The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

For some odd reason I have the urge to state publicly that I don't think there will be any huge reaction to Saddam's execution. Within 24 hours all of you guys might be laughing at me, but there it is, and I can't quite tell you the reason why...
Will Smith's "Pursuit of Happyness" is the story of a down-on-his- Will Smith's "Pursuit of Happyness" (yes, the misspelling is deliberate) is the story of a down-on-his-luck father, driven to homelessness, who has a desperate commitment to care for his son. I'm telling you that the emotional core of this movie is painfully strong to me. I really seem to have avoided talking about it--I saw it on opening day, weeks ago, and didn't get around to writing about it. It made me cry, and think, and commit myself even more strongly to caring for my family. A perfect holiday film, and a "B+." If only they had ever shown Smith and his wife (Thandie Newton) relating well, perhaps a flashback before the stress set in. Would one kiss have been too much?##
And speaking of that, "Dreamgirls," while a fabulous piece of movie making, is hurt by the same shyness about black relationships. The fictionalized story of the birth and death of the Supremes (Diana Ross was far more ruthless and ambitious than "Deena") is filled with music, glitter, and breakout performances (Eddie Murphy's career high, and a star-making turn for Jennifer Hudson, whose "I'm telling you I'm not going" is one of the great performances in all of musical film), as well as sly insider knowledge of Motown's politics, turned inside-out to avoid lawsuits. "Deena", for instance, objects to her husbands efforts to get her to play Cleopatra because the Egyptian queen would be 16 years old for most of the film. Hah! Diana Ross had Berry Gordy re-write "The Wiz" to allow a thirty-something woman to play a 15 year old girl. But Effie's relationship with their manager (Jamie Foxx) is never shown in any way, shape or form...not even a single kiss. Deena marries Foxx, and we see nothing of their courting or sparkin'. I've seen enough Broadway musicals to know that this is uncommon, and suspect that the filmmakers just didn't see the need. Sigh. The music is good, but like Motown B-sides you never heard, re-worked for Broadway. Kind of funny when they talk about "re-working" the music to make it whiter. It all sounded pretty white to me. A solid "B" but it could so easily have been so much better.
The last weeks have been stressful. My landlord is getting married, so we have to move out of our beautiful house. Damn. Ah well...but to look for that new house over the holidays...and then move in January during the same block of time I desperately need to work on a book due in March...arrgh. Well, this is one of those opportunities to find out how well my anti-stress techniques work, I can tell you! It will be lots of yoga, going to bed early, and getting all the hugs I can.
And to you, my friends and family and students and readers out there... I wish you the very merriest holidays, and a very very happy New Year! See you in 2007.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Christmas Wish

I received this lovely Christmas Greeting from Allen L Roland, Ph.D.
It's the best I've seen this year, and can think of nothing I'd more like to share with all of you.


To me, now more than ever, the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of a never ending love . Not the love we think of in desiring or possessing someone else but rather ~ the whole sublime aspect of conscious unconditional love which seeks only the perfection of its object and is, at the deepest level, the underlying and uniting force of the Universe.

The birth of Jesus is, in reality, the awareness of that love in human form ~ but all of us are capable of loving that deeply if we will but surrender to what is deepest within ourselves.

Jesus then becomes an evolutionary forerunner for a love and state of soul consciousness that is deepest within us all ~ and a love which we all unconsciously seek in our individual quests to find and celebrate our authentic selves.

The best analogy for this love is the SUN which shines on everyone, from the lowest to greatest, and without which we and the planet could not survive.

Now tie this in with the Winter Solstice and we can see how the Sun emerging from its yearly descent is comparable to an unconditional love that never ends.

Christmas is the time to honor those who have unconditionally loved us for that love still lives in our hearts.

For example, I have a permanent memory as a young child of my Grandfather playing Santa Claus one Christmas and watching with delighted joy as he slowly made his way up the snowy walkway to the front door. I could feel love leap from my heart to my grandfather and that love joined me to an unfathomable love deepest within myself.

My whole life has been a quest to feel that deeply again and share that place of delight and joy with my family, my friends, my clients and the world ~ for the true gift my grandfather gave me was the authentic, delightful and unconditional gift of himself.

I can feel and see now how my beloved granddaughter Sofia is loving me from the same deep place I loved my grandfather ~ and she will use that love, as I have, to grow and draw on as she fully experiences herself and life.

As such, Christmas is the celebration of a profound love that exists not only beyond time and space but also beneath our deepest fears, aloneness and despair.


Allen L Roland

Friday, December 22, 2006

A question...

Here’s a question for the basketball players out there.  If you had access to a great team captain known for creating fantastic on-court team performance, what questions would you ask him, if your intent was to transfer as much of this information and skill to your own team as possible?

Note that I am quite ignorant of basketball, having last played it in junior high, and never following college or professional ball.  So please assume my total ignorance in your replies.  Thanks much!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

My Obama NPR piece...

On Obama…Got lots of mail on my NPR Obama piece, some of it quite abusive in rather amusing ways. Most are polite, but interesting to analyze:

Here’s a typical one: “Obama is a typical liberal and we do not see that he brings anything new to the national discussion. We are highly pleased, however, to read that there is a recognition that anyone "can become anything" regardless of race. M. Jones”

May I comfortably assume that this person is a Conservative? Yes, I think so. If one looks at the way people have been responding to this man, it is because they consider him unusually forthright, upfront, and exceptionally intelligent. If that is the “typical liberal” the Left would be doing better than it is. Heck, that’s not the typical anything.

More interesting is the second sentence, the writer being please that “there is a recognition that anyone can become anything regardless of race.” Really? That certainly wasn’t in my piece. However, that attitude is necessary to function on the Right, I would think. If you didn’t think the playing field was roughly even (or as even as human beings can make it) the average moral, decent person would want to level that field—which would of course imply social engineering, which, in this context, is pretty much anathema to the Right. No, they have to believe that. They pretty desperately cling to any evidence that the legacy of slavery is irrelevant…just as hard-left types often cling to the idea that the legacy of slavery is impossible to overcome without assistance. My point of view on this, is that the average white person, born with black skin, would probably do about 10-20% worse in life than they currently are. That unless they want to tell me they've mastered their bodies, relationships AND careers simultaneously, they're kidding themselves that they would have avoided the rationalizations and self-pity so easy to fall into when you have real, genuine obstacles. Of course many black people have succeeded--more all the time. But (from my point of view) it eats up about 10-20% of your juice just overcoming the cultural obstacles.

Interesting.I got another piece of e-mail, particularly hateful, but the most polite comment was something to the effect of “when are [black people] going to stop talking about things that happened a hundred and fifty years ago? What does that have to do with today?”

Well, its Christmas season and all, and I don’t want to be a Scrooge, but when White people stop turning somersaults about events that happened two thousand years ago in the Middle East, Black people might be able to forget what happened just three or four generations ago. It is in the nature of people to look into their past for answers about their present. Everyone does it—whether individuals, or groups. Pretending otherwise is just dishonest.

Rocky Balboa (2006)

Everything old is new again…

This is turning into a really interesting movie season. First, James Bond came back to life in “Casino Royale,” and now, Sylvester Stallone dug down into some hitherto unsuspected inner vault, and discovered that an old and dear friend had been lurking there, waiting, for 25 years or so. An old boxer. Guy named Balboa.

