Happy 90th Birthday to a master

The reason I do the Paperback Book show in Glendale is the chance to see friends.  Every convention and event is an opportunity to see people I simply don’t see otherwise.  And one I seriously enjoy seeing is William F. Nolan, one of  the last of the generation of fantasists who were part of Ray Bradbury’s circle.   Co-creator of Logans Run, writer of countless books, stories, movies and television episodes, Nolan is a writer’s writer.


He uses a walker now, but at 90, I’d say he’s earned it.   His mind is sharp and clear, and he is still in love with life, and in love with writing.  His secret?


He writes every day.  He works out every day.  “Every day of the year,” he said.  “Christmas, Thanksgiving, my birthday.  Every single day.  People ask why I don’t take a day off.  I don’t.”


Why?  Because that’s when you start dying.




He works out to have the energy to write.  He writes to have the energy to live.  Every day. EVERY DAY.  That is mastery.  Remember the definition?


“Mastery is a verb, not a noun. A vector, not a position.  When you have the basics of your craft at `unconscious competence’ and have committed to your discipline for a lifetime, you are as much a master as anyone else on the path.”


Why?  Because no matter how far and how fast you run, you’re always the same distance from the horizon.  And so is everyone else.  There is just…the path.


You are either doing it, or you aren’t.  I have noticed that the greater the master, the more they tend to see themselves as just…students.  And they have a genuine curiosity about where YOU are on the path.   Martial artists don’t ask me my rank. They ask where I train.   Writers don’t tend to ask what you’ve written (READERS ask that question), they ask what you’re working on.


Are you on the path?


There are three things I care enough about to commit to mastery:


I have to work out EVERY DAY.

I have to write EVERY DAY.

I have to engage with my family and friends, be sure they know I love them EVERY DAY.


Everything you can think of in life can be tied into one of those three arenas.   You simply can’t name something I cannot.  Because those three (martial arts, writing, family and friends) are DIRECT connections to my core energy, all I have to do is connect anything I want to do to one of them, and BOOM!  There’s the energy.


I remember years back I wanted to see what Tony Robbin’s personal coaching was like.  Knew I couldn’t afford Robbins, but did some research and found one of his top trainers who was also his best friend, and had written a book with him.   I offered him 4500 for two days of work, and he accepted the deal.


We met at a hotel near LAX, and it was intense.   One of the first things he did was get into my head to find my “triggers” and discovered that any time he mentioned my daughter Nicki my energy shifted.   Blew up.   Instant clear and positive response.  Why?  Because my emotions toward Nicki are uncomplicated.  It is simply love.  Period.  No questions or conflicts.  He was then able to teach me to tap into that energy for ANYTHING I wanted to do, because you can tap ANY activity into any core emotion.


I just took that knowledge and created three different arenas with clear psychological USB plugs: Martial Arts, Writing, Family.


Boom!  Done.   Wake up in the morning.  Geeze. Why should I get out of bed..?  Jason needs me.   There is writing to do.


Boom!  Feeling lazy.  Why should I work out today?  Oh…because otherwise I won’t be energetic enough to be a good father for Jason. A good husband to Tananarive.   And I won’t be keeping my commitment to the little boy inside me who needs his daddy.


Boom!   Why should I write today?  I’m feeling lazy.   Because I promised myself I would.  Because we need to pay our bills. Because I have stories to tell. Because if I can sell this piece, I’ll use that money to attend a Danny Inosanto FMA/Silat workshop….


Boom, boom, boom.


What are your core goals? What are you willing to commit to EVERY DAY?    The clearer you are on what they are and why you want them and how they relate to your core identity, the easier it becomes to access your passion.


Find something that gets your juices running:

  1. Personally.  Family and friends, your inner world.
  2. Physically.  Some physical movement that gets you excited, that requires fitness and health to perform.  Dancing, hiking, martial arts, SOMETHING that makes the little kid inside you happy.
  3. Mentally.  Something related to problem-solving in hunting and gathering.   Money, career, education.    Something that thrills you, which IF you could get good enough at it…and also MARKETING it, would pay your bills and support that inner child’s playtime.


All three.   If you lack one of the three, you are going to leak life force.   You also will lack critical feedback about the world, and will tend to hallucinate that you understand things that are really only conceptual for you.


You can hallucinate all you want about your profound knowledge of human nature.  How are your intimate relationships?


You can hallucinate that you understand the world and your own physical being.  But if you don’t have your kinesthetic sense, you are blind and deaf to an entire range of human experience.  And won’t even know it.


You can believe you ae intelligent.  But if you can’t solve the problem called “how do I create products and services for which  my community is willing to exchange their time and energy, and learn how to communicate its value and demand what I am worth” you are either addressing the wrong problem, or aren’t as smart as you think you are.


In animal terms…you would starve in the woods, or be eaten by predators, and die without reproducing.   A failure as an organism.


The route out is to accept the challenge to master these three arenas.  Learn the basics.  Commit for a lifetime.   Walk the thousand-mile road.


It isn’t easy.  But it is natural.    Nothing more natural, and if you cannot do these three things: create and sustain human relationships, care for your body, hunt and gather…you have lost the basic animal capacities every rabbit in the wood has in their DNA.   The most frustrating thing is that you’ll numb yourself to the missing qualities:


I don’t care about relationships

I don’t need exercise

I don’t care about money.



I used to believe it when people said that crap. Then I noticed how often they complained about being lonely…or aches and pains and being thought unattractive…or how tired they were of being broke.


And realized they were lying. Just…lying.  “Do not think dishonestly” Musashi said.


And lying to yourself it the greatest sin.  It leads to everything else.  So easy to get lost.  Unless you commit to taking at least one more step, every day.


Well done, Mr. Nolan. You’re showing us how its done.


Write the story that heals the world…




The Secret Six

Hey. You.
Yeah, you, right there. Want the secret to being a published writer? Promise not to tell anyone?
You look honest. Yeah. I like you. Step over here and let me whisper in your ear.
Over here in the shadows.
Trust me. I’m a writer.



Conducted March’s Lifewriting story analysis yesterday.  Sorry that I forgot to promote it until pretty much yesterday morning, but life has been a real crush lately.


I no longer take personal clients (too busy!) but whenever I did, I had to go over the same “Secret Six” basic rules, a combination of Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Octavia Butler:


  1. Write a sentence a day.    This is your MINIMUM.  It keeps the creative pipes open.  It also helps you identify your “pretender voices”, the ways you sabotage and lie to yourself. There is NEVER a logical reason not to write a single sentence.  There just…isn’t.
  2. Write 1-4 stories a month.   The most common excuse is that “My ideas come out at novel length”.   No such thing.   You just haven’t focused.  Core ideas don’t have length.   EXPRESSIONS of ideas have length.  Another excuse: “I’m working on a novel.” Fine. Work on that novel, and good for you!  And…write 1-4 stories a month.     The payoff is stupendous if you can get past your inner voices. “How about a segment of a longer work?”  Nope.  A short story contains everything a longer piece does, but numerous things that the same word count extracted from that longer piece does not.  Show me a short story, and I can see almost everything you are as writer: plot, character, poetics, thematics, choreography…everything.  All there in miniature form.  Plus, there is FAR less ego investment in a short piece.  If it sucks, you’re on to something else next week or month.   It is tragic to see someone spend YEARS on a project just for it to collapse because they didn’t have their basic chops together.
  3. Finish and submit.  You must send your stories to market.  It isn’t up to you to decide when they are ready for publication.  Let professional editors determine that.  Plus, this is half of your marketing research, as well as toughening yourself up against fear of rejection.   “A real writer papers her office with rejection slips” is a common and superlative piece of advice Octavia followed during the dark days before she broke in.  Artists tend to HATE marketing. It feels like prostitution.    They hate sales. It feels dishonest.  You have to get over this, make your piece with it, find the part of yourself that can be a straight-up business adult.  Or…your creative life will be painful as hell.
  4. DON’T rewrite except to editorial request.  Newbies will re-write a favorite story endlessly, neglecting the new work.   Get this through your head: individual stories aren’t important. The PROCESS you used to create that story is DAMNED important.  Focus on the process, perfecting it by creating dozens of stories.  But…if you send out a story, and an editor sends you a note saying: “if you changed X, we’d like to see it again…” DO IT.  Even if they don’t buy, you are learning conceptual flexibility as well as starting a dialogue with the greatest writing ally you can have: a professional editor who admires your craft.  Someone willing to risk their reputation and job on YOU.   Repeat after me: “the sincerest form of complement is a check that clears the bank.”
  5. Read 10X what you write.    Two major sins addressed at the same time.  The first is getting so busy you “don’t have time to read”.   This is like saying you are so busy body-building you don’t have time to eat.  So busy driving you don’t have time to stop for gas. You are shooting your career in the head.    The other sin is the “I don’t want to imitate other people” thing.  What a crock.  ALMOST EVERYTHING YOU HAVE EVER LEARNED, YOU LEARNED BY IMITATING SOMEONE ELSE. Walking, talking, riding a bicycle…everything.   And if you imitate enough other people, you will find your own voice, which is basically just writing the way you talk.  Takes an average of a million words (maybe).    Just do it.  Read and Write. Doctor’s orders.
  6. Repeat 100X.   Yep.   Don’t even BEGIN to think about quitting until you’ve reached story #100.  So far, NO ONE who has followed this plan has made it past #27 before they start selling.  Personally, when I got on this plan (well, an earlier version of it) I made it to #23 before I made my first sale. Got 1/5 of a cent a word for it. Framed that damned check and never cashed it.


There’s no such thing as “a little bit pregnant” folks.   Once a stranger pays you for your work, you are in a different world. You’ve stepped across the line.   To paraphrase an old joke, now we know what you are…the rest is haggling.



Write the story that changes the world!

Steven Barnes

Separate but equal lies

Was watching a quasi-zombie horror/comedy film called “Mom and Dad” starring Nicholas Cage in full psycho mode, and was struck by the fascinating similarities between it, and “Get Out” and even “Black Panther.”


I haven’t finished watching–it is uneven, and its hyperviolence turned me off a little at times.   Basically, it’s the story of a community struck by a mysterious disease that makes parents want to kill their children.  And yeah, they go there, if you know what I mean. And it is quite funny in a sick way, although there are some scenes that, as I said, went over the line for me.


But let’s look at it from a Lifewriting perspective, shall we?  This isn’t in a particular order, just as it comes up.


  1. Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair are a set of parents with two kids, a teenaged girl and a pre-teen boy.  Cage and Blair are infected by the disease, and begin to hunt their kids, who are forced to put personal differences aside in order to survive “Home Alone” style.
  2. Cage and Blair are deep into mid-life crisis: the sense of life potentials gone wrong, dreams unmet. Fear of changing aging bodies and waning sexuality.  And a sense that they have given everything to kids who are now starting to shut them out, as kids do as they begin to bond to their own peer group.
  3. The external plot (parents killing children), therefore, simply exaggerates a real concern on the part of parents (their children are “killing” them, symbolize lost potential) AND children (“my parents are killing my spirit”).    One good thing is that “Mom and Dad” touches on the different kinds of “loss” men and women feel.  Each side can feel uniquely wronged by life, rather than grasping the universality of existential angst.  To the degree that we believe these characters, and the exaggeration of the core fear is tempered, the film succeeds. To the degree that the angst underlying the core plot and images are shared by the audience, the film will have an unconscious fascination, and will be more successful.
  4. If those psychological and plot levels are cookin’ with gas, the next question is: how POWERFUL is the underlying reality, and how big is the social charge? The social charge is intensified if we haven’t seen it addressed before: pressure that hasn’t been relieved, right?
  5. If you can apply this to GET OUT you’ll see the reason it made a quarter-billion dollars and won all those awards. The surface (plot) works like a dream, but isn’t that atypical of other horror films: fiancee goes home with lover, is victimized by a situation with hidden currents.  The NATURE of those currents psychologically is the “can I trust the ones I love?”. But socially, they go deeper: “can black people trust white people, even those who seem to be allies?” as well as “will white people ever be trusted by black people, considering the painful history and lack of understanding?”  Taps into BOTH white and black fears, as well as some male-female stuff.  Nice.   The fact that it opens a door very seldom unlocked (fear of assimilation.  Guilt and pain when recognizing your own “micro-aggressions”) it also tapped into a vast ocean of unexpressed tension. Result–powerful emotional associate.  Ca-Ching.
  6. How about “Black Panther” ?  On the surface, a superhero origin story with touches of Shakespearean/Godfather family dynamics and power plays in a royal house.  Very very well done.  Psychologically, it touches a universal hunger: to live up to parental expectations.   But wait! There is a spiritual component as well: the “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him” need to connect directly to the divine without seeing another human being as an intermediary.  So long as T’Challa worshipped his father, he could not be equal to him.  Once he sees his father is just a human being (who made a HUGE mistake) he could be his own man, in his own way…and rise to being king.
  7. But wait!  There’s more!  The psychological and spiritual aspects have been expressed before.  But the social aspects are almost unique.   The images are pure Afrofuturistic, tying together past and future, mundane and profound.    Since the year 2000 there’s been an increasing  “collapse” of the American (and therefore worldwide: we’ve driven popular culture) social construct around race that was necessary to justify slavery, a lie maintained for almost 400 years.   Just YESTERDAY I saw another endless, vile, ignorant threads conflating slavery with immigrant workers, however mistreated.   It’s the same confusion people have about the difference between violent rape and voluntary sex, however poor.  I can make an excellent case that there wasn’t a single major dramatic theatrical film dealing with slavery from the actual perspective of slaves in the entire 20th Century.  Compare to the number of films about the Civil War, and you’ll grasp how terribly rotten something is.   “Gone With The Wind” was the major theatrical image system, in adjusted dollars the most popular film that might ever exist, and a gigantic wet kiss to a world of horrific abuse viewed with rose-colored glasses by the abusers and their descendants:   “There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South… Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow.. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and Slave… Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind…”  that’s the opening crawl. That’s the meaning of the title.   If you don’t grasp “The big lie” lurking in that, you need to look again.
  8. So for black people, “Black Panther” gave image to the precise things stolen from us: names, spirituality, language, history, mythology, nation, agency.  A dream of what Africa might have been without colonialism.   A garden of Eden, no more distant and fantastical than endless mythical lands whites and Asians have given themselves and their children a hundred times a day in countless thousands of books, films, and bedtime stories.   Watching the faces of black children who have been told endless times that they are nothing, that their history begins with rape, as they watch “Black Panther” should be instructive to anyone who has a heart.
  9. But what of white audiences? Well, there is the surface (it’s a good movie) and then there is the empathetic (feeling the powerful emotions others feel).   And another layer: we want the truth.  The truth saves us.  It takes energy to maintain a lie. And what VERY pleasantly surprised  me was the number of people willing to reject the negative lie and  embrace a positive one.  As if saying: “you aren’t what my parents and grandparents say you are?  Then who are you?  Show me your dreams…”
  10. Remember when Sting said that we have nothing to fear if the Russians love their children too? The communication of universals has this same power.  If we all dream of the stars, IF you believe in human equality you look for the problems that created an uneven result.  You look at the “playing field” rather than the players.      White people who believe blacks are unequal mentally are welcome to have that discussion with blacks who feel whites are unequal morally.  That’s an entertaining conversation:   I’ve eavesdropped on a few of them,  and its equivalent to having a grenade battle in a phone booth.     Neither should expect to have a serious conversation with those of us who believe in one human family.  If you don’t feel the need to defend the past, you can embrace the future without fear.
  11. I’ve talked about a Jules Ffiefer cartoon I saw when I was a kid.  In it, a white intellectual was sitting across the table from a black man who looked a lot like Malcolm.  The black man says: “you have your history.  White history. Written by white men, to promote white power.  We want our history.  Black history.  Written by black men, to promote black power.  Our demand is separate but equal lies.”
  12. That’s what Black Panther is. Separate but equal lies.    The creation of a strand of mythology that has been missing for centuries.The fact that friggin DISNEY, who never had an animated image of a black human being in any theatrical film of the 20th Century (until 1999’s “Fantasia 2000”) bankrolled this to the tune of two HUNDRED million dollars (!) suggests that they knew it could make its money back.  That suggests a sense of where the culture is: far enough from the events that needed the lie that people are safe to finally speak the truth.  This is huge. It is transformative. While problems remain that will not be resolved in my lifetime, it is the moment in our history I’ve awaited since childhood.
  13. Using the same model we use looking at “Mom and Dad” then, threading it through “Get Out” and “Black Panther” you can see how, whether your interested in the technical (plot), thematic, psychological (personal), social or spiritual meaning, you can “line up” these aspects so that your work has greater power, and greater potential for success.


