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.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018)

I’m going to do something a little different.  I’m going to quickly review “Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse” and then I’m going to speak of an aspect of it some of you might not want to dive into.  You’ll be warned.




First, “Into the Spider-verse” is a revolutionary piece of  cinema.  The tale of an alternate Earth Spider-Man, Miles Morales, is told in CGI animation that ranges from realistic to Loony Tunes 2-D, depending on the mood and tempo of the scene. And what at first is jarring becomes, as we realize we are watching a comic book brought to life as we’ve never seen it before, something that reminded me not just of previous live action and animate versions of the character, but of the astonishing visuals of “Yellow Submarine” and even “2001: A space Odyssey.”  Because the story deals with a master criminal (The Kingpin, voiced by Liev Schrieber)   who creates a rip in reality to bring back his dead family, in the process unleashing Spider-heroes from multiple time lines.  Against this bizarre backdrop is the origin story of a kid named Miles Morales, bitten by a radioactive or genetically altered spider and gaining powers he doesn’t know how to control.  Really…that’s all you need to know, other than IT WORKS.  It all works. Improbably, even the most bizarre variations on the character (Kimiko Glenn as Japanese “Peni Parker” in a giant Tamagachi?  Nicolas Cage as “Spider Man Noir” a black and white version who talks like a Micky Spillane character?    John Mulaney as “Spider Ham”, such a Bugs Bunny variant that they have to discuss whether they are violating Warner Brothers  copyright?) work. Each has their own tone, own look, own feel. And It isn’t just a gimmick: it all comes together thematically, amid visuals so psychedelic that you’d expect them to sell hash brownies at the concession stand.


Wow.  Just…wow.   Really amazing, Spider Man.   Well done.   Instantly in the upper echelon of superhero films, and if you have any childhood left in your heart, one of the best movies of the year.




And now…let’s dive deeper.    Trigger Warning for anti-BLM types.   You probably won’t enjoy this much.


Last Night, I watched the light go back on in my son Jason’s eyes.    Allow me to explain.




Just yesterday, I watched the teaser trailer for “Avengers 4.  `Infinity War: Endgame’.  It looked intense and spectacular, but I felt no thrill at all.  I haven’t felt a thrill for a Marvel trailer since the end of the first Infinity War, where I saw the light go out in my son’s eyes.


Jason has ADHD, and a bit of trouble identifying with characters in movies.    I never had that problem, even when I noticed that characters who looked like me tended to die.  I still remember, clearly, the day I put a label on that observation. It was the movie DAMNATION ALLEY, where George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Paul Winfield were traveling across a nuclear wasteland in an atomic powered Winnebago.  I was watching it with a white friend of mine,   up in Hollywood. So there’s a scene where they come to the ruins of (I think it was) Las Vegas. And out of the ashes walks the (apparently) Last Woman In The World.  And…she’s white.


I had an intuitive flash.  Turning to my friend,  I whispered “oh my God. They’re going to kill Paul Winfield.”


“Why would you say that?” he whispered back.

“Well, they’re not going to pretend he’s not interested in her. And they’re not going to let him compete for her. The only option they have is to kill him.”


“Jesus,” he said, disbelieving.    “Do you have to be so cynical about race all the time?”


And…five minutes later Winfield got eaten by giant cockroaches.  Dan was kinda quiet after that, but  insisted that was a lucky guess on my part.




What did I learn from that moment?

  1. That filmmakers will kill off the only black character(s) in a film quite blithely. There is NO American film in which all white characters die, if any POC survive at all. But I’ve listed over sixty movies where all black characters, or all black male adult characters, die.  Often to protect white people.  Often to inspire them to become heroes.  Sob sob.  (And yes, chances are that I’ve seen whatever movie you think breaks that rule.    A “character” is someone with a line of dialogue.  You’ve almost certainly forgotten that in whatever movie you THINK all the white characters die, there was indeed another character.  Maybe he wasn’t white enough for you, but he was there IMO.)
  2. That sexual competition is a trigger.  This makes sense, as the only human drive as strong as individual survival is species or genetic survival.  What you see onscreen is the externalization of a fantasy, the natural human urge to believe that you, and by extension your tribe,
  3. That white moviegoers generally won’t notice it has happened.   They “don’t notice” when all the black characters die, or die to protect them, or to motivate them to mighty actions.  And watching them reel off movie after movie where they THOUGHT the opposite happened just to watch me shoot them down has been an amusement, but in the era of BLM it is just sad.   Yes, it happens. No, it isn’t just “Hollywood.”  If the audiences didn’t weep and feel ennobled or invigorated by “The Green Mile” or “The Unforgiven” or “Spartacus” or “Terminator 2” the trope wouldn’t exist.


Black audiences notice, though.  I remember being about Jason age, about 14, just forming my self image, and going to see such movies.  Maybe it was “The Dirty Dozen.”    When I got back home, raving about it, the other black kids in my neighborhood asked me a terrible question:  “how did they kill the brother this time?”


Oh, yes. They’d noticed.  And I didn’t have an answer for them. Didn’t even formulate my thoughts on the subject until “Damnation Alley.”    It was real. It was a fantasy of extinction and primacy.   I’ve seen a couple of movies in which all the white characters die: they were Asian films.   “Chinese Connection” is a good example, and the death of “Russian” karate expert Robert Baker at Bruce Lee’s hands was clearly an expression of hostility, resentment for China’s occupation by foreign powers.  “We are not sick men!” Bruce snarled, and Hong Kong audiences went berserk–remember, they were still a British Colony at the time.  That inferiority complex vented itself in an image of throat-chopping death.


One is tempted to wonder what fear, what guilt, what pale inner need drives the need for American audiences to see such things. Or believe that black people love to die protecting them, or to ennoble them.   A desperate need, one suspects.  But…that’s another subject.




Jason had noticed this. About the time he watched his fifth “X-Men” movie, he noticed that ALL the black men die. Not one has survived in the entire series.  Frankly, “Logan” was their last chance with me, and in that one they killed the entire family.  “Why do they always kill the black people?” he asked me.  And that led to a rather painful conversation.   “The Talk” applied to cinematic experience.


I remember loving “Spider-Man” comics as a kid.  The most famous sequence in the entire canon might just be the one where Spider-Man, Peter Parker, is trying to rescue his dying Aunt May by recovering stolen isotopes that might save her from a transfusion of HIS radioactive blood. The isotopes were stolen by eight-armed Doctor Octopus, in a 007-style underwater lair.   Doc Ock has Peter dead to rights, but the enraged Spider-Man just tears through him and his henchmen as if they are made of butterfly wings.  Wow, it was amazing to see. But the fight damages the internal supports of the lair, and Spider-Man is trapped under a huge piece of machinery as the dome cracks and spills water, the precious isotope cannister just out of reach.


He tries to life the machinery…and cannot. The water grows deeper. And…the issue ended.   Cliff hanger!  For a month, I wondered how he would get out of it. What brilliant strategem would he use, what clever solution would he find. I remember biking to the drug store on the fateful day to buy my comics and find out what the hell Peter Parker would do.


And…I’ll never forget what happened.  He tried, and failed. And was faced with the fact that his Aunt would die…because of him.  As his uncle Ben died…because of him.


