The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Meteor Will Hit Your Dog

Why don't I do a "Sambo Alert" for Tyler Perry? Largely because I've only seen one of his movies ("Family Reunion") and I saw that what he was doing with Madea was, very specifically, gender-bending. That subtextually, he was creating a Matriarch who was also the Patriarch, playing to a scrambled aspect of black culture that struck a serious chord with, especially, older black women (his core demographic). Cartoony and sometimes amateurish, he is nonetheless doing something very, very right. I don't entirely "get it." But this is not the denigration of black people for the delight of white audiences. Far, far from it. He has built a studio and an empire, hired hundreds of black actors, and is playing a fascinating game. I love watching Hollywood trying to figure out why what he's doing is working.


A letter from one of the 101 Students bears re-posting. All identifying material (possibly including gender) has been removed or altered.


Dear Steve,

I've been trying all day to figure out a polite way to post this to the 101 group, but I think it's the sort of thing that's better kept anonymous. Well, except that I'm sharing it with you and if you can figure out a way to make my crazy useful to others feel free. I've been more or less good, following the program but I'm back to the early phases, doing the fresh fruit/veggies alternate days and the 5T and the 5mm and getting my ducks used to my hiding in their pen for 20 minutes a day of meditation. I've been journaling and dancing and going for long walks under the stars. Great stuff. It's been like an exhilarating upstream swim in cool water at the end of a hot day. So here comes the universe with its special talent for tumbling me back over familiar rocks.

I do not get the affection I desire from my husband. Alright, not ideal, but I'm trying to work with what is. So I think I've been making really good strides in holding myself responsible for giving myself the love I need. When I'm feeling hurt and lonely and rejected I think to myself "What do I want from that person, that I feel like they aren't giving to me?" and then I figure out how I can give myself that core experience. I need to love myself until love becomes as fluent to me as my native tongue or any love other people give to me is just going to get lost in translation. I can enjoy my sensuality in my physicality and dance, and cooking and in mindful eating and in gardening and stargazing and giving platonic affection like hugs and kisses and massage to those who are willing to receive it. I give myself my own approval and am honest with myself about what kind of effort I put into something and whether what I say are my priorities are reflected in how I dedicate my time and energy. I'm doing a lot of things right. So I'm feeling really good about this decision to embrace my abstinence with a deep degree of self-sufficiency.

But I tell you what, if you think skipping food gives a person an introduction to the voices, try a long sexual fast. I can get myself off, but I can't experience that glorious dance, the push and the pull of a real sexual experience, because I promised monogamy to someone who ain't interested. So I am trying to be good, not just tolerant, but really rising above. So what happens? Men who are not my husband are making themselves all too available. X and I have fooled around off and on, not enough to satisfy me or to freak me out, so his recent friendliness is one of those perennial blooms, but I've got old lovers who haven't touched me in thirteen years writing me with detailed memories of experiences we've had naked together. Now Y who lives in Z and had been nothing but a gentleman while we were hanging with friends every (day of the week) is back in town and trying to get me to go driving with him, alone with him, not this cluster of friends stuff we usually do. And he's got a real pretty rationalization for it, but I can hear it in his voice, he's hoping to do more than just shoot the breeze. And I'm sure he can hear it in my voice that on some level I am all to flushed and eager. I wish I could bottle this and save it for sometime when I am on the market. 'Cause I can't seem to commit myself to fast without a feast showing up at my door. And I know what to do, I'll hang out with Y with friends, but I ain't taking that ride, because I want to go for a ride so bad it makes me shake, and I know better.

