Afrofuturism

What is your most important outcome this week?

 

Watching 1971’s   ANDROMEDA STRAIN. At the end of this very intellectual, emotionally cool film a doctor must run a gauntlet of ladders and lasers to stop a nuclear weapon from killing him and spreading an extinction-level pathogen around the world.   Seriously tense, exciting stuff.

 

And he barely makes it, combining puzzle-solving, physical courage, physical strength, resistance to pain, focus and clarity of intent into a final climactic action.

 

It’s “wow” stuff.  But LIFEWRITING suggests that we love these scenes because we know, deep inside, that WE could do such heroic things, if we ever had the motivations. If our lives, or the lives of our loved ones where at stake.

 

Well…guess what?  They are.

 

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I was asked what single thing would need most to change for people to live happier healthier lives?  My answer was

  1. Clarity on the fact that it is possible.
  2. Loving themselves enough to be willing to do Whatever It Takes to have that better result.

 

Without the first, CLARITY, it is possible to get lost in delusion, accepting a lack of energy or aliveness without investigating the behaviors and attitudes that produce it.

 

Without the second, you don’t have the DISCIPLINE to move through discomfort, or allot time, to produce those results.

 

We will do “whatever it takes” for our kids, but often won’t get off the couch for ourselves, won’t investigate a choice like Intermittent Fasting.

 

Of course, the same thing is true of improving relationships, creating a writing career, or creating financial stability.

 

You have to know the WHAT.

You have to have the WHY

And only then do you concern yourself with HOW.

 

The “how” is largely: what is the most important thing for you to accomplish today?  This week? This month?

 

And after you identify it, just have one successful day at a time, then a series of successful weeks, and successful months, and you have your life.

 

Of course, the key to a successful day is identifying successful  moments.  And to do that, you can use the “Morning Ritual” concept–just 5-20 minutes a day when you align body, emotions, and focus.

 

That’s all it takes. What is sad is people who will complain about their energy, emotions, financial situation, fitness, or whatever…but won’t discipline themselves for five minutes to find a way out of the maze.

 

Would they do it for their kids?  Hell, yes.

 

So…start with love.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

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Sex Robots and “Incel Traps”

“Westworld” and other shows, movies, and prose as well as the headlines speak of sex robots which will become more and more indistinguishable from real human beings.   I suggest that they will become traps for dysfunctional people, and not something that threatens human reproduction as a whole.

 

Because I don’t think healthy relationships are difficult for healthy people to find, I consider them one of the primary maturation points for human beings.   Sex robots would allow people to avoid that step.  It would be like living in a world with tons of free food, and all physical work done by machines: obesity would skyrocket.

 

What you would have is the emotional/spiritual equivalent of that maladaption, and it wouldn’t be pretty.

 

What is necessary to find that real realtionship?

  1. Love yourself, deeply.  If you do, you will be able to be attracted to some of those attracted to you–you will see yourself in them. We are attracted to people at our level of energy and integration…and above. We attract those at our level…and below.
  2. Develop enough power to attract and hold the level of beauty you desire. Or, the level of beauty to attract the level of power you desire.  If your desires don’t match your ability to attract…see step #1.

 

The “how” would be techniques like Heartbeat Meditation, The Ancient Child, and the Morning Ritual.   There are others out there, of course, and if you are alone, I pray you will align your body, mind, emotions, and instincts.   If you are constantly attracted to people you cannot attract, this is a clue that there is work to be done.

 

Those who take the escape hatch of a cybernetic relationship are playing a very different game, and it is a dead end.

It’s not hard to be King…it’s just every day.

(The title above is a play on a comment someone once made about parentage: it isn’t hard. It’s just daily.)

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Bought the Blu-Ray of Black Panther yesterday (I didn’t know DVD was a dying format.   Couldn’t even find a copy at Best Buy!) and watched it for the sixth time.   Man, that movie holds up.   On a core level, it is about a man learning to be a king, and having to define what that means to him.  To that end, his relationship to the kingdom is essential, and there is a beautiful, wide range of aspects to Wakanda that are shown or discussed.

 

One of my favorite moments is when he visits the Ancestral Plane, and speaks to his father’s spirit.   The situation is that he feels unprepared to be a king, specifically to go forward without the guidance of his father.  He has a Dark Night, related to his sense of guilt at not saving his father’s life in CIVIL WAR.

 

The truth is that life comes at us at Mach speed, and we are seldom ready. But his father, a good man (who made some bad choice…as do we all) reminds him that he prepared to be king EVERY DAY OF HIS LIFE. And that any man who does not prepare his children to go on without him has failed them.

 

“Have I failed you?”

“Never”, T’Challa replies.

 

And he gains the strength to rise and begin his reign as King of Wakanda, the titular Black Panther.

 

##

 

This is what all parents fear at times: that they are not prepared, not ready, not good enough, will fail our children.  And this is true even if you had a great Mom and Dad who were there for you to model every day. Living up to that example can seem daunting.

 

But we must try.  The voices in our head saying “you’re not enough” will always be there.   They may get quieter, but they never completely shut up.  If we are to do what we must for our families, our lives, the “child” dreamer within us, we have to prepare EVERY DAY for the life we desire, both to up our game and gain the ability to act despite the doubting voices.

