The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, April 28, 2014

Danger Word!

We've been busy with multiple projects, but the biggest news today  is that my  short film DANGER WORD has finally gone public!  There are so many different ways to look at this, from the stress-relief of working on a dream while living in a non-optimal situation (no, that wasn't the first term that came to mind) from the planning and organization and writing, to the family dynamic of working with Tananrive in a way I never had, to providing my darling daughter Nicki with her first IMDB acting credit (Jason is in there too, but blink and you'll miss him), to time-organization, to money-raising, to a blazingly  powerful use of the "SECRET FORMULA", to the deliberate creation of a cultural meme directed at young the sheer fun of making a little horror film...from the "kid" part of me to the "adult" part, DANGER WORD was also the completion of a life's dream.  My last remaining childhood goal was to sit in a movie audience and see and feel them react as a movie "written by" me went on the screen.  And because I never said "how long?" or "how big?" I realized I got to consider this a major win, freeing me to do whatever comes next in my  life.

And now I get to share it with you.   So...if you like horror film, this little tale of a grandfather trying to protect his granddaughter after the Zombie Apocalypse might be right up your alley.   Or the alley  of a friend.   Please forward this link wherever you wish, to anyone you think would find it of interest.

Ladies and gentlemen...WWW.DANwww.dangerword.comGERWORD.COM.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Secret Formula" 4-13-14: Gratitude


All right, the last basic piece of the puzzle (we’ll discuss minor or supplemental pieces soon).

Gratitude is the one that kicked my butt in Atlanta.  How am I supposed to be happy about something causing me so much pain?  I could see the trap: while it is possible to power yourself with negative emotions (fear, anger, hate) that is a different path.  “The Dark Side of the Force.”  I don’t deny that it works, but that was not, at all, what was being discussed in Wattle’s book.

Not “THE” path, but certainly “A” path, and the one that called to me.   Even if I could find things to be grateful for in this instance, could I apply this across the board?  Can a person be grateful in ANY situation?

This is going to be a delicate one, but I’m going to mention it anyway.  One of the great teachers of my life was a woman named Dawn Callan, teacher of a fabulous self-defense/empowerment workshop called “Awaken The Warrior Within.”  In two days, Dawn could teach women more about self defense than most instructors can in two years.  She did this with a combination of simple techniques drilled endlessly for two days at high intensity, combined with spiritual therapy-group style introspection and sharing.  Then, at the end, you practice your skils against a padded attacker, in a combat exercise that has to be experienced to be believed.  INTENSE.   Breakthrough stuff.

I watched hundreds of women go through this process, including some who had been raped or abused.  And they came out the other side with a sense of power and possibility that was astounding. Dawn was, in the space of that workshop, an avatar of power and responsibility and pure Goddess energy, fierce as Kali.   About five two on the outside, and seven feet tall on the inside. Amazing woman.     I asked her what was the hardest thing she had to face in helping these women (and later, men) through this challenge.

And what she said blew my mind.  With a woman who had been raped, her greatest challenge was getting her to take responsibility for what had happened.  What?  What the hell?  

She was very precise in her language.  “Responsibility.”   Not guilt, blame, or shame.  Response-ability.  The ability to respond.   Without that, she believed, you were a victim forever.  Taking responsibility for what HAD happened opened the door to taking responsibility for your future actions and behaviors and encounters.

With that, you tap into your deeper perceptions, intuition, and pure animal survival drives from a spiritual perspective.  Without that, all you can do is plead for help or mercy.  And that was most definitely NOT where Dawn was coming from.

And it was difficult, because the natural tendency IS to confuse “responsibility” with guilt, blame and shame.  But if you remove those emotions, what have you?  

Commitment.  A sense that, even if you cannot always see or understand the pattern, you have agency. can you embrace a philosophy like that?   What of abused children?  What of people born into unbelievabl poverty?  What of people born with childhood diseases?  Can you ask them to take “responsibility” for any of that?

