Movie Review

Lifewriting and “All That Jazz” (1979)

The last time a movie changed my life, I was twenty-seven years old.  I’d published maybe a story or two, paid in contributor’s copies.   I was cocky, driven, and terrified that I wouldn’t be able to be a successful writer. I’d bet EVERYTHING on that one goal.


I was working at a bookstore, I think, and writing at night.  Pulling my end of the bills, but earning way under what I knew I could earn if I went into some more formal occupation.  But was afraid that if I took some more “serious” job it would devour me, and I’d lose my drive to write.  I’d seen it happen.


So I hid my fears behind a mask of bravado, a denial that anything could stop me, a commitment to work and work and focus and focus until I got what I intended.


It was the “Whatever It Takes” attitude. The Psycho-Cybernetics “create your self image and live up to it” attitude. The Think and Grow Rich/Strangest Secret “Make a contract with yourself and bet your life on it” attitude.



I’d seen television commercials for a movie that looked pretty cool, starring Roy Schieder (hey, JAWS!) and featuring some really amazing dance choreography (glimpsed only in flashes in the TV ads) that looked angular and flashy and somehow…insane. There was something crazed about it. I loved that, and went to see ALL THAT JAZZ.


For those who haven’t seen it, ALL THAT JAZZ is a semi-autobiographical film written and directed by choreographer Bob Fosse.  He tells the story of “Joe Gideon”, a genius of stage and cinema simultaneously editing a movie and choreographing a complex play, pushing himself beyond human limits. He is a cheater, drinker, smoker, drug abusing borderline maniac who pushes people who genuinely love him away while giving his life to people who don’t give a shit and are literally negotiating away his life while he has open-heart surgery.


It is funny, profane, sacred, brilliant, terrifying. One hell of a movie, and I walked out shaken.


Once upon a time there was a guy named Joe Gideon, a dancer who discovered a talent for choreography, who wanted to create art in motion.  He focused everything he had, becoming a knife too sharp to handle safely, until he ultimately became the genius he was afraid he wasn’t, but destroyed himself in the process.


And I realized I loved that movie, because I was afraid it was about me.


Once upon a time there was a guy named Steven Barnes, who had dreams of being a writer.  Everyone (it seemed): family, teachers, schoolmates, society, said that he couldn’t do it, and he swore to show them.  He dropped out of school and took minimum-wage jobs to have the time to focus on his work.  Every time he met defeat, he just swore to focus more tightly.   But he had to admit that deep inside, he was afraid that they were right…


There was a problem.  The problem is that if the secret of success isn’t “pure talent” or luck, then it is monomaniacal focus, over time.  There is only one problem: that focus throws your life out of balance.  So…you can succeed, but you will trash another aspect of your life doing it.  Become like one of those houses at Universal City: look great from one angle, but step around behind…and there is nothing.


There are basic aspects of life: the career, the relationships, the physical body.  And most people really don’t have “more” than others in all three.  Most really successful people simply concentrate everything they have in one arena and neglect others. The luckiest of them find the right teachers at the right moments of their lives, have the right role models in childhood, and create something elegant and beautiful with that same pound of flesh.


The paradox I faced is that excellence demanded monomania.  Monomania creates imbalance. Imbalance destroys your life, such that you will never become as excellent as you could be, or live to enjoy the fruits of your work.


I rode home on the bus, depressed.    I wanted my career with all my heart, but in ALL THAT JAZZ clearly saw how my desire could destroy me.   What the hell could I do?


There is a saying I heard once: From time to time, life gives you a cubic inch of opportunity.   If you take it, its yours. If you don’t, its gone forever.


And just one such “cube” can change your life forever.  I can identify several of those in my life.   Five?  Ten?   Maybe


But this was one of them.  Obsession creates imbalance. Obsession is necessary for excellence.


What if…what if…


What if the only thing that was safe to be obsessed about was balance itself?  True, you could go all OCD about that, become paralyzed…but for a relatively healthy person, it seemed to me that balance was the safest path.  But did it lead to excellence? Weren’t there (and aren’t there) people who swear that dysfunction is NECESSARY?  That it is the creative norm?


Yes…but if there were counter-examples, people who seemed sane and happy and healthy and loving, who were also at the top of their field, didn’t that suggest it was POSSIBLE?


Well…that was what I decided. Ray Bradbury and William Shakespeare seemed to be a couple of human beings operating at as high a level in their fields as I could imagine, and from all evidence, they functioned well. Quirks, sure.  But those basic aspects seemed healthy.


So I made the commitment: I would be obsessed with balance.   The inner and the outer.  I would touch base with the people I loved EVERY DAY.  Work on my body EVERY DAY.   Write EVERY DAY.   Meditate EVERY DAY.


The inner and the outer.  And…did I see some people starting when I did, who went further? Sure.  Of course.   But I noticed that it didn’t matter.  I was having a GREAT time.  I was becoming the human being I intended to be, and noticed that the time and energy I used to spend looking at what other people were doing or achieving I now spent actually improving myself.


And that was good, because there is ALWAYS someone better, and ALWAYS someone worse, and depending upon your emotional filters can spend your entire life in misery, or oblivious.  If you happen to be in an arena in which there is objective measurement, and you CAN get all the way to the Best of the Best, you are very aware of the wounds you’ve taken to get there, how short your tenure will be, and have to keep your eye on the young toughs coming up behind you, eager to knock you from your perch.


Prince wrote a song on his wonderful “Gold” Album about having made it to the mountain top…and there is nothing there.


So focusing on balance could enable me to enjoy the ride. But could it also help me become the best writer I could be?


Sure…if I considered myself, my own life, my own struggles to be the clearest laboratory experiment in the nature of humanity I could possibly find.  Yes, I could bury myself in books, and know far more about specific literary qualities. But could I really learn more about the nature of human beings?  And at the core of art, wasn’t that one of the two great questions?


Who Am I?
What Is True?


If there are many roads up the mountain called “artistic excellence” wasn’t one of them just understanding what human beings were, developing a theoretical model and testing testing testing every day in your own life, and taking what you learn and applying it to your characters.  Wouldn’t this be as valid as learning specific writing tricks and tropes–actually observing humanity and sharing what you learn?


