Steven Barnes is a life coach, CST coach and certified hypnotist. He has more than 30 years’ experience in the self-development arts, including hypnosis certification with Transformative Arts Institute in Marin, CA, training as a yoga and Tai Chi instructor, and fourth-degree black belt. He has counseled executives, royalty, prominent politicians and Hollywood celebrities at the Moonview Sanctuary in Santa Monica. Steve has gained a unique understanding of the relationship between myth, energy and consciousness, and has shared it with thousands of students and clients since 1980.

In my early 20’s, I wrote a lot of stories and scripts, and was optimistic about every one of them. Just KNEW that this was the one that would make my name (the script that was a cross between ENTER THE DRAGON and LORD OF THE FLIES was a particular favorite.  Oh, well…)


But as I wrote and submitted and saw rejection after rejection, it started hurting. The voices in my head hammered at me. The doubts I’d heard from Mom and teachers and peers started deteriorating my faith.


I knew that only continuing to move forward could possibly take me where I wanted to go. I also knew that there was a point at which I would need to say “enough” and try something different in my life.


I remember talking to a friend who was attempting to create a specific kind of  relationship, but had no role models of success. There had been joy when things worked, but also pain associated with the failures.  I asked them how many times they would try to do this, before they admitted that maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t for them.


There was no limit. No period of time, or number of attempts.  I don’t know whether they were right or wrong to feel this way, but I can tell you that my reaction was “I’m dealing with an addict.”


I needed to set a terminus point. But it needed to be on the far side of numerous cycles of growth and failure, so that I could actually give myself a decent chance to win.


Ray Bradbury had suggested writing a story a week, or every other week. But…for how long? WHEN DO YOU GIVE UP?


I’d been writing stories since childhood.  Dozens, at the least.   So…reading articles and biographies of writers, listening to their speeches and stories, it seemed to me that “dozens” of stories was a reasonable body of work, a reasonable investment of time before expecting positive results.


I hadn’t developed “the Machine” at that point, but had studied the advice of Ray and Robert and Harlan and more, and it seemed to me that if I had any chance of success, I’d reach it by story fifty or so from where I was.  So…I doubled that.   ONE HUNDRED STORIES.


I would write, finish, polish, submit, read my butt off, and keep going. I would walk that path, keeping my mood high because JUST WALKING THE PATH was a success.  Yes, I got rejection slips by the bunch, because when a story was rejected I just tucked it back in a manila envelope and send it back out.


Instead of feeling sick to my stomach, I felt like a HERO.  Every story finished was one step closer. Every rejection, one step closer. Every submission, one step closer.  Giving myself room to grow was transformative.


THAT’S “The Machine”. You can create one for any arena of life: dating, starting a business, losing weight, earning a black belt.   You define the territory, give yourself room, and do, every day, that thing which will, over time, maximize your chance of success within a rational time frame.


This is the “Road of Trials”.  Along it, you seek allies to show you what “powers” you must learn. You will hit the “Dark Night” of the soul again…and again…and again.


But if you have faith in the process, you will have your very best chance of reaching your dreams, and the deep satisfaction of knowing that you are one of the few who loved himself enough to actually try to create the dreams they crave. It is a fabulous feeling.


If I’d reached 100 without selling…I think I’d have stopped trying, with dignity and pride. Declared victory.


But I made it to about #24, and never looked back. And no student of mine has ever made it as far as #30.  That is a damned good feeling.


That is Lifewriting: seeing the Hero’s Journey as the path of your character, but also your own path as a writer.  It will work for you.  And while nothing can guarantee success, if you don’t find a way to work though the fear and depression and the negative voices…I can damned well guarantee failure.





(for just $1 you can experience the path we have laid out for you.  One year from today, you can either be a year older…or a year older AND A WRITER. The choice is yours.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard”(2017)

Saw “Hitman’s Bodyguard” yesterday. Wasn’t exactly “good” but I did have fun. Sam Jackson was seriously badass, and that’s always fun. Ryan Reynolds sometimes felt like he’d wandered in from another movie. And the “Midnight Run” comparisons (MR was definitely a better film) are unavoidable. I had the sense it started as a smaller film, then got pumped up after someone looked at the “Deadpool” box office. From time to time the shape of that smaller, perhaps better movie peeked out.

One thing of interest: it is a movie “from the alternate world” as T and I say. Meaning that I couldn’t feel the filmmakers altering the film because one of the leads is black.  It actually felt…natural.  That’s not an overwhelming recommendation, but it IS a comfort to see.

It matters.  I’ll give it a “B”.



Time for more “Body Snatchers”



Clearly, Jack Finney’s 1954 novel is one of the most successful SF works in history, having been translated to film four times in pure form, and ripped off (or “influenced”) countless more.  The only version I didn’t like at all was the 2007.  It just didn’t move me, and considering how much I like Daniel Craig, I guess that says something.


The “Best” version by most accounts is the 1978.  I still have a fondness for the original, but the one that makes me most uncomfortable is actually Ferrara’s 1993, as cheap and dark as it might be.  “Where you gonna go?  What you gonna do?   When there’s nobody like you…left?” absolutely chilled my blood.  So my faves would be in precisely the order they were made, most to least favorite, with the first three clustered tightly, and the last one far behind.




I figure that we’re ripe for another remake, as I get a LOT of the “I don’t understand my friends/family/co-workers/neighbors who voted X.”  To the point that fears about a civil war are probably higher than in over a century.


If THAT isn’t fodder for a remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” I don’t know what is.  Hey, wouldn’t it be interesting if there were TWO strains of alien stuff infecting us, everybody turning into one or the other, and each side claiming to be the “real” humans  and being afraid of the Other?


That could be good, evil fun.


In my view, failing to understand others happens when you don’t understand yourself.  People just aren’t that different.  Not understanding why you do the things you do rips you apart psychologically. Not understanding and communicating with your spouse rips marriages apart. And miscommunication within a culture can rip IT apart.  And between cultures?  War.


The art of peace is finding the commonalities and building from there.   Most people are reachable on this count. There are, of course those so deluded or monstrous that you cannot. But I believe those to be a tiny percentage under most circumstances.