You cannot demand it, no.  And it is totally understandable that saying this can be uncomfortable. Even worse (much worse) some people use such a philosophy to justify cruelty or neglect.  “Why, they chose that miserable state…”

What the hell, indeed.  And Dawn, a woman of titanic, ruthles compassion, understood that.  So she would NEVER ask people to accept such a position until she had shifted their emotions to a powerful state in which they could view their lived out of the “victim” mindset.

This is a tightrope.  Huge.  But every woman I saw cross it found something that she thought she had lost: a sense of power in her life. She could not change what had happened, but by God, she could take every ounce of that pain and turn it into motivation. Strength. Resolve. She could define what had happened to her as the trigger to turn her into a tiger committed to protecting ALL women, ALL children, and that she was willing to die before losing her commitment.

Taking power like that, as hard as it clearly was, opened the door to a kind of power and clarity that was...unique. Never seen anything like it.

And if hundreds of women could do THAT, what was I being asked to do?  To find a way to be grateful in the midst of pain.  Was there a way?   Could I even imagine looking back ten years from now and seeing ANYTHING to be happy about?

Well...sure.  Maybe .01% possibility, but…

And if that was true, if there was only a single cold star in a bleak, black night sky, didn’t it behoove me to concentrate on that star, if doing so brought joy to my life, and that joy made me a better husband and father...and writer...and coach...and then made me a more attractive, dynamic person, drawing in allies and opportunities...which then could lead to me getting out of Atlanta and back to L.A.?

I could see the line of causality.   I could “grasp” it. Could see how something analogous had worked in other circumstances.  Had had the people I trust most in the world tell me, every one of them, that I had to find joy, peace, happiness...GRATITUDE...where I was, when I was, or I was on the wrong path.

I could have my pain and anger and despair...or I could have my life.  I just had to step away from the damage, not define myself by my ego trainwreck.   I was not “that.” My life was not defined by “that.”  I had agency.  Had made choices.  Could MAKE choices...if not in what had already happened, certainly in my interpretation: what does it mean? Who am I?  What is true?

And if I could line that up so that every event was empowering, even the negative ones...if for no othr reason than I HAD LEARNED THE LESSON AND SURVIVED...then everything that had ever happened to me in my life could be an empowerment.  A doorway. A bridge. A motivator.  

Every enemy an ally.   Every happenstance a miracle.   Every day of my life a building block to the man I am today. And if I love that man...I must be grateful for all of it. To all of THEM.  

Forgiveness is not a gift to your enemies. It does not mean forgetting, or allowing them to hurt you again.  It is a way to unburden your heart.  

If you learn the lesson, you can release the pain and fear.  And what love.

And gratitude.  For another day of life.  For a strong, healthy body. For the people who love and trust me.   For Jason, and Nicki, and my beautiful, brilliant wife.  For the chance to help one more person by embracing the truth of my own existence.

And the only cost for this lightness of being is giving up the need to be right. And the fear that if I don’t dump my negative emotions and fear onto others, it will rebound upon me.

Could I be that strong?  Could I?  Well...if I was committed to being the man I’m committed to being, yes.  If I am to be the father and husband I am committed to being, yes. The role model I’m committed to being. The friend. The writer. The coach.

It made sense, even if I couldn’t quite attain it.  So I did what I have done before: I made it a prayer.  To God, to my own Higher Self--you decide.  I don’t care.

“God,” I said.  “I’m going to give up my anger.  I’m going to take the leap.   I can’t see what is in front of me, it’s a leap into a fog bank.  All I ask is that you either catch me, or, if there are rocks down there...let me hit them before  I see them.”

And I jumped, into a world of love, and acceptance, and...gratitude.

And was caught.  And transformed.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

The "Secret Formula" 4-12-14


“In every job that’s to be done, there is an element of fun.  Find the fun and poof!  The job’s a game!”--M. Poppins.