Because if it was, then the primary goal would not be to be “clever” or even “erudite” or “gifted” but…honest.


And what was Musashi Miyamoto’s first principle to become excellent, if excellence is a matter of life and death importance?






Even before I saw the connection between the Hero’s Journey and our lives, I saw that this approach: ” A life lived in balance as your primary work of art” would be a unique approach. It was MY approach.   I could embrace it fully with minimal risk of destroying myself, and, while a long-term solution to the problem, so long as I didn’t get discouraged by the sprinters burning past me, I would either outlast them, or ignore them and just have a wonderful time along the way.


This commitment, to connecting the inner and outer worlds, gave me everything I have to offer my students, a path that will take you as far as your heart and will and mind can carry you…safely.  One step at a time.


Starting with just a single sentence a day.




Write with passion, live with purpose



The The Machine, The Ladder, and the Chain


Again, thanks to Sylvester Stallone for trusting these young men with his lifetime achievement, the wonderful character of Rocky Balboa.  Were it not for that, Ryan Coogler probably wouldn’t have come to the attention of Disney, and been offered Black Panther.  In “Creed” Coogler proved his box office appeal to the bean counters, and also made history by creating the very first 100 million+ domestic box office film in which a non-white male star had a love scene.  (When there is no difference in the relative percentages of such films, I’ll consider it as important a mile-stone as, say, proportional representation in the Senate or in business in general, or incarceration, infant mortality, and percentages of two-parent households.)


What we can see in Coogler’s career is what I call a “Ladder” of ascention to higher and higher success.  Look at this in relation to “The Machine”  The machine is identifying the minimum amount of work that will get you to the first step of your goal within a year (or so) and taking responsibility for doing this daily/weekly/monthly.


“A sentence a day” is this minimum for writers trying to publish a first story or a first book.


But if you wish to ascend to the point that Disney will trust you with a 150 million dollar movie, you have a bigger problem.  You need more than talent. You need a track record.  But how can you “get in” to the industry if you are outside the industry?  It can seem like a paradox: you can’t get a job until you’ve got a job, right?    So the game is rigged!  It’s not what you know its who you know. Or worse. Yeah, I’ve heard that line too.



What is the “Machine” for getting to direct a 150 million dollar movie?    Dov Simons (he of the Two-Day Film School) suggests a path.


How do you direct a 150 million dollar movie?  Direct a 15 million dollar movie.

How do you direct a 15 million dollar movie?  Direct a 1.5 million dollar movie


“Creed” and “Fruitvale Station” are starting to make sense now, aren’t they?


If you have total permission to succeed, your own brain should be kicking in here: intelligence is problem solving, and I consider my readers intelligent.  But if you are saying “I don’t have 1.5 million!” then I suggest that you have conflicting beliefs about success.  That, in essence, the problem your intelligence is seeking to solve is:  “how can I blame the world for the failure I’m sure is coming?”  If you GOT the opportunity, you’d screw yourself. So it is better to blame the world, and pretend there is no path.


You MUST deal with the underlying emotions.  If you listen to people who came from nothing, who succeed massively, they will usually tell you of a parent, a coach, a teacher, a spouse, a mentor…SOMEONE who screamed in their ear YOU CAN DO IT! Until the pretender voices were drowned out. All those choked-up speeches at the award ceremonies?  That’s the acknowledgement that the “Allies” along the “Road of trials” helped them have enough faith to get through the Dark Night of the Soul.  NOBODY MAKES IT ALONE.


So…if you DON’T have your brakes on, can you see how to make a 1.5 million dollar movie?  Hmmm?


Sure.  You make a 150k movie.

And how do you do that?  You make a 15k movie.

And how do you do that?  You make a 1500.00 movie.

And how do you do that…you make a movie on your damned Iphone, Jasper.


YOU START WHERE YOU ARE. Write a one-act play.  Film it your own damned self, and edit it with some of the terrific, cheap editing software.   You put in your sweat equity.  In the process you’ll learn so much about the process of making a movie it isn’t funny.   This is pretty much what Steven Spielburg did. Started with nothing, demonstrated his skill at every level, ascended the ladder.


You show your iphone movie to your friends to get them to chip in to your fund to make a 1500.00 movie.

You show that movie to local business people to get them to invest in a 15k movie, which you’ll market to a cable film festival, those businesses in the background providing advertising.  Or whatever.  YOU STUDY MARKETING.  IT IS PART OF THE PROCESS. LEARN TO HUSTLE, DAMMIT. Or…find a hustler and partner with them. You’ve proven yourself.  You be the brilliant child, your partner is the marketing  whiz.  Where do you think all those producer credits on movies come from?  Some of them are money, some talent, some providing craft services or skills.  You create a GROUP of allies and powers.


Learning the business as you go. One step at a time.


From 15 to 150 to 1500 to 15000 to 150000 …


That’s the “Ladder”.  In the literary “Machine” it functions from shorter works (short stories) to longer (novels).


In the cinematic “Ladder” you start where you are, where you have NO excuse, prove your worth and then learn to navigate the social webs that make it possible to sit in a room and ask serious-minded people to risk MILLIONS or HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of dollars on you.


That’s how you do it.  If you make the small movie and cannot motivate anyone to help you…well, you tried. But you lack skill with either writing/directing or marketing. You can improve those skills, if you practice.  Can you get to the top?   No promises. But “Ed Wood” sure as heck suggests that if you can learn to hustle enough, even someone with ZERO skill can make a movie and get distribution.  THAT much is probably pretty much guaranteed to anyone willing to become obsessive and play the game full-out.


Like almost anyone could probably get a book published, if they are willing to give it everything.  No one can promise you a bestseller, or awards. But if you really love writing, the process itself is a reward.


Same with filmmaking.  And if you’ve got that spark, and learn to fan and protect it with sweat and focus and team-building..?


You can make miracles.


The AFROFUTURISM: LIVE broadcast is about thoughts like this.   In every show, we show you:


  1. The power of myth in culture, and why Afrofuturism is NECESSARY for our country to move forward.
  2. The path to understanding the movement, and becoming a part of it.   The “Lifewriting” system of creative living applied to this specific arena.  Nothing like it.
  3. The way to control your emotions to focus that heat onto a single point–becoming unstoppable.
  4. The reason this is the right time, culturally, and how to ascend the “Ladder” to achieve your greatest potential for success.  Either CREATE art, or SUPPORT it.


