The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, November 29, 2013

Reason #1 I'm happy I'm almost dead

(well, really Reason #1 I’m happy to be more than half-way through my life…)

I no longer feel like I have to put up with cultural b.s. I smiled through when I was younger.    A Hollywood friend recently asked me to look at a piece of his work.   It was very enjoyable except for one little thing, a peeve that I was willing to grimace through in earlier days.  Not any more though.  This is the note I sent him…

“Well, I’ve got good news and bad news for you. Part of the good news is that you may not care about the bad news. The best news is the your movie works fine. strong story, good characters, good world, fun action. The bad news is that I didn't give a shit about them for one simple reason--you committed a sin that I really don't forgive any more: you killed the only black character in the film.    Any time that happens, I automatically withdrawn all empathy from the white ones, and frankly enjoy watching them die. I would suggest either taking the black people out, or changing the race of another character. aside from that little issue, though, well done!”

I’ve seen this trope literally countless times.  And never, not a single time in an American film, seen the opposite.  It may exist, but despite frequent mentions and lotsa suggestions from people, have been unable to identify a single American film in which all white characters (people with at least one line of dialogue) die, leaving non-white characters alive (so, “On The Beach” doesn’t count).    Seen in in foreign films, for instance “The Chinese Connection”, where the “Russian” character is killed by Bruce Lee, a clear expression of hostility for the Russian occupation.  In other words—it is hostility, not well veiled at all.  Or, at the very least, a lack of extension of humanityt—if there is no example of an American film in which all the white characters die, then clearly the filmmakers know that it would be painful to sit through an experience like that, and simply don’t do it.

Similar, but not as extreme a reaction with films in which all the black characters are villains.  “Captain Phillips” did this.  As a result, I felt my mind slide into a place where I kind of enjoyed watching Tom Hanks get the shit beat out of him.  Hey, I never said I was perfect.   I find that I will always attempt to treat people 1% better than they treat me.  But 2% and above is optional.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Have a Delicious Day!

As I’ve said many times, I consider “The Secret” to be an unfortunate kind of magic thinking.  But oddly, it was extracted, or largely based upon another work, “The Science of Getting Rich” by Wallace D. Wattles, which is actually worthy of respect.  The difference?  “The Secret” suggests that if you visualize and think about and want something badly enough, it will come to you.

Well, that is true if you add one caveat:  “You will be able to tell that you have produced a sufficient amount of `want’ for your desired goal when you start leaping out of bed in the morning to work your butt off to get it, all day long, with monomaniacal fervor.”

Get that?  If you haven’t produced enough desire to movitate YOURSELF to act, what in the world makes you think the external universe is gonna respond?   Please.
But, curiously enough that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.  Today is Thanksgiving.  While some holidays are pure fun, I think that most serve a social function—shared purpose, rest, acknowledgement of sacrifice and honor, and so forth.  Thanksgiving happens to be one of those times when we stop and remember our gratitude for what we have, something not only important psychologically, but practically.

Back to the “Secret.”  What I extracted from Wattles’ work I call the “Secret Formula” for the sake of association and comparison.  It is comprised of four specific pieces: Goals, Faith, Action, and Gratitude.  Without any one of them, your chances of achieving positive results are minimal.
Goals because you need to know what you want and why you want it and what it will take to achieve it.  If you don’t know where land is, you’ll just swim in a circle, or dog-paddle, until you drown.
Faith because if you don’t believe you can and should do it, why bother?  Plenty of people “know what they should do” but don’t do it.  They don’t believe their efforts will ultimately bring them more pleasure than pain, and this process—avoiding pain and gaining pleasure—is at the core of all animal behavior.  People don’t do what is in their best interest.  They do what they BELIEVE is in their best interest.   And when they see no way to create pleasure or grow, they will simply squat in paralysis, or numb themselves with food, sex, drugs, or…television.  Horrors.
Action.   That’s where we started, right?  You have to take massive action toward your goals, whatever they are.    And to take note of the results you are getting, and maintain the behavioral flexibility to change behaviors again and again and again until you get the results you want.  Those behaviors should be designed to produce results WITHOUT luck of any kind.   A “patience my ass, I’m going to kill something” attitude works like gangbusters.
GRATITUDE.  And here we are at Thanksgiving.  People often struggle with discipline, deny themselves pleasure, and think that pure focus through the pain will get them where they want to go.  Well…yes, but unless you are very careful, the first time you are under stress, the old behaviors will pop right back up.  Also…tomorrow is promised to no one.  Why suffer for something you may not realize for years, when you might not live to get it?  Also…the allies you need to attract to move to another level of life are not attracted by unpleasant, negative attitudes.   But if every day, and I mean EVERY day you find something positive to concentrate upon, and give thanks for it, you not only change your attitude, but you increase your belief that there will be future things to give thanks for as well.

