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.

Separated from our own being

As a futurist, I think of both the positive and negative aspects of the technological culture we’re creating. And I see something that might relate to certain discussions of late.


Fandom has a disproportionate number  of people who came from abusive backgrounds, are brilliant, but stunted emotionally.  Does it take much to suspect they simply “clumped” all their mentation into one category, where they could get approval without being emotionally vulnerable?


Interesting that there are people who have no empathy with others, and others who cannot grasp that their personal view of reality or experience of events is not universal.   The “One soul looking out through many eyes” doesn’t mean that the other person is identical to you.  You can have a zillion containers holding water-based fluid, with no two of them having the same composition, shape, or temperature. Infinite variety.  Humans have the same basic motivations: avoiding pain and gaining pleasure.  They have the same basic emotions: fear, anger, love.    The same basic fears: falling, loud noises.  Hunger and discomfort.


A few other things that seem universal, with everything else learned along the way.  Basic animal drives of personal and genetic survival.


What is the genetic component of what we are?  What is the environmental?    Make no mistake: this stuff has been debated for thousands of years.



I remember a guy “Chuck” who couldn’t separate his personal feelings about a movie (“it’s good.  It’s bad”) from a general objective sense of what it was.   In other words, if he didn’t like it, he couldn’t believe anyone else did.  If he loved it, why, others must too, and if they said otherwise, they must be paid off by a studio.


Chuck had trouble understanding women.  His miscues were legendary.  I noticed that he assumed that they would enjoy the same interactions, at the same pace, in the same ways, as he.    A little grabby he was, because HE enjoyed being grabbed.


He didn’t understand because he didn’t ask.  He assumed.  And when he was proved wrong, he assumed there was some conspiracy to confuse him, or that they were nutty.


Needless to say, he was confused, lonely, and what we would now call a little “Aspy.”   He just didn’t get it.   His “theory of mind” was skewed.   What are the extremes?

  1. People with NO empathy.  Others are totally different from them.
  2. People with TOO MUCH empathy.   Others are the same as them.   There are a number of pathologies here.


I have a suspicion that we’re breeding more and more people disconnected from their balanced emotional empathy.  Why?    I’d say it is the degree to which modern people don’t have to interact with the physical world, with other real live physical human beings the way our grandparents did.   This is just a hunch.  Some things I think are growing problematic:


  1. A disconnect between the effort needed to earn a calorie and the number of calories available.    Danger: obesity.
  2. Communication via chat.  Danger: losing the ability to interpret facial expressions, vocal tonalities.    Miscommunications due to loss of those vital channels.
  3. Seeing the world as “flat” rather than three dimensional.  Reading and staring at screens.
  4. Seeing the time-flow as malleable because of freeze-frame and rewind.  A different quality of attention is created, one that works great in an artificial environment…but not so great in the “real” world.
  5. Confusion of mating cues.   “People” who seem real (but flat) acting according to the strings manipulated by writers and directors rather than real human emotions.    We absorb those lessons. Then when “real” people don’t react that way, we get confused and resentful.  “Incels” anyone?
  6. The danger is developing a twisted “theory of mind”, not being able to understand other human beings.  Or even our own interactions with the real world.   We don’t know why we can’t leverage our intellects and emotions to hunt and gather (earn), can’t connect with a mate (sex), can’t understand why our bodies bloat.  OUR CONNECTIONS ARE BROKEN.


Without the feedback of the real world, actually barking our shins on reality.   Both romance novels and porn set up unrealistic expectations.   Video games shelter us from the pain of actually learning physical skills.   We develop flash-friendships, anonymous internet groups to play with, and while they are fun, they aren’t real. Those people don’t care about you.  If they heard you got run over by a cement truck they’d say the current equivalent of “gnarly!” and play on.


I saw this with the first generation of computer programmers, with people who buried themselves in fantasy books, with people addicted to video games, and FB and work in offices and never get outside.


Lack of connection with the natural world, with other human beings…and perhaps with themselves.  This is why meditating, contemplation, connecting with nature, and physical exercise are so important. You can hallucinate all you want about your body, but a mile doesn’t care.  You either walk/run it, or you don’t.


You can’t “level up” by buying virtual coins. You have to actually do the work, push through the pain and fear, learn to overcome “sensory motor amnesia” and learn how your body works.


“Exercise is BORING.”   Yeah, because you’ve never engaged your mind and emotions.    Like your ancestors had to, OR DIE.  “I don’t understand men/women.”  Yeah, because you have surrounded yourself with fantasies about what they’re like, and when they don’t match your expectations, you blame THEM, not your fantasies.


I could be wrong about this, but its what I see.  The answer?

  1. Connect with your own heart.  The most basic piece of emotional reality we have is our own hearts. I think that if you don’t understand others…you don’t really understand yourself.
  2. Connect with your body.  Exercise.  Move.  Your body evolved to hunt, gather, evade predators.  Society evolved to express that with games and mating rituals (dance).  Re-connect there.


Just these: opening the heart, awakening the body, will anchor you to the world.   The opposite?   “Awakening your kundalini backwards”.  Smart, but body and heart “stupid”.   It isn’t your fault: humanity has won a battle with the natural world.  Don’t be road kill.






Some thoughts on Cosby

A few years back, T and I had the chance to work with one of my childhood heroes, Bill Cosby.   We spoke with him on the phone, and he was brilliant and funny, with a crystal-clear memory and just as charming as he could be, filled with enthusiasm for a new NBC project he wanted us to work on.  After I got off the phone, I remembered rumors I’d heard, and asked myself if I’d want T going to a meeting with him alone.    Or Nicki.  And felt the reaction in my heart.

The answer was hell no.  I knew the truth, dammit.  I knew.  Money be damned.



A piece of the Cosby puzzle.    I do not KNOW what happened with him.  I know no one who was an intimate, with any access to his private thoughts.   But if I was writing a book about a character with a similar public image and similar tragic arc (and make no mistake: this is an American tragedy we’re watching), I would look at a number of publicly known facts as highly suggestive.  Matching my sense of why human beings do what they do.

Start with a basic notion: (most) violence stems from anger.  Anger is a mask over fear.  If we look at sexual assault as violence, can we tease a bit of this out?

One conclusion  is that he was/is a man consumed with anger.  Is there any justification for this in the public record?  I found some twenty years ago, in his  autobiography.  In it, he makes a throwaway comment that really stuck with me.  It was that a comedian will pace and control the intensity of the laugh response, so that the audience doesn’t exceed their comfort zone.


Well…they will ordinarily. But when he was angry about race relations in America, when he performed for white audiences (which was most of the time) he would DELIBERATELY sequence and perform his routines to take his audiences further and further out of control, laughing hysterically, UNTIL THEY HURT.  And then increase the intensity, until he had an entire room writhing in laughter, begging him to stop.

Deliberately.  He was, in other words, beating the hell out of the audience, while smiling at them.  Holy SHIT, I remember thinking.  Did anyone else read this?   Did he realize how much of himself he exposed saying this?


Anger.  Seething and raw, enough to want to hurt people who loved (or at least admired) him.  And what is anger…?


Fear.    What did he have to be fearful of?  Well, if you’ve been following my thoughts on race in America, that answer would be easy.


One ignorant, shallow, selfish response is to suppose that since HE was rich and famous, HE had nothing to be upset with. I have to marvel at this, and wonder if the person saying it is aware of how much of THEMSELVES they expose by saying THAT.  Are they really saying they don’t care about anyone but themselves? That once they “get theirs” they don’t give a shit?