The cost of lying to yourself, then enrolling others in your lies, is that when the truth begins to surface there is massive cognitive dissonance. It can feel like death.  And people will fight to protect their images as they will to protect their bodies or families.


Anger is fear, remember. Trace it back to that root, and you’ll always see more clearly.  Those afraid of their fear cannot do this.


Please, don’t be one of them.  Remember: the Pod People strike while you are sleeping.




Thoughts on “Lucky Logan (2017)

By the way…have you seen the amount of pain white Southerners have been experiencing around their Statues taken away?  Even though there are tens of thousands of  books,  movies, television shows, documentaries, songs and folk tales about the Civil War?  THAT IS HOW IMPORTANT HISTORY IS.

A tiny problem, however.

All my life, white people have told me that  the TOTAL removal of history, myth, religions, cultures, and languages from black people didn’t matter.   “That’s all in the past! Live in the present!”

Do they grasp the irony?  That the very anger and pain dominating the national debate sets the standard?   If they aren’t bluffing, lying, exaggerating, engaged in theater…then take  THAT pain, and multiply by a thousand, and you have what was done to us.

As Sho Nuff, the Shogan of Harlem once said:   “Stings a little, don’t it?”


A guy gave me a raft of crap a week ago, because I wouldn’t provide him with links showing where I got my opinions about race, class and poverty in Appalachia, the Eastern U.S. cultural region that  stretches from Southern New York to  northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.

I cannot count how many books, documentaries, news broadcasts, articles, films, country-western songs,  stories, and personal reminiscences I’ve absorbed about this country, and that region.   But no, I don’t keep a convenient list of links.  I’m not his damned tutor, and that wasn’t a formal debate with neutral judges.  David Brin was my debate coach in high school, and trust me, what goes on on Facebook is not “debate”.

Usually these works were created by white people, often by historians, writers, reporters, academics and artists  who lived in the region, grew up there, had cultural and genetic and historical roots there, are proud and hopeful about the region, but often in pain about the media images or governmental neglect.  There was never a time I didn’t hear about coal mining, farming, trucking, dairy, and whatever else  in that region.


The specific question that triggered this gentleman’s ire was:   where is white privilege?  Wasn’t a poor white in Appalachia devoid of such privilege?  And I answered: nope.     And if I wanted to be more certain, I’d interview a sample of poor white Appalachians and poor BLACK Appalachians, and compare their experiences.   He didn’t like that answer.


Fine.   It is not my responsibility to please or educate him.   All I volunteered to do was tell him what I thought.


Steven Soderburg’s new film “Lucky Logan” is sly and smart.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.

While a caper film on the surface, it is also a comment on America.    Racially, you might  think that nothing is going on there, as all the main characters couldn’t be whiter if they bathed in bleach.   But there is something very interesting, if you keep your eyes open. Channing Tatum’s world is NASCAR and junior pageants and coal mining.   And it is also  almost 100% white.  Top to bottom.  Huge crowds and audiences and passing motorists. and almost every speaking part. White, white, white.

But once we go to the state  prison, looking for “Joe Bang” (played by a newcomer named Daniel Craig. I think he’ll have a career), a bank robber who is a genius at explosives, NOW we see black people.  Tons of them.  Big scary black bucks, and obese black Mammies.


The white people are drivers, miners, car dealer owners, beauticians, FBI officers, bartenders,  and whatever. The full spectrum of human occupations. The black people are criminals, jailers and security guards.

Now, there are two basic ways to interpret this, with a line is drawn right down the political middle:


  1. Nurture.   The liberal side of this debate.  What we are seeing here is the result of generational damage combined with institutional racism. You can measure the damage, right on the screen. To the degree that this mirrors reality, you are seeing EXACTLY the difference between being a poor white and a poor black, in the same social/geographical context.
  2. Nature.  The conservative side of this debate.   Not all Conservatives believe this (some will offer weak sauce about “Liberal social policies” leading to the “breakup of the black family.”  IMO if they were honest enough to relate this to centuries of oppression, brainwashing and horror I might believe they really believed this.   Few of them do) but almost everyone I’ve met who DOES believe it is “criminal nature” is over thar  on the far side of the political  aisle. I notice things like that.
    “The Bell Curve” clearly states that (to a major degree) genetics determines intelligence which determines criminal and irresponsible behavior.   That’s its conclusion.  Don’t expect me not to understand the implications.


What is clear is that people are so used to seeing this image  (white people in their complexity and variety, black people mostly seen as zoo animals and zoo keepers) that it doesn’t even raise question.   Few react at all, perhaps assuming it is the natural order.


You don’t dare wonder if your ancestors did so much damage over centuries that their victims are still staggering. Or if maybe the justice system isn’t a level playing field, and the descendants of those ancestors are still playing legal Whack A Mole with the descendants of those slaves.


In Lucky Logan, a white woman brags about talking her way out of a ticket. A white man is given a wrist-slap for driving his car through a convenience store.   In fact, they are so confident the sentence will be minimal that that is actually an integral part of the heist.

What privilege?

If you believe  that black offenders would be treated as well, then you too have chosen door #2.


Those who wonder why I cut so much slack to a Jefferson, or Washington, or America in general around issues of race would be wise to realize that I’m simply saying that context and programming matter.  I CANNOT consider them corrupt in essence, or whites corrupt in essence, or America corrupt in essence without thinking like the sleeping children who are so desperate to believe the playing field is level, absolving them of responsibility and ennobling their own efforts, that they are and have been willing to slander an entire people.


This is either a human problem,  or there is no hope at all.  America drowns in burning blood.


No, I don’t ask for white folks to feel guilt. I don’t consider that a useful emotion for a conscious adult. And I’ve never asked for reparations. I see no way to facilitate that without causing more damage than it ameliorates.

But I do ask that the lies stop.  That we speak the painful truth.

You know: truth about how desperately the South needed slave labor, and the myths of inferiority they devised, evolved, and spread, and the lies they told  about the motives for the war they fought to protect it.


Tell the truth.  That’s all I ask.


If there had been a “Truth and Reconciliation” or “Nuremburg Trials” style reckoning after the Civil War, it would have been more painful…for a blink in time.   But if slaves had been able to confront their masters, if the crimes had been documented and the “Lost Cause” narrative killed in the cradle, the pain felt would have been a tiny fraction of the anguish blacks felt all those centuries, and it might have saved us the national agony we’re experiencing now.


