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.

Our first SUNKEN PLACE class is in the can!

“The Class is Phenomenal!”–Lacroix Scott

 

We’re just starting to get the feedback from our SUNKEN PLACE class.  This is so wonderfully fulfilling.  Once you build the business structure, you can put 100% of your emphasis on SERVING THE STUDENTS.  Giving them everything you can, in a format that is both educational and entertaining.

 

We believe art is a critical human activity, the science of heart-to-heart communication. That drama allows us to both express ourselves and open minds.    This isn’t “just” about horror, although we certainly deal with the nature of it. Or “just” about race, although race has been a generational nightmare for millions of children of the Diaspora.   It is about what we are as human beings, the way we make sense of the world, and what we can do as individuals to create that shared future.

 

If you are a fan, a teacher, or a creator of dark fantasy (pun deliberate)–join us on an amazing journey.   Www.sunkenplaceclass.com

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The Yang to Afrofuturism’s Yin

I still remember the first I ever heard of “Night of the Living Dead”. It was a Reader’s Digest article, and boy oh boy, it made the movie sound like the fall of Western Civilization. I HAD to see it.   Watched it for the first time at a  midnight show at the Wiltern Theater on Wilshire and Western, and I can tell you that within fifteen minutes after the lights went down, I was looking for the exits, planning which one I’d scamper out of if the people around me lurched up and started munching brains.

 

I was TERRIFIED.   And…I loved it.  Why?

 

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We define “Horror” as a work whose primary emotional charge is that of fear.  It can be psychological (Psycho), science-fictional (Alien), or supernatural (The Exorcist).  Why do we like it? To answer this, we have to go deeper into the question of why people seek out art in the first place.

 

If “art” is self expression with craft, then the point is to project an attitude, experience, perspective, emotion onto an audience.  The audience will choose the kind of experience they want based upon what they need to adjust their tensions into an optimal range.   If tense, they might look for something to relax them (comedy) or something that will focus their  tension to take them higher and higher until a circuit breaker “pops” and they are back in relaxation.

 

Horror can be such a “circuit breaker.”   You have vague, intangible tensions in your  life, you go watch Leatherface hack up some teenagers, scream at the screen while munching popcorn, and for ninety minutes forget all about the mortgage.  The roller coaster ride: trigger those survival drives, and you are NOT thinking about how the boss is firing people, for at least those two minutes.

 

There are so many themes that can be addressed in horror, that there is a LOT of scholarly writing about how this or that movie deals with this or that social fear.  That would make sense, that different fears at different times are foremost in our minds, and movies that help us gain perspective will get folks lining up at the box office.  As individuals we need to adjust that tension into the optimal range: too much and we wither. Too little, and we never grow strong.

 

What would be a perfect horror film to address the current tensions between men and women?  Haute Tension?   Ms. 45? Teeth?  Sleeping With The Enemy?   I don’t know…but there’ve been a bunch of ’em.

 

What about racial tensions?   I think that this is much less explored, and GET OUT hit the bull’s eye for so many people that its become the most profitable independent film maybe ever.   Amazing, really.

 

What I suggest is that if you want to write or create horror, go DEEP into your own personal terrors. Find a nugget you haven’t seen before (at least in that medium, in that way) and have something to say.  What do YOU think and feel about this. Is there an answer (in the Exorcist, the answer to an apparently unsolvable riddle was faith and sacrifice) or are we lost?  What do YOU really think?

 

Then…you can either present us with what you really think, or you can have fun playing with the social tropes around it.  Notice the fantasy (the white virginal female of breeding age generally survives) and violate it.   Do this well enough and you have a horror-comedy like “Cabin in the Woods” or “Scream”.   That kind of hipster meta-movie is hard to pull off it you aren’t first to the game. Better to realize that “Scream” rested on a foundation of “Last House On The Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes”, straight-forward, ferocious, uncompromising horror deconstructing the sanctity of family, the most basic human social unity.  Wes Craven mastered THAT before attempting deconstruction.

 

Just as we suggest that writers begin with short stories and master those before moving to larger works, it is also smart to start with “basic” work before trying something more sophisticated.    If you are interested in expressing a social perspective (and most art does) understanding how others have done it will both help you avoid cliché and empower your imagination: imagination is primarily re-combining existing elements into forms we’ve not seen quite THAT way. All you have to do is connect them with your internal aesthetic, and you will be about as original as you can be.  Add a serious education in the tropes of your field, and you have a recipe for success.

 

The SUNKEN PLACE class is for fans, teachers, and creators of the dark fantasy and horror of the African Diaspora.  We can’t wait to share with you (heck, I haven’t gone through T’s class, so some of it will be a surprise to me!)  We’ll be discovering a century of amazing nightmares together.  It is the Yang to Afrofuturism’s Yin.  Afrofuturism is Dreams to banish nightmares.   The SUNKEN PLACE is Nightmares to enable our dreams.

 

We start this Saturday, and we’d love to have you!   WWW.SUNKENPLACECLASS.COM

Don’t Trigger a Feeding Frenzy

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I’m never offended if people ask me to perform or present for free.   I have this thing called a “no” and another thing called a “counter proposal.”   Its not up to an organization to protect me.  It’s up to the Adult part of my personality, the “Daddy” to protect Little Stevie, who really does just want to get up there and shine and have fun.

 

Don’t develop that part?  And you  fall into the “it’s not faiiiiir!”

 

What is that expression?  “In business, you don’t get what you’re worth.  You get what you can negotiate.”

 

How about in sales?  “You aren’t in the business of X. You are in the business of MARKETING X.”

 

How about relationships?  “You will be attracted to people at your level and above. You will attract people at your level and below.”  If your “adult” self is developed, this is like hearing: “I won’t carry you out of the woods, but the path is right there.”   Waah! Carry me!!

