Walt Whitman, Will Hunting, and James Bond

One of the most powerful scenes in “Good Will Hunting” is the moment when the psychiatrist (RobinWilliams) corners Will (Matt Damon) saying the simple phrase: “It’s not your fault.”  Again and again, until Damon breaks down sobbing.  Ias first it is as if those words are blows, lashes, and Damon recoils, responds with anger,and then fear, begging him to stop.  Williams comes closer and closer, ultimately wrapping his arms around Damon.  “It’s not your fault,” he says, again, and we see all of the blocked emotions come boiling up out of Damon, anger giving way to fear, then fear to hope, and then the tears, and on the other side of them…a glimpse of heaven.


It is the film’s emotional climax, and if you surrender to it, it is as powerful as a sledge-hammer to the heart.




It’s not your fault.



A reader recently said that the lack of a “villain” was one of “Good Will Hunting”s strengths.  Agreed–there were forces of opposition, but no real “bad guys” on screen.


And yet…opposition is every scene. It is the warp and woof (whatever the heck that means) of drama, and without it, your scene lies dead on the page or the stage.  And we can actually examine this scene from the perspective of a villain by using a simplistic story pattern, say the one taught by Dwight Swain in “Techniques of the Selling Writer.”


Situation, Character, Objective, Opponent, Disaster.


Here’s that pattern with a black-and-white “villain”, let’s say in the 1964 movie “Goldfinger”:


Situation: when large amounts of gold are being smuggled across Europe

Character: Secret Agent 007 James Bond

Objective: Is assigned to stop the leakage.  But little does he know that his suspect

Opponent: Super-industrialist Auric Goldfinger

Disaster: Is really only smuggling gold to finance his real operation, the destruction of Fort Knox with an atom bomb.



Lining up your “elements” like this simplifies things drastically, and suggests scenes and plot-twists galore.


But what happens with a movie with real living breathing characters (or at least better simulations thereof?)  In real life, we rarely get preening, taunting, “monologuing” villains. We have human beings, doing the best they can with the resources they have, and sometimes making terrible mistakes.  Look around…most people hurt themselves far more than they ever hurt others.   While it is comforting to place the locus of evil outside ourselves, it is also a cop-out.


Will Hunting’s greatest “villain” was himself, his own emotions.  His own actions created his adult pain.


But…the roots of adulthood are found in childhood. “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” Walt Whitman wrote, in a poem which touches on the fact that our earliest experiences are always with us.  Will Hunting’s early life was rejection and abuse.  He was shuttled from home to home.  His friendship with his blue-collar friends was the very first real family he’d ever known, the place he feels safe. But that castle has become a prison, and a man of his intellect will chaff and rot under the stricture.  His early life, the fear and terror of having no agency, no control, and being abused by the very people who should have provided protection, were a snarl he could not unwind alone.


“The instructions on how to get out of the box are written on the outside of the box.”




So, with that perspective, let’s try to apply that simple plot structure to a complex film:


Situation: When faced with the task to “adult” (connect with a good woman who is his natural mate)

Character: neurotic genius Will Hunting

Objective: Has to find a way to finish maturing, enter the adult world of responsibility and contribution and self-discovery.  But standing in his way is the internalized false image created by

Opponent:  Everyone who ever hurt, abandoned, painfully programmed him as a child

Disaster: Creating a false self image so smart, so strong, that it will take an entire tribe of loving support to dismantle it.


Seen this way, we can easily see the scenes that have to be written:

  1. Introduction of his basic day-to-day world
  2. Introduction of his eventual allies
  3. Establish both his brilliance and self-destructive tendencies
  4. CHANGE HIS WORLD: introduce something new, namely the woman he will love enough to risk “dying” (killing the false self image) for.


We know that there will be a series of scenes in which the stakes will grow higher and higher, rejection of chances for growth, a delicate dance of fear and love, and a SERIES of confrontations what will answer “who am I?” and “what is true?” at deeper and deeper levels until the past is thrown away, and a man capable of love, independence, and accepting his own value are revealed.


NOTE: there would be other versions of this film.  Depressing versions. Where for some reason he is unable to take “the leap of faith” and devolves back to his old life–diminished.  Why? BECAUSE HE WILL HAVE GLIMPSED SALVATION.


If you cannot see the light, no one can blame you for not swimming to shore. You can blame the darkness as you drown. But if you SEE the light, and refuse to swim toward it?  You have made a decision, and on some level…you know it.


The first is death

The second, damnation.


THIS is why it is so hard to get people to open their eyes and see inconvenient truths.  Because if you SEE it, you have to act.  And…most will.


But you have to move past the anger, past the fear which supports it, and touch the love within. The hope, and possibility.  Great sex with someone who loves you can do that, bet your bottom dollar.


Napoleon Hill in “Think And Grow Rich” speaks of the power “Love X Faith X Sex.”  Wow.  KILLER combination. It blows your mind, and points the way toward a new set of possibilities, not a mere “improvement” over what has gone before but something NEW.


The first time you experience that, the pattern of life gets clearer, and suddenly you understand the world differently.  Not just “better” but actually DIFFERENTLY.  THAT is what Minnie Driver did to him in that movie.


She said: I am a potential future. I would be your mate. Strive with you.  Bear your children. Watch your back. Give you EVERYTHING a woman can.


But you must throw off your delusions. Be the Lion you can be, to match my Lioness.  Protect and serve the family.  Watch my back. Give me EVERYTHING you have.


No games. Playtime is over.


Can you step up?


If he does, he gets much more than a wife and partner.  HE GETS HIMSELF. His true self.  Further, he gets to “defeat” the “villains” who programmed him with pain and fear.


With a two-dimensional story, the best line is likely to be something said by a hero strapped to a laser table: “do you expect me to talk?”  “No, Mr. Bond…I expect you to die!”


With a deeper story, that line is also about death, but it is: “It’s not your fault.”    Damon is afraid, angry, in tears, because his entire personae has been built around the belief that it IS his fault. That he IS guilty, and unworthy of love and happiness.  To accept the new live, he must kill his old self.


“Its not your fault” said to the new self is “come to life!”

But to the old self it is, really, “I expect you to die.”


