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.

Escaping the “Friend Zone”

Let me tell you about the worst insult I ever got.


When I first attended Pepperdine University, I was still something of a geek.  Well, some would say I still am, and I probably couldn’t argue convincingly.   At any rate, there were a number of women there I was very attracted to, but from whom I couldn’t get the time of day.


One was a gorgeous Jamaican girl who worked as a secretary in the business center.  I found reasons to show up there frequently, flirting with her, and over the months we actually developed a bit of rapport. She was interested in my dreams and aspirations, and I think she found me a bit amusing.


Then one day I finally got up the nerve to ask her out.  I remember that she got very serious, and she said something to me I’ve never forgotten.


I wouldn’t go out with you,” she said.  “But I’d marry you.”


I was kinda thunderstruck.   WHAT?  What precisely did she mean?   To be honest, I walked away a little dazed, and feeling insulted.


What had she meant? That she didn’t find me attractive, but would be willing to get her citizenship by marrying me?  (No…she was already a citizen)


How about she didn’t find me attractive, but would be willing to let me support her and her children? (Ummm…there are some implications to that.  Wouldn’t that imply that she believed in my dreams, thought me a good gamble?)


No matter what I thought, the REJECTION loomed large.  But there was something in what she said that made me think that I needed to dive deeper. There was something there for me, if only I could find it.




The truth is that I never sat her down and got her to explain what she meant. It hurt too much. But over the years, as I matured, I came to some conclusions that helped me transform my relationships, and my life.


I believe that somewhere in the following cluster of thoughts could be found the truth…but I cannot mind read and say precisely which notions are most likely.


I really was a geek. I wasn’t “fun” on her terms.  I probably couldn’t dance, wasn’t “cool” (I’ve never been “cool”), had no sense of fashion (still don’t, really), and probably wouldn’t have fit in with her friends.  But…she saw something in me that she felt she could actually love, and bond to for a lifetime.


I was insecure, didn’t know how to talk to women, didn’t “turn her on” in that sense…but that’s the exterior stuff.   In her heart, she felt that she would be able to help me gain that confidence if she invested herself.  That I’d be a good bet.


I probably wasn’t as good looking as the guys who she wanted to glide around with having fun at clubs and parties…but on a gut level she knew I would commit to my family. That her children would be safe, and that I would develop into a partner she could trust and have faith in.


In other words…while I didn’t have the exterior polish that sparked her in the “hey, we could have fun for a weekend”…I did have the qualities she felt she could love for a lifetime.


And at the moment she said it, I didn’t understand that.   And it felt like one of the worst insults I’d ever heard, because it didn’t match what I wanted to hear.  I didn’t want to hear that I needed to grow, to change, to focus, to mature.  My “surface” didn’t match her “surface”, but she sensed that my essence matched her essence.


Wowsers.    What a lesson, and it took me years to realize that I had NO right to expect a woman to have trust. There are too many predators, fakes, and wannabe males in the world.   No higher a percentage than manipulators, fakes, and wannabe females, of course.   They deserve each other.


It wasn’t at all wrong for her to ask for fun, and flash, and gorgeous good looks and power in her dating life, while she made the best choice she could for the longer term.  Not at all. In fact…I’d damn well think it was her responsibility.


It was MY responsibility to make my outside match my inside.  To clearly and unequivocally broadcast: “this is who I am. This is where I’m going.  This is what you can expect from me.”  I had no right to expect her to take me on “trust” unless I was willing to extend a similar level of trust to her.  I wanted her because I liked her outside and her inside. She was better integrated, smart, lovely, sexy, confident.


IT DIDN’T MATTER WHAT MY “POTENTIAL” WAS unless I was willing to bond with a woman with a similar amount of work remaining to be done.  She was a lioness. She needed a lion.


I was a cub.




Yeah.  The “Friend Zone.”  We were friendly.  Maybe even friends. But she didn’t want more.  Because I wasn’t ready.  All I had to do was invest a couple of thousand hours actually BECOMING and I’d have popped up on her radar as potential mate material…AND fun for a weekend.  Then, GAME ON.


I don’t even remember her name any more.  But remember her voice, and her eyes, and the gentle way she told me the truth.  She helped me become a better man because I wanted to be the kind of man who could attract and hold a woman like THAT.


And if I had resented her?  Blamed her?  Said it was her responsibility to climb down from her cloud rather than raising myself up?   I’d still be a cub.


And never, ever, would have been worthy of the woman in my life.


It is the responsibility and right of every human being to find the best, most powerful and beautiful partner they can find, by whatever standards they hold in their heart.   To complete ourselves as much as we can, and to hopefully find someone who feels perfect, who you relish in every way, who rocks your socks off and lets you love them half to death.


Whereever she is, I hope she found her lion.  She sure as hell helped me find my lioness.






“Cobra Kai” and cultural appropriation

Some time back, I watched a documentary about  master Fumio Demura, one of the first to bring authentic Japanese karate (Shito-ryu) to the United States.   I thought of him because he was Pat Morita’s stunt double for the Karate Kid movies.


One of the things that struck me about the documentary was his struggles to integrate into our culture, his uncertainty about sharing his cultural treasure with us, the degree to which his masters in Japan didn’t really want him sharing (“cultural appropriation” anyone?) and his superhuman efforts to create not just a life of meaning but to uplift the children of Japan’s former antagonist.


As he is struggling with health issues now, the story is all the more poignant.  One of the most affecting portions was his interactions with Pat Morita.  Morita adored him, and the respect was fully returned. The “Mr. Miyagi” character was greatly beloved in Demura’s social and professional circles, and Morita was a super-star, the one who had “made it.”   They were so happy that he had made it, and his success was a beacon of hope and pride to the Japanese-American community. The love and admiration at a testimonial dinner when Morita took the podium was unmistakable. The shining faces made me so happy.


The “cultural appropriation” question is difficult. While it is true that all social or technological progress is a matter of exchanges between different people, there is also the very real fact that oppressed, dominated, colonized or marginalized people often feel that they have very little that is “theirs”, and it hurts to see that tiny remaining uniqueness diluted or misinterpreted. The fact that it is generally the larger group, often the dominator group, arrogantly asserting their right to take whatever they want is unfortunate.


Those are the polarities, and I can see both positions: the urge to protect, and the reality that we must share.


There is something missing from the “Cobra Kai” series, and while it is not unrealistic, and I really enjoyed the series, it didn’t hit me until this morning what it was.


Whereas the original movie was about a boy who wanted to find his way to manhood, and a man who needed an apprentice (there are only two stories, some say: the young man grows up, and the old man faces death.  Karate Kid touches both), it is also about the beauty of stepping outside your normal reality to see life from a different position.  And…the sharing of not just two lives, Daniel Larusso and Nariyoshi Miyagi, a  war hero and karate master. They need each other, and the exchanges between them are precious and beautiful.


Daniel learns an Okinawan art of power and grace, and the external “Rocky” structure of the film isn’t as important as his internal journey.


If I have a problem with “Cobra Kai” it is the reality that as martial arts moved away from the first generation, a matter of Japanese and Okinawan immigrants sharing their cultural treasure of body-mind unity with American students, the next generation was of Americans, some studying in the East, others here in America, opening their own schools. No more direct transmission.  And while great respect is shown the memory of Miyagi, I cannot help but wish that some of that dynamic could have been maintained.


Now, it is just about Americans teaching Americans, and while there is a little color in the system (a Latino student, a maybe 1/4 black student) it is basically all white people’s issues and challenges.


Again…this is statistically accurate. It is also legitimate.  Artists have not just the right but the responsibility to represent their experience.  I just…mourn a bit. When the only Asian in the cast is the villain, I flinch.


And while the Japanese community has aged out, and many of their children, most perhaps, see themselves more as Americans than Japanese…that creates a different set of problems when roles that COULD go to them are “whitewashed”, which happened egregiously as recently as “Ghost in the Shell” last year.  I know it hurts.


To see their images, and roles, and cultural treasures given only to others who often mock their very sense of exclusion.   Damn.  I have no easy answers here.


If Larusso’s student had been Japanese, that’s a facile reversal that could have backfired…or it could have been beautiful, if handled well.  But that could have been criticized too: “oh, look at the white guy who is more Japanese than the Asians…”  Sigh.    I understand both sides of that as well, and it is painful to realize that this has happened countless times as different cultures collide.


