At a holiday party over the weekend, I met a guy who works on the CBS show The Unit. Conversations got around to the odd situation with the lead casting, and the black soldier (Demore Barnes) suddenly killed off just after screwing a white woman…
Interesting. The word is that he got killed because the company needed to save forty thousand dollars a week on his salary. Wretchedly, they didn’t inform him until he read the script. There are definitely some things about this that make me feel uneasy…
1) The whole Regina Taylor/ Dennis Haysbert casting thing. The show clearly wants to sex things up. Every other actor was lean and sensual…except the leads, who were dumpy. Haysbert slimmed down over last summer break, and Regina Taylor has…a bit. But it was rather grotesquely obvious who the sexy and unsexy people were on that show. And the original casting was by David Mamet. He was getting what he wanted. My guess? That unconscious aversion thing.
2) The Unit guy I met mentioned an “unwritten law” at CBS against interracial relationships. A woman was cast on one show, and the producers were trying to get a certain guest star to play her character’s boyfriend. He finally signed on…and they realized that they’d cast the woman white. He was black. She was fired, but got paid anyway.
3) Having “Hector” spending the weekend with a white woman was, in my mind, a signal that he was about to die. Anchoring pain to inappropriate behaviors is an old, old dramatic technique. Probably as old as mankind.
4) The CBS guy talked about the fact that the writers on the Unit aren’t comfortable writing Black characters making love to each other. They can imagine a black man making love to a Latina (which happened with Haysbert. She died), but not to a black woman.
Man, that is weird. I never anticipated that it would get to be more common and acceptable for black people to have sex with non-blacks than with people their own skin color. I think it’s that sociobiological thing: “we’d rather they didn’t breed at all, but if they must, at least make light-skinned babies.”
I’ve seen studies on rape patterns among conquered people, and there is definitely a primal urge to breed your foes out of existence.
The CBS guy affirmed that, as individuals the writers and producers consider themselves enlightened and socially Liberal. And that their behavior in these arenas is BETTER than white Americans in general across the country. But that the result is the same.
Got into an interesting discussion with a black Conservative recently, where the subject of torture came up. He couldn’t, literally couldn’t stay on the question of whether torture was efficient. He strenuously and assertively kept trying to turn it into the question of whether it was necessary or moral to torture in order to win, and discussing how dire our current situation is. When I pointed out that that was a different discussion, he went a little bonko on me. Disturbing, really. Not sure what I was looking at there.
Happy New Year! Who has their goals for 2008 ready?
Monday, December 31, 2007
At a holiday party over the weekend, I met a guy who works on the CBS show The Unit. Conversations got around to the odd situation with the lead casting, and the black soldier (Demore Barnes) suddenly killed off just after screwing a white woman…
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:58 AM
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Jason got "Mary Poppins" just before Christmas, and has watched it a dozen times (in between bouts on his SmartCycle, definitely his favorite toy). Great movie. A few observations
1) the author of the original books didn't want there to be any hint of romance between Mary Poppins and Burt. Nonetheless, a few delicious hints remain, and I like to imagine that they shared one blissful night in the clouds...
2) The whole class-consciousness thing gives me a tweak. "Diamond in the rough...your blood is blue..." I guess I'm not amused by assumptions that one person is better than another by birth. But you know, I"m sure there are aspects of social stability that can't be achieved without such traditions. The British empire worked for a long time...
3) They wrote like 30 songs for Poppins, and about 15 of them were used. I love the movie, but it feels overlong to me, like they could have cut 15 minutes without effort.
4) I loved the original Dick Van Dyke show, but Dick left the show thinking that his movie career was going to soar. If you've seen Poppins you have the chance to hear what is broadly considered the worst English accent ever attempted by an American actor. Van Dyke, completely un-trained as a dancer, acquits himself superbly. Sort of a shame his movie dreams never really jelled.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:55 AM
Friday, December 28, 2007
Don't see it. In a strange mood, I went to see Alien Versus Predator Two. Oh, I have reasons--I didn't want to see anything really good, because T wasn't with me. But this movie just demeans both franchises unforgivably. No one with any connection to this mess had any idea why the original films worked. I mean, "Alien" was just "It, the Terror From Beyond Space" crossed with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and unleashed upon unsuspecting audiences. The characters were realistic, the situation ghastly. "Predator" had Arnold and a team of serious bad-asses, completely realized before you even glimpsed a monster. CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. Otherwise you have decent monster suits, and a bunch of shaky-cam. And there are scenes of a pregnant woman being mouth-raped that were just disgusting. I don't need this. Stay away. An "F+"
Charlie Wilson's War. The story of a Texas congressman who single-handedly funneled vasts amounts of arms to Afghani rebels is irresistible. Loved it. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are great fun playing against type, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a CIA case worker steals the show. Solid "B"
"The Great Debaters." Underwritten "true" story of a small black college that developed a winning debate squad and challenged white teams in the Jim Crow era. directed competently by Denzel Washington (who also stars) and co-starring Forest Whitaker as the father of one of the debaters, the acting is fine, but the story feels...just a hair flat. The debaters should have been forced to defend positions they didn't agree with. Oddly, though, one critic ranted about how all the white characters were villainous. This is absolute crap. Most of the SOUTHERN white characters are, but the college deans are not just polite, but fair-minded and articulate. Many dozens of perfectly polite and nice folks. Some people are just too sensitive. A "B" that could have been an "A"
Warning! Sambo Alert!
Yes, there is a brief but nicely done (and placed) love scene. Not with Denzel, however, who doesn't get so much as a kiss. But it was nice to see.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 5:56 PM
In terms of jumping rope and yoga in the same day…when I said yoga, I specifically meant Hatha, the yoga of postures. The eight arms of yoga also admit meditation, breathing, service and other categories to the “Union of the divine” category.
All well and good. But the holding of static postures with very specific attentions and muscle locks and breathing patterns has an effect on the body unlike anything else. And while one can take breathing and attention and make almost anything a ‘yoga” I’m specifically looking at its ability to improve health in some ways that are unnervingly like rejuvenation. “Fitness” activities (how many reps, how much, how long) aren’t health activities except almost by accident. I have to be careful to avoid the lure of exercises that make me “sizzle” or give me a good “pump” but don’t actually help my body recover from another day’s work. The body grows and changes while resting, rather than while working. And the ego will try to head towards the “sizzle.” Yoga is a lot quieter than that. Often, you can’t even feel the effects. Just…your body feels great. Then you stop, and the fitness stays the same, but aches and pains accumulate, and one day you have the same complaints common to others your age and…oops! Time to head back to yoga again…
But aside from that, here’s a fast and dirty explanation (one of man, no doubt) for how yoga works as a spiritual discipline. Hatha, that is.
1) Learn proper breathing technique.
2) Learn basic postures, which align, stretch, and stress.
3) Take the postures to the limit that can be reached WITHOUT disrupting breathing.
4) Practice these breathing patterns for sixty seconds, five times a day, at every hour divisible by 3 (Five Minute Miracle).
5) When you are in high-stress situations, remember to breathe. After a couple of years or ordinary practice, this will begin to become habitual.
6) Live your life in balance (body, mind, spirit).
7) As you encounter stresses trying to live up to your goal, you will start to switch into resourceful breathing states, allowing you to access more of your skills.
8) As you resolve problems on one level of your life, you automatically ‘rise up” and encounter new problems on the next level.
9) If you maintain breathing practice, focus, and living in balance, you start marching “up” Maslow’s Hierarchy toward more integrated, stress-less, peaceful living.
10) My belief is that human beings are designed to evolve. Remove the blockages, resolve the fear, and keep moving…and the spiritual questions and challenges will automatically present themselves. You need not be a part of an organized faith at all…but if you are you are likely to improve your capacity to see through dogma to the underlying truths.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:57 AM
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Today is a yoga day. As a rule, on yoga days I try to think of nothing but yoga (in terms of physical development stuff) but I’m hankering to try a little jump rope in combination.
I’ve been grimly amused at the increased perceived difficulty in jumping rope now as opposed to…say, twenty-five years ago. It feels as if there is some core timing that is “off” now. I mean, every jump is a complete expression of the entire body, a little plyometric pulse running through you from toes to neck. Everything has to go in sequence, and a mistake trips you up pretty damned fast. Feedback is excellent. But man, I’m jumping at about 150 per minute (with lotsa tripping) and the minimum threshold for the effect I’m looking for is found at about 220 jpm. Going to take work.
While I’m at that, I have a copy of Scott Sonnon’s newest, called RESET. Rapid Energy Sports Enhancement Technique. It promises to reduce recovery time drastically, by incorporating a variety of postural, breathing, and vibrational effects.
It feels to me that Scott is synthesizing his original Russian training into something quite remarkable. This is advanced stuff, and he says it will take 2-4 months to integrate it so that you breathe/move this way all the time. I’m going to give it a shot, that’s for certain. Another of those interesting doorways…but all of them are ultimately about seeing clearly, deciding quickly and well, moving toward your goal with elegance. When you find a physical metaphor for this stuff, it communicates with your nervous system rather sweetly. Worth a look.
I was asked to phrase my observation about black (and Asian) men in film as succinctly as possible. This is my best shot:
The premise is that
1) males of group A prefer not to see males of groups B or C engage in sexual behavior.
2) This can be measured in the box-office success of non-white actors. They will not have sex as often as their white counterparts, and when they do it will negatively impact box office.
3) This is most clearly seen by looking at % of films with sexual content that earn above 100 million dollars. Films with white leads and sexual content earning above 100 million: about 23%. Films with non-white leads with sexual content earning above 100 million: zero percent.
4) That this emotional disconnect can be considered the "Invisible Hand" of the marketplace revealing unconscious racial attitudes. That the "visible hand" is revealed in differential incomes, incarceration rates, life expectancies and more.
I don't know if I can phrase it more precisely than this. Any thoughts?
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:18 AM
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
I never felt completely nurtured by any religious or spiritual community I’ve been a part of…but then, I never felt excluded or empty, either. Just usually…somewhere in-between. Feeling that the priest or minister or shaman or whatever would be much more interesting one-on-one than he or she was preaching to the masses. But then, I guess that’s a lot like a banquet: hopefully everyone is fed, but it’s not like individualizing the meals. I have a lot of respect for the profession, but have grasped for quite a long time that it was likely I’d never find a particular path that would work for me. Just something odd in my head and heart, I guess.
