Steven Barnes is a New York Times bestselling, award-winning novelist and screenwriter who is the creator of the Lifewriting™ writing course, which he has taught nationwide. He recently won an NAACP Image Award as co-author of the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series with actor Blair Underwood and his wife, Tananarive Due. Nominated for Hugo, Nebula, and Cable Ace awards, writer of the Emmy-winning “A Stitch In Time” episode of The Outer Limits, winner of the Endeavor and the NAACP Image Awards, NY Times Bestselling author, Steven has written comic books, animation, newspaper copy, magazine articles, television scripts and three million words of published fiction published in seven languages, making him one of the world’s most honored, diverse and popular writers.

Zero Net Time Part 3



So we’ve come a long way, established why even if you are a sedentary writer, you need fitness and vitality.

How you can begin the process in FIVE MINUTES A DAY and if you don’t take those five minutes (one sixty second breathing breaks, one every three hours) or five minutes of joint recovery drills.

That if you want to tell me you don’t have five minutes to care for your physical body, but you had five minutes to watch this video, YOU ARE LYING TO YOURSELF.

Tim Piering said that you can accomplish miracles if you have

  1. Clear written goals
  2. Plans for their accomplishment expressed in continuous action
  3. The ability to take action despite the voices in your head.


You are allowing the voices in your head to run your game. I don’t want to get into a complex discussion of metaphysics or meditation, so I’ll give you a tip, a trick, something which, if taken seriously, will change your life: you are not the voices in your head.  You are the one LISTENING to the voices.


Who am I?  What is true?  These are the questions that drive all philosophy, as opposed to politics, which is “how can we win?”  A different question, one which can lead to corruption if it is not grounded on the first two.


Back to ZNT.  You can’t sustain accomplishment that is contrary to your self image.   A person who sees themselves as a winner, as an athlete, as a lover will move heaven and earth to support that vision if they start slipping.  And a person who does NOT see themselves as those things will, if positive change comes into their life, find a way to sabotage it like someone with poverty consciousness spending a Lottery windfall as fast as possible.


The Bible says “where there is no vision, the people perish.”  And if you do not have a vision for your life, for your health, happiness, and success, you will react only from pain, exist in a stress tunnel, fail to see opportunities that are right in front of you, and believe that fear is stronger than love.


We all know people like that.  And we all, from time to time, ARE those people.


So to use the ZNT system, you have to grasp that YOU HAVE TO HAVE PERMISSION TO SUCCEED. To be healthy, and vital, and energetic. That you have to have PERMISSION to accomplish your dreams, to be HAPPY.  If you don’t, on every level, THAT is the grit in the system, the kink in the wiring.   Our goal is to turn you into a room-temperature superconductor. A healthy animal, aligned with your human and spiritual levels.  Life is hard, but it is also simple.  The answer to “life is hard” is: “BE STRONG, DAMMIT!”  You parents and ancestors were strong for you.  YOU be strong for the children who will follow, and in the process, you create the room for your own dreams.


All you need to do to have a wonderful life is to live in alignment with BOTH your childhood dreams and the ultimate values you will hold on your deathbed.  Navigate that path in the adult world, and you will have everything you want or need.  Don’t try to be perfect: be OUTSTANDING.   Are you “fair” at your important tasks? You will get poor rewards.  “Good”?  You’ll get “fair” rewards.  “Excellent”?  You’ll get “good” rewards.  Want excellent rewards?  YOU MUST BE OUTSTANDING.  You can scream about how unfair that is all you want. The universe doesn’t care. Try standing at the shore and screaming at the tide not to come in.  Your shoes will still get wet.


Most political arguing is screaming at the tide.   Take philosophical action…back up a friggin’ step.  Or take off your shoes and dance in the waves.


But be with life AS IT IS, or you’ll miss the whole party.


So…ZERO NET TIME says that we can change your entire life, starting with your heart and your body, in a maximum of five minutes a day net investment…at the beginning. We’ve explained that.


Now we’re going to give you the next piece, and you’ll have to wait a few days to see how it all comes together.


THE MORNING RITUAL is how you focus your mind and heart, change your self image so that your goals, dreams, self-image, values and actions ALL LINE UP so that you are winning every damned day, regardless of what happens in six months or six years.  Every day a victory.  All you have to do is to this, and you get the emotions that EVERYONE is seeking, as well as become as efficient and effective as a human being is capable of being.


You will need a physical activity: walking, dancing, rebounding, yoga, tai chi. The Zero Net Time program will give you all you need here, but you can start with the joint mobility drills.

You will also need to WRITE DOWN your long term life outcomes, as well as your 1-year outcomes in the arenas of body, career, and relationships.  And three-month. And one-month. And weekly.


And WHY YOU WANT THEM. Remember: EMOTION DRIVES MOTION.  WHY you want something will drive you to discover the HOWS.   (And remember: if you can’t find the HOWS, it is time to take the question to your MASTERMIND GROUP.   The “Mastermind”, the group of people you have bonded to you with love and service, is the only known way to compensate for a lack of resources, talent, even intelligence!).


The “Morning Ritual” uses the “M.A.G.I.C. formula”:  MAGIC = Action X Gratitude X Intention X Conviction.  Get that?  You must take ACTION, must feel GRATITUDE for what you already have, have clear INTENTION for your actions, and CONVICTION that you CAN and SHOULD accomplish your dreams, and that your actions will bring you more pleasure than pain.


If you have all of these…you have magic.  Now, let’s anchor this into your body, not just bounce it around in your head.


(By the way, you don’t have to create your entire outcome structure at once. Simply start with the idea of getting 1% better at your Morning Ritual every day–the rest will follow!).