I’ve dealt with clients who could literally not remember a single positive thing in their entire lives.  No love, no faith, no affection, no victories.    Now, this is b.s.—EVERYONE has moments of positivity in their past, or they wouldn’t have survived.  But they interpret their past so negatively, tell themselves such a story of suffering and betrayal and abuse that they have no access to their creativity, intelligence, and courage.

But in the darkest sky, a single star can show the way.    There is a parable of a zen monk who is walking through the forest.  Suddenly, a tiger appears and began to chase him.  Fleeing, he reached a cliff and climbed down.  He stopped, because immediately below him was a cobra, ready to strike.  He started to climb back up, and the tiger swatted at him.  The vine he was holding onto started to fray.  Below the cobra was a thousand feet of rocks.   The monk looked to his right, and there was a strawberry plant, growing out of the side of the cliff.  He plucked a strawberry, ate it and said:  “delicious.”

You cannot defeat a man like this.  He can die, as we all do, but he will die happy.    But if there is a fraction of possibility, any way at all to win, it is someone like this who will find it: someone who has a goal, believes it is possible to succeed, takes every possible action…and has gratitude for this delicious moment of life.

I wish you and your family a delicious day.  One so joyous that you can remember it for the rest of the year, no matter what strife you might face.

A single day…a single star…can light the way.



Thursday, November 21, 2013

A healthy female animal

There are a tiny number of core ideas or techniques most germane to the concepts of growth and balance.  Three of them are:
1) “Love and Fear compete for the same place in your heart.”
2) The “Chakra” model that suggests that a healthy human being without fear barriers will automatically evolve toward higher expression.
3) The “Ancient Child”  model is a “sigil”—a “symbol of power” constructed of overlapping symbols.   A sort of conceptual mandala.   While there are probably about ten different powerful concepts overlayed one with another in an elegant fashion (and no, I won’t talk about all of them.  Your conscious mind just gets in the way) there is one core aspect that I find most fascinating:

a) Human beings are genetically programmed to feel protective toward children.  Not an absolute, of course, but those big eyes and round faces just kill us.
b) All human beings experienced love and protection at some point in their lives.   Whether you can consciously remember it or not, is irrelevant.  Humans who are not nurtured in infancy wither and die.   “Failure to thrive.” Period.
c) Most of us will accept conditions and associations we would NEVER want for our own children, or people we love

Combine these three artfully, and you can create magic.

Therefore, if you can imagine reaching out to the “child” part of yourself, and make that emotional/conceptual connection, you begin to feel self-protective on a level most don’t experience.


Both men and women fall into this pattern, despite the perspective held by some of each group that “they have it worse” or are more deeply programmed for denial and sacrifice.  That just reflects their own partial understandings.

I remember one example of this that came to me starkly while teaching a women’s self defense workshop twenty-five years ago.    (Please NOTE: the following only worked because I had established rapport with the members of the workshop.   They knew I cared about them, and loved them.  I would NEVER have tried this without that connection.)

