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.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018)

I’m going to do something a little different.  I’m going to quickly review “Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse” and then I’m going to speak of an aspect of it some of you might not want to dive into.  You’ll be warned.




First, “Into the Spider-verse” is a revolutionary piece of  cinema.  The tale of an alternate Earth Spider-Man, Miles Morales, is told in CGI animation that ranges from realistic to Loony Tunes 2-D, depending on the mood and tempo of the scene. And what at first is jarring becomes, as we realize we are watching a comic book brought to life as we’ve never seen it before, something that reminded me not just of previous live action and animate versions of the character, but of the astonishing visuals of “Yellow Submarine” and even “2001: A space Odyssey.”  Because the story deals with a master criminal (The Kingpin, voiced by Liev Schrieber)   who creates a rip in reality to bring back his dead family, in the process unleashing Spider-heroes from multiple time lines.  Against this bizarre backdrop is the origin story of a kid named Miles Morales, bitten by a radioactive or genetically altered spider and gaining powers he doesn’t know how to control.  Really…that’s all you need to know, other than IT WORKS.  It all works. Improbably, even the most bizarre variations on the character (Kimiko Glenn as Japanese “Peni Parker” in a giant Tamagachi?  Nicolas Cage as “Spider Man Noir” a black and white version who talks like a Micky Spillane character?    John Mulaney as “Spider Ham”, such a Bugs Bunny variant that they have to discuss whether they are violating Warner Brothers  copyright?) work. Each has their own tone, own look, own feel. And It isn’t just a gimmick: it all comes together thematically, amid visuals so psychedelic that you’d expect them to sell hash brownies at the concession stand.


Wow.  Just…wow.   Really amazing, Spider Man.   Well done.   Instantly in the upper echelon of superhero films, and if you have any childhood left in your heart, one of the best movies of the year.




And now…let’s dive deeper.    Trigger Warning for anti-BLM types.   You probably won’t enjoy this much.


Last Night, I watched the light go back on in my son Jason’s eyes.    Allow me to explain.




Just yesterday, I watched the teaser trailer for “Avengers 4.  `Infinity War: Endgame’.  It looked intense and spectacular, but I felt no thrill at all.  I haven’t felt a thrill for a Marvel trailer since the end of the first Infinity War, where I saw the light go out in my son’s eyes.


Jason has ADHD, and a bit of trouble identifying with characters in movies.    I never had that problem, even when I noticed that characters who looked like me tended to die.  I still remember, clearly, the day I put a label on that observation. It was the movie DAMNATION ALLEY, where George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Paul Winfield were traveling across a nuclear wasteland in an atomic powered Winnebago.  I was watching it with a white friend of mine,   up in Hollywood. So there’s a scene where they come to the ruins of (I think it was) Las Vegas. And out of the ashes walks the (apparently) Last Woman In The World.  And…she’s white.


I had an intuitive flash.  Turning to my friend,  I whispered “oh my God. They’re going to kill Paul Winfield.”


“Why would you say that?” he whispered back.

“Well, they’re not going to pretend he’s not interested in her. And they’re not going to let him compete for her. The only option they have is to kill him.”


“Jesus,” he said, disbelieving.    “Do you have to be so cynical about race all the time?”


And…five minutes later Winfield got eaten by giant cockroaches.  Dan was kinda quiet after that, but  insisted that was a lucky guess on my part.




What did I learn from that moment?

  1. That filmmakers will kill off the only black character(s) in a film quite blithely. There is NO American film in which all white characters die, if any POC survive at all. But I’ve listed over sixty movies where all black characters, or all black male adult characters, die.  Often to protect white people.  Often to inspire them to become heroes.  Sob sob.  (And yes, chances are that I’ve seen whatever movie you think breaks that rule.    A “character” is someone with a line of dialogue.  You’ve almost certainly forgotten that in whatever movie you THINK all the white characters die, there was indeed another character.  Maybe he wasn’t white enough for you, but he was there IMO.)
  2. That sexual competition is a trigger.  This makes sense, as the only human drive as strong as individual survival is species or genetic survival.  What you see onscreen is the externalization of a fantasy, the natural human urge to believe that you, and by extension your tribe,
  3. That white moviegoers generally won’t notice it has happened.   They “don’t notice” when all the black characters die, or die to protect them, or to motivate them to mighty actions.  And watching them reel off movie after movie where they THOUGHT the opposite happened just to watch me shoot them down has been an amusement, but in the era of BLM it is just sad.   Yes, it happens. No, it isn’t just “Hollywood.”  If the audiences didn’t weep and feel ennobled or invigorated by “The Green Mile” or “The Unforgiven” or “Spartacus” or “Terminator 2” the trope wouldn’t exist.


Black audiences notice, though.  I remember being about Jason age, about 14, just forming my self image, and going to see such movies.  Maybe it was “The Dirty Dozen.”    When I got back home, raving about it, the other black kids in my neighborhood asked me a terrible question:  “how did they kill the brother this time?”


Oh, yes. They’d noticed.  And I didn’t have an answer for them. Didn’t even formulate my thoughts on the subject until “Damnation Alley.”    It was real. It was a fantasy of extinction and primacy.   I’ve seen a couple of movies in which all the white characters die: they were Asian films.   “Chinese Connection” is a good example, and the death of “Russian” karate expert Robert Baker at Bruce Lee’s hands was clearly an expression of hostility, resentment for China’s occupation by foreign powers.  “We are not sick men!” Bruce snarled, and Hong Kong audiences went berserk–remember, they were still a British Colony at the time.  That inferiority complex vented itself in an image of throat-chopping death.


One is tempted to wonder what fear, what guilt, what pale inner need drives the need for American audiences to see such things. Or believe that black people love to die protecting them, or to ennoble them.   A desperate need, one suspects.  But…that’s another subject.




Jason had noticed this. About the time he watched his fifth “X-Men” movie, he noticed that ALL the black men die. Not one has survived in the entire series.  Frankly, “Logan” was their last chance with me, and in that one they killed the entire family.  “Why do they always kill the black people?” he asked me.  And that led to a rather painful conversation.   “The Talk” applied to cinematic experience.


I remember loving “Spider-Man” comics as a kid.  The most famous sequence in the entire canon might just be the one where Spider-Man, Peter Parker, is trying to rescue his dying Aunt May by recovering stolen isotopes that might save her from a transfusion of HIS radioactive blood. The isotopes were stolen by eight-armed Doctor Octopus, in a 007-style underwater lair.   Doc Ock has Peter dead to rights, but the enraged Spider-Man just tears through him and his henchmen as if they are made of butterfly wings.  Wow, it was amazing to see. But the fight damages the internal supports of the lair, and Spider-Man is trapped under a huge piece of machinery as the dome cracks and spills water, the precious isotope cannister just out of reach.


He tries to life the machinery…and cannot. The water grows deeper. And…the issue ended.   Cliff hanger!  For a month, I wondered how he would get out of it. What brilliant strategem would he use, what clever solution would he find. I remember biking to the drug store on the fateful day to buy my comics and find out what the hell Peter Parker would do.


And…I’ll never forget what happened.  He tried, and failed. And was faced with the fact that his Aunt would die…because of him.  As his uncle Ben died…because of him.


With great power comes great responsibility. And what did Peter do? Something clever? No.  He simply decided that this was the test of his life. This was the moment he had lived for. That if he couldn’t’ do this, for the family he loved, he was unworthy of the gift.  And he went deep, DEEP into himself:  “within my body is the strength of many men!” he said, and somehow, against all odds, he hoists that Hulk-busting weight of machine onto his shoulders, and…stands up.  It was amazing.  It was a full-page image of Spider Man, his every muscle rippling and straining, lifting an impossible weight…because he had to.


Because there was no one else.


For love.


I was stunned. That lesson, that if you had enough WHY’S the HOW’S became possible…that lesson has never left me.