Maybe.  I’m not stupid enough to forget they said that, though, and they can’t take it back once said.




We know he was a serious supporter of HBU, and an Afrophile.  A “race man” in reality even though he very rarely addressed it directly in his entertainment.    He looked out at the world, saw things or experienced things that enraged him, and hid it behind that avuncular personality.


So…what we know beyond any doubt is that he had powerful negative emotions and did not honestly express them publicly.    Drawing a line between that and not being able to express them privately, or even within his own heart, isn’t much of a leap.   We KNOW he was dishonest.  How deep did it go?


Were there power fantasies?  Disgust with the people who “loved” him?   Impostor syndrome?   Anyone who would hurt a roomful of innocent people has to have a power fantasy.  But if we start with the assumption of human equality and “Num” (the belief that there is “one soul looking out through many eyes”) then we see that that is just ego shit.  He KNOWS he is not above them.  If he cannot forgive them, cannot see the errors and pains of the world from an elevated position, he likely cannot forgive himself either.


And that leads to despising the world.


I am a corrupt thing.  They cannot see it because they are corrupt things. The world is an ugly, corrupt place, a jungle place, where the only REAL rule is to take and get everything you can. But you must pretend to be good, to be loving, to be kind…or the illusion dissolves and we have nothing but the rule of fang and claw.


From this point, can you respect other human beings?   Hardly.

Can you respect yourself?  Hardly

Can you possibly respect the feminine energy of the world?  Hardly.

Men would be allies to be rallied or directed to conquer your foes.  Or if foes, to be crushed.  Women would be entertainments, or conquests, or talley marks, or momentary stress reliefs.


Or…if they were presented as unattainable, as ideals beyond your reach, they are symbols of your power.  Did he grow up in a world in which this was projected? Hell, I did, and I’m ten years younger. My mother was SURE I was only attracted to white women because of some forbidden racial fascination.    And that I would be destroyed because of it.


So…could that influence the situation?  Sure, it could.   I DON’T KNOW IF IT DID.  But if I was writing a novel about someone who ended where Cosby is ending…that would be one of the threads I’d wind together:


  1. A man with enormous fear along racial lines.
  2. That fear transforming into anger.
  3. That anger hidden behind a smiling mask. So many of us do this, without it ever becoming openly toxic.
  4. That mask gathering enough raw power, fame, and money to create opportunities to vent and slake the corrupt hungers.


I would use this notion as one of the threads. Others would have to do with general human toxicity expressed as male energy (and if you don’t grasp that there are both Yin and Yang, Female and Male aspects of this, you are pretty typical…but missing half the game).  With power drunkenness. And with some soul sickness that might have begun in the womb or before.  Who knows?


But THIS piece of the puzzle looks pretty sound, and pretty ugly.


So…what is the answer?  How does the “formula” work here?

What are the principles?

  1. Love yourself.   Can you see how a deep and abiding love of his own essence short-circuits the entire negative process? Part of the damage of racism is doubting yourself.  Internalizing the “you are ugly and stupid” messages.  It is grotesque, rarely discussed…and true.  Unaddressed, you are walking around with a time-bomb in your heart.
  2. Love one other person.   If he really deeply loved himself and Camille, does it take much to suggest that a compulsive need to screw other women, even WITH their total permission, would be less likely?  You think?   That when that connection is deep, his masculine/feminine energies would be balanced, and the notion of abusing that connection would be like slicing off your own eyelids?
  3. Understand history without guilt, blame, or shame.  And if you can love yourself and others, and see how human beings do terrible things to each other mostly from fear and ignorance, isn’t that cured with love and truth?   If he can forgive others, he can forgive himself.  He is no longer a corrupt thing leering behind the mask. Can just…let the pain go and embrace humanity.
  4. Find his tribe. Who should his tribe have been?  ALL HUMANITY. We all responded to his deep, wise, broad grasp of human emotion and experience.  Look at the gap between what he knew about us and what he FELT about us.    That gap was too broad to be bridged with logic. It was a seething ocean of pain and fear, self-loathing and anger, and all the applause and laughter and money in the world couldn’t heal it.  If they knew what I really am…He didn’t need to keep fighting. He had won. What he needed to do was embrace the victory.  Do good to the world.  Trust time to heal the wounds it creates.  Sigh.
  5. Win with integrity. Well. We don’t need to dive too deeply here, do we?

And the simplest answer? Love himself.  Tell the truth.  Just those two things would have taken him into himself, and anchored him to the world, forced him to integrate his inner and outer worlds.

Could ANY of this have happened with just those two elements?

Just those two things.

When I say that artists need to dig into their truth, express their true feelings, it isn’t because it is fun, and comfortable. Or even because it is one of the most healing things you can do, although it is.  It is because THAT is the gift you have to give the world, your deepest, most healing treasure.   This is risky: you may be rejected. Those who do not believe as you  will NOT want you rubbing their noses in your perspectives, and pretend that they have not rubbed yours in theirs.


They are asleep, mostly. Mostly.


Tell your stories.  Speak your truth, with love and wisdom.   The tribe you find may not be as large as the one you can create with lies and artifice…but they are real, and they see you.


They SEE you.  And love the person you really are, not just the image.  Imagine the nightmare of having the whole world love you…and believing that if they really knew how ugly I am


That must be a horror beyond ordinary thought.  A true personal hell.   And the demonic things human beings are capable of doing from that place are hard to even wrap our minds around.


But every one of us has the seeds of that nightmare in our souls.   Don’t water them with fear.  Don’t fertilize them with rage.


While I don’t, and might never really know what happened here…I’m willing to bet that this describes a part of this. How much? I don’t know. But enough that I know how critical it is to speak my truth, and come from love, and love myself.

And for you to do the same






INFINITY WAR (2018) review




Infinity war is loud, colorful, logistically amazing and tons of fun. It is also not a film in any ordinary sense of the word. ALL of its emotional texture is borrowed from other movies, and I can’t imagine what this would feel like to someone who hasn’t seen them. All of them, really.


The only character who is treated like an actual being is the villain Thanos, whose dream of “restoring balance to the universe” is actually somewhat affecting, especially once we realize that he actually has feelings, isn’t just a CGI special effect. That there is an actual performance in there, thanks to Josh Brolin.


For those unaware of the story, it deals with Thano’s search for the six “Infinity Stones” that will give unlimited power to their holder.  He wants to wipe out half of the universe. Basically, every MCU hero teams up to stop him.


The problem is that the story is simply too unweildy, there are too many characters to expect any human being to juggle them all gracefully. Here, you have the Russo brothers doing it together, and I think they do about as well as anybody could expect them to. Better.  There really is a lot of fun to be had here. But at the expense of human moments, and some jarring character choices.


(Just for instance: in what world is the Hulk a coward?  I’ve watched that character for half a century, and that just isn’t part of the equation. Banner being basically useless is almost as jarring. When in THOR: RAGNOROK they had Thor spouting astrophysics while Banner sort of mumbled along, I thought it was a director’s joke: the big blonde guy had never seemed much one for book larnin’ and it was a good laugh. But not giving Banner a single decent thought seems…thoughtless)


There are emotional connections that really do work: between Wanda and Vision, and among the Guardians of the Galaxy (although the bit with Groot anchored to his video game seemed a little wearing after a bit).


