The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, August 31, 2007


“The secret to Life” said Old Perry
“Is to eat, and to drink, and be merry.
To my very last breath
I’ll outrun Mr. Death
Til I’m too goddam ancient to bury.”

Almost there, old son. Another few years, and they’ll have to re-set your odometer. HAPPY 60TH, STEVE!!
Dammit, I have to miss a free trip to Antigua this year—I’m already booked for the Miami Book Faire, and a Black Speculative Fiction conference. If you’ve never been to Antigua, you’re missing a fabulous vacation spot.
On the Michael Vick dog-fighting case. Abominable. But I doubt if people would have been as upset were it, say, cock fighting. Why? Because we don’t eat dogs, that’s why. If I was a rooster, I might very well prefer to being a fighting rooster—at least then I’d have a chance. Much like being a bull in a bull-fight. At least you have a chance, however small. But we love our dogs, and the spectacle of Man’s Best Friend bred, raised, and conditioned for such savagery rips our hearts out.

What do I think of him as a human being? Well, he’s not likely to be as empathetic to the condition of his fellow man as the average person. While the inability to empathize with animals doesn’t necessarily map over to humans…I still have to say I doubt I’d want him as a neighbor.

What of his career as a football player? We’ll see what’s left of him after his jail time. A year or two is a lifetime in the career of a professional athlete. Even if he still has his chops, sports is show business, based not merely on ones stats, but the ability to hold the loyalty of the crowd. I suspect that he may have crossed a line, such that the next time that he takes the field, he’ll get booed.

Is that fair? For him to have made a mistake that denies him the ability to use his skills to make a living? Well…you know, that’s life, in one way. It won’t be the government taking his livelihood away, in the final analysis. It will be the market-place. Yes, Mike Tyson was still a big draw after his rape conviction. But I think that’s because people had put him in the category of “barely human animal we like to watch nearly kill people” rather than “athlete.” Athletes are linked to the warrior ethic, where the young men of the village compete not merely to demonstrate prowess but to refine it. Ultimately, we react to them as we do because we understand that the safety of our children depends largely on the strength of those who guard the walls.

We NEED our warriors to be capable of great violence, but expect them to keep it under control. How many dogs were found on his property? Forty corpses? That’s a serial killing. How many dogs are worth a human life? Some would say thousands. Others that animals are more precious than humans. Most of us are somewhere in-between. When we see someone of formidable physical skill, if they are also violent, it is frightening. It unravels part of the fabric of our society—our trust in those more physically capable than ourselves.

At the least, we can no longer hold such men and women up as heroes to our children. They become cautionary tales at best. But we want more than that. We want them to be heroic. Exemplary. We want them to be destinations to inspire our children, and ourselves. So we pay them vast sums of money to exhibit their very special skills. And we are, in my mind, fully justified to withdraw our affection when our trust is betrayed.

Yes, he’s just an athlete. No one should take that away from him. But a rich and beloved athlete? That we deserve a vote on. It’s our money, ultimately. Even more importantly, it’s our love.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lifewriting Theme song?

Someone pointed out that Liberals tend to use the term “Neocon” as an umbrella term for whatever they don’t like on the Right. I think there’s some truth to that. But to complete the position, it seems to me that in casual discourse and on talk radio, Liberals use the term “Neocon” the way Conservatives use the term “Liberal.” There seems to be genuine venom there, even the “Hah-Hah only kidding” venom of the old bumper sticker “If they take away our guns, how will we shoot the Liberals?” that I used to see. Hah hah.
I remember when Liberality per se lost me. It was during the initial debates on Nuclear Power. It seemed to me that Liberal Democrats were debating on primarily emotional basis, and most of the technical, scientific information supported the position of nuclear power as a viable alternative, with its risks and rewards—like every other form of power. The protestors certainly had their valid thoughts, but there seemed to be a huge amount of sheer raving emotion there as well.

Of course, a strange variant of that seems to be happening now with Global Warming—only from the opposite side. And I think it’s just as sad. But the Conservatives lost me during the Civil Rights era, where they were very clearly fighting every piece of legislation, and to this day love bringing up Martin Luther King’s sexual peccadilloes as if that had something to do with his position on social justice. As if Thomas Jefferson’s ownership of slaves diminishes his position in the historical firmament. Yeah, right.

Of course, I can’t go Libertarian, either. I’ve heard Libertarians—all white, of course—suggest that Federal intervention during the Civil Rights era was a mistake. That blacks being lynched and beaten should have just “moved north” rather than ask the Feds to intervene, and try murderers for “depriving of civil rights” slain poll workers. Why, just because the local authorities wouldn’t try them, is no reason to tread on Double Jeopardy territory!

I consider this to be moral cowardice of the very worst kind, the kind of thing that implies a total lack of empathy for other human beings, if they are not of your tribe. I would not want such a person as a neighbor.

So…I have no political home, really. But I’m not at all certain I need one.
I was just asked to do a commentary piece for a Philadelphia paper on the subject of King Tut. Specifically, does it matter if he was Black? It’s so interesting being a cultural bridge. No matter what group I’m around, I’m asked to explain the positions of the other group. Story of my life.
Lifewriting Theme song?

Two weeks ago I was listening to the radio, and heard (again) Natasha Bedingfield’s terrific song “Unwritten.” It seemed extraordinarily beautiful to me, and I suggest you hunt up the lyrics. But a quote from them (all rights reserved to Miss Bedingfield)…

“I am unwritten,
Can't read my mind
I'm undefined
I'm just beginning
The pen's in my hand
Ending unplanned

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words
That you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten, yeah…”

Oh, oh

I break tradition
Sometimes my tries
Are outside the lines, oh yeah yeah
We've been conditioned
To not make mistakes
But I can't live that way oh, oh

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words
That you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inner visions

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins…”

Wow. Nobody can tell me that today’s kids don’t have spirit, or can’t write music, or don’t appreciate the wonder of life. Love that song.

I was asked who my favorite poets are. I love Shakespeare, and Poe, and Emily Dickenson, and Maya Angelou, and Rumi, and the Bible, and many, many more. And in music I enjoy (while not considering them at the level of those mentioned) any number of poets, from Prince and Kanye West and Snoop to Harry Chapin (“A Better Place to Be” is incredible) and Bob Dylan to Stevie Wonder and Shawn Colvin ("Sunny Came Home", a devastating song about an abused girl incinerating her abusers, really hits my buttons) and others.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

P is for "Poetics"

If someone wakes you up at five in the morning
after the wildest bachelor party of your life, and
asks you what a story is, you should be able to
give a coherent answer. The most basic aspects
of your craft should be so deeply engrained that
they live at the level of "Unconscious Competence"
--the same place that basic walking, bike-riding,
or bladder-control skills reside. If that seems
odd, please remember that, once upon a time,
you had none of these. They are all learned, and
only when you had learned them thoroughly
could you move on to more advanced behaviors,
skills, or responsibilities.

For a decade, I had considered "Story" to consist
of an interaction between plot and character.
Then my good lady wife, Tananarive, convinced
me to add a third: Poetics.

By this I mean two major things: the sounds of
the words as they interact, and the music of
the imagery. In books and stories, you write
in multiple sensory modes: taste, touch, smell,
sight, hearing. Your characters experience the
world in all of them, and you have the opportunity
to create a harmonic flow that can be absolutely

In film and television, you have two senses:
visual and auditory. And eighty percent of
the audience's experience is visual in nature.
Film, especially, is what you SEE. So the "poetics"
of film is found not just in the language, but in
the use of visual images, the way that they play
off one another, resonate with each other.

