Writing

Steven Barnes is a New York Times bestselling, award-winning novelist and screenwriter who is the creator of the Lifewriting™ writing course, which he has taught nationwide. He recently won an NAACP Image Award as co-author of the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series with actor Blair Underwood and his wife, Tananarive Due. Nominated for Hugo, Nebula, and Cable Ace awards, writer of the Emmy-winning “A Stitch In Time” episode of The Outer Limits, winner of the Endeavor and the NAACP Image Awards, NY Times Bestselling author, Steven has written comic books, animation, newspaper copy, magazine articles, television scripts and three million words of published fiction published in seven languages, making him one of the world’s most honored, diverse and popular writers.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

1965

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

##

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

###

 

THE ALIENS ARE HERE

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Survival (making money)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Proposed: There are basic two ways to view this.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What are the principles?

 

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

 

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

 

Understand history.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

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Your “Incredible” Life

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And remember…no capes!

 

 

Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime!

Steve

www.lifewritingpremium.com

Rules for “Author’s Club”

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

There is the danger that it will be no good.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Write with Passion!

Steve

Everyone Wants the First Four

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

And now, I return to my regularly scheduled musings.

 

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

“Cobra Kai” and cultural appropriation

Some time back, I watched a documentary about  master Fumio Demura, one of the first to bring authentic Japanese karate (Shito-ryu) to the United States.   I thought of him because he was Pat Morita’s stunt double for the Karate Kid movies.

 

One of the things that struck me about the documentary was his struggles to integrate into our culture, his uncertainty about sharing his cultural treasure with us, the degree to which his masters in Japan didn’t really want him sharing (“cultural appropriation” anyone?) and his superhuman efforts to create not just a life of meaning but to uplift the children of Japan’s former antagonist.

 

As he is struggling with health issues now, the story is all the more poignant.  One of the most affecting portions was his interactions with Pat Morita.  Morita adored him, and the respect was fully returned. The “Mr. Miyagi” character was greatly beloved in Demura’s social and professional circles, and Morita was a super-star, the one who had “made it.”   They were so happy that he had made it, and his success was a beacon of hope and pride to the Japanese-American community. The love and admiration at a testimonial dinner when Morita took the podium was unmistakable. The shining faces made me so happy.

 

The “cultural appropriation” question is difficult. While it is true that all social or technological progress is a matter of exchanges between different people, there is also the very real fact that oppressed, dominated, colonized or marginalized people often feel that they have very little that is “theirs”, and it hurts to see that tiny remaining uniqueness diluted or misinterpreted. The fact that it is generally the larger group, often the dominator group, arrogantly asserting their right to take whatever they want is unfortunate.

 

Those are the polarities, and I can see both positions: the urge to protect, and the reality that we must share.

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There is something missing from the “Cobra Kai” series, and while it is not unrealistic, and I really enjoyed the series, it didn’t hit me until this morning what it was.

 

Whereas the original movie was about a boy who wanted to find his way to manhood, and a man who needed an apprentice (there are only two stories, some say: the young man grows up, and the old man faces death.  Karate Kid touches both), it is also about the beauty of stepping outside your normal reality to see life from a different position.  And…the sharing of not just two lives, Daniel Larusso and Nariyoshi Miyagi, a  war hero and karate master. They need each other, and the exchanges between them are precious and beautiful.

 

Daniel learns an Okinawan art of power and grace, and the external “Rocky” structure of the film isn’t as important as his internal journey.

 

If I have a problem with “Cobra Kai” it is the reality that as martial arts moved away from the first generation, a matter of Japanese and Okinawan immigrants sharing their cultural treasure of body-mind unity with American students, the next generation was of Americans, some studying in the East, others here in America, opening their own schools. No more direct transmission.  And while great respect is shown the memory of Miyagi, I cannot help but wish that some of that dynamic could have been maintained.

 

Now, it is just about Americans teaching Americans, and while there is a little color in the system (a Latino student, a maybe 1/4 black student) it is basically all white people’s issues and challenges.

 

Again…this is statistically accurate. It is also legitimate.  Artists have not just the right but the responsibility to represent their experience.  I just…mourn a bit. When the only Asian in the cast is the villain, I flinch.

 

And while the Japanese community has aged out, and many of their children, most perhaps, see themselves more as Americans than Japanese…that creates a different set of problems when roles that COULD go to them are “whitewashed”, which happened egregiously as recently as “Ghost in the Shell” last year.  I know it hurts.

 

To see their images, and roles, and cultural treasures given only to others who often mock their very sense of exclusion.   Damn.  I have no easy answers here.

 

If Larusso’s student had been Japanese, that’s a facile reversal that could have backfired…or it could have been beautiful, if handled well.  But that could have been criticized too: “oh, look at the white guy who is more Japanese than the Asians…”  Sigh.    I understand both sides of that as well, and it is painful to realize that this has happened countless times as different cultures collide.

 

The only real answer I can see is to tell stories with respect and courtesy, with appreciation and understanding, and with both love and the strength to hold your center.

 

The answer is not JUST to beg the makers of excellent shows like “Cobra Kai” to be more sensitive (IMO), but for those who feel they are not represented to learn to express their essence in their art, to work their way into the business, to understand the marketing and sales techniques that allow you to express value to an audience and show them why it is in THEIR interest to buy your wares.

 

Don’t expect people to care for the sake of caring. That’s not human nature.

 

If I try to explain the ways in which INFINITY WAR is problematic, black people tend to agree quickly, white people more likely to argue.

 

Who is right?  One could say that whites are oblivious. Or that black people are too sensitive.

 

How about this?  If we assume equality, you split the difference: both are true.  If the average response from one group is a 5, and of the other a 7, you average them out and get a 6.  You go with the “hmmm.  There is a little more than I thought…but maybe the other side is being too picky. Or not picky enough.”

