The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, February 28, 2005

O.J. and Michael Jackson

Speaking of damage to the base chakras...
The twin cases of O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson fascinate America, partially because of the cult of celebrity, and partially due to racial issues inextricably intertwined with these two men. Let me make it clear: I have an opinion about them, and I might as well put it up front.  In one case it is more than opinion, and in another, it is an opinion regretfully embraced.  Sigh.

Here ‘tis.  Both are guilty, but only O.J. is a monster.  Michael is a sad, sick shell of a human being, abandoned  and used by the very people who should have protected him.  He is ruined now, as the most cursory glance at what one must regretfully define as “his face” would reveal.  More on that later.  The question is: if we apply storytelling techniques to both of these people, what do we make not just of them, but of the world’s reaction to them?

Let’s start with O.J. 

When I first heard of his arrest, my thought was “oh, no…he couldn’t have done that.  He wouldn’t have been stupid enough.”  That was my first thought.  But then, I’ll tell you the moment at which I realized that he was guilty.  It was during the Bronco slo-mo chase down the 405.  He’s on the phone whining “Poor little me” and “I hope my kids remember me from happier days…” with a gun at his head, old buddy Al Cowlings driving him into history (and simultaneously submarining David Hasselhoff’s career.  Seems that the former Baywatch star had bet everything on a pay-per-view musical concert from Munich that just happened to be broadcast the same night.  No one watched…yes, yet another thing to hate O.J. for!)
At any rate, my spine was crawling.  I got  on the phone and asked several friends the following question: if you loved your ex-wife, and had kids with her, and those kids were upstairs asleep when she was butchered in the driveway with a friend, what is your first thought? 
Invariably, the first thought by four male friends was: Are the kids o.k?  Did the Manson family try to kill them?  Get them to safety!
O.J has never, ever expressed the slightest concern for the kids.  Almost as if he knew who did it, and had no fear that they might be in jeopardy.  Hmmm
Years later, I made the acquaintance of a lady in the adult film industry, who was a former girlfriend of Al Cowlings, the gentleman who drove the Bronco.  She told me that the night of the murder he arrived at her house, threw her on the bed and almost broke her in half with his…enthusiasm.  Later, he told her that there was nothing more exciting than cutting a woman’s throat.

I might not have taken that seriously, except that a few months later, I read an article that another adult film actress said that Al Cowlings told HER that the infamous “bloody glove” that didn’t fit O.J. belonged to him.
So there it is.  For years I’ve carried this knowledge in my head and my heart.  I know what happened that night, but it’s all heresay, and inadmissible in a court of law.  Feh.  So two murderers are walking around, and will probably never be brought to justice.  It nauseates me, but there it is.

More tomorrow…

The Oscars

In a few hours after I write this, the Oscars will be broadcast. One question on Oscar-Watchers' lips is: who will win Best Actor? And Jamie Foxx is the front-runner, possibly the first time I've seen a black actor as front-runner in a film where he deserves to win. Oh, Denzel SHOULD have been for "Hurricane," or "Malcom X," but wasn't. It got embarassing--the Oscars are seen in more homes around the world than almost any other show. To admit that in all their history, only one non-Caucasian ever won a best Actor or Actress award was to admit that there was something odd going on in our supposedly egalitarian society.
Could it be that only Caucasians can act? Nah. Maybe Hollywood is so racist that the craft guilds will only vote for "one of their own." Could that be it? Well, having traveled the country, I can tell you with no hesitation that Southern California is one of the least-racist parts of America. so whatever was going on, it wasn't a problem exclusive to Hollywood.
For the record, I'm willing to take the position that the awards given out are more-or-less fair. In other words, a good actor loses over and over again, and the Academy tries to give them props with an award in another year, even if that film is weaker. Thus, Denzel gets the award for "Training Day" that he should have gotten for "Hurricane." The political shit-storm that swirled around him when people began to complain that Rubin Carter might have been guilty was considered (by some) racist, but things evened out when Russell Crowe's "A Beautiful Mind" failed to garner an Oscar because of rumors that the titular mathematician had uttered racist slurs. Both charges have nothing to do with the performances of the respective actors. But Will Smith's nomination for "Ali"? Well, in a weak year, maybe. Halle Berry's win for "Monster's Ball"? Separate from social context, this was a terrific performance in an unconvincing film. Add social context, and you have a powerful performance in a LOATHSOME film. Casting P. Diddy as her doomed husband made a subtle point that would only have been improved had they cast O.J.
So Denzel won for "Training Day", as he did for "Glory". And Halle won for "Monster's Ball." The nasty side of my personality notes that the Black man wins for films in which he dies. And the black woman wins for a film chiefly notable for her being sexually available to a White man--again, at a time when sexually explicit scenes with non-Caucasian males are non-existant. am I being paranoid?
Let's say that Jamie Foxx wins for "Ray." Does this mean things have changed massively? Well, yes and no. It is evidence that things are slowly changing. Black folks like to say nothing has changed, and white folks like to say that everything is just fine. The truth, of course, is somewhere between the two. Ray is a fabulous movie with a fabulous performance. He is certainly presented as a sexual being, although there is no actual nookie on-screen. I takes what I can gets, so I tended to treat "Ray" as a success and a positive sign. But how many Iconic black figures like Ray Charles are there for actors to mine? He was beloved, possibly the single most important musical performer of the 20th Century (Frank Sinatra once said that Ray Charles was the only genius in the business.) He was blind, which made him less threatening. And, of course, he died just before the film opened. So what is a black actor to do? Find another iconic, genius-level, disabled, recently-deceased performer to play? And do we have a break in the "Denzel" pattern, or an extension of it? Dead is dead, after all.
Remember Barnes' rule of black men in SF/Action films: a black man will be too young, too old, too gay, too fat, or too dead to reproduce. That is changing, to the degree that films like "Deep Blue Sea" actually play with the audience's expectations. But you have to ask why it became a cliche in the first place. To the degree that my friends used to ask, when they knew I was going to see a science fiction film: "how'd they kill the brother this time?" And there are people out there who wonder why there are so few black SF writers? It boggles my mind that there are any at all.
If Jamie Foxx wins, it will be a good thing. But I'm looking for the day that a black man can win an Oscar for a performance in which he is a powerful, sexual, mythic being who survives the movie. Or a black woman can win one without going down on Billy Bob Thornton.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Sexual energy

We've been talking about sex,  and this is a subject that people are pretty shy about.  But sexuality is second-chakra stuff, second only to core survival in the ability to raise your energy.  A kink in this chakra can cause ghastly damage.  Rape, abuse, premature sexual experience, sexual guilt, etc.--all can cripple your energy.  If we are going to be fully alive and aware, the proper use of this energy is critical.
I thought I would ask you guys what exactly sexuality is to you?  To begin to define the arena. There is so much here, including questions of when sex is and is not appropriate.  Was sex appropriate between a President and an intern?  Between strangers?  Between children?  I think that we all have our rules, and it's important to have those rules operating at conscious levels.
For me, sex is appropriate between adults (those who support themselves) when there is genuine honesty about what the reciprocal obligations and communications.  Both people must understand what sex means to the other.  For instance, there are many people for whom sex means love.  No matter what they say, no matter what the context, if you have sex with them, they think it means "I love you."  And you had bettter understand that, or you are going to run into real problems.
For me, sex is communication, entertainment, stress relief, spiritual connection, comfort, intellectual adventure, and physical art form.  I (almost) never had sex with anyone I wouldn't have been willing to take a call from at 3 in the morning if they were in trouble.  I always tried to treat my partners as I would want someone to treat my sister, my mother, or my daughter.  And I've made mistakes. There were times I wound up in bed with someone who was more damaged than I anticipated, and the results were pretty gruesome.  But with perhaps one exception, I am still on friendly terms with every lady with whom I've shared intimacy, and treasure about 98% of my memories.

Definitions for you guys?

The Perfect Human Being

so here we are, slowly moving up the chakras.  Very slowly, because even if I define the seven levels, we have to stop and ask about the interactions of those levels.  In a writing sense, we can use the seven chakras to visualize a "perfect" human being (all seven chakras flowing energy smoothly), then "damage" our character by throwing blocks inone or another chakra.  In other words, a "perfect" human being would be (modified for age):
1) In love with life and unafraid of death
2) Have a powerful sexual drive uncomplicated by guilt, blame, or shame
3) Have a perfect lean hunter-gatherer body, and a level of physicality capable of great athleticism, tremendous energy, and a deep sensuality.  Mistress of her environment: capable of generating enough financial resources to raise a large family.  A tigress in defense of her home, children, or home-land.
4) An open, loving heart capable of deep and lasting commitment to a partner.  In the vast majority of cases, this will eventually manefest in a monogamous lifetime relationship that becomes a spiritual mirror for the journey of life.
5) Capable of honest, open communication.  Fearless self-expression and introspection.  A lifelong thirst for understanding, unending education.  The drive to share and advance knowledge.
6) A keen intellect, capable of synthesizing information from a wide range of sources.  Knows something about everything, and everything about something.  Built-in error checking to assure the accuracy of the reality map.
7) A sense of connectedness to the entire universe.  Perhaps a connection to some religious community--not to be bound by their dogma, but to have a place to contribute energy and aliveness, to help others along the path.  Fearless faith in the divine order.
I know that these are the goals to which I aspire.  Every day, I compare myself to this model, and attempt to improve by 1%.   I will never balance them perfectly, but sometimes, just for a moment, I glimpse who I really am...what all of us truely are.  And am humbled and exhilarated by that glimpse.