Not sure who Stallone was playing in Rocky III, IV, and V. The movie “Rocky II” was decent, but too obviously an actor discovering that being a star is easier. As the films went on, he looked less and less like a lovable pug, and more like a movie star playing one, with bodybuilder physique and all.

Rocky III is a terrific movie, with great training montages, and a brutal adversary you love to hate. Stallone was sharp enough to understand the potential race-baiting aspect of casting Mr T (and having him proposition Rocky’s wife!) and so brought Apollo Creed back to train him…and not out of some urge to be a Spiritual Guide, but because he thought he could make a bundle. And wanted Rocky as a friend. But Rocky III wasn’t really a FILM in the way the original movie was.

The original Rocky wasn’t about a boxer. It was about a lonely man who needed life to give him a chance, which it did in the form of love, the shy, sweet Adrian, who became the center of his life. With Adrian at his side, life finally unfolded its sweetness to him. A man of limited intellect and vast heart, his struggle to stand tall and prove he wasn’t just “another bum from the block” resonated with audiences and critics alike.

We lost that Rocky as Stallone became a star. And then Stallone lost himself, consigned to direct-to-video oblivion after a string of terrible, terrible movie choices. I remember his last line in the movie “Driven,” a film in which they were so afraid of his sinking reputation that they barely put his face in the coming attractions. As the crowd applauds his protégée, Stallone says “enjoy it while it lasts, kid.” Man, I felt that.
For fifteen years, he’s felt that he let the audience down with the last two Rocky movies. And he’s desperately tried to find someone who would give him the chance to make good. And then, finally, it happened. The result, “Rocky Balboa,” picks up Rocky in his declining years (they never say, but I’m guessing that Rocky is about 53, based on comments made in the film. Stallone just turned 60, but if you think actors play their own age, you haven’t been paying attention.) His wife Adrian has died of “the woman cancer” and he just can’t move on, visiting her grave every day, running his restaurant—(beautifully titled “Adrian’s”) where he endlessly tells boxing tales to his customers. His brother in law Paulie is the same lovable nutball, and urges Rocky to live in the present. Rocky’s son avoids his father, slightly ashamed of, and intimidated by him.

Rocky is rotting inside, unable to find a reason to be, to live, to love anything but death.Then, one slow piece at a time, he comes back to life. Meeting a girl from the old neighborhood (the one who memorably said “screw you, Creepo!”) who is now a single mother on the edge of homelessness, and taking her and her son under his wing begins to melt the ice around his heart. A computer-animated boxing match between him and the current champion makes him curious to see if he can still box, still do this one thing he did well in his life, the one thing that defined him most fully. And when the Champ, desperate for a change in his public personae, offers Rocky an exhibition match (promising to go easy on him), Rocky sees a chance at salvation.

Not for an instant do they avoid the fact that Rocky is past his prime. Stallone doesn’t try to look like a body-builder. He looks like an older, competitive athlete, his bulky, awkward, chiseled body more a work of nature than art. Stallone has always been underrated as an actor, but he did it to himself, going for the glory roles rather than the kinds of performances that might have stretched him. Then again, with his speech impediment, he was never gonna do Shakespeare anyway, was he?

This movie isn’t perfect. There are awkward lulls, pacing problems, imperfect shots, moments of thin performance…but by the time the Rocky Theme plays, and he begins training for what Paulie—and the audience—desperately hopes are the last rounds of his life, my heart was completely with him. Rarely have I seen an actor/filmmaker put himself so nakedly on the screen, admitting to the world that he fell far, far short of his potential and in many ways abused the audience’s trust. Rarely have I seen someone who fell so low rise so high in a single step.

This is not a great movie, or a great film. But it is a perfect bookend to the original, it is entertaining as hell, and Stallone, in Rocky, created a great character who finally has the ending he always deserved.

This, in my opinion, is Art, the true expression of one man or woman at one moment in their lives, filtered through considerable craft. I am overjoyed to have seen it.Welcome back, Rock. And please, God, good night.

An “A.”

Tuesday, December 19, 2006



Just got this note from one of my students, a fine young writer named Peter Balaskas.  Lifewriting is working out fine for him.  He currently publishes a magazine called
Exmachina and is making explosive progress in his personal work:

“But the best news I wanted to share with you occurred two weeks later. During the 2005 Writer's Retreat, we workshopped a story of mine called "Wash Cycle"---it was about an Italian godfather blackmailing a Native American into taking him to a special fountain.  Well, that story is going to be published in Rogue Worlds--I entered a contest. 95 submissions and my story ranked 4th.

Actually, I submitted 3 stories. One didn't pass the first reading, but the second one ranked 17th and "Wash" ranked 4th. You were instrumental in making this happen---your suggestions (and those by my editor) expanded that 5 page story to 25 pages and made it a more complete piece.  And for that, thank you.

I wanted to ask for your permission to mention the Retreat in my author's bio. This is what the passage would say:

“Peter would like to thank Steven Barnes for helping him workshop this story at the 2005 Maui Writer’s Retreat.”

Well, of course you can, Peter.  And congratulations.  My workshops follow exactly the same principles as the LIFEWRITING YEAR LONG.  That is: choose a story pattern that you can also apply to your life.  Choose a model of characterization that you can use to understand yourself, your family, and your acquaintances.  Now look at the way plot and character interact to create a living, breathing fictional world.

When you use this pattern, you can begin with any aspect of story or character, and still get the entire 4-dimensional sphere of myth.  And whereas modern stories truncate, invert, distort and fractionalize this holistic model, human consciousness continually compares what we see on the page or stage or screen to what we have actually experienced.  To create a simulation of life, you MUST take into account that every adult has experienced certain “cycles of life” countless times, and has an instinctive sense of the compression and release of plotting.   Now, this certainly doesn’t mean you HAVE to use such a pattern.  But if you don’t, you have to be aware of how the reader/viewer will react if a given piece is missing.  This can be used to brilliant effect—if you really know your stuff.  It’s really painful watching an otherwise talented young writer who believes that there are no rules or principles they need follow.  And more painful to encounter them years later, and discover they have made no progress!

At any rate, great stuff, Peter.  Keep writing!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Adrian Component

Promoting his new film “Rocky Balboa,” Sylvester Stallone has been answering a series of questions over at

Someone asked him the following odd question, and got a fabulous answer:

Q:  What would the Rocky Balboa of this latest installment have told the Rocky who first cried out "ADRIEN!!!!!!!!!!" on the silver screen if he were to call back in time today?

A:  (Stallone) “Without a doubt, the first message would have been, `To thine own self be true.’ The only beat you ever really want to march to, is the beat of your own heart. As much as I am loathed to say it, you really have to be wary of the advice of people, even loved ones, because it can be tinged with jealousy. Believe it or not, I’ve often found that friends can evoke more jealousy about your successes than your most overt enemy. Quite often the best advice comes from what I would call, “The Adrian Component” - that one person in the background who has no agenda, who has no male competitiveness, who may have very little stature in other people’s eyes, but can see the playing field for what it is and be able to give you a true perspective and loving advice. Trust is the last of your belongings that should be given away haphazardly, because quite often the world’s biggest dilemma is that we trusted someone with our hearts, a person who was not worthy, and quite often the after-effects last a lifetime.”