When writing your first draft, it might be smart
to leave out dialogue altogether, to see how
close you can come to telling the story with
pure images--as a silent film. Then comes
dialogue. In your first draft, simply have the
characters say what is on their mind. In
subsequent re-writes, search for ways to
move text to sub-text, to have characters
talk "off the nose" so to speak. What they
DON'T say can be more important than what
they say, because it forces your audience to
engage with the process of communication.
If you've done your job right, the poetry is
created in their minds, as they search the
visual images, the sounds, the words said
and ideas unsaid...and find their own
meaning in your scenes.
But to teach yourself this, I suggest reading
a poem every day. Every single day. Learn
to understand the poet's craft on a level
beyond language. Language is the TOOL
that they use to accomplish an intent. It
is the medium, not the message.

N is for "Never Give Up"

I heard a story once--not certain whether it's
true or apocryphal. It's said that Winston
Churchill was asked to give the commencement
address at a British school. He mounted the
stage, looked out at the audience of fresh
young faces and said: "Never. Never. Never.
Never. Never. Never. Never give up."

And sat down.

It's never, ever, ever been said better. In life,
you should choose an occupation, a career,
a livelihood that you feel that strongly about.
Me? I'd rather fail as a writer than succeed
at anything else. I've typed my fingers bloody,
cried myself to sleep, wrestled with my demons,
read until my eyes were bleary, sought out
any and all advice or help I could find, wherever
I could find it.

All because what I wanted, more than anything
in the world, was to be a writer. Most people
can't handle rejection, not realizing that
rejection, in any arena from getting published
seduction to sales (and aren't they all really
just the same thing?), is just a numbers game.
You have to get rejected twenty times for
every "yes" you get. Or thirty. Or fifty.

The person who wins is the one who gets
up to the plate one more time after his
heart has been broken. Who gets back
on the horse after all his friends are wincing
and limping back to the bunkhouse. Who
asks yet another girl to dance after a
dozen have said "no."

It's a numbers game. When you start
collecting rejection slips, keep a scrap-book.
Paper your walls with the little suckers.
Consider every "no" a victory--you are one
of the few with the guts to keep going after
it gets tough.

And make no mistake, it's going to be tough.
Even writers who seem to have utterly
charmed careers have their personal struggles,
I promise you. They just don't wear their
hearts on their sleeves. You see the finished
product, not the hell they went through to produce it.

You must believe that your efforts will be
rewarded, if your goals are clear, you work
to the edge of your ability, tell the truth,
continually improve your circle of allies,
and have faith.

Go back over everything I've taught you
about the Hero's Journey. It is the combined
wisdom of all the world's elders, condensed
to comprehensible form. While nothing and
no one can promise you success, I can
absolutely guarantee you failure:

Just roll over and give up. That'll do it.

Most Bizarre I.F. Story yet...

I subscribe to an I.F. mailing list, and the following letter was in my box today, from a lady who owns a farm:

"FWIW, in one group we had 6 people all try IF at the same time. Most
of us lost weight. But one person, who was underweight, gained weight. I
think if you want to have weightlifter-type huge muscles, it won't work as
well as the standard weightlifter diet. But if you want to be lean and
muscular, it might work well.
> I base this on my chicken experiments ... ok, chickens aren't
people. But breeds known as "meat chickens" have huge muscles (the part you eat)
> although those muscles are not very strong (typically they can't
walk well, and spend most of their time sitting down). I raised some meat
chickens on an IF diet though (all they could eat, once or twice a day) and they
came out strong, healthy, and lean. They still have a good deal of
muscle, but it's not as big as the ones fed all day. There is very little fat
though, and they are far more active and healthy. They can actually fly,
which is VERY unusual in that breed.
> -- Heather
Well, there you have it. Treats cancer, heart disease, obesity, Alzheimers, nerve damage, increases longevity...and can teach your chickens to fly.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bootcamp, anyone?

Tananarive is back from Texas, where she’s been visiting her sister for a week. We should get our notes back from Searchlight today on THE GOOD HOUSE. And the next Tennyson novel is in the chute. This is going to be interesting.
Looking forward to working out with the BKF tonight. I want to adopt that little school as my private charity. Think I could do some good…
I think my next computer is going to be a Mac with Bootcamp (their PC emulation software), so that I can run some of the Windows programs that are kinda useful. Anyone out there with experience with Bootcamp?
So…my meditations work something like this: connect with the core “fire in the belly” energy. Bring it up and align it with my heartspace. Are my emotions clear? If not, meditate until the light gets a little brighter. Bring it up to my throat. Have I been speaking the truth? Communicating honestly with my family and allies? Then the head. Is my mind clear? Do I know what has to be done today to further my goals and intentions? Are my emotions and physical energies in alignment?
And then last I take the energy up to spirit. Are my actions and intentions in alignment with my spiritual values? Am I prepared to die for the principles I am expressing in my actions today? The macro must be expressed in the micro. Ultimately, what we exchange for our daily bread is another chunk of our lives. Be certain its worth it.
There’s a film trailer for “Alien Versus Predator 2” floating around, and damned if it doesn’t look pretty good. I can’t believe the first one. Dark Horse comics has done a slew of good stories in the Aliens-Predators universe, so there’s no question it can be done. But whatever idiots green-lighted a PG-13 sequel to two R-Rated movies obviously had contempt for their audience. They had no idea at all what they were doing. Hope this works out better…

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A commentary

I am moved to address the following post:

""If some neo-con positions are based on pure naked self interest, then things are more frightening than I ever thought. For example, the only possible self interest based reason for a male to be rabidly anti-abortion and anti birth control is if he hopes for many more huge wars of conquest and figures we are going to need every woman to have six or so kids to provide the needed cannon fodder a couple of decades in the future."
1) I didn't say "some" positions, I said "all" positions are based on self interest.
2) I didn't say "naked" which might imply "direct".
3) Conversational language is a tricky thing, and we take for granted that a certain looseness oils the wheels of communication. I'm sure what you meant to say was not "the only possible reason" but rather "the only reason I can think of" or something of that kind.
4) Another possible reason is actual spiritual/philosophical belief that abortion is murder, that life begins at fertilization. Taken further, there are those who believe the only purpose for sex is reproduction. A person who believes either of these things might reasonably be expected to be against abortion or birth control.
5) A sociobiological theorist might, however, take the position that such religious beliefs actually relate to exactly what you said: the drive to increase population to produce larger armies and/or work forces. These needs become cultural programming, and work their way into the spiritual texts of a culture so that they are "unconscious competance." After all, the "DINK" lifestyule (dual income, no kids) can be quite fancy-free and luxurient. Makes perfect sense for an individual couple to desire it. But no self-replicating society could ever encourage it, right? I mean, that's social suicide--the society collapses in one generation.
Why do I sacrifice for my children? Self interest. I LOVE being a dad, and consider the investments I make in time and energy the soundest of my life. But there isn't necessarily DIRECT payoff.