 

But you listen…while continuing to work to speak your truth and live your life the best you can. I’m not sure anyone can do more.

 

Meanwhile…”Cobra Kai” is a fine extension of many of the themes that made “Karate Kid” wonderful. Family, courage, maturity, awakening sexuality, what it means to find something worth fighting for, the power of both love and strength.  Connection between generations and the need of a father to find a son, a son to find a father.

 

It expands those themes a bit, and promises ways that future seasons could go deeper, explore more. The martial arts, like all profound disciplines,  are metaphors for all of life.  The west doesn’t have much of this body-mind stuff, arguably because the best of them, those that deal with death itself, have been supplanted as “technologies of defense” by firearms, and possibly the Cartesian body-mind split that has done so much damage to our Self-concept.

 

We need it.  And…we went and got it.  Yoga, Karate, Tai Chi and so forth.  Amazing, profound technologies that can take you all the way to genuine knowledge.   They are ours now, no doubt about it. We have our own masters. And have not just the right but the responsibility to teach our children to live within our world with integrity and grace and power and love.

 

And…eventually, if we go deeply enough, we are asking those two questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?”

 

The answer to those questions always takes us to the unity of the human experience, and the concept of Num: one soul looking out through many eyes.

 

The snarky folks complaining about Cultural Appropriation are, IMO, mostly just protecting their right to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, and screw you.

 

But those who appropriate with respect are being what human beings have always been at their best: respectful but moving forward beyond boundaries and dualities, sharing and listening and learning.  Always remembering that there really can be pain on the other side of the issue…but also that, as the Japanese community applauded for Pat Morita, proud that he was bringing their treasure to the American public…there is also joy.

 

No room for snark here.  But much room to celebrate how many ways there are to be human.  It’s what we do.

 

Do it gently, with love.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

Yet More “Infinity War” stuff

SPOILERS (ya think???)

 

Tim Barham said:

“So I have a question, Steven… you noticed, as I did, the only surviving major characters were the (indeed all white) heroes from the first Avengers movie. So the old guard – characters we *know* are on the way out of the franchise – survive, while the new guard – characters we know have future films planned (Black Panther, Spider-man, Doctor Strange) die. Why do you think that is?

 

It seemed so obviously contrived to me that all the original Avengers survived, that I felt there had to be a very particular reason – an important pointer to what will happen in Avengers 4 (seeing as we’re now in a place where those who have to ultimately survive are dead, and those we expect to die – or at the very least retire – are alive).

 

My point being – if the twist of Avengers 4 involves those who died in Infinity War coming back, and something bad happening to those who survived, then those who died were chosen by dint of having an ongoing involvement in the franchise, and that’s the extent of it.

 

And it’s the sad fact of MCU history – all white heroes until Black Panther – that means all we’re left with, for now, is white heroes.

 

BTW, I get this is all pretty irrelevant to the disappointment this movie would have been to Jason (and you) – seeing all his black heroes die. And I’m not trying to take away from that, or justify it. And I’m certainly not trying to explain or condone this movie’s treatment of Wakanda. I’m just wondering, given the overall story line that might be planned, whether who died would have changed under a black director, for example – whether the problem here is more a consequence of the lily white history of the franchise than anything else.”

###

 

Dear Tim:

 

Good questions.  Hopefully, some good answers.

  1. The movie was a vast improvement over the original comic book, in which (for all practical purposes) ALL black heroes were killed before the story even really began.   This only happens when all the creators are white.  Period.
  2. The meaning of a story is the emotional impact at the end. Everything is designed to create that moment.   The impact was designed for fans of the original Avengers.  The original Avengers were created at a time when comic characters were lily white.  In that sense, we are therefore stepping back into the past, and reflecting those values.
  3. Let’s say I’m the director.  I’ve been told by the “Suits” that the Avengers must survive.   And that the end of Part I is a holocaust. What do I do?
  4. First, I remember that after seventy years of comic books, superhero serials, television shows and movies, there was finally a black character that resonated.  And no, I don’t have to wait for the box office: I wouldn’t need to hear audience responses to “Civil War.”  Why? BECAUSE I WOULD HAVE FELT IT MYSELF.  I would have watched those scenes, gone home and dreamt about them.  Cried at the tenderness of T’Challa and T’Chaka interacting as father and son.   Cheered when the Dora said: “Move.  Or be moved.”    I WOULD KNOW what Wakanda meant.  The notion of throwing it away would be nauseating to me, a complete betrayal of the trust and emotion engendered by finally, after centuries, presenting an image of black people uncrippled by the legacy of slavery.
  5. Let’s say that “The Suits” insisted that Wakanda be severely damaged, as a way to demonstrate that all Earth, all the universe was severely damaged.    That…is tragic, but acceptable.  In fact, there is a way to do it without the taint of “Sacrificial Negro”-ness that so often tars such decisions…when the decisions are made by white executives.    White people honestly think there is something noble about dying to protect them.
  6. So…what would I do?

