Movie Review

Becoming a Superhero

“Right now everything looks so strange to me, as if I don’t belong here. It’s me that’s out of place. And the worst thing is that I feel there’s somewhere I do belong, but I just can’t find it.”–seen this morning on a thread.

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My all-time favorite movie serial is “Captain Marvel”, with those wonderful practical-effect flying scenes that still look astoundingly good, and Billy Batson saying “Shazam!” and turning into (basically) Superman.  Great stuff.  The villain is “The Scorpion”, and the “who is it?” is a fun mystery as the original members of an expedition are killed one at a time, until only the bad guy remains in the last episode.   All the chaos revolves around seeking a statue with six movable arms, in the shape of (wait for it…) a scorpion.  Each arm holds a lens. If they are all lined up properly, when sunlight flows through them various mayhem results, including explosions and melting solid rock.   It is a super-weapon, but also a great metaphor: line up the elements of your life perfectly, and you release an energy unknown.

 

Most people are at best “focused”.  Focus can burn a hole in paper.   But when you align all the aspects of your Self, you are more like a laser. And lasers can burn holes in diamond.

 

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I returned home last night, after flying to North Carolina, driving 500 miles roundtrip to South Carolina to spend a couple of hours with the wonderful kids at Mama G’s community center (and having a chance to play with her.  Hey, instead of zero to countless, my score was a ferocious one to six!  Vast improvement on my part…), get back to Chapel Hill to talk Afrofuturism to a roomful of brilliant students with high-level bullshit detectors, and getting to the airport for my trip home.

 

Home.  Where Tananarive and Jason and Django and Ginger live.   Home.  Where I wake up and go to sleep, where I recharge for another day of work and play.

 

It is where my heart lives.  I take it with me wherever I go, so that any time I want I can line up the energetic “lenses” of my humanity: survival, sexuality, power, emotion, communication, intellect, and spiritual commitment.   Boom.  Any time I do that, I’m totally awake, totally present.  My survival energy rises through all the ways it manifests in the world, and I’m a live wire.

 

The trick is to get the first four together.  Survival, sex, power, and emotion.  Do that, and the rest take care of themselves. The mistake is to try to “think” your way through your life. That ends in a ball of confusion. The Instructions on how to get out of the box are written on the outside of the box.

 

To get out, you either just bang your head bloody and hope a wall fractures.  You can  wait to outgrow it, and hope you don’t strangle in your own waste products before the box pops…and deposits you in a shiny new (but larger) box.  Or you can find an ally, someone who has already grown beyond a similar box, and ask them to lend you the keys.

 

There are two basic ways out.   One is to start with the physical.   Develop the skills to care for your body and survive in a career contributing honestly to your community.  Learn to satisfy your sexual desires with integrity, creating a “nest” that could provide for a mate and children (even if you have no intent to HAVE kids, it is wise to learn to have the adult resources to potentially provide for them.   Something the “Incels” often fail to understand).  And open your heart, so that that (potential) mate has a safe place to open THEIR heart. So that children would be safe and nurtured with you.

 

That’s the core survival wiring, and that path just flat works.  People who feel lost, depressed, scattered…can re-connect in one of a couple of ways.

 

  1. Move their bodies.   We evolved to move.  When we move enough to trigger growth responses in our bodies (by pushing through aerobic limits, mobility limits, current strength limits) we trigger a kind of focus that takes us out of “first world” problems and into the animal.  Their problem was that they weren’t in their bodies.  When you aren’t…it is easy to get lost.  They don’t know “what is true.”
  2. Connect with their hearts.   They don’t have the answer to the most basic and important question for thinking feeling beings: “who am I?” the partner to  “what is true?”  Here, meditation techniques of various kinds are wonderful.  My favorite is Heartbeat Meditation.  Second favorite is The Ancient Child, which I perform every day, centering and bringing my life back into focus.

 

Both of them can and should be incorporated into a daily Morning Ritual.  Just…what you do first thing in the morning.  You learn to line up all your “lenses” so that every action, every breath has meaning. THERE IS NO WASTED TIME. NO WASTED EFFORT, WHEN YOU KNOW THE MEANING AND PURPOSE BEHIND EVERY ACTION.

 

I am SO happy that more of you are trying this.  Blending movement with thought and feeling.   It may feel awkward at first, but you can change your entire life if you stick with it.

