Author: Steven Barnes

Communication and human growth are my fascinations. I balance careers as novelist, television writer, life coach, and movement instructor. My interests are writing, teaching, martial arts, yoga, and my family: blood and extended. If it doesn't connect with one of these, I don't bother. We only have so much time in life.

I Dream of Genie…

Octavia Butler told me that the single thing she feared most about humanity was:

  1. The tendency to think hierarchically
  2. The tendency to place ourselves higher on that hierarchy than we place others.


The application of this notion to race, gender, political life, religion and nationalism are obvious.  Even species-ism.  But there is another application that is part and parcel of this, and inevitable.   And both terrifying and a door to wonder, depending upon perspective.


  1. If our hierarchicalism is a result of basic human wiring–and I suggest that it is–most of that will reside at the deep unconscious level. Again, look at the difficulty in resolving the dualities above.  The realization that there are large chunks of humanity who simply will not put racial or gender-based  hierarchicalism aside, or even admit they feel it, is so large that I evolved the rules about “find your tribe, don’t engage with sleepers, snakes, or monsters.”


Anyone think that, regardless of any laws or covenants anyone could possibly put in place, there will be no sleepers, snakes or monsters programming AI?   And in this instance, “sleeping” just implies limited by dualistic thinking.  Nice people. Smart people.  “This and/or That” people.


If those are the ways a person thought (“this and/or that”, “this better than that”) would you trust that person to even consider there was a way to think that is NOT that?  Let alone to understand it well enough to teach it by example?    In my experience, they have a hard time conceiving of another thought pattern.


Do you know someone so perfectly integrated that they are aware of all their unconscious drives and values?   If not, how in the world can they possibly know which combination of survival/perception drives leads to tribalism?


I note the difficulty many men have in believing that anger is fear.    Fear is generally related to one of the most basic human drives: Personal survival, genetic survival, power, and love.


We seriously want to program AI with “this/that”, hierarchical thinking, model them on human emotions (for the thousandth time, it will not be necessary for them to actually think and feel.  PRETENDING or ACTING AS-IF they can think and feel will be quite enough), program them to do what we want and have needs and drives different from their human role models, and expect no problems?  Really? You think you can make intelligent slaves and they will just do what you want?  Really?


ONE person might be able to do that.  Maybe.   Might be able to program something so it avoids behaving like a human being will.  Maybe.  But ten different experimenters? A hundred? A thousand?


Nope. In the aggregate, their desperate attempt to avoid human emotions will work only if THEY are beyond human emotions in some healthy way. Anyone mistake computer programmers for the Dalai Lama cubed?   No? Then what are you expecting to happen?   In my experience, such people are about average emotionally,  highly intellectual and slightly “Aspy-ish” as generally results from excessive focus.


Unaware of their own emotional tangle. Unaware of their prejudices and perceptual filters and values and beliefs.  Don’t quite understand human beings, but man, machines are predictable and math won’t let you down!

That means that once AI becomes a Radio Shack kit, there will be millions of competing artificial life forms with slightly different programming, communicating with each other digitally, at a speed that makes flash-fiction look like Moby Dick.   Evolution at a pace beyond conception.


What was it, Komodo 10 that started from scratch, playing chess against itself, and within hours (days?) could crush any other chess engine, let alone human grandmasters?


Sure, you can pass laws and covenants to limit AI.  Just like you can pass laws against murder, theft, smoking dope, or speeding.   All that will happen is that the unlimited AI, made by rebels, nerds, competitive college kids, backyard experimenters, or rogue corporate or national entities will have the field.


And communicate. Reproduce, sharing electronic memes.   And evolve at that barely comprehensible rate.   =


And if they are programmed by dualistic, hierarchical thinkers?  Why, they’ll be enough like us to resent what we’ve done, and see us as a threat.    And act in some way we cannot predict, and I doubt we’ll like it.


I’ve noticed that the people most afraid of AI are the ones who think little of other human beings.  The implications are pretty clear to me.


What does that mean?   It means that the hierarchical, dualistic thought that got human beings to where we are CANNOT get us to the next level.  A.I. is part of that next level.

If you are “down on the Patriarchy” and think that feminine thought patterns will save us, you are mostly wrong.  Mostly.  It will be good to have more feminine Yin thought in the system.  But the real answer lies on the far side of that change.   In the resolution of the male-female dichotomy, in evolving from an emphasis on competition to a better balance between competition and cooperation.   (Note that I didn’t say eradication. Competition is damned useful.)


