Stretching and twisting. Coordination, endurance, speed, agility…frigging everything. And the whole thing can take as little as 7.5 minutes. Now, at the clumsy level I’m working at (anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first!) it takes me 28 minutes to get through five reps. That’s about 50 seconds for 100 jumps (like I said, my feets is tangling. And once fatigue sets in, coordination drops like a paralyzed parakeet.) And about 3 minutes per FF rep. (Again, working to control breathing, dissipate accumulated stress, maintain balance and poise…I have to move slowly.) Add some time for sucking wind. Jeeze. But we’ll see how it feels in a couple of months.
By the way, I’ve come across the “ropeless jump rope” ads, and have to chuckle. Oh, on a gross motor level, it doubtless has some use. And jumping up and down definitely gets the heart moving. So it that’s how you define “fitness,” Good On Ya. But there is so much more than the body, and you enter that realm through sophisticated levels of proprioception, timing, coordination. Breath control. Trust me—you CANNOT jump rope unless everything is coordinated, lending a grace and agility to motion that is akin to actual athletic performance. And that is like opening a Third Eye. One of the benefits of martial arts is the development of grace and poise under stress. Even separate form self-defense situations, this translates into a sense of poise in life that most people will never experience. I can’t help but feel that the “ropeless jump rope” people are treating their bodies like sacks of meat. We’re so much more…
By the way, while I was at the African Martial Arts Conference in Detroit, I met a singular woman: Cultural Anthropologist Dr. Germon "Mama G' Miller, one of the most powerful and beautiful human beings it’s been my honor of meeting. When she chooses to switch it on, she is pure feral Goddess energy, terrifying and hypnotic and utterly deadly (for what it’s worth, she has hundreds and hundreds of MA trophies—but that’s irrelevant). I watched her teach a women’s self-defense class. Except, nope, that’s not what it was. It was a class in how to bring out that pure female killing animal to confront any male with the bad sense to fuck with you. Lord God, Billy Bob, I’d never seen a human being shift energetics quite like that…well, maybe once, when Dawn Callen FELT my intent to attack her, and she turned and looked at me with a hungry gleam that wilted my nuts, I kid you not even a little bit. Mama G. is about the size of a peanut, and if I wasn’t married, I would have courted her on the spot. I told her as much, and she told me that most men who see that side of her run like hell. I get it, but it’s sad. That means they aren’t really men, because this is a real, no b.s. female of the species. Your children would be SAFE with her. Hell, YOU would be safe with her. Trust me. Why would a healthy man want less than the most powerful woman he could have at his side, or in his bed? If you’ve never experienced the correlation between power and sensuality, you haven’t lived, brothers. And sisters…any man who wants you to be less than the most you can be is still a boy. Pat him on the head and move on…Only adults can encourage children to become adults. And God knows we need all the adults we can get.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:46 AM
Friday, November 23, 2007
The Mist (2007)
Wow. Arguably the very best adaptation of a Stephen King horror story (was “Misery” horror? If so, that might have been better. Maybe…MAYBE “Carrie”. But that’s all.) Director/writer Frank Darabount’s adaptation of a classic novella is nerve-wracking, gross, intelligent, heartbreaking, and genuinely frightening as few horror films are in this era of torture porn. The tale of a group of Main townies trapped in a Piggly Wiggly when a mysterious mist rolls in…concealing Lovecraftian horrors. Oh. That also makes it the best Lovecraft movie ever made, except that it isn’t based on Lovecraft. It’s really that good, concentrating on the human horrors, the breakdown of community and logic and faith. And a tale of the simple human bonds that sustain us in extremity. With excellent turns by all actors involved (including Marcia Gay Harden, Andre Braugher, a terrific Toby Jones, and a career-best performance from Thomas Jane as the artist and father trying desperately to protect his son from the crawling madness), The Mist fires on all cylinders and delivers the creepy goods. Darabount, who also directed “Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile”, is so deeply on King’s wavelength it is uncanny. Almost no other director has understood how to actually generate the fear that King does at his best. By concentrating on characters and community, getting the small, mundane details right, he nails it for the third time. And the ending is simply a horror-movie classic. Serious, no b.s. way to go, Frank! An A-.
WARNING. SAMBO ALERT
I should have known: after all, Darabount did direct "The Green Mile," perhaps the most unwatchable excellent movie of my experience. There are four black male characters with dialog in "Mist." All die. Andre Brauer, while not dying first, dies second, and uselessly. Unless I wanted to extend more humanity to whites than they were evidently willing to extend to blacks, my level of empathy dropped a bit. As a result, the ending that upset many others didn’t bother me even a smattering. My coping mechanism: when I realize the filmmakers don’t care about people of my ethnicity, it diminishes my caring for theirs—in the fictional context. I can chew popcorn and giggle as they get thrown into the meat grinder.
Line 'em up.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:29 PM
Had a great Thanksgiving last night. My sister Joyce and her husband Mits came over. Nicki is in Cleveland, Joyce’s kids are elsewhere, so it was just the five of us (me and T and Jason) and we definitely had much to be thankful for.
During later conversations, I referred to myself as a “Potato”, a term that rather naturally confused Joyce. I coined the term, and what it means is someone who is solid—not in the sense of being strong or “right” but being consistent. I often tell my students that when I teach the real lesson isn’t the informational content of what I’m saying, but the fact that everything I say (in my mind) relates to everything else. I have a consistent world view. It’s “turtles all the way down” from spirituality to psychology to sociology to physiology and chemistry and physics. In that sense, I see myself as getting simpler and simpler and simpler. A lot of folks patch their personalities together from a hundred different sources (which we all do, initially) but then never “digest” it and make it theirs. Really graft those opinions to their bones and marrow. I think that’s essential in becoming an adult.
Another concept that is starting to jell in my mind is something I call “bare wiring.” Looking at the lower chakras (survival) it’s pretty clear to me that when you can move a physical or intellectual concept to the most basic levels of your personality, it is easiest to use it at the level of Unconscious Competence. This is not something I’m ready to explain clearly, but I’m blathering about it a bit anyway. On Rory Miller’s blog, he’s been talking about the difference between the amateur and the professional, particularly in the domain of martial arts. Interesting discussions.
I remember a quote: “the confidence of amateurs is the envy of professionals.” I’ve seen this in writing, and other arenas. Until you are using a skill for survival, or to put food on your family’s table, one can engage in all the theories one wants. I remember an Emergency Room doctor friend of mine completely disinterested in speculating on future medicine. He needed to know what would work TODAY, under high stress, in a state of exhaustion, to save a life. Period. Everything else, to him, was bullshit.
Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t amateurs in every arena who can out-perform many or most professionals. But it does mean that when you use a skill to actually provide basic survival needs, it ties in at a deeper level. Ego has little to do with it (during performance. Ego surfaces again the instant performance ends, however. Boo hoo.) And listening to the people who have been and done sounds quantitatively different from listening to those who speak or study out of theory.
1) Those who have never raised kids often have crystal-clear theories about how to raise them.
2) Those who aren’t in relationships often give such great advice about how to get and keep them.
3) Fans in every sport can see how damned easy it should be to win. “Just keep your hands up! Damn, he’s too stupid to keep his hands up!” Right.
4) The untried soldier has a different view of war from the veteran. Very different.
This stuff is everywhere. It doesn’t mean the professional is always right. Or the amateur can’t exceed the professional. But it is interesting to note the difference, separate from context or ego.
Josh has been kind and honest enough to give us feedback on language and attitude regarding gays. Thank you, Josh. He posted this paragraph I found valuable regarding the assumption that gay men would have a problem with erections in locker rooms:
“That's where the unintentional bigotry comes in. Queer people get this all the time. Straight people with prejudices claim that we do something that makes them uncomfortable, or is wrong, or something, and we don't actually do it. We don't, as a rule, get erections in showers. We don't recruit. We don't have an 'agenda'. We're not interested in forcing our lifestyle on anyone and so on.”
I would argue with a bit of this, but not much, and the only arguments have to do with what I see as universals, NOT as “gays are different from straights.” For instance: what is the line between recruiting and seduction? I’ve had bunches of guys try to seduce me (as I understand the word, and as I’ve applied it to my own actions.) But “recruit” as in talk underage men into sex? I see no evidence for this. No “agenda”? Other than wishing to change the culture so that it is fair and accepting of their humanity, something I am behind 100%. Gay marriage? Sure. Adoption? Hell, I helped David Gerrold adopt his son. Live in my neighborhood? Please. Protected at workplaces? Absolutely. Scout leaders…probably. I run into a tiny shred of my own crap here. I guess I would feel the same way about a gay man leading Boy Scouts that I would a Straight man leading Girl Scouts. In most cases, just fine. But my gut twists just a little bit there…
I’d bet that if an openly gay man wanted to lead my son’s Boy Scout troop, I’d be more interested in meeting him than if I didn’t know he was gay. But I’d also bet that it wouldn’t take much to put my mind at rest. I don’t know the statistics, but I’d bet that there’s not much to worry about.
As animals engage in homosexual behavior, it’s clear to me that the wiring is there: both for pleasure, and for hierarchical “ranking.” In human societies, it is valuable to pass on both memes and genes. So you don’t have to biologically reproduce to still enhance the survival potential of your group. And, of course, plenty of gay men have kids…although I’d bet that, on average, they have fewer. Just a guess.
But there’s one situation where homosexuality could well be a survival trait. Take a tribal situation where powerful Alpha males have multiple wives. That means that, in a zero sum game, there are fewer females to go around for the Betas. Young men can either recruit or steal women from other tribes (triggering wars), go to prostitutes, practice Onanism (Ah, Onan the Barbarian and his mighty sword…) be celibate, sneak around with another man’s wife, or… be sexual with other men. Am I missing another option? In such a situation, if there aren’t enough women around, the ability to take sexual and emotional pleasure from other men would be pretty natural, and a force to stabilize the society. Now, that makes sense. Both nature and nurture.
But…then where do the rather hysterical prohibitions against gay sex spring from? I think that you go to core survival first. On the level of tribal survival, clearly reproductive sex is held up as the greatest good. Oral, anal, digital or whatever is never as approved of…because it doesn’t make babies.
But that also doesn’t explain the hysteria. I think that it comes from the hierarchical needs of Alpha males. The nastiest arguments I’ve ever heard in my life were from a gay couple discussing who was going to be “bottom” that night. Wow. Never heard anything like it. I suspect that in a LOT of cultures, being “serviced” is still “male” while doing the “servicing” is female. In baboon troops as well as prisons, offering the hindquarters for sex is a way of deflecting aggression and designating oneself as a beta. And certainly in prisons rape of another man is a way of proving oneself an alpha.
So we have a raving heterosexual insecurity about one’s own status. Combine this with very real and almost universal bisexual urges, and we can see a ton of confusion, manifesting in a compulsive need to deny, point fingers, demonize, etc…all this about projecting our own discomfort onto others.
Love is love, and however adults find it with each other, I am grateful and humble to be in its presence. The people I've seen with the greatest objections to gay marriage looked to me to have terrible, loveless relationships. It is a shame that our own wounds (and I still carry insecurity from my childhood…a real sense of “what am I? Who am I? Will women ever find me attractive?) combined with early programming (my mother had a real horror of gays, especially the thought of oral sex), means I still have some residual discomforts.
There’s probably other stuff in there to. Good Lord willing and the river don’t rise, I’ll clean it all out before I go in the ground.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:36 AM
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
As to blacks thinking there is more than one “race” of blacks in America…well, duh. All depends on how you define the term, doesn’t it, since, strictly speaking, there’s really no such thing. But if one creates that artificial (but useful) category, if there are multiple “blacks” then of course there are multiple “whites” and “Asians.” There are those who consider Jews a separate “race” which is all right with me as long as “blacks” are broken into even more sub-groups—since there is more genetic diversity in Sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else. It’s up to you. My only rule is to play by the same rules consistently.
So the former White House press secretary comes out saying that Bush, Cheney etc. were lying about the Valarie Plame affair. The sad thing is that the usual crowd will surface defending this bunch of losers. And in so defending, they are making the Right look like a bunch of myopic lock-step idiots. PLEASE stop trying to cover for them. You are damaging your own cause, and we need a healthy Conservative wing. You backed the wrong horses this time. Get over it and move on. The longer it takes you to state the obvious, the more anyone in the Middle will justifiably consider you tainted beyond redemption.
And no, I don’t think Iraq was “a good idea done poorly.” It was a bad idea from the get-go. If someone says: “wouldn’t it be a good idea to buy a Mercedes?” You have to ask: at what cost? If you don’t ask that question, your intent simply doesn’t matter. Children don’t reckon the cost of things. They just look at the shiny toy and say wouldn’t it be great. If we could have removed Saddam by pushing a button, and could have been sure who would replace him and that it would all go well, great. But that’s a fantasy game, akin to the “if you knew a terrorist had planted a nuclear weapon and had only an hour to get the information, wouldn’t you torture him?” question, which contains about four or five critical preassumptions in less than twenty-five words. And I heard that bandied about on talk radio and in supposedly intelligent conversations at least a hundred times. It would make me weep if I didn’t have such a sick sense of humor.