The only real answer I can see is to tell stories with respect and courtesy, with appreciation and understanding, and with both love and the strength to hold your center.


The answer is not JUST to beg the makers of excellent shows like “Cobra Kai” to be more sensitive (IMO), but for those who feel they are not represented to learn to express their essence in their art, to work their way into the business, to understand the marketing and sales techniques that allow you to express value to an audience and show them why it is in THEIR interest to buy your wares.


Don’t expect people to care for the sake of caring. That’s not human nature.


If I try to explain the ways in which INFINITY WAR is problematic, black people tend to agree quickly, white people more likely to argue.


Who is right?  One could say that whites are oblivious. Or that black people are too sensitive.


How about this?  If we assume equality, you split the difference: both are true.  If the average response from one group is a 5, and of the other a 7, you average them out and get a 6.  You go with the “hmmm.  There is a little more than I thought…but maybe the other side is being too picky. Or not picky enough.”


But you listen…while continuing to work to speak your truth and live your life the best you can. I’m not sure anyone can do more.


Meanwhile…”Cobra Kai” is a fine extension of many of the themes that made “Karate Kid” wonderful. Family, courage, maturity, awakening sexuality, what it means to find something worth fighting for, the power of both love and strength.  Connection between generations and the need of a father to find a son, a son to find a father.


It expands those themes a bit, and promises ways that future seasons could go deeper, explore more. The martial arts, like all profound disciplines,  are metaphors for all of life.  The west doesn’t have much of this body-mind stuff, arguably because the best of them, those that deal with death itself, have been supplanted as “technologies of defense” by firearms, and possibly the Cartesian body-mind split that has done so much damage to our Self-concept.


We need it.  And…we went and got it.  Yoga, Karate, Tai Chi and so forth.  Amazing, profound technologies that can take you all the way to genuine knowledge.   They are ours now, no doubt about it. We have our own masters. And have not just the right but the responsibility to teach our children to live within our world with integrity and grace and power and love.


And…eventually, if we go deeply enough, we are asking those two questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?”


The answer to those questions always takes us to the unity of the human experience, and the concept of Num: one soul looking out through many eyes.


The snarky folks complaining about Cultural Appropriation are, IMO, mostly just protecting their right to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, and screw you.


But those who appropriate with respect are being what human beings have always been at their best: respectful but moving forward beyond boundaries and dualities, sharing and listening and learning.  Always remembering that there really can be pain on the other side of the issue…but also that, as the Japanese community applauded for Pat Morita, proud that he was bringing their treasure to the American public…there is also joy.


No room for snark here.  But much room to celebrate how many ways there are to be human.  It’s what we do.


Do it gently, with love.





Yet More “Infinity War” stuff

SPOILERS (ya think???)


Tim Barham said:

“So I have a question, Steven… you noticed, as I did, the only surviving major characters were the (indeed all white) heroes from the first Avengers movie. So the old guard – characters we *know* are on the way out of the franchise – survive, while the new guard – characters we know have future films planned (Black Panther, Spider-man, Doctor Strange) die. Why do you think that is?


It seemed so obviously contrived to me that all the original Avengers survived, that I felt there had to be a very particular reason – an important pointer to what will happen in Avengers 4 (seeing as we’re now in a place where those who have to ultimately survive are dead, and those we expect to die – or at the very least retire – are alive).


My point being – if the twist of Avengers 4 involves those who died in Infinity War coming back, and something bad happening to those who survived, then those who died were chosen by dint of having an ongoing involvement in the franchise, and that’s the extent of it.


And it’s the sad fact of MCU history – all white heroes until Black Panther – that means all we’re left with, for now, is white heroes.


BTW, I get this is all pretty irrelevant to the disappointment this movie would have been to Jason (and you) – seeing all his black heroes die. And I’m not trying to take away from that, or justify it. And I’m certainly not trying to explain or condone this movie’s treatment of Wakanda. I’m just wondering, given the overall story line that might be planned, whether who died would have changed under a black director, for example – whether the problem here is more a consequence of the lily white history of the franchise than anything else.”



Dear Tim:


Good questions.  Hopefully, some good answers.

  1. The movie was a vast improvement over the original comic book, in which (for all practical purposes) ALL black heroes were killed before the story even really began.   This only happens when all the creators are white.  Period.
  2. The meaning of a story is the emotional impact at the end. Everything is designed to create that moment.   The impact was designed for fans of the original Avengers.  The original Avengers were created at a time when comic characters were lily white.  In that sense, we are therefore stepping back into the past, and reflecting those values.
  3. Let’s say I’m the director.  I’ve been told by the “Suits” that the Avengers must survive.   And that the end of Part I is a holocaust. What do I do?
  4. First, I remember that after seventy years of comic books, superhero serials, television shows and movies, there was finally a black character that resonated.  And no, I don’t have to wait for the box office: I wouldn’t need to hear audience responses to “Civil War.”  Why? BECAUSE I WOULD HAVE FELT IT MYSELF.  I would have watched those scenes, gone home and dreamt about them.  Cried at the tenderness of T’Challa and T’Chaka interacting as father and son.   Cheered when the Dora said: “Move.  Or be moved.”    I WOULD KNOW what Wakanda meant.  The notion of throwing it away would be nauseating to me, a complete betrayal of the trust and emotion engendered by finally, after centuries, presenting an image of black people uncrippled by the legacy of slavery.
  5. Let’s say that “The Suits” insisted that Wakanda be severely damaged, as a way to demonstrate that all Earth, all the universe was severely damaged.    That…is tragic, but acceptable.  In fact, there is a way to do it without the taint of “Sacrificial Negro”-ness that so often tars such decisions…when the decisions are made by white executives.    White people honestly think there is something noble about dying to protect them.
  6. So…what would I do?


  1. Heimdall doesn’t die protecting the white guy and providing Thor motivation for revenge.  A combination of two horrific tropes, beloved by white guys.   Really.   Let him die fighting for his own life if he has to die.
  2. Wakandans discussing letting Vision come.  It is clear that letting Vision come to Wakanda will be devastating, bringing death and destruction  to their people.    I can believe T’Challa making the decision: the fate of the universe is at stake.  But he will have to make his case to the leaders of the other tribes.
  3. Wakandan defensive apparatus post-“Battle of New York” was pitiful. Where was air support?  We SAW their air power, including projectile weapons.   They KNEW, based on the only evidence (the New York Battle) what was coming.  Did they in any way look as if they were ready for flying metal dragons?  What the @#$$?? They even had flying ships that delivered foot-troops to the energy barrier.  Why were there no energy cannons on those transports?  Where they acted with no unit strategy, only raw courage and hand weapons.    This was a betrayal of the entire concept of Wakanda.  You can have them prepared, but then be overwhelmed so it comes down to man-to-monster hand-to-claw combat.  That would have been thrilling.
  4. T’Challa lives.  I promise you that T’Challa means more to black audiences than Tony Stark or Captain America means to white audiences.   If you choose to protect those audiences by respecting their emotional investment, it is dehumanizing not to realize what you are doing to black kids when you kill the greatest superhero they’ve ever had…and just throw him away.  And not even showing his face when you do.
  5. Falcon lives.  He is another intact, healthy dynamic black male.   Rhodey, emasculated due to his injury, can be sacrificed instead.
  6. Pepper dies.  Want tragedy?  Give it to Stark.  Take Pepper AND Spidey from him.  Not a dry eye in the house.
  7. Male and female Wakandan troops dying in rough equivalence.  Watching male after male crumble to dust as the women watch is pure creator artifice, with nothing to do with statistics.  One has to ask what was on the filmmaker’s mind.
  8. For that matter, a long shot of the evacuation of Wakanda.   The PEOPLE. We saw New Yorkers, establishing the basic humanity of a world we are going to damage.   That’s what you do when you give a damn.
  9. T’Challa interacts with Shuri.  All the Avengers had connection with people they love.  Thor and Loki.  Stark and Pepper and Spidey.   Cap and Bucky.   Banner and Black Widow were admittedly given short shrift–(I would have given them a scene together.  Missing that emotional beat was a major problem.)    Starlord’s entire arc was about his love for Gamorra.   Hell, THANOS was powerfully connected to his heartspace.    Where was T’Challa’s emotional connection?  If not his sweetheart (I can understand N’Kia not being there) then give him a moment with his sister.  Let them remember their childhood.   Now he is human, not just a symbol to be manipulated, a piece on a game board.