The third part of this deceptively simple formula is “constant action.”  In truth, this is the major flaw I see in people who practice “The Secret.”   The ones who fail, without exception thought that wanting something, visualizing it or chanting goals would produce a miracle.

No.   YOU  are the miracle.    A farmer cannot pray over a field that has not been ploughed and planted, and expect wheat.  Even if he does everything right, a tornado can tear up his field, the locusts may come, the rain may withhold its blessing.   And he will have to dry his tears, stifle his curses, pull up his big-boy pants and try again.     That’s the biz.

There are no guarantees of success. But there ARE guarantees of failure.  Taking no action, or insufficient action, is one of them.   Let’s put it another way: if your goals aren’t exciting and motivating enough to get you off the couch, off your butt, and hitting it hard morning til night, what the #$%% makes you think they’re strong enough to make the Universe respond?

The bad news is that that Universe doesn’t care.  At this very moment, wolves are ripping rabbits to pieces in woods all over the world...and all is well.

The good news is that the Universe doesn’t care.  It isn’t going to go out of its way to stop you from getting what you want.  In fact, with bizarre consistency, those who arrange their lives so that they don’t NEED luck (it’s nice not to have “bad” luck, but “good” luck isn’t necessary) are the ones who get stupendously lucky.

When you don’t have a job, you can’t get a job, until you’ve got a job, and then everybody offers you work.  When you don’t have a lover, you can’t get one, until you’ve got one, and then your phone starts ringing.  When you’re broke, you can’t get a loan, until you’ve got money, at which point everyone wants to extend credit.

It is perverse.  Get over it--it’s just the way it works.

So define your daily activities so that, if you work your butt off, you can accomplish steps that will lead you to your goal. Set it up so you need no “luck”, and ask for no “help” from others you are not willing to make fair trade for.  Re-write and clarify your goals and motivations until you associate GREAT pleasure with accomplishing them, and REAL pain to failing to act.

Seek flow in your daily actions, so that you gain pleasure FROM YOUR DAILY WORK, rather than when you reach that distant goal.  Right here, right now, pleasure.  Every day. Every moment.  THIS IS YOUR LIFE.  If you postpone pleasure, you might get hit by a car on your way across the street to cash that check. And won’t you feel a fool, lying there realizing you put off your life, and now it’s over?   But if you apply your intelligence you will find ways to take joy in every moment of the work, either for its own sake, or because you are learning and growing, or contributing to others.

ENJOY YOUR LIFE NOW.   Bring 100% of what you have, every day, to the blissful effort of going deeper into your two questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?”

Every day.  Divide your long-term goals into pieces, and fulfill 1% every week.  How do you eat an elephant?  One forkful at a time.

Every day.  Constant action.  The person who makes ten times as many mistakes as you do, AND LEARNS FROM EVERY ONE, AND SEEKS NEVER TO REPEAT AN ERROR, will out-perform you so fast it will make your head spin.

You don’t have to whistle while you work, but you do have to work.  And it is then, when you have a clear goal, faith in your efforts, and are totally flowing with constant focused effort…

That is when the gremlins who mess up other people’s plans start saying: “damn!  This girl is serious!   Let’s go mess with someone with less grit.”

And people will start saying: “wow!   He’s lucky.”

And you will laugh at them, and cry for them, just a little.   And continue down your road.   And it is often a lonely road.  Most people think that magic is something outside themselves, something they can call on.

No. Magic is something you embody, or it is nothing at all.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Secret Formula 4/11/14

The Secret Formula 4/11

Goals X Faith X Action X Gratitude = Results

The term “Faith” is used in two different senses

1) the belief that your goal is POSSIBLE and APPROPRIATE, and that your efforts will bring you more pleasure and decrease pain.

2) The belief that you have greater resources than those contained within your ego-self.

