Movie Review

Halloween (2018) and “Toxic Humanity”

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

 

(SERIOUS SPOILERS)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

No.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The answer, as always, is love.

 

 

Be kind to yourself…and love each other

Steve

 

www.geeksguidetosoulmates.com

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“As Good As It Gets” (1997): Equality or Complementarity?

In the 1997 Romantic comedy written by James L. Brooks, Helen Hunt plays a waitress, CAROL CONNOLY, a single mother with a chronically ill son.

There is a terrific scene where Carol brings a boyfriend home for (hopefully) some awkward sex on the couch of her shabby apartment. She wants him, he wants her…she hopes for a night of passion, something to make her remember she is a woman, filled with hope and life and love and possibility, and not just a mother or a worker drone. Hope. Hope is the only cure for desperation.

But even though both are willing, everything goes wrong, because her sick child needs her, and as every good parent knows, a child’s needs trump EVERYTHING else. After a humiliating (and painfully funny and real) effort to balance a sex life with Mommy instincts the potential boyfriend gives up and leaves, and she is left alone.

Meanwhile, one of her steady customers at the diner, MELVIN UDALL, is a miserable excuse for a human being, a misanthropic homophobe with obsessive-compulsive disorder…but a wealthy, successful writer. She somehow sees his humanity, and is one of the only people in the world who seems to actually connect with him, mostly over his phobia about germs.

Their tenuous connection creates the entire film (which is terrific, funny, and heartfelt) as these two terribly wounded and imbalanced people carefully circle each other. The expression “how do porcupines mate? Very carefully” comes to mind.

And by the end of the film, Carol and Melvin have the potential to create a healthy relationship. Two imbalanced people in a balanced relationship? Sure. They aren’t equal — but they ARE complementary. They have a chance. If they give honestly and fully of what they have,

On the surface, they seem so totally incompatible that the situation is absurd. But audiences and critics loved it, and I suggest that they loved it because there is an essential truth lurking under the surface.

And it is this: for two people to have a relationship they must be in balance. Note that I didn’t say “equal” — that may well be where we’re heading as a culture, but much of the world isn’t there yet. But if you were to divide people up into say 10 different arenas of life: income, intelligence, emotional stability, fitness, attractiveness, energy, judgement self-love, capacity to love others, joy, spirituality…whatever basic qualities you see in the world, and give them 1–10 points per category, what you’d see is that if you add up the points, you’ll never see a vast mismatch. An APPARENT mismatch, where one person is terrific and the other is miserable S.O.B. would lower points in the “judgement” category, wouldn’t it? The “Self Respect” category? Maybe raise points in the S.O.B.’s “charisma” category?

The future might well be “my level of beauty and power in exchange for yours” but the past, and perhaps the present is usually “His power for Her beauty”. Anyone watching supermodels dating old millionaires has seen this at work clearly, and it is up to your politics and view of humanity to decide who is exploiting whom.

I say let’s give them BOTH credit, shall we? Each has traded what they have for the very best they could get. What is that exchange? If it is not an even-steven equality exchange, is it security for fertility? Luxury and social mobility for Sex? Intelligence for Emotional balance? Whatever you want, but find that balance point, and you’ll understand people more deeply. And the beautiful thing is that unlike “Incel Insanity”, saying this HAS (often) been our past DOES NOT mean it is our future. We can change this. But we have to look at it without guilt, blame, or shame. And ask ourselves how we want relationships to work in the future.

But one thing is certain: there is no cheating. We don’t attract what we want. We attract what we ARE. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you have the power to improve yourself, and it begins with the honesty to admit we need to do it.

Helen Hunt has sanity, nurturance, beauty, emotional stability. Melvin has the financial stability, generated by writing romance novels filled with yearning. Note that he didn’t make his money selling manhole covers or something emotionally neutral: HE UNDERSTANDS THE YEARNING. He is just too damaged to connect with it in his own life.

Can you see the balance? If she had been more financially stable, do you think she’d have been as likely to bond with him? Hardly. And if he had been more emotionally stable, do you think it likely that he’d have found a woman with her positive characteristics, but less need and chaos? Likely, isn’t it?

