Why “It”?

Remember those Saturday afternoon science fiction movie shows?  I sure do. Used to camp out in the living room and just forget all about the world of grades and bullies and not being chosen for the team and being mocked by girls…and imagine myself dealing with world-shattering events. Most of those movies are long forgotten. But a few stay with me.

Its fun to think of which, and wonder why.

Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes hard.   Take 1958’s  IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE! A childhood favorite.


This movie, written by Jerome (“It’s a Good Life” from “Twilight Zone”) Bixby, plays out a familiar scenario: a spaceship accidentally takes aboard a hostile alien life form, killing off the crew one at a time while they thrash around taking ineffective actions until the exciting, climactic sequence.


Clearly a blueprint for Ridley Scott’s 1979  ALIEN (the other being THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) I do have to wonder why I loved it so much.  Well, the monster was great (the last, rather sad appearance of Ray “Crash” Corrigan, an athletic Golden Boy of the serial era), and far tougher than the Ridley’s “Alien”:  they tried hand-to hand, gas, grenades, bullets, a blowtorch, electrocution…hell, they unshielded a nuclear reactor on the damned thing and couldn’t kill it.   In comparison, “The Alien” was a marshmallow. The problem wasn’t that they couldn’t hurt it, the problem was that it bled acid, so hurting it hurt THEM.   Very very cool, of course.  But “It” was just a badass.


95% of the movie takes place in the tiny confines of the ship, and that compression also helps: there is something about claustrophobia that increases intensity. The train fight in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is a perfect example of this.  And Jerome Bixby’s tight writing crackles, even on a bargain-basement production like this.


Doesn’t hurt that the acting is pretty decent for a movie of its kind. Even the retro gender roles are amusing (the two women are like astrophysicists, but are still making coffee for the guys) in context.  But while all of those things add flavor, there is one thing that I was thinking about that stands out.




In “Alien” screenwriter Dan O’Bannon knew that an animal, even an alien animal, shouldn’t stand much of a chance against a crew of experienced, intelligent, armed humans.  So he made them very blue-collar (basically Teamsters in Space: “we got to talk about the bonus situation”) with no idea what they were up against. But he also did something smart: their Science Officer, the very person who should have guided their survival efforts and damned well known better than to let an infected crewman onto the ship…the very person who should have realized the best bet was to freeze the guy, was actually a spy sent by the nefarious “Company” to retrieve an alien lifeform, even at the cost of the crew.  Beautiful. Now we understand why their defenses were so clumsy and haphazard. Better still, the Science Officer is also a robot (!) and therefore unconcerned with survival.   Perfect!  What plays out now is intelligent but ignorant people overmatched but doing all they can to survive a dreadful circumstance.


This is really intelligent writing, which turns a typical “idiot plot” into a stomach-sinking “oh, my God” revelation that these people we’ve come to love are in DEEP shit.


IT THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE isn’t that clever.  But it knows it also has to slow these humans down, keep them from organizing and really dealing with the problem properly.  And they use a clever tactic: it is a murder mystery.   The spaceship was sent to Mars to retrieve Col. Corruthers, the lone survivor of a crashed expedition, and the evidence suggests that  murdered his crew to preserve his supplies.


All attention is on the presumably guilty man. They assume that they know what killed the others, so their security is pretty much non-existent, allowing the creature to creep unobserved aboard their ship. It isn’t until almost half-way through the movie that they finally realize that Corruthers was telling the truth, that there WAS something deadly on that planet, and that their focus on him had doomed them all.


Very nice.   It makes sense from the point of view of the crew, and Marshall Thompson (“Corruthers”) nicely plays the desperate man who has been rescued just to be taken to Earth and executed, then exonerated, and then leading a fight for all their lives against something he is absolutely terrified of.


Nah…it isn’t as good as I just made it sound…but it was damned good for a ten year old kid to watch on Saturday Night’s “Strange Tales of Science Fiction” theater on channel nine. Or was it “Chiller” theater on channel 11 in the afternoon?   I forget. They were both great.


At any rate, my little ten year old head saw something in that movie.  An actual life lesson: “when you think you already know the answer, you stop asking questions.


Whoa.  That is great.   When you think you have the map, you stop noticing the territory. And worse, like the “Incel” guys, when the map and territory don’t match, you’ll blame the territory.    In “It” that error costs the captain his command, much of his crew, his girl, and his life.


For me, experiencing the terror (and fun!) of a life-and-death struggle caused by that simple error, I SWORE that I’d never, ever make that mistake, the lethal error of assuming I knew the answer, especially if that answer made me look good…especially if that answer put me above someone else.


Too easy to do that.  Seems to be the most natural tendency of healthy human beings: “we rule, you drool.”  The natural tendency of unhealthy people is to assume others are BETTER than them.


Of course, there are REALLY unhealthy variations where you let this natural ego thingie turn into something toxic and destructive.  And of course there are more advanced and even spiritual positions that see the unity of humanity, such that we don’t see ourselves above others…while simultaneously acknowledging that there are paths and actions that are more in alignment with morality and universal truth.


Truth.   Musashi’s first principle: “Do Not Think Dishonestly” might as well be phrased “seek an accurate map of reality” with the rest of those principles helping to define the method of map-making.


What is true?  When this becomes frozen, when we assume we know, we stop looking. Worse, we’ll actually get ANGRY when something challenges our narrative. We are in denial, like a driver taking the wrong road as his family pleads with him to ask for directions.  And while few life paths lead to man-eating Martian vampires, they to lead to dysfunction, ill health, loneliness and failure.


