Yin and Yang of action


There are two basic approaches to life, and I think the healthiest is a combination of them.   One is “The world must change for me to get what I want.” the other is “I must act personally  to accomplish what I want.”   I think they can be broadly referred to as “Yin” and “Yang” approaches.


With dominated communities  the split might be:

  1. Build alliances with fair-minded people to change the laws and make the world fair.
  2. Work twice as hard to get half as far. Be so excellent no one can ignore you.  Kick ass, take names.


With issues like personal safety you get:

  1. Organize to make the streets safer, educate people to help, encourage people to stop behaving in a criminal manner.
  2. Be alert, aware, learn self-defense, carry weapons.


Can you see this split coming down on issues like health care?

  1. We will organize society to create a health care safety net.
  2. I will handle my own health care needs individually.

How about relationships?

  1. Statistics say that there aren’t enough potential partners in my category. The average member of my category doesn’t marry.
  2. If there are two potential partners left in the world, I’m gettin’ one of them.


It is interesting to see how different groups and different people come down on one side of this or the other.

  1. The most successful MOVEMENTS have of course all been about group action. (“We can do it, together!)
  2. The most successful INDIVIDUALS have of course all been about (“If its to be, it’s up to ME.”)


There are some obvious comments that could be made about who chooses which approach.  There DO seem to be differences based upon gender or political orientation, and perhaps the relative strength or direct power of the people involved.  Neither approach is superior, although there are people attached to one approach or the other who bristle if you suggest there is another way.

Like I said, a healthy approach, to me, is a balanced approach.   I can want greater economic opportunity for my group, but if I want my FAMILY to be safe, I’d better not believe I can do nothing unless the whole world changes.  The sane approach is BOTH to work for social change AND to seek to be so damned good at whatever factors influence income that I perform at the top X% of my group.  My belief: The average person  can get into the top 10% of their category just by modeling the behaviors and attitudes of members of their group who are in the top 1%.


That doesn’t mean that things are “fair.” No, it isn’t fair.  But if you focus on “fair”, rather than “what can I do to maximize my performance and rewards?” you are waiting for spring to come, rather than chopping wood for the fireplace.  What’s that you say?  There IS no wood?   Are you as warm as the top 20% of people in your community?   I can promise that they were chopping wood earlier in the year than you started.  In fact, you may have laughed at them when they did.  That whole “grasshopper and the ant” thing.


Is NO ONE in your community warm?  Then you MUST act together.  Acting together to dig coal or plant more trees or move someplace there is more wood, or travel in bands further to find it, or trade with the “wood people” over the hill or storm the castle to get the vast storehouse of coal the evil baron is hiding makes sense to me.   Perfectly normal, healthy human behavior.


But if someone is warm because they did different things, and those things are not immoral or beyond your capacity?  If you aren’t in the top 20% of your group, defined broadly?   YOUR EFFORTS AND TACTICS, your BELIEFS and PERSPECTIVES will make a huge difference.


It will take both. The world CAN be made more fair. And should be.  And we can all act with greater efficiency and effectiveness and forethought.  And should.


If you can hold BOTH realities in your mind simultaneously, you are ahead of the game.





Humans are funny critters

A recent conversation triggered a memory…


I remember being at a southern SF convention twenty years ago. Someplace in Mississippi, maybe? Or Texas? MAYBE Midwest?  Anyway, after a panel dealing with diversity in the field, a young white man approached me, shyly, sadly, felt me out a bit until he sensed that I was open to hearing what he really had to say. And after a few preliminaries, he said in a sad soft voice: “it feels like a white man doesn’t have a chance any more. Everything is for black people.”


I wondered if he had any concept how deeply racist his attitude was (racism is the assumption of differential worth or capacity on the basis of genetics).    The statistics are clear concerning infant mortality, incarceration, inherited wealth and more.  If you believe blacks have a social advantage, but STILL underperform?  You have to have total contempt for us, even if you’re polite about it.  Even with all the advantages we can’t make it.  Wow.  That attitude, so deep that he didn’t  even question it.  It’s just…taken for granted.  The ground on which he walked, the water in which he swam.     How thick did his filters have to be to walk up to me and say that?