Only the promise of love, and hope, and self-discovery…and the support of friends and mentors and lovers ALL COMBINED were enough to shatter those chains for Will Hunting.


But the path he followed is available to anyone willing to kill their self-image to gain their actual life.  Or…to love more than they fear.




What It Takes To Get Everything You Need

Once upon a time there was a monk named Costello, who trained in meditation in a noted monastery. One day after a frustrating session, he approached the chief monk. “Hey, Abbot,” he said.  “I’ve been working hard for months,” he said. “And I need to know: what will it take to become enlightened?”

The old abbot, who had observed the young man carefully but at a distance, smiled. “You really want to know, Costello?”

“Yes, Abbot” the young man said.

“Then come with me,” the old one said. He walked with the young man down to the river, then suddenly and with an eagle’s grip seized Costello by the back of the head and thrust his face into the stream! The young monk struggled madly, but could not escape the elder’s grip. At the point he was about to pass out, the abbot pulled his head out of the water and gave him a few seconds to gasp in a breath.

And then…stuck his head back under the water. Then a breath. Then back in the water. Over and over, then pulled the young monk back out and threw him on the river bank, where he sobbed for breath, spitting up river water.

The abbot waited for the young monk to regain his senses, and then asked “what were you feeling?”

The young monk recoiled, but answered. “I…I…I thought only of a breath. One more breath. I would have done ANYTHING for just one more breath.”

The old abbot smiled. “When you want enlightenment THAT much…then you will begin.”


Jason broke his ankle a week ago, and has been miserable since then. He wants to settle into an aimless haze of playing video games with kids (?) who mysteriously have no school to attend, and I’m not having anything of it. We had a clash of wills yesterday, and I won.

He was miserable, profane, spitting venom (fear) at me, and I was calculatedly unresponsive, except when I removed him from the Playstation and took his phone, isolating him in a world of pain and grief. It was terrible, and all I could do to maintain that emotional distance. My natural tendency is to go to him, to comfort him.

That’s what I would have done with Nicki. And it would have been precisely the wrong thing with Jason. I HAVE to make him come to me. I HAVE to force him to find the internal motivation to take that step. If I don’t…I’m dooming him. I watch the emotional storms and every time they reach the level where they would cost him a job, I’m starting to tell him.

“You just lost your job. You can’t pay your rent, or buy food. I hope you aren’t married, and don’t have any kids, because you just let them down. Again.”

Jeeze, it hurt to say that, and the ONLY reason I could get away with it is that we have enormous rapport. He KNOWS I adore him, would do anything for him. But what he doesn’t have is confidence that he will find his way out of his emotional maze.

That fear creates a false ego shell, composed of the juvenile bravado that passes for wisdom among teenagers. Fed by the illusion of competence fostered by video games. Just look at them performing feats of skill and courage beyond Navy SEALS and circus acrobats and world-class MMA fighters! Wow!

That’s a world in which tests and injuries and loneliness don’t exist. Where there are “friends” you’ve never met who enjoy shooting you in the back, but they’re better than having no friends at all. Where the notion of pulling your head out of your…I mean, turning off the PS4 and picking up the text book to study is a dose of real-world pain.

No. You aren’t a great hero, or cowboy, or ninja, or master criminal. You are a kid with no idea how you will become an adult, how to protect your body, satisfy your sexual urges with integrity, develop the power to build and protect a home and family, feel safe enough to open your heart and genuinely love.

And later, after the emotional storms had passed and he had done his homework in tears, realizing he had lost his other privileges for the day, he was miserable, wondering how he could have avoided the mistake that got him here, the moment of lost focus on the football field that led him to slipping and having the sled run over his leg, which shattered his illusions of invulnerability so that he had no agency over his body or behavior.

A better metaphor for taking the wrong path in life I could hardly have asked for.

“What do I do?” he finally asked, as honestly and openly as I’ve ever heard him, with a voice that was both mature and vulnerable.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“I DON’T KNOW!” he cried.

In other words: I am afraid to ask for what I really want. It hurts to strive and fail. It is better to pretend nothing matters.

NO. It is NUMBING to pretend nothing matters. It HURTS to care. Just as you can and probably will injure yourself exercising or playing sport.

There’s only one problem: NOT exercising is even more damaging. And NOT caring ultimately hurts so much more than striving and losing.

“You don’t know what you want…because you don’t know who you are,” I said.

He has two questions to ask himself: Who am I? What is true?

And he must struggle with those, every day. With every action, every thought, those two questions are in the background.

Once you know who you are, you know what you must do.

Once you know what you really want, you know the kind of person you are, or must become to do it with integrity and joy.

The questions are connected. Once you know what you want, and who you are or must become, you know WHY you want to do those things. When you have enough reasons, the fear and obstacles vanish, as if your child was trapped in a burning house: the only question is: what do I do to rescue my child?


There is a picture on the door of our refrigerator, a picture of his sister Nicki holding an infant Jason. And he swears he remembers when it was taken. In all likelihood, no, he doesn’t. But I won’t argue with him.

Because constructed or not, it is his first memory, a memory of love and support and caring, and Nicki is unutterably beautiful to him.

And last night, casually, I asked him: “can you visualize yourself as a baby?”

Yes, he could.

“Can you imagine holding that child?”

Yes, he could. I let his imagination go there. Until he was smiling, his face relaxed, adrift in a world of love.

“And what would you be willing to do to protect that child, that innocent, helpless self?”

And…I watched something in him bare its teeth. ANYTHING. He would do ANYTHING to protect that child.

“Look at me,” I commanded. “I am doing all in my power to give you the tools you will need to do just that. Protect your dreams. Walk the world with power and dignity. Find love. Build a home. Have the family you want, and protect them. All you have to do is be real with me. Be the son I love. I would do ANYTHING to protect you. What are you willing to do to protect yourself?”

Enlightenment is the step beyond non-dualistic thought, an extreme and rarified state. But “Awakened Adulthood” is available to all of us, and a goal worth striving toward.

All it takes to get everything you need…is everything you’ve got.