Viewed through this lens, there are many reasons to, for instance, invade Iraq. Among them are both "positive" and "negative" reasons, depending on your frame of reference. (I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with any of these, I've just heard them in discussions by sincere, intelligent people)
1) Spreading Democracy. For its own sake. Help those people!
2) Spreading Democracy. For our sake. We are safer if they think like we do. Democracy decreases psychological dissatisfaction on the part of a populace, makes suicide bombers less likely.
3) Spread Christianity. For its own sake. Muslims are deluded by a false prophet. We should save their souls.
4) Spread Christianity. For our soul's sake. We get brownie points in heaven for bringing souls to God.
5) spread Christianity. For our security's sake. We'll be safer if the Middle East thinks more like we do.
6) Stopping terrorism. Saddam was a sponsor of terrorism, directly or indirectly. He dominated his people and stockpiled WMD's. He defied the United Nations and blocked our weapons inspectors. He was a clear and present danger.
7) Stopping terrorism--indirectly. By destroying the infrastructure of an establishm government, we sent a message to the rest of the world: if we even THINK you had anything to do with hurting us, we will kill you. Whether the rest of the world agrees with it, supports us, of whatever...we will kill you. Don't even DREAM of providing aid and succor to anyone who would hurt us. Or we will kill you.
8) Oil. Altruistic Americanism Our society runs on energy. Iraq has the second-largest reserves in the world. We need that oil to keep our country strong. Our people want it, but Americans are so nice we don't want to believe we're an empire. So we need an excuse to go take it. American's won't ask too many questions. If we don't do this, in a few years freezing Americans will ask us: "why didn't you?" I'm willing to die to provide a secure future for my children. (This is someone who would welcome an alternative energy technology)
9) Oil. Honestly greedy American. I'm in the oil business. My friends and I sell oil and oil infrastructure. If we invade Iraq, we'll make beaucoup bucks. (This, in it's purest form, is someone who would squash an alternative energy technology unless he owned a big piece of it.)
10) There are other reasons--some more positive, some hideous. But the above probably covers better than 95%
I actually think that everyone involved in the decision to invade Iraq had some combination of the above (or other) reasons--I don't think it was simple at all. Some, I think, made their decisions for what I would consider honorable, honest, positive reasons. And some for the most cynical and evil reasons imaginable. Most were somewhere in-between. But ALL were responding to self-interest, "naked" or not.

I can understand an abortion-clinic bomber. If I REALLY believed that doctors are murdering babies in there, and that the law wouldn't stop it...I might have to blow one up myself. It would be like killing Nazis to free Jews in a concentration camp, or John Brown killing white men to free blacks. Issues that deal with the nature of the human soul are hideously difficult to resolve. I don't know when life begins. I know that I'm willing to stand on the following position: by the time the fertilized tissue can survive outside the mother's body, it is, to me, "alive." I may be wrong, but that's the position I'm willing to defend. Before that point, it's the mother's business. I'm not willing to stand between a woman and her body. Too much evil has been done in the name of God, by well-meaning people who believe that THEY understand the ultimate nature of the universe better than others. I won't go there.

But I can't pretend that I don't understand people who do.

Masters of Science Fiction

Tonight's episode was written by Harlan Ellison. In addition, he (and his co-writer Josh Olsen) have a cameo at the end. Should be a don't-miss.
You know, all those years reading Jonny Hart's "B.C." comic strip, I always thought he was joking. Then I came to discover that he was an evangelical Christian who actually believed that the earth was only 10,000 years old or so, and that humans and dinosaurs were contemporaries. Blew my mind. It also disturbs the living hell out of me that about 30% of the American public believes this. WHAT??? I'd thought those percentages were far, far lower. And we wonder why America is lagging behind in technology? And our overall academic scores are sinking in comparison with the rest of the industrial world? Only 5% of Americans who describe themselves as "scientists" believe this (thank God) but it implies that 95% of our technical folks are coming out of 70% of the population. I do not, in any way, believe that those 30% are stupid. I DO think that they are viewing the world through coke-bottle perceptual filters, arguing backwards from a premise downloaded into their brains before they had control of their logical faculties. Before you (or I) point the finger, though, you'd better ask: and what belief systems got layered into MY brain that I have never really examined, that distorts or filters every piece of data I've processed since childhood?
I think that racism, sexism, political extremism, religious intolerance and so much more relate to this. Whatever we were programmed with before the age of 12 has to be dynamited out by adulthood.
So when someone asks me "what can be done about racism?" (in, for instance, movie-viewing choices that impact box office for certain images) my real reply is that time will do it. Two things will make a tremendous impact on racism: When no group has a simple majority, and when 80% of white males born before 1950 are dead. Sorry, guys, but the natural human tendency to think "we rule and you drool" is powerful. People only change when they can no longer pretend the world revolves around them.
Saw "War" with Jet Li and Jason Statham yesterday. A pretty good idea, marred by muddy direction, but still intertaining. And no, Jet Li doesn't do a ton of martial arts stuff--he says he's done with that, and I can understand why. At his age, it's probably not a lot of fun to train hard enough to get into the kind of gnarly shape it takes to make, say, "Hero." But this re-working of "Yojimbo" about an FBI agent (Statham) chasing an assassin (Li) who killed his partner, certainly has its entertainment value. Li sets out to pit the Yakuza against the Tong in a bloodbath that certainly could have used a John Woo or Antoine Fuqua level of visual style. No such luck, but I finished my popcorn and enjoyed myself.
The movie has one black character, who dies protecting the white guy. The sad, sad thing is that that movie's director is black. The rot runs deep, folks.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Screenwriting Expo

Today was an “easy” day on my 4X7 cycle, but also a Bruiser day. So I modified the load by cutting overall reps: 9 sets of 6 reps, starting one set every two minutes. Takes about 30 seconds to do 6 Gama Casts, so that gave me 90 seconds rest between sets. At about 50 reps, it stopped being fun, so I knocked off.
Got my schedule for the 2007 Screenwriting Expo, October 24-28 at the LAX Marriot. It’s the biggest in the world, and I’ll be giving four talks: plot, characterization, horror, and SF. I strongly suggest you check out the Expo, whether or not you hit my events. Michael Reaves will be there, talking about his new Star Trek episode—he’s a great guy, and if you are any parts of a Trekkie, be there.
I’m reading “Julius Caesar” right now, and suddenly realized that, somehow, I’d missed ever reading it before, although I saw the Marlon Brando version a loooong time ago. The sense of dread and shattered honor is palpable.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

the back of your eyelids

I was having lunch with a friend who has a “friendly” abusive relationship with his wife. He insults her a lot. He can’t help it. When she’s in a good mood, feeling strong, she insults him right back. But…frankly, he’s faster and sharper than she is, and she can’t always do it. And I’ve watched her eyes surreptitiously. She adores him, and his comments sting.

So after one of his verbal sallies, I turned to him and said: “yeah, and you know the sad thing? She is absolutely, totally, the best you can do. What does that say about you?”

Well, THAT hit the reset button at the table, and he spent the next hour trying to get under MY skin. The funny thing was that he was trying to attack my basic sunny nature. It was obvious that he can’t quite believe that I really love people as much as I do, that I love life as much as I do, that the world I inhabit really has as much light as I see, even in my darkest moments. He can’t really believe it, and thought he was jabbing pins into some deep dark ugly secret inside me. I thought it was cute.