 

  1. Heimdall doesn’t die protecting the white guy and providing Thor motivation for revenge.  A combination of two horrific tropes, beloved by white guys.   Really.   Let him die fighting for his own life if he has to die.
  2. Wakandans discussing letting Vision come.  It is clear that letting Vision come to Wakanda will be devastating, bringing death and destruction  to their people.    I can believe T’Challa making the decision: the fate of the universe is at stake.  But he will have to make his case to the leaders of the other tribes.
  3. Wakandan defensive apparatus post-“Battle of New York” was pitiful. Where was air support?  We SAW their air power, including projectile weapons.   They KNEW, based on the only evidence (the New York Battle) what was coming.  Did they in any way look as if they were ready for flying metal dragons?  What the @#$$?? They even had flying ships that delivered foot-troops to the energy barrier.  Why were there no energy cannons on those transports?  Where they acted with no unit strategy, only raw courage and hand weapons.    This was a betrayal of the entire concept of Wakanda.  You can have them prepared, but then be overwhelmed so it comes down to man-to-monster hand-to-claw combat.  That would have been thrilling.
  4. T’Challa lives.  I promise you that T’Challa means more to black audiences than Tony Stark or Captain America means to white audiences.   If you choose to protect those audiences by respecting their emotional investment, it is dehumanizing not to realize what you are doing to black kids when you kill the greatest superhero they’ve ever had…and just throw him away.  And not even showing his face when you do.
  5. Falcon lives.  He is another intact, healthy dynamic black male.   Rhodey, emasculated due to his injury, can be sacrificed instead.
  6. Pepper dies.  Want tragedy?  Give it to Stark.  Take Pepper AND Spidey from him.  Not a dry eye in the house.
  7. Male and female Wakandan troops dying in rough equivalence.  Watching male after male crumble to dust as the women watch is pure creator artifice, with nothing to do with statistics.  One has to ask what was on the filmmaker’s mind.
  8. For that matter, a long shot of the evacuation of Wakanda.   The PEOPLE. We saw New Yorkers, establishing the basic humanity of a world we are going to damage.   That’s what you do when you give a damn.
  9. T’Challa interacts with Shuri.  All the Avengers had connection with people they love.  Thor and Loki.  Stark and Pepper and Spidey.   Cap and Bucky.   Banner and Black Widow were admittedly given short shrift–(I would have given them a scene together.  Missing that emotional beat was a major problem.)    Starlord’s entire arc was about his love for Gamorra.   Hell, THANOS was powerfully connected to his heartspace.    Where was T’Challa’s emotional connection?  If not his sweetheart (I can understand N’Kia not being there) then give him a moment with his sister.  Let them remember their childhood.   Now he is human, not just a symbol to be manipulated, a piece on a game board.

 

 

No, I don’t care that they will resurrect T’Challa and Falcon in part II.  The filmmakers have reminded me that they made decisions based on race: the original exclusion of the Avengers, and the discounting of humanity increasingly criticized in the 21st Century.  I am not interested in watching black people exterminated so white people can live, or be ennobled by the urge for revenge.

THEY LOST MY TRUST.

If you identify fully with a character, you give them sexuality and agency and family.  Hopes and dreams.  They act with intelligence and courage, or you make their struggle with fear part of what humanizes them.  When I wrote “Lion’s Blood”, I SPECIFICALLY set out to give my white characters more humanity than I had ever seen white writers give to black characters.  I REFUSE to be turned into what I hate.  That is allowing my enemies to win.

 

Marvel had a bad track record after “The Mandarin” and “The Ancient One” .  They knew white audiences would accept any explanation given for the change, BECAUSE UNCONSCIOUSLY, THEY WANT THAT CHANGE.   “Ghost in the Shell,” Khan, Chuin, Mr. Moto, Kwai Chang Kane… innumerable other “whitewashed”   Asian characters.  Any excuse will do.

 

I got scared when in “Age of Ultron” there is a retreat to the generic “all African are the same” when there is a screen title: “Off the coast of Africa.”  This was the typical “we are many, you are one group” bullshit I see all the time, and first noticed in “The Great Mouse Detective” when there is a mouse U.N. meeting with England and Germany and Japan…and “Africa.”

 

Right.

 

It’s the Matrix, and those asleep within it will argue for their dream.  I’m done arguing with them. Sleep on.

 

When Disney hired Ryan Coogler to direct BP I breathed a sigh of relief.   Perfect.  THEY KNEW THEY COULDN’T DO IT WITH A WHITE DIRECTOR.  There might BE a white director who could pull it off, but there isn’t one I would have TRUSTED  with the project. That’s just being honest.   Disney understood their limitations.

 

And didn’t understand that lesson here.  There is nothing at all unusual about “Infinity War” in that sense.  It is the mixture as offered countless times before: “you aren’t as human or important as us, and we have a raft of reasons to justify it that will be accepted by white audiences. So just be satisfied we put you on the screen.”

I was indeed satisfied with this all my life. I swallowed that bile for sixty years. I will not ask my son to swallow it.    There is only one answer to this: diversity behind the camera.  When you have diversity in the board rooms and directing and writing, things change.  Which is precisely why the anti-SJW types attack the concept: it works.

 

Yes, black writers and producers will make their own movies. Always have.  But they have to get those movies past white investors, distributers, exhibiters.   That’s before they can even REACH a white audience, which is just as invested in seeing themselves as anyone else.     An entire apparatus. Disney alone has EIGHT of the top ten box office films.   I’m sure segregationists love the notion of us trying to compete with that.  Separate and VERY unequal.

 

That’s fine.   Not my approach.   Here’s the point of attack:   Corporations are primitive organisms that eat money and shit products and services.  They don’t care much about individual prejudices…or even hopes and dreams on an individual human level

 

But they respond to things that hurt their bottom line. And rather than “educating” the Suits, just force them to hire more diversity. I’m not interested in educating people whose attitudes are mostly integrated at an unconscious level.

 

Want better roles for women?   Force the corporations, (which are not sexist.  Hell, they aren’t even human) to hire more women.

 

Any other sub-group can follow the same strategy. THIS, IMO is why some object to boycotts…because they know they work. Just sit back and observe who complains the most: almost always people who might be protecting their current power.  Their right to watch people who look like them being the greatest, smartest, sexiest, most powerful.

 

Everybody wants to rule the world, as the song goes.