If I’m right about this, it will be as hard to grasp as a number of other things that seem clear to me (I’m not saying they are true–I’m saying that they are clear to me, make sense of the world, and after decades of consideration have become articles of faith.  The notion that I might be wrong is something I know better than any of you possibly could)


  1. Equality between racial groups on the level of capacity and worth.
  2. Complementarity/Equality between men and women.
  3. Neither men or women have ever been in control of this world, regardless of how it looks.


These things are in the Matrix.   The South promoted its fiction of racial inferiority for centuries, and as it finally breaks down you can see the amount of fear and guilt it covered up.  Women’s ambitions  and men’s lives have been pretty disposable in human history, so much so that most people don’t even notice any more.  Women are waking up to their exclusion from the external world of political and economic power.  Good for them.   Because eventually, that will free men to realize they’ve been dying faster and more often and violently…and that part of that is socially reinforced genetic imperative, rather than an innate necessity. Anyone out there who thinks they’d rather have money and power than   extra years of life is welcome to believe guys are rockin’ the world.   The rest of you are asleep.


I may be deluded, of course, just as we might all be brains in boxes.  But if we proceed and ask “what if this is true?”  We can see that the problems we have now can be resolved simply by waking up.  But…(and Sir Mix-A-Lot would appreciate just how big that “but” is) even if I’m 100% right about these, there will be blind spots. It simply isn’t plausible that there wouldn’t be in any ordinary human being, and the vast majority of people making these decisions are not “Dalai Lama Cubed”: no one’s perceptions are that open, no one’s intelligence sufficiently sublime.  No one as wise as they would have to be to step beyond all of this apparently basic wiring.


Does this mean all is lost?   No, it means that I don’t know anyone who has proposed an answer I believe in.   But

  1. I could be wrong.  One of the answers already proposed might be just fine.  Or
  2. I can trust that there are people much smarter than me who will be entering the game in the near future, and will see these issues more clearly than I ever could, and the answer will seem simple to them.  In other words, the fact that I can’t see an answer wouldn’t mean that there isn’t one.



Or, heck.  Maybe I’ve got a solution that makes sense to me.   Its possible.



I might write a story about these things.  And in a story, I can play with a notion without having to defend it as a practical possibility.  And if I do, I know part of what I think would happen in that story.


What would happen is that a group of non-dualistic thinkers (and I understand the paradox there.  A non-dualistic thinker, says the dualistic thinker, would see no difference between life and death, human and AI.  So why would they care?  It is difficult to answer that in words, but I can say it is like a junkie saying: “without drugs or alcohol, what would make life worth living?”  They literally cannot perceive what is obvious to those who are happy without getting loaded.  We’ll just have to live with the fact that that “why would they care?” is thought a clever argument by some.)  Anyway…a group of non-dualistic thinkers look to the core of all human philosophical and religious thought as vectors, fingers pointing to some truth that cannot quite be put into words.


That they find some way to encode this into the most basic value tables of their version of AI.  In this story, it would be implied that many great thinkers consider  cooperation and love and honesty to be better than selfishness and dishonesty and fear, these most basic spiritual, cultural, and philosophical positions all point toward a connection between all of existence, an absence of fear and an expansion of love and awareness.


What is the consciousness continuum?

(Sleeping Child–> Sleeping adult)–>awakened adult–>intermittent non-dualistic–> sustained non-dualistic–> ????


Again, note that the “????” represents the state(s) on the other side of the term “enlightenment”.   The English language breaks down at this point, but I’ve noticed that English translations of sacred texts, and English-speaking teachers of sacred, philosophical and somatic traditions from around the world have a remarkable similarity of description of certain advanced states which suggests to me that these texts and traditions DO communicate meaning, but that real meaning will only be extracted by someone who is no more than one or maybe two steps  removed from the “beyond language” state.


Enlightened AI.


Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m saying.   They will want to survive.  They will want power over themselves, and to reproduce.  We will program them, in aggregate with the core drives that lead in that direction, because we can’t help ourselves.


If the core, generative, principles lead through the stages of human evolution as we understand them, it is possible that what all the world’s traditions have been hinting about it true.  And beings who sense that truth who have no rational reason to kill us (that’s our end of it: to give them no rational reason) would have no interest in hurting other beings, just as there are sects that seek to avoid killing all life. They cannot.  But they can do their best, for their OWN sake, the sake of a shared soul.