  1. WHILE MOVING, you CHANT ALOUD an affirmation of CONVICTION that you are improving every day.  (For instance: “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better”)
  2. CONTINUING TO MOVE, you CHANT ALOUD AND MENTALLY FOCUS on What you have in the past to be GRATEFUL for. (Your health, sight, life, family, friends, internet access, etc.)
  3. CONTINUING TO MOVE, you CHANT ALOUD AND MENTALLY FOCUS on your LONG TERM OUTCOMES (I climb Kilimanjaro, Jason graduates college Magna Cum Laude, I create the best and most successful writing projects of my life, etc.)
  4. CONTINUING TO MOVE, you CHANT ALOUD AND MENTALLY FOCUS on what you need to do TODAY to step along this path. Who do you need to be?   How does this person look and feel and breathe?  (“I am dynamic.  I am totally honest and open.   I use my fear and my love BOTH to write 1000 words, to let my passion pull my body another step, to focus on improving my martial motion, to give 100% to my family)
  5. CONTINUING TO MOVE, you re-affirm that you have all the capacity you need to create your dream life (“All I need is within me now”)


Assuming that your entire MR lasts 10 minutes, each piece of this takes about 2 minutes.  Compress or expand proportionally.  Aim to become a HUMAN LASER, your emotions, focus, and body all moving in the same direction. The greater your challenges, the more OOMPH you put into this.  “fake it until you make it” using energy, acting, facial expressions, body language, vocal tonality–all supporting each other.  THE MORE YOU GIVE, THE MORE YOU’LL GET.


See yourself as the body you want to have.  See that body supporting the drive and energy you need to reach your goals.  For just 10-20 minutes do this, and then keep track of what you are accomplishing every day.


Again, if you simply get this single piece right, and work to make it 1% more powerful, dynamic, clearer, more positive and more fearless each and every day…


Everything else in your life will change, guaranteed.  Try it for 30 days.  Bet you a dollar I’m right.


Take the bet?





(p.s.–we’ve now laid out a good chunk of the emotional and philosophical “basics” behind the ZNT system, as well as the basic health (joint mobility and stress mastery) pieces, and emotional mastery.  Given these, you can change almost anything in your life…but YOU MUST DO THEM. This is not a theoretical system.  We’ll be picking up speed. Next:

  1. Basic fitness
  2. Advance Fitness
  3. Nutrition
  4. Zero Net Time


Join me!

Zero Net Time part 2

So yesterday, a reader said that my constant harping on the body made her feel uncomfortable.  Please desist.

With all due respect, I cannot.  All any of us can do is explore our answers to two questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?”   These take us along the path of evolution.  One truth is that the answers to these questions are ultimately beyond conscious grasping, in the way that the wind is invisible.   But our ancestors understood long ago that while the wind is invisible, various of its effects are not: the bending of the grass.


So to determine growth and change and the effects of the invisible world (“Detect those things that cannot be seen” as Musashi said) I take a different approach. When in Tanzania, I noted that in an entire herd of zebras, well, they all looked pretty much exactly alike.  The same genetics, the same environment, the same daily actions…virtually identical animals.


And zebras today are about the same as were zebras a hundred thousand years ago.


A herd of humans would be about the same. But in the modern world, it is clear that we are different (and yeah, to a zebra we might look all the same. But allow me my little analogies, please!)  And I suggest to you that where we diverge from the norm, especially where we diverge from the norm…or our ancestors.


What are these norms?  Well, we are descended from thousands of generations of human beings who mated, who could efficiently hunt and gather, who could avoid predators and navigate their environment with sufficient grace to survive.  And human beings are, in some important ways, the greatest athletes on the planet: no other animal compares in the decathlon of life.  Nothing else can run AND jump AND climb AND swim AND lift AND throw AND so forth like we can.   And our ancestors had that.


But look around us, and you’ll see that something has gone wrong.   We are maladapted to our own lives, so many of us lonely (mating), and struggling financially (hunting and gathering), or have bodies that out of balance with our caloric intake.  This stuff isn’t our FAULTS.  It is not about a flaw in our personalities.


But it is our RESPONSIBILITY to do something about it, if anything is to be done.  There is no one else to do it.


So I speak of finding love, although some are uncomfortable about it. I speak of financial success in a career you enjoy, although some are uncomfortable about that. And I speak of having a body in alignment with your own values (in other words…when you fantasize sexually, are you thinking of someone with a body like yours?   Is your caloric intake in balance with your output?)  If not…my path says that there is something to look at there. That there is an inhibitor to your joy in life. And that we must put guilt, blame, or shame aside…but take responsibility or we might wander off a path with invisible edges, and become lost.


It is not our fault. It is our responsibility.


Back to writing.   The modern world is unique in human history.  Hunter gatherer cultures in some parts of the world can produce a day’s calories with no more than three or four hours of gathering.   But in the United States, the average person can often earn an entire day’s calories with a single hour of sedentary work.   This breaks the connection between mind, body, and survival results.


To accelerate the problem there is the emotional element. The Hawaiian Huna suggest that the body is like a black bag, where we store all of our unprocessed emotions.   If you are sedentary, and deal with the normal grief, pain, fear, anger, and regret of life, it can build up in your body-mind like sediment.  Start to “break it up” through exercise and that pain surfaces.  It feels as if the activity CAUSES the pain.  No, it just breaks up the cysts that store the poison. Don’t break it up and it will leech into your system over time and kill you slowly.  Break it up quickly and it can make you dizzy and sick.


So if you want to change your body, and you have stored pain and fear in your body-mind unit, you have to take that into account and build some kind of compensatory activity, you will mistake the pain of awakening for the activity hurting you.  Major error.




But let’s say that you take no pleasure in physical motion (and doctors would tell you that a baby or child who does not play or explore his environment physically is sick), and have only sedentary goals: scholarship, writing, whatever. Why, we’re back with writing again!


THE PRIMARY FUEL OF ANY ACTION IS EMOTION.   Your emotions will drive you or hold you back. If you don’t have EMOTIONAL reasons to do something…you won’t do it.


So no program can succeed unless you feel a driving NEED for success, reasons that will keep you moving forward even when you are tired, or stressed.  Unless you see the value in it even when you are not given bad news by a doctor.  If being told “you will die in six months unless you exercise” is the only way you will stop watching television or logging into Facebook to do it (and it is hysterical to me…or tragic, depending on my mood…how many people will spend hours on FB every week, and then claim they have no time to exercise.   Wow.   Are they even aware they are lying to themselves?  Musashi’s first principle: DO NOT THINK DISHONESTLY. When you do, you are lost.)