No, I don’t care that they will resurrect T’Challa and Falcon in part II.  The filmmakers have reminded me that they made decisions based on race: the original exclusion of the Avengers, and the discounting of humanity increasingly criticized in the 21st Century.  I am not interested in watching black people exterminated so white people can live, or be ennobled by the urge for revenge.


If you identify fully with a character, you give them sexuality and agency and family.  Hopes and dreams.  They act with intelligence and courage, or you make their struggle with fear part of what humanizes them.  When I wrote “Lion’s Blood”, I SPECIFICALLY set out to give my white characters more humanity than I had ever seen white writers give to black characters.  I REFUSE to be turned into what I hate.  That is allowing my enemies to win.


Marvel had a bad track record after “The Mandarin” and “The Ancient One” .  They knew white audiences would accept any explanation given for the change, BECAUSE UNCONSCIOUSLY, THEY WANT THAT CHANGE.   “Ghost in the Shell,” Khan, Chuin, Mr. Moto, Kwai Chang Kane… innumerable other “whitewashed”   Asian characters.  Any excuse will do.


I got scared when in “Age of Ultron” there is a retreat to the generic “all African are the same” when there is a screen title: “Off the coast of Africa.”  This was the typical “we are many, you are one group” bullshit I see all the time, and first noticed in “The Great Mouse Detective” when there is a mouse U.N. meeting with England and Germany and Japan…and “Africa.”




It’s the Matrix, and those asleep within it will argue for their dream.  I’m done arguing with them. Sleep on.


When Disney hired Ryan Coogler to direct BP I breathed a sigh of relief.   Perfect.  THEY KNEW THEY COULDN’T DO IT WITH A WHITE DIRECTOR.  There might BE a white director who could pull it off, but there isn’t one I would have TRUSTED  with the project. That’s just being honest.   Disney understood their limitations.


And didn’t understand that lesson here.  There is nothing at all unusual about “Infinity War” in that sense.  It is the mixture as offered countless times before: “you aren’t as human or important as us, and we have a raft of reasons to justify it that will be accepted by white audiences. So just be satisfied we put you on the screen.”

I was indeed satisfied with this all my life. I swallowed that bile for sixty years. I will not ask my son to swallow it.    There is only one answer to this: diversity behind the camera.  When you have diversity in the board rooms and directing and writing, things change.  Which is precisely why the anti-SJW types attack the concept: it works.


Yes, black writers and producers will make their own movies. Always have.  But they have to get those movies past white investors, distributers, exhibiters.   That’s before they can even REACH a white audience, which is just as invested in seeing themselves as anyone else.     An entire apparatus. Disney alone has EIGHT of the top ten box office films.   I’m sure segregationists love the notion of us trying to compete with that.  Separate and VERY unequal.


That’s fine.   Not my approach.   Here’s the point of attack:   Corporations are primitive organisms that eat money and shit products and services.  They don’t care much about individual prejudices…or even hopes and dreams on an individual human level


But they respond to things that hurt their bottom line. And rather than “educating” the Suits, just force them to hire more diversity. I’m not interested in educating people whose attitudes are mostly integrated at an unconscious level.


Want better roles for women?   Force the corporations, (which are not sexist.  Hell, they aren’t even human) to hire more women.


Any other sub-group can follow the same strategy. THIS, IMO is why some object to boycotts…because they know they work. Just sit back and observe who complains the most: almost always people who might be protecting their current power.  Their right to watch people who look like them being the greatest, smartest, sexiest, most powerful.


Everybody wants to rule the world, as the song goes.


Want change?   Be the change. And force the change.  There is no real human evil here.  Just natural, unconscious human tribalism, the automatic default switch that has been stuck in place for all human history.     And most people are asleep to much of reality.  God knows I am.  Not on THIS issue.  But doubtless on countless others. No one can be “woke” to everything. Too much input.


But no, I won’t watch my son’s heart open with “Black Panther” and then watch it slam shut because of “Infinity War”.  I  hear “wait!  We’ll bring him back next year” when you gave your own children Iron Man and Cap and Banner and Thor and Black Widow to empathize with because you KNEW you had to, or it would hurt them. The creators knew damned well that if you kill Spider Man, you have to have somewhere for their hearts to go…or those hearts will break.  You will lose them.


No, I won’t let you hurt my son like that and grin at you and say: “its good.  We can wait.  You can throw us away.  I trust you, Boss.”


Nope.  Don’t like it?   Not my problem.   No one has the leverage, force, or intelligence to intimidate me.  No one.  Not about my family.  Never.




Why Jason didn’t want to see INFINITY WAR again

(Warning: Sambo Alert and SPOILERS)

Saw “Infinity War” again yesterday with Larry Niven, Nicki, and Michelle Pinkus. I had a ticket for Jason…but he didn’t want to go.  We dropped him off at the trampoline park with a friend while we watched it.

He didn’t want to see it again. And I understand why.  Many of you will not. I’ll try to explain, one last time.


Watching it again, I understood what had irritated me so much the first time: Black Panther is what Tananarive and I refer to as “a movie from the other world.” A world which treats everyone as essentially equal across racial lines, and I don’t sense the strain experienced by filmmakers trying to conceal aversion or differential value or essence. PLUS it was an exceptional film, one that subverted superhero tropes to go beyond them into myth.

These two things, together, made an extraordinary viewing experience.

Infinity War is only exceptional on the logistical level, in terms of the number of plates spinning, and the ten-year stretch of 18 films that support it. It is very much a Marvel double-sized summer annual, filled with characters who swing in from the wings, with pre-existing relationships that mimic human emotions. There’s Spider Man! Watch him trade quips with Tony Stark, his father figure! How do we know that relationship? Ummm…from Civil War and Homecoming…?

In other words, in terms of the film itself, most of the emotional beats are unearned. But in terms of the SERIES of films, we “get it.” So…that deals with the second complaint. The first one, the sense of differential worth lurking under the choices, remains. Yes, there are justifications for the choices made. I’m simply not interested in hearing them for the umpteenth time. I have no more faith to extend, having seen those choices made thousands of times in the past, all perfectly reasonable. People will try to justify the events in a film as if they are history, rather than the manipulations of human writers and directors. The puppets don’t plan their own dance.

And if you kill half the characters, including almost all the male Wakandans, leaving the women (and yeah, they pretty much did that) and also kill the non-Avengers (including 90% of the diverse characters) leaving all the Avengers from the first movie…who just happen to be white…you know what? On one level its fine. Been here before. And on another level, I’ll notice that’s what you did. And that the creators just happen to be part of that same racial group. And that some people (guess which ones?) want me to ignore that.

No, its not open hostility on the part of the filmmakers. No, it isn’t conscious decisions. It is just the way the marbles roll. Frankly, I’ve seen this my entire life, and heard every rationale you or anyone you know is likely to throw at me.

And I don’t care.  Let me explain another way: Imagine you are black, and on the Titanic when it goes down.  You are swimming in icy water. There are two lifeboats.  You swim up to it, and try to climb in.  The passengers sneer, scream racial epithets at you, and send you away with curses. Drown, boy!  We don’t give a shit…

You swim to the other life raft. Here, the captain and his passengers smile sympathetically.  “Sorry, old boy, but this raft is reserved for first class passengers. Who all just happen to be white.  No offense.  Nothing against you.  That’s just the way it is.”

So…you drown.  Do you feel better because the people in the second raft were polite?  Reasonable?  Explained that it wasn’t your skin color, it was…well, the cost of the ticket…which happened to be influence by job opportunities and history, all of which WERE influenced by race?  Does it matter?  Do you enjoy a brisk discussion of history as the life drains from your body?

Or do you #$%%in’ DIE, knowing that it makes no functional difference at all.

But the people in the second raft get to feel great about themselves.  Or righteous.  Angry that the company didn’t include more lifeboats, perhaps. Resolve to write letters, or at least light a candle in your memory, and never, ever forget your sacrifice.

Feh.   Frankly, I’d rather they were more like the folks in the first raft.    At least then they would be forced to grasp that they didn’t really care, didn’t really give a damn.   That they operate by the law of the jungle. The problem of course is that they don’t want YOU to operate by that law. “Tragedy of the Commons” and all that.  They’ll take the advantages…but weep as they do.

And to a degree, that’s fine.

