Martial Arts

What does Vegas know that you don’t?

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Love yourself

Love at least one other person

Love mankind without guilt, blame, or shame

Nurture your own tribe rather than argue pointlessly

Vow to win with integrity and compassion.



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


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


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






Seeking Balance

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



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


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




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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Those who survive?


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


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


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


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


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


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


I just needed my family.




Is Anger really Fear?


“Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler”–(often attributed to Albert Einstein, but actually much older)


A fox and a cat met in the forest, both hunted by dogs.    “Don’t worry,” the fox said.  “I know a hundred ways to escape those dogs.”


“Really?” the cat said, impressed.   “I only know one.”


The dogs appeared and attacked. The fox was so confused trying to figure out which of his hundred techniques to use that the dogs tore him apart.   The cat ran up the tree.





I remember beginning training in Filipino Kali.  The particular system said there were “five angles of attack” that we practiced thousands of times.   Imagine a clock-face, and the “angles” swooped in from 2, and then 10, and then “up” at five, and then up at seven, and then right down the center.    There were other systems that said there were eight, or twelve, or fifteen. Others that said there were only two.    Each level of complication or simplicity revealed different options with different levels of granularity.  All were true.  But I’ve always liked “five”.   The idea was that no matter what of the infinite possibilities of attacks came at you, there were really a limited number of directions it could come from. The simpler the choices, the faster the reaction.




Violence stems from anger, anger from fear.   To understand this, grasp that words about emotions are handles on slippery things that no two people experience in the same way, and even a single person rarely experiences twice in the same way.


Men, especially, seem to have a hard time with this concept.    “I’m not afraid. I’m pissed off.” Or “What about righteous anger?”  or “What about being angry about the way someone I’ve never met is treated?”


Of course it is possible to argue with the notion that anger is just fear.  But I suggest that if untrue, it is what might be called one of the most useful lies in the world.  I have never, ever seen it fail to explain anger, and usually gives a potential solution.   Let’s try a few.


  1. Someone cuts you off on the freeway, triggering rage.    Potential fears: Of being in an accident.  off being late to appointment.  Of yet another idiot impacting your life with their bad decisions (symbolic of other problems, personified as a human being).
  2. Your kid doesn’t clean his room as promised, triggering anger.   Potential fears: of being disrespected in your own home.   Of your kid not keeping his promises, which will lead to problems later in life. Of not being a good parent.
  3. A new story about a slaughter in a distant country triggers anger.  Potential fears: empathy with the victims projects your own emotions into their situation.  Fear that  cruelty could reach out to your own family.  Feeling helpless to cope with the chaos of existence.
  4. A politician is caught lying or cheating, triggering anger.   All large groups have some kind of organizing structure trusted to represent the needs of the group.  If they do not do this honorably, we feel betrayed and cut off from the decision making. Our tax dollars are wasted or stolen, our family less safe.
  5. A writer suggests that anger is fear, triggering anger.   If fear is considered weakness, while anger is equated with strength and force, then suggesting that the emotion you feel is less than “manly” can attack the ego.
  6. A mass shooter kills.  This gets tricky, unless you have a record of their thoughts and impressions. But it is certainly easy to create a theoretical structure: they feel disempowered, have few healthy relationships.  Every human being wants to feel loved and connected, and they feel that SOMETHING cuts them off from this.  Could be the increasing power and autonomy of women. The increasing power and presence of POC.  Financial instability symbolizing a loss of The American Dream.   On and on.  Combined with a fragile self-image and an act of violence might be seen as “taking your power back” or “attacking your enemies” or “putting them back in their place” or other such notions.


What is the answer?   Well, in most human interactions, I’ve found that simply asking the question “what are they afraid of?” will yield dividends.

  1. Respect.  Be polite at all times.   You may need to hurt someone, but there is rarely  a need to be impolite.
  2. Be strong.   A frightened person looking for someone to humble is deterred by strength, especially when accompanied by politeness.
  3. Be loving.   If you genuinely love people, if accompanied by strength this often triggers an open heart, or a child-like “Mommy Daddy” response. They are looking for connection, remember.
  4. Start by giving these gifts to yourself. The first principle: Love yourself. Enough to be protective.
  5. If you are stressed, you see fewer solutions, develop conceptual inflexibility.   If you are relaxed, you will see more options. And if you are relaxed…others become more relaxed in your presence.
  6. Remember that there are people so irrational, with such a delusional architecture, that from the outside you simply cannot figure out what they might be afraid of. Be careful–not all human conflicts can be settled peacefully.
  7. We cannot remove all the possible reasons for fear or a perception of injustice. But we can be kind, and do what we can to remove the obvious problems.  No matter what you do, however, someone will believe it is not enough.
  8. Remember that some people feel entitled and superior. Even a “fair” situation will then feel unfair to them, because they believe they deserve more than others…because they are better. Beware of these, because they will rarely state this directly.