It didn’t matter to me that Peter Parker was white.  EVERYONE in the comics was white.  I just accepted it.   It wasn’t until later, when I started pitching in Hollywood, when I started writing professionally and was told in no uncertain terms that white audiences would reject black faces, that I realized that that love and respect were not reciprocated.   That there was something so obvious that I hadn’t let myself see it: the more you identify with a character as being ‘like you’ the easier it is to empathize with their struggles, and feel their victory as your own.


These were images of power, beauty, heroism, intelligence and moral clarity that cultures all over the world understand their children NEED.  And give to them in stories, comics, movies, songs, plays, and every other form.  24/7.   365.   Turn on any television and flip the channels a bit and you’ll see such images.  When I was a kid there were NONE that looked like me.   It is better now, much better.


But Jason had still noticed. And it made him blasé about movies.   Why identify with a black character if that character had increased risk of death?  And how do you identify with a white character if you suspect, on some level, that that character wouldn’t identify with you?


There is a scene in TUSKEEGEE AIRMEN where Laurence Fishburne asks:  “what do I feel about my country? And how does my country feel about me?”


I’d hoped that if I could work hard enough, strong enough, long enough, I could change the world enough that my son wouldn’t go through the existential pain I had suffered, realizing that the filmmakers and audience apparently ENJOYED fantasizing about his death.




There were plenty of black characters in early Marvel movies: Fury, Falcon, War Machine, and so on.   They were fun.  REALLY enjoyed seeing them.   But the first time Black Panther appeared in “Civil War” something electric happened in the air.  This was different. He wasn’t in a chain of command, controlled by white people.  He hadn’t had his ancestral name stripped away. He knew his history, his spirituality. T’Challa didn’t follow some white guy’s orders, HE WAS A KING. And when he kissed his father’s ring there was a level of love between two black men I’d not seen in a film before. Contrast with the mess Tony Stark was about HIS father. With half a BILLION dollars in therapy and the remove of decades, he was still more shattered than T’Challa was mere days after cradling his father’s corpse in his arms.   And it didn’t end there. When Florence Kasimba faced down Black Widow saying “Move.  Or be moved” black women in the audience, even if they weren’t comic book fans, screamed “YES!!”


Remember the “No Man’s Land” sequence in “Wonder Woman”?  Over and over I heard women say: “I didn’t even know I needed to see that.” And I heard a LOT of guys saying “what’s the big deal?”  They didn’t get it.  Why should they?  They’d seen COUNTLESS images like that to nurture their own inner hero. Yawn. It was just one more.


To understand the impact of “Black Panther” you would have to imagine an entire movie composed of “No Man’s Land” sequences. There had never been anything like this before. It was something every other group of human beings on the planet have…except black Americans: a creation myth that connects them directly to the divine.  It was MYTHIC.   Bless Disney for giving Ryan Coogler the room and resources to do something no one had ever done. And as DJANGO UNCHAINED producer Reggie Hudlin put it: BP made “all the money.”


Yes it did.  Bless its pointy little ears.




Jason saw Black Panther, and I saw the light go on in his eyes. The same light I had felt watching Spider-Man lift that piece of machinery, half a century ago.    He was EXCITED.  And then we went to see INFINITY WAR.


And Heimdall was the first person to die. And they killed Falcon, and T’Challa after disgracing the kingdom of Wakanda with the weakest and most unfocused defense I’d ever seen.   Only the disabled War Machine survived, a man who is totally owned by a white guy, who didn’t create his own technology, and frankly would not be considered sexual competition, spinal damage being what it is.    And then the crowing insult…after a multiple movie absence, they brought back Nick Fury in the “stinger”…ONLY TO KILL HIM.


I was stunned.  Don’t tell me this was random distribution.  ALL the original (and white) Avengers survived. Every one.  Do I have to wonder if all the decision makers, all the core producers, writers, directors were pale? That it never occurred to them how it would feel to a boy with few superhero role models to watch that massacre?


Of course I know most of them are coming back. Don’t insult my intelligence.  A number of readers pointed that out to me, and I wonder if they really didn’t think I knew that.  Predictably, most of those are people who have expressed antipathy toward BLM and “taking a knee”.


Jason, born into a world of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin, watched those Infinity War images.  I watched his face. Saw the light, kindled by Black Panther, go out in his eyes.


In the real world AND the “reel”world, his life was not as precious.  He was surrounded by people who could judge, jail, fire, exclude, or even kill him in real life or fantasy.  And worse, if he said something about it, his white friends would in essence tell him “why are you so racially paranoid?”


I can see how much the world has changed.   Jason has not. And in sitting down and explaining that no, it isn’t worse than ever. No, things really have improved.  No, white people aren’t evil. They are just…human I realized how very much I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to have that conversation with him. You know, like the one to move slowly and keep your hands in plain sight and NEVER argue if you are pulled over by a cop.


It was heart-breaking. And it broke the “magic” I felt with Marvel films.  It was a sense that I couldn’t trust them. That I KNEW, and no one could tell me different, that if the filmmakers had been diverse that they wouldn’t have kept either T’Challa or Fury alive, and had a better defense of Wakanda.   Hell, Captain America threw together a better defense of New York in about thirty seconds, and Wakanda had had YEARS to prepare.  It was a disgrace.  It was contempt: the filmmakers didn’t’ really believe in these people, these characters.   Wakanda was just a neat place to stage a massacre.




Which brings me, at last, to “Spider Man: Into the Spider Verse.”   Jason broke his ankle nine days ago, and he’s been laid up, only leaving the house to go to the hospital.  He didn’t want to leave yesterday. But…we bribed and cajoled him, renting a wheelchair so that he wouldn’t need crutches, and drove him 27 miles to Burbank for the sneak preview.


And…the instant he saw Miles Morales, a kid as dark as him, with hair like him, with similar hopes and dreams and humor…I watched Jason, who had been in terrible pain for a week, SURRENDER TO THE FANTASY.


And when Miles began to discover his powers…Jason was smiling. Leaning forward.  And when the “other” Spider men appeared, he laughed and cheered.  And when Miles suffered loss, there was a tear in Jason’s eye. And when Miles finally tapped into his full powers, unleashing Spider-Hell on the omnipotent Kingpin, Jason was grinning from ear to ear. THE LIGHT WENT BACK ON IN HIS EYES.


For a little while, he wasn’t a kid with a broken leg.  He was SPIDER MAN.  Swinging from the rooftops, a hero, a kid like him.  For just a moment, he had no limitations, and the weight of his pain was off his shoulders.  For a moment…the world was right, and beautiful.


That moment lasted all the drive home.   Until bedtime. The happy smiles.  The tiny crack in the armor around his heart.


And the final message of the movie was incredibly subversive in the world that fed Paul Winfield to the roaches, that executed an innocent black man in  The Green Mile so that Tom Hanks could have a better erection.  It was: we are all heroes.  We all can wear the mask.  It is what is in our hearts, not on our skin or between our legs.   It is what we feel, and do, not how others see us.


I’m not sure I can tell you how much I would have given to see BLACK PANTHER when I was fourteen. How much it would have changed my life.   But INTO THE SPIDER VERSE is another example of what my wife and I call “movies from the other world.”  A world in which people don’t have to pretend not to mind when they die for the entertainment of people who do not cherish their lives.


It is a movie from the future. No…it is a movie of NOW.  We are still haunted by the ghosts of what has been.  But increasingly, and blessedly, the cycles are moving faster now, such that an INFINITY WAR is followed by a crowd-pleasing juggernaut of a film, 100% on Rotten Tomatoes as of yesterday, one that ALL audiences can cheer…that just happens to have a 14 year old Afro-Latino  kid named Miles Morales at the center.


I’ll take my victories where I can find them.  And today, I feel like a hero.  And more importantly…so does my son.


Thank you Sony. Thank you Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. There is a reason I’ve loved Marvel all my life: there is something at the core of that primal dream that has led to things like Black Panther…and Miles Morales…and even little Spider-Ham.