But…there was so much pain in his voice that I couldn’t be angry, or even laugh at him. Absurdly, I found myself opening my wallet, and showing him a few bills: “see?  Every image: white people”  Pointed out that every lead of every dramatic show on television–white.  All presidents–white.   All of the Senate–white.   Every head of a fortune 500 company–white.  And on, and on, watching his mood slowly, slowly improve as he began to agree that all was not lost.

Finally, his spirits lifted, he shook my hand and thanked me and went on his way.  I sat there, wondering what the hell had just happened, and hoping that he got down on his knees every night and thanked God he’d been born white, because if he’d been black, life would have crushed him like a bug.


I’m a very strange human being some time.   I really do love people, but it often feels like I love ’em from an alien and far-off perspective.





Stress and Women in STEM

I’m cooking up something, but its on the back-burner.  Research phase. I don’t even know what I don’t know in this arena.  The overarching project is Stress and Performance for Women in STEM leadership roles.


The first thing I want to do is create a survey and ask STEM women in my circle (and connected thereto) to answer it.  But to do that, I need to ask questions about what questions I should ask.  I need to be careful to listen, with the assumption that I am wrong and ignorant of things I may have presumed I know.


So…ladies, what questions should I be careful to ask, so that I can begin to cluster answers?

Step #3: Accepting the Challenge

(I know, I know. I go over and over and over these basic patterns. But repetition is the mother of skill!)

The Third Step of the Hero’s Journey is acceptance of the challenge.   And here, the challenge is to be either an awake, aware, adult human being…or an awake, aware, adult ARTIST-type human being. One who communicates this state through stories.   And since everything we say is a story, these are just people who do it consciously.


Everything you say or think is a story.  Think about that.


Being awake, aware, and adult means not being a sleeping child.  What does this mean?  It means that you cannot blame your life circumstances on how your parents treated you as a child.   Your childhood, negative or positive, was a real thing.  And so what?  If you are to live a happy life, you have to take control.


You cannot blame your circumstances on luck.  “Luck” is one of the most unuseful concepts in the world.   Except for people briefly thinking “I was lucky to meet X” or “I was unlucky to have Y happen…” luck is just part of the flow of life. Good things happen. Bad things happen.   But the majority of the people you have ever admired, heard of, created anything you find useful or amazing, had HABITS very different from the average person.  They spend the maximum amount of time actually engaged in the DOING of the thing they love.   If they pop up at the peak of human success, the golden 1% of the 1% of the 1%, did they have “luck”?  Sure.  But absent some specific and grotesquely ugly BAD luck, you can get yourself into the top 20% of almost any field by obsessive work.   Are you in the top 20%?  Then the question of “luck” is IRRELEVANT to you.    “Luck” is an excuse, a belief that masks the fact that you are too afraid to focus and commit.   If you did, you could get into the top 20%.  If you’re there, and you love what you’re doing, you’re too busy to spend much time worrying about who hit the lottery.


It means you take responsibility for your emotions.  If you have a clinical issue, you get to the doctor.  Otherwise, you know that what you focus on, what you say, and the actions you take control how you feel.


And please hear this: you know that you are responsible for your dreams, your safety, your welfare.   It isn’t fair, but it is real. There is no one else to do it.  Children can scream for their parents to come and rescue them.   ADULTS HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES.


Now, part of this can and should be building partnerships with others, value-for-value transactions: mentorships, masterminds, social fabrics, teams.  That’s all great.


But you are the bottom line. There is no one else. If you get whiplashed by the existential loneliness of that, then have a good cry, then get to work.


You cannot let yourself be hypnotized by the social Matrix of lies and mythologies about race, gender, religion, nationality. Human beings are human beings. The differences between us as groups are slight.


You don’t let yourself get dragged into pity parties.  You accept the universality of humanity EVEN IF YOU SOMETIMES CANNOT UNDERSTAND how some inequalities, cruelties, or abuses happen.  You know that you and yours would do the same things given the same pre-conditions, in approximately the same proportions.    The only reason to fail to see this is lack of understanding of yourself, your own emotions, the way your actions create your results, your emotions create your actions, your perceptions create your emotions.