Yes, there are other ways to look at the issue of violence and anger.   And because language is always incomplete, no single statement can possibly be of ultimate value.   I have never found a better, simpler, more generative  way of looking at this problem.


If you have one, I’d love to hear it.






Run, Girl, Run

“For the writers here, are there any contemporary writers who make you feel like a pretender?”


The kids in our “Author’s Club” at Sandburg Jr. High are just so cute.  We teach it every other Friday at Jason’s school.   After Career Day, Tananarive and I were approached by several kids who said they wanted to be writers.  I remember wanting desperately to be a writer,and how much it would have meant to have a real professional sharing tips…so we set it up.


We’ve decided to publish a little e-collection  of short stories, and pay every one of them five dollars. That makes them a paid, published writers.  If we put it up on Amazon for a buck or so, their friends and relatives can buy it. If the money goes to their teacher, she can disburse it to each of them, and now they get a tiny trickle of cash that reinforces their “writer” personality.


Let me tell you–the first time you buy so much as a hamburger or paperback book with the money you make from your writing, you enter a new world.    These kids are  eager.  I suspect they think that if they get across that line, it’s smooth sailing.


They are wrong.


Just yesterday, I saw a writer post the following question:  “For the writers here, are there any contemporary writers who make you feel like a pretender?”


And writer after writer posted the names of the writers who were better than them, and how they felt like “pretenders” in comparison.

That’s fine, and in some ways those voices never go away.  No matter how good you get.  Why?  Because every expert knows a thousand components that make up their craft. And the ALWAYS know people who are better at those individual components, so they ALWAYS know people “better than them.”   Doesn’t matter what field you are in.  Always better people.  You might have the best specific COMBINATION of attributes if that’s where you’ve put your emphasis.  I consider any human being to be better at me at something.  But what saves me is that I’m the best Steven Barnes in the world.  I’m who I wanted to be when I was a kid.   Might I have chosen better?  Sure, and working on it.  But no one is better at doing me than me, and considering that I really dig me, that’s a pretty cool thing to be.


But it wasn’t always like that.  I remember when a Famous Writer read the galleys on  my first solo book, STREETLETHAL…or to put it more bluntly, read the first two chapters and put it down.  “Its not ready to be published, kid.  Needs work,” he said.


It was already at the publisher.  And here was one of my favorite writers, a man at the top of his game, who I admired as I did few living human beings, telling me I sucked.  Disaster. The “Impostor voice” in my head was screaming at me: I sucked.  I had nothing.   I’d never have my dreams.  Larry Niven had only worked with me because of Affirmative Action

I was a pretender.


It was raining that night, and I lived alone so no one saw me curl up in a corner and cry. I was lost.


But…in the depths of my misery, I remembered something I’d learned while running on the track at Pepperdine University, forty years ago. My distance was five miles, and at the two mile mark, every time, the voices in my head said: STOP.  My body hurt.  I was tired.  Everything was working wrong.  YOU ARE HURTING YOURSELF.  The voice said.   YOU WILL DIE, it said.  But if I kept struggling on…I hit a rhythm, and it was like a third lobe of lung opened in my chest, and there was the energy I needed.


And I realized that THE VOICES IN MY HEAD WERE LIARS.   They told me I would die, and all they really wanted was to stop me.  And finally, after it happened a dozen times, I got the joke.  And the next time I was on the track, when the voice said “you are going to die” I answered “well, then die, dammit.  I’m going to live doing what I want, being who I am.  And if I’d die running on the track, I’d probably die by the end of the day anyway.  So…screw you.


And the voice in my head would mumble, and give up.  And I would run like the wind.


I remember that, running around and around the track at Pepperdine, sailing. And there was an old black man, gray-haired and bent,  who had stopped his laborious walk  to watch me.  Around and around the quarter-mile.  And he smiled, and called out to me:   “You keep running boy!   Ain’t no telling what a young black man can do!” And we waved to each other, and he went on his way, and I never saw him again. And never forgot him.




I was curled in the living room, staring at the telephone that had just bit me, crying.  And something inside me got mad.

So Famous Writer  thinks my book  sucks.   Not everyone will agree.  I’ll get feedback.  Keep learning and growing.   I don’t have the obligation to live up to Famous Author’s standards.  I have an obligation to be the best I can be.  The best Steven Barnes I can be.   Because really?  That’s enough.




Remember “Rocky”?  The first one?   He trained like a maniac, pounding sides of beef into tartar and drinking enough raw eggs to fuel an Ihop, but the night before the Big Fight realized that he was a joke, a laughing stock, a publicity stunt.  That he had no chance. Adrienne asked him “what are we going to do?”  (Note the beauty of the “we”?  Masculine and feminine energies, together.)