This is, of course, a way of deconstructing what really smart, integrated, lucky artists do on a purely emotional level: they just “feel” their way and thread those needles “instinctively”. The rest of us…need to think a little more.

But all of us can do better.


Write the myths that change the world!

Steven Barnes


What does Vegas know that you don’t?

Reading (well…listening to)  “Never Split The Difference” by FBI hostage negotiator Chriss Voss.  While some of the tactics are a little cut-throat for me, I understand where they come from–the man is talking to bank robbers and terrorists.  You don’t have the same responsibility to be honest and forthright that you have with your children, or even in a business negotiation.


I was pointed toward the book by someone who felt it useful in dealing with teenagers (remember Teen Groot in “Guardians of the Galaxy 2”? That was probably the all-time best line reading of “I am Groot” ever ever ever.)


And I can feel myself “zoning out” to some of it as I listen, my mind going down rabbit holes left and right, which suggests that there is something here that I need to absorb and have some resistance to.   I’ll get it.


But I noticed that there was something that I’ve heard before, from multiple teachers: PEOPLE MAKE DECISIONS EMOTIONALLY, BUT JUSTIFY THEM INTELLECTUALLY.


Yep.  Once again, and this time from a guy who is in a life-and-death context, where a mistake costs more than cash.    This is something I’ve believed for a long time, and observed.  But it hit a little deeper this time, because it connected with something Russell Brunson was saying about marketers alienating their audiences by falling into “tech speak” instead of conveying value.   And perhaps more importantly, in the political arena.


Discussion?   Gun control.  I mentioned to a participant at the Cellcon gathering that the problem was that both sides saw their solution as making them safer.  And he immediately began spouting statistics “proving” that guns are more of a danger than a solution.


And a light went off.   If the decision about guns is made at the emotional level, then ANY discussion of statistics is only preaching to the choir.  On the other side of the debate?  I see micro-managing of technical specifications, leaping on the arguments offered by gun control advocates, and using the slightest error to invalidate the entire argument.


Well…that’s interesting.  But I’m betting that on either side, you are only preaching to the choir if you do that.   No one is made any safer at all, and the line doesn’t move.


I’ve only begun my exploration of that book, but if it at ALL aligns with my previous studies, he will suggest:


  1. Start with respect and empathy.  Not “sympathy” necessarily, not agreeing with them.  But understanding how they came to their conclusion. Seeing the world as they see it, so that you can understand the way they arrived at their emotional position.
  2. If you can do this, they can relax their guard a bit.  Like two soldiers who might have to kill each other on the battlefield, but are relaxing enough to share cigarettes in the middle of No Man’s Land.  You are both human beings.
  3. The people who are screaming at each other, or quoting statistics, are a useful study. When you ask them how often they have changed someone’s mind doing this, they’ll usually say “never” or “very seldom.”   But then…why do they do it?


I’m just guessing here.    Perhaps they do it because they are angry, and have to do SOMETHING.   Fear is a message to run or fight.   If there is no where to run, you pick a fight.  Action feels better than doing nothing, even if it doesn’t accomplish anything.


But if these people are correct–and my discomfort with some of what he was saying tells me I need to look more closely–then the actual answer is to come from the love in your heart.   See their humanity.


It’s a little like two warriors meeting.  They know that they can kill each other.    But unless they WANT that conclusion, you get a combination of strength and respect.  How can we resolve this?  Is there a way for us to understand each other?  Or must we both die?


Of course, only one of them might die. But if you don’t grasp that in any actual combat situation BOTH may die, then the very common mental set of giving up your life before you enter the arena makes no sense.


The question is: what is the outcome of this negotiation?  In families, it is helping your children become independent adults.


In sales, it is helping a customer see the value of your offering, and negotiating a fair exchange of value.


In relationships, it is two human beings with different life paths resolving enough differences, or focusing on enough commonalities,  to spend their lives together…or at least the night.


In politics, it would be finding a middle ground between apparently irreconcilable differences.


And while it is POSSIBLE that you will not be able to find the common ground, if you START by yelling at them and assuming they are a fool or knave, unless somehow you believe that YOU would be moved by that approach, what precisely are you trying to accomplish?


FOCUS ON WHAT YOU WANT.   The OUTCOME.  If an FBI negotiator working with terrorists can remember this, we have no excuse when dealing with fellow citizens, family, lovers.


Or…ourselves. Think about it.  Frankly, the way you see people dealing with others  usually mirrors their own internal dialogue.  When people are harsh with their children, employees, customers, they use the same language in their heads when THEY mess up.


This is why starting with love for self is critical.  Without it, you can’t extend love to others.  And if you think you can…let me ask you a question: if you don’t believe you are of value, what is it you have to give to the people you love?   You’ll give without limit, and then one day you will reach the end of your resources, and because you’ve given without attaching any value to your efforts, the people you’ve given to won’t value you.  And you won’t get back what you need. Triggering fear. And anger. And often destroying the very relationship you wanted to nurture.