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Seducing the Audience

Remember, stories are not reality.  They are a shared dream, a pretense, a shadow-play.  The reader or viewer makes a contract with the writer or filmmaker: I will suspend my disbelief, and you will entertain me.  Now understand, we’re not just talking about suspension of disbelief in the sense of “wow!  A 50-foot monkey!  How am I supposed to believe in that?”

It’s more basic than that.  In the case of a movie, you are asking people to sit in a darkened auditorium and pretend that light images projected against a piece of linen can actually frighten them, transport them, intoxicate them.  In the case of a stage play, you are asking people to believe that actors on a nearly-bare stage actually have four walls around them, or that three soldiers represent a multitude.  In the case of a book or story, you are asking people to translate bits of ink on paper into extreme emotional experience.

And you know something?  The audience wants to believe. The reader wants to be entertained. When they go to the theater, slip in that DVD or open that book, they are ready and willing to be seduced, to go into that mild form of insanity that is optimally receptive to story.  They want it.

All you have to do is seduce them.  My guess is that everyone who is reading this has seduced someone at some point in your life.  What did you do?  If you can translate this skill over into the arena of writing, you have a terrific advantage over someone who doesn’t see the parallels.

1) You catch their attention.  We can assume that the reader has picked up your book, the viewer seen the advertising for the movie. This is roughly equivalent to meeting a delicious lady or gentleman and catching their eye. 
2) You begin a conversation.  Make ‘em laugh.  Make ‘em think.  Create an emotional change of some kind.  You engage with them.  There are websites committed to the application of advanced psychological tricks to seduction.  Yeah, it works, but don’t ask me how I know.  Ahem.  In writing or onscreen, this means that you create a world they recognize, or a recognizable human being, or a set of actions that will trigger recognition and/or empathy in your audience.  They believe and understand what they are seeing, or are sufficiently engaged that a deliberate oddness catches their attention.  They say to themselves: “what is this? Who is this?  What will happen next?”  The best way to do this is to engage one of the three most basic motivations: survival, sex, or power.
3) You determine a potential partner's  needs, and suggest that you can satisfy them.  If your audience is interested in horror, you give them the sense of the uncanny.  If they like intellectual puzzles, you set it up with clever word-play.  If you are writing an adventure piece, you create a believable character, and begin to suggest something odd and potentially threatening in their world.
4) If possible, take your Potential Partner's balance a bit.  Take them to a new place.  Take them dancing.  Get ‘em drunk.  Make them laugh HARD.  Evoke strong emotions with music, food, travel, etc. The conscious mind shuts down a bit, and the older, more primitive neural circuitry is exposed.  You want access to that limbic system that wants to touch, not the programmed mind that is filled with reasons not-to.  In storytelling, you want to evoke strong, primal emotions: fear, lust, anger, pain, anxiety, uncertainty, etc. 
5) Convince the PP that you are on the same page.  Achieve rapport.  Now, all of the above steps are perfectly ethical—if you are sincere.  All of them can also be misused for sexual exploitation.  You can exploit readers as well, seducing them into dropping their guard, and then twisting their emotions or taking them sideways into an unexpected and unpleasant experience.
6)  Break the wall.  At some point, touching must begin.  In a story, you have achieved rapport, convinced the reader you have created a real world, and then knock 'em sideways a bit.
7) Increase the pace of engagement.  Events begin to accelerate once you have achieved rapport.  In physical seduction this is a phase of kissing and hugging, etc.  In a story, you are hitting the characters with broader and/or deeper waves of experience and opportunity.
8) Shift rhythms.  You want to change the rhythm of engagement as much as possible without breaking rapport.  Teasing and taunting a bit, playing games, doing the unexpected.  This continues to take your PP  off-balance.  Done properly and in a giving spirit, you are giving your reader what they want…but not the way they expected it.  They will be delighted with the creativity and sensitivity necessary to pull this off.
9) Keep your word.  A story, movie or seduction is a contract. You have expressed to your target, audience, or partner that you are a particular type of writer/person.  That you can be relied upon for a particular type of experience, and have a particular intent.  If you keep your promise, the reader/seductee  can be an educated consumer, deciding if this is the experience they want.  If you provide what you imply, they will be satisfied with the experience, and come back for more.
10) Be yourself.  And this is so incredibly key. You can be clever enough to write something popular, or clever enough to use “lines” and, basically, fraud to get a man or woman into bed.  But the relationship thus gained ain’t worth it, and cannot be sustained.  Be yourself.  Tell your story.  Communicate who you really are.  Write to an audience like you, and set your seductive focus on a person who is your equal.  Don’t play games with this.  What we want here is enlightened selfishness: I want to do business with you again.  I want you to read my next book, I want you to answer my next phone call.

I’m  kidding just a bit here, but you know?  You may have a very different approach to writing, or to romancing a sexual partner.  Great.  All I’m really suggesting is that you experiment with making the two activities more alike.  You may enjoy the result.

One last thing.

And by the way--

One Right-Left divide I never expected was along the issue of Global Warming. I know people on both sides who believe it is a real issue, but almost EVERYONE I know, or have heard of, who is strongly AGAINST the idea of anthropogenic climatic change is on the Right. I don't understant this. I really don't. Is there anyone out there who considers themselves Left of center who believes Global Warming is a fraud? Please sign in and give your thoughts. I frankly would have expected the pros and cons on this one to be distributed equally across the political landscape. How it became a political rather than an intellectual issue confuses and frightens me a bit. The scientists I know who have done original research on the subject are pretty unified in their belief that the situation is far more serious than the Right generally states--even if they themselves lean Right. I just don't get this, and the consequences down the line could be devastating. The only answer I can see is that industry has invested gigantic amounts of money confusing the issue. Are they capable of this? Ask the tobacco industry, which, in my mind, willingly slaughtered millions purely for profit, hiding the data that they knew would one day come to light. They knew it. They did it just for money--which is why tobacco executives are, in my mind, lower than crack dealers, and the only people on this planet I can't help hating. But could this be happening with an issue that could determine the survival of our planet? I fear the answer could well be "yes."


