Separate but equal lies

Was watching a quasi-zombie horror/comedy film called “Mom and Dad” starring Nicholas Cage in full psycho mode, and was struck by the fascinating similarities between it, and “Get Out” and even “Black Panther.”


I haven’t finished watching–it is uneven, and its hyperviolence turned me off a little at times.   Basically, it’s the story of a community struck by a mysterious disease that makes parents want to kill their children.  And yeah, they go there, if you know what I mean. And it is quite funny in a sick way, although there are some scenes that, as I said, went over the line for me.


But let’s look at it from a Lifewriting perspective, shall we?  This isn’t in a particular order, just as it comes up.


  1. Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair are a set of parents with two kids, a teenaged girl and a pre-teen boy.  Cage and Blair are infected by the disease, and begin to hunt their kids, who are forced to put personal differences aside in order to survive “Home Alone” style.
  2. Cage and Blair are deep into mid-life crisis: the sense of life potentials gone wrong, dreams unmet. Fear of changing aging bodies and waning sexuality.  And a sense that they have given everything to kids who are now starting to shut them out, as kids do as they begin to bond to their own peer group.
  3. The external plot (parents killing children), therefore, simply exaggerates a real concern on the part of parents (their children are “killing” them, symbolize lost potential) AND children (“my parents are killing my spirit”).    One good thing is that “Mom and Dad” touches on the different kinds of “loss” men and women feel.  Each side can feel uniquely wronged by life, rather than grasping the universality of existential angst.  To the degree that we believe these characters, and the exaggeration of the core fear is tempered, the film succeeds. To the degree that the angst underlying the core plot and images are shared by the audience, the film will have an unconscious fascination, and will be more successful.
  4. If those psychological and plot levels are cookin’ with gas, the next question is: how POWERFUL is the underlying reality, and how big is the social charge? The social charge is intensified if we haven’t seen it addressed before: pressure that hasn’t been relieved, right?
  5. If you can apply this to GET OUT you’ll see the reason it made a quarter-billion dollars and won all those awards. The surface (plot) works like a dream, but isn’t that atypical of other horror films: fiancee goes home with lover, is victimized by a situation with hidden currents.  The NATURE of those currents psychologically is the “can I trust the ones I love?”. But socially, they go deeper: “can black people trust white people, even those who seem to be allies?” as well as “will white people ever be trusted by black people, considering the painful history and lack of understanding?”  Taps into BOTH white and black fears, as well as some male-female stuff.  Nice.   The fact that it opens a door very seldom unlocked (fear of assimilation.  Guilt and pain when recognizing your own “micro-aggressions”) it also tapped into a vast ocean of unexpressed tension. Result–powerful emotional associate.  Ca-Ching.
  6. How about “Black Panther” ?  On the surface, a superhero origin story with touches of Shakespearean/Godfather family dynamics and power plays in a royal house.  Very very well done.  Psychologically, it touches a universal hunger: to live up to parental expectations.   But wait! There is a spiritual component as well: the “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him” need to connect directly to the divine without seeing another human being as an intermediary.  So long as T’Challa worshipped his father, he could not be equal to him.  Once he sees his father is just a human being (who made a HUGE mistake) he could be his own man, in his own way…and rise to being king.
  7. But wait!  There’s more!  The psychological and spiritual aspects have been expressed before.  But the social aspects are almost unique.   The images are pure Afrofuturistic, tying together past and future, mundane and profound.    Since the year 2000 there’s been an increasing  “collapse” of the American (and therefore worldwide: we’ve driven popular culture) social construct around race that was necessary to justify slavery, a lie maintained for almost 400 years.   Just YESTERDAY I saw another endless, vile, ignorant threads conflating slavery with immigrant workers, however mistreated.   It’s the same confusion people have about the difference between violent rape and voluntary sex, however poor.  I can make an excellent case that there wasn’t a single major dramatic theatrical film dealing with slavery from the actual perspective of slaves in the entire 20th Century.  Compare to the number of films about the Civil War, and you’ll grasp how terribly rotten something is.   “Gone With The Wind” was the major theatrical image system, in adjusted dollars the most popular film that might ever exist, and a gigantic wet kiss to a world of horrific abuse viewed with rose-colored glasses by the abusers and their descendants:   “There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South… Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow.. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and Slave… Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind…”  that’s the opening crawl. That’s the meaning of the title.   If you don’t grasp “The big lie” lurking in that, you need to look again.
  8. So for black people, “Black Panther” gave image to the precise things stolen from us: names, spirituality, language, history, mythology, nation, agency.  A dream of what Africa might have been without colonialism.   A garden of Eden, no more distant and fantastical than endless mythical lands whites and Asians have given themselves and their children a hundred times a day in countless thousands of books, films, and bedtime stories.   Watching the faces of black children who have been told endless times that they are nothing, that their history begins with rape, as they watch “Black Panther” should be instructive to anyone who has a heart.
  9. But what of white audiences? Well, there is the surface (it’s a good movie) and then there is the empathetic (feeling the powerful emotions others feel).   And another layer: we want the truth.  The truth saves us.  It takes energy to maintain a lie. And what VERY pleasantly surprised  me was the number of people willing to reject the negative lie and  embrace a positive one.  As if saying: “you aren’t what my parents and grandparents say you are?  Then who are you?  Show me your dreams…”
  10. Remember when Sting said that we have nothing to fear if the Russians love their children too? The communication of universals has this same power.  If we all dream of the stars, IF you believe in human equality you look for the problems that created an uneven result.  You look at the “playing field” rather than the players.      White people who believe blacks are unequal mentally are welcome to have that discussion with blacks who feel whites are unequal morally.  That’s an entertaining conversation:   I’ve eavesdropped on a few of them,  and its equivalent to having a grenade battle in a phone booth.     Neither should expect to have a serious conversation with those of us who believe in one human family.  If you don’t feel the need to defend the past, you can embrace the future without fear.
  11. I’ve talked about a Jules Ffiefer cartoon I saw when I was a kid.  In it, a white intellectual was sitting across the table from a black man who looked a lot like Malcolm.  The black man says: “you have your history.  White history. Written by white men, to promote white power.  We want our history.  Black history.  Written by black men, to promote black power.  Our demand is separate but equal lies.”
  12. That’s what Black Panther is. Separate but equal lies.    The creation of a strand of mythology that has been missing for centuries.The fact that friggin DISNEY, who never had an animated image of a black human being in any theatrical film of the 20th Century (until 1999’s “Fantasia 2000”) bankrolled this to the tune of two HUNDRED million dollars (!) suggests that they knew it could make its money back.  That suggests a sense of where the culture is: far enough from the events that needed the lie that people are safe to finally speak the truth.  This is huge. It is transformative. While problems remain that will not be resolved in my lifetime, it is the moment in our history I’ve awaited since childhood.
  13. Using the same model we use looking at “Mom and Dad” then, threading it through “Get Out” and “Black Panther” you can see how, whether your interested in the technical (plot), thematic, psychological (personal), social or spiritual meaning, you can “line up” these aspects so that your work has greater power, and greater potential for success.