But while sitting and listening to the sermon at church doesn’t do it for me, watching the rest of the congregation does. Because my assumption is that it isn’t perfectly “working” for anyone. That everyone in that church is there partially for the service, and partially for the community of like-minded people, partially to support those who need what a church can offer, or to keep the social aspects of the church strong: in the black community, there have just been too many times when the church was the only functioning organism. Christmas brings out the best of church-folks, I think.
Didn’t go to church this year, but was at First African Methodist Episcopal a few weeks back. Didn’t attend the service, I was with the Sunday School class, supervising Jason and offering what help I could. And you know? I liked it. I liked sitting back and watching the Sunday school teachers work, and listening to their stories and games. I thought to myself that there were many stories I heard at that age that were good teaching tales, that gave a young mind perspective on kindness, and sacrifice, and cruelty, and generosity. Good stuff, all around.
And for the last few weeks I could FEEL Jason struggling to be a better kid. Christmas did that. “He knows when you are sleeping.” The Santa Claus routine is brilliant. The entire world seems to change for a month or so, and everyone’s focus is a little different. And if far too much of it is on the commercial aspects, that’s not a surprise: we live in a commercial culture. Just the way it works. But I watched him carefully, and yeah, most of it is shiny stuff, just junk, but his behavior…he really was more considerate, and tried to be a “big boy” as much as he could, and I can’t see how any of that hurts him. Concentrating him on giving to others, going to homeless shelters to make contributions…we’ll fine-tune what Santa wants over the next years. And his ability to absorb the stories in Church will grow more sophisticated as well. And somewhere between Jesus and Mr. Claus, I think we’re gonna be all right. Heck, even if it’s just the fun, that’s darned near enough.
My favorite gift I gave? Jason's SmartCycle. Video game, exercise, and educational toy in one. He played with it more than all his other toys and stuff combined. Fisher-Price has a winner!
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:29 AM
Monday, December 24, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
Frank made a comment about being Sicilian, and the odd rumors that float through his community about being “connected.” All right, Frank, here’s my guess, based totally on observation. The following, for the sake of clarity, is simplified, and reflects my point of view, not some particular anthropological view.
IF you divided humanity into three basic racial groups (the “primary colors” argument) consisting of White, Asian, and Black, then I would estimate that the amount of cultural bigotry existing WITHIN these groups is about half that experienced BETWEEN groups.
In other words, Sicilians and Englishmen and Germans may snipe at each other, but will snipe HARDER at an Asian or Black. Japanese, Koreans and Chinese will say bad things about each other, but in general would rather their children marry an Asian than a white or Black. Nigerians, Zulus and Jamaicans have nothing in common…except in comparison to a Swede or Japanese. And while Africans often feel they have little in common with Black Americans, they seem to me to have a little more than they do with White Americans.
Broad strokes here, but it’s important. I notice Jews having greater empathy for Black experience, on average than white Christians. But the difference between Jews and other whites isn’t much important except to other white people. So…in other words, if there are two Californians in the room, they’ll snipe at each other about the part of the state they came from…until an Oregonian enters the room, at which point the Californians will Gang up…until an East Coaster enters the room, at which point the West Coasters will gang up…until a Canadian enters the room…
You get it? So, if you’ve experienced within-group prejudice, you have a good clue. Just multiply it to get an average experience of Out-group prejudice.
And the greater the visual distinction, the greater the effect.
On the radio yesterday, a woman was speaking of a book (“Prude” perhaps?) encouraging girls not to have sex until they are above the age of 16. It was interesting to listen to the callers. Men almost always thought she was an alarmist. Kids are ready for sex, etc. The female callers agreed with her, wanted to buy a copy of the book, etc.
Her point was that society, especially advertising, is sexualizing little girls. That girls that age don’t fully enjoy sex, and often do it to try to get closer to their boyfriends, hallucinating that it “means” the same thing to males that it does to females. Much in the way that when a guy comes, he often hallucinates that the woman felt the same thing. I mean, wow! Wasn’t that great (he said). Are you done (she replied).
Anyway, it was so interesting how oblivious the guys seemed to what was going on. Men, of course, want access to as much sex as possible, regardless of the cost. The women were thinking of their daughters, and their own past relationships. Folks weren’t listening to each other. So sad.
Fasting today. Usually this is a “cheat day” but Nicki is out of town, in Las Vegas with friends. Be back Saturday. I feel a little bloated: jeeze, is everything food over Xmas? So I’m fasting today, so I can avoid bursting my jeans. So hard with all the foodage around.
Can’t wait to see “Sweeny Todd.” Love that play, and have seen two different versions of it, each unique and challenging. The word is that Burton knocked it out of the park, that even Depp’s (relatively) weak singing is compensated for by the quality of his acting. This is gonna be wicked.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:01 AM
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I got asked some interesting questions about future sexuality, and what if the love scene was gay? Hah! I’m not going to be thrilled about seeing a black man in a homosexual relationship unless I’m not seeing that any more often than I see white actors in homosexual relationships, relative to their representation in heterosexual relationships.
There it is. You don’t think I didn’t notice Will Smith’s kissing scene with Kevin James in “Hitch” being front and center in the advertising? Jesus, he’s smart (I thought to myself). In order to do a romantic comedy, the black guy has to also be helping the white guy get laid AND diminish his perceived masculinity by kissing another man. Then it’s safe for white audiences. I think Smith’s brilliant: he’s figured this game out at a level no one else ever has.
But having a futuristic situation where you have a black man with a wife AND a husband? Interesting. But not until I’ve seen one with a girlfriend (note: you don’t get love scenes between husbands and wives very often.) doing the boy-meets, boy-loses, boy-gets routine with at least a PG-13 love scene. This character arc is as common as drinking water: unless you're not white.
Oh, and “The Great Debaters”? Unless that love scene is with Denzel, no I won’t count it. If Felix Leiter got laid instead of Bond, think the audience might be a little pissed? Just another way of distracting from the Big Problem. Here I am, asking for something that white audiences get 24/7, 365 days a year, and I can’t get it ONCE. It’s like I say: notice that women never drive cars in movies? And people say, “well, there was one driving a motorcycle!” “She was a PASSENGER in a car!” “well, I saw a movie once, and NO ONE drove a car in it…” “what about if there was a movie that took place in the future, and the cars were computerized. Would that count..?”
All irrelevant. But funny.
People mention Colin Powell, and how many people wanted to vote for him. You can’t say that without also looking at the volume of death threats he received: the secret service lady I spoke to said that they’d never seen anything like it. So if you don’t factor that in, isn’t that just a bit disingenuous? Saying someone “can’t be President” isn’t contradicted if large chunks of White America would vote for him, but there’s also a real, serious, no-b.s. chance that thousands of other white Americans would like to kill him. Same is true for Obama, but I’d still back him. If he doesn’t get the nomination, it’s been a good run. If he gets it, runs a good campaign and loses, he’s still made history. If he runs, and wins, and makes it to the Oval Office and does a good job—fantastic. The images systems controlling American minds would shift with incredible speed. If he gets elected and one of these whackos hurts him…well, that would shift America as well. And I think, in an ultimately positive way. I don’t want to put anything out into the ether that isn’t already there, but as long as he has presented himself as pretty much the guy he is (and my indicators say that’s true) Obama is most interesting to me: like me, he never believed Iraq had WMDs or that Saddam had intentions to vastly expand. Maybe we were both right based on an accident or coincidence…but maybe not. And I’d have a hard time voting for someone I thought dumber than me.
But can he make it? Not if Denzel or Will Smith can’t get laid, no. That’s my position, and I’m sticking to it. “But what if someone ELSE in Denzel’s movie…” “what if he’s married, with kids, so it’s obvious that at SOME point he had sex…” “What if he meets a really hot chick, and the movie ends before he speaks to her, but in your heart you KNOW they’re gonna do it later…”
“What if it’s G-rated, and they kiss, but you know that in an R-rated movie they WOULD have…” “What if it’s an SF movie, and no one has sex anymore, but there are these Orgasmatrons, and they both hook up…” “What if there’s a transvestite but (chuckle!) Will doesn’t realize it—and neither does the audience (guffaw) until morning!”j “What if…what if…”
I’ve heard them all. None of them apply. Sex just isn’t that complicated. Unless, apparently, it’s revealing unconscious prejudices on the part of millions of supposedly enlightened Americans. Then it’s oh-so complicated. The creative meetings where they try to figure out how to avoid it THIS TIME must be hysterical. Or the way that, unconsciously, them sex scenes get re-written out of existence if the film was originally for a white star (say, Sylvester Stallone for “Beverly Hills Cop”) when a black star is cast (Eddie Murphy). No, no, no. No escape. Resistance is futile.
I'm afraid Obama is toast.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:26 AM
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
More on Yoga
I thought I’d make a list of the reasons I think so highly of yoga, and a few more observations:
1) It is primarily a “health” activity, not a “fitness” activity. Fitness generally relates to how many times you can do X within Y period of time. That’s nice, and probably necessary.
2) Yoga deals with how your organ systems and skeletal structure work. Tai Chi or Chi Gung do the same, but it’s my opinion that the average yoga teacher is better at producing the desired results. It’s easier to correct a static posture than a dynamic motion. And by the time you get into visualizations and kinesthetic awareness in Chi Gung, well…its easy to slide into fantasy.
3) If you follow the breath, it is possible to adjust any posture to the level safe and effective for you. Just go to the root of the posture, modify, and find a place where YOUR breath is challenged.
4) Forget about that 17-year old gymnast on the next mat. It is a perfect non-competitive activity, good to squelch your ego. But there is competition for those who really, really want it. Subjective measurement, of course, like figure skating or gymnastics or dance.
5) A high level of fitness can be established, although individual muscle groups are not developed in a Body Building sense, and the pulling muscles aren’t worked as hard as the pushing ones.
6) Yoga can provide a safe environment for the exploration of meditation. There are different “tones” that you will “hear” and feel in your body when you master certain positions. They may be represented by sensations, sounds, whatever. Collect these impressions and bring them into your meditations. They will teach you things about yourself. If you follow your breathing, and only your breathing, you have a good chance of finding one of these “tones” in every class. Just one second or so where everything was working unusually well.