There is nothing negative about this, unless you choose to see it that way. Each can heal and help the other. And that yearning, that need, that sense of two human beings seeking to “fit” each other’s lives like a pair of jigsaw puzzle pieces, once it “clicks”, IF it “clicks”…is “As Good As It Gets.”

Brilliant title, wasn’t it?

In a very real sense, that’s all there is to love. Equality or complementarity. Two lonely souls who fit. Feeling that together, you are more than you were alone.

Here is how you can test this notion: create a list of the basic human characteristics. Look for people who have been happily married for more than 20 years. And look at that list, giving them each rough scores in the categories. If you do this often enough, tweaking as you go, you’ll start seeing the pattern: stable couples are roughly equivalent, even if their scores in different categories vary wildly (as with Carol and Melvin). You’ll start to glimpse a truth, as well as start understanding your own values and potential and areas you might want to work on.

Its kind of like a see-saw, where the two people have to be roughly equivalent in order to balance. Society can shift the fulcrum, but if it shifts too much, if there is too much of a power imbalance, I suggest the society itself stops functioning, and they’ll be out-competed by a healthier culture. Men and women HAVE to treat each other with a certain irreducible amount of respect and care, or the whole thing falls apart.

See that, and you begin to end the war between loving human beings, and see that we’ve been doing the best we can do with the resources we have. We have new resources now, meaning new opportunities…but we have to understand how we got here to open the door to the future.

Love yourselves, and be kind to each other…

Steve

www.geeksguidetosoulmates.com

“Get Away From Her, You B@#$!”

Remember “Aliens”? Sure you do.  Ripley (the great Sigourney Weaver) survived the alien attack on her space tugboat Nostromo, awakening decades later in a new world.   When she is asked to lead a group of tough space marines back to the planet where her ship originally made contact, she hates the notion…but must, both to save hapless colonists and stop her own nightmares.  The space marines are tough and willing, but overmatched by the ferocious aliens that have overrun the planet, underlead by an inexperienced officer.  Ripley, there only as an observer, must take control of the situation to save the lives of the savaged marines, escaping an ambush just in time to see their escape ship blown to pieces.

 

“Game Over Man!  Game Over!”

 

Trapped in the station waiting for a nuclear reactor to overload and betting all their hopes on the slender chance of getting a second rescue ship from orbit, Ripley leads the survivors in barricading the station, bonding to the single survivor of the initial alien assault: a little girl called Newt who managed to survive by crawling in the air spaces.  When the aliens overrun them, and Newt is taken alive, Ripley is pushed beyond terror to descend into the bowels of the station to save the child.   She does, but the alien queen follows them into their escape ship as the station blows up behind them.

 

All seems lost, but at this point Ripley, protecting her comrades and particularly the child she has sworn to save, goes beyond all fear, beyond any ordinary human consideration, becoming the Primal Mother, stepping into the strongest position any human being can come from: “I’m ready to die, and I’m ready to take you with me.”   Does anyone doubt that Ripley would have gladly perished, gone out that airlock with the alien queen, if that was what it took to save that little girl?  When she said those six words:  “Get away from her you BITCH!” the audience cheered as I’ve never seen.  She was beaten.  Wiped out. Finished. Out of options. All of the “space marines” were defeated or dead, her android torn in half, with no weapons, nothing but her mother’s heart and a ferocious will NOT to survived, but to die dealing death.  Few forces can stand up to such courage and power.

 

She won.  Not just her own life, not just defeating the alien queen, but winning the most precious things in the world: the love of a little girl (‘Mommy!”) and the knowledge that, yes…it was safe to dream again.

 

THAT is a movie.  And it works because it connects with a core truth.   It isn’t what you fight with, its what you fight for.   And she was able to rise to the occasion because she had pure motivation.

 

She did what I think ALL of us would do, if we understood what was at stake.

 

##

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I remember talking to a student about a toxic relationship.  The guy she was with was just a nightmare of anger and depression, negative habits and needy accusations, flirting with violence.  She’d actually had kids with him, and the children were being negatively affected years after the separation. “Why did you marry him?”  She fumbled the answer a bit, but finally came back with “he needed love.,” she said.  Sure, he had problems, but “troubled people need love too.”

 

Yes, I said. But they don’t need it from YOU.