And at that moment Rocky says the thing that made my eyes open wide, that raised that movie to the status of Truth.    “No one has ever gone the distance with Apollo Creed,” he said.    “All my life, I’ve been just another bum from the neighborhood. But if I can go that distance. If when the bell at the end of the fifteenth round ends, and I’m still on my feet, for the first time in my life I’ll know I’m not a bum.  That I really am  somebody.”

Now…Rocky already WAS somebody to Adrienne.  He was the man she loved.   Given that strength, he didn’t need the rest of the world to give him a victory.  He WANTED their acclaim, but didn’t NEED it.  He already had what he needed, get it? What he needed, what ANY of us ever need, is a sense of love and connection.       He was then able to describe a path to victory that was dependent upon his actions, not Apollo’s, not the judges.


I’m gonna be on my feet. No matter what.  And because of that inner direction, he almost beat the greatest boxer who ever lived.


You keep running, boy.  Ain’t no telling what a young black man can do!   A man of one generation, who had done as much as he could, run as far and as fast as he could…handing the torch to the next runner.


I sat in my living room and realized I didn’t have to write  a best-seller.  Didn’t have to win awards or acclaim. What I had to do was be true to myself, no matter what.  No matter what it costs.  That there will ALWAYS be criticism, from others and from the voices in my head.


Many years passed. Famous Writer and I became friends in time.  And one day he saw my “A Stitch In Time” episode of the Outer Limits, and told me he loved it.   I glowed, because I knew I could trust him with the truth.


And even more years later he grew older and  fell sick, and I was at his house, at his sickbed, and he spoke of regrets. And this man who I had adored for so long told me that he didn’t know if anything he had done matters, if he had ever created anything of worth.     And I smiled, and told him that he was, quite possibly, the most “himself” writer I had ever met.   He was, quite authentically, Famous Writer.  And there was nothing more any of us can do. The fame, the money, the awards come if they come. But the real reward, if you have chosen your goals in alignment with both your childhood dreams and deathbed values, BEING WHO YOU ARE.

I told him I had dealt with fear, that that was the reason that drove me into the martial arts. “How did you defeat it?” he asked.

You don’t.   You make your peace with it. It’s there for a reason…to keep you running.




So…yesterday I asked the kids how many of them had negative voices in their heads.  80% of them raised their hands.    I laughed.  “Very good,” I said.  “The rest of you are lying.”


They laughed.  “Here’s  secret,” I said.  “One of the most important secrets in the world.  Are you redy to hear it?” They nodded eagerly.


“Then who am I?”  A little Asian girl asked.

“You are the one listening to the voices.”

“Well…who is that?”  She asked, eyes shining and wide.  Empty cup.  They are the blessed.

“That is what you must discover,” I said.  “And the answer won’t quite fit into words. But if you are a writer, you will do the best you can to answer that question, with every character you create.”

Write your million words.   Speak your truth.  Do your best.  Enjoy every day, for the simple pleasure of being yourself, separating your is-ness from the voices of the crowd.


Run, girl, run.  Ain’t no telling what a young Asian woman can do.





A lesson from “Shelly”


I remember my first girlfriend in college was a smart, pretty lady we’ll call Shelly.  I met Shelly in the music department at Pepperdine when I was doing a nighttime radio chow. We started dating and finding out more about each other, as people do at that phase in their lives.


One day, I remember just hanging out with her, and she started talking about the life we could have together. Me teaching martial arts, her teaching music.


It was a lovely dream.  I could easily see myself enjoying the cycles of life, learning, growing, helping people and growing closer to this lovely lady who shared my life–




Wait a minute…I didn’t want to be a professional martial arts instructor.   I didn’t know WHAT I wanted to be, but at that point in my life I knew that wasn’t it.  She DID know what she wanted, and that was being a music instructor, and being married.


Even though we were walking different paths, and eventually drifted apart, I remember that conversation, and how easy it was to drift into a lovely trance…


–of fulfilling my own dreams. (Being a martial artist, having a family)


–of a partner on the road of life (someone supportive of my dreams, but with her own destiny)


Because she had painted a picture of how things could be, rather than ask a direct question, I got to FEEL what that life could be. And had I known what I wanted, I might well have said: “well…not a martial arts instructor…but how would you feel about a writer?” And we might have laughed and dreamed together, and who knows?


That’s what storytelling does.  It slips past the filters, touches our hearts.


T and I just did an interview for a social activism podcast, asking questions about Black Panther.  What should people do to get ready for it, we were asked.  While we discussed the history of the character, the reasons for the excitement and the place of Afrofuturism within the broader category of science fiction, my real advice was: just go and have fun.


Yep.  If Ryan Coogler did his job right, you don’t have to consciously THINK about the component parts of the story to get the value, any more than you have to know the names of the macro and micronutrients in a dinner salad to get the nutrition. They are right there.  Enjoy.  Have fun.  Nourish your soul, or just release stress and get swept away for two hours.