 

Nope.  Every chipmunk in the woods knows no one is coming to save them.  Why do we so often feel it is “unfair” when people do a very typical animal thing:

 

If you leave a pork chop on the floor, and the dog eats it, it isn’t the dog’s fault.  It is the nature of dogs to eat pork chops that are on the floor.

 

 

Of COURSE people will try to get all they can for as little as possible. Nothing, if they can.  I remember talking about “Trust” with Swift Deer after someone had hurt me in a business deal.  “Don’t trust people” he said, that cynical bastard.   “Instead, RELY upon them to do what they see as being in their own self interest.”

 

Wow, is that ever negative…or is it?    What does that mean?  It means that YOU CAN TRUST OTHER PEOPLE TO THE EXACT LEVEL THAT YOU CAN TRUST YOUR OWN PERCEPTIONS.  Your own ability to figure out what they see as “their own interests.”

 

How to do that? First, get in touch with YOUR own motivations.  Do you, for instance, ask other people to be your Mommy or Daddy?

 

Remember that student of mine who was furious at his girlfriend for talking about her past lovers?   Why was he angry? (Come on, you should know this by now)…HE WAS AFRAID.  What was he afraid of?

 

“Mommy” wasn’t just giving her love to him.  What she gave him wasn’t “special” snurf snurf.  She gave it to OTHER boys snurf snurf.   Poor baby.

 

Boy oh boy, am I glad for her that she was smart enough to bring up her past again and again.  Otherwise, she might have fallen in love with him, and known, in her heart, that one day he would be angry and rub her nose in her past, and rip her heart out of her chest.

 

Why don’t we take adult responsibility for our emotions?   (“I provide everything I need emotionally.   My relationships with others are about what I want, and what I can give.”)

 

Why not take adult responsibility in business?  (“yes, my little boy loves to dance and make mommy and daddy laugh and clap. But I have to be `mommy and daddy’ now.   I have to be willing to market, sell, negotiate, and protect.  Because otherwise when I deal with adults who AREN’T Mommy and Daddy, they will eat that emotional pork chop I left on the floor.  LOVE ME! I will say.  “Sure,” they will answer.  Come dance for hugs.”

 

You want money?  Money is the adult world.   Better the hell be an adult, or your “kid” will be very unhappy.

 

If you go to someone, or the world, and say “be my Mommy or Daddy” what are you doing?  You are denying responsibility for your own maturity.  It is NOT their responsibility to do this. It is YOUR responsibility to do it. If you don’t have those chops, you had better the hell have a manager, an agent, a lawyer, a “minder”, a marketing and sales section to surround that little kid’s heart and protect it.

 

But when you demand that…they ain’t gonna do it for hugs.   You are demanding that they be adults, they deal with the adult world.  They are gonna want money, oh yes they will.

 

Now, if they are honest, they won’t take more than you negotiate. But THEY have a little boy, little girl to care for, too.  And they are going to negotiate the biggest contract they can, and you’ll be left with nothing if you can’t get “adult” about it.

 

What are the healthiest relationships?  Frankly, it is between two adults who ARE adults, but also in touch with their child selves.  Then their “kids” can play, but each “adult” is ultimately responsible for their own heart.  But even better, (say between me and T) sometimes my “child” is wounded and I just can’t quite manage to provide myself all the nurturing I need.  I’ve got a LOT in the ‘bank’ with her,and I can borrow her “Mommy” to comfort me. Feels wonderful.

 

But I have to be there as “Daddy” for  her little girl. And gladly do.   Wonderful little girl she has, and sometimes she is playful, and sometimes she is wounded and lonely.  She could re-integrate and heal on her own…but she knows she can come to me, and I will comfort her.

 

What would happen if I stopped comforting her?   It would be like a mouse searching for cheese in a maze.   If there is cheese there for a few days, and then you take the cheese away, the mouse will keep searching for a while…and then stop.   In a relationship, if things go bad, we’ll keep searching for the “cheese” for a while…and then if we are healthy, we stop.

 

And you know what?  If you aren’t honest enough to grasp that you were trying to get your partner, or business partner, or world, to carry the burden of being the “adult” without being willing to see that THEY want what’s best for THEM as well…if you try to manipulate them, guilt trip them, or tell them that they “owe” you anything other than honesty and perhaps kindness…you are being a child.  And the “adults” around you will sniff that. And you will bring out the very worst in even “normal” people.  The same instinct to burden them with responsibility for you will trigger their own tendency to seek unfair advantage.

 

And they you have a feeding frenzy.  Blood in the water.  Remember that line from “Broadcast News”?  “Wouldn’t it be great is `needy’ were a turn-on?”

 

It isn’t, except in other wounded people…or sharks.

 

Be your own parent. THEN I’ll let you play with my little boy.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

How to motivate anyone

One of the core signs of maturity is the ability postpone gratification, to accept temporary discomfort in exchange for some future benefit. The inability to do this is, then, a sign of adolescence. It is what adults have to learn to do, in whatever arenas: to tolerate the boredom or discomfort of daily writing for the pleasure of seeing a finished book on the shelves.  To limit purchases today so that you can buy something large and expensive at the end of the year, to push through a tough workout to be able to win the big game, to not steal something that doesn’t belong to you because you wish to protect your honor and reputation.

 

 

All animals are motivated by the urge to move away from pain and toward pleasure. When you see people whose behaviors put them in pain what I can promise you is that they see no way to get to pleasure in their lives.

 

–they may see a way, but not believe it will work for THEM.

–they may see a way, but believe that accomplishing that goal will ultimately bring more pain than pleasure.

–They cannot future pace, imagine a future benefit more brightly than the smaller temporary pleasure.  Such people will have a hard time reaching ANY goal, whether physical, financial, or emotional.

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I don’t believe in people without motivation. I believe in people who haven’t learned how to tap INTO their motivation. Take the least “motivated” person in the world, stick their head in a bucket of water, and they will fight like a tiger for that next breath of air.  The survival drive is ALWAYS there.  All you have to do, then, is tie into that drive, believe that action X will increase our chances of survival, and that we CAN and SHOULD do it…and you WILL.

