Awakening

Octavia Butler’s Life and Legacy

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This month celebrates Octavia Butler’s life and legacy. I find myself pulled into numerous discussions on the subject, although I’m not a scholar of her work: she was my friend, my big sister, my neighbor, my colleague. Sigh. It is good to see people finally recognizing what we had walking among us, but also just a little sad. TELL THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE THAT YOU LOVE THEM WHILE THEY ARE ALIVE will you please???

Octavia was a hard-SF writer who was driven by questions about sexuality, gender relations, race relations, human violence, and our misuse of the environment. “Who are we?” and “What is true?” To me, although she certainly had politics, she was far far more philosophical, genuinely wondering if humanity had what it would take to survive, given our hierarchical and egotistical tendencies. And…her massive research into realms biological suggested to me that she was searching the natural world for answers. Were we animals? And if so, were our flaws outgrowths of our survival traits? Or our destructive traits? Or something else?

Hard, hard questions, and very few writers have gone as deeply into these questions, let alone written of them with grace and power. She was one of a kind.

Tananarive and I visited with her as often as possible, and for years Octavia and I lived walking distance from each other, and frequently got together for dinner, lunch, and conversation. She didn’t drive, and I often took her to speaking engagements so that she’d not have to take the bus.

This Friday, we’re going to discuss her life and legacy, art and craft, politics and philosophy in our ongoing exploration of how the inner and outer worlds of the artist combine to create genius. This Friday, 6pm pst on Lifewriting

Join us!

https://lifewriting.leadpages.co/octaviabutlerlessons/

 

Namaste,

Steve

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The Art of Striving Without Striving

“Work (with desire) is verily far inferior to that performed with the mind undisturbed by thoughts of results”–the Bhagavad Gita

 

There is no arena of life to which this cannot be applied.  Yes, you must be sure that you have “right action” in the sense that during your planning phase, you design your daily actions so that, if they are properly performed, they maximize your chance of reaching your goal.   But the actions must be pleasureable in and of themselves, or it is difficult to enter “flow”, and without flow, you will never reach your full potential.   And hey, what about pleasure for its own sake?  After all, you might get hit by a meteor tomorrow morning.  Why postpone your joy until the end of the month?

 

  1. Body.   Daily actions of discipline and exertion must tie into your “fun” wiring, or at least your “inquiry” wiring.  Learning, expressing, exploring.  Most people treat their bodies like hamsters on wheels: “if I do enough of this mindless exercise, my body will whip into shape”.  In reality, they are often WIDENING the gap between mind and body: exercising on a treadmill while watching television.  Since it takes about five hours of jogging or walking to burn off a single Whopper, this is not the smartest approach.

 

2) Mind.   Look at the arts.    The greatest artists rarely worried about the money and fame, even though it came to them.  They are concerned with the quality of the work. But if they are shrewd businessmen (as, say, Shakespeare apparently was) then they must also calibrate by watching the audience, tracking the sales, and so forth.  This might be considered the split between “flow” and “editing” states, “child” and “adult” states, with each part doing its job. The “adult” self might decide that XYZ is the appropriate homework that will lead to the good grades. But he must then lather the “child” self with love and approval (as well as implied punishment/pain: carrot AND stick works better than either alone) to keep that little guy on track.

 

3) Relationships.   The entire “Soulmate Process” notion is to design your life so that you automatically, for your own reasons, do the things that make you more attractive to others. Don’t do it to manipulate, or attract some particular person.  Do it because a healthy, vibrant expression of self is the precise attractant you need.  If you “try” to attract other people, you actually become desperate and weak.  But if your commitment is to being a healthy animal with a loving heart and a keen hunter-gatherer, you won’t be able to beat them off with a stick.    

 

All of this is the same as a warrior going off to war without looking back at his family, or concerning himself with survival.  His attention is on doing his duty, and performing his function at maximum efficiency and effectiveness.  If he does this, without concern for his own life, his skills integrated at the level of “unconscious competence” will take care of survival, while his tactical and strategic mind concentrates on, well, killing his enemies.  And he therefore will have the maximum chance of finding himself alive at the end of the day.  

 

Before action, fear or eagerness.

After action, relief and gratitude

During action, “you” are not there.  Something else comes up, Stephen King’s “boys in the basement”.  Bruce Lee’s “bloody violent man”.  Something deeper, stronger, smarter.   More real than the part of you that seeks money, fame, sex, or survival.

 

That’s the paradox.  You must act with efficiency and effectiveness.  And you also have to not care about the results.  find a way to resolve that paradox, and you’ve taken another step.

 

Namaste

Steve

WHERE DOES FAITH COME FROM?

A GREAT question this morning:

 

Steven Barnes : I have a question for you. Where does the faith in your equation come from? I’m struggling mightily in two areas of my life — money and physical health — and I’ve come to the conclusion that my obstacle is faith. I don’t know what it would look — or feel — like to be financially comfortable or be truly fit (and not just thin.) I’ve never been either of those things. So where does the faith come from? It’s strange because there are other areas — professionally, for example– where I am excelling even though I didn’t see anyone like me doing these things. But I believe in my intellect. I can’t understand why I don’t believe in my money management skills or ability to get out of debt or discipline to exercise.”

There are three major sources of faith:

  1. Faith in yourself
  2. Faith in your companions
  3. Faith in a higher power.

 

EVERYONE loses faith at times.  There is no way to avoid it. The question is: how long does it take to regain it?  This is the purpose of the “Morning Ritual” of motion, emotion, and focus.  Done properly, it sets your entire day up for success.  (Of course, you also need to have faith that you can do it!)

 

But this, ultimately, is like building a fire. With the right tinder and fuel, you only need a spark to create a blaze.   So where do you get that “spark”?