 

“Right now everything looks so strange to me, as if I don’t belong here. It’s me that’s out of place. And the worst thing is that I feel there’s somewhere I do belong, but I just can’t find it.”

 

We lose touch with ourselves, our hearts, our place in the world.   Love yourself.  Belong to yourself.  Own your life.   There IS somewhere you belong.  Everywhere.  But most essentially, within your own heart.  Have that, learn to focus and align it, and you can make the most out of whatever energy you have, at whatever stage of life you may be.

 

Billy Batson just wanted to survive, but found himself in the midst of a great adventure, everyone around him plotting and planning to master the power that controls destiny.   Killing and cheating and stealing and lying and pretending to be things they were not.

 

But an old wise man taught him that if he just chanted an affirmation he would have the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury.  He would have what all the others sought, and the power was right within him, to be unleashed by courage and commitment and the urge to help those he loved.

 

That power is yours. But first…love yourself. That’s where it starts.

 

Shazam!

Steven Barnes

 

(The Morning M.A.G.I.C. for Writers program is finally available.   For more information just go to www.morningwriters.com!)

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On “Breaking Bad” and how easy it is to deceive ourselves.

Skyler White: Walt, please, let’s both of us stop trying to justify this whole thing and admit you’re in danger!

Walter White: Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? Do you know how much I make a year? I mean, even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe it. Do you know what would happen if I suddenly decided to stop going into work? A business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly up. Disappears! It ceases to exist without me. No, you clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I AM the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!

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Let’s say you wonder why people who voted a particular way have trouble realizing they made a mistake.

 

I remember how aghast I was that the end of “Breaking Bad” was in sight, and people still insisted that Walter White was a victim of circumstances, that he was only doing what he had to do.  I can only think that they are telling you that, in those circumstances, they would do what he did. Or…that they would be willing to accept a murderous bastard as long as he put bread on the table.  Or…I don’t know. But what was glaringly obvious to me: he was a bad man who had the misfortune to discover it (much like my view of Michael Corleone).

 

We are what we are. That ultimate being-ness may be ineffable and beyond ultimate purchase, but the best indicator is WHAT WE DO.

 

The next best is WHAT WE SAY ABOUT WHAT WE DO.  That tells people what you think about yourself…or what you want them to think about you.

 

Start by assuming that the best way to be a human being is the WORST way to write: text and subtext are the same thing.  Walter White is in a life and death struggle with his alter ego, “Heisenberg”, a ruthless gangster.  At the same time he wants to think of himself as a good family man. He continues this self-deception on and off until the very end, when he manages to create utterly ruthless actions that somehow reinforce the notion that, at the core of him, he is “good.”

 

This is one reason why the “Sentence a day” technique works so well.  There is simply no rational reason why someone cannot write ten words in a 24 hour period. If you say you want to write…write.  It really is that simple.  If your focus is on best-selling or prize-winning writing, there are certainly things you can do to optimize your chances…but in most cases what we want is to be the best writers we can be, by our own definitions.

 

What do writers do?  They write. If they don’t write, they are not writers, in the sense of “to do”.  They may well be authors, in the sense of “have done writing in the past”, but you have to decide: which are you more interested in?   Money, fame, awards are for authors. So…you must have written.  But if you love it, do it. There is nothing more miserable than writers who lose their way

  1. Writing for money
  2. Writing for awards
  3. Writing for reviews
  4. Writing to please your fans

 

All of these things are fine IF AND ONLY IF YOU ARE ALSO WRITING TO PLEASE YOURSELF. Otherwise, you are at risk of becoming a hack.  And if you ever had the dream of being a writer for love’s sake, this is a road to hell, and some of the least happy people I’ve ever known traveled that road.

 

The trick to doing both is to look at two circles:

  1. Things you’d want to write
  2. Things you think the market will accept.

 

Where those two circles over lap…there you write.  Heck, when I wrote my first episode of BAYWATCH my question was: what is real about this?  What expresses ME?  Otherwise I get nothing but money.  And ultimately, the “kid” part of me that comes up with the ideas doesn’t give a shit about money.  Little Stevie only cares about cool ideas.  If HE is not happy…I’m in trouble.

 

I have to keep my path to “Little Stevie” open, and I do that by writing EVERY DAY, by clarifying my values and long-term outcomes, writing out my thoughts, and making daily progress on a primary writing project.