Of course, the hostage negotiator has an advantage: they are rarely dealing with their own families.  They can afford dispassion.  But  the more important the situation, the more pressure on both sides of the negotiation, and the more difficult it is to remain calm.


The “Law of Requisite Variety” says that within any complex system, the more flexible actor will control the system.  This suggests to me that the more critical the negotiation, the more critical it is that we remain calm, and centered, and empathetic.


This is SO contrary to the “fightin'” voice in our heads.  Strike out.   Crush. Destroy.  THAT is the voice trying to switch us from the “fear” to the “anger” track in our heads.  And it works. But there is a better way…but it must be practiced in advance, or it won’t be available under pressure.


Love yourself

Love at least one other person

Love mankind without guilt, blame, or shame

Nurture your own tribe rather than argue pointlessly

Vow to win with integrity and compassion.



Yes, every now and then arguing will change someone’s mind.  That’s a lot like the way Vegas casinos get your college fund: “every now and then” someone really does win, and you can hear the clanging and jangling, and you’ll keep feeding your quarters into the machine.


If every time you put in a silver dollar you got back 67 cents, you’d stop pretty quick.  They know that.  And if you really grasped that you were getting back bubkis for most of your screaming OR your data crunchin…you’d stop that, too.  And ask: how do the world’s best salesmen, parents, negotiators do it.


It isn’t screaming or data.  It starts with seeing yourself in others.  IF and ONLY if…you first love yourself.






Seeking Balance

When I was asked to participate in “Cellcon Zero”, a brainstorming venture outside Nashville, I realized that was only four hours drive from Atlanta, and that if I flew into Atlanta and rented a car, on my way back from Nashville I could stop in and see my beloved friend and mentor karate grandmaster Steve Muhammad.  We saw Black Panther together Sunday night.   Imagine this: a man who was raised in Mississippi by his grandparents WHO HAD BEEN SLAVES was sitting watching the most powerful images connecting past and future for children of the African Diaspora.  He had lived to see this.  He said that he has already seen young black people being more…relaxed. Centered. Loving.  Opening doors for their elders.  Smiling and walking with pride.



He’s seen it four times, and still can’t quite believe it exists.  Hopes that it is the beginning of the next phase of our lives, and that he lives long enough to see it come to fruition.


Fruition?   Well…neither of us will live to see that. But we both have seen more than we believed was possible.   The rest is up to our grandchildren.  And their grandchildren.




One of the most beautiful things in the world is watching some of the great warriors I know in the presence of their children or grandchildren. The precise same men and women who seem so hard and explosive when faced by danger or challenge turn into absolute mush.



And this is only a contribution if you are stuck in dualistic thinking.  In truth, both males and females have the capacity for both dynamic action and deep nurturance. It is an illusion to believe otherwise. Now, we humans tend to  SPECIALIZE in one or the other, which has led to a raft of misunderstandings., but in my mind, the myth of the European knight is a perfect example of what it all is at its best.


Consider the knight (remember, the myth, not the reality): all of that impenetrable armor, the razor-edged sword, the lethal lance, the fiery steed, the deadly skills and berzerker aggression…all is, optimally, “at your service, m’lady.”


In other words, the strength in service to the softness.  That strength can be an external shell (an immature version, often found around those without mature role models) or an internal essence.   Think “you can have a shell, or a spine.”   The angry attitude, the hair-trigger temper, the posturing and demands for respect…those are clues you are dealing with a child, and a frightened child at that.


But that same person who KNOWS they have love and meaning, that they are safe, “absorbs” that external emotional shell, and it becomes like their bones.


People often miss this in the martial arts, think that it is about hard muscles.  It is certainly about strength, and focus…but also about relaxation.   Power is a result of both strength AND speed.  Speed is a result of strength applied to relaxed muscles, combined with proper alignment and conscious focus on the end point, with the intervening points of action are controlled by the unconscious mind, through endless repetition.


Tai Chi is an extreme exploration of this softness, but without the moment of focus, applied tension, it is “merely” a health exercise.  Tai Chi is, properly learned, a blend of “yin” and “yang”, of “female” and “male” energies, and can help adjust this balance, with males usually needing more softness and females generally needing more tension.


Of course, you meet guys who don’t know how to focus, and women who don’t know how to relax.  After teaching thousands of students, and asking hundreds of them about their lives, there are very common reasons for the imbalance, too damned often dealing with neglect   or abuse from a same or opposite sex parent.  Fear or excessive hunger for one or the other energy.   OR…abuse on a sexual or emotional level from a (often series of) romantic partners.  The wounds manifest as need to protect. Our first rule is survival.   Only AFTER we feel safe can we develop the openness that can lead to love, and even willingness to sacrifice for the things we believe in: our families, our values, our nation or species or world.


It is beautiful.  A full human being has BOTH strength and softness. Two incomplete human beings can form a full relationship if they can balance these things between them.  It becomes “toxic” when one or both EXAGGERATE their polarity. The consequences are many and dreadful, and we are beginning to debate that now.


But…there are a thousand ways to NOT get to Disneyland for every road to reach it. Better to focus on what health is, what balance is, what wholeness is.


Steve Muhammad is one of those balanced human beings, an absolute sweetheart with a core of diamond.  For decades I had wondered how he could be so strong.   That was before I learned about his upraising.    Something like slavery burns away the cultural identities that most human beings need to defend them against existential loneliness and fear of extinction.  Most are broken when these things are stripped away (and the cost is so extreme that most people can’t even really conceive of it.  Foolish comparisons to “immigration” are a symptom of this mental blockage and avoidance of guilt and fear), but those who survive…


Those who survive?


Well…heat and pressure make diamonds, you know.   Forty-Five years ago I sat in the L.A. Sports Arena and saw a man I’d never heard of, named Steve Sanders, perform a mass attack defense against a half-dozen men, moving with speed and power and precision that seemed in human.   In an instant I knew THAT was what I wanted in life.   Dear God…how did I know? How did I know in an instant that THAT was what had been missing from my existence?


How did I know that Tananarive was what I needed…in an instant?


How did I know that I should leave college and follow my dream of being a writer…in an instant?


I can only think that we have within us an urge to complete ourselves, and that if we listen to those voices, and are prepared to act with courage when we see the opening, we can change our lives.


Steve and I are brothers of the soul.  To my shock and delight and confusion, this master of masters respects what I have accomplished in the arts, and who I am as a human being.  I don’t know what greater gift I can receive in this life than such an acknowledgement.  In truth, everything I am is the result of wanting to be respected by the kinds of men I respect, and desired by the kinds of women I desire.


The rest of the world is welcome to find its way to its own destiny, at its own pace.


I just needed my family.





Discipline is crap

You may have noticed I’ve been quiet the last few days.  Well, I’ve been at a creative retreat in Tennessee (“Greatest state in the land of the free…” who recognizes that song?) a project that is designed to change the world, with a group of wonderfully creative men and women.   I didn’t know any of them, at all, nor did I understand the underlying technology driving the project.    They reached out to me because of my past work and web presence, not because I did anything direct.