 

  1. Faith in yourself.   If you will stop and think, you will realize that there are countless times in your past when you lost faith in yourself, but somehow finished the job anyway, won anyway, arrived at your goal anyway.   Just knowing that you can keep going despite despair can be a fantastic thing.    How did you do it? What did you say to yourself?  Visualize? SOMEHOW YOU DID IT.  Figure that out, and you have leverage on yourself.
  2. Faith in your companions.  Did your friends help you?  Call you?  Support you?  Did you have mentors whose advice you followed?  Role models whose reality maps you followed?   Can you make contact with your own “inner child” and resolve to love and protect her with your life?  Often, we can do things for others we cannot do for ourselves.  USE THIS “SWITCH” IN YOUR HEART!
  3. Faith in a higher power.  Commitment to something bigger than yourself is a primary motivation.  Most world champions will say something like “I did this for/owe this to Mom/God/My Country/My kids” etc.  I rarely hear “I did this for me, and with no help.”  It takes a village/an expanded sense of self to really access your true abilities.

 

Are you aiming too high?  Trying to accomplish too much in a day?  Reduce your “minimum” until it is small enough that you CAN believe you can do it.  For instance:

 

  1. In writing, a single sentence per day.
  2. In exercise, three “Tibetans”.
  3. In meditation, sixty second “breathing breaks” five times a day.
  4. In finances, saving 1% per week.
  5. In general success, reviewing your goals daily

 

Keep the pieces small enough, and you will reveal that there are no logical reasons not to do them.  You have only your emotions.  FEAR IS A NATURAL THING. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Shame can be a weapon the ego uses to stop you from changing.  It took me SEVENTEEN YEARS to earn my first black belt, because I was dealing with so much fear, shame, doubt…and they fed on each other.

 

The first “break” in this was a gift from Shorei Shito-Ryu Instructor Terry Letteau, who instructed me to visualize a glass tube filled with water. There is glitter suspended in the water.  Watch it until the glitter settles.   It took about six weeks, twenty minutes a day, to get that glitter to settle. And then I saw that the problem was that I thought my fear MEANT something.   It was no more meaningful than being cold, hungry, or tired.  It was just a sensation, and perhaps a signal to take action.

 

This kind of “mental cleansing” needs to be done daily. My favorite practice?  Simply sit quietly and feel/ “listen to” your heartbeat.  Twenty minutes a day is great, but even two minutes is a start.

 

Look…the smartest thing you did was ASK THE QUESTION.  This means that there is some part of you that still has faith that THERE IS AN ANSWER.  The answers I’m sharing may not be the ones.  KEEP ASKING and you will eventually hear an answer that opens your heart.

 

GOALS X FAITH X ACTION X GRATITUDE = SUCCESS.

 

One day at a time, hon. One day at a time.

 

Namaste,

Steve

Will you win today?

 

In an hour, you can read enough on a subject to ask casual questions about it.

In ten hours, you can study a subject enough to ask serious questions, or hold a serious conversation about it.  Ten hours is also enough of a margin to teach a class to students ten hours behind–as long as you keep refreshing that margin.

In 100 hours, you are beginning to actually understand a new subject.

In 1000 hours you can be an expert in most subjects

In 10,000 hours most will consider you a master of your discipline.

 

These are just broad statements, but if we accept them (for the sake of discussion) it leads to some simple truths.

 

  1. The process of human evolution proceeds best from our basic survival needs “upward” or from the heart outward.  NEVER from concepts or “spirit” “downward”.  So your first step is to master hunting and gathering, basic sexual and security needs, etc.  This is your foundation.
  2. Equally important is love, beginning with self, and then extending to others. This cannot happen healthfully if we do not feel secure, and love battles with fear…so I think that it is safest and most intelligently “conservative” to work on both at the same time.   Ten hours of heart-centered meditation will give you the ability to touch that sacred place inside yourself, and begin the process of healing.
  3. Whatever you choose to do professionally should either be something you love (enough to study it endlessly) or you need to have your values so clearly defined that doing something unpleasant is considered a sacred duty, and therefore a joy.  I don’t think many men enjoyed going down into the coal mines, but if they had CLARITY that doing so allowed them to support their families, it all makes sense and is worthwhile.
  4. Success comes from “second attention”–the peripheral rather than the “foveal” focus.  For instance, if you concentrate on being the best writer you can be, study and work like a demon, you will get better.  With either a little luck or careful planning, you can also get enough commercial success to supplement or replace your income. With a LOT of luck, you might do very well indeed, in money and/or critical recognition.  But the money cannot be the primary focus, or you lose your connection to the creative impulse and become a “hack”.  The same thing happens in many other arenas: love, health, fitness, and so forth. THE RESULTS ARE SECONDARY.  YOUR ACTIONS ARE PRIMARY.  And your actions are driven by your focus and emotions.
  5. These primary actions  must be UNDER YOUR CONTROL.  Your emphasis is: did i do it?  Did I keep my word to myself?  Tell the truth about this, even if only to yourself.
  6. Design a program that will take you to your goal in 100-1000 days.  The question is: “if I do X every day for this period, will I reach my goal?  Yes?  Begin.  No?  Re-evaluate, study more successful people, refine my map.”
  7. If the answer is “yes”, if you kept your word to yourself for 100-1000 days, then the only question is one of gathering the resources to allow you to do this.  Usually, these will be emotional resources: dealing with fear, confusion, negative voices, depression, conflicted values, etc.  So part of the “work” is outer (doing things) and part is “inner” (cleaning out your mental/emotional closet, healing yourself, silencing or balancing the negative voices, etc.)
  8. THIS is the great strength of the “sentence a day” technique.  (And the “Machine”, so recently adapted to screenwriting)  NO ONE cannot write a sentence a day on any logical basis.   By reducing what must be done to such a small “dead minimum” you are confronted, in micro-form, with every excuse you have ever made for not exercising, meditating, cleaning your house, finishing your book, writing that film.  Your ego will fight like hell, but you’ve flipped over that flat rock, and can look directly at its lies and barricades. The voices that tell you “no” can be revealed for the tinny, cowardly lying vipers they are. The jealous, needy, childish remnants of a “you” you may have left far behind–and NEED to  if you would fulfill your dreams and live life fully.
  9. You have to complete the “Hero’s Journey” in order to move to the next level.  Every day, EVERY SINGLE DAY is an opportunity to do this, if you have defined your goal and path properly.  All you have to do is win TODAY. Did you do what you said you’d do TODAY?  The “Diamond Hour” concept is this: defined properly, you can meditate, exercise, goal set and write a page of fiction in a single hour.  Then if the rest of the day gets away from you, you still win. And in 1000 days?  You’ve written at least two novels, are in good shape, and are balanced in your heart.  
  10. This is a secret.  To do TODAY what can be done today.  Not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow with “foveal” vision, but keeping them in sight “peripherally”.  All action, joy, and aliveness is in the present moment, in “today.”   Every day a new opportunity, every day a new commitment to your own dreams.   It takes planning.  It takes a willingness to own your own life.  Do this, and fear, guilt and limitation dissolve.   All of your attention is on the joy of becoming, or of service to those you love. There is no higher life.

