The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, September 11, 2006

Catching Up

1)     In training.  Pushing my fitness a bit in getting ready for the Path seminar in San Francisco.  I found my mind bouncing around a bit over the last weeks.  What kind of fitness did I want the most?  And to what life goals would I attach the most significance?  After all, fitness is extremely specific to activity.  Fitness for, say, Silat is different than fitness for karate.  Yoga isn’t the same as Clubbells, and Kettlebells aren’t the same as Hindu Push ups.  Some of these “map over” others quite nicely, but none are precise.  How about looking good physically, both for my own ego and for Tananarive? Or having the energy to write all day? Or…

Now, I was having these thoughts as I ran around with Jason in the park, and it suddenly hit me: my primary need for energy and fitness has to dovetail with my most important goals in life.  And the best fit is, simply, to keep up with my son.  To be able to run and wrestle and play with him is enough fitness for anyone. It requires a dynamite blend of aerobic and non-aerobic capacity, flexibility, and coordination…because, after all, it shouldn’t feel like “exercise” to play all-out with your kid.  It should just be joy.  And that means that my fitness needs to be ahead of my energy demands, and my body needs plenty of time for recovery. 

And ever since I came to that realization, my workouts have been just a little more tightly focused, and more fun.  Hey, I’m working out so I can play with Jason!  What a deal!

2)     There are too darned many projects on my table, but that’s inevitable at this moment.  Several are sure things: books, and a new article for NPR (more on that later).  Others are speculative: movies, television series ideas, short stories, new books.

How to keep all of these things balanced?  That’s the key.  I have to find my own mental and emotional center, and then create from that place. Whenever I look at my list of things to write, one part of me wants to panic.  Another part just has to behave like a chess master playing multiple games simultaneously. 

Now, there was recently some excellent research into this phenomenon, with an eye to replicating such superior performance in other fields.  What they found was that hard work, over time, was the most important single factor in their success. Obsession.  The emotional endurance to study early in the morning until late at night, to learn countless opening and closing positions and continually test theories in actual competition.

This kind of brutal work leads to a sublime sort of pattern recognition. The master looks at the board, and, without thinking ANY moves ahead at all, knows what his next move should be in order for the board to “feel” right.  Then he moves to the next board, and does the exact same thing.

The search for this proper “feeling” is an important kinesthetic aspect of mastery.

Looking at your stories in reference to the Hero’s Journey, and your characters in terms of the Chakras, is excellent: these two patterns will yield unbelievable gold in your search for story success. But when you relate them as well to your own life…well, you’re “faking” the kind of instinctive connection that great storytellers have made since the beginning of time…and are on your way to your goals!
3)  Saw “Crank” (2006).  Basically an update of “Speed’s” conceit.  In this case, a hit man has been injected with a drug that will kill him if his adrenaline level drops. He engages in all manner of silly tactics to keep it juiced up as he searches for the man who poisoned him.  Good, “B” movie fun, if you can ignore the fact that every bad guy in the movie is black, Asian, or Latino, and the “good guys”—our hero and his doctor friend, for instance, are both white.  A “B” for action fans.  Otherwise a "C-"
4)  Saw “Protector” starring Ong-Bak’s Tony Jaa.  An utterly remarkable athlete and martial artist (one gets the very real sense that this guy would kick your ass, no question about it).   The movie is alternately sophisticated and quite crude, touching and absurd as a country boy searches for his sacred elephant.  The Thai movie industry is searching for the formula that will give it mainstream success, and I don’t doubt they’ll find it.  Someone certainly needs to find Jaa a movie he can really shine in.  I understand why he is, so far, reluctant to come to Hollywood.  Why should he play a villain or Coolie so that Bruce Willis or somebody can look good whipping on him?  He wants to play heroes who are meaningful to his own cultural context, and that’s just fine.  Still, I can’t wait for his first actually good movie.  He moves like a combination of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan…and that is really the highest complement I can offer.  An “A” for martial arts fans, a “B” for action fans or Asian cinema buffs, and all others stay away.

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