Autobiography

These are stories from the life of Steven Barnes, science fiction writer, martial arts expert, hypnotherapist, teacher, public speaker, father, and lover of life.

“All That Jazz” and the Morning Ritual

SPOILERS

There is a movie that changed my life.  I’ve spoken of it before: ALL THAT JAZZ, the semi-autobiographical Bob Fosse movie starring Roy Scheider.    In it, “Joe Gideon”, a brilliant choreographer and film director, is addicted to the high of sex, drugs, and musical theater.   He is flirting with death (literally played by Jessica Lang) and is a man turned inside-out.

 

Let’s say that the model of human beings in Milton Erickson’s work, Abraham Maslow’s work and especially the six thousand year old Chakra system is correct.   That is ABSOLUTELY my assumption–that 99% of people want to have healthy strong bodies, ethical sexual relationships, the money and power necessary to have reasonable control over their environment, to fall in love, raise families, understand the world around them, speak their truth, create goods and services their communities find of value, grow old with dignity and die at peace.

 

Yep, those are my assumptions, and some of them are more flexible than others (many people are genuinely deciding not to have children.  I notice that many of those are teachers, or doting aunts and uncles.  Same things in the modern world, IMO).

 

Gideon’s core challenge then is to evolve to spirit.   He makes it at the end but screws up almost everything along the way.

 

  1. Survival.  He compromises his survival by putting performance above being.
  2. Sex.  An addiction, one which has destroyed his intimate relationships, replacing them with temporary, intense experiences.  But his sexuality produced a daughter, who he loves…but not as much as he loves the spotlight.
  3. Power.  He has power, but it is illusory.  When he gets sick, his “partners” are immediately looking to replace him.  He is a fabulous choreographer at war with his own body (smoking, drinking, drugs, lack of sleep, etc.)
  4. Emotion. Gideon is a man turned inside-out.  He treats his private relationships (wife, daughter, girlfriend) as secondary and his occupation as primary.  As a result, his heart is in the hands of people who don’t care about him at all, who would happily squeeze him dry, throw him away and replace him.
  5. Communication.   He isn’t honest with himself. Does he want to live?  Doesn’t he?  Can he keep promises to himself?  Can he understand his actual limits? Is he clear on what he really wants?
  6. Mind.  On the other hand, he is an acknowledged genius. Probably the only part of his life that really works.
  7. Spirit.  He drives himself partially with an awareness of death and life’s brief candle.   But although he eventually embraces spirit (as must we all) he has reduced himself to meat for the pleasure of people who wouldn’t shed a tear for him.  Their reaction would be: “what a stud. Who’s next?”

 

 

I saw that movie and realized that what killed him was  a lack of balance. If he had force himself to focus on his family as much as his work, it simply wouldn’t have happened. And if he’d factored in his body as well…he wouldn’t have had the jagged, spectacular “sparking” ups and downs, but rather a gentle uphill spiral. His contemporaries would have outperformed him…at first.  But two things would have happened (at least)

  1. He would have outlived them, and  ultimately his work would have reached levels of maturity and insight they couldn’t match if lost in entertaining illusion.
  2. He would have achieved far more deep satisfaction, away from the roar of the crowd, in the bosom  of a family that actually loves him

 

And I realized that as committed to success as I was, I could fall right into that same trap:

  1. That the road to success is hyper-excellence
  2. That hyper-excellence demands hyper-focus, OBSESSIVE focus.
  3. That obsession throws you out of balance
  4. That imbalance can easily destroy you with mania.
  5. And that that destruction both cuts short your excellence, and reduces the very joy you were seeking in the first place.

 

It was out of this grim realization that I had one of the ten greatest insights of my life:

 

Success requires obsession. Obsession creates imbalance. Imbalance destroys life, which derails success.

 

PROPOSED: The only thing it is safe to be obsessive about is balance itself.

 

Can this go off the rails as well?  Sure. At the far edges of obsessive behavior, I can imagine someone paralyzed trying to match equal times and amounts of energy in different arenas, or figure out what amount of time in one arena is equal to that in another.  For instance, an hour a day of exercise pretty much maxes out basic fitness potential for 99.9% of the human race.  But an equal amount of mental excellence might require four hours.

 

The inability to match durations, intensities, arenas, and life interruptions (among other factors) could drive someone with OCD right up the wall.

 

But…given that, balance is still the safest thing to get obsessive about.  The question is: how to implant?

 

JOE GIDEON’S THE MORNING RITUAL.

Pills, shower, music, eyedrops, headache powder, cigarette, game face, “showtime!”

 

All that matters is how it looks. How “it” feels is irrelevant. A man turned inside out.

 

This is his morning routine, the way he prepares himself for his day, because he has defined success as something separate from health and love and life.  And  that is the path to death and destruction.

 

What would have worked better (for instance)

 

Yoga (to repair the body and quiet the mind in preparation for action)

 

Shower is fine. A good way to wake up.

 

Music is beautiful.

 

Eyedrops and headache powders aren’t necessary like this unless you are destroying your life with alcohol and an inverted sleep schedule.

 

Cigarette?  A young dancer might want them for appetite suppressant. But this has no positive contribution other than perhaps a little focus.  Caffeine would work better with less damage.

 

Connecting with his most important task of the day: to complete (for instance) the “Fly Me” sequence.

 

Why?  To provide guidance to his dancers, an experience for his audience and a return on investment to his bosses. To express himself deeply and fully to the limit of his ability. To make his ex-wife and daughter proud of him.

 

You pile on those POSITIVE reasons until you feel inspired. And if you haven’t destroyed your body and nervous system, you should be able to “stack up” enough reasons to fulfill your most important daily action that you feel awake, alive, juiced.   You have nurtured your body, calmed your nerves, awakened your spirit, and are ready for the day.