Friday, February 25, 2005


Based upon letters I've recieved, it is clear that the second Chakra stuff can be the biggest trap and landmine in the entire system.  The question of when and how sex is appropriate, what is appropriate to trade or negotiate for it, how to acquire it, what kind of relationships are best to contain that energy...this stuff is essential.  This arena probably triggers more illogical discussions than any other, especially because of the massive guilt associated with it in Christianity (to my knowledge, there is not a single positive reference to sex in the entire New Testament!).  I have friends who were shattered by rape, manipulated by calculated pregnancy, damaged by cheating, feel cast-aside when the interest of the opposite sex wanes. I've had friends go to prison for inappropriate sexual activity, and know sex-industry professionals who are coping with a hellish childhood in the best way they know how.  Lots and lots of different approaches to the same question: how shall I deal with my need for sexual expression?
I have friends who are therapists (both men and women) and I've heard a similar story.  In session, or in seminars, they will divide the men and women into different groups.  They will then ask the men to list their relationship priorities, and the women to do the same.  INVARIABLY, men list sex as first, second, or third.  INVARIABLY, women list sex as third, fourth, or fifth.  It is this differential in how important men and women think sex is that creates one of the primary bargaining chips in relationships.
Men have an overwhelming, visually-based need to see naked women, and a variety of them.  I doubt there is any culture, anywhere in the world, where there is a greater demand by women for male strippers than by men for female strippers.  The yellow pages of any city in America will show a hundred  topless strip clubs for every Chippindales.  Any woman who thinks this is purely cultural, or that the demand is there but men won't invest in it, is invited to mortage her house, open a strip club for women, and thereby make her fortune.  What?  No takers?  I thought not.
When Plato's Retreat opened in New York and (later) Los Angeles, a completely predictable phenomenon happened: This swing club ended up with 98% horny guys, and a few hookers.  Women just didn't show up in significant numbers.  Why?  At least partially because women place relationship dynamics at a higher priority than raw sex.  And part of the reason for that is that almost any woman of child-bearing age knows that she can get laid any day she wants to, if all she is looking for is sex.  In fact, I really believe that the average woman has no real idea of the power she has in that sense, no real grasp of the hunger men feel (and sometimes the resentment) that it is women who, almost invariably, control whether or not there will be sex at the end of the evening.  It takes a PHENOMENALLY attractive man to have the sexual certainty of the AVERAGE woman.  On the other hand, if sex is easy, relationships are hard. 
Men tend to marry the kinds of women they would want their daughters to grow up to be.  This is a loose rule, but useful to understand what happens.  So men want women to be sexually available, but if they are too available, they  will shuttle the woman into the "whore" category, and never consider her seriously as a life partner.  So we can see the dynamic here:
1) Men and woman both want sex, but men want it a little more (on the average)
2) Men and women have slightly different priorities and rules and drives about when sex is appropriate.
3) Men tend to look for Beauty (whatever that is as a cultural rule), while women tend to look for Power (whatever that is in their culture.)  This makes sense, as men don't have conscious control over their erections.  Our hind-brains just kinda say "Yowsah!" and  we're interested.  Or we're not.  and it's immediate, and evident.  Women seem to take a wider range of considerations into account--perfectly natural, since their reproductive imperatives are very very different.  And I don't think this stuff changes hugely even after women leave the age of reproduction.  this wiring goes deep.
Is this unfair?  Really?  Let's say that men are less attracted to fat women, and women less attracted to stupid men.  Is it easier to lose weight or improve I.Q.?  What is really unfair here?  For years women have tried to make men feel guilty for not being as attracted to them if they get heavy.  but, guys, tell the truth--how often have you seen girlfriends and even wives turn off sexually when  you are having money problems? 
What if NONE of this is unfair?  What if these tendencies are just the wiring we come with, and we ignore the implications at our own peril?  I thought that it would be useful to lay out my thoughts on this, and allow you guys to speak of your own experiences and thoughts, and try to lay out (so to speak) the dynamics of ethical seduction, given that sex is one of the most confusing human drives.
I've established my thoughts on the subject. And yours?

Shooting your own toes off

Steve Perry offers this tidbit about the brilliant guy who died young:
Nah, my friend -- well, at the end, we weren't really friends any more -- was a foot-shooter.

Every time he would start to get ahead of the game, he'd do something that most average joes or janes on the street would look at and shake their heads in wonder -- how come a man that smart could so somthing so dumb?

My buddy wasn't a doctor, but he had some medical knowledge, and he knew that if you had a hereditary risk-fact for something fatal, the best way to give yourself better odds was to elimnate the risk factors you could control.

Smoking, he told me, was very yang.

Yang, I said, is something you can use a lot less of than you already have. He shrugged it off.

He shrugged off a lot of stuff over the years.

I think he thought life's rules didn't apply to him, even though every time he broke one, he got nailed.

It was a waste. A lot of his life was. The man coulda been a contender. He kept blowing his own toes off.
Steve Perry |
THANK YOU, Steve, for offering this, because it allows us to cut closer to the heart of the issue.  WE ARE EACH JUST EXACTLY INTELLIGENT ENOUGH TO SCREW OURSELVES UP.  I laugh when I hear people suggesting that intelligence gets you into more trouble.  I don't buy that.  It's that people think that intelligence should solve all problems, and when the emotional crap comes boiling to the surface, and people screw themselves over, the usual reasoning is that somehow intelligence makes your life worse.
Hogwash.  Intelligence is one of the tools in the box.  Knowing how to FOCUS that intelligence is jsut as important, and that is largely controlled by our emotions.  Intelligence CAN influence our emotional states (by selecting targets of focus, for instance) , but rarely does. 
YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHAT TO FOCUS ON, or your intelligence is a lot like the strength of a Rhino on roller-skates: no traction.  Some of the "smartest" people I know have made TERRIBLE decisions about their health, probably due to that old body-mind split ("I'm not my body") that has destroyed so many. And their emotional life is often not much better.  The question is: how do we calibrate our senses?  How do we set ourselves up so that our intelligence will actually produce love, health, and success?  My answer, the one I am willing to place forward to be questioned, is to blace the concept of BALANCE higher than anything else. 
Steve's friend clearly did not place balance as one of the highest values.  As a result, his health was less important than his fitness.  His intelligence literally was cancelled out by his emotional "stuff."  If BALANCE is the most important thing, then you must ask yourself how your current beliefs, values, and positive/negative emotional anchors support a balanced life.  If they don't, then you examine them against the model of balance--not against the dysfunctional patterns inherited from parents or suggested by society.  You look at the Hero's Journey to understand the path ahead.  You look at the Chakras to understand the different manefestations of human energy.   This, or an approach like it, I believe to be wisdom.  INTELLIGENCE ISN'T ENOUGH.  By the time you learn the error of your approach, your life is OVER.  You have to learn by other people's mistakes.  Please, please, please (as James Brown used to say) don't think you can think your way out of the existential box.  The instructions for exiting the box are written on the outside of the box.  Listen to the sages of the ages.  The Hero's Journey tells the tale.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

Brainstorming ideas

The best way to come up with a good idea is to come up with a LOT of ideas.  The trick is that most of those ideas will be bad.  And, in fact, it is IMPORTANT that you give yourself permission to generate bad ideas.  This is related to the question of "writer's block," which, as I've said, is a confusion of two different states, the "flow" state and the "editing" state where you are judging the quality of what you have done. 
A good exercise for this is to come up with a hundred ideas for stories in thirty minutes--with permission for 95% of them to suck rocks.  Just set your timer and go.  You've got like eighteen seconds to write down each idea, so you'll have to just GO.  Don't worry about spelling or grammar, or quality.  Just write them down as fast as you can. 
The beautiful thing about this exercise is that, in all likelihood, there is no problem in your life that could survive a single day of focused brainstorming.  I can bet that few of you have ever taken an entire day and addressed a particular problem, writing down every aspect of it you can think of, and then every possible answer, every resoruce, every ally, every alternative interpretation.   I'm talking at least eight solid hours of focus on one problem.  It is ASTOUNDING what can be accomplished if  you will take this time.  Try it!
Remember--the "Lifewriting" approach is to see yourself as a hero in the story of your own life.  Learning to brainstorm in the arena of writing can lead to brainstorming in life itself--and problem-solving on an entirely new level.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Constantine (2005)

Let me say this outright: I'm not a member of the "Keanu Reeves can't act to save his life" gang.  I knida like his laid-back So California style, and his rather loose-limbed athleticism.  So I was looking forward to "Constantine", his tale of a doomed exorcist facing the End of Days.  And it didn't disappoint.  For those who DON'T like his acting style, I think that the film still has its share of pleasures, including a truly terrific vision of Hell, and CGI demons that are actually kinda spooky (even if they doo look a little too much like creatures from the vidgame Silent Hill).  At any rate, Constantine has more than enough bang for the buck, and a guest appearance by Satan himself.  Who can argue with that?  I give it a "B."