 

Marching up the Chakras, you can look at the other motivations, less explosive than survival but still powerful:

  1. Survival.  PRIMARY.
  2. Sex.  Believe that a behavior will give you more, better, happier, more passionate sex and most people will take that action.   Second for second, the human nervous system can’t process greater pleasure than the orgasm.
  3. Power.  Believe that a given behavior will increase your ability to control your environment to your benefit, and most people will act.   This is the domain of money, the most fluid form of power that exists.
  4. Heart.   PRIMARY.   While children also relate to #1 (genetic survival), I think that for most of us, they also exist powerfully in the domain of the heart.  Our families and loved ones.  And of course, our connection to our own deep selves.  If you BELIEVE that an action will increase your joy, you will take it.  If you don’t, you have a raft of “but…if…” fears that stop you from BELIEVING it will work, or that you should have joy.  If you don’t believe you deserve happiness, good things actually cause you pain.
  5. Communication and learning.  Not everyone responds to this level, but those who do are some of my favorite human beings.   For such people, learning to communicate with greater clarity, speak their truth with power, or learn a new subject can be a powerful motivation.
  6. Intellect.   Reality maps. Creating and testing your ideas.  A danger here is that there is nothing more common than being able to agree with yourself.  So you really, really need a reality check.   Business can also factor in here–in many ways, for a particular type of person,  the business world is the Big Game, a puzzle that is utterly absorbing and fulfilling.  Money as “marker” rather than as “power.”   For these people, anything that gives them an edge will motivate them.
  7. Spirit.  Every adult knows they are going to die.  Placing your life in the context of your inevitable departure is one of the most powerful philosophical acts you can take.  “Who am I?” really fits here.  “What is true?” in terms of a Creator, or a Unifying Principle, or even an Abyss of nothingness.   Looking directly at this question until you have an answer that really works for you in your life is HUGELY motivating once you have made the connection and admit you really want it.    For such people, the chance to hear real answers, test a spiritual path, connect with something deep and meaningful within them…people will give all their worldly possessions for a valid step along this path.  They will sacrifice their lives,and sometimes family and worldly honor for clarity here.  Vastly, explosively motivating for those who have this connection.

 

As a very broad principle, the lower the number, the more people respond to the motivation.   EVERYONE responds to survival.   As you climb up the Chakras you’ll in general find fewer and fewer people responding.  Not totally true, but consider 100 top box office films, or bestselling novels: about 90% of them deal with either survival or love.  Damned few with “the Paper Chase” of education (unless they throw in a romance!) a purely intellectual puzzle (most great mysteries involve risk and murder!) or a purely spiritual inquiry.

 

Anyway…anything you want to accomplish in your life needs to go through three steps, in this order:

 

  1. WHAT do you want?  As clearly as possible.
  2. WHY do you want it?  How many of these basic motivations are you tied into? Can you really FEEL the pleasure of accomplishing? Let yourself FEEL the pain of failure?
  3. HOW comes ONLY after these first two steps. NOW you can create your “to do” list.  Now, and only now, does the “how” generate emotion.

 

Emotion is the fuel that drives your engine.  See  and feel  a positive outcome AND feel the pain of failure, and you cannot help but act.

 

In fact, any time you see someone stuck in a painful situation, you can bet that if you can help them see and FEEL  a path to happiness and away from pain, they not only CAN act, but they actually have no choice.   That’s how we’re wired.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

Afrofuturism and Cinematic Genocide

We haven’t done a video show during the holidays, and I wanted to give you something special. I thought this essay, which I’ve been researching for a year, might fit the bill.  YMMV of course.

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Why is Afrofuturism important?  Well, lets start with what it is, at least the literary aspect thereof: the SF, Fantasy, and Horror of the African Diaspora.

 

Black Americans may be the only people in the world whose dominant mythology was forced upon them by their oppressors.   Colonized Africans, or Asians, or Native  Americans have other horrors and indignities, but this particular disease has a special damage created only by wiping the cultural memory clean and imprinting Slave 1.0.

 

What happens if others create and imprint the mythologies onto an oppressed group?   Well, first we have to ask why mythologies matter.

 

Our behaviors are controlled by our emotions and perceptions and beliefs. And while many of these are impressed upon us in the home, church and school and news and entertainment also factor in, and always has.  The stories we tell about ourselves interpret our pasts and shape our actions, which create our futures.

 

Back to what happens if another group controls your mythologies. Well…they will make themselves central to their creation myths, I can promise you that.  All peoples believe they’re the center of the universe, that God made them first and loves them best. Sucks to be reminded of this constantly, if you aren’t in that position.  This isn’t statistical distribution based on a majority population, it is actual aversion.  Mild in most cases, but for every Phile there’s a Phobe, I promise you.

 

One of the ways this manifested was the “no black male lead has ever had sex in a movie that earns over 100 million domestic.”  One of the things that fascinated me was how HARD  it was for many white people to believe this existed.  The uncomfortable thing is that these same people usually knew differential performance statistics.  And they would argue that there wasn’t an aversion reaction.  One is tempted to ask how they explained the difference in incarceration and income and so forth if the “playing field” is level.  Or no…maybe you don’t have to ask.  Anyway, “Creed” finally broke that barrier in 2015.  And while its only one movie, it does change the game a bit.

 

(In other words, in a bizarre, grimly amusing and disturbing turn of logic, if you don’t believe racism is a powerful factor in American life, you are likely to attribute the differences in performance to nature, rather than nurture.  In other words, if you deny racism…you’re probably a racist.  Ugh.  I don’t like something as “pat” as that, I really don’t. But it does seem a logical conclusion.)

 

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So…let’s look elsewhere.  Back when I was a kid, I noticed that black men died more often in horror, SF, and Action films. It was an ugly joke in my  neighborhood: “how’d they kill the brother this time?” the other kids would ask when I came back from the movies.  Ugly.