 

No, you won’t be as “hyped” as that guy on benzedrine, sex, all-night benders and so forth…but you will be more connected to your being, capable of deeper art. And you will last longer. And even if you don’t, you will experience more genuine joy through expression of self, love of family, and feeling of connection to the world.

 

And the purpose of life?  Joy.   Pursued properly, you find it on every level of being. If you cannot…something has gone wrong.

 

What you see here is precisely the WRONG kind of “morning ritual”, one designed to produce short-term performance…and misery, and death.

 

What you want is long-term performance, joy, and the best life possible.

 

Design your “morning ritual” for THAT, and you win the game before it even begins.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

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Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool 2 is trying too hard to be as bubbly and subversive as the first, rather than being in opposition to the entire genre. It could also, obviously be easily trimmed to make a PG-13 version. This is “family friendly” as an R-rated movie gets. Instead of being a scrappy underdog, they accidentally created a…um…Juggernaut.

 

The plot, such as it is, involves a super-soldier named Cable (Josh Brolin, and yes, the joke is made) traveling back from the future to stop a certain person from doing a certain thing.  Along the way, Deadpool experiences a range of issues, and meets interesting people, and does his Bugs Bunny act. Hijinks ensue.  Also a very very narrow escape from a rather loathesome problem all the X-Men movies had.  Another subject.

 

It is fun, but I watched the first 40 minutes of the original after I got home, and the energy and aliveness and genuine “fuck it” in any random frame of the movie is better than almost anything in the sequel…but the sequel is still entertaining. Regression to the mean, but if you aren’t expecting sushi, a damned good fish-stick is still in the ballpark.

 

I’ll give it a “B”.  Worth the time. Not worth standing in the rain for.  Bring your tartar sauce.

 

Steve

The Aliens are here! (and that might be a good thing..?)

I had a thought this morning, ideas colliding around.   The Aliens are Here.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

 

1995.   I was watching “Independence Day” at the Cinedome Theater in southern Washington.  Will Smith pilots a spaceship out of the atmosphere, and says “I’ve waited my whole life for this.”   I sat there with tears streaming down my face and thought: “me, too.”

 

After the movie was over, I went to the rest room. The Cinedome theater is in a very…well, let’s say “Redneck” part of the state, lots of pickup trucks, blue-collar Yee-Haw and a generous helping of Confederate Flags.    There were a couple of denim overall clad gentlemen who fit the stereotype quite well, standing at the urinals taking care of their business with no idea I’d walked in.    And I heard one say to the other: “Whoo-Eee!  That Will Smith sure was cool!   I can’t wait to bring my Daddy to see this!”

 

And I thought: Wow.  We are entering a very new world.

 

1965

 

I’m nine years old, watching an old (there aren’t any “new.”  Sigh.) Ray Harryhausen SX spectacular, “Earth Versus The Flying Saucers.”    The world was at war against the aliens, in an expression of the “if the aliens came, all of Earth would pull together.    We would forget our differences”

 

Only one problem: in all the speaking roles, everyone was white.   Also most of the crowd scenes. A couple of shots of Asians hunkered by a radio, and one of a roomful of Indian-looking men  with maybe one African somewhere in a back row…but no, if the Aliens come, it is all the white people that will pull together.  So diverse. Why, there will be English, and Americans, and Germans, and Irish and Russians and…

I watched and loved that movie as a kid, but I knew that white people were somewhat twisted about this, and figured it would take decades to straighten it out. One of the reasons I’ve fought to take really good care of myself: I intended to enjoy myself when things got better.

 

Well, as of “Independence Day,” which was the first movie that REALLY paid attention to that notion about the world pulling together, I’d stepped into a new world.  Not fully balanced yet…but getting there.

 

And as of “Black Panther” we finally had a fully created fantasy film from “the other world” so to speak.  And even though two white characters were FRONT AND CENTER, the first seen, and the first speaking in the commercials, the same white folks who used to tell me not to complain about “Earth Versus The Flying Saucers” were now whining about the fact that there were no white people.

 

Wow.   As the great philosopher Sho Nuff said:   Stings a little, don’t it?

 

##

 

I see a lot of complaints  about diversity in films or comics.   “Virtue Signalling,” “Social Justice Warriors”  and “Political Correctness” are often the terms bandied about.

 

All right.  I’m going to assume that people who say that are honestly representing their points of view.  Let’s explore that.

 

Is diversity in film a matter of politics?   Well…yes, perhaps, if you are doing it to achieve a direct political goal (change) or indirect political goal (creating a coalition.  I’ll cover yours if you cover mine. Sort of like folks on the Right who defend the CSA), its political.

 

But shall we look at some other reasons:   How it being thought about philosophically?  Because you think it is the right thing to do BECAUSE IT IS TRUTH.  Demographically, what we see happening is just…reality.  The country is getting browner.   If racism and tribalism were not a factor you’d see movies with a HELL of a lot more diversity than we see now.     But every step in that direction, you hear the whining. Someone’s nerves are being tweaked.

 

 

How about spiritually?   Racial diversity could be considered an expression of universal humanity, “Num.”   Or religious diversity (Ms. Marvel being Muslim) could be a growing sense that there is one mountain, but many paths to its summit.

 

Psychologically? Maybe Emotionally?     You could do it because you remember some aspect of your own life where you felt like an outsider. Perhaps felt depression and despair.   Then you saw something in a comic book or a movie that touched your heart, gave you hope.  And now, you look out at the world, and wish you could give that same gift to some other child.   Pure naked self-interest. And as good as it gets.

 

For those who don’t care about ANY of those, how about economically?   If you want my money, you show me you respect me. You let me see myself in that world, because NOTHING but your aversion and leveraging of advantage would keep me from being there in your fantasies. I see who you are by the dreams you feed your children.

 

How about Art as a question: “Who am I?” and “What is true?”   Here, tropes can reveal cogitation.  “Who are these black people” they ask, as they ask “what is the moon?  What is an atom?”