 

I asked a question that has been very valuable over the years: “would you have wanted your DAUGHTER  to marry him?”  And the vague, unfocused, defensive lok in her eyes disappeared and she came back sharply with “hell no.”

 

Predictable.  Why are we willing to accept for ourselves what we would not want for our children?  Because our children hold our hope for the future, our own dreams, rooted in our childhoods, reaching beyond our own lifetimes.    We love them with all our hearts.

 

Would that we loved ourselves the same way.  Our bodies and psyches hold a lifetime of scars, are “black bags” of unprocessed emotions, tangled values, confused beliefs and distorted memories.   Our CHILDREN are worth the moon…but OUR value is questionable.

 

But wait…if we make bad relationship choices, don’t those affect our future and present children.   Damaging them to continue this cycle on and on? Isn’t this a paradox? We’ll do it for our kids, but can’t do it for ourselves. And in not doing it for ourselves, we lay the burden on our children, creating nightmares for generations to come….

 

 

It can stop now.  Understanding the pattern gives us a new opportunity to come from love rather than chasing after it.   We KNOW how to stop the cycle.  All it takes is connecting to the “child” self within us, committing to protect our own hearts, and healing and improving ourselves until we are on the same frequency as the HEALTHY people who are looking for love.

 

It really is that simple. And if you don’t find them?  You are still happy and healthy. It is the ONLY approach that cannot lose, since the end point is and always has been finding joy in this world.

 

How?

 

Spend a few minutes daily sitting quietly and visualizing the child you were, making them so young that whatever damage you’ve suffered has yet to hit.   See her vulnerability and promise, and commit to protecting her at ALL costs, making her life as wonderful and beautiful as possible. And never letting ANYONE play with her unless they pass your stringent standards.  And….disciplining her with love, as well, making sure she takes care of herself: discipline is love. SOMEONE has to be the parent, and she can’t do it.  You have to.

 

Do that…and you become the hero in your own story, capable of slaying dragons….or riding them, if you would.   Do this…and you earn your way into the company of other dragon-slayers, dragon-riders.  And if you think you could find a worthy partner in such company…

 

The door is open before you.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.geeksguidetosoulmates.com

Tom Cruise weirds me out a bit…

Leaving Malibu today to drive down to San Diego, where we’ll connect with Nicki.  Probably see “Mission Impossible” tonight.

 

Of course, one motivation is to watch Tom Cruise’s insanity manifesting onscreen. Since Douglas Fairbanks (at least) we’ve been fascinated by stars who “do all their own stunts” and yes, it DOES add to the enjoyment of the film itself. Hard to say “that’s impossible!” when you know a stuntman actually did it, that it isn’t green-screen.

 

And it is hard to say: “no one person could do all those things” when you know that, yes, one human being really did do all (or MOST…even Jackie “all his own stunts!” Chan used stuntmen for certain stunts, at least as far back as “Rumble In The Bronx.”)

 

When you have a star vehicle like “MI”, clearly tailored to one actor’s personality…well, that’s when you start seeing the difference between a “star” and an “actor”.  A “star” is someone whose personal charisma  brings people to the theater.  They may or may not be fine actors, and fine actors are rarely stars. When you get both in the same human being (say, Meryl Streep), you have something special.

 

Cruise’s personal picadillos never bothered me much. Really.  So I could just watch his movies and enjoy his performances without worrying about Xenu or whatever. He DID weird me out in MI-2, however.   In that movie, he suddenly began doing acrobatic martial arts moves.  He was about 40 at the time, and NO ONE starts doing moves like that at 40. They just…don’t.  Either you have been doing them prior to that time, or you just don’t learn them. That is a rule that is easy to support.

 

But he did.

I remember thinking that if other Scientologists demonstrated similar capacities, I’d have signed up for an e-meter session the next day.  (Well…ANOTHER e-meter session.   I’ve had one, of course, and found the experience like working with a low-level therapist who has you wired to a galvanic skin response monitor while asking you personal questions.  Not a bad set up at all, but nothing I cared to go more deeply into).

 

Since that time, he has demonstrated other high-level body-mind skills that suggest some things to me about him.