 

Every day I get notes from people complaining about stress, and lack of focus, or context-based feelings of depression and despair. All I can do is continue to state that our moods are INFLUENCED, but not DETERMINED by what is happening around us.  That our emotions are the result of what we focus on, how we use language, and the way we move our bodies. I rejoice every time someone discovers this and uses it for themselves, but it is so sad when, a week or so later, I see the same person complain about the same stress…and no, they have done nothing I suggested.   It hurts.  But…people have to be who they are. I can only continue to speak, hoping that those who wish to be the kings and queens of their inner kingdoms will hear.

 

Wakanda Forever!

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.afrofuturismandhorror.com

Happy Independence Day!

 

 

 

  “Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in this history of mankind.

Mankind — that word should have new meaning for all of us today.

We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore.

We will be united in our common interests.

Perhaps its fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution — but from annihilation.

We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist.

And should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice:

“We will not go quietly into the night!

We will not vanish without a fight!

We’re going to live on!

We’re going to survive!”

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!”

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I flat-out LOVE ID4.  It is the epitome of cheese, but announces its intent when it plays “It’s the end of the world as we know it” over the initial scenes.  In some senses it isn’t a movie as much as a checklist of tropes, a “greatest hits” of all the things we’ve ever loved from alien invasion movies.

 

But…if you think it isn’t SF, I think you’re missing something. One of the most consistent tropes in science fiction is the notion that “If the aliens attacked, all mankind would drop their differences and pull together to defend Earth.” I submit to you that ID4 is the first movie or depiction of this idea that actually believed it.

 

I find that a fine notion. That most of our differences are petty tribal squabbles, only important if there are no higher values on the table.

 

Well…we have higher values on the table. Our survival as a nation, as a planet, as moral and ethical beings capable of rising above basic animal concerns.  Our ability to rise to the heights of possibility, embrace freedom, live up to the dreams our ancestors dared to dream…even though they often could not live up to them themselves.

 

Today, remember the sacrifices of those who came before.

Today, honor the men and women who fought, and loved hard, and prayed their children would enjoy a world in which poverty is measured by obesity rather than starvation.

Today, hold those who are dear to you, and take some time to just…relax. Be.

Grill those burgers, watch those movies, play on that beach, kiss your sweetie, watch the sunset and relish the explosions, the bombs bursting in air that symbolize the destruction we were willing to risk to create a world worth passing to our grandchildren.

 

The struggle is real. And so are the rewards.  Tomorrow, it is back to the fray. Today, relax and renew.

 

“We will not go quietly into the night!

We will not vanish without a fight!

We’re going to live on!

We’re going to survive!”

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!”

 

Namaste

Steven Barnes

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

RIP Harlan Ellison

Harlan was a giant squeezed into a 5’5″ frame, and what you felt around him was a sense of that energy compressed.  He was the first human being I’d met at his level of energy and integration. And…I was fascinated.

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I’d read his articles in the Free Press in the late 60’s, heard him on the radio, seen him on television, and read his stories in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, as well as a collection of shorts I’d picked up in a used book store. And wow, that episode of THE OUTER LIMITS, “Demon With A Glass Hand” in 1964 was just amazing television.  I was twelve years old.  Mind blown.

 

One person did all of this? One person was such an astute observer of society, such a blazingly original fiction voice, such an unapologetic and combative defender of Truth, however he saw it?

 

Of course I didn’t agree with him on everything–especially not everything that was his “act” as opposed to his private presence.  He performed The Harlan Show with diabolical precision and presence.   But I wasn’t fooled by that…I knew there was more, and wanted to find out what it was.

 

I stalked him.   Not at his home.   Every time there was a public event, a speech or roundtable or interview, ANYTHING, I attended. Sat in the first row.   Asked polite questions. I knew that, given time, he’d start to wonder who I was.  And…it worked.   Over time, we began to exchange words, and then polite conversation.  Yes, there was a day I decided to try the Fast Gun, and at another time I’ll tell you how effortlessly he took me down.  I’ll say only that it didn’t sting: I’d learned something I needed to know.

 

What was it? That Harlan’s verbal reaction speed was uncanny.  The reaction went from brain to mouth with no pause at common sense.   Pure survival flash, and I recognized it.    Martial artists who have either trained like Shaolin Monks, been in combat, boxed at competition level, been in countless street fights…or were abused as children and re-integrated successfully react with that speed.   Dangerous as hell.  When combined with real technique?  Lethal.

 

Harlan’s mind was Shaolin-level conceptual/verbal kung fu, there is no doubt.    But there was something else…he was the first person I’d had a chance to study who revealed what I call the “Chinese Puzzle Ball” effect.

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Know those carved wooden puzzle balls, concentric skeletal shells you can rotate to stick a pencil through?  Real fun.  Well…most people’s creativity, or sexuality, or combative spark or “genius” is like that.  They have to have the lights, and music, and talk, and environment JUST RIGHT and you can access what Harlan called “the burning core.”