 

If centuries of CSA brainwashing has warped the reality (assumption: human groups are basically equal.  All my thoughts flow from this, whether you like ’em or not is not my concern)  then what is the truth?  Are we “Magical Negroes?”    (This absolves guilt [why, they just LOVE helping us] and simultaneously confers some odd respect [well, they don’t have technology, but maybe they have something innate and more powerful than white science can understand…]  That one is almost cute. Kinda like it: it is a desperate attempt by the logical mind to avoid a racist conclusion)

 

Politics is an attempt to win.  Philosophy is asking “what is true?”  Art is an expression of philosophy (it can be political, but I think that in the sense I’m using the word, it is ALWAYS consciously or unconsciously philosophical) , in the sense that there are only two things to write about: “who am I?” (what is humanity) and “what is true?”  (the physical and ethical structure of the universe).    So a philosopher who looks out into the world and says “why is X?”  “what is Y?” may well write something touching those questions.

 

OR, they might say “what if some other quality than skin color was the most important thing about a character?”  (Which was, I think, the motivation behind Michael B. Jordan’s casting as Human Torch, however bad that movie may have been.  Not so much a political thing, but a philosophical one that decided to ignore the political push AGAINST such decisions.)

 

###

 

THE ALIENS ARE HERE

 

 

And if multi-national corporations are running studios, it is useful to ask if corporations are now complex enough that their actions can be best understood by considering them simple life forms.  Because if you do, then they are life forms that eat money and shit products and services.

 

And that…can be a very good thing if you grasp the implications.   It means that you can in essence communicate with an alien life form that is totally outside the binary racial or even gender system.  It eats money and shits products and services.   This is why bigots complain about boycotts (and yes, there are non-bigoted reasons to, of course)…boycotts work.  You starve them (not enough resources, Malthusian crisis) or give them constipation (not enough market, Keynsian crisis) and like worms moving away from a hot needle, they will do whatever is necessary to stop that irritation.

 

Including being “fair” if they really really have to. Which leads them to trying different things, including hiring diversity. Which leads to different decision, creating different products, some of which scratch that itch.  Money is made, irritation diminishes, the alien goes back to sleep.

 

So marching through all seven chakras, some reasons to embrace diversity:

 

Survival (making money)

 

Sex (Well…anyone who thinks human beings aren’t exogamous hasn’t considered that the only way you can stop us from boffing each other is to pass harsh laws against it. That doesn’t work, either.  We relish images of people with whom we’d like to bump uglie)

 

Power:  Yes, you can organize politically by exchanging favors. Also…money is power.  Probably the most useful and fluid form, overall.

 

Emotion: The sense that something is right.  Emotionally identifying with a person having a powerful emotional experience.  And representation, when you have been excluded, is a POWERFUL experience.

 

Communication: Art can also be saying “this is who I am. This is the world I see” if you see a world of diversity, then you are being dishonest not to express it.  Trust me: those who DON’T want a diverse world are not being shy about  expressing THAT.

 

Intellect: Asking “what is true?” and “who am I?”  Creating a valid world map.   If racism and tribalism (white guys ran Hollywood exclusively.  Of COURSE they were gonna make themselves look good.  But it isn’t “Hollywood.”  It is humanity.  You think Chinese film companies or Indian film companies or Nollywood goes out of their way to fill their movies with people not their own ethnicity?  Don’t you think “their own tribe” are at the center of most of their output?  Of course) created “Earth Versus The Flying Saucer” in monochrome, what happens when you release that energy?  You swing a bit, irritating the people who were happy with the status quo.  They squawk as loudly as they ever accused Liberal “snowflakes” of squawking, and the irony is hysterically funny.   “What is true” is that human beings are selfish…

 

SPIRIT:  But that selfishness isn’t a bad thing.  It all depends on your definition of  “Self”.  With some people, it stops at their own skin. For others, it is an infinite circle with no circumference.   I love the Koisan “Num” concept (dammit, I only found it once, in a book printed in South Africa by a pair of anthropologists.  Don’t know where the book is any more, but it had a red cover):  “one soul looking out through many eyes”.   That…is beautiful.  And if you START with an alive survival drive, IMO it is the best place to live.  If you feel this way, you might actually go out of your way to include “others” in your work, because it matches some internal music, a sense that instruments are missing from the Human Symphony

 

So: “Virtue Signaling”, “SJW” (implication: no personal skin in the game, pretending like you care), or “Politically Correct” are all implications of dishonesty and manipulation, or doing something because you want approval reaction from your tribe.

 

IF the above is true, then let’s try a little thought experiment, shall we?

 

Proposed: There are basic two ways to view this.

 

  1. They are saying: “you are like me.  I wouldn’t do those things from any purpose other than naked self-interest.  So if you don’t acknowledge me, if it doesn’t increase my connection to other poseurs, or build a political coalition…I won’t do it.   I see nothing here that would motivate me if no one was watching.”

2. Or they are saying: “I am above you.  I can’t believe YOU would do a thing because you think it is right.  I would, and I’d do this if I thought it was right.  I don’t.”

 

I’m sure there are others, but these two seem pretty reasonable, frankly.  And easily dealt with.   With #2, they are coming from a place of “Superiority”–and frankly, anyone who steps to me from that position will get laughed at  (unless I feel sorry for them.  Or unless they really are in some specific arena I care about).  I certainly have no reason to want to engage with them.

 

With #1…well, at the core of that is a metaphysical discussion, isn’t it?   A bit of “faith” about the basic nature of humanity.  As it is possible to be a perfectly fine human being either way (I certainly prefer the notion that we’re connected, but know plenty of very good people who don’t feel all that connected to other people) I can simply listen to their argument, realize they are coming from a different position and let it go.  Why argue? There really are different ways of living together.

 

And it seems to me that there are way more than 60% of people willing to live and feel connected, that when I look at all seven levels of motivation, they will find something that resonates.   In terms of diversity, THAT is my tribe.  There will be 20% of hard core “NEVER!” but…so long as I focus on building a coalition, and keeping them safe, and inspiring them with a vision, that 60% will win.

