The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Definitions

"24" is off to a great start. Then again, they've always been good at the first eight hours. It's the middle section that can drag.

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I have a project I've been on for a year and a half, and it's having some issues. Not on my end, though. Some of the other folks involved are scrambling to change elements around trying to get it just right. Now here's the thing: no matter how good I get, no matter how many times I've been through this cycle, there is still a part of my personality that takes responsibility for this, and assumes that I'm the problem.

I mean, certainly if I was the absolute best writer I can be, I would have been so brilliant that despite any other issues, everyone would be turning hand-springs to move forward, right? My "Pretender Voices" scream at me, they really do. And until I hear specifically that everything is fine, they yammer in the darkness of my head like crazed weasels. Not fun. This is one of the things that keeps people in their comfort zones, one of the things that drives artists to the edge. It is critical to create separation between your clear, centered creative space and the voices in our heads.

So far as I know, THEY NEVER GO AWAY. No matter what you do. But they do get softer, and you absolutely can reach the point where they have no practical effect any more. I remember the first time I heard an NLP-er talk about changing the modality of the voices, makign them sound like Mickey Mouse or whatever. It works: you grasp the absurdity of being controlled by memories and synthetic ghosts. One of the core values of meditation is teaching you to separate yourself from your sensations and internal voices. Yoga and martial arts can function much the same, and champions of sport seem to have this ability as well. They can see themselves as the player, as the opponent sees them, and also as a neutral witness views them. Powerful shifts in perspective.

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Again, sorry that this daily walk-through of the 101 program is clumsy, but we're working to get the buttons up for the formal Beta test, but I wanted to give you guys, my "family", the information you need to move forward. DAY FIVE deals with Coach Sonnon's beautiful "Be Breathed" exercise, the core means of teaching breathing. Basically, it is a slow sit-up/roll up, performed in such a way that the contraction creates an exhalation. When I say slow, I mean that one cycle of up and back, followed by a leg raise to the plough position, takes 60 seconds. Concentrate ENTIRELY on the exhalation phase, and allow the inhalation to be passive. It's tricky, but you should be able to work it out with experimentation if you're fit. If not, try lying on your back, raise your legs until they point at the ceiling, and just do slow "hip pulses" raising your hips from the ground, creating a 2-inch "pulse" that creates an exhalation. Lower the hips, relax your diaphragm to allow air to enter your lungs, and repeat. The idea is that if you contract properly, you create a partial vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum (at the bottom of miles-deep atmosphere) and air will rush in if you relax enough. The FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE DVD was all about this.

When you've learned it, figure out how to do it during your Tibetans. This is another tricky thing. I can't tell you exactly when to exhale. Frankly, you'll have to figure that out for yourself. People vary. But when you've got that, you have a powerful tool for keeping stress from damaging mind or body.

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Now here's the thing I was trying to get to about my sexual history. Much like Steve Perry, Toni and I got together with the best of intentions, and a sense of potential freedom about our behavior. We bought that it would be possible to love each other, and also have other partners. And over the years, we enjoyed that freedom...even though the warning signs were there. Man oh man, were they ever there. And I was having too much fun to pay attention. I was a minor rock star in the SF field, and relished it. Was it insecurity? Some would say so, but I think it was just a healthy appetite, opportunity, REALLY thinking women are delicious and wonderful, and a bit of willful obliviousness.

I mean, my eyes were closed TIGHT. I remember setting up a "date" with a young lady to meet her at a Con. We would share a room. At the con, I met another girl, and hooked up with her as well. The first girl left the Con, and wrote me a letter expressing her sense of pain and betrayal. I remember feeling genuinely confused. I just hadn't grasped that there would be anything wrong with what I did. Honestly. And again, it made me re-think my entire situation.

Eventually Toni and I got married. We should have re-thought EVERYTHING about how we had managed our intimate lives prior to that. I, especially, should have done that. Let's just say that all of the cracks we'd placed in the wall around our family garden eventually weakened...well, just everything. Despite our love for each other, we created a situation that was so painful that it just wasn't working any longer. And ended up trashing what we both treasured. I am so terribly sorry.

The truth is that even if we hadn't made those mistakes, our marriage might still have ended. We really did want different things from life, ultimately. But we could have let each other go without some of the damage that took place, and that would have been a wonderful thing. Maybe that's what it took to ultimately wake me up on that level...the awareness that, without malice, I had participated in an event that hurt the person I loved most in the world. Damn me for that. I will never fully forgive myself. The only thing I can do is re-question all of my assumptions again. So...I can't follow the rules my Mom gave me, that's for certain. Her rules didn't work for her. And I can't follow the "no-rules" approach I thought would work just fine. So...what CAN I do?