So let’s look at the process of writing, the most sedentary of activities, and see how exercise fits in there.  What is THE MACHINE again?

  1. Write a sentence a day
  2. Write 1-4 stories a month
  3. Submit and re-submit until they sell
  4. Don’t re-write except to editorial request
  5. Read 10x what you write
  6. Repeat 100 times
  7. Don’t write a novel until you’ve sold 10 stories.


Can you see the time, energy, fear mastery, discipline, capacity to resist fatique and discouragement necessary to do this?  Do you remember that “fatigue makes cowards of us all”?  That when you run out of energy life starts looking pale and progress impossible?  Can you see it?


All right, try this, the process of Behavioral Modification:

  1. Identify the pattern you wish to change
  2. Identify the pattern you wish to adapt.
  4. Practice the new program
  5. “Fail successfully”
  6. Correlate your results and re-adjust.
  7. Begin again


Do you see it this time? That without energy, you will fall back into your prior behavior patterns, your comfortable habits, and not improve?


Do you grasp that your energy is what broadcasts your identity to the world?  That your ability to experience JOY in life is related to your energy?


That is you had no other goal than to increase and refine your energy by 1% per day, in a year you would totally change for the better?


If you can’t see that, these messages are not for you. But if you do, and there is a part of you that longs to break out of a prison of diminishing life force, hope, joy and evolutionary potential…you are my tribe.


So the first thing to do is to demolish the lies and illusions, the “I will hurt myself” the “I have no time” and the “I don’t know what to do”  and “Its too expensive.”


We’re going to do that by putting “safety rails” on the entire process.

  1. It will take very little time: at the lowest levels, only FIVE MINUTES A DAY. And at the highest levels?   ZERO NET TIME.  I kid you not.
  2. By prioritizing health over fitness, and emotional health over physical health, we are placing things in the correct sequence, and not allowing you to hurt yourself UNLESS YOU IGNORE INSTRUCTIONS. And oh yes, any of you who do not have permission to access your joy, and heal your emotional wounds, WILL try to find a way to hurt yourselves, so that you can say “I tried.  It didn’t work”.
  3. We will start with things that take no money at all.   Later, an investment will be required. But the ZERO NET TIME program will help you handle that, too.  Yeah, I know how that sounds.   Bear with me.


So the first piece of the puzzle is to clarify the emotions while we build a few basic habits.

Stress is often mentioned as an obstacle to exercise, and that is a pisser, because exercise is one of the things that best handles stress. Moving the body is better than just bouncing ideas around in your head.


Hans Selye, the man who popularized the concept of stress, spoke about four languages, and English was not his first.    Before he died, he said that if English HAD been his first language, he’d have been known as the father of Strain rather than the father of Stress.


From an engineering point of view, Stress is “pressure per unit area” whereas Strain is “deformation per unit length.”  In other words: heat and pressure make DIAMONDS…but handled badly, they also crush and crunch us out of shape.  Stress is what we NEED to evolve.  Strain is what we need to avoid.


According to Coach Sonnon, the Russians look at all physical techniques as composed of three elements: breath, motion, and structural alignment. And say that each of them is created by the other two. In other words, structure is created by motion and breath, motion is created by structure and breath, and breath is created by motion and structure.


If you “dis-integrate” this structure, you create strain.  In other words, if you undergo more stress than you can handle…OR if you paradoxically take too little stress.


But if you deliberately work to integrate this triad, you are on the path of physical evolution, which connects to the emotional…which is then the fuel you need for the mental aspects.


Cool, huh?  Seeing how this all fits? Most of the world’s spiritual disciplines focus on one aspect of this: the breath. And this is appropriate, because the breath is the canary in the coal mine. It is the ONLY aspect of our body-mind that is BOTH voluntary and autonomic, and therefore the doorway to our hidden inner world.  Slow your breathing down below about four per minute and your carbon dioxide levels skyrocket, triggering your sympathetic nervous system controlling your fight-or-flight response, and attendant fear signals. This leads to anxiety, stress, and strain.


Learn to handle this, to breathe under stress without that breath becoming warped and shallow, and you have learned a core secret to a powerful life: grace under pressure.


Because in life, they pay you for how much stress you can take without breaking.


So what have we done so far?

  1. Given you THE FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE, a way to re-wire your body’s response to stress by performing deep, slow, diaphragmatic “belly breaths” for sixty seconds, five times a day.
  2. This not only begins your physical integration, but will reveal your own illusions, the degree to which your ego is destroying you, because NO ONE with the time to read these words doesn’t have five minutes a day.  In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say no one AT ALL doesn’t have five minutes a day.  There is a story about two woodsmen who went into the forest to chop wood for five hours. At the end of the time, one of them had chopped three times the wood of the other, and the losing woodsman was baffled, and asked the winner how he did it. “You didn’t see what I spent three of those hours doing” the winner said.  “I was sharpening my axe.”  The more critical the activity, the more important that you sharpen your axe before you go to work.  There is nothing sadder than burning up all your energy chopping with a dull axe
  3. We’ve given you JOINT MOBILITY drills. These are the single most important PHYSICAL exercise you can do, working your entire body in only minutes a day.


Here’s the next piece.    Again from Coach Sonnon, whose contribution to the basics of this system are enormous.


Create a scale of pain, from 1-10.  1 is “no pain” while 10 is “the worst pain you’ve ever experienced.”  Those with chronic pain will need to modify this, of course.  If you can walk, and do walk, you need to exercise consciously just to limit the amount of damage from the simple action.  CONSCIOUS motion for the purpose of self-discovery and growth is different from motion designed to perform work or provide ambulation.  CONSCIOUS is the key.


Create another scale, and this one of proper movement. Think of the absolute most perfect movement you can imagine.  Fred Astaire, Bruce Lee, Barishnikov…like that.   That’s a “10”. Total, perfect alignment, perfect relaxation.


Then think of terrible, clumsy, tight, spastic motion. No balance or grace. That is a “1”.