Then again, on second thought…maybe it was just the cool monster.  And the last line of the movie:   stating that Mankind might be forced to bypass the Red planet on our journey to the stars because “Another name for Mars…is Death.”


Always gave me chills. Still does.







Making Life Delicious

In Danny Boyle’s movie “Sunshine” there is a scene where inevitable doom is approaching, and instead of pointlessly seeking to escape, or screaming in terror, a character sits peacefully contemplating a flower, smiling in contentment.

This reminded me deeply of a parable about a monk who is strolling in the woods when he is attacked by a tiger.  Fleeing, he reaches a cliff and starts to climb down. Then he hears a hiss, and sees that below his foot is a coiled cobra, ready to strike. He starts to climb back up, and the tiger swipes at him.

The cobra hisses.  Hanging in mid air, a thousand feet above jagged rocks, he feels the vine start to pull out of the cliff wall.  Looking to his left, he sees nothing but rocks. To his right…he sees a strawberry vine growing out of a fissure.  One strawberry is red and ripe. He plucks it, pops it in his mouth and chews.

“Delicious,” he thinks.





When I was in maybe second grade, I had the lead in a Christmas play. And…forgot my lines. It was awful, embarrassing, even though the teachers and parents were kind.    Ran off the stage humiliated.


And…I can still access those memories.  Easily.  Any time I want, I can remember what that felt like, and feel as if I want to crawl out of my skin. Do you have memories like that?


I can also remember my first kiss.    It was with a girl named Judy, at the same elementary school, and boy oh boy, did I enjoy THAT.  And any time I want to feel GOOD, I can call up memories like that one.


Think of it like a keyboard, all the memories in your head laid out like a breakfast buffet.  All you have to do to feel either good, or bad, is to call up negative or positive memories and luxuriate in them.


I’ve worked with horribly depressed people, and its never taken more than a couple of hours to find a positive memory and anchor it into their minds, even if I was only on the phone with them.  If I was in person?  MUCH easier: shift their posture, shift their breathing, shift their facial expressions, interrupt their negative pattern by making them laugh OR getting them angry (both work!) and then get them to focus on that positive memory and BANG!


Now…it is reasonable to assume that none of the people were “clinically depressed” to the point of needing medication.  So if you feel you fit in that category simply assume these words don’t apply to you.


But for the rest of us…shifting   your self-language, and your physical movements and breathing…and deliberately focusing on some positive memory is the road to learning how to control your nervous system.   The “Five Minute Miracle” of deliberately doing this every three hours can be miraculous.

It is my observation that positive, successful people remember their pasts as having been better, more exciting, and their own actions more central to positive outcomes than they really were.


And that negative, unhappy, unsuccessful people remember their pasts as having been worse, more terrible, and their own actions either clumsy or irrelevant to results.

As it is probably impossible to actually remember your past with 100% objective accuracy, you really have to make a decision: would you rather remember it as BETTER than it was, or WORSE?


There really may be no third choice.    Which would you prefer?










“It’s Just Daily”

At a recent convention, we Guests of Honor were given slips of paper with questions for us to answer for the pleasure of the audience.   IMO the best of them was: “what was the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?”    A lady to my right, the artist guest of honor got that one.  Her answer was great.

It was a neighbor lady in her 70’s.   The artist commented about how raising children was hard.  The neighbor said: “raising children isn’t hard. It’s just daily.”


When I meet extraordinary people, what I want is to understand how they see the world, themselves, their lives and goals. What motivates them, at the deepest level.    In some ways, understanding this is more important than the specific arena they manifested their excellence.  In other words, once you see mastery, you know that this human being would have mastered ANYTHING.   Yes, some seem to have “Seven League Boots” and have advantages. Others seem to be crawling over broken glass every step of the way.


But ultimately, all there is is the road.  And if you stay on the road, and keep moving forward, you are as much a master as anyone else who has ever walked the path, even if their skill is horizons beyond you.



The most advanced human being I’ve had a chance to be close to, to speak to just one person to another might be Danny Inosanto.   Anyone who is on my short list for “Greatest X who ever lived” is going to be fascinating to study.   He is a walking encyclopedia of martial arts, a genius level teacher, a physical marvel in his 80’s.   Because of a confluence of happenstance, he is sitting at the right place in history, geography, temperament, mentality, physicality, technology and personal “being” to have had opportunities to learn of movement patterns, tactics, and strategies from every continent, dozens of cultures and many, many thousands of gifted individuals from around the world.

Some spooky old monk on a mountain top could have greater genetics, greater focus, and even a couple of similar genius teachers…but they wouldn’t have the options of travel and Internet access that would bring as much knowledge to them.  They couldn’t be Danny.


But just as when I had a chance to observe Prince at close range what I saw was something surprisingly simple, the same is true with Danny.  When I trained with him in the late 70’s I was frustrated that he taught so much, so fast, a dozen options a minute.  Frankly, my ego kicked my ass: I couldn’t keep up.  Left every class feeling like my brain had been pumped full of helium.

When Leo Gaje, one of Danny’s teachers,  brought a nephew for Danny to train, the kid had no chops.   At first. But then Danny took him under his wing, and within a couple of months he was thumping us.


I was outraged.  Knew that Danny had taught him secrets that he wasn’t sharing with the rest of us.  In fact, what I thought had happened was that the oldsters in the Filipino MA community said: “you must not teach the outsiders.  Give them only scraps.”  And that Danny had smiled and said “I will not teach them too little. It is better to teach them too much.”


