Afrofuturism

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018)

I’m going to do something a little different.  I’m going to quickly review “Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse” and then I’m going to speak of an aspect of it some of you might not want to dive into.  You’ll be warned.

 

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First, “Into the Spider-verse” is a revolutionary piece of  cinema.  The tale of an alternate Earth Spider-Man, Miles Morales, is told in CGI animation that ranges from realistic to Loony Tunes 2-D, depending on the mood and tempo of the scene. And what at first is jarring becomes, as we realize we are watching a comic book brought to life as we’ve never seen it before, something that reminded me not just of previous live action and animate versions of the character, but of the astonishing visuals of “Yellow Submarine” and even “2001: A space Odyssey.”  Because the story deals with a master criminal (The Kingpin, voiced by Liev Schrieber)   who creates a rip in reality to bring back his dead family, in the process unleashing Spider-heroes from multiple time lines.  Against this bizarre backdrop is the origin story of a kid named Miles Morales, bitten by a radioactive or genetically altered spider and gaining powers he doesn’t know how to control.  Really…that’s all you need to know, other than IT WORKS.  It all works. Improbably, even the most bizarre variations on the character (Kimiko Glenn as Japanese “Peni Parker” in a giant Tamagachi?  Nicolas Cage as “Spider Man Noir” a black and white version who talks like a Micky Spillane character?    John Mulaney as “Spider Ham”, such a Bugs Bunny variant that they have to discuss whether they are violating Warner Brothers  copyright?) work. Each has their own tone, own look, own feel. And It isn’t just a gimmick: it all comes together thematically, amid visuals so psychedelic that you’d expect them to sell hash brownies at the concession stand.

 

Wow.  Just…wow.   Really amazing, Spider Man.   Well done.   Instantly in the upper echelon of superhero films, and if you have any childhood left in your heart, one of the best movies of the year.

 

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And now…let’s dive deeper.    Trigger Warning for anti-BLM types.   You probably won’t enjoy this much.

 

Last Night, I watched the light go back on in my son Jason’s eyes.    Allow me to explain.

 

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Just yesterday, I watched the teaser trailer for “Avengers 4.  `Infinity War: Endgame’.  It looked intense and spectacular, but I felt no thrill at all.  I haven’t felt a thrill for a Marvel trailer since the end of the first Infinity War, where I saw the light go out in my son’s eyes.

 

Jason has ADHD, and a bit of trouble identifying with characters in movies.    I never had that problem, even when I noticed that characters who looked like me tended to die.  I still remember, clearly, the day I put a label on that observation. It was the movie DAMNATION ALLEY, where George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Paul Winfield were traveling across a nuclear wasteland in an atomic powered Winnebago.  I was watching it with a white friend of mine,   up in Hollywood. So there’s a scene where they come to the ruins of (I think it was) Las Vegas. And out of the ashes walks the (apparently) Last Woman In The World.  And…she’s white.

 

I had an intuitive flash.  Turning to my friend,  I whispered “oh my God. They’re going to kill Paul Winfield.”

 

“Why would you say that?” he whispered back.

“Well, they’re not going to pretend he’s not interested in her. And they’re not going to let him compete for her. The only option they have is to kill him.”

 

“Jesus,” he said, disbelieving.    “Do you have to be so cynical about race all the time?”

 

And…five minutes later Winfield got eaten by giant cockroaches.  Dan was kinda quiet after that, but  insisted that was a lucky guess on my part.

 

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What did I learn from that moment?

  1. That filmmakers will kill off the only black character(s) in a film quite blithely. There is NO American film in which all white characters die, if any POC survive at all. But I’ve listed over sixty movies where all black characters, or all black male adult characters, die.  Often to protect white people.  Often to inspire them to become heroes.  Sob sob.  (And yes, chances are that I’ve seen whatever movie you think breaks that rule.    A “character” is someone with a line of dialogue.  You’ve almost certainly forgotten that in whatever movie you THINK all the white characters die, there was indeed another character.  Maybe he wasn’t white enough for you, but he was there IMO.)
  2. That sexual competition is a trigger.  This makes sense, as the only human drive as strong as individual survival is species or genetic survival.  What you see onscreen is the externalization of a fantasy, the natural human urge to believe that you, and by extension your tribe,
  3. That white moviegoers generally won’t notice it has happened.   They “don’t notice” when all the black characters die, or die to protect them, or to motivate them to mighty actions.  And watching them reel off movie after movie where they THOUGHT the opposite happened just to watch me shoot them down has been an amusement, but in the era of BLM it is just sad.   Yes, it happens. No, it isn’t just “Hollywood.”  If the audiences didn’t weep and feel ennobled or invigorated by “The Green Mile” or “The Unforgiven” or “Spartacus” or “Terminator 2” the trope wouldn’t exist.

 

Black audiences notice, though.  I remember being about Jason age, about 14, just forming my self image, and going to see such movies.  Maybe it was “The Dirty Dozen.”    When I got back home, raving about it, the other black kids in my neighborhood asked me a terrible question:  “how did they kill the brother this time?”

 

Oh, yes. They’d noticed.  And I didn’t have an answer for them. Didn’t even formulate my thoughts on the subject until “Damnation Alley.”    It was real. It was a fantasy of extinction and primacy.   I’ve seen a couple of movies in which all the white characters die: they were Asian films.   “Chinese Connection” is a good example, and the death of “Russian” karate expert Robert Baker at Bruce Lee’s hands was clearly an expression of hostility, resentment for China’s occupation by foreign powers.  “We are not sick men!” Bruce snarled, and Hong Kong audiences went berserk–remember, they were still a British Colony at the time.  That inferiority complex vented itself in an image of throat-chopping death.

 

One is tempted to wonder what fear, what guilt, what pale inner need drives the need for American audiences to see such things. Or believe that black people love to die protecting them, or to ennoble them.   A desperate need, one suspects.  But…that’s another subject.

 

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Jason had noticed this. About the time he watched his fifth “X-Men” movie, he noticed that ALL the black men die. Not one has survived in the entire series.  Frankly, “Logan” was their last chance with me, and in that one they killed the entire family.  “Why do they always kill the black people?” he asked me.  And that led to a rather painful conversation.   “The Talk” applied to cinematic experience.

 

I remember loving “Spider-Man” comics as a kid.  The most famous sequence in the entire canon might just be the one where Spider-Man, Peter Parker, is trying to rescue his dying Aunt May by recovering stolen isotopes that might save her from a transfusion of HIS radioactive blood. The isotopes were stolen by eight-armed Doctor Octopus, in a 007-style underwater lair.   Doc Ock has Peter dead to rights, but the enraged Spider-Man just tears through him and his henchmen as if they are made of butterfly wings.  Wow, it was amazing to see. But the fight damages the internal supports of the lair, and Spider-Man is trapped under a huge piece of machinery as the dome cracks and spills water, the precious isotope cannister just out of reach.

 

He tries to life the machinery…and cannot. The water grows deeper. And…the issue ended.   Cliff hanger!  For a month, I wondered how he would get out of it. What brilliant strategem would he use, what clever solution would he find. I remember biking to the drug store on the fateful day to buy my comics and find out what the hell Peter Parker would do.

 

And…I’ll never forget what happened.  He tried, and failed. And was faced with the fact that his Aunt would die…because of him.  As his uncle Ben died…because of him.