The thing that makes this your business is that I swear there's a connection between trying to go through something as transformative as the 101 and getting stuck on Pleasure Island as soon as I leave the puppet shop to become a real boy. Sex is my favorite candy and that's what the universe is trying to offer. And if I take it I'll go back to looking into somebody else's eyes begging them to tell me I'm still here. I'm not taking the bait. Out of respect for my highly resistant husband I don't want to post this is in a public forum without anonymity. But I'm sure I'm not the only person whose discovered a lot of temptation on the path. The people I spend time with I can chalk it up to a difference in how I carry myself, but Y has been in Z, he had no way of knowing and he's being much friendlier than when he left, calling me his first night in town and asking me out. The universe conspires at times like these.

Having nothing to do with any of that, you say the kindest, sweetest most encouraging things on your message board. I practically glow all day after reading them. Thank you so very much.



Here's the reason that I posted this. Back when I was promoting Dawn Callan's "Awaken the Warrior Within" workshops, I noticed that if people signed up, they canceled at a bizarrely high rate, and their reasons were simply qualitatively different from the reasons people give for not coming to a dinner party. It was as if their entire universe conspired to keep them away from a transformative experience. The way I put it was "a meteor will hit your dog."

One of my students is a lady carrying about a hundred extra pounds. She was terribly abused as a child, and this is clearly her subconscious trying to protect her from further pain by obscuring her sexual characteristics. It is safe for her to lose, say, twenty pounds, but anything beyond that triggers her inner alarm buttons. Now this lady is a tiger, and if you put an obstacle in front of her, she'll do her damnest to vault it. So I figured that if she ever got onto a REAL weight loss program (both diet and exercise, slowly reducing calories and ramping up the intensity of the exercise until the desired weight loss is occurring) her subconscious would distract her by throwing career opportunities at her. Travel, authority, creativity, lots of extra money...and all she has to do is ignore her body, and she can have all of it.

EXPECT THIS TO HAPPEN as you approach any major threshold in your life. Whatever your weakness is, this is what your Ego-self will throw at you to slow you down.

Now, "B" is trying to create a healthy relationship, a healthy body, a healthy relationship with money. And as she begins to make progress, what happens? Her husband, who mirrored her before her changes began, is disconnected from his own sensuality, and B. is one seriously sensual lady. Old lovers are appearing from her past, offering her sexual goodies, if only she betrays her marriage.

Totally, 100% predictable. It WILL happen as you grow. Might be disasters, might be blessings. But what all of these things boil down to is temptations to step off the Thousand Mile Road, betray your values, and go after the goodies. Don't take the bait: the instant you do, the goodies will evaporate. You'll look around and realize you don't know where the road is any more, lost in darkness.

The path, and forward movement along it, is far more important than any specific gain along the way. They are secondary to moving closer and closer to your true self.

Accept no substitutes.


Anonymous said...

Which raises a question:
1. if your current partner is your mirror as you are now,

2. then if you improve yourself in body, mind and spirit, and you could theoretically get a "better" partner (whatever "better" means),

3. but you are still with the partner who was the best you could do before you improved yourself,

4. how do you reconcile the feelings that "you deserve better" with the reality of your current commitment?

Or is there a connection I'm missing in there?

Anonymous said...

I used to leadh Introductions to the Landmark Forum, another transformative program.

We used to warn people that the reasons not to come and the obstacles that come up are because you're now seeing them that way. Otherwise, they'd just be normal part of life.

Now i say: finding obstacles to your success means you're on the journey you need to be on.

Kami said...

4. how do you reconcile the feelings that "you deserve better" with the reality of your current commitment?

I know if it was me, I'd be incredibly cautious because 101 days is a very short amount of time and it's hard to measure what "you deserve." Now, if my life was in danger, I was being abused, my kid were in a bad place--then it's time to risk (and it is a risk) rapid change because the stakes are so high.