I’m being oblique about it, but it was fun, and educational, and an opportunity to share. And the way it came about is a perfect example of the “indirect action” notion that validates the M.A.G.I.C. formula (Magic=Action X Gratitude X Intention X Conviction) and specifically the notion that “action is in the foveal vision, reward comes in from the peripheral.”  In other words, that if you don’t take action, nothing happens. But that the goodies you want rarely seem to come as a direct result of what you do.  Its odd.


That means that you have to work with passion and focus every day, day after day, even through the long “Road of Trials” when it often seems you aren’t getting closer to your outcomes.   If you are following maps of excellence created by those who walked the path before you, and keep your eyes on the long-term outcome while finding intermediate goals you can “chunk down” to every day, you have just optimized your chance of getting results.   Nothing guarantees external success, but guaranteed failure is easy: do nothing.


Which means that in order to keep taking action even when you aren’t getting apparent results, you have to be INNER motivated.  That’s where the Morning Ritual comes in. Where the Ancient Child comes in.  Every morning, setting yourself up so that you’ve already won the day.




How do you keep yourself acting, moving, creating day after month after year after decade?  Because make no mistake: some outcome require that “ten thousand hours” of effort, and you can’t allow yourself to be stopped by temporary “failure.”  And because it really is possible that you’ll never reach the “external” goal, you MUST set your life up so that the effort itself is victory. So that you “win” no matter what happens.


This came out this weekend, when I was writing a story (in a day!) that was being illustrated by two wonderful, lovely  artists who had worked on BLACK PANTHER and STAR WARS, working so fast and superbly that if I hadn’t been internally focused it would have intimidated the hell out of me.  As it was, the feeling was…”hmmm.  Really good.   What do you think of this?”


Beautiful.  Must be something like playing jazz with a hot combo.  I was winning by being invited to the event.  Winning by being there.  Winning by looking at it in my rear-view window as I drove away.


If I worked hard and honestly, and had some useful conversations, and maybe helped someone…I win.


And as often happens, there was a point where someone pulled me aside and asked for a few moments of my personal time and advise.   We sat, and this fine young artist, spoke of external success and internal pain and emptiness, rage and anger, fear of being unworthy despite all the accomplishment.


She  had made mistakes, as have we all. And found it difficult to forgive herself.   And wanted to help others, deeply. The key, I said, was loving herself.   To connect everything she does to that sense of loving herself.  That the meaning of life is to be happy, and if she could be happy, and loving, then when she tries to help people she will hear what they are really asking: “how can I be happy  and loving?”  THAT’S what everyone really wants.


And all the wealth, fitness, martial skill, awards, accomplishment, lovers, travel, power, or anything else is only meaningful to the degree that these two things exist.  Freedom and safety to be loving and happy.


And that means that if she can feel it herself, she THEN has the ability to give it to others.  “Are you happy?” she asked me.


“Sure.  Bouncing off the walls all the time?  Nope.    Because I continue to challenge myself, and have flaws I’m still working on.   But I have to START with love.  START by finding the happiness within myself and pull it up so I can access it on demand.”


“Isn’t that selfish?”  She asked.


“You betcha.   Selfish isn’t a problem. The problem is a limited concept of self.   If your `self’ stops at your skin, it’s a problem.  But if you extend it to your love, your family, your community, or the whole world…it is an answer.”


Not as simple as that sounds: you also have to maintain a center.  I know people who give so much they don’t know who they are any more, and are vulnerable to the attitudes and values of whoever they happen to be around.  It would be funny if it weren’t so problematic.


The other thing is that people who accuse you of being selfish frequently say that as a means to get you to do something for them. A means to control.  In other words…they are selfish.


Ah, the irony can be massive.


The cure for every ill mentioned here is to start with loving yourself.   For those who are religious or spiritual, you might think that God made you, that if the universe is of His substance, then all He had to made you with was his own essence.  You are divine.


Or…if not, consider that you are made of the same stuff as the stars.   No more intrinsically important than any other part of the universe…but no less important, either.  If there is anything, anywhere, worthy of love, awe, respect…you are as well.


All of it connects.  And once you make that connection, all you have to do is align your long-term goals with your daily actions, and be sure those connect with your deepest values and needs.


At that point, discipline is irrelevant.  You will have hunger.  I am HUNGRY to get to work each day. To exercise. To hug my son. To tell Nicki I love her.  To hold Tananarive.


Because its all connected.  It always is, of course. But sometimes you have to remove the obstacles life puts in your way, or knots in your wiring.   This is important work, to be done daily.


Time for me to get to mine.





Applying “Lifewriting” to Black Panther

Lifewriting is a breakthrough in conceptualizing the basic nature of writing and creative living. The intent is to teach you to apply the combined wisdom of humanity to your own life…and the wisdom you have gained in your life to the stories you create (if you are a writer).


Here’s a SPOILERIFIC view of “Black Panther” from the Lifewriting Perspective.


HERO CONFRONTED WITH A CHALLENGE: To be both a good man and a good king.


HERO REJECTS THE CHALLENGE:  Ultimately, he will have to reject his hero-worship of his ancestors to be worthy to stand among them.   Doing this is “Killing the Buddha”, rejecting his father as an image of perfection.  He cannot be his own man until he does this, and he puts it off as long as he can, as most of us do.


ACCEPTS THE CHALLENGE: By taking on the mantle of king, he is now in the arena.   The train is leaving the station.


ROAD OF TRIALS:  His ritual combat for the throne.  Travel to Korea to catch his father’s killer. Accepting Killmonger’s challenge: attempting to be “a good man” and pull his punches initially. “Death” and rebirth and rejection of his father’s self-justified actions.  Return as the king.


ALLIES AND POWERS:   Shuri, Ramonda, Nakia, Okoye, M’Baku, T’Chaka, etc.  His courage, physical skills, the “Black Panther” superpowers, intelligence and problem solving, and compassion.  In a very real sense, even Erick Killmonger was an ally, as he ultimately awakened T’Challa’s moral sense.


CONFRONT EVIL-DEFEATED:   Temporary defeat by Killmonger is the EXTERNAL defeat. But there is a deeper INTERNAL one: realization that his father, to protect his kingdom, family (and perhaps ego) not just killed his brother, but abandoned his nephew to poverty and want (catch the metaphor?).


DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: A literal fall into the abyss (external defeat) and sundering of his relationship with his father to become his own man.


LEAP OF FAITH:   In a higher power (the Panther Goddess trusted them with godlike power), in his companions (that the essence of being a king is making hard decisions and wielding power with both authority and compassion.  They did they best they could in THEIR time, but to be worthy of them, he must go beyond them) and in himself (this is HIS time.  HE gets to decide what kind of king he will be.)