 

  1. He has VERY high integration with his fear response.  Especially around heights.
  2. Very high pain tolerance. No way to learn all those things, or push himself that way, without de-inhibiting the emergency brakes that reserve our life-and-death energies for…well, for emergencies.
  3. Very “clear” motivations, leading to bizarrely high discipline.  And here Dianetics might come into it–if he removes the distractions and complications, so that he can just “be”. But he is also, by all accounts, insanely driven, and an adrenaline junkie.   Makes for a hyper-active, hyper competent solo human being. Not much of a marriage partner or parent, however.

F

What we’re looking at is a human being who has near total permission to go all-out every day.  I’d bet he gets about 4 hours sleep a night, has a satyr’s sex drive, and a phenomenal memory.   In other words, he is fully actualized in a narrow and probably imbalanced range of being.

 

Remember that thing about relationships.  The truth is that most human beings have about the same amount of “stuff”.  Human clay.  There are certainly people who seem to just have “more” to begin with. But most of the real excellence you see is people who form and shape their basic clay into attractive forms.  Most of the REALLY excellent people are excellent in one arena, average or less than average in others.  They have pushed all their “stuff” into one corner, and stand atop that heap. Its like those houses at Universal City…look great from one direction, but have no back walls, and are empty.  It may be a house, but it ain’t no home.

 

Easy to have the best body in the gym if you sleep in your van, and do nothing but train, sleep, and eat tuna fish.  That’s not a life.

Not saying that about Tom.   I hope he’s having a great life, with stupendous fun, and is being who he wants and needs to be in life. But…if he was my Dad, I’d wish he was more…present.

 

Cruise really does fascinate me, and I’d love to have an hour of his time one day. But then, so would millions of others.  I doubt they’d ask the questions that puzzle ME, however.  Oh, well…I guess I’ll just sit back and watch the fun.  Damn, I love movies.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.morningwriters.com

 

(P.S.–just for fun, here’s an article about his workout routine.   https://workoutinfoguru.com/tom-cruise-workout/)

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (2018)

Cher KILLED “Fernando” in “Mama Mia: Here We Go Again.”   Fabulous. And watching Pierce Brosnan “sing” and “dance” through (my personal favorite Abba song) “Dancing Queen” was worth the price of admission. The movie is a buttermilk pancake: warm, fluffy, sugar-dusted, tasty and enjoyable without being in the least filling.   So much fun.

 

##

 

The movie deals with the back-story for Meryl Streep’s character Donna, who has a lovely daughter by one of three different men, no one knows who. And the question of exactly how this happened apparently hung over the original film and Broadway play.  “Here we go again” sets out to answer this question, (mostly) without the participation of Streep, or any first-tier Abba songs to punctuate the frolics.

 

And…the answer is actually pretty sweet.  I wasn’t sure it was going to work, but about half-way through the movie, I realized that I knew Donna.  A free-spirited, beautiful, sensual young woman in the prime of her life, leaving college and off on an adventure of travel and romance, with no idea which way life will take her.   I was kinda holding my breath–I wanted to adore her, which meant I wanted to respect her choices, to see how this could happen without intoxication or poor judgement.

 

And…frankly, they pulled it off.   The core of “Mamma Mia 2” is a celebration of love and life, of friendship and family, birth and death, and the primacy of song to express powerful emotion.  I’ve always loved musicals, where the characters are so filled to bursting with emotion that they MUST burst out into dance and song or they might explode.

 

Have you ever done that? Greeted the morning with a song?   I used to do my morning joint recovery drills to some saucy, sexy song (like “Black Velvet”.  Yum) to get the juices going first thing. Something that does that for YOU, while stretching, chanting, walking, rebounding…would be a terrific way to take another step on the road to life.

 

Anyway, if “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” sounds like fun, you will probably find it so.  I did.

 

And oh…did I say that Cher was great?

 

Namaste

Steve

www.morningwriters.com

Celebrating Your Life

Drove back from San Diego last night, where I attended the Comic Con memorial panel for Harlan Ellison.   Remarkable man.    I might post part of the audio for that later.

 

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Taking the week off to celebrate my 20th anniversary with Tananarive. I’ll have more thoughts about that later–so many to think about.   Eulogizing a dear friend, celebrating the love of my life.  We went to see EQUALIZER last night, which was a little disjointed in terms of tone, but very satisfying, with a last act that came out of nowhere, but still worked.