The Truth will set you free.


Then, without having to carry the load of bullshit your ancestors shoveled onto your shoulders, you would be able  to see your own beauty, grasp the wonder of the American dream, realize that the statement “All men are created equal” is a goal, a vision of possibility, an ideal: if we are the best we can be, see with hearts unpoisoned by fear and greed, THIS is what we will see.


All men are created equal.


I will not drink the poison, even if it gives me temporary political leverage.  Don’t need it to see the divinity within my heart.  Don’t need to drown out the voices of doubt and self-pity within my mind. Years of meditation and martial arts have turned that shit down to a whisper.

Won’t allow my enemies to turn me into one of them.    It ain’t that kind of party.


What I will do is say: if THEY won’t tell the truth, WE MUST.  Sing your songs. Tell your stories.  Your history explains your past. Your dreams determine what you must do TODAY to bring them to reality.


America is a story.  History is a story.  When you tell your stories, demanding to be heard, you are weaving together the fabric of society, and consciousness.  You can move away from pain, and toward pleasure.


Joy.  Fullfillment.  All any of us have ever really wanted.


Because I have FAITH that that is our true heritage as a species, as living things.   Goes way, way beyond a few hundred or thousand years of history, all the way back to the Big Bang: connection and complexity with a garnish of chaos  and fear as ego shells dissolve to create the energy we need to move forward.


Most of the fear is just fear of loss:  If I’m not descended from heroes, I’m descended from monsters…If I don’t control THEM they will kill ME…


No, you’re descended from human beings, doing the best they can with the resources they have, trying to move from pain toward pleasure.   Black and white, male and female, Christian and Muslim and atheist…that’s all there is.


Any my family are those who are strong and centered enough to offer the hand of friendship, an open heart, to any who can hear what I’m saying.


And we do this by focusing on the beautiful…while never forgetting the ugly.  Forgive, but not forget.


Always from a position of strength, of course, because there are a few smiling monsters mixed in, of course. But rare. And that will never be my first assumption.


Most dangerous people are just enmeshed in an ugly dishonest story, afraid that if they look more closely, they will find corruption.


Sure.  But look more deeply and you’ll find beauty. You will find the light.




Know yourself, know the Other

A reader said:   “I do think that promoting the idea that people can’t change– they’re bad, bad to the bone– helps lock them into the state you don’t like. I believe people can learn better, but meanwhile, I think saying that people you’re opposed to are intrinsically bad is one of the stupider human habits…”


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




The key to communication with others starts with honest communication with yourself.


That’s the easy part. The more difficult question is: what is “self”?

There is a story sometimes attributed to the Buddhist sage Nagasena (and other times to Plato I believe) called the Parable of the Chariot.  In the story, Nagasena visits with a great king who asks him to explain the nature of the self.  Nagasena suggests that, in a sense, the “Self” is a fiction, and the king scoffs.

“Who is it that wears robes and takes food? he asked. “If there is no Nagasena, who earns merit or demerit? Who causes karma? If what you say is true, a man could kill you and there would be no murder. “Nagasena” would be nothing but a sound.

Nagasena smiled.   “How did you come to my hermitage? On foot or by horseback?”

“I came in a chariot” the King said.

“But what is a  chariot?” Nagasena asked.  “Is it the wheels, or the axles, or the reigns, or the frame, or the seat, or the draught pole? Is it a combination of those elements? Or is it found outside those elements?”

The King answered “no, reverent sir”  to each question.

“Then there is no chariot!”  Nagasena said.


Nagasena’s point, in one sense, is that what we call the “Self” is a convenient fiction, a STORY we tell to get a handle on our existence.   It is constructed of habits, memories, beliefs, values, actions, emotions, labels, and so forth.


If you think your “self” can be defined with words, that you are your name or history or job, there is no chance that you can understand other people.  You are one illusion trying to connect with another.  And help them “change”?   What a joke.  Your only hope of helping someone see that their actions are based on false assumptions is to be more congruent and cohesive and coherent than they are.   Even then you might not. But that’s your ONLY chance.



So…your first step is to connect with your essence. This connects with the First Law:  LOVE YOURSELF.  Language is limiting, but it points in the right direction.


The Second Law: LOVE ANOTHER PERSON.  Creating a relationship with another person forces you to tell them your story, and listen to theirs. To see your own heart in them.


It is the foundation to life.


The Third Law: UNDERSTAND HISTORY WITHOUT GUILT, BLAME OR SHAME.  If you can’t grasp that whatever “you” are is the same stuff that your beloved is, you cannot connect.  In some ways, orgasm is the energy released when the illusion of separation is dispelled (probably why “hate sex” and “make up sex” is so explosive. Easy to get addicted to dysfunction).


Ever know someone addicted to the “fight-screw-`let’s never fight again’- fight ” cycle?  Maybe someone in the mirror?


All you’re seeing is two people who don’t know themselves bouncing off each other’s ego shields.  Brutally simple once you grasp it.  Now: extend this to humanity, and about 99% of our wars and struggles become crystal clear.


The Fourth Law: FIND AND SUPPORT YOUR TRIBE.  AVOID SLEEPING CHILDREN.  DEFEND AGAINST SNAKES AND MONSTERS.    Don’t waste your finite time and energy trying to “change people’s minds”.  Focus on supporting the people who are already in alignment with you.  Your loving, powerful ACTIONS will change the minds of people capable of changing.  Talk is cheap. Most inflexible people are just stressed to death. Violence is anger, anger is fear. If they see a loving, supportive tribe capable of embracing their humanity, if they can feel that there is more pleasure than pain from connecting with you, more pleasure than their current situation THEY WILL.  In fact, it is impossible for them not to. Walk your talk.  Remember that Trolls will try to distract you, get you to waste your substance.


Remember Neo in “The Matrix”?    He was asleep, dreaming that he was awake. Awakening was painful, terrifying, being birthed into an alien world…in which he possessed power beyond belief.


That is the true story of mankind.