This is, of course, a way of deconstructing what really smart, integrated, lucky artists do on a purely emotional level: they just “feel” their way and thread those needles “instinctively”. The rest of us…need to think a little more.

But all of us can do better.


Write the myths that change the world!

Steven Barnes




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.





Applying “Lifewriting” to Black Panther

Lifewriting is a breakthrough in conceptualizing the basic nature of writing and creative living. The intent is to teach you to apply the combined wisdom of humanity to your own life…and the wisdom you have gained in your life to the stories you create (if you are a writer).


Here’s a SPOILERIFIC view of “Black Panther” from the Lifewriting Perspective.


HERO CONFRONTED WITH A CHALLENGE: To be both a good man and a good king.


HERO REJECTS THE CHALLENGE:  Ultimately, he will have to reject his hero-worship of his ancestors to be worthy to stand among them.   Doing this is “Killing the Buddha”, rejecting his father as an image of perfection.  He cannot be his own man until he does this, and he puts it off as long as he can, as most of us do.


ACCEPTS THE CHALLENGE: By taking on the mantle of king, he is now in the arena.   The train is leaving the station.


ROAD OF TRIALS:  His ritual combat for the throne.  Travel to Korea to catch his father’s killer. Accepting Killmonger’s challenge: attempting to be “a good man” and pull his punches initially. “Death” and rebirth and rejection of his father’s self-justified actions.  Return as the king.


ALLIES AND POWERS:   Shuri, Ramonda, Nakia, Okoye, M’Baku, T’Chaka, etc.  His courage, physical skills, the “Black Panther” superpowers, intelligence and problem solving, and compassion.  In a very real sense, even Erick Killmonger was an ally, as he ultimately awakened T’Challa’s moral sense.


CONFRONT EVIL-DEFEATED:   Temporary defeat by Killmonger is the EXTERNAL defeat. But there is a deeper INTERNAL one: realization that his father, to protect his kingdom, family (and perhaps ego) not just killed his brother, but abandoned his nephew to poverty and want (catch the metaphor?).


DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: A literal fall into the abyss (external defeat) and sundering of his relationship with his father to become his own man.


LEAP OF FAITH:   In a higher power (the Panther Goddess trusted them with godlike power), in his companions (that the essence of being a king is making hard decisions and wielding power with both authority and compassion.  They did they best they could in THEIR time, but to be worthy of them, he must go beyond them) and in himself (this is HIS time.  HE gets to decide what kind of king he will be.)


CONFRONT EVIL–VICTORIOUS:    Killmonger had been corrupted by his deprevation and programming.  T’Challa beats him, defeating Erick’s lifetime ambition…


STUDENT BECOMES THE TEACHER:   Offering compassion to his defeated foe, they deal with each other as two men. As brothers, two sides of the same coin.  Killmonger is offered life, but chooses death (worthwhile to note that his lovely line about making the choice of death his ancestor’s made…is bullshit.  He is descended from a Wakandan father and a black American mother whose ancestors chose LIFE.  I chuckled a bit…after I wiped away a tear.)  But note that you could easily map this entire movie from Killmonger’s perspective.  That he made choices which, classically, doomed him. There was no way to kill his “Ride or Die Girl” and still deserve the throne.  No way to dishonor the Wakandan traditions by destroying the Panther herbs or brutalizing the priestess and claim he had his people’s best interests at heart.  But if his words and actions were in conflict, he still taught T’Challa, changed him in a way no other Marvel villain has ever changed a hero.  T’Challa learns…teaches Killmonger the power of compassion…and also teaches his country that they MUST open themselves to the world, and at the very last scene, is about to teach black Americans another aspect of their heritage.    Powerful, powerful stuff.




Note that this film might be interpreted a thousand different ways, almost like an historical event, and certainly like quality art throughout time.   It has a synchrony of philosophical and political perspectives contained within a package of world-class storytelling and unique imagery.  THIS is what entertainment is capable of being and doing.


When you watch great art, you gain perspective on your life.  This requires that the artist themselves spend time asking “who am I?” and “what is true?” and either come to further or different conclusions.  They don’t have to be brilliant, but they DO need to be honest. When they are both…you get something special.








Congratulations Jordan Peele!

When GET OUT became a social phenomenon, there was discussion of its Oscar chances.    I didn’t know about categories like acting (excellent) or directing (startlingly refined for a first film) but I KNEW I was looking at a superior piece of screenwriting.


ALL art is a matter of self-expression.  Successful art integrates craft into this equation, as “craft” is the specific language an artist uses to communicate that sense of “who am I?” or “what is true?”


According to Jordan, he began working on the script About eight years ago, starting to actually write it about four years ago.  And in-between…emotional/mental integration.


  1. He started with a desire to create a film that he could direct.  This implied scale (he wasn’t going to get a ton of money for his first effort.  Nor did he WANT a ton of money–that would have been a level of responsibility that inhibits creativity.)
  2. He chose an idea that touched something deep enough within him to excite him. That meant something intensely personal. Why?  He was going to have to live with it for years.   Dream about it.   Go to sleep thinking about it, wake up in the morning thinking about it.  EMOTIONAL ENERGY.


Remember: the “wall” was that he didn’t have much experience directing (some sequences on Key and Peele, I believe), and that meant doubt from studio backers as well as “the voices in his head”–and trust me, EVERY artist has doubts.  Impostor syndrome. Pretender voices.    You have to not only believe you can do it (within your resource circle) but that you SHOULD do it (it aligns with your values).


The “what” was to become a director, to move his life forward.  The “why” was some combination of personal ambition, artistic vision, social awareness and emotional pain.


Once he had the clear vision, and a powerful stack of motivations, THEN he could look at the “how”:


  1. Select a story from the flurry of ideas in his mind.
  2. Work with it. Play with it. Turn it around and around. Is it a story that can be told visually?   Does it have emotional power?  Does it hold his personal truth (“who am I?”).  A social external truth?  (“what is true?”)


For YEARS he did this, absorbing thousands of hours of film, television, and written word, looking for the “language” with which to express a core notion:


“A young black man with a white girlfriend meets the parents.   Although on the surface all is well, underneath lurks a nightmare.”


Is this a universal fear?  Sure.  Remove race from the equation, and you simply have the fear of rejection, of losing identity, of the doubt that those who claim to love us really do, or that we can love but not “fit in” to the new family.


Basic, universal stuff. What happens when you personalize it?   Jordan, being biracial, HAD to have experienced fear of rejection by both black and white communities, that sense of “who am I? What am I?”   LOTS of room for discomfort, because nothing makes us more vulnerable than love.


If you want to get positively brilliant about it, you would just ask: “did he view the premise through the eyes of potential investors?” The people who he would ask to pony up 4.5 million?  They are the surrogates for potential audience.  This is one of the most important reasons NOT to put your own money into a movie: if you can’t convince investors, your chance of convincing and audience to come out en masse is NOT good.