Both are critical, for different reasons.  I don’t believe in lazy people (in the sense of “he’s too lazy to get a job/exercise/etc).  I believe in people without motivating goals (there’s nothing I’d get out of doing that), conflicting values that paralyze, or conflicting beliefs that say the goal is out of reach, or toxic, or wrong in some way.   Or, they believe that the attempt to reach the goal will cause more pain than pleasure.   IF you can clearly see and feel the positive value of the action, if it matches your self-image, if you have an efficient and effective plan to reach it YOU BELIEVE IN, and you associate pleasure with doing it and pain with NOT doing it?   I think you’d be doing it.  And have never seen an exception to this.  Ever.

The second interpretation of “Faith” is more standard.  In the Hero’s Journey, the way through the “Dark Night of the Soul” is called the “Leap of Faith”.    The “Dark Night” is just the moment at which it feels that all of your skills and strengths and resources are insufficient to reach your goal.   You have reached ego-limit.

“Faith” here relates to one of three things:
1) Faith in Self.    In other words, even though you have “emptied yourself out” you trust that you can grow, or have hidden strengths, or that Tomorrow Is Another Day.  You look back over your life and see countless times you saw no way to succeed, felt exhausted and depressed...and succeeded anyway.  You will fight to the last drop of blood.  People like that are VERY hard to stop.

2)  Faith in Companions.  The only known way to compensate for lack of ability is the Mastermind.  Friends, family, co-workers, coaches, etc.  You trust that you are part of a team, and that they will be there to catch you when you fall.

3) Faith in a Higher Power.    Typically, this is belief in a benevolent God.  But it could also be a sense that the universe “makes sense”.  Or that there are patterns of action in nature that reward the positive.  Or the rhythms of life can be sensed like a surfer understands tides and waves.  “For every thing there is a time.”  It doesn’t matter.    

You may have noticed that a disproportionate percentage of high-performing, champion folks, when interviewed, will attribute their success to something other than themselves.  They thank their coaches, families, teammates. They “did it” for their dying mother, their country, or school. They “know” that they could never have done it but for answered prayers.

Whatever you may think about the arena of Faith, it seems a very, very powerful ally in accessing deep wells of skill and energy and courage when all seems lost.   And if you can find something to believe in that is bigger and deeper than your ordinary sense of self, you too will be able to keep going through the “Dark Nights”.  And the combined wisdom of all world cultures suggests that on the other side of the “Leap of Faith” everything you’ve ever wanted, needed, or deserved.



Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Free Workshop today!

SIGN UP for the free virtual workshop "Storytelling through a Speculative Lens" I'm hosting through Spelman College with co-panelists Steven Barnes Sheree RenĂ©e Thomas Adrienne Maree Brown and John Jennings. LIVE-STREAMING ON YOUTUBE AND SPELMAN'S WEBSITE. 7p ET / 4p PT Wednesday. You can also send questions from Twitter with the hashtag ‪#‎OctaviaButlerSpelman‬. Here's the RSVP link: (And don't forget about the Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts & Activism next week, Weds. 4/16. and Thursday 4/17. "Like" the page for details.)

Monday, April 07, 2014

Back to the "Secret Formula"

Goal X Faith X Constant Action X Gratitude = Success

The above is the “Secret Formula” I extracted from “The Science of Getting Rich” by Wallace D. Wattles.  It is so powerful, and so far-reaching in implication, that I wanted to come back to it yet again.  I honestly believe that, IF YOU BALANCE YOUR GOALS (body, mind, emotions)   it is the simplest expression of a whole-life success philosophy I’ve ever seen, and comes perilously close to “magic.”  (especially in the Arthur C. Clarke “any sufficiently advance technology is indistinguishable from magic” sense.)

Let’s start by looking at the implications of this being a multiplicative as opposed to additive equation.   What do YOU think the difference is..?


All right.   The difference is that if you “zero out” in any one of the four categories, the entire thing becomes a “zero.”   That’s it.  Enormous implication.

No goals?  Zero.
No faith you can and should do it?  Zero.
Not taking ferocious daily action?  Zero.
Not finding a way to be happy NOW, as you go?   Zero.