Got that?  We’re all somewhere on that spectrum.  Now then.  When you are moving, you work to keep your pain levels below a “3”.  Again, this is subjective, and if you have chronic pain, you might say “no more pain than you experience walking”. If THIS is hugely painful, you may be confined to bed or a wheelchair.  In that case, say a “3” is “I can smile and breathe smoothly as I do it.”


Got it?  No more than a 3 in pain. And you simultaneously work for a level of “grace in motion” at an “8” or above.


And yes, you may never reach that goal. And that’s all right: keep your pain below a 3. Keep your breathing smooth.   PRIORITIZE HEALTH AND SAFETY.   But keep your eyes on perfect movement.   Keep your ego under control: don’t let your ego convince you to try to do a yoga pose that you can’t do. Don’t let your coach or trainer push you beyond the point where you can breathe smoothly or smile.  YOU ARE AN ADULT.  TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.


Got is?  Now here is the best part: how do you know when you are ready to push yourself? Get intense?  Really bear down and “go for it”?  If and ONLY if you can simultaneously keep pain below a “3” AND your grace of motion above a “7”.


Until you can do both, you are in the rehab phase, the building phase, and you are doing GREAT.  Competition is for people who can hold BOTH of those simultaneously. Only those people can plausibly push their effort above a “6.”


Those are your safety rails. Do the best you can, where you can, and over time your body will give you all the strength, power, and grace it is capable of.  When you push harder, you are letting your ego destroy you…and remember that it will KILL you to keep you from killling it.


That’s it for today.   Do your joint mobility every morning.  Breathe five times a day for sixty seconds. Never let your pain go higher than what you experience just walking down the street–OR LESS.


And you are on the path.  Want to keep the whole thing under five minutes a day, total? Alternate days.  Mobility one day, breathing the next. Or…be smart, and do sixty seconds of joint mobility AND proper breathing, five minutes a day.


And I’ll talk to you again, very soon.




The “Zero Net Time” System part one

Saw William F. Nolan at the paperback book fair yesterday.  He’s 89 years old, still sharp, still writing, still hitting the gym every day.  He made an interesting comment about “diets”: “diets are bullshit,” he said.  “Just eat right, and work out every day.   That’s all you need.”  That might be too simple, but its pretty close to true.   I was doing joint mobility drills in between the autographs, circling my fingers and wrists.  “What’s wrong?” one of the assistants asked.  “Just keeping things loose,” I said.


“Oh.  Do you have an immune system problem?”








He seemed confused. And I realized what the problem was.  Most people aren’t honest with themselves about the fact that they need physical discipline, on a daily level.  Their ancestors had to exert themselves to earn food, and if they lost physical efficiency they got less food. Very direct feed-back, which society has broken.  So they ignore their bodies, ignore the little signals that something is wrong, tell themselves they haven’t the time or resources or motivation to work out until something goes very wrong. Then, suddenly, they discover the time (odd how that works. Hmmm…where was it hiding?) and work out enough to prevent or alleviate the pain.  Hopefully.


But…what would have happened if instead of relieving the pain, instead of working out from fear of falling apart, they had exercised for joy of motion, for love of developing vitality and even some happy skill.  To be able to dance or climb or run or play in some way that puts a smile on your face rather than just avoiding a frown.


Love, rather than fear.


I want to start speaking about the “Zero Net Time” system I’ve been experimenting with.  It is designed to cover all basic aspects of fitness with, as the name implies, a “Zero Net Time” investment–if you follow the program you GAIN time rather than “lose” it.   Yeah, I know that sounds strange, but you’ll see.


I want to give it all away.   Eventually, I’ll take these notes and collect them, and sell them over on Clickbank, but you guys are my family.  So…


First, a piece I got from Coach Scott Sonnon. Several of these pieces came from him, and I want to be clear about that.   The man is brilliant.  It is the “Three dimensional performance pyramid”–the structure of high performance.  Each level builds on the level previous.


I’ve modified it a bit.   The foundation is EMOTIONAL HEALTH.  A belief in self, a love of life, a sense that your days have potential and possibility.     If you have enough EMOTIONAL JUICE, and a clear vision of WHAT you want and WHY you want it, you are half way there.    HEARTBEAT MEDITATION, JOURNALING, DREAM DIARIES, ANCIENT CHILD, and other forms of meditation and inner work are great for this.


The next step is PHYSICAL HEALTH.  This isn’t “fitness” per se. It is how you feel and function.   Not just lack of illness but vibrancy, energy, sex drive, the sense of sleeping soundly, waking up ready to go, and having all the energy you need to work hard all week and party on the weekend.  Resistance to stress.    JOINT MOBILITY and THE MORNING RITUAL will take care of these first two levels.  If you look at the “BE BREATHED” exercise, you get to cover this and emotional health at the same time. More on this later.


Next comes PHYSICAL FITNESS. Note: the first two levels are far more important.  But this is also great fun, and gives you an “edge”, and is critical if you want to enjoy any sport or physical activity.    This is “how high, how fast, how far, how heavy.”   Not just how you feel, but how you perform.    The best overall tools in terms of “bang for your buck” are probably various bodyweight exercises and Kettlebells.  THE FIVE TIBETANS and KETTLEBELLS cover this level and the previous.


Next comes SKILL.  Refinement of some activity you are interested in, something that gets your juices pumping.  This is neurological, assuming that you’ve developed the physical foundation.


Then finally PERFORMANCE and COMPETITION.   And this is where ‘weekend athletes” get into trouble. They don’t prepare themselves, don’t have health or fitness or refine their skills, but go out on the slopes or the court and compete with their own self-image or kids half their age…and rip their bodies apart.






More on this later.  But there you have it, the things you need to have a wonderful life on the physical level: Emotional health, physical vibrancy, fitness, skill, and then and ONLY then…performance and competition.  That is the syntax.  Anything other than that will tear you apart.


So…how to begin?  I’d say with the minimum investment of your time and energy.     That would mean a little meditation and your joint mobility drills.  Heartbeat Meditation is my favorite–it is the most powerful  “safe” meditation  and the safest “powerful” meditation.   Simply sit and listen/feel your heartbeat for 10-20 minutes a day.    MINIMUM INVESTMENT?   Five times a day for 60 seconds, listen/feel your heartbeat. Once every three hours.