I mean, when we argued about whether Jews are white people (My position is that there are no absolute standards for what is what. So I tend to lump people into large groups that help me understand sociological reactions. From this point of view, I consider Jews to be a sub-set of “white” in the same way Zulus or pigmies are a sub-set of “black”, not a separate racial group.) or whether my career has been helped or hindered by my race (I think this one is hysterical, and contains a soupcon of unconscious racism. If blacks are as underrepresented in the field as we are, blacks MUST be different from whites, either in their ambitions, interests, or capacities--or so I believe their unconscious preassumptions indicate), that there must be a deep dark cloud down there.

Well, anyone reading this blog knows that I regularly tap a sea of emotional oil, and some of it is negative. But you just can’t ruin my day by pointing it out, as if I’m not aware, or think it’s a big secret that I’m not a perfect angel. Zowie! What a revelation!

But a conversation a few days ago with a lady who had recently broken up with a friend of mine, as well as another conversation with a lady I’ve known for some years, linked odd connections in the back of my head.

The lady who broke up with my friend (let’s call her Sheila) is an energetic, intelligent lass who is hurting right now. She clearly wonders what it will take to find a healthy relationship, and blames him for all that went wrong. She believes that he cheated on her, big-time. You know? She may be right. My own hackles raised a little bit when I met one of his “friends.” Or she may be wrong. I don’t know. But only one thing is true beyond doubt—her future happiness is based on her ability to see clearly. In other words, don’t trust people, ever. Instead, rely upon them to do whatever it is they believe to be in their own self-interest, and then improve your ability to determine what that is.

(Here’s an interesting game: flip around the web, and visit web sites dedicated to different political persuasions. Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, whatever. No matter what their arguments, assume that what you are seeing is naked self-interest disguised as political theory. What dishonesty and distortion do you see? What projecting of their guilt and greed and fear onto the “other” do you see? Each political polarity plays a somewhat different game, but they all play. Even better, each of them uses different tactics to sway their “faithful” into believing that it’s the OTHER guys who are actually the dishonest, inhumane ones. It’s pretty damned funny once you get the joke)

So what Sheila has to do is heal the part of herself that is balanced by a domineering, cheating man. What is that? I really don’t want to speculate, but the answer is written on the back of her eyelids. If she’ll just slow down and quietly contemplate her own Self, the answer will come within a hundred hours. Guaranteed.
Then there was the conversation with the lady I’ve known for some time. She was criticizing my sense of racial isolation in the SF field, saying that my comment that I was “alone” (ethnically and genderically speaking) was only justified if I was incredibly selective in my categories. That she could use the same filters to seem completely “alone” in her field, because she is the only woman in her technical specialization in the small town she lives in.

Fair enough. I disagreed, but kept my disagreement to myself. In my mind, the parallels would be valid if she was the only woman in her specialty in the WORLD, not just in East Nowhere, population five thousand. After all, she can pick up the phone and talk to another woman in her field any time she wants to.

In my entire career, I have NEVER been to a Science Fiction convention (and I’ve been to hundreds) where there was even one, single black male writer other than myself. Never. Ever. Frankly, I doubt she can even really wrap her mind around the implications of that.

That’s not the point. The point is that in other conversation, she went on and on about her spiritual beliefs, and how men, and male energy, have dominated women throughout history. On and on she went about “The Patriarchy” and its damage to the planet and our spiritual essence. And she expected me to agree and consider this all self-evident.

Fact is, I DO see ways that the Feminine energy needs to drive more of this planet’s action, and that men have been repressive. And I’m sure that there are things I don’t understand here, that would make me even more sympathetic.

The point is that she just couldn’t see my issues. Couldn’t see them. Thought I was whining to believe that there were problems related to ethnicity. And implied that an intelligent, aware person doesn’t do that. And then she immediately launched into her own beliefs that women are being kept down by men.

Hmmm. Would I suspect that my friend has a bit of problem projecting her own “inwardness” into others? Seeing their humanity as clearly as she feels her own? Or might it be that, yes, she grasps that groups who hold power will tend to use that power to hold others back…but when the criticism is of HER group, she shuts her mind down?

Now, both these women have recently ended relationships. In speaking of the “why,” both completely externalized the reasons: it was “him.” And in both cases, the problem involved other women. In both cases (in my opinion) unless they figure out where THEY fit in the equation, the mistakes THEY made, they’re going to run right out and repeat the pattern. And continue to repeat it until either they simply believe that “Men are dogs” or they wake up and grasp that, in both relationships, they were absolutely doing the best they could do. And if they want better relationships, they have to be better, stronger, clearer, more centered people.

THERE’S NOBODY OUT THERE. There is no black or white, male or female, Christian or Muslim, Conservative or Liberal. There is just you. And the degree to which you dehumanize the “other” and believe them “evil” in comparison to you says nothing except to reveal what you think of your own secret self. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

And when you fall short, what do you do? Think you are an evil, twisted thing? Or a being of light, struggling against darkness? Or a little piece of protoplasm, doing the best you can?

How do you represent reality? I promise that what you say about others is the secret language your heart uses to represent your own failings and foibles. If you tend to call others “idiots” when they make mistakes, what in the hell do you think you call yourself?

Be very very careful, people.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who, despite his genius and accomplishment, is not a happy man. He feels that the external world has not given him the opportunity he deserves. And that if it only would, he would be happy. No. He has it exactly, precisely backwards. FIRST be happy. THEN you will attract other happy, healthy people, who will enjoy being with you, want to play with you, create opportunities for you. The external world can NEVER make you happy. Happiness, love, contentment must come from within you.

The tabloids are filled with stories of people with money and power who are miserable. They thought that external accomplishment would change their internal states. It’s so sad.

Sit quietly. Find the essence within. Connect it with whatever concept of an external divinity that works for you. Be very very still, and listen to the conversation.

I promise it is miles different from the “he-said she-said, they-suck, all-is-lost” crap you hear on the radio, in bars, at the water cooler.

You deserve better than that. And the answer is written on the back of your own eyelids.

M is for Money

Considering everything that is happening in my career
right now, it's pretty much inevitable that I'd be
thinking about money. Truth be told, if the next
couple of weeks go well, I will have raised my
career up to the precise level I've desired for over
a decade. And at that point, people start throwing
vast amounts of money at you. Literally hundreds
of thousands, and millions of dollars. This is no
joke at all.

The question becomes: what is selling out? What
is a legitimate use of your time and talent, and at
what point do you become a whore? I remember
years back, I met a writer who handed me his card.
It read: "Freelance Hack and Literary Mechanic."
The guy was dead of alcoholism within a year.

There is simply a limit to how much of yourself
you can sell. Personally, I've never sold out. I
TRIED to sell out once (ask me to tell you the
"Purple Heart" story some time) but fortunately,
if my heart isn't in it, I just can't do good work.
Wow, that was humiliating...just when you're
ready to sell out, there are no takers. Ugh.

But I get asked a LOT, and usually by starry-eyed
young Newbies: how do you keep your artistic
integrity. For me, the answer is fairly simple: I f
ind a way to fall in love with any project. You
see, my tastes in fiction range widely. There is
almost ALWAYS something to enjoy about a given
scenario. Or to put it another way, imagine a circle.
That circle contains everything I would want to
write if money were not an issue.

