Healing

Becoming a Superhero

“Right now everything looks so strange to me, as if I don’t belong here. It’s me that’s out of place. And the worst thing is that I feel there’s somewhere I do belong, but I just can’t find it.”–seen this morning on a thread.

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My all-time favorite movie serial is “Captain Marvel”, with those wonderful practical-effect flying scenes that still look astoundingly good, and Billy Batson saying “Shazam!” and turning into (basically) Superman.  Great stuff.  The villain is “The Scorpion”, and the “who is it?” is a fun mystery as the original members of an expedition are killed one at a time, until only the bad guy remains in the last episode.   All the chaos revolves around seeking a statue with six movable arms, in the shape of (wait for it…) a scorpion.  Each arm holds a lens. If they are all lined up properly, when sunlight flows through them various mayhem results, including explosions and melting solid rock.   It is a super-weapon, but also a great metaphor: line up the elements of your life perfectly, and you release an energy unknown.

 

Most people are at best “focused”.  Focus can burn a hole in paper.   But when you align all the aspects of your Self, you are more like a laser. And lasers can burn holes in diamond.

 

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I returned home last night, after flying to North Carolina, driving 500 miles roundtrip to South Carolina to spend a couple of hours with the wonderful kids at Mama G’s community center (and having a chance to play with her.  Hey, instead of zero to countless, my score was a ferocious one to six!  Vast improvement on my part…), get back to Chapel Hill to talk Afrofuturism to a roomful of brilliant students with high-level bullshit detectors, and getting to the airport for my trip home.

 

Home.  Where Tananarive and Jason and Django and Ginger live.   Home.  Where I wake up and go to sleep, where I recharge for another day of work and play.

 

It is where my heart lives.  I take it with me wherever I go, so that any time I want I can line up the energetic “lenses” of my humanity: survival, sexuality, power, emotion, communication, intellect, and spiritual commitment.   Boom.  Any time I do that, I’m totally awake, totally present.  My survival energy rises through all the ways it manifests in the world, and I’m a live wire.

 

The trick is to get the first four together.  Survival, sex, power, and emotion.  Do that, and the rest take care of themselves. The mistake is to try to “think” your way through your life. That ends in a ball of confusion. The Instructions on how to get out of the box are written on the outside of the box.

 

To get out, you either just bang your head bloody and hope a wall fractures.  You can  wait to outgrow it, and hope you don’t strangle in your own waste products before the box pops…and deposits you in a shiny new (but larger) box.  Or you can find an ally, someone who has already grown beyond a similar box, and ask them to lend you the keys.

 

There are two basic ways out.   One is to start with the physical.   Develop the skills to care for your body and survive in a career contributing honestly to your community.  Learn to satisfy your sexual desires with integrity, creating a “nest” that could provide for a mate and children (even if you have no intent to HAVE kids, it is wise to learn to have the adult resources to potentially provide for them.   Something the “Incels” often fail to understand).  And open your heart, so that that (potential) mate has a safe place to open THEIR heart. So that children would be safe and nurtured with you.

 

That’s the core survival wiring, and that path just flat works.  People who feel lost, depressed, scattered…can re-connect in one of a couple of ways.

 

  1. Move their bodies.   We evolved to move.  When we move enough to trigger growth responses in our bodies (by pushing through aerobic limits, mobility limits, current strength limits) we trigger a kind of focus that takes us out of “first world” problems and into the animal.  Their problem was that they weren’t in their bodies.  When you aren’t…it is easy to get lost.  They don’t know “what is true.”
  2. Connect with their hearts.   They don’t have the answer to the most basic and important question for thinking feeling beings: “who am I?” the partner to  “what is true?”  Here, meditation techniques of various kinds are wonderful.  My favorite is Heartbeat Meditation.  Second favorite is The Ancient Child, which I perform every day, centering and bringing my life back into focus.

 

Both of them can and should be incorporated into a daily Morning Ritual.  Just…what you do first thing in the morning.  You learn to line up all your “lenses” so that every action, every breath has meaning. THERE IS NO WASTED TIME. NO WASTED EFFORT, WHEN YOU KNOW THE MEANING AND PURPOSE BEHIND EVERY ACTION.

 

I am SO happy that more of you are trying this.  Blending movement with thought and feeling.   It may feel awkward at first, but you can change your entire life if you stick with it.

 

“Right now everything looks so strange to me, as if I don’t belong here. It’s me that’s out of place. And the worst thing is that I feel there’s somewhere I do belong, but I just can’t find it.”

 

We lose touch with ourselves, our hearts, our place in the world.   Love yourself.  Belong to yourself.  Own your life.   There IS somewhere you belong.  Everywhere.  But most essentially, within your own heart.  Have that, learn to focus and align it, and you can make the most out of whatever energy you have, at whatever stage of life you may be.

 

Billy Batson just wanted to survive, but found himself in the midst of a great adventure, everyone around him plotting and planning to master the power that controls destiny.   Killing and cheating and stealing and lying and pretending to be things they were not.

 

But an old wise man taught him that if he just chanted an affirmation he would have the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury.  He would have what all the others sought, and the power was right within him, to be unleashed by courage and commitment and the urge to help those he loved.

 

That power is yours. But first…love yourself. That’s where it starts.

 

Shazam!

Steven Barnes

 

(The Morning M.A.G.I.C. for Writers program is finally available.   For more information just go to www.morningwriters.com!)