Regarding the “Gays in the locker room getting erections” comment, I still don’t think that that was homophobic. Juvenile, perhaps, on the order of thinking that “wow! If I was in a roomful of gorgeous women, I’d sport wood instantly!” variety. Comparing this to the reality of what going to a “Clothing optional” resort is missing the point. Unless the person who said it has BEEN to a “Clothing Optional” resort, or had access to that data and ignored it, I don’t see that it was bigoted. Ignorant, maybe. Men see something they are attracted to, they are visually driven creatures, they respond. True enough that in sweat lodges and nudist events, they don’t TEND to respond (although there are plenty of instances in which they do.) I think the joke was thoughtless, perhaps, but not indicative of any derogatory intent unless their attitude was the following: “gay men would have more tendency to sport wood around naked men than straight men would be to sport wood around naked women.” Remember: the literal fact that gay men would have more experience being around naked men is inarguable. It also isn’t necessarily a fact that would automatically come to mind.
I am very certain that many blacks make life worse for gays and have substantial prejudice. And that many gays make life worse for blacks and have substantial prejudice. I might take the position that more gays are in positions to hurt blacks than vice versa, but that attitude is doubtless clouded with self-interest.
I would suggest that it is impossible to quantify to any absolute degree who is in a worse position: gays or, for instance, blacks. Depends on the criteria you use. However, the best answer I would suggest is based on a simple test: ask at least ten black gay men or women which causes them the most problem. Do the math. Simple.
Saw “The Unit” last night, and enjoyed it. But it also bugs me. Dennis Haysbert, as the clear lead, was chubby at first, and his wife down right portly—when every other lead was sexy and svelt. Look at the opening titles, where you have sexy kiss (white), sexy kiss (white), and comfortable hug (black). This season, Haysbert lost weight. Great. Then, almost as if they HAD to balance that energy out, they gave the other black guy a sex interest. With a white woman. Ooops. The fairly consistent social rule is: if there is interracial sex, you must anchor pain and/or death to it as an object lesson: “DON’T DO THIS” on a Pavlovian level. So…wow! Surprise! Black guy dies shot through the neck in the next episode. Oh, and Jonas (Haysbert) had a sex scene last year. First thing they did this year? Kill the woman he had it with.
No, don’t tell me it’s “Hollywood.” That’s trying to create a cyst around the poison. It’s America. It’s humanity. Its in Us, not in Them. And that’s what’s so damned hard to deal with.
Saw “Beowulf” yesterday. Wonderful. Don’t look at it as a live-action film with slightly wooden performances. Look at it as an animated film with the best performances EVER. Crispin Glover’s Grendel is a marvel, and makes you forgive his tweaking-out on acid on David Letterman (iTube THAT one if you want a real hoot. It really happened.) I would say that “Beowulf”, which is about the “real” man behind the legend, is the first step into a new era of film. The ability to capture real actors in real performances and then change the physical appearance and melt it seamlessly with special effects of any intensity…wow. Works perfectly for the Mythic, and in a few years, it will be possible to use it for more mundane films as well. I see this as something to celebrate, and nothing
at all to fear. An "A"
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:43 AM
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
A great piece on denial and social evolution.
The recent conversations about homosexuality are a good jump-off to discuss political correctness, I think. A last thought: I never said that gay men WOULD get erections in a roomful of naked men. I said they’d be more likely to get them than straight men. Now, it’s possible that I was wrong about just how MUCH problem that would be. But what I REALLY missed was the amount of emotional load on the entire issue. Not understanding how tender it is, I spoke casually when I should have been more sensitive, made light of it in a way that seems to have caused Jasper discomfort. For that, I apologize.
Personally, I probably have as much aversion to watching two gay men kiss as most whites have to watching a black man kiss a white woman. A little. Not enough to keep me from enjoying “Brokeback Mountain”, but probably enough to keep me from going to see the sequel, if you know what I mean. I certainly used to have more aversion, but probably that came from wondering about my own impulses. I think young men want sex, and if they are in a cosmopolitan setting, they grasp pretty quickly that if they are gay, they can get sex more easily than if they are straight. Heck, men were coming on to me in the exact same way I was coming on to girls. They offered to take ME out, give ME presents, and in a perfect world, I would have been happy to say “Sure!” and hop into bed with none of the pleading, begging, cajoling, and seducing required to nail a chick. Sigh. But the little light bulb at the back of my head just doesn’t go off when I see, say, Brad Pitt the way it does if I see a half-naked Jessica Alba. Let alone Halle Berry. Good Lord. But the temptation to take that road was there. Step back and add self image stuff (“who am I”) and social stuff (“What would Dad say”?) and practical stuff (“Shit, I’m already black, do I want to add THIS to my problems?”) and I could feel more pain than pleasure down that road.
My attitude? Anyone who’s been around animals much knows that animals indulge in homosexual behavior, so it seems pretty “natural” to me. And it’s also pretty obvious that probably 80% of us or better have some of that proclivity in us. That under the right circumstances, most of us would choose human contact of any kind over none at all. I know EXACTLY the kind of guy I’d shack up with if sentenced to Life on Devil’s Island. Slender, smart, wiry, deadly, funny, and sweet. And very oral.
But then you get into strange sociobiological stuff. Producing maximum numbers of children. Well, plenty of gay guys produce children. How about not letting other guys too close? I doubt there’s a culture on the planet where men have more freedom to touch and cuddle than women do. Where is “Guys Gone Wild”? I see no one getting rich with THAT franchise any time soon. Social reinforcement of some odd core wiring, I think. But am not sure.
What I do know is that love, and touch, are precious things. And however a person finds love with another adult, good for them. And I do like to subtly flirt with cute, smart guys. They’re fun. But I’m sure I still have some residual attitudes, and it’s important to be aware.
I think that there’s the bare wiring, and then on top of that is the social conditioning. “Politically Correct” behavior, at its best, arises from people being conscious of the unconscious drives, and saying, “all right, if we’re not careful, the unconscious stuff will cause us to behave badly. Let’s bar certain words and actions from public behavior.” According to Orwell, this makes it harder to think the underlying thoughts. The aspect that is social conditioning can fade (to a degree), leaving us with something closer to the underlying wiring. I trust that stuff, basically. Assuming that the person has no real reason to feel threatened, or isn’t under enough threat to feel strain, the nervous system and society begin to evolve. (Under strain, it devolves. Note the way torture crept into the national debate the instant we felt unsafe. I would bet anything that few thought it would happen so FAST.)