I can treat every woman I meet the way I'd want someone to treat my sister, my daughter, or my mother. I TRIED to do that before, but I think I bought into the bullshit that men and women are wired up the same way when it comes to sex.

I didn't let myself notice that once certain lines are crossed, the entire relationship shifts...and there doesn't seem to be anything a "free love" philosophy can do about it. Now, this is just one person's experience. But as someone noted, that experience is considerable. It was, let's just say, a wide sampling. Ahem. But I'd rather be too cautious than too cavalier. Walked that road once, and it was pogo-sticking through a mine field.

##

Wow, my creative head is fertile right now. There are a dozen different projects at varying levels of development. One, I just came up with yesterday, and I'm not going to talk about it publicly. Let's just say it's a script that T and I should be able to write in a couple of weeks, once she gets back from the Inaugural. Yep, she's going. I'll stay home with Jason and let T celebrate this moment with her family. I can't even imagine what it must feel like to her parents, who struggled during the Civil Rights era, were jailed and wire-tapped, tear-gassed and beaten just for demanding their rights as American citizens. And now they see this.

A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with someone who gave the "Obama's not African-American because his father wasn't the descendant of slaves" conversation. Interesting, but what's really being said there is:

"The definition of an African-American is someone descended from slaves."

Well, that's interesting, but I don't remember any formal definition of that kind ever being agreed upon by...well, by anybody. I know that some people feel that way, and I understand, but disagree. What the person was really saying was:

"HIS definition of an African-American is someone descended from slaves."

ᅠThat's honest, and honorable. But to generalize from that to implying that "my definitions are Truth" is a little scary. I wonder if this person grasps that that's what they've done? I wasn't in a position to ask at the time. Maybe later.

23 comments:

Pagan Topologist said...

You can find people who make whatever interpretation you might imagine. One white female student said to me recently that Obama's election was not a step forward for "civil rights" at all, since he is half white. I have no idea why she thought this important, but she very clearly did.

There is no way to come up with definitions that everyone will be pleased with. As someone who loves language, I find this sad, but nothing can be done about it, apparently.

Mike Ralls said...

>"The definition of an African-American is someone descended from slaves."<

For most of US history there just were not enough people of African decent who were _not_ slaves or the descendants of slaves for this definition to exclude very many people. When you were born, for instance, the entire African-American community who were not the descendants of slaves could have fit in a single football stadium, and it wouldn't have had to be a large stadium either. Up until you were in your 20's assuming that someone who was black in America was the descendant of slaves had over a 99% chance of being correct.

But within the last generation we've started to get significant numbers of immigrants from Africa and it won't be long until there are over a million of them. The term, "Blacks" or "African-American
is a culturally construct, so it shouldn't be surprising that when the culture change so does the cultural construct.

Myself, I don't see why the two groups should be considered one. Culturally speaking, African immigrants and their descendants have had a very different history than that of blacks. Their quantifiable statistics are very different from that of the traditional American black community. They don't have similar rates of education, crime rates, or marriage patterns. At all. The rates of college degrees among African Immigrants and their descendants, for instance, are more different from the black community than the black community is from the Asian community.

Also, genetically speaking, virtually every member of the traditional black community in America has some European and Native-American genes in their mix, and that's just not the case with recent African-Immigrants and their descendants.

About the only thing the two groups share is the level (whatever it is) of bigotry that exists against people with high levels of melanin in America, from around 1990 to now (The majority of the African migrants and their descendants in America date from post 1990), and I just don't see that as enough to bond the two groups.

Putting them together makes about as much sense to me as lumping German-Americans and Indian-Americans because they are both "Aryans".

Steve Perry said...

Not to be particularly contentious here, but the term "African-American" is imprecise, and the definition of it depends on who is offering it.

Like "Native American." Yes, I know what most people think it means -- those folks who were here when the boats from Europe landed, the indigenous tribes -- but since a native is somebody who was born in a certain place, then anybody born in the U.S.A. is a native American.

Does African American mean sub-Saharan only? Would not a person whose family was from Egypt or Syria which were, last time I looked, on the African continent, qualify?

When you get right down to it, if the human race began in Africa, as many authorities believe, don't all of born us in these parts qualify?

Mike Ralls said...

Little late here, but;

> 1) What do you want to accomplish in the next 101 days in the arena of your body?

I want abs. I, of course, have abs right now, but you can't see them, and I can never remember a time in my life when I could see them. I've always had a gut, and even today, when I'm at 16% body fat and have a great ass and great legs I still have that darn gut. If I'm good for 101 days, there is no reason I couldn't get my body fat down enough that I look not just good but great.

> 2) What do you want to accomplish in the next 101 days in the arena of your career?

Finally finish my thesis and get my master's degree completed. That sucker has been being held over my head for far too long. Also, to write at least 5 short stories, preferably 10, and submit them all.