Thank you for the suggestions about Jason--they are currently being implemented...
My thoughts about "we all have racist tendencies" is pretty close to what I think. A better way to put it is that "the average person has strong tribal tendencies" and that the easiest way to distinguish tribe is visual. The intensity of this will be distributed on a Bell Curve. Identification with skills or attributes can override this. For instance, white kids love Michael Jordan. But by my theory, a white player with the same skills would have been even MORE popular with this group--his extradordinary physical skills and likeability overcame that "10% disconnect" I've talked about so often.
We have a tendency also to be unconscious about our perceptual flaws. I've said this before: in order to see through the Matrix, you need to have had some aspect of your existence already in conflict with it. My comments about race are almost always better understood by someone who is gay, older, obese, poor, extremely short, disfigured, of a minority religion, female, etc. If you are white, male, straight, Christian, tall, middle-class, etc., the "Matrix" was made almost precisely for you, and you can devote your attention to achievement within in, never realizing the deck has been stacked. I remember my astonishment, and dark amusement (tinged with genuine empathy) when a white guy came up to me at a convention in Texas, and began babbling about how "a White Man doesn' t have a chance in America." I'm sure he was very serious. I can barely comprehend the level of entitlement one would have to feel and look out at America and feel that non-whites have greater opportunity. All I can figure is that he feels that we shouldn't have ANYTHING, and that ANYTHING we have was taken from worthy white guys. Bizarre--but it makes perfect sense. Children feel that MINE MINE MINE thing intheir heads like crazy, and have to be socialized out of it. If they aren't,'s not pretty.
I have to admit that it's fun watching people talk about where the "center" of America is. To me, this says more about them than the center, since there is no objective definition of same to my notice. What we have is a cluster of perspectives that crowd under two basic tents. Some share many of them. Some share none. Really, really, roughly, it looks to me like the following polarities exist, creating a 4-dimensional grid that gets squeezed down to 2 dimensions for the purpose of easy discussion.
1) There's a Far Right that thinks Business can be trusted more than Government, and a Left that thinks Government can be trusted more than business.
2) There's a religious Far Right that thinks the Bible, specifically Christianity, should control our lives and policy, and a Far Left anti-religious sector that thinks it should be driven from public life.
3) There's a Right that believes America is the only determinant of right and wrong, and a Left that thinks America is horrific.
4)There's a Right that believes there was some golden era, usually in the past, where everything was good in America. A Left that thinks that America is built on blood and lies alone.

There are more, of course. Reasonable people are some distribution of Right to Left in each of these, and other, categories, creating the aforementioned 4-dimensional grid.
Right now, as I've said, I think the Right has had far too much power, and plays to the bigotry within their tent in some ways that most will be ashamed of in a generation. The demonization of Gays makes me absolutely sick, and reminds me very much of the race-baiting the Right engaged in a generation ago...and often seems to be lurking just below the surface now. But the real question is whither now? The Democrats, being more to the Left, cannot help but want to share power and gain consensus--to do otherwise would betray their principles. Just as those who truely believe in the more hierarchical view would HAVE to grip at that power like drowning sailers. Each side must behave in these ways to be true to themselves--it ain't gonna change, unless they drift toward each other. Which will probably happen. But remember that there will always be forces that "sound reasonable" but are actually venomous, and encourage us to hatred.
I also have to admit that the current behavior of the guy in the White House reminds me of a compulsive gambler who has already lost the mortgage and is now ready to bet the kid's college funds. Even the new term "double down" for the favored Iraq policy, reinforces this. I have a sense that those who supported Iraq are absolutely stunned, disbelieving, somewhat in shock that they could have been so wrong. One more hand. One more pull at the slot machine, God, please. It will all turn out right. We'll wake up, and history will vendicate us...

Or would the abused wife returning to the dominating husband be a better example? Not sure.

This is why I think the only answers worth a damn will come out of a completely new group. So far, everything we've done in Iraq, by my vote, has made us less safe. I'm not willing to just accept that our leaving will create some horrific terrorist-filled void just because the same people who wanted us to go in say so. It might be true, but those guys have been wrong about so much, for so long, that I just don't buy it. When people who were AGAINST the war say we have to stay (and there are a few of those) I listen much, much more closely. I could be wrong in my approach, but over the course of my life, I've just found that people's brains get stuck in a particular position under pressure, and until that pressure is released, they babble. And what they say makes perfect sense to them, but sometimes if you haul them out of the casino and sober them up, they'll realize they were out of their freaking minds.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Jason Waking Up at night...

A question for the mommies and daddies out there...

Jason (3 years old) has started waking up at 2-3 in the morning, rocking and in general in a good mood, or calling out for our attention. This has happened some times after we take him across time zones. We did this twice in November, and while I don't know for certain that this contributes to the current explosion of nocturnal activity, I have to wonder. It's devastating to our sleep patterns right now, and I was wondering if any of you have suggestions for helping a child sleep through the night, or any helpful observations or questions?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Thank You, Mr. Mohammad

In wondering about our motivations for entering Iraq (and the apparent lack of foreplanning about EVER withdrawing) it would be foolish to think that those who stand to gain billions from the flow of oil have the same motivations as those who wish to fight to protect their country. Or that those who seek and hold power have the same motivations as those who merely watch that flow of power from a distance. Or that those who have read and fully digested intelligence reports see the same world as those who read the edited, Reader’s Digest versions of same. We can assume that a full spectrum of human honor and perfidy that can be found at every level of society, and are quite right to keep our guards up.
I recently came across a reference to an earlier Democracy’s expeditionary wars, specifically during the Peloponnesian. Athens was threatening to reduce the island state of Melos to rubble if they did not yield, and the question of motivations arose. The Athenians offered the following comments:“For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretenses, either of how we have a right to our empire, or are now attacking you because of a wrong that you have done us. Since you know as well—you certainly know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only a question between those equal in power, while the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.”

This is, and has always been, one of the realities of organisms on this planet. To forget this would be foolish. And to think that those at the top would necessarily discuss their true motivations for actions with an electorate is even more foolish. And when a government shifts its stated motivations several times, the most sensible thing to do, in my mind, is assume that they are not telling us the truth at all, and to feel free to ask oneself what cluster of motivations lying power-seekers might have gathered together to create a coalition capable of action. What combination of fears and greed and hate and love binds together into the kind of actions we have seen? There will be no simple answer. But I can promise you that not all of the truth will be pretty.
I am enjoying the recent bipartisan actions in Washington. Here’s my opinion: anyone who thinks more than 75% of the truth, or the honorable, or the correct is found in either wing of the political spectrum is blind, and their opinion should simply be discounted. Pay attention most to those who seem to hold about a 60-40 split in where they think the Right or the Left is accurate, honest, and true. A bird needs both wings to fly. If either is significantly stronger, that bird will fly in circles, or spiral into the ground. For the last six years, the Right has had its way, and the ghastly results we have seen are a result of this, and NOT, in my mind, some flaw in Right-wing thinking. If the Left had had the same sway, they would have made equivalently disastrous, if different, decision. I pray that the Democrats will be wise enough to share power, and not squat atop it like toads. If they do, they are exactly equivalent to the rascals we are currently throwing out.
Over the weekend, I attended the Whipping Willlow martial arts event, where my old Kenpo instructor Steve Mohammad was honored for lifetime achievement. In his 60’s now, he was so overcome with emotion he could barely speak in a whisper. I cannot begin to tell you what this man, and the road he opened for me, has meant in my life. In combination, the martial arts and the craft of writing extended a narrow bridge above the hell of my emotions, my fear, my resentment. I am quite certain I would be in jail, or dead, or broken by now, and this is no exaggeration: virtually every single male I grew up around is now dead. I’m not even totally certain why I survived. I know that I will love Mr. Mohammad, and honor him, all my life for what he gave me, and so many others.
Please remember the most important aspect of what I’m doing on this blog: exploring the question of balance. That is really all I’m doing. The idea doubtless has many flaws, and its application is difficult. But if a human being is anorexic or obese, think twice before you assume their reality map is more accurate than yours. If they cannot negotiate the territory of the human heart sufficiently to find a healthy human relationship, give their opinions a grain of salt. And if they cannot maintain financial solvency, reserve your right to question their opinions. And if they have two out of three of these problems, a little light should go on in your mind. Regard what they say with interest, respect, and always wonder why if they are so smart, they can’t handle these basic human issues. And if they are “blown out” in all three…be wary.Just as ANYONE whose opinions seem to come from only one, or primarily one side of the spectrum. I personally come from the position that human beings are roughly equivalent in their “hardware” although their software varies greatly. When I see people who are angry, violent, or dysfunctional, I ask myself what might have happened along the way that created such problems.Yes, there have been massacres and pogroms in the NAME of such egalitarian ideals…but not ever in their spirit. In the name of enforced equality, millions have been stripped of their rights, re-programmed, or slaughtered. But in my mind this was never actual egalitarianism. This was despotism hiding behind the mask of fraternity.