But then, if you wish, go out with your friends afterward, have coffee and talk about the movie you just experienced.   Share your FEELINGS about it.


That’s building community.  Want to do more?  Become a more discerning consumer of film, patronizing those that support your values.


More? Teach others about the connection between myth and consciousness.   Use your knowledge of that connection in your own life, and with your family.


More?  How about creating your own stories, learning how to KEEP rapport with your audience (so they don’t “pop out” like I did!), singing your song, expressing your view of humanity, or the universe.  I know that I felt that if I sang MY song loudly enough, I would find another bird in the forest who was traveling in the same direction.


Shelly needed someone on a particular life path.  So did I.  And she did the smart thing: declare “here I am” and if I’d been the one, if I’d wanted such a path, I could have done far, far worse than that young lady. She kept telling her story, until she found a man who shared her dream, and they’ve been married all this time.


You can change your own life. Change the life of another.  Build a career.Change the world.


Myth is magic.   If you would like to learn more about the Lifewriting notion applied to the myth and fantasy of the African Diaspora, check out the AFROFUTURISM: DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES class at



And if you’d like to “merely” understand how writing can change lives…and life change your writing, join us at



Write and live with passion!



“Fractal” Goal Setting


What do I want?

Why do I want it?

How do I do it?

Tony Robbins calls it the “RPM” system (Results focused, Purpose driven, Massive action system) but what is really remarkable about it is it’s fractal nature.

Here’s how it can work:

What do I want? To be happy

Why do I want it?  To be a symbol of light in the world.

How do I do it?   Define balance: Body, mind, spirit, emotions, finances, family.  Lead a balanced life, and make progress on all aspects on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.


Now zoom in on ONE of these at a time:


What do I want? To be more fit.

Why do I want it? To be happier and more energetic. To be sexier and more powerful.  To be in better touch with my animal self. To be safer and healthier in the world. To be a better role model for my friends and family.  To be able to practice my sport and art with greater amplitude.

How do I do it?  Define the biggest flaw in my physical balance, and work there.  Let’s say strength and fat  control by developing washboard abs.


What do I want?  Washboard abs

Why do I want them? They indicate strength, fat loss, protect my internal organs, convey power from lower to upper body, and it is hard to have them without being generally fit.  They also give huge bang for the buck in terms of cost-benefit for time and energy investment.

How do I do it?   I could target them directly, or indirectly.  I choose indirectly because that ensures that my abs are tied into the rest of my body, and not worked like a frankenstein patchwork.  I must control diet AND exercise to get them.


What do I want?  To research the most effective and efficient means of developing washboard abs.

Why do I want it?  Because I want to do as little as possible to achieve the greatest effect.

How do I do it?   Research and modeling.



See how it works?

WHAT is the outcome

WHY is the emotional “juice” that will motivate your action.

HOW is the search for the most efficient and effective means.


Zoom in, zoom out. See the overall pattern of your life, or focus on some tiny little piece of it.  But by doing this constantly, it becomes a habit of mind.  For ANYTHING you want to accomplish, if you know the WHAT and the WHY, the HOW then has meaning, and you’ll have the motivation and direction to do it right.





It’s never too late to be true to your heart

The M.A.G.I.C. formula is designed to take a frustration and turn it into a power.   I’ve noticed that almost NO major positive events have ever occurred in my life through direct action.   I didn’t meet Tananarive when looking for a partner.  I didn’t achieve my major martial breakthroughs in a martial arts school.  I didn’t get my best writing opportunities through pounding on doors, and didn’t have any idea which projects were going to hit hardest.  None.


It’s all a crap shoot.  But…if you let the apparent randomness dissuade you from acting, you are making a HUGE mistake.


This is the way it seems to go.  This is an analogy ONLY.


Imagine your life like a  mathematical plane drawing describing physical reality.  Every focused action you take increases your “mass”.    As your “mass” increases, the plane distends.  You create a gravity well.  Passing opportunities get sucked in.  The greater the mass, the more opportunities.


But…there is another model in Yoga.  It discusses the “Siddhi” phenomenon in yoga.   That if you meditate upon the true nature of reality, or God, or your own deep identity, you gain power, and will begin to experience extranormal phenomena.   Charisma, sexual attraction, precognitive flashes, ESP, and so forth.


The trick is that these things are like gold nuggets sprinkled along a “path” you are traveling if you are meditating and living correctly. You might be able to scoop them up as you move forward, but if you chase after them they turn into fool’s gold.  If you chase them long enough, you will look back and realize you’ve lost sight of the path.