I’m dead either way. Either way, my son, watching Infinity War, watches all the healthy, primary black heroes he could grow up to be…fucking DIE. Heimdall.  Black Panther.  Falcon.  Nick Fury.

Leaving only secondaries like M’Baku, or badly injured and cybernetic (and gee…his lower body isn’t working…) character like Rhodey.

And if he’d been white?  Why, he could identify with Stark, or Cap, or Thor, or Banner, or the Dwarf, or Rocket (Bradley Cooper) or Thanos! (Josh Brolin) or Secretary Ross, or even Stan Lee.

Jason, who doesn’t enjoy movies much at least in part because he’s already noticed how often the black male characters die, enjoyed Civil War and loved Black Panther enough to want to see it twice.   And heart open, he went to see Infinity War and watched that door slammed in his face again.

I took that crap all my life: exclusion, or death, or secondary status.  I’m used to it.  He is not, nor do I want him to be.

Are you going to be the one to say I shouldn’t care about his pain? Or that he shouldn’t hurt?  Or should identify with a loser, or a damaged man, or the strong women of Wakanda…or the white characters, when rather obviously, that is difficult for white people do do back in our direction?  Why do YOU think they started the trailer for Black Panther with two white guys talking? And did you notice how many people STILL claimed the movie was “All black”?

Jeez, people.  Wake up.

It HURTS to watch the character you identify with killed.  You search for someone else to identify with.  And when there are none who look like you, you identify across racial or gender lines, and soak up the implicit values of those who created that situation.

M’Baku and Rhodey just barely, BARELY made it tolerable.   With them still limping to the beat I can stuff my bile, and enjoy 300 million in special effects. Fun for the whole family!

Unless you are a 14 year old black boy, who wants to be a winner just like every other boy, and realize you were given no winners to identify with.   But it doesn’t matter, you see. Because it wasn’t deliberate. Because, well, that’s just the way it is.  Not that we don’t love you, young man. Its just that these seats were reserved in 1965, when the first Avengers comic was published, in a different time, and a different world.

Have a nice drown.  I mean…enjoy the trampoline park, kid. This movie isn’t for you.



Little Masters

I knew no writers when I was a kid, and because my father failed in the arts (he had been a back-up singer for Nat King Cole.  I was actually in the recording booth when he recorded back-up for “Ramblin’ Rose”), my mother discouraged me from trying to be a writer.


As a result, my early efforts were filled with doubt and fear: if there was no way to reach my goals, why bother?  But by struggling and modeling, I managed to scratch a career together, and while there have OF COURSE been pains, by studying books like “Think And Grow Rich” I was able to contextualize: failure and strife are just a natural part of the process, and those who cannot plan, model, keep their focus, learn from failure, keep motivated through the fear, market efficiently and effectively and not take rejection personally will have less success, and less joy, than those who can.


After many years (and studying Heinlein and Bradbury and Butler’s rules of managing a career), as well as works like A Book Of Five Rings and The Art of War  I evolved my own Six Principles:

  1. Write a sentence a day
  2. Write 1-4 stories a month
  3. Finish and submit the stories
  4. Don’t rewrite except to editorial request
  5. Read 10X what you write (a story a day)
  6. Repeat 100 X



I can’t think of a failed writer who did these things.   T and I decided to start an “author’s club” at Sandburg Jr. High to see what would happen if we guided children through these steps.  Would it work?


As I suspected, the single biggest problem was THE LENGTH OF THE WORK.   All of them wanted to write books (which is good) and had difficulty creating short work.  Meaning that they just didn’t have the experience of actually rounding a piece of work, creating a whole.


Why?  Because most of their reading experience was novels, and movies from novels. That was the natural length they thought of. So their imaginations sprawled through a Harry Potter size mega-tome, multi volume, a complete world of wizards, kingdoms, battles, dragons and so forth was the most common result.


But you know what they didn’t know?

  1. They didn’t know how to END their stories.
  2. Because of that, they couldn’t extract the MEANING from their story, the dominant emotion.
  3.  Without this, their rewrite efforts remained on the surface level: event, event, event…clever dialogue, cute twist, nice turn of phrase.    And nothing under the surface.
  4. They rarely trusted their own hearts.  Did not see that they had experience and emotions that were precious, and integrating them into their stories would have raised their quality INSTANTLY.


All of that is what happens in the rewrite. The first draft is like a “sprint.”    Imagine packing for a camping trip.  You have a backpack, and that’s it.   Better make it a short trip!


Someone planning to spend a year in the woods better know how to build a permanent shelter, hunt and gather, provide their own medical care, and have emotional defenses against loneliness, fatigue, and strain.   This is a MUCH larger set of skills than packing a PB&J, a sleeping bag, a bottle of water and camping out in the backyard.


That’s all a short story is: you are working WITHIN the skills you already have, so that you can gain new skills.




The kids didn’t understand that, thought they had to create these huge stories. And at the end of the semester, some of them still hadn’t learned…but most of them had.  MOST of them were able to focus down to a 5-10 page chunk (a story is about a moment when someone changes.  Novels can contain dozens of these points.   Every chapter contains moments that can be extracted and rounded to create a short work.) THEN we were able to take them through the different levels:


  1. Spelling and grammar (we didn’t mess with this.  Not my job)
  2. Structure of paragraphs and essays
  3. Structure of drama (the Hero’s Journey is always my go-to, but we start with “Who is the hero, what do they want, what’s in the way?”)
  4. The climax: what is the Big Scene you are writing toward?
  5. What is the dominant emotion?  Often this relates to genre.  An action story’s primary emotion is excitement.  A horror story’s primary emotion is fear. And so on.
  6. How do you rewrite the earlier scenes to maximize the emotion felt when the reader puts the story down?
  7. And most importantly: what is the PROCESS by which you created the story?  Every day’s work should be about the PROCESS as well as the story, which is “merely” “Product.”   Unimportant compared to the overall arc of your career. A single step, not the journey.




Watching the light go on in their eyes as they realized that a story could fail without it meaning a damned long-term thing was wonderful.


They had permission to fail.   Permission to experiment.  Permission to openly copy the style and stories of the writers they loved.


We would lecture at the beginning, and then let them work and help each other and share.  And once they really got the basics they were off and running.


They have been so bright, so happy, so eager. Unlike adults, most of them were “empty cups” who saw in us a bridge to a previously unattainable goal; being real, published writers.  We’re going to actually publish a club anthology, and give each of them a way to make money selling it to friends and family, as well as pay them five bucks each.


They will be paid, published writers. All that remains is getting better, continuing the work.


What is mastery?  A verb, not a noun. A vector, not a position. And once you have the basics of your craft at Unconscious Competence, and have committed to “the work”, you are as much a master as anyone else on the path, although some of them are horizons beyond you, or seem to have Seven League Boots.


We showed them the path. And now they know that we are not magic, except in the “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” sense.


We are the same, walking the same path. T and I are just a couple of horizons different, describing the territory and handing out maps.


THEY have to do the work, and there is a lifetime to do. But really…that’s all there is. The work. Chop wood, carry water.  Just do it.




We’ll be creating a class on how to create a class. How teachers and parents can help their charges become writers.   Little Masters.  And the beautiful thing is that, as Jerry Pournelle said, “once you master anything…you know how to master anything else.”


This wasn’t about writing…it was about life.


What do you want?

Why do you want it?

Who can you model to get a syntax of success?

How do you test their theories FAST so that you can make adjustments and improvements on their plan?

How do you keep going through disappointment and fear?

How do you organize yourself for maximum efficiency with minimum effort?


And so on.    We taught writing.  But the precise same notions would have been used in martial arts…or marital arts, for that matter.


Success is success.


I’m so proud of our Little Masters, and would guess that a couple of them will actually continue, and might publish in other contexts.  At least three have what it takes, brain-wise. Do they have the heart?  No one can predict that.


But…I have hope that some of them will get the REAL lesson.  And will have wonderful lives at least in part because two writers took an hour every other week to teach them a perspective they were then able to test for themselves.


Pretty cool. God willin’ and the river don’t rise…we done a good thing.


I’ve earned my air this year.



Write with Passion!


Confronting Death can save your life

I saw someone complaining that he hasn’t been able to finish any of his writing projects.  “If I’m bored with it, why should an audience be interested?”   Later, he admitted to being exhausted all the time.