CONFRONT EVIL–VICTORIOUS:    Killmonger had been corrupted by his deprevation and programming.  T’Challa beats him, defeating Erick’s lifetime ambition…


STUDENT BECOMES THE TEACHER:   Offering compassion to his defeated foe, they deal with each other as two men. As brothers, two sides of the same coin.  Killmonger is offered life, but chooses death (worthwhile to note that his lovely line about making the choice of death his ancestor’s made…is bullshit.  He is descended from a Wakandan father and a black American mother whose ancestors chose LIFE.  I chuckled a bit…after I wiped away a tear.)  But note that you could easily map this entire movie from Killmonger’s perspective.  That he made choices which, classically, doomed him. There was no way to kill his “Ride or Die Girl” and still deserve the throne.  No way to dishonor the Wakandan traditions by destroying the Panther herbs or brutalizing the priestess and claim he had his people’s best interests at heart.  But if his words and actions were in conflict, he still taught T’Challa, changed him in a way no other Marvel villain has ever changed a hero.  T’Challa learns…teaches Killmonger the power of compassion…and also teaches his country that they MUST open themselves to the world, and at the very last scene, is about to teach black Americans another aspect of their heritage.    Powerful, powerful stuff.




Note that this film might be interpreted a thousand different ways, almost like an historical event, and certainly like quality art throughout time.   It has a synchrony of philosophical and political perspectives contained within a package of world-class storytelling and unique imagery.  THIS is what entertainment is capable of being and doing.


When you watch great art, you gain perspective on your life.  This requires that the artist themselves spend time asking “who am I?” and “what is true?” and either come to further or different conclusions.  They don’t have to be brilliant, but they DO need to be honest. When they are both…you get something special.






Congratulations Jordan Peele!

When GET OUT became a social phenomenon, there was discussion of its Oscar chances.    I didn’t know about categories like acting (excellent) or directing (startlingly refined for a first film) but I KNEW I was looking at a superior piece of screenwriting.


ALL art is a matter of self-expression.  Successful art integrates craft into this equation, as “craft” is the specific language an artist uses to communicate that sense of “who am I?” or “what is true?”


According to Jordan, he began working on the script About eight years ago, starting to actually write it about four years ago.  And in-between…emotional/mental integration.


  1. He started with a desire to create a film that he could direct.  This implied scale (he wasn’t going to get a ton of money for his first effort.  Nor did he WANT a ton of money–that would have been a level of responsibility that inhibits creativity.)
  2. He chose an idea that touched something deep enough within him to excite him. That meant something intensely personal. Why?  He was going to have to live with it for years.   Dream about it.   Go to sleep thinking about it, wake up in the morning thinking about it.  EMOTIONAL ENERGY.


Remember: the “wall” was that he didn’t have much experience directing (some sequences on Key and Peele, I believe), and that meant doubt from studio backers as well as “the voices in his head”–and trust me, EVERY artist has doubts.  Impostor syndrome. Pretender voices.    You have to not only believe you can do it (within your resource circle) but that you SHOULD do it (it aligns with your values).


The “what” was to become a director, to move his life forward.  The “why” was some combination of personal ambition, artistic vision, social awareness and emotional pain.


Once he had the clear vision, and a powerful stack of motivations, THEN he could look at the “how”:


  1. Select a story from the flurry of ideas in his mind.
  2. Work with it. Play with it. Turn it around and around. Is it a story that can be told visually?   Does it have emotional power?  Does it hold his personal truth (“who am I?”).  A social external truth?  (“what is true?”)


For YEARS he did this, absorbing thousands of hours of film, television, and written word, looking for the “language” with which to express a core notion:


“A young black man with a white girlfriend meets the parents.   Although on the surface all is well, underneath lurks a nightmare.”


Is this a universal fear?  Sure.  Remove race from the equation, and you simply have the fear of rejection, of losing identity, of the doubt that those who claim to love us really do, or that we can love but not “fit in” to the new family.


Basic, universal stuff. What happens when you personalize it?   Jordan, being biracial, HAD to have experienced fear of rejection by both black and white communities, that sense of “who am I? What am I?”   LOTS of room for discomfort, because nothing makes us more vulnerable than love.


If you want to get positively brilliant about it, you would just ask: “did he view the premise through the eyes of potential investors?” The people who he would ask to pony up 4.5 million?  They are the surrogates for potential audience.  This is one of the most important reasons NOT to put your own money into a movie: if you can’t convince investors, your chance of convincing and audience to come out en masse is NOT good.


What was there here for white audiences?  The answer is obvious once you look at it:

  1. They can associate with the universal fear of rejection and danger.  Simply looking at Chris as a human being, absent race, does this.
  2. On a social level, the question of race allows them to feel the discomfort of the situation in a new way, identifying with Chris as he experiences the danger of being a black man in a white world, controlled by the actions of white people (note the first instance of this: Rose and the cop.  Chris is damned near irrelevant in the power-play between two white people.   He has stepped out of his world).
  3. The audience also gets to ask an important question, the mirror image of the question Chris asks (“is it safe to trust?”).  Their version of that question is: “can we really communicate with each other?  Can we move past the pain and enter the realm of trust?”


There is SO much pain associated with racial issues in America, and I don’t think it was really open to discussion until late in the 20th Century.


I know that Jordan asked himself questions like “will anyone let me make this?  Can it possibly succeed?” And the period of incubation, of turning it around and around in his mind, testing images, dialogue, sequencing, timing, and more, he was looking to “solve” a creative Rubick’s Cube, following a thread of emotion, seeking to gain skills and understanding that would take the TECHNICAL knowledge needed to translate his vision and raise it to the level of “unconscious competence”, the place you have to have ANY skills if you want to create with them.   As long as you are mumbling “1-2-3, 1-2-3” you aren’t dancing.  But if you do it long enough, you’ll find yourself just flowing with your partner and moving with the music.  No counting.   THAT is dancing.


But you have to break it down to get there.   Four years of turning it around and around in his mind, until everything worked.  Technical, creative, logistic, philosophical, emotional.  Everything aligned.


Then he just had to write it down.  Polish it.


Then he had to market it to the people who had the resources to help him make it.   Which means that AS he was writing it, he was making connections.   Proving himself.  Making money for investors.  Being totally professional so that adults would trust him with millions of dollars of their capital.


And in threading that series of moving needles, created something that was close to his heart AND had serious social impact, encouraging a discussion of painful social issues that have been long ignored or marginalized.   The cherry on the sundae is that he is a world-class comedian, skilled at knowing the precise moment to release tension with a laugh.   And that is VERY close to triggering a release through scream.


It is really so satisfying to deconstruct a victory.   So much more interesting than looking at a failure and doing an autopsy on what went wrong.  Study a half-dozen successful people and you’ll start seeing patterns, things that successful people do over and over again.  Look at people in different times and places, of different genders or ages or resource circles, in different arenas, and you’ll see deep patterns that apply EVERYWHERE.  Then you can begin to apply them in your own life.


In truth, the world makes perfect sense if you discard the notion of innate genius, except perhaps the genius of constant action, sustained focus, the ability to CARE enough to get up day after day, week after week, month after month and constantly be aware you have to grow and learn and stretch.  To listen to the “pretender voices” that keep you dissatisfied without letting them cripple you.


I don’t care WHAT you want to succeed at.    Jerry Pournelle’s words still ring in my ears: “once you’ve mastered one thing, you know how to master anything else.”


Jordan Peele’s journey to the Oscar is one hell of a story, really.   Studying excellence is always valuable. But studying it when it applies to a favorite entertainment is just sublime.



Congratulations, Mr.Peele.  So damned happy for you and proud of you.   You’re doing the work, dude.