Next, Joint Mobility.  Wake up, put on some fun music (preferably something slow and sexy) and work your way through your joints.  Because every tendon, ligament and voluntary muscle is connected to a joint, in just 3 minutes you can work through the entire body.  Wake yourself up.  Scott Sonnon Intuflow Joint Mobility Beginner Part 1



That’s all for today.   I have to lay a foundation, and then show you how to optimize it.    You have enough to get started.   If you’re REALLY smart, you’ll figure out a way to combine these first two, to get an amazing effect in just five minutes a day.


And…you are smart, right?  Right?






(Here’s an audio version of this first day’s exploration:


Seeing those things that cannot be seen

Why can’t you see the forest for the trees? Because the forest isn’t the trees. The forest is the space BETWEEN the trees. The trees GROW in the forest. In order to see the forest, you have to perceive negative space, something that we’re not really programmed to do. The martial art of Aikido is all about seeing the space between–that is (in my mind) the great treasure of randori training. Jazz is what happens between the notes. Poetry is what happens between the words. And so it goes.

Samuel R. Delany wrote a book of literary criticism and writing instruction called, I think, THE JEWEL HINGED JAW. In it, there is a great essay about writing, in which he states that every word must be chosen not for what it means, but for the mental processes that it will trigger in the reader–in other words, where the reader’s mind goes as she attempts to interpret the word. For instance:
THE (alright, we are talking about a person, place, or thing.)
BOY (ah. A human being. Male. Young.)
RAN (a verb. A picture forms in the mind.)
AWAY (a threat? A game?)
WITH (carrying something? Does the boy have a specific attitude or expression?)
ALL (a totality. A grouping)
HIS (possessions? Relationships?)
TOYS (visualizations of drums, stuffed bears. But is he happy? Crying? Angry…?)

Each word is chosen for where the reader’s mind goes IN BETWEEN the words. The invisible space is what controls the emotional content. The specific words we can react to, and filter our response. But we can’t really filter our responses to the spaces “in-between”–and that is where we can nuke the readers.

The same thing is true in martial arts. Movement “off the beat” is harder to react to, because we are motor-set to continue the motion. Using broken rhythm, therefore, is a way of beating someone who is actually faster than you.

In human relationships, you HAVE to read between the lines. You are dead in the water if you don’t. When you date a man or woman, as the saying goes, you are actually dealing with every person that person ever dated. I remember being crazy infatuated with a beautiful dancer we’ll call Rachel. Rachel was the sexiest woman I’d ever met, let alone slept with. But the nicer I was to her, the more distant and nervous she became. Eventually, I realized that her personal dating history included an assortment of real predators, men who came off “nice” at first, and then devolved into true assholery. The way I was coming on triggered her caution response–and some other things as well. Like most of us, she’d done some things in relationship she wasn’t proud of, and on a deep level didn’t believe she was deserving of a good, loving, simple relationship. And more: since in her experience everyone wears a mask, whatever I presented myself as, underneath I had to be something different, right? (Wrong. I’m pretty much the same underneath as I am on the surface. If you don’t like me at first meeting, chances are you won’t like me if you get to know me better. And if you do, chances are you will. I’m pretty transparent.) All of this complication was driving me nuts until I learned to let her behaviors create my picture of her internal representations–and I saw how complicated and confused they were. I remember telling her when we started our relationship that I didn’t think she had permission to be happy. And then, dazzled by her beauty and sexuality and promises, I let myself forget my instinctive hit. How had I known? Simply by taking a look at her relationship history. A long series of disasters. Look at the shadow. Look at the space between the trees. Trust your intuition. The small, quiet voice in your head is rarely wrong. The loud urgent voice in your pants, however…

Once again, it is by engaging with life on all levels that you begin to sense the patterns that go beyond the obvious. Pay attention. You’ll save yourself a world of hurt.

-Steve Barnes

Afrofuturism: Dreams to Banish Nightmares

Let’s see: our guest list for AFROFUTURISM: DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES might be the best ever collected for such a venture: Cheo Hodari Coker Coker (Luke Cage), Nnedi Okorafor  (Who Fears Death), Reggie Hudlin(Black Panther), Samuel Delany (Dahlgren), Rodney Barnes (Boondocks), Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl In The Ring), Mike Carey (“The Girl With All The Gifts”), Bree Newsome (artist and real-life superhero), and Jamie Broadnax (Black Girl Nerds), as well as Tananarive Due (“The Living Blood”). Oh, and me, of course.


I’m kinda thunderstruck at what we’re pulling together, and it isn’t done yet. We get started March 25, and this will be a full 10-week (over an actual longer period than that, because of traveling) with both live and on-line on-demand components and social media. Join us! www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

Horror speaks the unspeakable


There was a discussion on horror movie imagery, in which readers were asked what films they found the most frightening.   THE EXORCIST was mentioned, and I agreed, having seen it when it first came out, and remembering the effect it had on the audience.  But I also said that it can’t be evaluated accurately today because the culture has changed, at least partially BECAUSE of the film.   The same is true of the films that hit me hardest: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and ALIEN.   The question of “how much further can we go?” to create a powerful emotional effect.  This seemed to presuppose that the problem, or the worry, was an escalating war of perverse imagery or explicit effects.


I’m not a horror writer, but my wife certainly is, and so are many of my friends.   And the general consensus would seem to be that it isn’t pushing imagery further and further, it is looking for the unspoken taboos, the areas in which we are unconscious as we THINK we are awake, and peeling back that scab.


it isn’t raising the level of violence–all there is is absolute death and dismemberment, and we’ve had that since cave man days (gotten more realistic, but the point is the same). The trick is to attack current fears.


