What is the most important thing I can do TODAY?

Morning Ritual starts when you wake up.   People who comment on my personal energy are sometimes amazed that I don’t “wake up” with it every day.  No, I have to work that Chinese Puzzle Ball, find the thing I am most committed to in life, think of the most important thing I have to do TODAY to bring it into existence, and how accomplishing it with style and joy will benefit every aspect of my life.




IMMEDIATE OUTCOME TODAY: Major progress on marketing plan, major progress on primary writing project, “Traveler.”


What can I do today to  move the marketing of the “Morning Ritual for Writers” program?   I can stay focused on who I was at the age of thirty: unsuccessful writer, unsuccessful martial artist, no relationship.  And…what “message in a bottle” can I send back to him to get him on track in just five minutes a day, and what would I have to say in an ad to attract his attention?


What can I do today to move “Traveler” forward?   I need to align the thematics from the different major chunks of the book. A major theme will have to be relationships.  If you handle survival, sex, power, and emotion with grace and balance the rest grows naturally.


What is the primary relationship I can look at today?    That would be Gus, the ex-cop hero of the story, a good man who has ruined his life and marriage…and has one last chance at redemption.  And his wife Athena, UCLA lecturer in Abnormal Sociology, a woman who was the light to his darkness, and finally left him to save herself.  Gus’ redemption arc is external (catch the time traveler) and internal (become a better man who can deserve a woman like Athena). Along the way he will have to learn, grow, win, lose, survive despair, heal, and become the hero she always saw in him.  Athena will have her own journey, and her insights into the human mind and the psychology of mass destruction will be central to the story.


“Love is not two people looking at each other. It is two people looking in the same direction.”  If true…then I’m saying that they love each other, but were heading in opposite directions. To “save” the marriage one or both of them must change. Gus needs the most change: it is his story, his arc.  Athena will have her own journey, but let’s drill down here.



Any writing expresses what you think about human beings (“who am I?”) and the ethical structure of the universe (what is true?”).  Where can I find a speck of truth about relationships, people, the world that I can insert into this book?  Use as a reference point in their relationship?  How about the scene where Athena tells him goodbye? That she’s had enough?


To get to that moment, I have to ask how we fall in love.   Some combination of hormones, visual anchors, matching of values beliefs and outcomes, smell, touch, and taste. At some point something goes “BANG” and you realize something is happening.


With Tananarive I thought she was cute and perky, then I thought she was very intelligent and talented.  The emotions triggered were protectiveness, not romantic interest or lust.   Acknowledgement of her attractiveness was certainly there: when I watched her dance, she moved like a healthy animal, and her body was fit, sinewy and quite…lively.  Ahem.


But I really, really didn’t “trigger”.  My only thought was: “here is a young lady with a future.  She has a destiny.  I think I could share what I know with her, and be a mensch.   She could use a big brother.”   The first night at the conference, we watched SEINFELD in her room, sitting on different beds. I was VERY careful with my body language: I wanted her to feel totally comfortable.


It wasn’t until the last day of the conference that something “clicked”.  It happened when she described how she got Stephen King to give her a cover blurb. I saw ambition, tactical and strategic thinking, the ability to think laterally, high-level skills in an apparently disassociated arena applied to a new purpose (using musical skills to get into King’s rock band) and more.


It hit me like a ton of bricks. I saw someone who had about every human quality I hold most dear, who was moving in my direction, revving up to take the world by the throat, unafraid of risk or rejection, with the self-love and emotional permission to care for her physical body in a way that made me feel “my tribe.”


NOTE: Remove any one of those major pieces and that devastating reaction doesn’t happen.  Now…which of those things are necessary for the CONTINUATION and elevation of those emotions?  Well, the things that relate to the basic nature of the person. In other words, if T got hit by a car, even though she can’t take care of her body the same way, she is still the same person. If she changed her values and stopped wanting to write…as long as she had that same intensity about, say, teaching, she is also the same person.


But what if you extracted those qualities and began to reverse them, like re-setting dip switches? How many of them could shift without deeply affecting my feeling of connection?


Everyone has limits.  Sweetness into meanness? Ambition into “laziness”? Activity into sloth? Discipline into excess?


How many?  When I look around at relationships that have gone sour, I’ve seen the following causes:

  1. Infidelity.  Especially serial infidelity.  Different intensities and meanings at different times in the relationship, and interpreted differently by males and females.
  2. Financial instability.  Huge.  More devastating than cheating.
  3. Lack of sexual compatibility
  4. Lying and manipulating
  5. Abuse
  6. Lack of emotional compatibility and empathy
  7. The sexual power polarities can change, creating tension…or boredom.  Seen this happen in “House Husband” relationships, and it wasn’t pretty.


The relationship can run out of gas, can become too explosive, or too painful.   I don’t think I want boredom to be a factor in this case.  More likely too much excitement and “drammer.”      Better to have Athena feel that Gus is becoming something dangerous to her psyche and sense of well being.


But what?  I have a very good sense of the cluster of negative behaviors and attitudes that Gus could have, that mirror real-world break-ups in a “useful” way. Why useful?  Because they have to be capable of being resolved with a story arc.


Ah…in what way?   Well…the perfect character is a window into a situation.  It is through their attitudes, perceptions, and actions that the situation becomes known. Why did I choose THIS character to deal with THIS situation?


Ideally…because the arc of external action (resolution of the plot) mirrors the arc of internal change (how they must grow or heal to move to the next level of their lives.)


“Die Hard” is about a group of terrorists taking over a building…but it is also about a cop who is losing his wife, and how he comes to realize how much he adores her. And a woman seeking professional self-expression, and how she comes to value the very things that drove her crazy about her husband.


Two people who were about to be torn apart by their egos, who come together when the shit gets real.  Defeating the terrorists is healing their marriage!   THAT is a terrific story, one often imitated but never excelled in the genre.   “Traveler” is in that vein, but different in that Gus is more at fault than John McClaine ever was, and he needs to “come correct” in a variety of ways that will require ego death.


HIS SELF IMAGE IS SIMPLY…WRONG.    And as  long as he clings to it, his marriage, his career, his life is in peril.  So the story has to be set up so that his inner and outer journeys reflect and amplify each other.


So…the scene where Athena tells him she’s leaving has to encapsulate the themes of the entire book, such that on one level the readers will think: “you think you can live without this man?  Just wait. You think you can live without this woman?  Just wait!”  but on another level, they will thrill to wonder just what will happen before that hopeful reunion.  They want the experience of closing the book thinking “Wow!  What a story!  I never saw THAT coming!” but also a sense that, on second reading, all the pieces of the puzzle were there…and that it all makes perfect, human sense.


So…what is the most important thing I can do today?  I can look at the structure of the three parts.   Think of the external journey.  And make major progress to make the inner and outer connect.


How long will that take?   Well…here’s a secret: REALIZING I NEEDED TO DO THAT WAS THE MAJOR PROGRESS I NEEDED.


I’ve already won, don’t you understand? Today is already a success. All I need do is write ONE SENTENCE in the script, a line of dialogue or description or summation that states what is needed.


Get it out of my head.  Onto paper.  No, writing it here on my blog, or on Facebook, isn’t enough…unless I drag and drop a relevant sentence into the actual Traveler document (currently at 245 pages on WRITERDUET).   Do that…and I win the game today.


Most important thing with Jason?  Just tell him I love him and am proud of his very good week. He did GREAT with his Algebra yesterday, and was rewarded with a theater party with friends to see “Jurassic World.” Blue is so damned cute!