The Fifth Law: WIN WITH INTEGRITY AND COMPASSION.  To the degree language can usefully convey truth, The purpose of life is to be happy. Everything else is a road to that goal.   Every living organism strives to move away from pain toward pleasure. Adulthood is postponing that temporary pleasure for long-term gain. Heroism  is committing to values stronger than your own fleshly existence.  When you can live a happy, healthy life with love, commitment, success, and passion and spread that joy to those around you, you become magnetic.


There are those who think that this is too soft, too open-hearted, too Pollyanna.  I feel sorry for them: they have missed the obvious fact of my life, that I spent thousands of hours practicing killing people.  And the end of that road, something acknowledged by ALL great martial arts masters, is that the greatest power is love.   That is only revealed when you have dealt with your fear, and until you do, you will think that anger is stronger.

Fine.   You’ll get there in time.  This message isn’t for you…yet.


Know yourself.  Then communicate what you find, with love. If you are a writer, this is the CORE to success. TELL THE TRUTH.  To do that, you must know it. The closer you get, the more your work will resonate.

All the rest is “just” technique.  While plot, characterization, poetics and the rest are critical, they are like crafting a vase.  Never forget that the PURPOSE of the vase is to carry water. Without that water, it is a beautiful empty object.

The “water” is truth, and people are dying for the lack of it.

People are hurting.  Afraid.  THIS is the time for artists to provide perspective, to help knit humanity together. By understanding themselves, and sharing what they find.





(The heart of writing is the soul, and that is unleashed through daily work and self-examination.  If you’d like to try this new approach to creative writing for a month for just a dollar,  visit

Sharing the view from the cross

“Do not think dishonestly”–Musashi Miyamoto’s first principle


When I was about eight years old broke and in utter despair, my mom stuck her head in our oven, trying to  commit suicide.    I talked her out of it by insulting her enough to make her angry at me, I knew even then that anger was a way to mobilize fear. She came after me like a fury, spanked the hell out of me…

But it was better than watching my mom die.  Yeah, no kid that age should have had to think that clearly, act that cleanly. It rips a hole in your heart.


Somehow I knew even then that Violence stems from anger, anger is a mask over fear. And the greatest fears are the truths we dare not speak.





Yesterday, I was linked to an extensive post by a woman who descended from a mixed-blood family. They hid their black blood by marrying any whites who would have them, and then after generations tried to disguise broad noses and fuzzy hair  by over-reacting and associating with racists.  Virulent, violent, horrible racists, and her own childhood is ravaged with memories of the things she and others did to obscure the truth. Fear and shame of what they were.


I told her in no uncertain terms that she was not alone.  Had a story to tell, and that if she could share it, she could save lives and hearts.


What was my mother’s shame, fear, the thing that tore a hole in her heart?  She was a child of rape.

Abuse at the very least–I’ll never know absolutely for sure: she never spoke of her father, and my Grandmother “Mommy Lula”  flushed with shame and fear at the subject, and it wasn’t until after both had died that my Uncle Willy, who lived with Lula, revealed that she had been impregnated at about the age of 15 while working in the house of a white man who owned the land her family lived on.

Years later, my niece Sharlene traced down the probable land owner.  As family mythology whispered he was of Scottish descent.  Apparently had mulatto children all over Georgia.


As my grandmother herself was about Obama’s skin tone, like most American “blacks” it was clear that she was the result of some similar sexual interaction.   The power differential was so great between blacks and whites that, not even counting the age difference, it is not possible to avoid the conclusion of rape.


I find no way to tell a happy   Sally Hemmings story about it.  I can still remember the terrified frozen mask of shame on Mommy Lula’s face any time I even approached the subject.


That horribly abused teenaged girl was still alive within her, even in the twilight of her life.   A girl who had never spoken her story.




I have few pictures of my mother, and have moved so many times in the last years that those I have are buried in boxes.  But you can see from this image, recently sent to me by my niece and cousin Beverly, that she could easily have “passed” for white.  Yeah, if she’d been willing to deny her mother and brother, and live her entire life in fear that she’d be discovered.

Mom in fur.JPG


Sharleen said it is the only picture of Eva Reeves Barnes she’s ever seen where she was smiling.

That’s the price of living in a world that forces you to lie, or punishes you if you don’t.  Because that was the horrible Matrix delusion we lived in: “one drop makes you whole”, a contamination theory of race.

She was “black” the way Wesley Snipes is white. In no sane world is someone with more than 50% “X”  blood considered a “Y.”

My mother had a choice: be the least of whites, or be a princess,  “light, bright, damned near white” among blacks.    She chose the latter.

Wouldn’t you?

She traded  her white genetics for a relationship with a brilliant, talented dark-skinned black man, Emory Barnes, thinking they would rise to the top together.  Dad was a singer, appeared in film, radio, television, appeared in Vegas with Nat King Cole and Louis Prima, and I’d guess that he was a pretty good bet.

But he couldn’t sleep in hotels where he could perform. It was “black success”, not “success.”  Ultimately  the system beat him, and the resultant stress destroyed their marriage. A good bet that crapped out.

The House always wins.  You can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game.

That’s the song.  It is not true.  You can kick the table over.  In any dysfunctional relationship, the first person to tell the truth ends the relationship and begins a new one.


After the divorce, my fair (as opposed to what, “foul”?  See how ugly the implications are once you see them?) skinned mother was trapped with two dark skinned children.  In depressive moods, she ruminated on this.  Felt that having us had destroyed her life.   Destroyed, in other words, her potential to “pass.”


“You kids fucked my life up!” she once raged,  the only time I can remember her saying that word.

Those five words devastated my sister.  I think it still does.


Somehow,  even then,  I knew it was the pain speaking.   The pain of never being able to scream her rage at the world, being unable to simply say “I AM!”


If you were to ask me the most important thing I learned from almost a half-century of practicing the martial arts, it is the knowledge that there is no pain like the denial of your own essence. No physical death as horrific as the death of the soul.  You MUST be who you are, or you become a Romero zombie, one of the Walking Dead.

“You’ll reap the whirlwind!” racists have said to me, warning me of the potential cost of “poking the hornet’s nest.”

Oh, screw you, snowflake. What the hell do you think I’ve been reaping for all 65 years of my life.   Unfortunately for you, I’ve learned to ride the storm.

That’s what shamans do.

Only a commitment to speaking your truth, regardless of the cost, will save you from a waking grave.