 

Today? Exchanging an email with a source of psychological expertise in the arena of serial killers for my new novel “Traveler”.

 

And…working on the proposal for my graphic novel with Charles Johnson. Basically, taking a successful proposal and re-writing it to fit my project.

 

But the trick is to remember that our behaviors lead to our outcomes. Our mental and emotional states drive our behaviors.  And the smallest building blocks, laid one at a time, create the largest and most beautiful edifices which will ultimately be a testimony to the lives we have lived.

 

If you can own every step, be proud of all you have done, make your peace with the reality that not every brick will be laid straight or on a perfect time-table…but continue to lay at least one every day…

 

In time, your palace will be built.  Once upon a time a friend told me that I not only build dream palaces, but I move into them.

 

This is how you do it.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

“Panic Room” (2002): Jodie Foster, Action Hero

I was asked yesterday to do a book on productivity and keeping a positive mood.    Well, the next course I’m producing, the “Morning M.A.G.I.C. for Writers” is precisely that.   But if you want to know, heck, just watch “PANIC ROOM” the movie that turns Jodie Foster into an action hero.
 

In it, Foster is a recently divorced woman moving into a lavish Soho townhouse equipted with the eponymous hidey-hole. She and her daughter are asleep when a trio of burglars, including an excellent Forest Whittaker, break in in search of hidden money.  She manages to get herself and daughter into the armored room with a split-second to spare, and the next ninety minutes is a cat-and-mouse game of Foster trying to get help, and Whittaker trying to break into a room he designed to be unbreakable.

 

There are of course complications: an emotionally unstable accomplice, a diabetic daughter, unfinished telephone lines, unsecured ventilation ducts.

 

Watching this game is fascinating, and considering how confined the story is, every inch of that townhouse is explored, and endless  variation of possibilities exhausted.

 

What motivates Whittaker?  Money. Lots of it. Which he needs because of a desperate family situation.

 

What motivates Foster?  Her own life, and the life of her daughter.

 

The INSTANT a family is threatened, you no longer have to explain to the audience WHY a character is fighting, working, struggling.   Your life, your mate’s life.    In the natural world, threaten either, and you dial the crazy meter up to ten.  Threaten a child…and it goes up to eleven.

 

I LOVE stories of such struggle, and devour them endlessly, probably feeding something inside me.

 

If you know the WHAT (STAY SAFE/ESCAPE.  Or: GET THE MONEY), and the WHY (personal survival, genetic survival, protecting what we love) then the “HOW” is just the details.

 

When people ask me how I accomplish so much, it is because I have a very specific syntax: I know the ultimate lifetime “What” I am committed to (contribution, growth, family, joy), which leads to understanding the long-term (yearly), medium term (monthly and weekly) and short term (daily) goals, WITH ALL OF THEM LIKE CONCENTRIC RINGS.

 

I know just how this moment leads to a good day, how the day leads to a good week…to a month…to the year…to my lifetime.   EVERY MOMENT.

 

And by asking what the MOST IMPORTANT thing(s) I can accomplish today, using the Pareto principle (20% of your actions leads to 80% of your results) if I just accomplish that (those) most important things, I win.  I’ll refine and refine (the 20% of the 20% of the 20%…) until the critical major piece can be done in less than two hours, it gets easier.

 

But if I refine until that critical piece can be done in less than an hour…better.

 

I have the most important things refined to FIVE MINUTES.

 

Writing: a sentence a day.

Martial Arts: Tai Chi (done quickly)

Mental Focus: Morning Ritual

Emotional focus: Morning Ritual

Family: Five Minutes with Jason

Physical: Three reps of Five Tibetans

Financial: Check “Mint”, transfer 5% of my checking to investment every Friday

 

Other things are in “ZNT” (Zero Net Time) territory:

 

Mental input: listening to a “Teaching Company” MP3 while driving or doing chores.

 

Some is “Five Minute Miracle” territory:

 

60 seconds of Kali drills, five times a day, working the “Be Breathed”

Connecting with the Ancient Child.

 

 

MINIMUMS that get the most done.  If I only have five minutes, I can still kick ass. And you know what happens when you do that?  You lose fear. You know just where you are on the map of your life, and you KNOW that every day you are making progress toward joy.  And when you stop being driven by fear, and start being motivated more by attraction  to joy than repulsion from pain?