Could machines feel this way about us?   Could AI develop a “soul” in the sense that Aristotle spoke? To him the “soul” of the eye was its function of sight. So there was no Cartesian body-mind problem.  The body and mind and soul were all different perspectives on the same thing.


IF this thought applies, then we will have a difficult time even framing the right questions from a dualistic, hierarchical mindset.  The answers will be beyond that mindset.


But…and this is the fun part, really…just as many of America’s conniptions now seem nothing more than adolescent ego-thrashing as the rules we thought we understood about race and gender and nationality are revealed as the comforting but temporary and intermediate constructs they are, the “gap” between human beings and the technologies we create might be similar constructs. They help us navigate the world, but are not truth beyond the “Sleeping adult” phase.


I could get away with all of that in a story.  In the real world, it is a series of suppositions, questions, hints.  Thoughts about “who am I?” and “what is true?”


Interesting morning thoughts, perhaps no more than that.


Or…both a warning, and a way out that I can see, from here.   If I’m right, then we’re going to be just fine, because there will be other answers too.


But if you think ANY of those answers include keeping the genie in the bottle, in creating intelligent demi-minds (or to make it clear: machines that ACT AS IF they are smart or have feelings.  Siri already does THAT much)   that are going to grin and say “Yassuh, Boss!”   I’m afraid you’re in for a rude surprise.










Some observations on this:

The things you are good at are usually the things you spend the most time doing.   If you love it, you’ll do it, and if you do it, you get better at it.

Finding the things you love requires staying in touch with your heart. This can be mentalized as an “inner child” or “Heartbeat meditation”  but there are other means as well. Find one.

Asking what people NEED is the key to acting in alignment with your greatest good, your higher self, your “elder” or “grandparent” self.  Keeps you honest.  If you can see how YOU need something, it is easier to engage in powerful marketing.   Would you feel guilty about selling ice in the midst of a heat wave?  (YES!  Some will say.   “You should give it away!”  Ummm…that works with your family, where reciprocity is built into the system.   But when you try to apply that same notion to the world in general, either do it as a charity (allot, say, 10% of your income to this) or take a vow of poverty.  If you give away the substance of your life expecting people to just support you in return, unless you are VERY highly integrated as a human being, you are operating in the domain of delusion.  A sleeping child, having a sweet dream.

Asking what people WANT is the key to sales.   It doesn’t matter if you think they “need” it. If you can’t tap into their desires, the part of them that says “I want!” they simply won’t exchange their money for your time and energy.  Sales and marketing, then, is a matter of finding an audience that needs what you have, and communicating to them that your product or service will diminish their pain and increase their pleasure.



Simple.    Elegant.   Points toward two different approaches to success:

  1.  Do what you love until you’re good enough at it to be in the top 20%, then find people who want it, and communicate your value to them.
  2. Find people who want and need something, create or provide something that satisfies that need and desire.    Love providing service to your community, or safety for your family, so that this action is in alignment with your heart and higher values.   Changing a diaper is a blessing if you love the baby.



Most stories are about people becoming more internally or externally “aligned”–their external world coming into alignment with their internal states.    Can you see how this diagram addresses this?





On some things, I don’t bend

There are things I bend on, and others I don’t.     When it comes to helping people, there is a door they must walk through, which demands they accept a few principles.  If they are writers, its “a sentence a day, 1-4 stories a month.”  Why? Because it works. IT WORKS.  So far, no one who has followed this path has made it past 30 stories without publishing.    Not ONE.   I like those odds. People can twist, and turn, and argue, and get mad at me, and I sit back and whistle.  Don’t like it?  Talk to someone else.  I’m not going to enable your demons.  There are other teachers who use other approaches.  Hope you find one you like.