An example: you are a writer who writes from your heart. You struggle with finances, but win awards.  One day, you write a book that becomes a bestseller. Your agent, publisher, and fans scream “write more of THAT!”  You do, and enjoy great success…at first.  But you are no longer writing from your heart you are writing to the audience.  IF you are not also writing from your heart, you will lose the very thing that made you special, and your fire burns out.


Many years ago, I had lunch in Greenwich Village with Leo and Diane Dillon, two artists of supreme flow. They created as a single mind. Where one ended a line, the other would begin. And while I THOUGHT I was having the meeting to discuss my wife’s art, once I was in the presence of these lovely people, I realized I was really concerned for my own artistic soul.  Frankly, in order to survive I had made many artistic choices that were more in alignment with my bank book than my heart.


Was I lost?  Had I destroyed myself?  Before I knew it I was gushing tears at the table.   Was it too late for me?


With an expression of infinite kindness and understanding, Diane reached across the table and took my hands in hers.  “Steve,” she said.   “If you can even ask that question…its not too late.”



Back to M.A.G.I.C.:
“Magic” equals Action times Gratitude times Intention times Conviction.


If the things you desire are going to come indirectly, but direct action is the key to making them possible, then every day you have to:

Take Action

Feel Gratitude (gratitude is the antidote for fear)

Have clear Intention (you have to know what you want) and

Have Conviction you can and should have it.


Every day you take actions toward your goal, knowing that most of your plans will come to nothing, and that the person, the opportunities, the results you desire will often, perhaps usually, come out of your peripheral vision.


Damn, this is frustrating. So much urge to chase after the gold.So much to give up and say nothing matters.


So hard to stay on the middle course.


But…everything I’ve gotten in my life has happened when I stayed on the path, did my work, clarified my goals, made myself happy just to be alive, and took one step after another. Everything.


It’s worth it, because even if I DON’T get the externals, I’ve been true to myself. And nothing in the universe is worth abandoning your heart.






The Morning Ritual, revisited

Here are the basic points of the Morning Ritual, which is one of the three most important pieces of the puzzle, the others being the “Five Minute Miracle” and “The Ancient Child”.  It can be done for 5-30 minutes, but let’s say you’re doing it for 20 minutes.  Scale the times up or down as you wish.


  1. WHILE MOVING (Tai Chi is my own.   Walking, running, Tibetans, Rebounding…lots of possibilities) do the following.  Speak, move, and hold your posture to project confidence and joy:
  2. CHANT  ALOUD AND FOCUS on Your basic faith in your own capacity (I use “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better”)  FIVE MINUTES
  3. CHANT ALOUD AND FOCUS on things from your past and in your present that you feel GRATEFUL for (I am grateful for the trust and love of my family, my mentors and students, a strong healthy body, etc.). Focus on things that make you feel strong, loved, confident.  FIVE MINUTES
  4. CHANT ALOUD AND FOCUS on your future goals, using the SAME confident body language you used talking about past accomplishments.  Visualize what you must do TODAY to make them happen, and see yourself doing these things with joy.  FIVE MINUTES
  5. CHANT ALOUD AND FOCUS again on your confidence in your capacities (“All I need is within me now. All the strength I need is within me now…” etc.) FIVE MINUTES


The point is to FLOOD YOURSELF WITH confidence, joy, gratitude for a few minutes every day. To do this while performing an exercise is fantastically powerful. The voices in your head, the demons in your heart will excoriate you (“who do you think you are?  This is bullshit!”)


The beauty of it is that if you choose the physical activity properly, just the act of doing it is fulfilling one of your goal areas!   The “voice in your head” will be saying “this is meaningless” at the same time that you are doing something meaningful. In other words, you will have LOGICAL CONSCIOUS PROOF that the voices are lying.   Are not you.


I could teach for a year about this.  But at this moment, I don’t believe anyone could do this for 30 days without having a powerful effect.  I DOUBT anyone could do it for even seven days…but I suppose it is possible.   IMO if you have demons that resistant, they will force you to break your word to yourself.And then you will have the opportunity to see, in real time, the very negative patterns that have plagued your life.  For 30 year old Steve, my daily minimums would be:

  1. Sentence a day, 1-4 stories a month
  2. Morning ritual with martial arts and “Zero Net Time” exercise program
  3. Approx  5% of checking account into retirement account weekly.
  4. Five minute daily relationship check-in with closest family.


That would pretty much cover it.   I would know what I need to do on a daily/weekly/monthly basis AND DO IT.  If I fell off one of my daily practices, I’d see the disaster coming a mile away (“I can’t get myself to save!   I’m missing my sentence a day!  I’m not checking in with my wife/girlfriend/family”)   It is a beautiful thing to have a daily practice you can control in a minimum of 5 minutes, that will give you long-term benefits like this.    I’ll answer any questions you have…but this is the basic structure.



(don’t miss the special 66% off holiday sale!)


What was the last movie that taught you something?