7) Yoga is a perfect adjunct to sports and other “fitness” activities. Most are extracted from hunting (track and field), fighting (martial arts), or mating (dance) activities. Their intent is to enhance individual or genetic survival, or to express the deep Self. Hatha Yoga is designed to quiet the mind so that you can se what lies below the surface. It can be combined with religious beliefs, spiritual perspectives, or “merely” used as biofeedback to find tension and release it.
8) Yoga can be practiced by any age or fitness level. A teacher who doesn’t know how to adapt a pose to all you to succeed is a poor teacher. As long as you follow the breathing, it is virtually impossible to hurt yourself. As fitness progresses, the poses become more intense to force you to pay attention.
9) The IDEA concept (Instinctive Designation of Energy and Attention) is perfectly expressed in Yoga. There is a custom-amount of focus and release in any given pose. No two are alike. As you go deeper, you will find that the energy curve of excellence for any given pose will start matching the needs of other life activities: arguments, late-night diaper changes, freeway traffic. You’ll notice that different bits of emotional terrain are easier to navigate.
10) But you MUST follow the breath to get this. That’s your doorway in.
11) On Yoga days, I'm JUST a yogi. No MA, no kettlebells, I try not to even think of those things. I try to see the world through the eyes of one seeking union with the divine. I like alternating between "yin" and "yang" aspects of my personality. The truth of "me" is found in the space between.
12) Yoga seems more suited to increasing a woman's femininity than a man's masculinity. Yes, there are Rodney Yees and the like. But the average woman in a yoga class seems to express her secondary sexual characteristics more than the average man. Not much competition, really. I've often said that if I moved to a new city, and had no female acquaintences, what I'd do is go to yoga classes. Love those yummy yoga bodies! But as a guy...I'd add a bit of weight lifting, if I were you. Male yoga bodies tend to be a little...frail-looking.
13) Yoga puts back what time takes away. And so efficiently and subtly that if you've been doing hatha yoga regularly for, say, a year, and then stop for a couple of months, you'll likely feel all manner of odd aches and pains. You might even conclude that yoga is somehow bad for you, that you never felt this stuff before...the truth is that age inflicts one with Sensory Motor Amnesia, as well as a slight "anesthetic glove" effect where you literally can't feel what's wrong. From time to time your back will give you enough pain to pierce the "glove" and what do we do? Take pain-killers. That's like shutting off the fire alarm rather than putting out the fire. Yoga actually puts you in touch with what's going on.
14) Yoga will seduce you into missing yoga sessions. Since you generally don't feel a "pump" like you do in the gym, once you're feeling kinda froggy, the temptation is to forget the foundational work and leap for the big muscles or blazing energy pathways. The foundation erodes, aches and pains return, range of motion is limited, we throw our backs out in the bath-tub. Yoga is best as a preventative rather than a curative.
15) If you can get to a yoga class a minimum of, say, once a month, you can create your own program, say 30 minutes three times a week. Use the class to deepen your understanding of the methodology, and refine postures. Even fifteen minutes three times a week can bear big benifits. Say...10 reps of sun salutations? You'll feel it, trust me.
16) Working your abs separately would be smart. Flat abs are fun to have, and relatively simple, if not at all easy. The best ab device on the market is that five dollar "roller wheel" thingie. Try doing sets of 10, 25, or 50. If that's easy from your knees, do 'em from your toes. Killer, and a great warm-up
17) Most importantly, remember: it doesn't take a lot of time. It DOES take consistency, and a commitment to being 1% better every week.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:29 AM
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Lynn—thanks for getting the brother some action in your screenplay. But remember: I never said people don’t make and release such movies. I said that white folks won’t turn out to them in numbers sufficient to cross the 100-million mark. Big difference in implication.
Regarding Yoga. I’ve done yoga on and off my whole life, starting with Richard Hittleman on television when I was about five. There are some opinions I’d like to express, in no particular order:
1) Yoga is the most advanced body-mind science available to the general public. Having been around six thousand years, they’ve gotten the bugs out.
2) The secret to Yoga is the breathing. Find a smooth, even breath (it can be intense, like Ujai breathing) and keep it through the entire session. NEVER break the “thread” of the breath. If you find your breath struggling, it means one thing: you are going too deeply into the posture. Regardless of what the teacher says, NEVER allow your breathing to interrupt. You can slow it, or speed it, but never hold it. Period.
3) If you have no other standard, find a female teacher over fifty who is in gnarly shape.
4) Yoga only seems to be about stretching. It is about focus, and unifying mind and body through breath. The first problem most people encounter is flexibility. There are other challenges: strength, balance, endurance, coordination.
5) Flexibility is more in the mind than the body. You literally have forgotten how to tell your body to relax.
6) A good pose is intense enough to require total attention, but not too tense to allow smooth breathing.
7) If you’re very athletic and confident: try Ashtanga. If you don’t have any idea how to judge a teacher, try Bikram. Both are real yoga systems that will get you there. The most conservative yoga system is Iyengar. Basic, powerful, smart. Hard to go wrong.
8) Avoid yoga classes taught by 19 year old aerobics instructors. Unless she’s a genius, she’s mistaking fitness-flexibility with the body-mind link. Come back and see her in twenty years.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:45 AM
Monday, December 17, 2007
I keep hearing good things about “The Great Debators.” And someone said that Denzel gets laid? All of that buzz might mean a blockbuster…IF “Debaters” is the product as advertised, AND gets across the 100-million mark, THEN I’ll believe Barack Obama could be elected president. Until some such movie crosses that line, I don’t believe it, no matter what people say on polls. Everyone’s polite in public. But in the secret greasy chambers of their widdle hearts? We’ll see.
Will Smith will have another chance next summer. “Hancock” is a superhero comedy about a washed-up superhero who falls in love with his PR-guy’s wife. The original title was “Tonight, He Comes.” All jokes are obvious and already registered. Be interesting to see how the fifth smartest guy in Hollywood, arguably the most bankable star on the planet, sees his next move. I’m watching, Will. Where does your instinct tell you the culture is?
Dan—good on the yoga. Remember the entire class is just a breathing exercise. Keep the breathing smooth and easy, and don’t go any deeper than you can manage while doing this. THIS is your most important task.
Tananarive is back, thank God. I now have two weeks to get Shadow Valley finished, while simultaneously working on Vin Diesel’s “Hannibal” animated show. Looks and feels like fun. Need to do a bit of research to see where Hannibal might have been serving in his father’s army at about the age of 17…
Saw “Dan in Real Life” over the weekend. Steve Carrell is doing fabulously. Watching him on the “Daily Show” I certainly never expected him to be the break-out talent. The man can act, seriously. And is an extremely pleasing screen presence, likable in the way I think Jim Carrey would LIKE to be likable, and can’t quite pull off.
Today is a yoga day. I’m working my way back into Ashtanga on yoga days. Fifteen years ago, I was doing it every day for 90 minutes. I certainly don’t need LESS of it now. I’m alternating “workout” and “yoga” days with the intent being to master breathing. That’s the common thread.
I created a full creation mythology for my Ibandi that ties together their world—a world where the old “ways” of seeing are intersecting with the new “ways” of thinking—and what I’ve been learning and studying regarding the outer edge of consciousness and experience. I think it works, and now I have to put in the 100 hours necessary to bring the rest of the book up to the same level.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:54 AM
Sunday, December 16, 2007
And just wanted to list my contentions regarding black men and sex in film.
1) Hollywood DOES make movies where non-white males have sex. None of them cross the 100-million mark.
2) The percentage of black males as leads in 100-Million plus films is approximately the same as their presence in the general population.
3) The percentage of 100-million plus films in which there is sex is a little above 20%.
4) non-white females DO appear in 100-million plus films having sex. But only with white males. (In American films. One exception: "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.")
The simplest mechanism I can think of to explain this is lack of audience interest in seeing non-white males in sexual context. I grant that females have less of this tendency than males. So I'm willing to say the following: "Males of any given group are less interested in seeing males of other groups engaging in reproductive behavior than members of their own groups." I don't isolate this tendency to "white males." They just happen to be in the majority, so their unconscious tendencies drive box office and major casting and plotting decisions (as a market force). Talk about your "Invisible hand of the market!"
The existence of this phenomenon is reinforced by such things as the negative Amygdalic response, and the "80% aversion" factor discussed in Discover magazine. It would also explain much about war and violence worldwide, the persistence of racism. And on into differential preference for hiring, promotion, access to education and housing. And into treatment in the justice system and law enforcement. The tendency is so pervasive partially because it is almost invisible: the Movie statistic is just a place I can point to it as an undeniable force in culture and human behavior.
There is no direct way to stop this. And that's what's so frustrating for many people. You can make movies, but you can't force people to see them. I'm NOT saying there aren't images out there. I'm saying that in this one statistic, predictably as hell, you can see the "invisible hand" and it's been persistent for almost 40 years. Those who see it, and grasp that it is also a factor in society so pervasive, can modify their attitudes and jsut have awareness of it--get out of denial that the force is there. I don't expect them to change voting patterns, behaviors, or anything else. Jsut be aware.
Some will take their feelings of "this isn't fair" and speak of social programs, reparations, and so forth. I'm not suggesting any of those things. BUT if you are against social programs that try to compensate for the pervasiveness of this human mechanism, please be honest enough to say the truth: "it's not my responsibility, I didn't create this situation, it's my money and I have the right to keep it."
I can accept and even respect that. But I really resent people who criticize social programs saying "Liberals are prejudiced! They don't believe black people can compete!" I think that is a grotesque twisting of the actual attitude. In my experience, Liberals grasp the uneven playing field, and Conservative do not. In my experience, Conservatives will try to convince me that ALL of the difference in black-white performance has to do with black behaviors. In my mind: bullshit. Some are, of course. I know not a single human being who accepts more personal responsibility for his life than I do. Or I preach. But if you are oblivious enough to grasp that just by being born with dark skin, you are standing in a hole, then I can understand why set-asides and racial quotas in colleges would urk you. I grasp it, but REALLY disagree.
So in short:
1) the black men/sex in movies thing is important for me to track because it measures the "invisible hand" of racism in the best statistical way I can find, in an arena where I have some knowledge of how the stats are gathered, and a congruent theory of what it means.
2) There are lots of smaller movie, or unsuccessful films, or less succesful films with black sexuality. Their lack of crossing the 100 million mark is a sign of the "20% disconnect."