 

What are the principles?

 

  1. Love yourself
  2. Love one other person
  3. Understand history without guilt, blame, or shame
  4. Find your tribe, don’t waste time arguing with trolls
  5. Win with integrity.

 

Can you see how this stuff fits together?   Whether you start at the individual level ( just aim at the 60%) or the top level (appeal to Corporate interests by voting with your dollars), the most basic motivations (survival) or the most elevated (spirit) I see a road map to victory here, if the win is defined by helping the human race to a higher level of love, peace,  integration and complexity. From 1/1 billionth of a second after the Big Bang, the universe has been undergoing a continual march toward increased complexity, leading from stars to planets to life to intelligence and social construct. This is just what we do.  And there will always be resistance as we evolve: most mutations create cancer, not Wolverine.  It is good to be cautious. The ego fears death, and every time we go from individual to group, there is both loss and gain.  This is just real human stuff.

 

Understand history.

 

Anyway…the aliens are here.  And that might be the good news.   Because if they come, human beings will all pull together.  The “aliens” are corporations, nations, multi-national unions and banks.   They don’t care about human concerns. They are not us, although they are made of us: they have  emergent “differences” that are probably as hard to grasp as it is for an amoeba to understand an elephant.

 

But some of their motivations ARE understandable.  We can talk to them, if we speak their language: money.   And if we can speak to each other, as individuals. We can satisfy all of our needs…and still be spiritual beings living together.

 

All it takes is a commitment to two questions:  “who am I?” and “What is true?”

 

And, of course, watching Black Panther for the fifth time.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

Morning Magic

(The following is a post from 2007 which seems to connect with the current Morning Ritual thoughts.   Hope you enjoy both)

I was at Chapel Hill, and a lady asked me about fear and writer’s block. I gave her a slightly flip answer… and then looked at her eyes. She had said she’d traveled hundreds of miles to speak to me, and suddenly my ego-shit went out the window (I love when that happens!) and I was in that “Real” space I get thrown into more and more often these days. So I told her I was going to take her seriously, and give her some magic. Taught her the Fear Removal exercise. A gentleman who had done me the honor of challenging everything I say (I love that, too) had been hovering around, and asked if I had any fear.

 

I said hell, yes. Ah hah! He said. Then the technique doesn’t work? Sure, it does. But I only use it on fears that are irrational, and that inhibit my ability to accomplish the things that are in alignment with my core values. Why not on everything? He asked. Because it’s not fun, son. It hurts a bit. It’s worth it if you are removing the block to love, or health, or success. But do it on my fear of… I don’t know, say asking strange women to dance. I still have a bit of shyness left over from my geeky childhood, and have no interest in removing it. It’s kinda cute, reminds me of where I came from.

 

He kept grinding in at me (good for him!) and I mentioned that the technique often has to be repeated, if the fear creeps back: it isn’t permanent. Ah-hah! He said. Then it’s not Magic, is it..?

 

##

 

And here I realized that I’m living in a completely different world than this gentleman. He got his concept of magic from novels and movies: wave a wand, and presto! An elephant disappears from the living room, in denial of all rules of physics. The universe doesn’t ripple at all, and Mandrake does it again.

 

Wow. Cool.

 

Having been around shamans who played very seriously with these things, I am of the opinion that the approach to magic in life has steps that go something like this.

 

1) First, Clarke’s law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Magic is not a violation of the laws of nature, any more than airplanes violate the law of gravity. It may seem so to the ignorant, but it ain’t so.

 

2) Second, one must have a genuinely profound map of reality, integrated at the level of unconscious competence.

 

3) Set goals and then take actions. Note the gap between the results and your intentions. Learn all you can about the reasons for the failures and successes, keeping both conscious and unconscious channels open.

 

4) Begin to differentiate between your needs and desires. “You can’t always get what you want,” the song goes. But we generally get what we need. We’re evolved to get our NEEDS from the environment. Otherwise, we wouldn’t survive, and our ancestors wouldn’t have, either. Peeling away the inessential, until we are in alignment with life. Needless to say, doing this in a consumer culture requires both strength and clarity. Most will prefer to remain asleep, trust me.

 

5) Once your survival needs are in alignment with nature (you have these things at the level of unconscious competence), use prayer, ceremony, meditation, etc. to make your goals, actions, and values all in alignment: you do what you say you’ll do, and you aren’t fighting yourself in the process. In the beginning, it can be hell to achieve this. It is worth the fight.

 

6) When your inner and outer realities are in alignment, and your reality map is accurate, a bizarre thing happens: you stop wanting anything you cannot have. You don’t set goals that are out of reach. You understand your abilities, and the context of life, so well that your desires never materialize fully unless you have the tools and resources to bring them into existence. You are, in essence, playing with a loaded deck. You say you want to do something, and it happens. To the uninitiated, it looks like magic, while to you, well…it’s just the way the universe works. Nothing special about it at all.

 

###

 

But do you see the hard, brutally honest work it takes to get there? You have to genuinely calibrate your perceptions, and most people would rather do ANYTHING than expose themselves to truth. It is really sad to watch, when the way to truth is fairly clearly marked: just overlay all major world religions, extract the core teachings, and do THAT stuff with all your heart. Read between the lines. Ignore the teachings of people whose actions are out of alignment with their words. Keep your word to yourself, until truth becomes easier than lying. Somewhere along that path, you’ll notice that you are living a non-ordinary life.

 

-Steve Barnes, http://darkush.blogspot.com/2007/11/racist-rehab-and-magic.html

 

###

(Present Steve is back)

Good stuff.  I love looking back on what my younger self was thinking.  Relate this to the “Daily Ritual.”   Can you see the term “ceremony” connected here?  Can you see the magic?