 

And again, that “denial” thing.    I remember going to see “Damnation Alley” with my friend Dan Pinal.  It suddenly hit me that they were going to kill the black character, Paul Winfield, because otherwise he’d be competing sexually with George Peppard, the star.   They might let Jan -Michael Vincent compete, but not Winfield.   Dan thought I was a race-baiting  paranoid.  Five minutes later, Winfield got eaten by giant cockroaches.   Dan had seen the same movies I’d seen. But he didn’t get it.

 

Just as so many white guys had seen the sex thing…but hadn’t seen it.   Black people see it. Even white WOMEN tend to see it.

Sex and Death.  First and Second Chakras.   Personal and genetic survival.

 

In the theater of the mind, to control these things was to perform fantasy genocide on your enemy.  Harsh?  Well, I’m not saying its anything special about white people.  There IS nothing special about white people.  Love ’em, though.

And by the way–killing them is one thing.  Simply excluding them from the entire cinematic world, as in “When Worlds Collide” is arguably even worse from some perspectives. We aren’t there at all. We don’t matter. They don’t even notice our massacre.  Movies/books like “The Handmaiden’s Tale” where our genocide is lightly tossed off in a story that positions itself as “woke” on one set of concerns, while being horrific in another…suggests that the problem is deep, deep in our wiring, and that not everyone will be able to make the journey to awareness.

 

 

Here’s the thought I had about thirty years ago: I kept seeing these movies where all the black people, or all the black men, are killed.  Consider a character to be anyone with at least one line of dialogue.  Was there the opposite? Was there a single American film where all the white people died, while non-whites survived?   I’ve been saying this for years, and no one has found a single one. I mean, there MUST be one, but the implication is that it is some junk zero-budget no-distribution movie made by people with no access to the system.    A few people have said “Alien Versus Predator” but while everyone who goes down into the maze dies except Sanaa Lathan, there were sailors on a ship who had dialogue.  Likewise with “Tales From The Crypt” where Jada Pinkett survives, but not the main white characters.  However, the movie is film-within-film, and the “camera crew” survives just fine.

 

Can’t find one. Not one. Does that seem like a statistical fluke to you?   I’m saying it is a result of the fact that IT FEELS BAD to see it happen, if you identify with that group.   If you are an X, and all the X’s die, it hurts a little.  And just a little aversion, multiplied across millions of people, creates an iron effect.

 

Remember “Psycho”, where Janet Leigh seems to be the lead character, and she ends up killed? This creates an alocational disorientation.  You don’t know who to identify with, and end up identifying with Norman Bates. He is the center of good: at least he loves his mommy.  Part of the power of that film comes from this amazing choice on the part of screenwriters and director.

 

Well, what happens if group Y makes a movie, and in that film all the X’s die?   X’s in the audience must identify with Y’s, in the same way that a dream rarely continues if you die in it.   You slip into some living person’s perspective, if not an omniscient one.        And X’s who identify with Y’s, when the Y’s valued X’s less than “their own”, is rather problematic in terms of the emotional/perceptual programming, don’t you think?  And if there are no cases of Y’s EVER allowing or appreciating the opposite, doesn’t that imply that we have a problem here?

 

X lives matter.

 

If you want to blame this on “Hollywood” you’ll make me laugh. You really think “Liberal Hollywood” is worse than the country as a whole? They’re just people. And box office is truth, millions of votes across a century of film.   Creating patterns of acceptance and rejection.  Plus…I’d seen similar phenomena in publishing, comic books, politics.  So all the racists are in L.A., New York, and Washington, right? Rest of the country is fine…

 

Hah.

 

ZERO American movies in which all white characters die, while non-whites survive.

And…how many times had I seen it the other way around?  All black people, or black men, dead?  Couldn’t count ’em.   You could start with the entire run of “X-Men” films, but that wouldn’t be the tip of it.  So I started keeping track. I thought that I’d list ten, got there, and decided a reasonable person could still consider that a statistical fluke.  How about Twenty to zero?  That’s better.

 

Thirty to zero?  That’s CRAZY.  By this time all but the deluded would have admitted we have an issue.   Most will try the escape door of blaming it on Hollywood, or trying to believe it doesn’t matter.   That’s fine.  No interest in trying to convince them.  These words are for those already awake to the issue, or willing to awaken.

 

Because at the core of it, THIS is why Afrofuturism is important.   NO ONE SHOULD LET SOMEONE ELSE CONTROL THEIR DREAM.  Especially if those groups are in competition for resources.   It is suicide.

 

So Africans had their names, religions, mythologies, histories, and languages stripped away.   And those who did it basically twirled their thumbs, whistle, and pretended nothing had happened for 400 years.   But now, for the very first time (starting in…about 1970) there are serious cracks in that armor.  There is real dialogue going on.   And one of the emerging questions is: “well, if you aren’t the sub-humans our mythology suggested for so long…who are you, really?)

If you are feeling bad about this, it might be comfortable to grasp that I think this is HUMAN stuff, not some issue exclusive to white people. They happened to have the power to support their prejudices, but black people would have been just as nasty and self serving if the shoe had been on the other foot.  And yeah, white people would have been as devastated.   People are people.

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“Who am I?” is only one step away from “who are YOU?”  “What is true” is the underlying question with both.  There is currently a gap between “what is true” and “what are the mythologies that have been spun about you?”

 

And…I believe that when there is a gap between “what is true?” and “what do people believe” there is real energy to be released in speaking the truth.  And that creates an opportunity for artists and audiences.  There is gold in them thar ills.

 

So to speak.

 

Anyway, I wanted to finally publish this list on this, the last day of the year.   Is it complete?  No.  Does it contain errors?  I’d not be surprised.  I don’t have a perfect memory, and some of these movies I’ve not seen in decades.  I don’t’ re-watch movies in which all the black people, or black men, die.   Especially when they die uselessly  protecting white people (“The Shining”, anyone).  The implications of WHY this image is so attractive is disturbing as hell:  “In my imagination, you exist only to die serving me”

 

Ugh.