While honesty is better, it requires a higher level of attention. Many will be cruel under the mask of “I was just being honest.” They’ll say “You’ve got an ugly baby!” because they were thinking it. If someone has a child I consider ugly, and there is nothing I can offer to make the situation better, I can complement a voice, a smile, intelligence, the way the child is dressed…if there IS something they can do, I might, if the rapport is strong, make a subtle suggestion. But only after complements.
Political correctness has its place. Honesty is the higher value. But while we still function on the tribal level, I’ll take courtesy over “Nigger” every time.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:50 AM
Monday, November 19, 2007
Ah, free wireless in PDX. I love it. It seems you’re more likely to find this in small airports than large ones. Too bad.
Just coming back from Orycon, sitting in Portland Airport. Chances to see lots of good friends, and some educational experiences as well. Finally had an opportunity to play with R., who is an extremely advanced martial artist with probably more practical experience than almost anyone else I know. Deadly, deadly, guy, and a sweetheart. Great flow, and can punctuate it at any moment to create damage.
But more importantly, he has a calm about it all that is pretty close to out of the box—that is, it’s all just…nothing. He’s navigating some very rarified psychological/spiritual territory, and there are few maps of reality available for someone like him. Looking at the edge—and over the edge—of the map puts you in “Here there be Dragons” territory. If you were imbalanced when the realization that it’s all illusion kicks in, it can drive you crazy. At that point, in terms of living in consensual reality, you are operating on the bare wiring of the survival drive, and whatever structures you have built atop it. Skew to either side, and you can rush toward death as a means of avoiding ego destruction. Sounds strange, but what I mean by that is that your ego doesn’t want to die alone. It will try to take your body with it, and use your own strengths and weaknesses against you. Nothing matters, excepts acts of will. The ultimate act of will is to decide the moment of your own life. Why not jump?
Cute. Sorry, ego, you don’t get to get away with that one. Not on my watch.
So…I have six weeks to finish SHADOW VALLEY. Really, I plan to finish it in four, and then enjoy the holidays. We’ll see. Two weeks to finish, two weeks to polish, then kick back and be leisurely about the rest of the work. I think that thinking like that wil work great.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:56 AM
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
There is an article on Salon.com trumpeted as the “Death of Homophobia,” which I eagerly read. It claimed that anti-gay attitudes had declined dramatically among football players, certainly one of the most macho segments of the population. It claimed that one in three former football players admitted to having had a gay experience. I was shocked by a number that large, and the more I read, the more I hope it was a bad joke: the methodology was pure crap.
First, included among “gay” experiences was two guys in bed with the same woman. Well…maybe not. Stretching things a bit, I’d reckon.
The second was, in my mind, an inexcusable bit of blindness. At the least. It seems that the sample questions were ex-highschool football players who hadn’t been able to make the college team. And so they became…cheerleaders.
What? Didn’t it occur to anyone that any guy who becomes a cheerleader is automatically somewhat resistant to cultural prejudices and perceptions? That at the very very least, he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t care that the stereotype of the male cheerleader is less than macho? And that’s at the least. There is a wide, wide world of difference between the art of display (cheerleading) and the art of crushing and intimidating (football). That this is a rather self-selected group that would be expected to have a much larger than average percentage of guys who might go against cultural “macho” norms.
Man, I hope that I missed a joke somewhere, because this is sloppy as hell.
I keep a sharp lookout for any physical training techniques that promise large benefits for small time investments. I just came across one that strikes me as promising, but cannot claim to have really tried it out—according to its lead proponent, it will take 4-6 weeks of training to see the effects. However, let’s enumerate the promised benefits:
1) investment of 5-10 minutes a day, 3-5 times a week
2) Monetary investment of less than 40 bucks. Possibly as low as 5.
3) Totally portable equipment. Carry in a briefcase or backpack, easily.
4) Improves coordination, endurance, speed, agility, reflexes, etc.—all major components of sports performance.
5) Used by large numbers of professional and Olympic athletes.
6) Available to all skill and fitness levels (after a break-in period)
7) Available to all ages (at least, more available than running or jogging)
8) Easier on the joints than running…
You may have guessed that I’m talking about jumping rope, but not regular rope jumping. It seems that when you jump in a very specific way, the results skyrocket. That methodology: 100 jumps per 30 seconds, or 200 jumps per minute. 1:1 ratio of work to rest (30 seconds jumping, thirty seconds rest, etc.) That’s the beginning. You can start the program when you can perform 140 jumps without tripping or catching the rope. Then the fun begins.
You can learn a lot more by Googling “Buddy Lee jump rope” or go to Lee’s web site. His credentials look impeccable, and he is talking about very very specific results that happen once you get above the 3 jump/second threshold. He himself jumps at simply unbelievable speed and agility. You’ve never seen anything like it, I promise you. And above about 4 jumps/second? You are “slicing time” like a maniac. There is no way your conscious mind can keep control. It just can’t. By the time you’ve worked your way into his actual program, you are performing sports-specific agility work at a speed that would open up the subconscious circuits like nobody’s business. Want a true whole-body workout you can do in a hotel room? Do 5-10 minutes of this, followed immediately by 15 minutes of Cards. And may God have mercy on your soul.
Anyway, this is all theoretical. I’m just playing with it. Five minutes of work for the kind of benefits pro athletes and coaches swear by, as well as Tabata-style serious conditioning, is simply too good not to experiment with. Five minutes? Jeeze. And five to ten minutes is all he recommends for PROFESSIONALS. Check it out at Buddyleejumpropes.com
Posted by Steven Barnes at 11:51 AM
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Several readers expressed interest in the concept of focus, and how to transfer it from one domain to another. As Musashi said, "Master one thing, master ten thousand things."
Let’s take a step back and look at the concept of Mastery, overall. In George Leonard’s delightful little book, he discusses why most people never get really good at anything. One reason is that, in general, when you begin a new activity, there is an initial period of rapid growth, followed by a long period where it seems that nothing is happening. Actually, during this “fallow” period, you are re-wiring at a deep level. The ability to resist frustration and keep working, then, is essential.
Stepping back again, it is reasonable to ask about the keys to excellent. Well, separate from “innate ability” (to the degree that you accept its existence) this consists of some finite number of qualities or factors, not limited to but including:
1) Good teachers or instruction
2) Constant effort at a level of intensity sufficient to produce progress
3) Feedback sufficient to tell you when you are closer to or further away from your goal
4) Emotional intensity, sufficient to trigger a thirst for excellence.
