Martial Arts

Finally figured out my reaction to “Iron Fist”

Here’s my problem with Danny Rand. The other three Defenders got their powers accidentally, and they are all more mature and aware than Rand. Rand supposedly got HIS by studying, training, competing, forging his spirit in the fires of K’un Lun until he emerged the best of the best of the best. He had to absorb their teaching, shift his perspectives on reality and human potential, break conceptual “box” after “box”, go through ego death after ego death, like peeling an onion. He should be more “Asian” than Asians, to the point that it is almost a joke. Instead, he acts as if the Iron Fist was just given to him, or as if he found it in a box somewhere, like Donald Blake “finding” Thor’s Hammer. I see zero, and I mean ZERO evidence of such a maturing/refining process, such an assimilation of an alien perspective on reality that would allow the kind of power he has. None. It is as if the writers had no familiarity at all with that world. Compare to the sense that Cheo Hodari Coker KNOWS Harlem, that the writers of Jessica Jones understand abuse and stalking behavior and the roots of alcoholism. That the folks who wrote “Daredevil” at least sat down with a lawyer and asked “what would he say HERE?”

I just don’t see this with Rand. He doesn’t make sense. And neither centered enough, or fish-out-of-water enough, he is all surface and no core. If the stunt choreography was flashy enough, I could forgive that. But I just can’t find a way to believe in him the way I can Jessica or Luke or even Matt. He just doesn’t compute. I don’t blame the actor, I really don’t. I’d bet he’s working himself to death to try to fill that empty vessel.

I do blame the producers.  They blew it.  They could probably fix things, but they’d have to admit they screwed up, and how they screwed up, and I don’t think they are aware enough to even know what they don’t know.

I think about what might have happened had “Luke Cage” been directed/produced by a white guy who learned everything he knows about black people from television. And I don’t mean ‘The Wire”, either.  I shudder to think.

 

THAT is the level of problem I see with “Iron Fist.” They don’t know what they don’t know, and mistake shallowness for profundity in a way that unfortunately echoes Marvel’s other problems with Asians or Asian Culture, from The Mandarin to The Ancient One.  What works in a comic book has to be melded to the real world to work with real actors speaking real dialogue.

You know….puppets who sock people a lot are still just sock-puppets.

 

Namaste,

Steve

 

Know yourself, know the Other

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

“I came in a chariot” the King said.

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

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

“Then there is no chariot!”  Nagasena said.

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

It is the foundation to life.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

That is the true story of mankind.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Namaste

Steve

 

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

Sharing the view from the cross

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Mom in fur.JPG

 

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

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

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

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

Wouldn’t you?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

That’s what shamans do.

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

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

 

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

And in other moods…the head in the oven.

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

We need your truth.

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

http://www.lifewritingpremium.com

Control the narrative, control the fear

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

 

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

 

My martial arts training was exactly like this.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

And all was well.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Control the story.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.lifewritingpremium.com

Saw Steve Muhammad Thursday…

IMG_0823 (1)I saw my dear friend and karate instructor Steve Muhammad yesterday, and he’d not seen the Black Panther trailer. He was astonished. “They let them DO that???” he asked. “We’ve got to support this! This will wake people up!” Yes, we do. And yes, it will. This is a new time. And as T said, our show is for the Woke, and the Awakening.

Every Saturday, we’re giving the same message: that Afrofuturism is specifically filling in the mythological “gaps” torn in the diasporic fabric, without which no culture can function.

This is exactly the same as a psychologist or healer helping to fill in the memory gaps, or twisted self-image left by an abusive childhood. Without remembering what happened, you can’t understand where you are, and are vulnerable to gaslighting at a sick, savage level. But there is another reality: that ALL of us are on the receiving end of someone’s venom, the lies they tell to twist you to their advantage. Everyone is or will be part of a disadvantaged group.

The illusion is that we can do it alone. If you have trouble believing that, you are in the Matrix. The techniques we’re using will work for anyone who wants to build a fairer, more compassionate world for everyone…while respecting the rights and humanity even of those who oppose you. Learn to share your story, or support the efforts of the artists who share your world view. Every Saturday, we’re looking at current events through that lens, but also specifically speaking of the world of Octavia Butler, and the importance of the coming Marvel film. My commitment is to support and enable one million awake, aware, adult human beings. Some of you are comfortable in your dream.  I’m going to take a wild guess: in all likelihood, you are not a POC, or a woman.

Have a nice nap.

But for the rest of us…

www.octaviatoblackpanther.com
Tonight, at 6pm pst/9pm est

Earning My Air

I didn’t realize I was supposed to give the Keynote speech at Willamette Writers Conference until the night before.   I went to bed Friday night asking my unconscious mind to give me the answer.

 

I woke up Saturday morning with the following thought: “there is someone in that room who is about to give up.  Not on writing…on life.    I have to speak to them. Help them. Give them hope, show them the way out, if possible.”

 

But how?   One of my natural tendencies is to go into teacher mode. But however satisfying it might be to offer up valuable information and strategies and tactics learned over the years, that is all garnish.  “Technobabble.”     But if I can share stories of the moments in my life that were turning points, in which I learned something critical, I can create “epiphany bridges” that allow them to feel what I felt, both the despair and the realization that there is a way out of the trap, and the results.