Then imagine another circle: this circle encompasses
everything that the market would like to pay me
for. You know something? So far, 90% of the time,
those two circles overlap. And where they overlap
is where I write. I don't have the luxury of writing
purely for love. Nor can I tap into my creativity
solely for money.

But for almost 30 years I've been able to find
something to learn, love, or contribute in every
commercial project. In one case, I wrote a script
out of revenge--the Producer of a certain show
tried to steal my work, and then made the
mistake of giving me another script. I embedded
something rather obscene in the dialogue, and
actually snuck it past the producers and censors,
so that no one noticed it until it aired...

Revenge is a dish best served alongside a BIG
check. Heh heh.

At any rate, I say this to encourage you to believe
that you don't have to betray your Muse to make
a living. That, in fact, if you will delve deeply
enough into your heart, you will actually find
your best and most successful work. Art and
Commerce are not enemies. They are neighbors.

And their children play together.

L is for Lifetime

The reason that "L is for Lifetime" is that your
writing should be a lifetime commitment. If
you think of it as a career, or something to do
for a little while, it will likely break your heart.
It took almost THREE YEARS for the paperwork
to wind its way through all of the producing and
creative folks involved in GOOD HOUSE. Can't
even begin to describe the stress. Not fun,
even a little bit.

But ultimately, I knew I was in this for the long
haul. So I concentrated on staying balanced,
loving my family, and finishing my other work.
And eventually, things happened.

What happens next? We go into the studio, get
notes on the script, start re-writing. Doubtless
we'll hit other walls. But the point is that this
is my life. This isn't something I'm doing while
I wait for something else, or better. THIS IS
THE LIFE I CRAVED, and warts and all, I'm in
the middle of it now. I could have had security
and calm. I wanted self-expression and the
chance to contribute to the cultural dialogue.

That comes at a price. So...ask yourself. Are
you willing to give this writing thing everything
you have? To immolate your ego on the bonfire
of your ambition? Can you write five novels, a
hundred stories, a dozen scripts, without
selling one, and keep your chin up? If you can,
you have what it takes.

Writing isn't a job. It's an adventure

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Thoughts on pregnancy

A reader writes:

“Idea I had skimming this-

What are your thoughts (acknowledging you're not an expert) on how this could apply to building a body, rather than body-building? That is, to stabilizing the mother-ship during the tremendous nutrient drains and physical changes of pregnancy?”
There are a few things I’ve picked up about pregnancy, and the most important is to bring in the experts. That said, the human body is incredibly resilient, and women-folk have been having babies under adverse conditions for millennia.

I can tentatively try to apply some of the principles I’ve followed to preparing mind and body for delivering a child, though…

1) Nutrition. Good, wide-spectrum nutrition. This would mean both supplementation and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins. That baby in your tummy is building tissue at an accelerated rate. Feed her!
2) Nicotine, alcohol and other drugs are such a no-no I hope I wouldn’t have to even mention it.
3) Stress reduction is vital. The hormones are raging. Meditation and journaling could well help keep you centered. Breathing is so central to health, in so many ways, that you should use it for more than just LaMaze classes.
4) Exercise. I would say walking and yoga. We had a lady in our Bikram class right up to the day before she delivered. Then she was back in class a week later. She had NO trouble getting her body back! But no jarring, no sprint work, no karate classes. Work on increasing healthy, oxygenated blood flow, stretching and strengthening.
5) Sex. I’m tellin’ ya guys, sex with a pregnant woman is GREAT. And it certainly seems (and I’ve been told) that HER sensitivity increases as well. Considering the flood of healthy hormones released during sex, it seems nothing but a good idea, assuming that you are careful to stay comfortable. The increased emotional connection with your partner can also be a comfort and source of strength.

In general, I’d be concentrating on health rather than fitness. Your body is undergoing a radical change. I wish you the very, very best of luck in your journey…and Happy Baby!
The sequel to "Great Sky Woman" is "Shadow Valley." I'm working on it now. The third "Lion's Blood" book is "The Bronze Nile" and details the war between the states. I'm hoping to get to it early next year.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Recovery Work

Man oh man, is this ever critical. Remember that your body doesn’t grow while you work out. It grows (or changes) during recovery. If you don’t give yourself proper time, nutrition, rest, support, etc., you’ll simply tear yourself to pieces.

In addition, building muscle mass requires your body to stress, tear down or damage existing tissue, and re-build, dumping vast amounts of toxins into your blood stream. It doesn’t matter if you’re working upper body one day, and lower body the next. As a bodybuilding wag once put it, “every day is kidney day.”

So…It seems to me you need a multi-phasic approach, involving body, mind, and emotions.
1) Proper nutrition. In the name of God, if you are asking your body to perform at a higher level, you MUST assume that your current habits won’t support it—otherwise you’d already be there! Fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins are an absolute must, and in plentiful array. Go for a wide range of colors in your vegetables. Take a good, wide-spectrum multi vitamin as well. Drink PLENTY of water (remember those kidneys!)
2) Proper rest. Get plenty of sleep. 8-9 hours a night, if you’re trying to upgrade your body. The recovery gnomes only work at night, dude.
3) Proper mental states. Meditate. Visualize growth. Clarify your emotional reasons for making this journey.

1) Jacuzzi-Spa. Wonderful. Physical tension often masks its own effects. I love to soak in a spa on my hard workout days, until I feel my body relax more deeply. Good Lord, it feels good.
2) Massage. I’m terrible here. Not good at all at letting other people put their hands on my body. With certain…intimate exceptions, shall we say? But trading massages with a friend or seeking professional care in this regard can be a life-saver.
3) Yoga. Bikram style yoga is a phenomenal recovery system. Drink a ton of water, follow your breathing and sweat out a river of toxins.
4) Joint rotation work. We’re talking Intu-Flow or Warrior Wellness, available at Scott Sonnon pushes his athletes like you won’t believe, and recovery work is built into the cycle. You not only need to squeeze toxins out of the muscles (that was physiologically inelegant, but you get the drift) but depressurize the traumatized tissue, realigning joints, tendons and ligaments, restore circulation by releasing tension. Let’s see, what else? How about restoring proper balance and posture? Checking in with your body to see if there is unexpected soreness or pain anywhere?

Frankly, there is too much happening for you to consciously take care of all of it. I would suggest that, if you are an athlete moving to a new level, or past thirty, that yoga be a steady and major part of your workout week, and that in addition you practice a dynamic recovery system like Scott’s. The combination will serve you well.
Scott Sonnon sent me the following note:

This is in regards to your recent post on recovery:

There are basically two aspects to development and a balanced, healthy neuro-immuno-endocrine system - which is what we're REALLY trying to improve though through the myofascial in exercise:

You're either using or or rebuilding. One or the other. We need to be rebuilding as much as we're using. If we're using more than we're rebuilding, it impacts more than just muscle. It goes to our neurological, endocrine and immune systems... and canibalizes us there.

The iPhone is working out very nicely. I’m not totally thrilled with the custom Bluetooth—it feels kinda small and easy to lose and doesn’t filter wind perfectly. But it is elegant and deceptively easy to use. I kept searching for something complicated and difficult to pair it with my phone. Turns out all you have to do is charge them next to each other, and they automatically synch up. Very cool.
I’m seriously thinking about starting a genealogy web. There is so much about my family I don’t know that it would be cool to have a web site where I can put in the names and info I know, and then invite other family members to contribute what THEY know…

Does anyone have suggestions about the best sites out there? Where information, photos and so forth can be uploaded and shared?