 

  1. Raising your energy through remembering your most important daily accomplishment.
  2. Connecting that to your survival, sexuality, power, emotion, communication, thought, and spirit.
  3. Connecting it to your “child” self and your “ancient” self

 

You have now spent about two minutes. All of this can be done before you roll over or sit up in bed.  Or you can sit up and spend another twenty.

 

All of that before your feet hit the floor.   Imagine combining a kick-start like that with exercise, focus, and incantation.   Magic.

 

The kind that you can touch and feel and understand.   A doorway to…other things.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutemiracle.com

Your “Incredible” Life

The Incredibles is coming!   I don’t know if it will be a fraction as good as the original, but I’m going to give Brad Bird the benefit of the doubt, and get excited.  Why?  Because when Pixar is at their best, they have a WISDOM in their storytelling that gives an emotional foundation to otherwise “trivial” stories that raises them very high indeed.

download-1.jpg

INCREDIBLES is the story of a man, Bob Parr, who is secretly Mr. Incredible, a superhero.  OR, it is the story of a superhero, Mr. Incredible, who has a mild-mannered alter-ego: a family man working at an insurance company.

 

OR: it is the story of an extraordinary family who must pretend to be ordinary to survive.

 

OR: it is the story of ordinary people who feel something extraordinary within them, and crave to let it out.

 

OR: it is the story of Helen Parr, who feels that the passion and purpose of her marriage is slipping away, the meaning of her life with it, as her husband so pines for the “glory days” of his life that he cannot engage with the extraordinary adventure of his actual family.

 

OR: It is the story of Elastigirl, one of the most powerful superheroes in the world, who was “running with the big dogs” and stepped out of her costume to find love and raise children, who feels her girlhood slipping away, the sense of lost opportunities overwhelming her with “ordinary-ness”…

 

 

In other words, INCREDIBLES was the story of all of us who have made choices and wondered about the roads not taken.  All of us who feel that our “insides” don’t match our “outsides”.

 

The Heroes in this story are bound by love, who took on adult responsibilities (Helen and Bob) or are facing the beginnings of sexual stirrings (Violet) that will take her to making the same decisions every other generation has made, or the feeling (Dash) that he  cannot be himself and be safe in the world.

 

They don’t know me.  They don’t see me. They don’t appreciate me. I cannot be myself.

 

But these are the heroes, and their love for each other saves them.

 

Contrast with the villain, Buddy.  No, his problem isn’t his costume (“No Capes!”).  From his position, INCREDIBLES is an amazing tragedy.

 

He is the Man-Boy, in visual design as well as psychology.   The child who cannot, WILL not  grow up.

 

As a boy, he worshipped “Mr. Incredible” and was rebuffed in an attempt to become his ward (Incrediboy!).  And…NEVER GOT OVER IT.

 

Not when he became a Lex Luthor-level genius.  Not when he became Bill Gates rich.  Not when he created tools that could have made him the most powerful “Super” of all.

 

He never developed the “adult” part of his personality, capable of nurturing the wounded “child” part, and sought power through destroying others, sex instead of love, building machines and hiring stooges instead of building a family.

 

And when he ultimately fails with his dreams of becoming a Super (becoming his role model/father figure) he decides to replace Bob Parr as the father of Jack-Jack.  Which led to his downfall.

 

Get this?  Not the only way of looking at the story, but a useful one.    Bob Parr almost fails his task, but his love and core decency allows him to escape the traps of sex and ego to become the man his family needs him to be.  (And if the sequel can choreograph as skillful an arc for Helen, it will be fantastic).

 

Buddy fails the “leap of faith” to become an adult, causes destruction in the world, and is destroyed by his own hubris.  “I’ll get your son!” (“I’ll replace you!”)  Ummm…no.

 

There are few things sadder than watching people whose sense of inside/outside, child/adult are not balanced.  They drag themselves from one disaster to the next, always claiming the world is abusing them, because they are secretly terrified to look in the mirror, afraid that if they looked deeply they would see something horrible.

 

 

It is hard.  We don’t have permission to just love ourselves.    It is permissible to accept the cheers of the crowd, but if we simply love the child within us, cherish our own hearts?

 

  1. People who don’t have this will be intimidated. They will think you think yourself above them. No.  You just don’t think that they, or anyone, are above YOU. Very different things.
  2. They lose the ability to manipulate you. You are not co-dependent. They will attack, out of their own fear and need and lack of belief in their own real agency.
  3. The world looks different to people who love themselves.  Your very existence will threaten them. It says there is another way to be, to live.  If you are right, they are very very wrong…and that triggers pain and fear.
  4. The way out is to love yourself.  Heartbeat Meditation, the Ancient Child and other similar approaches are great for this. Integrate them with the daily work of the Morning Ritual.

 

M.A.G.I.C.:  Magic= Action X Gratitude X Intention X Conviction

 

Gratitude: be grateful for the people who love you, as well as all the things that little kid inside you learned to do that helped you become who you are: read, write, walk, talk, dance, live, love.

 

Intention: Clearly state your commitment to accomplishing things that will make YOU happy.

 

Action:   And clearly define what you can do TODAY to make them come true.

 

Conviction: Clear statement in belief that you CAN and SHOULD take these steps.

 

 

Love is so powerful.  It is healing, nurturing, energizing. If we don’t love ourselves, how can we believe that we are worthy of the love of others? We must either reject it, or tear them down (Groucho’s “I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member”)

 

When we learn to love  forgive ourselves for past mistakes, and to embrace our potential for the future we gain the greatest gift of all: the present moment.   Bob Parr almost missed his greatest adventure: his family

 

Love saved him.   You might have to save yourself, but you can, if you believe in the Superhero within.

 

And remember…no capes!

 

 

Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime!