 

And…some people are like those annoying prodigies who can solve Rubik’s cubes while juggling them.  Ugh.  Harlan could go into “flow” harder  than anyone I’d ever seen. That’s what the “write a story in a store window” thing was, to me.  Like meditating in a room full of hungry cats.  That was a hell of a mind. I’m not surprised that he trained for a time with Bruce Lee, and man, do I wish I’d been a fly on the wall during one of THOSE sessions.  And yes, we talked about that. Another time.

 

##

 

I wanted to tell you about the most meaningful interaction I had with Harlan.   He knew damned well how much I admired him, and it seemed to me that when people were sincere, and not fawning but genuinely respectful, he rewarded  that frank and honest emotion by dropping the “HARLAN!” act. Then he, like other masters I’ve known, was just a man walking a road one day at a time.   Bradbury, Inosanto,  Butler, Niven, Muhammad, Stewart, Spielberg, Bill Nolan…I’ve encountered this before, a combination of humbleness and supreme confidence.   And appreciation of anyone who finds the same road of fascinating interest.

 

Remember the definition of Mastery?   Once you have the basics, and have committed to your path for a lifetime, you are as much a “Master” as anyone else on the road…even if they are horizons beyond you.   They have a real sense of that path between the Child and the Elder.   Harlan’s “child” was an adorable six-year old, and anyone who tried to fuck with him ran into the most terrifying Tiger Daddy imaginable.

 

But what he really wanted was playmates.    I knew that we liked each other, but I wasn’t remotely at the same level as a writer. Horizons distant, he was.

 

I published my first solo novel, STREETLETHAL, in 1983.  It was a shaky time in my relationship with Nicki’s mom Toni, and I was living by myself in the San Fernando Valley on a street called Hayvenhurst.    I was hanging on to my sense of possibility by a fingernail–terrified about that first solo effort (DREAM PARK had been an enormous success.  THE DESCENT OF ANANSI had been a painful, humiliating experience I barely survived.)

 

So when Jim Baen outbid Susan Allison for my freshman solo, it felt like all the world was opening itself to me…but also my every nerve felt exposed and vulnerable.  I made sure that Beth Meacham, my wonderful editor, sent Harlan a  galley (other readers included Norman Spinrad and Gordon Dickson), and I remember the day I got a call from Harlan saying that he’d received a copy and liked the first page…it reminded him of his own work.

 

Cue optimistic music.  About three days later, it was raining out.  About eight o’clock on a very dark, cold, drizzly evening and I was alone at home. The phone rang and it was Harlan. His voice sounded pained, like a family doctor about to read a regrettable diagnosis.  “Steve..?” he said.   “Is it too late to stop publication..?

 

I sat on the floor in my living room, listening to my hero tell me all the reasons why the book…just wasn’t good.  I could hear the deep regret in his voice. There was NO cruelty there, just advice for a kid stumbling behind, far far behind, on the road.

 

When I hung up the phone, I broke down and sobbed.  Yeah, it was too late to stop publication, even if I’d wanted to.  It wasn’t that I believed everything he said.  It was that I didn’t have the strength to totally discount it either, and his opinions allied themselves with my own demons.

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Some years later, because my Hollywood agent Marvin Moss packaged “The Twilight Zone” reboot for CBS with uber-producer Phil DeGuirre, an (unproduced)  script I’d done for The Disney Channel passed the story editor’s desk. They liked it, and we met in a room at the Beverly Garland Hotel.   DeGuirre, Jim Crocker, Dorothy Fontana, and…Harlan Ellison.

 

“How did you get here, Steve?” he asked with genuine curiosity.   He listened, smiled as he munched a Danish, and said, “well, kid…don’t look behind you.  Just keep running.”

 

I did.  I ran as fast as I could, trying to keep up with the big dogs.  Couldn’t quite do it, and when I wrote my second episode, an adaptation of Rober Silverberg’s TO SEE THE INVISIBLE MAN, Harlan read my first draft and as kindly as possible, expressed disappointment, walking me through the process of creating a series of visual images that express the plot and themes of the work. THAT was my job as a screenwriter.  And…I hadn’t done it.   I was better than I’d been, but still not good enough.

 

##

 

I survived that experience, and soldiered on.  Years passed, and we got to know each other better, and I was always careful to be as genuine, honest, friendly, helpful and “fun” as I could be.  Not always easy…but this isn’t the time for those thoughts.  I’ll just say that my times with him were a beautiful thing.  I’d never thought to be actual friends with this Celestial Being I’d worshipped from afar as a kid. And that house on the hill!  Good Lord.   Harlan’s house was like his head, turned inside out. Chock A Block with souvenirs and posters and rooms designed by Will Eisner, and others hidden away from sight…with histories I won’t discuss now, but let’s just say that although he was never into drugs or alcohol the 60’s were very, very good to Uncle Harlan.

At his front door is a plaque that says: ELLISON WONDERLAND.  DIG…OR SPLIT.

I dug.

 

##

 

When THE OUTER LIMITS was rebooted in 1995, I was stoked–it had been one of my all time favorite shows, and I pitched an idea called “Recidivist” about a time-traveling serial killer.  They loved it, retitled it “A Stitch In Time” and I wrote my ass off.