Well…some thoughts on energy and art

  1. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.  When you lack energy, you fall back on tired, familiar tropes and notions.  You don’t reveal your personal emotional vulnerabilities.
  2. Not tapping into your PERSONAL feelings, hopes, dreams, needs, fears, and enthusiasms means that you have cut yourself off from the spiritual/emotional source of your energy.


I know that I started my career wanting to tell stories close to my heart, but there is a problem: the more of “yourself” you put in your work, the greater the pain if it is rejected.  I put years of work into one project, my whole heart, more intimate than anything I’d done until that time.  And due to circumstances outside my control, it was released at almost EXACTLY the wrong moment in time.  Although all my reviews were stellar, and almost everyone who read it loved it, it failed.


And…it broke my heart.  I could just hear the voice in my head saying that “they don’t want to know who you are. Don’t bother trying.”


And that is the death of art.  All that remains is “craft.”  I kept writing, at least partially because that’s the way I make a living, but the passion was gone.  I was no longer connected to that source of my heart.  Remember: there are four basic aspects of life that affect your energy.

  1. Exercise
  2. Rest
  3. Nutrition
  4. Emotion


And emotion trumps all of them. You can be exhausted, half-starved, and out of shape, and if your child is in danger you will find the energy to fight.  Cutting yourself off from your heart is deadly to your dreams.


I spent years focusing on market, trying to improve my craft, all the while feeling  I was being a creative coward.  Heading for hack-dom. And I remember, clearly, a writer whose business card said: “freelance hack and literary mechanic.”


He was dead a year later.


I was in danger, and knew it.  I had to get out of a slump that no one else could even see, because I knew that the WHY I do something is as important as the WHAT, and far more primary than the mere “HOW.”


I had lost my “why.” I was no longer writing from the sheer, love of the storytelling, the urge to share my dreams with the world.  I was writing from habit.  From economic need.





There is something I’ve said many times: “when you are confronted by a possible opportunity or dream and afraid to take it, ask yourself one question: `How long am I going to be dead?’   Armed with the answer to that…go out and do whatever the #$%% is in your heart.


Or “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”


Both of these address the fear of death.  Most other fears are just versions of this–and lesser versions at that.  For instance:


“If I write a book that fails, my career fails, I’ll go broke and die in the street.”  As absurd as that sounds, that is lurking in the back of many minds.  And the fact is…it isn’t total nonsense. Artists HAVE starved.  DO often live in poverty.   So if Mommy and Daddy warned you against the arts, their voices ring clearly.


“If I tell stories  people don’t like, I will be expelled from the tribe. I will make less money and have fewer mating opportunities, as well as lack protection from other tribes.”


A little Paleolithic reasoning there, but its still in our bones.  We need approval. Respect. Money.  Companionship. Sex.


Failure impacts all of them.  But remembering that this stuff is all secondary, that no matter WHAT you do, how careful you play it, how small you live you cannot be so tiny Death will not notice you.


I wasn’t able to put it all together at one time. Piece by piece.  Watching friends get older and die.   Realizing that the rejection could have been the result of forces I’ve fought against all my life…and that I didn’t have the right to quit. My parents and grandparents fought harder, and longer, against worse…and didn’t even have the joy of dedicating themselves to the arts.


I was blessed. To retreat would be cowardice.


One step at a time, I sought out role models who had patched their emotions together after failure…


And simultaneously, worked on increasing my energy.

  1. Was I exercising optimally for energy?  That’s aerobic, anaerobic, and stretching/alignment.  Was I exercising too much?   Giving myself enough recovery time?  Optimizing my body composition?
  2. Was I getting enough high-quality rest? This might be the single greatest sin of the modern world .  So often people complain about “lack of energy” and you ask them how much sleep they get and its 4-5 hours a night.   In general, you need 7-9 hours, and you are playing Russian Roulette with your health to ignore this.
  3. Was I eating for energy? Or emotion?  I love carbs, there is no question about it.   Asking myself what percentage of my food is about fuel and what is about distraction or fighting depression is critical.  The sheer “machine” aspect of our physiology is only ignored at your peril. As is drinking enough water, for instance.
  4. Were my emotions aligned?  Well, that’s what I was talking about, wasn’t it?  If everything I do is about finding joy, then all I have to do is back up a step and ask what creates that precious state.   Back up another step and ask what I need to avoid pain–that is the majority of what money is good for. There is NOTHING  I can buy that is as precious as hugging Jason or Nicki or kissing Tananarive.  But hugs and kisses don’t keep a roof over our heads.  Avoiding pain.   Every action has to help me move away from pain and toward joy.  And…frankly, writing what is in my heart is pure joy. What can the world give me that is worth losing that connection?  NOTHING.  Nothing at all.


I saved my life by remembering my death.  It gave me the courage to say “what the hell” after several years of hiding behind skill.   No more.  This is my life.  My creativity is not in coming up with totally new ideas: such things don’t exist. All there ever is is re-combining existing notions to new effect.   That effect?  To communicate your perspective, your emotional reaction to life or some aspect thereof.


What do YOU think about human beings?

What do YOU think about the structure of the universe?


No one who has ever lived sees these things exactly as you do.  THAT is what you have to offer the world, and if you let fear stop you…you’ve lost the only thing you really have to offer us.


Your heart.




Fear is your friend

I’ve often said that “anger is a mask over fear.”    And to a predictable degree, the people who disagree with this are almost always male.  Usually angry males.  They really, really don’t like the implications.  Sometimes they get angry with me for saying it.   You can imagine my amused reaction: they are afraid of the implications.


To go into this, let’s define terms.  Fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”   Let’s broaden that a bit, and say that it doesn’t have to be dangerous or threatening to you, personally. It can present a threat to anyone you care about or empathize with: a child, family member, member of a group with whom you empathize.


The test is this: when have you ever gotten angry about something you took pleasure in seeing happen to yourself or someone you care about?   Isn’t EVERYTHING you get angry about something that creates pain, discomfort, loss?    When those exact same things happen to someone you DISLIKE isn’t that “schadenfreude”?


Just for an exercise, let’s ask why guys might have a problem with this notion.   I’ll use myself as an example.


When I was a kid, I was badly bullied.  I had no father in my home to teach me to “get out there and finish that fight,” no uncles or older brothers to teach me to box or wrestle, or who I could talk to about what I was going through.  Small and afraid, I was   ignored by the girls and held in contempt by the guys.   For the record, my fear wasn’t being “laughed at” by girls. It was the fear that no attractive woman would ever find me appealing.   Although I never thought about it that way, that is genetic death.  Dealing with guys I was afraid of actually being damaged, and never having “tribe”, so that I would be alone.  We don’t survive well alone.  We need tribe.


Every voice in my head said I was a coward, weak, insignificant.  Then one day I experienced something unique: pushed beyond my limits by a bully named Rudy, I found a place in my heart that was beyond fear.  Beyond the social games. I was ready to die, or kill him. And he knew it…and left me alone from then on.   I swore that day to find that place again, or die trying.


The martial arts were where I went looking, and I began to learn skills. What I didn’t realize is that in the United States in the 70’s, in general you could find martial schools where you get fit and strong physically, but they didn’t deal with the internal states. OR…you can find emphasis on the internal calm, but they sucked in terms of  combat.  I thought that the physical skills were what I sought.   Nope.   They are like putting a thin, thin, candy shell over a chewy but toxic chocolate center.


And although I advanced through the ranks, and even had tournament success, one day when I was about 25 I got my ass kicked by a brilliant 14 year old fighter (who went on to become the world kickboxing champion) and all I could see was Rudy.  It felt as if nothing I had learned in the intervening years meant a damned thing.  It BROKE me psychologically, and from then on, the prospect of sparring created massive fear response in my body. And shame.


I fell into a cycle of approach-avoidance.  If I started losing skills, I’d go back to training. But once I got enough skill and fitness that I stopped being afraid of the outside world, the seething cauldren of emotion within me emerged, crippling my progress so that I stopped going to class.  Over and over this cycle recurred.


I went to coaches, therapists, gurus, hypnotists, biofeedback experts, senseis and sifus by the score, and none of them could help.  This went on for over a decade, the most miserable time in my life.  I remember driving down the street with tears rolling down my cheeks, asking God why the hell he wouldn’t either just let me practice this stuff, or let me quit.  I was emotional road-kill. Unable to stop, unable to move forward. It was horrible, and it damaged my sense of self on every level.