 

Look at this list.   And ask yourself how many times you’d have to see this pattern before you actually began to flinch when you saw someone brown in a movie, waiting for them to die. How much more likely you were to dehumanize them yourself, see them as pawns rather than kings, as THINGS rather than human beings with their own hopes, dreams, needs, loves, passions.

 

Just…things.  Self-hatred lies down that path. As well as fear, the realization that you are surrounded and outnumbered by people who, deep down inside, feel THIS way about you, and will lie about it, or remain blissfully unconscious and supportive of those images, a poison they would never, EVER feed their own children.   And have enough control of the organs of distribution that they can prevent ANYONE from creating and distributing such images.

 

But the organs of distribution are changing.  We can create and distribute art in the non-hierarchical World Wide Web, allowing audience to find and support what THEY want, without gatekeepers. And then those artists can ascend the ladder until they can confront and challenge the remaining mega-studios, results in hand, knowing that Corporations primarily speak the language known as “money.”

No, I don’t suggest that black people deliberately create images as negative as those on this list.  I encourage them to rise above that, be more conscious and loving.

 

But if they don’t?   No one could blame them.

 

Afrofuturism explains the past, contextualizes the present and points a path to the future.    It says “we were here in the past, we are here in the present, we will create the future.”  In many ways, fiction and myth controls what a culture thinks about itself, just as our personal self-image controls how we see and operate within the world as individuals.  It is meat and potatoes, not frosting.

If you agree, and you are a fan, a teacher, or a creator of such images, please join us so that 2018 can be a better year than 2017 was.  That’s how the future happens: one year, one month, one week, one day, one hour, one moment at  a time.

 

Seize this moment: it belongs to all of us who believe in the unity of mankind.  For all their flaws, our ancestors did the best they could do.  We can do better.

 

Happy New Year

Steve

 

(If these words speak to you, please consider joining our incredible Afrofuturism online class.  We are committed to changing the future, beginning today.  www.afrofuturismwebinar.com)

 

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Here’s the list. Again, it is certainly not complete.  I may have made an error or two.   But considering that there are ZERO films on the opposite list, I invite you to consider the implications.

      1. Alien
      2. Aliens
      3. Beware! The Blob
      4. Big Jake
      5. Body Snatchers (1982)
      6. Chronicle
      7. Cliffhanger
      8. Commando
      9. Conan
      10. Conan the Destroyer
      11. Damnation Alley
      12. Deepstar Six
      13. Dirty Dozen
      14. From Dusk Til Dawn
      15. Freddy Versus Jason
      16. Ghost Ship
      17. The Green Mile
      18. Gremlins
      19. Hard Target
      20. House of Wax (2005)
      21. Ice Station Zebra
      22. Jurassic Park
      23. Kill Bill
      24. Kill Bill 2
      25. Leviathan
      26. Life
      27. Magnum Force
      28. Man on Fire
      29. The Mummy (2017)
      30. Night of the living Dead
      31. Pacific Rim
      32. Planet of the Apes (1968)
      33. Predator
      34. Prometheus
      35. Quarantine
      36. Return of the Living Dead
      37. RED
      38. Logan (no black man survives ANY film in the X-Men franchise)
      39. Resident Evil
      40. The Shining*
      41. Skyline
      42. Beyond Skyline
      43. Spartacus
      44. Sphere
      45. Starship Troopers
      46. Sudden Impact
      47. Terminator 2
      48. Total Recall
      49. True Romance
      50. The Unforgiven
      51. Wrath of Khan
      52. Whatever Happened to Monday?

 

Drawing the Circle

Once you can visualize a circle with the “Hero’s Journey” as the horizontal axis, and the Chakras as the vertical, you really have the core of the “Lifewriting” idea.

 

All you have to do with any character is wound them on one level, and describe the path of action that would let them heal.   Or, if you start with a plot or scene, ask yourself what character would find this WONDERFUL and ask how it could turn nasty. Or who would find it HORRIBLE and how it could become the best thing that ever happened.

 

Man, this works great.  You can literally start with any character, situation, dialogue, theme or anything else and as long as you can see what it relates to (a person?  A situation?) you have points on a circle. And you only need three to get the rest of the circle, so once you understand this, writing becomes a matter of doing the work.

 

Applying this to human beings is a little trickier.  Humans are far more complex than any fictional character.   And fictional characters have to make sense within the context of the story.  Real human beings make sense too, but because they are as complex as the brain trying to understand them, they often seem incomprehensible, especially to people who don’t understand themselves.

 

So…if stories are a circle, can we see real humans as spheres?  Spheres have a third axis, and frankly, I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge of defining it.  I think its enough to “sense” it, allow it to remain fluid and a bit mysterious.    I doubt you can predict individual behavior (no more than you can predict where a leaf will fall if you drop it from a 10th story window) but in retrospect, the behavior should make sense.

 

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Let’s say that we want to create fully functional “awake, aware, adult” human beings.   The real world can’t be grasped directly by the conscious mind.  But in fiction we can “flatten out” real human beings to 2-dimensional stature and actually ask questions.  Who is he?  What is true?

 

Asking these questions in fantasy is a step toward solving the puzzle in reality.

 

“Lifewriting” then, is looking at a problem in your life, and devising a story that deals with a character coping with an analogous situation.   Exaggerated and changed and flattened, of course.    But when you make that connection, you are tapping into one of the core reasons human beings have always been fascinated by story–

 

Because at the core of it, it is about us!

 

Write with Passion…

Steve

(and if Afrofuturism is one of your interests, be sure to sign up for the online class while you can enter the drawing for free Nichelle “Uhura” Nichols memorabilia!  www.afrofuturismwebinar.com)

What is the value and meaning of Art?