 

With great power comes great responsibility. And what did Peter do? Something clever? No.  He simply decided that this was the test of his life. This was the moment he had lived for. That if he couldn’t’ do this, for the family he loved, he was unworthy of the gift.  And he went deep, DEEP into himself:  “within my body is the strength of many men!” he said, and somehow, against all odds, he hoists that Hulk-busting weight of machine onto his shoulders, and…stands up.  It was amazing.  It was a full-page image of Spider Man, his every muscle rippling and straining, lifting an impossible weight…because he had to.

 

Because there was no one else.

 

For love.

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I was stunned. That lesson, that if you had enough WHY’S the HOW’S became possible…that lesson has never left me.

 

It didn’t matter to me that Peter Parker was white.  EVERYONE in the comics was white.  I just accepted it.   It wasn’t until later, when I started pitching in Hollywood, when I started writing professionally and was told in no uncertain terms that white audiences would reject black faces, that I realized that that love and respect were not reciprocated.   That there was something so obvious that I hadn’t let myself see it: the more you identify with a character as being ‘like you’ the easier it is to empathize with their struggles, and feel their victory as your own.

 

These were images of power, beauty, heroism, intelligence and moral clarity that cultures all over the world understand their children NEED.  And give to them in stories, comics, movies, songs, plays, and every other form.  24/7.   365.   Turn on any television and flip the channels a bit and you’ll see such images.  When I was a kid there were NONE that looked like me.   It is better now, much better.

 

But Jason had still noticed. And it made him blasé about movies.   Why identify with a black character if that character had increased risk of death?  And how do you identify with a white character if you suspect, on some level, that that character wouldn’t identify with you?

 

There is a scene in TUSKEEGEE AIRMEN where Laurence Fishburne asks:  “what do I feel about my country? And how does my country feel about me?”

 

I’d hoped that if I could work hard enough, strong enough, long enough, I could change the world enough that my son wouldn’t go through the existential pain I had suffered, realizing that the filmmakers and audience apparently ENJOYED fantasizing about his death.

 

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There were plenty of black characters in early Marvel movies: Fury, Falcon, War Machine, and so on.   They were fun.  REALLY enjoyed seeing them.   But the first time Black Panther appeared in “Civil War” something electric happened in the air.  This was different. He wasn’t in a chain of command, controlled by white people.  He hadn’t had his ancestral name stripped away. He knew his history, his spirituality. T’Challa didn’t follow some white guy’s orders, HE WAS A KING. And when he kissed his father’s ring there was a level of love between two black men I’d not seen in a film before. Contrast with the mess Tony Stark was about HIS father. With half a BILLION dollars in therapy and the remove of decades, he was still more shattered than T’Challa was mere days after cradling his father’s corpse in his arms.   And it didn’t end there. When Florence Kasimba faced down Black Widow saying “Move.  Or be moved” black women in the audience, even if they weren’t comic book fans, screamed “YES!!”

 

Remember the “No Man’s Land” sequence in “Wonder Woman”?  Over and over I heard women say: “I didn’t even know I needed to see that.” And I heard a LOT of guys saying “what’s the big deal?”  They didn’t get it.  Why should they?  They’d seen COUNTLESS images like that to nurture their own inner hero. Yawn. It was just one more.

 

To understand the impact of “Black Panther” you would have to imagine an entire movie composed of “No Man’s Land” sequences. There had never been anything like this before. It was something every other group of human beings on the planet have…except black Americans: a creation myth that connects them directly to the divine.  It was MYTHIC.   Bless Disney for giving Ryan Coogler the room and resources to do something no one had ever done. And as DJANGO UNCHAINED producer Reggie Hudlin put it: BP made “all the money.”

 

Yes it did.  Bless its pointy little ears.

 

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Jason saw Black Panther, and I saw the light go on in his eyes. The same light I had felt watching Spider-Man lift that piece of machinery, half a century ago.    He was EXCITED.  And then we went to see INFINITY WAR.

 

And Heimdall was the first person to die. And they killed Falcon, and T’Challa after disgracing the kingdom of Wakanda with the weakest and most unfocused defense I’d ever seen.   Only the disabled War Machine survived, a man who is totally owned by a white guy, who didn’t create his own technology, and frankly would not be considered sexual competition, spinal damage being what it is.    And then the crowing insult…after a multiple movie absence, they brought back Nick Fury in the “stinger”…ONLY TO KILL HIM.

 

I was stunned.  Don’t tell me this was random distribution.  ALL the original (and white) Avengers survived. Every one.  Do I have to wonder if all the decision makers, all the core producers, writers, directors were pale? That it never occurred to them how it would feel to a boy with few superhero role models to watch that massacre?

 

Of course I know most of them are coming back. Don’t insult my intelligence.  A number of readers pointed that out to me, and I wonder if they really didn’t think I knew that.  Predictably, most of those are people who have expressed antipathy toward BLM and “taking a knee”.

 

Jason, born into a world of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin, watched those Infinity War images.  I watched his face. Saw the light, kindled by Black Panther, go out in his eyes.

 

In the real world AND the “reel”world, his life was not as precious.  He was surrounded by people who could judge, jail, fire, exclude, or even kill him in real life or fantasy.  And worse, if he said something about it, his white friends would in essence tell him “why are you so racially paranoid?”

 

I can see how much the world has changed.   Jason has not. And in sitting down and explaining that no, it isn’t worse than ever. No, things really have improved.  No, white people aren’t evil. They are just…human I realized how very much I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to have that conversation with him. You know, like the one to move slowly and keep your hands in plain sight and NEVER argue if you are pulled over by a cop.

 

It was heart-breaking. And it broke the “magic” I felt with Marvel films.  It was a sense that I couldn’t trust them. That I KNEW, and no one could tell me different, that if the filmmakers had been diverse that they wouldn’t have kept either T’Challa or Fury alive, and had a better defense of Wakanda.   Hell, Captain America threw together a better defense of New York in about thirty seconds, and Wakanda had had YEARS to prepare.  It was a disgrace.  It was contempt: the filmmakers didn’t’ really believe in these people, these characters.   Wakanda was just a neat place to stage a massacre.

 

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Which brings me, at last, to “Spider Man: Into the Spider Verse.”   Jason broke his ankle nine days ago, and he’s been laid up, only leaving the house to go to the hospital.  He didn’t want to leave yesterday. But…we bribed and cajoled him, renting a wheelchair so that he wouldn’t need crutches, and drove him 27 miles to Burbank for the sneak preview.

 

And…the instant he saw Miles Morales, a kid as dark as him, with hair like him, with similar hopes and dreams and humor…I watched Jason, who had been in terrible pain for a week, SURRENDER TO THE FANTASY.

 

And when Miles began to discover his powers…Jason was smiling. Leaning forward.  And when the “other” Spider men appeared, he laughed and cheered.  And when Miles suffered loss, there was a tear in Jason’s eye. And when Miles finally tapped into his full powers, unleashing Spider-Hell on the omnipotent Kingpin, Jason was grinning from ear to ear. THE LIGHT WENT BACK ON IN HIS EYES.

 

For a little while, he wasn’t a kid with a broken leg.  He was SPIDER MAN.  Swinging from the rooftops, a hero, a kid like him.  For just a moment, he had no limitations, and the weight of his pain was off his shoulders.  For a moment…the world was right, and beautiful.