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On “Breaking Bad” and how easy it is to deceive ourselves.

Skyler White: Walt, please, let’s both of us stop trying to justify this whole thing and admit you’re in danger!

Walter White: Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? Do you know how much I make a year? I mean, even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe it. Do you know what would happen if I suddenly decided to stop going into work? A business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly up. Disappears! It ceases to exist without me. No, you clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I AM the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!

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Let’s say you wonder why people who voted a particular way have trouble realizing they made a mistake.

 

I remember how aghast I was that the end of “Breaking Bad” was in sight, and people still insisted that Walter White was a victim of circumstances, that he was only doing what he had to do.  I can only think that they are telling you that, in those circumstances, they would do what he did. Or…that they would be willing to accept a murderous bastard as long as he put bread on the table.  Or…I don’t know. But what was glaringly obvious to me: he was a bad man who had the misfortune to discover it (much like my view of Michael Corleone).

 

We are what we are. That ultimate being-ness may be ineffable and beyond ultimate purchase, but the best indicator is WHAT WE DO.

 

The next best is WHAT WE SAY ABOUT WHAT WE DO.  That tells people what you think about yourself…or what you want them to think about you.

 

Start by assuming that the best way to be a human being is the WORST way to write: text and subtext are the same thing.  Walter White is in a life and death struggle with his alter ego, “Heisenberg”, a ruthless gangster.  At the same time he wants to think of himself as a good family man. He continues this self-deception on and off until the very end, when he manages to create utterly ruthless actions that somehow reinforce the notion that, at the core of him, he is “good.”

 

This is one reason why the “Sentence a day” technique works so well.  There is simply no rational reason why someone cannot write ten words in a 24 hour period. If you say you want to write…write.  It really is that simple.  If your focus is on best-selling or prize-winning writing, there are certainly things you can do to optimize your chances…but in most cases what we want is to be the best writers we can be, by our own definitions.

 

What do writers do?  They write. If they don’t write, they are not writers, in the sense of “to do”.  They may well be authors, in the sense of “have done writing in the past”, but you have to decide: which are you more interested in?   Money, fame, awards are for authors. So…you must have written.  But if you love it, do it. There is nothing more miserable than writers who lose their way

  1. Writing for money
  2. Writing for awards
  3. Writing for reviews
  4. Writing to please your fans

 

All of these things are fine IF AND ONLY IF YOU ARE ALSO WRITING TO PLEASE YOURSELF. Otherwise, you are at risk of becoming a hack.  And if you ever had the dream of being a writer for love’s sake, this is a road to hell, and some of the least happy people I’ve ever known traveled that road.

 

The trick to doing both is to look at two circles:

  1. Things you’d want to write
  2. Things you think the market will accept.

 

Where those two circles over lap…there you write.  Heck, when I wrote my first episode of BAYWATCH my question was: what is real about this?  What expresses ME?  Otherwise I get nothing but money.  And ultimately, the “kid” part of me that comes up with the ideas doesn’t give a shit about money.  Little Stevie only cares about cool ideas.  If HE is not happy…I’m in trouble.

 

I have to keep my path to “Little Stevie” open, and I do that by writing EVERY DAY, by clarifying my values and long-term outcomes, writing out my thoughts, and making daily progress on a primary writing project.

 

Today? Exchanging an email with a source of psychological expertise in the arena of serial killers for my new novel “Traveler”.

 

And…working on the proposal for my graphic novel with Charles Johnson. Basically, taking a successful proposal and re-writing it to fit my project.

 

But the trick is to remember that our behaviors lead to our outcomes. Our mental and emotional states drive our behaviors.  And the smallest building blocks, laid one at a time, create the largest and most beautiful edifices which will ultimately be a testimony to the lives we have lived.

 

If you can own every step, be proud of all you have done, make your peace with the reality that not every brick will be laid straight or on a perfect time-table…but continue to lay at least one every day…

 

In time, your palace will be built.  Once upon a time a friend told me that I not only build dream palaces, but I move into them.

 

This is how you do it.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

What is your most important outcome this week?

 

Watching 1971’s   ANDROMEDA STRAIN. At the end of this very intellectual, emotionally cool film a doctor must run a gauntlet of ladders and lasers to stop a nuclear weapon from killing him and spreading an extinction-level pathogen around the world.   Seriously tense, exciting stuff.

 

And he barely makes it, combining puzzle-solving, physical courage, physical strength, resistance to pain, focus and clarity of intent into a final climactic action.

 

It’s “wow” stuff.  But LIFEWRITING suggests that we love these scenes because we know, deep inside, that WE could do such heroic things, if we ever had the motivations. If our lives, or the lives of our loved ones where at stake.

 

Well…guess what?  They are.

 

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I was asked what single thing would need most to change for people to live happier healthier lives?  My answer was

  1. Clarity on the fact that it is possible.
  2. Loving themselves enough to be willing to do Whatever It Takes to have that better result.

 

Without the first, CLARITY, it is possible to get lost in delusion, accepting a lack of energy or aliveness without investigating the behaviors and attitudes that produce it.

 

Without the second, you don’t have the DISCIPLINE to move through discomfort, or allot time, to produce those results.

 

We will do “whatever it takes” for our kids, but often won’t get off the couch for ourselves, won’t investigate a choice like Intermittent Fasting.