How do you know if you are off target?  Look at your body, your relationship history, your career.   Animals are in balance with their hunting-gathering, they mate, they either avoid or combat predators or die.


If you are not the thinking version of animal drives, SOMETHING IS WRONG. The only reason not to see this is fear of what it might mean, fear that there is something corrupt or evil about you.


This is why we have to start with love.  Loving yourself so deeply that you can see that any problem is a distortion in the system, an illusion, and commit to awaken.   All that really exists is love.


What is the STORY you tell yourself about your career?  Do you think that you have something of value to give the world, but that money, sales, or marketing is less than a positive service?  How precisely does that work?  That “luck” keeps you out of the top 20% of your field?  Then you’re saying everyone in the top 20% is just “lucky”?  Really?  How exactly does that work, unless you’re doing the exact same things but getting very different results?


What is the STORY you tell yourself about your body?   Do you tell yourself that it requires money, exorbitant amounts of time, impossible effort to discipline and align yourself with your own values?  World-class genetics, or that genetics have somehow shifted massively in the computer age?   Come on…you know damned well the kind of men or women who catch your eye. Make you say “yum.”   Are your actions in alignment with that level of health and energy?  The entire ZNT (“Zero Net Time”) system I laid out was about shattering the comforting myth that you have no time or money to change.


What is the STORY you tell yourself about your relationship history?   If you are like 99.9% of humanity, you have the same urge to love and be loved, hold and be held, as the entire genetic line of beings who created you, back to our ancestors on the veldt.  If you don’t have that urge, I suggest that it is the result of specific damage, negative experience, pain and fear and horrible role models.   If you know no healthy models of happy couples, gay or straight, you are self-selecting for pain.  We’re out there, legions of us and you have deleted us.  We may not be perfect, but we honestly love each other and stand together in life.


If you don’t believe in success, if you don’t believe in health, if you don’t believe in love…you have to either take RESPONSIBILITY  for happiness in these arenas, commit to CHANGING those emotions and perceptions, or life will run you over.  You may not know HOW you will reach these goals, but you may have to look at the cycle of storytelling to step #8: FAITH.  Faith in yourself.  Faith that people like me aren’t lying to you about the chance to be happy, and the path to joy, if only you can love yourself enough to forgive yourself, commit to protect your heart, and make a vow to be an ADULT in your own life, to nurture and protect your “child” and childhood dreams.  To be your own mother, your own father.  Faith that you are not so out of alignment with your animal nature that you are being outperformed by the average chipmunk.

I mean…come ON, people.


Those are the basic things.  Look at any story you’ve ever loved.  One way or another, all of them involve someone seeking to move away from pain (survival) or toward pleasure (success) in the arenas of career, physical health, or love.  Write your own story.   Your challenge is to ACCEPT the challenge.


If you are a storyteller, you’ll have an additional challenge: to COMMUNICATE what you find once you set down this road.   If you choose to accept it, I promise you’ll find allies.   Promse that I won’t let go of your hand while I have a breath of life in my body.


But YOU must decide to take responsibility.  No one else can.







Meditation and Art

A reader asked:
“Question for you. This has been on my mind for a while, and you’re a person who meditates and you’re a writer, so you’ve probably worked through this. My understanding of the purpose of meditation is to try to be in the present moment, to experience what IS, not what was, or what will be. So part of meditation is recognizing monkey mind and bringing yourself back to the breath. But meditation is also the way I put myself in the right mental space to write or do anything creative. And when I meditate, much of the time my my mind is dwelling on my fiction, not only random stuff or my past or whatever. So… how to reconcile this? Is meditation different when you are an artist, or are a person who delves into what Jung called the collective unconscious in order to bring back that essential stuff as art? or am I thinking about it incorrectly?”