 

That moment lasted all the drive home.   Until bedtime. The happy smiles.  The tiny crack in the armor around his heart.

 

And the final message of the movie was incredibly subversive in the world that fed Paul Winfield to the roaches, that executed an innocent black man in  The Green Mile so that Tom Hanks could have a better erection.  It was: we are all heroes.  We all can wear the mask.  It is what is in our hearts, not on our skin or between our legs.   It is what we feel, and do, not how others see us.

 

I’m not sure I can tell you how much I would have given to see BLACK PANTHER when I was fourteen. How much it would have changed my life.   But INTO THE SPIDER VERSE is another example of what my wife and I call “movies from the other world.”  A world in which people don’t have to pretend not to mind when they die for the entertainment of people who do not cherish their lives.

 

It is a movie from the future. No…it is a movie of NOW.  We are still haunted by the ghosts of what has been.  But increasingly, and blessedly, the cycles are moving faster now, such that an INFINITY WAR is followed by a crowd-pleasing juggernaut of a film, 100% on Rotten Tomatoes as of yesterday, one that ALL audiences can cheer…that just happens to have a 14 year old Afro-Latino  kid named Miles Morales at the center.

 

I’ll take my victories where I can find them.  And today, I feel like a hero.  And more importantly…so does my son.

 

Thank you Sony. Thank you Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. There is a reason I’ve loved Marvel all my life: there is something at the core of that primal dream that has led to things like Black Panther…and Miles Morales…and even little Spider-Ham.

 

I’ve gone on long enough.   Go see it.   And as Spider-Ham would say…that’s all folks.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

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The “Forry” Award, and Sucking

So first off, understand that no matter what you try, in the beginning its gonna suck.  ‘Cause you suck.  But you’ll get better, and you’ll suck less as you keep doing this, and eventually you’ll suck so little that you’ll actually be good! But just surrender to the fact that you’re gonna suck.” — Garrett White:

 

 

This last weekend at the home convention of the world’s oldest science fiction fan organization, I was given the Forrest J. Ackerman (“Forry”) Award for Lifetime Achievement in the field of science fiction.    And while still basking in those warm feelings, I thought to speaking about the most important quality that made possible the books and television and radio and millions of published words that people found worthy of celebration.

 

Because as Jerry Pournelle once told me, “once you master anything, you know how to master anything else.”  True words, and one of the most important reasons to get really good at SOMETHING in your life…so that you have the basics you need to understand how “excellence” really works.  And once you know that…the world is yours. Your LIFE is yours, whether you are talking career, relationships, or fitness.  Its all the same stuff, so long as behavior influences results.

 

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In any arena of life, there are skills that you have, and skills you need to acquire.  And one of the biggest problems that stop people from ever being really good at anything is impatience and self-judgement.

 

I remember wanting desperately to be a professional writer.  I knew NO ONE who had ever done such a thing. My mother and teachers all discouraged me from doing it, and so I tried, I really tried to stop writing when I went to college.  Took courses in radio, journalism, speech…all clustered around communication, but never stuck my toe into the creative writing pond.  Then one day I took a class with a lady we’ll call Sarah.    I was raw, and hopeful, and had my little handful of dreams I laid before her.

 

One guy in the class (call him Mike) was a tall, handsome, brooding type. He and I were the hardest-working writers in that class, but very different.  Mike wrote moody pieces about motorcyclists who repaired old junker bikes, then drove up to the top of the local hill and looked down on the town and contemplated mankind.

 

I wrote stories about towns like that getting eaten by giant amoebas.  Oh, well.

 

Sarah slavered over Mike, praised him and batted her eyelashes with him.  Much later I found out that they were having an affair, but even with no idea about that, I was frustrated: just couldn’t get her attention, or anything approaching a positive comment.

 

One day after she had finished glowing all over him, I asked her point blank what she thought of my writing, and she derisively called me “the king of slick” and said that what I was doing wasn’t REAL writing.

 

Everyone laughed, including Mike.   I’ve heard other people speak of similar moments, and some wither.  And some, like Harlan Ellison’s tale of the infamous Dr. Shedd, bare their teeth.

 

No, I didn’t say “I’m great!  You just don’t know!” I was realistic enough to know that I wasn’t good enough.   Yet.

 

But there was something I knew that the others didn’t. I’d watched Mike’s face on the rare occasions when someone in the class dared to criticize one of his (admittedly VERY well written) stories.  He flinched.  He got angry, even if he disguised it with a carefully cultivated air of superiority.   HE DIDN’T LIKE IT AT ALL.   And…shut them out.

 

And I KNEW that if I was going to be a professional writer, I had to eat the pain.  Had to be willing to hear whatever painful truth I could learn about my work.  I had to let myself be hurt. Again, and again, and again.

 

Which meant I had to find a place inside myself that was safe, so that the “external” me could take the hits without putting up walls.   “you can’t take criticism” I smiled inside.  And I can.  And that’s why I’m going to make it, and you aren’t.

 

And…to my knowledge he never published a thing.

 

And armed with the belief that deep inside I had what it took, I slogged on, and on, through rejection after rejection.   You can kill me, but you can’t stop me.

 

THAT was the attitude. And that attitude has, in combination with modeling success, gotten me everything I have in life.

 

Yeah, I suck. But if I keep going, learning something new every day, eventually I’ll suck less.  And if I keep going, eventually I’ll suck so little I”ll be good.

 

Anything worth doing well is worth doing badly at first.  In writing, that’s your first million words. In martial arts, that’s being on the receiving end of countless throws and blows, and feeling horribly clumsy and confused in every class.

 

In relationships it is learning to communicate and read communication, learning to present yourself as attractively as possible, learning to BE  a healthy human animal instead of “faking” it with “How To Pick Up Chicks/How to Make a Man Fall In Love With You” tricks and tips.

 

In all cases asking yourself who would you have to BE to get the results you want, and committing to becoming that person.  And having the deep faith that within you is the capacity to do this, that it is your destiny, your chosen life path.

 

Yes, rejection hurts. The more you care, the more it stings.   So…find the love inside you, and connect it to the commitment to be your best and most authentic self.  Somehow, you have to find that faith that you have the capacity to fulfill your dreams.  “What if I can’t?  What if I’m not enough?”

 

Long ago, back in college, a lady asked me:  “what if your dreams are too big, Steve?   Aren’t you going to be disappointed?”

 

And I smiled at her.  “Let’s say that at the moment of death, you get clarity on your life, everything you really are, all illusion removed.   If at that moment I saw that I’d aimed too high, my attitude would be `hey. I had a hell of a ride.'”

 

But what if at that moment I saw that I could have had anything I’d wanted, if only I’d had the guts to go for it.  THAT would feel like hell. That would be misery.

 

Any time you wonder if you’re asking for too much from life, ask yourself one simple question: “how long am I going to be dead?”  And armed with the answer to that, GO FOR IT.

 

It took a million words to find my voice.

It took seventeen years to earn my first black belt

I didn’t find my soulmate until I was forty-five.

 

I never lost hope.   Never quit.