 

IF I can be vulnerable enough to be totally honest, it can work. But I can’t fake it, and I can’t be acting.  I have to create a personal connection with the people in that room, searching the faces, wondering who it is who might go back home and throw their computer against the wall…or drop it into the bathtub with them.

 

No, its not my responsibility.  Yes, it is my honor to be of service.  Yes, I feel the connection, referred to in the Koisan expression “Num”: one soul peering out through many eyes.  Yes, I feel the pain of feeling disconnected through losing or dishonoring yourself, lying to yourself, selling out your dreams, breaking your sacred promises.

 

We’ve all done it.   And twenty-five years ago, a young black belt named Uli asked me “when will I stop being afraid?” and I had no answer for him. And six months later he blew his brains out.   While he might have killed himself no matter what I or anyone else said, I swore that I’d never sit there with a stupid expression on my face again.   I would TRY dammit.  I would try.

 

So…I listened to the very nice introduction by a very nice lady, and then walked up on the stage.   Took a deep breath, scanning the audience, saying a little prayer: “there is someone here who needs the Light.   Step out of the damned way, Steve…and let it through.”

 

I told the “Friday the 13th” story about selling out my “little boy”, the price I paid, and the year of struggle to come back.  Of beginning to fear that I was selling out my childhood by avoiding speaking of racial issues in my work.  It was cowardice, pure and simple.   And how my friend Darnell reminded me that this was the time, and I was the person to do it.    “If not you, who?  If not now, when? And why would you want to write stories for the pleasure of people you wouldn’t have in your home?”

 

And how that lead to some of the greatest writing of my life, even if they weren’t as externally successful as I’d hoped.  I’d done my best. Which is all any of us can do.   And that that little boy inside me is HAPPY that I did.    I’ve made a living.  Raised a family.  Found love.   Walked the martial path for a lifetime.  Everything I wanted as a child.   If I didn’t get everything I wanted as an adult…well, life ain’t over yet.  Not by a long shot.

##

 

I got a standing ovation.  And people were shaking my hand and clapping me on the back and telling me it was the best talk they’d ever heard…and I didn’t care. I was looking for the eyes. The eyes don’t lie.

 

And over the next twenty four hours, a dozen different people came up to me, in quiet moments, and said that they felt as if THEY were the person I came there to speak to. That they had new hope, new courage for their work.  Spoke of abuse and pain and a new commitment to USE that pain to help others.

 

Asked me how I could have understood what they needed.

 

How? Because they are me.  They are all me.  And by feeling their pain, and connecting it with my own, all I have to do is help myself, and rememeber how I did it, and speak that truth…and I can help them as well.

 

And then..?   And then their victories are mine, as well.  And brothers and sisters, nothing, NOTHING in the world feels better than that.

 

Earned my air this weekend.   Yes, I did.

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

 

(The application of this same idea to fiction is the core of the “Lifewriting” idea I’ve developed for thirty years.   If you’d like to explore it, you can join us at www.lifewritingpremium.com)

The Tao of Popeye

 

 

 

 

Popeye.jpgRecently, I posted some thoughts about an on-line conflict with a person who accused me of racism, but then when confronted by the actual definition was actually terrified by my belief in equality.  I had to chuckle as some of the conversation.   My friend Carolyne Pickup asked:

“What gives you pleasure about toppling the unstable Steven?”

 

I take Chevy’s questions about these things seriously, and see her as a constant reminder to cleave to the path of spirit. She is an ally.  So let me address her question with the weight and time it deserves.  In other words, how does this relate to a “Hero’s Journey” spiral of growth and change, marching up the chakras (ideally, one spiral per level), marching from survival to love to understanding to “enlightenment”?

 

Allow me to explain my position, if you will.

###

 

Spirituality is what is, the perception of the universe, and all humanity and all consciousness connecting.    To that end, then, any perception of separation is a lie.  A useful fiction, perhaps, but a lie.  Spirituality is then the removal of what is “not true” so that “true” can be revealed. This is, by the way, beyond language.  Language can only point the way, “X marks the spot.”  You have to do your own digging. This is similar to the idea that you cannot describe a sandwich thoroughly enough to nourish your body. I can, however, give you instructions to make a sandwish, where to buy the ingredients. Even places where you can purchase a good sandwich.  You, however, have to chew and digest it.  No one can do that for you, no matter how much they might want to .  God, I wish I could learn Jason’s lessons for him. I cannot.  Anyone who says they can it giving you a lie fit for children.

 

Adults have to chew their own food.  We are not baby birds, nourished by our parents up-chucking their experience into our open, straining mouths.

 

##

 

I take pleasure in dispelling lies, which IMO makes the world a safer, better, more loving place.   I don’t try to dispell all of them. After fifty years of study, I have the vaguest, dimmest, thinnest perspective on the entire magilla called “existence”, from the Big Bang to the last election. It all makes sense. Any one piece of it has infinite depth and my “understanding” is as thin as a sheet of rice paper.    But I can sense the shape, by combining a few things like the Hero’s Journey, the Chakras, and a thousand books on the “what is true?” aspect of the way the universe is structured.