With great power comes great responsibility. And what did Peter do? Something clever? No.  He simply decided that this was the test of his life. This was the moment he had lived for. That if he couldn’t’ do this, for the family he loved, he was unworthy of the gift.  And he went deep, DEEP into himself:  “within my body is the strength of many men!” he said, and somehow, against all odds, he hoists that Hulk-busting weight of machine onto his shoulders, and…stands up.  It was amazing.  It was a full-page image of Spider Man, his every muscle rippling and straining, lifting an impossible weight…because he had to.


Because there was no one else.


For love.


I was stunned. That lesson, that if you had enough WHY’S the HOW’S became possible…that lesson has never left me.


It didn’t matter to me that Peter Parker was white.  EVERYONE in the comics was white.  I just accepted it.   It wasn’t until later, when I started pitching in Hollywood, when I started writing professionally and was told in no uncertain terms that white audiences would reject black faces, that I realized that that love and respect were not reciprocated.   That there was something so obvious that I hadn’t let myself see it: the more you identify with a character as being ‘like you’ the easier it is to empathize with their struggles, and feel their victory as your own.


These were images of power, beauty, heroism, intelligence and moral clarity that cultures all over the world understand their children NEED.  And give to them in stories, comics, movies, songs, plays, and every other form.  24/7.   365.   Turn on any television and flip the channels a bit and you’ll see such images.  When I was a kid there were NONE that looked like me.   It is better now, much better.


But Jason had still noticed. And it made him blasé about movies.   Why identify with a black character if that character had increased risk of death?  And how do you identify with a white character if you suspect, on some level, that that character wouldn’t identify with you?


There is a scene in TUSKEEGEE AIRMEN where Laurence Fishburne asks:  “what do I feel about my country? And how does my country feel about me?”


I’d hoped that if I could work hard enough, strong enough, long enough, I could change the world enough that my son wouldn’t go through the existential pain I had suffered, realizing that the filmmakers and audience apparently ENJOYED fantasizing about his death.




There were plenty of black characters in early Marvel movies: Fury, Falcon, War Machine, and so on.   They were fun.  REALLY enjoyed seeing them.   But the first time Black Panther appeared in “Civil War” something electric happened in the air.  This was different. He wasn’t in a chain of command, controlled by white people.  He hadn’t had his ancestral name stripped away. He knew his history, his spirituality. T’Challa didn’t follow some white guy’s orders, HE WAS A KING. And when he kissed his father’s ring there was a level of love between two black men I’d not seen in a film before. Contrast with the mess Tony Stark was about HIS father. With half a BILLION dollars in therapy and the remove of decades, he was still more shattered than T’Challa was mere days after cradling his father’s corpse in his arms.   And it didn’t end there. When Florence Kasimba faced down Black Widow saying “Move.  Or be moved” black women in the audience, even if they weren’t comic book fans, screamed “YES!!”


Remember the “No Man’s Land” sequence in “Wonder Woman”?  Over and over I heard women say: “I didn’t even know I needed to see that.” And I heard a LOT of guys saying “what’s the big deal?”  They didn’t get it.  Why should they?  They’d seen COUNTLESS images like that to nurture their own inner hero. Yawn. It was just one more.


To understand the impact of “Black Panther” you would have to imagine an entire movie composed of “No Man’s Land” sequences. There had never been anything like this before. It was something every other group of human beings on the planet have…except black Americans: a creation myth that connects them directly to the divine.  It was MYTHIC.   Bless Disney for giving Ryan Coogler the room and resources to do something no one had ever done. And as DJANGO UNCHAINED producer Reggie Hudlin put it: BP made “all the money.”


Yes it did.  Bless its pointy little ears.




Jason saw Black Panther, and I saw the light go on in his eyes. The same light I had felt watching Spider-Man lift that piece of machinery, half a century ago.    He was EXCITED.  And then we went to see INFINITY WAR.


And Heimdall was the first person to die. And they killed Falcon, and T’Challa after disgracing the kingdom of Wakanda with the weakest and most unfocused defense I’d ever seen.   Only the disabled War Machine survived, a man who is totally owned by a white guy, who didn’t create his own technology, and frankly would not be considered sexual competition, spinal damage being what it is.    And then the crowing insult…after a multiple movie absence, they brought back Nick Fury in the “stinger”…ONLY TO KILL HIM.


I was stunned.  Don’t tell me this was random distribution.  ALL the original (and white) Avengers survived. Every one.  Do I have to wonder if all the decision makers, all the core producers, writers, directors were pale? That it never occurred to them how it would feel to a boy with few superhero role models to watch that massacre?


Of course I know most of them are coming back. Don’t insult my intelligence.  A number of readers pointed that out to me, and I wonder if they really didn’t think I knew that.  Predictably, most of those are people who have expressed antipathy toward BLM and “taking a knee”.


Jason, born into a world of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin, watched those Infinity War images.  I watched his face. Saw the light, kindled by Black Panther, go out in his eyes.


In the real world AND the “reel”world, his life was not as precious.  He was surrounded by people who could judge, jail, fire, exclude, or even kill him in real life or fantasy.  And worse, if he said something about it, his white friends would in essence tell him “why are you so racially paranoid?”


I can see how much the world has changed.   Jason has not. And in sitting down and explaining that no, it isn’t worse than ever. No, things really have improved.  No, white people aren’t evil. They are just…human I realized how very much I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to have that conversation with him. You know, like the one to move slowly and keep your hands in plain sight and NEVER argue if you are pulled over by a cop.


It was heart-breaking. And it broke the “magic” I felt with Marvel films.  It was a sense that I couldn’t trust them. That I KNEW, and no one could tell me different, that if the filmmakers had been diverse that they wouldn’t have kept either T’Challa or Fury alive, and had a better defense of Wakanda.   Hell, Captain America threw together a better defense of New York in about thirty seconds, and Wakanda had had YEARS to prepare.  It was a disgrace.  It was contempt: the filmmakers didn’t’ really believe in these people, these characters.   Wakanda was just a neat place to stage a massacre.




Which brings me, at last, to “Spider Man: Into the Spider Verse.”   Jason broke his ankle nine days ago, and he’s been laid up, only leaving the house to go to the hospital.  He didn’t want to leave yesterday. But…we bribed and cajoled him, renting a wheelchair so that he wouldn’t need crutches, and drove him 27 miles to Burbank for the sneak preview.


And…the instant he saw Miles Morales, a kid as dark as him, with hair like him, with similar hopes and dreams and humor…I watched Jason, who had been in terrible pain for a week, SURRENDER TO THE FANTASY.


And when Miles began to discover his powers…Jason was smiling. Leaning forward.  And when the “other” Spider men appeared, he laughed and cheered.  And when Miles suffered loss, there was a tear in Jason’s eye. And when Miles finally tapped into his full powers, unleashing Spider-Hell on the omnipotent Kingpin, Jason was grinning from ear to ear. THE LIGHT WENT BACK ON IN HIS EYES.


For a little while, he wasn’t a kid with a broken leg.  He was SPIDER MAN.  Swinging from the rooftops, a hero, a kid like him.  For just a moment, he had no limitations, and the weight of his pain was off his shoulders.  For a moment…the world was right, and beautiful.