Still, I think even more egregious wrongs have been done by those who believe that human beings are strictly hierarchical. These almost always assume that they, personally, are part of the group that is “better,” and therefore obligated to make decisions for their more unfortunate brethren. Can you see how these two positions, egalitarianism and hierarchialism, ultimately lead to the same thing if they have no heart? If you cannot look into another and see the same humanity that you see in your own children? That road, Left or Right, is the path to hell. There are those who read this blog and speak of a middle way. Those are the ones closest to my own heart. I may be wrong to look at the world and ask how a reasonable, rational, good-hearted human being can do X or Y terrible thing, and how we might alleviate their fear to facilitate communication. But I believe that, over the course of my life, I have had to make far fewer adjustments in my attitude to fit new data than those who held the view that This or That group is inferior on the basis of religion, race, nationality, or politics. I’ll take my position. I can apply it to myself, my children, my friends, my enemies. I’ve used it to defuse violence, negotiate contracts, win lovers, and heal rifts, as well as to forgive myself for being the bonehead I often seem to be.I can live with that. As we enter what I pray will be a period of national healing, let’s demand that our leaders embrace balance rather than exclusion. Exclusion is what we’ve had for the last six years, during which America has experienced so many terrible jolts that I barely recognize the country I love. Let’s move beyond the polarizing fear, shall we? Let’s embrace a future more magnificent than our past. But it starts with each and every one of us being strong enough to love. That is what Steve Mohammad taught me. The finest, most lethal karate man I have ever known, he taught me that on the other side of true strength is gentleness. And wherever you see bluster, or dogmatism, or hatred, or prejudice, or rage…what you are really seeing is weakness, and fear.

Thank you, Steve.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Barack Obama And Cultural Software

The following essay was broadcast on NPR today:

In the October 23rd edition of  Time magazine,  the furor around first-time senator Barack Obama is compared to that surrounding Colin Powell in 1995. 

I wondered: Is there some   reason why   Powell and Obama, arguably the most respected black men in America, trigger such reactions in  audiences of all races, and even across ideological lines?

One fact jumps out:  Powell’s father was a Jamaican immigrant, Obama’s a Kenyan student.  Neither, in other words, were the products of American slavery.

  I’ve always felt that black Americans, while materially wealthy in comparison to   African or   Caribbean blacks, are in certain other senses impoverished.   We lack our original names,    and have no sense of our tribes, cultures, languages or mythologies in a way possible for  any white or Asian child of immigrants.

Obama’s father could trace his family back a thousand years, to a time before colonialization.  With such a lineage, one can dream of freedom, power and opportunity.  Standing on his father’s shoulders, Obama can see all the way to the White House.

He was born in Hawaii.   His parents divorced when he was two, and four years later his mother  moved the family to Jakarta for four years before returning to Honolulu.  In other words, he was surrounded by a truly  multicultural society, and came to understand this as a natural, healthy thing.

With a certain amount of grief, I compare this to my own childhood, growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in Los Angeles:  every President looked like the men who once owned my family.  As well as almost everyone I saw on television or in film.   The faces on every piece of money I ever had in my pocket.     Every governor of every state.   When I opened the dictionary, one of the synonyms for “dark” or “black” was “evil.”

It hurt.  It still hurts.

It is my belief that the major difference between blacks and whites in America is their software rather than their hardware.

Obama grew up running the kind of “software” that says: “I can be anything,” and that core self-confidence and self-love reflects back   to the outside world. It allows him to touch hands and lock eyes, and honestly say: “we are marching together toward a common destiny” rather than “you hurt me.” It allows others to look at him asking: “what can we create together?”, rather than   “do you hate me? Do you blame me?”

It is exactly the gift I pray to give my own son.

Race may be the greatest open wound in the American character.  I believe that good people of all colors hunger to find a bridge   between black and white, left and right, America’s unfortunate past and her potentially glorious future.  In some very significant ways, Obama is America’s first 21st Century politician.

Of course,  potential and actuality are two very different things.  Obama is   new to the political scene, and   yet to make the kinds of public errors  that rub the luster from a popular hero.  Only time will tell.  But for this moment in history,  at this time of national division, to many people he represents   healing.  And perhaps even more: he represents the American Dream itself.

Apocalypto (2006)

Visually unlike anything I have ever seen before (partially due to the incredible clarity of the hi-def video system on which it was shot) Apocalypto cements Mel Gibson’s reputation as a filmmaker of singular vision.  And singular VIOLENT vision—make no mistake, this is rough going for the squeamish.  Set during the last days of the Mayan empire, Apocalypto tells the tale of “Jaguar Paw” a hunter living an idyllic if tough life in the rainforests of Central America. His village is raided by soldiers seeking human sacrifices.  While some of his brethren face their horrific fate with a grim acceptance (“Journey Well” is their way of saying good-bye to a dying man) Jaguar has a pregnant wife, and a son, and refuses to die so easily.  And that begins the most familiar part of this—an extended, exciting chase.  Filled with sights and sounds and ideas foreign to most American filmgoers, well acted (all of the dialogue is in Mayan) and terrifically directed, this is pure cinema in its rawest form, and a don’t-miss film for action hounds.
Then, of course, there is the issue of Mel’s rant.  How could I go see his movie after something like that?  Simple.  I watched the news and tabloids carefully for the last month, looking for any hint that someone came forward saying that they had experienced racism or bigotry at Gibson’s hands.  People get big money, exposure, and personal vindication from such accusations, even if untrue.  And I saw nothing. Not a single person among the thousands he has worked with and lived with over the decades came forward. Not even anonymously. 

My philosophy here is simple: I don’t think someone is good because they say nice things.  I don’t think they are bad because they say ugly things.  The “good” and “bad” labels belong primarily to those who DO good or bad things (Rush Limbaugh finally got on my bad side due to statements, but then he has been out of balance in 2/3 of his life—his body and his relationships [divorced three times] so he was skating on thin ice anyway).  I put down his rant to an urge to hurt people hassling him, much the same with Michael Richards’ “N-word” cascade.  Now, if someone comes forward and offers an anecdote about Gibson or Richards, I may change my mind, but right now, I just have to say I know few people who haven’t said embarrassing things.  I know I have, and I’m not throwing stones while living in a glass house.  Gibson, in my mind, deserves to be judged by his actions.  “Apocalypto” is a hell of an action—the Hispanic and Native American communities seem to be largely enthusiastic, feeling that he has given voice and vision to an aspect of their culture that has never been treated in depth.  They are proud.  And so am I. 