If you can’t do it for yourself…do it for the child you used to be. All the aliveness, and joy, and creativity, and energy is THERE. Right there. Waiting for you to hold your own head in the river and remember the blessing of your next breath. At every moment of your life, that reality is available if you’ll just move beyond ego and seize it.

I don’t know what will happen with Jason. I do know is that I will look for every moment where he is willing and able to be real with me, and I will tell him in no uncertain terms that he is worth the world. That there is nothing I would not do for him…but I cannot do it FOR him.

That he is my boy, and I love him.



“Good Will Hunting” (1997) and finding your new tribe

Two years ago I was climbing   Dog Mountain in the Columbia Gorge. A 3000 foot peak, if you can climb it in three hours, you are said to be fit enough to climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.   Fifteen years ago my family was climbing it every weekend, as we tested the potential to make that journey.


That earlier trip had been canceled, and now years later I was testing my fitness: how far was I from that earlier mark?   I felt fit, but you never know.   I parked in  a river-side lot and then climbed and climbed, through a series of switchbacks, up rock-strewn dirt paths, and as I got   higher, I saw fewer people.  Most turned back.  If you aren’t ready, it is a brutal climb, and I’d not done any climbing in a decade.  My entire body was burning, every carefully measured breath a struggle as I neared the peak. The last hour, I walked alone, the Columbia river becoming smaller and smaller beneath me, the voices in my head telling me to quit, to turn back, that I had already pushed beyond the line I’d agreed to when I began.   But that voice was lying: I’d agreed to discover if I could climb to the top in three hours, and if I was over that line, it was only by minutes. I needed to know HOW FAR short of that mark I was.


And…something odd happened.  As I got closer to the top, I started meeting more people.   Almost by magic, the loneliness decreased, and the smiling faces of climbers coming BACK DOWN the mountain greeted me at every turn.  “Almost there!” they said.  “You’re doing great!” they said.


And…when I finally got to the top, there was a flattish place of grass and smooth rocks, where I sat, and ate the lunch I’d brought up with me. There were a dozen of us there, and we shared a quiet unity.  We are the ones who made it. Who didn’t turn back. We are tired and aching…but we did it.


We’re all alone in this…together.




There is a scene in “Good Will Hunting” (1997) , one of many that I love.  Two scenes, really. One is when Matt Damon’s (a janitor/math prodigy at M.I.T.) psychiatrist Robin Williams tells Stellan Skarsgård, Damon’s M.I.T. math mentor, that the reason Damon hangs out with his blue-collar friends is that “any one of them” would leap to his defense at any moment.   We need tribe. For a boy like “Will Hunting”, an orphan who dreams of having twelve brothers, any group that would defend him from the abuse he suffered in childhood is precious beyond belief.


Over the course of the film, Hunting meets Skylar (Minnie Driver) a rich, brilliant medical student who falls in love with him, who has an earthy sexuality and sense of humor that appeals to his street-level friends but also points the way to a better future.


And…she terrifies him. As leaving his “lowly” but honorable job terrifies him.    If he leaves his friends, what will he have? If he trusts Skylar with his heart and she leaves him, what will he have?


Untangling that ball, exposing the fear, convincing Will Hunting that he is worth the risk, that there is a world beyond Boston (he has never been on a plane, or left the city at all) requires the support of everyone around him: all his friends, his mentor, his psychiatrist, his loving girlfriend.


And there is a scene when co-writer Ben Affleck, playing his best friend, tells him that his fondest wish is that one day Will Hunting will just take off, fulfill his genius destiny.   Affleck’s  Chuckie knows that Will needs him…but also that Will is being crippled by that need.


And in telling him point blank “go away” he is being a true friend.  Go. Fly. We’ll be here if you ever need us. But if you can spread your wings and find a new home…do.


Will must have faith that if he has to climb that mountain alone for a time, there will be others on the far side. And they will be warm and welcoming.


Hey!  You’re almost there!  Keep climbing!  Good job!


Yes, you will be alone for a time. Most drop away.  They quit the karate lessons, stop submitting their stories, stop seeking true love.


And they join the crowd of those saying that it is impossible. That the pain and struggle isn’t worth it. That Soulmates don’t exist. That diet and exercise don’t work. That balancing your checkbook is folly.


But…if you keep going, somehow, because you have faith in yourself, or your companions, or a higher power…


You will meet the others who have struggled long and lonely, with faith, and they will welcome you with open arms.


Hey!  You’re here!   Isn’t the view wonderful?



And the friends who supported you along the way…and then let you go further than they could have…if they are real friends?


They’re happy for you. And if they weren’t real friends?   You needed to leave them anyway.


Don’t be afraid to be alone.  That’s the way you meet your true tribe, you know.


Strange isn’t it?





Worst Insult? Or Greatest Compliment?

(This note is a “message in a bottle” back to the younger man I was. He could have saved a lot of pain if he’d just had someone to tell him a few things…)

I was twenty five at the time, working at Pepperdine University, in the A/V department. There was a gorgeous Jamaican secretary (call her Cathy) who worked in the business center, and I flirted with her every chance I got as I pushed the projector carts to this or that professor or classroom.

She was friendly, and sometimes spoke of her dating life. I remember one story about a guy who had invited her to go with her to the Bahamas, and she’d been interested until he got too aggressive about wanting a little payment in advance for the trip.

One day, I thought I saw my opening and asked her out.

She looked at me with those hazel-brown eyes, smiled kindly and said: “I wouldn’t go out with you, Steve…but I’d marry you.

I was stunned. And wandered away feeling hurt, and confused. Not angry, as I’ve heard some “Incels” become when faced by similar statements. I knew that she had been honest, and further that it wasn’t the simple insult that my 25-year-old ego tried to say it was. I was confused…but also intrigued.

And it took years. I actually had to fall in love with my first wife, live with her for years, break up, make up, get married, and have our first daughter.

THEN, at the natural birthing clinic in Culver City, I watched my daughter born, watched Toni struggling without use of drugs or medical intervention to give birth to my darling Nicki. And the first time I held my baby girl in my arms, felt her delicate heart beat, and smelled her skin…something changed inside me. That night, as Toni slept, I crept to the side of Nicki’s crib and looked down and realized that THIS was what life was about.