That moment lasted all the drive home.   Until bedtime. The happy smiles.  The tiny crack in the armor around his heart.


And the final message of the movie was incredibly subversive in the world that fed Paul Winfield to the roaches, that executed an innocent black man in  The Green Mile so that Tom Hanks could have a better erection.  It was: we are all heroes.  We all can wear the mask.  It is what is in our hearts, not on our skin or between our legs.   It is what we feel, and do, not how others see us.


I’m not sure I can tell you how much I would have given to see BLACK PANTHER when I was fourteen. How much it would have changed my life.   But INTO THE SPIDER VERSE is another example of what my wife and I call “movies from the other world.”  A world in which people don’t have to pretend not to mind when they die for the entertainment of people who do not cherish their lives.


It is a movie from the future. No…it is a movie of NOW.  We are still haunted by the ghosts of what has been.  But increasingly, and blessedly, the cycles are moving faster now, such that an INFINITY WAR is followed by a crowd-pleasing juggernaut of a film, 100% on Rotten Tomatoes as of yesterday, one that ALL audiences can cheer…that just happens to have a 14 year old Afro-Latino  kid named Miles Morales at the center.


I’ll take my victories where I can find them.  And today, I feel like a hero.  And more importantly…so does my son.


Thank you Sony. Thank you Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. There is a reason I’ve loved Marvel all my life: there is something at the core of that primal dream that has led to things like Black Panther…and Miles Morales…and even little Spider-Ham.


I’ve gone on long enough.   Go see it.   And as Spider-Ham would say…that’s all folks.





Walt Whitman, Will Hunting, and James Bond

One of the most powerful scenes in “Good Will Hunting” is the moment when the psychiatrist (RobinWilliams) corners Will (Matt Damon) saying the simple phrase: “It’s not your fault.”  Again and again, until Damon breaks down sobbing.  Ias first it is as if those words are blows, lashes, and Damon recoils, responds with anger,and then fear, begging him to stop.  Williams comes closer and closer, ultimately wrapping his arms around Damon.  “It’s not your fault,” he says, again, and we see all of the blocked emotions come boiling up out of Damon, anger giving way to fear, then fear to hope, and then the tears, and on the other side of them…a glimpse of heaven.


It is the film’s emotional climax, and if you surrender to it, it is as powerful as a sledge-hammer to the heart.




It’s not your fault.



A reader recently said that the lack of a “villain” was one of “Good Will Hunting”s strengths.  Agreed–there were forces of opposition, but no real “bad guys” on screen.


And yet…opposition is every scene. It is the warp and woof (whatever the heck that means) of drama, and without it, your scene lies dead on the page or the stage.  And we can actually examine this scene from the perspective of a villain by using a simplistic story pattern, say the one taught by Dwight Swain in “Techniques of the Selling Writer.”


Situation, Character, Objective, Opponent, Disaster.


Here’s that pattern with a black-and-white “villain”, let’s say in the 1964 movie “Goldfinger”:


Situation: when large amounts of gold are being smuggled across Europe

Character: Secret Agent 007 James Bond

Objective: Is assigned to stop the leakage.  But little does he know that his suspect

Opponent: Super-industrialist Auric Goldfinger

Disaster: Is really only smuggling gold to finance his real operation, the destruction of Fort Knox with an atom bomb.



Lining up your “elements” like this simplifies things drastically, and suggests scenes and plot-twists galore.


But what happens with a movie with real living breathing characters (or at least better simulations thereof?)  In real life, we rarely get preening, taunting, “monologuing” villains. We have human beings, doing the best they can with the resources they have, and sometimes making terrible mistakes.  Look around…most people hurt themselves far more than they ever hurt others.   While it is comforting to place the locus of evil outside ourselves, it is also a cop-out.


Will Hunting’s greatest “villain” was himself, his own emotions.  His own actions created his adult pain.


But…the roots of adulthood are found in childhood. “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” Walt Whitman wrote, in a poem which touches on the fact that our earliest experiences are always with us.  Will Hunting’s early life was rejection and abuse.  He was shuttled from home to home.  His friendship with his blue-collar friends was the very first real family he’d ever known, the place he feels safe. But that castle has become a prison, and a man of his intellect will chaff and rot under the stricture.  His early life, the fear and terror of having no agency, no control, and being abused by the very people who should have provided protection, were a snarl he could not unwind alone.


“The instructions on how to get out of the box are written on the outside of the box.”




So, with that perspective, let’s try to apply that simple plot structure to a complex film:


Situation: When faced with the task to “adult” (connect with a good woman who is his natural mate)

Character: neurotic genius Will Hunting

Objective: Has to find a way to finish maturing, enter the adult world of responsibility and contribution and self-discovery.  But standing in his way is the internalized false image created by

Opponent:  Everyone who ever hurt, abandoned, painfully programmed him as a child

Disaster: Creating a false self image so smart, so strong, that it will take an entire tribe of loving support to dismantle it.


Seen this way, we can easily see the scenes that have to be written:

  1. Introduction of his basic day-to-day world
  2. Introduction of his eventual allies
  3. Establish both his brilliance and self-destructive tendencies
  4. CHANGE HIS WORLD: introduce something new, namely the woman he will love enough to risk “dying” (killing the false self image) for.


We know that there will be a series of scenes in which the stakes will grow higher and higher, rejection of chances for growth, a delicate dance of fear and love, and a SERIES of confrontations what will answer “who am I?” and “what is true?” at deeper and deeper levels until the past is thrown away, and a man capable of love, independence, and accepting his own value are revealed.


NOTE: there would be other versions of this film.  Depressing versions. Where for some reason he is unable to take “the leap of faith” and devolves back to his old life–diminished.  Why? BECAUSE HE WILL HAVE GLIMPSED SALVATION.


If you cannot see the light, no one can blame you for not swimming to shore. You can blame the darkness as you drown. But if you SEE the light, and refuse to swim toward it?  You have made a decision, and on some level…you know it.


The first is death

The second, damnation.


THIS is why it is so hard to get people to open their eyes and see inconvenient truths.  Because if you SEE it, you have to act.  And…most will.


But you have to move past the anger, past the fear which supports it, and touch the love within. The hope, and possibility.  Great sex with someone who loves you can do that, bet your bottom dollar.


Napoleon Hill in “Think And Grow Rich” speaks of the power “Love X Faith X Sex.”  Wow.  KILLER combination. It blows your mind, and points the way toward a new set of possibilities, not a mere “improvement” over what has gone before but something NEW.


The first time you experience that, the pattern of life gets clearer, and suddenly you understand the world differently.  Not just “better” but actually DIFFERENTLY.  THAT is what Minnie Driver did to him in that movie.


She said: I am a potential future. I would be your mate. Strive with you.  Bear your children. Watch your back. Give you EVERYTHING a woman can.


But you must throw off your delusions. Be the Lion you can be, to match my Lioness.  Protect and serve the family.  Watch my back. Give me EVERYTHING you have.


No games. Playtime is over.


Can you step up?