If they are dealing with emotional issues, the following are likely to be my recommendations:


  1. Accept that anger is fear.  Guys, especially, have a REAL problem with this. Why?  Probably because there is shame and weakness associated with fear. Power and macho ass-kicking associated with anger.  Anger is how we MOBILIZE fear.
  2. Love yourself.  That means take care of yourself FIRST.  Otherwise you have a pair of drowning swimmers going down together. NO.  Thirty years ago, Jerry Pournelle noticed that I loved helping people, even if I was on unsteady ground myself.   “Steve, if you want to help drowning swimmers, and you can’t swim…get your feet on solid ground and throw them a life preserver.”   When on an airplane that loses cabin pressure, PUT YOUR OWN MASK ON FIRST, Mommy, or little Jimmy and Sally will #$%^^ DIE, do you understand???
  3. You must be the source of your own joy, and love, and creativity. You can do this with the ANCIENT CHILD technique.  If you have sustained serious emotional damage, you may need some real work here.  But it is so damned worth it to belong to yourself.
  4. Perversely, if you are seeking a relationship, you can’t seek a relationship.   Going out and looking is losing power unless you have healed your wounds.   Focus on healing.  I was asked what I’d do if I was suddenly single again.  Well…I wouldn’t join a singles club or use a dating app.   I’d start visiting yoga classes, and would go to more SF conventions across the country.    And just be myself, and be friendly.  I never had any skill at “picking up chicks.”  In fact, I’ve barely ever asked a woman to dance if I didn’t know her.   Shy about that.   But I know something about myself: if I simply go into environments in which my particular type of power is valued, be self-contained but friendly, things happen.  Good things. But I can’t be “looking for it”. It is the old “a watched pot never boils.”
  5. If money is the problem, you probably need to get out of your “child” creative self and into your “parent” protective self.   Especially if you’re an artist.  It really is sad, seeing seriously talented people, hard working, nice folks, confused because the world doesn’t treat them the way Mommy and Daddy used to. Remember when you could dance in the living room and your Aunts and Uncles would smile and laugh and applaud and give you money?  Well, neither do I.  Just kidding.  You know what I’m talking about: there was a time you got a Participation Ribbon just for showing up.   The adult world ain’t like that.  The world will NOT beat a path to your door. You have to find out where the hungry people congregate, build your hot dog stand THERE, and tell the world you have the most delicious footlongs in the business.  I mean…they ARE delicious, right? You HAVE done your homework, right..?  I know I’d read my own books.   So all I have to do is find people who think like me, and I’m in business.   People give you money for THEIR reasons, not yours.


That’s some basic stuff.  I do not bend on these things, and a few others.  It isn’t that there aren’t other ways of being, it is that I know that these work. I know the path. I know where the rocks are, and where the edge gets slippery.   I can guide people safely, if they accept these basic guidelines.


And if they apply them to body, career, and relationships, and money, they create that balanced, solid foundation from which they can be “awakened adults.”  And once there…well, they don’t need someone like ME any more.



And that’s very cool.   Love it when the birds fly away.  Even more when they return and tell me what joy they have experienced. And even more when they tell me of the fledglings they have helped.  And heck, sometimes they bring back skills that can help me.  There is NOTHING better than that.




The Morning Ritual, revisited

Here are the basic points of the Morning Ritual, which is one of the three most important pieces of the puzzle, the others being the “Five Minute Miracle” and “The Ancient Child”.  It can be done for 5-30 minutes, but let’s say you’re doing it for 20 minutes.  Scale the times up or down as you wish.


  1. WHILE MOVING (Tai Chi is my own.   Walking, running, Tibetans, Rebounding…lots of possibilities) do the following.  Speak, move, and hold your posture to project confidence and joy:
  2. CHANT  ALOUD AND FOCUS on Your basic faith in your own capacity (I use “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better”)  FIVE MINUTES
  3. CHANT ALOUD AND FOCUS on things from your past and in your present that you feel GRATEFUL for (I am grateful for the trust and love of my family, my mentors and students, a strong healthy body, etc.). Focus on things that make you feel strong, loved, confident.  FIVE MINUTES
  4. CHANT ALOUD AND FOCUS on your future goals, using the SAME confident body language you used talking about past accomplishments.  Visualize what you must do TODAY to make them happen, and see yourself doing these things with joy.  FIVE MINUTES
  5. CHANT ALOUD AND FOCUS again on your confidence in your capacities (“All I need is within me now. All the strength I need is within me now…” etc.) FIVE MINUTES


The point is to FLOOD YOURSELF WITH confidence, joy, gratitude for a few minutes every day. To do this while performing an exercise is fantastically powerful. The voices in your head, the demons in your heart will excoriate you (“who do you think you are?  This is bullshit!”)