What was there here for white audiences?  The answer is obvious once you look at it:

  1. They can associate with the universal fear of rejection and danger.  Simply looking at Chris as a human being, absent race, does this.
  2. On a social level, the question of race allows them to feel the discomfort of the situation in a new way, identifying with Chris as he experiences the danger of being a black man in a white world, controlled by the actions of white people (note the first instance of this: Rose and the cop.  Chris is damned near irrelevant in the power-play between two white people.   He has stepped out of his world).
  3. The audience also gets to ask an important question, the mirror image of the question Chris asks (“is it safe to trust?”).  Their version of that question is: “can we really communicate with each other?  Can we move past the pain and enter the realm of trust?”


There is SO much pain associated with racial issues in America, and I don’t think it was really open to discussion until late in the 20th Century.


I know that Jordan asked himself questions like “will anyone let me make this?  Can it possibly succeed?” And the period of incubation, of turning it around and around in his mind, testing images, dialogue, sequencing, timing, and more, he was looking to “solve” a creative Rubick’s Cube, following a thread of emotion, seeking to gain skills and understanding that would take the TECHNICAL knowledge needed to translate his vision and raise it to the level of “unconscious competence”, the place you have to have ANY skills if you want to create with them.   As long as you are mumbling “1-2-3, 1-2-3” you aren’t dancing.  But if you do it long enough, you’ll find yourself just flowing with your partner and moving with the music.  No counting.   THAT is dancing.


But you have to break it down to get there.   Four years of turning it around and around in his mind, until everything worked.  Technical, creative, logistic, philosophical, emotional.  Everything aligned.


Then he just had to write it down.  Polish it.


Then he had to market it to the people who had the resources to help him make it.   Which means that AS he was writing it, he was making connections.   Proving himself.  Making money for investors.  Being totally professional so that adults would trust him with millions of dollars of their capital.


And in threading that series of moving needles, created something that was close to his heart AND had serious social impact, encouraging a discussion of painful social issues that have been long ignored or marginalized.   The cherry on the sundae is that he is a world-class comedian, skilled at knowing the precise moment to release tension with a laugh.   And that is VERY close to triggering a release through scream.


It is really so satisfying to deconstruct a victory.   So much more interesting than looking at a failure and doing an autopsy on what went wrong.  Study a half-dozen successful people and you’ll start seeing patterns, things that successful people do over and over again.  Look at people in different times and places, of different genders or ages or resource circles, in different arenas, and you’ll see deep patterns that apply EVERYWHERE.  Then you can begin to apply them in your own life.


In truth, the world makes perfect sense if you discard the notion of innate genius, except perhaps the genius of constant action, sustained focus, the ability to CARE enough to get up day after day, week after week, month after month and constantly be aware you have to grow and learn and stretch.  To listen to the “pretender voices” that keep you dissatisfied without letting them cripple you.


I don’t care WHAT you want to succeed at.    Jerry Pournelle’s words still ring in my ears: “once you’ve mastered one thing, you know how to master anything else.”


Jordan Peele’s journey to the Oscar is one hell of a story, really.   Studying excellence is always valuable. But studying it when it applies to a favorite entertainment is just sublime.



Congratulations, Mr.Peele.  So damned happy for you and proud of you.   You’re doing the work, dude.






(our black horror class GET OUT is now 70% off, an amazing value.    Check it out today at: WWW.REALBLACKHORROR.COM)


Cracking Gridlock

Social gridlock is a frustrating thing to watch, especially when people are short-sighted enough to believe that such issues are permanent.  Some things are generational: when based on beliefs or habits or perceptions or traditions stretching back into the past, it isn’t surprising that not much change can happen in a single generation, let alone voting cycle. But…if you don’t have historical perspective, that’s how it can look.


The worst are the ones where the surface conversations aren’t addressing the underlying beliefs.  We’re lookin’ where the light is, rather than where we dropped the keys.  Here are some examples of the “apparently intractable” that I think will be solved by time, simply by the people with the inflexible beliefs aging out.  And…a take on the underlying beliefs that aren’t being addressed and in many cases cannot be resolved, because the ultimate answers lie beyond human knowledge or ultimate testing.


  1. Abortion. Underlying problem: no clear and agreed-upon definition of when “life” begins.  When a bit of tissue becomes a human being.
  2. Social Justice. Underlying problem: different beliefs about the basic equality of human beings, whether measured as groups (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation) or individuals.
  3. Gender equality and identity.  Underlying problem: similar to above.  Are the genders complementary?  Parasitic upon each other?  Dominating?  Cooperating?   Roles determined by biology?  Society?   Psychology?  Does “gender” exist at all outside of social constructs?
  4. Climate Change.  Underlying problem: A tangle, ranging from the very real need for a complex society to have access to reliable peak energy sources, to debates about centralized versus dispersed sources. The queasiest aspect is an argument about whether climate scientists are somehow uniquely corrupt and conspiratorial, at least compared to their corporate counterparts.   Never saw THAT one coming.
  5. Gun Control.  Underlying problem: both sides think their answer makes them safer.   In other words, for one side, guns might be seen as the problem. While for the other, they are often seen as the answer.




One thing that fascinates me is the “clustering” of people with different beliefs.  That there really is a political polarity, a “tend-to” between people holding one position or another.  And while on the surface, there would seem to be no connection between them, if UNDER that you look at basic questions of the nature of the soul, the nature of human existence, the “God’s master plan” approach…some patterns arrive.


Combine this with the Procrustean nature of politics and the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”    You’ll vote for what I want?  Then I’ll find a way to vote for what YOU want, and we’ll stand together.




It’s like that story of the husband and wife arguing about going to a new restaurant. The wife wants to go, the husband doesn’t.   The décor, the menu, the expense, the parking, the part of town…the husband brings up every possible objection, the wife shoots them down. Then finally, the truth emerges: the husband has a lover who works at that restaurant.   EVERYTHING ELSE was bullshit: he simply didn’t want wife and lover to encounter each other.


The same thing happens when there are underlying beliefs and values that create strong emotional reactions.  I’ve heard horrible relationship-sundering arguments on these issues. Real anger.  Anger is fear.   Ask what people are afraid of, down at the core, and you will often come to a deeper understanding. “Social Justice” wise, for instance, you drill down and get some fascinating stuff.  And no, I’m not promoting these notions, just saying that I’ve seen them once you tease out deeper patterns:


  1. Society is already “just”–but a level playing field will yield unequal results not just for individuals, but groups, because while we PRETEND these groups are equal…they really aren’t.  Therefore, only an oppressive government can pound the tall nails down to get “equal” results.  The Social Justice Warriors are really asking for repression of the excellent.  (Groups aren’t equal)
  2. Society is already as “just” as it can be.  Life isn’t fair. Try to make it more “just” and again, you are inviting governmental repression. (groups are equal, but nothing further can be done)
  3. If the playing field isn’t level, the only option is to tilt it unfairly in one direction or the other, and I’d rather have the advantages than the disadvantages: there is no perfect balance (It isn’t equal, and I don’t care: Imma get mine.   If spoken honestly, actually a position worthy of a certain respect.  However, it is RARELY spoken honestly, because it opens the door to a “survival of the fittest” “tragedy of the commons” interpretation of the social contract.  And we instinctively understand that that only works when we are strong. We worry about what happens if we lose power, or what might happen to our children.   Our children are safest in a world in which we look out for each other, so the “game” is to grab all you can while encouraging our neighbors to be fair and loving and giving.   In other words…you believe the world is full of either predators or suckers)


What are we as human beings? What is true about the basic nature of the social contract? The deepest questions boil down to nature/nurture, essence/existence AND CANNOT ACTUALLY BE FULLY ANSWERED in the way, say, an algebraic equation can. Because algebra is a manipulation of symbols with agreed upon meanings, and social theory deals with things that do not, and cannot. They deal with reality, not mere symbols representing reality.