All the rest: the attraction, the flirting, the smooching, the dating and sex, the living together…ALL of it was to produce this beautiful child.

All of that energy, and struggle, and fun, and worry, and building, and playing….all of it was testing each other, knowing each other, asking the question:

Are you the one? Will you be with me, and help me raise my children? Are you strong? Are you kind? Are you FUN? Can you make me laugh when times are hard? Will you love me when I lose youth’s glow? If I died, would you give everything to raise the children we create together?

If so…if our values and dreams and hopes match…if we are traveling in the same direction at the same speed…perhaps we can walk together for a time.

What of birth control? Or if you are beyond the age of reproduction? Or simply don’t want children? Or gay?

Doesn’t matter. The WIRING is still the same. We are built atop that animal chassis.

So when Cathy said that to me: “I wouldn’t date you, but I’d marry you.” She wasn’t insulting me at all. She was giving me one of the greatest compliments in the world, but I couldn’t hear it.

If we over-simplify, there are two kinds of guys:

  1. The fun, hip guys, who are gorgeous and adventurous and wild, who get the blood racing. And…
  2. The slow, steady guys who you could trust to be there day after day, as life rolls on. Trust to raise those kids, or stay with you after the “limerence” of the first months of hot sex has mellowed to something steadier and more appropriate for boiling steam to drive the turbine than melting steel.

She knows, in her heart, that eventually she will setting down. But wants fun. Knows that that most guys have an average spread of ability, and won’t have both qualities. So…it is excitement at first, then steady once life gets serious.

Some guys freak out at this. The “studs” get all the girls! The “nice guys” finish last!!

What a limited, immature, dualistic way of seeing things.

Get your head out of your butt, young Steve: SHE WANTS BOTH. She herself strives to be BOTH steady and responsible and juicy and sexy. And knows that she has a limited time frame to have both. And if she is powerful, and balanced enough to hold both energies, then maybe, just MAYBE she will be able to attract a guy who is ALSO in that delicate balance…who can BOTH curl her toes and light her hair on fire AND would be steady and reliable after the business of life settles in.

Young Steve…IF YOU CAN BE BOTH, she will, as Peter O’Toole said in “Creator”, “see her unborn children in your eyes.”

That moment, when two people see that mutual potential, is one of the greatest of life. And the “nice guys” who have been careful to focus their time to produce excellence at SOMETHING that can be applied to “nest building” AND have preserved their storehouse of natural crazy…they are something special.

And they can trade that “special” for a special lady, someone who is a hoot and a holler AND a nurturing, safe space.

Deep inside, under the games, THAT is what about 99% of human beings want. We all love to play. But by the time you are old enough to watch your parents grow frail, you get the joke. You understand life has ups AND downs, and you wonder:

Who will be there?

Who will give the final damn whether I live or die?

Who will help me raise my children, or build my dreams, or walk the world with power and integrity and joy?

Who will make me laugh, or hold me when I cry?

The games of kiss and touch and sex are fantastic. They pair-bond us, help us sort through the hundreds of people we MIGHT be attracted to, adding the physicality of touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing, creativity, self-respect, energy, and inclination.

Who are you?

What is true?

All of that and more. Cathy would have trusted me for the rest of her life. But wouldn’t have expected me to blow her mind in the Bahamas for a weekend.

But if I had? If I had projected enough power to match her beauty? Game on.

Or if I had been more beautiful, as beautiful as she, with equal ambition? Game on.

But I hadn’t. She wanted all she could grab of life, while she could. JUST LIKE I DID. And she had the clarity to understand the game as it really was.

And helped me understand it. Oh, the Incels will way that what she really wanted was to have children with the “bad boy” and then trick the “nice guy” into raising it. Just like Femcels (what a fun term!) will tell you men just want to flit from flower to flower like bees, and that they cannot be trusted.

Well, yes…the immature versions of human beings, like you are at 25, feel just that way. The mature ones understand a deeper game.

So…take a deep breath. Believe in yourself. There are women of beauty, power, sensuality, and maturity out there. They are Lionesses, and they need Lions. Be one. Get the bullshit out of your system. Get ready for a life of joy, contribution, focus and maturity. Be a safe space to raise helpless children, and that good woman will offer you everything she has to give. Be a little crazy too… and you will nurture the crazy in HER.

And let me tell you, young man…whatever it costs…its worth it.



The “Forry” Award, and Sucking

So first off, understand that no matter what you try, in the beginning its gonna suck.  ‘Cause you suck.  But you’ll get better, and you’ll suck less as you keep doing this, and eventually you’ll suck so little that you’ll actually be good! But just surrender to the fact that you’re gonna suck.” — Garrett White:



This last weekend at the home convention of the world’s oldest science fiction fan organization, I was given the Forrest J. Ackerman (“Forry”) Award for Lifetime Achievement in the field of science fiction.    And while still basking in those warm feelings, I thought to speaking about the most important quality that made possible the books and television and radio and millions of published words that people found worthy of celebration.


Because as Jerry Pournelle once told me, “once you master anything, you know how to master anything else.”  True words, and one of the most important reasons to get really good at SOMETHING in your life…so that you have the basics you need to understand how “excellence” really works.  And once you know that…the world is yours. Your LIFE is yours, whether you are talking career, relationships, or fitness.  Its all the same stuff, so long as behavior influences results.




In any arena of life, there are skills that you have, and skills you need to acquire.  And one of the biggest problems that stop people from ever being really good at anything is impatience and self-judgement.


I remember wanting desperately to be a professional writer.  I knew NO ONE who had ever done such a thing. My mother and teachers all discouraged me from doing it, and so I tried, I really tried to stop writing when I went to college.  Took courses in radio, journalism, speech…all clustered around communication, but never stuck my toe into the creative writing pond.  Then one day I took a class with a lady we’ll call Sarah.    I was raw, and hopeful, and had my little handful of dreams I laid before her.


One guy in the class (call him Mike) was a tall, handsome, brooding type. He and I were the hardest-working writers in that class, but very different.  Mike wrote moody pieces about motorcyclists who repaired old junker bikes, then drove up to the top of the local hill and looked down on the town and contemplated mankind.


I wrote stories about towns like that getting eaten by giant amoebas.  Oh, well.