 

And NOTHING, nothing at all, is more important than living your life, in your terms, according to your own deeply held and considered values.

 

One day at a time.   Will you win today?

 

Namaste,

Steve

 

Tears streamed down my face. Was it too late?

About thirty years ago, I was sitting in a Greenwich Village restaurant speaking to Leo and Diane Dillon about art.   These were REAL artists, fabulous graphic geniuses (the inset image is from their cover to Harlan Ellison’s DEATHBIRD STORIES), and a husband-wife team who performed as a single mind.  When she started a line, he finished, and vice versa.  In the presence of such greatness, all my pretense of wanting to interview them to help an artist friend just…dissolved.   

Dillon

 

Tears streamed down my face, all my bullshit stripped away in the face of such artistic purity.  I realized that in trying to maintain a career, to support my family, I had often written things purely for the money, sometimes scrabbling to please people with corrupt values and petty creative minds.  “We can’t do that story” I remember being told once.  “If we did that story, people would think this show is about something, and our only excuse for putting on a mass murder every week is that this is pure entertainment.”

 

Name of God.   And…I needed the money.  Instead of excusing myself and using up a bobbin of mental floss, I stayed and pitched madly, desperate to get that check.   Frankly, honestly, it took me a year to recover.  

 

That’s another story.

 

I explained my situation to Leo and Diane, and choked out the words: “is it too late for me?   Can I still find my way to my art?”

 

They looked at me not with scorn or mocking, but pure compassion.  Diane reached across the table and took my hand.  Through a film of tears I heard her say words that changed my life: “if you can even ask that question, it’s not too late.”

 

Bless her.  I’ve lost my way at times. We all have.  If you have ever wanted to work in Hollywood, you have been tempted to sell out, to change your words, to write what’s “hot” instead of what’s true.   It’s the war between heart and head, child and adult, and it is eternal.

 

In prose writing, the answer is often to write short stories, which cleanse the palate, give you a chance to study your craft for its own sake, and to play with nutty ideas for the sheer joy of it.

 

But what if you want to make movies?  In the process of chasing that dream, is it possible to create a path that takes you CLOSER to your creative impulse, while satisfying your heart, and simultaneously learning the skills you need to succeed in the money game?

 

Tananarive and I believe there is.  And it lies in making short films.  We’ve done it for nothing, for 30k, and I’ve done it in writing for television’s The Twilight Zone.   There you have it: from zero to 100% Guild, a continuum ANYONE can begin, a road ANYONE can walk, easier than at any point in history because of changes in technology.  

 

This Friday, we’re doing a totally Free webinar to create more material for our exclusive SCREENWRITING MACHINE class.  We’d love to have you in the audience for it.  We’ll be discussing the nuts and bolts of actual creation of short films, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask any questions you want, from the “why” to the “how” and the “how much.”  It will be at 6pm pst Friday the 22nd of January 2016, and we’re going to have serious fun, and show you how you can do the same.  Not “some day” but NOW.

 

Join us, please!   WWW.HOLLYWOODREVOLUTIONWEBINAR.COM

 

If you can even remember your dream…it’s not too late.

 

Namaste,

Steve

Mastering the Unknown Unknowns

 

So…what would we have to do to actually chart a 21st Century path to screenwriting success?  What would it take?

 

The “Hero’s Journey” is the tool that I use to diagram not only a story, but the process of writing a story, or indeed the process of achieving any goal.    But as valuable as it is, it is not the complete picture.  It CANNOT be.  No pattern can be.  Because part of life, and the creative process, is chaos.

Just as no martial art can fully prepare you for a real fight–a REAL fight is like two cats in a sack.

 

The REAL process of achievement involves stuff coming at you from every direction, unexpectedly, such that logic of any kind yields to pure, powerful emotion. And if your emotions aren’t strong and rooted, you won’t survive.   Many years ago, a student asked me if there was a “Heroine’s Journey,”and I took that to mean a non-linear path, because the specific steps are not specific to either inner or outer journeys, neither masculine or feminine values.

 

But beyond question, there were linear and non-linear approaches, and mine was the former, a ten-step process I swear by. But…what if your mind doesn’t work that way?  What if you are a typical artist, and your creative mind is like a rabbit off its ADD meds, hip-hopping all over the place?