Steve

www.lifewritingpremium.com

Rules for “Author’s Club”

  1.  Write a sentence a day
  2. Write 1-4 stories a month
  3. Finish and submit them
  4. Don’t rewrite except to editorial request
  5. Read 10X what you write (say, a story a day)
  6. Repeat 100 times

 

 

This is the basic structure of my writing instructions, and IMO they will work for anyone.  It was fascinating to see how hard it was for the kids in our “Author’s Club” to understand #2.   They all read Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and saw their stories in an enormous sprawl across the canvas of their minds.  They didn’t just think in novels, they thought in “trilogies” and worse.   Sprawl sprawl sprawl.

 

You’d have to read hundreds of pages to have a sense of whether they were good writers or not.  Oh, on the sentence-by-sentence or paragraph-by-paragraph or even chapter-by-chapter basis you can learn a lot…but can they finish and round a story? Design character arcs?  Develop theme and counter-theme?  Thesis and antithesis? All that “stuff”?

 

Only looking at a finished work will tell you.   Like adults, the kids fight that constrictive discipline.  I’ve had writing instructors and MFA students say that “novels are NOTHING like short stories” and had to wonder if they understood the definition of the word “nothing.”

 

I say that short stories have everything you need to write a novel, only certain cycles within it are expanded or repeated.  So I began teaching the class with the most basic story structure I know of:

 

  1. Someone wants something
  2. Something stands in their way
  3. Efforts are made to resolve the problem

 

Or: WHO wants something?  WHAT do they want? WHY can’t they just have it?   HOW do they try to solve the problem.  Of course, “WHERE” fits effortlessly into that as well, but I just want to set up the dynamics.

 

The most common problem is a kid with a sprawling dream, who has no idea where to start, or how to finish. By drilling down on the WHO, WHAT, WHY, HOW, and WHERE of the situation, they are forced to take it out of their heads and onto paper.

 

When should you start working on a novel?  I suggest a simple progression: you can attempt any work that is no longer than the sum total of your published stories.  The first 5-20 page stories are free.  You can write all the stories of this length you want.

 

When you sell a couple of 20-page stories, you can try a 40.  Sell that?  Bump it up to 80.  Sell that?  Novella time. And so forth.

 

Now, most of my students have been adults, and I know they’ll do what they want, but I won’t change my recommendations because they don’t match the picture in their heads.   THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN IDEA WITH AN INTRINSIC LENGTH.  ONLY THE TREATMENT OR EXPRESSION OF AN IDEA HAS AN INTRINSIC LENGTH.

 

A story is about ONE moment where something changes.  When I helped one of our kids focus down on that, you could see both frustration and dawning comprehension in their eyes.  Freedom.  They can finish a story in a week…but then there are other problems.

 

There is the danger that it will be no good.

There is the responsibility to actually sell it.  And as no agents are needed, it is frightening: you can’t blame “the world” for your lack of success.   It is you.  Just…you.  Work on a book and you can hallucinate for YEARS that you have the Great American Novel, before crashing back to earth.

 

But if you will try the smaller scale, until you are selling regularly, NOW you know who you are and where you are.  It is painful at times, but nothing will teach you faster.

 

So proud of our kids. The current plan is to design a program for TEACHERS AND PARENTS to create semi-autonomous  “Author’s Clubs.” Say, a six-part course, designed to be instructive to adults but suitable to be shown to kids.  And the six steps above will be central.  IN addition:

 

  1. Plot
  2. Characterization
  3. Writer’s Block
  4. Organizing the club
  5. Criticizing each others’ work.
  6. Creating a club anthology.

 

Will be covered. What other topics  can you think of that kids need?

 

Write with Passion!

Steve

“When you be master?”

I remember my dear friend Amara Charles had a spiritual teacher who she adored.  A Chinese lady of great gifts and wisdom.  The sort of teacher you would travel across the world and climb a mountain just to sit at her feet for an hour.  Call her Madame, because I can’t remember her name.

Madame came to the U.S. to teach some workshops, and was staying at Amara’s house. While there, she didn’t seem to teach anything directly, but engaged with Amara’s life: cooking, cleaning, shopping…just “being there.”  And somehow anyone around her began to change.

 

One day Amara asked her about the path of Mastery, how Madame had achieved her level of clarity and power, and just what it took to do this, how much Amara admired her, how far above–

And Madame interrupted her:  “When YOU be master?” she asked.  Amara had studied countless profound disciplines, done serious work on body, mind, and spirit for decades, raised up students and had her own precious insights into the process of human life…but had not yet taken her rightful place on the path.

And I turn this around and ask you:  “When YOU be master?”

##

 

The subject of Mastery fascinates me.  Why? Because there few other things worth spending your life for.  I’m using a definition combined from Steve Muhammad (a man of “beyond Grandmaster” abilities) and George Leonard, Aikido master, men’s fitness columnist and author of the short, sharp book “Mastery”:

 

Mastery is a verb, not a noun. A vector, not a position.  And once you have learned your basics to the level of `unconscious competence’ and committed to your path for a lifetime, when you are on that path, you are on the `Path of Mastery’ as much as anyone else on that path, no matter how far ahead of you they may be.”

That I find a workable definition. It matches with the words and attitudes of every high-level expert  of every discipline I’ve ever known or seen. They’re just writers, martial artists, artists, musicians.  They just get up every day and get to work.   Nothing special about it.  And they are always, always “Just beginning to understand” what they are doing.

 

Masters?  Hah!  And yet…they also allow others to call them master, or Grandmaster, or Sijo, or sensei or sifu or Guro or Guru…because the new students need to believe in something. Need to believe that all of the sweat and blood and fear and doubt will be worth it. And what is worth it? TRANSFORMATION.

 

Don’t tell me I’ll be a better me. Tell me I’ll be a NEW me.  When you get there, of course, in some sense you’ll be the same: Master Banzai said “no matter where you go, there you are.”

 

But in another sense, you WILL be new.  At some point, you will have upgraded and upgraded your skills, replaced “pieces” of your psyche, until what remains is NOT the same as what began the journey.  But if you changed 1% of your car’s pieces every day with new pieces, at what point is it no longer your car?  Does its “car-ness” reside in the pieces, or the overall essence?  Or something else?