I was holding a kicking pad for a woman who had been abused terribly. Came to the workshop in drab colorless clothes, no makeup, hair cut asexually, shoulders hunched. Could barely meet our eyes.   She just couldn’t hit the shield.     Was afraid to “hurt” me (afraid to anger me, thereby triggering retaliation.)   Was crying and shaking and just barely tapping it.   Blubbering that she couldn’t.

I had an inspiration.    “Do you have a daughter?”  I asked.  “No,” she sobbed.
“Do you have a kid sister?” I asked
“Yes.” She said, and her eyes brightened, just a bit.  GOOD.  That told me she had heart-space association with her sister.  
“And you love her dearly?”
“Yes,” she said.
“All right,” I said. “Listen to me.    If I get past you, I’m going to rape her with a broken coke bottle.”

She froze.  Her entire body language shifted. She narrowed her eyes.  Her face tilted forward into “predator” mode.  She was no longer worried about what anyone thought, or what I might do to her.  Her entire focus was on hurting me.

Her next kick slammed into me and damned near knocked me through the wall!  She hit again and again, in “controlled maniac” mode, letting out the pain and fear and rage and anger she had bottled up inside herself from childhood.   Knocked me off my feet.  Stomped me on the ground.  Then, shocked, looked at what she was doing as if standing outside herself, witnessing a miracle.

“THAT!” I screamed, leaping up.  “That!  That moment, that feeling, THAT switch in your head!”  I squeezed her hand, “anchoring” that state that feeling.  “Make a fist”  she did.  “Close your eyes”. She did.

“Go to that place.”  She breathed like a dragon, tapping into some place inside her head and heart she had never known.    “THAT is your guardian.  THAT is who and what you really are, and you need to know that.  Out of your pattern.  Mask OFF, dammit.  No one.  NO ONE has the right to touch you, or step into your space ever again without your permission.  Do you understand me?”

Sobbing, tears streaming down her face, she nodded. 
Opened her eyes transformed.

“I love you,” she said.  And hugged me tightly.  The entire workshop had stopped, stunned, watching, and burst out into applause for this little woman who had discovered who and what she really was, for the first time in her life.

My ribs ached, but the sheer joy of that moment, of helping one of my sisters find her strength, has lasted for decades.

She knew how to master her skill.   How to protect herself.  Which gave her permission to love.  Which opened the door to growth and evolution.  

She showed up at the workshop the next day with color in her clothing.  Her hair somehow softer around her face.  A touch of makeup.   Shoulders squared.  Smiling.  Eyes bright.  Radiating more of her aliveness…dammit, she was suddenly “sexier.”

She took me aside, and quietly said: “you changed my life.”

No.  She changed her life.  I just got out of the way, and let nature work through me.  She was now a female human animal, with her hands on the controls of her life.

I love my work.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The gift of destruction

The last ten days have been spectacular.   Moving to L.A. Seems to have been exactly what I hoped for, a breakthrough to a clearer place in my life where I can leverage my intelligence, energy, and emotion more effectively.  There is only one thing I see that would cause problems: the attempt to be the person I was when I left.

I have to, MUST, accept the gift of destruction.  The natural tendency would be to try to re-assemble my old life.  Old friends.  Old business associations.  Old habit patterns.  So comforting and  familiar.
But that is an illusion.  “You can’t step in the same piece of water twice.”   I simply can’t be concerned with who I thought I was, or what other people thought I was, or what I’d hoped to be and do.

That would be fatal.   I’d be a walking dead man, trying to wear the rotting flesh of my ancient dreams.
No.  What I have to do is continue to ask the Core Questions:

“Who Am I?”  and “What Is True?”

Nothing that is ultimately true about me can be destroyed.   “Matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed in form.”

There is another truth: depression and disorientation are created by a life reality that doesn’t match our internal maps.

I got hit with this BIG TIME by the move to Atlanta.  My life map had been blown up.  All that remained was my commitment to my family: my son needs me.  My wife needs me.   Whatever is true will endure.
All else was pain.   