There is nothing less common than common sense

Steve Perry offers:
An old running buddy of mine died recently. Man was the most brilliant and intellectually- intelligent fellow I ever knew. Certified genius, IQ pushing 170, high-level Mensa kinda guy. Married four times, had five grown kids, and in his youth was a champion gymnast. Also a life-long martial artist, worked out all the time. But there was a strong family history of heart disease, and he smoked -- hand-rolled, unfiltered cigarettes, a score or more a day -- and one fine morning not long past, he had a massive heart attack. Fifty-eight years old.

Goes to show you that a high IQ doesn't take the place of common sense ...
Steve Perry
A friend of mine has a saying: "Human beings are machines designed to succeed."  If that is true, then the real question is: what is your definition of success?  What we are playing with is the question of: "what happens if you live your life in balance?"  It is clear that Steve's friend had fitness down cold.  But fitness and health are two different things.  the disconnect between them is probably attributable to a home environment that stressed "doing" over "being," saying that he was valuable in terms of what he accomplished in the external world.  At a 170 IQ, he HAD to know the risks he was taking.  Now, it's possible that it was a calculated risk: he felt that he had these hereditary tendencies, and figured that he might die early anyway, so why deny himself the pleasure?  We would have to ask him whether he felt the way he died was an optimal expression of his Self.  If so, then he lived his life according to his values, and we can only criticise from an external perspective--which, in an existential sense, is about as pointless as shipping ice to the Arctic.  If he feels he made a mistake, then it would be useful to look more deeply, to speculate on where he got off track.
There is nothing less common than common sense.  If that were not true, we would not prize it so highly.  "Common sense" comes not just from knowledge in the world, but knowledge of how to apply those understandings to our lives.  We ALL screw up on this count.  I say it's because we are incorrectly calibrated: we are socially programmed to produce, to perform.  Not to evolve--and we are evolving beings.  You have to slow down, to listen to the inner voice. You have to aim at the balanced life: health, family/partnership, career.  ALL THREE.  If you do this, you simply can't go too wrong.
Mightn't Steve's friend have died anyway?  Or accomplished less than he did in what was doubtless a full and adventurous life?  Possibly.  Each of us must design a life in accordance with our own values and beliefs.  In the end, that is one of the most important things that any of us can do.


More on Yoga

In Yoga class this morning the humidity was a butt-kicker, and I was seriously tempted to sit down for a while.  But I made a decision: I would find the "edge" of my endurance, and then sort of "skate" across it, if that makes sense.  In other words, I would give myself permission to quit if it got too much, but as long as I could maintain focus on my breathing, it was forward-ho.
Yoga, a Sanskrit word meaning "to yoke," or "to unite" is a set of disciplines that address the body-mind split in many powerful ways.  Meditation, concentration, physical postures, breath control and so forth are some of the better known ones.  Certainly, the physical postures, "asanas" are the best known form, and contain much of the benifit of the other "branches."  Yoga is particularly good for the back and joints.  Watching Tananarive and Nicki as the practise and find their individual ways to engage with the process has been, and continues to be, a great joy.
Especially with Nicki, this is just the bomb.  I'd wanted for years to pass on to her some of the understandings I've gained over the years, and because she never really engaged with a physical discipline, it was difficult.  I didn't want her to rebel, so I didn't push her much.  But now she wants to sculpt her body, and there's a Bikram around the corner, and, well...
I remember driving back from someplace or other, and remembering that we had Yoga in the morning.  We talked about it a bit, and I told her to visualize her third chakra (the hara), and to see what results she might get from thinking into that center below the navel in class the next day.  by making suggestions like this, we are creating a shared vocabulary for concepts that can't quite be put into words.
There is a truth in the realm of the esoteric: there are things that cannot be taught, cannot be put into words, but can still be learned.  And a teacher can create a context in which a student can learn for herself, and then that teacher can identify a breakthrough moment and say: "that one.  That moment, there." 
There are so many things that I'm trying to communicate on this blog.  The value of each and every one of you.   the sanity of a balanced life and perspective.  The road to a high-energy creative life.  The path to personal mastery.  NO, I'm not saying I'm a master.  I'm saying that I've identified a path that leads to mastery. 
And how might Yoga fit into that path?  Integrated into the FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE, one would practise a single asana five times a day--pick your least favorite (standing head to knee pose, for me!).  One would also have goals in all three major areas of life, and visualize your triangle as you perform the pose.  Move your consciousness through the chakras.  About seven breaths, about two minutes.  You've got it!


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

1% Rule

I get a lot of mail sent directly to me, from people too shy to post.  One lady is making an heroic effort to cope with a negative life spiral that includes date rape, abandonment issues, serious weight issues, and soul-deep fatigue.  This note is to her, and to all of the rest of you:
Take it slowly.  It took decades to create the mess, it will take months to clear it up.  Perhaps years.  There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel.
When losing weight, they warn you to drink lots of water, to help flush the toxins your body will release. The same thing is true of emotional toxins.  You've locked them in place for years, because your subconscious mind does everything in its power to protect you from pain.  Bring it back up without proper meditation or journaling work, and you will knock yourself flat on your butt.  This is serious, serious stuff--there is no crash diet for the spirit!  There are, however, lifetime plans.  This blog is about an approach to re-claiming yourself.  It will take time.  Slow down, pace yourself--you're worth it!


A Human Doing

Spoke with an old friend yesterday.  His wife had to trick him into seeing a doctor, who gave him the news that he was on the edge of a stroke.  This friend is an ultra-hard working, "A"-type person--we all know them.  Both men and women believe that their gender is taught to ignore their own needs, to push themselves to collapse, to put the "job"--whether it be career or family--before their own health and sometimes sanity.  Luckily, my friend has a sneaky, worried wife who took matters in hand--but how many of us take care of ourselves last?
We are not merely valuable for what we do.  We are valuable in our existance, in our "being"-ness.  And this is one of the hardest things to get people to see.  Hidden behind all of the gender stuff, and the racial stuff, and the political stuff, is the fact that we all get a thousand mesages a day that we don't matter unless we perform. Unless we sacrifice.  And we must, each and every one of us, take responsibility for taking back our souls, for claiming the essential nature of our spirits--which is EXPRESSED in our actions, but not determined by them.
It is so critical to spend time every day connecting with this vital truth--it is a force within us that can birth infinite energy.  It is the most alive and powerful aspect of our entire.  WE MATTER.  Every single day you need to embrace this truth, to find a way to connect with the sacredness of your existence.  How else can we face our days with courage?  How else can we lift up our loved ones, our mates and children?  Our friends?  How else lift up our communities? 
Every technique we're talking about on this blog is designed to clear your vision, to put you more in touch with your essential self.  YOU MATTER.  How about a story dealing with someone who puts everyone else first?  The "Women are trained to put their families first" or the "Men are trained to sacrifice everything to support their families" belief/value patterns are quite valuable for the survival of the clan--but we are, I hope, a little beyond that now.  What beliefs might replace those?  And how to emplant those beliefs? Thoughts?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Week #5--Yearlong Writer's program

When Stress becomes strain.  Hans Selye, the man who created the concept of stress, commented before his death that it is not stress that hurts us--it is strain.  In an engineering sense, Stress is pressure per unit area, while strain is deformation per unit length.  In other words, it's not the pressure you're under, it's whether or not you are balanced enough to keep from warping out of "true."  so BALANCE is a key, key aspect of life.
I determined long ago that the only way to achieve great success in life is to be obsessive. And the ONLY thing I can think of that it is safe to be obsessive about is balance.  Well, I'm sure you can overdo this as well, (think: obsessive-compulsive disorder) but it's still the best choice I know.
There are thousands of wonderful stories to be told about people who lose their balance, and begin to let stress turn to strain.  That strain will always manefest in one of three arenas: their person life, their physical body, or their mental acuity.  This week, write a story that deals with someone at this critical juncture.  Make it funny or horrifying, but try to tell the truth about human beings as you see them.

Notes from a filmmaker

Just got back from the Arizona Black Film Showcase, held in Phoenix.  Tananarive and I were presenting a workshop on Hollywood, and an award for best Short film.  Great fun, nice people.  Also saw some of my relatives while I was there--that was great, for different reasons.
One of the best things that happened there was the ability to meet and speak with Reginald Hudlin, the director of "House Party" and one of Eddie Murphy's best films, "Boomerang."  Boomerang, which 100% meets my requirements for the "black leading man" films we've been talking about ("Hitch" only gets 80% there...but close enough), was probably the last gasp of Eddie's career, the last time we saw, or will see, the dangerous, sexy, sleek, predator we fell in love with.  Sigh.  That's another column.  What was great, however, was a talk that Hudlin gave about working in the industry, and his three principles for success;
1) Don't Suck.   In other words, become excellent in your craft.  This is vital, because if you keep knocking on doors, eventually, you will get the chance to show  your stuff.  When this happens, you'd better have done your homework!
2)  Pick up the Twenty.  The story is this: there are some people so focused on the hundred dollar bill across the street that they don't notice the twenty laying at their feet.  Opportunities are all around you.  Sometimes they don't look like that Grand Slam you dream of, but bunting gets the bases loaded, guys. 
3)  Trouble is opportunity in work clothes.  My 1st wife's brother, Patric, is one of the world's great guys.  His response to trouble is:  "Thank you, God, for another opportunity to find out who I am."  With an attitude like that, you cannot fail in life!