 

There is a simple truth I hold as gospel:  If you get up to bat enough times, eventually you’ll get a hit. Keep hitting…and one day you’ll hit a home run, and you’ll know when the vibration hits your hands.

 

I was so proud of that episode.   And…called Harlan.  Asked him if he’d seen it.

 

Understand this: much as with Octavia Butler (who Harlan discovered and sponsored to Clarion) Harlan liked ME better than he liked my writing.   I appreciated that, and knew that he was honest with me–it was a compliment, I felt.  He knew that I really wanted to BE good. I didn’t want to just “think” I was good.

 

So…I swallowed and listened for his answer.  Nope, he hadn’t seen it. Could I send him a copy?

 

I did.  VHS.   And about a week later I got another call from him.

 

“Barnes,” he asked.  “Was that your script?”

 

Yep.

 

“They didn’t rewrite all over it?”

 

Nope. Some small changes.  My words, characters, images, plot.  All of it.

 

Well…you did it.   This shit smokes. It is original, and important.    You pulled the plow, kid.”

 

And…it felt as if a raven flew out of my chest.   I’d done it. After all this time.  I had fallen in love with Harlan Ellison with an Outer Limits episode. And he had finally seen me educe from within my own burning core the quality I’d always dreamed of…in an Outer Limits episode.  I’d solved the Puzzle Ball, at last. Just once, maybe.  But even if you are consumed, it is worth it to touch the sun.  Even just once.

 

Life has a lovely symmetry sometimes, does it not?

 

##

 

I loved that man.  I saw in him the same human potential so many of us have, and so few ever explore.    There was NOTHING there discontinuous with the rest of us, and I think that was part of what drove him nuts, made him so volatile. A sense that life was so short, love so precious, art so important. God DAMN it!

His every word seemed to scream WAKE UP!!!

 

Will you not be kind to each other?  Why aren’t you sprinting toward your dreams with everything you have?  What the FUCK is wrong with you? Don’t you know the night is coming?  You think life is a dress rehearsal?

 

Harlan burned his candle at both ends, with a blowtorch in the middle.   Flawed and screwed up, he was. Because he was a real human being, trying to live in the eye of a creative storm called THE HARLAN ELLISON SHOW that he put on for the public…and if he occasionally forgot it was a role?  Well…I can forgive him for that.

 

He was the most “himself” human being I may have ever met, the simple result of having the courage to say what is really in your mind…and the brilliance of having something to say worth hearing…combined with the work ethic of a titan on amphetamines.

 

Here’s to you, my friend.   Whatever doubts and regrets you may have had, know that to me you will always be what you aspired to be: that crazy combination of  Zorro and Jiminy Cricket.

 

You pulled the plow, kid.

 

 

Namaste and Farewell…

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

Along Came A Spider (2001)

Along Came A Spider (2001) is nobody’s classic mystery, but it is entertaining in a non-demanding way, and contains a favorite trope.

 

Here’s the situation: Megan Rose, a little girl attending a high-end Washington D.C. school, is kidnapped by Gary Soneji, a teacher at the school.  Detective Alex Cross and Secret Service Agent Jezzie Flanigan must unwind a twisty maze of unlikely plot threads to solve the case.

 

But in the midst of all of their searching, planning, profiling and tap-dancing around the romantic subplot excised from the novel, Megan herself is presented as a girl trapped in a horrible situation…but constantly using every tool she has to survive.

 

She is smart, and courageous, and perceptive. She calculates odds, takes initiative, and is constantly problem-solving on multiple levels.  By the time the climax arrives, she has taken large, important steps to solve her own problem, and if she is running out of options, it isn’t her fault.

 

BECAUSE she took those options, she escapes death narrowly, and sets up the final scenes, which are nicely tense.

 

Had she just waited to be rescued, she’d be dead.   But if you look at her story from the Hero’s Journey framework, her Dark Night of the Soul (she can’t quite get away) is healed through a Leap of Faith (keep trying, no matter what) which is ultimately justified by the cleverness and courage of her allies.

 

I think we all sense that there are aspects of life out of our control. The truth is that, just like Megan Rose, we don’t know when or if help will arrive. But unless we take action, we die.  Our dreams die. Maybe there will be help…maybe we’ll have to work it out ourselves.  And maybe in a different world, just a SLIGHTLY different film, Megan Rose would have rescued herself.  Just as sometimes, we can do it all ourselves.

 

But any worthwhile goal demands that we grow. Growth demands that we empty ourselves out. That means reaching the end of our self-concept. At some point in any growth process, it will feel that all is lost.

 

How do you keep going then?  You keep fighting, like an animal determined to survive. One day at a time, you do everything you can do THAT day, using your fear to motivate you.  Even if you can’t see what you can do, you have faith that there is SOMETHING even if you cannot see it. You may need to take more steps.  Turn a few more corners.