 

Basically, an ex-intelligence agent named McCall (Denzel Washington) seeks redemption through using his special skills to aid ordinary people.  When one of his closest friends is killed, he is set on a mission of personal revenge.    Mixed with this story is his attempt to save the soul of a street kid balanced between art school and selling drugs.  We’ve seen all of this before, but Denzel and director Antoine Fuqua make it fun.

 

In a LIFEWRITING sense, what can we extract from this?  Well, he’s a hero seeking healing, expiating guilt for the terrible things he did for the government by helping the helpless. Saving his own soul.   One can sense that this man is a fingernail away from damnation, and like John Wick, only his relationships, his clinging to a code of honor, provides salvation. One might almost ask why a man capable of such violence would risk his heart by caring for ANYONE.

 

Well…why indeed. Why love our friends, when we will only lose them? Why fall in love at all, when it makes you hostage to fortune?

 

Because that’s what makes life worth while.   If you could live forever sitting in a cave eating raw rice, alone, for eternity?   I would not.   My experiences, my loves, my friends make existence worth while.

 

But because loss is inevitable, it is CRITICAL that we celebrate as well.  Not to just wait for deaths or anniversaries or special occasions positive or negative to stand up and proclaim our gratitude for existence.

 

Each of us must wrestle with this, and the best way to deal with the inevitable pain, and loss, and sense of incompletion is to tell the people we love that we love them EVERY DAY.  Be grateful for our blessings EVERY DAY.   Celebrate the health and strength of our bodies while we have them EVERY DAY.

 

So…What is the most important thing for you to accomplish this week?  Why do you want it?  How will it empower your life?   What are you grateful for RIGHT NOW that can help you believe that if you give this outcome, this relationship, this “push” 100%, throw off your brakes, you will get more pleasure than pain?

 

Because…if you do, if you BELIEVE that doing this thing will creat more pleasure than pain, you will move in that direction. The MORE pleasure you will gain, and the MORE pain you will avoid, the more you will WANT to do it, the more pulled toward it.

 

I was tired after traveling to Carolina…but happy to drive to San Diego to help people say goodbye to my friend.   It fed my heart.

 

Now…I don’t need much motivation to want to take this week with Tananarive to remember how blessed I am, and all the joy we’ve shared for two decades.  Jason is safe at camp, and all is well in the world.

 

It took money, and work, and shuffling the schedule to get this time…but the motivation to do it was clear, and strong.

 

It isn’t always so clear.  EVERY day we have to take steps, and only if we remember how finite life is, how precious our loves and enthusiasms and contributions are, can we get up in the morning, deal with our tasks, create our dreams, and go to bed at night remembering how fortunate we are.

 

Every morning…think of the most important thing you must do this day, this week, this month. Every morning, remember WHY this special thing (or things) will bring you health, passion, power, love, expression, knowledge, and contribution. If you can…the amount of enthusiasm and focus you experience will be extraordinary.

 

Don’t you deserve that?  One day, those you love will be eulogizing YOU.  What do you want them to say?  How do you want to be remembered?

 

Don’t you want to live life TODAY, while you can?

 

So..take your first few minutes of the day.   Remember your blessings.  Visualize your goals.  Take deep breaths, and move to anchor yourself into your body with your MORNING RITUAL.   And then…celebrate another 24 hours of existence.

 

If you don’t…who will?

 

Namaste

Steve

 

www.morningwriters.com

SuperYou

My sister Joyce got re-married yesterday, and it was great.  At the reception, I met some new cousins, and we bonded over discussions of comic book mythology.   One subject was the reason DC is struggling in the cinema (but producing really good television animation).  There are a lot of layers here, but part of it is that Zach Snyder doesn’t really seem to believe in heroes and heroism, and in trying to imitate the success of “The Dark Knight” they gave the reins of their universe to a man who doesn’t share a core philosophy with the mythology that birthed it.

 

“The Dark Knight” works because Batman is…well, he’s a figure of fear:  “Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, and my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts.”  Right?  He is angsty, and in class “dark” mode never got over losing his parents, which implies psychological dysfunction to ME.   The twisted world of sociopaths and warped sexuality makes total sense.