(our black horror class GET OUT is now 70% off, an amazing value.    Check it out today at: WWW.REALBLACKHORROR.COM)


Cracking Gridlock

Social gridlock is a frustrating thing to watch, especially when people are short-sighted enough to believe that such issues are permanent.  Some things are generational: when based on beliefs or habits or perceptions or traditions stretching back into the past, it isn’t surprising that not much change can happen in a single generation, let alone voting cycle. But…if you don’t have historical perspective, that’s how it can look.


The worst are the ones where the surface conversations aren’t addressing the underlying beliefs.  We’re lookin’ where the light is, rather than where we dropped the keys.  Here are some examples of the “apparently intractable” that I think will be solved by time, simply by the people with the inflexible beliefs aging out.  And…a take on the underlying beliefs that aren’t being addressed and in many cases cannot be resolved, because the ultimate answers lie beyond human knowledge or ultimate testing.


  1. Abortion. Underlying problem: no clear and agreed-upon definition of when “life” begins.  When a bit of tissue becomes a human being.
  2. Social Justice. Underlying problem: different beliefs about the basic equality of human beings, whether measured as groups (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation) or individuals.
  3. Gender equality and identity.  Underlying problem: similar to above.  Are the genders complementary?  Parasitic upon each other?  Dominating?  Cooperating?   Roles determined by biology?  Society?   Psychology?  Does “gender” exist at all outside of social constructs?
  4. Climate Change.  Underlying problem: A tangle, ranging from the very real need for a complex society to have access to reliable peak energy sources, to debates about centralized versus dispersed sources. The queasiest aspect is an argument about whether climate scientists are somehow uniquely corrupt and conspiratorial, at least compared to their corporate counterparts.   Never saw THAT one coming.
  5. Gun Control.  Underlying problem: both sides think their answer makes them safer.   In other words, for one side, guns might be seen as the problem. While for the other, they are often seen as the answer.




One thing that fascinates me is the “clustering” of people with different beliefs.  That there really is a political polarity, a “tend-to” between people holding one position or another.  And while on the surface, there would seem to be no connection between them, if UNDER that you look at basic questions of the nature of the soul, the nature of human existence, the “God’s master plan” approach…some patterns arrive.


Combine this with the Procrustean nature of politics and the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”    You’ll vote for what I want?  Then I’ll find a way to vote for what YOU want, and we’ll stand together.




It’s like that story of the husband and wife arguing about going to a new restaurant. The wife wants to go, the husband doesn’t.   The décor, the menu, the expense, the parking, the part of town…the husband brings up every possible objection, the wife shoots them down. Then finally, the truth emerges: the husband has a lover who works at that restaurant.   EVERYTHING ELSE was bullshit: he simply didn’t want wife and lover to encounter each other.


The same thing happens when there are underlying beliefs and values that create strong emotional reactions.  I’ve heard horrible relationship-sundering arguments on these issues. Real anger.  Anger is fear.   Ask what people are afraid of, down at the core, and you will often come to a deeper understanding. “Social Justice” wise, for instance, you drill down and get some fascinating stuff.  And no, I’m not promoting these notions, just saying that I’ve seen them once you tease out deeper patterns:


  1. Society is already “just”–but a level playing field will yield unequal results not just for individuals, but groups, because while we PRETEND these groups are equal…they really aren’t.  Therefore, only an oppressive government can pound the tall nails down to get “equal” results.  The Social Justice Warriors are really asking for repression of the excellent.  (Groups aren’t equal)
  2. Society is already as “just” as it can be.  Life isn’t fair. Try to make it more “just” and again, you are inviting governmental repression. (groups are equal, but nothing further can be done)
  3. If the playing field isn’t level, the only option is to tilt it unfairly in one direction or the other, and I’d rather have the advantages than the disadvantages: there is no perfect balance (It isn’t equal, and I don’t care: Imma get mine.   If spoken honestly, actually a position worthy of a certain respect.  However, it is RARELY spoken honestly, because it opens the door to a “survival of the fittest” “tragedy of the commons” interpretation of the social contract.  And we instinctively understand that that only works when we are strong. We worry about what happens if we lose power, or what might happen to our children.   Our children are safest in a world in which we look out for each other, so the “game” is to grab all you can while encouraging our neighbors to be fair and loving and giving.   In other words…you believe the world is full of either predators or suckers)


What are we as human beings? What is true about the basic nature of the social contract? The deepest questions boil down to nature/nurture, essence/existence AND CANNOT ACTUALLY BE FULLY ANSWERED in the way, say, an algebraic equation can. Because algebra is a manipulation of symbols with agreed upon meanings, and social theory deals with things that do not, and cannot. They deal with reality, not mere symbols representing reality.


Far, far, harder.



Just morning thoughts.  Gridlock.  But the answer is to look at human patterns: answers used in one place, proven to work, get adapted by the neighbors.  Not always, but often and consistently enough to explain most human progress.  Genetically and memetically, natural selection with a dash of punctuated equlibrium seems to explain about everything.


In the “Hero’s Journey” the hero who is confronted with a Gordian Knot of a problem takes action, including finding role models.   Look for people who get better results than you, and do what they do. There will always be people afraid of this, but frankly, our feelings don’t matter much in the overall structure of things. Results matter.


We lose neuralplasticity, behavioral flexibility, and even social memory and feel trapped and locked into place.   Yeah, the old farts get locked. But they die. And the kids come up, kids who are just as smart as their parents and grandparents, but understand the problem from the INSIDE rather than the outside. Have energy and optimism and haven’t been locked into the old patterns.  And will come up with answers we haven’t dreamed of, because they want to live, and love, and reproduce, and thrive, and have their time in the sun just like every generation since we climbed down out of the trees.  Maybe before.


If ANYONE has solved the problem, pretty much everyone can. Maybe not in our time.   We might just have to wait for the most rigid and intractable…to die.


Since everyone does, the answers are pretty obvious: no one is smarter than everyone. There are no irreplacable human beings.   Just because you can’t see an answer don’t mean there ain’t one.  Frankly, you ain’t all that.  And neither am I.


But our kids…goddam.  Yeah.  Our kids ARE all that. And always have been.


Once upon a time we were too. Remember?






Is BP better than Star Wars?

Saw a comment today, someone saying that Black Panther was better than all the Star Wars movies combined.   Let’s not dive into a discussion of trying to quantify subjective evaluations, shall we?   Let’s just leave it that this person ENJOYED BP more than they enjoyed all the Star Wars movies combined, or at least so much that they were moved to say that.


What I thought would be more interesting is asking: what makes a movement?  Because that’s what Star Wars was.  It motivated people to camp out overnight, buy tickets months in advance, cosplay, generated endless merchandise, and united generations of geeks in a celebration of space fantasy.


Harry Potter triggered some similar reactions. As did Star Trek.  I believe that movies like Gone With The Wind and Titanic seem to have hit the same buttons, and to a degree Avatar, and maybe even Enter The Dragon.


I remember having a meeting at my house when I lived over near LACC. Wish I could remember what the point of it was, but two ladies showed up who said they were from the “Vulcan Embassy.”  Called themselves T’Plea and T’Qua.  Vulcan ears, dress, everything.  I was very weirded out, I can remember.  And tried talking to them wanting to get some sense of what motivated them to behave this way, but didn’t get a clue.