The problem is that we only care about the action if we care about the people, and we only care about the people here because of what we’ve seen in other movies.  So Thor has Loki, Tony has Pepper, Cap has Bucky, Spidey has Tony (again), and so forth. But searching for that emotional texture means that when it doesn’t show up we FEEL it.   No real Natasha-Bruce reunion?   Really?  Seems…like an odd choice.


Without those connections, its just kinetics and effects. GREAT ones, often, but you don’t want to mistake that for real quality. This is really the first Marvel film where I could see the seams showing pretty clearly.   Joss Whedon was overwhelmed by ULTRON, but while it was a modest little boutique movie compared to INFINITY WAR, it also had more genuine entertainment overall.


I liked INFINITY WAR.  It was a pretty decent translation of the comic to the screen. It is just that movies demand an opportunity for their actors to act, not just posture and throw punches.


I have to give it a “B-” in more ways than I really wanted to.   And if you weren’t a Marvel geek?   Man, I can’t see any reason you should go at all.





I loathed the “Infinity War” comics, because for all practical purposes they killed off ALL the black characters in the very beginning, the kind of choice that is only made when ALL the decision makers are white.  And one problem with the movie lies right in the same uncanny valley.


Heimdall dies saving Bruce Banner.  Thor vows revenge.  Ah, the Sacrificial Negro inspiring the mighty hero.  Screw them.


Neither Rhodey or Falcon have EVER been shown to have any human connections with anyone beyond their male white benefactors.  No wife, girlfriend, mother, father, friends…nothing.  Nothing at all.  They are satellites only.


In BLACK PANTHER, Wakanda was a vibrant land filled with diverse, brilliant peoples with their own history and traditions, fashions and life-ways, ruled by a king with deep spiritual roots and the soul of a warrior.

In INFINITY WAR, Wakanda is a place to stage some nifty action sequences, with little or no sense of the inwardness of any of the people involved, let alone the deep and searching decisions that would have to be made before bringing an interstellar war to their doorstep.  Black Panther makes one interesting decision, Shuri is useless, and Okoye delivers a funny line.    This is precisely what I’d been afraid about with BP, and why I breathed a huge sigh of relief when Ryan Coogler was announced: I knew that as a black filmmaker he would have no problem addressing the “inwardness” of the characters.  This is why it is critical to have more diversity BEHIND the cameras, because otherwise you end up arguing with people about “how much humanity is enough?”


So the message for white readers: if you create black characters, invest them with the same humanity you give your white characters, or leave us out of your damned stories. We don’t exist to uplift you and your children.

For black readers:   Don’t settle for being second-bananas in someone else’s fantasies of power and glory.  Just…don’t.  Create your own.  And if you aren’t creators, support the films that understand that you aren’t a sock puppet to die nobly protecting white people. You just…aren’t.


Get mad, but don’t “get even.” Win by showing how its done right.





“Incel” and the Dating Game

Conversation about “Incel” men (“Involuntary Celibate.”)   Guys who can’t make a sexual connection.

I remember back when I taught martial arts, and I was attracted to a couple of ladies in the classes.  One at a time I asked them to stay after class, and as politely as I could,   I asked them out.    They thought about it, and said no.  I was disappointed, but enjoyed them as people and students, and continued to be connected to them in the way that they felt comfortable. One I was friends with until the end of her life, the other is still a friend to this day. They found other guys.  Good guys–liked ’em both.


And that “sting”?  As soon as I found a girlfriend, the sting died. All it is is fear of not finding reproductive space (on the biological level), and fear of being unlovable, or not being loved, on an emotional level.   Easiest fix is to find a connection elsewhere. Fastest way to do that is to stop resenting potential partners for not wanting you.


Do YOU want everyone?  Anyone?   If so, you should have no problem finding a girlfriend/boyfriend.  But you have standards, don’t you?  Tell the truth.


So what really bothers you is your fear that you wouldn’t match your own standards.  That what you want is beyond who you are.   Easy fixes: either raise your game, or lower your standards.  Don’t like that?  Say its not fair?


Yeah.  Life isn’t fair.  It isn’t unfair, either.  It just…is.




Guys who can’t get laid (and are “friend zoned”) are kind of like women who CAN  get laid but can’t get in a relationship. I find the two states very similar, and it has a nice symmetry.


(As an aside, I’ve had countless women, even “plain” ones, tell me with confidence that they know they can go into any bar, any party, and find a guy to take them home.   Guys with that level of sexual confidence are called “egotists.”   But it really does make sense.   If you think there’s no difference, good luck with that and report back to me how your relationships work out, wouldja?)


The trick with these angry, frightened men and women is that they have standards, but are unhappy that other people have them as well.


I ran into this back in Junior High School.  I saw the pretty, popular girls.  Not one of them was interested in me.   Resentful at this,  my answer to this was to study the women I desired and the men I admired. What kind of men were the women attracted to? What kind of women did those men have? Were the things these people did congruent with my values? Yes? Was I doing them? No? Then start. Simple as that. And a couple of things happened.


  1. I stopped noticing the women who weren’t attracted to me.  They were there as HUMAN BEINGS, but I stopped…reacting to them “as women”.  My reaction was either “this is a nice person” or “Hey, Now!!”  And with a bizarre increasing frequency, the women I was attracted to were also attracted to me.   It wasn’t necessarily that there were MORE of them now…but I was broadcasting a more specific signal, perhaps. And paying attention only to those who were “of my tribe”–I was on their wavelength.
  2. IF they were “of my tribe”, on my “wavelength”, and they were ALSO unattached, the mating dance began.  Sniffing each other out. Interests? Goals? Values?  Energy levels?  If those things matched, and we were also heading in the same direction (at least for the night, ahem) then Game On.
  3. And the women I was attracted to, but weren’t attracted to me?  After a while, they faded away…as potential sexual partners. They were still there as business associates, neighbors, students, friends, mentors, sisters, daughter-figures, mother-figures.  But it didn’t sting, because they weren’t what I was looking for.  I was looking for someone who was looking for me.  Not interested in me? Have a nice life, but why should I be upset?
  4. If you love yourself, and would be attracted to yourself, you should have no problem connecting with those attracted to you. We attract people at our “level” and below. And are attracted to people at our level…and above.  The trick is to expand that “sweet spot” so there are plenty of possibilities: people on your wavelength, going in your direction, available for relationships.
  5. Just as an aside, if Tananarive got hit by a meteor, and I was in a strange city with no connection?  I’d start taking yoga classes. Why?  Because I like the focus, physicality, mindset and attitude of the kind of women yoga attracts, and there are generally more women in the class than men.   “Target rich environment.”  I’d wait about six weeks, scoping the situation out, focusing on a powerful practice.  See who smiled back. Chatted back.   And after about six weeks…I’d very politely ask if anyone wanted to go for tea afterward. Coffee. Lunch.   Look to see who sparked.


It would work like gangbusters.  Because I’d be genuinely projecting who I am (you can’t fake a yoga pose) that I shared at least some of their values, was respectful and polite.  All you have to do is remember that human beings generally want love and sex–you don’t have to convince them of that, you just have to convince them that they want to buy your brand. 


Cold blooded?  Not really.  CALCULATING it is. Cold it is not, at least not to me.  If  a woman didn’t want me, if I cared about her I would hope she’d find love and happiness elsewhere.