 

I remember when I felt trapped living in Vancouver Washington, my marriage in tatters, income stream trashed, seeing no options except to take one day’s actions at a time.  I clearly remember praying: “Please God…I’m going to jump out on faith now.   I’m surrounded by fog, and can’t see a way out.   So if I jump…either catch me, or let me hit the rocks before I can see them.”

 

If you don’t see any solution, then remember that stress itself becomes strain, creates tunnel vision. There are COUNTLESS instances of people who didn’t see answers…but someone else saw them, or they themselves discovered an answer down the road. If they had quit, they never would have met allies or discovered the answer they sought.

 

So what if you see nothing but triggers for fear and despair?

 

  1. LOVE YOURSELF Remember that your goal is joy.   Being happy.  All else is a means to this end.
  2. LOVE ONE OTHER PERSON .   You want long-term joy, so forget about drugging yourself out. The misery experienced by druggies who finally see the damage they have done to themselves and everyone around them is horrific.
  3. UNDERSTAND HISTORY.  Remember that just because YOU don’t see an answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one.   Don’t let your ego destroy you.  Imagine yourself ON THE OTHER SIDE of the problem. Or Mankind on the other side of it, centuries from now.  Steps were taken.   Be part of the answer.
  4. PROTECT YOUR TRIBE.    Do this, and they will protect you.    Your task is to work backward from your goal: happiness.  To have this, you must avoid pain, define a path to success, gather allies and abilities, and keep moving.   For many of us, serving others is more motivating than taking care of ourselves. Use that. Exist for the good of humanity.  Or your country. Or community. Or family.  Or the child within you.   KEEP GOING.  But also remember that you must renew your energy and emotions.  What are you doing to renew, protect, refresh?   Connect with family and friends.  Exercise (about 95% of people who talk about fighting depression or despair will discuss passive actions to compensate. They forget the mighty effects of aerobic/anaerobic exercise to process fear, and that is tragic), focus on positive past actions and future hopes.
  5. WIN WITH INTEGRITY.   If for you to win, someone else has to lose, have compassion. The temptation will be to “do unto others as was done to you.”  That’s not the way to do it.   Trust me…whatever you are going through, the great saints, sages and philosophers witnessed and experienced worse. There are damned good reasons why we are encouraged not to use the tools of the Damned unless there are no other tools to use.  Start by remembering your task is to be happy–not to make others miserable.  IF they are miserable, that is their choice, not your purpose.   Be the change you want to see in the world.

 

 

 

We do these things by taking one step a day in the direction of your goals. So long as you are moving toward that goal, your fear turns into energy.  Depression in this sense is fear with no one to fight and no where to run.

 

The answer is to believe there are answers, and understand that unbalanced stress denies us access to faith and understanding.

 

The answer is to remember all the times in the past that we, and others, were like little Megan Rose: trapped, doomed, manipulated…and that the answer was to keep fighting, keep trusting, keep working. The forces of evil want desperately for us to give up.

 

Don’t. Not ever.  If your ancestors had, under greater stress than ANYONE reading this can imagine, you wouldn’t be here now.

 

Don’t let them down.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

 

(WARNING!  SAMBO ALERT!)

Just two days ago, I got a PM from someone asking what I thought about a book they were working on where a black character dies heroically to protect and motivate a white character.   Sigh.  There are core tropes clustering around what I call “the breeding circle”: that black characters disproportionately are too young, too old, too gay, too fat, or too dead to be reproductive competition for the white leads.  So…no.  Not interested in the combination of “Sacrificial Negro” and “Spiritual Guide.”   Yuck.

One of the things I loved about the early Alex Cross novels was the sense that he was a full human being: an intellectual and physical animals with a powerful sex drive and open-hearted connections to his community.

 

So…when I heard they were making “Kiss The Girls”, the first Alex Cross movie, my very first thought was “I wonder how they’ll neuter the character?”   Because I knew they weren’t going to let the romance in the book play out.  First…just no. Second…it was interracial. Two strikes.  If the genders had been reversed, sure.

So in a movie like “Bad Boys”, when I wait to see how they will neuter Will Smith, they do it with a “clever” role reversal where the sexy witness mistakes married Martin Lawrence for playa Will Smith.   Low-Jinx ensue.  Hah hah hah!  Isn’t this hysterical?

Not if you saw it coming.

Morgan Freeman, bless his heart, has made an entire career out of avoiding being a sexual being onscreen.  I have heard that now, late in his cinematic dotage, he has finally had a love scene of some kind, but I can’t identify the movie, and I can  promise you it was with a post-Menopausal woman.  No reproductive competition, don’t you see.

But earlier in his career–not a single love scene, not even a passionate kiss (I believe there were a couple of platonic kisses along the way. Say…from Helen Mirren in “Reds” just before he sacrifices himself for the white folks…)

But I digress.   Yeah, that’s what they did to neuter Alex Cross. They cast Morgan Freeman.  Plausible deniability at its best. Why, it isn’t that we didn’t want to do a love scene.  It just doesn’t fit Freeman’s image. It was HIS choice…

Sure, and its BECAUSE that is his choice he got the opportunity in the first place.

So…”Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came A Spider” were tolerable, despite the insult.   And then years passed, and word came that they were making another “Cross” film…this one with Idris Elba!