My answer:

I would say you’re thinking about it incorrectly. Meditation (IMO) is the practice of creating a still, focused mind, unattached to emotions, sensations, results, or anything else. It is cleaning the black board. Then, once you have it cleaned, THEN you can focus on your writing or anything else. “Wipe clean” first, THEN bring “life” in. Everyone is an artist, a healer, a warrior, whatever. We tap into all archetypes. But then we also specialize. My personal favorite form of meditation is simply listening to my heartbeat for 15-20 minutes, BTW. Hope that helps!

The Inner and Outer Games

One of the secrets to a happy life is the ability to perform, instinctively, as you would if you sat and thought about it for a month. The only way you can do this is to have the inner and outer worlds in harmony–that you can present yourself honestly and openly as you are at all times. This takes remarkable courage, and is something that only a few can do with consistency, and no one I’ve ever met can do 100% of the time.

Nonetheless, it is another core concept of the entire Lifewriting system: the idea that the plot and character are two versions of the same thing. A character is only revealed through his actions. The plot mechanics demand proper choice of protagonist. A mis-match will kill your book. This may seem a little complicated, but in truth it is quite simple. Once you begin to see the connection between the character and the plot–or your inner and outer worlds–it becomes possible to start with the most basic idea, and design a basic character to complement it. A story, after all, must “empty out” our character, reveal everything important about him. If you start with a character, then step back and ask what situation would best reveal the truth of this person’s existence.

And how does this fit in to our own lives? Very well, I think. If you view your outer life and circumstances as an externalization of your inner world, it may be uncomfortable, but it also opens the door to massive self-discovery… as well as giving you leverage handles on your soul. Because if you change your external circumstances, you change the internal world. Associating with more spiritual people will begin the process of personal evolution. Associating with more physical people will get you started on the path of fitness: you’ll absorb their attitudes like butter soaks up smells in a refrigerator. Associate with wealthy people, and you will start to understand the differences between the way the wealthy think about money, and the way poor people think about it. Having been around both groups, I PROMISE you that there are huge differences. Furthermore, (in most cases) if you transplanted a poor man’s money attitudes into a rich man, the rich man would immediately begin to fail in life. Transplant a (self-made) rich man’s attitudes into a poor man, and that poor man would stop looking for work–he would begin to search for ways to create wealth, to start a business, to provide services, to protect his money by spending it on items that appreciate rather than depreciate… and on and on. This is the way (self made) rich people think. And those who inherited wealth? Well, the ones I know were taught from the cradle the way to KEEP their money. How the heck do you think that money lasted to be passed from one generation to the next?

Matching the plot to the character, and making the connection between the inner and outer worlds in your own life, combined, is the single most important building block in the Lifewriting system.

-Steve Barnes,

HJ #2: The Hero Rejects The Challenge

“Somebody should tell us…right at the start of our lives…that we are dying. Then we might live to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.” ~Michael Landon


Lifewriting is about being the hero in our own stories.  To do this, we must understand not only storytelling, but what heroes really are. They are not people without fear.  They are people who act despite fear.


It is FEAR in one form or another that manifests in step #2 of The Hero’s Journey: The Hero Rejects The Challenge




An example of this is the “Mountaintop” speech Martin Luther King gave the day before his assassination.  He knew.  He KNEW that he probably wouldn’t survive his mission.  And I don’t doubt at all that he prayed, and cried, and asked God to lift the burden from his shoulders.   He tried to reject the challenge.   And hinted at that in his speech, given to provide strength to his followers.


He probably saw what was coming, and this is what he said to explain why he didn’t walk away:


“It really doesn’t matter what happens now,” King told the church.   “I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, ‘We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night,’ ”


Do you have to wonder why they needed to guard that plane?  HE KNEW. Everyone knew.


“And then I got to Memphis,  and some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?  Well, I don’t know what will happen now,” he continued. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now,” he said. “I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.

“I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.“


And then he went out to die.



He knew. As we all know.  When we are confronted with a challenge, whether world-changing or life-changing, we risk a death, whether large or small. Every time.  If large, it is obvious why we might shy away.


But what if the challenge is to change a job?  Stop lying?  Gain physical power?  Open our hearts to love?  Set goals we care about and admit we care?