Sarah slavered over Mike, praised him and batted her eyelashes with him.  Much later I found out that they were having an affair, but even with no idea about that, I was frustrated: just couldn’t get her attention, or anything approaching a positive comment.


One day after she had finished glowing all over him, I asked her point blank what she thought of my writing, and she derisively called me “the king of slick” and said that what I was doing wasn’t REAL writing.


Everyone laughed, including Mike.   I’ve heard other people speak of similar moments, and some wither.  And some, like Harlan Ellison’s tale of the infamous Dr. Shedd, bare their teeth.


No, I didn’t say “I’m great!  You just don’t know!” I was realistic enough to know that I wasn’t good enough.   Yet.


But there was something I knew that the others didn’t. I’d watched Mike’s face on the rare occasions when someone in the class dared to criticize one of his (admittedly VERY well written) stories.  He flinched.  He got angry, even if he disguised it with a carefully cultivated air of superiority.   HE DIDN’T LIKE IT AT ALL.   And…shut them out.


And I KNEW that if I was going to be a professional writer, I had to eat the pain.  Had to be willing to hear whatever painful truth I could learn about my work.  I had to let myself be hurt. Again, and again, and again.


Which meant I had to find a place inside myself that was safe, so that the “external” me could take the hits without putting up walls.   “you can’t take criticism” I smiled inside.  And I can.  And that’s why I’m going to make it, and you aren’t.


And…to my knowledge he never published a thing.


And armed with the belief that deep inside I had what it took, I slogged on, and on, through rejection after rejection.   You can kill me, but you can’t stop me.


THAT was the attitude. And that attitude has, in combination with modeling success, gotten me everything I have in life.


Yeah, I suck. But if I keep going, learning something new every day, eventually I’ll suck less.  And if I keep going, eventually I’ll suck so little I”ll be good.


Anything worth doing well is worth doing badly at first.  In writing, that’s your first million words. In martial arts, that’s being on the receiving end of countless throws and blows, and feeling horribly clumsy and confused in every class.


In relationships it is learning to communicate and read communication, learning to present yourself as attractively as possible, learning to BE  a healthy human animal instead of “faking” it with “How To Pick Up Chicks/How to Make a Man Fall In Love With You” tricks and tips.


In all cases asking yourself who would you have to BE to get the results you want, and committing to becoming that person.  And having the deep faith that within you is the capacity to do this, that it is your destiny, your chosen life path.


Yes, rejection hurts. The more you care, the more it stings.   So…find the love inside you, and connect it to the commitment to be your best and most authentic self.  Somehow, you have to find that faith that you have the capacity to fulfill your dreams.  “What if I can’t?  What if I’m not enough?”


Long ago, back in college, a lady asked me:  “what if your dreams are too big, Steve?   Aren’t you going to be disappointed?”


And I smiled at her.  “Let’s say that at the moment of death, you get clarity on your life, everything you really are, all illusion removed.   If at that moment I saw that I’d aimed too high, my attitude would be `hey. I had a hell of a ride.'”


But what if at that moment I saw that I could have had anything I’d wanted, if only I’d had the guts to go for it.  THAT would feel like hell. That would be misery.


Any time you wonder if you’re asking for too much from life, ask yourself one simple question: “how long am I going to be dead?”  And armed with the answer to that, GO FOR IT.


It took a million words to find my voice.

It took seventeen years to earn my first black belt

I didn’t find my soulmate until I was forty-five.


I never lost hope.   Never quit.


Even though, frankly…I sucked.





Loneliness, Compassion, and “What Women Want” (2000)

In a recent conversation a touchy subject came up: what happens when our ego-walls are so thick we cannot break them, even if they form a trap, like a car with locked doors tumbling off a cliff. This thought evoked a reader response:

This completely describes my friend who fell down that hole. Sadly, no compassion seemed enough to fill his pain. If he could not have total victory he could not feel his own worth.

In the end, he took his own life.

Holidays, when everyone else in the world can seem to be having a wonderful time, can make isolated people feel even more alone. And that loneliness can lead to self destructive behavior. People can lose “faith” that there is anything on the other side of this pale abyss. Why go on?

The “why” is that there is joy in the world, if we can learn to sense the wind and the tide of life and align ourselves with them. What, then, is the “how?” There are many, and a small moment in the movie “What Women Want” (2000) touches on this.

Nick Marshall is a swinging ad executive with the world on a string. He is fast-tracked but shallow. Raised by his Vegas showgirl mother, he understands the surface of life very very well.

When his big promotion goes to Darcy McGuire (Helen Hunt) he is resentful. But then a near-death experience gifts him a miraculous gift: the ability to hear women’s thoughts. It changes everything.

At first he is frightened by is, then he revels in it, stealing ideas from Darcy and claiming them as his own. Seducing women simply by knowing exactly what they want him to say and do. He’s on top of the world! But he also realizes that the women at work consider him to be sleazy and superficial.

His emotional distance from his own daughter, the fact that his own therapist dislikes him, and the realization that he has used his psychic abilities to manipulate people he cared about all begin to stress him.

And then he realizes that his disregard of Erin, a secretary who had wanted to work in the firm’s creative track, has added to her burden of isolation and despair, and she is considering suicide. He has felt her anguish, her shattered hopes and dreams, heard her inner dialogue (“would anyone even notice if I was gone?”) and in his first real act of unselfish kindness, reaches out to her with appreciation and opportunity.

It is an awkward scene, him showing up at her apartment.

Is he there as her boss, with criticism? As a man, seeking sex?

You can see the confusion in both of them, trying to figure out what this means. The old Nick might well have used this moment, manipulated her perhaps into bed, and “scored.” But that’s not what this is about. In saving her, he saves himself. A small moment, but one in which a shallow, facile, manipulative human being becomes an aware adult capable of finding, winning, and accepting true love.


It’s a small scene in a fun movie, but it stayed with me. Nick is alone internally, but seems to have the world. Absent some massive shock, he was on his way to an endless string of superficial relationships, and the chance to miss one of life’s greatest gifts: true love. Surrounded by friends, he would find his “successful” life to be profoundly dissatisfying.