That’s the thought of the day. I know the moment I fell in love with Tananarive. It was when I was listening to her talk about how she got Steven King to write her a cover blurb for “My Soul To Keep.” She used her connection to the Miami Herald to get to Dave Berry, who played in the “Rock Bottom Remainders” with King. Then she offered her keyboard skills to the band, and wore a VERY slinky stage outfit. Yum. Let’s say Stevie King was bound to notice. She got him a copy of the book, and the rest is history.

I listened to her story, and realized she’d done a three-wall bank shot on the biggest writer in the world, maneuvering into an ending position VERY different from her initial position.

I thought “Jeeze, she’s REALLY smart!” and, no kidding, that was the first time I let myself notice that she was also really beautiful. Bam. I was toast.

We’ll let the therapists figure THAT one out. The point is that the ability to see that you can’t always hit the target from your bedroom window. You have to get out in the world, meet people, do things…and those things are not always directly aligned with your goals. But if you’re smart, and choose your “peripheral” activities carefully, you can use THIS position to get to THAT position from which you can meet THIS person who will finally open the door to a place from which you can finally see your target.

Learning this lesson has taken half my life.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Great letter in Saturday's L.A. Times from an insightful fellow named Marvin Wolf, regarding Casanegra. He was dead-on about how calculated the entire venture was, but wrong if he thinks we were "exploited." And also probably wrong about how efforts like this place the future of literature at risk. It was a pure marketing move, and the gestation has been honestly described. If the BOOK isn't good, I'm man enough to face the criticism. But I have the delicious sense that there's a touch of "damn! Why didn't I think of that!" about some of the reactions...
Took a little longer to get out of bed this morning. I DELIBERATELY didn't do all of my recovery work (spa, range-of-motion work) so that I could feel the Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) from the density workout on Friday. Didn't feel like death, so today we'll try it again.
Had a long conversation with Mr. Al "Hot Dog" Harvey, an L.A. City Councilman, and 9th Degree blackbelt (honorary, signifying his status as one of Steve Muhammad's first students. By his own admission, that rank should really be about a 6th). What a fantastic martial artist, and a fine gentleman. Also opinionated as hell--he doesn't mince words. But this is a guy who, when he was 17, was tapped by the great Joe Lewis to help him prepare for fights with Bill Wallace. No joke. He's agreed to coach me a bit. Now THAT should be interesting.
I'm working on the sequel to "Great Sky Woman" today. Tananarive is out of town, visiting her sister in Texas. As soon as she gets back, we start on Tennyson II: "In the Night of the Heat."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


“Biosemiotics (bios=life & semion=sign) is an interdisciplinary science that studies communication and signification in living systems. Communication is the essential characteristic of life. An organism is a message to future generations that specifies how to survive and reproduce. Any autocatalytic system transfers information (i.e. initial conditions) to its progeny so that daughter systems will eventually reach the same state as their parent. Self-reproducing systems have a semantic closure (Pattee 1995) because they define themselves in their progeny. A sign (defined in a broadest sense) is an object that is a part of some self-reproducing system. A sign is always useful for the system and its value can be determined by its contribution to the reproductive value of the entire system. The major trend in the evolution of signs is the increase of their complexity via development of new hierarchical levels, i.e., metasystem transitions (Turchin 1977).”

Who is familiar with this term? A dear friend and mad scientist Jack Cohen sent me an essay I’ll be digesting for the next few days on this fascinating and hitherto unknown subject. Can’t wait.
Been interesting to read commentary on "Bourne Ultimatum." They praise it (deservedly) and contrast it with Bond, (especially "Casino Royale") which is legitimate in one sense, and unfair in another. I mean, the thing that makes Bourne so interesting is that he is a spy seeking his own identity. So...does anyone think "Ultimatum," the third Bourne film (and reportedly the last Matt Damon will star in) will have more impact on cinema than, say "Goldfinger" did? Really? Goldfinger was my first 007 movie, and I remember clearly that it created an absolute fever of excitement across the country, with dozens of imitation spy films and television shows and comic books and so forth. Does anyone think that Bourne could be sustained across even a dozen films at anything remotely close to the level we saw in the first three? I understand why Damon is doubtful about more: they've gone pretty close to the bottom of the barrel. One more movie, maybe, as he re-unites with his family and straightens out whatever problems THEY have. And after that? Uh...finding Julia Stiles and figuring out if they actually had a relationship? And after that? If I'm not mistaken, that dumps Bourne squarely in the middle of the typical spy movie scenario, and the whole thing cools off pretty quickly. Now, understand: Universal WILL make more Bourne movies, for the same reason you're going to work tomorrow: bills need to be paid. Will they be artistically corrupt? Probably, but not necessarily. A brilliant writer/director might come up with something radical. But the more radical it is, the more the executives at Universal will be scared: they want to provide the audience with an experience that will deliver a predictable level of satisfaction. Commerce and Art mate kinda like porcupines (very carefully), but it does occasionally happen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

L.A. Times

Well, an article in the L.A. Times is something to shout about. Written by a gentleman named Greg Braxton, the piece isn't bad at all, 'tho I don't like my picture much: looks like they caught me blinking. Oh, well...
I have my Century Clubbell work underway. By using a mixture of Density training and GTG, I can do a set of five, wait a minute, do the next set, etc. until I reach the stress level that matches the day's load. Then I can finish out the reps for the day by doing a few more sets every couple of hours. The point is to get the load up to 100 reps a day, so that my joints and tendons have a chance to adjust. Yesterday's felt just fine.
Last week we had out meeting at Fox. I am cautiously quite optimistic. They had minimal notes on "The Good House" and Tananarive and I were just stunned. Now, this is after two years waiting to get the papers signed, and then weeks waiting for our meeting...we drive to the meeting, and T accidentally stains her beautiful white pants by sitting in SOMETHING that made it look as if she'd crapped herself. Didn't find out until we were AT the studio. Didn't panic...found a jacked she could tie around her waist, very California Casual. And we went to our meeting. The studio was in a tither...a recently announced movie had caused some shitload of controversy, and it was hard for folks to concentrate: we went in about 40 minutes late.
I refused to be nervous. As far as I was concerned, I HAVE their money, and if it falls apart, well, tough.

But then...all of the massive work we'd put into development, into writing that draft, into preparing for any and all complaints that they might have, into answering the questions on a "coverage" report our producer had paid for (even though I didn't respect or agree with everything the reader said, I responded as if those notes had come down from the President of Fox: careful explanations, a three-point exploration of the world's magic, suggested fixes for problems that weren't there...) and then...about ten minutes of notes and questions and "can you have the re-write before October? There's a strike coming..."

What? That's all? And the comment about the strike suggests that when we turn in a killer script, there is actually a larger chance that Fox Searchlight will want to go into production. The timing just couldn't be better.

It feels like the kind of "luck" that happens after years of prep. You know, the type that favors the prepared mind...

More to come.

Monday, August 13, 2007


Oh, All right. I succumbed, and bought an iPhone on Saturday. The Apple Store was way busy, but most of the customers were there for the new Imac, so I was able to get serviced fast. Took it home. It came charged, which was smart, because I wanted to play with it IMMEDIATELY. This thing is beautiful. Feels solid, and the color screen is beautiful. Really, it seems less like a phone than a pocket-sized Mac with uber-connectivity. I'm still waiting for my cellular services to talk with each other and switch plans. But the updating seems pretty effortless, through my iTunes. We'll see how this goes--Mac is great within its little insular Mac world, sometimes irritating when you try to make it talk to the PC world.