I SURE as well was going to, no slightest doubt.  Why?  ‘Cause I like me. If I wasn’t me I’d want to be me.  If I was a guy, I’d want to be my friend, and if I was a woman I’d want to jump my bones.


And frankly, I think ANYONE who likes and loves themselves that much will have no problems at all.






Why “Do the right thing”?

In some discussions of morality, some people will say:

“If I’m not going to be acknowledged for behaving morally, I won’t.

“If there was no God, why would we be moral?”

“If no one was watching, I’d steal.”

“If I wasn’t afraid of getting caught, I’d cheat.”


O.K.–they are saying they have no internal compass for morality. That absent the approval of the tribe, or the fear of being cast into hell by God, or of being thrown into jail, or getting a painful divorce…they would do things considered “bad.”


But…do THEY consider these things “bad”? Or do they consider them neutral, but mouth platitudes about them being “bad”?


I remember a guy who, under other circumstances spoke deeply and fervently about God and morality, commenting about how if we were on a liferaft together in the middle of the Pacific, he’d kill me and eat me.  Nice.   Hard for that person to then come back later and tell me about morality, don’t you think?


He’s saying there is no moral law absent human perceptions, there is only efficiency and effectiveness.  Law of the jungle.  I can deal with that, because it seems to me that ALL morality starts there.  It is “bottom up” in the sense that the same principles against stealing, killing, lying, raping and abusing children recur all over the world (to varying degrees) even among cultures who have no contact with each other.    Cannibalism is relatively rare as well, so we might add that.


If human beings aren’t much good alone, then a primary survival question is: “how shall we live together?”


Hard to imagine any kind of society where there are no laws against killing, lying, child abuse, stealing and so forth.   At the very least, that culture will be smaller and more chaotic than a culture that has prohibitions against such things. And will therefore be out-competed by them.


But WHY do people obey those rules? Initially, for the same reason children do their homework or pick up their rooms: to avoid punishment.  This is the CHILD level of the game.


The fact is that you CAN get away with stealing much of the time. This leads to the “tragedy of the commons,” where you are best off, short term, convincing other people to be honest, while being a thief yourself.


LONG term you will usually be found out.  But it is entirely possible to postpone that reckoning for an entire lifetime.  People who put out a surface appearance of being “good, pious” people, but are horrible behind the scenes.  Again, however…in general this will be found out over enough interactions, enough deals, enough years.


But another thing that happens in a society is we ask “what is true?”  What is the structure of the universe? And all societies evolve religion and mythology.   Ways to grasp the infinite.  Whether imagination or revelation, they create demons and gods, and begin to personify vast natural forces into structures we can begin to understand.  Often, they mirror the structure of human societies: we understand the strong father or loving matriarch, so a LOT of god figures mirror those.


It is an exercise for the reader whether you believe this is human beings projecting what they know, or a Divine Mind simply recapitulating its essence in Earthly form.   The notion works either way.


But the point is that you can see morality as starting from individual human needs, progressing through group imperatives and becoming encoded socially through mythology and religion.


As soon as you believe in a God figure, you have an omnipotent being who is ALWAYS there.  He knows when you’ve been sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or….


Oh, wait. Different magical being.  Ahem.


If up and down the structure, morality is important…but FAKING morality is actually more effective short-term,  but actually BEING moral is more effective long term, then we ask the next question: how can we be moral beings whether or not there is anyone watching?


We must integrate morality into our most basic essence.   We must do what we do not for EXTERNAL rewards, but because that is simply who we are.  Or who we aspire to be.


When I was a kid, I had a hard time with stealing.  I just couldn’t figure out an external reason not to.   I was smart enough to get away with it…but it was clear to me that eventually I’d run into someone smarter than me, and I’d be screwed.  I might have been smarter than ANY body, but I sure as hell wasn’t smarter than EVERY body.


No matter how swollen my ego, I knew that wasn’t true.    So what could I do?


I had to find the aspect of my personal intimate being that was contrary to theft.    It took a few days of deep introspection, but I found it:


Every time I stole, I stole because I believed that was the most efficient and effective way of gaining something. But that means that I had no real faith that I could organize my mind and heart to EARN it.  ONLY if I could not earn it did it make long-term sense to steal it.


I was damaging my faith in myself.  And without that faith I couldn’t accomplish my dreams.


There.  I’d found it.   I BELIEVED that: that stealing weakened my ability to create the life I wanted, whether or not I ever got “caught.”


Armed with that, I was able to turn my life around.  It had NOTHING to do with other people, or an omniscient being. It was “what do I want from life?  Who do I have to be to get it?  Is every action of my life a step toward becoming that person?  Yes? No?  If `yes’, continue. If `no’ CUT THAT SHIT OUT.”


And that, evolved when I was about 24, removed any thought that dishonesty was a viable tactic, and clarified my path.




When you hear law-abiding people who insist that morality (“goodness”) is tied with obeying the rules of society, also hear the ways what they are REALLY saying is “as long as I agree with the laws of society, so long as I believe they are good for me and my family, I will obey them.”


One thing that cracks me up is hearing one of them then state, re: 2nd Amendment Rights, that a lawfully elected government could only take their guns if pried from their “cold dead hands” and imply that they would kill legally empowered law enforcement officers.


In other words, they will agree with laws, consider them moral, if and only if they are in alignment with their personal desires and interests.   This is a serious reality of life.  It is only dishonest if they then imply that other people should obey laws even if they don’t align with personal interests.


Tragedy of the Commons, right there on the level of obeying laws. What is right?  Law of the Jungle. What is efficient?  Convincing other people to obey laws for the sake of “goodness” when you are actually picking and choosing.


Is this common?  You bet. Is it optimal?   I think not…but that’s a value decision.   You have to decide for yourself.


And for your children, of course.   And every time a storyteller writes a tale of moral consequence, they are arguing the ethical structure of the universe.


In Black Panther T’Chaka kills his own brother, conceals the crime and abandons his nephew to poverty.   Was it right?  Few would say so. Was it understandable?   That kid was gonna go Hamlet on the royal family, you know damned well.   If your primary intent was to protect his son and the throne…well, yeah, li’l Killmonger was kinda screwed.  In fact, it would have been safest to kill him.


It would have been BEST, probably, to Flashy-Thing that kid’s memory and give him to a middle-class family in Atlanta somewhere to raise.  But of course that would involve more people in setting it up, and the more people who knew, the more dangerous. Someone ALWAYS wants to take the throne.


(And that is where I agree with Wakanda remaining secretive until and unless there is a sufficient organization of nations to deter open invasion to take their resources. And those who think “Wakanda was strong enough to resist” IMO aren’t thinking it through.  If I’m writing that story, I don’t attack openly.  I attack psychologically, splintering the alliances of tribes, supporting usurpers, supporting assassinations rather than outright military action UNTIL THEY ARE WEAK ENOUGH, or until I have a puppet on the throne. That story is EASY to write.  You don’t attack where your opponent is strong.  Attack their weaknesses.  Ego and ambition.   Wakanda would have been toast within a couple of generations)


One theme of BP is that evil will emerge.  Decisions made from efficiency, unless they are aligned with morality, will come back to destroy you.   T’Challa was so appalled by what his father had done that he gave Killmonger a chance to surrender and almost lost that fight, WOULD have lost it if Killmonger hadn’t succumbed to his sense of the theatrical and tossed him off the waterfall rather than just stab him to death.  Boom. Done. He’d have the throne.