I don't believe in it.  What I do believe in is hard work over time, and honesty.  And people capable of both are in short supply.    How many of you are capable of writing a million words, just to get into the game?  How many of you will tell the truth about what turns you on, horrifies you, engages you, amuses you?  In my experience it is far more common to find artists interested in being "clever" than revelatory.  A belief system that will help you: you can run out of clever, but you can never run out of the truth.
This is what the LIFEWRITING system is set up to do: to get you thinking more deeply than you ever have about who and what you are, what your life has been, how you are responsible for your successes and failures in life.  And to turn that understanding into wisdom.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Gathering of Allies

Want to know where you will end up in life? Just add up all your friends and divide by the number of friends. You'll be right in the middle of the pack. Want a better destiny? Improve the quality of your associations.
As cruel as that sounds, it is simply true. You can't rise higher than your reference group. In the industry, this is called "Networking,"and I'm doing it this weekend in Phoenix, at theArizona Black Film Showcase. I'm joining some of the Hollywood glitterati to talk about the industry, geting into it, etc.

But at the same time that I'm lecturing, I'm meeting people, and exchanging cards. Hopefully, some of these contacts will turn into new friends, and new business possibilities. Always a good thing. I am really entering a new phase in my life--the old resources will not help me to a new level.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Time Line Therapy

A guy named Tad James in Hawaii has an outgrowth of NLP called Time Line Therapy, or Time Line goal-setting.  It is a terrific visualization/goal setting technique that dovetails beautifully with what we're talking about here.
On a very basic level, Time Line goal setting suggests that you can best accomplish your goals when:
1) You have a goal clearly stated, and visualize the last step.
2) Your value hierarchy is aligned with the goal.
3) Your belief systems are aligned with the goal
4) Your positive and negative emotional anchors are aligned with the goal.
It is SO incredibly easy to get off the path, and often the self-sabotage won't reveal itself until years have passed, and you find yourself floundering and can't figure out what happened.  The most consistent sign that you are "off the path" is a loss of energy.  You just feel drained, dragging from one day to the next.  this is not just a physical thing--it is a sign of being spiritually disconnected, of losing your focus.  You can increase energy INSTANTLY just by re-gaining clarity on what is most important to you in life, embracing your creative destiny.  that psychological/spiritual focus is absolutely precious, and never ever let anyone take that away from you.  In many, many ways the world seems to conspire to drain us. The natural curve of energy--from childhood to old age--peaks at about the age of 20.  But there are other sources of energy, and you should seek them out with great care and persistence.  On the discussion board (you'll find the button to the right) we started a thread about energy, and I'd love for people to post about the things that DRAIN them, and those that lift them up.  Here are ten of my favorite energy boosters, just to make a sixty-second list:
1) drinking water.
2) Naps
3) fresh fruit and vegetable juice smoothy
4) aerobic exercise
5) stretching and alignment
6) proper breathing (THE FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE!)
7) Working on a favorite project
8) hugs
9) sex (!)
10) Dancing.
That was just a  quick burst of thoughts.  I'd love to hear comments out there--how do you gain and lose energy?  The "time Line" therapy discussed at the beginning are a terrific way to see where you have your brakes on.  Take 'em off--and you'll discover a course of energy you may have completely forgotten.

Sleep and Bikram Yoga

Curious...I've been noticing that I seem to need a little less sleep since I've been practising this stuff.  I've never found anything that reduced my need for sleep.  Without my eight hours, I feel completely trashed.  WITH eight hours, I never get sick.  I've been waking up after about 6-7, feeling "light and cool," my kinesthetic signatures that tell me I'm ready to get out of bed.  Well, I'm going to investigate this a little more carefully.  Both Nicki and Tananarive are involved in practise now, which is a load off my mind...Nicki seems to be finding an aspect of her power that she hadn't claimed before, and I'm delighted!  Let's see what happens...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Sex and money

A recent note:
great blog --keep up the good work!

"You are ready to begin having sex at the point that you earn enough honest money to put a roof over your own head and food on your table. When you can support yourself."

Could you explain the connection you are making between sex and money please? My intutiotion tells me there is a problem --a significant absence of soul-- somewhere in this association.
Anonymous | 02.16.05 - 5:39 pm |
The connection is that the decision to have sex is an adult one, one that, in my estimation, should only be made by those capable of making mature decisions.  Disease, pregnancy, physical abuse, and emotional addictions are just some of the potential problems. In my mind, the immature mistake sex for love, choose inappropriate partners, aren't as careful about birth control or as realistic about the consequences of single parenthood or rushed marriage.  But at what age IS it appropriate? I decided that the best quantifiable measurement I could think of was the point at which you have learned to focus your energy and intelligence sufficiently to create goods and services that are valued by your community.  A person who cannot support himself is a child, in my book, and children shouldn't be having sex.  EARN ENOUGH MONEY TO SUPPORT A POSSIBLE CHILD.  Sorry-- a person who can do that is just a different bloke from someone who has never put a roof over their own head.
What if you've inherited enough to support a child?  Then get to college before you drop trou.  About 90% of the really, really bad sexual decisions I know of were made before the age of 20.  I little maturity goes a long way.

Even more specificity

Remember: stress "dis-integrates" the triangle of breath, movement, alignment. You will ALWAYS see stress manefesting in one of these three areas. If you begin the re-integrative process at the first sign of stress: (straighten posture, relax muscles, breathe deeply) you create a stimulus-response loop between stress and excellence, such that stress automatically triggers a resourceful state. Using the "chakra" model, then, if your goals are balanced, you will begin to resolve theproblems on a lower level, lay down emotional "roots" and gain more consistence in your personal evolution. But you MUST work your body, and you MUST heal your heart and relationships. You CANNOT take anger, resentment, guilt, or shame on this journey. The purging of your negative emotions, forgiveness of those who have harmed you, and a deep and abiding love for the world--and yourself--are central.

Once you have learned an appropriate breathing technique, put it into dance,Tai Chi, yoga, martial arts--something where you can place yourself under increasng physical stress, testing that"triangle". The ability to resist stress physically will generalize to other areas of your life--if you have proper, balanced goals and a commitment to their achievement.

The Mastery technique works, if you work it.


The Mastery Technique

Let's zoom in on the very core of what I'm talking about:
1) Five times a day, stop and breathe for sixty seconds. Deep, abdominal, slow breathing. Find a teacher in a breathing discipline and invest yourself here. The FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE is great for this.
2) Have balanced goals in all three arenas of your life. Write them down. Look at your goals every morning, and every night.
3) Look at the problems of the world as expressions of universal human behaviors and perceptions. See how analogous behaviors in your own life have stopped you from realizing your maximum potential in body, mind, and spirit.
4) Remember that everyone feels alone and afraid. This is not a sin, and not a flaw. The question is: what do you do with your lonliness and fear?
5) Every day, deepen your meditative practice. Even if it is only the five one-minute breaths. This is critical, or you will not be able to change--your ego, convinced it is you, will resist with more power than you can believe.
6) Keep a journal, and/or a dream journal. This is one of the only things that can substitute for meditation.
7) Give love to your family, deepen your career, and express your physical potential every day. Every day that you eat, you should move, and love, and think.

Just seven ideas for you. They can change your life.


The Fish Tank of your Soul

A lot of folks have joined us since the last time I ran down the complete process I'm suggesting. It is powerful, and flexible. Here are some of the major ideas:
1) Write your life story, from today until the day you die. Make certain to be specific about your goals in body, mind (career), and spirit (relationship).
2) Find one person to represent each arena. Begin to learn all you can about them.
3) Clarify your three major goals (one in each arena) and write them down where you can see them morning and night.
4) Resolve to move toward your goals at a rate of no more than 1% per week.
5) Share your goals with at least one other person who agrees to be your committed listener. If you don't have such a person, use the discussion board here to create community.
6) Five times a day (9, 12,3,6,9) stop and breathe deeply for 60 seconds. Use THE FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE's "Be Breathed" technique.
7) Morning and night, listen to your heartbeat for five minutes minimum.
8) Keep a dream diary. A good idea is to keep a small tape recorder at your bedside and dictate your dreams.
Point #8 is worth slowing down to discuss, especially if you have weight issues. If you are carrying more than about 50 pounds of extra weight, your body is an emotional toxic waste dump--you are storing all of your pain and fear in that extra flesh. You literally will NOT be able to lose that weight until your subconscious is convinced you will not suffer if you do. Where will you put all of that pain, all of that fear? Well, if you can put it on paper, you might not need to carry it on your bones. WRITE DOWN YOUR DREAMS as you begin to lose weight. Meditate regularly. This is what I've referred to as "running the aquarium filter on the fish tank of your soul." Skip this step, and you'll yo-yo between weight gain and loss until you are exhausted, and no longer believe.
These are major components. Here's a key question: how many of you can see that every one of these suggestions is a different version of the same idea? You have to read between the lines, but if you look beneath the surface, you'll catch it...