Now I’m back in L.A., and have a new life plan, which involves greater, deeper engagement with the wonderful teachings I’ve received over the course of my life, the things that allowed me to find my center, since the ordinary reflection from the external society was so hopelessly distorted—I could not trust that world to tell me who I was.   Sending me back to the Core Questions:

Who Am I? What is true?

And the lovely thing is that if you ask that question long enough, you get the answer.   There are a finite number of false answers, and when you run through them, well…

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

You can get there.    The joke is that what you find cannot QUITE be put into language.  The analogy  is that you can’t describe “it” in words, any more than you can describe a salad fully enough to nourish your body.  I can, however, point in the direction of the salad bar, and if you choose, you can eat for yourself.

But that’s another subject.  What IS true is that the “Secret Formula” is in deep play right now:

Well, my goals are clear, and quantifiable, and I repeat them to myself daily, in my Morning Ritual.   I have Faith that what will be will be, and that my essence and my intentions are in alignment.    It is similar to the trick of attracting any woman you want: simply don’t want any woman you can’t attract.  It’s funny and scary effective once you get the joke.  The rest is just recognizing who is or is not of your “Tribe.”

I take massive action, daily.   Nothing that I’m doing as my core behavior relies upon luck.   I’m not expecting any help from the universe.  On the other hand, I expect that the universe won’t go out of its way to screw with me, either.

And you know what happens?

““Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

—This quote, attributed to Goethe, (which might actually be the words of William Hutchison Murray in response to Goethe’s couplet:

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
   Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”)

Is brilliant, and I believe, the truth.   That when you take responsibility, and stop waiting for help, and take massive action…you start getting “lucky.”

And…Gratitude.    I have to thank God (or the universe, or whatever you choose) for what I have right here, right now.    Don’t work so that one day you can be happy.  Be happy that you can work.


Now…this is where the trick comes in.  Read the above carefully, and you’ll see my take on what “magic” really is.  But if you look into the Yogic approach to the creation of “magical powers” (Siddhis) it is thought that effects in the world of consensus reality (“Maya”) are by-products of pure intent in the mental/emotional/spiritual realm.

This is why pure art cannot be concerned with commerce.  Pure love cannot be concerned with what you get in return. The pure martial technique must not be concerned with survival. Action must be for its own sake to reach it’s ultimate efficiency.

The human reality, of course, is that nobody’s really THAT pure—we do care about results.  This just points in the direction of ultimate efficiency.   “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or heaven’s a lie.”
Now…What this means is that if your intents and actions are pure enough, you’ll start getting results that have nothing DIRECTLY to do with your actions.

Ever notice that when you don’t have a girlfriend/boyfriend you can’t get one, but as soon as you have one, other people are interested?  When you don’t have a job you can’t get one, but as soon as you have one other people call with offers?

It’s like that.

The “Siddhis” include things like power, sexual attractiveness, and mental abilities like precognition and mind-reading (believe as much of that as you wish: I’m speaking of traditional teachings, not debating the existence of ESP.)

The thing that is most germane to this discussion is that these things are considered BY-PRODUCTS of being “on the path”, not primary intents or effects.  That you can notice them, even enjoy them, but if you chase after them, you instantly step off the path and they will dissolve like mirages.


Notice the “split attention” that is required here?  To act in alignment with your deepest values, but simultaneously notice the effects your actions have in the external world, without letting those effects corrupt your process?

Doing a Wallenda over a pool of sharks  is, in comparison, childishly simple.  It drives artists crazy all the time.

So…back to the beginning.  Without being too specific, let’s just say a LOT of writing career things are happening.  In fact, they are trying to pull me away from my coaching and teaching.

No can do.   I’m not the same person I was.  My path now is one of emptying myself out, teaching what I learned that helped me reach my current level of awareness.    Writing is now my hobby.  A profitable one, one pursued with vigor, but no more than that.   I could care less about convincing people of the validity of what I see—I will speak of it, only so that those who agree and seek the same thing know where to find me. 

The rest of ya’ll?  

Hey, have a great life. 