If he does, he gets much more than a wife and partner.  HE GETS HIMSELF. His true self.  Further, he gets to “defeat” the “villains” who programmed him with pain and fear.


With a two-dimensional story, the best line is likely to be something said by a hero strapped to a laser table: “do you expect me to talk?”  “No, Mr. Bond…I expect you to die!”


With a deeper story, that line is also about death, but it is: “It’s not your fault.”    Damon is afraid, angry, in tears, because his entire personae has been built around the belief that it IS his fault. That he IS guilty, and unworthy of love and happiness.  To accept the new live, he must kill his old self.


“Its not your fault” said to the new self is “come to life!”

But to the old self it is, really, “I expect you to die.”


Only the promise of love, and hope, and self-discovery…and the support of friends and mentors and lovers ALL COMBINED were enough to shatter those chains for Will Hunting.


But the path he followed is available to anyone willing to kill their self-image to gain their actual life.  Or…to love more than they fear.




What It Takes To Get Everything You Need

Once upon a time there was a monk named Costello, who trained in meditation in a noted monastery. One day after a frustrating session, he approached the chief monk. “Hey, Abbot,” he said.  “I’ve been working hard for months,” he said. “And I need to know: what will it take to become enlightened?”

The old abbot, who had observed the young man carefully but at a distance, smiled. “You really want to know, Costello?”

“Yes, Abbot” the young man said.

“Then come with me,” the old one said. He walked with the young man down to the river, then suddenly and with an eagle’s grip seized Costello by the back of the head and thrust his face into the stream! The young monk struggled madly, but could not escape the elder’s grip. At the point he was about to pass out, the abbot pulled his head out of the water and gave him a few seconds to gasp in a breath.

And then…stuck his head back under the water. Then a breath. Then back in the water. Over and over, then pulled the young monk back out and threw him on the river bank, where he sobbed for breath, spitting up river water.

The abbot waited for the young monk to regain his senses, and then asked “what were you feeling?”

The young monk recoiled, but answered. “I…I…I thought only of a breath. One more breath. I would have done ANYTHING for just one more breath.”

The old abbot smiled. “When you want enlightenment THAT much…then you will begin.”


Jason broke his ankle a week ago, and has been miserable since then. He wants to settle into an aimless haze of playing video games with kids (?) who mysteriously have no school to attend, and I’m not having anything of it. We had a clash of wills yesterday, and I won.

He was miserable, profane, spitting venom (fear) at me, and I was calculatedly unresponsive, except when I removed him from the Playstation and took his phone, isolating him in a world of pain and grief. It was terrible, and all I could do to maintain that emotional distance. My natural tendency is to go to him, to comfort him.

That’s what I would have done with Nicki. And it would have been precisely the wrong thing with Jason. I HAVE to make him come to me. I HAVE to force him to find the internal motivation to take that step. If I don’t…I’m dooming him. I watch the emotional storms and every time they reach the level where they would cost him a job, I’m starting to tell him.

“You just lost your job. You can’t pay your rent, or buy food. I hope you aren’t married, and don’t have any kids, because you just let them down. Again.”

Jeeze, it hurt to say that, and the ONLY reason I could get away with it is that we have enormous rapport. He KNOWS I adore him, would do anything for him. But what he doesn’t have is confidence that he will find his way out of his emotional maze.

That fear creates a false ego shell, composed of the juvenile bravado that passes for wisdom among teenagers. Fed by the illusion of competence fostered by video games. Just look at them performing feats of skill and courage beyond Navy SEALS and circus acrobats and world-class MMA fighters! Wow!

That’s a world in which tests and injuries and loneliness don’t exist. Where there are “friends” you’ve never met who enjoy shooting you in the back, but they’re better than having no friends at all. Where the notion of pulling your head out of your…I mean, turning off the PS4 and picking up the text book to study is a dose of real-world pain.

No. You aren’t a great hero, or cowboy, or ninja, or master criminal. You are a kid with no idea how you will become an adult, how to protect your body, satisfy your sexual urges with integrity, develop the power to build and protect a home and family, feel safe enough to open your heart and genuinely love.

And later, after the emotional storms had passed and he had done his homework in tears, realizing he had lost his other privileges for the day, he was miserable, wondering how he could have avoided the mistake that got him here, the moment of lost focus on the football field that led him to slipping and having the sled run over his leg, which shattered his illusions of invulnerability so that he had no agency over his body or behavior.

A better metaphor for taking the wrong path in life I could hardly have asked for.

“What do I do?” he finally asked, as honestly and openly as I’ve ever heard him, with a voice that was both mature and vulnerable.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“I DON’T KNOW!” he cried.

In other words: I am afraid to ask for what I really want. It hurts to strive and fail. It is better to pretend nothing matters.

NO. It is NUMBING to pretend nothing matters. It HURTS to care. Just as you can and probably will injure yourself exercising or playing sport.

There’s only one problem: NOT exercising is even more damaging. And NOT caring ultimately hurts so much more than striving and losing.

“You don’t know what you want…because you don’t know who you are,” I said.

He has two questions to ask himself: Who am I? What is true?

And he must struggle with those, every day. With every action, every thought, those two questions are in the background.

Once you know who you are, you know what you must do.

Once you know what you really want, you know the kind of person you are, or must become to do it with integrity and joy.

The questions are connected. Once you know what you want, and who you are or must become, you know WHY you want to do those things. When you have enough reasons, the fear and obstacles vanish, as if your child was trapped in a burning house: the only question is: what do I do to rescue my child?


There is a picture on the door of our refrigerator, a picture of his sister Nicki holding an infant Jason. And he swears he remembers when it was taken. In all likelihood, no, he doesn’t. But I won’t argue with him.

Because constructed or not, it is his first memory, a memory of love and support and caring, and Nicki is unutterably beautiful to him.

And last night, casually, I asked him: “can you visualize yourself as a baby?”

Yes, he could.

“Can you imagine holding that child?”

Yes, he could. I let his imagination go there. Until he was smiling, his face relaxed, adrift in a world of love.

“And what would you be willing to do to protect that child, that innocent, helpless self?”

And…I watched something in him bare its teeth. ANYTHING. He would do ANYTHING to protect that child.

“Look at me,” I commanded. “I am doing all in my power to give you the tools you will need to do just that. Protect your dreams. Walk the world with power and dignity. Find love. Build a home. Have the family you want, and protect them. All you have to do is be real with me. Be the son I love. I would do ANYTHING to protect you. What are you willing to do to protect yourself?”

Enlightenment is the step beyond non-dualistic thought, an extreme and rarified state. But “Awakened Adulthood” is available to all of us, and a goal worth striving toward.

All it takes to get everything you need…is everything you’ve got.

If you can’t do it for yourself…do it for the child you used to be. All the aliveness, and joy, and creativity, and energy is THERE. Right there. Waiting for you to hold your own head in the river and remember the blessing of your next breath. At every moment of your life, that reality is available if you’ll just move beyond ego and seize it.

I don’t know what will happen with Jason. I do know is that I will look for every moment where he is willing and able to be real with me, and I will tell him in no uncertain terms that he is worth the world. That there is nothing I would not do for him…but I cannot do it FOR him.

That he is my boy, and I love him.