“All That Jazz”  may be the last film that ever taught me.   Perhaps.   The story of a man addicted to sex, drugs, and musical theater (line stolen from the great Robert McKee) I walked out of the movie stunned, realizing that that could be my story if I was not very careful.  I decided that very day that the secret to success was obsession, but obsession creates imbalance, and imbalance destroys and denies you the chance to enjoy your success.


So I decided to become obsessive about being balanced.  Ka-ching.  One of those “cubic inches of opportunity” I’ve had in my life. Everyone gets them.   The challenge is recognizing and implementing their implications.



The Way that can be named is not the true Way.  But…by looking at some of the structures and vectors discovered or designed by some of the best, wisest and most successful human beings who have ever walked the planet, as well as the combined wisdom of the tribal elders, we can glimpse it.  Cannot put it into words, no–that would be asking too much of language.  It will not bear the weight.


I like to look at a story from multiple directions.  Each new perspective teaches something different about the story, but the story is not the perspectives or structures.   I can look at it from plot, character, poetics, thematics.  In my head, on index cards, in an outline, as a synopsis, written, oral, visualized, played in my head like music, as a short story, a novel, a movie script.   Every different perspective tells me something different. But the story is always the story. It is like looking in on a fireplace from different windows, through a keyhole, through an open door.   Each perspective is different. The fire is the same, and you have to actually burn to understand its essence.


The martial arts are the same way.  I can discuss them culturally, psychologically, philosophically.  In terms of anatomy, physics, strategy, tactics, integrative lifestyle, practical application, sport, fitness, self-defense, all-out combat, mathematics, and more. Each perspective offers up different information.  But the thing is the thing.


The experience of life is the same.    You have to burn to understand it. And when you do, “you” are not there. “The thing” is there.  This is much the same as sex.  If you can remember your name while you’re orgasming, it wasn’t good sex.  The subject-object relationship must break down, labels disappear.    People who think that labeling things is the same as understanding them are missing it.


But if I break my life down into those components: Body, Mind, Spirit.  Child, parent, grandparent.  Male and female.  Black and white.   Each tells me something different. And while my monkey mind is busy thinking about it, the Truth can slip through the cracks.     They are useful tools, useful distractions, useful lies.


I think the problems of life are like rocks in a white-water rafting trip. They obstruct and constrict the flow of water, and make the ride wild.


The truth always lies between.    People get stuck in the rocks.   Fear the rocks.    Shrink your ego and float past the obstructions.


Come on in: the water’s fine.






(P.S.–what was the last movie that really taught you something, and what did it teach?)



Politics, Facebook, and “Awakening the Kundalini backward”

(Those who admire  the way I think seem to enjoy my explanations of how it works. Those who find my thinking flawed might be interested in the origin of those flaws.  In either case, as Rod Serling used to say, “submitted for your approval…”)



One of my greatest teachers warned of “awakening the kundalini backwards”.    I’ve spoken on this before, but it has an interesting political and philosophical aspect worth unpacking (yeah, I like that word. Sue me).


The “Kundalini” is said to be the intrinsic human energy (similar to but more specific than “ki” or “chi”) which arises when certain conditions are met.  Generally, this involves clearing away fears and blockages on different “chakra” levels, and can be interpreted as resolving issues related to survival, sex, power, emotions, and communication.  It isn’t necessary to consider this something spiritual or esoteric–it is also a nice model of a fully functional human being.  Of the path to using more of your human potential through balanced growth.


The full statement is: “you can awaken the kundalini from the root up, or the heart out, but never EVER from the head down.”


I interpret this as follows: as infants, we start with immediate experience of our environment, learn what causes us pleasure and pain, learn to manipulate and navigate the world, form emotional connections. The emotional connections mature from pure “give me what I want” to, at some point, a sense that the Other–generally Mommy and Daddy, initially, have their own feelings and needs.  Often we do this for our friends BEFORE we do with Mom and Dad, leading to disillusionment when we discover Mom and Dad are ‘just” human.  It is a sign of wisdom when you transition from seeing them as Gods to Humans early in life, with compassion and appreciation.


So…you can begin the process of growth by asking “what is true?” about the world, and learning directly, later forming ideas about what exists, and then comparing your observations and experiences with those of others–study. The mental level. But it is GROUNDED in your actual experience of life.


That’s one way to go. The other is “from the heart out”.  This is to start with an emotional connection with the world, slowly expanding through self-expression and learning to navigate and control your environment.  Coming from love.  The first approach is often coming from fear, however.  There is nothing wrong with coming from fear, as long as you learn to resolve it and see that the other half of the equation is love. And nothing wrong with coming from love, so long as you understand that there are genuinely things to fear.  For instance: starting with the assumption that all human beings are connected, all groups basically equal, but having different experiences that trigger different behaviors.