> 3) What do you want to accomplish in the next 101 days in the arena of your emotions?

Get into a regular meditation routine, and decrease my anxiety. I'm pretty darn happy with my marriage, so generally I want to keep it as strong as it is now, but if there is room for improvement I want to find it.

Mike Ralls said...

>When you get right down to it, if the human race began in Africa, as many authorities believe, don't all of born us in these parts qualify?<

I got a genetic test recently, and on my father's male line, I have my first African ancestors around 30,000 years ago. I'm still not going to be checking "African-American" any time soon.

If you want to take the really long time scale, everyone in America is actually a Prokaryote-American.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

I find it way too counterintuitive to disqualify Americans who actually immigrated from Africa (or are children of such) from being African-American. Although I suppose you could also call Obama Kenyan-American or Luo-American. Still, not African-American because your father came from Africa? Too weird.

Lester Spence said...

michigan holds 100,000 people in it.

i'd imagine there are more than 100,000 black people with no history of slavery, not counting african immigrants. there was a sizeable freedmen population in the north, and there were freed populations in the south as well.

west african immigrants have about as much in common with black americans as german immigrants have with german americans. so depending that could be a lot (my wife consistently is mistaken for ethiopian even though her family is from tupelo mississippi) or very little.

Mike Ralls said...

>i'd imagine there are more than 100,000 black people with no history of slavery, not counting african immigrants.<

I assume you mean "black people in the US" here, but what do you mean by "no history"? Personal history? Sure, slavery been illegal in the US for 144 years so no black in the US today has a personal history with legal slavery (although there are a handful who's parent's did). Family history though, I don't see where you would find 100,000 black Americans who are not immigrants from Africa (or their descendants) and who do not have slavery somewhere in their family history.

I stand behind my claim that "When you [talking to Steve Barnes here] were born, for instance, the entire African-American community who were not the descendants of slaves could have fit in a single football stadium, and it wouldn't have had to be a large stadium either."

Looking up the census figures we see that there were around 880,000 Americans who had emigrated from Africa in the US as of 2000;

http://www.census.gov/population/cen2000/stp-159/STP-159-africa.pdf

Around 150,000 of them entered before 1980 and the rest are post-1980. Steve was born in the 1950's and while a quick google search did not give me the exact number of Africans in America in the 1950's, given my knowledge of US immigration policy in the 1914-1965 period (not very open compared to today) I feel safe in assuming that most of those 150,000 came after he was born. In his lifetime we've gone from a situation where African immigrants were not part of the nation in any significant degree to one where they number over a million people. It's a significant change and it's really not surprising that it should have effects on how the non-Black population views blacks. Or even how blacks view blacks. "Race" is just a social myth we tell each other after all, and myths frequently change when situations change.

>there was a sizeable freedmen population in the north, and there were freed populations in the south as well.<

The freed populations were composed of recently freed slaves and the descendants of freed slaves, with only a few (rare) exceptions (primarily from the occasional African who joined a US clipper ship as a sailor and then came and settled in the US. There are instances of that happening in the antebellum period, but it was _very_ rare and was not statistically significant.)

Reluctant Lawyer said...

"The definition of an African-American is someone descended from slaves."

Ah, the velvet rope approach to blackness. Similar to skin-tone, manner of speech, etc, etc. So different from the one-drop-makes-you-whole embrassingness (is that a word? It is now). I just don't see a point in the additional divisions when there is so much to accomplish.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

The freed populations were composed of recently freed slaves and the descendants of freed slaves, with only a few (rare) exceptions (primarily from the occasional African who joined a US clipper ship as a sailor and then came and settled in the US.

And even those occasional Africans would have intermarried with people descended from slaves. I don't see where you could get a lot of black people in the US who are neither descended from recent African immigrants nor from slaves.

Heck, I suspect that, among those whose ancestors were in this country during slavery times, way more white people than know about it or would like to think about it have ancestors that were directly involved in slavery - even if most of your lines weren't slave owners, the odds that one or another line were are probably not that small.

Go back a century and a half, and everyone probably intermarried with pretty much everyone they were allowed to intermarry with, to one degree or another. (And sometimes slept with those they weren't allowed to marry.)

Josh Jasper said...

That's honest, and honorable. But to generalize from that to implying that "my definitions are Truth" is a little scary.

You think there aren't areas where you do that? I'm pretty sure I've done it from time to time.

Marty S said...

I hope I don't offend anybody here, but I have always felt that referring to people with black skin color as African-American was somewhat PCish. My religion is Judaism, my parents are Polish on one side and Russian on the other side. How should I be referred to. Suppose someone who is white has parents who were born in South Africa and immigrated, are they African-American?

salina said...