Most important thing with T? Pick her up at the airport tonight.  Fetch sushi.


Most important thing with my finances?   Check my Mint account.


Most important thing with my body?  Yoga and Tai Chi/Morning ritual.


Bim, Bam, Boom.  I know what, and why, and the “Morning Ritual” is “how.”


Time to get to work!






RIP Harlan Ellison

Harlan was a giant squeezed into a 5’5″ frame, and what you felt around him was a sense of that energy compressed.  He was the first human being I’d met at his level of energy and integration. And…I was fascinated.


I’d read his articles in the Free Press in the late 60’s, heard him on the radio, seen him on television, and read his stories in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, as well as a collection of shorts I’d picked up in a used book store. And wow, that episode of THE OUTER LIMITS, “Demon With A Glass Hand” in 1964 was just amazing television.  I was twelve years old.  Mind blown.


One person did all of this? One person was such an astute observer of society, such a blazingly original fiction voice, such an unapologetic and combative defender of Truth, however he saw it?


Of course I didn’t agree with him on everything–especially not everything that was his “act” as opposed to his private presence.  He performed The Harlan Show with diabolical precision and presence.   But I wasn’t fooled by that…I knew there was more, and wanted to find out what it was.


I stalked him.   Not at his home.   Every time there was a public event, a speech or roundtable or interview, ANYTHING, I attended. Sat in the first row.   Asked polite questions. I knew that, given time, he’d start to wonder who I was.  And…it worked.   Over time, we began to exchange words, and then polite conversation.  Yes, there was a day I decided to try the Fast Gun, and at another time I’ll tell you how effortlessly he took me down.  I’ll say only that it didn’t sting: I’d learned something I needed to know.


What was it? That Harlan’s verbal reaction speed was uncanny.  The reaction went from brain to mouth with no pause at common sense.   Pure survival flash, and I recognized it.    Martial artists who have either trained like Shaolin Monks, been in combat, boxed at competition level, been in countless street fights…or were abused as children and re-integrated successfully react with that speed.   Dangerous as hell.  When combined with real technique?  Lethal.


Harlan’s mind was Shaolin-level conceptual/verbal kung fu, there is no doubt.    But there was something else…he was the first person I’d had a chance to study who revealed what I call the “Chinese Puzzle Ball” effect.


Know those carved wooden puzzle balls, concentric skeletal shells you can rotate to stick a pencil through?  Real fun.  Well…most people’s creativity, or sexuality, or combative spark or “genius” is like that.  They have to have the lights, and music, and talk, and environment JUST RIGHT and you can access what Harlan called “the burning core.”


And…some people are like those annoying prodigies who can solve Rubik’s cubes while juggling them.  Ugh.  Harlan could go into “flow” harder  than anyone I’d ever seen. That’s what the “write a story in a store window” thing was, to me.  Like meditating in a room full of hungry cats.  That was a hell of a mind. I’m not surprised that he trained for a time with Bruce Lee, and man, do I wish I’d been a fly on the wall during one of THOSE sessions.  And yes, we talked about that. Another time.




I wanted to tell you about the most meaningful interaction I had with Harlan.   He knew damned well how much I admired him, and it seemed to me that when people were sincere, and not fawning but genuinely respectful, he rewarded  that frank and honest emotion by dropping the “HARLAN!” act. Then he, like other masters I’ve known, was just a man walking a road one day at a time.   Bradbury, Inosanto,  Butler, Niven, Muhammad, Stewart, Spielberg, Bill Nolan…I’ve encountered this before, a combination of humbleness and supreme confidence.   And appreciation of anyone who finds the same road of fascinating interest.


Remember the definition of Mastery?   Once you have the basics, and have committed to your path for a lifetime, you are as much a “Master” as anyone else on the road…even if they are horizons beyond you.   They have a real sense of that path between the Child and the Elder.   Harlan’s “child” was an adorable six-year old, and anyone who tried to fuck with him ran into the most terrifying Tiger Daddy imaginable.


But what he really wanted was playmates.    I knew that we liked each other, but I wasn’t remotely at the same level as a writer. Horizons distant, he was.


I published my first solo novel, STREETLETHAL, in 1983.  It was a shaky time in my relationship with Nicki’s mom Toni, and I was living by myself in the San Fernando Valley on a street called Hayvenhurst.    I was hanging on to my sense of possibility by a fingernail–terrified about that first solo effort (DREAM PARK had been an enormous success.  THE DESCENT OF ANANSI had been a painful, humiliating experience I barely survived.)


So when Jim Baen outbid Susan Allison for my freshman solo, it felt like all the world was opening itself to me…but also my every nerve felt exposed and vulnerable.  I made sure that Beth Meacham, my wonderful editor, sent Harlan a  galley (other readers included Norman Spinrad and Gordon Dickson), and I remember the day I got a call from Harlan saying that he’d received a copy and liked the first page…it reminded him of his own work.


Cue optimistic music.  About three days later, it was raining out.  About eight o’clock on a very dark, cold, drizzly evening and I was alone at home. The phone rang and it was Harlan. His voice sounded pained, like a family doctor about to read a regrettable diagnosis.  “Steve..?” he said.   “Is it too late to stop publication..?


I sat on the floor in my living room, listening to my hero tell me all the reasons why the book…just wasn’t good.  I could hear the deep regret in his voice. There was NO cruelty there, just advice for a kid stumbling behind, far far behind, on the road.


When I hung up the phone, I broke down and sobbed.  Yeah, it was too late to stop publication, even if I’d wanted to.  It wasn’t that I believed everything he said.  It was that I didn’t have the strength to totally discount it either, and his opinions allied themselves with my own demons.


Some years later, because my Hollywood agent Marvin Moss packaged “The Twilight Zone” reboot for CBS with uber-producer Phil DeGuirre, an (unproduced)  script I’d done for The Disney Channel passed the story editor’s desk. They liked it, and we met in a room at the Beverly Garland Hotel.   DeGuirre, Jim Crocker, Dorothy Fontana, and…Harlan Ellison.


“How did you get here, Steve?” he asked with genuine curiosity.   He listened, smiled as he munched a Danish, and said, “well, kid…don’t look behind you.  Just keep running.”


I did.  I ran as fast as I could, trying to keep up with the big dogs.  Couldn’t quite do it, and when I wrote my second episode, an adaptation of Rober Silverberg’s TO SEE THE INVISIBLE MAN, Harlan read my first draft and as kindly as possible, expressed disappointment, walking me through the process of creating a series of visual images that express the plot and themes of the work. THAT was my job as a screenwriter.  And…I hadn’t done it.   I was better than I’d been, but still not good enough.




I survived that experience, and soldiered on.  Years passed, and we got to know each other better, and I was always careful to be as genuine, honest, friendly, helpful and “fun” as I could be.  Not always easy…but this isn’t the time for those thoughts.  I’ll just say that my times with him were a beautiful thing.  I’d never thought to be actual friends with this Celestial Being I’d worshipped from afar as a kid. And that house on the hill!  Good Lord.   Harlan’s house was like his head, turned inside out. Chock A Block with souvenirs and posters and rooms designed by Will Eisner, and others hidden away from sight…with histories I won’t discuss now, but let’s just say that although he was never into drugs or alcohol the 60’s were very, very good to Uncle Harlan.

At his front door is a plaque that says: ELLISON WONDERLAND.  DIG…OR SPLIT.

I dug.




When THE OUTER LIMITS was rebooted in 1995, I was stoked–it had been one of my all time favorite shows, and I pitched an idea called “Recidivist” about a time-traveling serial killer.  They loved it, retitled it “A Stitch In Time” and I wrote my ass off.