 

I bow before anyone with specific knowledge in ANY of the hundred different disciplines I had to stitch together to glimpse that overall pattern, but…I do have that glimpse, and while I know a hundred lives wouldn’t be enough to fill it in, that dynamic sphere of existence and reality rotates in my heart, and gladdens that little boy inside m.   Can’t predict for shit, but everything makes sense in retrospect, and that gives me relative peace in the moment.   It’s all about clearing out the lies, and when I can go “deep” enough in one arena to do that, I find that they are all linked: lies dispelled in one arena have opened the path to understanding in others.

 

Its all connection. All illusions of separation. All increasing connection and complexity, whether speaking of physical reality or social or psychological reality. So beautiful and symmetrical.

 

Some of the lies and manipulations that affect my specific concerns are deeply embedded in our culture and even language, to the point that many good people don’t even understand the end-point of their logic chains, or the beliefs that support them.

 

There is one basic belief “fork” that I’ve identified as a primary problem.   There is no conclusive “evidence” for either side: ultimately it is a matter of faith.  What you think human beings are, and the ethical structure of the universe.  I choose the path that says human groups are basically equal in worth and capacity.

 

Specifically, this is a very different position from those who think blacks are less intelligent, or whites weak and evil.   That’s a different destination.  A question I ask is: could people with this belief have a peaceful, loving meal together?   The answer, yes, they could.  How about the opposite belief? Could a room-ful of black and white people each convinced their group is superior have a loving, peaceful meal?    Could I lock them in a room, giving every one of them a hand grenade, and not expect fireworks.

 

Nah.  Not really.  The room would look like a Jackson Pollack painting pretty fast.

 

Every person I see as a problem in this regard takes the other fork.   For the last 400 years this stuff has been setting like concrete, only really questioned in the last fifty years or so (IMO).

 

You can rarely “win” arguments with such people. They are not debates.  A debate would require a neutral judge.  All I do, ever, is present my reasons for believing as I do, acting as I do. It is not my concern whether they believe.  Why do I do it?

 

  1. To test different argumentation chains.    There ARE some positions that can be effectively attacked with logic. They will merely retreat to another position, however.
  2. There are people who DO believe in human equality, and don’t realize their arguments are from the other path.   These people can be helped just by showing them that their beliefs and positions are incompatible.
  3. Because taking a position on such politicized matters attracts a “troll swarm” of people whose conscious or unconscious intent is to distract, deflect, overwhelm, exhaust, discourage, instill fear through intimidation or force you into angry and irrational response, it is useful to identify them as rapidly as possible.    I estimate that when a logic loop has been traveled three times, you can be confident you are dealing with someone who cannot and will not change.
  4. The arguments are standard.  I’ve identified fewer than fifty (so far) that make up about 98% of what I call the “Current Southern Apologia”, the flow of arguments designed to absolve the slave states of guilt or responsibility.  Some are clever, some are stupid, some are irrelevant.  All are used, and the smarter the people who use them, the more likely they are to use “poison pill” arguments where if you aren’t VERY careful you swallow a logical inconsistency and end up down a dead-end path.  VERY common.  (For instance, accepting the equation of immigration with slavery.  Or “Italian” with “black” where the real comparison might be closer to “Hausa”.)

 

 

So my pleasure in “toppling” an “unstable” person is actually pleasure in seeing a clear flaw in an argument, determining more quickly when someone is down another path.  IF I can demonstrate to them that their beliefs are incompatible with their values, and that they can let them go without increasing their fear, then I can help them.

 

The instability, in other words, is caused by conflicting values and beliefs, or massive fear masquerading as anger.  Their way out of that maze is the truth.   My pleasure then becomes a bit like a scientist saying “EUREKA!” or “AHA!”

 

(Well, part of it is. Another is the petty sense of victory.  “Little Stevie” was damaged by this stuff in 1st grade, when he was sorted into the “slow” reading group by race. I can’t deny him his little victories without holding him to a standard no one can really maintain, short of enlightenment or at least “sustained non-dualistic awareness”.  More on this later)

 

If I believed that my position made anyone, including those mired in lies LESS safe, my reaction would be somewhat sadistic.  But I can mock their disease and simultaneously honor their spirit. When people are driven to attack (motivated by anger, which is fear)  by the notion of equality, they are saying “equality is a poisonous myth!   You will kill us all!

 

And if they are adults, and the core belief (human inequality) was programmed in childhood, it is almost impossible to help them, any more than you can reliably rehabilitate criminals once they have integrated the “inner community” of criminal voices into their value table.  Takes an epiphany.  I got no Shakti Pats for them. Sorry about that.

 

But those who aren’t there yet?  Or have flexibility?  Or are still young enough to have the neuroflexibility to change? Or people who are legitimately searching for answers..?    Then the conversation seems useful, and I get messages every day asking me not to stop speaking of these things.  Even  without those messages, I’d have to, or would be abandoning a war for which my ancestors and their allies struggled and died  for centuries.

 

I see the finish line.  Not in my lifetime, but my grandchildren..?