I'm very comfortable with the term Black (please capitalize) in reference to myself and Africans in the diaspora, despite the fact that race is a construct, fairly recent I might add.

I generally avoid the term African-AMericans in my own lexicon. However, when writing these papers, folk are MOST comfortable with the term, and since i'm a "newbie" i USE, though sparingly. In the spirit of Kujichagulia,self-determination, I prefer AfriKan (sic) to refer to the "descendants of slaves" as well as those who were here and THEIR descendants. ALl of whom were affected by racism, segregation, jim crow, etc. etc. The K homage to the civil rights struggle that began when the first Africans were forcefully immigrated on slave ships. TECHNICALLY, imho, Obama is an Afrikan ("African AMerican"). Even with the privileges he may have been afforded, by all accounts, he still lived the EXPERIENCE of the descendant of a slave. He mentioned in his speech that his grandmother made racialized comments... I assume they were disparaging, about Black people. In that he shared in the Culture (African-American is not a race or ethnicity...) of African-Americans REGARDLESS of his paternal (or maternal) origin...

And by the way
There is No African-American Land, No Black Land (Not even Alkebu-Lan)
, and CERTAINLY no Negro Land...

I wonder if the word Exonymic applies here, culture and ethnicity are inextricably linked to Land Mass... i'm going to ruminate on this a bit more.

Anonymous said...

"The definition of an African-American is someone descended from slaves."

Translation:

**so you ni**ers really aren't there just yet on a technical**

Plain enough for me to recognize. You MUST be a much nicer person than I am Steve because I'd have called him on it big time AND quickly.

Steven Barnes said...

To me, the usefulness of the term "African American" is in the quick definition of people descended from sub-Saharan Africans, another term for "Black." That means that Scarlett Johanson isn't "African American" by such a genetically influenced definition, but IS by a Nationalistic or place-of-birth designation. This is another example of language only being as useful as the intent and honesty of the people using it. All language can be deconstructed. And my sense is that most of those who disagree with the definition of Obama as "Black" or "African American" don't have positive intents. Splintering an already disadvantaged group into smaller sub-groups is a great way to preserve power, isn't it?
And his election shouldn't be a source of pride and progress because he is half-white? Jesus. To me, that's just total ignorance.

Pagan Topologist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pagan Topologist said...

Maybe "total ignorance" is the right interpretation, Steve. To me, it just seemed not to make any sense at all. I couldn't imagine what she intended.

mjholt said...

Maybe it is best to move on from slavery. Not forget it, but to not make it the centerpiece of defining people. Many good people were forced into slavery by slave catchers, war, and lots of nasty practices in the Sub-Sahara and Africa. Unscrupulous people who mashed up their own moral code (usually Christianity) took advantage of a way to get cheap labor for horrible jobs for the god of power and profit.

We cannot control or change what our ancestors did (we can lie about it), but we can control and change what we do.

I have heard so many slices and dices on Obama's heritage that I am disgusted. He defines himself as an African American. He identifies himself with other people who define themselves that way. He makes to apologies or excuses. For me, this is a central part of his strength and his appeal.

Mike Ralls said...

There were a few more votes in Chicago if one identified oneself as an African-American than if one identified oneself as a bi-racial trans-cultural pacific islander.

Dan Moran said...

Clever of Obama to be born black, sure enough.

Going to be an interesting few years.

azrael said...

I hope I don't offend anybody here, but I have always felt that referring to people with black skin color as African-American was somewhat PCish.

Sure, it can be/is PCish. The thing is my skin isn't black.

I've always considered African Americans to be Americans of undetermined African descent. But, that's just MY definition. I'd think that an American who knew what COUNTRY their ancestors were from would want to claim the country rather than a continent. And of course a non-citizen from some African country wouldn't be American.

I'm more likely to refer to myself as black than African American. However, I like the "American" part of African American and get annoyed when people try to convince me that "black" is a better, more accurate, or whatever term.

Mike Ralls said...

>And his election shouldn't be a source of pride and progress because he is half-white?<

Oh, while I don't think Obama fits the social construct of the group commonly referred to as "Blacks" I'm very glad that Blacks think he does and am glad that it's a source of pride and progress for the whole of the US (because that advances something I'm in favor of - the continued assimilation of blacks into the mainstream American culture).

Marty S said...

Azrael: I agree with you that Blacks are not actually black. But it is also true that Whites are not actually white and also vary highly in skin tone. The terms Blacks and Whites are useful in distinguishing between certain groups of people when having a discussion. There are Black Americans, Black Canadians, Black French etc. and White Americans, White Canadians, White French etc. So in discussions involving race the term Blacks has more general applicability than the term Afro-American. Although I suppose one could use the term Afros to include all Blacks in such a discussion.