Two pale-skinned women destroyed by the same lie,  that lie existing to protect social privilege. The right to harvest the labor and sexuality of dominated people, and then blame them for the damage done, like a hit and run driver who denies he was ever there.


That damage ravaging their souls to the point that the joy was sucked away, leaving only pain.  To the point that the lie was internalized: half the time Mom would say: “black blood is the strongest in the world. One drop makes you whole.”

And in other moods…the head in the oven.


Dear God.  When I look at the pain borne by innocent people for centuries, the soul-killing devastation wrought by lies…by the corrupt STORIES fed to them with their mother’s milk…is there any wonder why I became a storyteller?


Any wonder why I urge that the abused, the neglected, the oppressed speak  their truth, and recognize that if they speak it deeply and honestly enough, they can reach anyone who is honest enough to know that we have ALL been lied to, and told lies, just to survive?

That they must have the courage to  filter that truth through their own spirit, so that you aren’t asking others to bear your cross…but simultaneously share the elevated perspective gained from being raised up and  nailed thereupon?


The lady who made that post about hiding among the neoNazis broke my heart, reminded me of what might have happened had my mother had she found safe harbor among monsters.    That if she can share her story, speak her truth, she can save other souls and help them shorten the time it takes to awaken.

That if my mother had read such a story as a girl…she might have lived a better, longer life.   I couldn’t save her.  But   I will damned well save her great-grandchildren and their tribe, of whatever race, sexual orientation or politic SO LONG AS THEY SEE THE UNITY OF MANKIND…or die trying.  So help me God.


Communication is the key.  Storytelling is the nervous system of the body human.  Writers: stop trying to be clever.   You can run out of clever, but you can never run out of the truth.

And the truth will set you free.  Why the martial arts? For the courage to speak that truth.  Why writing?  Because it is my means of sharing that truth with the world.


Why teach?  Because I cannot otherwise honor my teachers. And cannot do it alone.  And believe that just a few thousand awakened storytellers can heal this weary world.   Free us from the lies that once “protected,” like fortresses which become prisons.




Learning to speak truth in the form of entertainment is the reason Afrofuturism exists.  We were here before the chains. We will be here after they are broken. We rise.  Tananarive and I will repeat our message, weekly, until we’ve shared that message with a million people.   and if you’ve not been with us, or want to hear it again, or know someone who should register for this Saturday’s at


Every human being has chains. We’ve all been hurt.  Yes, some more than others, and that is important to factor in, especially when the perpetrators laugh at how badly they limp.    But if pain is part of our common humanity…so is joy.


If society rejects us we can find safe harbor within our hearts, as I did. And if you find it, you can share what you found so that other lost wanderers can create their own shelter.


How many of YOU found shelter in books and films?   If you can hear what I’m saying, know that if you have a story to tell, it is right, and good, and proper for you to tell it.


There is not a person reading this who has no wounds, has not been lied to, and not told lies to keep yourself safe.  But you can step out of the shadow.


After thirty years of teaching I’ve come to the conclusion that in a single year, I can transmit to you about 80% of the “root”, the “seed”  of what I’ve learned from almost fifty years of martial arts and writing:   structure, process, emotional control, focus, and the power of speaking that truth in your life.   And deliver it all for the profit of selling a single story.


That’s the “Lifewriting Year Long” program, just one dollar for the first month, available at


All you stand to lose is the lies. What you stand to gain is the whole wide world.


We need your truth.





A deeper explanation

I was kind of flippant to someone who said that my thoughts on Trump and David Duke disappointed them. It was certainly human of me, but it wasn’t my best self. Allow me to repost a more carefully considered response:
“What I CAN do is pay attention to patterns. And starting with Trump’s “Birther” stance, he had my antenna up. When racist groups praise him repeatedly and speak of how he’s their guy, I pay attention. When he blames “both sides” and then retracts with a prepared statement, and then spontaneously goes back to the position (after David Duke pleads with him to retract. Not causality, no…but I’m not enjoying this trend…) I get a very bad feeling. His response is probably just a fear of losing a critical chunk of base. But as I said, the “Birther” business suggested a level of ruthlessness on the issue that goes beyond my ability to extend the benefit of the doubt any longer. IMO, this guy is dangerous.”
There were two reasons I’d never have voted for him, and one was the “Birther” thing.  To repeat, I don’t believe that an intelligent,  healthy mind could take it seriously. I gave him that much credit, which meant that he was saying it specifically to manipulate the crowd, throw them into their emotions where they can be easily led (all politicians, leaders, or marketers do this by the way, whether their intents are good or ill).  Because I consider “Birtherism” to be thinly veiled racism, I thought he was playing with some of the most dangerous energy in America for the purpose of personal agrandizement.
And that I could not support under any circumstances, even if I had to admit that it wasn’t THAT much different than other politicians had done in the past (Hillary publicly speculating about assassination attempts on Obama was playing a similar dangerous game IMO), such that there was a voice in my head that said: “I wonder what his intent is?  Does he believe that the end justifies the means?  Could he possibly do something like that thinking he’s made a deal with the devil that will help America?”   I might disagree strongly with his methods or goals…but it was still possible that he was treading the road to hell with good intentions, so to speak.
Yes, I lean over backwards trying to be fair.  I know that about myself. I can live with it.
Let’s just say that while I feel immense sympathy for the good Americans who voted for him hoping for positive change, I have none for the man himself.  Not any more.
There is a real difference between sleeping children and smiling monsters.

Control the narrative, control the fear

I first grasped the connection between story and when a UCLA student, depressed and believing he had no time or energy to write, suddenly became an answer machine as soon has he started thinking of himself as a character in a story he was writing.  He was so excited, and it was awesome!


What I realized was that the stories we tell ourselves control the way we interpret the world.  What was scary is that once the story “sets” it is like concrete.


My martial arts training was exactly like this.



I still remember walking home from Alta Loma Elementary school.  A bully followed me, angry about some slight I cannot clearly remember.  Perhaps he felt I’d offended a girlfriend.  But he punched me in the stomach, again and again, over and over. And when I tried to cover my stomach, he threatened to punch me in the face.


So, humiliated and ashamed and hurting, I took my hands away and let him hit me.  Afraid to fight him.  Shattered by my cowardice.  All the way home.