I had spent years there. Been on his demonstration team, fought my way up through the Jun Fan kickboxing classes to the senior class…and felt I deserved better.   I let myself get lured away to Hawkins Cheung’s Tai Chi class, and while I am happy to have learned that beautiful art, I look back over my life and realize that this was one of the larger errors.


It is not Danny’s nature to hold back. It is his nature to TRUST US that he can lay out a banquet and we will eat according to our needs, wants, and capacities. That he has beginners as well as masters in his audience, and must work with all of them.


And Leo Gaje’s nephew?  I think Danny taught him just a couple of things, designed specifically to his needs, and the kid drilled down on them until they became almost instinctive. When that happens, you can improvise like a mother.   You can just flow.


What is mastery?  Here defined: it is a verb, not a noun. A vector, not a position. And once you have learned your basics, and committed to your path for a lifetime, you are as much a master as anyone else on the path.


Danny can be such a loving, open-hearted giving person because every person who wants to learn is just another companion on the path.   He is what he is because he is ALWAYS learning, and ALWAYS teaching.  And the point in the middle is where he walks. One step at a time, one day at a time.


The greatest master of anything I’ve ever met, and all he is is a student. And a teacher.


That’s all I want. To learn, and teach.  To walk the Path without losing my way. To accept life’s constant unfoldment of mystery, without getting “spun” when my results don’t match my expectations.


This is my life.   Lived one day at a time.  My road, walked one step at a time.


Thank you for being my companions.  I couldn’t be me without you.





Short Stories and the Morning Ritual


“With every new piece I write, I get to a point where I lose confidence in it. Then I have a couple of days battling my desire to scrap it, and eventually drag myself back to the keyboard and slog through to the ending. Reminding myself that this happens *every single time* helps a bit.” — Sheila Finch


With any process, it is likely you will hit a point where you empty yourself out and must grow, or “shed your skin” to complete the task.  In the Hero’s Journey, this is the “Dark Night of the Soul” and it is vicious. Its special power is the strange fact that, once you go through it, you promptly forget it was ever there, so that the next time it is often just as surprising.


This is one reason why SMALL CHUNKS of work are so critical.  This is the reason short stories are so critical a part of the growing process: you are developing the emotional muscle and the clarity to create a larger work.  A novel’s worth of “Dark Night” can be 100X as daunting as a short story’s worth.  You have to work your way there, developing discipline, resistance to emotional pain, focus, knowledge of how to organize your office or mind or heart, gather allies, and simply learn to recognize the stages of your process.


THIS IS EXACTLY THE REASON FOR THE MORNING RITUAL.  99% of the time that someone complains that they aren’t getting things done in their day, that their discipline, or focus, or creativity fails…they don’t have enough “inspiration” or their lives got terribly busy, or their ex-spouses are making life hell or their jobs are imploding…


If you ask how they are dealing with the SMALLEST unit of their lives, the “Five Minute Miracle” (stopping every three hours for sixty seconds of breathing and focus)…it is doubtful.


If you ask how the Morning Ritual is going…it isn’t.   The most constant “error” (it isn’t really, IMO…it is the ego protecting itself) is a failure to combine movement with emotion and mental focus.


Why?   I suspect it is the same reason newbies resist writing short stories.  Get THAT right, and you will successfully challenge the next level of work.  To do it, in other hand…


  1. You need all the TECHNICAL skills of writing.
  2. You need all the internal EMOTIONAL skills of writing
  3. You need to have internal PERMISSION to succeed.
  4. You need to be willing to take RESPONSIBILITY for your results–to stop blaming the outside world.


This is tough. It is SO easy to blame your family, job, society, genetics, past experiences or whatever for your results.    The average person does exactly this…which is why they get average results.  Want ABOVE average results?  You CANNOT behave, think, feel like the average person.   You MUST do something different.  Cook with the same recipe, you’ll make the same cake.  It is terrifyingly simple.


So the “Morning Ritual” needs to be set up such that IF you do it, you are performing a microcosm of all the things you need to accomplish your dreams.  Then, tinker with it.  If you can’t do it, ADMIT IT. And look at the things that stop you, and begin to gather the resources that you need to do it.  Here are the things you are locking in place IF and WHEN you properly perform your Morning Ritual:



  1. SMART goal setting (Specific, Meaningful, As-if now, Realistic, Time-Bound)
  2. M.A.G.I.C. formula (Action X Gratitude X intention X Conviction)
  3. Basic fitness
  4. Emotional health (learning to access emotions on demand by focusing, using your body properly, and controlling language)
  5. Starting the day with success
  6. Learning to identify the “Monkey Mind” by noting the negative internal monologue.


There is more, but man, that is a LOT for 5-20 minutes.   If it wasn’t a lot, it would be easy to do.  And it is “scalable”: the more dynamic you need to be that day, the more dynamic you make your movement, and the louder and more emotionalized your affirmations need to be.


Short stories are the micro to the macro “novel writing.”

The Morning Ritual is the micro to the macro called “your perfect day.”



Use it.






Who’s Life Is It, Anyway?

I remember the first prayer I learned as a child:


Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

If I should die before I wake

I pray the Lord my soul to take.


My adult version of this is:


What was the single most important thing for me to do today in all four arenas?

Of these four, what was the ONE that was most important and generative.

Did I not do it?  Why not, and what resources do I need to do better tomorrow?

Did I do it?   If so, CELEBRATE!