 

Want change?   Be the change. And force the change.  There is no real human evil here.  Just natural, unconscious human tribalism, the automatic default switch that has been stuck in place for all human history.     And most people are asleep to much of reality.  God knows I am.  Not on THIS issue.  But doubtless on countless others. No one can be “woke” to everything. Too much input.

 

But no, I won’t watch my son’s heart open with “Black Panther” and then watch it slam shut because of “Infinity War”.  I  hear “wait!  We’ll bring him back next year” when you gave your own children Iron Man and Cap and Banner and Thor and Black Widow to empathize with because you KNEW you had to, or it would hurt them. The creators knew damned well that if you kill Spider Man, you have to have somewhere for their hearts to go…or those hearts will break.  You will lose them.

 

No, I won’t let you hurt my son like that and grin at you and say: “its good.  We can wait.  You can throw us away.  I trust you, Boss.”

 

Nope.  Don’t like it?   Not my problem.   No one has the leverage, force, or intelligence to intimidate me.  No one.  Not about my family.  Never.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

Little Masters

I knew no writers when I was a kid, and because my father failed in the arts (he had been a back-up singer for Nat King Cole.  I was actually in the recording booth when he recorded back-up for “Ramblin’ Rose”), my mother discouraged me from trying to be a writer.

 

As a result, my early efforts were filled with doubt and fear: if there was no way to reach my goals, why bother?  But by struggling and modeling, I managed to scratch a career together, and while there have OF COURSE been pains, by studying books like “Think And Grow Rich” I was able to contextualize: failure and strife are just a natural part of the process, and those who cannot plan, model, keep their focus, learn from failure, keep motivated through the fear, market efficiently and effectively and not take rejection personally will have less success, and less joy, than those who can.

 

After many years (and studying Heinlein and Bradbury and Butler’s rules of managing a career), as well as works like A Book Of Five Rings and The Art of War  I evolved my own Six Principles:

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

 

 

I can’t think of a failed writer who did these things.   T and I decided to start an “author’s club” at Sandburg Jr. High to see what would happen if we guided children through these steps.  Would it work?

 

As I suspected, the single biggest problem was THE LENGTH OF THE WORK.   All of them wanted to write books (which is good) and had difficulty creating short work.  Meaning that they just didn’t have the experience of actually rounding a piece of work, creating a whole.

 

Why?  Because most of their reading experience was novels, and movies from novels. That was the natural length they thought of. So their imaginations sprawled through a Harry Potter size mega-tome, multi volume, a complete world of wizards, kingdoms, battles, dragons and so forth was the most common result.

 

But you know what they didn’t know?

  1. They didn’t know how to END their stories.
  2. Because of that, they couldn’t extract the MEANING from their story, the dominant emotion.
  3.  Without this, their rewrite efforts remained on the surface level: event, event, event…clever dialogue, cute twist, nice turn of phrase.    And nothing under the surface.
  4. They rarely trusted their own hearts.  Did not see that they had experience and emotions that were precious, and integrating them into their stories would have raised their quality INSTANTLY.

 

All of that is what happens in the rewrite. The first draft is like a “sprint.”    Imagine packing for a camping trip.  You have a backpack, and that’s it.   Better make it a short trip!

 

Someone planning to spend a year in the woods better know how to build a permanent shelter, hunt and gather, provide their own medical care, and have emotional defenses against loneliness, fatigue, and strain.   This is a MUCH larger set of skills than packing a PB&J, a sleeping bag, a bottle of water and camping out in the backyard.

 

That’s all a short story is: you are working WITHIN the skills you already have, so that you can gain new skills.

 

###

 

The kids didn’t understand that, thought they had to create these huge stories. And at the end of the semester, some of them still hadn’t learned…but most of them had.  MOST of them were able to focus down to a 5-10 page chunk (a story is about a moment when someone changes.  Novels can contain dozens of these points.   Every chapter contains moments that can be extracted and rounded to create a short work.) THEN we were able to take them through the different levels:

 

  1. Spelling and grammar (we didn’t mess with this.  Not my job)
  2. Structure of paragraphs and essays
  3. Structure of drama (the Hero’s Journey is always my go-to, but we start with “Who is the hero, what do they want, what’s in the way?”)
  4. The climax: what is the Big Scene you are writing toward?
  5. What is the dominant emotion?  Often this relates to genre.  An action story’s primary emotion is excitement.  A horror story’s primary emotion is fear. And so on.
  6. How do you rewrite the earlier scenes to maximize the emotion felt when the reader puts the story down?
  7. And most importantly: what is the PROCESS by which you created the story?  Every day’s work should be about the PROCESS as well as the story, which is “merely” “Product.”   Unimportant compared to the overall arc of your career. A single step, not the journey.

 

 

 

Watching the light go on in their eyes as they realized that a story could fail without it meaning a damned long-term thing was wonderful.

 

They had permission to fail.   Permission to experiment.  Permission to openly copy the style and stories of the writers they loved.

 

We would lecture at the beginning, and then let them work and help each other and share.  And once they really got the basics they were off and running.

 

They have been so bright, so happy, so eager. Unlike adults, most of them were “empty cups” who saw in us a bridge to a previously unattainable goal; being real, published writers.  We’re going to actually publish a club anthology, and give each of them a way to make money selling it to friends and family, as well as pay them five bucks each.

 

They will be paid, published writers. All that remains is getting better, continuing the work.

 

What is mastery?  A verb, not a noun. A vector, not a position. And once you have the basics of your craft at Unconscious Competence, and have committed to “the work”, you are as much a master as anyone else on the path, although some of them are horizons beyond you, or seem to have Seven League Boots.

 

We showed them the path. And now they know that we are not magic, except in the “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” sense.