Both work.


What then does “from the top down” mean?  It means to build a map of reality before you have actually experienced it, and think your concepts trump actual experience.    It is said that the origin of frustration, and the thing that angers people most, is when reality doesn’t match their expectations.   Boy oh boy, is that a risk for people like this!


This is not to criticize intelligence. Intelligence is problem-solving, and great. But WISDOM is knowing what problems to solve, and frankly  one of the most important problems is “how do I get out of my intellectual box and experience life?”


Some of the absolute worst human errors seem to come from this tendency.  Communism, for instance, strikes me as a system that works great if everyone knows each other and volunteers to play the game. But the amount of social engineering necessary to FORCE people into that box?  Ghastly.   It seems to totally ignore actual human psychology:   the average human being simply won’t work as hard for strangers as they will for their own children.


How did such a mistake happen?   I don’t know for sure, but when I studied Karl Marx and learned that from one perspective, his children seem to have suffered hugely while he was spending his days in London evolving a complex philosophy, that  suggested that he and I had little in common on some basic levels.   That from MY perspective, he was disconnected from basic human drives, trying to create a model of the world rather than actually engaging with it.


That he was more connected to his head than his heart.  To his theories than the actual physical realities. And that led him to make a key mistake that, IMO, has led to a vast amount of misery.


He mistook his map for the territory.  His ideals for reality. He tried to re-shape the world based on his beliefs about the way it SHOULD be, rather than asking what it was.


He awakened his kundalini backwards.




There is here a divergence of philosophies.   There are those who believe they can “figure it out.” That their understanding of facts and data trumps the experience of the people who actually experience the life in question.  That might be true if there is a vast difference in intellectual capacity…or might not be true even then, depending on what one considers “knowing.”    A single bite of cake allows you to “know” the cake in a totally different way from absorbing an entire library of information about the history, chemistry, culture, process, or design of cakes.


There is no amount of information about salad I can give you that is as nourishing as actually eating the salad.    Totally different domains of knowledge and understanding.    Absent some huge difference in capacity, I find no practical reason for assuming that an intellectual understanding of something trumps actual experience. And even WITH that huge gap, only a specific selection of values I cannot support would prioritize data over actual being.




Philosophy is primary:  “what is true?”.  Politics secondary “how shall we proceed?”  I dislike politics because I’ve seen it as a corruptive, where people prioritize winning over “what is true?”  Hide information that your “opponent” needs to make their argument effectively.  That’s not something you do if you are interested in truth.  Only “winning” as your highest good explains that.


But there are arenas of my life where I am impacted by politics enough to involve myself. Race is one of them.  And I remember years ago where someone  who was strongly (STRONGLY) politicized tried to tell me that certain perceptions I had of black people were incorrect.   This person knew maybe 5% of the number of black people I did, which meant that he had to consider himself FAR more intelligent than I for him to crunch so much less data but come to better conclusions.   He has the right to that opinion, of course.    But when he actually insisted that my experience was wrong, that I didn’t know what I knew, it was as if you live on a mountain, and someone in the valley insists that there is no mountain.  They KNOW that there is no mountain.


If they know that they are incorrect, this is called “gaslighting.” But I think he was sincere. In which case he was simply deluded.


Much later, I ran across this same phenomenon related to BLM.    When protesters marched or created disturbances, it would in my mind be reasonable for someone to believe they were  behaving badly.   (I don’t necessarily agree, but it is REASONABLE).    It would be reasonable to say that they were even mistaken about the perceived stimulus.


But what I heard was something different: I saw highly politicized people on the Right claiming that it was mere political theater.   Violence stems from anger, anger from fear.   To say “there is really nothing to fear, they are deluded” is one thing.   That can be discussed.


But when you say “they are faking it” you are simply saying they are all lying. And if I happen to AGREE that the protestors are correct that there is an issue…if my wife and her family agree, and my friends, and hundreds of thousands of people connected to me via social media are spontaneously agreeing before the media ever got ahold of it…


You can still argue that we are wrong, that there is no real reason to think there is an injustice. That is a conversation. That can be debated.


But if your position is that we don’t even FEEL there is a problem?   That my perception that there is a BELIEF there is a problem is incorrect..?


Friend, you had better the hell know a LOT of black people to even BEGIN to get me to take you seriously. You’d better have a VAST storehouse of data.   Lots of black friends, in-laws. Grew up in a black neighborhood.  Now you can say: “based upon a huge amount of personal information from people who trusted me, long observation, plus study of surveys across a wide swath of economic and geographical territory, I have formed an opinion I believe informed: that this is political theater.”