There is a simple truth I hold as gospel:  If you get up to bat enough times, eventually you’ll get a hit. Keep hitting…and one day you’ll hit a home run, and you’ll know when the vibration hits your hands.


I was so proud of that episode.   And…called Harlan.  Asked him if he’d seen it.


Understand this: much as with Octavia Butler (who Harlan discovered and sponsored to Clarion) Harlan liked ME better than he liked my writing.   I appreciated that, and knew that he was honest with me–it was a compliment, I felt.  He knew that I really wanted to BE good. I didn’t want to just “think” I was good.


So…I swallowed and listened for his answer.  Nope, he hadn’t seen it. Could I send him a copy?


I did.  VHS.   And about a week later I got another call from him.


“Barnes,” he asked.  “Was that your script?”




“They didn’t rewrite all over it?”


Nope. Some small changes.  My words, characters, images, plot.  All of it.


Well…you did it.   This shit smokes. It is original, and important.    You pulled the plow, kid.”


And…it felt as if a raven flew out of my chest.   I’d done it. After all this time.  I had fallen in love with Harlan Ellison with an Outer Limits episode. And he had finally seen me educe from within my own burning core the quality I’d always dreamed of…in an Outer Limits episode.  I’d solved the Puzzle Ball, at last. Just once, maybe.  But even if you are consumed, it is worth it to touch the sun.  Even just once.


Life has a lovely symmetry sometimes, does it not?




I loved that man.  I saw in him the same human potential so many of us have, and so few ever explore.    There was NOTHING there discontinuous with the rest of us, and I think that was part of what drove him nuts, made him so volatile. A sense that life was so short, love so precious, art so important. God DAMN it!

His every word seemed to scream WAKE UP!!!


Will you not be kind to each other?  Why aren’t you sprinting toward your dreams with everything you have?  What the FUCK is wrong with you? Don’t you know the night is coming?  You think life is a dress rehearsal?


Harlan burned his candle at both ends, with a blowtorch in the middle.   Flawed and screwed up, he was. Because he was a real human being, trying to live in the eye of a creative storm called THE HARLAN ELLISON SHOW that he put on for the public…and if he occasionally forgot it was a role?  Well…I can forgive him for that.


He was the most “himself” human being I may have ever met, the simple result of having the courage to say what is really in your mind…and the brilliance of having something to say worth hearing…combined with the work ethic of a titan on amphetamines.


Here’s to you, my friend.   Whatever doubts and regrets you may have had, know that to me you will always be what you aspired to be: that crazy combination of  Zorro and Jiminy Cricket.


You pulled the plow, kid.



Namaste and Farewell…



Along Came A Spider (2001)

Along Came A Spider (2001) is nobody’s classic mystery, but it is entertaining in a non-demanding way, and contains a favorite trope.


Here’s the situation: Megan Rose, a little girl attending a high-end Washington D.C. school, is kidnapped by Gary Soneji, a teacher at the school.  Detective Alex Cross and Secret Service Agent Jezzie Flanigan must unwind a twisty maze of unlikely plot threads to solve the case.


But in the midst of all of their searching, planning, profiling and tap-dancing around the romantic subplot excised from the novel, Megan herself is presented as a girl trapped in a horrible situation…but constantly using every tool she has to survive.


She is smart, and courageous, and perceptive. She calculates odds, takes initiative, and is constantly problem-solving on multiple levels.  By the time the climax arrives, she has taken large, important steps to solve her own problem, and if she is running out of options, it isn’t her fault.


BECAUSE she took those options, she escapes death narrowly, and sets up the final scenes, which are nicely tense.


Had she just waited to be rescued, she’d be dead.   But if you look at her story from the Hero’s Journey framework, her Dark Night of the Soul (she can’t quite get away) is healed through a Leap of Faith (keep trying, no matter what) which is ultimately justified by the cleverness and courage of her allies.


I think we all sense that there are aspects of life out of our control. The truth is that, just like Megan Rose, we don’t know when or if help will arrive. But unless we take action, we die.  Our dreams die. Maybe there will be help…maybe we’ll have to work it out ourselves.  And maybe in a different world, just a SLIGHTLY different film, Megan Rose would have rescued herself.  Just as sometimes, we can do it all ourselves.


But any worthwhile goal demands that we grow. Growth demands that we empty ourselves out. That means reaching the end of our self-concept. At some point in any growth process, it will feel that all is lost.


How do you keep going then?  You keep fighting, like an animal determined to survive. One day at a time, you do everything you can do THAT day, using your fear to motivate you.  Even if you can’t see what you can do, you have faith that there is SOMETHING even if you cannot see it. You may need to take more steps.  Turn a few more corners.


I remember when I felt trapped living in Vancouver Washington, my marriage in tatters, income stream trashed, seeing no options except to take one day’s actions at a time.  I clearly remember praying: “Please God…I’m going to jump out on faith now.   I’m surrounded by fog, and can’t see a way out.   So if I jump…either catch me, or let me hit the rocks before I can see them.”


If you don’t see any solution, then remember that stress itself becomes strain, creates tunnel vision. There are COUNTLESS instances of people who didn’t see answers…but someone else saw them, or they themselves discovered an answer down the road. If they had quit, they never would have met allies or discovered the answer they sought.


So what if you see nothing but triggers for fear and despair?


  1. LOVE YOURSELF Remember that your goal is joy.   Being happy.  All else is a means to this end.
  2. LOVE ONE OTHER PERSON .   You want long-term joy, so forget about drugging yourself out. The misery experienced by druggies who finally see the damage they have done to themselves and everyone around them is horrific.
  3. UNDERSTAND HISTORY.  Remember that just because YOU don’t see an answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one.   Don’t let your ego destroy you.  Imagine yourself ON THE OTHER SIDE of the problem. Or Mankind on the other side of it, centuries from now.  Steps were taken.   Be part of the answer.
  4. PROTECT YOUR TRIBE.    Do this, and they will protect you.    Your task is to work backward from your goal: happiness.  To have this, you must avoid pain, define a path to success, gather allies and abilities, and keep moving.   For many of us, serving others is more motivating than taking care of ourselves. Use that. Exist for the good of humanity.  Or your country. Or community. Or family.  Or the child within you.   KEEP GOING.  But also remember that you must renew your energy and emotions.  What are you doing to renew, protect, refresh?   Connect with family and friends.  Exercise (about 95% of people who talk about fighting depression or despair will discuss passive actions to compensate. They forget the mighty effects of aerobic/anaerobic exercise to process fear, and that is tragic), focus on positive past actions and future hopes.
  5. WIN WITH INTEGRITY.   If for you to win, someone else has to lose, have compassion. The temptation will be to “do unto others as was done to you.”  That’s not the way to do it.   Trust me…whatever you are going through, the great saints, sages and philosophers witnessed and experienced worse. There are damned good reasons why we are encouraged not to use the tools of the Damned unless there are no other tools to use.  Start by remembering your task is to be happy–not to make others miserable.  IF they are miserable, that is their choice, not your purpose.   Be the change you want to see in the world.




We do these things by taking one step a day in the direction of your goals. So long as you are moving toward that goal, your fear turns into energy.  Depression in this sense is fear with no one to fight and no where to run.


The answer is to believe there are answers, and understand that unbalanced stress denies us access to faith and understanding.


The answer is to remember all the times in the past that we, and others, were like little Megan Rose: trapped, doomed, manipulated…and that the answer was to keep fighting, keep trusting, keep working. The forces of evil want desperately for us to give up.