To be a king, T’Challa had to be a better man than his father. But even that was only standing on his father’s shoulders: he was the man he was because his father had protected him.   He was a worthy son: a warrior, a statesman, capable of both vengeance and mercy.  “You are a good man, with a good heart. And it is hard for a good man to be king.”


There you go. A beautiful, wise moral and strategic lesson encoded in a superb entertainment.   Works for people in general, but for an underserved community BP is an absolute THUNDERBOLT.   An advance so extreme that I can only think that Ryan Coogler was “lit” along his entire system: intellect, emotion, aesthetic/creative, political, philosophical, kinetic and more.   It worked on all levels, and presented what might be the overall strongest Marvel character: a man of intellect, physicality, morality, family connections, political savvy, courage, and capacity to love. What comic character has as many levels cooking?   Spider Man has his Aunt May…Thor has his relationship with his father and half-brother…but we watched Tony Stark going batshit to kill Bucky who was only a puppet, willing to KILL a “friend” (Captain America) to do it, and this was after 2/3 of a billion dollars of therapy and twenty years of distance.


T’Challa had better control of his emotions less than a WEEK after holding his father’s corpse in his arms, confronted with the ACTUAL killer.   No slightest comparison in terms of maturity and “wholeness.”


What do YOU think of morality, ethics, the human condition?  What do YOU think your community, or the human race needs to move forward to the future?


Either support the art that teaches these lessons, or asks the right questions…or create it. That is one of the ways we can, as individuals, make the world better for our children.


The other is to do the right things, not because otherwise we’ll be caught, or so that people will pat us on the back.  Those are rewards for sleeping children.


Do what you do because that is what you are.  THAT is how you change the world. Once word, one action, one soul, one work of art at a time.



Write with Passion!

Steven Barnes



Love and Ignorance and Images

“The evil in the world comes almost always from ignorance, and goodwill can cause as much damage as ill-will if it is not enlightened. People are more often good than bad, though in fact that is not the question. But they are more or less ignorant and this is what one calls vice or virtue, the most appalling vice being the ignorance that thinks it knows everything and which consequently authorizes itself to kill. The murderer’s soul is blind, and there is no true goodness or fine love without the greatest possible degree of clear-sightedness.”  Camus, The Plague


I can agree with this, especially if the ultimate knowledge is love and connection.  “Num”, the Koisan belief that there is “one soul looking out through many eyes.”


If we believe in “doing unto others as we would have done to ourselves,” and we love ourselves, we won’t want to do harm to others.   We might order them chocolate cake when they love vanilla, however.


I am pretty sure that 99%+ of human evil comes from violating this: not seeing others as part of ourselves, and/or not loving ourselves.


This is why it is critical to love ourselves.    When that is a trial (and it often is) if you pay attention, you have just learned why the world has so much pain.  And you have also learned the gateway to healing.


Add another step: “Violence stems from anger, anger from fear.”


And you have an even clearer view of the problems in the world.

  1. We don’t love ourselves.
  2. We don’t feel connected to others, so that we fear them.
  3. We aren’t willing to protect ourselves as ruthlessly as we would protect our own most beloved children, and therefore attract predators looking for easy prey


How to undo this?

  1. First love yourself. If the meaning of life is to be joyful, then we have to control our emotions. We do this by controlling our language, focus, and body movement.  The “Morning Ritual” is all about this, and it is fascinating how I can say POINT BLANK over and over again that “you move continuously for 10-20 minutes WHILE focusing on positive things, past successes, and future outcomes” and people will report back that they “meditated and then did Yoga” or something.  NO, dammit: AT THE SAME TIME. Sheesh.  Your ego will trick you.  It does NOT want to die, and if you have a negative self-image, it may try to harm you to stop you from killing it.  Believe that shit.
  2. Love one other person.   This is generative. After you learn to love yourself, if you love another human being you want to give them the gift of joy.  You’ll start noticing that the same things that create pain in your lie (negative self-talk, negative focus, lack of healthy movement) create pain in theirs.  If you have children together, you start seeing how they grow up, what affects them, and will apply those lessons there.


This is where control of images connects to “control of language” and “control of self-talk.”  Self-talk would include the images you make in your head.  If they are images of pain, failure, and fear, you will avoid actions that take you in that direction.


You have to have PERMISSION internally to take an action. You have to believe that an action will take you closer to pleasure and further from pain, OR YOU WON’T DO IT.


This is where a movie showing someone you identify with as heroic is so important.  The hero ALWAYS hits the “Dark Night of the Soul” (T’Challa is thrown off the cliff) and all seems lost. The way through is the “Leap of Faith” in yourself, your companions, or a Higher Power.


And of course, in Black Panther it was all three.  As it was in Star Wars: A New Hope.  Beautiful.


This is CRITICAL for children and adults, because you simply cannot move from one major level of life to another without expecting failure.   The problem is that we forget this lesson, no matter how many times we go through it.


Fiction helps to remind it.  Seek out images  that nurture you, and your “tribe”.  If there is a lack of them, create them.   I suggest that this is meat-and-potatoes, not “frosting” on a non-essential cake.  The evidence is the frequency with which these images are created and devoured by any autonomous culture.


If you are underserved by the majority culture for whatever reason, these images will control your emotions, and your emotions determine your actions, and your actions create your future in a feed-back loop that will either ascend or descend.


Take control.


Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime



Write with Passion!

Steven Barnes


Finding your theme

The movie “Star Wars” (now “Episode IV: A New Hope”) works not primarily because of the effects, or the music, but because those things reinforced a central theme that resonated powerfully with the audience.


In fact, all of your verbal pyrotechnics, extrapolations, witty dialogue and clever plotting will mean little or nothing unless they trigger emotional responses.


How do you do this?


  1. Just write your story.  The first draft should be having fun, just tearing it off if possible.  If a long piece, I suggest plotting it out first so that you have “safety rails” but then the writing itself should be crazy fun.  When I was working on “The Secret of NIMH” I put mouse porn in the first draft, just to entertain myself.
  2. Be careful to take your mouse porn OUT before completing the second draft, o.k?
  3. Now, after the first draft, NOW you look at the story and ask about the thematics.  What are you saying?   After all, there are two questions that connect to every action, every thought, and every work of art: Who Am I? and What Is True?  In other words, what are human beings?  What is the universe they live in?
  4. Let’s look at Star Wars.    Remember: art is subjective, impression not mathematics.   So there will be multiple interpretations possible.   This is just one.
  5.  The climax of Star Wars is the attack on the Death Star.  The ultimate weapon of the greatest villains in the galaxy, capable of destroying an entire planet.  It is about to destroy the rebel base, and everyoen he cares about.    The attack is failing: his friends are being killed one by one, the defending ships slaughtering them, as the Death Star moves into position to  fire.     This “technological terror” is unstoppable, the evil motivating it merciless, its power beyond conception.   Ships exploding around him, he fails his first attempt to drop a torpedo into a vulnerable vent.  Things are moving faster and faster and faster, no time for thought, no hope, and…
  6. And in the middle of all of this, he hears the voice of his beloved mentor Obi Wan Kinobi saying “trust your feelings.”
  7. What happens when he does?  He successfully destroys the Death Star, saves the rebellion.
  8. How would this work as a theme, then: in the midst of a depersonalized world, risk and hopelessness, and forces collaborating to make your individual lives meaningless, the greatest power in the universe is actually…your own heart.
  9. Would that appeal to people?  Is it true? Is it positive?  Is it useful?  I say “yes” on all counts.   Armed with that, you go backwards and forwards through the entire script, asking yourself: what is necessary here for the final scene, the destruction of the Death Star, to have the maximum impact?
  10. You cut off any reasons not to engage with the challenge: kill his aunt and uncle
  11. You supply him with allies representing courage, creativity, love, sacrifice, wisdom.
  12. You remove any possible sympathy for the enemy who will be destroyed when the Death Star blows up, so that the audience will feel nothing but joy (ummm…have them blow up an innocent planet? Yeah, that works)
  13. You alternate between drama and comedy, to control flow of tension. You CANNOT simply increase tension higher and higher and higher without pause.  You can, however, “wave” it, creating moments when your reader/viewer can “rest” which prepares them for the next ascention.