Wow.  I was thrilled.   Certainly they couldn’t cast such a seething cauldron of testosterone and neuter him.  The uproar would be loud enough to embarrass, and it would take more than a casual excuse to cancel THAT apocalypse (to reference a movie in which, yes, as in “Reds” the only black character dies heroically, that others might mourn and be inspired.  Fuck them.  When that happens?  I start cheering for the Kaiju)

I was optimistic. Maybe…(and before you get going, no, it isn’t “Hollywood”.   This wouldn’t happen if the tribal genetics of this wasn’t appealing to the audience.   You can see echoes of this in political, economic, and law-enforcement arenas.  This is human psychology, not a cabal of evil filmmakers)

Of course you know what happened.   They cast Tyler Perry, a performer…um…let’s just say who is best known for transvestism.   Let’s just say that the amount of “spark” he generated with his leading lady wouldn’t have worried a mouse swimming in a pail of gasoline.

Plausible deniability.  Pardon me if I don’t buy that crap any more.  At all.

Jeeze, I hope I never meet Perry. I would have so much trouble trying to be polite. I really would.

 

 

 

 

 

The “Story Sifu” strikes again!

“I did it! I did it, sifu! Steven Barnes, I used your advice. I wrote a sentence one day. It was when I looked at it, a complete story. I found a market. It’s sold! Industry rates! I did it!”–Brian McNett

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So wonderful to write, and read, and help other writers create.  Standing in the crossroads of the past and future of the field.

Thirty odd years ago, I realized that Campbell’s model of the Hero’s Journey could be applied to life. About twenty-five years ago, I saw that if you asked “how can I understand  the Hero?” and answered “use the Chakras” you could create a circle with an X and Y axis, the path of human development (climbing up the Chakras like Maslow’s Hierarchy) with the HJ as the journey.

 

 

Writers start out with a mind full of stories, and a desire to share them. The wall they run into is simply not knowing whose advice to take. There are thousands of books, lectures, courses, mentors who all say they have the Way to begin or improve a writing career.  To a degree, most of them are correct.  But ultimately you need to find just one or two of them to focus on, or you’ll be lost.

 

The most common complaint comes from people trying to write books without the organizational or emotional skills to finish the project. They can’t get past the “first draft” stage, the voices in their heads hammer at them.  They’ve got X amount of focus and creative energy, and their project is requiring X+Y resources.

 

The trick is to reduce the amount of daily work until it is below X.   Every month, you map out your path to AT LEAST one story.  Then, every day you write AT LEAST one sentence on that story.  If you find that at the end of the month you’ve only written two pages, then reduce the story size until it is just two pages.  Keep it up, at least a sentence a day.  FORCE YOURSELF to stick to just the one project until you learn to juggle.

 

Now…imagine that you are writing a story about a writer trying to write a story a month in a sentence a day.  Anything that happens to you, is happening to him.  Let’s say he has a problem.  Look at the Hero’s Journey and see where the difficulty lies.

 

  1. Confronted with Challenge.  The writer might not realize what they have to do to succeed.   They may not be clear on the fact that you have to stick with one project at a time, until sufficient discipline and facility is developed.
  2. Reject the Challenge. The writer might be afraid of failure (rejection), or success (change).  Isolating the reasons will suggest remedies.
  3. Accepting the Challenge. Writer commits to a sentence a day/story a month model.
  4. The Road of Trials.  Either they write a sentence a day, or they don’t. Either they shape it into a story a month, or they don’t.   FIND OUT PRECISELY WHAT IS STOPPING THEM.
  5. Allies and Powers.  Whatever is stopping them: fear, confusion, ADD, lack of organization, lack of role model, lack of focus,  lying to himself (NO ONE lacks the time to write a sentence a day!) or whatever…identify the problem.   Find people who have solved it. Study at least three, to find what they have in common. Do that.
  6. Confront Evil–Fail.   They will be unable ot begin, unable to finish, unable to research, unable to submit, unable to go on to the next project.  Get REJECTED.  Where is the breakdown? How does it devastated them?
  7. Dark Night of the Soul. How does it attack them emotionally?  What insecurities does the “failure” trigger?
  8. Leap of Faith. What is it that motivates the writer to keep going?   Clarity of values? Belief in self?  Meditation?  A writer’s circle? A mentor? The need to pay the bills?
  9. Confront Evil–succeed.  What is the definition of success?  IT MUST BE SOMETHING THE WRITER CAN CONTROL.   Becoming a writer of classics demands agreement of thousands of people.  Selling a story demands that ONE editor say “yes.” That…is just a numbers game.  THAT is a game you can win simply by focusing over time.
  10. Student Becomes the Teacher.  What is their next step? The higher level? Teaching? Working on a larger, more complex project?

 

Call ANYTHING that stops you from completing this cycle to be “writer’s block.”  And every time you see someone who has navigated it, see if you can determine how THEY traveled the ten steps. Every journey will be different, and every traveler sees different territory every time.

 

But you will find the pieces of the puzzle, explicitly or implicitly, EVERY TIME.  Ask questions.  Examine your own process.  Define a game you can win.