Erin has the same issue, but because she isn’t a dazzler, she seems invisible to the world. And that “being unseen” shrivels her.

That single moment of human contact was the sort of moment that changes lives.

It opens the door to our real emotions, connects us more deeply with our hearts, and opens the door to the possibility of real intimacy — not with THAT person, necessarily.

There is rarely a straight path to life’s most profound experiences .

We have to be who we are, living our lives with integrity, joy, and love, make OURSELVES happy in the “being-ness” of who we are…and then we will recognize others of the tribe of awakened human beings, and they will recognize us.

But…you can’t fake it. That gift, the simple gift of compassion and caring, the “I see you!” gift, is something you give to yourself when you give to others.

If this holiday season you are alone…if you feel at the end of your resources, you might remember the people who are even more isolated, more alone than you. Give to one of them, and you brighten the world. Visit a retirement home. Serve at a homeless shelter. Invite a widow or widower to have Thanksgiving with you. Seek to serve, taking pleasure in the GIVING, seeing that giving as serving yourself. Find joy in service, and no one will ever be able to deprive you of joy: there is ALWAYS someone in life with less than you, just as there are always people with more.

Once you see the path, the “road of trials” that life is for all of us, all there are are companions. When we are depressed, that is fear with no one to fight and no where to run. Our emotions are controlled by our focus. The instant we take that focus off ourselves, we shift. If you can find that place that is the origin of love, and become a source of love in service to the world…at that moment, we can give Thanks for all that life is, and our days within it.

Connect with your own soul, and you may be alone…but you’ll never be lonely.

Give yourself the gift of love.


(By the way: the answer to that implied question: “what do women want?” is devastatingly simple: its the same thing men really want: to be human beings, having a joyful human experience. And…to be SEEN as human, by other humans. We need tribe. And the most important person to see you as human…is you.)

Romeo and Juliet’s Journey #10: The Student Becomes the Teacher

A glooming peace this morning with it brings.

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things.

Some shall be pardoned, and some punishèd.

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.



And that is the end of the play.   The last step of the Hero’s Journey is “The student becomes the teacher.”  Also such names as “the return to the village with the elixer” or “the movement to the higher level.”


When we finish one journey, we begin another, but our journey also stands as example for others.  One purpose of great art is the binding together of social values: after viewing, the audience would often gather for coffee or wine and discuss what they saw. In that sense, Romeo and Juliet is a treasure trove of discussive possibility.   What we need, however, is not bad examples but GOOD ones. There are a thousand ways to get lost for every way we might find our way home.


And if you find your way to a loving, happy relationship…share the wealth, by example if nothing else.



Once upon a time, there was a boy named Stevie. His mother and father divorced when he was about six, and his mother never remarried. He was nerdy and unpopular, and none of the girls he liked liked him.   His hunger to find love grew and grew, and when he got to college he finally met a girl he loved, and who loved him, and after years of living together they married and had a daughter.


But…his ignorance of the way relationships really worked caused problems, and they had made errors in the construction of that relationship which, in time, grew until the problems were greater than the desire to be together, and the marriage began to crumble, and it failed. Lost, lonely, devastated and more insecure than he had ever been, rather than building his castle atop the rubble.


And in doing that, he learned that he had to start by loving himself, valuing himself, or he would have nothing to offer a healthy woman.  If he wanted honesty, he had to offer it.  If he wanted beauty and power he had to offer them.  That realization changed him, and changed his focus, so that it stopped being about “what do women want?” and started being about “who am I?”


And it was the hardest, and most rewarding work he’d ever done, and as he walked that path, he met the love of his life.    Now…that wasn’t the end of the story, it was the beginning of another:


How to nurture love every day

How to communicate

How to argue with integrity and compassion

How to raise children together.

How to keep the passion sizzling decades in

And so much more.  Winning your love BEGINS with “I do.”   And continues every day after, if you want to keep it alive.


That is what little Stevie learned. And in thanks to all the people who taught him along the way, he and his love now share what they learned, what they know, in the hope that everyone will find what they have found, and have what they have together.


That is where THEIR story stands.


Where is yours?   The steps are:

1)love yourself.  Heal and value your time and energy.

  1. Commit to loving another person. Admit that you want it.
  2. Understand the mating game in a way that blames neither side, and forces both to take responsibility
  3. Don’t worry about the people unattracted to you: you only need The Right One.
  4. Play the game of love with integrity and compassion…but enjoy the game. It’s the very best game in the world, when the players play fairly. There are no rules…but there more certainly are principles.



In general, those steps should be taken in that order. The good news is that self-love has all the joy and creativity you seek, and requires no cooperation from another human being…but simultaneously increases your likelihood of meeting that person.


Mindfulness, connecting with the source of love and life within you is your path to this wellspring.    Commit to making this connection every day for the rest of your life.


Be the Hero in the loving adventure of your lifetime


Romeo and Juliet’s Journey #9: Confront Evil and Win

IF only Tybalt and Mercutio had only been wounded instead of killed…

IF only Romeo and Juliet had been a little older and wiser…

The English-speaking world’s most famous love story might have ended with a wedding instead of a funeral, and been a comedy instead of a tragedy.

If you’ve never had the sense of “we were made for each other!” that timeless sense, that “discovering the other half of me” sense, that “sweet mystery of life I’ve finally found you” sense.

For the naïve, the first time you have experienced the blend of love and sex, it can feel EXACTLY that way. I had that with my first real love, that sense of melting together, of infinite possibilities, of fate’s door opening to reveal a path unknown.

Heck, I was just a guy looking to be happy in life, and hadn’t really understood that the next level of joy was COMMITMENT to another human being. The RIGHT human being. I remember a woman who lusted after me sexually telling me that something changed in me after my mother died. “Your green light went on” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, its as if you were a Taxi with a red light on the roof, meaning no passengers allowed. Not for a long trip. Maybe a short one. And now….you have a green light. You’re looking for something deeper, longer.” And there was a bit of sadness in her voice, because she had a “green light” too…but we were heading in different directions. For a short trip? Sure, that could have worked. But the real thing? A bonded, loving relationship trying to build a life together?