In other words, you can write the first draft, THEN isolate a thematic core, then go back and look at every scene, every character, every line of dialogue and ask “does this increase the gut-punch of my climax?  How?”


If it doesn’t…change or delete it.   If it does, laugh like crazy. Enjoy the ride!


Write with Passion



Vertical Integration

Can human beings write across barriers of race, gender, nationality, religion?  What about extreme morality and behavior?  Surely there are limits…

No, I don’t think there are.


I saw the documentary “Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Hitman” is back on Netflix.  That’s the tale of Richard Kuklinski, an apparently soulless professional assassin/serial killer, one of the most dangerous human beings whose thoughts  have ever been recorded on film.

I wouldn’t have wanted to be in that room with him, even in handcuffs.   Another part of me is dying to.  Sigh.


He spoke mostly in cold blood about all the people he killed for the Gambino crime family…but there is no moment when you cannot sense the predator just under the surface, the satisfaction in the kill, the pleasure in the fear shock and surprise in the faces of his victims at the moment they realized he was about to take their lives.


Beyond chilling.

If you would be safe in the world, it is critical that you understand that human beings like this exist.   Your best bet:   they cannot be argued with. Reasoned with.  Have no “better nature” to appeal to.  Stay out of any arenas that could overlap with their interests.   If by some horrific coincidence you end up between them and something they want…God help you.


But for me, the most interesting thing wasn’t the discussion of his kills (which seem primarily connected to what I’d call  an ‘unshielded’ predatory nature combined with a value structure that allows toleration of no slightest sign of disrespect, and a fear of powerlessness that results in serious pleasure from dominating others.  Suggesting a thin, thin ego shell over a belief that he, and all other human beings, are demonic beings pretending to be civil.  But that’s another discussion)


What was most interesting to me were a few moments when he discussed the effect of his behaviors on his family, which had no slightest idea of his secret life.  Especially the impact on his daughter.


Now…it would be easy to be cynical about this.  To assume he was faking for the camera, or pretending to be human to continue a masquerade that has served him all his life.   Simulating human emotions he doesn’t feel. That’s one perspective.


But I know something. I know how it feels to hold your newborn child. And that from discussions with hundreds of parents, something happens at that moment.  Some door of perception opens in the heart, and you glimpse a larger, deeper reality…just for a moment.  You understand something new about where you fit in the cosmos, and it is a profound understanding.


Profound enough to penetrate the pale heart of a man like Richard Kuklinski?   Possibly.  Possibly.


While the notion that it is just for show is tempting, the opposite could also be true: that it was profoundly honest, and a glimpse of something else, a road not taken.  Paradise Lost.


The “Nature” side of the argument says that such people are just born bad.  Genetics.  PRE-genetics, a twisted soul perhaps.


The “Nurture” part says that during gestation or childhood something went terribly wrong.


Ultimately, I believe people start with a feeling, a sense of which is true, then twist their intellectual fact-gathering to support what they wanted to believe in the first place.   Take your choice.


“Don’ trust people. Instead, RELY upon them to do what they believe to be in their own self-interest. It’s up to you to figure out what that is.”–Harley “Swiftdeer” Reagan


“Never appeal to a man’s better nature. He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage.” Lazarus Long (Robert Heinlein)


And the way I would put that is that not everyone is “vertically integrated” in the sense that their survival is congruent with their emotional, mental, and spiritual maps of the world. Most world religions and philosophies attempt to do this. When you do, self-interest and community service are precisely the same thing.


A couple of things make this all work together.

  1. Remember the question of doing what you love/loving what you do?  There is no intrinsic honor or value in a specific activity, save what we choose to bring to it.  We do this by connecting with it until it is something we would do even if there were no external pressures.    Do it for its aesthetic pleasure, or because it is connected to curiosity, a way of self-discovery or expression.  People who believe that without “Faith in God” there would be no morality are simply telling you either how THEY motivate themselve not to murder old ladies, or that they consider the mass of humanity beneath them.
  2. The Koisan belief in “Num”: “One soul looking out through many eyes” is congruent with the notion that there is no altruism.  That selfishness isn’t a problem. That the problem is a lack of expansiveness in your sense of Self.  Most people can expand that to include their families. This is part of the process of developing empathy and “altruism.”  Selfishness is no problem.  A non-expansive definition of “Self” most certainly is.
  3. The “Core Transformation” technique reinforces this.   If all human behaviors can be reduced to an attempt to connect with the Divine (or perhaps the sense of peace experienced in the womb) it doesn’t take much of a leap to see this “divine core” could be seen as the personal, the “Num” as the group.
  4. That “Vertical integration” of morality, passion, discipline, focus, and much else can be seen IF “Num” and the “Core” are seen as the same thing.  As a construct, it is very, very tempting.
  5. If all animals move away from pain toward pleasure…if all human action is an attempt to find some transcendental peace…and if we are social creatures unable to survive alone…and if game theory suggests that SHORT TERM benefits can accrue from theft and dishonesty, but LONG TERM benefits come from treating others fairly and honestly, “as you would wish to be treated”…then aligning your personal desires (The Child) with your ultimate values (The “Ancient”) and be sure that every day’s behaviors (short term) are aligned with your long-term outcomes…that is about as good as life gets. We become as efficient and effective as humans can be.




If I start from the “equality” side of the spectrum, that we are all connected, all part of the same being, I can explain human variation very easily…and mistakes made from this position strike me as smaller and less damaging.


If I start from the “inequality” part, I see people who are ignorant of huge swaths of environmental factors. EVERY TIME.   For instance: those who believe in racial inequality MUST downplay the effects of slavery.  You simply cannot believe what black people say about that institution and its aftermath and also believe what the “Bell Curve” implies.  Both cannot be true.    It seems to me that  mistakes made from the “inequality”  position have been responsible for most of the human misery, war, slaughter, genocide, slavery, and social horror of our history.


Note: Superiority beliefs MASKING as “Equality” beliefs might be the worst.  This is the “all animals are equal, some are more equal than others” thing.  Communism definitely falls into this, and presents a special danger because the claim of supporting equality is seductive, perhaps more seductive than simply stating outright “we’re going to kill you because we want your shit”.


But that’s another subject.


If equality between genetic and ethnic groups is the safest place to start, then the same question has to be addressed between men and women.  Start from equality?  Start from inequality?  Which one requires less distortion?    I say from equality…with some critical differences.

Vive le difference.

And ultimately…how about between people?  Are all human beings of the same basic stuff, and is the core difference what we experience along life’s path?