I wasn’t a man. I wasn’t a martial artiist. I was broken.  I was weak.  Just possibly, I was insane.


My pattern of asking for help continued for years, even after I gave up hope.   Then one day I accompanied my brother in law Patric Young to see his Shorei Chito-Ryu instructor Terry Lettau for a private lesson. After the lesson, we were sitting around in Terry’s kitchen, and I rather miserably asked him the same question I’d asked everyone else, expecting a blank expression concealing contempt.


To my surprise, Terry just shrugged. “Your problem isn’t fear,” he said.  “Your problem is lack of clarity.”


I squinted, and did a Scooby-take.  Urr?


Ummm…”lack of clarity?  Well, is there a way to deal with that?”  I expected an answer like “nope.” A perfectly circular trap.  The good news is that you don’t have cancer, you have Iocaine poisoning.   The bad news is that it doesn’t have any cure either…


Instead, he said “sure.   Just imagine a glass tube filled with water.  Glitter is suspended in the water.  Watch until the glitter settles.”


WTF?  That was it?  That was all?  I went home and started practicing for about 30 minutes a day. The water roiled with glitter, swirling in a violent current. Then…about six weeks later, something happened. The water started settling.   And then stilled. And the glitter settled.


And with a flash of insight, I SAW IT.  


My problem wasn’t fear. My problem was that I thought the fear meant something it didn’t.   I thought it meant that I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, or mustn’t. That I was small and weak and helpless.


Nope. It just meant that I was afraid. That some part of me sensed a threat.  And was preparing me to fight, or run.  That was all.  All the rest of it was bullshit.


And the reason it had been so awful, for so long, is that I was ashamed of the fear. And then worried about my shame. And then guilty about my worry about my shame. And then confused about my guilt about my shame about my worry about….


An endless fun-house of mirrors, an infinite regression from the primary emotion: Fight or Flight.  And every step away I took drained the energy I would have used to defend myself, escape, or gain the perspective from which to see the solution to the problem.


Holy shit.   I THOUGHT THE FEAR MEANT SOMETHING IT DIDN’T.  What would I have done if I’d known?  I would have DELIBERATELY brought up that fear, that terror, when working on the heavy bag, and imagined the biggest, baddest guy at the dojo pounding me. And beat the hell out of the heavy bad using the “juice” of the fear to drive my actions.  Until the fatigue and focus brought me into the present moment.


And then the fear would have vanished.  Fear exists only in the future, what you are afraid WILL happen.  Just as guilt exists primarily in the past.  In the present, FULLY in the present, there is only “emotion-driven action”.  Undifferentiated, and powerful.   My skills would have skyrocketed, until I was the baddest dude in the school.

Again, holy shit.  I’d found a key I’d sought for decades.  I’d been pushing on a door marked “pull’ in French, and finally a Frenchman had translated for me.


As simple as that. Yes, Virginia, magic does exist.




I found out where Terry had learned this, and that sent me to studying with Harley “Swift Deer” Reagan, and that’s another story for another time.  The point is that fear is associated with shame, and weakness, with paralysis and cowardice by the ignorant.  So some of us (especially guys) can’t tap into it directly, or use it directly, until we transform it into another emotion–anger.


Anger is macho. Anger is badass. Anger is righteous.  The fact that if you remove anything you would have to be afraid of for yourself OR someone you care about will dissolve the anger is just…well…we ignore that inconvenient fact.

It’s not fear. Really it isn’t.




Part of the danger of this is that we miss a primary tool in life. If angry, all you have to do is identify the fear under it, and deal with that, and the anger vanishes.  For instance:

Jason is defiant, refusing to do his homework.  I get angry. Why?  He is challenging my authority. Why is that frightening?  Am I afraid that I am powerless, and that will damage my ability to function in the world? Is he playing into my personal doubts?


How about I’m worried about him. I love him, and want desperately to guide him to being a strong, good young man. If I cannot get him to do his work, I can’t prepare him for his life. I imagine him failing, being homeless, on drugs, being one of the Living Dead who shuffle from meaningless job to meaningless job,  never find a place of joy.


Or…I’m afraid that my mother’s ghost will look at me and criticize.  “You are a TERRIBLE father.”  And I want so very much to be a good one.


Would I be angry if I didn’t give a shit?  If I had 100% confidence in my ability to reach my dreams?  If I didn’t love him?  I don’t think so.


Turn this around.   If someone is angry with YOU, what are they afraid of? Losing privilege?  Authority?   How about those Incel guys.

Potentially violent.  Violence is (often) triggered by Anger.  What are they afraid of?  How about lack of reproductive opportunity?  Remember that “genetic death” thing?  Or on an emotional level, being alone, never being loved, feeling unworthy and ugly and twisted.  In the depths of their private hell, alone in their Mom’s basement, they yearn for love and connection like everyone else.  What is wrong with me. Why doesn’t anyone want me….


And lacking the wisdom and maturity to look in the mirror and grow the hell up, learn to love themselves so that they can  be attracted to a woman who would be attracted to them, they grow bitter and even vengeful, blame women for “putting them in the Friend Zone” and that anger sometimes boils into unreasoning violence, and we have real horror.


Seek the root, and the root is fear. But you can’t see it if you don’t first look within yourself.


For years I’ve invited people to tell me anything they are angry about that doesn’t connect to something they wouldn’t want happening to themselves or someone they care about.  So far, no one has mentioned a damned thing I can’t connect there.

If it isn’t true, it is the most useful lie I’ve ever seen.




And…perhaps the greatest flaw, the greatest reason to connect directly to the core emotion is that FEAR IS A SURVIVAL DRIVE. It keeps you alive. It is a source of instinct.  If you don’t let yourself feel fear, you can miss one of the most important clues that you are in danger.


Remember “Get Out”?

Chris is in a strange situation, with people behaving badly.   The fear messages should have been making his spine crawl.   But his girlfriend Rose was the balancing factor.  He wanted to impress her, be with her.  Frankly, Nookie had shut his frontal lobes down.  That “genetic survival” thing, combined with a “I’m a man.  I’m not afraid” thing.


Ordinarily, this is a fine approach: most threats aren’t real.  He would endure the weird future in-laws, marry the lovely lady, have lots of sex and raise rug-rats. Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?


But horror movies are about the times when you damned well SHOULD pay attention to your fear.   And when Chris realizes the trap he is in, his personal survival drive (1st chakra) overwhelms his genetic survival drive (2nd chakra, less primary) and cancels out all emotional connection to Rose as well as any socially mandated behavior, throwing him into pure “I want to live!” mode, leading to the conclusion.

(btw:   It is notable that he keeps his core values: not killing a helpless person, even if they “deserve” it.  Trying to save a mother-surrogate.  We have no doubt that this experience has not damaged his essence.)


It would, however, probably motivate him to start trusting his instincts more, don’t you think?   Isn’t that a part of the message of horror films?

Don’t go in the basement. Don’t split up.  Don’t get “gaslit” by people. Don’t ignore bloodstains or strange faces in mirror, or howls in the night.




Fear is your friend, people.  And if you stop being ashamed of it, it is one of the most powerful allies we have.   Don’t let society or shame stop you from harnessing it.  The life you save may be your own.





Separated from our own being

As a futurist, I think of both the positive and negative aspects of the technological culture we’re creating. And I see something that might relate to certain discussions of late.


Fandom has a disproportionate number  of people who came from abusive backgrounds, are brilliant, but stunted emotionally.  Does it take much to suspect they simply “clumped” all their mentation into one category, where they could get approval without being emotionally vulnerable?


Interesting that there are people who have no empathy with others, and others who cannot grasp that their personal view of reality or experience of events is not universal.   The “One soul looking out through many eyes” doesn’t mean that the other person is identical to you.  You can have a zillion containers holding water-based fluid, with no two of them having the same composition, shape, or temperature. Infinite variety.  Humans have the same basic motivations: avoiding pain and gaining pleasure.  They have the same basic emotions: fear, anger, love.    The same basic fears: falling, loud noises.  Hunger and discomfort.


A few other things that seem universal, with everything else learned along the way.  Basic animal drives of personal and genetic survival.


What is the genetic component of what we are?  What is the environmental?    Make no mistake: this stuff has been debated for thousands of years.



I remember a guy “Chuck” who couldn’t separate his personal feelings about a movie (“it’s good.  It’s bad”) from a general objective sense of what it was.   In other words, if he didn’t like it, he couldn’t believe anyone else did.  If he loved it, why, others must too, and if they said otherwise, they must be paid off by a studio.