Fast forward to after high school, when I started practicing martial arts.  And was actually pretty good at it.  Won tournaments, was respected for my skills, was fast and powerful.


And then when I was about 25 I sparred with a thirteen year old kid at the BKF school, and he not only kicked my ass, but bragged about it to everyone in the school. “I beat a man!” he crowed.  “I beat a man!” and everyone congratulated him. And laughed at me.

(the fact that, fifteen years later, young Alvin Prouder became Welterweight champion of the world in full contact karate, that for all practical purposes I had been performing a Drum Duel with a young Buddy Rich, was irrelevant. The damage was done.)


Something inside me COLLAPSED, like the floor of a house collapsing into a cess pool of unprocessed emotions.  “I’ll never get any stronger,” I lied to myself.  “I’m just as small and weak as I was when I was…”


Thirteen, about. Yeah.   Alvin was about the same size and age as the bully who had followed me home, punching me in the stomach again and again and again, me too cowardly to even fight back…


I still feel that pain today, if I let myself dwell on it.  Oh, its there, and that “story”, that belief that I was still small and weak was a lie, but it was a powerful one.




Shattered, I  started missing classes.  Dropped out of the school altogether. But when I started getting out of shape, the fear that I’d get mugged got stronger than my fear of being humiliated in the school,   I’d go back.  Until I got better, fitter again, and then the fear of the sparring became stronger and drove me back out.  Oddly, the sparring itself wasn’t bad.    It was the WAITING to spar, the ANTICIPATION of sparring, that killed me.  The fear was like corrosive acid in my belly, much, much worse than the actual experience of being challenged on the street. In the street, I’d just go cold, and see the potential attacker as a human silhouette painted on a sheet of glass, with vulnerable points marked in red paint.


But in the school, waiting for  Steve Sanders to tell me to get out on the floor…all I could see was defeat (even though I often went untouched), all I could hear was their laughter (although they never did again.)


It was so bad that once I accidentally left my jacket in the school…and was afraid to go get it, terrified that someone would ask me to spar.


I remember driving down La Brea avenue, trapped by my fear. Afraid to train.  Afraid not to train.


TRAPPED.  No way out.  Road-kill.  Tears streaming down my face, pleading a prayer: “God, either help me get over this fear and let me train with joy…or please let me stop.  One of the other.  Please.”


Why couldn’t I just quit?   Looking back over it, it was because if I’d quit, I’d never have been forced to search the earth, spend thousands of dollars and hours, travel thousands of miles to find  therapists, gurus, teachers, coaches, and whoever else might possibly help me.


And one day I did.  And learned to be at peace with my own emotions.


And the instant I did, I completely changed the “story” of my life, the way I’d interpreted my childhood.   And the pain and fear became the fuel that powered me.  The MOTIVATION rather than the OBSTACLE. And that transformation was…amazing.



Once upon a time there was a small boy who grew up without a father, or uncles, or brothers.  And he wanted desperately to win the respect of the men he respected, and to be desired by the women he desired. And was told by all that he would not be unless he could learn to stand up for himself.   So he studied the art of standing up for yourself, even though it hurt, and tore him apart…and ultimately put him back together so that he had a foundation to stand on, and a new credo:


I WILL NEVER BE HURT LIKE THAT AGAIN, SO HELP ME GOD.  I might lose, might even die, but I will never be too ashamed and afraid to stand up for myself.  Never again in this life.  


And though it cost him hugely, he gained the ability to help others more easily than he had been able to help himself…and considered it cheap at the price.  Because he knew there were other little boys like he had been, who needed a path out of the trap. And then realized that there were girls who needed it too. And then realized that what stopped EVERYONE from their dreams was the fear to stand up and demand life deliver the goods.  And that if he could help 1000 of them…all the pain he had ever experienced was a cheap price to pay.  

He thanked the bullies who hurt him, and realized that at some level, they’d needed what he had, too.

And all was well.


Why?  Because I felt the EXACT SAME EMOTIONS around writing and submitting stories.  It hurt to be rejected.  But it hurt more to think of quitting.


And the EXACT SAME EMOTIONS around my relationships.  Rejection was horrible. The loss of my first marriage made me consider suicide for the first time in my life.  But I desperately wanted love.


And the way through was the same: controlling the story I told myself.  I can learn. I can grow. I am worthwhile.   If I put in the same work, for the same time, define the right powers and seek the right allies and walk the Road of Trials…


I can succeed.  I can evolve. Heal. Change.  Love.  Be happy.


Control the story.


And when the guy who used to be called Steve Sanders (now Steve Muhammad) helped me to understand what mastery really is, I was able to define and design a path I called “The Machine” which is simply the Road of Trials,  a definition of the daily work it takes to maximize the chance of success…at anything.


The “Machine” is one of the ten steps of Lifewriting, the application of the Hero’s Journey not just to plot, but process, and life itself.


Writing your own story.  Controlling your narrative.  Taking your life back


THAT is what Lifewriting is.  And when I taught it in 300.00 workshops, or in 1000.00 consulting sessions, or 400.00 courses, or 500.00/month coaching session…we got wonderful life-changing results.  But I saw that I was pricing myself out of the range of the people who needed me most.  The very people I had sworn to help.


So I created LIFEWRITING PREMIUM, with an entire YEAR of weekly lessons, MP3s, video classes, email support and social media, as well as   “hotseat” story analysis teleseminars to teach people to apply these tactics and strategies more directly.


And again, people not just published books and stories and articles, but actually began changing their lives.  It works.


I cannot begin to calculate how much time and treasure I spent to learn these things I now offer, that you can sample for just ONE DOLLAR. I don’t know how to be fairer than that, or tell you sincerely–if you have had the same struggle, and want to control your writing and your life, PLEASE give LIFEWRITING PREMIUM a chance. Or tell me what I can do to help you make that decision.   I believe we are at a tipping point for society, that a few thousand awake, aware, adult storytellers can actually make the kind of difference our grandchildren will bless us for.


If you can hear what I’m saying…please join me.





A Step Beyond Coincidence

For the record, I think we may have passed a tipping point with Trump, and though I’ve not said a fraction of the things I’ve thought, I think it useful at this point to go more clearly on the record about a few things.