I made the moving trip from  Atlanta back to Los Angeles twice, with two different moving vans full o’stuff.  Once for most of the households, and the second time for Tananarive’s piano and the rest of the goodies.  It should have been grueling: thousands of miles of driving across alien landscapes through territory I didn’t enjoy.


But…I loved it. Why? Because the ultimate outcome was clear: I get to be back in Los Angeles. EVERYTHING else was just a means to that end.   The emotional power drove every action, every mile.


I woke up every morning knowing just what I had to do that day: drive X miles.  I didn’t know what adventures might come my way, what problems I might have to solve, what I would see or do.  I knew I had miles to go before I slept.


Wake up.  Morning ritual (who am I?  What is true?   What am I grateful for?  What do I need to accomplish today?), while doing Tai Chi.    Get a little writing done.


Eat.  Drive.  While on the road listen to audio books, daydream about writing, phone friends and family.


End of the day, find a place to sleep.   Eat. Write.  Tibetans.  Look back over the day, journal what I’ve accomplished, note what I need to do the next day.  Celebrate what I accomplished, and go to bed.


Wake up, repeat.


Those were great days. There was clarity, and purpose. Hard work, but EVERY SINGLE HOUR I could see myself drawing closer to my goal.  So every hour had purpose. Every day had purpose. And life was good.


This is the power of the “Morning Ritual”.    If you perform it properly YOU HAVE ALREADY WON.  Within it you have:


  1. Basic physical exercise
  2. Emotional alignment
  3. Mental clarity on the “One Thing” you have to do today to move toward your long-term goals in all arenas.


Focus, emotional balance, and ENERGY to move forward. Clarity on the “one thing” you need to do. And at the end of the day, if you HAVEN’T done the “one thing” you can list what stopped you, and simply making that list is describing the internal territory of your life.


You have defined problems that need solving, and can then apply your intelligence (problem solving) to the right issues.


But if you HAVE done the most important “One Thing”?   Celebrate.  If you moved all FOUR forward?   MAJOR celebration.


Get that?   If you do this right, you can make EVERY day a victory in five minutes.   And turn it into a major win in just twenty.  By defining the minimum action you have to take: the one call. The single exercise. The single problem solved or clearly defined.


And if I am “too busy” or “too confused”?   Then five one-minute “breathing breaks” during the day, visualizing my long term goals.


And if I don’t do that?  Then I know my demons are devouring my life, and I have the smallest step to take: set my watch for a three-hour countdown, and take those breaks five times a day. 


When I can do that? Begin to expand the first one into a full Morning Ritual. Use the last one for a Quick-Check of what I’ve accomplished.


Not a single day of my life has been so busy I didn’t have five minutes. Not one. And ANYONE reading this message who thinks they don’t have that time is lying to themselves.  Period.  You have time to be on Social Media? You have five minutes to connect your body-mind, and need to ask why you stand in your own way.  Whose life is it, anyway?



Five minutes, sixty seconds at a time.  Build to twenty minutes a day, incorporating emotions, mental focus and body-mind connection.


Journal at the end of the day: did you accomplish your FOUR IMPORANT THINGS?  Your SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING?  Yes?  Celebrate.


NO?   Define clearly the problem.  Including those nasty voices in your head.  WRITE DOWN THE NASTY THINGS THEY SAY TO YOU.   Get them out of your head and on paper where you can see them. In fact, I remember one teacher who suggested you write them down AND BURN THEM.


Whatever you do, get your clarity about this single piece.  Everything that destroys your entire life will first manifest on this micro-level.  And it is hella better to engage with it five times a day than to do it once a year, when you make your New Years Resolutions.


That’s what it took driving from Atlanta to Los Angeles: about five times a day checking the map.   Every morning knowing what had to be done.  Every night checking in to be sure I’d done it.


That’s it. Other than that?


Drive, and enjoy the view.










There is a story about a game preserve in Kenya. The young bull elephants were running amok, attacking the females, tearing down buildings, and threatening humans.  One set of administrators advocated shooting them.  But a game warden had a radical notion: there were no older bulls, and without them, the young bulls had no guidance for their behavior.    They trucked in older bull elephants from another preserve.  And in short order the older bulls had dominated the young ones, corrected their behavior and gentled them down. All was well, the natural order restored.




The link above leads to vileness.   I can understand why it would be easy to consider these men inhuman.  Frankly, I’ve had the precise same thoughts when strolling through racist forums, where men and women (disproportionately but not exclusively men) say even worse things about blacks.  And IMO the vileness comes from the same space: fear.


The answer is the same, as well: strength and love.


There are things to be said about this being a “human” problem, and it is.  But MORE of this problem is about male-male transactions, especially laying out road maps for navigating the maze to get the relational cheese.  Fathers, grandfathers, and men who have “solved the maze” of healthy, passionate, lasting relationships need to speak up and stand up.    These Incel guys are clueless, and frightened of the degree to which the world is changing/has changed/will continue to change. No going back.




I would say that 80% of the real problem is in 20% of these guys.  The other 80% can be reached.   EVERY human being is motivated by pain and pleasure.  Every human behavior, no matter how terrible, is ultimately a cry for connection with a deep wellspring that some call “God” and others might simply call “peace.”  Yes, I suggest understanding, and compassion.  Always have about racism, and can see even less reason to consider sexists outside the human species.


Yeah, I’m bundling them: want me to consider men evil?  I’ll raise you drawing the same conclusion about Caucasians.   Don’t start nothin’, won’t be nothin’.