 

And then…win it.

 

 

Write with Passion!

Steve

(and…CONGRATULATIONS, Brian!)

www.lifewritingpremium.com

The Danger of “Woker Than Thou”

I had a friend. White guy.   Brilliant writer, Liberal activist.  Nominated for high awards in his field, but certain that he knew what was right.   In a discussion of black voters, he was certain that they were voting against their own intents in a particular sense.   When I suggested that he ask them what they wanted, he was so certain he knew what was right that the very suggestion seemed to agitate him.

This happened quite a bit. How dare I not accept he knew what was good for black people better than they did?  Or I did?   He just felt he knew, to the point that he denigrated black people who disagreed with him.   He actually stalked me around Facebook, arguing with me about everything I said, until one day I challenged his “wokeness” and reminded him that our first conversation had been about his decision to “whitewash” a character in a  literary work he wanted to adapt.   I’d understood his position, but it was hardly earning a certificate of Honorary Negritude.  He blocked me pretty fast, and that was the end of that friendship.

Oh, well.  Toxic is as toxic does.

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A couple of days ago I questioned a   meme about how Democrats don’t care about the safety of immigrant children, suggesting that the children themselves, and their parents, would be the best people to ask to determine what they want IF their welfare is the question.

 

Just today, in a conversation about arranged marriages in Islamic cultures, amid a bit of hand-wringing I suggested the same thing: talk to the women and see their opinions about it.

 

Oddly (to me) there was resistance to both notions.   I’m afraid that I don’t trust people who think they know what is good for you better than you do.  Sure, sometimes they are right, but some really ugly shit happens when people think they can torture you to death for the sake of your soul, enslave you to civilize you, rape you to teach you love, throw you in a re-education camp to make you a happier citizen.

 

Tell you that your culture is wrong.

 

Is “Stockholm Syndrome” a real thing?  Sure.  But slaves were taught they were subhuman, and they still ran away often enough that slave owners had to create “Draptomania” to explain why those pesky, unappreciative Negroes kept running away. Needed Night Riders and Fugitive Slave Laws and whipping runaways to death to stop it.  And former slaves joined the Union Army in droves to free their cousins and get payback.  And clearly documented the horrors they had suffered.

 

Talk to them.  Be sure you’re away from the thumb of the oppressor when you do it, and you might need to actually respect them, gain their trust and rapport.  But trust that people know what is good for them.

 

Otherwise, you risk playing the precise same game as someone who abuses you for your own good.  And that…is the road to monstrosity.

 

###

 

People ask why I dialogue with snakes and monsters.  Can you really wonder when even my “allies” think they’re better than me?   Who the #$%% was I supposed to talk to, when I’ve always been  surrounded by this crap?

Also… I am committed to survival, and if tigers talked, it would be wise to speak to them.  Behind bars or with your rifle handy, of course.

 

Is there anything going on with immigration that hit me harder than, say, Trayvon Martin?  Nope.  Or a thousand other insults I heard about half the country excusing or even praising?  Nope.

 

So…I was supposed to spend my life in a sense of burning outrage?  Anyone want to guess what that would do to my blood pressure?  My sense of joy in life?   And unless I am applying those emotions directly to an action, would I be accomplishing anything other than killing myself young, as countless black men have for centuries?

 

Sorry, I won’t collaborate in my own destruction.   I’m sure that disappoints some of you, but that’s the biz.

 

If you are in a war…if the situation is real, life-threatening, not some bullshit game…

 

You stay calm. Gather information.  Know your opponents.  Train and nurture your troops.  Define victory. Built alliances.  Pick your battles.

 

And…love your family. Raise your children well.

 

Frankly, sometimes I watch people run around screaming, and wonder why they weren’t paying attention before. Precisely when was life great for everyone?   Where was this magical land and time?

 

If you are just waking up, congratulations and welcome to the real world.  But I woke up in first grade, when the white teachers sorted us into reading groups based on race.   A horrible thing for a child to realize, that young, that the people you are supposed to trust think you are sub-human because of your skin.  And these really were NICE people.  Just trying to help.   People have tried to get me to go back to sleep many many times. I won’t.   Now, I’m quite sure I’m oblivious about many topics.  I’d have to be.  But on this one…I’m pretty sure I’ve been paying attention.

But if you just woke up, please don’t assume I’m still dreaming.  I haven’t had that luxury since I was seven years old.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.realblackhorror.com

Morning M.A.G.I.C. for Writers

O.K….it is definitely happening. I’m recording the “Morning M.A.G.I.C. for Writers” audio this Saturday at 12 noon Pacific. It is part of the larger program I’ll be offering in a few weeks, designed for…well, I’m aiming it right at where I was at the age of 30. I’d sold a tiny bit, was studying martial arts but not yet matured, and was between relationships and a little scared about that aspect of life. That guy needs my help. If you are like that guy, you’ll want to listen in!

Phone Number: (724) 444-7444
Call ID: 137903

Creed 2 is coming!

CREED 2 Trailer (2018)

 

In the Rocky franchise, the best of them take the human dimension of self-love, honor, and love of family and expand them out to the realm of sport entertainment.  Much as a pro wrestling match often has a back-story, without this emotional dimension its just a couple of sweaty guys pretending to want to hurt each other.