 

We are the same, walking the same path. T and I are just a couple of horizons different, describing the territory and handing out maps.

 

THEY have to do the work, and there is a lifetime to do. But really…that’s all there is. The work. Chop wood, carry water.  Just do it.

 

###

 

We’ll be creating a class on how to create a class. How teachers and parents can help their charges become writers.   Little Masters.  And the beautiful thing is that, as Jerry Pournelle said, “once you master anything…you know how to master anything else.”

 

This wasn’t about writing…it was about life.

 

What do you want?

Why do you want it?

Who can you model to get a syntax of success?

How do you test their theories FAST so that you can make adjustments and improvements on their plan?

How do you keep going through disappointment and fear?

How do you organize yourself for maximum efficiency with minimum effort?

 

And so on.    We taught writing.  But the precise same notions would have been used in martial arts…or marital arts, for that matter.

 

Success is success.

 

I’m so proud of our Little Masters, and would guess that a couple of them will actually continue, and might publish in other contexts.  At least three have what it takes, brain-wise. Do they have the heart?  No one can predict that.

 

But…I have hope that some of them will get the REAL lesson.  And will have wonderful lives at least in part because two writers took an hour every other week to teach them a perspective they were then able to test for themselves.

 

Pretty cool. God willin’ and the river don’t rise…we done a good thing.

 

I’ve earned my air this year.

 

 

Write with Passion!

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

Confronting Death can save your life

I saw someone complaining that he hasn’t been able to finish any of his writing projects.  “If I’m bored with it, why should an audience be interested?”   Later, he admitted to being exhausted all the time.

 

Well…some thoughts on energy and art

  1. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.  When you lack energy, you fall back on tired, familiar tropes and notions.  You don’t reveal your personal emotional vulnerabilities.
  2. Not tapping into your PERSONAL feelings, hopes, dreams, needs, fears, and enthusiasms means that you have cut yourself off from the spiritual/emotional source of your energy.

 

I know that I started my career wanting to tell stories close to my heart, but there is a problem: the more of “yourself” you put in your work, the greater the pain if it is rejected.  I put years of work into one project, my whole heart, more intimate than anything I’d done until that time.  And due to circumstances outside my control, it was released at almost EXACTLY the wrong moment in time.  Although all my reviews were stellar, and almost everyone who read it loved it, it failed.

 

And…it broke my heart.  I could just hear the voice in my head saying that “they don’t want to know who you are. Don’t bother trying.”

 

And that is the death of art.  All that remains is “craft.”  I kept writing, at least partially because that’s the way I make a living, but the passion was gone.  I was no longer connected to that source of my heart.  Remember: there are four basic aspects of life that affect your energy.

  1. Exercise
  2. Rest
  3. Nutrition
  4. Emotion

 

And emotion trumps all of them. You can be exhausted, half-starved, and out of shape, and if your child is in danger you will find the energy to fight.  Cutting yourself off from your heart is deadly to your dreams.

 

I spent years focusing on market, trying to improve my craft, all the while feeling  I was being a creative coward.  Heading for hack-dom. And I remember, clearly, a writer whose business card said: “freelance hack and literary mechanic.”

 

He was dead a year later.

 

I was in danger, and knew it.  I had to get out of a slump that no one else could even see, because I knew that the WHY I do something is as important as the WHAT, and far more primary than the mere “HOW.”

 

I had lost my “why.” I was no longer writing from the sheer, love of the storytelling, the urge to share my dreams with the world.  I was writing from habit.  From economic need.

 

Deadly.

 

##

There is something I’ve said many times: “when you are confronted by a possible opportunity or dream and afraid to take it, ask yourself one question: `How long am I going to be dead?’   Armed with the answer to that…go out and do whatever the #$%% is in your heart.

 

Or “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”

 

Both of these address the fear of death.  Most other fears are just versions of this–and lesser versions at that.  For instance:

 

“If I write a book that fails, my career fails, I’ll go broke and die in the street.”  As absurd as that sounds, that is lurking in the back of many minds.  And the fact is…it isn’t total nonsense. Artists HAVE starved.  DO often live in poverty.   So if Mommy and Daddy warned you against the arts, their voices ring clearly.

 

“If I tell stories  people don’t like, I will be expelled from the tribe. I will make less money and have fewer mating opportunities, as well as lack protection from other tribes.”

 

A little Paleolithic reasoning there, but its still in our bones.  We need approval. Respect. Money.  Companionship. Sex.

 

Failure impacts all of them.  But remembering that this stuff is all secondary, that no matter WHAT you do, how careful you play it, how small you live you cannot be so tiny Death will not notice you.

 

I wasn’t able to put it all together at one time. Piece by piece.  Watching friends get older and die.   Realizing that the rejection could have been the result of forces I’ve fought against all my life…and that I didn’t have the right to quit. My parents and grandparents fought harder, and longer, against worse…and didn’t even have the joy of dedicating themselves to the arts.

 

I was blessed. To retreat would be cowardice.

 

One step at a time, I sought out role models who had patched their emotions together after failure…

 

And simultaneously, worked on increasing my energy.

  1. Was I exercising optimally for energy?  That’s aerobic, anaerobic, and stretching/alignment.  Was I exercising too much?   Giving myself enough recovery time?  Optimizing my body composition?
  2. Was I getting enough high-quality rest? This might be the single greatest sin of the modern world .  So often people complain about “lack of energy” and you ask them how much sleep they get and its 4-5 hours a night.   In general, you need 7-9 hours, and you are playing Russian Roulette with your health to ignore this.
  3. Was I eating for energy? Or emotion?  I love carbs, there is no question about it.   Asking myself what percentage of my food is about fuel and what is about distraction or fighting depression is critical.  The sheer “machine” aspect of our physiology is only ignored at your peril. As is drinking enough water, for instance.
  4. Were my emotions aligned?  Well, that’s what I was talking about, wasn’t it?  If everything I do is about finding joy, then all I have to do is back up a step and ask what creates that precious state.   Back up another step and ask what I need to avoid pain–that is the majority of what money is good for. There is NOTHING  I can buy that is as precious as hugging Jason or Nicki or kissing Tananarive.  But hugs and kisses don’t keep a roof over our heads.  Avoiding pain.   Every action has to help me move away from pain and toward joy.  And…frankly, writing what is in my heart is pure joy. What can the world give me that is worth losing that connection?  NOTHING.  Nothing at all.