We are what we are, as a species. We want the same things.  What we’re seeing is the cost of upsetting an order that has existed for generations, and in all probability, EVERY time you get a sea-change like this, there is push-back, and panic, and anger, and the potential for violence.


The solution is love.  But…FIRST the solution is strength.   Be safe.   And then, come love, to love yourself enough to hear what people are saying without accepting guilt, blame or shame. That’s their shit.  But you’d better understand your opponents, or you are helpless to affect their behavior.   Even if you thought they were animals, hunters understand the psychology of their prey if they want to eat. Soldiers must understand the psychology of the enemy if they want to survive.


Know your enemy and know yourself, one can go through a hundred battles without danger.  Know not the other, yet know yourself, the chance of victory is only half.  Know not your enemy, and know not yourself, every battle is certainly a defeat.”–Sun Tzu


This is human stuff, things we’ve dealt with since the beginning of time: violence stemming from anger stemming from fear.  Those who need to demonize the broken souls will not be a part of the answer. The answer will be implemented by those who see the abnormal as on a continuity with “normal” ranges of human thought and action, who can see where these young men have gone wrong, what they are really saying behind the bravado and venom.  If you can’t see that, then I don’t blame you for simply consigning them to another species.


I don’t have that luxury.  Never did.  And cannot do it now.







Fail Early…and Often

The discussion of “Incels” wound around to a lot of interesting thoughts, but one of them was my thought that they were likely under-employed.  A reader commented that many of the SORT of guys who now identify as “Incels” actually have pretty high-level tech jobs.  But that they were often the smartest person they knew until they hit Google or Microsoft…and then they were nothing special. And that that realization, that for the first time in their lives they were going to have to bear down and really find out who they were…breaks some of them.


Isn’t that the “Peter Principle”? The rising up through the ranks until you hit your level of incompetence, at which point you either evolve…or fall back into self-pity and delusion?


This is where the myth that “intelligence is a disadvantage” comes in: if you are smart, but lack wisdom, you’ll set out to solve the wrong problems.   Then when life smacks you with the REAL problem (growing, finding joy, mating) you have no idea what to do. The map of reality that has sustained you to this point falls apart, and under it is chaos.




A martial arts example.  Every dojo knows the phenomenon of the Natural. First day he walks in the school, he is a born black belt: fast, balanced, strong, fearless, right in your face and learning so fast it is spooky to watch.  On the fast track to be the best fighter in the school, and everyone knows it.  Heck, he damned near announces himself when he walks in the door: “I’m here.  You ain’t never seen anything like me!” And proves it.


Some of them had studied boxing or wrestling, or had a lot of street fights. Some are ex-military, and by having gone through combat are COMING from the place civilians are trying to GET TO.   It’s fascinating, and says a lot about what is really going on in training, on a psychological/spiritual level…but that’s another matter.


Sometimes they were fantastic athletes in another arena.  Let me tell you about one.  I’ll call him Frank.   Frank was unbelievably “quick”–he could kick you so fast it would cut your skin.  The guys in the BKF called him “the Black Bruce Lee” and said that “God made Frank, and then made Lightning in his image.”  Fearsome.


The story is that Frank’s secret was genetic: fast twitch muscle fibers bundled like bridge cables. That when he was in high school he ran track.  They said he would attend track meets, sit in the stands and smoke cigarettes, then when his event came walk down and beat everyone.


And in tournaments, he was just beyond intimidating. People would look at his speed and just shake their heads.


And why have you never heard of him?  Because that natural ability got him from the local to the city level.  By the time he hit city, he was running into people who didn’t have his “talent” but worked HARD.  He squeeked past them on sheer physicality.


But then…at the state level…he ran into people who had NEAR his physicality…but also worked hard.  And here, he finally stopped winning.  And this is the moment where you find out who you are.  And who Frank was was a man who couldn’t handle not being the best.  He knew on some level that the level above this was regional…and then national…and then international.  That he would meet people who were at his physical level…and also WORKED like demons…and also had a mental tenacity, a capacity to resist failure that Frank had never developed.




He didn’t know how to lose. How to be wrong. How to push through fear and doubt. He was in his early twenties when reality set in.  If he had hit that reality in his teens, when he had more behavioral and conceptual flexibility, less rigid ego walls…he would have known how to accept “death” and rebirth, would have taken the “dark night  of the soul” in stride.  Read any biography of any great man or woman, and you will see that they suffered such defeats…they are just the ones who pick themselves back up.


Frank couldn’t.  And didn’t. And the last person I know who ever saw him Frank was wandering down Crenshaw boulevard with  a stringy beard and six-inch fingernails, mumbling to himself, apparently homeless.




What a waste.  And so common.   If you are “smart” but not “wise” you get very very good at trivial things.  You create maps without testing them with reality.  “Awakening your Kundalini backwards” is a version of this, and dangerous as a coral snake in a nursery. Smart people can be SO convincing, so logical, so reasonable, with such gorgeous argumentation and rhetoric.


Doesn’t mean they are right, thought.  Means that they have convinced themselves something is true, and if they are smarter than you, or better educated in that subject, the chances that you can effectively refute their argument is slim…if you play their game.  But remember that once someone has a position, they will edit reality to defend it.


Frank’s belief was almost certainly “I’m the best.”

When he started having it tough, he probably thought “that guy was really talented.”

When he started getting beat, he probably blamed the judges.