“Good Will Hunting” (1997) and finding your new tribe

Two years ago I was climbing   Dog Mountain in the Columbia Gorge. A 3000 foot peak, if you can climb it in three hours, you are said to be fit enough to climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.   Fifteen years ago my family was climbing it every weekend, as we tested the potential to make that journey.


That earlier trip had been canceled, and now years later I was testing my fitness: how far was I from that earlier mark?   I felt fit, but you never know.   I parked in  a river-side lot and then climbed and climbed, through a series of switchbacks, up rock-strewn dirt paths, and as I got   higher, I saw fewer people.  Most turned back.  If you aren’t ready, it is a brutal climb, and I’d not done any climbing in a decade.  My entire body was burning, every carefully measured breath a struggle as I neared the peak. The last hour, I walked alone, the Columbia river becoming smaller and smaller beneath me, the voices in my head telling me to quit, to turn back, that I had already pushed beyond the line I’d agreed to when I began.   But that voice was lying: I’d agreed to discover if I could climb to the top in three hours, and if I was over that line, it was only by minutes. I needed to know HOW FAR short of that mark I was.


And…something odd happened.  As I got closer to the top, I started meeting more people.   Almost by magic, the loneliness decreased, and the smiling faces of climbers coming BACK DOWN the mountain greeted me at every turn.  “Almost there!” they said.  “You’re doing great!” they said.


And…when I finally got to the top, there was a flattish place of grass and smooth rocks, where I sat, and ate the lunch I’d brought up with me. There were a dozen of us there, and we shared a quiet unity.  We are the ones who made it. Who didn’t turn back. We are tired and aching…but we did it.


We’re all alone in this…together.




There is a scene in “Good Will Hunting” (1997) , one of many that I love.  Two scenes, really. One is when Matt Damon’s (a janitor/math prodigy at M.I.T.) psychiatrist Robin Williams tells Stellan Skarsgård, Damon’s M.I.T. math mentor, that the reason Damon hangs out with his blue-collar friends is that “any one of them” would leap to his defense at any moment.   We need tribe. For a boy like “Will Hunting”, an orphan who dreams of having twelve brothers, any group that would defend him from the abuse he suffered in childhood is precious beyond belief.


Over the course of the film, Hunting meets Skylar (Minnie Driver) a rich, brilliant medical student who falls in love with him, who has an earthy sexuality and sense of humor that appeals to his street-level friends but also points the way to a better future.


And…she terrifies him. As leaving his “lowly” but honorable job terrifies him.    If he leaves his friends, what will he have? If he trusts Skylar with his heart and she leaves him, what will he have?


Untangling that ball, exposing the fear, convincing Will Hunting that he is worth the risk, that there is a world beyond Boston (he has never been on a plane, or left the city at all) requires the support of everyone around him: all his friends, his mentor, his psychiatrist, his loving girlfriend.


And there is a scene when co-writer Ben Affleck, playing his best friend, tells him that his fondest wish is that one day Will Hunting will just take off, fulfill his genius destiny.   Affleck’s  Chuckie knows that Will needs him…but also that Will is being crippled by that need.


And in telling him point blank “go away” he is being a true friend.  Go. Fly. We’ll be here if you ever need us. But if you can spread your wings and find a new home…do.


Will must have faith that if he has to climb that mountain alone for a time, there will be others on the far side. And they will be warm and welcoming.


Hey!  You’re almost there!  Keep climbing!  Good job!


Yes, you will be alone for a time. Most drop away.  They quit the karate lessons, stop submitting their stories, stop seeking true love.


And they join the crowd of those saying that it is impossible. That the pain and struggle isn’t worth it. That Soulmates don’t exist. That diet and exercise don’t work. That balancing your checkbook is folly.


But…if you keep going, somehow, because you have faith in yourself, or your companions, or a higher power…


You will meet the others who have struggled long and lonely, with faith, and they will welcome you with open arms.


Hey!  You’re here!   Isn’t the view wonderful?



And the friends who supported you along the way…and then let you go further than they could have…if they are real friends?


They’re happy for you. And if they weren’t real friends?   You needed to leave them anyway.


Don’t be afraid to be alone.  That’s the way you meet your true tribe, you know.


Strange isn’t it?





“Becoming Bond” (2017)




I just finished watching “Becoming Bond”, an original Hulu documentary about the amazing life of George Lazenby, the swinging 60’s bachelor who played 007 just one time, in the terrific “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”  From one perspective, he was an absolute idiot who squandered the chance of a lifetime. But we aren’t limited to one perspective, and it is possible to extract a totally different meaning from his story.


The 60’s were a time of social reinvention of sex roles, power, and society.  Questions of identity and reality, fueled by fear of an apparently unwinnable overseas war, the civil rights movement in America, and the blossoming of psychedelic culture.  Due to a set of bizarrely unlikely circumstances, this auto mechanic from Australia became a male model in London and Europe, and then when Sean Connery quit the Bond movies, won a freak opportunity to screen test for 007.


His natural arrogance and a certain level of naivete led him to con producers Saltzman and Broccolli into thinking he was an experienced actor.  And based on that lie, the gates of heaven opened to him, and he was the man with the license to kill.

The problem is that there is always a dual challenge to life: the OUTER game of “success” and the INNER game of being an authentic, adult human being.


If an experienced actor like Christopher Lee was “spun” by making “Man With The Golden Gun”, found it  disorientingly huge, imagine what it was like for Lazenby: all of the sex, and power, and fame. All the voices whispering in his hear that he was the greatest thing in the world.  In a way, he didn’t have the emotional skill to keep the worlds separate.   So he “methoded” his way into the role.


Unable to ACT Bond, to the limit of his ability he BECAME Bond: doing his own stunts (when possible), refusing to cooperate with the director, screwing every woman in sight, arrogantly demanding every perk Connery had had.  His entire plan had been “fake it til you make it”


And it seems he was quite isolated from anyone who could have grounded him, no family, no real friends, just people who saw him as a commodity.   Mistakes, as they say, were made. Wow, were they.


And eventually the movie was finished, and the producers must have been happy, because they offered him a six-picture contract and that aforementioned under-the-table cash.


And this is where you can ask what decision would have been best for him…and we’ll never know, precisely.  It is easy to say he made a mistake, as he certainly became a punch-line and laughing stock.  But just for the sake of fun, let’s look at it another way:

He did not have the resources or experience, the wisdom or talent to BOTH be true to himself AND carry a world-wide franchise.  People die on that mountain.   The process of life crushes ego and false identity, and having that happen in the glare of the spotlight can prove fatal.


What we know is that he turned it all down, and as a result of his behavior and choices, he is blacklisted.  The horror of his situation had to have peaked about the time he lied his way into a movie deal with Bruce Lee, who died just before their movie was about to begin!


But…life went on.  He married, was successful in real estate, and lived an adventurous, athletic life on his own terms. Does he wish he’d done things differently?  He said he would have made one more Bond movie, just to prove it wasn’t a fluke.  But his attitudes is that he might not be an actor…but he is an original.


He’s Lazenby.   George Lazenby.



Steven Barnes

Worst Insult? Or Greatest Compliment?