Etc. A dozen different experts might list many other, varied attributes. But in every case I know of, the ability to FOCUS is at the top of the list. Focus on the question of excellence long enough to read a dozen books and compile a list such as that above. Focus despite the inevitable distractions of life: “flow” state is critical to access deep wells of creativity, and flow cannot be maintained without focus. Distraction kills it.
Different parts of the brain are accessed for painting than for writing, music, or sex. But distraction from the activity kills your ability to access it, no doubt about it. How many hours of practice were necessary to develop basketball skills, Dan? Do you doubt that the same number of hours the same emotional intensity applied to any other sport would have resulted in appreciable improvement if not excellence?
Now, it’s possible to “focus” on, say, writing for years and never develop good skills. Such people might focus on, say, producing 1000 words a day without reading, or getting coaching. In essence, they’ve been practicing typing rather than writing. It isn’t practice but effective or “perfect practice” that improves performance.
This is why it is important to combine focus with things like modeling in order to know what to focus ON. But even the best education, opportunities, or innate skills will fail without focus. In fact, I’ve never been close to anyone with any skills at anything at all where they hadn’t spent long, grueling hours in practice.
That said, it seems obvious that if you spend 100 hours at task X, and nine other people also spend 100 hours, there will be ten different results. Doesn’t that prove the existence of innate ability?
Well, I don’t seriously say that there is NO difference in innate ability. That would, I think, be foolish. What I will say is that the concept of “talent” isn’t useful. I usually see “talent” invoked to stop someone from even trying. “I’m not talented enough to do X” they say, instead of rolling up their sleeves.
That’s comparing yourself to others in a damned unproductive way. You should only use competition to spur yourself to greater effort, not to stop yourself from trying. If those nine other people, under the same coach or teacher, get different results, does it mean they had different innate ability? Well, probably that’s true. But what is also true is that they
1) only apparently got the same teaching. All language is based on shared referents. The same thing said to two different people NEVER means exactly the same thing.
2) People have different foundations of experience. Someone who has played tennis is going to pick up handball faster than you, even if you have the same coach, and practice the same hours.
3) Skills can transfer from completely different domains. Someone who has mastered making models might recognize the deep flow state required for Tai Chi, and slip into it more rapidly.
4) People have different emotional needs. The activity might well trigger a deeper sense of connection in one person than another. They will give it different levels of commitment, will think about it at night while they sleep, while they eat, obsessively. They spend no more time in the classroom, but have spent three times as much time overall.
5) Some cultures contain the building blocks of success in their entertainments and family interactions. For instance, one of the reasons I’m not at all certain about black “athletic superiority” is the fact that physical motion, and rhythmic motion, is far more reinforced in black than white culture. Having gone to dances in both communities since childhood, I watched black kids teaching each other to dance from the time they could walk—in ways that white kids never did. And the dance music itself was simply far more complex rhythmically. (Latin music can be even moreso: Find me a white top-40 dance song comparable to “The Rhythm’s Gonna Get You.”) Rhythm IS coordination. And once you have coordination, you learn ANYTHING physical more easily.
So…back to my first point. To me, the central talent, if an innate talent exists, is the ability to focus on a single thing until you have it nailed. To focus through fatigue, boredom, disappointment, pain. To keep going after others have wandered away. To obsess about it as you fall asleep. To study the chosen discipline while others are partying. To step back and focus on the question of focus itself: how to enter and sustain flow state? How to block out outside interference? How to resist the guilt-tripping and obstructionist tendencies of family, friends and community? How to develop an obsessive drive that borders on mania without tipping over?
All other knowledge, without focus, will produce mediocre results. A find mind, split into multiple tracks when you should be bringing everything to bear on the RIGHT NOW, on the MOMENT, this little space outside of time where everything happens, is pretty useless.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 1:41 PM
Monday, November 12, 2007
“Genius is eternal patience.” -Michelangelo Buonarroti, sculptor, painter, architect, and poet (1475-1564)
Got the above today in my word-a-day email. And it relates directly to the core question of “talent.” I believe that the only real talent (in most cases) is the ability to focus your attention on one thing, until you’ve got it cold. Needless to say, this involves being able to deal with distraction, fatigue, fear, procrastination, and so forth. But this single skill can be developed separately from any particular application of the skill. And if you have achieved excellence anywhere in your life, you should be able to identify your capacity to focus in this arena, and then transplant it to another.
Of course, excessive focus can be destructive to your life—which is why I insist on BALANCE as the primary point of focus. True, if you’re competing with someone willing to trash their life to achieve a narrow-focus goal, they will out-perform you…in the short term. But slow and steady wins the race. They beat your pants off for the first year, but then as the rest of their lives become a train wreck, they are inevitably distracted…and that’s when you’ll creep past them. Life isn’t a spring. It’s more of a stroll, or a dance, or perhaps a jog. Choose the metaphor you like, but remember that there’s really nowhere to go. Have fun, get hugs, enjoy the ride.
Lucid dreaming came up in conversation yesterday. This relates to the question of “Awakening” which is important to the process of becoming an Adult, and certainly precursive to Enlightenment. If you’ve never experienced awakening within a dream, it is a stone trip, where you can experience any fantasy you wish: flying, punching out pre-op trannie Ann Coulter, whatever. But the most valuable thing is the ability to transfer this to waking life. The same “hyperawareness” experienced while lucid dreaming can be experienced in life itself, and it is amazing. The first step would be to wake up in the dream. One method for this is to ask yourself many times a day: “Am I dreaming now?” After you’ve done this a dozen times a day for a few weeks, I promise that one night you’ll be in the middle of a dream, and the dreaming you will ask the same question. And then, as they say, the fun begins…
Flying home today, thank God. Tomorrow I work on Dream Park, and in the evening, go out to UCI to have dinner with my precious Nicki. Then Wednesday, I get together with Larry Niven to work. Thursday I take off for Portland. I’ll be at Orycon over the weekend. If you’re going to be there, I’m planning a small party Saturday night, just to have a chance to see all my friends. If you’ll be there, hopefully we’ll see each other…
Posted by Steven Barnes at 5:57 AM
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Poor Jason has been sleeping in hotel rooms, eating nothing but hotel food for almost two weeks now. His behavior starts out fine in the morning, but by evening, he’s pretty much chaotic. Poor baby. Can’t wait to get him home. But it really makes me wince about my own stress level. I’ve been dealing with this for almost a month now, one way or another, and it’s dreadful. I haven’t eaten right, slept right, or had a decent yoga class. My work routine is in the crapper, and I have a book due by the end of the year. Yuck. I guess these are the times we find out who we really are…
I wrote out that six-part plan to align yourself with the universe at a shamanic level pretty much off the top of my head, but I can’t help but feel that I put something together that was…unusual. And more valid than I had thought. I need to put more thought into that.