The fear of admitting that WE HAVE AGENCY. That our actions influence our results, can cripple us. And it can hide as depression, anger, emotional disconnnect.  Belief that “it’s all luck”, that “it takes money to make money”, that “My body doesn’t work right” or “people are petty for judging me.”


That “relationships don’t work” or “there are no jobs” or “my life can’t be better until the whole world changes.” That “they are against me” or “I’m too old/young/black/white/gay/smart/uneducated to succeed.”  Whatever.


There is too much risk. We might hurt.  We don’t know what to do.


It is not up to us to know, in advance, what will happen. It is up to us to create lives of meaning and joy.  MLK’s joy was ecstatic: serving his God by serving his people, a joy so huge it was larger than his own life, and therefore larger than his terror of oblivion.  His attention was on SERVICE, on CHANGING THE WORLD in a direction he felt in alignment with divine purpose.


In all likelihood, your challenge, your purpose, is far smaller, won’t require anything close to what King needed to take another step.  But he felt what you feel. And by taking his attention off himself and ON the dream, he was able to change the world.


You can change your inner world, by acknowledging your negative emotions, not hiding from them. And finding a goal, a purpose so huge that overcoming the negative emotions is a heroic act.


  1. You need to remember the greatest moments of your life, moments when you were BEYOND YOUR BEST, when you were so proud of yourself you could hardly believe it was you.  You were a HERO. We all have those moments.  It is then, at those moments, that the people around you want to follow your example.
  2. You need to have a CLEAR OUTCOME. Something transformative.  Change yourself. Change the world.
  3. You need to see that every moment is a NEW OPPORTUNITY.   All you have to do is leave the past behind.  Not make incremental changes on what you’ve done before, but leave your fears behind. Be willing to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to bring your vision into existence.


There is something inside you that huge, that important. Something worth dying for, and therefore worth living for.  THAT is what makes a hero.


What is your story?  Lifewriting asks you to go directly to that question, to stop pretending that anything less will give your life, your love, your work, your destiny, the power and passion they deserve.


What are you committed to?  What is big enough to move you past your fear?  Find that, and you have won the fight before you step in the ring.







Throwing your hat over the fence

(From 2005, during the Maui Writer’s Workshop)

Tananarive just finished giving the keynote address for the second half of the conference. She was, (of course) beautiful and brilliant and inspiring, but one of the things she stressed is the need to throw your intentions in front of you: “throwing your hat over the fence.” What does this mean? The ability to commit on the basis of faith alone, which is an ability that is rare and precious, although we are all forced to do it from time to time. Marriage is like that. Traveling to a strange place is like that. Taking a new job is like that. And beginning a career in the arts is very very much like that.

How can you do this? How is it possible to take such risk? You must start with the ability to trust yourself, to believe that within you is the ability, the seed of the capacity to bring your dreams into existence. YOU MUST BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Even if you don’t know what your future will look like, or feel like, if you can imagine the first step in your process, you’ll be way ahead of the game. The world belongs to those who can take positive steps, and if you let fear freeze you, you just can’t do it. Every great person you have ever known of had this capacity, and the cultivation of it can be a major step along the road.
1) Visualize the end step of the goal process. What would success look and feel like? How would you stand? How would your voice sound? What would the expression on your face be?
2) Think back over your life, remembering all of the things you have learned up until this moment. In many cases, that learning was surrounded by failures. Remember that you did not let those failures stop you… and ask yourself what resources you used to move through the fear.
3) Study the lives of successful people, seeking the moments when failure threatened to cripple them. How did they make it through? What was the price they paid for their success?

There is a way to your dreams. True, the path is littered with the bones of the fallen, but there is no reason why you can’t be one of the success stories. Just make the declaration that you are going to become the person you were meant to be, in body, mind and spirit. Ignore the negative voices in your mind. Just throw your hat over the fence.

– Steve Barnes, http://darkush.blogspot.com/2005/09/throwing-your-hat-over-fence.html


James Cameron on “Alien 3”

One of my readers, Lancelot Falk, got to ask James Cameron a question I’ve often wondered about:


“OK, the story.