Chuck had trouble understanding women.  His miscues were legendary.  I noticed that he assumed that they would enjoy the same interactions, at the same pace, in the same ways, as he.    A little grabby he was, because HE enjoyed being grabbed.


He didn’t understand because he didn’t ask.  He assumed.  And when he was proved wrong, he assumed there was some conspiracy to confuse him, or that they were nutty.


Needless to say, he was confused, lonely, and what we would now call a little “Aspy.”   He just didn’t get it.   His “theory of mind” was skewed.   What are the extremes?

  1. People with NO empathy.  Others are totally different from them.
  2. People with TOO MUCH empathy.   Others are the same as them.   There are a number of pathologies here.


I have a suspicion that we’re breeding more and more people disconnected from their balanced emotional empathy.  Why?    I’d say it is the degree to which modern people don’t have to interact with the physical world, with other real live physical human beings the way our grandparents did.   This is just a hunch.  Some things I think are growing problematic:


  1. A disconnect between the effort needed to earn a calorie and the number of calories available.    Danger: obesity.
  2. Communication via chat.  Danger: losing the ability to interpret facial expressions, vocal tonalities.    Miscommunications due to loss of those vital channels.
  3. Seeing the world as “flat” rather than three dimensional.  Reading and staring at screens.
  4. Seeing the time-flow as malleable because of freeze-frame and rewind.  A different quality of attention is created, one that works great in an artificial environment…but not so great in the “real” world.
  5. Confusion of mating cues.   “People” who seem real (but flat) acting according to the strings manipulated by writers and directors rather than real human emotions.    We absorb those lessons. Then when “real” people don’t react that way, we get confused and resentful.  “Incels” anyone?
  6. The danger is developing a twisted “theory of mind”, not being able to understand other human beings.  Or even our own interactions with the real world.   We don’t know why we can’t leverage our intellects and emotions to hunt and gather (earn), can’t connect with a mate (sex), can’t understand why our bodies bloat.  OUR CONNECTIONS ARE BROKEN.


Without the feedback of the real world, actually barking our shins on reality.   Both romance novels and porn set up unrealistic expectations.   Video games shelter us from the pain of actually learning physical skills.   We develop flash-friendships, anonymous internet groups to play with, and while they are fun, they aren’t real. Those people don’t care about you.  If they heard you got run over by a cement truck they’d say the current equivalent of “gnarly!” and play on.


I saw this with the first generation of computer programmers, with people who buried themselves in fantasy books, with people addicted to video games, and FB and work in offices and never get outside.


Lack of connection with the natural world, with other human beings…and perhaps with themselves.  This is why meditating, contemplation, connecting with nature, and physical exercise are so important. You can hallucinate all you want about your body, but a mile doesn’t care.  You either walk/run it, or you don’t.


You can’t “level up” by buying virtual coins. You have to actually do the work, push through the pain and fear, learn to overcome “sensory motor amnesia” and learn how your body works.


“Exercise is BORING.”   Yeah, because you’ve never engaged your mind and emotions.    Like your ancestors had to, OR DIE.  “I don’t understand men/women.”  Yeah, because you have surrounded yourself with fantasies about what they’re like, and when they don’t match your expectations, you blame THEM, not your fantasies.


I could be wrong about this, but its what I see.  The answer?

  1. Connect with your own heart.  The most basic piece of emotional reality we have is our own hearts. I think that if you don’t understand others…you don’t really understand yourself.
  2. Connect with your body.  Exercise.  Move.  Your body evolved to hunt, gather, evade predators.  Society evolved to express that with games and mating rituals (dance).  Re-connect there.


Just these: opening the heart, awakening the body, will anchor you to the world.   The opposite?   “Awakening your kundalini backwards”.  Smart, but body and heart “stupid”.   It isn’t your fault: humanity has won a battle with the natural world.  Don’t be road kill.




Some thoughts on Cosby

A few years back, T and I had the chance to work with one of my childhood heroes, Bill Cosby.   We spoke with him on the phone, and he was brilliant and funny, with a crystal-clear memory and just as charming as he could be, filled with enthusiasm for a new NBC project he wanted us to work on.  After I got off the phone, I remembered rumors I’d heard, and asked myself if I’d want T going to a meeting with him alone.    Or Nicki.  And felt the reaction in my heart.

The answer was hell no.  I knew the truth, dammit.  I knew.  Money be damned.



A piece of the Cosby puzzle.    I do not KNOW what happened with him.  I know no one who was an intimate, with any access to his private thoughts.   But if I was writing a book about a character with a similar public image and similar tragic arc (and make no mistake: this is an American tragedy we’re watching), I would look at a number of publicly known facts as highly suggestive.  Matching my sense of why human beings do what they do.

Start with a basic notion: (most) violence stems from anger.  Anger is a mask over fear.  If we look at sexual assault as violence, can we tease a bit of this out?

One conclusion  is that he was/is a man consumed with anger.  Is there any justification for this in the public record?  I found some twenty years ago, in his  autobiography.  In it, he makes a throwaway comment that really stuck with me.  It was that a comedian will pace and control the intensity of the laugh response, so that the audience doesn’t exceed their comfort zone.


Well…they will ordinarily. But when he was angry about race relations in America, when he performed for white audiences (which was most of the time) he would DELIBERATELY sequence and perform his routines to take his audiences further and further out of control, laughing hysterically, UNTIL THEY HURT.  And then increase the intensity, until he had an entire room writhing in laughter, begging him to stop.

Deliberately.  He was, in other words, beating the hell out of the audience, while smiling at them.  Holy SHIT, I remember thinking.  Did anyone else read this?   Did he realize how much of himself he exposed saying this?


Anger.  Seething and raw, enough to want to hurt people who loved (or at least admired) him.  And what is anger…?


Fear.    What did he have to be fearful of?  Well, if you’ve been following my thoughts on race in America, that answer would be easy.


One ignorant, shallow, selfish response is to suppose that since HE was rich and famous, HE had nothing to be upset with. I have to marvel at this, and wonder if the person saying it is aware of how much of THEMSELVES they expose by saying THAT.  Are they really saying they don’t care about anyone but themselves? That once they “get theirs” they don’t give a shit?


Maybe.  I’m not stupid enough to forget they said that, though, and they can’t take it back once said.




We know he was a serious supporter of HBU, and an Afrophile.  A “race man” in reality even though he very rarely addressed it directly in his entertainment.    He looked out at the world, saw things or experienced things that enraged him, and hid it behind that avuncular personality.


So…what we know beyond any doubt is that he had powerful negative emotions and did not honestly express them publicly.    Drawing a line between that and not being able to express them privately, or even within his own heart, isn’t much of a leap.   We KNOW he was dishonest.  How deep did it go?


Were there power fantasies?  Disgust with the people who “loved” him?   Impostor syndrome?   Anyone who would hurt a roomful of innocent people has to have a power fantasy.  But if we start with the assumption of human equality and “Num” (the belief that there is “one soul looking out through many eyes”) then we see that that is just ego shit.  He KNOWS he is not above them.  If he cannot forgive them, cannot see the errors and pains of the world from an elevated position, he likely cannot forgive himself either.


And that leads to despising the world.


I am a corrupt thing.  They cannot see it because they are corrupt things. The world is an ugly, corrupt place, a jungle place, where the only REAL rule is to take and get everything you can. But you must pretend to be good, to be loving, to be kind…or the illusion dissolves and we have nothing but the rule of fang and claw.


From this point, can you respect other human beings?   Hardly.

Can you respect yourself?  Hardly

Can you possibly respect the feminine energy of the world?  Hardly.

Men would be allies to be rallied or directed to conquer your foes.  Or if foes, to be crushed.  Women would be entertainments, or conquests, or talley marks, or momentary stress reliefs.


Or…if they were presented as unattainable, as ideals beyond your reach, they are symbols of your power.  Did he grow up in a world in which this was projected? Hell, I did, and I’m ten years younger. My mother was SURE I was only attracted to white women because of some forbidden racial fascination.    And that I would be destroyed because of it.