Far, far, harder.



Just morning thoughts.  Gridlock.  But the answer is to look at human patterns: answers used in one place, proven to work, get adapted by the neighbors.  Not always, but often and consistently enough to explain most human progress.  Genetically and memetically, natural selection with a dash of punctuated equlibrium seems to explain about everything.


In the “Hero’s Journey” the hero who is confronted with a Gordian Knot of a problem takes action, including finding role models.   Look for people who get better results than you, and do what they do. There will always be people afraid of this, but frankly, our feelings don’t matter much in the overall structure of things. Results matter.


We lose neuralplasticity, behavioral flexibility, and even social memory and feel trapped and locked into place.   Yeah, the old farts get locked. But they die. And the kids come up, kids who are just as smart as their parents and grandparents, but understand the problem from the INSIDE rather than the outside. Have energy and optimism and haven’t been locked into the old patterns.  And will come up with answers we haven’t dreamed of, because they want to live, and love, and reproduce, and thrive, and have their time in the sun just like every generation since we climbed down out of the trees.  Maybe before.


If ANYONE has solved the problem, pretty much everyone can. Maybe not in our time.   We might just have to wait for the most rigid and intractable…to die.


Since everyone does, the answers are pretty obvious: no one is smarter than everyone. There are no irreplacable human beings.   Just because you can’t see an answer don’t mean there ain’t one.  Frankly, you ain’t all that.  And neither am I.


But our kids…goddam.  Yeah.  Our kids ARE all that. And always have been.


Once upon a time we were too. Remember?







Is BP better than Star Wars?

Saw a comment today, someone saying that Black Panther was better than all the Star Wars movies combined.   Let’s not dive into a discussion of trying to quantify subjective evaluations, shall we?   Let’s just leave it that this person ENJOYED BP more than they enjoyed all the Star Wars movies combined, or at least so much that they were moved to say that.


What I thought would be more interesting is asking: what makes a movement?  Because that’s what Star Wars was.  It motivated people to camp out overnight, buy tickets months in advance, cosplay, generated endless merchandise, and united generations of geeks in a celebration of space fantasy.


Harry Potter triggered some similar reactions. As did Star Trek.  I believe that movies like Gone With The Wind and Titanic seem to have hit the same buttons, and to a degree Avatar, and maybe even Enter The Dragon.


I remember having a meeting at my house when I lived over near LACC. Wish I could remember what the point of it was, but two ladies showed up who said they were from the “Vulcan Embassy.”  Called themselves T’Plea and T’Qua.  Vulcan ears, dress, everything.  I was very weirded out, I can remember.  And tried talking to them wanting to get some sense of what motivated them to behave this way, but didn’t get a clue.


What else does this kind of fandom remind me of?   Religious movies, the kind where churches send busloads of worshippers to see some (usually) low-rent version of the Passion play, or the trials of the Israelites or something.  There have been tons of them, and some were actually  pretty good (I remember enjoying the heck out of a revival of 1949’s  SAMSON AND DELILAH.  Probably that jawbone fight.  Bringing down the temple sort of rocked too. And of course all the thinly-veiled sexual tension twixt Victor Mature and Hedy Lemar.  All that post-coital lounging…


What is it that creates that kind of connection?


When I was in my 30’s, I was looking for magic.  Had a standing offer to the universe that I would go anywhere, at any time, at any cost, to see the equivalent of a cigarette ash burning backwards to make a Lucky Strike.  Something that just couldn’t be explained with the laws of physics.  It was amazing how weak the evidence for such thing was, while still managing to trigger human reactions of awe and suspension of logic.   Cold spots in houses.   déjà vu.  Lucid dreaming. Slight-of-hand magic.  Cold reading (“mediums” using psychological tricks to “read minds”).   Cute martial arts tricks of alignment or tendon strength.  And on and on.


I’ll say that eventually I experienced something that made me withdraw my little offer from the universe, but that’s another story.  But what is pertinent is that my endless afternoons at the Bodhi Tree bookstore  in West Hollywood led me to a man named Sri Chinmoy.  Now…Chinmoy was fascinating.  An Indian holy man who taught meditation and encouraged his followers to engage in ultra-marathons to raise their energy and purify their bodies, he wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of books, “played” dozens of instruments (except for some decent flute, I could never determine any actual skill in his piano playing…but I have to admit there was a strange power in his compositions), a million brushstroke paintings of birds, and more.


He had celebrity followers like Roberta Flack and Carlos Santana, and “meditation centers” in college campuses across the country, and the U.N. building.  All of this was interesting, but the thing that really caught my eye was the fact that when he injured himself in the ultra-marathons he switched to weight lifting.


Using special rigs, he lifted other human beings with one arm, airplanes and cars, and weights totalling over seven thousand pounds.   I wasn’t sure what I was looking at when he did this, but world-class bodybuilder Bill Pearl had a store in southern Oregon, and was one of Chinmoy’s friends.    HE said that he had seen this little man perform feats of strength no one he knew of could match.   Had he lifted 7,063 pounds? Really?   Well…Pearl said that from where he was, the massive barbell, in an overhead sling, MIGHT have lifted an inch.  But the only thing he could be sure of was that the bar, as thick as a man’s arm, had actually BENT with the force applied against it.


Ummm….apparent total control of flow state (all that art!), vast aerobic capacity?   The comparative strength of an insect?   That suggested someone who had serious ability to override the governors that inhibit human performance.  A cigarette ash burning backwards?  No.  But the most impressive human performance I’d ever heard of.


There was more.    At a private meeting of his students, I saw his aura.  That was an entire story in itself.  I didn’t know what to think about it at the time.  Now,  I believe is was a projection of my mind…but a very specific one, indicating some very specific things.  Another time.




Anyway, I became his student, and studied with other students learning meditation techniques and spiritual perspectives I use to this day.  Nice people.  A little strange and…bland.  That’s not a bad term for it.  A little “flat” tonally.  More on this in a little bit.  The guys had no sharp edges. The women weren’t particularly warm and cuddly.   Some “polarity” missing.


I should have known what was coming.