No. Our values, hopes, dreams, and energy “frequency” didn’t match. We could have pretended they did for a weekend…but it would have been foolish, and dishonest, to pretend it was more.

That article speaks to the “If you were meant to be together, you will be together” notion. And…that is a perfectly reasonable idea, rather tautological in fact, if you simply say “if it didn’t happen, it wasn’t meant to be.”

In other words, you don’t get to say “we were meant to be together, and SHE/HE didn’t see it!” or

“We were meant to be together, but the world stopped us.” No, if it didn’t happen, it wasn’t “meant to be.”

Stalkers seem to get this wrong all the time: “we’re meant to be together, I just have to show them.” THAT attitude sounds like a special, Valentine’s Day episode of “Criminal Minds”, doesn’t it?

To use this, you have to love yourself enough to be complete, to satisfy all of your own “needs” leaving on ly “wants”. You also have to genuinely enjoy your own company, enough to really believe that you would want to be with yourself. NO CHEATING HERE. You really have to have that sense of satisfaction and joy.

You need to feel you are unique, precious, that your heart is a thing of infinite value. And to know that while you are unique, in a world of seven billion people, there are millions you could love. All you have to do is be confident enough to put your “green light” on, knowing that you can survive rejection, and then put yourself out there. Meet people, find a vehicle for your voice. “This is who I am” you say to the world, like a bird signing in the forest. IT isn’t trying to attract EVERY bird. Just the right one.

You only need one. I’ve talked to countless people with long, happy marriages. And most of them met that person in under fifty dates. Often around twenty-five. To me, that implies that the person we’re looking for is in our web of personal and professional association. Further, that there are SEVERAL potentials, because many of them will already be in relationships or otherwise have their “red lights” on.

Just one. Who is right. And ready.

Considering that that person is probably known to someone you know NOW, or no more than two people away, there is no such thing as a “Friend Zone.” Only friends, who might introduce you to THEIR friends, if you are a good person, if you don’t make the mistake of confusing lust with love. If you love them…you will want them to be happy. If you can’t grasp that, you are an obsessive child, and they were right to run from you.

And you can admit that you have that wound IF YOU LOVE YOURSELF. And if you don’t…you can learn to. That is always available to us. And it is the starting place.

The person you were “meant” to be with, looking back over your time line, you will be with. But first you have to be whole within yourself. No bullshit. NO cheating. No pretending. No “Pick Up Artist” games. No “Make A Man Fall In Love With You.” No pity parties about how horrible the Other Sex is.

NO taking advice from people who have not themselves run the race and won the trophy: a relationship of passion, joy, love and purpose that has lasted over twenty years.

Ignore what the others say. Listen to your elders, not the children burning in the fire of First Love/First Sex.

That’s how Romeo and Juliet ended up dead, you know.

Love yourself…and share the love!



Romeo and Juliet’s Journey #8: The Leap of Faith

Romeo and Juliet’s Journey #8:   The Leap of Faith




“Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide!

Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on

The dashing rocks thy seasick weary bark!

Here’s to my love! Drinking. O true apothecary,

Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.


And with those words, Romeo commits suicide.


And here comes the moment which, if these lovers had not been children, tragedy could have been averted. Romeo found Juliet apparently dead, and at that moment, the pain of living without her exceeded the fear of death, and he chose death. She awakened and found Romeo dead, and her pain of living without him made HER choose death.


If Romeo had possessed the wisdom to know that his broken hearts would heal, he might have taken a different action. Then Juliet would have awakened, and they live happily ever after.


His problem was a lack of faith.   IN this context, faith is a deep conviction in one of three things:


  1. Faith in himself (that would be able to heal and love again)
  2. Faith in his companions (perhaps that there would be another woman he would one day meet as fair and perfect as Juliet
  3. Faith in a higher power (perhaps that God would not make only one perfect partner for us)


Any of these would have saved the story from utter tragedy. Probably made a lesser tale, however.


Romeo and Juliet FAIL their “leap of faith.”  Too much pain, too narrow a view of life and love.


My first marriage had died, and it absolutely tore my guts out. I felt as if I had totally failed as a human being, that no one would ever love me again.    I just wanted to work my way back into the dating market, find happiness–but the problem was that I had no “game

I discovered that I had no “game”.  I’d never picked up a woman in my life, and my efforts to make connection with the ones I knew just seemed to end up with one disaster after another.


The breakthrough came when I realized a simple reality: you can create a relationship with someone on your “frequency”, at your level of integration and evolution. NOT someone below or above that level.   I was attracted to confident, beautiful women…but I was not confident or balanced myself.   A lioness wants a lion.  My very need for love was crippling me.


I remember laying in my bed in my solidary room, thinking through all the pieces of the puzzle. To create a relationship with a powerful woman, I had to be a powerful man, and not be “bleeding” emotionally all over the table. I couldn’t the love I craved unless I didn’t NEED that love from another human being. I could WANT it, sure. But if I NEEDED it…I was screwed.


What could I do?  I couldn’t get it if I needed it. And I’d need it until I got it…


Wouldn’t I?  And I remembered the words of Ram Dass:   “All that you seek is already within you. In Hinduism it is called the Atman, in Buddhism the pure Buddha-Mind. Christ said, ‘the kingdom of heaven is within you.’ Quakers call it the ‘still small voice within.’ This is the space of full awareness that is in harmony with all the universe, and thus is wisdom itself.”


The love I sought was within me.     I remembered a very special visualization/meditation designed to heal and evolve the heart, and began to apply it to my own life.


And in a few weeks, things began to change. It was rough at first, I’ll admit. My head was filled with doubting voices, and at times I felt silly.  But I kept the FAITH, and soon I was HAPPY.  Happier than I had been in years. I no longer chased after women: but had a sort of detached curiosity and interest, combined with an affectionate respect. Saw them as complete human beings who might be very interesting to know better, but were complete in themselves.   And to my astonishment, removed from any sense of lack, I became UNCANNILY  attractive to women, getting the reaction I’d always desired.   And that lead directly to meeting the woman of my dreams.


That “missing link” of self-love, self-respect, healing, I continued to refine over the years, finally teaching it at a high-end stress clinic in Santa Monica to millionaires and movie stars.  And called it The Ancient Child.