(This note is a “message in a bottle” back to the younger man I was. He could have saved a lot of pain if he’d just had someone to tell him a few things…)

I was twenty five at the time, working at Pepperdine University, in the A/V department. There was a gorgeous Jamaican secretary (call her Cathy) who worked in the business center, and I flirted with her every chance I got as I pushed the projector carts to this or that professor or classroom.

She was friendly, and sometimes spoke of her dating life. I remember one story about a guy who had invited her to go with her to the Bahamas, and she’d been interested until he got too aggressive about wanting a little payment in advance for the trip.

One day, I thought I saw my opening and asked her out.

She looked at me with those hazel-brown eyes, smiled kindly and said: “I wouldn’t go out with you, Steve…but I’d marry you.

I was stunned. And wandered away feeling hurt, and confused. Not angry, as I’ve heard some “Incels” become when faced by similar statements. I knew that she had been honest, and further that it wasn’t the simple insult that my 25-year-old ego tried to say it was. I was confused…but also intrigued.

And it took years. I actually had to fall in love with my first wife, live with her for years, break up, make up, get married, and have our first daughter.

THEN, at the natural birthing clinic in Culver City, I watched my daughter born, watched Toni struggling without use of drugs or medical intervention to give birth to my darling Nicki. And the first time I held my baby girl in my arms, felt her delicate heart beat, and smelled her skin…something changed inside me. That night, as Toni slept, I crept to the side of Nicki’s crib and looked down and realized that THIS was what life was about.

All the rest: the attraction, the flirting, the smooching, the dating and sex, the living together…ALL of it was to produce this beautiful child.

All of that energy, and struggle, and fun, and worry, and building, and playing….all of it was testing each other, knowing each other, asking the question:

Are you the one? Will you be with me, and help me raise my children? Are you strong? Are you kind? Are you FUN? Can you make me laugh when times are hard? Will you love me when I lose youth’s glow? If I died, would you give everything to raise the children we create together?

If so…if our values and dreams and hopes match…if we are traveling in the same direction at the same speed…perhaps we can walk together for a time.

What of birth control? Or if you are beyond the age of reproduction? Or simply don’t want children? Or gay?

Doesn’t matter. The WIRING is still the same. We are built atop that animal chassis.

So when Cathy said that to me: “I wouldn’t date you, but I’d marry you.” She wasn’t insulting me at all. She was giving me one of the greatest compliments in the world, but I couldn’t hear it.

If we over-simplify, there are two kinds of guys:

  1. The fun, hip guys, who are gorgeous and adventurous and wild, who get the blood racing. And…
  2. The slow, steady guys who you could trust to be there day after day, as life rolls on. Trust to raise those kids, or stay with you after the “limerence” of the first months of hot sex has mellowed to something steadier and more appropriate for boiling steam to drive the turbine than melting steel.

She knows, in her heart, that eventually she will setting down. But wants fun. Knows that that most guys have an average spread of ability, and won’t have both qualities. So…it is excitement at first, then steady once life gets serious.

Some guys freak out at this. The “studs” get all the girls! The “nice guys” finish last!!

What a limited, immature, dualistic way of seeing things.

Get your head out of your butt, young Steve: SHE WANTS BOTH. She herself strives to be BOTH steady and responsible and juicy and sexy. And knows that she has a limited time frame to have both. And if she is powerful, and balanced enough to hold both energies, then maybe, just MAYBE she will be able to attract a guy who is ALSO in that delicate balance…who can BOTH curl her toes and light her hair on fire AND would be steady and reliable after the business of life settles in.

Young Steve…IF YOU CAN BE BOTH, she will, as Peter O’Toole said in “Creator”, “see her unborn children in your eyes.”

That moment, when two people see that mutual potential, is one of the greatest of life. And the “nice guys” who have been careful to focus their time to produce excellence at SOMETHING that can be applied to “nest building” AND have preserved their storehouse of natural crazy…they are something special.

And they can trade that “special” for a special lady, someone who is a hoot and a holler AND a nurturing, safe space.

Deep inside, under the games, THAT is what about 99% of human beings want. We all love to play. But by the time you are old enough to watch your parents grow frail, you get the joke. You understand life has ups AND downs, and you wonder:

Who will be there?

Who will give the final damn whether I live or die?

Who will help me raise my children, or build my dreams, or walk the world with power and integrity and joy?

Who will make me laugh, or hold me when I cry?

The games of kiss and touch and sex are fantastic. They pair-bond us, help us sort through the hundreds of people we MIGHT be attracted to, adding the physicality of touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing, creativity, self-respect, energy, and inclination.

Who are you?

What is true?

All of that and more. Cathy would have trusted me for the rest of her life. But wouldn’t have expected me to blow her mind in the Bahamas for a weekend.

But if I had? If I had projected enough power to match her beauty? Game on.

Or if I had been more beautiful, as beautiful as she, with equal ambition? Game on.

But I hadn’t. She wanted all she could grab of life, while she could. JUST LIKE I DID. And she had the clarity to understand the game as it really was.

And helped me understand it. Oh, the Incels will way that what she really wanted was to have children with the “bad boy” and then trick the “nice guy” into raising it. Just like Femcels (what a fun term!) will tell you men just want to flit from flower to flower like bees, and that they cannot be trusted.

Well, yes…the immature versions of human beings, like you are at 25, feel just that way. The mature ones understand a deeper game.

So…take a deep breath. Believe in yourself. There are women of beauty, power, sensuality, and maturity out there. They are Lionesses, and they need Lions. Be one. Get the bullshit out of your system. Get ready for a life of joy, contribution, focus and maturity. Be a safe space to raise helpless children, and that good woman will offer you everything she has to give. Be a little crazy too… and you will nurture the crazy in HER.

And let me tell you, young man…whatever it costs…its worth it.



The “Forry” Award, and Sucking

So first off, understand that no matter what you try, in the beginning its gonna suck.  ‘Cause you suck.  But you’ll get better, and you’ll suck less as you keep doing this, and eventually you’ll suck so little that you’ll actually be good! But just surrender to the fact that you’re gonna suck.” — Garrett White:



This last weekend at the home convention of the world’s oldest science fiction fan organization, I was given the Forrest J. Ackerman (“Forry”) Award for Lifetime Achievement in the field of science fiction.    And while still basking in those warm feelings, I thought to speaking about the most important quality that made possible the books and television and radio and millions of published words that people found worthy of celebration.


Because as Jerry Pournelle once told me, “once you master anything, you know how to master anything else.”  True words, and one of the most important reasons to get really good at SOMETHING in your life…so that you have the basics you need to understand how “excellence” really works.  And once you know that…the world is yours. Your LIFE is yours, whether you are talking career, relationships, or fitness.  Its all the same stuff, so long as behavior influences results.




In any arena of life, there are skills that you have, and skills you need to acquire.  And one of the biggest problems that stop people from ever being really good at anything is impatience and self-judgement.


I remember wanting desperately to be a professional writer.  I knew NO ONE who had ever done such a thing. My mother and teachers all discouraged me from doing it, and so I tried, I really tried to stop writing when I went to college.  Took courses in radio, journalism, speech…all clustered around communication, but never stuck my toe into the creative writing pond.  Then one day I took a class with a lady we’ll call Sarah.    I was raw, and hopeful, and had my little handful of dreams I laid before her.