I mentioned to another writer here my plan to do a book next year called “Seven Secrets”, just exploring the most interesting techniques I’ve learned or evolved over forty years of digging into this stuff. The idea is to take those ideas that seem…oddly rarified. The stuff which, if I didn’t know it, I’d pay a huge amount to have it. Off the top of my head, the most important pieces would cover body, mind and spirit, and would include:
1) The Hero’s Journey (applied to life).
2) Spiritual Autolysis
3) The Soulmate Process
4) I.D.E.A. (reality calibration through balanced living)
5) Intermittent Fasting
6) Heartbeat Meditation (and Three-Chakra goal setting)
7) The Five Minute Miracle (“Greasing the Groove”, or synaptic facilitation)
8) Fifteen Minute Exercise (Five Tibetans, FlowFit, Cards, etc.)
9) Fear Removal
Gee. That’s nine. I’ll prune. But this seems to cover the core of it. And if I can interrelate them smoothly, it feels like a damned fine tool-box for total mental, physical and spiritual development. Thoughts?
Just finished reading the new Andrew Vachss novel, "Mask Market." Wow. If this man's work is "Hard Boiled" then everyone else is runny eggs. Vachss is out in the beyond somewhere, and he's earned the right, through a lifetime of very real and committed warriorhood, protecting the most vulnerable members of our society, to paint pictures of a moral hell so deep that the light of day rarely shines. His character Burke is a career criminal with a special interest in destroying those who prey on children sexually. Not for the faint of heart, Vachss is doing incredibly important work, for those who are willing to listen to a man with a powerful and educated opinion about the palest chambers of the human heart.
So ugly that it is beautiful, with pose so stripped-down and brutally efficient it feels like verbal silat.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 6:32 AM
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Regarding “American Gangster.” Someone thought that Denzel’s character might have had sex had he died at the end. Maybe there would have been a better chance—but it probably would have been offscreen. I find myself needing to constantly restate my position: this isn’t a “Hollywood” problem. Hollywood is the same as the rest of the country, the rest of the world, only probably more Liberal. Hollywood would put Julia Roberts boffing a gorilla on prime time if they’d make a dollar thereby. They’ve learned over painful decades that white guys won’t support a film with non-white guys having sex. It’s as simple and painful as that. That “80% aversion” statistic in Discover points directly to it. The amygdalic response research points directly to it. I think that people have a very, very hard time accepting this, because it tars their group. All right—consider it Universal. All males feel this way about males of other groups, unless they’ve been brainwashed. Ooops! Does that idea seem too depressing? Not to me. It’s just reality.
And it does point the way out: for children, program them young. For adults, monitor their thoughts by controlling language and actions. This is where the concept of “Political Correctness” can be valuable. If you can’t say it, and you can’t act it, it gets harder to think it. Scary, but useful.
And of course, for those of us committed to higher truth, skin color differences start meaning far, far less than to those mired in the tribal. Open your heart space, and the roar of the third Chakra gets softer…
Again, the specific meditation recommended goes something like this:
1) Listen to the heartbeat for five minutes. Visualize the things and people that you love most deeply. Visualize your own child self in the bosom of a loving family—either literal or constructed.
2) Drop your focus to the lower chakras. Visualize your perfect body. Rotate it and see it from all directions. See it functioning with animal grace and power. Spend five minutes here.
3) Take the light from these first two visualizations. Condense them, then explode them upward to your head. Visualize your career dreams. See yourself in the house or office of your dreams, surrounded by the trappings of success. See yourself holding up a newspaper with the date by which you will accomplish these things. Five minutes.
4) See the light flowing up from the lower charkas, or out from your heart (but NOT down from your head!). If it is clear and unobstructed, great! Close the meditation and enter your day. If it is cloudy or otherwise troublesome, spend some time clearing it.
Use this daily, until you develop a correlation between morning meditation and your actions and results. It takes time—months at least. You are creating an extraordinarily sophisticated internal communications system. It is worth the effort.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 5:45 AM
Friday, November 09, 2007
Listening to "Dog" the Bounty Hunter on CNN (via Sirius Radio, while driving in Florida: I write this from a motel room on my MacBook) I was disgusted at the softballs Larry threw: asking Dog about the use of the word "Nigger" and allowing him to say, in effect, "its just a term I use sometime..." and not a reflection of any actual attitudes. Really? Didn't Larry listen to the tape? If he had, he would have noticed the line about if Dog's DAUGHTER had brought home a "nigger" she'd be thrown out of the house. Nice. THAT is the context of Dog's tirade. And King let him slide completely.
Not that there wouldn't have been satisfying answers: "Nigger" refers to a particular TYPE of black person, like "Trailer Trash" relates to a particular TYPE of white person. Yeah, right. But I might have had reasonable doubt. More honest: most of us have tribal attitudes, and they come out under stress.
Lately we've had a flood of celebrities who have stepped across the racial/ethnic line: Mel Gibson, Don Imus, Michael Richards, and now Dwayne Chapman. Jesse Jackson's infamous "Hiemie Town" comes to mind. Yuck. Caught on tape, they go public, cry and beg forgiveness, and seek counseling. You want to know the truth? Dog's groveling actually moved me. He was watching the opportunity of a lifetime slip away, and understood, at the deepest level, that the society he needs no longer accepts that kind of behavior in public. Or in private IF they find out about it. And here is where "Political Correctness" can be a very useful thing. Act courageous, and you become courageous. Act loving, and you learn to love. Not always, but often enough for me to approve of acting in a positive way even when you can't manage positive feelings. So I found myself feeling that I wouldn't mind Chapman getting his show back in a while--his public humiliation isn't a bad role model for social behavior. These feelings aren't unique--they are human. And we have to learn to get along together and create a context in which our children believe their elders and role models won't accept hateful behavior and rhetoric--it's a little like hiding your cigarette smoking from your kids. Probably not as good as being a non-smoker, but better than smoking in front of them in many ways.