 

Well, I have a gift for you, Art’s “String of Pearls” technique.    It is PERFECT for non-linear creativity, and filled in the “gap” by showing the “unconscious” pathway to completing projects.  Great stuff, and here is an article on it:  http://creativescreenwriting.com/string-of-pearls-an-alternative-way-to-create-a-story/  

 

Read it.  You’ll thank me.   

 

But I’ve got more for you today.  We’ve spoken of the “Secret Formula” (GOALS X FAITH X ACTION X GRATITUDE = RESULTS) and if you take that, and apply it to the process of writing, wow, you will accelerate your pace of growth.   But I just came across an article that made it even clearer why managing your emotions is CRITICAL to the process of growth, change, and success.  You’re going to want to read this as well:    http://www.businessinsider.com/a-neuroscience-researcher-reveals-4-rituals-that-will-make-you-a-happier-person-2015-9

 

Put these things together, and you’ll be able to glimpse what Art and I saw: that the Industry has so many invisible walls and trap doors, it is so hard to get feedback or ever actually get into the game that it is like trying to learn to swim without ever getting in the pool.  

 

The “full circle” of skills and actions, represented by the Hero’s Journey, String of Pearls, and the “Secret Formula” would require a four-year film school to help an “outsider” even learn what they need to learn. To know what they don’t know.   The “unknown unknowns.”  And without that, you are thrashing in the dark, and will eventually lose energy and enthusiasm, be consumed by fear and frustration, and just…give up.  

 

And I tasked Art, just as he had challenged me.    “Can we create something that we would have given our left thumbs for when we were starting out?  Something that would allow us to really learn what we need to know, or at least have a real idea what we NEED to learn?  Is it even possible?”

 

And we created an answer. And came together to create something special, something new.  Unlike anything I’ve done before. And yeah, I’d have given my left thumb to have this when I was twenty-five.  

 

And I can’t wait for you to have it. And that opportunity comes…tomorrow!   The “Screenwriting Machine” is about to come to life.  And if you accept our challenge…you’ll never be the same.

 

See you tomorrow!

Steve

“What I need most is inner inspiration and motivation”

 

The lovely thing about conducting a survey is that it clarifies what people need, so that I can speak directly to actual concerns, not just talk about whatever comes into my mind on a given morning.   Here’s one which, in various forms, was repeated quite frequently:

 

“What I need most is inner inspiration and motivation.

Sounds easy, but it seems to elude me.”

 

Let me look at this one bit at a time, because the apparently simple statement is actually quite deep.

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“Inspiration” and “motivation” are the things that get us going in the morning, or even better, that push or pull us to achieve beyond our current capacities or status.   Most of us can do “the status quo” just fine. In fact, it is engaging in certain behaviors, thoughts, and feelings on a daily basis that CREATES that status quo.  Understanding how to adapt new behaviors requires understanding what drives your CURRENT behaviors.  

 

Pleasure and Pain. That’s it, on the simplest level.  You do what you do to move away from pain and toward pleasure.  All animals do this.  Heck, maybe plants too. Depends on who you listen to.   Whatever you do in your life, at some point you defined these actions as pain-avoidance or pleasure-seeking behaviors.   Which means you need to look more carefully at the emotions beneath them.  Pain and pleasure are sensations. The associated emotions are fear and love.  We fear what causes us pain, we love what gives us pleasure.   One of the steps of maturation is the ability to accept pain or postpone pleasure in order to reach a worthy goal.  People who are gym rats, for instance, often learn to LOVE certain kinds of pain, because they know it leads to pleasure (a transformed body).

 

In fiction, there are countless examples. In CASABLANCA, Rick has associated emotional intimacy, love and commitment to pain–because the last time he loved, Ilsa ditched him and broke his heart. The entire film is about him “coming back to life” and embracing the emotional paradox of human existence.   Both his love of Ilsa and his commitment to a larger cause are awakened as result.

 

In the movie TRAINWRECK, Amy avoids love and intimacy because her father drilled into her that love leads to pain.  She drowns her real emotions is drugs, alcohol and meaningless sex to avoid the natural human urge to connect with another human being on a profound level.   And her “cheerleader dance” at the end is her declaration that she is willing to go beyond her stated limits, to be outrageous, and to take a chance.  She might be hurt, yes.  But if she doesn’t take that chance, she is utterly lost and broken…forever.

 

(Really liked that movie, by the way).

 

Now, how does this relate to the common sense of “I’m not motivated”?

 

Simple.  Do you have to motivate or discipline yourself to eat ice cream?  No?  Why not?  BECAUSE IT’S GOOD. Because you reliably anticipate pleasure from eating it. In fact, the reason it is easier to eat ice cream than diet is that one is immediate pleasure, while the other is certain pain and often very uncertain pleasure (the observation/belief that “diets don’t work” suggests that all that discipline and discomfort will be for nothing).  So to lose that weight, you have to have a path that is either less painful, or more certain of delivering the desired positive results.  Without that, your pain/pleasure equation inclines us to empty that carton.

 

Back to writing.   If you write well, and honestly, it is often painful.  You have to “make” the time–often at the sacrifice of other things that seem more certain.  You have to actually dig into your own emotions, even the painful ones. Have to fight against the voices that say “it’s no good!  You’ll never be any good! No one cares!  You’ll just be rejected!” as well as doubting voices from real members of our tribe: parents, teachers, lovers, co-workers, friends, spouses, bosses…if they don’t believe in what we’re doing.

 

Those outer voices are killer. The inner voices can be even worse.

 

Tim Piering said that you can accomplish anything if you have:

1)Well defined written goals and plans for their accomplishment expressed in continuous action.