Don’t. Not ever.  If your ancestors had, under greater stress than ANYONE reading this can imagine, you wouldn’t be here now.


Don’t let them down.








Just two days ago, I got a PM from someone asking what I thought about a book they were working on where a black character dies heroically to protect and motivate a white character.   Sigh.  There are core tropes clustering around what I call “the breeding circle”: that black characters disproportionately are too young, too old, too gay, too fat, or too dead to be reproductive competition for the white leads.  So…no.  Not interested in the combination of “Sacrificial Negro” and “Spiritual Guide.”   Yuck.

One of the things I loved about the early Alex Cross novels was the sense that he was a full human being: an intellectual and physical animals with a powerful sex drive and open-hearted connections to his community.


So…when I heard they were making “Kiss The Girls”, the first Alex Cross movie, my very first thought was “I wonder how they’ll neuter the character?”   Because I knew they weren’t going to let the romance in the book play out.  First…just no. Second…it was interracial. Two strikes.  If the genders had been reversed, sure.

So in a movie like “Bad Boys”, when I wait to see how they will neuter Will Smith, they do it with a “clever” role reversal where the sexy witness mistakes married Martin Lawrence for playa Will Smith.   Low-Jinx ensue.  Hah hah hah!  Isn’t this hysterical?

Not if you saw it coming.

Morgan Freeman, bless his heart, has made an entire career out of avoiding being a sexual being onscreen.  I have heard that now, late in his cinematic dotage, he has finally had a love scene of some kind, but I can’t identify the movie, and I can  promise you it was with a post-Menopausal woman.  No reproductive competition, don’t you see.

But earlier in his career–not a single love scene, not even a passionate kiss (I believe there were a couple of platonic kisses along the way. Say…from Helen Mirren in “Reds” just before he sacrifices himself for the white folks…)

But I digress.   Yeah, that’s what they did to neuter Alex Cross. They cast Morgan Freeman.  Plausible deniability at its best. Why, it isn’t that we didn’t want to do a love scene.  It just doesn’t fit Freeman’s image. It was HIS choice…

Sure, and its BECAUSE that is his choice he got the opportunity in the first place.

So…”Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came A Spider” were tolerable, despite the insult.   And then years passed, and word came that they were making another “Cross” film…this one with Idris Elba!

Wow.  I was thrilled.   Certainly they couldn’t cast such a seething cauldron of testosterone and neuter him.  The uproar would be loud enough to embarrass, and it would take more than a casual excuse to cancel THAT apocalypse (to reference a movie in which, yes, as in “Reds” the only black character dies heroically, that others might mourn and be inspired.  Fuck them.  When that happens?  I start cheering for the Kaiju)

I was optimistic. Maybe…(and before you get going, no, it isn’t “Hollywood”.   This wouldn’t happen if the tribal genetics of this wasn’t appealing to the audience.   You can see echoes of this in political, economic, and law-enforcement arenas.  This is human psychology, not a cabal of evil filmmakers)

Of course you know what happened.   They cast Tyler Perry, a performer…um…let’s just say who is best known for transvestism.   Let’s just say that the amount of “spark” he generated with his leading lady wouldn’t have worried a mouse swimming in a pail of gasoline.

Plausible deniability.  Pardon me if I don’t buy that crap any more.  At all.

Jeeze, I hope I never meet Perry. I would have so much trouble trying to be polite. I really would.






Sick Little Games

I knew a guy whose wife struggled with her weight.   She’d been the sort of person who had ice cream on her waffles for breakfast…with a diet Coke.   Finally, she got serious.     And regardless of what she had said about hormones and slow metabolism and  so forth, the truth was that when she cut out the rich food and bore down on the exercise, the pounds came right off.    She looked great.


Then…she caught him making out with a girl at a party.  And…the weight went right back on.      I asked him one day: “what would you do if Kathy (not her name) was only pretending to try to lose weight?  If really, the game was to do just enough to get you off her back, but actually keep it on?”

He considered for a moment and then said:   “I would divorce her.”


Anyone feel like they don’t understand the sick game going on here?




Over the next year I found several different women who struggled with weight and never got it off, and if approached non-confrontationally, they said things like:


  1. If I lost weight, other men would be attracted to me, and I don’t want the temptation.
  2. If I lost weight, men would be attracted to me, and I would be at risk because I have bad judgement.
  3. Bad men would be attracted to me, and I would be at risk of assault…again.
  4. My husband doesn’t deserve my beauty.
  5. People wouldn’t notice I was in the room–the extra size is power.
  6. My business associates wouldn’t take me as seriously if I was little and sexy.
  7. I don’t have time to exercise. It takes hours a day.
  8. Food is my only reliable pleasure in life.


Guys had some similar ones.

  1. I wouldn’t take up as much space.  I would feel threatened.
  2. I’d be giving up the only real pleasure in my life.
  3. I would be competition to large male predators, and would have to butt heads with them.
  4. My body is nasty.  I don’t want anything to do with it.


What about in other arenas?  Money (and these were mostly  male answers):


  1. If I had more money, I’d just have to pay more taxes.
  2. If I had money, my relatives would just come and take it.
  3. Money is evil–only bad people have it.
  4. If I had money, I wouldn’t be sure people loved me for myself (note the similarity to the obesity reasoning for women)
  5. I don’t have enough money to save money.
  6. It takes money to make money
  7. I’m already working 60 hours a week.  I can’t work myself to death.


How about relationships?


  1. Sex is ugly and sinful, and only positive in a very  narrow range of behaviors and conditions.  And nothing non-reproductive: oral, anal, masturbation, homosexual…all evil.
  2. Men/Women are bastards/bitches
  3. People should love me for your “inner self”…but I will judge THEM by their “outer selves.”
  4. I don’t like myself unless someone else loves me.
  5. A bird in the hand is worth all the fish in the sea.
  6. I don’t have time to meditate. It takes hours a day.
  7. All the good ones are gone.
  8. A shared love of drugs/alcohol/bars is a great foundation for a relationship.
  9. Love is all it takes
  10. Sex is all it takes
  11. A relationship should always be effortless.


What about writing?


  1. It’s talent, not work.
  2. I don’t need to read other people’s writing.
  3. I can write the Great American Novel before I’ve published a short story.
  4. My first drafts should be as good as Steinbeck/Butler’s final drafts.
  5. I don’t have time to write.  It takes hours a day.
  6. A rejection slip means you can’t do it.




Ugh. I need mental floss just thinking about that toxic stew.

If you study people who have improved their life situations in one of these categories, you’ll see that their beliefs, behaviors and values are very different from those who never manage to change their circumstances for the better.


I’m willing to bet that ALL of you have shifted from negative to positive results in your lives, or observed people who have.


They didn’t just “get lucky”–some light bulb went on in their heads, and they began to act, feel, and focus differently.   Every day they did different things. And…their results began to shift.     Body (health and fitness), Relationships (with yourself, and your mate), Career (how you produce goods and services for your community), Finances (Saving and protecting the money you make).


Look at those four arenas.  Identify a mistake you used to make. What is it? Where did you get it?   When you improved, what new belief/perspective slid into place?


For instance:



Negative belief “You will fail and suffer if you try to become an artist” (from my Mom)

Positive belief:  “I would not be able to sustain the urge to be a writer if I didn’t have the potential.”


That new belief helped me counter my fear until I defined a path of action that would lead me to success.  There were similar negative and positive beliefs in the other arenas.