3) approximately 20 percent of films across the 100 million mark have sexuality in them. the percentage of those with non-white males is virtually zero.
Simple. Elegant. If someone out there has an alternate theory to explain what's going on, I'd be interested in hearing it.
But on another level altogether, what do I think it means? I think that if you can keep an animal from reproducing, it dies. For many years, black males died disproportunately to whites in action/SF films, a clear indicator to me of a differenc in perceived value, and sublimated fear/anger issues. THAT has mostly been stopped, so the anxiety jumped up a Chakra--to sex. It can't be literally that we really aren't as attractive, or else non-white females would be excluded as well. They aren't. This is about male stuff. So I see it as an unconscious aversion, a fear of being "outbred" by the "other." Deny them access to your females, or even their own. Now...that's the fantasy world.
But does it have any effect on the 'real" world? I think that the average person would say that advertising works, and that cultural images have impact. No matter where you go on the political spectrum, people believe in this to one degree or another. And we know that we learn by imitation. Adn we know that the movie and television provide images of unparalleled power in the history of human communication.
If I look at all human communication, one of the most consistent messages is: "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl." In other word, humanity has been passing the message "this is how you mate and raise a family over and over again, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, through all of time. We LOVE this arc like we love sugar. It suggests to me that there is something vital here. Relationships are difficult. I think we tell so many stories about them to help ourselves figure them out. How to navigate love, intimacy, sex, fidelity. It's tough.
White kids have wall-to-wall images of themselves succeeding in every human arena, a direct march up Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right up the Chakras. And they STILL get screwed up a lot. It might be possible for someone to say "see? That means all that image and role-model stuff is pointless". I'd say that it's VERY important, but not 100% predictive.
I think that if you can disrupt the flow of fictional, mythic images that show a member of a group growing and changing and facing the basic steps of life, then you had BETTER have an intact community, with intact families, to pass that data from generation to generation. All other people on this planet have intact strands of mythology, religion, and history connecting them to their ancestors. They have a thick, thick braid of stories showing themselves as brave, smart, sexual, surviving. One of the things I admire about the Jewish culture is the strength of their mythology.
So young black men receive a vastly disproportunately smaller number of these healthy images. Want to be God? Watch Morgan Freeman. Want to be a Vampire Slayer? Watch Wesley Snipes. Want to be an impossibly noble hero? Watch Denzel. Want to be a wise-cracking super-cop? Watch Will Smith.
But if you just want to be strong and sexual, to watch the dance of male and female as males of every culture around the world do...then watch direct to video cheapies. Or watch white males as they demonstrate to each other for the millionth time that they are the best in the world. Empathize with them even at the cost of your own self-respect, because, hell, if these golden, angelic creatures called White Males, who can apparently do anything, think you're unattractive or unimportant, it must be true! And if your own black women will have sex with them and not YOU, why, that must be a measure of your worth as well, right? I mean, it's right up there on the movie screen, to be seen by hundreds of millions of people world-wide.
Don't tell me media doesn't matter. It programs us, and reveals our secret wants, needs, fears, and desires.
Black Americans are a special interest of mine, for multiple reasons. And they have some unique difficulties, not of their making. And they must rise above them, without expecting outside help. But while I accept that, it enrages me when someone snipes from the sides, not understanding the pervasive hand of human fear in the way social and economic policy has been against us from the day we were first dragged here, and the invisible forces that affect statistics to this day.
The movie thing is just a way of pointing it out. For over thirty years, I've been pointing it out and predicting white America's behavior based on the one fact. Black males understand INSTANTLY. Black females take a moment longer (it doesn't hit them as hard, in this particular way). Gay whites get it pretty quick. White females get it--and instantly blame it on their men. And white males take the longest. You don't ask if the deck is stacked unless you're losing.
And the worst thing is that so much of what happens to black Americans in life is controlled largely by the same white folks who reject our humanity. Who gets scholarships. And what grades. Who is arrested, convicted, and how much time they get. Whether they are executed or pardoned. How tax dollars are spent. Who gets hired and promoted. How gets loans, and who gets medical care in emergency situations. In all of these there are objective and subjective standards. And every time you have a subjective standard, you are dealing with the intangible: "do I like them? Do they like me? Do I feel good in their presence?" The "attractiveness" factor, the invisible thing that juries, bosses, landlords, police officers and more factor in, unconsciously, when they make decisions...all revealed to me in the invisible hand of marketplace of dreams: the box office.
And the fact of the inevitable rationalizations people use once they can't deny its reality
1) women blame men
2) the rest of the country blames Hollywood
3 Conservatives blame Liberals.
4) Liberals blame Conservative
5) Young people blame older people.
6) blacks blame whites
The answer is anywhere but the mirror. Anywhere. Please God, anywhere. "I Am Legend" earned like 29 million dollars ITS FIRST DAY. Will Smith, Entertainment Weekly's Fifth Smartest Man in Hollywood, just got a personal best. Some of you need desperately to believe that he is wrong, that America would be as interested to see his bare ass, or Denzel's, as it would Brad Pitt or whoever. Don't defend yourself by saying, "well, I don't like seeing sex onscreen at all..." then we're not talking about you, are we? But gigantic swaths of the movie audiences DO like it, from billion dollar movies like "Titanic" to billion dollar franchises like 007, and everything in-between. From PG13 kiss/fadeouts to NC-17 hot wet gropings. Something on this spectrum appeals to you. Tell the truth. Yeah, it hurts, but I PROMISE you it doesn't hurt a fraction as much as it has to be on this end of it.
I don't want anyone to feel guilty, or try to "do" anything about it. Just be good folks, raise your children well...and when people mention affirmative-action programs, vote for or against them as you will, but DON'T lie to yourself and think the playing field is level.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:10 AM
The recent discussion about reproductive sex and whether it represents a different emotional threshold than oral, manual, or anal sex raised another question in my mind. What about kissing? If selling sex is prostitution, what about kisses? If you weren't married or in a relationship, how much would a reasonably attractive stranger have to pay you for a good, juicy kiss, no strings attached? (Say that he said: "My hobby is collecting kisses from lovely ladies. I'd love to add yours to my collection. Under what circumstances might that be possible?" Or some such.) Be amusing to have both guys and girls answer this one. If you're really feeling frisky, might as well answer it for both a male and female stranger!
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:35 AM
Saturday, December 15, 2007
The third film version of Richard Matheson’s seminal novel is entertaining but hollow, two-thirds of a potentially great movie undercut by CGI video-game refugees and an unsatisfyingly frantic ending. Will Smith’s portrayal of the last man on earth, left behind after a pandemic that wiped out 99% of the population and converted 90% of the survivers into cannibal zombies, is probably as good as any actor has ever been in a genre film. The Fresh Prince has grown all the way up. And the images of a deserted New York are genuinely heartbreaking. But there’s something missing, and it was a little too obvious what it was. Give it a C+, for the first Will Smith movie I’ve been disappointed by in a long time.
##WARNING: SAMBO ALERT##
Glaringly obvious. The need to keep survivor Robert Neville from being sexually attracted to the surviving female (Alice Braga) means that they have to keep him dour, and then end the film within hours of their meeting. This artificial pressure on the story destroys the possibility of true character reveleation (as in, say “The Outlaw Josie Wales”) where a burned-out warrior is brought back to humanity through love and familial connections. The need to prevent a black actor from having sex in their multi-million dollar movie, lest white audiences reject it, made a hole in the middle of the movie that can’t be filled by special effects. Last man on Earth, perfect physical condition, doesn’t react to the last female? Anyone out there believe that that would have happened if Keanu Reeves had played the role? Or Tom Hanks? The most transparent neutering since “Shaft” or the first “Bad Boys.” You can just FEEL the filmmakers bottom-dealing the cards to keep a queen from coming up.
And for reminders (‘cause someone always says it) NO, I don’t think “it’s Hollywood.” It’s Hollywood’s conscious and unconscious awareness that 80% of their white audience—desperately needed to make their money on a movie this expensive—has a mild aversion to black people. Someone like Will Smith has a personality so huge it outshadows his ethnicity. But even with Smith, just about his only film to lose money (“Ali”) had the ill-judgment to present him as a sexual being. No one has ever been able to overcome that and create a block-buster. And the drive to avoid that lethal error creates the artificial character arc, devoid of the central driving force in human nature. Nothing except survival itself is as strong as the urge to mate.
So, at the end of the film, Smith dies to save mankind, and doesn’t even get laid. His genetic line is dead. Gone. But white people endure, because of his brave sacrifice (brings a tear to your eye, don’t it?) Charlton Heston sure got laid in Omega Man—with a black woman (Rosalind Cash)—before he died in Cruciform position.
And people wonder why the “Could Barak Obama be elected” debate is still a live issue. This makes me absolutely sick. As a black man, I give “I am Legend” a D+, for the same old shit, warmed over for a different century.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:51 AM
Friday, December 14, 2007
This Christmas should be exceptional, a chance to see it all through Jason’s eyes, unfiltered and unjaded. I really want to see how much of the old feeling I can recapture. Should be great fun.
Sri Chinmoy interested me because I slowly became aware that this guy was playing with a few extra aces in his deck. Poet, artist, musician, and athlete…it wasn’t that his art or poetry or essays were so wonderful individually, it was that they existed in incredible profusion. A million bird drawings. Tens of thousands of poems. Tens of thousands of essays. Clearly, this guy could go into flow state on command. Interesting. I looked more closely, and found ultra-marathons, and odd concerts. He played dozens of instruments, and most of the time it was very untrained playing..but not exactly NOISE either. Something strange. Listening to him while meditating created odd states. Looking more closely, I found his weight-lifting, which is what really caught my eye. He was obviously looking for the “sweet spot” in a given overhead press, or squat, or calf press—that point in the power arc where your body maxes out. ON an overhead press, he would routinely lift adult human beings with one arm (in a special harness) and maxed out at over seven thousand pounds. He only lifted it about an inch and a half, but still. Bill Pearl, the bodybuilding giant, was a friend of his, and said that even at his strongest, he could never have done some of the things Chinmoy did. He also said that he saw the 7,000 pound lift, and couldn’t swear that Chinmoy had accomplished it. From his angle, all he could swear to is that the BAR HAD BENT under the pressure. Good Lord, that’s enough.