I’ve gone on long enough.   Go see it.   And as Spider-Ham would say…that’s all folks.






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.






“Creed 2” and the power of Finding Yourself

I’ve been a fan of the “Rocky” saga since 1976, when the Italian Stallion realized that the fight with Apollo Creed had to be about HIM, and not what Apollo did, or what the judges said.   And because he changed the definition of “winning” (to simply being on his feet after 15 rounds) he became an absolutely uncrushable beast, and set up a series of films that have thrilled audiences for over FORTY YEARS.   That…is amazing. Especially since we all know how they will end. No surprises, other than the grace notes in the journey itself, and a nugget of real emotional truth.   Given that truth, we are watching Sylvester Stallone’s journey of life.  And when Ryan Coogler revitalized the series with “Creed” he tapped into that same vein: a familiar story, well told, old wine in new bottles, touching some truth of the human experience that provides the emotional “spark” to send the battered fighter back to the center of the ring to thrill us one more time.


And “Creed 2” was no exception.  If you liked the others…you’ll like this one.  I loved it.  And if it isn’t the same revelation as either the original “Rocky” or “Creed”, in NO way is it less than the other “Rocky” sequels.  And as with the others, there is a moment that spoke to me, that put the heart in the movie and kept it from being a simple exercise in waiting for the training montage and the Bill Conte horns.


So let’s look at that moment.     Adonis Creed is the son of the former heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed.   Born out of wedlock and in poverty, he is struggling to find his own identity, as a fighter and as a man.  Although he has won the championship, he is still hit with a common conundrum: “I don’t FEEL like the champion.”  His challenge is to own, to inhabit his life.    Because his expectations (how he thought he was supposed to feel) were not met, he   feels like an impostor.    This creates an emotional weakness where a promoter can challenge him to fight the son of the man who killed his father, and Adonis CANNOT react to this logically or rationally or strategically.  He reacts emotionally because of that wound.   His challenge is to live as himself, not in reaction to the world, or the past.


You can probably predict the story beats that follow, and I won’t spoil them.   But let’s just say that he cannot make that emotional connection to himself FOR himself.  This is the point at which an adult either wakes up, grows up, or falls back into old patterns which will eventually grow self-destructive.


Here’s the truth: he DID feel like a champion. 


He just didn’t realize how champions actually feel.


“I earned a million dollars.  Why don’t I feel like it?”


” I’m an adult now.  Why don’t I feel like it?”


“I’m a published writer.  Why don’t I feel secure?”


“I’m a black belt. How come I’m not confident?”


People DIE if they can’t resolve those issues.    External accomplishments can not and do not fill that hole in your heart.  Recently, I spoke to a woman with high educational accomplishment (Call her Dr. Jane), who talked about a man she loved, who could not be with her because she earned more money than he did.


This is a real-world issue.  Both men AND women have reinforced the notion that males should be great hunters and gatherers, so this isn’t just a “male weakness”.   It is a human issue we are dealing with as we evolve our society.    What Dr. Jane  said is that no matter how much she loved him, his insecurity was too strong.


To be with her, he would have to shut his heart against what the world thinks, and have faith that she would not, in time, grow more attracted to a man of higher power (a very real phenomenon) and leave him. More importantly…he would have to love himself enough to have faith that he would be fine no matter what. To have the clarity to trust his perceptions of her.


In “Creed 2″, Adonis has to separate himself from the roar of the crowd, from the belts, and accept that his mother, his lovely partner Bianca, and his ‘Unk” Rocky Balboa love him for who he IS rather than what he DOES.  To do that, HE has to accept himself the same way.    And…he cannot. For all of his accomplishment he feels empty, spent, lost.  I’ve had that feeling, haven’t you?  Where the roar of the crowd, the love of our friends, the money in the bank mean NOTHING.


On Prince’s “Gold” album there is a terrific song that says he went to the mountaintop in his career…and there was nothing there.  If you don’t understand that, like so many “winners” that came before you, you will reach that point and ask:   “Is that all there is?”


What, then, is the way out?




“Creed 2” has a lovely scene where he, and Bianca, and their child are laying on the floor, and Adonis realizes that they are a family of fighters.


Lion.  Lioness.  Cub.


That’s who and what he is, with all it implies about the ups and downs of life.  Not every hunt, every fight will be successful.   And eventually time takes us all (“It’s undefeated” Rocky said in the first Creed)


These two (Bianca and his child) will be there, and love him, after the crowd is gone.  His mother tells him: “don’t tell me that this fight is about your father.” It is not.  It is not revenge, it is about answering the question “Who am I?  Am I my father’s son? And what does that mean?” He MUST answer that question before he can face his challenge with real personal force, actually balanced with feet set firmly on his own soul. From there we can love. Fight.  Lose, without losing ourselves.  Or win, without thinking that the trophy, or title, or money makes us a winner.


NO ONE CAN GIVE THIS TO YOU.  You have to find it within yourself, or spend your entire life seeking it from others. And when you get that award, that honor, that contract, that relationship?  You will wonder why you still feel empty.


HEAL YOURSELF FIRST.   Bianca was a lioness. She needs a lion.  It is as brutally simple as that.   Ask yourself what your perfect partner would be.  Make that choice not merely based on the possibility of finding them, but WHO YOU MUST BECOME to be worthy of that relationship. Is that a better, stronger, more honorable and joyful version of yourself?  Is that in alignment with your goals and values?  Then walk that path, NOT for the other person, but for the sake of your own soul.   Whether they ever show up has to be almost irrelevant.   You DON’T do it for “them.”  You do it for YOU.  You love yourself enough to be absolutely 100% certain that you will live your life with integrity to your spirit, your heart, your values, your sense of what you want to contribute to the world.


And when you are on the road to becoming that better person…THAT is when you  will find another person who is on THEIR journey, moving in the same direction, at the same speed, with their “green light” on, saying that they too are ready for love.  It is magic.

It is life.


Love yourself…and share the love!

Steven Barnes


Loneliness, the Holidays, and the Inner Family

Long ago, I was having a conversation with one of my first agents.  I was speaking of my Hollywood aspirations, and the fact that I’d seen so many people hurt themselves trying to “make it.”


“I don’t know what will happen in my career,” I said.   “But when I leave this town, I’m leaving with my sense of honor intact.”


He looked at me with amusement, and replied: “you’ll be the only one.”





Heading into the holidays, I was sent articles explaining why the medical community now considers loneliness as much of a health stressor as obesity, smoking, or alcoholism.  And we all know that holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years can be devastating to people who are alone, IF that alone-ness becomes lonli-ness.


There is a difference, and the difference is how you feel. You can be perfectly happy when no one is around.  Or feel soul-crushing loneliness in the middle of a crowd.


So…let’s back up a step.   If we want a Soulmate bonded relationship with a healthy human being, WE have to be healthy.  We optimally project confidence and self-regard, self-love, as well as genuine interest and affection for others.  To do that, we need to “put our own mask on first” and heal ourselves so that we have something to share with our friends and family.  That internal connection is key to feeling happy and healthy and loved…even if there is no one else around. Which is ENORMOUSLY attractive when combined with a little amplitude, like being good at something your “tribe” appreciates.


So the first step is the most critical one,  because it attracts that potential partner “stochastically” (increases the random predictability of an eventual result without changing the ability to predict specifics).  That’s kind of like knowing that the wind will knock apples off a tree without being able to predict WHICH apple will fall, or where it will land.   You still make apple pie!


This eliminates the “Friend Zone”. There is no such thing, in a negative way. All there is are friends, people who know other people.  And you are never more than about one friend away from SOMEONE who knows SOMEONE who could love someone just like you.   Everyone you meet is a unique, precious human being, and when you treat them that way, some of them will think “hey!  Great guy/gal!  I know someone who would be PERFECT for them!”


But you have to radiate a genuine joy for life. And that genuine joy is giving you the result you want (happiness) whether you meet someone else or not!  Talk about a win-win-win!