 

(And yeah, they really do hurt each other some times.  Its hard to do a really good boxing scene without SOME contact. And actors really do get competitive in there. There’s a story about Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames in UNDISPUTED…but that’s for another time.)

 

In the original ROCKY, a down on his luck pug gets a one-in-a-million chance to turn his life around, and has a brilliant insight: life isn’t about the terms other people set, it is about how YOU define victory. As a result, Rocky earns love, self-respect, and world-wide fame and (eventually) fortune.

 

The sequels used variations on this theme: II was career and ego, III was redemption, IV was revenge, V was an abortion, ROCKY BALBOA was a Last Hurrah.  That seemed to be the end of the story, and even a poorly choreographed “Grudge Match” semi-setting the Italian Stallion against the Raging Bull couldn’t totally dull the good feelings associated with this unexpected enjoyable film.

 

I certainly didn’t expect anything great to come out of that series again, but Stallone has an uncanny knack for reinventing himself, and did one of the smartest things I’ve ever seen in Hollywood: handed the franchise off to Ryan Coogler.  In CREED Rocky becomes Micky, the old trainer, preparing the son of his friend and rival Apollo Creed for his own moment in the sun.

 

Watching their relationship exploded a whole new level of meaning to the entire series. Suddenly, we felt MICKY’S story.  He had been a boxer, remember?  Suddenly, it was easier to believe that he wasn’t always old and grizzled.  Once, he had been in his prime. And when Burgess Meridith begs Rocky to let him help in that first film, saying he has a lifetime of wisdom to pour into him…we remember Rocky helping Adonis become strong, and there is a serious “circle of life” thing going on.   THREE characters jump into relief: Rocky, Mickey, and Adonis, the angry young man who ultimately just wants to know that he wasn’t a mistake.

 

HIS story is more complex than Rocky’s.   He was born out of wedlock, a natural fighter who learns he is the illegitimate son of a legitimately great man.  Living in luxury, what he lacks is the presence of that strong male figure, the one who can “push back” against him so that he can learn his limits, the one who can hold him when he is broken and reassure him that he is not just a man, but a beautiful child.

 

I think every man needs that.   My father had not raised me, and I only really got to know him after I was grown.  Even then, his guilt and pain kept us from being close.  When he told me he was dying, I made him sit down and hear that I did not respect him as a man–he hadn’t been there.  HOWEVER…I DID respect and love him as a human being.  And I was proud to call him “father.”   We cried together, and from that point on, there was nothing between us but love.  The very last time I saw him, he had withered down to almost nothing but hot, glassy eyes and that wonderful voice.

 

I couldn’t help my self.  I just couldn’t.  I asked him:  “Are you proud of me?”

 

And he couldn’t believe I needed to ask.  When he realized that I really had, he assured me that he couldn’t possibly have been prouder.

 

Damn…I really needed to hear that.

 

##

When in the end of the climactic fight in CREED Adonis says that he has to find out if he was a mistake, boy did I FEEL that improvised bit of dialogue.   That Rocky, who got the chance of his lifetime because of Apollo’s hubris and his own lion of a heart, is there to put the steel into this young men, to help him find himself in the cauldren of combat what he should have gotten at his father’s knee, to help him fight his way through the fire to get what I know with every fiber of my being that Jason needs from me every day, touched me deeply.

 

We all need to know we are loved, and lovable. That we belong here.   And if our parents or the world are unable to give this to us, we need to have the strength of will to fight our way to our own hearts, to embrace our softness with our strength, to hold that child self and say you are the most beautiful thing in all the universe. And I will fight to the death to protect you.

 

That’s the beginning of something new.  Every morning of my life, I connect with that kid within me, ask him if there is anything he needs. And usually his answer is nah. I’m doing great. Thanks for asking, Dad.   Go on and work. I’ll be in here playing.

 

That’s his job. To play, safely.  It’s my job as the adult to do the work, daily, in alignment with his sense of fun. But to also keep my eyes on the end of my life, the old man I’ll be on my deathbed. He holds the values that give meaning to the fun. All I have to do is navigate the territory between the boy and the old man, one day at a time.

 

Adonis.  Rocky.  The spirit of Mickey.

 

That’s ROCKY’S story.

 

Li’l Adonis.  Adonis.  Apollo channeled through Rocky.

 

That’s ADONIS’S story.

 

Just wow.  Terrific movie, and now the sequel is here. Like the Rocky sequels, it uses a simpler palate of primary emotions, but Rocky “avenging his friend” Apollo in Rocky IV isn’t a flyspeck on an elephant compared to Adonis seeking to connect with his father by stepping into the same martial dynamic, to avenge him even at the risk of his own life.

 

That is the potential for great drama, especially if there is a child involved.   Very good, solid fodder for an exciting movie with a bit of real emotional content.

 

CREED made history.  CREED 2 will hopefully be as entertaining as a typical Rocky sequel–that would be enough.  But…what if it’s better..?

 

Wouldn’t that be something?

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com