This is who I am.  This is the world I see.  It is increasingly entertaining to hear the Sirens singing at me, saying “step off the path…come to me, come to me…”

Like hell.   The fun thing is that I’ve been to this rodeo before.   As they said in Jerry McGuire, “I’ve been to the puppet show, I’ve seen the strings.”  Its the nice thing about getting older.    Wisdom is the ability to see patterns.  That’s a gift of time.  The gift of destruction.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Diamond Hour November show

Saturday, November 16, 2013 1:00 PM Pacific Standard time (4:00 PM Eastern)
Connect via phone or VoIP (Skype, etc.)

(724) 444-7444
Our subject: Healing our hearts: why and how
Join us!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Countdown to Soul Mate!

 If I accept Sri Chinmoy’s admonition that we can approach true awareness EITHER by beginning with the “root” of physical function OR by opening our hearts and expanding outward, the question might arise which I consider superior.

While the entire “awakened adult” complex can be achieve from the root up (survival, ethical sexuality, mastery of the physical body, the power to create legal goods and services which can be exchanged with the community to produce enough money to support yourself and another) there is another consideration.

Remember the “Secret Formula”?  This is a little equation extracted from “The Science of Getting Rich” by Wallace D. Wattles, one of the core sources for “The Secret”…which managed to miss a key aspect of what Wattles was talking about.

The formula is: Goal X Faith X Action X Gratitude = Results.  What I hear missing from too many people who talk about “The Secret” is ACTION.  You have to take massive, constant action designed to produce results whether the world cooperates with you or not.  It is then, when your attitude is that of the buzzard who said “patience my ass—I’m gonna kill something!” that “luck” seems to happen.  
But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m saying is that you have to have GRATITUDE for where you are, right here, right now.  In other words, joy.  Pleasure.  We can be motivated by a sense of lack, or by a sense of plenty.

I don’t know about you, but if I have to make a choice between acting from fear, anger, or lack or a sense of joy, abundance and expansion, I will choose the second. There are those who embrace the former, and as long as that works for them, fine.

But if it doesn’t, there is another way, the path of love.  Again: either works, but I’m suggesting it is possible to choose.  And if you choose the path of love, then you don’t accomplish or work SO THAT you can be happy.  You BEGIN with joy, and then perform your work from that place…

Grateful for another day of life.
Grateful for the chance to provide for people you love
Grateful for the chance to contribute.
Grateful for all that you have accomplished up until now, which has given you the confidence to know you can achieve this new and greater goal.
Get it?  Love can be a wonderful starting place for accomplishment.  And it has another advantage: happy people find it easier to attract others to their cause.  People are attracted to positive energy.  “The whole world loves a lover” as the saying goes.  “Laugh and the world laughs with you.  Cry and you cry alone.”

And another: you might die tomorrow.   Life promises us nothing.  Not another year, another day, another hour.  Why postpone joy? Why wait until you’ve finished your project until you let yourself be happy?

And since there are plenty of examples of people who have accomplished AND enjoyed the ride…why not be one of them?

And another thing: the idea ‘anger is a mask over fear’ is testable: if you address the fear, does the anger vanish?   A lifetime of experience and observation says yes.   And the saying that “love and fear compete for the same place in our hearts” suggests that in the light of love, fear dissolves.

And another: most self-destructive behavior can reasonably be considered a lack of self-love.  Any behavior you would not wish upon your own most beloved child fits into this category: any habit of eating or exercise, any relationships, and more.

So for health, happiness, success, and just general welfare, it seems reasonable to start with the heart, begin with love, and then move into performance from there, rather than feeling that “I’ll perform, and one day in the future feel good about myself.”

Let’s make it clearer: if you don’t love yourself NOW, you may be missing out on a critical fuel you need to push you and pull you through your moments of crisis, the “dark nights of the soul.”
So the Heartbeat Meditation and the Ancient Child meditation both proceed from the assumption that healing on this level is essential.