 

But Superman is not a figure of fear. He is a figure of INSPIRATION.   The classic character is “the Big Blue Boy Scout.”  He stands for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”  If THAT character is angsty…we have a problem.

 

I mean, if a movie-star handsome being with godlike powers who, in this incarnation, can even get laid, who is adored by the planet…if THAT being is depressed, what hope is there for the rest of us?  If we accept THAT being as struggling with his emotions, we might as well give the @#$$ up.  It is a pale and terrible world IMO.    That creature is not a source of inspiration. We would spend all our time wondering when he would suicide and take us with him.

 

A very different being. And I suggest to you that THAT image, that hero, is NOT what we have loved for eighty years.  It is a creature from Snyder’s world, and I don’t believe he would be capable of creating an iconic hero. No…remember his work on WATCHMEN, which I loved.  He is a deconstructionist, untrusting of the notion of “heroes”, seeing in all of them a psychopathology that manifests as alienation (Dr. Manhattan), insanity (Rorshach), sexual dysfunction (Owl) and mommy issues (Silk Spectre) as well as sociopathy and self pity (The Comedian).  Alan Moore’s vision was brilliant, and if Snyder’s version was almost slavishly imitative rather than re-imagining for the screen, I still thought he did a better job than I ever expected to see.

 

But that is NOT Superman, I suggest to you.  And the fact that the Suits at DC brought him in suggests to me that they were not and never were comic book fans. They don’t “get” it, so they imitated the external structure of what succeeded with Dark Night, without asking themselves about the inner world of the fans.

 

##

 

What do we really want?  If the Dalai Lama is correct that the meaning of life is to seek joy, then every action we take in life is trying to evade pain and gain pleasure.  The degree to which maturation is the process of learning to postpone IMMEDIATE pleasure for greater long-term gain is  a factor all parents must teach their children.

 

Our entertainments, then, would be things that adjust our tension levels up or down into an optimal range.  Too little stress? Ride a roller coaster or watch a horror movie. Too much stress? Again…just as a hyperactive child can actually grow more relaxed and focused with doses of “uppers”, we can use suspense and even horror to make us so tense we become…relaxed.

 

But with our Superheroes, we want to see ourselves, or some idealized versions of ourselves, or some exaggerated version.  The Hulk represents the anger we fear will rage out of control. Spider-Man deals with the guilt of a bad adolescent choice, choosing to dedicate himself to service. The Fantastic Four struggle to hold a family together under extraordinary circumstances.

 

Batman is the man who channels his personal demons into becoming a force even demons will fear, for the sake of protecting the innocent.

 

Wonder Woman is the outsider of pure heart, come to the world of Men to show the power of love.

 

Superman is the story of ultimate power combined with a clear and humane vision, a pure heart. The being who could rule the world, and instead chooses to serve.

 

This is primal stuff, because we all struggle with our sense of shame, or guilt, or fear.  We all feel that disconnection from the world. We wake up in the morning unsure who we are, and go to bed at night without confidence that our actions have made any difference at all.

 

Well…we DO make a difference. We DO matter. It IS possible to know who you are.   But we have to keep our eyes on the prize, or we’ll get lost in the small and draining tasks of life.  The thousands of demands made of us every day.

 

These icons represent the core problems of life, and the human qualities that can overcome them.  We NEED our heroes.  All cultures have them, so I strongly suspect that they are a vital aspect of our cultural psychology.

 

If you are a writer, create your characters with care, understanding what your readers really want, deep inside: movement away from pain, toward pleasure.  How does your writing serve that?

 

If you are a reader, then find the hero within yourself, understand their struggle, and find the resources you need to stand up and be the best you can be, every day, for the sake of your own heart, and that of your children and their children…or your nieces and nephews and neighbors.  One way or another, find the strength to give every day of your life the meaning you deserve.

 

If you won’t…who will?

 

 

Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime…

Steve

 

(P.S….Heroes have monsters and villains to trigger their emergency powers.  You have the responsibility of finding a way to tap into your real identity, your heroic nature, even though life is more of a slow boil than a raging fire.   Learn how at: www.morningwriters.com)

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.

##

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.

 

##

 

 

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!)

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!

#####

 

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