Modeling the Masters

Just came back from yoga this morning. Hot, sweaty, great. There is a certain pleasure in doing the same sequence of 26 moves day after day. One day, your Half-Moon pose is great, but your Bow sucks rocks. Then because you've set up certain patterns of tension and fatigue in your body, the next day, the Half-moon is mediocre, but your Locust is off the hook. Sigh. What is ultra-interesting is that Yoga has idealized versions of poses. You start where you can, do what you can while maintaining the thread of your breathing (critical) and your body will open further and further.Yoga is like this--and so is dance, and martial arts and ice skating and piano playing and a number of other disciplines, where there is both form and function. If the form, the "true" form exists as a Platonic ideal, you never master it, but movement in the direction of the idea brings fantastic benifits. Our reach SHOULD exceed our grasp.
Let's apply this to writing. I say that your goal should be a thousand words a day. That will take you past that "million words of b.s." mark rather rapidly. But there will be days tht you just can't think of anything to write (until you get better control of your flow state.) All right: on those days, just take a classic short story by a masterful writer, and type it out. That's right, just type it out...even better, write it out in long-hand. There is an imprinting on the subconscious mind that happens when you do this. Not to mention the fact that stories look different in print than they do in manuscript form. It is quite valuable to understand this distinction.
When going through this process of imitation, ask yourself not merely what the outer form of the thing is, but what in the world was the master thinking of when he or she created the movement, the music, the words? What did the world look like to her at that moment? Don't just do what the master says, try to see what the master saw. It is incredibly harder to be Christlike than to be Christian. The master sees a different world, a world that cannot quite be put into words. He communicates as best he can--through words, actions, and general energetics. And unless he has a student that equals or surpasses him (which rarely happens) the instant he dies, his followers devolve these vital teachings into two-dimensional concepts. It is the difference between a living tree which gives fruit--and the house someone builds once they cut that tree down. One is alive, one is not, however beautiful an edifice it might become.##We can reclaim what the Master found by imitating until you have reached 95% efficiency, and then studying what another master found...perhaps in another discipline altogether. Mastering a second discipline, or studying the words and thoughts of those who have, will give you unique perspective on the qualities that lead to excellence. This is hard, hard work...But it is also absolutely worth it.


Monday, February 14, 2005

Sexuality #2

Over the years I've had the honor and pleasure of studying many arcane disciplines. None of them were more interesting, or ultimately useful, as the Quodoshka, a blend of shamanic teachings concerning spiritual sexuality. In this rendition, the native American medicine wheel contains four aspects : Body, Mind, Spirit, Emotion, and at the center, sexuality. It is the core, catalyst energy. In the chakras, the same energy manefests on manydifferent levels. Level #2, very close to the base, is sex. When I look at the degree to which sex intertwines with the other aspects of life, I believe it whole-heartedly.
I see nothing that lifts us up or casts us down as much as sex, nothing that reveals as much about us. After all,in a good, sweaty sexual encounter, all of thesenses are engaged simulteneously. Our sexuality reveals more about us than almost any other single aspect. Because it is tied so stringently to reproduction and survival of the species, it has been controlled by almost every civilization on the planet. In Judeo-Christian teachings, massive guilt is often associated with this arena, and my observation is that this guilt causes almost as much damage as the irresponsible behavior it was intended to curb.
Taking control of, or finding a responsible outlet for, our sexuality is one of the core challenges for an adult, and a fine, fine source of subject matter for our writing. Guilt. Wow, it is staggering how many negative references to sex creep into the language: "nasty", "bad", "filthy" "dirty" etc. are all common references for the sexually active male or female, or books and films with this subject matter. Is there any doubt why we have so many problems? One of the first signs of dysfunction in any relationship is a reduction in the sexual energy between partners. Distorted body image is often related to sexual abuse issues, which is one of the reasons that losing weight MUST be accompanied by therapy, meditation or some other form of introspection and release.
Philosophers who have spoken on this subject suggest that the intensity of an orgasm is in direct proportion to the amount of ego released: the more you are here, the less intense the experience. This means that sex can be used as training to enter the flow zone, that magical realm where artistic expression reaches its highest limits. It is, in other words, inextricably intertwined with the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. In week #4, I welcome you to write a short story dealing with sexuality as it affects your character. Take a controversial position, and run it out. Be absurd, or fantastic.
One subject that I simply must write a story on one day has to do with the question of male or female sexual superiority. A "war" between a man and a woman on this level could be choreographed hysterically. I know of a few bets that took place on this issue, and I promise you that the competition was heroic in nature. There are endless positive and negative approaches to this area of life, and I would love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Week #4 : Year-Long Writer's program

Welcome back to the one-year program. Remember: if you aren't up to the progress suggested, simply stay on an earlier week until you've completed. In short:
Week One: rough-draft a short story.(#1)
Week Two: rough-draft a second story. (#2)
Week Three: rough-draft a third story. Polish Story #1 and send it out for publication.
Week Four: rough-draft a fourth story. Polish Story #2 and send it out.
See how this is to work? If you don't have the time and energy for that, then slow it down so that each "week" step takes two weeks. In that way, the one-year program will take two years.
##The core of the Lifewriting writing system are the Hero's Journey and the Chakras, and the way they interact to describe both human and writing process. It is valuable to look at simpler models. Body-Mind-Spirit is much simpler than the Chakras. The Swain model is simpler than the Hero's Journey. There is another great model, one half-way between the two. In a story with an heroic protagonist:
1) A character
2) In a situation
3) With a problem
4) His efforts to solve the problem lead to a series of revelatory increasing failures
5) Leading to a precipitating event
6) Making necessary a solution
7) Followed by a reward.
In a story with a villainous protagonist you have
1) A character
2) In a situation
3) With a problem
4) His efforts to solve the problem are a series of revelatory increasing successes leading to a
5) Precipitating event, making necessary a
6) Failure, followed by
7) Punishment.
Look into some of your favorite movies, and you'll see that the first pattern is often the hero's story, and the villain's looks much like the second pattern.


We've dealt with gender relationships, but we need to get more specific on this second-chakra stuff. You, as a writer and as a human being, need to have some very specific ideas about human sexuality. This is such an incredibly charged subject that it has been, and will always be, fodder for uncounted tales of glory and woe. Male-female sexuality, promiscuity, love, abortion, pregnancy, homosexuality, incest, interracial sex, masturbation---the list goes on and on and on of subjects that have been the topics of endless bestselling novels and non-fiction books, as well as workshops and billions of hours of therapy.But what is sex to you? When is it good? Bad? Inappropriate? What is fair to get a love object into bed? What is "sick" and what is "normal"? Why are male sex offenders so more severely punished than female? What would be wrong with incest between adults with their tubes tied? YOU SHOULD HAVE ATTITUDES ABOUT THESE. You should have a world-view that helps you to make sense of all of this, and allow your characters to flounder about as they attempt to learn.
What I call the "Beauty-Power Axis" is simply the observation that men and women make exchanges in relationships. The most common one is a woman's beauty for a man's power. This is a no-brainer: just look around you. We are seeing more straight one-for-one exchanges: both have equal beauty and power. But I see very very little of the opposite: a woman's power for a man's beauty. And I bet that there's nowhere in the world that that is more common than the first equation. This is, of course, unfair, but we're not talking about fairness. Women wail: "why is it that dumpy guys can get the hot girls?" And guys complain: "all women want is guys with money!" . And a recent complaint getting a lot of play is: "why is it that older men can be with younger women, but not the other way around?" Needless to say, I have opinions on this stuff, and most of you can bet what they are, loving sociobiology as I do. However, what is important is that you have AN opinion, and be prepared to defend it, in discourse, and in fiction.
It also helps you to make sense of your own personal history. And to use that history as an endless source of story material. Looking back over your life, what was the worst sexual mistake you ever made? The best decision? Why?
When my daughter was about six, I realized that one day she would ask when it was appropriate for her to make a sexual decision--when it was appropriate to become sexually active. The question didn't come up until she was thirteen, but that gave me seven years to think, and I came up with the following answer:You are ready to begin having sex at the point that you earn enough honest money to put a roof over your own head and food on your table. When you can support yourself. that means, of course, that some are ready at fifteen, and others ain't at thirty. Sorry about that. But so much life experience and focus is implied by the simple act of being able to support yourself that I REALLY like that as a basic standard, and can think of much, much misery that would have been avoided if people used that standard.
But I'd like to look at human sexuality for a few days. Here's another one: based on the beauty-power axis idea, a couple of complaints make plenty sense to me:Women complain their husbands lose sexual interest as they get fat. Men complain that their wives withdraw if their careers are nosediving. Wow. No mysteries here, but this is painful, painful stuff. I know at least six different women who specifically gained weight to punish their husbands--to deny their beauty to "unworthy" men. Do men do the same thing? Sabotage their careers to punish their wives? I'm not sure, but I'd love to hear what you folks think of all this...digging deeper in the gender gap.
Roll up your sleeves and grab a shovel!