 

Yeah, I see the end game, and as when you get closer to land you see drift-wood and seagulls, I see the evidence of my approach in cultural shifts.  The evidence that we’ve touched the shore?   Proportional representation in things like government, business, entertainment, law enforcement, incarceration, life expectancy.

 

The very fact that this notion causes anger tells me I’m on the right path.

 

So…I could maintain a purely spiritual position on the whole thing, but I’d be pretending. I’m not a wholly spiritual person. I am also flesh, and emotion.  Can’t pretend that’s not true.   And the situation, which I believe is a threat to the life and welfare of my family, triggers strong emotion: empathetic fear for my son, for instance.  I process that so that I stay out of anger as much as I can, and a sense of humor helps with that.  Even somewhat evil humor.

 

Does that then manifest sometimes as pleasure in identifying or publicly demonstrating the fragility of what seem to be Power Golems of the Internet, the racist troll-swarm?   Yeah, it does.   It’s why in a recent conversation asking why there wasn’t an equivalent term for the “N-word” for certain kinds of  people  I kinda suggest “snowflake”–both because of its political connotations and because it indicates something white and fragile.  Needless to say, that’s not my better nature operating right there.

 

That’s what I have to say about that.   And I’m VERY aware that when I get triggered on this stuff I step off the path to deal with it.   If I was a stronger, better person I could stay on the path and deal with it, and I’m working on that.  But if I have to choose:

 

1)stay on the path but ignore/abandon the struggle

  1. Step off the path, engage, but return as quickly as possible

 

I will choose the second. THAT’S WHO I AM.   One of my most important archetypes, right up there with artist, father, and healer, is “warrior.”   That part of me likes the fight, enjoys the victory, yes it does.

 

Eventually, it will all be integrated together, all the colors of the rainbow available to re-blend into white light, which will accelerate my progress towards a stabilized awakening.  I am not enlightened. I’m what’s called “intermittently awake.”  Next step: sustained “non dualistic” awareness.  And then we’ll see if I can take the next step, to that status for which language can only point the way.

 

Meanwhile, hon…I yam what I yam.

 

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

http://www.lifewrite.com

The Obstacle is the Answer

The most persistent obstacles in your life are constructed of your own psychological substance.  The answer is NOT “out there”.  It rarely is, since the purpose of life is to be happy, and happiness depends on what you’re doing in your head and heart, not just external circumstances.

Let’s look at this notion, first in fiction, and then in life.

###

 

Jurassic.jpg

JURASSIC PARK.  The problem is that “Life finds a way.”  Hammond creates a park stocked with extinct creatures, designed to prevent them from escaping or reproducing.   Ooops.   Let’s ignore the stupidity of the park’s design (blow a fuse and the greatest predators in Earth’s history are munching on the guests) and look at the immediate cause of the disaster: human greed.  Programmer Nedry compromises the security to gain access to the frozen embryos.

 

Life will not be contained–it used the tool of human greed to open the doors.

 

And then, as they say, the fun begins. The guests are in a mad scramble for survival, they discover that some of the dinosaurs are flipping genders so that they can create mating pairs and reproduce.

 

Again, life finds the way.

 

Ultimately trapped by the intelligent velociraptors, on the edge of being killed and eaten, the T-Rex arrives and asserts its primacy in the order of things.  Velociraptor is a genus of dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaur that lived approximately 75 to 71 million years ago during the later part of the Cretaceous Period.  The T-Rex existed in  the Maastrichtian age of the upper Cretaceous Period, 68 to 66 million years ago.

 

Get it?  Humans and Dinosaurs were separated by sixty million years or so.  But T-Rexes and Velocoraptors were ALSO separated, by about five million years.    And if you mix them together, there will be a scramble for Dino domination.  The T-Rex won. The natural order reasserted itself, and our human characters were able to scramble to safety.

T-Rex > Velociraptors > Humans, at least in this context.

 

Life found the way, and the basic obstacle (there is no way to control life) became the answer (how do we escape?). Get that?

You didn’t have to think about it: it FELT right.  Imagine if Sam Neil and Laura Dern had found some super-weapon in the armory and blasted their way to the heli-pad.  Would that have been a fraction as satisfying?  Nope.

 

##

 

When I started my writing career, I had no direct role models, and my mother told me in no uncertain terms that I was placing my future at dire risk to travel that path.  This triggered BOTH fear of success AND fear of failure.  I had multiple occassions on which I did a fantastic job on my first assignment…and then blew it on my second.   I was afraid of failure, so I brought my A-Game.  But was also afraid of success (drawing too much attention) and so sabotaged my own efforts.

 

But the OBSTACLE was the SOLUTION, if I could look deeply enough.  The obstacle was FEAR.  It didn’t matter what the fear concerned–I was screwing myself over, and have plenty of examples of people who were programmed in childhood to have negative beliefs about relationships, money, or physicality and let that fear drive them all their lives, even after they are adults.

 

If FEAR stops me, controls me…but also drives me…it is like driving a sports car with its brakes on.  What would I need to do to TAKE MY BRAKES OFF?

 

In other words, if there is a negative pattern of action or choices in your life, YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.  Only you were there time after time.