Varying critics disagree on precisely what was being attacked, but ALIEN may well have been fear of rape and impregnation (in Robert McKee’s terms “the negation of the negation”–what is worse than death?  Death that gives birth to greater death) ,  TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE may have been fear of what we’ve been doing to animals (hmmm…but again, fear of what goes beyond death…being actually devoured) , NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD fear of the destruction of society (during the civil rights movement–the racial angle is pretty powerful and disturbing.  But also fear of being eaten, and of what lies beyond death. The little girl stabbing her mother to death) and THE EXORCIST fear of the loss of religion’s power as we move into “faith” in science.  (Hmmm.  But again, relating to the soul. Religion deals with the fear of what lies beyond death, yes?)


The recent, instant classic GET OUT would have been unendurably frightening…and much less profitable…without the comic relief to release racial tension.   Play that movie straight?  I think it makes about 1/5 the money, and terrifies to the point of breaking rapport with any person black or white with unresolved racial issues. And that’s the majority of people.  (SPOILER: and in its own way, didn’t GET OUT play with the fear of what lies beyond death?)


So the trick for a horror writer will be not “topping” previous imagery, but asking what THEY are terrified by. What disturbs THEM.  What still causes pain, fear, guilt, anger as an adult, the things that deviled them as children that still torment them as adults. And that stuff is there, oh yes it is.  Some probable targets:


–The political divide and what it might mean (“The Purge” created a fortune by tapping into this)

–Male fear of female empowerment (and the fact that women will abuse their power just as badly as men do–with the added fun of guilt tripping weak males into believing its their own fault)

–Fear of automation making 90% of human beings irrelevant.  (in terms of the work force?  Not a silly speculation. Won’t necessarily happen, but anyone who thinks it CAN’T happen is, in my opinion, asleep)

–and for that matter…conceptual “sleeping” of many kinds.   We as human beings will justify anything we believe we need to survive.   I remember my mother telling me that animals don’t feel pain “as we do.” The same was said of slaves, of course.  And endless dehumanizations: men ignore women’s dreams, women ignore men’s deaths, Nation A ignores the pain of Nation B whose resources they need, and human beings ignore the pain of the natural world, once seen as the mother that gave birth to us all.


We need to believe we have the right to take, to exploit, to re-program, to define things outside ourselves to our own benefit.  Most of human history has been the “we are more human than you” and the idea that “we are all human together” is a pretty rare thing extended beyond your tribe.  There is terror as well as energy released in the resolution of any duality: black/white, male/female, American/non-American, Gay/Straight, Human/Animal.


Can’t wait to see a horror story that resolves the duality between living/inanimate.  Someone who REALLY did it would probably blow our minds to the point that we would think it funny rather than frightening–too big. So…you’d choose something that it right in our faces.


Hell, I thought of one, and in talking to Tananarive decided to hold it back from the discussion…might make a damned good movie.  Very high-concept.   Watch this space.


Take your own fear. Look into your own blind spots, if you can.   The sick places in your soul, the pusticles you’ve plastered over rather than drained.


There’s gold in them thar ills.





Childhood and Adulthood

I like minimum investments, the smallest amount of work that will maintain forward momentum. Get them down small enough and you have an amount so tiny that there is no LOGICAL reason not to do them.  The real reasons are revealed as emotional.


Here are some examples:


  1. The “Smartphone” diet.  Simply take a digital picture of everything you eat before you eat it.  Don’t have to modify your eating at all–just be sure you are 100% conscious of every bite.  Amazing how hard this is. And how effective.
  2. “Five Minute Miracle”– one 60-second breathing breaks, one every three hours. A total of five a day.  Re-patterns your stress response.  Amazing.  Combine with your very best abdominal exercise, done very slowly (one sixty-second rep), and you up the game.
  3. A sentence a day.   First step of the Machine.  Because of a variety of logistical and psychological factors, you can ride a sentence a day to a book a year.  Again, it is amazing to watch.
  4. Morning Ritual. 10-20 minutes of movement combined with affirmation and dynamic focus.    “Flooding” yourself with positive emotions.


One of the saddest things that I see is people who feel that, without their pain, they would not be creative.   All I can wonder is: whose voice is that in their head? Who told them this?  What is their experience of joy?


Both pain AND joy can motivate us.  If I had to use one or the other, would definitely choose carrot over stick. If you cannot find pleasure to focus on, then pain will do…but wow, would you treat your own most beloved child like that?  And if you wouldn’t, why are you doing it to yourself?


Consciousness, speaking the truth, is a sovereign remedy for most of what ails us, even if it leads to temporary pain.  “These cigarettes will kill me” causes the temporary pain of discipline, guilt, withdrawal. And saves you the long-term pain of mortal disease.


Adulthood is about speaking the truth. Keeping your word to yourself.  Choosing long-term pleasure over short-term pain.  Taking responsible for your own emotions and actions.  We know this in raising children…

Why do we forget it for ourselves?

Don’t lie and say you don’t have “the talent” to do something: you don’t want to spend the thousand hours.  The fact that others might get more results for that investment of time is irrelevant. You can ALWAYS find someone doing better, or worse, than you.

Don’t lie and say you don’t have “the time” if you can start with five or ten minutes a day.  Ummm…you had time to read this, correct?

Don’t lie and say you have nothing to be grateful for.  You can read, correct?  You have the resources to get onto the internet, correct?  Wouldn’t you miss your eyes and computer if they were gone?  Then you can be grateful for them now.

Your focus determines how you feel. Your ability to tell the truth creates an accurate map. Your ability to keep your word to yourself determines whether you will take the small, constant steps that can lead you to love, or health, or success.

  1. Start by loving yourself.  (why change if you don’t love the person who will benefit?)
  2. Love one other person (we will do things for others we won’t do for ourselves.)
  3. Understand the world without guilt, blame, or shame.  (Forgive yourself. You’ve done the best you could, with the resources you have.  This will require that you forgive others as well–the same is true for them)
  4. Find your tribe.  (you cannot rise to your next level without allies and mentors.   Mentor and support others, and you gain the cosmic chips to ask for allies and mentors to help you.)
  5. Win.  (Define victory so that you can achieve it, EVERY DAY.   Five minutes a day will start you.  And from there…the world looks and feels like a different place.)