Even if your opinion on this conflicts with my own, I’m going to be willing to listen to you. A woman who was raised by her father and brothers, has worked with men, and been married to one for thirty years has, in my mind, the right to argue with me about what men are like, even though she is not a man.   But if she was raised by her mother and sisters, or nuns in a convent, and has barely ever met one?   She can tell me what women think about men, but her opinion about what men are is likely to be more mythology than truth.  And if she is politicized, or immature, or wounded? It will be a very self-serving mythology.


Same with race.  You want to tell me what black people FEEL and THINK about something?   And you’re white?   Welll…if you aren’t surrounded by black people who love and trust you enough to share their real feelings, you might know something about the statistics gathered around their lives, but you don’t know much about how they FEEL about it.  In other words, you can’t tell me that they don’t believe there is a threat.  That they are not afraid.


You might have an informed opinion about whether the threat exists, yes.  But not how they feel about it.


Not one that can compare to mine, if I am actually in a web of association, and that association matches my own experience.


I can understand why you would want me to consider your OPINIONS as important as my EXPERIENCE, but frankly, you are either deluded, or gaslighting.    Or, you think that you are so much smarter or wiser or clearer than me that even with a bare fraction of my data, you are capable of drawing equivalent or superior  conclusions.  IMO…that’s delusion.   I know some very very smart people, far smarter than I.  Not one of them comes close to having THAT much brain-power.


Again, I might understand why you would want to believe that about yourself, but cannot imagine why you would expect me to agree.




Now…to Facebook,  just for fun.  I believe the statistics suggesting that Facebook friend groups tend to be more diverse than real-world friend groups.   Makes logical sense, and matches experience: I can leaf through friend lists of people I know, when I know their web of association, and see that their FB lists are more diverse.  Done this hundreds of times across lines of politics, gender, race, economics.    Countless people have said the same thing about their experience of life.  Logic, experience, and statistics all agree.


Are there going to be cases where this is not true?  Sure.


But you know what?   Every time I’ve had an argument about race, where the person’s perspective on the subjective experience of black people differs from mine, if I look at their friends list..almost nada.  Nothing.    The number of black friends is WAY below statistical probability.


If I point this out, they get testy. Well, that would be easy to understand, from the perspective of that original model: they have formed opinions based on data, not experience.  With their heads, not their hearts or bodies.     If that data is filtered through a political lens, it will be very slanted.  They have constructed their house with warped planks.  And are uncomfortable when they encounter the reality of experience.


That’s not necessarily “true” but it does explain the reaction, and have some predictive capacity.

Posited: if someone disagrees with me on the experience, perspectives and emotions of black people, that person will not know many black people.


Tests out in real life, tests out on Facebook. Not 100% true, but close enough for government work.


Let’s generalize: people who have an interest in something, but no data, will form opinions anyway.  If the issues are emotionalized or politicized they will treat those opinions like truth, and fight to protect them.


Is this exclusive to “the Right”?  Hell no. My teachers said nothing about “Conservatives tend to wake their kundalini from the top down.”  In fact, I’d say that Conservatives tend to do this “from the root up” and Liberals “from the heart out.”  Both work.


What kind of person takes the path I’m considering an error? Very intellectual people.  People who learned early in life not to trust their emotions or even perceptions.


The sad thing is that they cannot hide in the safety of data, because that data was ALSO filtered through emotions and perceptions.  They can run, but they cannot hide.  In a world of infinite data, what you choose to look at and prioritize is influenced by your emotional filters and political beliefs.  And the more painful and powerful those emotions are, the more likely you are to believe they aren’t there.


By the way, if it isn’t obvious, this exact same approach works for gender issues. Harder to do it with LGBT issues, but any issues where familarity with a group is important, and that group is identifiable by sight, it is damned useful and will save you days of pointless arguing with people who “know not that they know not.”



Could I be wrong? Of course!  My error check is that if I’m correct, if my “reality map” is accurate, I’ll tend to reach my goals. Specifically, happy relationships, healthy body, successful career.  Hey, if I get all three, precisely how can my perceptions be so wrong? And even if somehow they are…I win anyway.


So if you think you can “figure out the world” and your mental computations trump my actual experience, please be my guest.   In a few years we’ll meet again, and I’ll ask how your relationships, physical health, and career are doing.   If they are better results than I get, I’ll assume your approach was superior, and be eager to learn your path.


If not?  Ehhhh…not so much.  Goot luck with that, though.


Results matter. Anyone can talk a good game. Anyone can agree with themselves, or create an argument that sounds great.


Unpublished writers lecture bestselling authors on how to write.

Armchair martial artists know just what that fighter did wrong.

People who have been divorced seven times know the “truth” about men or women.


Really, they aren’t worth arguing with on the subject. Might be perfectly nice people, but why would I listen to a virgin talking about sex when there is a hot lady waiting for me in the next room?  Enjoy your theories and data.   I like life a LOT better.







(if this approach to thought appeals to you, you would probably enjoy the free “Seven Day Emotional Diet” available at