Can you name a negative belief you once had, where you got it, and what you changed it to, and the results you got?


  1. I wanted to be a writer
  2. My entire social context told me it was impossible
  3. I found role models who convinced me that it was work and focus, not luck or talent
  4. I worked my ass off for years, and succeeded.
  5. The grand irony: people telling me I was “lucky” or “talented”.


Oh, its fun.  And they do that to absolve themselves of the responsibility to focus their time and energy.   To that end, there really might be an innate talent: the ability to focus your attention over time.  Give them that, and they can acquire the ability to align their self-image, beliefs, and actions with their ultimate goals.


I will back that person against “talent” and “luck” for the creation of a happy, meaningful life any time.






The “Story Sifu” strikes again!

“I did it! I did it, sifu! Steven Barnes, I used your advice. I wrote a sentence one day. It was when I looked at it, a complete story. I found a market. It’s sold! Industry rates! I did it!”–Brian McNett


So wonderful to write, and read, and help other writers create.  Standing in the crossroads of the past and future of the field.

Thirty odd years ago, I realized that Campbell’s model of the Hero’s Journey could be applied to life. About twenty-five years ago, I saw that if you asked “how can I understand  the Hero?” and answered “use the Chakras” you could create a circle with an X and Y axis, the path of human development (climbing up the Chakras like Maslow’s Hierarchy) with the HJ as the journey.



Writers start out with a mind full of stories, and a desire to share them. The wall they run into is simply not knowing whose advice to take. There are thousands of books, lectures, courses, mentors who all say they have the Way to begin or improve a writing career.  To a degree, most of them are correct.  But ultimately you need to find just one or two of them to focus on, or you’ll be lost.


The most common complaint comes from people trying to write books without the organizational or emotional skills to finish the project. They can’t get past the “first draft” stage, the voices in their heads hammer at them.  They’ve got X amount of focus and creative energy, and their project is requiring X+Y resources.


The trick is to reduce the amount of daily work until it is below X.   Every month, you map out your path to AT LEAST one story.  Then, every day you write AT LEAST one sentence on that story.  If you find that at the end of the month you’ve only written two pages, then reduce the story size until it is just two pages.  Keep it up, at least a sentence a day.  FORCE YOURSELF to stick to just the one project until you learn to juggle.


Now…imagine that you are writing a story about a writer trying to write a story a month in a sentence a day.  Anything that happens to you, is happening to him.  Let’s say he has a problem.  Look at the Hero’s Journey and see where the difficulty lies.


  1. Confronted with Challenge.  The writer might not realize what they have to do to succeed.   They may not be clear on the fact that you have to stick with one project at a time, until sufficient discipline and facility is developed.
  2. Reject the Challenge. The writer might be afraid of failure (rejection), or success (change).  Isolating the reasons will suggest remedies.
  3. Accepting the Challenge. Writer commits to a sentence a day/story a month model.
  4. The Road of Trials.  Either they write a sentence a day, or they don’t. Either they shape it into a story a month, or they don’t.   FIND OUT PRECISELY WHAT IS STOPPING THEM.
  5. Allies and Powers.  Whatever is stopping them: fear, confusion, ADD, lack of organization, lack of role model, lack of focus,  lying to himself (NO ONE lacks the time to write a sentence a day!) or whatever…identify the problem.   Find people who have solved it. Study at least three, to find what they have in common. Do that.
  6. Confront Evil–Fail.   They will be unable ot begin, unable to finish, unable to research, unable to submit, unable to go on to the next project.  Get REJECTED.  Where is the breakdown? How does it devastated them?
  7. Dark Night of the Soul. How does it attack them emotionally?  What insecurities does the “failure” trigger?
  8. Leap of Faith. What is it that motivates the writer to keep going?   Clarity of values? Belief in self?  Meditation?  A writer’s circle? A mentor? The need to pay the bills?
  9. Confront Evil–succeed.  What is the definition of success?  IT MUST BE SOMETHING THE WRITER CAN CONTROL.   Becoming a writer of classics demands agreement of thousands of people.  Selling a story demands that ONE editor say “yes.” That…is just a numbers game.  THAT is a game you can win simply by focusing over time.
  10. Student Becomes the Teacher.  What is their next step? The higher level? Teaching? Working on a larger, more complex project?


Call ANYTHING that stops you from completing this cycle to be “writer’s block.”  And every time you see someone who has navigated it, see if you can determine how THEY traveled the ten steps. Every journey will be different, and every traveler sees different territory every time.


But you will find the pieces of the puzzle, explicitly or implicitly, EVERY TIME.  Ask questions.  Examine your own process.  Define a game you can win.


And then…win it.



Write with Passion!




Be Attracted To The Attraction

Yesterday I asked people what “message in a bottle” they would send back to their younger self about relationships, a core exercise of the “Ancient Child” program.   A gush of great answers!  One of my favorites was from Todd Jackson:


“Teach yourself to be attracted to a woman’s attraction to you, and disinterested in her disinterest.”

Man, could the “Incels” ever use THAT one.  It triggered today’s conversation.



Many years back, my agent Jonathan Westover asked me if I wanted to write for Baywatch.  I’d never seen the show, so I asked him to send me some episodes. I was living in Canyon Country at the time.  Nicki was about…maybe seven.  And we spent half a day watching VHS tapes of the show.  After watching about three episodes of jiggle-fest, I asked my daughter what she thought about the show. She pursed her lips and said rather thoughtfully “well…its about nice people working hard to make the beach safe so other people can have fun.”


Damned good answer.  “You know what?” I said.  “There’s lots worse stuff than that in the world.”


And I decided to give it a shot. My process was that I would generate at least 100 ideas, as fast as possible, writing each on 3X5 cards.  That might take a day.  Then I would sort back through them:


  1. Had I seen this idea somewhere before?
  2. Could this idea be executed in a time-frame, and for the money allotted to an hour show?
  3. Did it feel like I could write it without a lot of research, from my existing knowledge base?
  4. Did it feel FUN to write?
  5. Did it feel like there was a grain of truth, something meaningful and emotionally/philosophically valid in the story, or was it pure cheese?


I would prioritize the stories based on my responses to those and other questions.    Usually, this would pare down the possibilities by about 50%.  That left about 50.   Then I would see which ones naturally and organically broke down into three-act structure.  Now, there is nothing sacred about a 3-act structure.  That was basically just pee breaks for Greek actors, as far as I was concerned.   But we’ve programmed people to expect them, and uncreative Hollywood producers (who are NOT stupid, regardless of what you think. Entry level is often a law degree. But…they are not necessarily “creative” and so we need a common vocabulary to communicate across the abyss between the Left and Right brains, the “creative child” and the “moneybags adult” who have to cooperate to spend the 700k it took to make an episode of Baywatch)

If the stories naturally and easily broke down into three acts…and passed all the other filters…it went into a separate pile. Now we’re about three days into the process, and I had about 20 ideas.  Pick the ones that simply appealed to me the most. No explanations needed: just “FEEL” like Steven Barnes stories.


And pared those down to about five. And fleshed those out.    That was my process in those days, and it worked well for me.