 

Even though, frankly…I sucked.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.theancientchild.com

“Creed 2” and the power of Finding Yourself

I’ve been a fan of the “Rocky” saga since 1976, when the Italian Stallion realized that the fight with Apollo Creed had to be about HIM, and not what Apollo did, or what the judges said.   And because he changed the definition of “winning” (to simply being on his feet after 15 rounds) he became an absolutely uncrushable beast, and set up a series of films that have thrilled audiences for over FORTY YEARS.   That…is amazing. Especially since we all know how they will end. No surprises, other than the grace notes in the journey itself, and a nugget of real emotional truth.   Given that truth, we are watching Sylvester Stallone’s journey of life.  And when Ryan Coogler revitalized the series with “Creed” he tapped into that same vein: a familiar story, well told, old wine in new bottles, touching some truth of the human experience that provides the emotional “spark” to send the battered fighter back to the center of the ring to thrill us one more time.

 

And “Creed 2” was no exception.  If you liked the others…you’ll like this one.  I loved it.  And if it isn’t the same revelation as either the original “Rocky” or “Creed”, in NO way is it less than the other “Rocky” sequels.  And as with the others, there is a moment that spoke to me, that put the heart in the movie and kept it from being a simple exercise in waiting for the training montage and the Bill Conte horns.

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So let’s look at that moment.     Adonis Creed is the son of the former heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed.   Born out of wedlock and in poverty, he is struggling to find his own identity, as a fighter and as a man.  Although he has won the championship, he is still hit with a common conundrum: “I don’t FEEL like the champion.”  His challenge is to own, to inhabit his life.    Because his expectations (how he thought he was supposed to feel) were not met, he   feels like an impostor.    This creates an emotional weakness where a promoter can challenge him to fight the son of the man who killed his father, and Adonis CANNOT react to this logically or rationally or strategically.  He reacts emotionally because of that wound.   His challenge is to live as himself, not in reaction to the world, or the past.

 

You can probably predict the story beats that follow, and I won’t spoil them.   But let’s just say that he cannot make that emotional connection to himself FOR himself.  This is the point at which an adult either wakes up, grows up, or falls back into old patterns which will eventually grow self-destructive.

 

Here’s the truth: he DID feel like a champion. 

 

He just didn’t realize how champions actually feel.

 

“I earned a million dollars.  Why don’t I feel like it?”

 

” I’m an adult now.  Why don’t I feel like it?”

 

“I’m a published writer.  Why don’t I feel secure?”

 

“I’m a black belt. How come I’m not confident?”

 

People DIE if they can’t resolve those issues.    External accomplishments can not and do not fill that hole in your heart.  Recently, I spoke to a woman with high educational accomplishment (Call her Dr. Jane), who talked about a man she loved, who could not be with her because she earned more money than he did.

 

This is a real-world issue.  Both men AND women have reinforced the notion that males should be great hunters and gatherers, so this isn’t just a “male weakness”.   It is a human issue we are dealing with as we evolve our society.    What Dr. Jane  said is that no matter how much she loved him, his insecurity was too strong.

 

To be with her, he would have to shut his heart against what the world thinks, and have faith that she would not, in time, grow more attracted to a man of higher power (a very real phenomenon) and leave him. More importantly…he would have to love himself enough to have faith that he would be fine no matter what. To have the clarity to trust his perceptions of her.

 

In “Creed 2″, Adonis has to separate himself from the roar of the crowd, from the belts, and accept that his mother, his lovely partner Bianca, and his ‘Unk” Rocky Balboa love him for who he IS rather than what he DOES.  To do that, HE has to accept himself the same way.    And…he cannot. For all of his accomplishment he feels empty, spent, lost.  I’ve had that feeling, haven’t you?  Where the roar of the crowd, the love of our friends, the money in the bank mean NOTHING.

 

On Prince’s “Gold” album there is a terrific song that says he went to the mountaintop in his career…and there was nothing there.  If you don’t understand that, like so many “winners” that came before you, you will reach that point and ask:   “Is that all there is?”

 

What, then, is the way out?

 

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“Creed 2” has a lovely scene where he, and Bianca, and their child are laying on the floor, and Adonis realizes that they are a family of fighters.

 

Lion.  Lioness.  Cub.

 

That’s who and what he is, with all it implies about the ups and downs of life.  Not every hunt, every fight will be successful.   And eventually time takes us all (“It’s undefeated” Rocky said in the first Creed)

 

These two (Bianca and his child) will be there, and love him, after the crowd is gone.  His mother tells him: “don’t tell me that this fight is about your father.” It is not.  It is not revenge, it is about answering the question “Who am I?  Am I my father’s son? And what does that mean?” He MUST answer that question before he can face his challenge with real personal force, actually balanced with feet set firmly on his own soul. From there we can love. Fight.  Lose, without losing ourselves.  Or win, without thinking that the trophy, or title, or money makes us a winner.

 

NO ONE CAN GIVE THIS TO YOU.  You have to find it within yourself, or spend your entire life seeking it from others. And when you get that award, that honor, that contract, that relationship?  You will wonder why you still feel empty.

 

HEAL YOURSELF FIRST.   Bianca was a lioness. She needs a lion.  It is as brutally simple as that.   Ask yourself what your perfect partner would be.  Make that choice not merely based on the possibility of finding them, but WHO YOU MUST BECOME to be worthy of that relationship. Is that a better, stronger, more honorable and joyful version of yourself?  Is that in alignment with your goals and values?  Then walk that path, NOT for the other person, but for the sake of your own soul.   Whether they ever show up has to be almost irrelevant.   You DON’T do it for “them.”  You do it for YOU.  You love yourself enough to be absolutely 100% certain that you will live your life with integrity to your spirit, your heart, your values, your sense of what you want to contribute to the world.

 

And when you are on the road to becoming that better person…THAT is when you  will find another person who is on THEIR journey, moving in the same direction, at the same speed, with their “green light” on, saying that they too are ready for love.  It is magic.

It is life.

 

Love yourself…and share the love!

Steven Barnes

www.theancientchild.com

Sunday Morning Musings: The “Three Gates” and UHC and Quasi-Living Things

Sunday morning musing time.   Its fun being a science fiction writer.  I can string together ideas and see if they fit, in the context of internal logic rather than convincing anyone that something is “actually real”.  And a flow of notions this morning connected in an interesting way.

 

###

 

This will connect with some basic notions: you’ll spot them as we go along, but they include

 

  1. The “three gates” of speech:

Is it true?

Is it useful?

Is it kind?

 

  1. The notion of human equality between groups defined by race and gender
  2. A wilder notion, something called “Big Body Heuristics”: that the actions of large organizations are best understood as if they are demi-lifeforms with dim consciousness and survival motivations.

 

Let’s have fun.

 

 

I think I see a cluster of exaggerations that one side thinks kind, and the other side finds useful.  It involves UHC, Universal Health Care.  Something that the Left says works just fine everywhere in the world but here, and the Right says “it doesn’t work” and “it is too expensive.”

 

I think we can put the raw facts out pretty easily:  Let’s compare the U.S. and Canada, shall we?

 

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) believes Canada spent approximately $228 billion on health care in 2016. That’s 11.1 per cent of Canada’s entire GDP and $6,299 for every Canadian resident.

 

U.S. health care spending grew 4.3 percent in 2016, reaching $3.3 trillion or$10,348 per person. As a share of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, health spending accounted for 17.9 percent.