Some years later, I found myself up in Vancouver Washington, my marriage in tatters and needing to find my spiritual center.  Realizing that I had stopped meditating, I decided to re-connect with Chinmoy’s people, and located a meditation center in Seattle, calling them and getting permission to join them for a Sunday afternoon. They owned a restaurant up there, and after a fun day of meditating, playing vollyball and working in the restaurant we had a lovely vegetarian dinner.  I was stoked.  I felt so at home.


Except for that odd “flatness” I’d sensed.  But what the heck, right.  Anyway, we were all talking, and I mentioned at one point that on my way home to Vancouver, I was going to stop off at a ladyfriend’s house for…well, I think “a little late night all-right” about covers it.


And…the room went quiet.  They looked at me rather oddly, and then slowly began to speak again.  But it felt like they’d edged away from me a little. I was confused.  What had I done?


About fifteen minutes later one of the guys came up to me and asked me if I’d step outside for a moment.  I did.  He fum-fuh’d, toe’d the ground and then blurted out: “Didn’t you know that Guru wants us to be celebate?”


WTF?   I’d read dozens of his books, and maybe a hundred articles on him, been involved in their community for about five years, and NO ONE had said this.   EVERYONE seemed to think that someone else had laid that out for me.    I was shocked, and appalled, and remembered driving home down the I-5 kinda shattered.    It all made sense.  That explained the kinda “flat” energy I’d felt from them: neither the men or women were “displaying” for each other.  They were edging toward asexuality, or “neuterism” or whatever you’d call it.


And I knew that if Chinmoy was the best chance I’d ever encountered to enter a different realm of existence, his path was also not for me.    I mean, if God wants me to stop having sex, there’s a pretty simple change he could make in me, and let’s just say he ain’t never made it.


Sigh.   To be honest, that was my last try, the last time I attempted to find a spiritual community.  I realized that my path was within me, that all the teachers in my life had pointed where I needed to go, and I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know.  Not taking responsibility for my own growth was being a spiritual child.  I didn’t need that.   But…it still hurt.


We all seek something. Some sense of connection to love, the divine, the mysterious.  Something bigger than us.  And some of us find it in religious activities, others in relationships, or politics, or cheering sports teams…or enjoying movies.


The entertainments that trigger that response seem to speak of another world, something lost and far away…or off in the future, of in a galaxy far, far away.   They appeal to our hearts, our sense of our own potential, that perhaps we are actually part of a powerful dynasty with Force powers.  Or we are on a mission to explore the galaxy in a time when humans have grown past our divisions.   Or we are celebrating a lost, noble civilizations of ladies and cavaliers, masters and slaves, a gracious time now gone with the wind.


How about a time when love was more important than life (“Titanic”)?  Or a totally alien world in which we can transform into something beyond our human limitations (“Avatar”).


Take us somewhere we’ve never been.  Give us a missing piece of our soul. Show us a cigarette ash burning backwards to make a Lucky Strike.   In real life?   You get there and find out it was an illusion, that you always had what you needed anyway, you just didn’t trust yourself.


But those who have found it, if they are wise, don’t mock those still searching. And even if you have it, there is nothing wrong with enjoying entertainments that take us out of ourselves, remind us of our dreams and hopes.  We need them.


I needed to believe in something more than myself.  If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have found the truth behind the magical metaphors in every sacred tradition.   I am happy for the stories, but the truth is even better.


But still, I was miserable on that drive home.   It can be hard to realize no one, and nothing, is coming to rescue us.  Hard to be an adult some times.  It is fun to be a kid again, to connect with a simpler time, simpler emotions, simpler realities.  And sometimes we need to take a break from the endless struggle life can be, and simply sit in a darkened movie theater, and remember what it was to believe our potential was without limit.


And those who have had endless such images…if they don’t realize the bounty they were given, and mock those who are starving…I feel sorry for them.   They don’t realize that in that sense they were born into Fort Knox and think all they have is the gold in their teeth.





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.







What does the Killmonger tragedy teach us?

(Warning: Black Panther spoilers ahead.   When we look at movies LIFEWRITING style, that happens!)


Lifewriting says that our fantasies and myths reflect our inner world. And our inner worlds are shaped by the fantasies and myths and stories.  The best are touching us on a deep level. Let’s take a look at a story thread people have debated, not from “this is truth” but “this is a way to connect the fiction we love with the lives we lead.

Is Eric Killmonger hero or villain?

Make no mistake: a case can be made for either position.    On the one hand is his revolutionary rhetoric: why NOT switch the power structure? What possible reason would he have not to want to be on top? On the other hand is his behavior, which clearly suggests we are looking at a baby tyrant, that when they say “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” they were talking about HIM, and if you aren’t careful, you’d end up being one of those “gee, I thought we’d be able to control him.  Gee. I thought he’d settle down.  Gee, he SAID he would change…” enablers.


You are a good man. With a good heart.  And it is hard for a good man to be king“–there’s your theme!   King T’Chaka killed his brother.  Why?   Ego perhaps (he was angry.  Also possible: he didn’t’ want the disgrace of his brother’s trial).   It was NOT a measured action.  Once done, those eggs were broken, and couldn’t be unbroken.   He had a horrible dilemma: IMO, if you are watching a story about a man who kills another man, who has a son…aren’t you waiting for the other shoe to drop?  WHEN WILL THE CRIME BE KNOWN?  When will the son take revenge, and how juicy is it going to be?  “Black Panther” is a Hamlet and broken-eggs omelet.

I mean, think about it: if so much as a single whisper, look, action, clue EVER came to light, that boy would move heaven and earth to kill his way to the throne.  So…T’Chaka abandoned him in America.  If he’d been more ruthless, frankly…he would have killed him. Too much risk to his own bloodline.

How about if ANYONE ever learned, they’d realize how valuable and dangerous that boy was, and would either want to kill him or use him to topple the throne.  IMO, the best choice T’Chaka had would be (if Wakandan tech allowed it) to wipe Erik’s memory and have him adopted by a good American home, anonymous, far away from Wakanda.

Even that might not have worked (the level of coincidence and synchronicity in comic books is off the chain. Do you REALLY believe this wrong would never have come to light?  Really?)

But by abandoning him, T’Chaka created a monster.  A sociopath with revolutionary ideals, who (as far as we know) grew up on the streets, fought his way to excellence powered by a dream of vengeance.  Killmonger never knew love or softness–demonstrated by the casual way he killed his girlfriend.  With no safe home, he needed control.   And used seduction, lies, violence, strategy…anything and everything to get to what he really wanted:


Home.  Love.   He talks about his “Auntie” “princess” (cousin), “Uncle”.  This is personal stuff.  All he really wanted…all ANY of ever really want…love and peace.  And he was prepared to kill his way to it.