So...Tananarive suggested (with about 80% seriousness) that we open a clinic called "Racist Rehab" where we specialize in helping celebrities heal from their hateful tirades. Encounter sessions, consciousness raising, you know the drill. I'm still not totally sure how serious she was, but she keeps saying it with a straight face. Racist Rehab. Has a nice ring, doesn't it?
But then, why shouldn't we merely lie to each other, and ourselves, about our feelings? Because it keeps us asleep. It keeps us children. The first of Musashi’s Principles is:
Do not think Dishonestly.
There are many ways to interpret this, and it opens up into many different arenas. Among them are: Do Not Lie to others. Do not lie to yourself. Do not bear false witness. Do not lay felonious plans. Do not deceive yourself. Keep your word.
Keeping your word is the key to so very much. If you can keep your word to yourself, all of the worry about procrastination, lack of motivation, etc. goes right out the window. You do it because you said you would, WHEN you said you would, in the manner you said you would. Period. If you can’t do this, you can’t keep your word. Period.
And you know what? It leaks from one arena of your life to another. Sometimes, life just sucks, no doubt about it. And all you have is your commitment to yourself. Hey, why not pick up that wallet the guy dropped and just keep it? Because you define yourself as a different kind of person.
Why not cheat on your spouse? No one will find out…
Because you said you wouldn’t. Period.
Why finish that book or script? It isn’t working, you’re bored, you’ve got other things to do…
Because you said you would. Period.
Our inner demons will strike at us through any open portal. If you can set goals in all three arenas, and know that you will do Whatever It Takes to achieve all three of them, you have gained a skill that most people can only dream of. It is independent of mood or circumstance. Trust me, we all want to quit sometime.
Does this mean you can’t discover that your commitment was foolish, and shouldn’t be followed at all? Certainly, but that should be a real “sometime thing.” If you find that it recurs, you have a problem: lack of judgment. And lack of judgment is generally lack of clarity. We’re back to the need to clean up your reality map. See clearly, and it is far easier to make accurate predictions and set realistic plans.
I was at Chapel Hill, and a lady asked me about fear and writer’s block. I gave her a slightly flip answer…and then looked at her eyes. She had said she’d traveled hundreds of miles to speak to me, and suddenly my ego-shit went out the window (I love when that happens!) and I was in that “Real” space I get thrown into more and more often these days. So I told her I was going to take her seriously, and give her some magic. Taught her the Fear Removal exercise. A gentleman who had done me the honor of challenging everything I say (I love that, too) had been hovering around, and asked if I had any fear.
I said hell, yes. Ah hah! He said. Then the technique doesn’t work? Sure, it does. But I only use it on fears that are irrational, and that inhibit my ability to accomplish the things that are in alignment with my core values. Why not on everything? He asked. Because it’s not fun, son. It hurts a bit. It’s worth it if you are removing the block to love, or health, or success. But do it on my fear of…I don’t know, say asking strange women to dance. I stil have a bit of shyness left over from my geeky childhood, and have no interest in removing it. It’s kinda cute, reminds me of where I came from.
He kept grinding in at me (good for him!) and I mentioned that the technique often has to be repeated, if the fear creeps back: it isn’t permanent. Ah-hah! He said. Then it’s not Magic, is it..?
And here I realized that I’m living in a completely different world than this gentleman. He got his concept of magic from novels and movies: wave a wand, and presto! An elephant disappears from the living room, in denial of all rules of physics. The universe doesn’t ripple at all, and Mandrake does it again.
Having been around shamans who played very seriously with these things, I am of the opinion that the approach to magic in life has steps that go something like this.
1) First, Clarke’s law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Magic is not a violation of the laws of nature, any more than airplanes violate the law of gravity. It may seem so to the ignorant, but it ain’t so.
2) Second, one must have a genuinely profound map of reality, integrated at the level of unconscious competence.
3) Set goals and then take actions. Note the gap between the results and your intentions. Learn all you can about the reasons for the failures and successes, keeping both conscious and unconscious channels open.
4) Begin to differentiate between your needs and desires. “You can’t always get what you want,” the song goes. But we generally get what we need. We’re evolved to get our NEEDS from the environment. Otherwise, we wouldn’t survive, and our ancestors wouldn't have, either. Peeling away the inessential, until we are in alignment with life. Needless to say, doing this in a consumer culture requires both strength and clarity. Most will prefer to remain asleep, trust me.
5) Once your survival needs are in alignment with nature (you have these things at the level of unconscious competence), use prayer, ceremony, meditation, etc. to make your goals, actions, and values all in alignment: you do what you say you’ll do, and you aren’t fighting yourself in the process. In the beginning, it can be hell to achieve this. It is worth the fight.
6) When your inner and outer realities are in alignment, and your reality map is accurate, a bizarre thing happens: you stop wanting anything you cannot have. You don’t set goals that are out of reach. You understand your abilities, and the context of life, so well that your desires never materialize fully unless you have the tools and resources to bring them into existence. You are, in essence, playing with a loaded deck. You say you want to do something, and it happens. To the uninitiated, it looks like magic, while to you, well…its just the way the universe works. Nothing special about it at all.
But do you see the hard, brutally honest work it takes to get there? You have to genuinely calibrate your perceptions, and most people would rather do ANYTHING than expose themselves to truth. It is really sad to watch, when the way to truth is fairly clearly marked: just overlay all major world religions, extract the core teachings, and do THAT stuff with all your heart. Read between the lines. Ignore the teachings of people whose actions are out of alignment with their words. Keep your word to yourself, until truth becomes easier than lying. Somewhere along that path, you’ll notice that you are living a non-ordinary life.
But ego still rises up. At the L.A. Screenwriting Expo, I did a great talk, in pure flow state. After it was over, someone asked me questions, and I answered them from my ego-mind. The first, and I mean FIRST thing I did was make an uncomplimentary comparison between my teaching and other instructors at the Expo. Jeeze, man—that shit just doesn’t go away, and you have to be very very careful. I think that one of the reasons I love teaching so much is that it throws me onto my deeper resources. I am out of my ego, out of caring about myself, and concentrated on the truth, and on service, and on the integrity of the connection between student and teacher. Teaching for me is a matter of knowledge, pleasure, AND honor—the only things worth living for. It is my highest state, I think. I get further out during meditation or sex, but I can sustain the teaching state for days at a time, a kind of esoteric Viagra to be sure, and I don’t have to consult my doctor if I get a mental erection lasting more than four hours.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 5:40 AM
Thursday, November 08, 2007
American Gangster (2007)
In the early 1970’s, an enterprising young gangster named Frank Lucas traveled to Southeast Asia, made a direct connection with the opium lords, and opened a heroin conduit to New York so powerful that he was able to sell product that was twice as strong at half the price. He amassed a fortune approaching half a billion dollars, and was described as “the most dangerous man” in the state. He was actually above the Mafia in terms of dealing, and by maintaining a low profile, eluded notice by the police for many years. His story would be remarkable enough as it was, but the fact that Lucas was black makes it a sort of bizarre Horatio Algiers cum Black Caesar story, one of those tales that simply screams out to be made into a film.