 

 

People who say “we can’t afford it” wouldn’t’ seem to be looking at the same numbers.   They also can’t say “it doesn’t work, as the relative life spans of Canada and the U.S. are 82 and 79.  The World Health Organization considers longevity and infant mortality to be the most basic indicators of a country’s health.   Beware of people who try to complicate or distract from this.

 

 

What’s the problem, then?

 

I think that the main problem with UHC is that the Left doesn’t want to say “your taxes will go up” and the Right  doesn’t want to say “I don’t want my money spent to help strangers stay well.

 

There is a…shall we way “clarity gap”  because the raw stats show very clearly that it is more efficient and effective for producing the core indicators of health, and cheaper per capita. But…there is a shift of money spent from the private to the public arena.  THAT is definitely true.

 

So…people confuse the truth.

 

Your taxes will go up…but your expenditures will go down, on average.   THAT would seem to be the truth.

 

Government would get bigger (assuming nothing else shifted) so the “government can’t do anything right” people are of course up in arms.   Note that they have to ignore a raft of evidence from around the world that UHC  gets better results.     Usually they will counter with anecdotal, or mention some specific disease where people are better served by private insurance. They’d HAVE to exist, just like there are living cells in that hamburger you just ate.    But keep your eyes on the ball: longevity and infant mortality. Watch them argue about what the definition of “is” is. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

 

So…Cui bono?  Who benefits from the confusion?

 

Let’s see…there would be some on either side. I’ll try to present what I see as the possibilities with as little editorializing as possible. I can’t deny I have a perspective, but I’ll try to be as objective as possible.  I DO start with the assumption that the statistics offered are roughly accurate. They can be checked very easily, which is an advantage. NO ONE WHO DENIES THESE BASIC STATISTICS could possibly agree with what follows, so your opinions are predictable and IMO irrelevant to the discussion.

 

Why might someone deliberately distort the truth?

 

  1. Left: people who want UHC and are willing to twist the truth to get better health care.
  2. Left: people who want government to grow larger.
  3. Right: People who don’t believe the statistics, and believe that UHC is less effective or more expensive for a nation.
  4. Right: People who don’t want their tax dollars spent in this way, for “those” people.
  5. Right: People afraid of larger government
  6. Right: People afraid that their specific health needs will be less effectively treated in such a system.   The cost of taxes PLUS a health rider policy might reasonably be higher than the cost of a basic private policy alone.  This is not an hallucination, and is an honorable objection IMO.

 

All of these have to do with “people”. What individual human beings desire and fear. But…there are other entities involved.  And here is where we veer into SF territory.

 

View “Governments” and “Corporations” as demi-life forms, large and complex enough to have quasi-consciousness but certainly the “desire” to survive and grow.  Each contains the same human beings (consider them like “cells” in the overall body) and each is ideal (IMO) for different aspects of human life.

 

But…they both cooperate, and are in competition. In some ways, deadly competition. Private industries seem better for almost any consumer desires and products, governments better at infrastructures and critical services.    Governments put limitations on Corporations through laws and taxes…and Corporations feed the notion of deregulation and distrust of governments through donations to political groups and advertising.

 

Oh, it’s fun to watch.  I do remember listening to Communists talking about how all the industry should be under the control of government. They seemed unreasoning fanatics to me.  Now I hear people talking about how government can’t do ANYTHING right, and THEY sound just the same: unreasoning fanatics.  Of course, as you modify that POV, you get more and more reasonable: a debate about which form of organization is better for what result at what time by what standards is perfectly fine.

 

But beware of people who enter the discussion with that “government can’t do anything!” attitude.  Treat them like Communists or Flat Earthers and I think you’ll be safest.

 

Look for the real arguments under the lies: yeah, taxes will go up.  But overall expenditures will go down.  Look for the people who understand that, and   obfuscate.

 

And ask yourself: what is the future of our culture? Our species?  Our planet?  What do you consider the basic social contract?  Speak of that honestly, without lying. The truth is enough. If we speak the truth, we will, I believe, come to the best decisions.

 

Unless…you look down on the “common man”.  Think that there is a hierarchy of value and capacity that prevents Democracy from working, or even a Democratic Republic from really functioning.  This is definitely the “nature” side of the argument. It will rarely speak its truth, as some of the conclusions are things we’ve decided are anathema to the dream of America.  There is a toxic aspect to the other side as well: the notion that everyone should get equal results.    On a group level dealing with race and ethnicity, I agree that with a level playing field you will get roughly equal results.    On an individual level…not so much.  And if you believe that it would be equal, even for all individuals, then the force of Government to bring that to life would be oppressive and toxic.

 

OF course, there are people who believe a level playing field would bring equal results, AND DON’T WANT THAT.    They want that nice advantage.  They just won’t say it out loud.

 

And there are others who just don’t believe that ‘those’ people are equal. They will generally hide that behind defining equality as social, or legal, or “in the eyes of God” or “I treat people as individuals.”   That’s fine. And many of them are fine, moral people.    But watch out for those phrases, and be aware of what is hiding behind them.

 

And be aware that when an organization of any kind grows to a certain size, its actions might best be interpreted as those of an organism: hungry, growing.  And at a larger size, with sophisticated communication…one might wonder if its actions might be considered those of an organism developing a central nervous system…or even awareness.

 

The tobacco industry certainly looked out for itself rather than its customers.

 

Those who believe in AGW would certainly consider that the petroleum industry seems to be more interested in its own survival than that of human beings (short sighted, yes. But I didn’t say that demi-organism was smart)

 

And the Insurance Industry, seeing its power threatened would certainly (from that odd quasi-life form perspective) join with other corporations looking to suppress the power of the only “life” form on the planet which rivals and controls it.  “Smart” enough to support the political/philosophical positions that fear government.  Enough to get people to ignore relatively simple statistics, and vote against their own best interests.

 

But that’s just morning musing, just asking what perspectives make sense of different events.  Politics makes strange bedfellows indeed. Not just between different groups of human beings, but between human and non-human entities.

 

Its fun being a science fiction novelist. I don’t have to convince people of anything except: “Isn’t this a fun story?”

 

Well….isn’t it fun?

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.geeksguidetosoulmates.com

The Story of Love

Many years ago, I was teaching a “writer’s toolbox” class at UCLA, and we were having a great time with subjects like brainstorming, flow state management, structure, characterization and so on.  On the second day a student raised his hand.

 

“Mr. Barnes,’ he said. “You’ve given us so many wonderful tools, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to use them.”

 

“Why not?” I asked.

 

“well, my wife doesn’t support my desire to be a writer.  My kids take a LOT of energy at home, and my job just chews up the rest of my time…”   I could feel the energy draining out of the room as everyone began to slot their own excuses and obstacles into what the first man had said.  I was on the edge of losing them.

 

There is an expression that  “from time to time life gives you a cubic inch of opportunity.   You either grab it, or it is gone forever.”

 

I got one at that moment.   “Well,” I said.  “If you were a character in a story you were writing, and at the end of that story the character got everything he wanted, what would you have him do next?”

 

I watched his eyes cross and the steam come out of his ears. And then, slowly, he began to speak.  “Well…I could trade chores with my wife, do more of the heavy things that take less time, to make more time for myself. I could enlist my kids by making them think it would be cool to have a dad who is a published writer.   I could take my lunch to work with me and eat at my desk…”

 

I was gobsmacked. Here, just a few seconds earlier, he had given up hope. And now he was generating all of his own answers.   I asked the rest of the class the same question, and they started generating positive suggestions so fast they couldn’t write them down.