 

Life gets magical.

 

That’s it. It really is.  And I can’t wait to share it with you.  Hopefully next week!

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

 

What is your most important outcome this week?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Well…guess what?  They are.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You have to know the WHAT.

You have to have the WHY

And only then do you concern yourself with HOW.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So…start with love.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Have I failed you?”

“Never”, T’Challa replies.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wakanda Forever!

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.afrofuturismandhorror.com

Happy Independence Day!

 

 

 

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

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

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

We will be united in our common interests.

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

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

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

“We will not go quietly into the night!

We will not vanish without a fight!

We’re going to live on!

We’re going to survive!”

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!”

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Today, remember the sacrifices of those who came before.

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

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

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

 

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

 

“We will not go quietly into the night!

We will not vanish without a fight!

We’re going to live on!

We’re going to survive!”

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!”

 

Namaste

Steven Barnes

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

“The Hunger Games”: Clarity of Purpose

Watching THE HUNGER GAMES yesterday as the result of a little game: we’d seen Donald Sutherland in DISCLOSURE playing a slimy billionaire, and thought we’d follow that thread to another film, where he plays a slimy president.  He does slimy GREAT.

 

At any rate, I remembered enjoying these movies well enough in the theater, although I would have felt just a little silly seeing them without Nicki.  The thing about movies like this is that at the core of them, there is a vast amount of action, explosions, screaming, plotting, and so forth, but at the core is the “young person grows up” notion. The “at the end of this series Katniss Everdeen becomes the hero of her people” notion, with everything else being steps along the way.

 

CONFRONTED WITH CHALLENGE: To embrace her power as a hero.

REJECT THE CHALLENGE: She just wants to be left alone, to hunt and lead a meager life in a dominated township.

ACCEPTS THE CHALLENGE: When her little sister is chosen to compete in a lethal winner-take-all event, Katniss takes her first step along the Hero Path, volunteering to take her place.

 

 

O.K.–that’s the “inciting event”.  After that, Katniss only has to remember her sister, or access her own survival drive, or remember the sacrifices of her friends, or her anger at Southerland’s evil president, or her love of Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of dewy-eyed Actors) or whatever, and she has the motivation to survive, and excel, and triumph.

 

The WHAT is “become the hero”.  The WHY arguably covers EVERY chakra: survival, sex, power, love, communication, learning, spiritual commitment.

 

The “HOW” is four movies that made a combined total of 1.45 BILLION dollars.  Every twist, turn, action, sacrifice, solution, and reward, every setback and loss or victory is a step along the road to becoming her true self, a hero of her people.

 

Katniss woke up every day knowing that if she didn’t move, run, fight, hunt, accomplish and problem-solve…she would DIE.

 

The illusion we have is that we have all the time in the world to accomplish the things we desire.  Heroes are simply people forced by internal or external motivations to ACT.   We watch her, and thrill to her clarity of purpose, thinking on some level “I wonder if I  could rise to that level, if the circumstances demanded.”

 

I choose to believe that I could. That YOU could.   But you would have to have clarity of purpose, have to develop skills IN ADVANCE of the emergency, and grow the emotional sinew capable of getting up again, and again, and again…

 

Not because there are armed enemies coming to kill us, but because we know that without that focus, we lose our way in life, and are forced to “settle” for a fraction of the love, joy, health, success, contribution and growth we could have had.

 

WHAT do you want?

WHY do you want it?

Only then…HOW will you do it?

 

That’s the syntax. And you need to hammer that in every day, at least partially by looking at the lives of people who DON’T know why they are getting out of bed in the morning (other than avoiding the pain of starvation), or even worse…don’t have any specific goals, just drift from action to action, motivated by that fear, or controlled by those who DO have clear goals.

I get emails, PMs and see posts EVERY DAY by people struggling with their lives.  Not ONE of them has the tools I’m discussing. What. Why.  How. The energy to push through barriers. A way to control their emotions.  A way to make THIS DAY a perfect step along the larger, longer life path.

 

This is what the MORNING RITUAL is about: every day, becoming “the hero in the adventure of your lifetime.”

 

You deserve nothing less.   If you have ever thrilled to these stories…it is because there is a part of you that sees itself in those actions.    Make that part happy, and you access a totally new and powerful chamber of your heart, and life will never be the same again.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

What is the most important thing I can do TODAY?