I pitched all five, and if memory serves, they bought two of them. The first was called “Rescue Bay” and it was basically “Love Story” meets Bugsy Malone on the beach.  Here’s the set-up:   Hobie, the son of Mitch Buchanan (David Hasselhoff) the head lifeguard, joins the Junior Lifeguards, and there meets a really cute little girl.   She always wanted to be a lifeguard when she grew up, but there’s a problem: she has Aplastic Anemia, and isn’t GOING to grow up. She has only a couple of years to live (according to a doctor I consulted with, Aplastic Anemia is one of those really great “Hollywood” diseases: it will kill you dead, but you look great in the hospital right up till the end, allowing soft-focus camera work, lots of great acting from beautiful people, and swelling music until the face out.    Oh, Preppie…but I digress.)     Hobie falls in love with her, leading to the kinds of heart-breaking moments (as well as rescue-based excitement) that I felt would be a good show.


But there was something more important…I got to put in a line that aligned with my real values and beliefs about life.  “Love isn’t two people looking at each other.  It is two people looking in the same direction.”


At its peak, BAYWATCH was seen by a BILLION people worldwide. Get that? Steven Barnes was able to get one of his core beliefs about life out to 1/6 the population of the planet.   That flat rocks.

Attraction is interesting, but only if it is aligned with your values, beliefs, goals.   That means you have to know yourself, and where you are going.


If you love yourself, you won’t want to be with someone who drags you down. You will demand to be seen, understood, appreciated.  Demand that your potential partner supports you in your dreams. And…if you see yourself in them, you will demand that they let you support THEM.




If there are four aspects of life I’m focusing on: Family, Career, Fitness, and Finances, the one that is under your greatest degree of control is Fitness, because you can produce it in a room, alone, with no equipment and no direct support.  Prisoners in jail do it all the time.


One of the reasons the Morning Ritual uses a physical component is that the lies we tell each other about “not having time” will kill our dreams, and looking at our relationship to our bodies is one of the fastest ways to reveal these distortions and evasions.


The second simplest aspect is relationships.   To have a great relationship, you only need TWO people.

  1. Yourself.  You must love yourself, accept yourself, be your own friend.  In this way you will be on your path of personal development, constantly improving.  But you will also enjoy your journey, and appreciate your own efforts.
  2. One other person. Do the first,  and you will be attracted to people at your own level–and you will attract people AT YOUR LEVEL OF ENERGY AND INTEGRATION AND BELOW.   What percentage will be at your level?  I don’t know…call it 20% just for grins.    Of those, many will be a mis-match in terms of direction.





In my SOULMATE teachings, I say something that often gets raised hackles from the audience. I ask the guys: “want the secret to attracting any woman you want?”    The guys always lean forward and go “YEAH!!” and the girls lean back, cross their arms and wait for some NLP manipulative bullshit. Their eyes turn to ice. They thought I was a nice guy…until that moment.


I laugh.


“It’s simple,” I say.   “All you have to do is only want women who are attracted to you.”


Boom.   There it is.   How do you do that?  Well…frankly it isn’t that hard to fall in and out of love. All you have to do is focus on the positive aspects and ignore the negative.  Or vice versa.  Learn where those levers are in your head, and Bob’s your uncle.   So back in the day I would walk into a room, checking out all the ladies.   Who is most attractive?   Try to talk to her.  Was she interested?  No?  Well…wow. She wasn’t that attractive after all.  Hadn’t noticed that mole.  Move on to the next one. Was SHE attracted?  No?  Wow, her laugh is abrasive. Move on.


Now note…I didn’t dislike them.  Didn’t wish them ill.  They just move out of the category of “WOWSERS!!” and into “well, she’s interesting.  I wish her well.”


And move on…until I hit the one who smiled back. Ah, there are few things in life as wonderful  as being attracted to someone who is attracted to you. That is a real “sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you” revelation.  And you can literally choreograph it simply by learning to only be attracted to people attracted to you.  Otherwise…they are interesting, but not magnetic.   Learning this trick will safe you a vast amount of pain…


BUT YOU MUST LOVE YOURSELF, AND LIKE YOURSELF. Otherwise you won’t believe that there are other fish in the sea.


Then, out of those you are attracted to, who are attracted to you, there are other questions that get answered as you get to know them:


Do their values and beliefs match yours?

Do their ambitions match yours?

Does they energy match yours?

Do you have enough shared life experience to have perspectives and “in-jokes” that feel natural and familial?

Is there enough complementarity to create a “spark”?  (That’s the “opposites attract” thing. The greater the difference, the bigger the spark–as long as you have enough similarities for that spark to jump the gap)




If you aren’t…you will tear each other to pieces.  Values.  Beliefs. Energy level.


Oh, THAT’S a big one. If you want a hiking companion, they have to move at the same pace YOU enjoy.  Maybe you like to stroll and smell the flowers.  Maybe race-walk to the summit. Maybe rock-climb up the face.  If they can’t match your pace, or want a different path, one of you is going to be very disappointed.


The same direction. At the same pace.


If you don’t know yourself, love yourself, you will sacrifice YOUR journey because you’re afraid of being alone.  Here’s the secret: you are alone. You will always be alone. But…you don’t have to be lonely.  Lonely is optional.




Learn to be attracted to the attraction.  Yes.  BUT…learn also not to be attracted JUST because there is attraction. That is desperation, and a road to hell.


Yep, its complicated.   But…less complicated than mastering a career (which demands cooperation from dozens of other people at the least) or your finances (which demands future-pacing to a savage degree, the ability to not only create relationships, read intentions and needs, discipline yourself to develop salable skills and tamp down the “I WANT IT NOW!” that allows you to save 10% of your earnings).  Only dealing with your body is under more direct control.

But frankly…when I ask myself what is more common to find, happy relationships or healthy fit bodies…I think the relationships are more common. Not “perfect”–that would require perfect people, and I ain’t never met one of those.


But every chipmunk in the forest finds a mate.  It really isn’t that hard–if you would be attracted to yourself, and you love yourself.  And you stop bleeding over the billions of people who will never want to boff you.   Let ’em go.


Be attracted to the attraction…then sort for what you need and want.


Works great.






So the experiment with Jason’s algebra took a positive step yesterday.   I warned him a month ago that we would be doing tutoring on Fridays.  He rejected the notion, but finally agreed.


As the time came closer, I reinforced the notion with rewards-in-advance.  Want an expansion block for your Playstation?  Promise to do good with the tutoring.   Want a “redo” for some transgression (say…taking a cereal box into his bedroom)?  Promise to do his best with the tutoring.


My standards for a tutor: I wanted a smart, cute girl about 5 years older than Jason.  Why?   Because we are motivated to do our best when we are in the presence of people we find attractive. Its programmed into our genes.  What EVERYONE wants is to be happy, and happiness is a process of progressive movement toward being a healthy reproductive animal as well as a contributing member of society. A teenaged boy is asking questions he has no answer to: “how do I step into the adult world?  Earn a living? Find a mate?”   This is the first half of life, and every culture on the planet devises rituals and rules to “dam” that river of power to turn the social gears.


I found a delightful one, Hannah.  A young  lady who actually used to “baby sit” Jason when he was younger, even though she isn’t that much older. She’s more mature, and trustworthy. And very cute, the daughter of one of my oldest friends.  I told her Mom what I was doing, and she laughed like hell and said “sure.”




I gave Jason two weeks off, the first week he only had to go to Football camp. The second week we started integrating the “Morning Ritual” again from the “Double your Child’s Grades in Five Minutes a Day” program (Eugene Schwartz’s brilliant book. He’s a marketing genius, and what is convincing your kids to do homework other than marketing a potential future lifestyle?)