This is not a question that can be ultimately answered, but I do think it is useful to have a basic, broad sense of your personal beliefs.   IF I start with basic equality, all of us being a part of the same “stuff” then we have a “vertical integration” between not just our personal being from survival to spirit, but from male to female, from the personal to the social.  Possibly from the human to the cosmic.


All fitting together, even if we can’t quite grasp it intellectually. Can you see a sort of pulsing dynamic sphere of life and existence?  Does it require a belief some broadly defined group is inferior to yours?   You are following another path, and good luck to you. Hope you enjoy the company.


I see it clearly in the arena of writing, a three dimensional dynamic sphere of the whole process. Seeing it isn’t some magic pill for turning one into Shakespeare, by the way.    One of the things that becomes clear is where I am on the path of conscious/unconscious integration, and I’m delighted to say that all I can see is the people better than me, further down that road.  Most of that is that they really, really did invest more of themselves in being that thing.  They SHOULD be better than me: its more important to them.


Same with martial arts, spiritual matters, finances.   There are certainly cases where people just seem to be better popped out of the box…but most of what I see, by far, is that they just…invested more of themselves in a particular arena.


The implication of “expertise” is that “morality” is a part of this. Most of what we consider “morality” is just selfishness where the “self” is the body public. If the cells of your bodies were an “every man for himself” prokaryotic cluster, you’d be pretty screwed.   Nope, they have to work together.

If all human behaviors are to bring us pleasure, and ending up in jail, dead in an ally or a tragedy to our families is not pleasure, and logic suggests that we cannot walk such a toxic path without serious risk of being caught…


Then it is reasonable to say “something went wrong.” By any standards, not just moral or legal. That the Richard Kuklinski’s of the world are not merely two-dimensional  monsters, they are people unable to fulfill some basic need, unable to follow some internal map to joy without a detour into consuming darkness.


Something…went…wrong.   Hey, maybe they’re genetic outliers.  I can’t deny that possibility.   But which of us have not had thoughts, urges, fantasies which, if followed, might have opened doors within us leading to private hells?   Who has not become addicted to non-optimal behaviors? Not been alarmed by the growth of hungers that could destroy our bodies, relationships, careers? Not felt that we dodged a bullet by blindly following some social or religious dictate?

Never? You are perfectly disciplined in body, relationships, career, and finances? Really?   May I have the registration number on your halo?  It’s right behind the little wire thingie.

I know I’ve screwed up.  Oh, yeah.     Sometimes, you need faith to claw your way out of such a trap.  I don’t have a fraction of the aggression of some of the human beings I know.  But its there.   Oh, yes.  And if I hadn’t harnessed my fear and anger and pain to positive actions…if I hadn’t believed that I would have more long-term pleasure by following a set of principles not all THAT better than Dexter Morgan’s “Harry’s Rules”, I don’t know who or what I’d be.


Is there a Richard Kuklinski in all of us?   If there isn’t, there is little harm in imagining there is.  But if there is?  It could be horrific to assume there is not.


Our most basic negative drives are about moving away from pain. Our more elevated, but quite possibly still universal drives is to connect to the divine. You can integrate this so that you have discipline in body and mind, motivation to hunt and gather, problem-solving to align drives and morality, and ultimately feel safe enough to love without limits.


And all of that…or any part of it…I find a better seed for a good life than assuming that “they” out “there” are the bad ones.

We’re just fine.  Yeah. Tell me another one.




Sharing Your Dreams and Nightmares

Jason was recently reading DIARY OF ANN FRANK in school.  Couldn’t have approved more. One of the most famous books of the 20th Century, it tells the story of a young Jewish girl whose family went into hiding during the occupation of the Netherlands.  For over two years they hid there…and then were discovered.  Ann died of typhus in a concentration camp, possibly only weeks before it was liberated by the British.


Despite this and countless other photographic, literary, historical, eye-witness and documentary  evidences, there are Holocaust deniers.   Films, museums…it doesn’t matter. There were people who lied about it while it was happening, and people who lie about it now.  Without understanding that history, it is impossible to understand some of our current geopolitical and cultural realities, as well as grasping the full nature of human evil and courage.


And the sleepers, snakes and monsters who promote those lies are at the very least unconsciously supporting that outcome.  At the least. At the worst…they know damned well it happened, and APPROVE.




And this is despite the fact that the mechanisms of media, both non-fiction and the “dream machine” of Hollywood …well, lets just say Jews are not under-represented.   Let’s imagine what would happen if they WERE. If for instance, there were no Jews represented at the decision-making level in New York publishing, Hollywood media, the news industries.  None.


Think it might be even worse?  Think that the snakes and monsters would have an easier time of selling their lies?


THIS is why it is CRITICALLY important to get ahold of the mechanisms of media. To create and promote your own stories.  Told your own way.  Now, it might be truth, documentary, textbook material.


Or it could be myths, designed as all stories are to nurture, teach, inspire the youth and the hearts of your community.  “Separate but equal lies” as a satirist once put it.


You can’t win races by trying to be “equal.” You win them by believing you are the best, the fastest, the strongest.  Reality might prove you wrong, but that believe is what gets most of us through the Dark Night of the Soul. There will ALWAYS be negative voices saying “you are inadequate.”  A balancing voice saying “you are equal” still leaves you in the red…maybe only half as deep, but still dripping blood.


The balance to that “you are -10” is a voice saying “you are +10”  you’re the best, the most beautiful, the strongest, the sexiest.  Everyone wants and admires you.


ONLY when you have the “-10” voices quieted is it safe to give up the “+10” voices.  And frankly…most of us never get that quiet.


Now…what the hell to YOU think happens if someone with the very natural “X tribe is the best!” controls the images for Y tribe?   Does it take a lot of thought to figure that out?  Really?


The other tribe will be presented as weaker, more evil, less intelligent, more servile.  Less sexy. “Y” women will be presented as desiring X men.  X men will be presented as subhuman, alien.  Criminal and without positive agency.


You can see this anywhere you have X’s in power over Y’s.  One hears complaints about this regarding race, religion, political affiliation, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, military service, class, wealth…it doesn’t matter.  THIS IS WHAT HUMAN BEINGS DO.


The easiest thing in the world is to believe your own bullshit.  “Why, a group of X’s did a series of tests, and yes, we X’s are superior!!”  Wow.  I can only shake my head that people don’t ask the next question.


The difficulty Xs have in believing Xs could be just as evil as anyone else explains most of the “sleeping” denial to me. The rest are snakes and monsters who actually approve of the damage, and are lying to maintain an advantage.


We need everyone of EVERY letter of the alphabet to tell their stories, proclaim their beauty on the open marketplace of ideas.   Then we can see the similarity, and those who are merely asleep will be able to awaken, because it actually profits us to have an accurate map of reality.  Only the snakes and monsters need fear the truth of human equality.


“Black Panther” succeeded not just because it was a terrific entertainment, but because damned near every minute of screen time showed us something we’d never seen before, and in the aggregate, it was simply the most powerful denouncement of four centuries of lies that had ever been on the screen. And the fact that it has been as monumentally successful as it has suggests to me that the world is hungry for truth…


Or at the very least, those “separate but equal lies.”  Your fantasies and fears, your loves and terrors, your hopes and nightmares are as valid as anyone else’s who have ever lived.  I believe in the basic unity of humanity, and have no fear of what happens if we all speak what is in our hearts.


Do you have a dream to share?



Steven Barnes


Motivation, and the “Baywatch” revenge story

With any activity you need to perform daily, over thousands of days to reach your goal, you need FAR more reasons to do it than you have reasons “not to” do it.