The bad news is that if this is a pattern…you are the problem. But the good news is that that implies that you are also the greatest ally you could ever have.

 

I was given  no simple answer to how to do this.  But somewhere in the martial arts, yoga, meditation, NLP, shamanic work and more I got enough control to keep going NO MATTER WHAT.   The “Ancient Child” may be the single greatest tool I’ve created in this sense, at least for me, because I’m a natural “daddy”–I’d do anything for my kids. So visualizing the “kid within” triggers that “fuck it, I’ll die trying!” urge that takes me though pain, and fear, and doubt.

 

And every time I do it, I gain a little perspective. There WAS no single answer. What there was was a clear vision of what I loved (the future I wanted) a clear understanding that giving up was NOT an option, and a willingness to take another step. And another. And another.

 

You can kill me, but you cannot stop me.  Once you make that commitment, and have connected with that little kid inside you, and really grasp that no matter WHAT you do, you can’t “play small” enough to avoid dying…the rest is details.

 

But, as they say, the devil is in the details.

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

First , I wanted to thank you guys. We now have seven reviews on Amazon!  As I’ve said, when we get to twenty the algorithm treats the book differently, and with greater respect.  Only thirteen to go!

https://www.amazon.com/Twelve-Days-Novel-Steven-Barnes/dp/0765375974/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499271570&sr=8-1&keywords=twelve+days+barnes

 

###

 

There were only three things I wanted as a child: a family to love, martial expertise, and a writing career.   That kind inside me is very happy: the adult part of me made the hard choices necessary to accomplish them.  In LIFEWRITING terms, I told myself a “story” about a kid who grew up to be a writer, a martial artist, and an ecstatic father and husband.

 

And that “ecstatic” part is valuable..and costly. By opening my heart completely to Nicki and now Jason, there was cost involved: after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, Toni decided to leave California for the Northwest.   I gave up my house, trashed my credit, and walked away from my career because there was simply no way that my daughter was growing up without her father there, every damned day.

 

I thought I’d be able to continue writing for Hollywood, but I was wrong.  The meetings dried up.  You have to BE there, or you’re out of the loop.

 

When I got back down to L.A. in 2005, I was eager to pick my career my agent Jonathan Westover gave me some horrid news: freelancers were no longer hired for television shows.  It was all written by staff. And they didn’t hired anyone for staff over the age of forty.

 

I was thunderstruck, had never even CONSIDERED that I might have a problem.   The terror of realizing I’d moved my family to one of the most expensive parts of the country with no direct means of earning a living hit like a bomb.  Even worse…Jonathan RETIRED. The only person I trusted in Hollywood was gone.

 

What was I going to do?    I used “Lifewriting” again, assumed that there was an answer and that I just couldn’t see it yet.  Working backwards from a “story” with a happy ending, I saw that the “Road of Trials” was a “Machine” composed of certain actions, done every day, day after day: work, looking for work, meditation (to focus my mind and heart) and exercise.

 

Every day I also had to assess the situation and see if I could make my “map” of reality more accurate.  Then…take another step.  Take care of my family. Focus.Focus.  USE my fear to create action.   And slowly, gradually, I worked my way back out.  Got a Dwayne McDuffie hired me to write a “Ben Ten: Alien Force” cartoon.   Reggie Hudlin brought me in at BET to story edit Vin Diesel’s proposed HANNIBAL series. I kept working on books with Larry Niven.  I wasn’t working on much of my own solo work: GREAT SKY WOMAN and SHADOW VALLEY had been INTENSELY personal books…and hadn’t done well.  Great reviews, no sales.  Another subject.  But…it hurt. And it was FRIGHTENING.

 

An artist deals with emotions.   That requires self-revelation.  If you ever feel “the more honest I am, the worse I do” you are on the road to hell.  That road stretched before me.  I could resent my audience and the publishing industry, scream all sorts of predictable “isms” or I could pull up my Big Boy pants, remember that I CHOSE this career, this life…and soldier on.

 

So I found ways to fall in love with every project I got.   Supported Tananarive every time a Hollywood producer or studio optioned or bought one of her projects (and the ego-hurt that that sometimes triggered…the “why her?  Why not ME?” is another subject for another time.  Another potential ego-trap) and even began to use my God-given skills at guiding people along the Path at the Moonview clinic, where an excellent panel of doctors and therapists dealing with what Tom Lehrer once referred to as “diseases of the rich” helped me develop what THEY called “The Barnes Technique” (!).   It was here that I realized that what I was doing really did have therapeutic validity, and began to accept that aspect of myself more deeply.

 

No, I didn’t have a medical degree.  But people who did were happy to have me as a part of their team.   That…was a blessing.

 

After six years of pushing pushing pushing, very carefully taking one step after another, never letting my fear overwhelm me, things finally seemed to be heading in the right direction.  Even better, Scott Sonnon and I had created TACFIT WARRIOR, which integrated some terrific body-mind teachings into an incremental program like nothing on the market.   Huzzah!