 

I drove home that night in a daze. What had happened? Over the next few days I researched obsessively, looking for answers. And about three days later I came across the work of Joseph Campbell. A literature professor and expert on world mythologies, he developed a theory called the “mono-myth”, the notion that there is a single story underlying all world literature.

 

To the degree that Campbell was correct WHY was he correct? Why is there a common pattern?  Whether you listen to African griots, New York Playwrights, Eskimo shamans or Celtic bards…why is there a common core? Well, he  also was quoted as saying that world mythology is the extension of our personal stories, and our personal stories are the personifications of our cultural myths. That there is a connection between the external stories we tell, and the internal way we represent our experience and order our memories.

 

That what he called “the Hero’s Journey” is, in essence a distillation of actual life experience as we grow and change and learn.   This pattern has been expressed many ways, and my interpretation is as follows, applied here to the first “Star Wars” movie, “A New Hope”:

 

  1. The Hero is confronted with a challenge.  (“Come with me, Luke!  Learn the ways of the Force!”)
  2. The Hero rejects the challenge. (“I promised Uncle Owen I’d fix the moisture evaporators”)
  3. Acceptance of the challenge (“teach me to be a Jedi like my father”)
  4. The road of Trials (traveling to Mos Eisley cantina, Alderaan, the Death Star, etc.)
  5. Gathering of allies and powers (Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, R2-D2, etc.)
  6. Confront Evil–defeated (Obi-Wan dies)
  7. Dark Night of the Soul (the Death Star attack is failing)
  8. Leap of Faith (in his own powers, in The Force, in Han Solo)
  9. Confront Evil–victory (Blowing up the Death Star)
  10. The Student becomes the teacher (Luke and Han get medals, the group applauds)

 

I suggest a theory: what if stories are the way that the tribal elders pass the most important life lessons to the children?  What if they are saying “this is the way life will be!  You will be challenged. You will be frightened, but must accept them anyway if you are to grow.   The way will be hard and confusing, so choose your companions and role models carefully, so that you can learn the skills that you will need. And if you are facing a great challenge there WILL be defeat and loss, so you must prepare yourself emotionally IN ADVANCE for this stress. But if you do these things, and keep faith, you will win and grow. Then, when you do, you must help the next person along the path by showing them the way.”

 

This notion was the origin of the “Lifewriting” system of personal development, and it underlies the “Soulmate Process” which prepares us to find and nurture healthy relationships.

 

Let’s apply those steps.   At some point in your life you will crave a partner.  There may well be fear or insecurity associated with this need, but you will date and seek love anyway.    You’ll kiss a lot of frogs looking for that prince/princess, but look to those who have had successful healthy lasting relationships to learn the truth of how they work, and who you need to be to find one.  Eventually, you will fall in love, and in all likelihood the first time(s) you will have your heart broken.  It will feel like the end of the world, but eventually you will pull yourself out of it, and try again…and again. And if you do, and keep learning, and maintain an open heart you will eventually meet The One, and bond.   And then…if you live and love with joy you yourself become a role model for those who follow.

 

That pattern is eternal, and universal. It is the story of almost every human being seeking love, and once you see the pattern you can apply it to ANY task in life, but love is so central that I invite you to apply it there first.

 

If there is a single most important step, it might be “allies and powers”: to find role models of people who have loved successfully for over twenty years. Ask them of their struggles, and triumphs.  Ask their advice. How they met, how they wooed, how they maintain the passion in their relationships.

 

Keep track of the answers, and you’ll start seeing the patterns.  Once you see them, you have an understanding of a basic aspect of life we are rarely directly taught.

 

And…after you have found the love you seek, be sure to share your new knowledge, would you?  The children are watching, and hoping.

 

 

Love yourself…and share that love with others

 

Steve

www.geeksguidetosoulmates.com

Halloween (2018) and “Toxic Humanity”

There is a terrific scene in the new “Halloween” film where three generations of Strode women: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, and Andi Matichak) face off against “The Shape” Michael Meyers.

 

(SERIOUS SPOILERS)

 

The set-up is devastatingly simple: traumatized by the events in the original film, Laurie Strode (Curtis) has become a neurotic, agoraphobic recluse, convinced that Meyers will return to kill her one day, and sacrificing the love and warmth of her family to attempt to protect them and prepare them for the danger to come.  She has become a “gun nut”, obsessed with barriers and traps and the nearness of death.

 

Her daughter Karen (Greer) wants nothing to do with her, and her grand-daughter Aliyison (Matichak) would like to be the bridge between mother and grandmother.    When Meyers escapes custody and comes after them, the reality that Mom was right the whole time hits   like a ton of bricks. When   Karen and   Aliyson are trapped in the basement, Michael battering his way in, Karen grabs a rifle in a desperate attempt to protect her daughter and her own life…and the pressure breaks her.

 

It is an awful scene. This is her dying place, these cold walls and dark shadows her tomb.  She has let down her daughter, who will die under Michael’s knife.   She has heard of the horror, of this implacable hellish, soul-less creature her entire life and mocked the concept…and now it is here.

 

Death itself, is here.   She looks into what Dr. Loomis called “The Devil’s Eyes” and sees no mercy, no hope, nothing but her own ending, and the abyss sucks her in.

 

Even with a rifle in her hands, she screams that she can’t do it. She calls for her Mommy, paralyzed with terror.

 

Michael, the predator that he is, knows she is helpless, comes for her and…

 

She shoots him BOOM.  She was faking!   And what follows is one of the most satisfying sequences in horror film, as three generations of Strodes stand up to this terror, (at least temporarily) destroying it, and in the process healing their shattered family.  Wow.

 

 

The audience I saw it with went NUTS at the basement scene!  THAT was one of the great moments of horror cinema.   She was luring him in with the illusion of weakness, where in reality the training, her fear for her life, and her commitment to saving her daughter has actually moved her totally OUT  of illusion, and into a savage reality:

 

Women can and have protected themselves throughout all history. And throughout the animal kingdom.

 

Female “weakness” is an illusion, a game, an agreement between male and female that works great for producing more grandchildren, but is not based in biological or psychological reality.   Are males stronger, larger, more explosively powerful? Yes.  Does that mean females cannot defend themselves?

 

No.

 

There is an expression: “it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”  And a woman fighting not just for her own life but the life of her child is about as dangerous, pound for pound, as a human being can be AS LONG AS SHE STAYS OUT OF THE SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED ILLUSION.  Get out of her head. Get into her heart, and her body instincts.

 

If you step back and look at the game of male and female, it is arguable  that deep in prehistory the human race decided to play a game: females would pretend to be weaker more timid than they were, males would pretend to be stronger and braver than THEY really were.  The goal?  Produce maximum grandchildren via specialization.

 

And it had advantages and disadvantages for both sides.  The thought that “women’s ambitions and men’s lives were disposable” comes to mind.    Arguably, the human race, post-industrialization, birth control, the invention of firearms and overpopulation, has entered a new era, one in which we can question those gender roles and actually shift them if we choose.  This is new. And…the good news is that this change is actually good for both sides.