A “B+”—a bit of that violence felt superfluous.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Operative definition of a monster

After years of listening to the man, and being uncertain what to think, I now will officially state that I consider Rush Limbaugh to be a monster.  Listening to him during my drive time last week, I heard him say something to the effect that America will suffer until it adapts some version of the “Limbaugh Doctrine” in Iraq.  It is a version of what was once called “cut and run.”  That isn’t the part that disturbs me.  What bothered me was the way he described it:  “pull out and let them murder each other.”

Let me make it clear: there are few good options for Iraq at this point, although undoubtedly, not all of those options have been thought of or placed “on the table.”
They say the three basic ones are “go big” “go long” and “go home.”  Limbaugh merely proposed the third.  It’s not what he said, it was HOW he said it.  I merely give my own definition, the line that someone would have to cross for me to consider the comment monstrous.  In Limbaugh’s case, that’s a “straw that broke the camel’s back” situation—he has simply said too many things over too many years.  I no longer believe him to be an honorable man with a political point of view different from mine. I think he believes that “those people” do not possess his level of humanity.  From that perspective, anything he said about “bringing them democracy” is crap.  I can’t pretend to read his mind well enough to know what all his intentions are, but I no longer believe them to be on any path I would consider fully human, sane, and spiritual.  I just don’t.

He’s a monster.

Here’s the problem.  For someone who jumped up and down, supporting the war over the airwaves and lending his considerable influence to swaying votes for the last three terrible years, these comments are, to ME, intolerable.  If someone supported the war, and now says:  “with regret, man, I see nothing else we can do.  This is horrible.  We did a terrible thing with the best of intentions…let’s pray for the best.”  Is one thing.  I could respect that.

If someone who was AGAINST the war said what Rush said, I would consider them to be cold-hearted and  not someone I’d choose as a friend—although it would be understandable.

But for someone who pimped for this ghastly mess to say that, to me, is a revelation of his core character.  I believe him to be a sociopath, with no real empathy for the women and children who have died because WE  DIDN’T  STOP  OUR  LEADERS  FROM  MAKING THIS TERRIBLE  MISTAKE.    Hell, Cheney’s last comment was that, even knowing what he knows now, he’d STILL go in there.  I guess his buddies are making billions hands over fist.  Yeah, I’m just that cynical about that man.  Heart trouble?  He has no damn heart.

I am so ashamed of what we did.  I pray that each and every one of you who supported the war can say, in your heart of hearts, that you really, truly thought it would be good for the Iraqi people, or at the least that you really, truly believed that they had WMDs and were prepared to use them against America, and were harboring terrorists.

Because people, if you didn’t believe that?  If there is a hell, you are going there.  And you’ll burn right next to that Hillbilly Heroin addicted   Golem of the Airwaves.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More First Chakra Stuff

Waking up at 6:30 to get a little writing done before Jason wakes up—sheesh.  I remember sleeping until my body was really ready to roll.  That was a luxury I didn’t really appreciate at the time…
I’d like to get up and then exercise immediately, but it takes a few minutes for my mind and body to recognize one another again, and I kinda like to make some use of that time.  You’ll notice some spelling errors from time to time in these posts—too groggy to run the spell check!  Still, my filters aren’t fully up, so occasionally I’ll say something that surprises me, and that’s worthwhile right there.
We talked about survival, the 1st Chakra stuff, and how it can trip you up.  The need to be part of a herd, and how vital that is.  Note all of the Polish, Italian, and Jewish actors and singers who changed their names to “blend in” with the Anglo-Saxon majority.  The stories of Jews and Aramaics who had their noses bobbed to look more “mainstream.”  The fact that virtually every black woman in the media (television, film, music) or public life (politics) straightens her hair.  Blending in.  Pretending you’re not different.  Believe me, if someone came up with a “wonder pill” that would turn black people white, even to this day, they’d be a billionaire in a month.

I remember the devastating day that my mother told me (I was probably about 10): “Steve, if you let white people know how smart you are, they will kill you.”

What the @#$!!?  Can you even imagine how damaging something like that is, said by someone you utterly trust and love?  She’d grown up in the South, in a time of lynchings and beatings, and had had real, deep fear anchored into her body and psyche.  She was VERY light skinned, and could have “passed.”  I’m sure that at times she regretted not having done so.  She married my father, a fairly dark-skinned man, when he was a rising singer (he did backup for Nat “King” Cole).  When his career stalled, it killed their marriage, I’m pretty sure—which led to her later trying to dissuade me from attempting a career in writing.

I don’t know.  I can’t say.  But I often wonder what the effects of those terrible words were on me.  Could they have influenced my performance at school?  My damaging ambivalence toward education?  My ability to put everything of myself into my work?  The pattern I developed of world-class performance on my FIRST attempt at something (first book, first television episode for a given show, etc) followed by a relatively mediocre effort, and a struggle to regain the quality of that initial go?  I don’t know.  I hate to blame anything outside myself for anything.  But we are so vulnerable when we are young. We so desperately need the guidance of those who love and parent us.

And with my father gone, that “male” parent was television, and books, and the American culture as a whole—which wasn’t exactly supportive. 
The bedrock of who and what we are is the sense of being connected directly, biologically, physically, to the foundations of the Universe.  All religions seek to give their adherents such a grounding, and this is no accident.  Unless at the core of you you know that you are precious, and irreplaceable, that you are valuable in the eyes of God, your strength is based on your ego.  And ego cracks under pressure.

I kinda suspect that this is a reason why torture doesn’t work as well as logic suggests it should.  We use torture primarily on people who have committed to being soldiers, or warriors—who believe themselves willing to die to perform their duty.  When captured, and tortured, the fear and shock take them beyond ego.  If they are cowards, they would talk without torture.  But if they aren’t, then they have grounded themselves in a deep and spiritual aspect of themselves.  Torture, in other words, the destruction of their bodies, takes them out of their egos and into their true, deep selves. This is the part of us that lies within every human, that is capable of accepting death with dignity.  It is more real than anything we ordinarily think of as “self.”  Torture, in other words, gives them strength.  The pain and fear of death takes them to a place where “reality”, the “ordinary world” is exposed as the illusion the sages have always said.  In a way it is difficult to explain, it provides them with a glimpse of heaven.  You could twist my arm and get the truth about a surprise birthday party.  But you could pull my eyeballs out, and I wouldn’t shoot my daughter.  Can you see the difference?
It is this place, beyond ordinary strength, beyond ego, beyond race or religion or nationality, that we must go to find the bedrock of our being.  From this deeper place, we touch the ineffable core hinted at by masters throughout the ages.  The “Lifewriting” approach and the “Path” workshop are partially based on the idea that striving toward goals in all three arenas simultaneously gives a glimpse of this place. 
Barack Obama, in my view, has a strength in this regard denied to those whose ancestors were slaves—his ancestors can trace themselves directly back to the dawn of time, to the creation of the world itself, in a way impossible for those who carry the names of their former masters.  Those with that handicap can still find that place, but they must work harder, must be more extraordinary.  They are standing in a hole, rather than on the shoulders of the kings, queens, and warriors who came before them.
But what must you do, what must I do to stand tall, so that my own children can stand on my shoulders?