But it sure is purty.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Flavor Flav?

Can anyone out there tell me exactly what Flavor Flav's talent is? Does he sing? Dance? Rap? Play an instrument? Produce music? I'm honestly unclear on the root source of his "celebrity"...

A picture of Nicki and her boyfriend Michael at ComicCon. They were being Hogwarts students, and apparently the crowd appreciated 'em. Prejudiced, of course, but I think she's adorable. And Mike's a good guy. As long as he makes her happy, I'll let him live.

CST and stuff

A note on CST: there are three major “wings” which interact to create its wonderful effect.
1) Joint rotation drills to “clean the slate,” allowing decompression and release of microtrauma and accumulated stress.
2) Gross motor coordination drills which resemble a dynamic yoga to sophisticate the nervous system and teach basic breathing techniques.
3) Weight-bearing exercise which moves along circular pathways. The chosen tool here is Clubbells, but kettlebells and dumbbells are also useful. This allows us to test our breathing at higher levels, as well as protect the body from deviation during performance.

Note that the three wings could be satisfied by, say, yoga and gymnastics. The concepts developed by Scott can help explain both hard and soft-style martial arts and applications, but to keep it from becoming purely academic, it is vital to develop athleticism as well.

The beauty of his system is just how flexible it is, and in the final analysis, how he is encouraging you to develop your own programs, using your own tools, but “training” you to become an instinctive athlete.

Personally, I’m a “constructed kinesthetic”—someone with little innate athleticism, but a lifelong fascination with martial arts and yoga that have taught me to experience the world in other than the digital-visual manner that was most natural for me as a child. Actually, one NLP practitioner (and my Kenpo instructor) told me that I was “super-visual.” Experienced life as a succession of visual images. Probably not healthy, but it was interesting. Actually, that ability limited my martial arts training in an odd way. When I began studying BKF Kenpo (a somewhat different form), I could consciously move faster than others could move unconsciously. However, this was a dead-end. Ultimately, a real martial art is all about the hind-brain. So whenever I got to the point that I started moving unconsciously, it scared the piss out of me, and I backed away. I suspect that I was afraid of letting my anger out. Probably relates to some racial and father-issue stuff.

But you know what? You can spend thirty years on an analyst’s couch dissecting your past and still marry your daughter (Woody Allen, anyone?) so the “whys” don’t really matter.

To me, what matters is the ability to live the life you would have lived if you’d never sustained the damage in the first place. So…for me that would be being a good martial artist, having a writing career creating unique cultural images, and being a good father and husband.

The emotional garbage you see me throw up here is just that—the garbage I discard so that I can get on with the business of life.
A major issue in my life now is the question of “what’s next”? Now, in one sense all that there is to do is chop wood, carry water. Just be. Just enjoy each moment of life. There is another part of me that loves goals, and I feed that beast as well—it has served me quite well over the years.

The relationship goal hasn’t changed. I think I’ve got the husband-daddy thing down pretty well. That means that I know the path to continue on there, not that I can stop and admire myself.

Martial arts? Still unfinished business. But about five weeks ago, I found a small BKF school in Leimert Park, and am seriously considering playing with them. We have things to teach each other, and the younger version of Steve, who still lives within me, would just flat love to have a black belt handed to me by Steve Mohammed, my first instructor. I never had that honor, earning instead a Dan ranking in AIKKA (Parker-style) Karate. A very nice school of motion, but without the same emotional resonance. I’m also thinking of adopting that little school as a pet charity: I have money I need to give away, and there, if I donate 200 bucks, next week I’ll see a new heavy bag…or new gloves…or three new students I’ve provided scholarships for. I could also teach there, and have an impact on the community. I have a need to give back.
For the thousandth time, the rubber meets the road here: IF you meditate and control your breathing, you go to a calm, centered place. If you then remember to breathe during the day, eventually you will check your breathing during a stressful experience, shift it, and find out that the stress diminishes. If you sophisticate the breathing, deepen your ability to breathe calmly under stress, you will be able to handle higher and higher levels of stress without it becoming strain.

If you also create goals in all three arenas of life, admitting that you want love, financial success and bountiful health, and striving to achieve them, you will be exposed to considerable stress. If you continue on, while preventing the stress from becoming strain, the only way the organism can respond is by positive adaptation—you become stronger. You also make deeper contact with your true Self—the invisible space within the triangle created by your goals.

One of the signs of this is the ability to achieve high excellence in all three arenas without specific goals: you are simply “Zen-ing along.” I am honored to know a few people like this. Most of us aren’t in that category.

As CST is designed to make us healthy, instinctive athletes, Lifewriting and Threshold Training ("The Path") are designed to make us instinctive peak performers. You wake up in the morning, life your life, go to sleep at night eager to rest, eager for the new day. And then look back over a year and realize that you have deepened your practice of life itself. An extraordinary feeling.

And what is at the end of that road? A return to the ocean of living energy from which we all spring. Sorry, no egos allowed. Hopes of “individual survival” are dependant upon the illusion that we are individuals. We are so much more than that. Releasing the illusion of duality is one of the hallmarks of spiritual maturity.

That concept is useful because we can work backwards from there, find the pertinent attitudes and teachings in the religious disciplines we were raised in, unite with those of like mind from other traditions. We can go backwards from there to our philosophical concepts of life, our reality maps, and work to make them accurate and useful. And we balance our emotional lives, intellectual lives, physical lives, again searching to resolve the dualities at every turn.

And we ultimately ground it all in the physical reality of our existence, one breath at a time. And there it is: we start with a breath, work our way up to spiritual awakening, and then work back down through the chakras to align every aspect of ourselves with that primal state.

Life is so complex. And so simple. And so beautiful.

As are we all.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Answer to Steve Perry's Question

Steve: Here's Scott's answer to your question about the "Why" of a 100-rep Century attempt.

That's an excellent question. The problem is the solution. Progression relates to HOW you feel, in the Circular Strength Training® System.

There is no such thing as maintaining. The body either expands or collapses, progresses or regresses.

So, in CST, we use incremental progressive resistance, as opposed to arbitrary qualitative increases. Baby steps are smaller (and are more intuitively latched in), but accumulate faster than larger (arbitrary) leaps.

As we all know, you cannot progress without stress (and if you don't progress, you regress.) So, surgically controlling precision stress is the hallmark feature of the Circular Strength Training® System (which sets us apart from say, a club swinging program.)

We subjectively monitor three variables in CST Intuitive Training: discomfort, technique and effort. When the discomfort remains under a 4 on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the worst pain imaginable), technique remains above a 7 on a scale of 1-10 (10 being your best form possible), and effort consistently remains below a 6 for two sessions, then you can progress to the next level. Since Steve (Barnes) is doing a density cycle, this would be the next step up in rest compression. As a result, we inextricably bind quantitative progression with qualitative increments.

This is only one example in the system. There is also breath. No reason to go into the science behind it for now, but suffice it to say this: when one can consistently exhale on compression (say moving belly to thighs in a squat) rather than needing to exhale on driving the earth away, then one can progress. This transition from discipline level breath to flow level breath demonstrates an empirical signal that one can progress. Usually only the coach can observe this, unless you videotape your sessions (since flow level also involves a "soft-focus" of only being aware of the performance.)