And the Soulmate Course will take the same position: that the process of maturation and healing necessary to find our partner in life is generative, involving all aspects of our being, and a healthy, balanced, loving way to approach becoming an Awakened Adult human being.

(p.s.--big announcement THIS WEEK about this course!)

Monday, November 11, 2013

The "Bear Neccessities" of Love

There’s a joke about two hunters who are chased by a bear.  Bears run faster than humans, so one turned to the other and, despairing, said “we can’t outrun that bear!”
We’ll return to the punch line in a moment.


I recently saw a post that said that the only thing more of a turn-on than a bad boy is a “badass man that has his shit together.”   The post was followed by a series of posts from women saying they’ve been looking for such a man and cannot find one.

I was raised by a single mother, and as a child got to hang out and listen to the way mothers talked about their lives, as if I wasn’t in the room at all, and to watch what went on, and having been raised in a world of women saw male-ness as slightly mysterious and exotic, but never ever something superior.   Different, yes.  The way these women spoke of their lives and their husbands it was glaringly obvious that they didn’t feel inferior in the slightest—they saw that men and women had different roles in the world, if children were to be safe.  That has always been my attitude.

But…I also ran into guys who DID believe women were inferior, and were obligated to do the things that men said, or that men were entitled to privileges women did not have.

And rejected that idea.   Men who would look at women’s  lack of accomplishment in the arts and sciences and fields of discovery and invite me to speculate on just why women were less intelligent or creative or whatever…without grasping the fantastic amount of energy it takes to  raise a family, and that in every culture in the world, women had that primary responsibility. 

Blindness, I thought.   No, as far as I was concerned, men and women weren’t “equal” but complementary in a way that neither was superior or inferior to the other, save by very, very limited and prejudicial definitions, and self-serving filters.

 Oh, yeah, men were great at that.

But so are women.  Tananarive and I have discussed the pity parties on either side: women complaining that there are “no good men” and men complaining that there are “no good women.”  It’s certainly true that women outnumber men, but the complaints sound  to me like someone in a 95% employment economy complaining that “there are no jobs.”

What in the world do statistics have to do with whether YOU, personally, as an individual, have a job or relationship?  Let’s just say that if you’re the kind of person who looks at the bottom stats and attributes your life situation to those problems, your natural partner is a man or woman who does the exact same thing.   Good luck with that.

The man or woman who says that they can’t find the fabulous men or women they desire out there aren’t considering…or are afraid to consider…that they are attracting what they are.  They aren’t noticing the megafauna in the living room: you are attracted to people at your level of energy and integration…and above. And you attract people at your level of energy and integration…and below.
I’ve got good news and bad news, brothers and sisters, if you don’t like what you’re seeing out there, the answer is in the mirror.

That means that fabulous men and women find each other every day, and if you’re not in that company, the responsibility is in your hands.    Forget the statistics.

1932 was the worst year for unemployment in American history, with a 23.6% unemployment rate.   It is estimated that 28% of people will never marry.  That means that the worst case scenario is that you have to be in the top 70%.  You have to be in the top seven out of ten.

You don’t have to be #1.  Don’t have to be the best, the luckiest, the best looking, the richest, the healthiest…just not in the bottom 30%.   And I suggest that you can do that simply by being more honest than the next guy. By taking responsibility for your results on a level that is uncommon.   My brother in law Pat Young had a fabulous attitude toward work: “if there are two jobs out there, I’m getting one of them.”  He’s never been out of work his entire career.  People like that are hard to stop, and the energy they radiate is infectious.   And a man like that attracts a woman like that.
Back to the hunters.  They’re  running from the bear.  One turns to the other and says “we can’t outrun the bear”.  The other, naturally, says “I don’t have to outrun the bear.  I only have to  outrun you.”

The next time there’s a pity party, and your friends invite you to moan about the lack of acceptable partners in the world, if you MUST think of things in statistical terms, I suggest that you smile and nod and sympathize…

While remembering the bear.