And it has. Not a great film. Not even a great gangster film, but probably the best since “Goodfellas” with the possible exception of “Pulp Fiction” –which is kind of a deconstructed meta-gangster tale anyway. Denzel Washington is simply superb in the role, and Russell Crowe, as Richie Roberts, the amazingly honest cop whose parallel story ultimately intersects with Lucas’ empire is his equal at every step. The direction, by Ridley Scott, is deceptively elegant, and the script, written by Steven Zaillian in two completely different pieces—one from the POV of Lucas, and the other from the POV of cop Richie Roberts, is concise, powerful, and hypnotically rhythmic. The supporting cast, notably Ruby Dee, is just phenomenal/ Violent, profane, fairly honest and already creating major Oscar buzz, I’d been waiting for this one for months, and it was worth it. A B+.
WARNING: SAMBO ALERT
You guessed it: Frank Lucas is the most sexless gangster you ever saw. Russell Crowe has three different women, one in bed, one banged up against a wall, and the third just kissed leaving his apartment. Denzel gets a couple of kisses. That’s it. I had the naiveté to hope that they might take a chance and let him actually have some sex. Nope. If they had let us see the arc of his relationship with the Puerto Rican beauty who became his wife, just a glimpse into his inner world, his softness and personal passion, this might have been a classic. By denying us that core, it calls into question his entire reason for building the empire in the first place. It is dishonest and cowardly, and taints the enterprise. And it’s a terrific movie anyway. What a missed opportunity. Feh.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:53 PM
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
1) Alice Randall, author of “The Wind Done Gone” was at the Speculative South conference (along with Harry Harrison and Harry Turtledove) and it was delightful to meet her. What was truly inspiring was her analysis of her intent. It was a quite calculating deconstruction and attack on “Gone With the Wind”—the most popular and utterly poisonous novel in American history. To have young Black children forced to read this in Junior High without providing context is inexcusable. The Margaret Mitchell estate sued her for ten million dollars, and it took her over a million just to fight the case…but she won. Her book deals with the possibility that Scarlett O’Hara had a half-black sister…and that Rhett Butler DID notice that Scarlett “wasn’t beautiful.” And that Mammy (did Mitchell really have to deny giving the woman a name? Or a family? Or any hopes and dreams of her own?) had practiced infanticide against the po’ little white babies. Wow. What a subversive book. And when I think how much America loves the story, it’s rather terrifying.
2) The concept that racism is hard-wired is interesting in a political way. I would suspect that many on the Right OR the Left might have a problem with it, for different reasons. On the Left, to the degree that you think it’s all Tabula Rosa, the idea that something like Racism might be innate (to a greater or lesser degree, but in the vast majority of people) is disturbing. But on the Right, which seems to me to assume innate characteristics, if we assume that this is innate, then a conundrum arises. If you admit (or take the position that) racism is innate, then in looking at the racial situation in America you have to see that blacks are in an almost uniquely bad situation: cut completely off from their cultural roots, outnumbered ten to one by a group that has an innate predisposition to dislike them and find them unattractive. Under such a situation, blacks would have to be significantly SUPERIOR to whites to ever get even. Ever. So you have a limited number of options: either you approve of racial quotas, set-asides, entitlements and preferential treatments to compensate not just for historical events but the seemingly inevitable conclusion that if you DON’T do these things and the subconscious racist tendency—found in almost all human beings—will manifest in any situation where whites have power over or outnumber blacks. In other words, almost all situations. Don’t want to do that? Then the only honest thing to do is say “I don’t care what happens to them” and let the chips fall where they may. But then, of course, you lose the right to ever criticize them for the poverty, crime, and lack of education—you KNOW that this will result if you don’t leash the hounds of human tribalism. But truly…you DO have the right not to give a shit. But you DON’T have the right to not care AND point the finger. Take your pick.
3) In studying writings on the unraveling of the human ego and the state of enlightenment, I begin to suspect that I understand more clearly the reason most world religions are structured as they are. They know that actual enlightenment is “the small boat”—it is not for many people. Frankly, most aren’t up to it. Most people just want to have a comfortable dream. Fine. So teachings have to be constructed in multiple levels, so that they work for you at whatever level of understanding or maturity you have reached. This is one of the brilliant things about Christianity, by the way. It can work for 5 year olds, and it can work for sixty year old geniuses—but on different levels. But if I’m right about this, even after the unraveling process, in order to move through this world, you have to wear the residual ego shell. And that implies that those social rules which abide at the level of unconscious competence or reflex, which are in alignment with the deepest emotions and genetic imperatives, will remain. Implication: those who can automatically, unconsciously, function healthfully and joyously in all three arenas need have little fear of drastic external transformation upon Awakening. Those whose external behaviors are out of alignment with their inner nature, on the other hand, will probably destroy their lives in the process. Caveat Emptor.
4) Another implication here: a bad habit is going to be based upon a false ego identity. If you could identify the aspect of your personality that clings to the behavior, you might well be able to “unravel” it by investigating it deeply enough. Isn’t that part of what psychoanalysis is about, really? I know that if you investigate a headache thoroughly, giving it weight, sound, color, motion, and so forth, in rotation, the headache vanishes. Would the same thing happen to fear? Guilt? Anger? Seems worthy of investigation.
5) Fifteen minutes in the morning: 5 minutes visualization for each of the three arenas. To this end, Once the “Heartbeat” meditation is mastered at a basic level (you can do it continuously for 15 minutes) you should go to the next level. You should visualize the end point of results in each of the three major areas. Five minutes for each. If you are sharp and clear, and excited, and motivated to TAKE ACTION and actually follow through…great. But if the visualizations are muddy and unclear, or negative emotions arise, or you can’t follow through, it behooves you to use your morning meditations to investigate the “darkness”, the confusion, the obstructions. Give them identities. Get to know them. Name them. And then use the Literary/spiritual autolysis process to deconstruct them. Meditate daily, and look carefully at the question: DO I FOLLOW THROUGH on my exercise, my emotional/physical intimacy with my partner, my career moves? If not, you know the work you have to do.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 5:53 AM