  1. No, I don’t think the other side of the tipping point is a cliff.   Just that I see what seems the first serious crack in the dam.    How fast things deteriorate depends on other design flaws, and the pressure.  Can’t predict that stuff.  But something tells me that a position where no matter what he says, he loses someone’s support, when support is already guttering, is a very, very bad position for a politician to be in.
  2. There are two reasons I wouldn’t have voted for him.  The first was global: Trump had never operated within a government hierarchy, whether elected or promoted.  As a result, I might have been willing to vote for him for mayor of a major city, a senator or congressman…but PROBABLY not a governor.  And certainly not the President.   Let me see how he operates in that smaller context before promoting him to the greatest office on the planet.  Of course, many of those who voted for him were specifically attracted to his “outsider” status, so this wouldn’t make a difference.
  3. And second was character. The first thing that hit me was his “Birther” ravings.    Bluntly, I consider that there  is simply no rational way to support a belief in such a colossal conspiracy.  Birthers are, IMO, either emotionally disturbed or mentally challenged.   I didn’t consider Trump to be either of those things, so I found it impossible to believe he believed what he was saying.  Which meant that he was promoting the notion purely to stir up the emotionally or mentally challenged.  As I consider “Birtherism” to be closely allied with racism, it felt to me that he was willing to play with cultural dynamite to manipulate the crowd, unmindful of, or disregarding, the very real danger of doing so.  During her campaign, Hillary Clinton speculated about Obama’s risk of assassination, and I found that loathsome in a similar fashion.   And she said it only  once, that I recall.   Reportedly, an employee of an employee of hers floated the “Birther” notion early on, and that was disturbing also…although, I recall, that employee was fired.  Rather than saying something once, or having a member of his campaign staff in another state saying something, Trump himself said it, over and over and over again.    Did that mean that it wasn’t possible that he thought “I will do anything to get into office, because I can see so much good I can do when I get there that the means justify the ends?”    No, it was possible.  But it put my antennae WAY up.  He was on my radar from that point forward, in that arena.  And things never got better.  And now, in that specific arena, they’ve gotten much, much worse.



All politicians play games to create alliances large enough to win elections. That’s just the way it is,  and that’s fair: they all manipulate the facts to create a story that is favorable to their position.  They have to sell that story to the voters to get elected.   That is a level of compromise, or conceptual flexibility,  that I, personally, could not do without losing my soul.  I have genuine admiration for those who can straddle that line, find a way to speak to multiple audiences and have them genuinely feel heard and cared for.  It is a kind of genius I don’t have.


And anyone working his way up that system either learns the ropes, or is exposed as incompetent.   Often, who and what they are will be exposed back at the grass roots level, when they are exposed to the floodlights in ways a businessman never is.   A President simply cannot close the doors and retreat the way a businessman can.    Nor can they pick and choose their “customers”.   Most of the time, I don’t care what the CEO of Subaru is doing on a given day.  I own a Kia.   Heck, I don’t even care what the CEO of Kia is doing on a given day.     I   care a heck of a lot more what the president is doing, whether I voted for him or not.  Very, very different standard.


So…because of those two things, I wouldn’t have voted for Trump.   I was, however, in a “wait and see” phase. I could be wrong.  And even if he was bad for my specific interests, he could be good for America.   This attitude definitely put me at odds with my more politicized friends.  That’s fine.


But that bus has left the station.  I am more convinced than ever that it was an egregious error to elect an outsider to this office.  No, I don’t think he can adjust or learn enough  in the time he has.  Never seen so many errors in such a short time.  And because of the Birther thing, I can’t even consider him a good man in over his head.


And no, I don’t think my judgement about his “Birtherism” was incorrect.  The excitement in the White Supremacist community, their sense that Trump is their boy…ouch.  And the sense that there was a very real difference between his spontaneous (vague, blaming “both sides”)  comments about Charlottesville and what now seem carefully scripted comments his advisors begged him to say (finally calling out white supremacy), followed by David Duke pleading with him not to say those things, and a spontaneous retraction…


You know?  Correlation is not causality.  But I have to remember that wonderful line from GOLDFINGER:


My friends in Chicago have a saying, Mr. Bond.   Once is Happenstance.  Twice is Coincidence. The Third time, its enemy action.


And there it is.   I can’t find a reasonable way to extend the benefit of the doubt, no matter how hard I try, and I’ve tried hard.  Can’t imagine myself being different enough to be happy about any of this.     That’s just the reality.  And I try, TRY, to imagine how I’d feel about him were my philosophies and politics different.  What it would feel like to be a good, decent American who saw a different set of issues, and had a different set of priorities than those currently held by a guy named Steven Barnes.


Can’t imagine pleasure with the story being played out here, and damn, I’ve tried to re-arrange the pieces to tell something reasonable.


But watching the comments from other Americans, even many of those in his own party, I feel that I can’t find a place inside myself to respect what is going on in the White House, no matter how hard I try.  And feel genuine pity for those still attempting to defend him.  That really must hurt.  They are my fellow Americans, and I think that in their hearts many are realizing they made the worst mistake in American political history.


I don’t think this man will serve out his term.  I think he will discover a health emergency if his self-image (let alone corporate image) is sufficiently threatened.  I don’t think this game is fun any more.


Not for any of us. Not for  America, or the world.


And yeah, I think that basic rule of mine, the one that would have automatically stopped me from voting for him, was sound as hell.



Honestly regretful about this: it impacts lives. I take no pleasure at all in writing these words.  And genuinely sorry for those who trusted this man.


To be blunt: you made a mistake.  You bought the wrong story.   It is up to us to determine how this one ends.   An adult can recognize an error, make a course correction in the second act, confront that dark night of the soul with faith in our shared humanity, and come out stronger and better than before.

I believe in the story of humanity, and we’ve overcome much worse. But we have to wake up, and decide that we’re better than this.

We are, brothers and sisters. We really are.




What Wood Are You Chopping?

Once upon a time a monk was walking in the forest. Suddenly, a tiger springs at him. The monk fled, the tiger right behind.  He came to a cliff, and climbed down until he was out of reach of the tiger.  He heard a hiss, and looked down to see a cobra coiled and ready to strike on a rock beneath his heel. He tried to climb back up, and the tiger swiped at him, barely missing his head.   Below him, the cobra hissed and flared its hood.