The first step is finding your way to connect with your heart.  And to do that, you have to believe there is a problem so that you will begin the search for an answer.


Once upon a time I didn’t believe I had a problem, and had to get my butt handed to me to open my eyes.  I’m going to tell you that story, with the hope that it will save you some pain.   I’m talking to YOU, “Younger Steve.”  Maybe you’re about twenty.  A hopeful geek.   A little scared of life, but filled with hope.   This one is for you, a message in a bottle sent back through time.


For God sake read and believe this, I beg you.




Long ago, at the beginning of my television writing career, I had the chance to follow up on my Twilight Zone success with another show whose name will not be mentioned here.   Its premise involved haunted objects that triggered murderous behavior.  I didn’t like that premise, but managed to come up with a story (called “Purple Heart” which, many years later, will finally be published in a graphic novel) I felt would actually have some depth and meaning as opposed to just connect-the-dots mayhem.


Filled with optimism (I KNEW my idea was amazing) I drove onto the movie lot, and sat down in front of the three guys running the show. As all such meetings go, I was first offered a bottle of water, juice or soft drink (take it!) we chit-chatted a bit to build rapport and feel each other out…and then the question hovering in the air, the real reason we were all there:


“What do you have for us?”


I pitched my amazing idea, which had some beautiful social relevance, and some thematic depth, and a unique take on an old horror genre. I sat back, basking in the admiration I knew was coming.


And then…something went wrong. I could see it in their faces. My guts churned, and although it felt like the temperature in the room had dropped twenty degrees, I was sweating.


The story editor, a guy who had been listening to my pitch with interest that turned into pity, was the one who spoke.


“We can’t do that idea,” he said.  “If we did that idea, people would think this show was about something. And our only excuse for putting on a mass murder every week is that this is pure entertainment.”


“what else you got?”


There it was, the statement of utter moral corruption, and the poisoned bait.  With a single call, he could contact the business office and have them generate a contract worth TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS, money I badly needed.  I have a newborn baby daughter, and bills, and a dwindling bank account.


So…I started pitching, trying desperately to come up with an idea these guys would buy.  Unfortunately (or incredibly fortunately) while I can generate HUNDREDS of ideas if my heart is in it, when I’m emotionally disconnected I’m no good at all. Nothing I came up with worked at all. They invited me to come back any time, shook my hand, and I left.


And immediately, and I mean the INSTANT I walked out of that bungalow on the movie lot, it felt as if filters were stripped from my eyes.  As if I had stepped out of an opium den.  I almost staggered.  And a voice, heard more clearly than I’d heard it in years, said:   “Don’t you love me, daddy?  Why did you have me talking to those terrible men?”


It was the voice of Little Stevie, the avatar of my creativity and aliveness, my “Inner Child”, the source of my creativity and enthusiasm for life.  I had violated an agreement with that “child” that I’d never consciously known I’d had. What I had done in that room was the creative equivalent of pimping out my little boy to pay the rent. And my some miracle, there were no buyers.


But the little boy knew.


I had betrayed myself.  Become a sell-out and had the blessed humiliation that no one was buying.    I had lost everything, for nothing.   For the next year that creative heart WOULD NOT TALK TO ME.  I didn’t hear the rumble of what Stephen King calls “The Boys In The Basement,” that internal creative family of elves that does the real work as we sleep, working out stories instead of making shoes like the fairy tale.


I was in total misery, combined with fear.  Writing, for the first time in my life, became a chore rather than a joy.   Nothing felt right. Everything was terrible.  I was in pain constantly, that sense of betrayal combined with a fear for my future.  I mean, its one thing to sell out and get PAID for it.   What the hell was I?


And one day I was listening to my judo teacher Swift Deer, talking about the connection between our adult, child, and “elder” selves, and realized that he had hit it: I had damaged that critical connection. My “child” wouldn’t talk to me.  As a result I couldn’t enjoy my wife’s love: how could she love someone as wretched as I?


I couldn’t take the joy I loved in my baby daughter.  I had betrayed a child not much “older” (my “Little Stevie” avatar ranges between the ages of about five and eight), and I feared not being a good father to her.


I HAD to solve this, or I was screwed. And…I came up with a plan.  I swore I would spend at least twenty minutes every day working to heal that connection.  EVERY DAY. For as long as it took,even if that was the rest of my life.


Now. What specific method would I use? I decided to visualize a place that had been a favorite to me in childhood: Santa Monica beach.  My mom used to take me and my sister Joyce there on summer days, and I loved it.


So…I sat quietly with my spine straight and my legs crossed, closed my eyes and visualized the beach.   It was deserted, but I had “brought” a basket of toys and favorite snacks. I sat there for a half hour, and no one showed up. And so I finally just left the basket there and went away, dejected and lonely.



The next day I did it again, brought another basket. The first had been undisturbed.  So was the next. And the next.  NO, the beach didn’t get cluttered: the old baskets dissolved and melted away like vanquished foes in old video games.


But no one showed up.  I sat alone, crying. Lost.  Achingly lonely.





Day after day. Week after week. Month after month this went on.  I lost faith. Wanted to quit.  BUT I HAD MADE MYSELF A PROMISE and could feel that on some level this was a test.  I could sense that Little Stevie was watching, wondering how serious I was. And I realized that even if he never spoke to me again, I owed him this.


Day after day.  Week after week. Month after month.


And then…one day I looked north on the beach,and way way off on the horizon…I saw the tiny figure of a little boy. I held my breath and didn’t dare move.  And when my session was over, I left.


When I “came back” the next day, I notices that some of the toys in the basket had been moved.   Some of the snacks eaten.  And there were little footprints on the sand.


I sat, quietly, and after a time looked off to the North…and there he was. A little, just a LITTLE closer now.  And every day from then on just a little closer, a little closer.


One day he was close enough that I could see his face. He was crying, his face puffy with tears.  I stood up and opened my arms, and he backed away.


The next day I just stood and watched him.  He was so small and vulnerable. I had hurt him so badly.  I could feel the pain radiating off him like waves of heat shimmering against the sand. Day by day he got closer, until we were only standing a few dozen feet apart.


And then…I took a step. And stopped. And he stepped toward me, and stopped. And I took a step. And he took a step…


And then he ran, leaping into my arms, wrapping his arms and leg around me and holding me so desperately tight, and he sobbed “Oh, Daddy…I’ve been so scared, and so lonely.”


And our tears mingling, holding him so tightly I thought he’d burst, I said “I swear to God.  I will NEVER leave you alone again.”


And…I never have.  No matter what it has cost me career-wise…and it has.   I don’t care.  I have my family.


It made me a better husband and father. A better writer. A better martial artist. A better man.


And years later, when my first marriage died from errors we had made long before we said “I do,” I was able to heal myself by going back to that beach, playing and connecting with that little boy, healing my heart so that when my Soulmate appeared…I was not desperate and lonely, but connected and whole…and ready.


This is what I want for you, Young Steve. Never, ever sacrifice your inner connection, no matter what. And if you are lonely this holiday…connect with your heart.  Find the source of love within you.


Do that…and you’ll never be lonely. And frankly, you won’t be alone long, either.



With all my heart…



“As Good As It Gets” (1997): Equality or Complementarity?

In the 1997 Romantic comedy written by James L. Brooks, Helen Hunt plays a waitress, CAROL CONNOLY, a single mother with a chronically ill son.

There is a terrific scene where Carol brings a boyfriend home for (hopefully) some awkward sex on the couch of her shabby apartment. She wants him, he wants her…she hopes for a night of passion, something to make her remember she is a woman, filled with hope and life and love and possibility, and not just a mother or a worker drone. Hope. Hope is the only cure for desperation.

But even though both are willing, everything goes wrong, because her sick child needs her, and as every good parent knows, a child’s needs trump EVERYTHING else. After a humiliating (and painfully funny and real) effort to balance a sex life with Mommy instincts the potential boyfriend gives up and leaves, and she is left alone.