One guy in the class (call him Mike) was a tall, handsome, brooding type. He and I were the hardest-working writers in that class, but very different.  Mike wrote moody pieces about motorcyclists who repaired old junker bikes, then drove up to the top of the local hill and looked down on the town and contemplated mankind.


I wrote stories about towns like that getting eaten by giant amoebas.  Oh, well.


Sarah slavered over Mike, praised him and batted her eyelashes with him.  Much later I found out that they were having an affair, but even with no idea about that, I was frustrated: just couldn’t get her attention, or anything approaching a positive comment.


One day after she had finished glowing all over him, I asked her point blank what she thought of my writing, and she derisively called me “the king of slick” and said that what I was doing wasn’t REAL writing.


Everyone laughed, including Mike.   I’ve heard other people speak of similar moments, and some wither.  And some, like Harlan Ellison’s tale of the infamous Dr. Shedd, bare their teeth.


No, I didn’t say “I’m great!  You just don’t know!” I was realistic enough to know that I wasn’t good enough.   Yet.


But there was something I knew that the others didn’t. I’d watched Mike’s face on the rare occasions when someone in the class dared to criticize one of his (admittedly VERY well written) stories.  He flinched.  He got angry, even if he disguised it with a carefully cultivated air of superiority.   HE DIDN’T LIKE IT AT ALL.   And…shut them out.


And I KNEW that if I was going to be a professional writer, I had to eat the pain.  Had to be willing to hear whatever painful truth I could learn about my work.  I had to let myself be hurt. Again, and again, and again.


Which meant I had to find a place inside myself that was safe, so that the “external” me could take the hits without putting up walls.   “you can’t take criticism” I smiled inside.  And I can.  And that’s why I’m going to make it, and you aren’t.


And…to my knowledge he never published a thing.


And armed with the belief that deep inside I had what it took, I slogged on, and on, through rejection after rejection.   You can kill me, but you can’t stop me.


THAT was the attitude. And that attitude has, in combination with modeling success, gotten me everything I have in life.


Yeah, I suck. But if I keep going, learning something new every day, eventually I’ll suck less.  And if I keep going, eventually I’ll suck so little I”ll be good.


Anything worth doing well is worth doing badly at first.  In writing, that’s your first million words. In martial arts, that’s being on the receiving end of countless throws and blows, and feeling horribly clumsy and confused in every class.


In relationships it is learning to communicate and read communication, learning to present yourself as attractively as possible, learning to BE  a healthy human animal instead of “faking” it with “How To Pick Up Chicks/How to Make a Man Fall In Love With You” tricks and tips.


In all cases asking yourself who would you have to BE to get the results you want, and committing to becoming that person.  And having the deep faith that within you is the capacity to do this, that it is your destiny, your chosen life path.


Yes, rejection hurts. The more you care, the more it stings.   So…find the love inside you, and connect it to the commitment to be your best and most authentic self.  Somehow, you have to find that faith that you have the capacity to fulfill your dreams.  “What if I can’t?  What if I’m not enough?”


Long ago, back in college, a lady asked me:  “what if your dreams are too big, Steve?   Aren’t you going to be disappointed?”


And I smiled at her.  “Let’s say that at the moment of death, you get clarity on your life, everything you really are, all illusion removed.   If at that moment I saw that I’d aimed too high, my attitude would be `hey. I had a hell of a ride.'”


But what if at that moment I saw that I could have had anything I’d wanted, if only I’d had the guts to go for it.  THAT would feel like hell. That would be misery.


Any time you wonder if you’re asking for too much from life, ask yourself one simple question: “how long am I going to be dead?”  And armed with the answer to that, GO FOR IT.


It took a million words to find my voice.

It took seventeen years to earn my first black belt

I didn’t find my soulmate until I was forty-five.


I never lost hope.   Never quit.


Even though, frankly…I sucked.





“Creed 2” and the power of Finding Yourself

I’ve been a fan of the “Rocky” saga since 1976, when the Italian Stallion realized that the fight with Apollo Creed had to be about HIM, and not what Apollo did, or what the judges said.   And because he changed the definition of “winning” (to simply being on his feet after 15 rounds) he became an absolutely uncrushable beast, and set up a series of films that have thrilled audiences for over FORTY YEARS.   That…is amazing. Especially since we all know how they will end. No surprises, other than the grace notes in the journey itself, and a nugget of real emotional truth.   Given that truth, we are watching Sylvester Stallone’s journey of life.  And when Ryan Coogler revitalized the series with “Creed” he tapped into that same vein: a familiar story, well told, old wine in new bottles, touching some truth of the human experience that provides the emotional “spark” to send the battered fighter back to the center of the ring to thrill us one more time.


And “Creed 2” was no exception.  If you liked the others…you’ll like this one.  I loved it.  And if it isn’t the same revelation as either the original “Rocky” or “Creed”, in NO way is it less than the other “Rocky” sequels.  And as with the others, there is a moment that spoke to me, that put the heart in the movie and kept it from being a simple exercise in waiting for the training montage and the Bill Conte horns.


So let’s look at that moment.     Adonis Creed is the son of the former heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed.   Born out of wedlock and in poverty, he is struggling to find his own identity, as a fighter and as a man.  Although he has won the championship, he is still hit with a common conundrum: “I don’t FEEL like the champion.”  His challenge is to own, to inhabit his life.    Because his expectations (how he thought he was supposed to feel) were not met, he   feels like an impostor.    This creates an emotional weakness where a promoter can challenge him to fight the son of the man who killed his father, and Adonis CANNOT react to this logically or rationally or strategically.  He reacts emotionally because of that wound.   His challenge is to live as himself, not in reaction to the world, or the past.


You can probably predict the story beats that follow, and I won’t spoil them.   But let’s just say that he cannot make that emotional connection to himself FOR himself.  This is the point at which an adult either wakes up, grows up, or falls back into old patterns which will eventually grow self-destructive.


Here’s the truth: he DID feel like a champion. 


He just didn’t realize how champions actually feel.


“I earned a million dollars.  Why don’t I feel like it?”


” I’m an adult now.  Why don’t I feel like it?”


“I’m a published writer.  Why don’t I feel secure?”


“I’m a black belt. How come I’m not confident?”


People DIE if they can’t resolve those issues.    External accomplishments can not and do not fill that hole in your heart.  Recently, I spoke to a woman with high educational accomplishment (Call her Dr. Jane), who talked about a man she loved, who could not be with her because she earned more money than he did.


This is a real-world issue.  Both men AND women have reinforced the notion that males should be great hunters and gatherers, so this isn’t just a “male weakness”.   It is a human issue we are dealing with as we evolve our society.    What Dr. Jane  said is that no matter how much she loved him, his insecurity was too strong.


To be with her, he would have to shut his heart against what the world thinks, and have faith that she would not, in time, grow more attracted to a man of higher power (a very real phenomenon) and leave him. More importantly…he would have to love himself enough to have faith that he would be fine no matter what. To have the clarity to trust his perceptions of her.


