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.


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.






Rules for 2018

One thing I’m promising myself in 2018 is that I’m going to recognize more rapidly people who should not be taken seriously, or are trolling, or have sufficiently different views of reality or humanity that argumentation cannot lead to a useful conclusion.  Over 2017 I tested a bunch of them, and I’ll be discussing them over the next days.


Here’s one:   When people say “human beings are bad” in some specific way: dishonest, evil, sick, etc, I ask a simple question: “are you including yourself in that?”


  1. They do. In which case we know they have a poor opinion of themselves.  I personally find such people worthy of sympathy but not modeling.
  2. They do not. In which case they are falling into the “I’m so great” thought pattern.  People who look down on humanity from some supposed height.  I find that almost everyone who does this also has an inferiority issue: they are always worried about who is better than THEM, since they are so clearly superior to others. Further, they are often filled with rage, as they rarely have the success they deserve, while others, less evolved than them, get the girls/guys, make more money, have the better toys and lives. Not fair!   They are also more worthy of sympathy than modeling.


If someone comes from that position, they will interpret all human history as well as current events very differently from those who believe human beings are either neutral or good.  Be aware that there are entire families of interpretation where you won’t agree.    Once you’ve encountered a few of these folks, you probably aren’t going to learn much about yourself or the world from talking to them.   You might help THEM, but they probably can’t help you.  So…you have to decide if you want to make that investment. If you do, bless you…but don’t expect to get anything back. And they just might infect you with their issues.

So legal pot is really here…now what?

So California is starting to sell legal, recreational pot, with an adult able to purchase an ounce a day.  This is a serious threshold, and I think a very good thing for the legal system, which had been warped by users of other drugs  into “guilt projection”, allowing the sick spectacle of people drinking and smoking at “just say NO” fund-raisers.  Ugh.  As of today, in California, I have just a little more respect for that system: it is saner than it was a year ago.


But there are still concerns.


A very long time ago, I was asked to give a lecture to Nicki’s Jr. High school class on why DARE was important. The problem was that I considered it bullshit.  It simply didn’t seem honest in its condemnation of drugs, and in my opinion that’s because the people who created it were (or tolerated) alcohol drinkers.   That meant that an irreducible amount of self-serving hypocrisy was in the mix.  Say “you shouldn’t use it because it is illegal” leads to questions about WHY pot is illegal, and most of those discussions boiled down to: “because we say it is.”


All discussions of its problems avoided comparisons with legal substances like alcohol and tobacco, and it seems pretty obvious why: an honest comparison makes them look REALLY bad.   Drilling down into that issue actually weakens confidence in the legal system.


DARE also emphasized “peer pressure.” You know, sure there’s a factor there.  But that misses a very simple truth: IT FEELS GOOD.   When you tell a kid that their reasons for doing something are because they are weak-willed, if you don’t deal with the ACTUAL reason people do things: to avoid pain and gain pleasure–they know you are wrong, or lying, and can comfortably ignore you.


But…it is true that I didn’t want Nicki smoking pot, and I knew I had reasons for that that went beyond “because you might be arrested.”  So I dug in, thought about it, and came up with what seemed some very good reasons for children to avoid it as “the thing itself”, separate from the question of “should we obey the law?”  In other words, EVEN IF IT WAS LEGAL…were there reasons to be careful?   Those reasons I was willing to address.




Most of the negative things I’d say about pot are even worse with alcohol or tobacco. But the biggest problem is that users often think there is ZERO problem with it.


First: all organic substances produce carcinogens when combusted. All.   So there are health issues. Next question: well, what about vaping and edibles?  Good question, kid.



Second, if it provides pleasure (which is more or less the point!) it is probably important not to use it until your basic neural paths are laid down (adulthood) and not until the end of the work day. Pleasure and pain are signals that guide us through the world.  When you make a mistake, it is SUPPOSED to hurt, so that we get the message that something is wrong, and try something else.   As a child, you are laying down neural patterns to last the rest of your life.   And it is critical not to interrupt the natural cycle of goal-action-pain/pleasure result-new goal-new action.


That pattern is central to human or animal training/education.   When is it reasonable to interject “pleasure on demand” into this?  After the basic patterns are laid down.  Or for adults, after the day’s work is done, to “switch” from work to “off.”  Would it be better to do this without any substances? Almost certainly.  But if you have problems “switching off” you are better off “switching off” with something as mild as pot than simply being “on’ all the time, which leads to an entire raft of problems.