FIRST, I must be there.  This is why I have such contempt for absent fathers, or mothers who CHOOSE to become pregnant without the health to sustain a relationship. 

SECOND  I must realize that at this deep, core level, there is no race, no gender.  Even the distinctions of alive/not-alive, existing/non-existing are illusions to surpass.  You must move beyond love and hate, hope and fear.  You cannot reach this place while carrying resentments and anger.  A slight contradiction here: although you must move beyond anything that has an antonym,  the emotion of love can carry you far enough to see the “horizon” of this space.  Love is the  doorway, if not the goal.

THIRD I must realize that the work is never-ending.  Any day that I eat and breathe, I must engage with the process.

FOURTH I must realize that all, and I mean ALL, conscious beings are my brothers and sisters on this process.  And that consciousness is a matter both of degree and kind.  In other words, it is not for me to judge.  It is for me to see the Light in all creatures, all people.  The anger and pain I carry within me separates me from Being.  I must find a way to vent it,  drain it, neutralize it, cry about it, scream and complain and pound my fist against the ground…but understand that that is all the Child within me who wanted so desperately for someone to hold me and say that I am a good and beautiful thing.  The search for a Parent outside myself is over, and has been for longer than I have been awakening.  God the Father, the Universal Mind, the Deep Self—whatever I call it, my only hope of Salvation, whether viewed spiritually or psychologically, is to accept who and what it is I am utterly, and give myself over to the process.
That first Chakra stuff is a bitch-kitty.  We struggle so hard to live that we kill our lives.  Instead, kill the ego.  Admit that you have dreams and hopes that are beyond our reach, ever, always, beyond our reach.  Walk that odd balance between accepting worldly responsibility and abandoning hope.  Tell the Universe that you accept the price for true awareness. That price is always the same: one death.  Yours.
Fear has colored so much of my life.  Fear of not being enough.  Being too small or weak.  Of not blending in.  Of being horribly outnumbered.  All of these relate to survival.  Appropriate fears for a child.  But now I am a father once again, with another chance to grab my psyche by the horns—or wings—and shake it until there is nothing left but truth.

And if I can do that, then my Son, and my Daughter, and every soul I touch will benefit from my struggle. And regardless of the cost, that would be a thing worth the accomplishment.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

I’m going to do something a little different this time.  I’m going to start with a review, and end with a LIFEWRITING-style analysis.  There will be a general spoiler warning.

Stranger Than Fiction tells the story of an IRS agent (Will Ferrell) who finds himself a character in a tragic novel written by a depressive writer (Emma Thompson).  Long the victim of writer’s block Thompson is rising back to her heights, creating her very best work, which is both predictive of and influenced by Ferrell’s actions.  He can hear her narration in his head!  Worst of all, he knows that the book she is writing ends in his death.  While it sounds like a Charlie Kaufmann-esque conceit  (or even Harlan Ellison), it is an incredibly warm piece, and ultimately quite wise.  There is a touching, tentative romance with Maggie Gyllenhaal that slowly begins to open the buttoned-down Ferrell to the possibilities of life, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say my eyes misted up by the end.  Excellent work all around, even if Queen Latifah (playing Emma Thompson’s assistant) is wasted, and the fimmakers seem to have a fetish for overweight black women.  A B+.

This film can be viewed as either Ferrell’s story, OR Thompson’s story, but Ferrell’s “Harold Crick” character is front and center, so let’s go that way.
HERO CONFRONTED WITH CHALLENGE:  Harold begins to hear a voice in his head narrating his life.
REJECTS CHALLENGE:  He doesn’t want to believe it, thinks that he may be going insane.
ACCEPTS CHALLENGE:  When he learns that the book ends in his death, he takes this situation very, very seriously indeed.
ROAD OF TRIALS: He searches for answers, while simultaneously going about his job, specifically auditing a free-spirited young woman who deliberately underpaid her taxes to protest the Iraq war.  His relationship with this woman begins to open up a locked chest of emotions as he realizes how wasted his life has been, and how much he wants to live.  Through a series of efforts he finds Thompson, and actually obtains an early copy of the book so that he can see how he will die, hoping to prevent it.
ALLIES AND POWERS:  Dustin Hoffman’s literature professor.  Gyllenhaal’s free-spirited baker.  Even Emma Thompson, whose poetic prose leads him to a new understanding of life. He is intelligent, decent, kind, and capable of great love and tenderness.
CONFRONT EVIL—DEFEATED:  It comes in waves.  Understanding the meaningless nature of his life is probably the real kicker, even more than the sense that he cannot outrun his fate.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: Literally an all-night reading of the fatal book.
LEAP OF FAITH: His realization that a meaningful death gives his life purpose.
CONFRONT EVIL—VICTORIOUS:  He gives his life to save a young boy.
STUDENT BECOMES TEACHER: His sacrifice “opens” the depressive Thompson to the possibility of joy.  She re-writes the end of the book to let him—just barely—survive.

SURVIVAL: The story directly involves a struggle to stay alive.
SEX: Yep.  A beautiful and delicate relationship with Maggie.
POWER:  He makes his living as an IRS agent, but ultimately the film is about taking control of your life—however many days or hours we have to live.
HEART:  The opening of his heart is accomplished through the “relationship mirror” offered by Maggie.
COMMUNICATION:  He cannot speak his hopes and dreams.  When he finally becomes capable of telling Maggie that he wants her, it is almost transcendant.
INTELLECT:  A trap.  He is smart as a whip, and lives totally in his head for the first third of the film.
SPIRIT:  The film deals with mortality, in a fantasy context where one human being (Thompson) creates the life of another (Ferrell) but in their interaction, they re-make each other.

A lovely, lovely piece of work.

Monday, December 04, 2006

More on "Deja Vu"

Here’s the point for those of you interested in writing work like "Deja Vu":  the audience’s appreciation of your masterpiece will be less dependant on the strictly “logical” core and more on the emotional reality. Does it feel right?  Life simply goes beyond our ability to “logic it out.”  Those who can’t handle that often fumble at relationships, which are messy and refuse to be calculated.  By the way—this is one of the reasons that the “Lifewriting” system uses our intimate relationships to measure and mirror our progress as human beings.

Art (and often, artists) just isn’t neat and clean and easy.  It is messy, and hard, and heartbreaking, and beyond logical calculation.  There are tropes and structures that can help you guide the basic work, but ultimately, the unconscious takes over, and exposes the core of your being: what do you REALLY think, what do you REALLY fear, what do you REALLY cherish, how do you REALLY think the world operates?

In some ways, I use structure to distract the conscious mind, to give the deeper, wilder, more alive and honest being the chance to express itself.  We are herd beasts.  We need the approval and support of our fellow humans.  Survival trumps damn near everything else, and survival often means blending into the crowd.

Try to be too “individual” and you often just become a different kind of conformist.  By using standards and structures—but not being limited by them—we can set ourselves free. This is an oddness, but a truth.  You have to learn the basic notes and hand positions before you can play improvisational jazz. 