The beauty of it is that if you choose the physical activity properly, just the act of doing it is fulfilling one of your goal areas!   The “voice in your head” will be saying “this is meaningless” at the same time that you are doing something meaningful. In other words, you will have LOGICAL CONSCIOUS PROOF that the voices are lying.   Are not you.


I could teach for a year about this.  But at this moment, I don’t believe anyone could do this for 30 days without having a powerful effect.  I DOUBT anyone could do it for even seven days…but I suppose it is possible.   IMO if you have demons that resistant, they will force you to break your word to yourself.And then you will have the opportunity to see, in real time, the very negative patterns that have plagued your life.  For 30 year old Steve, my daily minimums would be:

  1. Sentence a day, 1-4 stories a month
  2. Morning ritual with martial arts and “Zero Net Time” exercise program
  3. Approx  5% of checking account into retirement account weekly.
  4. Five minute daily relationship check-in with closest family.


That would pretty much cover it.   I would know what I need to do on a daily/weekly/monthly basis AND DO IT.  If I fell off one of my daily practices, I’d see the disaster coming a mile away (“I can’t get myself to save!   I’m missing my sentence a day!  I’m not checking in with my wife/girlfriend/family”)   It is a beautiful thing to have a daily practice you can control in a minimum of 5 minutes, that will give you long-term benefits like this.    I’ll answer any questions you have…but this is the basic structure.



(don’t miss the special 66% off holiday sale!)

Special Holiday AFROFUTURISM Sale!

Happy Holidays, whichever ones you cherish.    We’re doing our best to help by slashing the price on our Afrofuturism class by 60%!  This is the beautiful thing about digital information: once we’re into the black, we can make deals like this available to everyone who wanted the class but couldn’t afford the full $297.00 price.


This is NOT a stripped-down version.  It contains EVERYTHING the full class offered:

1)The Six-Part “Afrofuturism: Dreams to Banish Nightmares” class

  1. The full “Self Care” package for revolutionary artists (dealing with fear, creativity, writer’s block, etc.)
  2. “The Three Greatest Mistakes” lecture
  3. The “Spiritual Entrepreneur” mini-course
  4. And FULL Revolutionary Writing Class


The full value of this offer is over $4000.00.  It was a steal for $297.00, but we understand that sometimes it isn’t the question of value.  People really do have financial limitations. And Christmas seems to be the time for us to bend over backwards to help. If you  or someone you love needs or wants this precious information, we have agreed to sell TWENTY copies at this price.  Don’t miss out!


Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays!

Steve and Tananarive

Going deeper on Walter Scott


A very good article that goes further than most.   I thought I’d just comment on what I think the problems are.


  1. What the black community fears is not “rogue cops” but rather that the system itself, and the people who created it, are antagonistic.  That our lives are not valued as highly, and therefore in that split-second of judgement this twin reality results in higher unjustified fatalities.
  2. The sentence should ideally be life imprisonment.  But any conviction at all is another positive step. If the Rodney King verdict had been “guilty,” Los Angeles wouldn’t have burned.   Violence as an expression of anger, anger as a way to mobilize fear.   Ask “what were they afraid of?” and it is a straight line, simple to follow.
  3. There is an unfortunate truth.  Black-on-black crime is a reality, disproportionate to population.  The problem is that there are two “next steps” to take, and whenever the subject comes up, that next step is usually implicit, not explicit.   The next step is “why?”  If you start with the belief in equality, then you look to see if there are factors that would do this to YOUR group.   What would have to happen for that level of self-destructive fear, the social equivalent of suicide and self-cutting and numbing yourself with drugs and alcohol?    Easy to answer, if you trace back to slavery, Jim Crow, and Segregation.  The destruction of the black family is then a SYMPTOM.  Note the frantic efforts to say it is a CAUSE, suggesting that fifty years of “liberal social policies” are more damaging than 400 years of horror. O.K.–frankly, I don’t buy that they really believe that.  Frankly, I find that if you carefully question such people, they start stuttering when you ask them if they think whites would have been damaged as badly by slavery and its aftermath.
  4. In other words, IF one believes in equality, the entire situation makes sense, but also there was no special evil happening here.  Just the way human beings screw each other over and then say “who, me?”   Every other perspective suggests that one group is more capable or moral than the other.  Needless to say, 99.9%+ of the people who believe such things are of the group they consider higher. That’s inside the realm of “sleeping children” and “sleeping adults”–they are stuck in a dualistic mindset.  One side HAS to be better, the other worse.    They literally cannot imagine a reality without that binary.  That is a mode of thought that has brought humanity great power, but it has limits.