Tomorrow we have the honor of video interviewing Tony “Candy Man” Todd for our THE SUNKEN PLACE black horror class.  I already have questions I want to ask him, and they center on a few different areas: career, role preparation, creating and sustaining an iconic character, the subtexts of contemporary horror, his own view on the “Candyman” phenomenon, his view of the genre  and how it has changed over the decades, and the road ahead.  Fear of black male sexuality and the way that fear was nurtured and channeled to create a classic film. So much more.

But all of that is the “Black Horror” level, or the “Horror level” if you back up a level of abstraction. Back up another level to the category of “Art” and the picture looks different.  At the “Art” level, we can see that behind all of these questions lies a set of assumptions and investigations: If art is self-expression, where does the artist find the emotional “fuel” to create?

 

How do you take this “fuel” and use it to power the development and expression of skill?

 

If love and fear are the primary driving energies of the human heart, how do you intertwine them to create response in your audience? What is the catharsis you seek to create, which helps them heal and vent? To evolve to the next level of their lives, or at least to feel emotions that give THEM release and perspective?

 

Art is an oddness.  There are three major aspects of human existence to which most human drives connect:   Physical survival, Emotional survival, Financial survival.  “Art” isn’t squarely in any of them, but certainly relates to stress relief (physical), emotional expression, and career…if you create and sell your art.

 

It knits society together, helps us understand  ourselves, gives us joy, allows us to turn fear into thrills.  Indirectly, it supports and enables health in all three major arenas.  Ask yourself these questions about your own life and work, and you’ll find more of the energy and aliveness you seek.

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If you are in the SUNKEN PLACE class, we would love you to submit questions for him.   Can’t wait to create a masterpiece and share it with all of you in January!

(or February…we’re not sure WHEN the interview will be integrated into the class.  We’re still refining the presentations, to ensure our students the very best experience.)

 

Anyway…if you have a question you’ve been burning to answer, please let us know.  And if you have friends who are fans, teachers, or creators of black horror, please let them know the price has to go up in January, and encourage them to sign up now!

 

www.realblackhorror.com

 

See you in 2018!

Steve

Balance in the Force

Another SPOILERY discussion about THE LAST JEDI.

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I’ve heard a lot of happiness…and complaint…about a thematic aspect of TLJ.  And that is that the actions of Finn, Poe and Rose fail, while the plan of Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo succeeds.  Let me take the movie seriously enough to dig into it–otherwise what’s the point, right?

 

So a complaint/observation has been that the girls are showing the boys what fer.  That those silly men are simply outthought by the women, and that Poe, Finn and Rose’s actions actually expose them and cost lives.

 

Partially True.  Considering the way the discussions have come down, I think it isn’t absurd to think that people are conflating female with indirect action and male with direct action.  IF we can look at that for a moment, to the degree that that conflation is accepted, then in the real world, you can’t say that the indirect is superior.

 

What you CAN say is that IN THIS INSTANCE indirect was superior.   Sun Tzu says:  “In war, when you outnumber the enemy by 10 to 1, surround and destroy them.  If stronger by 5 to one, pool your forces and attack.  If up by two to one, divide your troops and attack them from two sides.  When you are evenly matched, launch an offensive first to win.  When the enemy forces are superior only by a small extent, prepare for defense, avoid confrontation. When they are superior by a large extent, dodge the attacks.  When an obstinate small force wants to fight a big power, it must succumb in the end to the greater force.”

 

This is very Tai Chi, in the sense of avoiding force, striking into hollows.  Yin and Yang in balance.  Poe wanted to fight.   Holdo wanted to flee to fight another day.

 

It is IMBALANCE that is the real problem.  The adherence to EITHER yin or yang, direct or indirect, regardless of appropriateness.  It will get you killed.  The “Female” approach worked better IN THIS CASE. Doesn’t make it better overall.

 

Most of “Star Wars” has been direct action.  And much of history is about direct action because we can see it more easily.   Doesn’t make it better.

 

If you are of dualistic mindset, you’ll focus on one or the other.  “X is better”, “Y is better.”  That’s fine.  But people really CAN get stuck on the notion that the only approach is attack.  And people really CAN get stuck on the notion that the only approach is evasion. Either will get you killed.  Either is “toxic.”

 

There are plenty of other dualities you have to respect to resolve the duality and rise to the next level.  While sure, there are almost certainly some political/philosophical intent going on here, but that’s just saying “conscious” as opposed to “unconscious.”  If you DON’T think about it, you’ll just fall into whatever the cultural flow already is, or your unconscious preferences.  People who complain about “PC” are usually those who either approve of the current cultural flow or don’t want to deal with their prejudices, figuring that as long as they act out without conscious thought, it’s all o.k.  They aren’t looking at the fact that their unconscious attitudes are hugely influenced by a culture that has been promoting and protecting certain modes of thought or behavior for generations.   Of COURSE you won’t pay as much attention if you are advantaged by the flow. Only people being swept toward the waterfall panic.

 

Being an “awake, aware, adult” human being means asking questions about the social rules, and making a conscious decision to adapt them.   To hide behind “it’s the way we’ve always done it” without taking responsibility and saying “and there is no other way that works” or  “and I like it that way, so I’ll support it” is cowardly or at best, driving the bus with your eyes closed.

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

http://www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

It’s never too late to be true to your heart

The M.A.G.I.C. formula is designed to take a frustration and turn it into a power.   I’ve noticed that almost NO major positive events have ever occurred in my life through direct action.   I didn’t meet Tananarive when looking for a partner.  I didn’t achieve my major martial breakthroughs in a martial arts school.  I didn’t get my best writing opportunities through pounding on doors, and didn’t have any idea which projects were going to hit hardest.  None.

 

It’s all a crap shoot.  But…if you let the apparent randomness dissuade you from acting, you are making a HUGE mistake.

 

This is the way it seems to go.  This is an analogy ONLY.