 

And then…T’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and she NEEDED to move our family back to Atlanta to care for her.   I saw utter disaster.    Understand: I’d been working on a “life map” I’d created as a child.  Work hard, keep going, keep learning, keep a positive attitude, never quit.

 

And it had worked.  I had my family, I had the martial expertise, and I had my career…even if it was hanging by a thread.  But I KNEW that if I moved again, it was over.  OVER.  The “map” that had sustained me from childhood, through Dark Night after Dark Night…would be irreparably broken.

 

But I knew something: I couldn’t put Jason in a No Man’s Land of a damaged marriage.  And cancer didn’t care about my feelings.  This was  happening, and all I could do was react to that reality.

 

I went.  But I could NOT do it for Tananarive.  Even in the depths of what was real existential angst, I understood that if I did it “for her”, and the pain was as deep as I suspected it would be, it could damage our relationship.  But not my relationship with Jason. There is NO LIMIT to what I would do for my children, barring only those things that would damage my soul.

 

I went. And  it was just as bad as I thought.  Not because of the intrinsic nature of the situation: Atlanta is a beautiful city.  We had a beautiful house.   But because it was the death of dreams.  Literally, the “map” of my life that had existed since childhood was destroyed.   I didn’t know who I was, or how I was going to survive.   T, on the other hand, was dealing with horrible pain–losing her mother–but also basking in the cultural capital her parents had been building in the South for fifty years.   She was appointed to the Endowed Chair of the Arts at Spellman College (ummm…formerly called the Cosby Chair, but we don’t talk about that any more…) and feted all over the area.  At which events I was often introduced as “Mr. Due.”

Ummm…no.

This was not, in any way, shape or form what I had signed up for.  And not what I was willing to accept from life.

 

I remember a point where I simply felt all was lost. Where I curled up on the floor, sobbing my eyes out.  The voices in my head said that I had  lost almost everything I really treasured in my life…

The Dark Night of the Soul, in living color.  A voice whispered in my head: the hero always goes through this.   The way out is the leap of faith…

But name of God, monsignor…faith in WHAT?

If you get quiet enough, you can escape the roar of the damaged ego, and remember that YOU ARE NOT THE VOICES IN YOUR HEAD.  YOU ARE THE ONE LISTENING TO THE VOICES.

There was always a part of me that knew that the screaming was ego stuff.    It was not real.   But that ego had sustained me for decades, through horrible doubt and pain.   It was THE LEGEND OF STEVE, who would overcome anything, everything, and Conquer.

 

And…it was dying.  This was NOT the story I’d written as a child.  That story did not end with me broken, living in ANYONE’S shadow, smiling as I was introduced as “Mr. Due.”

 

Was it?  I had nothing…

Except, of course, that I was still writing, even if not as successfully as I’d hoped.   Did I mention that “money” was never something that little kid inside me had asked for?

 

Except of course, that I still had my family.  A son who needed me more than ever, every day.  HIS life had been uprooted too.   Had I forgotten?  And I had a wife who knew that she had stretched our relationship to the breaking point, and prayed that I could see the need that had forced her hand. That she had a limited time to make a desperate decision: her mother only had about ten good months left.   In that  fine old phrase, it was going to be easier to get forgiveness than permission.

 

Except, of course (and did I forget to mention this?)  that, um, Sijo Muhammad,  my beloved karate instructor and in many ways the best and strongest man I’d ever known, had retired to a suburb of Atlanta…

 

Oh.

 

Perspective is everything.  I still didn’t have it, but I was beginning to glimpse a pattern.  STRESS CREATES TUNNEL VISION.   I just couldn’t see, but I could FEEL.   There was a story.  But…what was it?

 

Once upon a time there was a little boy who wanted to be strong, and tell stories, and be loved.  Along the path he hit the greatest obstacle of his life…and conveniently, his  greatest mentor was right there…almost as if it had always been intended to be…

 

Could that be a part of a story of glorious victory?  Why, yes, it could.

 

##

 

While in Atlanta I’d connected with Steve Muhammad a bit, but not as much as I might have liked. His duties with the Nation took up a lot of his time. But I did sit down with him finally one day, and poured my heart out.  All the pain, and the angst, and the broken dreams, and the sense of betrayal.  All of it.   And said that in the forty years I’d known him, he had never let me down.  His values were crystal clear: God is #1, Family is #2, There is no number three.

 

That is what I counted on.  His clarity.  Help me, I said.  Whatever you tell me, I’ll believe.

 

He looked at me and said “this is what you do, Steve.  You go home, and tell her `sweetheart, there is no part of how we got here that I appreciate.  And after your mom passes, we’re going to have some very serious conversations about how we move forward.  But right now, what you need to know is: I love you, and I’ve got your back.'”

 

I listened to him, and something inside me screamed NOOOOO!  That was NOT what I wanted to hear.  But…but..I struggled to make sense of it.   I had promised to hear and believe him.  I TRUSTED him.  And with steam coming out of my ears, I mulled it over, and then finally spoke.

 

“You’re telling me that in this (my left) hand, are all my reasons to be unhappy, and feel betrayed, or hurt, or damaged.  And that they are real.  And I can have them.”

 

He nodded “yes”.