Tananarive and I believe in you.  Yes you.  I wake up every morning thinking about you, wondering what I can do to help.  So aware of my blessing that people like Larry Niven and Octavia Butler and  Harlan Ellison reached out and helped me align my head and heart and body to the purpose of speaking truth through art.    Now I have the responsibility to help others. And if YOU will promise that when we help you get to the Next Level…YOU will turn around and help others.  That’s the “Chain”, one person accepting help from the one ahead, offering it to the one behind.


Can we make that agreement?   If we do everything we can for you, you will help the next young man, young woman get on the path?


Yeah, I thought so.  Welcome to the Afrofuture.



Write with Passion, Live with Purpose

Join us today at 6pm Pacific, for the next episode of AFROFURISM LIVE!




Finally figured out my reaction to “Iron Fist”

Here’s my problem with Danny Rand. The other three Defenders got their powers accidentally, and they are all more mature and aware than Rand. Rand supposedly got HIS by studying, training, competing, forging his spirit in the fires of K’un Lun until he emerged the best of the best of the best. He had to absorb their teaching, shift his perspectives on reality and human potential, break conceptual “box” after “box”, go through ego death after ego death, like peeling an onion. He should be more “Asian” than Asians, to the point that it is almost a joke. Instead, he acts as if the Iron Fist was just given to him, or as if he found it in a box somewhere, like Donald Blake “finding” Thor’s Hammer. I see zero, and I mean ZERO evidence of such a maturing/refining process, such an assimilation of an alien perspective on reality that would allow the kind of power he has. None. It is as if the writers had no familiarity at all with that world. Compare to the sense that Cheo Hodari Coker KNOWS Harlem, that the writers of Jessica Jones understand abuse and stalking behavior and the roots of alcoholism. That the folks who wrote “Daredevil” at least sat down with a lawyer and asked “what would he say HERE?”

I just don’t see this with Rand. He doesn’t make sense. And neither centered enough, or fish-out-of-water enough, he is all surface and no core. If the stunt choreography was flashy enough, I could forgive that. But I just can’t find a way to believe in him the way I can Jessica or Luke or even Matt. He just doesn’t compute. I don’t blame the actor, I really don’t. I’d bet he’s working himself to death to try to fill that empty vessel.

I do blame the producers.  They blew it.  They could probably fix things, but they’d have to admit they screwed up, and how they screwed up, and I don’t think they are aware enough to even know what they don’t know.

I think about what might have happened had “Luke Cage” been directed/produced by a white guy who learned everything he knows about black people from television. And I don’t mean ‘The Wire”, either.  I shudder to think.


THAT is the level of problem I see with “Iron Fist.” They don’t know what they don’t know, and mistake shallowness for profundity in a way that unfortunately echoes Marvel’s other problems with Asians or Asian Culture, from The Mandarin to The Ancient One.  What works in a comic book has to be melded to the real world to work with real actors speaking real dialogue.

You know….puppets who sock people a lot are still just sock-puppets.





“The Hitman’s Bodyguard”(2017)

Saw “Hitman’s Bodyguard” yesterday. Wasn’t exactly “good” but I did have fun. Sam Jackson was seriously badass, and that’s always fun. Ryan Reynolds sometimes felt like he’d wandered in from another movie. And the “Midnight Run” comparisons (MR was definitely a better film) are unavoidable. I had the sense it started as a smaller film, then got pumped up after someone looked at the “Deadpool” box office. From time to time the shape of that smaller, perhaps better movie peeked out.

One thing of interest: it is a movie “from the alternate world” as T and I say. Meaning that I couldn’t feel the filmmakers altering the film because one of the leads is black.  It actually felt…natural.  That’s not an overwhelming recommendation, but it IS a comfort to see.

It matters.  I’ll give it a “B”.



Time for more “Body Snatchers”



Clearly, Jack Finney’s 1954 novel is one of the most successful SF works in history, having been translated to film four times in pure form, and ripped off (or “influenced”) countless more.  The only version I didn’t like at all was the 2007.  It just didn’t move me, and considering how much I like Daniel Craig, I guess that says something.


The “Best” version by most accounts is the 1978.  I still have a fondness for the original, but the one that makes me most uncomfortable is actually Ferrara’s 1993, as cheap and dark as it might be.  “Where you gonna go?  What you gonna do?   When there’s nobody like you…left?” absolutely chilled my blood.  So my faves would be in precisely the order they were made, most to least favorite, with the first three clustered tightly, and the last one far behind.




I figure that we’re ripe for another remake, as I get a LOT of the “I don’t understand my friends/family/co-workers/neighbors who voted X.”  To the point that fears about a civil war are probably higher than in over a century.


If THAT isn’t fodder for a remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” I don’t know what is.  Hey, wouldn’t it be interesting if there were TWO strains of alien stuff infecting us, everybody turning into one or the other, and each side claiming to be the “real” humans  and being afraid of the Other?


That could be good, evil fun.


In my view, failing to understand others happens when you don’t understand yourself.  People just aren’t that different.  Not understanding why you do the things you do rips you apart psychologically. Not understanding and communicating with your spouse rips marriages apart. And miscommunication within a culture can rip IT apart.  And between cultures?  War.


The art of peace is finding the commonalities and building from there.   Most people are reachable on this count. There are, of course those so deluded or monstrous that you cannot. But I believe those to be a tiny percentage under most circumstances.


The cost of lying to yourself, then enrolling others in your lies, is that when the truth begins to surface there is massive cognitive dissonance. It can feel like death.  And people will fight to protect their images as they will to protect their bodies or families.


Anger is fear, remember. Trace it back to that root, and you’ll always see more clearly.  Those afraid of their fear cannot do this.


Please, don’t be one of them.  Remember: the Pod People strike while you are sleeping.




Thoughts on “Lucky Logan (2017)

By the way…have you seen the amount of pain white Southerners have been experiencing around their Statues taken away?  Even though there are tens of thousands of  books,  movies, television shows, documentaries, songs and folk tales about the Civil War?  THAT IS HOW IMPORTANT HISTORY IS.