 

Fear of loss of self can be as terrifying as fear of death.  Or public speaking.  Whichever scares you more.

 

We will literally cling to damaged, unfullfilling selves, rather than let it go and leap out into the unknown.  I suspect that the process of Awakening can be violent if done “all at once” like smashing a car into a wall.

 

Or…it can be more gradual, if you replace the pieces as you go.  And one day, you will realize you have examined, removed and either replaced or substituted most of what you are…and you know where the levers are inside your head and heart and that you know why you do most of what you do…and have chosen it.   How long does this take?

 

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say ten thousand hours of focused work produces “mastery”, while one thousand produces “excellence.”  If this is true, then “mastery” in any arena, once you really integrate that thing, WHATEVER IT IS, into the rest of your life…confers this level of awareness, on average.

 

A thousand hours should be enough to get “unconscious competence” in a wide variety of disciplines.  So that may be the doorway to this state.

 

Choose something, anything that touches your heart that has an externally measurable aspect.   If you don’t have “free time” to invest here, then study marketing and sales in addition, so that you can monetize this arena.  Look at Youtube. People seem to be making a living at some of the strangest things imaginable. But they know how to monetize it.  So if it is really strange, you’ll need a minimum of a thousand hours on the thing, PLUS a thousand hours on sales and marketing, to find a way for you to do what you want to do, and be rewarded for it enough that you don’t have to split attention.

 

This will be hard: the more intimate the arena you want to play in, the more Marketing will feel like prostitution. The more “Oh yuck!” you’ll feel about the simple process of creating value for your community, finding the people who need and want it and can afford to purchase it, and have the adult self-respect to negotiate your worth.   It is stunningly difficult for many people to cross this divide.

 

Oh…back to FEAR, right?   If you can admit the problem is FEAR, then you can clearly state: “I am afraid to be excellent. I am afraid to present myself to the world for rejection. I am afraid to demand a value-for-value transaction.”

 

That said, you can then examine the WHYS and commit to dealing with those core emotions.  Google is your friend: there are infinite resources to improve skill at almost anything, and also to cope with negative emotions.

 

But you HAVE to admit you need it.  Have to stop hiding from that.

 

The core is going to be daily, ceaseless work.  Every day.  “The Road of Trials”.

 

To master life, you must master some aspect of it.

Choose an aspect that you love and take pleasure in.

If you need to make money, also commit to mastering Marketing.

Define “excellence” and “mastery” in either or both by studying those who have excelled.

Define the “gap” between where you are and where they are.

Divide that gap into 1% “chunks”.   Often these can be consumed within a year or two, with planning.

Then: how do you eat an elephant? A forkful at a time.

 

Every day.  One step.   One chunk. .1-1% down the throat.  Chew well.

 

And if you have no idea what you want?  My suggestion is to STUDY SALES AND MARKETING so that when you finally figure out what you want, you know how to make money at it.   Many writers go for a teaching degree, to support themselves as they work to build a career. While this often works (removing financial fear from the equation) it can also be a comfort trap, so that you submit to the demons that distract.   I dropped out of college because my favorite writing teacher couldn’t finish a novel he’d been working on for a decade.  Yeah, that was dumb on my part, but its the truth

I’ve had financial instability (which could have been defeated if I’d saved 10% of what I earned, dammit) but with constant motivation to work, I never quit and reached that point of “unconscious competence” with the basic aspects of writing: I write the way I speak. Relate character to human psychology, and plot to core view of life itself.  At that point, “art” or “self-expression” becomes a living thing.

 

Four areas of life: writing, family, martial arts, finances and business.

 

EVERY DAY CONNECT TO ALL FOUR.  Five minutes minimum, no matter what.  As a result…the territory I pass every day looks different, but the efforts are the same.  Chop wood, carry water. Wake up, align myself, connect with the world, Morning Ritual, exercise, business, writing, family, fun.  Scan my day: how did I do? What do I need to do tomorrow?  Watch “Robot Chicken”.  Go to bed and start over.

 

Day after day.  There is always work. Always nurturing myself. Always rest.   You cannot put me in a position where there is not something to learn, do, grow.

 

And the core of all of it is the “Morning Ritual”, and the doorway to the Morning Ritual is the 5MM, the notion of taking five sixty-second breaks during the day to focus and breathe.

 

The sad thing is that some of you are saying to yourself right now: “I don’t have five minutes” after having just taken five minutes to read this.  You don’t even realize how you are lying to yourself because of fear, and how that fear is stealing your life from you.

 

One day at a time.  Five minutes to begin with, working your way to 10-20 minutes.  And your are on the path of mastery.  No one you’ve ever marveled at every did more than just focus their time, day after day, until they were a couple of horizons ahead of you.  That’s all there is.

 

Well…that, and getting the joke, and also sitting and just letting life come to you, because no matter how far and how fast you run, you’re always the same distance from the horizon. So…move every day.

 

But also enjoy the scenery.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.lifewritingpremium.com

Maybe last comments on INFINITY WAR

SPOILERS.

 

If I had one  thing to change in INFINITY WAR that would make me think it lived up to the promise of CIVIL WAR and BLACK PANTHER, it would be to address a serious issue:

 

Unlike those other two movies, INFINITY WAR doesn’t pass the Barnes-Due test, which for the sake of a morning conversation, is the racial version of the Bechdel Test. That test measures whether there are at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.

 

This test is very similar: one aspect is that there are at least two black people who speak to each other about something other than white people and events triggered directly by white people. There are other measures, like that pesky genocide thing, but that’s another discussion.

 

To my surprise, “Civil War” passed the test in the first scene with T’Challa and his father. I was actually shocked, and touched. It was beautiful, and I knew something special was happening.   That scene, I believe, was added to the film by Ryan Coogler.