 

“And in my right hand”–I raised it– “Are the qualities of mind and heart which, when I walked through the doors of your school forty years ago and said `I want to be a man like you’ I proclaimed I wished for myself. ..and that I cannot have both.”

 

“Yes,” he said quietly.

 

And right there, it was in front of me.   THIS WAS MY STORY.  My REAL story.  I had only THOUGHT I knew was it was.  THIS was the moment that the Hero chose.

 

What caused the pain was NOT the situation, but my judgement the situation did not match my assumed story pattern.  And that this good and beautiful woman who needed me had done what she needed to do to honor the mother who had brought her into this world and given her everything…and that I hadn’t been strong enough to see it, and from my fear and weakness had made it all about me.

 

And I could do that.  Have that ego-salve. Or I could let it go.   Put my family–not just “Jason” but “Tananarive and Jason” –above anything but my soul itself–and embrace this new path.   That I could CHOOSE to write a new story, with an even better ending than that ten year old boy who had watched his stories burn and made a promise to himself, a story that honored that boy, but also honored the values that obtain at life’s end:

 

Not “did I outsell everyone” but “Did I speak my truth, and have fun?”

Not “did I get the images that were in my head?” but “did I find out who I was?”

Not “did I have an easy life?” but “did I have an authentic life?  Did I learn what was true?”

 

I went home.   Took Tananarive by the hand.  Looked her in the eyes.  And saw in her eyes, both love and fear.  She knew something had changed, but didn’t know what it was.  And saw that my darling had taken a terrible gamble.

 

She had bet that I was the man I said I was. Who I had promised I was the day I got down on the floor and played with that baby in front of her, a direct hindbrain-to-hindbrain communication that said: “I am a man who loves children.  Will do anything for my family.  I may not be perfect, but if you will be my woman, I swear I will give you everything I have, without reservation, and I will do everything in my power to be sure you never regret your decision.  Please. Stop.   See me.   If you are the woman I think you are…I’m the man you’ve been seeking.”

 

She had prayed that was who I was.

And dammit…she was right.

THAT was the story of Atlanta.  The story of how Steve lost everything he thought he was, and discovered his reality.   Great victory, at great price.   All it cost me was the death of my dreams.

 

But…there are always new dreams. Better dreams.  What is it we need to do?  To live an adult life in alignment with both our childhood dreams and deathbed values.  No life can be better than that.  Do that, and no matter how hard things get, life cannot beat you.

 

That was a hell of a story, wasn’t it?  Can you see the power of seeing your life as a story you are telling…and experiencing?

I had accepted the challenge, acted despite my fear, put one foot in front of the other (“the Machine” applied to life!) gone to my greatest ally, dealt with the “dark night” of realizing his advice was the end of my last hope, and had faith that if I followed that advice, I was losing the world but gaining heaven…

 

Except that I wasn’t dead yet.  Nope, I sure wasn’t. Which meant that everything I did, everything I wrote, had the power of REAL leverage, based not on what a child thought the world was, but what the mature man had found it to be.  And after making that decision…

 

Change my story.  And changing my story changes my stories, if you grasp what I mean.  For what it’s worth, TWELVE DAYS is the first book from this new phase of my life.  I hope you like it.

 

I am the hero in the adventure of my lifetime.  NO ONE gets to tell me what my story is.

 

Apparently,  sometimes, not even me.

Sometimes, you just have to tell the best story you can, and then notice what reality is echoing back to you.  Like a bat.

 

Flying blind, yeah…

 

But flying nonetheless.

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.lifewrite.com

Thoughts on MMA

 

 

About thirty years ago, I saw the first blurry video of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, where they demonstrated their effectiveness against judo and karate and boxing.  It was fascinating.  While clearly the Gracies were showing their best examples, stories of their students trouncing classical martial artists like William Cheung were trickling in in the whisper-stream.  A lot of martial artists refused to believe, thought it was fraudulent, or that their arts had “secret techniques” that were too lethal to use in such situations.

 

I watched, and had some thoughts that Tim Ferris, he of  Four Hour Work Week fame, might have appreciated.  When the UFC was created, and Royce Gracie tore through his opponents like they weren’t there, traditional martial artists continued to doubt.  If only REAL martial artist of such and such style would enter, then we’d see…

 

At first, there really were pure karate people, pure boxers, pure wrestlers who entered to various levels of success. But what became clear very quickly was that “pure” anything was getting trounced by the hybrid arts.  “Pure” grapplers did better than “pure” boxers, but there was a specific syntax, something I’d noticed at the very beginning, that began to emerge. And it hasn’t change to this day.

 

##

 

First of all,  I think UFC is as close to a street fight as any popular sport has gotten, or is likely to get.  Yeah, you can add environmental stuff, and weapons, and multiple attackers. I’ve seen events that tried to add those things, and they look crazy fun, but the primary question is one of two athletes with minimal protective equipment and disallowing only basic crippling things like biting, eye gouging and so forth, and then letting them see what’s what.

 

Not a street fight.  But closer than anything else that could possibly be approved of by a sports authority, which allows us to actually compare ideas and training techniques and strategies from around the world without asking these young athletes to die for our entertainment.  Some thoughts on my conclusions.