In “Creed 2″, Adonis has to separate himself from the roar of the crowd, from the belts, and accept that his mother, his lovely partner Bianca, and his ‘Unk” Rocky Balboa love him for who he IS rather than what he DOES.  To do that, HE has to accept himself the same way.    And…he cannot. For all of his accomplishment he feels empty, spent, lost.  I’ve had that feeling, haven’t you?  Where the roar of the crowd, the love of our friends, the money in the bank mean NOTHING.


On Prince’s “Gold” album there is a terrific song that says he went to the mountaintop in his career…and there was nothing there.  If you don’t understand that, like so many “winners” that came before you, you will reach that point and ask:   “Is that all there is?”


What, then, is the way out?




“Creed 2” has a lovely scene where he, and Bianca, and their child are laying on the floor, and Adonis realizes that they are a family of fighters.


Lion.  Lioness.  Cub.


That’s who and what he is, with all it implies about the ups and downs of life.  Not every hunt, every fight will be successful.   And eventually time takes us all (“It’s undefeated” Rocky said in the first Creed)


These two (Bianca and his child) will be there, and love him, after the crowd is gone.  His mother tells him: “don’t tell me that this fight is about your father.” It is not.  It is not revenge, it is about answering the question “Who am I?  Am I my father’s son? And what does that mean?” He MUST answer that question before he can face his challenge with real personal force, actually balanced with feet set firmly on his own soul. From there we can love. Fight.  Lose, without losing ourselves.  Or win, without thinking that the trophy, or title, or money makes us a winner.


NO ONE CAN GIVE THIS TO YOU.  You have to find it within yourself, or spend your entire life seeking it from others. And when you get that award, that honor, that contract, that relationship?  You will wonder why you still feel empty.


HEAL YOURSELF FIRST.   Bianca was a lioness. She needs a lion.  It is as brutally simple as that.   Ask yourself what your perfect partner would be.  Make that choice not merely based on the possibility of finding them, but WHO YOU MUST BECOME to be worthy of that relationship. Is that a better, stronger, more honorable and joyful version of yourself?  Is that in alignment with your goals and values?  Then walk that path, NOT for the other person, but for the sake of your own soul.   Whether they ever show up has to be almost irrelevant.   You DON’T do it for “them.”  You do it for YOU.  You love yourself enough to be absolutely 100% certain that you will live your life with integrity to your spirit, your heart, your values, your sense of what you want to contribute to the world.


And when you are on the road to becoming that better person…THAT is when you  will find another person who is on THEIR journey, moving in the same direction, at the same speed, with their “green light” on, saying that they too are ready for love.  It is magic.

It is life.


Love yourself…and share the love!

Steven Barnes

Finding and Feeling Thanks

Went to see “Creed II” last night, and it was very good.   But what was most important was that I saw it with my family.  I sat between Tananarive and Nicki, who had come up from San Diego on her way to dinner with her Mom and Paso Robles relations.   Jason, who had finished half his vacation homework, was sitting in the back of the theater with his friend Jayden.


Surrounded by family, all of us healthy and doing well, happy, realizing I was about to watch a movie I’d probably enjoy (heck, I enjoyed the last seven!) I great sense of contentment…THANKS…settle over me.


Gratitude.  One of the four most important components of the ‘MAGIC” Formula:  (Magic = Action X Gratitude X Intention X Conviction.)


Without ALL of them, you cannot be the best you can be.  There are inner and outer outcomes, goals, desires.  Happiness is the most critical, because as long as you are unhappy and in pain, the world seems a pale and narrow place. Stress crushes the warmth from life.


Take today to make a list, mental or written, of all the things you have to be grateful for in life.   If you think “nothing”, ask yourself if you would be unhappy if you lost your eyes or capacity to read.  If you had no internet access or food in your refrigerator.   If you had only a month to live, how sad would you be for the lost days?


If ANY of those are true…what is the logic of not giving thanks for them?   Especially as gratitude is one of the core elements to improving the quality of your life?


All we need to do to increase the power of our existence is to:


Take more ACTION


Clarify our INTENTIONS

Increase our CONVICTION that we CAN and SHOULD have our dreams


To this end, take every opportunity in life to increase your store of any of these, and so long as you don’t have a “zero” in any category…you’ll see your life blossom.


Happy Thanksgiving!


“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” (2018) and the moment of falling in love

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) is a collection of six stories set in the Old West, by the incomparable Joel and Ethan Cohen.  If you have followed them enough to know if you’re on their wavelength (it is as singular as Tarantino or Spike Lee), you’ll know whether this means you should check it out.


Personally, I couldn’t wait to show it to my wife Tananarive, and we had a heck of a rollicking good time.  The very definition of “elevated genre,” they specialize in the “you have NO idea where this is going to go” as they deal with gunfighters, bank robbers, pioneers, gold prospectors and travelin’ shows in a way you just ain’t seen afore, pardner.


Wonderful, violent, heartbreaking, funny, and BEAUTIFULLY shot, if you have Netflix you could do one heck of a lot worse with ninety minutes.




(slight spoilers ahead)


One of the stories is applicable to our investigation of love and loneliness, the path of the Soulmate.  IN the segment ‘The Gal Who Got Rattled”, Alice Longabaugh (Zoe Kazan) is a woman traveling in a wagon train a new life in Oregon .   Things go badly, and she bears up under tragedy with great spirit and a broken heart. But in the deepest moment of despair…she is asked for her hand in marriage by a kind, handsome  guide, Billy Knapp (Bill Heck).


And…we believe in their connection.   She is unmarried and lonely (I won’t say more than that) and needs protection and support.  He is a cowboy who sees his boss grown old and alone on the trail, and doesn’t want that for himself.  They are two people with need, their strengths and weaknesses in balance.  And…they reach out to each other and there is that moment, that magical moment when you can see the light go on in each of their eyes.


You are attractive. You find ME attractive?  We are both available?


Something magical happens in these moments.     It is not merely “love” it is the possibility of a future together.  Life.  Love. Passion. Hope.  Faith.  A home, built together over the years. Sharing. Companionship. Watching Kazan and Knapp play their parts, beautifully, you see all the   yearning and astonishment play out in their faces.


I still remember the moment I realized that there has to be a balance between two people, or there cannot be a relationship.  A lioness needs a lion.  They can be equal, or complementary, but both have to see the connection, feel that balance.


The moment I realized that my wife and I felt that…it was astonishing.  A “sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you” moment.  A blessing to both of us.


This moment of magic can be found best by mature, autonomous adults who are already complete in their needs…but want more, want that magic SOMEONE to pass through life with.    Friend. Lover.  Helpmate.  This is so precious.  And the first step is to heal the wounds that stop you from being a friend to yourself. From loving yourself. From connecting with your strength and drive.


If that has been the missing element for you, the good news is that you can make that connection now, today.  By visualizing and connecting with your own heart and “root” survival instincts, we can clear out the negative familial or social programming, the negative experiences, that stop us from being simple instinctual creatures with intellect and spiritual potential.


And I give Thanks every day for the fact that we always have this wisdom within us, and by triggering it, and loving ourselves, we open the doors to finding that special partner.


Happy Thanksgiving