A tiny problem, however.

All my life, white people have told me that  the TOTAL removal of history, myth, religions, cultures, and languages from black people didn’t matter.   “That’s all in the past! Live in the present!”

Do they grasp the irony?  That the very anger and pain dominating the national debate sets the standard?   If they aren’t bluffing, lying, exaggerating, engaged in theater…then take  THAT pain, and multiply by a thousand, and you have what was done to us.

As Sho Nuff, the Shogan of Harlem once said:   “Stings a little, don’t it?”


A guy gave me a raft of crap a week ago, because I wouldn’t provide him with links showing where I got my opinions about race, class and poverty in Appalachia, the Eastern U.S. cultural region that  stretches from Southern New York to  northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.

I cannot count how many books, documentaries, news broadcasts, articles, films, country-western songs,  stories, and personal reminiscences I’ve absorbed about this country, and that region.   But no, I don’t keep a convenient list of links.  I’m not his damned tutor, and that wasn’t a formal debate with neutral judges.  David Brin was my debate coach in high school, and trust me, what goes on on Facebook is not “debate”.

Usually these works were created by white people, often by historians, writers, reporters, academics and artists  who lived in the region, grew up there, had cultural and genetic and historical roots there, are proud and hopeful about the region, but often in pain about the media images or governmental neglect.  There was never a time I didn’t hear about coal mining, farming, trucking, dairy, and whatever else  in that region.


The specific question that triggered this gentleman’s ire was:   where is white privilege?  Wasn’t a poor white in Appalachia devoid of such privilege?  And I answered: nope.     And if I wanted to be more certain, I’d interview a sample of poor white Appalachians and poor BLACK Appalachians, and compare their experiences.   He didn’t like that answer.


Fine.   It is not my responsibility to please or educate him.   All I volunteered to do was tell him what I thought.


Steven Soderburg’s new film “Lucky Logan” is sly and smart.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.

While a caper film on the surface, it is also a comment on America.    Racially, you might  think that nothing is going on there, as all the main characters couldn’t be whiter if they bathed in bleach.   But there is something very interesting, if you keep your eyes open. Channing Tatum’s world is NASCAR and junior pageants and coal mining.   And it is also  almost 100% white.  Top to bottom.  Huge crowds and audiences and passing motorists. and almost every speaking part. White, white, white.

But once we go to the state  prison, looking for “Joe Bang” (played by a newcomer named Daniel Craig. I think he’ll have a career), a bank robber who is a genius at explosives, NOW we see black people.  Tons of them.  Big scary black bucks, and obese black Mammies.


The white people are drivers, miners, car dealer owners, beauticians, FBI officers, bartenders,  and whatever. The full spectrum of human occupations. The black people are criminals, jailers and security guards.

Now, there are two basic ways to interpret this, with a line is drawn right down the political middle:


  1. Nurture.   The liberal side of this debate.  What we are seeing here is the result of generational damage combined with institutional racism. You can measure the damage, right on the screen. To the degree that this mirrors reality, you are seeing EXACTLY the difference between being a poor white and a poor black, in the same social/geographical context.
  2. Nature.  The conservative side of this debate.   Not all Conservatives believe this (some will offer weak sauce about “Liberal social policies” leading to the “breakup of the black family.”  IMO if they were honest enough to relate this to centuries of oppression, brainwashing and horror I might believe they really believed this.   Few of them do) but almost everyone I’ve met who DOES believe it is “criminal nature” is over thar  on the far side of the political  aisle. I notice things like that.
    “The Bell Curve” clearly states that (to a major degree) genetics determines intelligence which determines criminal and irresponsible behavior.   That’s its conclusion.  Don’t expect me not to understand the implications.


What is clear is that people are so used to seeing this image  (white people in their complexity and variety, black people mostly seen as zoo animals and zoo keepers) that it doesn’t even raise question.   Few react at all, perhaps assuming it is the natural order.


You don’t dare wonder if your ancestors did so much damage over centuries that their victims are still staggering. Or if maybe the justice system isn’t a level playing field, and the descendants of those ancestors are still playing legal Whack A Mole with the descendants of those slaves.


In Lucky Logan, a white woman brags about talking her way out of a ticket. A white man is given a wrist-slap for driving his car through a convenience store.   In fact, they are so confident the sentence will be minimal that that is actually an integral part of the heist.

What privilege?

If you believe  that black offenders would be treated as well, then you too have chosen door #2.


Those who wonder why I cut so much slack to a Jefferson, or Washington, or America in general around issues of race would be wise to realize that I’m simply saying that context and programming matter.  I CANNOT consider them corrupt in essence, or whites corrupt in essence, or America corrupt in essence without thinking like the sleeping children who are so desperate to believe the playing field is level, absolving them of responsibility and ennobling their own efforts, that they are and have been willing to slander an entire people.


This is either a human problem,  or there is no hope at all.  America drowns in burning blood.


No, I don’t ask for white folks to feel guilt. I don’t consider that a useful emotion for a conscious adult. And I’ve never asked for reparations. I see no way to facilitate that without causing more damage than it ameliorates.

But I do ask that the lies stop.  That we speak the painful truth.

You know: truth about how desperately the South needed slave labor, and the myths of inferiority they devised, evolved, and spread, and the lies they told  about the motives for the war they fought to protect it.


Tell the truth.  That’s all I ask.


If there had been a “Truth and Reconciliation” or “Nuremburg Trials” style reckoning after the Civil War, it would have been more painful…for a blink in time.   But if slaves had been able to confront their masters, if the crimes had been documented and the “Lost Cause” narrative killed in the cradle, the pain felt would have been a tiny fraction of the anguish blacks felt all those centuries, and it might have saved us the national agony we’re experiencing now.


The Truth will set you free.


Then, without having to carry the load of bullshit your ancestors shoveled onto your shoulders, you would be able  to see your own beauty, grasp the wonder of the American dream, realize that the statement “All men are created equal” is a goal, a vision of possibility, an ideal: if we are the best we can be, see with hearts unpoisoned by fear and greed, THIS is what we will see.


All men are created equal.