 

Of course, the same thing is true of improving relationships, creating a writing career, or creating financial stability.

 

You have to know the WHAT.

You have to have the WHY

And only then do you concern yourself with HOW.

 

The “how” is largely: what is the most important thing for you to accomplish today?  This week? This month?

 

And after you identify it, just have one successful day at a time, then a series of successful weeks, and successful months, and you have your life.

 

Of course, the key to a successful day is identifying successful  moments.  And to do that, you can use the “Morning Ritual” concept–just 5-20 minutes a day when you align body, emotions, and focus.

 

That’s all it takes. What is sad is people who will complain about their energy, emotions, financial situation, fitness, or whatever…but won’t discipline themselves for five minutes to find a way out of the maze.

 

Would they do it for their kids?  Hell, yes.

 

So…start with love.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

Sex Robots and “Incel Traps”

“Westworld” and other shows, movies, and prose as well as the headlines speak of sex robots which will become more and more indistinguishable from real human beings.   I suggest that they will become traps for dysfunctional people, and not something that threatens human reproduction as a whole.

 

Because I don’t think healthy relationships are difficult for healthy people to find, I consider them one of the primary maturation points for human beings.   Sex robots would allow people to avoid that step.  It would be like living in a world with tons of free food, and all physical work done by machines: obesity would skyrocket.

 

What you would have is the emotional/spiritual equivalent of that maladaption, and it wouldn’t be pretty.

 

What is necessary to find that real realtionship?

  1. Love yourself, deeply.  If you do, you will be able to be attracted to some of those attracted to you–you will see yourself in them. We are attracted to people at our level of energy and integration…and above. We attract those at our level…and below.
  2. Develop enough power to attract and hold the level of beauty you desire. Or, the level of beauty to attract the level of power you desire.  If your desires don’t match your ability to attract…see step #1.

 

The “how” would be techniques like Heartbeat Meditation, The Ancient Child, and the Morning Ritual.   There are others out there, of course, and if you are alone, I pray you will align your body, mind, emotions, and instincts.   If you are constantly attracted to people you cannot attract, this is a clue that there is work to be done.

 

Those who take the escape hatch of a cybernetic relationship are playing a very different game, and it is a dead end.

It’s not hard to be King…it’s just every day.

(The title above is a play on a comment someone once made about parentage: it isn’t hard. It’s just daily.)

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Bought the Blu-Ray of Black Panther yesterday (I didn’t know DVD was a dying format.   Couldn’t even find a copy at Best Buy!) and watched it for the sixth time.   Man, that movie holds up.   On a core level, it is about a man learning to be a king, and having to define what that means to him.  To that end, his relationship to the kingdom is essential, and there is a beautiful, wide range of aspects to Wakanda that are shown or discussed.

 

One of my favorite moments is when he visits the Ancestral Plane, and speaks to his father’s spirit.   The situation is that he feels unprepared to be a king, specifically to go forward without the guidance of his father.  He has a Dark Night, related to his sense of guilt at not saving his father’s life in CIVIL WAR.

 

The truth is that life comes at us at Mach speed, and we are seldom ready. But his father, a good man (who made some bad choice…as do we all) reminds him that he prepared to be king EVERY DAY OF HIS LIFE. And that any man who does not prepare his children to go on without him has failed them.

 

“Have I failed you?”

“Never”, T’Challa replies.

 

And he gains the strength to rise and begin his reign as King of Wakanda, the titular Black Panther.

 

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This is what all parents fear at times: that they are not prepared, not ready, not good enough, will fail our children.  And this is true even if you had a great Mom and Dad who were there for you to model every day. Living up to that example can seem daunting.

 

But we must try.  The voices in our head saying “you’re not enough” will always be there.   They may get quieter, but they never completely shut up.  If we are to do what we must for our families, our lives, the “child” dreamer within us, we have to prepare EVERY DAY for the life we desire, both to up our game and gain the ability to act despite the doubting voices.

 

Every day I get notes from people complaining about stress, and lack of focus, or context-based feelings of depression and despair. All I can do is continue to state that our moods are INFLUENCED, but not DETERMINED by what is happening around us.  That our emotions are the result of what we focus on, how we use language, and the way we move our bodies. I rejoice every time someone discovers this and uses it for themselves, but it is so sad when, a week or so later, I see the same person complain about the same stress…and no, they have done nothing I suggested.   It hurts.  But…people have to be who they are. I can only continue to speak, hoping that those who wish to be the kings and queens of their inner kingdoms will hear.

 

Wakanda Forever!

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.afrofuturismandhorror.com

Happy Independence Day!

 

 

 

  “Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in this history of mankind.

Mankind — that word should have new meaning for all of us today.

We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore.

We will be united in our common interests.

Perhaps its fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution — but from annihilation.

We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist.

And should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice:

“We will not go quietly into the night!

We will not vanish without a fight!

We’re going to live on!

We’re going to survive!”

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!”

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I flat-out LOVE ID4.  It is the epitome of cheese, but announces its intent when it plays “It’s the end of the world as we know it” over the initial scenes.  In some senses it isn’t a movie as much as a checklist of tropes, a “greatest hits” of all the things we’ve ever loved from alien invasion movies.

 

But…if you think it isn’t SF, I think you’re missing something. One of the most consistent tropes in science fiction is the notion that “If the aliens attacked, all mankind would drop their differences and pull together to defend Earth.” I submit to you that ID4 is the first movie or depiction of this idea that actually believed it.