When the crowd stopped cheering for him, when his friends stopped automatically agreeing that he was “the Black Bruce Lee”, he probably considered them false friends, unappreciative of his genius. When students fell away they were simply weak and foolish.  HE was right. HE was the best…

All of that because, at the core of himself, he secretly doubted. How could he help doubting? The instant he thought “I’m the best” he was in dangerous territory, because “I’m better than you are” is both highly effective as a competitive strategy, and only a hair away from “he’s better than I am”, which is down the hall from “I am nothing.”


Fear of nothingness. “If I am not brilliant and the smartest, I’m nothing” is common. The same in sports, or performance arts.   You are the best in your neighborhood, you are protected from failure during your peak flexibility years (how old?  I’m guessing right around Puberty.  You need to be falling on your ass) and it doesn’t hit you until you are in your late 20’s, early 30’s somewhere, more or less.


And the longer it takes to hit, the greater the shock. If you haven’t developed a sense of who you really are, gained a sense of humor about the human condition…it can be devastating.



Sigh.    The solution is to have goals in all three-four major arenas of life. Never met a human being who was just primo at all of them without ever getting their ass handed to them.   People who specialize in one arena…are like those houses at Universal City.    Look great from one direction, but get around behind and they are shells.


I’ll make a guess: Frank was a dog with women.  And ran through money like water.   Just a guess, but it would make sense.  And when his ego cracked…he thought it was him, and folded like a cheap chair.




I don’t know about this stuff for certain. But most of the most brittle people I know are actually very smart, and usually managed to confine themselves to the arenas in which they had “talent”. And when life caught up with them…had no coping skills.


One way or another, I think most of us hit this a little bit. Some of the unfortunate ones hit it a LOT. And hard enough to break.


Fail early, and often.






After Twenty Years…

Some thirty years ago I created “Lifewriting”, the meld of Joseph Cambell’s model of the Hero’s Journey with the balance and personal evolution implied in the Chakras model.   Was having great fun and success teaching it.


And then…my marriage to Toni went belly-up.  As “relationship” was one of the Big Three (now a “Big Four”: body, career, relationship, and finances) I felt it would be dishonest for me to claim to know how they work if I didn’t have one.   And my standard for a successful relationship was high: it has to be happy, and last long enough to raise a family to the point they don’t need you anymore.  How long is that?  15-20 years.


Note that I’m totally aware that not everyone has kids, or wants to.  And that there are people who believe we weren’t intended to find one partner for a lifetime. Fine.


I wasn’t going to let myself off the hook like that.  I’d messed up.  There was NO way to put it off on Toni–at the very best, what was I saying, that it was all her fault?  In which case, at the least, my judgement was shit.


No.  My bad. I would take 100% responsibility for my actions and attitudes, just as, from HER position, Toni has to take 100% of hers.  That’s how it works.


I took responsibility. Realized that my actions, beliefs and emotions had not been in alignment with my values.  Then when I got out into the dating market saw that my perceptions about men and women and what they wanted from each other simply didn’t match observable reality.


Once I fixed those things, dating became childishly simple. And as soon as I had 100% confidence in my ability to satisfy sexual needs, I was able to realize that my emotions were NOT a matter of what someone else thought or felt. They were mine to deal with. And once I took responsibility there became self-contained in a way I never had been previously…and immediately “jumped up” a level of integration, and met and bonded with Tananarive, my soul mate.   Just that simply.


Our twenty year anniversary is right around the corner.  NOW I can relax again, and really teach what I know.  Yeah, got that specific balance I was looking for, the specific path. Not that there aren’t other paths, but this is the only one I can be an honest guide for.  The assumption is that most people (over 99%, I suspect) want:

1)Lasting love

2) A healthy, fit body that they themselves would be attracted to.

3) A career doing something for a living that they’d do for free.

4) Financial security, such that money is a tool rather than a nightmare.


And when you drill down, the same principles of focus, self-love, discipline and incremental actions apply in all four.  And even if you don’t GET them, pursuing them is an authentic journey of life.


And…if you have all four the Masters suggest that further levels (spirit, for instance) evolves automatically.


And..if there AREN’T any “higher levels” you’ve still had a great life.


And…if you aim at all of these, it is far less likely that you will hurt yourself than if you ignore any one of them.


It is relatively easy to be good in ONE of these four. Even two. But by the time you get to all four, I submit that it is impossible to balance them without actually engaging with the most important questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?” And those questions take you home.


Someone can have all the lovely theories in the world, all the rhetorical flourishes they want, can sound as convincing as anyone ever has…


But if they don’t have these four things, at the very least they are not on my path. Why should I be interested in their map?


And if they ARE on my path, then either they got a bad map, or they had some serious disadvantages they are coping with.  Handicaps which limited their expression.  If they are honest about wanting those four things, and dealing with handicaps, they are IMO unlikely to be debating the rightness or wrongness of their approach with me. They are more likely to actually be engaged with the process of moving away from pain and toward pleasure. I recognize those people: they are brothers and sisters.


I gladly listen to what they have to say about their journey.


The rest of humanity?  If they have my values, and have similar maps, we are on the same road and can trade information.  Those ahead sometimes leave notes for me, and I gobble them.  As I leave notes for others.


If you are on a different path, genuinely?  I wish you well. I’ll read some of your notes, too.


But if you want me to listen to your theories about writing…and you’ve never published?


Want me to listen to your theories about relationships when you’ve never had a good one?


Want me to listen to your theories about martial arts practice when you have about 5% of my experience?