As a means of connecting to the love within you, it has no equal.  And if you have ALL the love you “need”, flowing from within you, you have the freedom to have “choice” in what you want, what you DESIRE, from outside you.   You are free, and confident, and self-contained.


Most of the “Pick Up Artist” or “Get A Man” courses are about FAKING this state of health and happiness.  FAKING genuine confidence and balance. But…why not actually BE healthy?


If only Romeo and Juliet had been better balanced, healthier, wiser people…we’d have been denied one of the great literary works of the Western World.  But…your life is not an amusement for the crowd.  It is YOUR LIFE, and you have the right to be happy. Moreover, every person who seeks and finds happiness helps others see the possibility. Your fire lights the way for the rest of the world.


Have FAITH that within yourself you have the strength and love you’ve sought from others.

Have FAITH that there are others who are looking for someone just like the healed human being you have the potential to be

Have FAITH that the world is not so cruel that there is only one human being out of billions who could share your path.


Have Faith.


Love yourself…and share the love!


(you can get a free copy of The Ancient Child meditation.  Just go to:

Romeo and Juliet’s Journey #7: The Dark Night (and “the last dog on Earth”)

Romeo returns from exile to find his Juliet apparently dead.  He commits to death.  Juliet awakens from drugged sleep and finds Romeo dead. She too commits to death. This is their “Dark Night of the Soul.”–


O, here

Will I set up my everlasting rest,

And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars

From this world-wearied flesh. Eyes, look your last!

Arms, take your last embrace! and, lips, O you

The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss

A dateless bargain to engrossing death!”

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


I think we’ve all been there. Lonely, we felt a vague ache within us that we might not even acknowledge. Then…we meet someone, so beautiful, so attractive to our eyes that we can feel something within us say: YES!  THIS ONE.  We see our fate, our destiny stretch before us.   The notion of spending our lives, making love, sharing dreams, raising a family, growing old together with THIS ONE is almost overwhelming.


So we try things.  Meet. Court. Open our hearts. And at some point…it all goes to hell.


I remember the very first girl I ever asked to “go steady” with me. Her name was Sonja, and we were in Junior High together.   Just the cutest little thing.   I was too shy to ask her directly, so I asked a mutual friend, Neil, to ask her for me.  He called me and said she would give me her answer the next day.


All day long I had butterflies in my stomach. I saw her glance at me in our classes, and giggle with her friends. It was just a crush…I was only about fourteen…but I imagined us having lunch together, going to school dances together (maybe she would even teach me to dance!) study together, walking home holding hands. If I was very very lucky, maybe I would even steal a kiss or two.


All day long I could hardly concentrate on my classes. When would she give me her answer?  Yes?  No?   Was this the beginning of something wonderful..? She even SMILED at me a couple of times: oh, frabjous day!


Then in the last period of the day, she passed me a folded piece of paper. It passed from hand to hand until it reached me, and with trembling fingers I opened it.


“Dear Steve,” it said.  “I wouldn’t go with you if you were the last dog on Earth.”




Boom. There it was. The bottom falling out of my stomach. The very first heartbreak of my life.  I wasn’t’ even angry with her…I blamed myself.  How dare I try to fly with such an angel?


Depression, despair, fear. Fear that no one would love me, that I was broken, that the happiness I saw others experiencing was never to be mine.   All the burning acid in my gut, all the sense of shame and guilt and embarrassment, knowing the others were laughing at me, that all my friends knew what had happened.


I spiraled into the depths of the “Dark Night”, which is the place where it seems that all of our abilities are insufficient to reach our goals and dreams.


I never should have asked her!  I should have had the courage to ask her myself!  Everyone else in the world was happy except me!  How dare I even dream of being happy, thinking that an attractive woman would ever be attracted to me!  All the voices in my head, screaming at me. Laughing faces sneering at me, scratching cat-claws of her laughing friends ripping my heart to pieces.


And…I knew that somehow, someway, some day I would be happy.  SOMEHOW. I didn’t know how.


But there was a voice deep inside me. It was a younger Steve.   The one who, long before, at the age of five or six had had no father, who looked at every man my mother dated (and there weren’t many of them) and wondered: Are YOU the one? Will you be my Daddy? And when they went away, curled up and cried and wondered if I was so ugly, so broken, that no one wanted me.


That younger me…that part of me is the part that writes, that plays, that has the joy in life.   I heard his screams and something inside me rose up.


IF NO ONE WANTS TO LOVE ME, I WILL LOVE MYSELF.  I looked at the women I was attracted to and realized that ALL of them were attracted to larger boys. Stronger boys. Smarter boys.  Older boys.  Athletes and leaders.   And at that moment, I could have taken the Incel path, and resented them.  It’s not fair…


But that was the screaming of the “Child” within me, a boy some eight or nine years younger than I was.  And I realized that I was not that child…I was the one who had to PROTECT that child.  Somehow…instead of resenting Sonia, resenting the lovely girls who liked the older, stronger, more confident boys…


I DECIDED TO BECOME ONE OF THEM. Somehow, in some way, one day I would BE one of those boys who attracted the kinds of girls I yearned for.   Somehow, instead of blaming them, I congratulated them on the self respect to go for what they really wanted and needed.


Somehow, even then, I sensed that Sonia knew my timidity did not make me a good prospect.  She was holding out for more, as was her right.  And in the depths of my pain, it was hearing the voice of the even younger child within me that gave me STRENGTH.


One day…I will be strong.

One day…I will be confident.

One day…I will have the power to build my life, and be a good prospect for a pretty girl looking to build her life.


One day.


Not today, thought. Not then.  And I didn’t know how I’d do it.  But I did know that the only other course was either being alone…or “settling.”


You know the people: “well, she was all I could get.”  “Oh, he ain’t much, but I guess he’s mine.”


That’s not enough. You want to look in your lover’s eyes and know she ADORES you.  You need to look at her, hear her voice, watch her move and feel your heart SING.


I didn’t make Sonia’s heart sing.    And if I really liked her, really wanted the best for her…then I wanted that for her.


I cried at night, yes. But somewhere, under the tears I was thinking:


One day…


And one day finally came.


Love yourself…and share the love