So…could that influence the situation?  Sure, it could.   I DON’T KNOW IF IT DID.  But if I was writing a novel about someone who ended where Cosby is ending…that would be one of the threads I’d wind together:


  1. A man with enormous fear along racial lines.
  2. That fear transforming into anger.
  3. That anger hidden behind a smiling mask. So many of us do this, without it ever becoming openly toxic.
  4. That mask gathering enough raw power, fame, and money to create opportunities to vent and slake the corrupt hungers.


I would use this notion as one of the threads. Others would have to do with general human toxicity expressed as male energy (and if you don’t grasp that there are both Yin and Yang, Female and Male aspects of this, you are pretty typical…but missing half the game).  With power drunkenness. And with some soul sickness that might have begun in the womb or before.  Who knows?


But THIS piece of the puzzle looks pretty sound, and pretty ugly.


So…what is the answer?  How does the “formula” work here?

What are the principles?

  1. Love yourself.   Can you see how a deep and abiding love of his own essence short-circuits the entire negative process? Part of the damage of racism is doubting yourself.  Internalizing the “you are ugly and stupid” messages.  It is grotesque, rarely discussed…and true.  Unaddressed, you are walking around with a time-bomb in your heart.
  2. Love one other person.   If he really deeply loved himself and Camille, does it take much to suggest that a compulsive need to screw other women, even WITH their total permission, would be less likely?  You think?   That when that connection is deep, his masculine/feminine energies would be balanced, and the notion of abusing that connection would be like slicing off your own eyelids?
  3. Understand history without guilt, blame, or shame.  And if you can love yourself and others, and see how human beings do terrible things to each other mostly from fear and ignorance, isn’t that cured with love and truth?   If he can forgive others, he can forgive himself.  He is no longer a corrupt thing leering behind the mask. Can just…let the pain go and embrace humanity.
  4. Find his tribe. Who should his tribe have been?  ALL HUMANITY. We all responded to his deep, wise, broad grasp of human emotion and experience.  Look at the gap between what he knew about us and what he FELT about us.    That gap was too broad to be bridged with logic. It was a seething ocean of pain and fear, self-loathing and anger, and all the applause and laughter and money in the world couldn’t heal it.  If they knew what I really am…He didn’t need to keep fighting. He had won. What he needed to do was embrace the victory.  Do good to the world.  Trust time to heal the wounds it creates.  Sigh.
  5. Win with integrity. Well. We don’t need to dive too deeply here, do we?

And the simplest answer? Love himself.  Tell the truth.  Just those two things would have taken him into himself, and anchored him to the world, forced him to integrate his inner and outer worlds.

Could ANY of this have happened with just those two elements?

Just those two things.

When I say that artists need to dig into their truth, express their true feelings, it isn’t because it is fun, and comfortable. Or even because it is one of the most healing things you can do, although it is.  It is because THAT is the gift you have to give the world, your deepest, most healing treasure.   This is risky: you may be rejected. Those who do not believe as you  will NOT want you rubbing their noses in your perspectives, and pretend that they have not rubbed yours in theirs.


They are asleep, mostly. Mostly.


Tell your stories.  Speak your truth, with love and wisdom.   The tribe you find may not be as large as the one you can create with lies and artifice…but they are real, and they see you.


They SEE you.  And love the person you really are, not just the image.  Imagine the nightmare of having the whole world love you…and believing that if they really knew how ugly I am


That must be a horror beyond ordinary thought.  A true personal hell.   And the demonic things human beings are capable of doing from that place are hard to even wrap our minds around.


But every one of us has the seeds of that nightmare in our souls.   Don’t water them with fear.  Don’t fertilize them with rage.


While I don’t, and might never really know what happened here…I’m willing to bet that this describes a part of this. How much? I don’t know. But enough that I know how critical it is to speak my truth, and come from love, and love myself.

And for you to do the same





“Incel” and the Dating Game

Conversation about “Incel” men (“Involuntary Celibate.”)   Guys who can’t make a sexual connection.

I remember back when I taught martial arts, and I was attracted to a couple of ladies in the classes.  One at a time I asked them to stay after class, and as politely as I could,   I asked them out.    They thought about it, and said no.  I was disappointed, but enjoyed them as people and students, and continued to be connected to them in the way that they felt comfortable. One I was friends with until the end of her life, the other is still a friend to this day. They found other guys.  Good guys–liked ’em both.


And that “sting”?  As soon as I found a girlfriend, the sting died. All it is is fear of not finding reproductive space (on the biological level), and fear of being unlovable, or not being loved, on an emotional level.   Easiest fix is to find a connection elsewhere. Fastest way to do that is to stop resenting potential partners for not wanting you.


Do YOU want everyone?  Anyone?   If so, you should have no problem finding a girlfriend/boyfriend.  But you have standards, don’t you?  Tell the truth.


So what really bothers you is your fear that you wouldn’t match your own standards.  That what you want is beyond who you are.   Easy fixes: either raise your game, or lower your standards.  Don’t like that?  Say its not fair?


Yeah.  Life isn’t fair.  It isn’t unfair, either.  It just…is.




Guys who can’t get laid (and are “friend zoned”) are kind of like women who CAN  get laid but can’t get in a relationship. I find the two states very similar, and it has a nice symmetry.


(As an aside, I’ve had countless women, even “plain” ones, tell me with confidence that they know they can go into any bar, any party, and find a guy to take them home.   Guys with that level of sexual confidence are called “egotists.”   But it really does make sense.   If you think there’s no difference, good luck with that and report back to me how your relationships work out, wouldja?)


The trick with these angry, frightened men and women is that they have standards, but are unhappy that other people have them as well.


I ran into this back in Junior High School.  I saw the pretty, popular girls.  Not one of them was interested in me.   Resentful at this,  my answer to this was to study the women I desired and the men I admired. What kind of men were the women attracted to? What kind of women did those men have? Were the things these people did congruent with my values? Yes? Was I doing them? No? Then start. Simple as that. And a couple of things happened.


  1. I stopped noticing the women who weren’t attracted to me.  They were there as HUMAN BEINGS, but I stopped…reacting to them “as women”.  My reaction was either “this is a nice person” or “Hey, Now!!”  And with a bizarre increasing frequency, the women I was attracted to were also attracted to me.   It wasn’t necessarily that there were MORE of them now…but I was broadcasting a more specific signal, perhaps. And paying attention only to those who were “of my tribe”–I was on their wavelength.
  2. IF they were “of my tribe”, on my “wavelength”, and they were ALSO unattached, the mating dance began.  Sniffing each other out. Interests? Goals? Values?  Energy levels?  If those things matched, and we were also heading in the same direction (at least for the night, ahem) then Game On.
  3. And the women I was attracted to, but weren’t attracted to me?  After a while, they faded away…as potential sexual partners. They were still there as business associates, neighbors, students, friends, mentors, sisters, daughter-figures, mother-figures.  But it didn’t sting, because they weren’t what I was looking for.  I was looking for someone who was looking for me.  Not interested in me? Have a nice life, but why should I be upset?
  4. If you love yourself, and would be attracted to yourself, you should have no problem connecting with those attracted to you. We attract people at our “level” and below. And are attracted to people at our level…and above.  The trick is to expand that “sweet spot” so there are plenty of possibilities: people on your wavelength, going in your direction, available for relationships.
  5. Just as an aside, if Tananarive got hit by a meteor, and I was in a strange city with no connection?  I’d start taking yoga classes. Why?  Because I like the focus, physicality, mindset and attitude of the kind of women yoga attracts, and there are generally more women in the class than men.   “Target rich environment.”  I’d wait about six weeks, scoping the situation out, focusing on a powerful practice.  See who smiled back. Chatted back.   And after about six weeks…I’d very politely ask if anyone wanted to go for tea afterward. Coffee. Lunch.   Look to see who sparked.


It would work like gangbusters.  Because I’d be genuinely projecting who I am (you can’t fake a yoga pose) that I shared at least some of their values, was respectful and polite.  All you have to do is remember that human beings generally want love and sex–you don’t have to convince them of that, you just have to convince them that they want to buy your brand. 


Cold blooded?  Not really.  CALCULATING it is. Cold it is not, at least not to me.  If  a woman didn’t want me, if I cared about her I would hope she’d find love and happiness elsewhere.


I SURE as well was going to, no slightest doubt.  Why?  ‘Cause I like me. If I wasn’t me I’d want to be me.  If I was a guy, I’d want to be my friend, and if I was a woman I’d want to jump my bones.


And frankly, I think ANYONE who likes and loves themselves that much will have no problems at all.