 

I find that a fine notion. That most of our differences are petty tribal squabbles, only important if there are no higher values on the table.

 

Well…we have higher values on the table. Our survival as a nation, as a planet, as moral and ethical beings capable of rising above basic animal concerns.  Our ability to rise to the heights of possibility, embrace freedom, live up to the dreams our ancestors dared to dream…even though they often could not live up to them themselves.

 

Today, remember the sacrifices of those who came before.

Today, honor the men and women who fought, and loved hard, and prayed their children would enjoy a world in which poverty is measured by obesity rather than starvation.

Today, hold those who are dear to you, and take some time to just…relax. Be.

Grill those burgers, watch those movies, play on that beach, kiss your sweetie, watch the sunset and relish the explosions, the bombs bursting in air that symbolize the destruction we were willing to risk to create a world worth passing to our grandchildren.

 

The struggle is real. And so are the rewards.  Tomorrow, it is back to the fray. Today, relax and renew.

 

“We will not go quietly into the night!

We will not vanish without a fight!

We’re going to live on!

We’re going to survive!”

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!”

 

Namaste

Steven Barnes

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

“The Martian” and balancing thought and emotion

At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home. All right, questions?“–Matt Damon as Mark Watney in THE MARTIAN.

 

When your life is on the line, you have to access your problem-solving ability, or you will die. The survival emotions motivate you…but if they overwhelm you you get stupid.  And that means there can be answers right in front of you, and you won’t see them.

 

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I keep hearing people begging for help with their stress levels.  These are generally people terrified by the news, and disheartened by the viciousness of internet arguments.

 

In other words…they engage with the world to try to improve their lives, but are overwhelmed by all the ugliness, see nothing they can do to improve the situation, and therefore fight the urge to curl into a ball and cry.

 

The trick is that by the time you feel the stress you are often in a “tunnel” where you can’t do the very things most efficient and effective to deal with it.  What if you can’t do anything directly about a problem?  Then seek peace and joy in your own life, and be a role model for others.  When there IS something you can do…act with power and precision, be effective and efficient.  That’s how it gets done: when you can do something, act. When you cannot…live.  And prepare.

 

The Morning Ritual is a “sigil”, a compression of dozens of different ideas about human performance.  Let’s tease out a few of the most important ideas dealing with stress.

 

  1. Stress creates perceptual “tunnels” in which you cannot see anything but the threat.  In other words, denies you access to the very tools that could solve the problem.
  2. Stress is not the real problem–“STRAIN” is the real problem.  Stress is just the amount of pressure you are under. But if you can handle it, stress actually trigger growth: you NEED it to become strong.  Strain is a negative response, an “overload” situation. THAT is what you must avoid.
  3. External events don’t directly create internal response.  Your perceptual filters, beliefs, values, expectations and so forth will determine how you react to the things that happen in life.
  4. The more important the situation, the more dangerous, the more critical it is that you remain focused and balanced.  Especially if you are a leader of some kind–people look up to you to determine how they should react.
  5. The emotions are controlled by what we focus on, our self-talk, and the way we use our bodies.
  6. The most important aspect of the physical is the breathing, the only process that is both voluntary and autonomic.
  7. Your perfect choice is to integrate proper breathing and motion daily, BEFORE you need stress-relief.  By the time you are panicked, it is often too late.
  8. Tai Chi folks have a good idea: twice a day for 10-20 minutes, morning and night.  You focus, breathe, refine posture, control the internal dialogue. This maps over to life situations beautifully.
  9. IF YOU BREATHE AS IF YOU ARE CALM, YOU WILL FEEL CALM. It really is as simple as that.
  10. So…at a minimum integrate slow, steady, deep, diaphragmatic “belly breathing” into the Morning Ritual.  If you are stressed, do this every three hours for sixty seconds. If you are REALLY stressed, do it at the top of every hour.

 

As simple as that. If you don’t interrupt the cycle of stress with PHYSICAL MOTION, you are pretty much choosing to be unhappy.  Choosing pain. Which is irrational, and contrary to core survival programming.   That implies that some part of you associates more pain to RELIEVING the stress than suffering through it.

 

Why?  Perhaps we believe that fear and   panic are NECESSARY.  I submit to you that they are USEFUL in that they get your attention and begin the “preparation for action” spiral. But necessary?  No.  If you find that your fear turns to anger, and you are using that anger to motivate you to action…GREAT!

 

But if it is chewing you up alive, I suggest that you are pouring too much gasoline on the fire, and cannot control the burn.

 

The more important the situation, the more life-threatening, the more responsible you are for the welfare of others…the more important emotional control is.

 

And this is where a daily, a MORNING ritual of focus, motion and emotion can literally save your life.  You don’t have to be lost on Mars to need every “little gray cell” in your head.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

“The Hunger Games”: Clarity of Purpose

Watching THE HUNGER GAMES yesterday as the result of a little game: we’d seen Donald Sutherland in DISCLOSURE playing a slimy billionaire, and thought we’d follow that thread to another film, where he plays a slimy president.  He does slimy GREAT.