At any rate, I decided to check him out, and made contact with a lady named Bigalita, who ran the Los Angeles Sri Chinmoy Center. Nice lady, and her friends were nice, if slightly…spacey. I started meditating with them, and learned the “Heartbeat Meditation” I love so much. A year went by, and I decided to actually become a disciple. I submitted an essay and photograph, and a month later, got the good news I’d been accepted.
Another year went past (this was about 15 years ago) and I heard that Chinmoy was coming to L.A. on a stopover between New York and Korea. Would I like to meet him? Love it. The meeting was to be held in an antechamber at LAX. I drove out, and waited. His flight was delayed, and when it finally arrived, I remembered wondering how he would strike me. Someone with his insane athleticism…I figured he’d move like a panther. I was very wrong. He moved more like a puppet, like he wasn’t in his body at all, and was manipulating it from outside (if any of you have read Jed McKenna’s work, you’ll get the joke). Kind of shuffled, as if he wasn’t keeping perfect tension on the strings.
He sat at the front of the little room. I remember thinking that he didn’t sit like I’d imagine a Master to sit. He kind of figeted like a little kid, his leg crossed over his knee, wiggling his ankle as if he’d never seen one before. There were maybe 150 of his students there, and I sat in the front row. He asked if there were any questions. I forget what I asked, but I was one of the few who raised my hand. Then he spoke a bit about Universal Love or something like that (memory may be inexact) and a couple of his people came up and handed him a stack of envelopes. In the envelopes were essays and photographs—this was the process he went through when selecting disciples. I think he browsed them. Then he half-closed his eyes, and they began vibrating side to side very rapidly. He remained like this for maybe ten minutes. I got restless, and was about to ask the person sitting next to me what was going on, but was motioned to remain silent.
After another two or three minutes, I noticed that something strange was happening to the light in the room. More specifically, the light around Chinmoy was altering. IN the space around his left shoulder and neck, the light was changing color, becoming a sort of steel gray/yellowish hue. The light spread, down to his bicep, and up around his head to the other side. Took about two minutes. I kept looking around the room, wondering if there was something wrong with my contact lenses, or the room light, but the effect was local to Chinmoy. Ultimately, the light went from the bicep on one arm to that on the other, flowing up and around his head like an extended version of a painting of the Virgin or something.
Then it faded. And about two minutes later, he came out of the trance. In all? Maybe fifteen minutes. Then he started talking again. An hour or so later, he shuffled off to meet his plane.
Very carefully, I inquired if anyone else had seen what I saw, cloaking my intent. No one had. At least, not the five or so people I queried. Then I talked to the person I’d invited. I told him what had happened. He looked blank for a second, then said “Oh, Guru did that as a present to you. He knew you’re the kind who needs to be shown.”
Months later, I related the event to Swift Deer. His opinion was that my sponsor was wrong. That I’d seen it because I had the ability to do so. Years later I attended the aura reading workshop Swift taught, and discovered I have a talent for it. He may have been right. To this day, I don’t know if Auras are something outside my own perception, or what I call a “complex equivilent”, a way for your mind to crunch a huge amount of data and give you a rapid evaluation symbol. Like watching a red field flare around a mugger “innocently” approaching you. Your subconscious picks up a bunch of body language, but you don’t have time to process it consciously. I really don’t know…all I know is that that’s the way it happened on that day, to the best of my recollection. And that I’m grieved that I couldn’t follow him…the guy has something very special.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:04 AM
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I guess I agree that I'm making rapid progress right now. I think I can attribute that to being in a target-rich environment (Southern California) while keeping the grounding I got by spending a decade in a simpler life (Washington State).
The following were things that didn’t work out for me, and some of the reasons why. They aren’t necessarily comments that they CAN’T work for someone else. Perhaps a mere mis-fit with my own personality or level of development. Maybe I just couldn’t handle the truth.
1) UFOs. Looked into it back in the Sixties. There’s some fascinating questions, but no convincing answers. When Steven Spielberg observed that as reliable recording apparatus (videocams) became more common, incidents decreased, a big red light went off. Feh.
2) Sexual experimentation. Learned a lot, but all of that stuff had a real cost, and probably destroyed my first marriage. Toni deserved better than that. I’m sure that Polyamory and so forth works for some people, but I do maintain that it’s probably an order of magnitude harder than a traditional monogamous marriage. And we all know how hard THAT is!
3) Sri Chinmoy. Wanted followers to be celebate. This is a tragedy, because he is very, very obviously working at the outside edge of human potential creatively and physically. Anyone who isn’t into sex should check him out. First human being whose aura I ever saw. Wow.
4) Power Lifting. The light in the back of my head said “no.”
5) Scientology. Interesting, but didn’t feel deep. Cult sense.
6) Reverend Moon. Set himself up as the new Christ.
7) Traditional Christianity. I love the red letters. Cross reference the different Gospels, pay special attention to what EVERYONE says Christ said. For deeper effect, cross reference this with the words of the Buddha, and Muhammad. Deeper still, cross with animistic religions from Africa and the Americas. Deeper still, cross with what you know of natural forces and the actions/behaviors of animals. Discard the rest. You’ve found the seed.
8) NLP. There are a few vastly useful skills. But no heart, other than Core Transformation. Stop after the first 20%, and move on.
9) Bodybuilding. By this I mean the traditional 8-12 rep, 3-5 sets, muscle isolation. Just didn’t work for me. Works for lots of other people though. I think this one’s just me.
10) Various pieces of exercise equipment: weight stacks, incline bench with punching bag integrated, etc. Oddly shaped punching bags, etc. Interesting toys.
11) Self-Realization Fellowship. Nice people. Our energies just didn’t mesh. My problem, not theirs.
12) Various Save-The-Whales type groups. Yes, I love the environment. No, I don’t fit.
13) Various Shamanic groups. Learned a LOT. But when I applied the “Balance” model, I just didn’t see enough of it among them, no matter how much they talked about it. But man, they had some serious knowledge.
14) Past-Life regression. Jury’s out, but I’m unconvinced. Everybody seems to remember being someone special and important. Too many Cleopatras, not enough peasants.
15) Channeling. Evidence unconvincing. Have someone channel the combination of Uncle Owen’s wall safe. Too much fakery, and obvious selective leading of audience participation. Yuck.
16) Psychokinesis and the like. Evidence unconvincing. I believe its POSSIBLE, but haven’t seen anything even remotely “there.”
17) Aleister Crowley’s folks. Dark, interesting, overly intellectual, trivial. Very impressed with themselves. No objective confirmation of their claims.
18) Distance running. Love it, but beyond about three miles, the cost-benefit ratio seems to be unfavorable. But if you get the “Runner’s High”? Go for it!
19) Megavitamin Therapy. There is definitely something there, but theories vary so much that you’d have to be a microbiologist to keep up. And the researchers in the field don’t look much healthier than anyone else. My preference: a couple of wide-spectrum nutritional sources, and exercise hard to tell your body what you want. It’ll figure out what it needs, and piss out the rest. Be careful of fat-soluble vitamins like A and D. You can overdose.
20) Life Extension stuff. Really interesting. Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw started this off, and I still buy some of their stuff. But their attitude seemed very body-negative: it was just something to carry around their brains and genitals. And let’s just say that I didn’t covet their physical appearance. Brilliant, though. (And did you know they wrote the original story for Clint Eastwood’s final “Dirty Harry” film?)
21) Cryonics. Freezing your brain, to bring you back at a later date. The people into this seemed not to be getting much out of their lives NOW. Why would they want to come back to more of that? Plus, a buddy of mine, Jack Cohen, one of the ten smartest people I know and a world-class biologist (and former president of British Mensa) says that human consciousness is like a whirlpool of chemical and energetic processes. On a physiological level, that makes sense. Can you freeze a whirlpool? I thought not.
22) Biofeedback. Not a dead end, but a short-term tool. Learn to produce the same effects without the machines. Too many users think they’re exploring the origin of wind, when what they’re really doing is watching the grass bend.
23) Psychoactive drugs. A dead end, but a REALLY interesting one. John Lilly’s “Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer” is a must-read for anyone who wants to check this out. LSD is fascinating, but too powerful for “fun.” Psilocybin? My personal favorite, and the only drug I ever learned anything from. Going to stick-fighting practice on ‘shrooms was a trip and a half. And it was REAL. I’d go back later, and the other students would still be talking about how phenomenal I’d been. Hah! But they’re a trap. One buddy talked about how if he ever was going to get into a fight, he’d go home and take ‘shrooms first. What? Talk about unclear on the concept! Anyway, after about two years in the early ‘70s, the mushrooms told me to stop taking them, that they’d taught me all they could. I know how that sounds, but that was my experience. I’ve never taken them again.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:53 AM
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
CIA guy has apparently been making the rounds defending the use of waterboarding. I want to look into it—if he’s convincing, it’s a vote on the side of torture as an efficient means of gathering info. Doesn’t make it more moral, however, but it was interesting the way Liberal radio jumped to scream “conspiracy” in the exact same way Conservative radio screamed “conspiracy” when the NIE released its “Iran has no nuke program” thingie a week ago. In other words, each side of the equation is accusing the Intelligence community of shilling for the other guys. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funnier than hell.
Under killer pressure getting this book finished…while T is teaching college, and the holidays loom. I understand now why people go through histrionics. If you tell people point blank that you are drowning in stress, but keep your voice calm and don’t curl into a ball, no one takes you seriously. I have to remind my lovely, caring wife over and over again that I am at my limit…she keeps forgetting, and acting surprised when I occasionally snap at her. That’s pretty screwed up, as if those of us who manage our stress well are actually being penalized for the strength. Yuck.
Looking forward to “I am Legend” with Will Smith, which has been getting surprisingly strong reviews…especially for his acting. In the previous version, “The Omega Man,” Charlton Heston got laid. Any bets?
Frank made an excellent comment about personal history, and how it must be dealt with to effect personal change. Love it. Twelve years ago, I planned to move from L.A. to the Northwest for just that reason: I figured I’d never know who I was if I lived my whole life in one place. Of course, things didn’t work out as planned, but maybe they worked out as they needed to.