I believe people deserve the best life has to offer them, but I look around and I see how hard it is for people to recognize what's best. The best drugs? The best fashion right off the runway? The best car? What are the 'best' things anyway? How about that first one--recreational, there's a flinch for most of us who aren't addicts, but what about the best medicine has to offer? Changes the perspective. I think Steve made an excellent point that's easy to miss--Pleasure Island, and how those pleasures evaporate when reality comes along.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and what people forget is that it's all grass. It may be that someone needs to get out of a current relationship, but that's not something that can be done by leaping into a new lover's arms. I'm amazed and in awe of the beautiful wisdom in that person's observations about life's grand conspiracies and how changes are always a two-edged sword.

My two (edged) cents.

Steve Perry said...

Not to slur the good name of "Perry," but isn't Tyler dealing with some problems with the WGA, in re how he treats his writers?

tcastleb said...

Dude, your timing is uncanny.

I was actually just talking to my therapist about this today; he says lots of people say, "X is wrong in my life, why can't I just fix it?" and it's exactly what you said--they start toward it, and it triggers all sorts of alarm/trauma buttons.

And also that it's really hard to deal with you changing and your spouse/friend/family not doing so. I've been doing a lot of changing; my family refuses to, and they stay in the same old harmful ruts. I cut them out of my life because it was best for me and because I could. It hurts, sure, but I can't grow if I have to keep being subservient to them and doing what they want. I don't have a partner or kids of my own, and imagine it must be terribly hard when you're in that kind of commitment to change and watch your SO stay the same.

And, um, I'll just admit to signing up for the 101 days and not doing anything with it after the first week. A multitude of weak excuses which mostly boil down to fear of change and actually becoming who I could/should be.

Steven Barnes said...

As you begin to change, you become aware of the lies you've used to keep yourself in place. One will be that you are suddenly "better" than your partner--that would provide some timely chaos, as you jump from one relationship to the next. The truth is that your partner is probably ahead of you in some ways, and you are ahead of him/her in some ways. If you are in an abusive relationship, of COURSE you get out. But as you improve, you make room for your partner to improve. Yes, they'll try to hold you back. That's just fear. Most of our happiness in life comes from within us. If you have no children, and you, say, stop drinking when your partner continues, and your partner will not seek help, you may finally have to move on. But the voices in your head are just voices, and too damned often, they do not mean you well.

Steven Barnes said...

Yeah, Perry has had some problems with the WGA, and they're not happy with him. My guess is that he is growing more and more successful while operating outside the studio system...probably making Non-Union productions (I honestly don't know what they are. The only Tyler Perry stuff I'm sure of is the stuff he himself writes, so it can't be that the WGA is pissed at him for not paying himself enough...can it?) so it must me other productions.

Christian M. Howell said...

Chris Brown has built a base also as have a myriad other "thug" rappers. To say that him dressing up like an old woman isn't denigrating...especially to older women. What's wrong with a Sanaa Lathan or other well-built female playing these roles?
Maybe I'm really embarrassed about it. But then since it's so prevalent I guess it's natural.

The Tyler Perry\WGA issue was with the TV show House of Payne. He fired writers for trying to go union. The now-President had to cancel an appearance because of it and all the writers were black.

Admittedly I've seen enough silly black sitcoms and have never watched any of his movies.

In my mind Madea is something that should have never been made. Perhaps that's why he has NOT gotten any crossover success. It's all the same ghetto spiritual bullshit complete with every stereotype, at least according to reviewers. I'm not really into mindless tripe....unless there are lots of explosions.

I can respect creativity but I don't have to like it. I could never understand why any "man" would dress up like a woman. I remember the first Halloween my father did it and I still laugh about it. I told my mother she must be crazy.

mjholt said...

Tyler Perry -- I don't get the whole thing of guys in fat suits being funny. Tyler Perry is one of those. Even not in the fat suit, I did not find him funny. I tried to watch some TV show he had, more than once, to see what I was missing (in the name of cultural currency), and well I guess I'm just not current. I think 100% of his jokes derided someone.

I think I have a sense of humor. I find the Wayans Bros funny. Steven Wright is funny. Rita Rudner, Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder, Lily Tomlin, Buddy Hackett -- all funny.