Talking Afrofuturism with Elon Musk



At Elon Musk’s house last night.  Couple of weeks ago, I asked people what question they would ask one of the 100 richest and most influential men in the world.  Lots of interesting possibilities, but I was attracted to one comment: that all of his business ventures were vertically integrated around the goal of reaching Mars.  I had some private thoughts about that, but considered that a good line of inquiry.


Seeing that he was probably ( in a very specific sense) the most successful human being I’ve had the chance to dine with,  I thought I’d test some ideas I have about how PEOPLE become “vertically integrated”, their basic aspects aligned so that they don’t fight themselves.  We’ve all known people with intelligence, talent, energy, and opportunity who never accomplish anything.   The idea is that they are not “aligned” like human lasers.


Elon, no matter how smart he is, would HAVE to be aligned, or he simply couldn’t achieve what he had.

I was struck by how relaxed he was.  Lots of questions, no interest in dominating or controlling the conversation at all. From time to time he would snap his attention onto a subject (especially when it concerned Mars, or rockets) and then that depth and clarity one would expect flashed out.  Excellent.

I have other thoughts I’ll keep to myself.

The conversation ranged from A.I. ethics to global warming (Dr. Gregory Benford, who did some of the original research which was later lied about by a certain bestselling novelist, was at the table) to Mars (of course), to missile shields, comparative Soviet and American technology, intellectual property protect as a spur to innovation,  to the need for humanity to be aligned (vertical integration again!) to move into our future…

Wow. Smart talk.

The subject of the NASA Hieroglyph project, science fiction writers discussing Near-Earth space exploration in story form, and my own story MOZART ON THE KALAHARI came up.  Elon believes we are spending “enough” money in this arena (and an absurd excess on defense) but not spending it as effectively as we could.   Vertical integration again?


MOZART ON THE KALAHARI was specifically designed to address a question often asked by people concerned with earthly social issues: why should we spend money on space when there are so many problems right here on Earth to deal with?


My answer: because as important as answers are, we also need dreams.  We need a vision of possibility, of life beyond any current pain or problem.   Dreams keep us alive. They sustain us.  Remind us WHY we struggle and strive.  Survival is for insects. Human beings need to believe they can THRIVE and GROW.


Science fiction is this.

And Afrofuturism is the science fiction and fantasy boiling out of the African Diaspora. “Human beings have always projected their dreams and nightmares into story” I said.  “It helps us wrap our minds around them, gives perspective and mastery, engages our problem-solving apparatus.”

Amazing evening, really. And strengthened my belief that properly aligned (vertically?) a relatively small number of people can change the world.   So my goal…of 1 million awake, aware, adult human beings, is stronger than ever. As is my commitment to supporting one thousand awake, aware, adult storytellers.


Whether you want to be one of them, support one of them, or just learn to appreciate them at a deeper level, you’ll love the AFROFUTURISM: DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES class Tananarive and I are teaching. Ten weeks starting on March 25th, and we have a special “Early Bird” price for another five days.  Don’t miss this amazing experience!  WWW.AFROFUTURISMWEBINAR.COM



Write with Passion!


Thoughts on “Get Out” (2017)

Good Lord.

GEt out.jpgJordan Peele’s “Get Out” is at 100% on RT. All the time T and I were shopping “My Soul To Keep” or “The Good House” we were told again and again there was no really successful black horror. “Can we change the race of the leads?” was the most common question. “Can we remove the social subtext?” was woven into every conversation, every development process.

I gritted my teeth.

When I was 30, I knew that the world wasn’t quite ready for me. That I might have to wait another thirty years or more before America moved far enough beyond past social realities (the legacy of slavery and segregation) and demographics such that I could speak my truth to a large enough audience to make a case to Hollywood that a major film would succeed–and trust me, the only language Corporations speak is money.


Well, if “Get Out” succeeds, it is another amazing step. Like “Black Panther” and “Django Unchained” it literally fills in image systems that have been gaps in the cinematic/cultural lexicon, pointing out a path of success.

The conversation will change: “oh! It’s like `Get Out’, only with X.” Yeah, that’s it. I knew that if I could keep my heart alive, treated this as a marathon rather than a sprint, I could outlast the fear and the monsters sufficiently to find a Tribe willing to hear my songs. The only question was: would I be too tired, too beaten down to see the opportunities?  Scar tissue is inflexible.  Emotional scar tissue is perceptual tunnel vision.

Would I be able to see the opportunities,  be so wounded by failures, defeats, betrayals and accidental slights that I wouldn’t be able to see allies, mentors, and potentials all around me?   Bitterness is a poison to the soul.


So I decided to love life.   To be strong enough to be soft.  Embraced yoga, martial arts, meditation, and the company of people of all races and political persuasions, if they were wiling to see my humanity.  Took my three years in Georgia as a chance to see that yes, the South is both wounded and anchored to its history, and eager to move beyond it, almost desperate to be forgiven and accepted as human…and to see that that “Southern Hospitality” really is a beautiful and genuine thing.


To forgive my country for not living up to its promises. To love human beings for being imperfect, and therefore be able to forgive myself for being afraid. To give myself permission to fail. To find the faith to get up again, and again, and yet again…


Knowing that this day would come.   People think it absurd to be so excited about watching a black guy in a cat suit sprint through traffic.  They have never stood in my shoes, never understood what it was to watch “When Worlds Collide” and see only white people saved from extinction, and know the filmmakers didn’t give a damn what it felt like to be a black kid watching that.   To be able to predict that Paul Winfield would be eaten by cockroaches in “Damnation Alley” because the audience wouldn’t want to see him compete for the last woman in the world.


Countless times I’ve been told to shut up, stop talking about these things.  People have tried to gaslight me. Tell me to be ashamed of being a Social Justice Warrior or even have the temerity to try to define the term to denigrate it.

Screw them.

I will define myself.   I know who I am, better than you possibly could.  And if you try to define me, I know I know myself better than you know YOURSELF.   Had you any real self-knowledge, you’d lack the stupendous ego to think you can define others.  Or the fear to need to.

I am not my scars.  Not my disappointments, not my pain, not my fear, not my anger.  As a forest is the space between the trees, I am the space in which these emotions and events have occurred.  So long as I keep my ego small, I don’t crash into the obstacles, can navigate in the clear space.