Morning Ritual starts when you wake up.   People who comment on my personal energy are sometimes amazed that I don’t “wake up” with it every day.  No, I have to work that Chinese Puzzle Ball, find the thing I am most committed to in life, think of the most important thing I have to do TODAY to bring it into existence, and how accomplishing it with style and joy will benefit every aspect of my life.

 

ULTIMATE GOAL: JOY

ULTIMATE OUTCOMES: SUPERB FITNESS, RELATIONSHIPS, FINANCES,   CONTRIBUTION AND GROWTH.

IMMEDIATE OUTCOME TODAY: Major progress on marketing plan, major progress on primary writing project, “Traveler.”

 

What can I do today to  move the marketing of the “Morning Ritual for Writers” program?   I can stay focused on who I was at the age of thirty: unsuccessful writer, unsuccessful martial artist, no relationship.  And…what “message in a bottle” can I send back to him to get him on track in just five minutes a day, and what would I have to say in an ad to attract his attention?

 

What can I do today to move “Traveler” forward?   I need to align the thematics from the different major chunks of the book. A major theme will have to be relationships.  If you handle survival, sex, power, and emotion with grace and balance the rest grows naturally.

 

What is the primary relationship I can look at today?    That would be Gus, the ex-cop hero of the story, a good man who has ruined his life and marriage…and has one last chance at redemption.  And his wife Athena, UCLA lecturer in Abnormal Sociology, a woman who was the light to his darkness, and finally left him to save herself.  Gus’ redemption arc is external (catch the time traveler) and internal (become a better man who can deserve a woman like Athena). Along the way he will have to learn, grow, win, lose, survive despair, heal, and become the hero she always saw in him.  Athena will have her own journey, and her insights into the human mind and the psychology of mass destruction will be central to the story.

 

“Love is not two people looking at each other. It is two people looking in the same direction.”  If true…then I’m saying that they love each other, but were heading in opposite directions. To “save” the marriage one or both of them must change. Gus needs the most change: it is his story, his arc.  Athena will have her own journey, but let’s drill down here.

 

 

Any writing expresses what you think about human beings (“who am I?”) and the ethical structure of the universe (what is true?”).  Where can I find a speck of truth about relationships, people, the world that I can insert into this book?  Use as a reference point in their relationship?  How about the scene where Athena tells him goodbye? That she’s had enough?

 

To get to that moment, I have to ask how we fall in love.   Some combination of hormones, visual anchors, matching of values beliefs and outcomes, smell, touch, and taste. At some point something goes “BANG” and you realize something is happening.

 

With Tananarive I thought she was cute and perky, then I thought she was very intelligent and talented.  The emotions triggered were protectiveness, not romantic interest or lust.   Acknowledgement of her attractiveness was certainly there: when I watched her dance, she moved like a healthy animal, and her body was fit, sinewy and quite…lively.  Ahem.

 

But I really, really didn’t “trigger”.  My only thought was: “here is a young lady with a future.  She has a destiny.  I think I could share what I know with her, and be a mensch.   She could use a big brother.”   The first night at the conference, we watched SEINFELD in her room, sitting on different beds. I was VERY careful with my body language: I wanted her to feel totally comfortable.

 

It wasn’t until the last day of the conference that something “clicked”.  It happened when she described how she got Stephen King to give her a cover blurb. I saw ambition, tactical and strategic thinking, the ability to think laterally, high-level skills in an apparently disassociated arena applied to a new purpose (using musical skills to get into King’s rock band) and more.

 

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I saw someone who had about every human quality I hold most dear, who was moving in my direction, revving up to take the world by the throat, unafraid of risk or rejection, with the self-love and emotional permission to care for her physical body in a way that made me feel “my tribe.”

 

NOTE: Remove any one of those major pieces and that devastating reaction doesn’t happen.  Now…which of those things are necessary for the CONTINUATION and elevation of those emotions?  Well, the things that relate to the basic nature of the person. In other words, if T got hit by a car, even though she can’t take care of her body the same way, she is still the same person. If she changed her values and stopped wanting to write…as long as she had that same intensity about, say, teaching, she is also the same person.

 

But what if you extracted those qualities and began to reverse them, like re-setting dip switches? How many of them could shift without deeply affecting my feeling of connection?

 

Everyone has limits.  Sweetness into meanness? Ambition into “laziness”? Activity into sloth? Discipline into excess?