2) The ability to take action despite the voices in your head.

 

Let’s go a little deeper.  You will have inspiration if you connect with your own dreams.  Motivation if you believe you will experience more pleasure than pain if you pursue them.

 

Here are some component things that will do this:

  1. Heartbeat meditation or “Ancient Child” work to connect to your essence.
  2. Goal-setting to clarify what you desire and why you want it.
  3. Organizational skills to make it as easy as possible to move forward.
  4. Completing short projects so that you have the total experience of creation.
  5. Setting a goal of (say) 100 short stories so that rejection is merely seen as a step along the path.

 

You have to know what you want, why you want it, how to get it, and how you will cope with disappointment, because there WILL be disappointment.

 

Let’s map this onto the Hero’s Journey, one tool that has never failed me. It is not the only way to look at these things, but it is damned powerful.  Let’s look at my own life.

 

  1. Hero confronted with challenge. As a child,  I wanted desperately to be a writer.
  2. Hero rejects the challenge.   I was told I could not have it. My mother tore my stories up.  People laughed at me.  I had no role models of possibility, and had never met a writer in my life.
  3. Accepts the challenge.   I DECIDED I WOULD RATHER FAIL AS A WRITER THAN SUCCEED AT ANYTHING ELSE.  In other words, I burned my bridges behind me.   All my love, all my fear, all my energy was focused on this goal, with the belief that “we become what we think about” driving me onward.
  4. Road of trials.   I decided that I would write and submit 100 short stories before I even began to ask whether I “could” or not.   In this way, the voices in my head had less traction.
  5. Allies and powers.  I needed role models to show me the path.   Read incessantly. Wrote every day.   I needed to learn how to enter flow state (meditation, tai chi, yoga), how to deal with fear (meditation, martial arts) allies (choosing certain friends carefully), a “point of view” on life (reading, studying) and so forth. My “voice” was developed simply by imitating enough different writers that my own “way” emerged.
  6. Confront evil-fail.   My heart was broken countless times.  Ideas were stolen, promises broken, friendships betrayed, work laughed at.  I was broke and discouraged, and my greatest idol told me that my first solo book wasn’t worth publishing.   
  7. Dark Night of the Soul.  I’ve been crushed more times than I can say. Lost, abandoned, shattered.
  8. Leap of Faith.  What got me through was the belief that the goal was possible: others had done it, why not me?  That I had accomplished other goals I’d considered lost causes. That I had friends or mentors who believed in me.  And more than anything else, when all else failed, I had developed a meditation practice that took me deep within myself, to a spark of divinity within. Took me YEARS to develop it, constant daily effort.  But I am made of the same stuff as the stars, and I love love LOVE writing. And the reward, in the end, is spending my life doing something precious to me.
  9. Confront evil–succeed.   I’ve been through this, again, countless times.   Both failures and successes.  I just concentrate more on the successes.
  10. The Student Becomes the Teacher.   As soon as possible, I began to share the path to happiness I had found. And in the faces of my students and the tales of their successes, I saw myself as part of the circle of life.    And as there have been tears along the way, so too there has been much laughter,and love, and joy. And I wouldn’t trade the life I’ve created for a billion dollars.

 

Look, the HJ is one way to organize resources.  As is THE SECRET FORMULA.  As are Musashi’s Principles.   As is the “Machine” concept that fuels the new course I’ve created with Art Holcome.  FIND SOMETHING.   Dig in.  Prepare for battle.  Find the resources you need to make contact with your real ambitions, your joys.  Find allies and mentors who have been discouraged, defeated, disappointed, betrayed, crushed, lonely, and lost…and got up and @#$$ won anyway. Get mad, or joyful. Whatever works for you.

 

Live your life. You’re the only one who can.

 

Namaste,

Steve

On CREED and why this New Years Eve is the best!


CREED hit $97,886,653 as of Tuesday. That means that beyond any doubt, it  will cross 100,000,000 dollars this weekend.  And that means…what, precisely?

I’m not sure.  Have to think about it.  Right now, I’m just exhaling, happy that a goal I’ve been watching for at least 25 years is about to be reached.

The specific goal is “a black male lead has a love scene in a movie earning over 100 million domestic.”  The reason why it is important, my theory goes, is that this threshold, the rough measure of “success” or “wide acceptance” in Hollywood, could not be crossed because of unconscious (or conscious) racism or tribalism on the part of white audiences, specifically white male audiences.  That, then, I could use the inability of such films to cross that line as a measurement of the “invisible hand” of racism in America, which also manifests in arrests, convictions, sentencing, employment, lodging, and any number of other arenas.

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This  all began on Wednesday July 4th, 1990. I was on my way to Portland Westercon, and had a flight out of LAX at about 7 pm.   I had nothing to do, and stopped in Westwood to catch a 2pm screening of “Die Hard 2”.   Before the movie, there were coming attractions, and one of them was for “Mo Better Blues.”    And during that coming attraction, there was a scene of Denzel Washington making love to his girlfriend.   I was the only black person in the theater. Because I was in an evil but curious mood,  instead of watching the screen, I turned around and watched the audience, and saw something fascinating: all the women in the audience leaned TOWARD the screen.   All the guys in the audience pushed back AWAY from the screen.