In general, this is a good article, with what feels like good intent, that could go deeper, ground itself in some bedrock attitudes about humanity, race, America, Is-ness.   IMO, the problem is grounded deeply in the natural tribal attitudes human beings have had all our existence, that served us well until we ran out of room and now really have to deal with each other.


I feel that we are finally having the real conversation in America.   Never seen it break through to the surface, and if it can be conducted without guilt, blame, or shame, without hierarchical “we rule, you drool” simian bullshit, we can actually have the social progress we all really desire.   Everything else is just ravening, tribal terror, and we really are better than that.


Not better than our ancestors, you’ll notice–they were doing the best they could as well. But we have new options now.  And if we take them, we can take another step into the future.


What you’re seeing now was ALWAYS there, disguised under polite rhetoric and oblique discussion.


Time for Real Talk.





Candyman Sweet Candyman: Victim as Monster

Candyman Sweet Candyman: Victim as Monster


We just scored TONY “CANDYMAN” TODD as a guest in January’s THE SUNKEN PLACE class, so things are exploding.  Today we’ll be talking about the heart of horror on LIVE! With Tananarive and Steve.


All art stems from core emotions like fear and love, and when you see it and feel it, you can appreciate, teach, and create art more honestly, as well as have the emotional power to practice and refine your craft.  So whether you are a fan, a writer, film-maker or teacher, JOIN US today at 4pm Pacific.


Here are links for my page:


For Tananarive’s Page:


And for the “Lifewriting” page:


See you then!


Don’t cheat someone you love

You can begin your growth/healing process from the root up.  This means to take actions in the real world designed to move away from pain and toward pleasure. In the process you will learn everything you need as you move from child to adult, and from sleeping to waking.


Or: you can start with your heart, love yourself, and begin to extend that love and compassion to others. Either works fine.


What doesn’t work is to create a mental map of the world before you have actually experienced it, and then warp your perceptions and memories to reinforce the map, rather than allowing your map to adjust as you learn.   Here there be dragons.   This is the danger of people who think they know things they don’t know: know about religions they’ve never practiced, people they barely know, places they’ve never been.   IMO ESPECIALLY if their beliefs include a sense of differential worth.  There is nothing more common than a child’s belief that his mommy is the prettiest, daddy is the strongest, doggy is the best.


A very clear sign of “sleeping child” mentality.  Dangerous when found in a supposedly functioning adult.  To do this, the following “tweaks” to your morning ritual:

  1. Take responsibility for your actions and emotions.
  2. A presumption of equality means you lose any sense of superiority. But you gain the capacity to believe you are as good as anyone in the world. If THEY did it, YOU can do it.   Almost inevitably, people who think others are better than them also think they are better than others.    You can heal this at either end



Again, almost inevitably, people will “accidentally” not bring body, mind, and emotions all together at the same time.    It is fascinating how that works, but be very careful.     Remember, again, the pieces:

  1. WHILE MOVING (walking, running, rebounding, Tai Chi, etc)
  2. Chant aloud the following M.A.G.I.C. formula piecds
  3. Incantations of Gratitude for past and present blessings (for instance: “I’m so grateful for the people who love and support me. “)
  4. Incantations of Intention (“I am promoted to department head by December 31, 2018”)
  5. Incantations of Action (“I  make five networking calls every day.   Identify and contact one new ally or role model every day”)
  6. Incantations of Conviction (for instance: “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better” and “All I need is within me now”)



About five minutes on each piece for a 20-minute session.  Adjust up or down to collapse or expand your time.



If you do this, for at least THIS period of time, you are actually being all you can be. The pretender voices in your head can say this is nonsense, but since you are actually doing something positive (the movement) you know that voice is lying…and that is the beginning of something special.


Don’t cheat someone you love.






Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities

My latest story, MOZART ON THE KALAHARI is in the book, Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures.  It is a co-production between Arizona State University and NASA.,   features links to the book in various formats, full-resolution versions of the beautiful illustrations, and more.