How about listening to your money theories when you have never had any, or never kept it…?


You know, you might well have something interesting to say. But I don’t have time to listen to everyone.  Seven BILLION people in the world, each with their own theories. If I gave each of them ONE SECOND that would be about 210 years.


Now tell me again…why precisely do I owe you a second?  Make it good–there are 6,999,999,999 people behind you in line.




Incredibles 2 and the power of yeilding

I just heard from Dan Moran, that INCREDIBLES 2 kicks butt.   I am SO happy to hear this, because the first movie was one of those “so close to perfect I can’t find anything serious to complain about” movies.  In the running for “Best Superhero Movie” ever as well as “Best Family Comedy”, Brad Bird’s masterpiece just get almost everything right.


SPOILERS for the original film.


Let’s follow one plot thread to see an example of how it works beautifully.  The core conceit is that Superheros (“Supers”) have triggered anger in the general population because of the collateral damage they cause in the midst of their heroics.  The average person appreciates them, but is also a little wary of people who can do such extraordinary things…and sometimes color outside the lines.


As a result, they are forced to hide their abilities and pretend to be “normal”.    All four members of the family who can talk frequently express their unhappiness with the situation: “Mr Incredible” Bob Parr (golf joke, there)  is forced to work in an insurance company bossed around by Wallace Shawn (!) as his gut expands and he withdraws emotionally from his family.   Elastigirl watches her hips expand and the passion seep out of her marriage one drab day at a time.  (Ultra) Violet feels unseen and unable to access her beauty and power. “Dash” would love to compete in sports, but cannot–he will never be able to demonstrate HIS power to the world, and flirts with delinquency as a result. Only baby Jack-Jack is totally unneurotic, able to just be himself.


And in every case, the solution is in BOTH accepting that the family is not their prison but their salvation, the “greatest adventure”, and that in accepting that reality, and that discipline, they are ultimately able to express themselves more fully than ever before, heal their own hearts, heal their families, save the world and open the door for the Supers to return.


The Parr family, then, is a single protagonist with a single goal: to integrate their inner and outer, private and public worlds.   And the entire movie is about the challenge that forces this.  While Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl arguably hit their personal bests in performance, it is Violet and Dash who literally discover themselves.  And Violet who, in a few key scenes, displays a seriously wide arc:


  1. From “Shrinking” (Ultra) Violet–shy, “invisible” and unable to access her full forcefield powers to
  2. Big Sister who must try to guide Dash to survival while actually being more frightened by the possibility their family might break up (losing Tribe is more terrifying than the possibility of Death!)
  3. To someone who can disappear to protect herself…
  4. To a girl who can access her full force-field powers..
  5. Note an important moment in Bob Parr’s journey, where he realizes that his own foolishness, his inability to grasp that his family was the greatest adventure of his life, and he is monologuing about it…is interrupted by Violet (symbolizing family) using her powers (an expression of the joint love of Mr Incredible and Elastigirl.   They did indeed get “busy”.  Incredibles features #2 and #3  favorite Disney sex joke.  Number 1 is  Tramp raising his eyebrow the morning after spending the night with “Lady”.  #2 is “busy” and #3 is Elastigirl pulling Bob back into the house for a little Morning Delight.  Yowsah!) to free them from capture so that, as a family now, they can go after Syndrome.


That was a quiet, lovely moment, earned in every way, and the doorway into the Parrs   actually functioning as a family for the first time.


They own their emotions, their lives, their powers.  Their “inside” matches their “outside”, and their “Public” personaes match their “Private”.    They accept themselves, each other, their lives.


And…that is Mastery.  Not fighting who we are. Finding a way for our true selves to serve the world, and each other…and ourselves.   What a beautiful model of human existence. We ALL make sacrifices, compromises, as we move through life.  NO ONE avoids this necessity.  It is part of maturity.  And if you can find a way to accept the things you have to do with joy, seeing how it all fits together in a mosaic of interlinked dependency and support, we glimpse not just the pattern of life but how our own potential and being is both from our individual potentials but what we can become when we have connection with family and friends and community.


We stop fighting, and embrace.


Man, I love that movie.


And whatever comes next…I just can’t wait.  Only two weeks to go!






Your Action or Your Life

Thief: “Your money or your life.”


Thief: “Your money or your life!”

Jack Benny:  “I’m THINKING, I’m THINKING!”




I had a recent exchange with a reader who complimented me on a powerful post.  I replied with thanks, but made it clear: the sign that such  communications  have power is not that it triggers emotion or thought but that IT TRIGGERS OR CHANGES BEHAVIOR.


I would go so far as to say that in a very real sense, no information that fails to change behavior has any real meaning or impact.  It is just…data.


This triggered a conversation about how hard thought is, and how intense mental evaluations can be. This is true. And…until those thoughts and feelings cross over into the domain of action, I suggest that they are irrelevant to the domain of action. Of life, in other words.


I find it frightening the degree to which the modern world has severed the connection between cause and effect, between action and reward, allowing people to remain in a domain of thought and feeling without running into the reality of existence.  In other words, in a very real sense…they are dreaming that they are awake. 


I have suspicions about some of the problems we’re seeing right now being related to this disconnect.  If maturity is sort of learning to mesh your gears with nature, dreaming that your gears are spinning is just great…but if when you try to actually engage nothing happens, you are a child or a fool if you blame reality.


The “Incels” would seem young men who have a CONCEPT of the way the Mating Game works,  and become frightened (and therefore angry) when the world doesn’t respond as they expect or fantasize they deserve.  Their map doesn’t match reality. Would you want to be in a car driven by someone who brought the wrong map, and keeps blaming the road?