A very accessible source material for this in stress physiology is "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" by Dr. Robert Sapolsky.
Best Regards,
Scott Sonnon
Distinguished Master of Sport

Body and emotion, the hard way

One of the things that I love about Scott is the way he keeps evolving. Over the last years,he’s started incorporating some serious yoga into his programs, and that’s all for the good. In my opinion, Yoga is just the best body-mind discipline available to the general public. Unless you are qualified to TEACH a yoga class, if you are serious about your health you should attend one at least once a month, and have a home practice at least 15 minutes twice a week MINIMUM. Yoga puts back what time takes away.

Anyway, the common element between many of these disciplines is the idea that the human body is interrelated systems which must be addressed globally for maximum impact. That means that you either practice an old, tried and true health system, or you research your butt off to be certain that you are covering everything.

The Lifewriting idea originally came out of the observation that the Hero’s Journey seemed to give people perspective on their lives that often disappeared under stress. It evolved to embrace the question of selection of resources—I’m now convinced that I’ll never find the “perfect” set, although things like I.F., Spiritual Autolysis, and the Flow State Performance Spiral are fantastic.

One thing that does hit me is that stress limits your ability to detect stress. It also limits your ability to find and use resources in your environment. In other words, as stress becomes strain, you become blind to the possible alternative options. Life turns into a “my way or the highway” situation. “There’s nothing I can do” is a common complaint. How many times have you heard this from a friend, when, as you look in from the outside, you see a dozen options?

Worse is the person who has a complaint that requires a long-term behavioral solution. Many times, I’ve suggested someone, for instance, meditate. They don’t have time. Years down the road, they hit an emotional or physical problem, where the perfect answer would have been meditation, but it will take about six weeks for that solution to begin to kick in. They don’t have time, and want an answer NOW. They’ll survive the crisis, and then once again won’t make the time to meditate, and the cycle continues. Month after month, year after year, decade after decade.

Scott has a saying about pain in the body: pain is the last to manifest, and the first to leave. In other words, chronic Yuck accumulates in the body for a LONG time before it actually begins to hurt. You try desperately to get an athlete to change their behavior, and they won’t. Or they’ll go to a clinic just long enough to salve the pain, and will then hit the field again, without addressing the underlying problem.

The same thing psychologically. People don’t want to address the real problems. They’ll deal with the symptom once it becomes intolerable, but as soon as the discomfort is gone, they’ll go right back to the old behaviors.

It’s heartbreaking, it really is.
. For at least the next 28 days, I'll be playing with a new exercise option. Actually, two of them.

Most importantly, I have a goal of performing 15 reps of FlowFit II in Fifteen minutes. Trust me, this is overall fitness at a VERY high level--flexibility, cardio, upper and lower body. Nice. But I'm also going for a 100-rep "Century" with the bruiser, using the Gama cast (a sort of over-shoulder figure 8) . Yep, I've tried before and failed. But the I.F. seems to give me a better recovery, so I'm trying again.

I'm using what's called a "Density Cycle." Here's the plan. You take an exercise that would be a complete and total physical breakthrough if you could do 100 reps. Say an exercise you can currently do 10 times. Do five reps per minute for 20 minutes. (approximately 1 minute per set. Expand this time-frame if necessary.) When you can complete all twenty sets comfortably, do 18 sets of 6 reps, at about one per minute. Or you could just rest one minute in between sets. Keep this up, upping reps and dropping sets so that the total work just clears 100 reps. This plan is strange, because as you march through the different rep schemes, you get a cascade of different physical effects: strength, power, size, endurance, fat loss, etc., each emphasized by a different rep range (strength/power is 5-7 reps. Size is 8-12 reps. Muscular endurance is around 15 reps, etc.) It's gonna be wicked, and I think going for both will be fascinating. I'll alternate with pure yoga days. This should be fun.

Please pay VERY CAREFUL ATTENTION: You MUST have serious recovery time built into a program like this. That is no #@$$%ing joke. You can tear your body to pieces if you try to make it adapt faster than it is prepared to do.

Yesterday, I did 20 sets of five Gama Casts, one set every half-hour through the day. This morning, I was sore, but that’s nothing in comparison with how sore I’ll be when I start compressing the rest periods. And if I don’t respect my body’s messages, and hurry too quickly through the stages, I’ll tear myself apart.

Now, this is the point. Do you see it? Your ability to progress physically is in direct proportion to your emotional control and discipline. In other words, the urge to “get there” to the final step will force you to degrade technique, to fail to get all the possible good from a given step. I think it relates to fears of age, or inadequacy, or desire to control the pace of change. We fear we can’t, and push too hard. We fear our competitors will get there first, and forget that we are never, ever competing with anyone but ourselves.

This opens the door a little wider, showing how body is created by mind and emotion. It is just a bit harder to demonstrate how intellect is created and controlled by the body and heart, or how our emotions are controlled by physical sensation and mental focus.

All three are interrelated, and there is nothing sadder than a mindless jock, an open-heart who won’t learn from mistakes, an intellectual brain-in-a-box. Sigh. Our true excellence lies so close at hand. It takes so little time to connect with all three—but growth demands consistency. Just a little work every day will get you there.

But most people wait until it hurts, and then try running the emergency room.

That’s nuts.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Weekend torture and "Bourne Ultimatum"

At this moment in my life, everything is going perfectly, or about as close to it as I can get. I mean this in the sense that everything is moving in the right direction, all plans seem to be ripening. There are certainly challenges, and tomorrow I might fall flat on my ass. But today is great.
Spent last weekend in Bellingham, Washington, at Scott Sonnon’s latest CST certification seminar. I had to get my cert updated, so I flew up last Thursday, back on Monday. There was a bit of stress involved: one of my good friends, Al Siebert, has had some health challenges, and I wanted to be certain to see him. I was also supposed to see Charles Johnson, but I missed my flight and my connection, and didn’t get up to the NW until late. Didn’t get to my hotel room until midnight, on a day when I woke up at 5am. Bleh.
Will go over the seminar later, as well as some other things that involve the body-mind connection. We’ll say the content of Coach Sonnon’s work has clarified considerably. His assistants were wonderful, and I re-connected with some old friends. On Sunday (unbeknownst to me!) was something called the “Trial By Fire,” 130 reps each of three different Clubbell exercises. My, my, THAT was interesting. More on that, as well.
Friday, saw “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Just wonderful, one of the best action movies ever. Probably more action than any movie I’ve ever seen that still made sense. One of the top 10 fight scenes I’ve ever seen. Matt Damon knocks it out of the park. An A+ for action fans. An “A” for moviegoers in general. This tale of a deadly, heartbroken spy searching for his own identity is simply a corker. DAMN I love what’s being done with the super-spy genre these days.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Taking off for Scott Sonnon's CST seminar in Bellingham. Can't begin to thank this brilliant man for what he's done in helping me integrate my physical and mental practices. He's the best.
A thought: the only reason we are ever afraid is that we aren't paying attention to the NOW. Since responses in the Now are the only things that can ever resolve a problem, fear should be seen as a signal to re-center your breathing and stay Now. The greater the fear, the louder the signal. Fear is our friend.