I will not drink the poison, even if it gives me temporary political leverage.  Don’t need it to see the divinity within my heart.  Don’t need to drown out the voices of doubt and self-pity within my mind. Years of meditation and martial arts have turned that shit down to a whisper.

Won’t allow my enemies to turn me into one of them.    It ain’t that kind of party.


What I will do is say: if THEY won’t tell the truth, WE MUST.  Sing your songs. Tell your stories.  Your history explains your past. Your dreams determine what you must do TODAY to bring them to reality.


America is a story.  History is a story.  When you tell your stories, demanding to be heard, you are weaving together the fabric of society, and consciousness.  You can move away from pain, and toward pleasure.


Joy.  Fullfillment.  All any of us have ever really wanted.


Because I have FAITH that that is our true heritage as a species, as living things.   Goes way, way beyond a few hundred or thousand years of history, all the way back to the Big Bang: connection and complexity with a garnish of chaos  and fear as ego shells dissolve to create the energy we need to move forward.


Most of the fear is just fear of loss:  If I’m not descended from heroes, I’m descended from monsters…If I don’t control THEM they will kill ME…


No, you’re descended from human beings, doing the best they can with the resources they have, trying to move from pain toward pleasure.   Black and white, male and female, Christian and Muslim and atheist…that’s all there is.


Any my family are those who are strong and centered enough to offer the hand of friendship, an open heart, to any who can hear what I’m saying.


And we do this by focusing on the beautiful…while never forgetting the ugly.  Forgive, but not forget.


Always from a position of strength, of course, because there are a few smiling monsters mixed in, of course. But rare. And that will never be my first assumption.


Most dangerous people are just enmeshed in an ugly dishonest story, afraid that if they look more closely, they will find corruption.


Sure.  But look more deeply and you’ll find beauty. You will find the light.




Why I prefer “Fallout 4” to “A Handmaid’s Tale.”

There is a horrible scene in the movie “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” where Leatherface, the monstrous, hulking, inhuman cannibal, hangs a girl up on a meathook and then dismembers one of her friends.  The actual dismemberment takes place in the foreground, just below the edge of the screen.  Can’t actually see it.  The real horror in the movie is watching the girl, dying, trying to pull herself off the hook.  In most movies, because young women of childbearing age are the most precious adults in society (last to be killed, first to be protected if possible) her struggles would have been front and center, clear focus.  “Oh my God someone help that girl.”


But in TCM, she is out of focus. You have to squint to see what is happening. And that is even more terrifying. Because the filmmakers have put YOU in the position of Leatherface. In his warped, twisted, homicidal point of view, her death struggles mean nothing.  She is an object.  For me, this might be the most horrifying moment in one of the most frightening films ever made. The Sufis say that the beginning of human evil is to treat human beings as means rather than ends.    And for a moment, that is precisely what Tobe Hooper forced us to do.




In the book and movie “The Handmaid’s Tale”, author Margarete Atwood creates a post-nuclear holocaust dystopia in which women have been conscripted into pregnancy farms, forcibly impregnated.  In this world, all black people have been murdered, shipped off to the radioactive wastelands to die.


And the author never comments on it.  Neither did any of the critics. Neither did a single white reader of the hundreds of comments I’ve seen about it over the years.    100% of the attention has been on the forcible impregnations.


Focus tells you what is important. If MORE people had commented on the rapes than the genocide, I would grasp that and accept it.  But for NONE of the fans, critics, or the author herself to comment on this…I realized that that book was not about the subjugation of women. It was about the subjugation of white women.   And their abuse was clearly more important than the deaths of 100% of the black people in her world.


Atwood can do that. It is her right. But what she cannot do is take it back, claim that she DOES care.    No.  If it slipped her mind, there was simply no concern. It was a plot point. She was simply making a case for the evils of Patriarchy.


That was her conscious intent. Her unconscious values were displayed by her lack of subsequent comment. And those of her critics and readers likewise. As I read dozens and dozens and finally hundreds of comments over the years, and saw every one of them fail to mention that little thing called “a genocide for your entertainment” I got the point.  Fine. It doesn’t matter to you.  Once its pointed out, you’re embarrassed, but folks, its too late.






So when a discussion of dystopias came up, and the game “Fallout 4” was compared to “Handmaid’s Tale”, I said I preferred “Fallout 4.”  But…almost everyone has been killed in “Fallout 4”.  Sure, I replied. But “almost” isn’t “everyone.”  My children might have survived.  I’ll go with that.  There will be discomfort about this reaction from some.   The unspoken discomforted reaction would be: “but…but…think of all the white people who died!  Surely you wouldn’t value their lives so cheaply!  Surely its better for all of you to die so that some of us can live…

Umm…actually, no.

But anyone with the nerve to actually say that out loud has my respect, in a sick sense.



What about the television show?  I gave it a chance.  First episode: a woman and her family. She is white, in a mixed relationship with a black man. My automatic thought: “let’s see how they treat him.”  Within ten minutes, he is apparently killed, by an off-screen gunshot.   I finished watching the episode. Although there is a bit of diversity on view, no other black men.  Fine.  I understand my value to these filmmakers.


I also understand that later in the season, the husband came back. That gunshot was an okey-doke.  “Just wait!” people say.  “You should have kept watching…”


No.  Sorry. I’ve seen probably a hundred movies in which the only black character (or only black male character) dies, while white life goes on just fine. Not ONE American film where the opposite is true, and I’ve challenged readers for a decade to prove me wrong.   The only time I’ve seen all the white people die in a film like that is in movies that were specifically antagonistic to the white characters, like Bruce Lee’s “The Chinese Connection” or some Japanese movies dealing with the occupation.    That’s anger. Fear.    I get it.   I can deal with it.


But I don’t enjoy it.  And no, I have no trust to extend to people who don’t grasp how fucking painful it is to be surrounded by people who on a deep unconscious level think it would be entertaining for all of the people like you to just…die.

And no, I’m not going to look past it to see this profound meditation on “The Patriarchy” because I notice that all the women who liked that book and movie were as complicit and oblivious as any of the men in the movie. Yeah.  They would, in other words, I believe they would be just as likely to commit the same horrors.