Saturday, February 12, 2005


Again, all names have been removed:


The pain of self exploration is immeasurable.  Actually the anticipation of the pain is perhaps more painful.  Who knows.  I may move through this gracefully and look back wondering what the hell all of the fuss was about.
First though…forgive…Damn it! Forgive.  Forgive (EX-HUSBAND) for abandoning me when I most needed him to help me heal and grow.  Forgive him for leaving me stranded with CHILD, a house and no income.  Forgive myself for not seeing it coming.  Not recognizing the signs of impending doom.  Having not face that type of danger before, how could I have recognized the signs?  Duh!  I cannot be blamed for loving and trusting completely.  I gave my heart and never looked back.  Still, only I can take care of me, so I SHOULD have been more aware.  Forgiving us both is hard.  I so needed him to help me understand why I could not lose the weight.  I honestly think that the weight would have come, baby or not.  Just slower perhaps.  So what then?  Truth be known, the weight was an excuse on his part to cut and run when he felt trapped.  I cannot know this for a fact but subsequent behavior seems to indicate this.  I am sorry that he was not happy.  I am sad that I could not be for him, what he wanted but then again, would I have wanted to be any different than I was?  No.  So, ok, we both made mistakes.  We both hurt. 
Forgive (CURRENT HUSBAND) for not being the husband that I expected him to be.  Can I do that?  After so many promises broken?  So much hurt and so much anger!!  Did we set out clear expectations in the beginning?  Not when we first got together but later.  We talked and talked and talked about expectations. Nothing appreciable happened.  Still nothing appreciable happens.  Can I forgive him for not being what I still need him to be?  Ok.  How about this?  I can forgive HIM but I cannot forgive the behavior.  Can I forgive myself for being so trusting, once again, and naïve.  For wanting to believe that he really would change?  It’s like an abusive man hitting the woman and they saying “I’m sorry!, I won’t do it EVER again”  and she takes him back.  After the first couple of times, who’s the fool?  Her/Me.  How can I forgive such stupidity???  What I see/feel, is a girl/woman who so wants to be loved and cared for that she is willing to compromise a lot to get it. 
February 10, 2005
I will come back to the forgiveness issue again (and again), I’m sure.  However, moving forward….
Today I want to talk about Love or lack thereof…Hmmm…..Steve’s advice to look in the mirror..seems on the surface to be so trite and almost silly.  I mean,  just the though of looking in the mirror and telling ME that I love ME makes me want to giggle.  More out of embarrassment that anything else.  What, really, is there to love in me? 
We love and cherish our children, just because they ARE children.  All of that sweet innocence is just so easy to love.   This love is so pure.  So sweet, it makes me cry with joy.
We tend to love and cherish others for what they give us in return, for how they SEEM to complete us OR some other imagined reason.   This is some maladjusted love.  Something masquerading as Love.
As we mature we develop bumps and warts, both literally and figuratively.  It becomes ever more difficult to see beyond the appearances to the innocent within.  We create shields and masks to both guard the innocent and ward off the enemy.  Eventually, we lose sight of the innocent as it is lost in the false reality we have created. 
So now, My fake self and your fake self try to connect.  It’s amazing!  And no wonder we have such difficulty making relationships, of any sort, work.  All parties arrive under false pretenses, using pseudonyms.    Where is the honesty of the soul in that?  How can you love what you cannot touch or see or feel?
When I look in my mirror I see an old and tired woman.  Maybe not old in the way the world counts old but old from misuse.  Tired and world weary.  I am shocked to see her there.  Not what I expect to see.  In my dreams and my heart, I am young, wide eyed.  Eager to take on whatever Life sends my way.  This crone before me just cannot be me.  I am not what I appear to be!!
Steve's comment:
It is by engaging in all three aspects of life that we learn compasion  We look at others and say: "why can't they change?"  Whe we have yet to solve our own conundrms.  If we forgive and love ourselves, we can forgive and love others.  If we learn the lessons, we don't need to hold onto the pain--we can love, and yet be safe.  We can release the baggage that manefests in our bodies, our psyches, our inability to reach career goals.  And by learning to face our demons and dragons, we gain the ability to help others reach theirs.  Loving ourselves is the beginning.
There are lessons that cannot be put into words.  But a teacher can create a context in which a student can learn for themselves.  One of my great joys with Nicki practising Yoga is that now I can teach her some of those ineffable truths.  Thank God.  I've fought so hard for these understandings--I love offering short cuts to my loved ones.  That is what all of these posts and exercises are about--short cuts.  You still have to do the work.  It is still gruelling.  But there actually are paths out of the woods.  This is one of them.

The 10% Disconnect

One of my favorite Lifewriting principles, which has the virtue of:
1) helping to explain a wide range of phenomena, both social and personal.
2) Demonizes no one group
3) points to a solution to apprently insoluable social and cultural problems.
Let me set this up, because it's complex.  Over the years, I've asked hundreds of people the following question: what percentage of the human race is just mean-spirited and nasty?   The average answer is about 10%.  The same estimation regarding unreasoning bigotry: I might personally put the number at 5%, but many others put it at 15 or 20%.  Adjust the number as you will: BUT ATTRIBUTE IT ACROSS THE BOARD, TO BOTH BLACK AND WHITE, MALE AND FEMALE, GAY AND STRAIGHT, LIBERAL AND CONSERVATIVE.  Find whatever number you can sit with, with my full understanding that you might want to attribute a little more to one group than another--especially if that other group isn't yours.  Good.  Now, whatever number you've come up with is, in my estimation, the "disconnect" between groups, the degree to which people in one group do not attribute full humanity to members of another.
10%.  What are the implications?  Well, you can evaluate many human characteristics on a Bell Curve.  That implies that if most of us are in the middle, at one end (low 10%) are absolute monsters and at the other (high 10%) are  saints.  O.K?  So most, perhaps all of us have small aversions to the "other" while ten percent of us are absolute Haters, and ten percent of us are Xenophiles.
What are the different social phenomena that this explains?  Well, we've been talking about some of them, but let's list 'em, and some others just for fun:
1) Lack of black or Asian SF writers.
2) Lack of black or Asian male sexuality in films.
3) the rather stunningly disproportunate number of Asian newswomen to Asian newsmen.
4) The problem (if one considers this a problem) of white police officers shooting unarmed minorities.  This SEEMS to happen far more often--even allowing for percentage representation--than white officers shooting unarmed white suspects, or minority officers shooting unarmed white suspects.
One might think that last is a contradiction.  Why wouldn't there be an identical percentage, if, as I suggest, the basic groups are equivilent? 
1) Because there are different penalties attached.  Society punishes non-whites who kill or attack whites more severely than whites who attack non-whites.  Any statistical analysis of arrests, convictions, and sentencing will reveal this.
2) There are orders of magnitude more programming Memes in our culture suggesting that whites are more beautiful, spiritual, intelligent, sexy--just plain better.  Programming works, people.  If it didn't , Advertising wouldn't be a multi-billion dollar industry.  Be honest: how many rednecks would have ever burned crosses if the Christ they knelt in prayer to had been black?  Generations of black Christians kneeling in prayer to Jesus has conditioned them on a core level to feel that whites are closer to God.  This this would have an inhibiting effect on the snap judgement made in a fraction of a second that leads to even the best cop making decisions based on threat estimate and social appropriateness of action?  It doesn't take a genius to add that one up.
So what is the answer?  Honest discourse, such as we've been having.  And raising your own consciousness, each and every one of you, so that you shift toward the more loving side of the curve.  Each and every individual human being that does this  changes the entire curve.  We make a difference, people.  REMEMBER:  this doesn't mean to stop being wary, or not to realize that there are broken, dangerous people out there, some of whom may be beyond the capacity for reason.  Just that the problem isn't "out there" somewhere.  It's in us.  Each and every one of us.  We each have our own "10% disconnect".  Find it and heal it, and the world becomes a better place for everyone.


Another letter

Regarding journaling:
2/11/05 It’s amazing what a little ‘core dump’ every night will do for the quality of one’s sleep! I have reread these past couple of days and what has become clear in such brief time is that I blame myself for so much. Not just acknowledging that , yeah, I made some choices that got me where I am, but BLAME!!! Like, You Stupid Idiot BLAME. It’s as if I’ve GOT to have some place to hang that anger. I can’t , in the long run, blame the other person. Their choices are their own. But MY poor choices…I don’t just own them, I erect a freaking shrine to them. Is this where the metaphysics I was taught from childhood has backfired? A lesson taken out of context and then applied to the exclusion of the rest of the philosophy? Yeah, it looks like that. The rest of the teaching is that there are no SINS, (I’ve replaced the word SIN with BLAME in my lexicon), only choices made and made again. If you miss the mark, then try again. It’s what I tell my children but I have not lived it fully. How can something that I have studied nearly all of my life not have been clear enough? I KNOW this stuff. It is not a new concept to me. There are certain fundamental Truths about how Life works and Laws that are a result of the Truth and I have not placed them at the core of my Being. About face kiddo! The Law is Love. There is nothing else. Out of Love springs all creation. I am Love and therefore Creative. My thoughts are creative and manifest in a measurable way in my life. So change the thoughts! Easier said than done. Act as IF and take one minute at a time. I feel lighter, more energized now than I have in weeks. How much is hormonal shift and how much is authentic awakening? Doesn’t matter. Just BE in the moment and be happy now for Now is all I have. The song says, Yesterday’s gone…and tomorrow hasn’t come. This, here in this moment is all I have.
Thank you Sensei!
You are so welcome. It will take about 10% of the time it took to screw yourself up to get back on the path. That means about 2 years of conscious effort. Not too bad, right? Don't you DARE give yourself crap for not being able to do it faster!