Third, because self-serving alcoholics and their allies (people who attack pot without equal fervor against more dangerous substances) have been so “Reefer Madness” hysterical, the equal and opposite reaction was to say “its harmless!” or even “its good for you!”  That will be debated beyond my lifetime. Here’s the most sensible safety rail I can offer: treat it like beer or wine.   “Wake and Bake” is like popping a can of Bud first thing in the morning.  Don’t kid yourself.


One thing alcohol drinkers and their allies (Call them ADA) do is to compare moderate or low amounts of alcohol to CHRONIC chronic smokers.  In other words: best case scenario for us, worst case scenario for you.    This is seriously flawed logic, used all the time.  Looking at someone who is smoking all day?  Compare that to someone drinking all day, or get the @#$$ out of here.


IF YOU WANT TO BE SAFE, DON’T SMOKE IN ANY SITUATION WHERE YOU WOULDN’T DRINK.  Meaning that we have evolved social rules that impact things like driving, working, socializing, etc, over thousands of years.    In America, we don’t have similar rules for pot.   Eventually we’ll evolve them but you don’t want to get caught in one of the lies, either “it’s the devil’s weed!” or “its harmless as mommy’s milk!”


Be careful.  There are nuts on either side.  Are there probable health benefits? Sure, and more will be discovered now that we can finally do the real research.  The future looks quite good in that sense.   Returning hunger to terminal cancer patients seems inarguable.  There will be more.  But you don’t want to be a casualty.


And if you need to work your way out of a life problem?   So long as you can keep your goal in mind, and see the daily actions that will take you there, the more of the pain/pleasure equation you let yourself feel, the greater your motivation.  If you have someplace to go, things to do that create change in your life…you would probably be best served by avoiding any substance that triggers pleasure chemically.


But…between “best served” and “ill served” there is definitely a “healthy range of behavior.”   Many of the wisest human beings who have ever walked the planet seemed to enjoy getting “that way” in celebration, or at the end of the day.   I see no reason to link performance or human quality to teetotling.   And sure as HELL not to drinking or smoking tobacco in preference.   I’m willing to throw them all in the same category and then compare the results of varying levels and means of consumption, but that’s it.


Play safe.    This is a moment that pot advocates have aimed toward since the 60’s, and it’s here.  Don’t blow it.





(Jamie Broadnax of BLACK GIRL NERDS wanted to tweet out our Nichelle Nichols contest to her readers, so I’m giving the contest one more day: until midnight tonight.  Afroturism lives!

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.


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.)




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…




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.


“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”




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



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



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.




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…


(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!

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.


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!


See you in 2018!


The Argument Beneath the Argument

I had a long, involved argument with a FB friend, where I kept wondering “is she being deliberately obtuse?  That argument doesn’t make sense. THAT argument doesn’t make sense. She is ignoring that she’s changing the subject and arguing in an entirely different arena…”


It was frustrating, because I respect her intelligence.  But then, a light went on:  She wasn’t concerned with this issue because she didn’t see it being an issue IN HER LIFETIME.  If it wasn’t going to be a problem IN HER LIFETIME, why worry about it?  Why, then, had she engaged with the comment stream?


Well, some possible reasons…


  1. She wanted to  siphon some of the energy off to her personal causes.
  2. She isn’t totally comfortable with her choice (to be unconcerned) and wanted agreement that it was appropriate not to care.
  3. She just enjoyed trolling.


There are other possibilities, but these are the ones that came immediately to mind.   Note: this situation is exactly the same as the “Restaurant Argument” we’ve talked about, where you and your spouse go around and around about the menu, décor, price, location, and everything else before the truth comes out: your spouse doesn’t want to go to that restaurant because their Ex works there.


Oh, snap.   That simple truth: “I just don’t wanna” would have saved so much time.


This is important in political arguments, where the “presenting argument” is actually a symptom of some deeper disagreement.  Here are a couple of examples:


  1. Abortion. On the surface, it is “Abortion is murder” against “a woman’s right to choose.”  The underlying problem? There is no universally accepted definition of the point at which a fertilized egg becomes a human being.   Not scientific, philosophical or religious.
  2. Issues like Affirmative Action and “BLM.”    On the surface, there are issues like “how do we achieve social justice”.  But underneath, there are competing theories of nature and nurture.   Things that cannot actually be “answered” the way we can answer a question in math or physics.
  3. Veganism versus Meat Eating.    The underlying question is one of the degree of awareness cows and pigs and chickens have.  “They don’t feel pain the way we do.”   Charlie the Tuna begs to be eaten.  Hah hah.   It is one thing to believe that we need the animal protein to be healthy, or even that we have the right to enjoy what we wish.  It is another to say that animals don’t feel pain and fear, or that none of them are aware of what is happening.   Again, we have something that can be intelligently but not decisively argued, layered over with arguments about efficiency and effectiveness.
  4. Anthropogenic Global Warming.   On the surface, you have an argument about scientific consensus and measurements.  Underneath, you have Biblical beliefs about whether humans were given domain over the earth.   Less esoterically, there are very real concerns that humanity’s energy requirements cannot be met by renewables.   Add in there a trillion-dollar petroleum infrastructure willing to spend endless money to promote their point of view, and you have gridlock.
  5. Overpopulation. On the surface, you have conversations about how much human population the planet can sustain.  Underneath, you have a very possible genetic/cultural memory of a time less than 100k years ago that humanity almost died out, when we needed every human being to reproduce.   Memories of being out-bred by opposing tribes.  Memories of eugenics horrors when one group said they had the right to tell another group whether they could have babies.  Core human programming that we are trying to address as we speak.
  6. A.I.  On the surface, the conversation tends to be “we aren’t there yet” or “machines will never be intelligent.”  Underneath, there are bigger questions: should we care about future generations?  Or: “what is the nature of mind?”   Beliefs, values, speculations on things that quite possibly cannot be resolved with absolute precision and the satisfaction of all.  Heck, you can’t even get 100% agreement on basic laws of physics, or whether the earth is flat.
  7. Gay Rights.   On the surface, there are discussions of marriage, and the right to refuse service, and so forth. Underneath?  Frequently? A sense that homosexual relationships are sinful and sick.  They don’t SAY it directly in polite political discourse, but that’s often there, looking for a way to support their positions without quite saying what’s on their minds.  Seeking mundane legal explanations for an esoteric emotional response.



It is impossible for me not to take sides to a degree on these issues, but I’ve TRIED to state them as neutrally as I can.    The point is that every one of these issues involves fear, questions of sin, core inquiries into the nature of humanity or identity, concerns about survival of individuals or species.  All of them impact human rights, social justice, and proper stewardship of the earth.


This is tough stuff.   And…I believe that we’ll work through all of them, but the current generations may have to die off, so that those most invested in our grandparents’ answers are no longer in the equation. The future belongs to our grandchildren.


My real point is that if you look at the most violent, intractable arguments, look for the underlying unresolved philosophical position.   The truth is that once you’ve identified it, and realize that there may be no way to resolve it, you come to a new question: “given that we will never agree on certain things, how do we build a healthy society regardless?”


THAT is a hell of a question when you realize that different views on male and female, black and white, gay and straight, Christian and Muslim, Religious or Atheist, Nature and Nurture, “them” and “us”   that CANNOT be rationally resolved.  This has always been true, but we’ve built civilizations and melded tribes regardless.  It takes time. And there are bumps on the road. And people will scream and fight.


It is my belief that progress will be made by those who can see the humanity in the person who opposes them, even if that person is feeling disgust, hatred, anger, or fear.  They are PRECISELY the people we have to find a way to reach. We move on. And at every stage people say “there is no answer!  We are at a permanent impasse!  All is lost!  It’s never been this bad!”


I will simply say bluntly: I don’t buy it.  Human beings aren’t “basically good” or “basically evil”.  We are basically animals looking at the stars, moving away from pain and toward pleasure, and most of the most terrible things we’ve done have been due to fear on a personal or tribal level.  Every one of those seven above, plus any other intractable problem I’ve ever heard relates to this basic stuff.  Sometimes it isn’t resolved in a single human life.  But unless you believe humans are basically evil, you realize that all you have to do is show someone how acting differently will decrease pain and gain pleasure…and you can get that person to do anything you want.


But…be cautious. If you believe that humans are basically “good” you may well forget that you have to stay alert, must remember that fearful people can and do cause massive destruction and that further there are also predators who actually love inflicting pain and fear for its own sake.


Be loving. But also be strong, and ready to protect your tribe.   But also ready to communicate honestly and open-heartedly with those on the “other side” who wish to make peace. One step at a time, that is how we’ve increased connection and complexity as a species.


And we’re not done yet.





Balance in the Force

Another SPOILERY discussion about THE LAST JEDI.






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.





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.”



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.





The Last Jedi (2017)





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.




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.




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.




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.




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.




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…


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