I can deal with the idea of this being a HUMAN problem.  I can take the position that, were conditions reversed, black people would create images just as homicidal and unconsciously genocidal.


But I’m not going to say: “this is a male problem” unless I also get to say “this is a white problem.”   Both or nothing, people.


So…it’s a human problem.  Deal with that.  Or deal with your own reaction.


It’s not my responsibility to ignore the deaths of everyone who looks like me, to empathize with the terrible things happening to women who look like you.


In that fantasy world, I don’t care about ANYBODY.  Will sit back and watch bad things happening to the people on the screen and laugh.


Remember “Psycho”? Where you thought Janet Leigh was the lead character, and after her terrible death there is a sense of disconnection?  Who do I identify with? Where is the center of good in this world?

Why…it’s Norman Bates, who is strange, but at least loves his mother.  We seek to find someone to identify with to walk us through any film or novel.

What happens when there is a pattern of people who look like you being murdered in movies? Why, you stop wanting to identify with them. You actually start identifying with the people who look like the people who killed them.   Kind of like little black girls in the South thinking white dolls are prettier than black dolls.  Toxic as hell.   THIS IS UNCONSCIOUS.   NO, I’M NOT SAYING WHITE PEOPLE DID THIS DELIBERATELY.

It is the natural outcome of the tribal behavior programmed into us at a deep level, perhaps even neurological.   You have to deliberately “lean into” that wind to avoid being tainted by it. Pretending that the “playing field is level” is just saying that you want Tribalism to win. This pattern can be seen mostly in those who benefit by the tilt. Ahem.


But enough about “Handmaid’s Tale.”   “Fallout 4″… has potential, there with the few wretched survivors scrambling in the ruins fighting over rat meat.   Yeah. I like it.  Bad for EVERYONE.    If it has to be bad, yes, I like that better.






(The stories you tell determine the world you see. The stories you enjoy tells about the world in your heart.  Afrofuturism is an exploration of what happens when you learn to create and consume consciously.

Dark Nights and Good Grief Glinda


Once you see the pattern of life in the Hero’s Journey, the next step is to apply it so as to gain leverage.  The largest advantage is knowing AHEAD OF TIME what is going to happen to you as you seek to improve your life or solve a major problem.  That allows you to lay in  emotional or material resources before you get there.   Women have told me that if they really remembered the pain of childbirth, they’d never have sex again.   Good reason to forget some of the pain of transformation!


But on the other hand, if as a culture we didn’t remember that pain, and blood, and potential death, we would never have refined our understanding of the process so as to save more mommies and babies.    Without birth, life ends.   Birth is difficult, bloody, painful, dangerous…but also joyous, not to be placed on the same scale as other things that cause comparable sensations of pain.  Either know BEFORE YOU GET THERE that the experience will be uniquely intense, or things are likely to go wrong.


The “normal world” you live in will remain your baseline unless and until you experience an epiphany that jars you out of it: a belief that you CAN and SHOULD and MUST change.  And the thing that rips you out of your complacency will, if powerful enough, destroy your sense of self which (absent a truly remarkable level of personal integration)  cannot survive if you are truly to move to the next level of your life.


So there’s a triad: the “normal world”, the “epiphany” that forces action, and the disastrous “dark night of the soul” moment when it feels all is lost.  These three things should be taken as a whole.


As an example, let’s look at one of the clearest “HJ” stories: “The Wizard of Oz.”



In “The Wizard of Oz”, Dorothy is “trapped” in her “ordinary” black-and-white world of Kansas, but longs to go “over the rainbow” where she will find a technicolor dreamland.  Her desire to find a new world is accelerated by her dog Toto being taken to the pound by the evil Almira Gulch.  Dorothy runs away with Toto, is trapped by a tornado, and swept away to the land of Oz (or perhaps merely hit on the head and suffers a concussion-dream).


The tornado is an external transformative force that rips her from her life path.  It functions as the “epiphany” that opens the door to a New Opportunity for Dorothy.

In Oz, she is dropped into an age-old war between warring witches, accidentally killing the Wicked Witch of the East, gaining an enemy of her sister, the witch of the West.  Glinda the “Good” witch (who giggles at the death of WWE…just how “good” can she really be?) lies to Dorothy and tells her her only way home is to go to the Wizard of Oz.  (This is, of course, a “bank shot” on the Witch of the West.  I think it reasonable that Glinda knew she was aiming Dorothy at the “evil” witch, while keeping her own hands clean.)  This Yellow Brick Road of action, along which she gains allies, will inevitably take Dorothy to the Dark Night of the Soul moment.


What follows is well understood: the quest for the evil witch’s broom (an assassination assignment), Dorothy’s capture, the sands running out as her friends overcome their own internal obstacles (lack of faith in their brains, courage, and emotion) to rescue her, the death of the “Wicked Witch”.  They return to Oz, and the Wizard is revealed as a fraud.   He then devises a way to take Dorothy back to Kansas in his balloon, but even that goes awry when Toto accidentally unties the anchor rope.


Then we hit the REAL “Dark Night” of the film.  Dorothy has done everything anyone asked of her (including that assassination) and is still stuck in Oz.  All is lost.


Then…Glinda swoops in, all cotton-candy and sparkle, and tells Dorothy that she ALWAYS had the ability to go back, just by tapping her heels together three times.  Why didn’t she TELL Dorothy this before placing her life at risk?  “You wouldn’t have believed me,” Glinda says.  We’ll leave that alone for a moment.


Note that the Dark Night of the Soul relates directly to the “Epiphany” (external, the tornado) which ripped her out of the Ordinary World.   When she first prayed to go “over the rainbow” she was asking for her old life to die, and by implication her innocence with it.   The stories of “innocent” farm-girls running off with traveling salesmen, ANYTHING to get away from the “ordinary world” of their hum-drum lives, comes to mind here.


Dorothy was willing to kill her old self to become a new self.  Went to war. Realized she always had the power to return home, and did, filled with the realization  that “there’s no place like home”–the fantasy world of Oz melding with her “ordinary world” to create meaning and transformation.




But…back to Glinda for a minute, shall we?  Why didn’t she tell Dorothy that she could always return?  If you don’t ask what GLENDA gets out of it, you are missing the mark.