Monday, November 04, 2013

Twelve Years A Slave (2013)

So…just saw 12 YEARS A SLAVE.  Let me begin by saying that a double bill of this and DJANGO would be the feel-good evening of the year.
Had to get that out of the way.  Humor keeps us sane.   Now what I really think: best movie on this hard, necessary subject I’ve ever seen.  And no, ROOTS wasn’t a movie, it was a 573 minute mini-series.   Magnificent, it is still television fare, with all the commercial breaks, tiny images and safe-in-your-living-room, “nothing over PG-13” fare. And it still emptied the streets and shook the nation.
I want you to consider that, prior to “Django”, there hadn’t been a major studio film with slaves qua slaves for something like 35 years.  And that I cannot clearly remember a serious dramatic theatrical film released by said major studio on the subject…ever.  
The closest I can think of was “Skin Game” with James Garner and Louis Gossett, Jr.   And as much as I love and respect that movie (and I do), they leavened the realities mightily with comedy.
As I’ve said, when people talk about “tired of slave movies” I have to think they are forgetting something critical: that not “Amistad” nor “Glory” nor “Lincoln” nor “Beloved” actually had any slaves in them.  Ex-slaves.  People on their way to being slaves.   White people discussing slaves.  But not slaves themselves, as actual characters, able to speak their hearts, bearing witness to what happened to the ancestors of almost every black person in this country. “Django” flirted with that brilliantly, making it endurable by placing the horrific images in the context of a Spaghetti Western revenge yarn.
Man oh Man, does “12 Years” fill THAT gap.  Beautifully (and, thank God, somewhat sterilely) directed by Steve McQueen, a black Brit, and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor in a performance of massive gravitas, “12 Years” tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in New York, who makes his living as a violin player and is shanghied into the titular 12 years of bondage.
I’ve never seen a story like this.   His education and obvious social standing make him the closest thing to a modern black man dropped into this nightmare imaginable.   Usually we see Africans, “others,” undergoing such ordeals.   No…this was different.  
I went in expecting a horror movie, with the slight emotional remove I generally have at times like that.    There’s a limit to how much empathy I want to extend.  Oh, if they do their job, though, that wall of reserve will crack, and there I’ll be with no defenses.
What did we see?  Well…let’s just say that not more than five days ago I heard someone talking about how white people would have recovered from slavery faster than blacks have.  Fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion.  I’ve heard that canard all my life (usually from people who have Southern ancestry), along with the “slaves were treated like family” line, and the “why don’t you just get over it?” line and even, God help me, the “in some ways, slaves were better off…” line.  Honest to God.  And yes, I’ve always resisted the urge to perform freelance lobotomies without anesthetic.  Somehow.
What people who say such things never ask is: how much would it take to turn ME into a slave?  How much pain?  Fear?  Isolation?  Hopelessness?  How much?  Because if you believe the millions of Africans reduced to slavery were like you, then the question of “how much would it take” to break you to that level is simply not something easy to consider.
On the other hand, if they weren’t like you, well, then…ahem…well, we don’t want to come right out and SAY this but…
You know.
The question is: what does it take to domesticate a human being?   Rip away his identity, his sense of self, impose a permanent neotenous  state where he will never dare rare up and demand to be treated like an adult human being?
Let’s just say that “12 Years” goes down that road farther than every other film on the subject I’ve seen, combined.  They finally nailed me with the scene where Northup, burying Old Uncle Jim, becomes aware that it is his fate to be worked to death. The slaves around him are singing a spiritual, and he resists.  As we have seen earlier in the film, the magnificent Ejiofor gives us a sense of dynamism behind those eyes, a trapped animal seeking a way out of the trap, out of the nightmare he has found himself in.  And finally, finally, in promises of Milk and Honey on The Other Side, he finds it, and begins to sing, louder than anyone.
THAT scene finally nailed me.  All my life, I’ve heard that escape from pain in black churches.   Heard them channeling pain, and despair, and fear into faith, lest it become despair, or even worse, the kind of violence that destroys everything and everyone you love.  And can’t remember a film that made the implicit explicit.
Blood and fire and death here…or milk and honey on the other side.  Pick one.
It is absurd that as a black American I can rattle off SOPHIE’S CHOICE, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, SCHINDLER’S LIST,  THE DIARY OF ANN FRANK, and EXODUS without really trying, but can’t remember a serious dramatic major film about slavery prior to this (or perhaps DJANGO, with the aforementioned reservations).    One is free to interpret this lack as one might.   I see it as something so painful, so huge, that it could barely be touched at all without screams of “Too much!  Too much!”  Out of twelve years of public school education, I have no memory of twelve minutes of discussion of this subject. Certainly, more time was spent on the mating habits of penguins.
I don’t consider it an accident that it took a British director and star to do this, either.  What that means is also up for interpretation, but it suggests to me that the subject, again, is so incredibly raw that many black Americans cannot look at it without feeling like they are staring into the sun.
I’ve heard a few people say it was too remote, too emotionally distant.  A lot more people say it was too much, too painful even to endure.  Something like this has to find a “sweet spot” between those extremes, and if you cut off the most extreme 10% at either side, and listen to critics and audiences, they may well have done it.
At least one major film staring directly at this horror, with the hopeful title suggesting that, yes, the horror ends, had to be made.   Every one of the millions of men and women who endured this had a story.  Perhaps future tales of the 250 years of bondage will be…oh, I don’t know.  Spy stories, love stories, supernatural or psychological horror, musicals, dark or screwball comedies, suspense, mystery, science fiction…who knows.  Anything is possible in the hands of talented, committed artists.  But first the cinematic vocabulary has to be established.  First a tale has to be told of someone who never stopped believing, never stopped trying, never lost himself no matter how far into the bowels of hell he went…and survived.
And TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE is that story, a story I’ve never seen, and for that I have nothing but respect.
Easiest “A” I’ve given in a long time.
Now, pardon me while I wash out my brain with DJANGO.