Meanwhile, one of her steady customers at the diner, MELVIN UDALL, is a miserable excuse for a human being, a misanthropic homophobe with obsessive-compulsive disorder…but a wealthy, successful writer. She somehow sees his humanity, and is one of the only people in the world who seems to actually connect with him, mostly over his phobia about germs.

Their tenuous connection creates the entire film (which is terrific, funny, and heartfelt) as these two terribly wounded and imbalanced people carefully circle each other. The expression “how do porcupines mate? Very carefully” comes to mind.

And by the end of the film, Carol and Melvin have the potential to create a healthy relationship. Two imbalanced people in a balanced relationship? Sure. They aren’t equal — but they ARE complementary. They have a chance. If they give honestly and fully of what they have,

On the surface, they seem so totally incompatible that the situation is absurd. But audiences and critics loved it, and I suggest that they loved it because there is an essential truth lurking under the surface.

And it is this: for two people to have a relationship they must be in balance. Note that I didn’t say “equal” — that may well be where we’re heading as a culture, but much of the world isn’t there yet. But if you were to divide people up into say 10 different arenas of life: income, intelligence, emotional stability, fitness, attractiveness, energy, judgement self-love, capacity to love others, joy, spirituality…whatever basic qualities you see in the world, and give them 1–10 points per category, what you’d see is that if you add up the points, you’ll never see a vast mismatch. An APPARENT mismatch, where one person is terrific and the other is miserable S.O.B. would lower points in the “judgement” category, wouldn’t it? The “Self Respect” category? Maybe raise points in the S.O.B.’s “charisma” category?

The future might well be “my level of beauty and power in exchange for yours” but the past, and perhaps the present is usually “His power for Her beauty”. Anyone watching supermodels dating old millionaires has seen this at work clearly, and it is up to your politics and view of humanity to decide who is exploiting whom.

I say let’s give them BOTH credit, shall we? Each has traded what they have for the very best they could get. What is that exchange? If it is not an even-steven equality exchange, is it security for fertility? Luxury and social mobility for Sex? Intelligence for Emotional balance? Whatever you want, but find that balance point, and you’ll understand people more deeply. And the beautiful thing is that unlike “Incel Insanity”, saying this HAS (often) been our past DOES NOT mean it is our future. We can change this. But we have to look at it without guilt, blame, or shame. And ask ourselves how we want relationships to work in the future.

But one thing is certain: there is no cheating. We don’t attract what we want. We attract what we ARE. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you have the power to improve yourself, and it begins with the honesty to admit we need to do it.

Helen Hunt has sanity, nurturance, beauty, emotional stability. Melvin has the financial stability, generated by writing romance novels filled with yearning. Note that he didn’t make his money selling manhole covers or something emotionally neutral: HE UNDERSTANDS THE YEARNING. He is just too damaged to connect with it in his own life.

Can you see the balance? If she had been more financially stable, do you think she’d have been as likely to bond with him? Hardly. And if he had been more emotionally stable, do you think it likely that he’d have found a woman with her positive characteristics, but less need and chaos? Likely, isn’t it?

There is nothing negative about this, unless you choose to see it that way. Each can heal and help the other. And that yearning, that need, that sense of two human beings seeking to “fit” each other’s lives like a pair of jigsaw puzzle pieces, once it “clicks”, IF it “clicks”…is “As Good As It Gets.”

Brilliant title, wasn’t it?

In a very real sense, that’s all there is to love. Equality or complementarity. Two lonely souls who fit. Feeling that together, you are more than you were alone.

Here is how you can test this notion: create a list of the basic human characteristics. Look for people who have been happily married for more than 20 years. And look at that list, giving them each rough scores in the categories. If you do this often enough, tweaking as you go, you’ll start seeing the pattern: stable couples are roughly equivalent, even if their scores in different categories vary wildly (as with Carol and Melvin). You’ll start to glimpse a truth, as well as start understanding your own values and potential and areas you might want to work on.

Its kind of like a see-saw, where the two people have to be roughly equivalent in order to balance. Society can shift the fulcrum, but if it shifts too much, if there is too much of a power imbalance, I suggest the society itself stops functioning, and they’ll be out-competed by a healthier culture. Men and women HAVE to treat each other with a certain irreducible amount of respect and care, or the whole thing falls apart.

See that, and you begin to end the war between loving human beings, and see that we’ve been doing the best we can do with the resources we have. We have new resources now, meaning new opportunities…but we have to understand how we got here to open the door to the future.

Love yourselves, and be kind to each other…



“Get Away From Her, You B@#$!”

Remember “Aliens”? Sure you do.  Ripley (the great Sigourney Weaver) survived the alien attack on her space tugboat Nostromo, awakening decades later in a new world.   When she is asked to lead a group of tough space marines back to the planet where her ship originally made contact, she hates the notion…but must, both to save hapless colonists and stop her own nightmares.  The space marines are tough and willing, but overmatched by the ferocious aliens that have overrun the planet, underlead by an inexperienced officer.  Ripley, there only as an observer, must take control of the situation to save the lives of the savaged marines, escaping an ambush just in time to see their escape ship blown to pieces.


“Game Over Man!  Game Over!”


Trapped in the station waiting for a nuclear reactor to overload and betting all their hopes on the slender chance of getting a second rescue ship from orbit, Ripley leads the survivors in barricading the station, bonding to the single survivor of the initial alien assault: a little girl called Newt who managed to survive by crawling in the air spaces.  When the aliens overrun them, and Newt is taken alive, Ripley is pushed beyond terror to descend into the bowels of the station to save the child.   She does, but the alien queen follows them into their escape ship as the station blows up behind them.


All seems lost, but at this point Ripley, protecting her comrades and particularly the child she has sworn to save, goes beyond all fear, beyond any ordinary human consideration, becoming the Primal Mother, stepping into the strongest position any human being can come from: “I’m ready to die, and I’m ready to take you with me.”   Does anyone doubt that Ripley would have gladly perished, gone out that airlock with the alien queen, if that was what it took to save that little girl?  When she said those six words:  “Get away from her you BITCH!” the audience cheered as I’ve never seen.  She was beaten.  Wiped out. Finished. Out of options. All of the “space marines” were defeated or dead, her android torn in half, with no weapons, nothing but her mother’s heart and a ferocious will NOT to survived, but to die dealing death.  Few forces can stand up to such courage and power.


She won.  Not just her own life, not just defeating the alien queen, but winning the most precious things in the world: the love of a little girl (‘Mommy!”) and the knowledge that, yes…it was safe to dream again.


THAT is a movie.  And it works because it connects with a core truth.   It isn’t what you fight with, its what you fight for.   And she was able to rise to the occasion because she had pure motivation.


She did what I think ALL of us would do, if we understood what was at stake.





I remember talking to a student about a toxic relationship.  The guy she was with was just a nightmare of anger and depression, negative habits and needy accusations, flirting with violence.  She’d actually had kids with him, and the children were being negatively affected years after the separation. “Why did you marry him?”  She fumbled the answer a bit, but finally came back with “he needed love.,” she said.  Sure, he had problems, but “troubled people need love too.”


Yes, I said. But they don’t need it from YOU.


I asked a question that has been very valuable over the years: “would you have wanted your DAUGHTER  to marry him?”  And the vague, unfocused, defensive lok in her eyes disappeared and she came back sharply with “hell no.”


Predictable.  Why are we willing to accept for ourselves what we would not want for our children?  Because our children hold our hope for the future, our own dreams, rooted in our childhoods, reaching beyond our own lifetimes.    We love them with all our hearts.


Would that we loved ourselves the same way.  Our bodies and psyches hold a lifetime of scars, are “black bags” of unprocessed emotions, tangled values, confused beliefs and distorted memories.   Our CHILDREN are worth the moon…but OUR value is questionable.