(Now I just need to teach her to breathe!)

Hitch: Black Eye for the White Guy

I remember watching an episode of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" some months back, and turning to Tananarive and saying: "Wow. What a brilliant move on the part of Gay activists. They are sending a meme out into the culture: if you will tolerate us and allow us to contribute, you will get laid more often." Damn, that was clever. Will Smith is a genius. I don't know what he saw in the original script for "Hitch", but during the development process--which I suspect was painfully arduous--he and his writers figured out what I predict will be the first major successful black romantic comedy.
We've been talking about the pitfalls of black sexuality in cinema, and Smith may have avoided every single one of them, in a way that will set a role model for films to come, and also create a building block that desensitizes the audience to some major hot buttons.
1) there is no actual sex in the movie. So it doesn't get as hot as, say, "Jerry McGuire." That is really unfortunate, but possibly an intermediary stage, preventing audiences from "disconnecting" emotionally, and doing the "er--it's only a movie--what can I criticize to explain why I dislike this? Ah! the stars have "no chemistry"" (That great, inarguable, utterly subjective excuse for not enjoying such things.)
2) "Hitch" the "love doctor" has a strong "B" story about his helping a guy get the girl of his dreams. She is rich, beautiful, blonde. The guy is white. There is no way in hell this movie would make half the money it is going to make had the "B" story been about another black guy.
3) the coming attraction featured a great gag where Smith is kissed on the lips. My standard comment about black men in film is that they are either too young, too old, too fat, too gay, or too dead to have sex. The kiss reduces his "perceived cock-block" level. Subliminally, he becomes more harmless. Hell, partner, John Wayne would never have been kissed on the lips! When I saw that ad, I was awe-struck with admiration. MAN, this guy is smart. Instead of subliminal tension at the possible expression of black sexuality, white males with "that" attitude got to look forward to a moment when a "black stud" gets humiliated. My sincere admiration.
4) there are other guys in the film presented as more "together" than Smith. They are white.
5) Eva Mendes, his love interest in the film, is neither white nor black, exactly. For some reason this is more acceptable than if she were either. A possible explanation: a white woman would be off ground for obvious reasons. Need I even go there? I thought not. But why not a black woman? A possible reason is sociobiological: a fear of being out-bred by the "other". So two black people would "breed true" to create another black person (the question of whether it is actually logical to consider Smith, or Halle Berry, "black" is for another time.). A black person plus a dark-skinned Hispanic produces something else, something not quite so threatening. Just a theory.
No, the movie isn't perfect. It goes on a bit too long. But ALL of the films it will be compared to will be films with white actors, and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM breaks the rules, and therefore, according to my theory, would have either died in development or died at the boxoffice had you simply transplanted black actors into them. Not one of them had to overcome what "Hitch" overcame. My guess is that "Hitch" will kill at the box office, and for good reason. Can't wait to see the returns.
Smith deserves his 20 million dollar status. First he chose to star in "Independence Day", which was arguably the first major science fiction film in history that actually took that bit about "If Aliens attacked, all earth would pull together" seriously--all the other films just showed white people pulling together. Almost every frame in that film was composed multi-culturally, and therefore it was, for all its flaws, a MAJOR piece of sociological science fiction, and subversive as hell. When Will Smith flies out of Earth's atmosphere and said "I've waited my whole life for this," tears were streaming down my face. I'd waited my whole life for a moment like that, as well.
And now "Hitch". A minor movie. A major milestone. Wow.


Friday, February 11, 2005

Hitch (2005)

This romantic comedy, starring Will Smith as the "Love Doctor" who helps lame dudes find true love, might, by the cynical, be re-titled "Black Eye for the White Guy." I couldn't blame 'em, but I thought is was great, even NOTconsidering the cultural hurdles we've been discussing on this blog--we'll go into aspects of what I can only call Smith's genius later (the script was in development for years at his company. While "Hitch" is probably five minutes too long, the work really shows!) I flat loved it, and give it a solid "B+" even before I cut it cultural slack. Eva Mendes is the dazzler who catches his eye, and she is wonderful.


The LAPD shooting of Devon Brown

I've been listening all week to screaming about the shooting of Devon Brown. Because I have been nauseated at the number of times I hear of white officers shooting unarmed black folks, I listen very very closely. This 13 year old boy was in a stolen car which led the police on a brief freeway chase. The driver fled, and apparently Brown backed the car toward the parked police car. The officer opened fire. These are pretty much the facts. What disturbs me is the fact that everyone reporting the facts embroiders one way or another. Everyone. they skip over vital information, they inferr without clarifying that they are playing with facts, they obscure, they sensationalize. THIS BOY IS DEAD. It appears to be part of a pattern of white officers (and for hte purposes of this, until proven otherwise, Officer Garcia is going to be considered white--until I see a picture that indicates he is more Asian or African in genetics) having a dangerously cavalier attitude toward unloading their sidearms on unarmed dark people. Not that I say "appeared." I don't know. What I DO know is that dark-skinned people can point to a multi-century pattern of abuse and murder that has rarely been acknowledged, and continues to dishearten them. Has it ended? Some say yes--but curiously, many of those who say "yes" imply that nothing much negative ever happened at all. I do know that when the Rodney King beating was caught on tape, every black person I knew held their breath. EVERY ONE OF THEM knew of other cases like this--that had not been so well documented, and therefore denied by whites. When it was caught on tape, we thought: "Wow! At last it can't be denied that something horrible happened." But it was denied. And the jury did bring in the non-guilty verdict. And all over L.A., black people felt that this was solid evidence that the deck was stacked, that their lives were not valued, and that only a fool would play a rigged game--so they kicked the table over. It was self-destructive, criminal, regrettable--and human as hell. BOTH sides indulge in denial. BOTH sides pretend that they hold the virtue. Cops are high-testosterone Alphas who stay in a hyper-excited state enough of the time to make them hair-trigger. Garcia's adrenaline must have been running sky-high after that chase. Is that an excuse? No. Did he do wrong? I don't know--but I can imagine myself behaving in a similar manner, and THAT is enough for me to say: hold on. Both sides. Let's see how it's handled. There is always time for hatred and violence. The boy is dead. Let's not honor him with more death. Every time a tragedy like this happens, there is a possibility for a bit of healing. Anyone who says "nothing has changed" (as I heard over and over on the radio) is ignorant of history--but I hear ignorance on BOTH sides of the issue.
We are building a better future. Don't politicize death. That is as evil as a deliberate murder. Let's hope Officer Garcia was a good man making the best decision he could. And if that's not true, let's hope he goes down in flames.

Better him than Los Angeles.

The Core of all things

Is the breath. Learn to breath properly, and your metabolism will normalize, your fears will release from your body, your endurance will skyrocket, your energy triple, your ability to remain in flow state go through the roof. There are so many more things that I can hardly believe it myself. There are many wonderful breathing techniques. Find a teacher, learn one (or several--experiment!) and practise them, briefly, five times a day. Or buy the FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE. It's not the only way--but it is excellent.

End of today's ad.

Letter from a student

Again, all names have been removed:
The pain of self exploration is immeasurable. Actually the anticipation of the pain is perhaps more painful. Who knows. I may move through this gracefully and look back wondering what the hell all of the fuss was about. First though…forgive…Damn it! Forgive. Forgive (EX-HUSBAND) for abandoning me when I most needed him to help me heal and grow. Forgive him for leaving me stranded with CHILD, a house and no income. Forgive myself for not seeing it coming. Not recognizing the signs of impending doom. Having not face that type of danger before, how could I have recognized the signs? Duh! I cannot be blamed for loving and trusting completely. I gave my heart and never looked back. Still, only I can take care of me, so I SHOULD have been more aware. Forgiving us both is hard.
I so needed him to help me understand why I could not lose the weight. I honestly think that the weight would have come, baby or not. Just slower perhaps. So what then? Truth be known, the weight was an excuse on his part to cut and run when he felt trapped. I cannot know this for a fact but subsequent behavior seems to indicate this. I am sorry that he was not happy. I am sad that I could not be for him, what he wanted but then again, would I have wanted to be any different than I was? No. So, ok, we both made mistakes. We both hurt. Forgive (CURRENT HUSBAND) for not being the husband that I expected him to be. Can I do that? After so many promises broken? So much hurt and so much anger!! Did we set out clear expectations in the beginning? Not when we first got together but later. We talked and talked and talked about expectations. Nothing appreciable happened. Still nothing appreciable happens. Can I forgive him for not being what I still need him to be? Ok. How about this? I can forgive HIM but I cannot forgive the behavior. Can I forgive myself for being so trusting, once again, and naïve. For wanting to believe that he really would change? It’s like an abusive man hitting the woman and they saying “I’m sorry!, I won’t do it EVER again” and she takes him back. After the first couple of times, who’s the fool? Her/Me. How can I forgive such stupidity??? What I see/feel, is a girl/woman who so wants to be loved and cared for that she is willing to compromise a lot to get it.