What would a good king/good man do?   We saw T’Challa willing to see truth (in the 21st Century, Wakanda must forgo isolation.   In our world, to rectify wrongs and become one people.  In the Marvel universe, to stand against Thanos with the rest of humanity.  The power of a simple metaphor. “Thanos” which means “noble” in Hindi and “Immortal” in Greek, is a cool name for a cosmic villain.   In the comics, he is enamored of the Goddess of Death.  Get that? Immortality and Death, together again?   Yin and Yang, anyone?).  But T’Challa was also willing to come from love (extend help to enemies.   Offer of life to Killmonger.  Earth must pull together.  We must see the humanity within each other, or die as a species).  Incidentally, he was also strong enough to stand against tyranny.  Not alone–alone,   he was defeated.  When his family and his people connected to him, he went to his ancestors, rejected them AND THEREBY PROVED HIMSELF WORTHY TO JOIN THEM.  He was his own man. A good man. And a good king.


Killmonger had the right idea, but a broken heart.  Moses couldn’t enter the promised land.  MLK couldn’t make it to the new world with us, although from the mountain-top, he could see the gates.


This is cost of corrupting our children: the healing is multigenerational, and takes either time, or an epiphany.     We all have a Killmonger within us, have abandoned our hopes and dreams and values for expediency.   The answer is STRENGTH, LOVE,  AND TRUTH.

We need the wisdom of the Elders, and the dreams of a child.  Otherwise, those poisoned fruits come back to haunt us.  We cannot disown our own inner children.

Or ignore the lessons of the past




Got an email today, from “Andrew”, who said:

“One of the biggest issues I’ve encountered in myself was the NEED to have an editor go through my story before submitting.  I can’t tell you how bogged down I would get because I needed to have someone proofread it and then find an editor to go through my short story. In reality it was just my own fear of being rejected.  As of now, I’ve been submitting the stories after I make a cursory check to make sure there aren’t any obvious issues or typos.  Otherwise, it’s in the (e)mail and will stay there.  If an editor gives me feedback then I’ll take that into consideration and apply it to my next story.


“I figure time is short and the faster I get to a hundred short stories the faster I’ll be published.   I’ve been writing so many stories back to back I seriously don’t even remember writing the earlier ones.  I have to read a few paragraphs before I even know what it’s about and I outlined and wrote the damn thing.  My thoughts are consumed with the current story and the next one in the pipeline.

“I know I’ll use editors eventually but for now I need to just concentrate on volume.  I’ve held myself back for too long.

“I’m finally learning to trust myself.  I can’t thank you enough.”–Andrew


How does the care and maintenance of your child fit here?

  1. The child is frightened of rejection. But the more love he gets from YOU the easier it is to move forward.
  2. If you are committed to protecting the child, you stay on your discipline.  You do the “work” so that the child can “play”.  Stay on task: write one #$%% sentence a day, no matter what.
  3. Trust that you are an endless fountain of ideas. And if your “child” feels safe, you will be.  And I doubt you can come up with a hundred ideas without one of them being good.
  4. If your child trusts you, and you trust her, you have the connection you need for endless creativity. So long as you are heading in the right direction, you cannot lose.


Trust.  Love.  Faith.  Truth.    Constant work, motivated by love and guided by truth.  Strong enough to resist fear, from within (insecurity)  or without (aggression).


T’Challa was strong, and unafraid,  so he earned Killmonger’s respect (“that was a move”)  and was t and was clear enough to hear the truth (“we are one”) beneath the fear (“I must control”)

If only both of them had had that connection sooner…it would have been a very different film.  And in some ways, I’m sorry we’ll never see that one.  Erik Killmonger…known as N’Jadaka, son of N’Jobu, nephew of T’Chaka and cousin of T’Challa…deserved better.

So do we all.






I think that people become addicted to arguing.  Why?  Well, sometimes it does work. But they forget their actual outcome: to solve a problem or determine “what is true.”  To experience more pleasure than pain in life.


Why then do people so often get exhausted, express frustration, anger and fear because of conducting or witnessing apparently endless argument?   Because they have forgotten their ultimate goal.


ULTIMATE GOAL: To be happy

LONG TERM GOAL: to remove an obstruction to happiness

SHORT TERM GOAL: To create alliances to achieve something that cannot be done alone

IMMEDIATE GOAL: To determine “what is true?” in the “who, what, why, where, how” categories.


And since SOMETIMES, arguments can lead to clarity, and that to creating alliances, solving problems and achieving happiness…arguments can seem like a good idea.  Oh, I’m sorry: “debates.”


But you can also become addicted to debate. Just as “combativeness” is a positive quality in some arenas, people engage in it inappropriately.  Sometimes referred to as a component of “toxic masculinity.”  (A question: would aversion to conflict, a positive quality in some arenas, if engaged in inappropriately be a component of “toxic femininity”?)


Another discussion. Anyway I think it is important to know when battles are not worth fighting.


I recently  watched something fascinating happen.  I asked:  “who has ever changed the mind of someone who believes X?” (A controversial and polarizing political discussion).


Not a single person indicated that anything they said ever had changed a single mind.    Not one.   But, amusingly, people started arguing the subject right there and then.


Excuse me.  What part of “apparently this doesn’t work” wasn’t understood?    I say because people mistake the process for the goal.  If the process leads to the goal, fine. But when it leads to frustration, fear, exhaustion, shouldn’t we consider that argumentation is the wrong tool?  Aren’t we being toxic?


Let’s apply Lifewriting  to  problem solving on a social level, shall we?


CHALLENGE: To solve problem X

REJECT: There is no apparent answer

ACCEPT: to take the position that because we cannot see an answer doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist (otherwise, you slide into despair and destructive rage)

ROAD OF TRIALS: to keep trying DIFFERENT approaches, modeling successful approaches in a variety of contexts until an answer is found.

ALLIES AND POWERS:   Whatever teachers, role models, comrades, friends and family you can enlist in the effort. Brain storming is a good thing!   Try this question: “a hundred years from now, this problem will be solved, no matter how it looks now.  What was the process?”    It is nothing but ego to assume that if YOU can’t find an answer, an answer cannot be found.

CONFRONT EVIL, DEFEAT:  you are gridlocked in argument, and the problem recurs again and again.

DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: Exhausted, you fall into the ego state of “If I can’t find an answer, there is not answer.”  Let alone the “all is lost” thingie, considering that people have this need to believe that somehow, their generation is so important that they have front row center to Armageddon.  Every generation seems to think this.  So far, they’ve all been wrong.

LEAP OF FAITH: Remember that every generation creates answers the previous generation hadn’t thought of.  Of course, they also create new problems.  That’s another story.  Over and over again, the adults of one generation have insisted that they are the shit, that they have all the answers, and that if they have failure of imagination or will, That’s All Folks. They are almost always wrong.

CONFRONT EVIL–VICTORIOUS.  You keep trying, and either find the answer yourself or  inspire others to find it.

STUDENT BECOMES THE TEACHER:   You share the answer you have found.


This is a way the “Hero’s Journey” can work. If there IS no answer, it doesn’t hurt to keep trying.  If there could have been an answer, and you stopped trying, you have betrayed your grandchildren.