I laughed my ass off. This was in alignment with what I expected, based on a lifetime of observation:

  1. Racism is not rare among human beings. Rather, it is as common as dandruff, something that needs to be rooted out, not something that is rare and triggered only by extreme circumstances or personalities.
  2. Try these definition, which will help you understand my thinking on these things.   “Tribalism” is cheering your team.  “Racism” is believing the other team is actually inferior.   “Bigotry” is being willing to knee-cap the captain of the opposing team.  I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone at all who didn’t exhibit some Tribalism.  I’d guess 80% of people have some detectable Racism.   And somewhere between 10-20% of people are detectably Bigoted.   Probably the same percentage most of us consider to be “assholes.”  They show their hand in reducing human beings to labels and doing the “Those X’s are Y” routine about politics, gender religion, nationality, or whatever.   My Spidey Sense starts tingling the instant I hear someone say any of those things.  To do it in one arena increases their likelihood to do it in others. About you.  When your back is turned.
  3. Much of it is unconscious.  When it is not, people re-define the term (“the differential attribution of average quality or worth based upon race or ethnicity” is the only definition that makes sense to me.  It offers comfort to neither side of the political spectrum, excuses no racial group, and mocks the idea that someone isn’t racist because they have “some X friends” or   “have no power.”  Feh.  Both attitudes are twisting language, like someone trying desperately to convince themselves their farts don’t stink.)
  4. It is stronger between males than across gender lines. Theory: when tribes war, the men are killed, while the females are taken as sexual chattel.   My opinion: death is worse, based on the simple fact that if Y is worse than death, you have the option of choosing death.  If you didn’t, it wasn’t worse.  So the threats, violence, fear and competition are more intense.
  5. In this male-male war, a  primary way it manifests racism manifests is  in sexuality.   Tribalism always has a “we want access to your females while preventing you from having access to ours” tinge to it.  Klansmen would have black girlfriends.  Slave masters and overseers routinely visited the slave quarters.   Needless to say, traffic going the other way was punished lethally.    
  6. This makes total sense biologically.  Heck, the reason we’re agriculturalists not hunter-gatherers is NOT that sedentary farmers are healthier.  No, they simply breed more, producing more fighters, enabling them to win wars more often.  Hunter-gatherers just can’t compete reproductively.  So the fear of being outbred (and therefore outgunned) by “the other” is a very real thing.  One of the most basic insults racially/culturally is that “Those X’s breed like rats.”  Literally a fear of extinction.
  7. Add it up. Racism then is tribalism taken a step further, to the point that you don’t fully extend your own humanity to “the other”.   You attribute to them different motivations, core values, and so forth.  And that “uncanny valley”, fear of something that looks “sort of” like you but isn’t quite, manifests in lots of different preferences–and one of them is that “being outbred” thing, that repulsion thing, that fear of them having access to “your” females thing.   And it can be measured in a couple of useful ways: 1) approval of interracial relationships (and there are some fun Gallop polls measuring this in different states, regions, and across political parties.  I will leave it as an exercise for the reader if you care to discover how your group holds up).   2) Willingness to relish the sexuality of the “Other” as you do   “your own.”
  8. People point out pornography, which has a thriving market in black-on-white sexual couplings.    Doesn’t this indicate an acceptance?  Well, porn also has a thriving bestiality market. And a thriving kiddie porn market.   I’m no expert, but I’m not willing to wade through that stuff to crunch the data necessary to measure what’s what.    A theory: black-on-white porn is the next thing to bestiality, often enjoyed by men who specifically consider it degrading to women.   

Can we move forward now?  I think so.  If I’m right, then you could measure the invisible presence of racism in our culture simply by looking at   black lead films and white lead films in the above 100-million club. In a perfect world, I would think that the same percentage of those films would contain love scenes.   But when I went looking, what came out is that about 22% of the Above 100 million Club had love scenes.  And about 20% of them had black leads.   And those two circles never overlapped at all.  Not one.   In fact, it didn’t overlap for Asians, either.  However, Asian and black WOMEN did have love scenes in the Above 100 Million club.  But only with white males.

To repeat, the reality seemed to be this: no black or Asian male lead has sex in a movie that earns over 100 million dollars domestic.  Not inter-racial, and not same-racial.  Nothing.  The fun thing is that once I started pointing this out, it violated the world view of certain people.  Especially those who believed racism was “a thing of the past.”  The denial was hilarious.  Some of the reactions would have seemed very familiar to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

  1. Denial.   “You’re wrong” followed by a frantic search for a counter example. There are none.  “But what about international box office!” Nope, only domestic.  “But in “Independence Day” Will Smith had a girlfriend!”  Yeah, but there was no love scene.   I’m comparing apples to apples.   Period. “But Vin Diesel had love scenes in XXX…”  Do you really want to go there?   If you say that someone who is perhaps an Octaroon is “black” you are saying that 20% black blood makes you black, but 80% white blood does not make you white.   That, frankly, is such a racist formulation that I have real questions about the kind of person who would defend it.
  2. Anger  “You’re wrong about what it means!” You know, perhaps black people just don’t WANT to appear in such scenes, because they’re…umm…so spiritual.  Or don’t want to be type-cast as Superstuds…I know black actors and actresses.  And yes, they relish playing love scenes equally with their white counterparts.  We’ve spoken at nauseating length about it.  Or “it’s Hollywood!  Yes, those devilish Hollywood racist liberals are the bottleneck!” Umm…no, the movies get made. The AUDIENCES don’t turn out for them.  Dem Hollywood Lib’rals ain’t no saints, but I see no reason to believe they are worse about this  than human beings in general.   And of course “don’t look at me! I don’t care about race!  I don’t see race!” and so forth.  If one listens to what people say, NO ONE sees race.   And yet somehow it is a defining characteristic in American life, and has been for 400 years.   IMHO, Occam’s Razor   suggests that the simple answer is that, yeah, we see race, even if we’re not consciously aware of it (or willing to speak the truth).
  3. Bargaining.  “Well, have you adjusted for inflation?  Surely a movie like “Purple Rain”, which earned 80 million dollars in 1980, would earn TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY million  dollars today!  Victory (drops the mic).”   Umm…I think you need to look at that again.   The standard was created in 1990.  To be fair, I would have to adjust that number UPWARD to compensate for inflation.  100 million dollars in 1990  money would be about 180 million dollars in current cash.  But no, I don’t adjust it upwards because hell, that would be too damned depressing. I like to win. So I leave it at 100 million, knowing that eventually inflation and demographic shifts will push some movie across that line.  But speaking of depression…
  4. Depression.  After a desperate search for SOME movie that crosses that line, running out of excuses, and having no alternative answer that explains as elegantly and predictively, about 99% of people have had to admit I was right.   “Shit” is the usual response.   And then a meek: “but are things getting better..?”
  5. Acceptance.  Yes they are.  No, this doesn’t mean America is evil, or white people are evil, or men are evil.  Reverse the situation, and blacks would (IMO) be just as racist, and just as self-servingly oblivious and congratulatory.  And males are the ones with the territoriality hormones pumped up to “overdrive.”   Females are just as “flawed,” although perhaps in slightly different ways.   That’s how nature made us, and we’d not be here as a species without it.   And over the course of my life MASSIVE change has taken place.   It is blindness to say it has not–but also blindness to pretend we’ve grown beyond it as a species or a country.  What is the answer?   