There is a terrific scene in one of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels where Trav is talking to an abstract artist.  He dares her to simply draw a tree.  If she can, he will shut up about her work. She cannot.  Before you can create an impressionistic work, be certain that you can accurately portray reality.  Only then can you really twist it out of phase in an effective manner. 

The problem is that the urge for artistic—or individual—freedom can also hide a lack of skill or education or genuine intent.  It is the refuge of the artistic scoundrel, the person who is afraid to compete, and so creates something beyond (or beneath) evaluation, and then demands the same critical “pass” given to those who actually have the basics and have risen beyond.  For these, a monkey splattering paint on a canvas is no different from a painter who can create photo-realistic images, but scrambles the colors and shapes to give a purely emotional impression.  And ignorant audiences often trot right along with them.

I implore you not to do this to yourself.  Learn your basics.  Master them before you try to move beyond them.  The effort will pay you back manifold.

Monday and Deja Vu

I don’t know exactly why, (well, maybe I do, but I’m not ready to admit it yet) but I was motivated to write the following poem this weekend: 

I have walked in circles.
From black to white to black
From love to fear to love
From joy to struggle to joy.

I have fled from the responsibility of being who I am
I have blamed my father for not nurturing me
I have blamed my culture for not supporting me
I have looked everywhere outside myself for answers
All the while knowing this was the Great Lie.

I commit now.  I am ready.
The truth, the love, the strength, the joy I seek is within me.

Each day I will seek not “answers” but “truth.”
I will never ask of others the love and understanding I fail to nurture within  myself.

The door before me is open
Can I be honest and strong enough to walk through it,
Although it means the death of me?

Either I go to death,
Or death comes to me.

I choose to go. 
And in that choice, there is all the life, and love, and joy

I have sought for so long,
At such price.


Saw "Deja Vu" a week and a half ago.  I really, really enjoyed it--Denzel gave his usual intense performance, even if he was being a :"star" rather than an "actor" here. 
The story deals with an ATF agent caught up in a terrorism investigation, who becomes aware of a secret government surveillance program.  This leads to all kinda twisty plot stuff, including a fairly standard time-travel story.  "Fairly standard."  Hah!  Having written this kind of project, I can tell you that there is nothing standard about it, and that no matter what you do, it won't quite make sense.  Why?  Because all of our logic patterns evolved within a linear time-stream.  If and when time travel is ever accomplished, IF you can go back into the past and, say, kill your own grandparents, I promise you that the result will be startling.  Either such changes aren't possible (my guess) or if they are, it will create an effect we haven't anticipated.  More to the point, it will create an effect which, if placed in a theatrical film or book or television show, will seem stupid and improbable and "illogical."  People, there will be nothing logical about it, until the entire reality map expands.  One must remember that logic is not reality--it is a set of representations to help us navigate reality, not "the thing" itself.  Anyway, I liked it, and give it a solid "B"

Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday Thoughts

Dennis Miller pretty much trashed his career when he stopped being funny.  Someone said he tried to get on the “Coulter gravy train.”  I really don’t think so.  I think what you saw post-9/11 was fear.  Fear that made him brittle and rigid.  I’d say the same of the “South Park” gang—they barely mentioned Bush and the White House post-9/11, and it is impossible for me not to think they would not, if politically neutral, have considered the Bush presidency a comic cornucopia.  They blinked.
More thoughts on whether or not I over-intellectualize.  Yes, I do, probably a defense mechanism to keep me from killing people.  I’m only half-kidding there.   At any rate, I don’t think people are good because they say good things.  And I don’t think people are bad for saying bad things.  Their actions rank far, far higher in my mind and heart.  I don’t know about Michael Richard’s actions, aside from doing something that has probably damaged his life and career.  He may be an actual raving racist…but in my experience, most real racists are more careful with their speech.  They  believe they are walking in enemy territory, where the Jews run the media, using Blacks as footsoldiers.  They don’t openly rant like that.  Of course, maybe he’s just a STUPID racist.  My mind is open to possibilities.
But on that same subject, recently a black firefighter in Los Angeles sued the city because his co-workers put dog food in his omelet, or some such thing.  He claims racism.  The co-workers claim it was just hazing.  He got a 2.7 million dollar settlement, which was then withdrawn by, I believe, the mayor.  The legal combat continues, but to this date the only real victim seems to be a black fire chief, forced to step down because of the controversy.
Sigh.  You know, again, I don’t know what to think.  All my life, being around guys, I’ve been aware that they play dirty tricks on each other in the name of “fun.”  When women are in the work place, and the EXACT same behavior takes place, often you will hear cries of sexual discrimination.  Is it?  I know that there is a photo of this fireman participating in hazing behavior that he SWORE he did not take part in.  This places doubt on his honesty, memory, and motivation. 

We’re going through some major adjustments in this country.  The whole “Politically Correct” thing makes me wince some time—but then, when it was politically correct to exclude minorities and women, that made me wince as well.  It’s important to remember that the term “PC” has been hijacked to mean “PC to the Left” without anyone asking what it meant to be “PC to the Right.”
I think that I think about these things publicly because I’m trying to ground my own psychology on the deepest bedrock I can find.  If my father had been in the home, I could have stood on his shoulders.  Since he wasn’t, I looked to the outer culture for definitions of manhood, and, of course, was let down terribly…unless I was willing to pretty much ignore my ethnicity.  Which I did.   One way of putting it would be to say I sacrificed my Melanin on the altar of my Testosterone.  And was able to get away with that for some time.  Now, I cannot.  If you trace your way up the yogic Chakras, you’ll see that you have to resolve sexual, survival, and power issues to built a foundation for your emotions and intellect.

I HAVE to sort back through all of this stuff.  It affects my sense of place in the world.  It has affected my career and income, my creative options, my sense of self in some powerful ways.  My way of dealing with this in my teens and twenties was intensive meditation, to cut to the innermost core of who I was, down past race or gender or even humanity itself, to find that living spark of divinity.

But I sort of did an “end run” around the damage, rather than cleaning it up.  And now…well, this might sound kind of strange, but I actually think I can heal myself.  I think I have the tools to roll up my sleeves, wade into that racial/social cesspool, and drain it.  There are serious alligators in that swamp.
It is not comfortable at all, and I know that many of my friends and fans wince to hear me talk about these things, when I have spoken or written so little about them previous to the last ten years.

But to me, there is nothing negative here.  I am absurdly optimistic about the future of humanity, and the world, and our great nation.  I am absurdly proud of the strides we have made to understand ourselves and each other—even as it is glaringly obvious that there is far, far more to be done.

But if there is to be healing between black and white, male and female, Christian and Moslem, Left and Right, it has to start with me.  With ME.  I am all I can control, and half the time I can’t control me worth a damn.  What right do I have to expect the world to be peaceful and loving when I cannot find that within my own heart?

It grieves me that our leaders prate on about who they will and won’t talk to.  Not talk to your enemies?  Damn, that’s exactly who you SHOULD talk to.  Any time, and I mean any time, I have heard that someone had a beef with me, I went straight to the source, and made every honest effort to clean it up—and that includes people who have wanted to hurt me badly.  I can’t comprehend anyone voluntarily diminishing communication, denying themselves information.  To me, this is utter insanity, and can only be justified if you think that those different from you are less than you.

I never had the luxury of thinking that way.  Thank God.