First off, let me say, I friggin, unapologetically love the work of James Cameron. Yes, Avatar. Yes Titanic. Yes, Dark Angel…etc. Aliens and T2 and the uncut version of The Abyss are among my favorite movies. (Your milage may differ).

A decade ago, I went to a studio screening of Titanic on the day it crossed the 100M line.

It was a large packed auditorium. After the screening JC took the stage and was interviewed for a bit, then questions were taken from the Audience. I got the first question.

After briefly complimenting the film and his work in general I asked:

“I’d really like to know your gut reaction to the first five minutes of Alien 3”

The audience made sort of an uncomfortable, anticipatory noise.

He paused, concentrated, considered his words…which as far as I can remember were….

“Listen. David Fincher is one of out Great Directors. I’m a big fan. I see everything he does. He’s going to do some really timeless, important work. I’ll see anything he does.

That being said……

If you have ANY affection for what Ridley and I did. If you have any love for Ripley and those other characters from my sequel…. I have to say it felt like a hostile act when they were arbitrarily slaughtered like that. Next question”

When I had him sign my Making of Titanic book afterwards, he may not have known I was the guy who asked that question.”

The Hero is Confronted by Santa

Trying to unpack the most basic steps of the “Manifesto” is harder than it looks.   I want to make things as simple as possible…but no simpler.  “The Hero is confronted with the challenge” is the first step, but what does it mean?     This is always a desire to either decrease pain  or gain pleasure.  It sometimes requires action (our big-screen blockbusters) but ALWAYS  requires a clarifying of the Big Two questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?”   Always.


Once upon a time, like most kids, I believed in Santa Claus.  Christmas was a time of mystery and magic and joy and family togetherness.  Waited for it all year.  “Be good!” I was told. “And good things will come.”


And I tried.  Oh, how I tried to be good. As I got older, there were problems, of course.   I began to hear whispers that Santa wasn’t real.  I caught my parents making a bicycle late Christmas Eve.  I noticed that there were multiple Santas in different stores, and on different street corners.   I noticed that poor children got fewer toys from Santa than rich ones.   Something was wrong.


But…but…Mommy and Daddy were the source of all good things.  Without them I had nothing. I trusted them completely.  Surely they wouldn’t lie to me.  Would they..?


And even if I decided that they would, and had…how would I deal with the information?  Did I distrust them?  Did I PRETEND to still believe so as to manipulate them into buying me presents they really couldn’t afford? Well, yeah, I did that.  I think most kids did.


But…but what did I think about it? What was true?  As I grew older, the first temptation was to be a wise ass, and tell the younger kids that there was no Santa. Wow! I was smart!  Then…I saw that that caused them pain.  Did I have anything to transform that pain into pleasure?  Actually…no, I didn’t.   “I’m wising them up” I thought.  “How dare my parents lie to me! It’s all bullshit!”


But as I grew even older, I saw how hard my Mom and Dad had worked to choreograph those moments of joy.  Wondered why they wouldn’t take personal responsibility for giving me and my sister those presents. Wouldn’t that have been the better thing? They bought them. Why didn’t they want those hugs and kisses and thanks?


As time passed, and paid my own bills and took adult responsibility for myself, I began to see how hard life could be, how often callous.  And that it seemed odd that people were more polite around Christmas time. Even adults.   There was something magical about it, even for those who were not devout, didn’t believe in the deeper Christian story behind the exterior holiday.  And later, studying NLP came across the concept of “anchoring”–that highly emotionalized actions and experiences become associated with events.  And that when this happens in childhood, we can associate them for a lifetime.


Oh.  My parents had sacrificed not just their time and energy, but the joy of hearing “thank you” because someone had done that for them. They had learned that this was a good thing. Why?


Because children believe in gods and monsters. We grow up in a world where resources are given to us from no source we can understand. We do not understand money.  Or work (unless we grow up on a farm!).  We understand love, and hugs, and food, and shelter.   And love Mommy and Daddy beyond measure because they provide these things.   We’re wired to.   And Santa…who is everywhere, in many forms, impossibly…once upon a time brought the greatest gifts of all.