But wait…if we make bad relationship choices, don’t those affect our future and present children.   Damaging them to continue this cycle on and on? Isn’t this a paradox? We’ll do it for our kids, but can’t do it for ourselves. And in not doing it for ourselves, we lay the burden on our children, creating nightmares for generations to come….



It can stop now.  Understanding the pattern gives us a new opportunity to come from love rather than chasing after it.   We KNOW how to stop the cycle.  All it takes is connecting to the “child” self within us, committing to protect our own hearts, and healing and improving ourselves until we are on the same frequency as the HEALTHY people who are looking for love.


It really is that simple. And if you don’t find them?  You are still happy and healthy. It is the ONLY approach that cannot lose, since the end point is and always has been finding joy in this world.




Spend a few minutes daily sitting quietly and visualizing the child you were, making them so young that whatever damage you’ve suffered has yet to hit.   See her vulnerability and promise, and commit to protecting her at ALL costs, making her life as wonderful and beautiful as possible. And never letting ANYONE play with her unless they pass your stringent standards.  And….disciplining her with love, as well, making sure she takes care of herself: discipline is love. SOMEONE has to be the parent, and she can’t do it.  You have to.


Do that…and you become the hero in your own story, capable of slaying dragons….or riding them, if you would.   Do this…and you earn your way into the company of other dragon-slayers, dragon-riders.  And if you think you could find a worthy partner in such company…


The door is open before you.





Grokking Love

The term “Grokking”, coined by the great SF writer Robert Heinlein in his novel “Stranger In a Strange Land”, roughly means “understand (something) intuitively or by empathy.”  This would be one of the core outcomes of most meditative disciplines: to KNOW yourself, to go beyond the surface stories and the ego shells to discover an ineffable truth within.


If I map this over to what the wisest men and women on the planet have said about this journey over the ages, this would seem to be at the very least being “awake”, and possibly knocking on the door of the state referred to as “enlightenment”, which lies beyond the gate called “non-dualism.”  It is, in other words…extraordinary.  And probably beyond the majority of human beings to achieve through sheer will.  Life experience probably gets most of us there, in time…but sheer effort or focus? I don’t think so.


But one thing   that is true is that this state MIGHT be useful, or might not, in terms of living  in our world. Depends on too many other factors, including the fact that the state is a fictional creation, and we have no paths to it, no consistent real-world definitions, and no real role models for what it might mean, or the pathways to it.


Love, on the other hand, is available to the vast majority of us. Probably all of us.  And since a large percentage of religious and spiritual disciplines that say the core of us, the essence of us, is love…the search for love and the search for truth are aligned.


And since coming from that loving space is one of the best ways to connect with others, there is no downside there either.   What about defending yourself?  Wouldn’t “coming from love” weaken you, make you less likely to be able to defend yourself, being so committed to loving?


Not if you are in alignment with nature.  Not if you love your family enough to protect it, or want to get home to hug and kiss them one more time.  Not if you love the child you were enough to be willing to defend her. Defend him, to your last drop of blood and last breath.


Love helps you forgive yourself, and when you do that, you can look more honestly at yourself because you are not afraid of what you will find. We are flawed. We make mistakes. We have swallowed the opinions of people we trusted…and some of those opinions paint us negatively.  We have values conflicts creating self-destructive behavior. Fears that create procrastination.  Egos that war with the world around us.


If we don’t look at that ball of knotted snakes, we can’t unravel it.  And so the ego protects itself partially by discouraging the very introspection we need.  “You are less than perfect!” is true.  “And therefore you aren’t worth it!” is not.


Loving ourselves means disciplining ourselves, as well as accepting where we are. Knowing we’ve done the best we can do.  In accepting ourselves, we learn to forgive the imperfections of a potential beloved.   If you can love and accept yourself where YOU are, you will be able to recognize, accept, and love another on your frequency, traveling in the same direction at the same pace.  You recognize a kindred heart, a kindred spirit.  A potential soulmate.


So…because love is so healing, so central…I choose love.  “Grokking” seems to imply “understanding” to many people.   Absent a grounded body and an open heart, that can devolve to more “head case” stuff, dangerous to a person seeking a real experience of life.   Interesting. But if  Valentine Michael Smith, Heinlein’s very human Martian, had been a real human being, I’m sure we would learn wonderful things about what was meant by that term. Absent that…we’re just trying to understand. And in a real sense, understanding is the booby prize.


Love is the prize.




(tomorrow, we will begin a new adventure together, a path of love.  Join me!)

Love Makes You Strong

(Trigger Warning:  There is violent imagery in this essay.  No joke)


Coming from love doesn’t make you weak, or less capable of resisting evil.   Nope. It actually is the core of willingness to die killing something threatening your family or core values, which is arguably  the most powerful  and clarifying position in the world, beyond even personal survival.


I’ll tell a story I’ve told before.  Many years ago, I had a neighbor (call him “Bob”) whose daughter was a friend of Nicki, we’ll call “Janie”.   “Bob” was a nice guy, but there was something strange: he seemed to take some kind of odd offense with me. Challenged me verbally with intense emotions behind it.   Seemed to take pleasure sniping at me.   Called the police on my dog, and then came over to my house and bragged about it and dropped into a boxing stance to challenge me to fight him.  I just sort of shook my head, unable to figure out what the hell I’d done to trigger such a reaction.


I tried to make peace.    One day I was at his house, and Bob complained about a bad back.  I invited him to come over to my house and use our spa.   He gratefully agreed.  He came over a couple of hours later in his swim suit, and a folded towel.   He asked me to hold the towel for him. What it concealed was…a revolver.




I asked him why he was carrying it. Without blinking he said that he was having trouble with his boss at work.  That the man was a terror.  And he was SO ugly. And…he looked just like ME.


Oh, shit.   Well, isn’t THAT special.


I remember sitting down with Swift Deer at my next Judo lesson, and telling him what was happening. That I felt paralyzed.  “I don’t want to hurt  Janie’s’ dad.”


Swift shook his head somberly. “And that’s why he’s going to hurt you, brother” he said.   “That’s what he’s counting on.”


I was thunderstruck. Swift was right. Whatever was going on with Bob likely had nothing to do with me.   But he had focused his anger and fear on me, and my very affection for his family weakened me.  ESPECIALLY my affection for Janie, which was enormous.  I was frozen: damned if I did, dead or wounded if I didn’t.


I went home that night, brain swimming.  What should I do?  I couldn’t hurt Janie’s dad.  I had to deal with this. But I just couldn’t. My love paralyzed me.


Then a thought crossed my mind, one of those “cubic inches of opportunity” that slide in from the blind spot: HE WAS TRYING TO HURT NICKI’S DAD.


Boom.  Something deep inside me bared its teeth.  Oh, yes.   He was trying to make my daughter an orphan.  My wife a widow.


And for some reason…that was TOTALLY different.  QUALITATIVELY different.

He was trying to hurt Nicki’s Dad?   The hell he would.


So…what was I going to do?  I remembered a story I was told by…hmmm…I’ll be just a little oblique here.  Let’s say a martial artist friend and instructor of mine who is extremely savvy about the psychology of martial art, science, and sport.   Yeah, him.


He told me about a day when a belligerent gentleman came into his school spoiling for a fight.    Roaring “I wanna talk to X!” My friend and teacher listened to the ravings, and got very calm. Reached into his desk, and pulled out a loaded 9mm (he is legally permitted to carry). He set it on his desk. Then imagined the man breaking into his office. Imagined himself shooting the man right through the head.  Rather dreamily imagined the guy’s  brains splashing against the wall, and the body sliding down, death clouding his eyes.

And smiled warmly.

Put the gun away, went out and talked to the guy…who was INSTANTLY as mild as cream.


THAT would be my tactic. I imagined “Bob” swinging on me.  And responding with a burst of violence the likes of which he had never dreamed of.   Imagined breaking his limbs and curb-stomping him, and thoroughly enjoying the resulting mess.     Oh, yes…there is definitely a part of me that enjoyed that imagining.  Anyone who really knows me knows it is there, buried deep down, a rabid wolf I’ve been feeding for decades, with the promise that if the justification ever came…I’d let him out.