 

All that is required for this change is to awaken from the illusion.   To do this, start with the assumption of equality (with some inevitable reproductive complementarity).  It can be difficult because of all the politics, but just as with racial issues, if you START with an assumption of equality between groups, understanding that societies exaggerate the differences for its own purposes (mainly genetic or tribal survival), then “waking up” frees us.    If you stop needing to project guilt, blame and shame and instead ask: “how did we get here, if we are basically equal across gender and racial lines?” all of the answers will come, and WITHOUT demonizing either side.  Stop the war.   We have done the best we could as a species, and now we have the chance to do better. A chance to step into a new future that is rooted in our distant past, but builds upon it to create new options.

 

I ask you seriously, guys: when you saw Karen blow Michael Meyers away (well…or at least wound him. You know how these immortal monsters are!) didn’t that turn you on, just a little?  I can’t imagine a healthy male who would want a weak woman.  Could such a woman protect his children?  Protect HIM if he was sick or wounded?  Don’t you want the strongest life partner you can possibly find?

 

And I ask you, ladies: when you saw that, didn’t you cheer?  Didn’t you feel that that was YOU , given the right situation, the right motivations?  And what would you think of a man who looked at that and cheered? And was turned on by the notion that you could stand at his side, utterly female but utterly capable of defending your children, no matter what it took?

 

This isn’t a salvo in the gun control debate.  Stop the politics, just for a moment. We’re talking about primal survival, the creation of young, one of the primary drivers of human sexuality.  And ALL animals have the means of self-protection and the internal permission to fight for their lives.   WEAKNESS IS AN ILLUSION.    POWER IS SEXY.   That power can manifest as various forms of intelligence, drive, self-confidence, skill, talent, calm, balance and so forth, but except for BADLY wounded people and predators, weakness is NOT attractive.

 

I recently met with one of the producers of “Halloween,”  who  chuckled when I mentioned that Michael Meyers could be seen as an avatar of Toxic Masculinity.  Unstoppable, violent, dominating.   But that would only be half the puzzle, because the other half would be Toxic Femininity: pretending to be weak, begging for help she didn’t need,  thrusting the protective energy (Curtis) out to the hinterlands to harden the heart and then blame it for the very sacrifices that keep the home safe.

 

The path forward is for BOTH sides to awaken.  To end a “war” that has lasted tens of thousands of years.  Which once served a very real purpose which it may well have outlived   It will not be easy, because partisans on both sides are convinced the illusion is real. But there are massive rewards for those who can shake off that fantasy and embrace a new and better world.

 

And one of those rewards is the ability to love BOTH the male and female aspects of ourselves.  And therefore…each other. And the path is to connect to the child self, to commit to the protection of hat helpless one at any cost. From there, we can see we must harness everything within us, every drop of compassion and love, which then spins into a total commitment to protect and smashes the illusions.

 

We can be more. We can be free. We can love ourselves, and understand our world, and embrace each other as we walk this journey called life.

 

The answer, as always, is love.

 

 

Be kind to yourself…and love each other

Steve

 

www.geeksguidetosoulmates.com

Grokking Love

The term “Grokking”, coined by the great SF writer Robert Heinlein in his novel “Stranger In a Strange Land”, roughly means “understand (something) intuitively or by empathy.”  This would be one of the core outcomes of most meditative disciplines: to KNOW yourself, to go beyond the surface stories and the ego shells to discover an ineffable truth within.

 

If I map this over to what the wisest men and women on the planet have said about this journey over the ages, this would seem to be at the very least being “awake”, and possibly knocking on the door of the state referred to as “enlightenment”, which lies beyond the gate called “non-dualism.”  It is, in other words…extraordinary.  And probably beyond the majority of human beings to achieve through sheer will.  Life experience probably gets most of us there, in time…but sheer effort or focus? I don’t think so.

 

But one thing   that is true is that this state MIGHT be useful, or might not, in terms of living  in our world. Depends on too many other factors, including the fact that the state is a fictional creation, and we have no paths to it, no consistent real-world definitions, and no real role models for what it might mean, or the pathways to it.

 

Love, on the other hand, is available to the vast majority of us. Probably all of us.  And since a large percentage of religious and spiritual disciplines that say the core of us, the essence of us, is love…the search for love and the search for truth are aligned.

 

And since coming from that loving space is one of the best ways to connect with others, there is no downside there either.   What about defending yourself?  Wouldn’t “coming from love” weaken you, make you less likely to be able to defend yourself, being so committed to loving?

 

Not if you are in alignment with nature.  Not if you love your family enough to protect it, or want to get home to hug and kiss them one more time.  Not if you love the child you were enough to be willing to defend her. Defend him, to your last drop of blood and last breath.

 

Love helps you forgive yourself, and when you do that, you can look more honestly at yourself because you are not afraid of what you will find. We are flawed. We make mistakes. We have swallowed the opinions of people we trusted…and some of those opinions paint us negatively.  We have values conflicts creating self-destructive behavior. Fears that create procrastination.  Egos that war with the world around us.

 

If we don’t look at that ball of knotted snakes, we can’t unravel it.  And so the ego protects itself partially by discouraging the very introspection we need.  “You are less than perfect!” is true.  “And therefore you aren’t worth it!” is not.

 

Loving ourselves means disciplining ourselves, as well as accepting where we are. Knowing we’ve done the best we can do.  In accepting ourselves, we learn to forgive the imperfections of a potential beloved.   If you can love and accept yourself where YOU are, you will be able to recognize, accept, and love another on your frequency, traveling in the same direction at the same pace.  You recognize a kindred heart, a kindred spirit.  A potential soulmate.

 

So…because love is so healing, so central…I choose love.  “Grokking” seems to imply “understanding” to many people.   Absent a grounded body and an open heart, that can devolve to more “head case” stuff, dangerous to a person seeking a real experience of life.   Interesting. But if  Valentine Michael Smith, Heinlein’s very human Martian, had been a real human being, I’m sure we would learn wonderful things about what was meant by that term. Absent that…we’re just trying to understand. And in a real sense, understanding is the booby prize.

 

Love is the prize.

 

Namaste

Steve

(tomorrow, we will begin a new adventure together, a path of love.  Join me!)

Love Makes You Strong

(Trigger Warning:  There is violent imagery in this essay.  No joke)

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Coming from love doesn’t make you weak, or less capable of resisting evil.   Nope. It actually is the core of willingness to die killing something threatening your family or core values, which is arguably  the most powerful  and clarifying position in the world, beyond even personal survival.

 

I’ll tell a story I’ve told before.  Many years ago, I had a neighbor (call him “Bob”) whose daughter was a friend of Nicki, we’ll call “Janie”.   “Bob” was a nice guy, but there was something strange: he seemed to take some kind of odd offense with me. Challenged me verbally with intense emotions behind it.   Seemed to take pleasure sniping at me.   Called the police on my dog, and then came over to my house and bragged about it and dropped into a boxing stance to challenge me to fight him.  I just sort of shook my head, unable to figure out what the hell I’d done to trigger such a reaction.

 

I tried to make peace.    One day I was at his house, and Bob complained about a bad back.  I invited him to come over to my house and use our spa.   He gratefully agreed.  He came over a couple of hours later in his swim suit, and a folded towel.   He asked me to hold the towel for him. What it concealed was…a revolver.

 

WTF?

 

I asked him why he was carrying it. Without blinking he said that he was having trouble with his boss at work.  That the man was a terror.  And he was SO ugly. And…he looked just like ME.

 

Oh, shit.   Well, isn’t THAT special.