There is some serious stuff going on inside me. My usual symbols don’t arise during meditation. I suspect that this has to do with my interactions with Steve Muhammad this last weekend. He is in certain ways, not just the War Chief of my tribe, but a Chieftain, or supreme elder, of one entire aspect of my psyche. And he evaluated my martial motion, and found it good. And looked me in the eye, and told me so. My “pretender voices” can’t stand up to that. God, they’re trying. They’re trying to find some weasely way to discount what he said, and can’t find one. An Ally like Steve is hard to beat. And now…all the vast energy I’ve expended trying to keep myself from stepping across certain lines of responsibility in life are being directed back on my ego.
I had lunch with Cliff Stewart, another of the BKF founders, on Saturday and he made a major correction for me. I told him that, as a teenager, I’d been intimidated by the warriors of the BKF. He laughed, and said that they weren’t warriors at all. They were ATHLETES, playing warrior games. Re-read that last sentence carefully. It represents a threshold of understanding in my life. A warrior, Cliff said, is someone who has a set of principles, ethics, and lives by them. Is prepared to stand for his community. Protects the weak and provides a role model. Keeps his obligations. My God. I got it. My pretender voices, once again, keeping me from seeing myself. What I’m not is a FIGHTER. I don’t like conflict. But on the occasions that people have offered me violence, I was a completely cold customer, ready to deal death. What came out in my wasn’t my ego. It wasn’t my training. It was something realer than “Steve.” And it was deadly.
Cliff is an extraordinary man, who has achieved a level of real “awakeness”. (BTW—in addition to his 15 black belts, Cliff will be awarded his full Guru status by Maha Guru Stevan Plinck next year. Cliff is the guy Masters go to when they want to hone their skills. He moves like a Rhino on roller skates, and his manner is so incredibly mild and sweet…he is so deceptively intelligent and warm, you’d never know he was one of the deadliest men God ever let live, with practical experience gained in bodyguard work all over the world.) His native intelligence, vast training, practical application, and intrinsic capacity all collapsed into a singularity some years ago, burned a hole in his armor and let out the Light. He has achieved, in that arena of his life, an extraordinary awareness. And he looked into me three years ago and promised to set me free. But I couldn’t near it from him. So he promised that I’d have the chance to have my interaction with Steve. And made good on it. (By the way--this is a prime example of the kind of initiation that takes place in non-temporal, non-linear reality. Man to man. It is one of the reasons why an intact family is so precious: there are things that only women can teach women, and men teach men. If your mother or father isn't there, you need uncles, grandparents, cousins to supply the missing "piece." Without it...well, life can be one hell of a lot harder.)
He’s killed me. Bless him. A whole aspect of my identity, my false identity, is dying. And about damn time.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:44 AM
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
You know, another of the things I come across is that the real masters, the REAL masters, do what they do seven days a week, 365 days a year. Not five days. Not six days. Seven.
I have to admit that this gives me just a tad of the willies. There is definitely something inside me that says “take one day off.” Right now, I’m balancing myself between martial arts and yoga, in terms of my physical stuff. Not taking a day off seems like asking for trouble…but I need to look into that more deeply. The trick is that I’m not trying to become a martial arts master. Or a yoga master. I’m trying to master the hologram called “Steve.” Both of thse disciplines connect at the breath. So, on MA days, I am working motion and strategy and so forth, but connecting them to my breathing (specifically, Coach Sonnon’s “Be Breathed” concept). ON yoga days, on the outside it may look like I’m “doing” yoga, but really, the poses are “doing” me. Or to put it another way, I’m putting my yoga cap on. Or my MA cap on. But really, I’m just pouring Steve into different containers. And on Sundays, my “off” day, I go more deeply into my meditation, again working my breathing. So…if I look at it as “Self” mastery, using breathing as the base, using MA and yoga as my primary tools for exploration, I guess I am doing it seven days a week. Mastering “Me” is enough for this life, I guess.
I remember telling a lady I know to take pleasure in Hillary being ahead in the polls. She had been giving me the “America won’t vote for a woman” speech, somehow thinking a black man would have the advantage. Well, that’s another discussion, but I told her to enjoy the advantage Hillary had a couple of months ago. Wish she had, because she’s got to be getting nervous now. Seems that the more people actually get to know Obama, the better they like him. I know a guy who knew him in College, and his public image sems to be very like his actual personality. So…if you like what you see, that’s who he is. If you don’t, well, you won’t. Kind of what I call a Potato. And at least in college, he DEFINITELY inhaled. Oh, yeah. That’s the California vote right THERE.
Hillary? Don’t know, really don’t. The one impression I get is that she is desperate to get into the history books. That that’s the real reason she put up with Bill’s cheating. My sense is that she will do anything, show any face, to get into the White House. That doesn’t make her particularly bad, in my book. That makes her a typical politician. She fits right into the pack. But I don’t like politics much. Never have. And am glad this is turning into more of a horse race. Under pressure, people show you who and what they really are.
The NIE report thing is very interesting. My “friend” has been suggesting for some time that there is something of a battle going on behind the scenes. There are things he’ll say, and things he won’t. I get the impression that when people are willing to risk prosecution to get a report out (as apparently the buzz is in Washington: the report was released under threat) something has gone very wrong, and the “wrongness” seems to be that the White House was thought by the Intelligence community to be misusing their data to drum up support for an attack on Iran. And they weren’t prepared to let that happen. Again? The implication is pretty strong that that’s what happened with Iraq. Man oh man…I just can’t wait for the books that will be written once THESE guys are out of office.
I’ve had a real example of what happens when people don’t communicate honestly with themselves and others, or when communications are not allowed to run smoothly. I can’t get into it right now, even in disguised form. Let me just implore you to follow Musashi’s First principle: “Do Not Think Dishonestly.” And to look at the results you’re getting in all three arenas: healthy body, healthy relationship (or if not in a relationship, healthy Self-image and Self-love) and healthy career (do what you love, or love what you do.) If you have all three, you can be fairly certain you are on the right track. If not, well…be very very careful.
1) Tell the truth, move toward your dreams.
2) Simplify your life, differentiating between needs and wants.
3) Take full responsibility for the results you get in all three arenas.
This is, I think, the doorway to adulthood.
4) When your needs begin to be produced spontaneously by your daily, automatic actions, you have reached the doorway to awakening.
Meaning: your attention can be removed from the daily “stuff” and you can begin to notice what is going on around you. If you have enough energy, you can begin to increase your acceleration at this point. One of the things you will encounter is a sense of loneliness that might cause you to turn back: we are herd beasts, and you are heeding the call of the 3rd chakra. Follow the heart. Go more deeply into the heart. And speak your truth, regardless of what others say.
They are afraid of truth, especially to the degree their lives or loves or careers are built on lies. But they desperately need to hear it. There are not enough adult human beings speaking truth.
These early steps can be taken by almost anyone. The steps beyond are for those willing to die in their pursuit. Caveat Meditator.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:18 AM
Monday, December 10, 2007
I had the very great honor to attend the annual Whipping Willow martial arts confab this last weekend. Gurus, Grandmasters, and teachers from across the country come to share in an unusual atmosphere of inter-style harmony. No one wears a ranking. Everyone plays. The set-up is similar to Junior High School: four teachers in different rooms, and the students revolve every 90 minutes. Incredibly cool.
Steve Mohammad was presenting on Sunday, but on Saturday, this incredible man, still fit, lean and lethal at the age of 68 (man, I wanna be Steve when I grow up! Perry, if you’re reading this, I think there is something really special about our name…) is committed to continual growth as a martial artist. Last year Mr. Mohammad was acknowledged as having creaed his own system, Wu Shur Shin Chuan Fa, “Fist Law of the Warrior Spirit.” This is different from creating your own “Style” or “School” or “Organization.” The Grandmasters who ORIGINALLY promoted and acknowledged Ed Parker and some of the other “old timers” came together—men in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s now…and gave him the title “Sijo.” The average black belt is a Master’s degree. A fifth is maybe a Doctorate. A “Sijo” would be someone who founds a college. This is serious.
At any rate, on Saturday, Steve needed a training partner for the session, and it was my honor to work with this man, my first teacher, as he put his ego and all knowledge aside, emptied his cup, and learned from another instructor. Wow. My nervous system is still sizzling. I opened my neurology, and matched his breathing and posture as much as I could, modeling like crazy. Later, we were talking with Antoine Alferos, the gentleman who founded Whipping Willow, and brought these people together. The story was one I’d heard before, about a time Steve Mohammad fought the karate great Joe Lewis at the Internationals. Lewis, generally considered the greatest karate fighter in American History, had a great rivalry with Steve back in the 60’s—they fought some pitched battles. I wasn’t there, but I do know that dissatisfaction with the judging (this was “point” karate) on black competitors led to the formation of the Black Karate Federation, which was able to bring enough pressure to bear to ensure that cheating on racial grounds was minimized. The specific incident, according to Antwoine, was especially egregious on that particular day. Steve scored point after point, and the judges wouldn’t acknowledge him. Chuck Norris, who was at ringside (and who, according to all accounts, is a true gentleman), finally stood up and screamed “Give this man his damn points!”
When Lewis’ hand was raised at the End, Steve bowed, shook his hand, and walked politely off stage. Antwoine said that he didn’t understand how Steve could do that, after having been cheated so badly. And Steve quietly said something that was profound. That he was hurt, yes. But he decided to become so good, so fast, so superior that no one would ever be able to cheat him again. He decided to “Turn Pain into Skill.” That pain drove his workouts. Every day. Seven days a week. 365 days a year. That’s what he does. Every day. And that is responsible for who he is.
I realized that I had no ability to manage my fear and pain in those days. I suppose someone either teaches you this, or you figure it out for yourself. I didn’t. But many of those I admire seem to have developed the capacity (in the martial arts) to use those emotions like fire to turn their turbines. They would build a reactor-wall around them, and every punch, every kick, every throw was an expression of those negative emotions, and instead of being blown back out the door (like I was) they elevated themselves to championship.
My guess? They learned it from their fathers, brothers, and uncles. This is what people have to learn in life. Everyone has fear and disappointment and anger. Those who thrive and succeed find a way to take these “negative” emotions and elevate themselves. Others destroy themselves with it. I found that outlet in certain arenas, but not in others.
But I’m completing the circle now. More on this later, but this is a very very special time in my life. I can’t believe that I’m actually cleaning up my old emotional garbage, stuff from my childhood, things I never thought I’d be able to do.