The Value of Love

The quality of your life is the quality of your relationships--beginning with your connection to your own heart.    Shame-filled people project their guilt onto others.  Those who don’t treasure themselves treat their bodies like garbage bags.    Those who don’t think they are lovable have contempt and mistrust for anyone who loves them.  People who have lost contact with their childlike wonder cannot access their creativity, and those who have sacrificed their dreams for money or relationship security lose their capacity to believe in love and happiness.

I give human beings enough respect to believe that the painful, non-optimal, self-destructive patterns in their lives are, regardless of how it seems from the outside, still representative of the very best people can do with their current resources, their best attempt to avoid pain and find pleasure.  Understand their internal rules, their beliefs about the world, their self-image, their positive and negative emotional associations.

Milton Erickson, Abraham Maslow and  six-thousand years of yogic psychology all basically agree that what most people want is to grow to maturity, be self-supporting, have healthy bodies they themselves would find attractive, find healthy joyous sexual expression in alignment with their morality and values, find loving relationships, raise healthy families,  find self-expression, grow old with dignity and die at peace.  

It was said to me that there are two ways to approach the nurturing of a complete human spirit: from the physical “up” to the emotional, mental and spiritual.  Or from the emotions “outwards” to all of the other characteristics necessary to sustain a relationship with another healthy adult human being: physical, sexual, mental, emotional, etc.  Either works.    I have a preference for “emotions out” although “body up” works great too. The one thing that doesn’t work is “head down”--the creation of mental maps unconnected to actual experience, then attempting to shape the world and twist perceptions to match your concepts.  The consequences of this can be absolute nightmare.

So of all the ways to approach humanity, preparing yourself  to have a healthy, passionate, loving relationship with another adult human being has the advantages of being generative (leading to global change), maturing, a serious reality check (human adult partners are not children or pets.) Living with another human being to whom you are committed is probably the hardest, most worthwhile “ordinary” human experience.  And preparing yourself to have such a relationship, and be worthy of the kind of partner who makes your heart AND mind AND body sing is 100% worthwhile even if you live on a desert island.

Just something to think about...