 

At any rate, I remembered enjoying these movies well enough in the theater, although I would have felt just a little silly seeing them without Nicki.  The thing about movies like this is that at the core of them, there is a vast amount of action, explosions, screaming, plotting, and so forth, but at the core is the “young person grows up” notion. The “at the end of this series Katniss Everdeen becomes the hero of her people” notion, with everything else being steps along the way.

 

CONFRONTED WITH CHALLENGE: To embrace her power as a hero.

REJECT THE CHALLENGE: She just wants to be left alone, to hunt and lead a meager life in a dominated township.

ACCEPTS THE CHALLENGE: When her little sister is chosen to compete in a lethal winner-take-all event, Katniss takes her first step along the Hero Path, volunteering to take her place.

 

 

O.K.–that’s the “inciting event”.  After that, Katniss only has to remember her sister, or access her own survival drive, or remember the sacrifices of her friends, or her anger at Southerland’s evil president, or her love of Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of dewy-eyed Actors) or whatever, and she has the motivation to survive, and excel, and triumph.

 

The WHAT is “become the hero”.  The WHY arguably covers EVERY chakra: survival, sex, power, love, communication, learning, spiritual commitment.

 

The “HOW” is four movies that made a combined total of 1.45 BILLION dollars.  Every twist, turn, action, sacrifice, solution, and reward, every setback and loss or victory is a step along the road to becoming her true self, a hero of her people.

 

Katniss woke up every day knowing that if she didn’t move, run, fight, hunt, accomplish and problem-solve…she would DIE.

 

The illusion we have is that we have all the time in the world to accomplish the things we desire.  Heroes are simply people forced by internal or external motivations to ACT.   We watch her, and thrill to her clarity of purpose, thinking on some level “I wonder if I  could rise to that level, if the circumstances demanded.”

 

I choose to believe that I could. That YOU could.   But you would have to have clarity of purpose, have to develop skills IN ADVANCE of the emergency, and grow the emotional sinew capable of getting up again, and again, and again…

 

Not because there are armed enemies coming to kill us, but because we know that without that focus, we lose our way in life, and are forced to “settle” for a fraction of the love, joy, health, success, contribution and growth we could have had.

 

WHAT do you want?

WHY do you want it?

Only then…HOW will you do it?

 

That’s the syntax. And you need to hammer that in every day, at least partially by looking at the lives of people who DON’T know why they are getting out of bed in the morning (other than avoiding the pain of starvation), or even worse…don’t have any specific goals, just drift from action to action, motivated by that fear, or controlled by those who DO have clear goals.

I get emails, PMs and see posts EVERY DAY by people struggling with their lives.  Not ONE of them has the tools I’m discussing. What. Why.  How. The energy to push through barriers. A way to control their emotions.  A way to make THIS DAY a perfect step along the larger, longer life path.

 

This is what the MORNING RITUAL is about: every day, becoming “the hero in the adventure of your lifetime.”

 

You deserve nothing less.   If you have ever thrilled to these stories…it is because there is a part of you that sees itself in those actions.    Make that part happy, and you access a totally new and powerful chamber of your heart, and life will never be the same again.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

What is the most important thing I can do TODAY?

Morning Ritual starts when you wake up.   People who comment on my personal energy are sometimes amazed that I don’t “wake up” with it every day.  No, I have to work that Chinese Puzzle Ball, find the thing I am most committed to in life, think of the most important thing I have to do TODAY to bring it into existence, and how accomplishing it with style and joy will benefit every aspect of my life.

 

ULTIMATE GOAL: JOY

ULTIMATE OUTCOMES: SUPERB FITNESS, RELATIONSHIPS, FINANCES,   CONTRIBUTION AND GROWTH.

IMMEDIATE OUTCOME TODAY: Major progress on marketing plan, major progress on primary writing project, “Traveler.”

 

What can I do today to  move the marketing of the “Morning Ritual for Writers” program?   I can stay focused on who I was at the age of thirty: unsuccessful writer, unsuccessful martial artist, no relationship.  And…what “message in a bottle” can I send back to him to get him on track in just five minutes a day, and what would I have to say in an ad to attract his attention?

 

What can I do today to move “Traveler” forward?   I need to align the thematics from the different major chunks of the book. A major theme will have to be relationships.  If you handle survival, sex, power, and emotion with grace and balance the rest grows naturally.

 

What is the primary relationship I can look at today?    That would be Gus, the ex-cop hero of the story, a good man who has ruined his life and marriage…and has one last chance at redemption.  And his wife Athena, UCLA lecturer in Abnormal Sociology, a woman who was the light to his darkness, and finally left him to save herself.  Gus’ redemption arc is external (catch the time traveler) and internal (become a better man who can deserve a woman like Athena). Along the way he will have to learn, grow, win, lose, survive despair, heal, and become the hero she always saw in him.  Athena will have her own journey, and her insights into the human mind and the psychology of mass destruction will be central to the story.

 

“Love is not two people looking at each other. It is two people looking in the same direction.”  If true…then I’m saying that they love each other, but were heading in opposite directions. To “save” the marriage one or both of them must change. Gus needs the most change: it is his story, his arc.  Athena will have her own journey, but let’s drill down here.

 

 

Any writing expresses what you think about human beings (“who am I?”) and the ethical structure of the universe (what is true?”).  Where can I find a speck of truth about relationships, people, the world that I can insert into this book?  Use as a reference point in their relationship?  How about the scene where Athena tells him goodbye? That she’s had enough?