Somewhere deep within us, we still remember that magic. And the entire culture remembers it, once a year.  And we smile at each other, and are sweeter, and kinder, and more giving.  Because we were given to.  And that sweetness is a good thing. And good for our children. And most parents forgo a few hugs and kisses to give their children that same gift, the gift they were given, that can make a stranger’s kindness a trigger to remember the best days of our lives, and remind us to pass that blessing on.


And I realized it might have been “smart” to see through Santa…but it was not “wise” to rip that myth away from children unless I had something to replace it with, a culturally held story that communicates across race, gender, nationality, even religion.  A shared language of love and giving.  It is “smart” to see the artificiality.  But it is ego to rip it away from children unless you have something to replace it with.  I’m not smart enough to replace all of that.


Everyone will come to their own conclusions about these things. That is part of the process of maturation.  But when my daughter Nicki was born, and began to grow, I watched her eyes alight with wonder at the decorations, and her burbling with delight as she opened gifts, and REMEMBERED what that felt like in my own life, and all my parents had given me, sometimes at great costs to themselves. And committed to creating the same wonder for her, if I could.


And knew that there would be no time when I told her to doubt the magic.  That she would, with the passage of time, come to doubt it for herself…and that that would be just a little sad.  That my son Jason in one year totally believed in the “Elf on the Shelf”…but by the next year began to wonder, and by the next was totally in on the joke, but pretended to believe…because it was fun.  And of course because he could con me into buying presents I couldn’t afford.  Because Santa.


I was like my Mom and Dad, at their best.  Giving because it gave joy.


What is true? Who am I?   I was someone who lived to bring joy to my family.  We move away from pain and toward pleasure.  No one can tell an adult what to believe, or that is not an adult.  We have to make those decisions about every story we were told, whether about Love, or fitness, or success…or Santa Claus.


We grasp that there are facts: love makes life easier.  We can anchor intense experiences into our bodies and trigger them for a lifetime. We need shared languages to create a culture.  That Santa Claus is not factual.


Or…we can see that, while not “factual”, some stories are in a sense “true.”  That they contains internested lessons that can keep people alive in lonely days.  All cultures have such myths, sigils that represent deeper truths.

Is a flag worth dying for?  As a piece of cloth, no.  How about as a symbol of a nation?   Die for a political abstraction?  Absurd?

Well…how about the fact that a group that cannot rally, and sometimes go to meet an enemy BEFORE that enemy reaches their homes, will have to fight as individuals with the Huns burning their towns and killing their children in the streets. But a culture that can abstract to rally around an idea…or a piece of cloth…can be motivated to fight, and prepare to fight, before the threat actually arrives.  And therefore has a greater chance of survival. Yeah, a paradox.   Fighting for a “mere” symbol can actually be the best way of protecting what is real.


Can this be abused?  You betcha. But is it necessary?  Looking at human history…it seems hugely valuable.   You want to fight BEFORE your house starts burning.


Teaching our children to believe in a lie can help them understand what is true.


Paradox.   Stories are all about that.   Suffering the pain of discipline today: exercising, balancing your checkbook, telling an uncomfortable truth…can stave off death, disease and disaster tomorrow.


What is the STORY you tell?   The “Hero confronts the challenge” that the story he believes in says: “it is time to act.”  Or that the story he believes in is a lie, and must be changed. The map doesn’t match the territory.


Santa isn’t real.   But it isn’t clever to say so to the younger children, who deserve their chrysalis period.  Stories are not true. But neither are our direct perceptions through flawed senses.  We ORGANIZE our minds, select the perceptions, emotionalize them and ignore the irrelevant…to create meaning.


And communicate that meaning through stories.


The quality of our lives is the quality of the stories we tell.  Even if they aren’t quite factual.  Lifewriting loves to look at the connection between the inner and outer stories, and simply asks writers and readers and filmmakers and filmgoers to examine this insanely powerful tool, and begin to use it for their own direct benefit, and the benefit of mankind.


Trust me: if you don’t use it consciously, it will be used against you. And the lies stuffed down your sleeping throats will be a lot less benign than a jolly elf in a red suit.