Then the vine he was holding onto began to fray.  He looked far below, hundreds of feet to jagged rocks.

The monk looked to his left, and there in the crack of a rock grew a wild strawberry.   He plucked it and took a bite.  

“Delicious,” the monk said.




I’ve been blessed to know, or be in the close presence, of many extraordinary people, some famous, some known only to their friends.  But there is an amazing commonality to them.  If that extraordinary aspect is their single focus, they are “imbalanced” in a way, but playing a very different game–they are happy when they are in the flow of their skill, but sometimes unhappy in the other arenas.


But if they are at least relatively balanced, there is a common quality I can best call “sweetness” about them.   The deadliest martial artists or  wealthiest men melt  in the presence of their wives or children   or grandchildren. The most spiritual men and women break into toothy smiles thinking of an ice cream cone they ate fifty years ago. It really is amazing to see.


The ability to access joy at will is one of the most critical things in life, for ANYONE. The capacity to access joy, or calm, or passion under stress is one of the keys to  that thing called “Mastery.”   Why?


Because “Mastery” is a matter of focused daily actions.   Remember Steve Muhammad’s definition: once you have your basics at unconscious competence, and have committed to your path for a lifetime, you are on the path of Mastery.  A Master.   There will be others ahead of you, some horizons distant. And others behind you. But there is just the Path.


You find the Path by being specific about your goals, and finding men and women who have accomplished those goals with honor and dignity.  Then do what they did.   The more of them you study, the more you will be able to discount the trivial differences to see the common core.


They all walk the path. Their excellence is found in their daily rituals.  What is your real goal, the real meaning of your life?  To be happy.


What you do in the world to reach or express this happiness is up to you, but it should be both long and short term.   It should cover your survival, sexual needs, security and expression of power, emotion, and capacity to speak your truth without fear.  A model of the world that guides your actions and thoughts.  A commitment to align with BOTH your childhood dreams and ultimate deathbed values.


To be the micro of the macro.   To be the change you wish to see in the world.


Whew. Take a deep breath.  How can you stay on that path? Do you grasp that the world will do EVERYTHING in its power to keep you asleep? To force you to function from fear rather than love?


If you don’t make “Emotional Mastery” one of your arenas of mastery, you can commit to all the positive change you want, and you’ll be able to stick to the path AS LONG AS YOU CAN KEEP CONSCIOUS ATTENTION ON THE GOAL.  The instant you are overloaded, however, your core programming will take over.  You will “snap back” to your normal state.


Under stress, people:


Abandon diets

Start smoking again

Revert to tribal thinking

Break promises to themselves

Bark at their loved ones

Stop balancing their checkbook

Stop meditating


And on and on.  They focus on what is “imperative” rather than what is important and generative.


Show me your morning/daily ritual of action and emotion, and you’re showing me where you are going in life.  In “Hero’s Journey” terms, this is THE ROAD OF TRIALS.


What wood are you chopping? What water carrying?


The meaning of life is to be happy.   Even if the tiger is about to spring. Even if the cobra is about to bite.  When you have done all there is to do, best enjoy the moments left. And…if you stay positive, IF there is a way out, you are more likely to find it.  Remember the “Dark Night of the Soul”?  It is the time when it seems that all is lost.  And the way through it is Faith. The reason is that a stressed out mind sees only paleness, only hopelessness, only defeat.   Stay positive and you can make connections, attract allies, see new possibilities.

Eating that strawberry reminds you that life is worth living.




Under stress, we revert to core programming.  One is, as mentioned, tribalism.  “We” are better than “them.”  It is one of the most basic and protective mechanisms, but also capable of fantastic damage.   It is child-programming, “my dog is better, my mommy prettier, my daddy stronger.” 


It requires ENERGY to achieve escape velocity.   As people age or tire, if they have merely orbited this programming rather than escaping its gravity, they crash back down.  Joy is energy.


The most common Tribes are things like race, religion, country, gender.  The ones I focus on the most are race and gender, as they have affected those closest to me, those I love, the people who anchor me to the world.  Take care of what is right around you, with both love and strength,  and encourage others to do the same, and the world will heal.


That child self tells a story that places it as central to existence.  Perfectly natural. Cultures do it too: whites give Jesus blue eyes and blond hair, the Chinese make Buddha a chubby Chinese, blacks argue that Cleopatra VII Philopator  was sub-Saharan African.     Then, of course, they pretend that its everyone ELSE who does this shit.

That’s what humans do.


White people who haven’t achieved escape velocity are terrified that the world is browning.   Believing in the “Great Man/Great Race” hypothesis rather than the flowing forces of history, they see the world ending.   Men who are more attached to their masculinity than to their humanity fear the shifting gender roles.


Both are afraid of being treated as they’ve treated others, so if there is guilt and fear in their hearts, these changes feel like death.   The flip side is the poor souls so battered by guilt that they are ashamed of themselves or their tribe. That’s actually sicker than tribalism.  And bigots feed right into either imbalance, trust me.


Blacks are as racist as whites, they just don’t have the power to make it matter much. Women are as sexist and flawed as guys, and its entertaining watching them guilt-trip guys into being ashamed of their testicles.   Over-emphasizing the value of Yin is precisely as imbalanced as over-emphasizing the value of Yang.


The answer to all of this is joy, and love, combined with strength and balance.


While this illustration is about “White supremacy” in my own “Lion’s Blood” universe you’d be able to flip the script to “Black supremacy”  100%.  No problem.


It would be interesting to see someone do the same thing for “Toxic Masculinity.”  I’m sure such a thing is out there.   But the real trick would be doing one for “Toxic Femininity” because if you can’t, you’re caught in the Matrix, and the demons are dancing with joy.




Start with joy and you can deal with the stress without it becoming strain. Do that, and you connect to the love and strength within you, and stop needing other people’s approval.  Which frees you to ask “who am I?” without fearing that you’ll find something hideous within, or that you may have to walk alone for a while as you figure it out.


All it takes to get everything you want is everything you’ve got.  Being willing to abandon your illusions. To do that, you have to know you’ll be fine, no matter what, and you CANNOT do that if your emotional well-being is externally focused.

Control your story.  And teach others to do the same.