Since there is no homework (we missed the window for summer school) I went over a few things:


  1. Musashi’s principles.  Relate them to football practice (“The Way is in Training”–you have to practice HARD!”)
  2. RPM. You have to know WHAT you want (Football, for instance) and WHY you want it (to be strong. To be on a team and make friends. To hear the crowd cheer.  To attract the attention of attractive girls) and only then  worry about HOW to do it (attend practice regularly, give it your all, listen to the coach, make friends, get plenty of rest, celebrate small victories, etc.)
  3. Remember when we were talking about the perfect school curriculum? Did you think this was idle speculation?  Ya don’t know me too well, do ya?   Remember that we decided primarily on readin’, writin’, Rithmatic? Plus general body-mind connection, mental-emotional skills, practical homemaking and “Big History”?  Well, I got him a Timeline of History sticker book.   Every day he is putting a sticker on the timeline of history.  Yesterday a meteor about to kill the dinosaurs (well, maybe it was a comet.  Opinions change) and the day before it was Barack Obama.  He is learning to organize all human knowledge into a timeline of occurence or discovery.  Knowledge without context is as useless as a public library with randomly distributed books.


That’s his five-minute morning ritual.  Any day that he DOESN’T go to Football, he does reading.   He found a David Berg Mad Magazine compilation, and had to read for twenty minutes. We laughed together…and after twenty minutes HE KEPT READING for two more minutes.  WANTED to read another section. That…was remarkable.




His reading is fine, technically. But his emotions kill him. Just…slaughter him. The same thing is true with other subjects. He can do it, but is so filled with insecurity that its like driving with his parking brake on.  Breaks my heart.


Fear is a mindfucker.




Just Thursday I reminded him again.   Friday morning reminded him yet again. He was just beginning to realize that the moment of truth was coming, and started the “why can’t we put it off until next Friday?  Why algebra?” stuff.   Simple: because we’re starting this wee, and you’ve known it for a month. Why algebra? Because your teacher and I agree that you have a knack for it, and we want you to start High School with an academic subject NAILED.  Be confident.  Then, a combination of experiences will begin to show you the results gained by hard work and mastery of fear.


You’re gonna do it.


At 2:30 (the tutor was coming at 3:00) he was still playing Playstation, and I told him to get dressed and ready.   He dug in his heels. No!  He wouldn’t do it. I was being unfair.   I had lied to him.   I told him that I couldn’t make him do it, but I could ground him.  No Playstation, no friends, nothing but Football and home until next Friday when he would have a chance to make good.   He fled to his room and buried himself under his blankets.


I was terrible. He told me to go kill myself.  Deep in terror, he was frozen.  I nuked him a little: told him that the tutor was going to see him behaving like a little brat.    Hannah arrived, and we sat at the table and talked Algebra, every few minutes I’d check and tell Jason that she was here, and that he was running out of time. Reminded him that after she left there would be NO WAY to make it up. Grounded for a week of summer vacation, because he wouldn’t even try something simple.


Hannah herself spoke with him, told him in a soothing voice that she understood his fear, that she experienced it when she went into a new class, that her mentees experienced it as well.  And slowly…slowly…after more than a half hour of patient work, we pried him out of his shell, and he agreed to come out.


Did I mention that I promised him an Oreo cookie shake if he did a good job?  Pain on one end. Pleasure on the other. You can teach tapeworms to tap-dance if you get this right.


I noticed that he put in his hair gel before coming to the table.  Oh, Barnes, you are a sly devil.


Once he came out, everything was fine.   And Hannah said that his basics are pretty good, but needs review. Ya think?  I’d bought copies of his Jr. High and High School algebra texts, and she decided to start with the Jr. High and see where his knowledge breaks down.  I sat on the couch, working on my book.   And they were in their own world, Hannah very patiently working with him every step of the way.


They worked for about 40 minutes (a damned fine start) and then she left.  And…


For the rest of the day, Jason hovered.   Wouldn’t leave me alone. Wanted to play and wrestle and all the cuddle-activity boys do when they are too mature to just ask for hugs. Oh, and he wanted hugs, too.  I tried to watch THOR: RAGNOROK in the bedroom while working on my novel, and he invaded and was just all over me.


The outpouring of love, and gratitude, and a sense of thanks that I was not fooled by his harsh words and disobedience…not ashamed of him for his terror, and the fact that he KNOWS that Jesus, I have to love the little monster to put up with his shit…


You know?  One day he will go out into the adult world. And he will have a Morning Ritual that takes just a few minutes a day that brings his body, mind, and emotions all together where he can work on them. And one day he will have children of his own. And it is 100% certain that he will remember that discipline IS love.  And he will take the same kind of evil pleasure I take in being five steps ahead of him.  You see…I know what he wants in life, and he doesn’t.

He wants to be happy.

The rest is just details. But as they say…the devil is in those details.

So are the angels.






The Danger of “Woker Than Thou”

I had a friend. White guy.   Brilliant writer, Liberal activist.  Nominated for high awards in his field, but certain that he knew what was right.   In a discussion of black voters, he was certain that they were voting against their own intents in a particular sense.   When I suggested that he ask them what they wanted, he was so certain he knew what was right that the very suggestion seemed to agitate him.

This happened quite a bit. How dare I not accept he knew what was good for black people better than they did?  Or I did?   He just felt he knew, to the point that he denigrated black people who disagreed with him.   He actually stalked me around Facebook, arguing with me about everything I said, until one day I challenged his “wokeness” and reminded him that our first conversation had been about his decision to “whitewash” a character in a  literary work he wanted to adapt.   I’d understood his position, but it was hardly earning a certificate of Honorary Negritude.  He blocked me pretty fast, and that was the end of that friendship.

Oh, well.  Toxic is as toxic does.


A couple of days ago I questioned a   meme about how Democrats don’t care about the safety of immigrant children, suggesting that the children themselves, and their parents, would be the best people to ask to determine what they want IF their welfare is the question.


Just today, in a conversation about arranged marriages in Islamic cultures, amid a bit of hand-wringing I suggested the same thing: talk to the women and see their opinions about it.


Oddly (to me) there was resistance to both notions.   I’m afraid that I don’t trust people who think they know what is good for you better than you do.  Sure, sometimes they are right, but some really ugly shit happens when people think they can torture you to death for the sake of your soul, enslave you to civilize you, rape you to teach you love, throw you in a re-education camp to make you a happier citizen.


Tell you that your culture is wrong.


Is “Stockholm Syndrome” a real thing?  Sure.  But slaves were taught they were subhuman, and they still ran away often enough that slave owners had to create “Draptomania” to explain why those pesky, unappreciative Negroes kept running away. Needed Night Riders and Fugitive Slave Laws and whipping runaways to death to stop it.  And former slaves joined the Union Army in droves to free their cousins and get payback.  And clearly documented the horrors they had suffered.


Talk to them.  Be sure you’re away from the thumb of the oppressor when you do it, and you might need to actually respect them, gain their trust and rapport.  But trust that people know what is good for them.


Otherwise, you risk playing the precise same game as someone who abuses you for your own good.  And that…is the road to monstrosity.




People ask why I dialogue with snakes and monsters.  Can you really wonder when even my “allies” think they’re better than me?   Who the #$%% was I supposed to talk to, when I’ve always been  surrounded by this crap?

Also… I am committed to survival, and if tigers talked, it would be wise to speak to them.  Behind bars or with your rifle handy, of course.


Is there anything going on with immigration that hit me harder than, say, Trayvon Martin?  Nope.  Or a thousand other insults I heard about half the country excusing or even praising?  Nope.


So…I was supposed to spend my life in a sense of burning outrage?  Anyone want to guess what that would do to my blood pressure?  My sense of joy in life?   And unless I am applying those emotions directly to an action, would I be accomplishing anything other than killing myself young, as countless black men have for centuries?