 

  1. Sijo Muhammad refers to his art as a “Martial Science” more than a “Martial Art.”  An art deals with self-expression.  A Science asks “what is true?” and utilizes theory and experimentation to test.  It is not science if you cannot test it.   It is faith.  That doesn’t invalidate it…but it does exclude it from the “science” category
  2. What did I see back thirty years ago? That was similar to what Tim Ferris does in his “Four Hour Work Week.”?  It was that every discipline has rules, and that if you can suss them out, you can find cracks in their conceptual armor.  Go through the “cracks” and you’ve found short cuts that produce amazing results..  The Gracies had seen something, probably by testing their art in the streets of Brazil against real live people trying to hurt them.
  3. This is what it was: a striking art is only effective within a given range: from about a foot away from your chest (uppercut range)  to full jab  or kick extension.  What’s that, about a four-foot effective  radius?   That means that if you can stay OUTSIDE that radius, you are safe.
  4. And if you are a grappler, and can get INSIDE that range, you are in the “clinch” range.  Generally, referees will break up boxers who enter the “clinch” range–boxing stops working there.  Oops. And a boxing punch is strong because the boxer has his feet and waist under his shoulders, so that he is striking with his entire body. Take him off his feet, and he’s lost 95% of his prepared training.  Oops.
  5. So what the Gracies did was stay OUTSIDE kicking-striking range until the opponent’s attention wavered for a moment, or there was an opening oclose.  I’ve watched thousands of rounds of boxing, and in a tiny, tiny percentage of fights did the fight end before the first clinch.  With armbars, chokes, and throws, plus a specific strategy, they tore through the competition.
  6. But…the Gracies, no matter how amazing a sports family, were just one family.   They simply couldn’t demonstrate their art without people figuring out what they were doing. And then it was their tiny gene pool against the rest of the world.  Their “unbeaten” reputation just couldn’t last.
  7. A sufficiently vicious striker  who complemented his striking with a little grappling could survive the clinch and force the grappler to cross “the critical distance line” over and over again–and in that instant they are vulnerable if they misjudge distance or timing.  Kimo Leopoldo was the first striker who really nailed Royce Gracie, and although a desperate Gracie managed to arm-submit him, he was forced to retire from the tournament.
  8. As more strikers learned grappling, a hybrid art began to evolve.  And it is this hybrid art that emerged as dominant.  It was the Bruce Lee idea: grapple a striker, strike a grappler, be able to switch between ranges and weapons to find the weakness in your opponent, and then exploit it.
  9. The mythology of deadliness allows the natural human tendency for fantasy to creep in.  The further you are from actually competing with other athletes who are motivated to knock you out or submit you, the more fantasy creeps in.  If you haven’t, your teacher better the hell have.   By the time you are two generations removed from someone who has actual, real-world knowledge, the greater the danger that you don’t know what you think you know.
  10. So the UFC allows a certain amount of “scientific” testing. Can X knock out someone who is trying to hurt you?  Yes? How do you know?  Because you did it, or saw it done.  Will Y break an arm?  Well, if you can submit with an armbar, in many cases the physiology is clear: the person taps out because of pain. The pain comes from stressed tendons at the breaking point.  Add more stress, and the joint will dislocate.  And again…most grappling gyms have accidents along this line from time to time.  The truth can be seen.   Chokes are the most interesting.  The closest you can come to killing someone without real damage (most of the time)–because if you can choke them out, they are helpless, and you could kill them either by hitting them with a rock or simply continuing the choke.  MUCH less damage than knocking someone out with a punch, but very, very real.  Scientific.    Most people in judo or jiu jitsu, have been choked out (raises hand) or choked someone out (raises hand).

 

So that’s it.   MMA athletes exploit a “gap” in most traditional arts, such that you can take a football player who is already fit and aggressive, train them for a few months, and create a monster.   And to my joy, I’m seeing traditional art schools cross-training, offering other arts beneath the same roof, experimenting with non-traditional training techniques, and otherwise adjusting to reality.

 

That’s how they evolved in the first place, you know.

 

There will still be room for pure grappling, pure boxing, pure kicking-punching, etc. arts.  But when they intend to step out of the protective vacuum of a gym and ask “can this work in the street”  the way to test this more fully than ever before (with a reasonable amount of safety) the answer is clear: bring in someone who has seriously trained in MMA.   Start working with them slowly and lightly, gradually making the modifications and learning what you need to understand the reality encoded within your art.  It is there.  Get as intense as you have the heart and health to go.

 

And you’ll know what’s true.  That’s certainly what I’d do if I were starting over as a teenager.  As it is, I have confidence in a combination of skill, situational awareness, ability to improvise weapons,  ability to de-escalate, and sheer viciousness (no one can push me into a “fair fight.” They can attack me, in which case I have justification to DEFEND myself, and that is a different thing).  I don’t think it would be a good investment of my time and energy to risk the bruising that that approach would demand.  What do I enjoy at this point in my life?  Playing with other martial artists, especially flow-oriented arts like FMA.  Makes my heart happy

 

But I’d sure encourage Jason to go for it!

 

 

Namaste,

Steve