 

I saved my life by remembering my death.  It gave me the courage to say “what the hell” after several years of hiding behind skill.   No more.  This is my life.  My creativity is not in coming up with totally new ideas: such things don’t exist. All there ever is is re-combining existing notions to new effect.   That effect?  To communicate your perspective, your emotional reaction to life or some aspect thereof.

 

What do YOU think about human beings?

What do YOU think about the structure of the universe?

 

No one who has ever lived sees these things exactly as you do.  THAT is what you have to offer the world, and if you let fear stop you…you’ve lost the only thing you really have to offer us.

 

Your heart.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

Fear is your friend

I’ve often said that “anger is a mask over fear.”    And to a predictable degree, the people who disagree with this are almost always male.  Usually angry males.  They really, really don’t like the implications.  Sometimes they get angry with me for saying it.   You can imagine my amused reaction: they are afraid of the implications.

 

To go into this, let’s define terms.  Fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”   Let’s broaden that a bit, and say that it doesn’t have to be dangerous or threatening to you, personally. It can present a threat to anyone you care about or empathize with: a child, family member, member of a group with whom you empathize.

 

The test is this: when have you ever gotten angry about something you took pleasure in seeing happen to yourself or someone you care about?   Isn’t EVERYTHING you get angry about something that creates pain, discomfort, loss?    When those exact same things happen to someone you DISLIKE isn’t that “schadenfreude”?

 

Just for an exercise, let’s ask why guys might have a problem with this notion.   I’ll use myself as an example.

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When I was a kid, I was badly bullied.  I had no father in my home to teach me to “get out there and finish that fight,” no uncles or older brothers to teach me to box or wrestle, or who I could talk to about what I was going through.  Small and afraid, I was   ignored by the girls and held in contempt by the guys.   For the record, my fear wasn’t being “laughed at” by girls. It was the fear that no attractive woman would ever find me appealing.   Although I never thought about it that way, that is genetic death.  Dealing with guys I was afraid of actually being damaged, and never having “tribe”, so that I would be alone.  We don’t survive well alone.  We need tribe.

 

Every voice in my head said I was a coward, weak, insignificant.  Then one day I experienced something unique: pushed beyond my limits by a bully named Rudy, I found a place in my heart that was beyond fear.  Beyond the social games. I was ready to die, or kill him. And he knew it…and left me alone from then on.   I swore that day to find that place again, or die trying.

 

The martial arts were where I went looking, and I began to learn skills. What I didn’t realize is that in the United States in the 70’s, in general you could find martial schools where you get fit and strong physically, but they didn’t deal with the internal states. OR…you can find emphasis on the internal calm, but they sucked in terms of  combat.  I thought that the physical skills were what I sought.   Nope.   They are like putting a thin, thin, candy shell over a chewy but toxic chocolate center.

 

And although I advanced through the ranks, and even had tournament success, one day when I was about 25 I got my ass kicked by a brilliant 14 year old fighter (who went on to become the world kickboxing champion) and all I could see was Rudy.  It felt as if nothing I had learned in the intervening years meant a damned thing.  It BROKE me psychologically, and from then on, the prospect of sparring created massive fear response in my body. And shame.

 

I fell into a cycle of approach-avoidance.  If I started losing skills, I’d go back to training. But once I got enough skill and fitness that I stopped being afraid of the outside world, the seething cauldren of emotion within me emerged, crippling my progress so that I stopped going to class.  Over and over this cycle recurred.

 

I went to coaches, therapists, gurus, hypnotists, biofeedback experts, senseis and sifus by the score, and none of them could help.  This went on for over a decade, the most miserable time in my life.  I remember driving down the street with tears rolling down my cheeks, asking God why the hell he wouldn’t either just let me practice this stuff, or let me quit.  I was emotional road-kill. Unable to stop, unable to move forward. It was horrible, and it damaged my sense of self on every level.

 

I wasn’t a man. I wasn’t a martial artiist. I was broken.  I was weak.  Just possibly, I was insane.

 

My pattern of asking for help continued for years, even after I gave up hope.   Then one day I accompanied my brother in law Patric Young to see his Shorei Chito-Ryu instructor Terry Lettau for a private lesson. After the lesson, we were sitting around in Terry’s kitchen, and I rather miserably asked him the same question I’d asked everyone else, expecting a blank expression concealing contempt.

 

To my surprise, Terry just shrugged. “Your problem isn’t fear,” he said.  “Your problem is lack of clarity.”

 

I squinted, and did a Scooby-take.  Urr?

 

Ummm…”lack of clarity?  Well, is there a way to deal with that?”  I expected an answer like “nope.” A perfectly circular trap.  The good news is that you don’t have cancer, you have Iocaine poisoning.   The bad news is that it doesn’t have any cure either…

 

Instead, he said “sure.   Just imagine a glass tube filled with water.  Glitter is suspended in the water.  Watch until the glitter settles.”

 

WTF?  That was it?  That was all?  I went home and started practicing for about 30 minutes a day. The water roiled with glitter, swirling in a violent current. Then…about six weeks later, something happened. The water started settling.   And then stilled. And the glitter settled.