Sorry, I won’t collaborate in my own destruction.   I’m sure that disappoints some of you, but that’s the biz.


If you are in a war…if the situation is real, life-threatening, not some bullshit game…


You stay calm. Gather information.  Know your opponents.  Train and nurture your troops.  Define victory. Built alliances.  Pick your battles.


And…love your family. Raise your children well.


Frankly, sometimes I watch people run around screaming, and wonder why they weren’t paying attention before. Precisely when was life great for everyone?   Where was this magical land and time?


If you are just waking up, congratulations and welcome to the real world.  But I woke up in first grade, when the white teachers sorted us into reading groups based on race.   A horrible thing for a child to realize, that young, that the people you are supposed to trust think you are sub-human because of your skin.  And these really were NICE people.  Just trying to help.   People have tried to get me to go back to sleep many many times. I won’t.   Now, I’m quite sure I’m oblivious about many topics.  I’d have to be.  But on this one…I’m pretty sure I’ve been paying attention.

But if you just woke up, please don’t assume I’m still dreaming.  I haven’t had that luxury since I was seven years old.






Morning M.A.G.I.C. for Writers

O.K….it is definitely happening. I’m recording the “Morning M.A.G.I.C. for Writers” audio this Saturday at 12 noon Pacific. It is part of the larger program I’ll be offering in a few weeks, designed for…well, I’m aiming it right at where I was at the age of 30. I’d sold a tiny bit, was studying martial arts but not yet matured, and was between relationships and a little scared about that aspect of life. That guy needs my help. If you are like that guy, you’ll want to listen in!

Phone Number: (724) 444-7444
Call ID: 137903

The Thousand Mile Road

Larry Niven asked me what I was working on.    I mentioned a couple of short stories, a novel in deep outline script form, and a movie deal currently under negotiation. He laughed and said that I was as productive as six ordinary writers.


To the degree that this is true, it is due to one thing only: I know how to harvest every day’s supply of creativity.   Sometimes it’s a drip, sometimes it is a gusher. But there is SOMETHING every day.


God knows that sometimes it is a grind.  But I know my commitment is to writing for legacy, working to create the very best work of my life. But to do that, to produce Quality, there has to be Quantity.


And the urge for Quality can crush your ability to create Quantity. Why?  Because your ability to judge your performance will usually be more refined than your ability to perform.  Your own mind will crush your heart.


When I was a kid, I wanted just three things: to be a martial artist, to be a writer, and to have a family to love and protect.   Problems: I was a geek, no one I knew knew any writers (and in fact my mother destroyed my stories) and I was a total failure with The Girls.


There were times I felt totally rejected, crushed, defeated.   But then, one day I remembered that everything I could to: walk, talk, ride a bike, do basic math, read and write…I had once been unable to do. That if I looked around I could see that EVERYONE struggled with new things, and that I actually couldn’t think of anyone who kept working at their goals who didn’t make progress.  The only problem was that they sometimes didn’t make progress fast enough. So they quit.


But everyone who kept trying, as long as certain conditions were met, got better and better.  That suggested that maybe one day I would be a fighter.  One day a writer. One day know how to relate to the opposite sex.   But I needed to see what experts in those different areas said about how they developed their skill.   And then do THAT.


Ray Bradbury suggested writing a story a week, or every other week.

Musashi Miyamoto said “The Way is in Training”

And every popular guy said asking women out was “a numbers game.”  “Imagine being at a dance. You ask a girl to dance.  She says no. You smile, thank her, and move to the next girl.  Repeat until you are boogying.”


There are refinements, of course.   I never really got the “hang” of asking women I don’t know to dance.    I didn’t let that stop me, just realized that I needed to be in a social context where I met enough women that SOMEONE at that dance would be familiar to me. Ask those.


With writing, I would have to get used to rejection, experience it as evidence of my own courage and persistence.   Just like Rocky re-defining victory to mean simply being on his feet at the end of the fight.


With martial arts, I remembered Steve Muhammad’s advice:   “The only thing that cannot be overcome is death.   I will find a way, or make one.”


So…I didn’t have the raw emotional strength to just fight my way up through the ranks. I had to nibble around the edges. To study art A until I couldn’t get any further and my fear pushed me back out.  Then go to art B, until the same point.   Then art C.


Had I been able to stay in a single art, I’d be more advanced: go deep, and only after you have reached “unconscious competence” (somewhere between Brown Belt and 3rd  Black) branch out and study other disciplines.


But…every time, I learned a few different things. Not techniques–that’s garbage.  Ephemeral.   Expressions of some deeper truth applied to a specific situation.  What you want is to understand the intent behind the techniques.   The principles  that make them work. The mind of the master who, in a moment of stress DID SOMETHING and then tried to explain why and how they did it to a baffled observer or  eager student.


Given the right insights, you can create a hundred techniques an hour.  Ed Parker’s Kempo is chock-a-block with complicated combinations, and they mean NOTHING if you don’t understand the very simple principles at the core.


So by putting myself in the learning situation as much as I could, whenever I could, my emotional blocks were slowly worn away.  The “water” of martial progress seeped over, under, around, and through the blocks.  I was picking the locks, crawling through the transom, visiting neighboring spaces, seeing pictures of my destination, getting glimpses,  and occasionally moving into that new room for just a while.


And I remember attending a “Soft Work” seminar with Scott Sonnon, where by some arcane technology I don’t understand he choreographed an “ah-hah” moment that let me see, for about 48 hours, the flow demonstrated by masters.   If I hadn’t KNOWN it would fade, I’d have been grief-stricken to watch it run out through my fingers, until I was almost back where I started. Not quite.


Every experience gave me just a clue.  Either a step along the road, or a refinement of the map of internal and external territory.


Not one step was wasted, ever.   EVER.


Thousand mile road, indeed.




When you define the basics needed to reach your goal, the 1/1000th part of the process, and you commit to taking one such step every day, something magical happens. You see the territory. You begin to understand the value of work, and courage, and planning.   You see how the quality of your allies and companions affects your progress.  You take pride in being one of the few with the ability to get up to bat and swing again and again.


Because from time to time, you hit the ball, and DAMN that feels good.   Yes, some people hit the ball more often, but if you love the game, that’s all right.  Your only task is to do the best YOU can.  Nothing trashes you faster than comparing your progress to other people rather than to your own being.


Yes, this can seem contradictory: don’t you need role models?   Shouldn’t you compare your results with theirs?


Yes.  Carefully.  But always remember that no two people really have the same resources or experiences.   Not even possible. You can get as close as possible, but “identical” is out of the question.  So if you perform the experiment and don’t get the results, sometimes the equipment or context is faulty, sometimes you performed improperly, and sometimes…the theory is just wrong.  It’s an art.


But the only way you adjust is by modeling experts, taking actions and noticing the results, while keeping faith that you can reach your destination.  Some combination of these things produced every success you can point to in your own life, the lives of teachers and mentors and companions…anyone.


Magic Equals Action times Gratitude times Intention times Conviction.


And if you only have a “1” or “2” in the other categories, but have a “9” in “Action” you are going to dominate.  You will get so many results that if you sort through them and double-down on what worked, that cycle of action-evaluation-course correction-action will change your life faster than anything I know.  You do have to have control of your emotions (Gratitude and Conviction) and must have a clear intent (Intention) but Action is king.


Walk the thousand mile road.  One step at a time.  It is true that some paths, however energetically followed, don’t take you to your chosen destination…


So please enjoy the journey too, o.k.?