What is the status of Oz prior to Dorothy’s arrival?   The power would seem to be distributed between the witches of the East and West, the “Wizard of Oz”, and Glinda.  And after Dorothy leaves?


Could she be that manipulative?  Kill two witches and trick the Wizard into leaving?  Could she?  Well…what do we know about her?  We know that she laughs at the death of her rivals.  The “Good” witch.  Right.

I see a sequel, decades later, Dorothy in the dust-bowl, struggling to extract another crop from the failing soil, her girlhood long gone, her face riven with care, hair streaked with gray.  The first decent crop in years, enough to pay off the mortgage.

Then…a tornado swoops in and destroys the crop. As she numbly sorts through the destruction, she finds a bottle. There is a note in it.  She opens it, and there, scrawled in a Munchkin’s hand is a desperate plea: “Dorothy.  Help. Glinda has gone insane. You are our only hope…

Geeze, am I cynical this morning, or what?


Anyway, the point is that once you understand the Hero’s Journey you can not only peel back the layers on classic films, but also understand that the crux points for their heroes will also be the crux points for your own life.


  1. If you want to change your world, do you have a clean image of what your “new” world would be?
  2. Do you know what it will cost to get you there?
  3. What would you have to believe to get you moving?   You have to believe that you CAN and SHOULD make this change, that it will cause more pleasure than pain to do so. If you don’t believe this, you will simply have to wait until a tornado rips you out of your complacency.
  4. What is the total despair, the “dark night of the soul” that failure will hit you with?  Lying about this is like lying about the pain of childbirth.  Get the doctors, midwives, dear friends and family, and the anesthetics ready BEFORE the water breaks, for God’s sake.  Talk to other people who have experienced similar issues, and quantify the price they have paid.  Make up your mind to pay that price, and get ready for the ride of your life.


Oh, and…watch out for the “Glinda” of the world.  They always, ALWAYS, have an agenda.

“Good” witch my butt!



Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

A John Hughes “Spider-Man” movie?

“Peter Parker’s Day Off”?

A very street-level view of the Avenger’s world?  I kind of like that, because we are getting a view of larger events, humanized by the very best Spidey ever, the very first one who actually feels like a kid.




So…everyone knows the story, and it isn’t repeated verbatem in SPIDER MAN: HOMECOMING, thank goodness. There are enough clues around the edges that tell us this is the same universe we’ve known for fifty-five years: kid was bitten by a radioactive spider. Gains powers.  Uncle dies under circumstances that cause kid to take powers more seriously.  Raised by his Aunt May.  Check on all of that.


The difference is that THIS Spider-Man is fifteen years old, AND LOOKS IT.   His concerns are changes in his body, his school status, and people hitting on his unusually attractive Aunt.    It all works.   There is absolutely no reason for Aunt May to be feeble–this is 2017, and fifty is the new thirty.


And at 15, I remember the big question being: where do I fit in the world?  Who am I?  And for a kid who can catch a car, that is part “will the girls ever dig me?” and part “can I hang out with Captain America?” and his road to that paradise is the mentorship of Tony Stark.  This subplot works because we KNOW Tony is seriously messed up, with mommy/daddy issues that go marrow-deep (a conversation with Batman about such things would be SUCH a fascinating conversation, wouldn’t it?  I mean…Tony’s parents died thirty or so years ago. He’s had a half-billion dollars in therapy, and still a mess.   In contrast, T’Challa’s father died IN HIS ARMS, the thunder of the explosion still in his ears…and within a week he had his emotions under control.  What a stud!  Sorry.   That BLACK PANTHER trailer was up there in IMAX 3D, and I kinda lost my shit.)


Anyway, Tony has an urge to mentor and protect, using Happy Hogan as go-between.  Peter wants to be an Avenger, and letting that desire disrupt his schooling.  Be an Avenger!  Be a kid.


Those are the twin urges driving this movie, and both are followed well.  If the problem is his powers, the answer lies in paying attention to the experiences happening along the Road of Trials, as he seeks to master his new Spider Suit (courtesy of Stark), solve little crimes, and then unravel a larger affair as a guy named Toomes, played wonderfully by Michael Keaton, becomes a blue-collar master criminal using salvaged Chitari tech.


Spidey has an opportunity to prove his value to Stark, and pushes every edge looking for loopholes in their verbal contract, chasing after Toomes, who is just trying to support his family, ultimately creating the most sympathetic villain  this side of Winter Soldier.


The conversations about family, honor, responsibility, maturity and more feel like building UP from a coming-of-age story rather than “seeding” these concerns into a Superhero framework like sticking cloves in a ham…almost.  Yeah, you can feel the Mighty Marvel Machine chugging along just off-screen, delivering the compulsary beats, but in the end, decisions are made that represent genuine change.  Relationships end. Consequences are suffered.  And loyalties and values tested.


Its strange to watch all of this happening.  I was ten years old when Spider-Man first appeared, and he was the very first hero who felt like ME.  When the movies came out, Tobey McGuire was enough younger than me that I was willing to squint and pretend I believed he was a high school kid.  Well…Tom Holland feels like that original Spider-Man FELT when I was ten. A kid, like I was.  Awkward, goofy, messy, still figuring it out.




Welcome Home, Spidey.   Didn’t even realize how much I missed you.  It wouldn’t be fair to measure this film by the standards of the Spider-Man geek in my heart.   But for a standard moviegoer, just looking for entertainment, I think a “B+” does the job.

But in my heart…I am stunned with joy at what the Marvel Universe is creating, movies that can’t be measured on any real external scale any more than “Bond” movies can.  Pointless to try.  You’re either on that wavelength, or you aren’t.




Make Mine Marvel!


Recapping “Better Call Saul”



Most stories are about growth and change.  But most series drama is not about growth–they are about revelation of character.  This is cyclical in a James Bond movie–the arc is always from external image (playboy) to internal reality (world’s deadliest commando), with only a couple of exceptions to the rule.


Television is evolving into a multi-season arc of personal revelation.  BREAKING BAD is a perfect example, and I suspect that BETTER CALL SAUL will be similar.   Maybe two more seasons to dovetail the story? And it is unfortunate that some of the actors seem to be aging swiftly, making it harder and harder to believe the events took place earlier in the time line.