 

And with a flash of insight, I SAW IT.  

 

My problem wasn’t fear. My problem was that I thought the fear meant something it didn’t.   I thought it meant that I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, or mustn’t. That I was small and weak and helpless.

 

Nope. It just meant that I was afraid. That some part of me sensed a threat.  And was preparing me to fight, or run.  That was all.  All the rest of it was bullshit.

 

And the reason it had been so awful, for so long, is that I was ashamed of the fear. And then worried about my shame. And then guilty about my worry about my shame. And then confused about my guilt about my shame about my worry about….

 

An endless fun-house of mirrors, an infinite regression from the primary emotion: Fight or Flight.  And every step away I took drained the energy I would have used to defend myself, escape, or gain the perspective from which to see the solution to the problem.

 

Holy shit.   I THOUGHT THE FEAR MEANT SOMETHING IT DIDN’T.  What would I have done if I’d known?  I would have DELIBERATELY brought up that fear, that terror, when working on the heavy bag, and imagined the biggest, baddest guy at the dojo pounding me. And beat the hell out of the heavy bad using the “juice” of the fear to drive my actions.  Until the fatigue and focus brought me into the present moment.

 

And then the fear would have vanished.  Fear exists only in the future, what you are afraid WILL happen.  Just as guilt exists primarily in the past.  In the present, FULLY in the present, there is only “emotion-driven action”.  Undifferentiated, and powerful.   My skills would have skyrocketed, until I was the baddest dude in the school.

Again, holy shit.  I’d found a key I’d sought for decades.  I’d been pushing on a door marked “pull’ in French, and finally a Frenchman had translated for me.

 

As simple as that. Yes, Virginia, magic does exist.

 

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I found out where Terry had learned this, and that sent me to studying with Harley “Swift Deer” Reagan, and that’s another story for another time.  The point is that fear is associated with shame, and weakness, with paralysis and cowardice by the ignorant.  So some of us (especially guys) can’t tap into it directly, or use it directly, until we transform it into another emotion–anger.

 

Anger is macho. Anger is badass. Anger is righteous.  The fact that if you remove anything you would have to be afraid of for yourself OR someone you care about will dissolve the anger is just…well…we ignore that inconvenient fact.

It’s not fear. Really it isn’t.

 

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Part of the danger of this is that we miss a primary tool in life. If angry, all you have to do is identify the fear under it, and deal with that, and the anger vanishes.  For instance:

Jason is defiant, refusing to do his homework.  I get angry. Why?  He is challenging my authority. Why is that frightening?  Am I afraid that I am powerless, and that will damage my ability to function in the world? Is he playing into my personal doubts?

 

How about I’m worried about him. I love him, and want desperately to guide him to being a strong, good young man. If I cannot get him to do his work, I can’t prepare him for his life. I imagine him failing, being homeless, on drugs, being one of the Living Dead who shuffle from meaningless job to meaningless job,  never find a place of joy.

 

Or…I’m afraid that my mother’s ghost will look at me and criticize.  “You are a TERRIBLE father.”  And I want so very much to be a good one.

 

Would I be angry if I didn’t give a shit?  If I had 100% confidence in my ability to reach my dreams?  If I didn’t love him?  I don’t think so.

 

Turn this around.   If someone is angry with YOU, what are they afraid of? Losing privilege?  Authority?   How about those Incel guys.

Potentially violent.  Violence is (often) triggered by Anger.  What are they afraid of?  How about lack of reproductive opportunity?  Remember that “genetic death” thing?  Or on an emotional level, being alone, never being loved, feeling unworthy and ugly and twisted.  In the depths of their private hell, alone in their Mom’s basement, they yearn for love and connection like everyone else.  What is wrong with me. Why doesn’t anyone want me….

 

And lacking the wisdom and maturity to look in the mirror and grow the hell up, learn to love themselves so that they can  be attracted to a woman who would be attracted to them, they grow bitter and even vengeful, blame women for “putting them in the Friend Zone” and that anger sometimes boils into unreasoning violence, and we have real horror.

 

Seek the root, and the root is fear. But you can’t see it if you don’t first look within yourself.

 

For years I’ve invited people to tell me anything they are angry about that doesn’t connect to something they wouldn’t want happening to themselves or someone they care about.  So far, no one has mentioned a damned thing I can’t connect there.

If it isn’t true, it is the most useful lie I’ve ever seen.

 

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And…perhaps the greatest flaw, the greatest reason to connect directly to the core emotion is that FEAR IS A SURVIVAL DRIVE. It keeps you alive. It is a source of instinct.  If you don’t let yourself feel fear, you can miss one of the most important clues that you are in danger.

 

Remember “Get Out”?

Chris is in a strange situation, with people behaving badly.   The fear messages should have been making his spine crawl.   But his girlfriend Rose was the balancing factor.  He wanted to impress her, be with her.  Frankly, Nookie had shut his frontal lobes down.  That “genetic survival” thing, combined with a “I’m a man.  I’m not afraid” thing.

 

Ordinarily, this is a fine approach: most threats aren’t real.  He would endure the weird future in-laws, marry the lovely lady, have lots of sex and raise rug-rats. Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

 

But horror movies are about the times when you damned well SHOULD pay attention to your fear.   And when Chris realizes the trap he is in, his personal survival drive (1st chakra) overwhelms his genetic survival drive (2nd chakra, less primary) and cancels out all emotional connection to Rose as well as any socially mandated behavior, throwing him into pure “I want to live!” mode, leading to the conclusion.

(btw:   It is notable that he keeps his core values: not killing a helpless person, even if they “deserve” it.  Trying to save a mother-surrogate.  We have no doubt that this experience has not damaged his essence.)