I warmed myself on that vision of destruction, then  went out of my office to my family.  Kissed Nicki. Kissed Toni.  Patted my dog good-bye.   And walked across the street.

Knocked on the door. His wife “Kathy” answered.  I said, “hello, Kathy.  Is Bob here?”

A little puzzled, she said yes, he was back in his office.  “May I speak with him?”

Why sure, come on in.  I walked back to Bob’s office, and there he was at his desk.  He  looked up at me with surprise.  I said “Hi, Bob,” and just talked to him for a few minutes, to his slight confusion. Perfectly pleasant conversation.  Then I looked at my watch, said: “well, I just wanted to come by and say hello.”

He walked me to the front door, I said good-bye, and left.   Weeks later Kathy told me that after I left Bob looked at her and said “You know? That Steven Barnes is really a nice guy.”


Why?  Because I had absolute clarity.  Was 100% ready to go.  The slightest twitch would have triggered it. And on an animal level…HE KNEW. I had left him no uncertainty to exploit.  No fear to strike into.  No lever to manipulate me.

Ready to die. Ready to take him with me.  Hell, I’d said good-bye to my DOG.  Can’t get more serious than that.

How?  By connecting to what I really, really loved: Nicki.  Toni.  And my dog, of course. That love swept away all mists of confusion.  I might be of several minds about my own safety, but NOTHING will harm my family while I live.

Connect with your love, and you have strength beyond fear.    Connect that love to your own inner self, and you change your destiny.

Heartbeat meditation and visualizing the child within me for 20 minutes a day, every morning, is my path.   I hope you find yours.

Nothing is stronger than love.





“If You Love Someone…DON’T set them free, but…”


“If you love someone, set them free.   If they come back, they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.”  Richard Bach

Not quite what I have in mind.  But almost.  Let me explain…


Seth Breidbart said:   “At Detcon, at a room party. Someone asked you for dating advice, and you told him to treat every woman as if every other woman he’d meet would ask her for advice about him.

Felicia (his current wife)  was sitting on the bed trying not to die laughing, because before she agreed to go out with me that’s exactly what she did. She asked three of my exes if they thought she should, and four of them said yes.


This is so cool (and yeah, I wonder about that math…).   We did one simple course on “The Soulmate Process” which is a branch off the “Lifewriting” tree: the assumption that the Hero’s Journey, examined, will reveal successful patterns of behavior.  That if you identify people who have achieved the goals you seek, if there is a consistent difference.  And it was by talking to hundreds of people who had been married over 20 years, and listening carefully to what they said, that this particular tactic arose.


Why?  Because so many people met their partners by being introduced by friends, often friends they had dated who had “friend zoned” them (and yes, I’m using this in the neutral sense: one person wants a romance, but the other wants only friendship.  Happens all the time, and mature people roll with it.)


But…there is also another way to look at it: It gives each partner a chance to evaluate the other BEFORE the relationship begins, based on opinions of other trusted people.   People who (you hope) will tell you the truth:  Is this person honest?  Do they have a temper? Are they loyal?   Do they bad-mouth their exes (fail to take responsibility) and on and on…all the way to “are they emotionally stable?”  “Are they possessive?”  “do they respect boundaries?”  and the all important “are they violent?”  “are they bat@#% crazy?”


Things that are good to know in advance.  (and yeah, the notion that people are doing this does keep you mindful about treating people well.  In a way, it is acknowledging that in days gone by, we usually married people deeply embedded within a web of family and social relations, often people who grew up in the same village or neighborhood, whose histories it was easy to determine)




I was shattered after my first marriage died.  Knew that I’d made mistakes, and vowed to correct them.   It was in that painful process, throwing aside everything I thought I knew, that it was politically “correct” to believe, and actually WATCHING human mated pairs as if I was an anthropologist from Mars, that I noticed the things that became the core of the “Soulmate Process.” It was in practicing them and getting a thunderously positive response (it was actually frightening how easy it was to attract women once I made a few tweaks.  Jeeze.) that I realized I’d touched something real, and that I was at a crossroads.  I could use what I’d found to be the biggest Playa I’d ever known…or I could channel that energy appropriately (given my stated values and desired outcomes)  and find a life partner.


And I clearly remember the night I got on my knees and prayed that I would find that partner, and expressed my willingness to wait for her as long as it took.


The next morning, I met Tananarive, and 2  1/2 days later we were effectively engaged.  Bonded.  Neither of us have ever looked back.


But…there was a problem. I trusted my instinct about her quality.  But I wasn’t totally certain she could trust hers about ME.   It wasn’t whether I was a “good person”, it was whether we were a match.  She was making a BIG decision.  Maybe the biggest of her life.  If I really, really loved her, I would want her to have all the information she needed to know for sure.  How could I do that…?


A plan occurred to me. At the time, I lived in Vancouver, Washington, and she lived in Miami. Our social circles didn’t overlap, so there was little help there. But she was doing a West Coast tour for her novel MY SOUL TO KEEP, and we decided I’d drive down to San Francisco, and drive her up to Vancouver to spend some time together.


It was a great trip, driving up the 101 along the Pacific Coast.  When we got to Vancouver the game really began. At the time I was separated from Nicki’s mom, and we lived in a side-by-side duplex, so that when Nicki came home from school she would come to my side of the house, and when Toni came home from work she’d go over there.  We were on very good terms, and I often ate dinner over there.


Well…when T and I arrived, to my absolute delight, Nicki greeted her with a great big warm hug. Wow. I hadn’t set THAT up.  And I’ve never exactly asked Nicki why.  I suspect it was because my little girl knew I’d been unhappy, and now Daddy was happy, so she assumed T was a nice person, and was grateful and happy to meet her.   But…all I know is that I went “Whoa!”


But the next thing was what I HAD planned.  I walked T over to Toni’s side of the house, sat the three of them at the living room table, and said:   “You guys talk about whatever you want” and LEFT for two hours.  To this day, I don’t know what was discussed.


But here was my thinking: this could only be good for T. 

  1. She would get a sense of what attracts me in women by meeting Toni.
  2. She would sure as hell get to know what Toni thought of ME.
  3. She would also probably think “this guy is confident!”  and that is NEVER a bad thing.
  4. IF there was bad mouthing from Toni, then no matter WHAT that would be a warning sign.  If she was telling the truth: run. If she was lying, that calls my judgement into serious question, both in terms of marrying the wrong woman, and in terms of being over-confident and putting them in the same room.
  5. She could, if she wished, get a sense of how and why things had gone wrong, a chance to make her decision about whether similar things might happen to her.
  6. And…there were doubtless things I never thought of, and maybe even things I won’t say publicly.


But no matter what…I felt that whatever happened in that conversation WOULD BE GOOD FOR T. It would allow her to make an informed decision, and I DESPERATELY wanted that.  I knew from the first 12 hours I was with T that she was exceptional, a woman of intelligence, beauty, skill, and power.  She had her own destiny.  I would have cut my arm off before voluntarily doing ANYTHING to harm her, or take from her one atom of her potential, or do a damned thing to diminish her spirit. No.  ONLY if I could be good for her and help her reach her destiny did I want her to make the decision to be with me.


Otherwise?  I would have gladly turned her into a Little Sister, shared everything I could about the writing business, and been as much friend and confidant as she needed.  Why?  Because due to the “Soulmate Process”  I was 100% confident that if I was a woman, I’d want to be with me.   And have no reason to believe I’m all that unique in terms of values, actions, energies, and direction. Which meant that yeah, I’d find someone.  After all, the MORNING AFTER I had made my decision, I’d met T.  Life was going to be great.  No need at all to obsess.


Would it have hurt if we hadn’t worked out?   Sure. But less than the eventual pain of a shattered life and precious lost time.  I can handle pain.  No problem. I ain’t made of glass.  And much less than the guilt of harming someone I already loved.   So the conclusion was: if I loved her, I had to be prepared to let her go. 