The Hero’s Journey suggests that every single cycle of change will throw you into the Dark Night of the Soul. That means that if you don’t have a long term plan, killer motivations, support structure, measurable short-term goals, stress and fear coping mechanisms and so forth, you will be tossed out of your program. And will probably blame the program, rather than your lack of tactical support for your plan.


With writing here are some of the negatives you will run into:

  1. Fear and doubt
  2. Fatique and frustration
  3. Distractions
  4. “Writer’s Block” (fear and procrastination)
  5. Fear of criticism (loss of tribe)
  6. Fear of hope.   (If I admit I want this, my “old” life will seem lacking)
  7. Not having a clear plan of action, short term actions that lead to long term goals.
  8. Lack of a compelling future.


I knew that if I was going to have a chance to succeed, I’d have to overcome massive obstacles, keep going when I wanted to quit, deal with fear and pain and rejection and betrayal…and keep going day after day, year after year.



And here are the specific motivations that I’ve used, from childhood to adulthood:

  1. It’s fun!
  2. It gets attention from my friends.
  3. It makes my friends happy.
  4. It pleases my teachers
  5. I get to create stories with people who look like me
  6. I can make money.
  7. Hey!  I can get laid!
  8. WTF…I can get laid A LOT!
  9. I can affect people’s lives for the better.
  10. I can make a LOT of money
  11. I can take care of my family
  12. I can get my ideas out into the world, and those ideas seem…unusual.
  13. I can communicate with brilliant people, and by writing things they respect, earn my way into their circles of trust and influence.   They become intellectual allies.
  14. I am expressing who and what I am, and exploring my sense of what the world is.
  15. I am creating and nurturing a network of friends and students around the world
  16. It’s fun!




I guess I’m saying all of that to say that sometimes you have enough pain associated with a long term goal that you need to take special action…


I really only wanted to quit writing once.   It was in connection to my work on BAYWATCH.   My first script thrilled them: “best first draft we’ve ever seen!”


But my second or third script was a satirical take on the show, where a television producer wants to do a show about lifeguards, and the beach crew is offended because all the women are bimbos, and the men are brainless steroid junkies.   I NEVER thought they’d go for THAT one…but they did. Thought it was hysterical.  Wanted Weird Al to play the producer.


Anyway, I wrote it the best I could, but I’m not a comedy guy.  One of the two producers on the show punched my script up, which was cool.  He knew Baywatch much better than I did, that was for sure.   But then I got a fateful call.  The Writer’s Guild.   The Producer wanted half the credit on the script.


My stomach sank.  Why did this multi-millionaire want half of my little residuals? Why?  And worse, I knew that if they arbitrated, and he lost, he’s find a way to take petty vengeance.


I begged the Guild to just let Producer have the credit, but they wouldn’t.  They arbitrated, he lost. Unfortunately, he was a neighbor to the head of my agency, and went to him and told him: “Steve isn’t a very good writer. We just gave him the script out of sympathy.”


Jonathan Westover, my personal agent, told me this story, and I was fucking crushed.  I thought these guys were my friends.  Foolish, yes…but I really did.


I kinda spiraled down after that. Didn’t know who to trust, or what to do. My wife Toni saw the pain I was in, and it disgusted her with the industry. After the L.A. Quake she’d had enough and decided to leave California…and pretty much challenged me to come with her to Washington State.  There were a complex of motivations, but one was simply that she was trying to save me.


I had to choose between my career, and my family.    No choice. Nicki trumps EVERYTHING.  Our house in Canyon Country was upside-down due to earthquake damage. I gave it back to the bank, trashing my credit in the process.  Packed the house into a trailer.  Toni and Nicki went up to Washington ahead of me to find a place to live.   I was about to turn off the utilities and drive away when…the phone rang.


Baywatch wanted to talk to me.   WTF?  I called their offices, cautiously.  What, did they need me to test their new anal probe, or what..?


“Stevie baby.” Producer said.  Yeah, that’s my memory.   You see, they were a script short for the season, and they needed one fast, and good, and of COURSE they thought of me.  Why, of course…


So we met in Beverly Hills, all smiling and friendly, and mapped out an episode on the back of a napkin. Something about an ecological terrorist who hijacks a sailboat in an attempt to destroy an oil platform.   As a special treat, they let me do a “B” story giving Garner, the black lifeguard, his first girlfriend.


Handshakes all around.  This’ll be great!


Yeah, fuckers. It’s going to be great.


I drove up PCH fuming.  I don’t think I’d ever been quite that angry in my life.  I couldn’t let them get away with this, but what was I going to do?   Well, I realized I didn’t ever want to work with them again, that was certain.   So what could I do..?


Heh heh.  An idea came to me….and all up the coast, every night I stopped at a motel and wrote until midnight, laughing like a loon.




Turned in the script, and they loved it. Heck, I even got to choreograph part of the fight scene on the sail boat, working with the Olympic Gold Medalist in Tae Kwon Do.  (She’s never seen a Puter Kapala head throw from Silat, and was shocked, shocked I tell you…)


But as for the love story?  Well, keep in mind that Baywatch was a VERY family friendly show. For all the bare skin, they were VERY careful to dial back the sexual content and innuendo.   The day they filmed the core of the love story, Gregory Allan Williams, the actor who played Garner (who had annoyed me as the only member of the cast who wasn’t ripped, and also had been neutered until this point) came up to me all excited with the script.


The girl who played the love interest had been one of the Pepsi “Uh huh” girls in the Ray Charles commercial. She seemed to like the script as well. When she met me, she danced across the studio and literally jumped up into my arms, locked her arms around my neck, kissed me and smiled.  Reminds me of the joke about the Polish actress…but I digress.


Anyway, Greg asked me, in disbelief: “how in the hell did you get this line in the script?”


What line, you ask, gentle reader?  Well…


The set up is that Garner, the beach cop, is chasing a bicycle thief and falls into the water.  He doesn’t swim (!) and must be hauled out of the surf by a gorgeous black lifeguard, “Grace” (not her real name.  I honestly don’t remember what it was) we’d never met before, who resuscitates him.


Later, he approaches her gratefully, and the following dialogue takes place.


Garner: I just wanted to thank you…

Grace (flirtatious): You’re not going to use that old line about how since I rescued you , you belong to me, are you?

Garner: No, I’m going to use a brand new line.  I know a bar where the steaks sizzle so fine that cows line up to jump on the grill.

Grace (laughing): Scout’s honor?

Garner: I never was a Scout…but I AM prepared.

Grace: Well…I don’t ordinarily eat meat (pause) but I might make an exception tonight.




And you can believe that the actors put every drop of insinuation into that line it required.   How did I get that line into an 80’s family show?


“It was easy,” I laughed.  “The first draft of the script said ‘I don’t ordinarily eat RED meat.’  I knew that once they approved it, if I dropped `red’ out of the next draft their minds would fill it in.  They wouldn’t realize the implication had changed.”


And…they didn’t. Right through rehearsals, filming, and editing.   In fact, they never realized what I’d done until they broadcast it.  At its peak, Baywatch was seen by a BILLION people worldwide.  And a substantial percentage of those folks sent letters complaining.


Oh, revenge was very, very sweet.   All that pain of betrayal was cancelled out.  Couldn’t let it stop me.


I have miles to go before I sleep.



Write with Passion!

Steven Barnes