 

To get to that moment, I have to ask how we fall in love.   Some combination of hormones, visual anchors, matching of values beliefs and outcomes, smell, touch, and taste. At some point something goes “BANG” and you realize something is happening.

 

With Tananarive I thought she was cute and perky, then I thought she was very intelligent and talented.  The emotions triggered were protectiveness, not romantic interest or lust.   Acknowledgement of her attractiveness was certainly there: when I watched her dance, she moved like a healthy animal, and her body was fit, sinewy and quite…lively.  Ahem.

 

But I really, really didn’t “trigger”.  My only thought was: “here is a young lady with a future.  She has a destiny.  I think I could share what I know with her, and be a mensch.   She could use a big brother.”   The first night at the conference, we watched SEINFELD in her room, sitting on different beds. I was VERY careful with my body language: I wanted her to feel totally comfortable.

 

It wasn’t until the last day of the conference that something “clicked”.  It happened when she described how she got Stephen King to give her a cover blurb. I saw ambition, tactical and strategic thinking, the ability to think laterally, high-level skills in an apparently disassociated arena applied to a new purpose (using musical skills to get into King’s rock band) and more.

 

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I saw someone who had about every human quality I hold most dear, who was moving in my direction, revving up to take the world by the throat, unafraid of risk or rejection, with the self-love and emotional permission to care for her physical body in a way that made me feel “my tribe.”

 

NOTE: Remove any one of those major pieces and that devastating reaction doesn’t happen.  Now…which of those things are necessary for the CONTINUATION and elevation of those emotions?  Well, the things that relate to the basic nature of the person. In other words, if T got hit by a car, even though she can’t take care of her body the same way, she is still the same person. If she changed her values and stopped wanting to write…as long as she had that same intensity about, say, teaching, she is also the same person.

 

But what if you extracted those qualities and began to reverse them, like re-setting dip switches? How many of them could shift without deeply affecting my feeling of connection?

 

Everyone has limits.  Sweetness into meanness? Ambition into “laziness”? Activity into sloth? Discipline into excess?

 

How many?  When I look around at relationships that have gone sour, I’ve seen the following causes:

  1. Infidelity.  Especially serial infidelity.  Different intensities and meanings at different times in the relationship, and interpreted differently by males and females.
  2. Financial instability.  Huge.  More devastating than cheating.
  3. Lack of sexual compatibility
  4. Lying and manipulating
  5. Abuse
  6. Lack of emotional compatibility and empathy
  7. The sexual power polarities can change, creating tension…or boredom.  Seen this happen in “House Husband” relationships, and it wasn’t pretty.

 

The relationship can run out of gas, can become too explosive, or too painful.   I don’t think I want boredom to be a factor in this case.  More likely too much excitement and “drammer.”      Better to have Athena feel that Gus is becoming something dangerous to her psyche and sense of well being.

 

But what?  I have a very good sense of the cluster of negative behaviors and attitudes that Gus could have, that mirror real-world break-ups in a “useful” way. Why useful?  Because they have to be capable of being resolved with a story arc.

 

Ah…in what way?   Well…the perfect character is a window into a situation.  It is through their attitudes, perceptions, and actions that the situation becomes known. Why did I choose THIS character to deal with THIS situation?

 

Ideally…because the arc of external action (resolution of the plot) mirrors the arc of internal change (how they must grow or heal to move to the next level of their lives.)

 

“Die Hard” is about a group of terrorists taking over a building…but it is also about a cop who is losing his wife, and how he comes to realize how much he adores her. And a woman seeking professional self-expression, and how she comes to value the very things that drove her crazy about her husband.

 

Two people who were about to be torn apart by their egos, who come together when the shit gets real.  Defeating the terrorists is healing their marriage!   THAT is a terrific story, one often imitated but never excelled in the genre.   “Traveler” is in that vein, but different in that Gus is more at fault than John McClaine ever was, and he needs to “come correct” in a variety of ways that will require ego death.

 

HIS SELF IMAGE IS SIMPLY…WRONG.    And as  long as he clings to it, his marriage, his career, his life is in peril.  So the story has to be set up so that his inner and outer journeys reflect and amplify each other.

 

So…the scene where Athena tells him she’s leaving has to encapsulate the themes of the entire book, such that on one level the readers will think: “you think you can live without this man?  Just wait. You think you can live without this woman?  Just wait!”  but on another level, they will thrill to wonder just what will happen before that hopeful reunion.  They want the experience of closing the book thinking “Wow!  What a story!  I never saw THAT coming!” but also a sense that, on second reading, all the pieces of the puzzle were there…and that it all makes perfect, human sense.

 

So…what is the most important thing I can do today?  I can look at the structure of the three parts.   Think of the external journey.  And make major progress to make the inner and outer connect.

 

How long will that take?   Well…here’s a secret: REALIZING I NEEDED TO DO THAT WAS THE MAJOR PROGRESS I NEEDED.

 

I’ve already won, don’t you understand? Today is already a success. All I need do is write ONE SENTENCE in the script, a line of dialogue or description or summation that states what is needed.

 

Get it out of my head.  Onto paper.  No, writing it here on my blog, or on Facebook, isn’t enough…unless I drag and drop a relevant sentence into the actual Traveler document (currently at 245 pages on WRITERDUET).   Do that…and I win the game today.