But if you
1)  have clear measurable goals,
2) believe your efforts will bring more pleasure than pain
3) Aim at constant useful action and improvement of skills
4)  Develop a sense of joy in Being Here Now…

You cannot lose.   No one promises me tomorrow.  I could get hit by a meteor, or some thin wall in a blood vessel might go “pop.”  We’re all handed a post-dated death certificate at birth.   But if I know what I want, believe in possibility and the rightness of action, am constantly growing toward this worthy goal, and am whistling as I work…

I not only maximize my chances of reaching my goals, but am having a hell of a good time along the way.  I get to wake up every morning rarin’ to go, and go to bed every night giving thanks for another day doing the things I love with the people I love.

Life is good, even if I die before I wake.  Even if external circumstances thwart my dreams.   Even if I’ve misjudged my capacities.  Who cares?  I’ve had a hell of a ride.

And you know what?   When you take responsibilty for your own fate, in a perverse way the universe seems to finally decide to cooperate with you, and “luck” begins to occur.  It really is strange.  

We’ll talk more about this very soon…


Friday, April 04, 2014

A (mostly) non-revew of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014)

Apparently, Marvel rules the world.    “Winter Soldier” isn’t the best Marvel Studio film (for me, that’s Avengers, followed by Iron Man #1) but it demonstrates that they have learned to maintain a spooky level of consistency.  And no one has ever lived long enough to count all the money it’s gonna make by hand.    Considering (what seems to me) a mis-fire with the recent “Man of Steel” and the cluster-#$%% that “Batman Versus Superman” threatens to be if they don’t watch out (trying to shoehorn the Justice League into that movie is a recipe for disaster if they aren’t very, very careful: “Avengers” was a genius-level juggling act) I thought that rather than review “Winter Soldier” (it’s great.  Go) I’d make some comments on why I think that this is absolutely the best time in the world to be a Marvel geek.

1) It is interesting to note critics praising the Marvel Universe films for making different movies in different genres, but the truth is that the root of that is right in the comic books themselves.    And the innate variation is probably true of any comic book company, but because so many creative roots within Marvel cross at one living man--Stan Lee, there is  a consistency of feeling that you can’t get if the different books were each created by different creative teams.

2)  Advantage #2 took a long time to kick in: for decades the technology just wasn’t there to present the kind of visions Jack Kirby or Jim Steranko created in the pages of those comics.

Look how much they trumpeted “You’ll believe a man can fly” for Christopher Reeves, and Superman’s flight is extremely simple and straight-forward compared to the flying effects we’re used to today.  And Batman can be pulled off with primarily practical, mechanical effects, as Christopher Nolan proved three times.

The Marvel Universe is just stranger, farther-out, and whackier.  Spider-man just can’t be pulled off by stuntpeople without CGI--we can’t handle the gees without strain, and the ability to express Spidey’s joyous, blissed-out body language simply isn’t human.     Stunt men end up looking like Tarzan swinging though a concrete jungle rather than a teen-ager expressing all the pent-up frustration of adolescence in a “look at me, Maw!  Top of the World!” web-slinging version of the “Footloose” dance of freedom.

3) As I mentioned before, Stan Lee is still alive.  And although he hasn’t really been a creative force for decades, he is still “Stan the Man”, super-salesman.  And what is sales?  A transfer of enthusiasm from one person to another.  That means that the current creative minds at Marvel/Disney can sit in the room with Stan, and he can infect them with his vision of these characters, this world.   So what if Walt Disney didn’t draw or write Mickey Mouse, and couldn’t even sign his own autographs?   He was the human crossroads for everything that got done in his name, and as long as he was alive, there was a feel to everything that emerged under the “Walt Disney” brand.