Writers who have books in their minds that they are afraid to commit to paper.


People who hallucinate that they “don’t make enough money to save” but have plenty of non-essential possessions and experiences.


People who “think about” meditating, exercising, learning a new skill, finishing their degree program, changing jobs, or whatever…but never do it.


Thinking without measuring the actions is another symptom of “awakening your Kundalini backwards”.  While certainly a problem related to spiritual development, it is DISASTER for your material life.




Most stories are about a character being confronted with a challenge (One).   Initially they reject it (Two)–a REAL challenge will change you, and people hate change.  But then they are forced to accept it.  In Star Wars: A New Hope, for instance, the “Three” point where the challenge is accepted comes when Luke’s Uncle and Aunt are murdered by Stormtroopers, leading to “teach me to be a Jedi like my father.”  This leads to the road of trials, the gathering of allies and the gaining of powers (four and five).   But note something: step six is the Confrontation with Evil and defeat.


This is terrifying. We KNOW when we start any significant journey that there will be pain, fear, doubt, despair.  How do we know? Because we’ve gone through this process a thousand times before. But there is a bizarre analogue to the process of childbirth.


Several women with multiple children have told me that they were SHOCKED by how painful it was…every damned time. That somehow, they never seemed to remember the intensity.  More than one has said: “Steve, if women remembered how painful childbirth was, they’d never touch their husbands again.”


We forget the pain of birth, or we wouldn’t try?

Or…we forget the pain of birth, so that when the pain begins we forget that we have experience this before, and there is joy on the other side?


I know that every time I write a story, and I mean EVERY TIME,  I experience the “dark night” where it feels as if I can’t do it.  Every time.   The negative voices rise up when I’m about 1/2 the way through, telling me that it’s crap, that I have no talent, that the only reason I’ve ever had a career is affirmative action…you know. THAT stuff.


And what I used to do was ask Toni, Nicki’s mom: “Sweetheart…do I go through this every time?”


And she would laugh and say “yes, Steve.  Every time.”


And I’d soldier on.   The truth is that even after we divorced, I STILL called her up a few times and asked her that question. And she always laughed and reassured me.


The pain is real. The fear is real. The fantasies are not.  The way through is  to keep your eyes on the desired outcome, the thing on the other side of the fear and pain.  KEEP ACTING.  Otherwise, you fall back into a loop of pain, a downward spiral, where you know there is something you need to change, but don’t have the motivation, clarity, strategy, or resources to change it.  And every time you fail, it gets worse.


ACTION is the key. Now, that’s not to say thoughtless action. It is true that directed action is better than thoughtless action. But unless you have a natural bias for action, ANY action is better than inaction. This is why “a book a year in a sentence a day” works.  Why “1-4 stories a month” works.   You are forced to take contained, directed, purposeful action. If you take it, you win. A guaranteed path to success. Yes, there are other paths, and if you take them I wish you well. But there are also many, many paths–the MAJORITY of paths in fact—that lead nowhere.



In fiction, we watch the lead character dealing with a problem.  The motivations will build up until they are forced to take action. With James Bond, no motivation is needed: he is handed an assignment, and he goes.   Very little conflict.  With Sherlock Holmes, his tendency to sink into ennui  and lethargy must  be overcome by a unique challenge.


The story doesn’t start until the challenge is taken, until ACTION is taken.


A beautiful example of this principle extended to the max is the movie “Ordinary People.” In it, protagonist Donald Southerland has a loving and passionate relationship with his wife, Mary Tyler Moore.    Then one day, in a SCATHING scene at the breakfast table, he realizes something horrifying: she hates their son. Blames him, in fact, for the death of his older brother, her favorite. And this unspoken hatred is tearing their son apart.


He realizes that he will have to make a choice: he can save his marriage, or he can save his son.  He CANNOT save both.  The entire movie is about his slow-burn decision process, and the filmmakers utilized sub-plots to carry the audience across this long abyss of inaction.  Then finally, at the end of the movie, a decision is made.


If he had never taken action, all the thought in the world would have been meaningless.   And it is EASY to get caught in the “I’m thinking!  I’m thinking!” trap.

How can you know if you are thinking too much?

Set small, measureable goals you must achieve daily, that dove-tail into weekly, monthly, yearly, and five-year goals. Are you accomplishing them?  Then fine, you can take all the time you need to think…so long as you hit your benchmarks.


This is like a newbie writer working on an apparently endless trilogy.   I’ll STILL tell them to write AND SUBMIT 1-4 stories a month.  I don’t care if they are 1-page stories that can be written in a day. Write. Polish. Submit.  Then, if you want to, spend the other 29 days a month on that endless trilogy. Your business.


BUT TAKE ACTION.  The rest is fantasy and the door to neurosis and paralysis.


Here are some tiny actions I have to take every day/week, or I know I’m off track:

  1. Writing: one sentence
  2. Martial Arts: Tai Chi/Morning Ritual
  3. Finance: 5% of my checking account transferred to my investment account weekly
  4. Personal: connect with Tananarive, Jason, and Nicki to tell them I love them.


Every week, or something is WRONG. I don’t have to wait weeks or months to know I’m off track. I can usually tell in 2-10 days.   DANGER WILL ROBINSON.


Action. Guided action.  That’s the key to living in the outer world. As long as you have a body and an ego you need to deal with it…or you will throw your life away.