 

It would, however, probably motivate him to start trusting his instincts more, don’t you think?   Isn’t that a part of the message of horror films?

Don’t go in the basement. Don’t split up.  Don’t get “gaslit” by people. Don’t ignore bloodstains or strange faces in mirror, or howls in the night.

 

GET OUT!

 

Fear is your friend, people.  And if you stop being ashamed of it, it is one of the most powerful allies we have.   Don’t let society or shame stop you from harnessing it.  The life you save may be your own.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.sunkenplaceclass.com

The Battle of Wakanda (SPOILERS)

An INFINITY WAR critique, with SPOILERS

 

AGAIN: SPOILERS.  NO KIDDING.

 

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Still here?  Then I continue.

 

The last sequence of the new Avengers movie takes place in Wakanda, where Steve Rogers asks T’Challa to help them remove an Infinity Stone from Vision’s forehead.

 

This leads to a tense scene with super-genius Shuri trying to get that stone free, and the Wakandan army, side-by-side with most of the Avengers,  standing against Thanos’ legions.  I saw that coming in the trailers, and it looked exciting.

 

The only problem is that it makes no sense.

 

As John Ringo pointed out on his page, the Wakandans are considered to be (one of) the most advanced societies on the planet, with technology beyond any other nation.

 

Umm…in this battle, what the hell are they doing running toward their opponents with spears?  Aren’t these spears said to be capable of taking out TANKS?   Where were their land-mounted versions of such things?  Fortifications?  How about air power?  Those wonderful cloaked airships?   I could easily see a battle between two advanced forces, and if you want hand-to-hand, well, you can choreograph that in and around the larger actions, and have all the thrills you want.

 

But…why did T’Challa allow Vision to come to Wakanda, knowing that this would bring Thanos’ legions to their doorstep?  Surely he might have made the decision to do this, but shouldn’t we have seen him making his argument to the council of tribes?  Further, where were the panicked Wakandan citizens fleeing for their lives with their children?  What would THEY think of their king and the choice he made?  Again, the case can be made that Vision would have been given sanctuary…but if you show normal life in New York before the chaos begins, giving us a sense of Paradise Lost…why not here too?

 

And isn’t there a little sense of “he’s doing it because Captain America asked”?   How exactly does that sound like a sovereign ruler concerned for his people?

 

I suggest to you that the director and screenwriters had two problems:

 

  1. They were unfamiliar with military tactics, even tactics from the Civil War (the 1865 version).
  2. They were not invested in Wakanda as a real place, with real people, with real hopes and dreams and blood and tears.

 

They weren’t.   Wakanda was a “cool” place to stage a massive battle.  Wow! Watch ’em die!  Isn’t this fun?

 

Wanda can refuse to remove the stone from Vision’s head, killing him. So he comes to Wakanda, bringing death. Then, after Shuri runs out of time to remove it, Wanda STILL refuses until the last second, so that Thanos was capable of reversing her action and re-constituting the stone.   And using the completed Gauntlet to take out half the universe.

 

All those dead Wakandans. Because Wanda.  All right, I can accept a tragic love story killing tons of folks, and I could stifle my irritation with so many of those folks being African, while all the white Avengers, who just happen to match the ethnicity of the writers and directors, survive.

 

Coincidence.

 

Except for the stupidity of the defensive action.   It ONLY makes sense in terms of “let’s have cool action on the way to the Avengers feeling depressed and beaten.”

 

All those dead Wakandans were MEANS rather than ENDS.  They had no “inwardness”, were chess pieces manipulated to achieve the effect of guiding the audience’s emotions toward a given effect.

 

And while it is not uncommon (well…probably ALL writers do this to one degree or another) I refused not to notice what they did: moved the battle to a place where the filmmakers could choreograph “cool” action without regard for the humanity of the participants.

 

This is PRECISELY what I was afraid would happen with BLACK PANTHER. PRECISELY why I was thrilled that they chose Ryan Coogler to direct it, and frankly PRECISELY what I was concerned about had they hired a white director: no real concern for the “inwardness” of the characters.  Tony Stark had Pepper and Peter Parker to care about.   Steve Rogers had Bucky to care about.  Bruce Banner had Natasha (they REALLY gave that short shrift, didn’t they? But then I didn’t believe Banner’s emotional arc, starting with making him a dim bulb in RAGNOROK. But that’s a different matter).   Hawkeye was off with his family.  Thor was mad with grief over Loki.  Wanda, of course, had Vision.

 

Did War Machine have anyone? Has he ever?   Did Falcon have anyone?  Has he ever?

 

T’Challa had no one to care about except his people, and he brought death to their doorstep without the slightest moment of visible hesitation, and then defended his nation like an idiot.  Yeah, I said it.

 

This is the reason that diversity BEHIND the camera matters.  Would that have fixed the problem?   Considering that Tony Stark was a fine strategic thinker (he knew he had to take the fight to Thanos, or have Earth devastated) we can assume that a black director would have given T’Challa the same respect, and asked “what would he do?”  And once you ask “what would a warrior do?” You might, just MIGHT do what you do if making a boxing movie: ask boxing coaches about the training, tactics and strategy involved. Or in this case, ask a military strategist how an advanced nation would defend itself against an attack like this.  It just isn’t that hard…if you care, and if you think “these people are brilliant. What would they do?”  instead of “what would look cool” when you don’t really, REALLY believe they exist.

 

This is why diversity matters behind the cameras. Why it is critical for people to write their own stories.  If they had gone directly from “Civil War” to “Infinity War” without the humanization of “Black Panther” I’d be incensed.   As it is…it is just business as usual.

 

If you agree, let me know. And if you agree…patronize and create the art that DOES embrace full humanity…and intelligence.

 

Write with Passion!

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com