 

Imagine your life like a  mathematical plane drawing describing physical reality.  Every focused action you take increases your “mass”.    As your “mass” increases, the plane distends.  You create a gravity well.  Passing opportunities get sucked in.  The greater the mass, the more opportunities.

 

But…there is another model in Yoga.  It discusses the “Siddhi” phenomenon in yoga.   That if you meditate upon the true nature of reality, or God, or your own deep identity, you gain power, and will begin to experience extranormal phenomena.   Charisma, sexual attraction, precognitive flashes, ESP, and so forth.

 

The trick is that these things are like gold nuggets sprinkled along a “path” you are traveling if you are meditating and living correctly. You might be able to scoop them up as you move forward, but if you chase after them they turn into fool’s gold.  If you chase them long enough, you will look back and realize you’ve lost sight of the path.

 

An example: you are a writer who writes from your heart. You struggle with finances, but win awards.  One day, you write a book that becomes a bestseller. Your agent, publisher, and fans scream “write more of THAT!”  You do, and enjoy great success…at first.  But you are no longer writing from your heart you are writing to the audience.  IF you are not also writing from your heart, you will lose the very thing that made you special, and your fire burns out.

 

Many years ago, I had lunch in Greenwich Village with Leo and Diane Dillon, two artists of supreme flow. They created as a single mind. Where one ended a line, the other would begin. And while I THOUGHT I was having the meeting to discuss my wife’s art, once I was in the presence of these lovely people, I realized I was really concerned for my own artistic soul.  Frankly, in order to survive I had made many artistic choices that were more in alignment with my bank book than my heart.

 

Was I lost?  Had I destroyed myself?  Before I knew it I was gushing tears at the table.   Was it too late for me?

 

With an expression of infinite kindness and understanding, Diane reached across the table and took my hands in hers.  “Steve,” she said.   “If you can even ask that question…its not too late.”

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Back to M.A.G.I.C.:
“Magic” equals Action times Gratitude times Intention times Conviction.

 

If the things you desire are going to come indirectly, but direct action is the key to making them possible, then every day you have to:

Take Action

Feel Gratitude (gratitude is the antidote for fear)

Have clear Intention (you have to know what you want) and

Have Conviction you can and should have it.

 

Every day you take actions toward your goal, knowing that most of your plans will come to nothing, and that the person, the opportunities, the results you desire will often, perhaps usually, come out of your peripheral vision.

 

Damn, this is frustrating. So much urge to chase after the gold.So much to give up and say nothing matters.

 

So hard to stay on the middle course.

 

But…everything I’ve gotten in my life has happened when I stayed on the path, did my work, clarified my goals, made myself happy just to be alive, and took one step after another. Everything.

 

It’s worth it, because even if I DON’T get the externals, I’ve been true to myself. And nothing in the universe is worth abandoning your heart.

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

The Last Jedi (2017)

SPOILER-ISH.

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No one reading this needs to be told there is a new “Star Wars” film out. That it deals with Luke and Leia and Rey and Ren and Poe and Finn.  In my humble opinion it rocks.  It has also been more divisive than any SW movie I can think of. The prequels were almost universally panned.  People weren’t split. Here, they are.  Well, there are always reasons to love or hate anything.   Rather than just review the film (go see it!) I thought I’d offer some thoughts on some of the complaints.   Might be more entertaining.

 

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There is a certain scene in TLJ where people ask: “well, why didn’t anyone do that before?” You know, I view that scene much like bin Laden’s move on 9-11. No one had ever hijacked a commercial flight and rammed it into a building before. I find it perfectly reasonable that anything that has never been done before would succeed–once. We have perceptual loopholes. We can’t think of everything, and don’t tend to rank the things that have never happened as highly as those we’ve seen before.

 

I’m sure that someone, somewhere, must have written about such a scene in a short story or novel SOMEWHERE.  Surely.  But I’ve seen and read about thousands of space battles in dozens of different universes, many of whom with similar technology, and never, ever seen “THAT” done.  So the simplest answer is also incredibly satisfying: no one had thought of it.  It was an example  of Kamakazi lateral thinking, really one of the best I’ve ever seen, and stunningly simple ONCE YOU THINK OF IT. In RETROSPECT it is obvious.   But unless you can show me a few, or even one, example of such a scene in a movie or in a television show, I’m afraid it was the very definition of creativity.

 

Now of course, they’ll have to “upgrade their shields” or something to keep it from being done again, but right now, I have to give serious props to Rian Johnson.  Until further notice, I’m assuming he came up with that move, and it was SWEET, one of the very best moments in the entire saga, one of the most stunning I’ve ever seen in an otherwise fluffy space opera.

 

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There is no such thing as a movie without flaws.  Without things to pick at.   I thought the entire “casino planet” sequence went no where, had no relevance to anything beyond giving characters something to do.   You could lift the entire thing out and it wouldn’t matter very much, if at all.  The idea that the theme of the movie is, partially, that direct action doesn’t always work, then they didn’t think it through enough.

 

You have a responsibility to have every scene and sequence contribute to the overall structure of a story.  If the end of the scene has the same “charge” as the beginning of that scene, you have wasted the audience’s time.   It is also dishonest: in real life, things are always changing, always getting better or worse.   In the contracted time of a story, this is exaggerated so we can feel it more directly.  While it can SEEM that nothing has changed in Gramma’s house since last Thanksgiving, that is not true, is not and can never be true.

 

So if you want the characters to learn something, or for the audience to learn something about characters who refuse to learn, you have a sequence of “nothing happening” entwined with “something happening” on another level.  And I just don’t see it.  That is a flaw.

 

I’m also still not happy with the amount of “Jar Jar” DNA in Finn.  It is noticeable on a couple of levels, although they did allow his character to expand and grow some.  When the very first thing we see with him is him falling out of bed, the first “buffoon laugh” of the film, you have a hill to climb, and they didn’t quite climb it.  Finn’s treatment was an “othering” I didn’t appreciate. And if you defend it, you are, frankly, the reason I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized Marvel was seeking a black director for T’Challa’s saga.