What a blessing. Thank you again, Mr. Mohammad. You are everything I thought you were. And more.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:35 AM
Friday, December 07, 2007
The power was out this morning. Damned inconvenient, but it jelled some thoughts to me. First, I wanted to apologize to Erich. I can understand how my comments could sound condescending to those who have Right wing views, or support the invasion of Iraq. To his great credit, HE was the one reminding me that both sides consider themselves on the side of the Angels. Just flat true. And I know how my comments got skewed, too—listening to too much political radio while I drive. Yuck.
But there was a possibly important piece that came from that listening, specifically to the Thom Hartman show. He’s dry, but quite smart. I felt he was being less than totally clear in his conversation with a lady discussing the nuclear power industry however. While stumping for renewable energy, I felt she made an excellent point about something she called “Base Load” energy. Now, I’m not an engineer, so if someone out there can correct my impression, I’d be grateful. Her point is that solar, and geothermal, and wind power can’t run factories. Nuclear, hydroelectric, and Petrochemicals (coal and oil) can. To the degree that this is true, it’s possible to see a wider, disturbing but not evil implication to the Iraq adventure. If instead of saying “no war for oil” we looked at the things that oil means: heat, jobs, transportation, food, communication, and so forth, I remember a line from a movie some where, where the shadowy villain reminds the upright hero that if the grid crashes due to lack of energy, America won’t ask so many questions about morality. It will ask why we didn’t go over there and get the damned oil. It is impossible to ignore the fact that Saddam was sitting on the world’s second largest oil reserves. But it is also impossible to ignore that Americans are perfectly willing to pay upwards of three dollars a gallon for their precious gas. It is also true that, just like Global Warming, by the time everything crashes its too damned late. It is too easy to see a room full of good, decent people determined to keep Granny from freezing next winter, looking at Saddam and thinking…well, that it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
The fact that everything has gone so wrong is a tragedy. The fact that billions of dollars have been wasted and diverted is the same. The fact that he was a genuine monster crushing his people is incontrovertible. There are so many strands here, and I don’t think it is at all possible to unwind them and produce “good guys” and “bad guys.” There are individual personalities that make my skin crawl, but I think that the issues here are so huge, and most people don’t want to think about how fast we could revert to barbarism if there wasn’t enough bread or water to go around. And as long as there IS that bread or water, we can afford to act high up on Maslow’s hierarchy, kind of like 20th Century folks who look back and think Southerners were “evil” for owning slaves. My opinion? If the grid crashed, we’d have slavery again by noon tomorrow. And warlords. And rioting like America has never seen.
Human beings have too much fear in their hearts. And not for nonsensical reasons, either. It is very, very important for me to remember to keep a balanced view. I want the whole world to survive this. Especially us.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 11:45 AM
Thursday, December 06, 2007
So…Jodie Foster coming out of the closet today gives me a perfect opportunity to talk about why I think that Hollywood’s only real agenda is making money. A couple of my attitudes and observations first:
1) Arts communities typically have more gays, or at least more openly gay people.
2) Hollywood is no different. They’re all over the place, in positions to hire, fire, make movies—all up and down the decision chains.
3) There are virtually no demonstratively gay MALE relationships in movies, in relation to their statistical presence either in America in general, or Hollywood in particular.
4) Female homosexuality is more tolerated than male. In fact, men love fantasizing about lesbians much more often than straight women seem to fantasize about two gay men being together.
5) Far more female actors and singers have “come out” than male.
6) Male stars who HAVE come out, like Rupert Everett, report that it has absolutely damaged their careers.
7) In a climate in which a major Presidential candidate can say that gay marriage “will destroy America” (Mike Huckabee) it is perfectly reasonable to assume that there is a very strong anti-gay sentiment. If someone said “black intermarriage with whites will destroy America” it would be absurd to think they had no negative feelings about blacks.
8) Most people will say that a movie star’s sexual orientation doesn’t matter. Like most will say that they treat and feel about all people equally, regardless of race.
9) Studies of UNCONSCIOUS racial attitudes reveal a much different picture: the 80% negative response, the lack of black male sexual images in blockbusters, the Amygdalic response to the “other.” And the perception of gay stars that if they “come out” it will damage their careers.
10) If Hollywood is driven by political agenda, and gays are disproportionately present in Hollywood, why wouldn’t they present themselves as sexual beings in mainstream movies? Why don’t gay male stars come out?
Easy. They don’t because the primary dictate of Hollywood is to make money. They aren’t being stopped by ‘the establishment.” Hell, in many cases they ARE the establishment. They don’t do it because they want to keep their BMWs and swimming pools. I can promise you that there are HIGH level producers who can get any movie they want made, who are gay, and won’t put those images on the screen. That is nothing but financial savvy. That is not their agenda, and what they put on the screen is MORE conservative than the actual statistical representation…because the risk of an audience NOT coming is more frightening than the risk of “not representing an underrepresented minority.” Even if it’s them.
Hollywood has no identity, no ethics, no morality or politics…any more than Detroit, New York, or Memphis does. Human beings have these things. Corporations have one major thing—the urge to make money. That’s it. Try to motivate a corporation on any other basis, and you’re screaming at the wind.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 6:26 PM
A couple of recent responses to my last post, suggesting that "Hollywood doesn't reflect American values." And so forth...
And pointing out that Mel Gibson bankrolled "Passion of the Christ" with his own bucks.
Mel Gibson used his own money, and it paid off hugely. And Rosie O'Donnell pretty much went bust backing "Taboo" on Broadway, and Sherman Hemsley lost all the money he'd made on the "Jeffersons" backing HIS little movie. Mel's film was a stupendous fluke that people are still blinking at. Doesn't change the rule: spread the risk among many investors, or go broke. BOY did Mel pull off a stunner! And made about half a billion dollars.
No, I don't think that Hollywood is an island unto itself, separate from the rest of America. I've sat in their offices, gone to their parties, eaten dinner, swum in their pools, dated their daughters, been in their homes. And just never saw any special difference between them and folks across the country. I do think it represents the creative mind more than the average industry, however--but creative people are scattered throughout the country. Do they tend toward say, the Left more than the Right? Not sure, but a best guess might say yes. I won't speculate on why: it would be possible to come up with both positive and negative reasons. But I WOULD agree that it is more to the Left. Of course, believing as I do that racism is more a disease of the Right (while, let's say, Anti-Americanism might be more a disease of the Left) the racism I see in Hollywood is perceived, by me, as actually LESS than America feels in general. If you feel that that racism is MORE found on the Left, you amuse me, because, since most blacks are Democrats, in essence you're saying black people are too stupid to know which side of the bread their butter is on. I think its reasonable to suggest that people vote what they consider to be in their best interests, and I'm not sure how you can say different without prejudice on your own part...so you'd kinda be making my point for me, wouldn't you?
Why no Pro-Iraq movies? Good question. Hollywood has made tons of pro-war films, showing American soldiers as great heroes, so it isn't just some wish to demonize America. And there are certainly plenty of Right-wing Hollywood types with mega power: Stallone, Willis and Eastwood come most quickly to mind. Why aren't they doing anything about Iraq? Ask them. I really don't know--maybe the percentage of Americans who are proud of what we're doing there isn't even close to 40%, but despite the pain, they want to validate the sacrifice of our soldiers, or don't want America to "lose" another one or something--mixed with real guilt and fear about a million dead Iraqis and a couple of Trillion dollars in debt to come. Maybe privately, they're praying for forgiveness. I really don't know.
But yes, while tilting a bit to the left (which is balanced somewhat by the multinational corporations influencing all top-level decisions) I remind you of a basic thing: Hollywood is just a capital machine without ethics or morals, although the PEOPLE within it have ethics and morals. And they're just people. You think they're less ethical than the average American? Less than, say Government in general? Or less than Industry in general? If you want to privatize America, and you think THAT, you are in for a big, big surprise. These people are pure capital, all the way, and I see no difference on the average between them and people at their income level across the board: faintly superior, convinced that they deserve their success, and dealing with a bit of Impostor Syndrome. That's the top. The craftsmen and office workers at the middle level? The same as craftsmen and office workers anywhere else. The sanitation guys and people who work in the cafeterias and drive trucks? The same. It's a money machine. America votes with its dollars. What is the movie that made a ton that didn't instantly trigger knock-offs? America buys, Hollywood listens. It's really pretty much that simple. I can understand why looking at the collective Id might be a bit disturbing, but if you think these people are deliberately turning out movies they know people don't want to buy, or if you think that the images are somehow different than those found in books, comic books and so forth published across the country, that there isn't a cross-section of attitudes and accomplishments in the executive rooms, then I suggest to you that you've learned what you know of Hollywood at a distance, and not by actually interacting with the people at all. If I'm wrong, please let me know.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 11:07 AM
In the recent discussion about Tyler Perry and “This Christmas,” a reader posted:
“Steve: I think you will find that there is a growing hunger for anything showing positive healthy emotions like madeas family reunion. Hollywood has its own subculture one that doesnt neccessarily "get" alot of what real people want. Yes there will always be money made playing to the lowest base parts of our natures but the real blockbusters have always put hollywood on its ear. Passion, starwars, titanic. maybe there hasnt been a movie with a black actor having sex reach the 100 million mark but its coming.”
Yes, it is. But, and I've said this a thousand times, and will a thousand times more. "Hollywood" isn't some monolithic company. It's a collection of artistic endeavors run by people from all over the country, all over the world. All "Hollywood" is is our own drive to externalize our dreams and give them to others. It is a marriage of the artistic and the business senses. The business sense counts every dime, and looks to what has worked before to know what to do next. Follow only that, and you get nothing but sequels. The artistic sense continually tries to create something new and utterly honest and individual. Follow that, and you get a billion "Utube" videos. All the entertainment you could want, all the honesty and creativity--buried in a mountain of crap. The businesspeople sort through all of that, like those guys who pluck coffee beans out of rodent droppings. (And you HAVE to wonder who discovered THAT particular delicacy!)
The problem is not, and never has been “Hollywood.” Any more than the lack of black role models is “New York” or the lack of a non-White male President is “Washington.” Please. The problem is us, humanity. The very strengths that got us here are the same weaknesses that hold us back. The war between Art and Commerce is as old as time. What shall I create? If I don’t care about the market, I can create anything I want, and make it in a corner of my garage, and show it to a few friends who will rail against the Heathens who don’t appreciate your work.