I consider it so tragic that fans of the great “King” Jack Kirby feel it necessary to attack a 90-year old man to defend their favorite.  What is even worse is that they want me to believe that Stan contributed little or nothing to the canon.   I’ll say only this: I was there, a die-hard Marvel fan in the 1960’s and 70’s. I read everything that came out.   And there was a common “flavor” to the writing, ALL the writing, that came out with Stan’s name on it.  Artists came and went on all the different comics.  But the stories and writing were pretty much the same.  I refuse to believe that the artists were writing all this stuff, across two dozen books with artists swapping in and out...but maintaining the same writing flavor.  You want to believe that?  Go right ahead.

With a few exceptional graphic storytellers--like KIrby--there was a special magic when they teamed up, and I can believe that something very very special happened with the “Marvel Method”, where the artists were hugely trusted to create--under Stan’s editorial hand, and expressing a “Bullpen” feeling for everything happening at one extraordinary moment of time, 1965-75 or so.     My God, that must have been an amazing creative environment.  And it is genuinely heart-breaking that billions of dollars are being earned and Kirby’s heirs aren’t a part of that cash stream.

But that doesn’t change the fact that having Stan alive is like having the living creators of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern all in a room at the same time, telling stories of how, and why, and who.  That is an AMAZING advantage.

4) It doesn’t bother me in the least that theatrical cinema’s biggest movies are popcorn-munching, franchise-fodder genre stuff.  It WOULD bother me if we weren’t in a Golden Age of television. But any particular outlet for media images is just that--an outlet.    We have more product BY FAR hitting audiences, with theatrical film, broadcast television, VOD, cable, net-streaming, Direct-to-DVD and probably other stuff I’m forgetting about.  The traditional hierarchical “four studios controlling 90% of the screens” model is falling apart, with people absorbing content on home TVs, computers, cell phones, Ipads, theatrical screens, dedicated viewers, and in the near future probably corneal implants.   For those who miss the old model--well, I’m sorry for their pain, but the truth is that I was never a controlling  part of that structure to begin with, and I welcome the new avenues and the fact that chaos brings opportunity.

And I don’t blame Hollywood for seeking some sort of guarantees to pull people into theaters.   Movies are first and foremost “product”.  So major stars, recognizable themes, bestselling novels, adaptions of television shows, comic book heroes, or sequels of successful past films all get center stage.   And what will get the biggest budgets?  The films that can’t be properly made for a smaller screen.  “Ordinary People” looks just fine on a small screen, an intimate story of emotion.  But...blow up the world? Hell, give me an Imax screen and 3-d.  The fact that these gigantic, state-of-the ILM art images need no translation is icing on a very very profitable cake.

As long as I can watch five years of “Breaking Bad” on the small screen whenever I want, I really don’t care if half the stuff at the multiplex is popcorn b.s.   Choose a random year of Hollywood films and look at the output.   Except for the usual up-and-down of quality you see in any field, things haven’t ever been much better.  And if you look at the output of other world cinema--not just the stuff good enough for export, but the general sweep of their product--I think you’ll hold your nose just as much.

One of the fun things about having seen television in context in Europe, Africa, and South America, as well as having seen a ton of Asian cinema, is that it becomes very clear that Sturgeon’s Law is right: 90% of anything is crap.  It mostly just people trying to make a living and put their kids through school married to other people trying to express themselves and tell a story that’s buzzing around in their heads.    That anything really beautiful ever comes of that difficult union is a minor miracle.

Anyway, back to “Winter Soldier”.  It’s big. It’s loud.  It is also blessed with quiet thoughtful moments. It has great action and SFX.  It also has some very nicely judged acting.   It blusters and wears its patriotism on its arm.  It also suggests that there are ways America has lost its way.  And also celebrates the ways in which our ancestors got it wrong, without making a big thing of it.  It is pure comic book, and also, in the combination of everything that Hollywood does like no one else in the world has ever been able to do, for good or ill.   As said, it isn’t that perfect juggling act that raised “Avengers” into a kind of singular stratosphere--but it kicks ass all kinds of happy ways, and I cant’ wait to see it again.  In the top 10 comic book movies ever.

Make Mine Marvel.