 

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Those things said, Star Wars movies, like the Bond films, or Superhero movies or franchises of any kind, can only tangentially be compared to films outside their own continuity.  They are all flawed, and exist in a universe of their own. I love that universe, but ALL the movies are hinky…except for a thread of heart, of feeling, a sense that you are experiencing another chapter of a beloved bedtime story. For some, the absence of bloodline characters from the original film will eventually break their connection, like having a Bond movie without Bond.   For others, if their view of the Jedi is violated, that will break their connection. Those who think that only the Jedi can use the Force are welcome to feel their trust has been violated. They are establishing a rule that isn’t even kept within the formal continuity: there are the Sith.  If there are two groups, using a natural force, and you don’t think that in a galaxy with billions of planets and countless trillions of beings there would be more…that’s your business.

 

I have no problem rolling with that.  The fact that the Jedi said that they were the only ones?   Wow.   THAT’S definitive.  Right along with Christians having the only route to Salvation, Conservatives being the only ones who love America, Liberals being the only ones who care about other human beings, Shotokan being the only “real” karate, and Corporations being more moral than governments.

 

ALWAYS trust what people say about themselves. And what they say about their enemies. You can 100% count on that.  As Obi-Wan said, nailing down the fact that every word a Jedi speaks can be trusted:  “what I told you was true…from a certain point of view.

 

Sigh.

 

Anyway, what you have in “The Last Jedi” is, as far as I can see, a respectful but not slavish evolution of the original ideas, allowing the characters to be human, not merely archetypes.  No, Leia wouldn’t have exploded in vacuum.   Humans can survive a minute or two. FORCE enabled humans?  Who can say?    And if you can use a fire extinguisher for propulsion in zero gravity, you think that a power that can lift boulders and spaceships couldn’t propel 130 pounds of human being?   Really?  Almost every damned Star Wars movie has shown a different aspect of The Force.  You think that Luke projecting his spirit force billions of miles is less unlikely than Leia doing something that is actually physically possible by pissing in the opposite direction?  Really?

 

Frankly, I suspect that if Luke had done that exact same thing, many of the nay-sayers would say “oooh!  Badass!”

 

But…I can’t prove that. It’s just a suspicion, based on the fact that when there is something about a movie we don’t’ want to deal with, we search for ways to say “its only a movie” and pop out of the narrative.  All that invites speculation about what aspects of TLJ might have triggered such a response.  Later on that.

 

For now, I’ll say that it was the first SW movie since “Empire” that struck me as seeking to really ask questions about that universe, those characters, the implications of the ideas.  The first to actually extrapolate, while respecting the emotional integrity of the concept.   I’ll be damned if Rian Johnson didn’t actually try to make a movie, rather than just a “Star Wars” movie, and there were scenes that were stirring, powerful, really kickass after what, 40 years?

 

While flawed, TLJ was like SKYFALL was to the Bond movies–asked us to ask questions about these characters we love, and this world we’ve adored most of our lives.   I think that is something startling, requiring courage and creativity and real love of the material.

 

And the fact that a certain segment of the fans attacked it so rapidly, tried to say that the second-largest opening weekend in cinematic history is some kind of failure is fascinating. Makes me wonder what they are so pissed about.  We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks, but frankly, I think it will do fine.

 

I don’t know about them…but it is certainly STAR WARS.  It is not just the STAR WARS of the past, however, it is moving toward being a STAR WARS for the 21st Century, which makes it a living, breathing thing.   Lucas himself was said to have “really liked it” and thought “it was beautifully made.”    Consider that he criticized “The Force Awakens” as too “retro.   I don’t like that. I like — every movie, I worked very hard to make them completely different, with different planets, with different spaceships — you know, to make it new.

 

Man seems  to speak his mind.  People will discount this, say that he was forced to say this, or that his opinion is irrelevant for X or Y reasons.    So this won’t change anyone’s mind. Fair enough.     Art belongs to the audience as well as the artist. People are entitled to their feelings.   But if EMPIRE had never been made, and they made it today, do you really think there wouldn’t be valid criticisms?

 

But ah…(and here it comes):  there is that other dimension.   It is impossible not to read the fan threads of criticism and see how often they complain about SJWs and Forced Diversity and Liberal Agendas so forth.  That one wonders what the demographic composition of the most rabid objectors might be, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

 

The fact that on those threads I’ve not seen a single complainer “call out” one of the people complaining about SJWs: “no, that wasn’t a problem, but I didn’t enjoy…”

 

Haven’t seen that once. It is…suggestive to me.  Not definitive. There is ALWAYS room for valid complaints.  But man oh man, would I ever like to know how many of them were the same people, or the same TYPE of people who excoriated Samuel Delaney for complaining about the tiny range of humanity displayed in “A New Hope.”    And suspect there is a LOT of overlap.

 

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My opinion is that this is REAL Star Wars, a Star Wars for its time as “A New Hope” was for 1977.   Flawed, clunky, but with real imagination and wonder and something to say about friendship, love, sacrifice, heroism, and the complexity of the human heart. About myth and reality and how we confuse them.  And opens the door to a thousand new stories set in a universe long ago and far away.

 

We need our fantasy and science fiction.    They speak to what we are as individuals, as a species. Express the past, contextualize the present and point the way a shared future.

 

I’m sorry for the people who could not embrace THE LAST JEDI, but respect them.  Even the ones who were primarily offended by the notion that non-white human beings are less alien than Bothans.  Fine. You’re people too, even if you can’t extend that respect to me.

 

It’s cool

 

But for those who disliked it for OTHER reasons, I’m sorry.   Better luck next time.

 

And for those like me, who loved it…

 

Wasn’t it @#$$% COOL!!!! I put it right after “Empire” and “A New Hope”.   And ahead of all the rest.

 

 

May the Force Be With You…

Steve

(Don’t miss the Holiday sale!   www.afrofuturismwebinar.com)