I had to be WILLING to lose her, in order to know she was mine.


How does this all sort out?

  1. Be willing to let your intended meet your friends and family. If you are really courageous, be willing to let them meet your exes.  If not, ask yourself why?  What does that say about your judgement?  Or your perception of the Intended’s judgement?
  2. Be insistent about meeting your intended’s friends and family.  And Exes.   If they put up barriers or bad-mouth them, factor that in to your decision making. Be careful: this is your life, and your heart is owed to no one.


What if it is IMPOSSIBLE to meet friends, family (and especially) Exes?  Be cautious.  Let a caution light burn in the back of your mind.  Pay extra careful attention to how they treat children, animals, waiters and service people.    Listen to what they say about their exes, and remember they are talking about THEIR judgement.  Note if they tell crazy stories about family, and ask if you want to be in that web.  Pay extra attention to how they behave when stressed: tired, broke, intoxicated, whatever.


Don’t rush into things. And if you do…and things go wrong…it was NOT their fault.  YOU  are the one who misjudged. They were just being who they are. You MUST take responsibility (literally “the ability to respond”) for your actions and decisions, or you are SCREWED.  If you cannot take that adult responsibility, you should not be having sex.

Yeah, I said it.


I’ve used this with same-sex friends as well.  I remember being at a guy’s house once, and something seemed…a little off.  So when he was out of the room, I FLINCHED at his dog…and the dog cowered.   Oh crap. I learned later than he was a rage-aholic who had abused his kids.

I remember being at another guy’s house, and I flinched at HIS dog. The pooch stared at me as if I was crazy, and just panted.    Love that guy.

Just some thoughts about a sliver of the SOULMATE PROCESS, how and why it works, and how you can apply it.  More to come…





The “Geek’s Guide to finding your Soulmate” is cooking now, at the same time as the “Write a story in a month with a sentence a day” program, and at the same time that I came across a person in deep pain, struggling to make it through his day.   I made the suggestion of a Morning Ritual to access their positive emotions, and received the following heartfelt note:


(“Sidney” said:)

“I know you’re trying to be helpful but — a morning ritual? It’s a victory just to get out of bed, get dressed, and brush my teeth. Often enough, I don’t manage the teeth-brushing.


My family is in a time of extraordinary stress. I’m sorry to subject you to the detail below, but if I just leave it at that, you may not understand that the situation is not something any adult could easily cope with.


After an X-year fight, a corrupt judge just gave joint custody of my two young (ages X andY) grandchildren to their violent, untreated   sex offender, twice-convicted child rapist father. Know that one of the convictions was against his X yr old step-daughter on the night he married her mother (a different marriage, he’s had X), so a X yr old definitely isn’t safe from him.


All of the adults involved (on our side of the fight) are struggling, even the ones who aren’t being triggered by all this, as a few of us are. All were blind-sided by the judgment. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I rage. I have flashbacks on a daily basis. If I can snatch some moments of peace in the middle of all this, I do, but then I get word (like I did this morning) that the police have been called. And here we go. Again.


I’d have to be heartless to be in control of my emotions right now.”




This is horrendous.  And PRECISELY why and when a “Morning Ritual” or some other practice designed to channel that fear and rage and helplessness is the most important.  Yesterday we explored the notion that one of the most malicious things about stress is that it discourages you from doing the very things you need to cope with it.


Note the last sentence:  “I’d have to be heartless to be in control of my emotions right now.”  In other words, “if I love my family, I CANNOT be functional.”


I would say that the more critical the situation is, the more desperate, the more vital it is to be able to perform.  Is it COMMON to be able to perform well under such stress?  NO.     But at such moments, do the ones you love need a hero the most?  YES.


And the problem is that here is where the ego will sabotage you. If depression is the “dark night of the soul”, then the way THROUGH it is “the leap of faith”: faith in yourself, your companions, or a higher power.


If you believe that loving your family means being crushed, you have no leverage.


If you guilt-trip yourself because you cannot act,  AND GUILT-TRIPPING WEAKENS YOU, you have no leverage. (While not ideal, it is true that some people can actually motivate themselves with guilt and anger)


This is how stress protects itself.   It is NOT your fault, not in the slightest.  But it IS your responsibility, because “the ability to respond” is all that makes it possible to act, and action is what creates change.


“Sidney’s” situation, as described, is about as bad as it gets.  ANYONE would feel that pressure.   t.  And this is where “being the hero in the adventure of your lifetime” is what can save your heart, and save your family.   While it is best to have integrated a “Morning Ritual” style practice BEFORE you need it, the truth is that any time you start you are starting to build the resource you will need the next time.  And if you need it now?  If you can see your way to making the decision, you might be able to create a “Ritual Buddy”, someone who will call you daily and remind you.  That’s the “Faith in your companions” aspect.  It works.


But note how much this ties back to “Love yourself.” Under stress, especially bad things happening to the people you love, a sense of contempt, of anger with yourself for being helpless undermines the very motivations that could create clarity, leading to more efficient and effective actions.


WHEN IN THE STRESS TUNNEL, YOU SEE NO OPTIONS. Even if there ARE no external options, staying free of that tunnel is still the best option.  At the very, very least…you now have the capacity to help your FAMILY stay out of the “stress tunnel” so that they can brainstorm answers that no individual can possibly find.


And if there IS no answer?   Then a tragedy has occurred, and the rest of the family must protect each other, their hearts and their children, so that the actions of a monster do not destroy an entire network of souls.   NO matter what the circumstance, what you and your family needs is as much clarity and positive action as humanly possible.


Maintaining that attitude without excoriating yourself for not having that strength currently is the Inner War.  And for the sake of your children, and the child within you and everyone you love, you might be slain, but you cannot surrender.



That is an extreme. But what of those other arenas?   Writing a story in 30 days?  Finding a soulmate?


Both require the same thing: the capacity to control your state, which makes it possible to define and take actions leading to your solution.  How do you control your state? By controlling your mental focus, the language you use, and the way you use your body ALL AT THE SAME TIME.


Writing a story?  That minimum is a sentence a day.

Finding your Soulmate?  If you want a healthy, balanced person with positive energy YOU MUST BE SUCH A PERSON. It is brutally simple.


How do you do that?  Start with self love.  How can you do that?   So many ways, the “Ancient Child” and “Heartbeat Meditation” and dream journaling and a Morning Ritual are just a few.  But all that takes time!  Well, how much time did you just spend reading THIS?  There was your damned time.  You have the time.  But the stress protects itself with lies.


Five minutes. THAT’S the minimum.   Distributed through the day in 60-second increments of deep breathing, so that the “minimum” is actually sixty seconds.  One minute.


One sentence

One minute.


There are your minimums for creating a story. Finding your Soulmate.    There are others for making or protecting money, or becoming fit.    But once you see the minimum, if you don’t do it, does that trigger self-loathing and depression..?


THIS IS WHY YOU NEED TO START WITH SELF-LOVE. You cannot wire around this, ignore it, postpone it, trick it or lie your way out of it. You have to go into the pale places within you, face the Dark Night, and find some bedrock of faith.  Can’t find it? Then find the bedrock of survival. Don’t know where that is?  You can find it simply by slowing your breathing down below about 4 breaths per minute, because when the carbon dioxide level rises in your blood you will hit emergency. Then…imagine this is happening to a helpless infant (“The Ancient Child”) and that YOU are his/her only protection.


You’ll find that strength. It IS within you.   That ability to fight until the last drop of blood.   And whether it is protecting your family or building your dreams, the doorway is ALWAYS there, even though when you are IN the “stress tunnel” you cannot see it and might need someone else to point it out to you and support you.


That’s why there is more than one of us.  That’s why, come what may, I will ALWAYS encourage you to believe in yourself.  Always.  No matter what.  If you want someone to agree that you are helpless, you will need to go somewhere else.


But personally?  I’m hoping you’ll stay.