What else does this kind of fandom remind me of?   Religious movies, the kind where churches send busloads of worshippers to see some (usually) low-rent version of the Passion play, or the trials of the Israelites or something.  There have been tons of them, and some were actually  pretty good (I remember enjoying the heck out of a revival of 1949’s  SAMSON AND DELILAH.  Probably that jawbone fight.  Bringing down the temple sort of rocked too. And of course all the thinly-veiled sexual tension twixt Victor Mature and Hedy Lemar.  All that post-coital lounging…


What is it that creates that kind of connection?


When I was in my 30’s, I was looking for magic.  Had a standing offer to the universe that I would go anywhere, at any time, at any cost, to see the equivalent of a cigarette ash burning backwards to make a Lucky Strike.  Something that just couldn’t be explained with the laws of physics.  It was amazing how weak the evidence for such thing was, while still managing to trigger human reactions of awe and suspension of logic.   Cold spots in houses.   déjà vu.  Lucid dreaming. Slight-of-hand magic.  Cold reading (“mediums” using psychological tricks to “read minds”).   Cute martial arts tricks of alignment or tendon strength.  And on and on.


I’ll say that eventually I experienced something that made me withdraw my little offer from the universe, but that’s another story.  But what is pertinent is that my endless afternoons at the Bodhi Tree bookstore  in West Hollywood led me to a man named Sri Chinmoy.  Now…Chinmoy was fascinating.  An Indian holy man who taught meditation and encouraged his followers to engage in ultra-marathons to raise their energy and purify their bodies, he wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of books, “played” dozens of instruments (except for some decent flute, I could never determine any actual skill in his piano playing…but I have to admit there was a strange power in his compositions), a million brushstroke paintings of birds, and more.


He had celebrity followers like Roberta Flack and Carlos Santana, and “meditation centers” in college campuses across the country, and the U.N. building.  All of this was interesting, but the thing that really caught my eye was the fact that when he injured himself in the ultra-marathons he switched to weight lifting.


Using special rigs, he lifted other human beings with one arm, airplanes and cars, and weights totalling over seven thousand pounds.   I wasn’t sure what I was looking at when he did this, but world-class bodybuilder Bill Pearl had a store in southern Oregon, and was one of Chinmoy’s friends.    HE said that he had seen this little man perform feats of strength no one he knew of could match.   Had he lifted 7,063 pounds? Really?   Well…Pearl said that from where he was, the massive barbell, in an overhead sling, MIGHT have lifted an inch.  But the only thing he could be sure of was that the bar, as thick as a man’s arm, had actually BENT with the force applied against it.


Ummm….apparent total control of flow state (all that art!), vast aerobic capacity?   The comparative strength of an insect?   That suggested someone who had serious ability to override the governors that inhibit human performance.  A cigarette ash burning backwards?  No.  But the most impressive human performance I’d ever heard of.


There was more.    At a private meeting of his students, I saw his aura.  That was an entire story in itself.  I didn’t know what to think about it at the time.  Now,  I believe is was a projection of my mind…but a very specific one, indicating some very specific things.  Another time.




Anyway, I became his student, and studied with other students learning meditation techniques and spiritual perspectives I use to this day.  Nice people.  A little strange and…bland.  That’s not a bad term for it.  A little “flat” tonally.  More on this in a little bit.  The guys had no sharp edges. The women weren’t particularly warm and cuddly.   Some “polarity” missing.


I should have known what was coming.


Some years later, I found myself up in Vancouver Washington, my marriage in tatters and needing to find my spiritual center.  Realizing that I had stopped meditating, I decided to re-connect with Chinmoy’s people, and located a meditation center in Seattle, calling them and getting permission to join them for a Sunday afternoon. They owned a restaurant up there, and after a fun day of meditating, playing vollyball and working in the restaurant we had a lovely vegetarian dinner.  I was stoked.  I felt so at home.


Except for that odd “flatness” I’d sensed.  But what the heck, right.  Anyway, we were all talking, and I mentioned at one point that on my way home to Vancouver, I was going to stop off at a ladyfriend’s house for…well, I think “a little late night all-right” about covers it.


And…the room went quiet.  They looked at me rather oddly, and then slowly began to speak again.  But it felt like they’d edged away from me a little. I was confused.  What had I done?


About fifteen minutes later one of the guys came up to me and asked me if I’d step outside for a moment.  I did.  He fum-fuh’d, toe’d the ground and then blurted out: “Didn’t you know that Guru wants us to be celebate?”


WTF?   I’d read dozens of his books, and maybe a hundred articles on him, been involved in their community for about five years, and NO ONE had said this.   EVERYONE seemed to think that someone else had laid that out for me.    I was shocked, and appalled, and remembered driving home down the I-5 kinda shattered.    It all made sense.  That explained the kinda “flat” energy I’d felt from them: neither the men or women were “displaying” for each other.  They were edging toward asexuality, or “neuterism” or whatever you’d call it.


And I knew that if Chinmoy was the best chance I’d ever encountered to enter a different realm of existence, his path was also not for me.    I mean, if God wants me to stop having sex, there’s a pretty simple change he could make in me, and let’s just say he ain’t never made it.


Sigh.   To be honest, that was my last try, the last time I attempted to find a spiritual community.  I realized that my path was within me, that all the teachers in my life had pointed where I needed to go, and I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know.  Not taking responsibility for my own growth was being a spiritual child.  I didn’t need that.   But…it still hurt.


We all seek something. Some sense of connection to love, the divine, the mysterious.  Something bigger than us.  And some of us find it in religious activities, others in relationships, or politics, or cheering sports teams…or enjoying movies.


The entertainments that trigger that response seem to speak of another world, something lost and far away…or off in the future, of in a galaxy far, far away.   They appeal to our hearts, our sense of our own potential, that perhaps we are actually part of a powerful dynasty with Force powers.  Or we are on a mission to explore the galaxy in a time when humans have grown past our divisions.   Or we are celebrating a lost, noble civilizations of ladies and cavaliers, masters and slaves, a gracious time now gone with the wind.


How about a time when love was more important than life (“Titanic”)?  Or a totally alien world in which we can transform into something beyond our human limitations (“Avatar”).


Take us somewhere we’ve never been.  Give us a missing piece of our soul. Show us a cigarette ash burning backwards to make a Lucky Strike.   In real life?   You get there and find out it was an illusion, that you always had what you needed anyway, you just didn’t trust yourself.


But those who have found it, if they are wise, don’t mock those still searching. And even if you have it, there is nothing wrong with enjoying entertainments that take us out of ourselves, remind us of our dreams and hopes.  We need them.


I needed to believe in something more than myself.  If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have found the truth behind the magical metaphors in every sacred tradition.   I am happy for the stories, but the truth is even better.


But still, I was miserable on that drive home.   It can be hard to realize no one, and nothing, is coming to rescue us.  Hard to be an adult some times.  It is fun to be a kid again, to connect with a simpler time, simpler emotions, simpler realities.  And sometimes we need to take a break from the endless struggle life can be, and simply sit in a darkened movie theater, and remember what it was to believe our potential was without limit.


And those who have had endless such images…if they don’t realize the bounty they were given, and mock those who are starving…I feel sorry for them.   They don’t realize that in that sense they were born into Fort Knox and think all they have is the gold in their teeth.