February 10, 2005

I will come back to the forgiveness issue again (and again), I’m sure. However, moving forward…. Today I want to talk about Love or lack thereof…Hmmm…..Steve’s advice to look in the mirror..seems on the surface to be so trite and almost silly. I mean, just the though of looking in the mirror and telling ME that I love ME makes me want to giggle. More out of embarrassment that anything else. What, really, is there to love in me? We love and cherish our children, just because they ARE children. All of that sweet innocence is just so easy to love. This love is so pure. So sweet, it makes me cry with joy. We tend to love and cherish others for what they give us in return, for how they SEEM to complete us OR some other imagined reason. This is some maladjusted love. Something masquerading as Love. As we mature we develop bumps and warts, both literally and figuratively. It becomes ever more difficult to see beyond the appearances to the innocent within. We create shields and masks to both guard the innocent and ward off the enemy. Eventually, we lose sight of the innocent as it is lost in the false reality we have created. So now, My fake self and your fake self try to connect. It’s amazing! And no wonder we have such difficulty making relationships, of any sort, work. All parties arrive under false pretenses, using pseudonyms. Where is the honesty of the soul in that? How can you love what you cannot touch or see or feel? When I look in my mirror I see an old and tired woman. Maybe not old in the way the world counts old but old from misuse. Tired and world weary. I am shocked to see her there. Not what I expect to see. In my dreams and my heart, I am young, wide eyed. Eager to take on whatever Life sends my way. This crone before me just cannot be me. I am not what I appear to be!!
Steve's comment:
It is by engaging in all three aspects of life that we learn compasion We look at others and say: "why can't they change?" Whe we have yet to solve our own conundrms. If we forgive and love ourselves, we can forgive and love others. If we learn the lessons, we don't need to hold onto the pain--we can love, and yet be safe. We can release the baggage that manefests in our bodies, our psyches, our inability to reach career goals. And by learning to face our demons and dragons, we gain the ability to help others reach theirs. Loving ourselves is the beginning.
There are lessons that cannot be put into words. But a teacher can create a context in which a student can learn for themselves. One of my great joys with Nicki practising Yoga is that now I can teach her some of those ineffable truths. Thank God. I've fought so hard for these understandings--I love offering short cuts to my loved ones. That is what all of these posts and exercises are about--short cuts. You still have to do the work. It is still gruelling. But there actually are paths out of the woods. This is one of them

Korea's Nukes

Well, we now know that Kim Jong Il has nuclear weapons. The right will say: "see, we told you this would happen. Axis of Evil." the left will say: "See, we told you this would happen if you took your eyes off the ball and attacked Iraq." I thought I'd weigh in. There are so many things here that I don't know, and I don't want to display ignorance. So I will take the balanced approach, and that is: "If I was Korea, would I want nuclear weapons?" Well, I think that the only reasonable answer is "yes." If Saddam had had Nukes, we all know America would have picked on someone else first, and used diplomatic pressure to get Saddam to disarm...and he would still be in power. American can no longer claim that we have never attacked anyone who did not attack us, or one of our allies. We lost that. BUSH LOST THAT FOR US. You might decide that what we got in return was worth it, but please don't lie to yourself about the trade-off, O.K?
And no weapons of Mass Destruction were found. Which means that if I was Korea, I would know that not having Nukes is no protection against being accused of having them, and being subsequently attacked. No, the only defense is to be up-front and say "Yep! I've got 'em!" In fact, if I DIDN'T have them, I might still lie and say I did. Mr. Bush did that, too.
The world has changed. I still pray that the overall strategy is going to weigh in as more positive than negative, that he and his NeoCons are implementing a genius-level coup agaisn the dictators of the world. It is possible that freedom will sprout like mushrooms after a summer rain-it really is. But folks, that had BETTER happen, because it is undeniable that America did something drastic here. Someting potentially as dangerous as any action any country has ever taken in the history of the world.
We'd better pray it works.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Loving Yourself

Just had lunch with an old and dear friend, and during it was reminded of one of the core principles of changework:
change must begin with love. Love of yourelf, love of the world. You cannot move forward in life while holding onto hurts, grief, anger--they weigh us down massively. The reason you hold onto them is that your subconscious believes that without the pain, you will make the same mistakes again. In other words, if you learn the lessons, you can release the pain. More on this later.
But for right now, if you are having trouble making change, ask a simple question: "Do I love myself?" If you have any hesitation answering that a resounding YES, then one of the best things you can do is spend ten minutes a day looking at yourself in the mirror saying, "I love myself. I like myself." Peer into the mirror until you can see the child you used to be, and talk to her. God knows, she needs to hear this. Say it a hundred times a day, until you GET it. Only if you genuinely love yourself, and forgive yourself for sins real or imagined, will you be willing to go through the fire. And believe me--genuine change work is a burning away of ego like you wouldn't believe. Love yourself. And let you know it.


Note from a new student

A lady I've known a long time recently asked to study with me. After our initial meeting:
Hey Steve, Thanks a million, once again. It was so good to see you after all of this time and to get some insight in to the why’s and wherefores of the changes in your life. I so appreciate you listening to me and my tales of woe. I KNOW I have some very hard work ahead of me and I find it all pretty daunting.
Beware, opening this Pandora’s Box as it may be difficult to close again. I spite of my tears, I don’t want pity. I need and want your guidance and your patience. Be my teacher. Scared….scared…..scared….keeps whirling through my mind. Geez, it’s almost paralyzing! Fear is such a strong motivator – in all directions.
I have denied my pain for such a very long time. I did not grow up ‘broken’. I don’t know how to admit that kind of pain. I AM the strong one. The one that others come to for help. How can I be the one that ‘needs’??? I am uncomfortable taking emotionally from others. There is a pride there. I have ALWAYS known what to do to heal myself. Until now. Until the last 13 years. Has it been that long? And even then, I thought I knew what to do. I was strong. I declared my independence. I prayed. I played. Somewhere, I lost ME. Did I get so caught up in ‘helping’ others that I forgot to tend to my Soul? Did I forget or was it just too hard and easier to look outward rather than in? Do any of these questions really matter? Today’s topic is forgiveness. The ever present demon. Like that damned birthday candle that won’t go out, no matter how hard you blow on it. Just when you think you’ve got it handled, it roars back to life, bigger than ever. Like a life devouring fire storm. The inability to forgive sucks the essence of joy from me and renders all attempts to create happiness futile. How to forgive? What to forgive? It isn’t about forgiving ‘them’, at least not yet. It is about forgiving ME for being in that time and place. For not seeing the duplicity, not seeing the error of being in relationship with them. For allowing it to happen in the first place. Where is that mirror when I need it most? What is it about forgiveness that doesn’t’ completely go away? I think that I’ve covered the ground thoroughly and dug everything up and turned it all over. Fine. Good. Yes, I feel better about things now. I can move on. THEN, seemingly from nowhere, that anger is there again. It screams in my ears, drowning out every other emotion. How could THEY do that to me? How could I let them?? Stupid, arrogant, fool. Please, please, please…I pray/cry. I don’t want to hurt anymore. Shut it down. Turn it off. Stuff if away in the corner. No one will notice it there, least of all me. At least for a while. Tonight I will meditate on this. I will talk to my Creator. I will reach an understanding and THIS time I will succeed. THIS is the first step.
Beautifully put, and a note that shows genuine insight into process. My reply:
Dear XX:
Anger is a mask over fear. Go deeply into your fear, deal with that, and you will be able to release the anger. At any rate, you don't need to be rid of fear in order to evolve--as long as you are very clear on what you love. Put your fear behind you, your love in front of you, and run like hell!Steve

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Barnes' Heuristic

You'll notice a bit of conversation about my contention that men and women are basically the same--or that the differences are "teeny."  Yep.  Now, obviously, one could fill shelves with the differences, or shelves with the similarities.  It's very much a "Is the glass half-empty" thing, where the answer says more about the answerer than the situation.  So let me address that directly, since one of the major purposes of this blog is to give people an honest view into what happens if you apply the theoretical model I'm proposing to life itself.
The human mind tends to work in two basic ways (viewed from one perspective): to seek similarities, and to seek differences.  In human interactions, seeking similarities always seems to me to unite, while seeking differences divides.  Also, the natural human tendency to try to hog all the good stuff, especially characteristics, for whatever "your" tribe happens to be (male, female, gay, straight, black, white, American, British, whatever) makes this particularly dangerous.  I've known too many people who were told in youth that their group was superior.  They might meet many people who apparently violated that rule, but under stress they revert right back to their childhood teaching. 
I see no weakness in offering others the exact same humanity that I claim for myself.  Master martial artists often feel enormous love for their opponents--it does not weaken their ability to kill in defense of their tribe.  And I see great disadvantages for dwelling on the differences--including underestimating people who are worthy of respect.  So I tend to start by assuming similarity, and then move outward from there to the differences, rather than the other way around.  This is just the way I think, and it works for me, and allows me a great deal of consistency as well as rapid and (my my estimation) accurate judgment of people and situations, even in contexts of violent stress.
So when I look at black and white, American and "foreign", gay and straight, males and females, I concentrate on the vast number of things they have in common.  Dealing with women as if they want the same basic things men want has worked rather well for me (he said modestly).  Some of the people who disagree with me on this--including some who have posted here, are among those I respect most in the world, so I don't think its the only way.  But it honestly works for me.