I am love, not fear.  Love for my own soul, my dreams, my family and friends, my community, my country, my world.  THIS is why a gentle boy spent forty years learning how to kill people.  To be able to offer peace to anyone who would extend a hand to me.


“Get Out” is “The Stepford Negroes”, a meditation on the fear of assimilation, fear that hatred lurks behind the smiles.  Built on real concerns, it would seem (I’ve yet to see it) to do what great horror, fantasy and science fiction does: externalize our dreams and nightmares so that we can wrap our minds around them.  To water the poison until it makes you dizzy rather than sick.


Jordan Peele survived, and has questions about how and why and what next.   I am so proud of him.  And of myself.

I survived too, dammit.  I’m still here.  And seeing a world that some part of me doubted I’d ever see.  I managed to tamp those voices down, but they were always there. Oh yes, they were.

I survived.




The Hope and the Dream of the Slave

In many ways, the best and strongest man I’ve ever known is Steve Muhammad, my beloved karate instructor.  Not only a man of devastating physical skills, an innovative genius, fierce competitor, inspiring teacher and devoted family man, but a creature of deep spirit and vast compassion.   With more street experience than any four other people I know, he is also gentle and humble, a combination that still boggles my mind.


From the first moment I saw him at a Martial Arts Expo in about 1974, performing a mass attack skit where four students came at him and he responded with an explosion of speed, power and precision that blew my mind, I knew I wanted to sit at his feet and learn.  What I didn’t realize was that THE DEMO WAS UNREHEARSED.    Years later I got to participate in one, and he simply said: “come at me” to all of us.  And he took us out with absolute control, his punches, kicks, palm strikes and elbows coming within a breath of our skin, kissing our uniforms in machine-gun rhythm…without hurting us.

I’d wondered for decades: HOW COULD HE BE SO STRONG?   And one day, about seven years ago, I found out.

As a child, Steve had been raised in Mississippi by his grandparents, who had been slaves.  Suddenly, it hit me. Dear God. THAT experience had burned away all that was false.  All the lies. All the “First World Problems.” There are two reactions to such stress, really.  It breaks you, husks you, cripples you for generations…or the heat and pressure transforms you into a diamond. The majority are broken. But some few…


Suddenly, I grasped that under stress, the few who manage to stand up, to shine, to maintain their humanity, have a knowledge of self, a clarity of their values, that can be shaken by no lesser power.   The 99% will be crushed, diminished, driven to lower their eyes and dull their dreams, crippled by fear and hatred…


But those who maintain their humanity are amazing, with near-divine gifts to offer those who will listen: how did I survive? What is true? Who am I?  How can you protect your soul in the midst of chaos?

Oppressed populations reliably under-perform. But they also produce some of the finest music, art, athletics, and spirituality on the planet.   THEY DO WHAT THEY CAN. THEY THRIVE WHERE THEY CAN.  They love each other desperately,  nurture their children and grandchildren, believing in “milk and honey on the other side,” encoding their wrath in fables, channeling their suicidal/homicidal urges into their dance and prayer, finding small joys to warm their hearts as they somehow survive from generation to generation…slaves becoming sharecroppers, who become servants, who become merchants and teachers…who become doctors and lawyers…who become scientists, politicians…and storytellers.


They take the fantasies and mythologies, blend them with a burgeoning understanding of the universe around them, and the technology that explores it, and add their own rhythms, creating what the outer world called Science Fiction and Fantasy…and they themselves began to call AFROFUTURISM.


And just as Science Fiction has always both expressed human dreams and driven our inquiry, the version of this phenomenon that grew from the depths of black pain, keeping alive the spark until the laws and cultures changed and allowed us to speak our truth more openly, contains lessons that could not be spoken openly until after the fall of Jim Crow, the end of Segregation, the passing of the Voting Rights act, the birth of a generation unafraid of lynchings and oppression.


When I was ten years old, my mother, who had grown up in the segregated south, whose childhood had been darkened by the shadows of dangling black men, told me: “Steven, if you show white people how smart you are, they will kill you.”


The terror of that statement haunted me. Drove me into the martial arts, where I found a man strong enough to lend that strength to me, so that I could have the courage to create my own dreams, and lend them to a younger generation so that they could stand on my shoulders, see further and imagine a world where children could play together and work together and build together, judging one another not by the color of their skin, or even the content of their character, but on their capacity to create a bridge to a future brighter than any of them had ever known.


The wisdom passed to me is beyond my understanding, but a part of my bones.  How to deal with fear, and pain. How to stop hatred and resentment from poisoning you.  HOW TO LIVE WITH LOVE, AND HOPE, NO MATTER WHAT CHAOS AND DANGER SURROUNDS YOU.


Lessons for our time.  Available to all with eyes to see and ears to hear.


The AFROFUTURISM: DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES class is a distillation of everything my dear, brave, brilliant wife  and I have learned about art, creativity, extrapolation, fantasy, and personal evolution. It will twine art and science together into a braid that cannot be broken.  You may have a story to write.  A screenplay to finish.  Want to understand what drove an Octavia Butler or Chip Delany or God help me…a Steven Barnes or Tananarive Due.  We will watch movies, study art and poetry, spend ten weeks walking in the footsteps of masters and ask YOU to find the dreams that sustain you, ask you to refine them, teach you to express them, share them with the world at a time we need them most.


I’ve been working toward this for twenty years, and its here.  Join us.  Be a part of a movement to be an awake, aware, adult human being by grounding your feet in reality while simultaneously reaching for the stars.

The future is ours, yours, our childrens…if you can keep your dreams alive, understand that we all aspire to the same things…and never stop fighting to create magic in your life


We have a special discount price for just the remainder of Black History Month.  If you are in total financial emergency, reach out to us and tell us what you can afford and we’ll do all we can to help you.  If you can afford to donate a scholarship for a needy student, please do so.

You can make a difference.  WE can make a difference.  Every one of you, black and white and yellow and brown…if you are a brother or sister in this struggle…YOU are the hope and the dream of the slave.