But if a movie costs 40 million to make, and another 40 million to promote and distribute? And that money comes from corporations owned by thousands of individual shareholders who want a return on investment? At that point, there is a queasy tension between the dollar and the dream. And I would say that it’s pretty much a draw. The guaranteed money comes from doing “what has worked”…until that plays out. Then, from nowhere, comes a work no one anticipated, and it makes tons of money and turns that director/writer into the new star. Until they’re drained, or imitated into the ground, and the next “star” emerges.
There’s no movie industry, no artistic machine anywhere on the planet that does a better, more consistent job than Hollywood. That’s one of the reasons that our movies play all over the world, while German films don’t even necessarily play in Italy. This is something we do pretty damned well.
If you think it’s easy, let me ask you: how many people love their work, and work at what they love? The vast majority of people would quit their jobs if they could. They had dreams as children that have NOTHING to do with how they spend their days. To create a film that touches the heart and ALSO makes a buck, it requires more than genius and luck. It takes…I don’t know, really. A touch of something divine.
There is a saying on Broadway: “Never use your own money.” Wealthy people who fund movies or plays with their own money usually lose their pants. At least partially because without the multiple opinions of the dreaded “development hell” you have no idea whether that pet dream of yours will appeal to anyone else. If you open yourself to the process, your dream gets watered down…but it also simultaneously learns to speak the unconscious language of a few more people.
Every child is born a Buddha Baby: “Earth Below, Heaven Above. No one in the world like me!” We dance in the living room, and our parents applaud. But very few of us can keep that AND deal with the inevitable failures that offer us the opportunity to learn and refine our craft, so that eventually we might dance at Radio City Music Hall.
We have to think we’re “the best” and as soon as we get our ego cracked, we retreat. The ones with the ego to continue are usually the toughest, not the best. Sigh. But unless God comes down and selects out the best and then gives them big budgets, what else is there save the acclaim of the crowd, or the nod from the studio exec? You gonna use YOUR money? Gut YOUR family to make that movie? No, you’re going to bring in Orthodontists and lawyers to invest, and trust me, every one of them will have their own idea of what to do.
Hollywood is us. It is you and me. The eternal tension between adult and child, yin and yang. It’s a helluva game, and not for the weak of spirit.
I slid over something I wanted to return to: the idea that we have to think something is “better” to support it. My religion is better, my country is better, my race is better, my gender is better, etc.
Most people are like this. It’s kind of like thinking that your baby is the sweetest, cutest, smartest in the world. The ability to evoke that response is all that keeps the little buggers unstrangled. Personally, I think newborns look like Emperor Palpatine dipped in 30-weight. And I love ‘em. But I think that it is hard for people to imagine fighting for, say, their political orientation unless they feel it is Better. It can’t be just more appropriate for the way they see the world.
It is why I won’t take one of those positions. It is the NEED to take such a position that drives the judgment that “this is better than that.” People have it backwards: they think that it is their judgment of the quality of the thing that drives the need. In other words, they think that it is their head that drives their heart. Silly people. That illusion is the very definition of “awakening your Kundalini backwards.” Passion drives the mind, folks.
What is better? Depends on the frame of reference, and that is always infinitely malleable. Better to decide on your values, get clear on them, remember ALWAYS that your perceptions of things in this world are flawed…and that anyone who speaks of certainty and tries to get you to take action that puts money or power in their pocket is using you. You might march with their army, but do it for your own reasons, not theirs.
It is this tendency that I’ve found in all racists, all hateful, angry people. On the other hand, of course, it is possible to stand for nothing. To be so confused by the options that you cannot act. I remember Jerry Pournelle being a bit baffled by me once, remarking that I genuinely seemed able to see both sides of an issue at once. Maybe that quality is rarer than I think. It doesn’t hamper my ability to act at all…because my values are crystal clear to me. But I don’t mistake them for Truth.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:12 AM
In meditation this morning, I realized why I've had so much difficulty getting to the next level of my journey. The ego-walls I constructed as a child to protect me from bullies, the fear of rejection by the male (no father), and the fear that I could not achieve my dreams (cultural rejection) were insanely strong. That little boy, in many ways, was stronger than the man I've become. Makes sense: he was closer to being "real." He was nearer the truth. And the ego itself has a thousand thousand distractions. Imagine a miner sitting on a "mother load" that is thirty feet beneath him. He digs for ten feet, gets discouraged...and moves to another hole. Does this five, ten, fifty times. If he had ever remained in one place, he would have reached the gold. But it is so seductive to shift around, try something new, start a new hole. We do this in careers, relationships, with physical training programs. In "Mastery" George Leonard talks about this. That few people ever reach Mastery because they can't bore through the "boredom" and "dissatisfaction with slow progress" and don't understand that when progress slows, it's often because we've begun to do the REAL work. This is where the rubber meets the road.
As often happens, when I hit a truth I need to look at, one of my friends will drop me a note, describing their own travails. In answering them, I am answering myself. This was waiting for me this morning:
I've been having a strange experience with meditation lately. It
feels good and yet I run from it; my consciousness shifts with
jarring suddenness like waking from a bad dream. I don't really know
where to go with it.
A few months back I'd been enjoying "happy liver" meditation. I'd
seen the author of Eat, Love, Pray on tv talking about a man who had
told her that the secret to meditation was to smile; smile from your
scalp to your toes, smile until your liver is smiling. So I would
sit and I would smile, not a "feeling fabulous smile for the camera"
smile, more of a subdued "don't worry, be happy" smile. I would
smile until my troubles sank out of me and I would think "my liver is
smiling". One of the great things about ending with the thought "my
liver is smiling" was that I could induce a state of calm in myself
with those four words. My husband and I would be on the verge of
some petty squabble and I would think "my liver is smiling" and I
would just release all of that tension and fear. I would remember
that there is no threat, I have nothing to fear and I would gain that
emotional flexibility necessary to deal with whatever was really
needed and not get caught up in pointless bickering. Then I stopped
meditating 'cause there's always something more important to do,
right? And I started losing my "happy liver." I'd be under some
stress and say to myself "my liver is smiling" and from somewhere
deep inside I'd hear the voice of an organ with its hands on its hips
saying "I don't know where you've been lately, but this liver ain't
smiling." I'd lost it.
So after seeing you (recently) I got back on myself about meditation.
I saw a tee-shirt ages ago that said "If you have time to masturbate,
you have time to meditate." Well, honestly there have been plenty of
times in my recent life where I don't have the time or the energy for
either, but there's something to the sentiment. It doesn't have to
be an elaborate ritual, I don't have to have a big chunk o' time set
aside. So I steal moments and sometimes I get enough to matter,
sometimes I don't. It doesn't hurt to try. So when the kids are
outside playing, or I'm waiting for the dryer to finish so I can
rotate laundry, little opportunities like that, I meditate. There's
a lot more little opportunities in the day than I would've thought.
Only now I'm not doing the "happy liver" I've gone back to "I am... "
Only I think the two are merging. I follow the curves of each link
in the "I am" chain. One day it will be relationships "I am X's
mama, Y's mama, Z's wife," et cetera. Another day it's my
resumé " I am a housewife, nanny, instructor for the developmentally
disabled... " It's like a great big bowl filled with little slips,
like fortune cookie fortunes, each one a different part of my
identity. But a couple of times now I've gotten to the bottom of the
bowl, no more slips, no more words. The only answer is this warm
feeling-- it's like the "happy liver", and prolactin (the hormone
that makes frazzled, sleepless moms feel all calm and content when
they nurse), and finding that perfect spot in the bed on a morning
you get to sleep in, all at once. It doesn't feel wise, I don't feel
"enlightened". I just feel sated. And for some reason I find this
feeling very jarring and meditation ends almost as soon as I realize
there are no more slips in the bowl, there is no more bowl. It's not
a great connectedness to all things, it's just a being okay with
whatever connectedness is or isn't there.
So is a smiling liver an adequate answer to "Who am I?" Not that
I've been able to just sit and be in this warm feeling, but should
that be my goal? Is this non-verbal outcome a new destination, or a
new wall between myself and my destination? It makes me antsy, I run
from it when it happens and yet those are the meditations that seem
to give the most general clarity throughout my day. It's just not
familiar territory for me. Any thoughts?
You’re doing fine. Fantastic, in fact. Don’t try to get to “Enlightenment.” You can’t get there. The farthest you can get is “Awake.” The best state to aim at is “Adult.” “Adult” is the precursive state you’re looking for, and from my perspective, it is approached best by looking for light and clarity in the three major arenas. There are doubtless other paths, but I am certain that dealing with your shit in the arenas of body, mind, and relationship will turn all the lights on in your inner house.
THEN you can see what is real, and begin the next step. Until then, you’re just getting ahead of yourself, a virgin who has never had an orgasm trying to understand tantric sex from the ads in the back of men’s magazines.
When you get to the bowl, and it is filled with “slips” and then the slips are gone, and then the bowl is gone, you will glimpse a truth. The ego, at this point, will try to back you away from it. Instead, apply this “emptiness” to the three Gateways. If you are empty, there should be nothing stopping you from achieving a healthy body—it is just clay. Nothing stopping you from feeling absolute love for your partner—they are your mirror. Do you not love yourself? What reason is there not to? There ARE no reasons. One might ask what reason there is to LOVE self, either, if there are no reasons. The easy answer is that Love is what is, but that would be a dualism as well. You just have to stay there, contemplating Self, until you get it. And the third Gateway—mind/career. You should either love what you do, or do what you love. Anything else is a waste of your precious time in this world.
The ego has many many tricks. It will present false bowls, like a magician showing you the false bottom of a cabinet within which hides his assistant. Keep going. Further. Further.
How? By having delicious goals, tantalizing and motivating, clear, time-bound goals in all three. Goals that make YOU dance with anticipation. That are worth awakening early and staying up late for. Long and short term. Do NOT neglect the physical, Crystal—that’s where your shit is really hiding. You’ll know the “bowl” is emptying (at least to the next level) when you have lost the weight. Until then, it is a magician’s trick.
But trust me…this is the work, darling. This. Right here. Right now. Every damn day, cleaning the mirror, emptying the bowl, opening the Gates.
You’re doing excellent, excellent work.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 6:33 AM