 

Most important thing with Jason?  Just tell him I love him and am proud of his very good week. He did GREAT with his Algebra yesterday, and was rewarded with a theater party with friends to see “Jurassic World.” Blue is so damned cute!

 

Most important thing with T? Pick her up at the airport tonight.  Fetch sushi.

 

Most important thing with my finances?   Check my Mint account.

 

Most important thing with my body?  Yoga and Tai Chi/Morning ritual.

 

Bim, Bam, Boom.  I know what, and why, and the “Morning Ritual” is “how.”

 

Time to get to work!

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

RIP Harlan Ellison

Harlan was a giant squeezed into a 5’5″ frame, and what you felt around him was a sense of that energy compressed.  He was the first human being I’d met at his level of energy and integration. And…I was fascinated.

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I’d read his articles in the Free Press in the late 60’s, heard him on the radio, seen him on television, and read his stories in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, as well as a collection of shorts I’d picked up in a used book store. And wow, that episode of THE OUTER LIMITS, “Demon With A Glass Hand” in 1964 was just amazing television.  I was twelve years old.  Mind blown.

 

One person did all of this? One person was such an astute observer of society, such a blazingly original fiction voice, such an unapologetic and combative defender of Truth, however he saw it?

 

Of course I didn’t agree with him on everything–especially not everything that was his “act” as opposed to his private presence.  He performed The Harlan Show with diabolical precision and presence.   But I wasn’t fooled by that…I knew there was more, and wanted to find out what it was.

 

I stalked him.   Not at his home.   Every time there was a public event, a speech or roundtable or interview, ANYTHING, I attended. Sat in the first row.   Asked polite questions. I knew that, given time, he’d start to wonder who I was.  And…it worked.   Over time, we began to exchange words, and then polite conversation.  Yes, there was a day I decided to try the Fast Gun, and at another time I’ll tell you how effortlessly he took me down.  I’ll say only that it didn’t sting: I’d learned something I needed to know.

 

What was it? That Harlan’s verbal reaction speed was uncanny.  The reaction went from brain to mouth with no pause at common sense.   Pure survival flash, and I recognized it.    Martial artists who have either trained like Shaolin Monks, been in combat, boxed at competition level, been in countless street fights…or were abused as children and re-integrated successfully react with that speed.   Dangerous as hell.  When combined with real technique?  Lethal.

 

Harlan’s mind was Shaolin-level conceptual/verbal kung fu, there is no doubt.    But there was something else…he was the first person I’d had a chance to study who revealed what I call the “Chinese Puzzle Ball” effect.

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Know those carved wooden puzzle balls, concentric skeletal shells you can rotate to stick a pencil through?  Real fun.  Well…most people’s creativity, or sexuality, or combative spark or “genius” is like that.  They have to have the lights, and music, and talk, and environment JUST RIGHT and you can access what Harlan called “the burning core.”

 

And…some people are like those annoying prodigies who can solve Rubik’s cubes while juggling them.  Ugh.  Harlan could go into “flow” harder  than anyone I’d ever seen. That’s what the “write a story in a store window” thing was, to me.  Like meditating in a room full of hungry cats.  That was a hell of a mind. I’m not surprised that he trained for a time with Bruce Lee, and man, do I wish I’d been a fly on the wall during one of THOSE sessions.  And yes, we talked about that. Another time.

 

##

 

I wanted to tell you about the most meaningful interaction I had with Harlan.   He knew damned well how much I admired him, and it seemed to me that when people were sincere, and not fawning but genuinely respectful, he rewarded  that frank and honest emotion by dropping the “HARLAN!” act. Then he, like other masters I’ve known, was just a man walking a road one day at a time.   Bradbury, Inosanto,  Butler, Niven, Muhammad, Stewart, Spielberg, Bill Nolan…I’ve encountered this before, a combination of humbleness and supreme confidence.   And appreciation of anyone who finds the same road of fascinating interest.

 

Remember the definition of Mastery?   Once you have the basics, and have committed to your path for a lifetime, you are as much a “Master” as anyone else on the road…even if they are horizons beyond you.   They have a real sense of that path between the Child and the Elder.   Harlan’s “child” was an adorable six-year old, and anyone who tried to fuck with him ran into the most terrifying Tiger Daddy imaginable.

 

But what he really wanted was playmates.    I knew that we liked each other, but I wasn’t remotely at the same level as a writer. Horizons distant, he was.

 

I published my first solo novel, STREETLETHAL, in 1983.  It was a shaky time in my relationship with Nicki’s mom Toni, and I was living by myself in the San Fernando Valley on a street called Hayvenhurst.    I was hanging on to my sense of possibility by a fingernail–terrified about that first solo effort (DREAM PARK had been an enormous success.  THE DESCENT OF ANANSI had been a painful, humiliating experience I barely survived.)

 

So when Jim Baen outbid Susan Allison for my freshman solo, it felt like all the world was opening itself to me…but also my every nerve felt exposed and vulnerable.  I made sure that Beth Meacham, my wonderful editor, sent Harlan a  galley (other readers included Norman Spinrad and Gordon Dickson), and I remember the day I got a call from Harlan saying that he’d received a copy and liked the first page…it reminded him of his own work.

 

Cue optimistic music.  About three days later, it was raining out.  About eight o’clock on a very dark, cold, drizzly evening and I was alone at home. The phone rang and it was Harlan. His voice sounded pained, like a family doctor about to read a regrettable diagnosis.  “Steve..?” he said.   “Is it too late to stop publication..?