 

I remember sitting down with Swift Deer at my next Judo lesson, and telling him what was happening. That I felt paralyzed.  “I don’t want to hurt  Janie’s’ dad.”

 

Swift shook his head somberly. “And that’s why he’s going to hurt you, brother” he said.   “That’s what he’s counting on.”

 

I was thunderstruck. Swift was right. Whatever was going on with Bob likely had nothing to do with me.   But he had focused his anger and fear on me, and my very affection for his family weakened me.  ESPECIALLY my affection for Janie, which was enormous.  I was frozen: damned if I did, dead or wounded if I didn’t.

 

I went home that night, brain swimming.  What should I do?  I couldn’t hurt Janie’s dad.  I had to deal with this. But I just couldn’t. My love paralyzed me.

 

Then a thought crossed my mind, one of those “cubic inches of opportunity” that slide in from the blind spot: HE WAS TRYING TO HURT NICKI’S DAD.

 

Boom.  Something deep inside me bared its teeth.  Oh, yes.   He was trying to make my daughter an orphan.  My wife a widow.

 

And for some reason…that was TOTALLY different.  QUALITATIVELY different.

He was trying to hurt Nicki’s Dad?   The hell he would.

 

So…what was I going to do?  I remembered a story I was told by…hmmm…I’ll be just a little oblique here.  Let’s say a martial artist friend and instructor of mine who is extremely savvy about the psychology of martial art, science, and sport.   Yeah, him.

 

He told me about a day when a belligerent gentleman came into his school spoiling for a fight.    Roaring “I wanna talk to X!” My friend and teacher listened to the ravings, and got very calm. Reached into his desk, and pulled out a loaded 9mm (he is legally permitted to carry). He set it on his desk. Then imagined the man breaking into his office. Imagined himself shooting the man right through the head.  Rather dreamily imagined the guy’s  brains splashing against the wall, and the body sliding down, death clouding his eyes.

And smiled warmly.

Put the gun away, went out and talked to the guy…who was INSTANTLY as mild as cream.

 

THAT would be my tactic. I imagined “Bob” swinging on me.  And responding with a burst of violence the likes of which he had never dreamed of.   Imagined breaking his limbs and curb-stomping him, and thoroughly enjoying the resulting mess.     Oh, yes…there is definitely a part of me that enjoyed that imagining.  Anyone who really knows me knows it is there, buried deep down, a rabid wolf I’ve been feeding for decades, with the promise that if the justification ever came…I’d let him out.

 

I warmed myself on that vision of destruction, then  went out of my office to my family.  Kissed Nicki. Kissed Toni.  Patted my dog good-bye.   And walked across the street.

Knocked on the door. His wife “Kathy” answered.  I said, “hello, Kathy.  Is Bob here?”

A little puzzled, she said yes, he was back in his office.  “May I speak with him?”

Why sure, come on in.  I walked back to Bob’s office, and there he was at his desk.  He  looked up at me with surprise.  I said “Hi, Bob,” and just talked to him for a few minutes, to his slight confusion. Perfectly pleasant conversation.  Then I looked at my watch, said: “well, I just wanted to come by and say hello.”

He walked me to the front door, I said good-bye, and left.   Weeks later Kathy told me that after I left Bob looked at her and said “You know? That Steven Barnes is really a nice guy.”

AND HE NEVER BOTHERED ME AGAIN. Never. Not once.

Why?  Because I had absolute clarity.  Was 100% ready to go.  The slightest twitch would have triggered it. And on an animal level…HE KNEW. I had left him no uncertainty to exploit.  No fear to strike into.  No lever to manipulate me.

Ready to die. Ready to take him with me.  Hell, I’d said good-bye to my DOG.  Can’t get more serious than that.

How?  By connecting to what I really, really loved: Nicki.  Toni.  And my dog, of course. That love swept away all mists of confusion.  I might be of several minds about my own safety, but NOTHING will harm my family while I live.

Connect with your love, and you have strength beyond fear.    Connect that love to your own inner self, and you change your destiny.

Heartbeat meditation and visualizing the child within me for 20 minutes a day, every morning, is my path.   I hope you find yours.

Nothing is stronger than love.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.morningwriters.com

October 13’s “30 Day Story Writing” after-action report

So we had another great webinar Saturday, where T and I chose an idea, and then dove into process: how do you turn an idea into a story?  To avoid pure instinct and emotion, I discussed the technical aspects, questions like “Who, What, Where, Why, How, When?” and patterns like the Hero’s Journey.

 

If I had ANY lack of clarity or faith in my ability, I would never begin a story until I had applied these tools, understood the overall shape and HAD AN END IN MIND.   I wouldn’t write it unless It felt like it would be fun, and also could see a direct way to write it. There are ALWAYS unexpected problems, so starting with something that has energy and direction is a must.

 

I don’t know what the final title will be, but the brainstormed possibilities were great, and right now I’ve chosen “Fugue State.”  I like that.  Multiple meanings that allow us to twine thematic elements and subtext. Yummy.

 

One of the most important things was THE PROCESS ITSELF.  Brainstorming (between multiple people) mindstorming (when by yourself), the importance of foolishness, how to collaborate without tearing each other apart (one person holds the kill switch, always.  It varies between projects: if T’s name is first, SHE had the kill switch and did most of the mechanical work.  And vice versa) and so on.

 

So I hope people are watching the PROCESS as much as the CONTENT.   Most readers only see the finished PRODUCT, and that is the least useful in terms of learning, like trying to figure out an internal combustion engine by looking at the paint job.

 

Anyway, serious fun.  Today, I just transferred the simple paragraphs of description into WRITER DUET, a great on-line screenwriting/collaboration software.    Wednesday, I’ll break it down into scenes and Friday I’ll add dialogue.

 

On Tuesday and Thursday, I’ll work on the current Larry Niven project, “Ghost Writer.”   And every day, I’ll tweak the Mississippi Shuffle script.  By the way…I sent it to my agents last Friday.  Fingers crossed!

 

 

Write with passion!

Steve

(www.lifewrite.com is the way to join the fun.   Be a part of history!  Our goal is not just to write a story, but a GOOD story, a PUBLISHED story, and one good enough to be win an award.  Hey!  I dream big.)

Can’t have it both ways

I had a recent FB conversation with a gentleman  who defended Confederate statues and memorials, and insisted that they were appropriate.  I do believe I understand his position.      But if he simultaneously claims to be a greater ally of black people, with more respect for us, than those opposed to the maintenance of those statues, I can only conclude that he is either asleep, or a snake.  If he would make the same argument to a Jew about a statue of Goebbels, he is at least consistent, and I can respect consistency.   But he cannot, with a straight face, claim to be more of an ally to Jews than those who side with Jews about such things.

 

And I cannot think of a reason a black person should respect the Confederacy more than a Jew respects the Nazis. I just…can’t.

 

And if your mind goes immediately to the question of “is it appropriate to have such statues?” you are looking at the wrong part of the question.  The right part is to look at the relative compositions of the groups that say “yes” and “no.”   That is the tribe you have chosen, and while I wish you well there, there is a serious difference.   Consider yourself right, better, smarter…that’s fine. But you can’t do that and simultaneously claim that you respect us more than the people who respect our judgement and perspective on the matter.

 

You simply cannot have it both ways.

 

Namaste

Steve