Heck, I’m just a guy who noticed a measurable phenomenon easily observable to anyone who can Google Boxoffice.com.  And devised a theory about it that makes no one inferior, inferior, or different from anyone else.   And if I was asked what I think the answer is, I have to move from the arena of logic and statistics and social theory to some beliefs about the basic nature of human beings.

  1. We are not basically good. Or evil. We just “are.”  We are creatures trying to move away from pain, and toward pleasure.  Fortunately, game theory suggests that in the long term, honesty and kindness are more productive than dishonesty or cruelty.   So that means that just asking the question “how can I find joy?  Be happy?” leads us, over time, to those behaviors we call “good.”  That said, the apparent basic nature of mature awake human beings (as opposed to sleeping children) is what we call “good”.  For purely selfish reasons.
  2. The beliefs and attitudes we are programmed with prior to puberty are almost impossible to blast out. We can cover them up, but it is a rare human being who really manages to move beyond those basic programmings. And many of them deal with the first couple of levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy: survival and sex.   That means jealousy, territoriality, and us/them-ism.   I’ve noticed that racism has faded with just a couple of core things: communication and time.   This is why, despite the utter horror of some of the social violence we’ve observed, some of the police and judicial injustice I see, I feel no despair.  This crap has always happened.  Smartphone video has just flipped over that flat rock so that we can actually SEE, without denial, what is going on. And I trust that human beings want to be happy and stop hurting.    

Which leads to the second piece: if you genuinely believe black people are inferior, have different motivations and core values, you must be terrified of the changes around you. I empathize with that, and can only try to reassure you that no, we are the same.  No better no worse.  And those who were born before about 1970 remember clearly the LEGAL strictures, the violent oppression, and they must be terrified that, if we are “the same” blacks will seek vengeance. That the tables will be turned as soon as you lose demographic advantage. I empathize: this is the very last generation where White Males get to dictate the terms of engagement. Another generation and White People as a whole lose that capacity.  And then we will deal with some fascinating questions, like “What Is America?” And “what is the true nature of humanity?”

  1. I can’t tell you what to think. I can tell you how I think I’d feel if I were you.   I have been, as a black man, willing to see the humanity in those who denied my own.    Attributed that to fear and ignorance.   And believed that, in their own ways, they were just trying to find their way to joy and away from fear. I have not changed my sense of that, and as I look at the various measures of positive change (including the public awareness of the horrid rot at the core of some of our institutions) I feel nothing but optimism. It will be a bumpy road, but we’re getting there.   And I would look into my own heart. If I come from love, and understanding, and extend that to “the other”, then there is nothing to fear.  If I come from fear, there is much to fear. If I do not believe “the other” is as I am, there is much to fear.  
  2. To those stuck in those positions, I can only offer love and understanding, even if you hate or resent me. I am not your enemy.  We, as a people, never were.  Screw with me of my family and you will reap what you sow, but offer me friendship and honest discourse, and I’ll meet you at least 51% of the way.  But do not mistake that for weakness.  And I think others are much like me.  So if they are, all I need do extend love from a position of strength, see their humanity, grasp that violence stems from fear, and that love is the antidote for that…and all will be well, in time.
  3. And those born before 1970 might all have to die before we complete this transition. That was the approximate point when black Americans were really acknowledged as equal. Before that, the assumption seemed to be that we were mildly inferior but deserving of being treated decently.  The 1935 (I think that was the date) Encyclopedia Britannica openly stated a belief in black intellectual inferiority. It was a total given in culture, the accepted back-drop of much of our cultural mythology.  Politely avoided, but never really denied.  And if that is the poisonous stew you cooked in, the chances that that didn’t seep into your marrow, coloring and distorting your perceptions, is pretty low. It isn’t your fault. But if I’m right, then the NATURAL tendency is to be slightly racist, slightly tribalistic, and only those who can admit it and “lean into the wind” a bit, have any chance at all of not acting out on those values in a thousand unconscious ways, every damned day.

Which leads me back to the beginning. Those guys leaning away from the “Mo Better Blues” love scene (and yes, I’ve watched the same phenomena with other racial pairings and groups, and I’ve seen it repeatedly, and no, guys don’t do that if they are the same race as the guy on the screen) in 1990 would not be as repelled today.   As “Creed” crosses that marker (and a later essay will examine my thoughts about why this film did the deed) I think there is a feedback loop: growing acceptance leads to successful films, which lead to a diversity of image, and those images influence the younger generation, which in terms learns to accept and extend their own humanity…

 

It all depends on what you think humanity is.  What you think the nature of racial differences is. How you interpret the history of the world, and of America.   The degree to which you extend your own humanity, and are able to say: “My group would behave the same way, given the same history.”  