But hell, it’s make-believe.




Can we now make a guess about Jimmy and his arc?  We know where he ended up, as “Saul”: an amoral toadie to monsters, with a certain sweetness and sincerity that ingratiated him. But he was a bottom-feeder, a remora among sharks, at the best.  That’s his end point.


I think that for most of human history, we’ve assumed that people are simply born a particular way, and they then act out that essence over their lifetmes. It is a far more contemporary outlook to suggest that we are the products of our environments, and more modern still to suggest that we are interwoven therewith–that there is an interaction between that environment and our potential that is so complex we can barely model it.


This is why I find it safer to assume equality between groups–any other point of view risks simply ignoring data, and glorifying your own tribe. Even worse if your two tribes are interwoven, such that you might well merely be deflecting guilt, or justifying theft and even murder.


Looking at Jimmy, we certainly have an interwoven braid, a basic corruption combined with a real sweetness and likeability that makes him even more dangerous.  Remember where he ends up: alone. Broken and broke.  Having facilitated countless deaths, many of them innocent. And probably still believing he had no other options, that he is the good guy in all of this.


How do we get there?  Let’s try a story.




We know that Jimmy and Chuck were close when they were children, and that Chuck felt some responsibility for Jimmy…well, actually, he was just the “responsible” one.  “Slippin’ Jimmy” was the one who got away with everything, stole and lied and cheated, but somehow made people love him anyway.  In comparison, people RESPECT Chuck, but don’t really warm up to him.


Chuck is brilliant, Jimmy is clever.  “Clever” means he can figure out a way to get the results, but always by cheating and lying.  And here he had a choice: modest results in life being an honest man, or try to live up to his Big Brother’s example and produce massive results…but have to cut corners at every turn.


Caught in a Smother’s Brothers nightmare (“Mom loved YOU best”)  Chuck excelled at building a business, but his personal life was…well, so far as we can see, non-existent.   Jimmy leverages his “likeabilty” to accomplish things, which is fine, so long as that combines with a sense of genuinely wishing to serve people, seeing them as ends rather than means.


But Jimmy doesn’t.  People aren’t quite real to him, and you can see the waves of corruption and damage washing out from him.   There is no trace of Chuck or girlfriend Kim.  Those relationships are either destroyed…or the people themselves are dead.


I made a guess a year ago: some traumatic incident would destroy Jimmy’s willingness to continue using his birth name.   Watching what he was willing to do to “win” against his psychologically fragile brother made me suspect that Chuck would die.   We needed an event that could not be undone. Jimmy believes he can sleaze his way out of anything–he’s pretty much gotten away with it his whole life.



Let’s try this:

Once upon a time there were two brothers named Chuck and Jimmy.  Chuck was brilliant, but had few friends.   Jimmy was clever enough, but everyone liked him.  Jimmy saw that he could be clever enough to get money without working, while Chuck tried to win his parents’ love by studying and working hard.


It didn’t really work: on her deathbed, their mother called for Jimmy, not Chuck. In anger, Chuck lied to Jimmy about it.   Over the years, Chuck buried himself in creating a successful law firm. To his horror, after watching Jimmy lie cheat and steal his way through life, he watched his younger brother graduate from a cut-rate mail-order law school and actually get a degree…and a job at Chuck’s own firm.


Chuck opposed that hiring, knowing that Jimmy would cheat and lie here as well.  Jimmy resented the fact that Chuck can’t have faith that he could turn over a new leaf.  And there the basic conflict entered its fatal death-match.


Because Jimmy did cheat. And get fired.  And sought to compete with his brother through unethical means, leading to a confrontation where Jimmy used Chuck’s mental instability to “prove” his own innocence.


This is the turning point in the story, a death spiral for Chuck’s career and life, and the beginning of an action that cannot be undone.   Jimmy has a brush with conscience when girlfriend Kim has a near-death experience (plausibly triggered by Jimmy’s own problems), and tells the truth to a group at a retirement home out of guilt, sacrificing his own profit to save an old lady’s friendships.


But his peace offering to his brother doesn’t go as well. Chuck sees/believes that Jimmy will never change, will destroy anything and everything around him, and tells Jimmy he never really cared much about him.


Plausibly this is a lie.  Why?  To hurt Jimmy?  Or possibly to make the next action less painful?   Because Chuck, having lost his position at the firm, attempts suicide, and there the season leaves things.   Did he actually feel guilt that as Big Brother he “failed” Jimmy so completely?  And reducing the pain Jimmy would feel on hearing of his brother’s death by damaging their relationship?  Or was it just a final “fuck you”?


Hard to say.

Their relationship was so poisoned, love and hate and resentment and admiration so intertwined that there is only one thing I think can be determined for sure:


Jimmy will not and cannot recover. Chuck may die, or may be in a hospital, horribly disfigured, for life. Kim may die somehow, or simply leave him. Perhaps Jimmy will grasp what a spoiler he is, and drive her away for her own good.


What was Jimmy as a child?  Charming, clever, dishonest.  Had he not succeeded in his early transgressions, he might have experienced enough pain to force him to change his ways.   Had he not admired his big brother so much, he might have settled for a smaller life that didn’t require lies and cheating.


If Musashi’s first principle is “Do Not Think Dishonestly” it is reasonable to think that nothing, NOTHING that went wrong in Jimmy’s life would have been irreversible and ultimately destructive, but for the lying.  That single thing would have made the difference.


Jimmy failed his test, couldn’t survive his leap of faith: to believe a life of meaning could exist without “beating” Chuck at his own game.   Honesty would have saved him. Or genuinely seeing other human beings as ends rather than means.  Or shrinking his ego and settling for a smaller life. Or even not being so plausible and likeable.


In combination, it was deadly.  He trashed his life completely, to the point that he needed to reinvent himself.


Jimmy cannot clean up his mess. He’ll just become a new person and start over again. But all that rot is down in the psychic basement.


This is what happens when you don’t START with a commitment to be honest, to value others for their own sake, and not place yourself above them, not value yourself by whether you can accomplish what they accomplish.


It’s a nightmare. And a tragedy.


Saul is coming.   I can’t wait.