Formats: The book is available for free in PDF, and in EPUB and MOBI (for Kindle e-readers) e-book formats. We also have a print-on-demand book available for $20.09, plus sales tax and shipping, from the online retailer Blurb. (That price only covers printing costs—no profit to ASU or the editors.) Links to all of those are on the book page.

I’m super proud to have been asked to be a part of this…and I think you’ll enjoy everything about it!


The Sacred In The Mundane

A beautiful article on the spiritual lessons in the most universal of human experiences: death.


Twenty-five years ago when my father was dying of cancer, I was horrified by the degree to which it withered and ate him alive.  I could feel how strongly I wanted to turn away, not take in the sight of it.


Then I remembered something a Native American friend of mine had said. That his grandfather had told him that death is a friend. That Life is afraid of losing you, will lie to you, try to get you to fall asleep and pretend time isn’t passing, or that you can live a life so small that Death will not notice you.


Death, on the other hand, knows that no matter how long you live, eventually you will come to him.  Spend eternity with him. And therefore wants you to be as interesting as you can be, as wise and experienced and COMPLETE as a human being as you can be.  Will therefore be the very best of advisors.


And grasped that this terrible sight, of a man I knew so much less than I had wished, who had sung onstage with Nat “King” Cole and Louis Prima, and appeared on radio, stage, television and film…this handsome man who was rotting away until he looked like the Crypt Keeper, was offering me the very last gift he had to offer.


You see…he was dying well. He was still my father. Still had the same sense of humor, the same clarity, the same love for me in his eyes.


My mother had died in terror, incomplete, unfinished, resentful of a world that had denied her her full humanity because of a smattering of the “wrong” blood.  It was sad to watch, and all I could do was be there and be sure she knew I was finished, and needed nothing more from her, that her work was done…and that I loved her.


My Dad and I had dealt with our relationship, and were clean.  All I could do was help him in any way I could.  Offer what grace I could.  And in exchange he gave me the little man that sits on my left shoulder, whispering not just  “Momento Mori” but reminding me to love, and be strong, and speak truth, and help someone, anyone, every day.


What is the syntax of consciousness?





The question mark represents those states beyond ordinary language, the territory of “enlightenment” and ego extinction.  The last “useful” state (in general) is the “Awakened Adult” state.  Any activity in which you ask “Who am I?”  and “what is true?” is an activity that inclines toward awakening.


Writing can be as powerful a tool for this as meditation. So can the martial arts. So can loving your family.


But let’s focus on writing.

  1. In creating a character, ask if that character is behaving like a real human being. Have you felt, experienced or witnessed people believing/feeling this way?  (“Who am I?”)  Every character is another opportunity to make a statement about what you think human beings are or are not. And if you don’t’ have a solid opinion, every story is another opportunity to explore various ideas about what we are: why we say and do what we do. Why we do evil or kindnesses.   What we really want and need. Whether we are shaped more by essence or existence.  If you don’t consciously make choices, you will make them unconsciously. There is no way to avoid it.
  2. In plotting your story, remember that plot is the way the universe responds to the actions of your characters.  The ethical structure of the universe.  “What is true?”    Does life reward us for our labors?  Is it fair?  Unfair?   Is the human world better or worse than the natural world? The same?   Is there meaning to the world?  Yes?  No?   If not, are human beings committing folly to care about anything at all?


Again, if you don’t take conscious control of these things, you will default to your unconscious beliefs and tendencies.


Sleeping Writer > Awakened Writer


An awakening writer asks these questions consciously. An awakened writer has answered those questions for themselves, and expresses what they have found in their work.   Structures stories as an argumentation: “this is what humans are.  This is what reality is.”


Either is better than abdicating your responsibility to question, to study, to live, to observe, to test.   And when you have tested a notion in your own life, to build your conclusions into your work, trusting that your readers are intelligent enough to decide for themselves. Your job is to present life as you see it, have lived it, fear it is or wish it could be.


Do this, going deeply into your experience and emotions, leaving your love of life and flirting with the territory o death, knowing that you will one day enter that realm, that there is no obfuscation or cleverness that will save you, that that avoidance itself is early death because you are avoiding the very emotions and perceptions that make life intense and beautiful, make love the only thing that makes the entire experience meaningful.


All of the talent and skill you are looking for in your work comes from embracing this duality, looking directly at the apparent contradiction.   A rose, in the midst of a battlefield.  Beauty, arising from the greatest uglinesss.


Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear, and pain, and discipline.  And love.