Whether fear or love have won the war in in your heart.  

“Creed” is a milestone.  Not the end of a struggle, but perhaps the end of a very easily measurable “gap” is attribution of full humanity.   We’ve still got other measures: differential inherited wealth, life expectancy, infant mortality, arrest and incarceration statistics and more. I really like “Percentage representation in the Senate” as a measure. But those are fights for generations beyond my own.

I cared about this one because it was a way to look into media, my area of greatest occupational interest, and ask what it means, and what I might be able to do to move the line a little, by writing books, television, film. By commentary and discussion, and trying to point out simple truths.

Maybe next I’ll explain why I think the term “Social Justice Warrior” would, denotatively, be one of the noblest and highest callings a human being could have, and that rudeness or dishonesty in its cause is as objectionable as is twisting language to try to demonize the term.   But that’s for another time.

Right now, I’m closing out 2015 declaring victory in a battle I’ve waged my entire life, and only been able to measure in an effective manner for 26 years.  It is ineffably sweet, and things will never be QUITE the same again.

With gratitude to all who have listened to my thoughts on this all these years, and also to the audiences who embraced the film, and the filmmakers who created this minor miracle: Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, and especially Sylvester Stallone, who had the vision and heart to lend his forty years of cred to these young men, and let them take the baton forward, I trust you’ll understand what I mean if I echo one of the most classic lines in the history of cinema:

 

YO ADRIAN!   WE DID IT!

 

HAPPY NEW YEARS…

Steve

In my world, “racism” is defined…

This has come up a few times recently, and I wanted to be very clear. So far as I am concerned, the most reasonable, useful and denotative definition of “racism” is “attributing differential capacity or worth to groups on the basis of race or ethnicity.” It is not hating all of X, or not admitting that “some X’s” are intelligent or moral, or denying that they “are equal under the law” or “equal in the eyes of God.”

Yes, it is racist “even if it is true.”

On the other side, yes, an “oppressed” person with these attitudes is indeed a racist. I have no respect for shifting language for political purposes, or so that people can feel comfortable with their beliefs. I know some very good, very intelligent people who believe in The Bell Curve, or conversely, that white people are intrinsically morally inferior, on average.

What matters is, if these are your beliefs, how do you treat people? With integrity and kindness? Are you honest with your beliefs, or do you hide them behind weasel words? I have FB friends on both ends of this spectrum, and I respect them, even if I strongly disagree with their conclusions. To me, people are people, for good or ill, on average.

Yes, there is obviously difference between individuals. But with large racial or cultural groups I would only accept the judgement of someone totally outside the system, and no such human beings exist. That is my position on it, I’ve taken heat and pressure from both sides of the spectrum, and that’s fine. Heat and pressure make diamonds, and I’m feeling shiny today.

Can you help me with “The Ancient Child”?

The “Ancient Child” program combines a dozen different incredibly powerful tools into a single “sigil” with (according to comments from students) amazing effectiveness and efficiency.    And because the specific way they came together was suggested by a text I no longer own there are implications beyond my personal experience.

For instance, if we look at the three major aspects involved: Child self, Adult self, “Ancient” self, they are not “objective realities” but rather psychological symbols of different aspects of our personalities, experience, and perceptions and skills or wounds.  By giving them a visualizable status, we can “see”damage as well as growth, and it becomes easier to shift our resources around.

But in addition, there are three major “energy centers” in the body-mind complex.  Again, not necessarily “objective realities” but ways to look at things (this perspective is so powerful in martial arts, however, that I know there is SOMETHING going on there.  What, precisely, is beyond my kin.  Possibly merely shifted perspective.   Or something.)

These three are: Belly Brain (below belly button. Core survival drives), Heart Center (emotions) , Head Center (logic, intelligence, ambition).

Now.   In morning meditations I originally started with my “Child” self in the belly brain (or at the base of my skull), the “Adult” in the heart center, and the “Ancient” in or slightly above the head center.

My morning meditations were then beginning with Anahata (heartbeat) meditation, running a line of “light” down to the belly brain, collecting that light into a “child” self, letting him conduct light up to my heart to create an “Adult” and then running it up to my head to create the “Ancient”.  Very nice.

But I later experimented with other orders.  For instance, I’ve noticed that when I want to concentrate on business, visualizing a triangle at my forehead (point “up”) seems to facilitate a more focused and successful day.   As it is the “adult” self that seems to be connected with worldly success, I could raise the “adult” up there, but that felt a little unbalanced, so I visualized my ‘child” rooting deeply into the earth, on the shoulders of my ancestors.  Nice.

 

I don’t want to be too specific.  What I want to say is that the three “Energy Centers” can be conceptualized many different ways, sure, but even if they were stable realities, there are at least six different arrangements of the “Ancient Child” three aspects.  And I suspect that each of them is a little different.

So I’m making an open request that those who have been practicing this amazing technique report back their experiences.  I suspect that different arrangements prioritize for:

Success, self-love, emotional healing, physical energy, creative energy, problem solving, sensuality, sheer fun, discipline, focus, and more.  

But…which orders?  Which emphasis?   I honestly don’t know, and even if I was certain what worked for me, I wouldn’t know if that was anything other than my own personal “recipe”, which might shift next year, and may not have any application to others.

 

Would you please do me the honor of reporting back what you have experienced?  It will help me help others, as well as develop Ancient Child 2.0.

 

Namaste,

Steve