 

Black Panther?  I have no words.  It was a movie from another world, to the point where it doesn’t pass the Barnes-Due, it damned near defines it.

 

Now…Infinity War.   Fails.  Everything black people say is in service to, reference to or in response to white people’s actions.

 

Here are some issues:

  1.  the Wakandan’s didn’t react intelligently to a threat whose only analog was the Battle of New York (they weren’t prepared for flying dragon machines, that’s for damned sure.)
  2. No internal debate about the wisdom of bringing Thano’s War to Wakanda (note that I don’t say it was a bad idea–but it involved the survival of his nation. There would have been debate)
  3. No sense of the panicked citizens (compare with New York)
  4. No “interiority” to the characters–it was all external reaction to the war Cap brought to them.
  5. Images of many black men dying, while the women were surviving.  No rational reason we were seeing that–should have been half of each.  As the movie was “jimmied” so that all original Avengers survived, you can’t even pretend it was random chance.

 

This drains the agency and humanity from a world we’d come to love. It was the mixture as we’ve seen countless times before.

 

So…to fix it, with the same basic results we saw:

  1. Better air and ground defense. It can crumble so that we fall back on hand-to-hand. I love hand-to-hand scenes. But they need to be intelligently presented, not just “cool trailer images”.
  2. Scenes of panicking citizens.
  3. MOST IMPORTANT: a scene between T’Challa and Shuri. Discussing T’Challa’s impassioned emergency meeting of the council.   They know that there is no place in the world to hide if Thanos wins.   Shuri is terrified, knowing that this is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, and they may not be able to survive it. She may never see her brother again, and she is losing her shit, just a little.   He comforts her, shocked that she is actually directly expressing concern and love for him, and badgers her into being the teasing little sister again, remembering a time in their childhood where her mischief saved the day.   Tearfully, she teases him about N’Kia being sent out of country supposedly on an assignment, but really to protect her.  Perhaps a picture or swift video of his beloved.  They share a moment, then remind each other that they have duties to their country, and must be strong.

 

Now they are human beings with a past, agency, feelings, needs, fears, loves. What happens next happens to a COUNTRY, to PEOPLE, not just pieces on a game board creating a cool tableau.   And while the events might have been tragic…the emotions would have been earned.

 

That would have done a LOT for me to correct the problem. I’m perfectly aware that many folks felt no problem with this. That’s fine. In fact, the issue couldn’t exist if more people gave a shit. I’m not interested in explanations of why that it: they are irrelevant to me. We’re not talking an objective measurement of story quality.  We’re discussing my subjective reaction, and why I had it.

 

And what might well have made it better.    Tony, Thor, Bruce (who was short-shrifted), Starlord, Cap, Natasha (short shrifted with Bruce), and Rocket all had heart-space connections that made them more than costumes or effects.

 

The Wakandans did not, and I resent it.

 

 

Next time, Marvel..god dammit, pass the test.  Or leave us out.

 

Namaste

Steve

Torture rears its head

So the subject of “enhanced interrogation”  arises once again. My attitude on it is a little different than most. When someone brings up the “ticking time bomb” scenario, I find it pointless to argue with them about efficiency and effectiveness.

The truth is that if I was in a room with a suspected terrorist, and a nuclear weapon that could destroy the city was counting down to zero, I can imagine losing my shit and doing all kinds of things. Human beings are like that.

But you know what I wouldn’t do?

I wouldn’t expect the court to say “cool.” So…no matter what, efficiency and effectiveness off the table, I wouldn’t trust anyone who says they would need it to be legal or…what? They wouldn’t save a million people, including themselves? Really? That suggests to me that they never really believed it was necessary. If I did it, I would

1) be desperate enough that my logic was breaking down and

2) be doing it to protect a society.

And guess what? I WOULDN’T be as interested in protecting a society that would make torture legal. Largely because there is NO way it would only be used on “guilty” people, and no way that it would be applied fairly and impartially.

People who look like me would be disproportionately dragged into the dungeon. So…even if I thought it was effective and efficient, I wouldn’t trust it to be legal, and I would never trust the ethics and morals of someone unwilling to be imprisoned to save millions of lives.

 

Namaste

Steve

Everyone Wants the First Four

So a few times recently I saw people discussing my advice for relationships, and replying in essence that they weren’t looking for what I was discussing.   My laughing question is: I am describing the territory I’m passing as I climb.  If wanna climb K2, why are you talking to a Sherpa on Everest?

 

Make no mistake: I don’t change my mind about things because it is politically convenient, or because an expert says something different, or because it might hurt your feelings if I don’t agree with you.  My only obligation is to speak the truth, and try to be as kind as possible about it.   If an expert says something, I’ll say it IF I AGREE.   I’ve disagreed with the Encyclopedia Brittanica.   Bring it.

 

So my position, clearly and unequivocally, is that better than 99% of people really, truly, deeply want:

 

  1. Health and fitness, to be beautiful by their own standards (look at what they are attracted to)
  2. Success at an art or activity that gladdens their heart and is held as valuable by their community
  3. Love and passion with another human being (and to love themselves and feel connected to the wellspring of life).  A sustained, committed, long-term relationship.
  4. Financial security and the ability to use money for pleasure, rather than just avoiding pain.

Notice how nicely they relate to the most basic chakras: survival, sex, power, love.   Maybe communication…maybe. But I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who really doesn’t want ANY of these.  And as they are all connected, it is foolish to think you can pick and choose blithely. With deep consideration…yes.   Casually…no.

Everything I say operates from this premise. I know there are people who don’t want these things. But those people don’t complain about not having them, or their constituent parts. They also know that people are more likely to LIE about not wanting them than to actually not want them.

 

I won’t change.   If you want something different, find another mountain, or another Sherpa.  Please, please feel free to consider me deluded.   Doesn’t bother me at all.

 

And now, I return to my regularly scheduled musings.

 

 

 

Namaste,

Steve