 

I sat on the floor in my living room, listening to my hero tell me all the reasons why the book…just wasn’t good.  I could hear the deep regret in his voice. There was NO cruelty there, just advice for a kid stumbling behind, far far behind, on the road.

 

When I hung up the phone, I broke down and sobbed.  Yeah, it was too late to stop publication, even if I’d wanted to.  It wasn’t that I believed everything he said.  It was that I didn’t have the strength to totally discount it either, and his opinions allied themselves with my own demons.

###

Some years later, because my Hollywood agent Marvin Moss packaged “The Twilight Zone” reboot for CBS with uber-producer Phil DeGuirre, an (unproduced)  script I’d done for The Disney Channel passed the story editor’s desk. They liked it, and we met in a room at the Beverly Garland Hotel.   DeGuirre, Jim Crocker, Dorothy Fontana, and…Harlan Ellison.

 

“How did you get here, Steve?” he asked with genuine curiosity.   He listened, smiled as he munched a Danish, and said, “well, kid…don’t look behind you.  Just keep running.”

 

I did.  I ran as fast as I could, trying to keep up with the big dogs.  Couldn’t quite do it, and when I wrote my second episode, an adaptation of Rober Silverberg’s TO SEE THE INVISIBLE MAN, Harlan read my first draft and as kindly as possible, expressed disappointment, walking me through the process of creating a series of visual images that express the plot and themes of the work. THAT was my job as a screenwriter.  And…I hadn’t done it.   I was better than I’d been, but still not good enough.

 

##

 

I survived that experience, and soldiered on.  Years passed, and we got to know each other better, and I was always careful to be as genuine, honest, friendly, helpful and “fun” as I could be.  Not always easy…but this isn’t the time for those thoughts.  I’ll just say that my times with him were a beautiful thing.  I’d never thought to be actual friends with this Celestial Being I’d worshipped from afar as a kid. And that house on the hill!  Good Lord.   Harlan’s house was like his head, turned inside out. Chock A Block with souvenirs and posters and rooms designed by Will Eisner, and others hidden away from sight…with histories I won’t discuss now, but let’s just say that although he was never into drugs or alcohol the 60’s were very, very good to Uncle Harlan.

At his front door is a plaque that says: ELLISON WONDERLAND.  DIG…OR SPLIT.

I dug.

 

##

 

When THE OUTER LIMITS was rebooted in 1995, I was stoked–it had been one of my all time favorite shows, and I pitched an idea called “Recidivist” about a time-traveling serial killer.  They loved it, retitled it “A Stitch In Time” and I wrote my ass off.

 

There is a simple truth I hold as gospel:  If you get up to bat enough times, eventually you’ll get a hit. Keep hitting…and one day you’ll hit a home run, and you’ll know when the vibration hits your hands.

 

I was so proud of that episode.   And…called Harlan.  Asked him if he’d seen it.

 

Understand this: much as with Octavia Butler (who Harlan discovered and sponsored to Clarion) Harlan liked ME better than he liked my writing.   I appreciated that, and knew that he was honest with me–it was a compliment, I felt.  He knew that I really wanted to BE good. I didn’t want to just “think” I was good.

 

So…I swallowed and listened for his answer.  Nope, he hadn’t seen it. Could I send him a copy?

 

I did.  VHS.   And about a week later I got another call from him.

 

“Barnes,” he asked.  “Was that your script?”

 

Yep.

 

“They didn’t rewrite all over it?”

 

Nope. Some small changes.  My words, characters, images, plot.  All of it.

 

Well…you did it.   This shit smokes. It is original, and important.    You pulled the plow, kid.”

 

And…it felt as if a raven flew out of my chest.   I’d done it. After all this time.  I had fallen in love with Harlan Ellison with an Outer Limits episode. And he had finally seen me educe from within my own burning core the quality I’d always dreamed of…in an Outer Limits episode.  I’d solved the Puzzle Ball, at last. Just once, maybe.  But even if you are consumed, it is worth it to touch the sun.  Even just once.

 

Life has a lovely symmetry sometimes, does it not?

 

##

 

I loved that man.  I saw in him the same human potential so many of us have, and so few ever explore.    There was NOTHING there discontinuous with the rest of us, and I think that was part of what drove him nuts, made him so volatile. A sense that life was so short, love so precious, art so important. God DAMN it!

His every word seemed to scream WAKE UP!!!

 

Will you not be kind to each other?  Why aren’t you sprinting toward your dreams with everything you have?  What the FUCK is wrong with you? Don’t you know the night is coming?  You think life is a dress rehearsal?

 

Harlan burned his candle at both ends, with a blowtorch in the middle.   Flawed and screwed up, he was. Because he was a real human being, trying to live in the eye of a creative storm called THE HARLAN ELLISON SHOW that he put on for the public…and if he occasionally forgot it was a role?  Well…I can forgive him for that.

 

He was the most “himself” human being I may have ever met, the simple result of having the courage to say what is really in your mind…and the brilliance of having something to say worth hearing…combined with the work ethic of a titan on amphetamines.

 

Here’s to you, my friend.   Whatever doubts and regrets you may have had, know that to me you will always be what you aspired to be: that crazy combination of  Zorro and Jiminy Cricket.

 

You pulled the plow, kid.

 

 

Namaste and Farewell…

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com