 

How many?  When I look around at relationships that have gone sour, I’ve seen the following causes:

  1. Infidelity.  Especially serial infidelity.  Different intensities and meanings at different times in the relationship, and interpreted differently by males and females.
  2. Financial instability.  Huge.  More devastating than cheating.
  3. Lack of sexual compatibility
  4. Lying and manipulating
  5. Abuse
  6. Lack of emotional compatibility and empathy
  7. The sexual power polarities can change, creating tension…or boredom.  Seen this happen in “House Husband” relationships, and it wasn’t pretty.

 

The relationship can run out of gas, can become too explosive, or too painful.   I don’t think I want boredom to be a factor in this case.  More likely too much excitement and “drammer.”      Better to have Athena feel that Gus is becoming something dangerous to her psyche and sense of well being.

 

But what?  I have a very good sense of the cluster of negative behaviors and attitudes that Gus could have, that mirror real-world break-ups in a “useful” way. Why useful?  Because they have to be capable of being resolved with a story arc.

 

Ah…in what way?   Well…the perfect character is a window into a situation.  It is through their attitudes, perceptions, and actions that the situation becomes known. Why did I choose THIS character to deal with THIS situation?

 

Ideally…because the arc of external action (resolution of the plot) mirrors the arc of internal change (how they must grow or heal to move to the next level of their lives.)

 

“Die Hard” is about a group of terrorists taking over a building…but it is also about a cop who is losing his wife, and how he comes to realize how much he adores her. And a woman seeking professional self-expression, and how she comes to value the very things that drove her crazy about her husband.

 

Two people who were about to be torn apart by their egos, who come together when the shit gets real.  Defeating the terrorists is healing their marriage!   THAT is a terrific story, one often imitated but never excelled in the genre.   “Traveler” is in that vein, but different in that Gus is more at fault than John McClaine ever was, and he needs to “come correct” in a variety of ways that will require ego death.

 

HIS SELF IMAGE IS SIMPLY…WRONG.    And as  long as he clings to it, his marriage, his career, his life is in peril.  So the story has to be set up so that his inner and outer journeys reflect and amplify each other.

 

So…the scene where Athena tells him she’s leaving has to encapsulate the themes of the entire book, such that on one level the readers will think: “you think you can live without this man?  Just wait. You think you can live without this woman?  Just wait!”  but on another level, they will thrill to wonder just what will happen before that hopeful reunion.  They want the experience of closing the book thinking “Wow!  What a story!  I never saw THAT coming!” but also a sense that, on second reading, all the pieces of the puzzle were there…and that it all makes perfect, human sense.

 

So…what is the most important thing I can do today?  I can look at the structure of the three parts.   Think of the external journey.  And make major progress to make the inner and outer connect.

 

How long will that take?   Well…here’s a secret: REALIZING I NEEDED TO DO THAT WAS THE MAJOR PROGRESS I NEEDED.

 

I’ve already won, don’t you understand? Today is already a success. All I need do is write ONE SENTENCE in the script, a line of dialogue or description or summation that states what is needed.

 

Get it out of my head.  Onto paper.  No, writing it here on my blog, or on Facebook, isn’t enough…unless I drag and drop a relevant sentence into the actual Traveler document (currently at 245 pages on WRITERDUET).   Do that…and I win the game today.

 

Most important thing with Jason?  Just tell him I love him and am proud of his very good week. He did GREAT with his Algebra yesterday, and was rewarded with a theater party with friends to see “Jurassic World.” Blue is so damned cute!

 

Most important thing with T? Pick her up at the airport tonight.  Fetch sushi.

 

Most important thing with my finances?   Check my Mint account.

 

Most important thing with my body?  Yoga and Tai Chi/Morning ritual.

 

Bim, Bam, Boom.  I know what, and why, and the “Morning Ritual” is “how.”

 

Time to get to work!

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

Along Came A Spider (2001)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Don’t let them down.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

 

(WARNING!  SAMBO ALERT!)

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

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

 

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

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

Not if you saw it coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Creed 2 is coming!

CREED 2 Trailer (2018)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Damn…I really needed to hear that.

 

##

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Adonis.  Rocky.  The spirit of Mickey.

 

That’s ROCKY’S story.

 

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

 

That’s ADONIS’S story.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wouldn’t that be something?

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com