Now, that said, there are distinctions along the way. Role models will demonstrate the proper logic patterns (first: is it true?) or tactical approaches (“nurture your tribe.  Don’t argue with sleepers or snakes”) and so forth.   But the overall pattern is pretty solid.




MODEL SUCCESS.  If other people, groups, or countries have solved the problem…look there.  What were their belief systems, emotions, tactics and strategies?   If opponents disbelieve these things would work for us, are they assuming we are more basically different as human beings?  Is their basic view that of human equality (“their answers won’t work for us!”  Could that be true if human beings are basically equal? Yes? No?   If not, does that match YOUR core belief?  Remember, no matter what they say, their ULIMATE belief in equality/inequality is faith-based.    Ultimately, if what you are saying challenges that faith, they will reject it regardless of the logic used, until or unless their belief changes.  It is best to consider them “asleep” in this arena, remembering that you are asleep in others, and may actually be wrong now.  “Asleep” is probably the kindest way to attribute “wrongness” about such a core issue, as it relates to universal humanity, and doesn’t require you to consider them “evil” or “stupid”.  Just…asleep, and may awaken at some future point.)



  1. Love yourself
  2. Love one other person
  3. Study history, embrace humanity without guilt, blame, or shame
  4. Support your Tribe, avoid sleepers and snakes.
  5. Win with integrity.


In combination with a belief in Equality, and the Hero’s Journey, you have a syntax for success, if success is possible.


Frankly, I always believe it is possible to win.  But sometimes you have to define the terms for yourself.

Like…not having your time wasted.





I’m not really going to review this film.  I love it.   If you want to know more about my reactions and thoughts, check out the FB Live video T and I did yesterday: BlackPantherAfterAction   or:



SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS   Do NOT read unless you’ve already seen the movie PLEASE!!!





When I say that this may be the most important “Popular entertainment” film I’ve ever seen, I mean it.  Myth matters, at least partially because it embeds the patterns of life at a deep unconscious level, where all wisdom must reside to be useful.


Let’s look at the pattern of the Hero’s Journey  applied here:


  1. HERO CONFRONTED WITH A CHALLENGE: T’Challa wishes to be a good king…and a good man as well.
  2. REJECTS THE CHALLENGE.  He believes he can do this by simply following in his father’s footsteps.
  3. ACCEPTS THE CHALLENGE: Tradition and his own heart puts him on the path, although his father’s ghost warns him:  “it is hard for a good man to be king”
  4. ROAD OF TRIALS: Return to Wakanda, the kinghood ceremony, travel to Korea to capture an enemy, return to Wakanda empty-handed, challenged for the throne by a cousin he never knew.
  5. ALLIES AND POWERS: His family, his country, his ancestors, his friends.    Courage, intelligence, martial prowess, and deep emotional reserves of wisdom: he knows who he is, even if he still hasn’t fully awakened.
  6. CONFRONT EVIL–DEFEATED.  He discovers that his father killed his own brother and abandoned his nephew Eric “Killmonger” in America. This breaks his heart: he no longer has the strength of his ancestors.  He fights his cousin, and is defeated (but does not submit).
  7. DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: Thrown into the abyss, he suffers a near-death experience.
  8. LEAP OF FAITH:   He rejects worship of his ancestors to become his own man.  Ironically, this is precisely what must be done to honor them.  His father had made an error. Accepting his father’s humanity allows him to take the positive without being limited by the negative.  And even more: to embrace the spirit of the Black Panther without being limited by the flawed human beings who represent her.  Compare to the “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him” notion.  To become a king, he must kill his IMAGE of the king.  Reject father-worship to be a worthy son.
  9. CONFRONT EVIL–VICTORIOUS.  He defeats Killmonger, and offers him mercy.
  10. STUDENT BECOMES THE TEACHER:  His mercy offers Killmonger enlightment or awakening at the very end of his life: he sees the waste he has made of his life.  That he was consumed by vengeance and hatred when he could have found family. Became the evil he sought to fight. But dies with defiance on his lips–teaching T’Challa in turn.  And T’Challa unifies the goals of his ancestors (to protect their people) with a 21st Century obligation to help build a better worldfor all.


Was that goal valid?  We can argue about the “real” world, but in the MCU–absolutely. Remember why Tony Stark built Ultron? Because in Avengers, he saw a vast alien armada, a force before which humanity is, in Nick Fury’s words, “hopelessly, hilariously outgunned.”


Fury built the Avengers.   Stark built Ultron.    Isolation from humans makes sense if your enemies are humans. But if your enemies are off-planet, countless SF movies have posited that we will need to pull together.


ONLY A UNITED EARTH CAN SOLVE THE ULTIMATE WORLD PROBLEMS. The history of mankind is one of growing complexity and connection.  T’Challa sees the bigger picture, and must find a way to step into it. That is HIS fate as king.


Killmonger, then, was correct in his vision but poisoned by the dragon he had fought, a broken-hearted orphan who only “awakened” in time to save his soul…but not his body.


T’Chaka stained his soul making a choice to protect his crown…but an act motivated by love (for his children, because make no mistake: Patricide is NOT forgiven. It is entirely reasonable to fear Killmonger would have arranged an “accident” for T’Challa and T’Chaka and taken the throne.  Presumably, his father was all he had.   The best thing T’Chaka could have done is wiped the boy’s memory and found him a good family to raise him as their own) and anger (rage at betrayal) and arguably shame (the humiliation of a public trial for his brother would have created vast problems. I don’t know if Wakanda uses the death penalty, but if they did, he might have considered killing his brother to be Royal Justice.  Its messy) created a Shakespearean nightmare. Black Panther is a  Hamlet and broken eggs omelet.

T’Challa had to find a way to the future, while respecting the past. A path for his people, and all mankind. This requires forgiveness. Is it reasonable he could do this?


Did he kill Zemo in “Civil War”?  No?  Do you have the slightest empathy with Tony Stark’s “I don’t care. He killed my Mom” pursuit of Bucky, even at the cost of killing Captain America? Even thought Bucky had no control?


If you can buy that T’Challa had more emotional mastery in a week than the brilliant Stark had after 30 years and half a billion dollars of therapy, you are believing in a human being who can also move beyond racial and national conflicts to see the larger picture.  T’Challa is such a Magical Negro that if he weren’t balanced by an entire country, he’d be Harry Potter singing “Mammy”.

But he IS balanced by Wakanda. He has mother, sister, father (deceased), friends, counselors, subjects, lover (ex and future), and alliances. He is probably the most fully realized character in all the MCU, with the possible exception of  Thor and Spider-Man.


Now, Killmonger, T’Chaka, Suri, and Nakia all had their own lovely arcs weaving in and out. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to plot them out, and see Coogler’s beautifully woven braid.  THIS is fine storytelling, world-class, and totally deserving of its success.


This is the power of myth.





(If you would like to learn more about Afrofuturism, please accept the gift of a free lesson from our DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES course, available at: www.WAKANDALIVES.COM)


Turning a weakness into a strength


I recently had a conversation with a reader who  made a “terrible mistake.”  Call him “Quint.”

Quint:   I find myself in a position to ask you for some quick advice, if you don’t mind.  I made a mistake this weekend, got out of hand, and while no one got hurt… feelings were hurt, people were scared, etc. I apologized profusely, owned up to the mistake… took responsibility for it. But I cannot stop obsessing over it myself. I cannot stop beating myself up over it. I will, with time, but it’s frustrating and hurting my productivity. This is a pattern with me. I’m working on cutting it off, but if you have any suggestions, I’d be open to hearing them.

Steve: All right. Tell me what happened, and what you specifically request of me.

Quint:  Drank too much at a friend’s party (I don’t drink often)… got far too drunk, got into a tussle with some folks later on outside. No one was hurt, but my friend was embarrassed by my behavior (as am I) and I apologized profusely, accepted responsibility for my actions, and promised it wouldn’t happen again. Yet I’m beating myself up for the mistake, to the point that my close friends are more worried about that than what I actually did. What’s a good suggestion for breaking this cycle of beating myself up over my mistakes?

Steve:   Love yourself more. Never say anything about yourself you wouldn’t say to your most beloved child. The entire “Ancient Child” technique is designed to hook you into this. Heartbeat Meditation as well, and the Morning Ritual as well. Love and forgiveness toward yourself gives you the foundation to improve future behaviors.

Quint:    That’s what I’ve been working for, but it’s been a challenge to let go of the obsessiveness of my nature.

Steve:   Don’t “let go” of your obsessiveness. USE IT. Become obsessive about healing, about positive things.


Yeah, I like that. Are you obsessive?  Then be obsessive about meditating, visualizing. About your Morning Ritual.  THAT’S the proper use of obsessiveness.  Why fight it when you can use it?

Here is a good man, who simply wants to be a good person, walking the Road of Trials called life.   Like the rest of us, he makes mistakes.  And like the Heroes before him, he reached out to friends, associates, and potential mentors for advice.

The problem is not that he made the mistake. That was done with. The problem is that he kept the pain and shame with him, beat himself up.  Now, if beating yourself up worked to make you a better person, that would be fine. But the trouble is that it really only works if you have EXCELLENT role models.  For instance, if you have loving, healthy parents, and you are on the wrong life path, it can actually be healthy to crush your ego and allow them to help you reconstruct yourself in a new mold, much as a white belt would be wise to find a teacher who can be trusted to  crush and reconstruct your ego.

But for adults? In general? Not a good idea, as your crushed ego will diminish your confidence in yourself, and lead to a descending spiral of results, as well as attract predators: you have become one of the halt and the lame.   Limping sheep attract wolves.

So you have to start by loving yourself.   Simply imagining yourself as a helpless child will work for most people even over the internet, and in personal coaching I’ve NEVER met anyone it didn’t work with, although I might have needed hypnosis or deep visualization to get down to the core survival circuitry.  Those who have been neglected or abused often have no conscious memory of ever having been safe.  Sigh.

My heart breaks for you, but that means that YOU have to do it.  YOU have to commit to protecting yourself.

That’s the first step.   The most important step.  As an individual or a culture, you MUST start here, or you won’t have the motivation to do “Whatever It Takes” to change your life.

  1. Love yourself to begin the healing process, and find your strength. If you would fight for a child, but wouldn’t fight for your own life and dreams, you have work to do.
  2. Love another person.  Love forces us to empathize with others, to see our own soul in their eyes (intense sex is great for this!). If we can love ourselves despite our flaws, and love another despite theirs…we open the door to deeper understanding.
  3. Understand history without guilt, blame or shame.   Core perspective: people are just people. If you can see the same basic motivations and behaviors playing out in a variety of circumstances without hating or thinking “they” are less than “you”, you’ve taken another step. Can you embrace humanity without thinking either black or white are superior, “better” or “less” in any significant way?  How about male and female?  We have a LOT of stress there now. And a LOT of men and women who don’t trust each other.    Here’s a hint: you can trust other people to the exact degree that you can trust your own judgement.   If you cannot relate the behaviors of men and women to core humanity, cannot see how they are two sides of the same damned coin, you haven’t gone deeply enough, and have disowned half of your own nature.    Get to work.
  4. Embrace and protect your tribe, while avoiding sleepers and snakes. All you have to do is embrace the humanity of people willing to embrace yours…and all will be well. Not immediately.  Not tomorrow. But the human race is knitting itself together after the Great Migration.  And you can be a part of it.


Let me tell you a little story.  When I was researching GREAT SKY WOMAN in Tanzania, I had a bit of private trepidation. What would I see and experience? What if I found the negative stereotypes pervasive, and the sneers of the racists justified?  Could I be honest enough to admit that possibility?  Because if I couldn’t, I couldn’t be certain of my POSITIVE perceptions either.  So…I steeled myself, and went.

Interacting with as many people as possible at every opportunity.   Played little games testing abstract thought, reflexes, perceptions, memory and other things. And… was delighted.  The children, even those who had been living in very simple circumstances, were so quick and beautiful.  Compared quite comfortably with kids in far wealthier circumstances in America.

The damage, then, could easily be explained by  differential patterns of interaction with the rest of the world, distance from the Road of Silk and that pesky North-South continental orientation (domesticated grains and animals can migrate east-west much more easily than north-sound.  By the damage of colonialism, and the plunder of the slave trade.  In comparison, the Eurasian Land mass seemed almost custom designed for spreading genetics and information.)  Multiplied over tens of thousands of years, how was sub-Saharan Africa to catch up?  Copper phone lines were being scavenged by desperately poor people, crippling the attempt to wire together a communications infrastructure.

I brooded for a couple of days,  and then saw something that made me laugh:  Maasai warriors, watching their flocks, standing on one leg leaning on their spears…talking into their cell phones.

I laughed and laughed, knowing at that moment that all would be well.   All I had to rely on was a sense of universal humanity, and there was no problem.

There is work to do, but we cannot let ourselves be dragged down into the muck by wasting time with trolls who infect us with dualistic, oppositional thinking.

Step 5:  Win with integrity.  Respect the rights and humanity of others.   While keeping the strength to protect your heart and family, come from a place of love. Of knowing that most anger is just fear. Understand what they are afraid of, and you can forgive them.  Understand that enough fear creates enough psychological pressure to shut down frontal lobes.  An educated person can believe in a Flat Earth if they delete enough contrary data.  Might such a person be someone looking for simple explanations to an increasingly complex world?  Be compassionate. If for no other reason, remember that YOU do this too.  You will need help, support, compassion, understanding. You’ve been wrong in the past, and will be again in the future.  Also…there is nothing more common than oppressed people becoming oppressors. The abusers turning out to have been abused.


I have to remember that I, too, am asleep in some ways.  That I, too, seem a snake to some.  That in some eyes I, too, carry the Monster in my heart.


Start by loving yourself.  End by loving the world.    Whether as an individual, a family, or a tribe, the pattern is the same.


And always has been.