Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend…One Last Time

I’ve been asked to contribute to a Harlan Ellison “tribute” SF anthology. This is…intimidating.

You see, Harlan was the last of the Great Old Ones I worshipped as a teenager, before I ever sold anything. His clarity of prose and fearlessness of voice were a beacon, and his rock-star personae in public speaking triggered my “I want THAT!!” instincts like no other.

At one point he was the most honored living SF/Fantasist, and in my mind, deserved every bit of that. I never, ever expected to be his friend.

But I was. It took many years, and there were many who were closer than me, but we loved each other.

So now I’m asked to contribute to an anthology in honor of him, and I wouldn’t dream of saying “no” even though my pretender voices are screaming at me.

The story is due in February. I’ve decided to take a sliver of the current novel and turn it into a short story. There are multiple reasons for this.

  1. The novel, “Traveler,” is about a homeless ex-cop trying to catch a time-traveling serial killer. It is a triptych, a three-part structure stretching from 2021 Los Angeles to 2121 Nairobi Kenya to 1921 Tulsa Oklahoma. I am working to create what I call “Horizontal and Vertical integration” between the three sections. The “vertical” integration has to do with thematics. The “horizontal” with plot structure, which must “echo” between the parts. By taking one tiny piece of the story and building a tale around it, I get to create real clarity of structure and theme. Done properly, this will make the subsequent novel much easier to write.
  2. I’ll be marking my territory, by putting core story aspects out into the market clearly labeled as mine.
  3. I’ll be experimenting with a technique and philosophy I often suggest to my students: to take a larger work and extract stories from it, to practice and publish. But…how precisely to do that?

##

I’ve decided to look at this story as an “alternate world” to the novel. Characters, themes, history are the same. The motivations of certain characters are different, as in a novel, I have hundreds of pages and tens of thousands of words to explore. So if the characters have the same names, they might have slightly different histories. This allows me to fully explore an idea in fewer words, while simultaneously exploring the larger notions.

So far, so good.

There’s another reason. I recently wrote the best script of my life. The idea (“Mississippi Shuffle”) seemed to come from nowhere, which means that “the boys in the basement” (Stephen King’s delightful phrase) had been working overtime while my attention was elsewhere. Kewl.

I look at that script, and say: If I did it once, I can do it again. It’s sort of “modeling myself’

What were the physical behaviors leading up to and during the writing?

What were my intellectual/mental patterns?

What were my emotional sets and values?

It’s like threading a needle, or solving a Rubic’s cube. What precisely made a superior performance possible?

Well…here’s one thing I know:

I started with a basic notion. Asked several people what they thought and ONLY after getting that positive feedback progressed to a one-page synopsis. Got approving feedback on that as well.

Then a three-page synopsis. Did the story still work? Everyone was still thrilled. Had to tweak a bit here and there, but we were still on track.

A twenty-page synopsis. Same thing. I was nurturing that seed at every level, feeding and trimming and sheltering it as it grew from a spark to a roaring fire.

I created a SIXTY page treatment, with research, backstory, full character details and more.

Then…I transferred that treatment to WRITER DUET and just started fleshing out scenes and sequences, just expanding by five pages a day. By this time, all of the heavy lifting had been done, and it felt as if I was transcribing a movie I’d already seen. It all just..flowed.

I had already written a 245 page script for TRAVELER when I took a side-trip to write MISSISSIPPI SHUFFLE. The short story will be a chance to peel everything back to a nucleus: what is the core of the story? The characters? What is the world in which all of this happened?

That story will have elements that were not in the 245-page “outline”. Might some of those elements be superior? Its certainly possible.

But what I know is that I started with a log-line, and am cutting the 245-pager down to the seed of what will hopefully be a good short story. I almost froze, because there is a LOT of backstory, and I have to find the right way to tell it organically, in the flow of a much shorter work. This is scary…but all I have to do is five pages of script a day, and that’s mostly dialogue. Easy peasy, takes about 40 minutes if I’m goofing off. And that means that I only need to solve one puzzle a day, one “how do I..?” “would it work if..?”

And even if I’m stuck, all I have to do is CLEARLY describe the problem and go to sleep on it. Chances are very good that in the morning, the Boys In The Basement will have a notion for me.

###

I remember watching Harlan writing in the window of Dangerous Visions bookstore. Or in the lobby of the Phoenix Sheraton. Just…writing. And what I know is that many of the things I struggle with in writing he had embedded at the level of Unconscious Competence. And I don’t envy him those things, because there is a price for everything we do and become. He paid that price. Chances are very good I spent the same energy learning or doing other things.

Can I write a story worthy of our forty-year friendship? I don’t know. But I’m sure as hell going to try. And if I get it right, I”ll imagine him reading it, clucking over a misspelling or grammatical inelegancy (almost certainly) but putting it down, smiling at me and saying: “you done good, kid.”

That inspires me. A chance to say “Good bye. I loved you.” In the most palpable way possible, one writer to another.

Enough of this. Time to get to work!

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

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At Your Service, M’Lady

https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/04/us/woman-kidnap-karate-studio-charlotte-trnd/index.html?fbclid=IwAR3lRKl6uyhrBTng7ur1djxGZX_JhMHtbXqOZg-t9vQbODCZA9cgyS8Eo5Y

A woman is walking down a dark street, simply trying to get home. A large man approaches her and attempts to force her into his car. She flees, panicked, and sees a light ahead of her — an open business.

A karate school. “Help!” she screams. “A man is trying to kidnap me!”

The instructor stands between her and the would-be kidnapper, a large man who demands his “right” to put hands on the woman. The instructor responds to his aggression. The man goes to the hospital.

##

A woman self defense instructor, only four foot eleven, is questioned by the boyfriend of a prospective student. He pushes her and prods, contemptuous, and she is confused…until he backs her against the wall. Then something happens. She finds clarity, and responds with a round-house kick to his jaw, dropping him in his tracks.

##

A boy is chased by a gang, slapped and punched and threatened with a stomping. He cannot win, but cannot run from the conflict. He steps out into the middle of a busy street, standing on the double yellow line, cars and trucks whizzing past on both sides. “Come out here and do that,” he snarls.

The bullies back down, and never bother him again.

##

I was assisting in a martial arts workshop, and the instructors brought me a woman who simply couldn’t attack, couldn’t kick or punch the striking pads. She was overcome by fear of “hurting” her partner, but I saw something deeper. This was fear of triggering a more aggressive response. Better to play helpless. Better to be inoffensive and survive than fight back and just make him angrier. The illusion, the LIE she spoke was that she was afraid of harming her partner.

She was crying and shuddering, and for a moment I thought: why did they give her to me?

And in the next moment, I shed the false ego, and a voice said: because they know you can help.

“Do you have any children?” I asked.

“No,” she sniffled.

“Do you have a sister?” I asked

“Yes,” she said, and just slightly, I saw her energy shift.

“A younger sister?”

“Yes.”

“Do you love her?”

“Of course!” and her energy shifted even more. I saw it.

“And you’d do anything for her?”

And now I saw her steel. Bingo. I had her.

“All right,” I said, and my voice was as cold as dry ice. “If I get past you…” and I described something hideous I would do to her sister.

Instantly, she was a different person. Something inside her bared its teeth. Like a little wolverine she was, and CAME AT ME. Knocked me against the wall and with zero concern for her own welfare she…well, she beat the living hell out of me. It took two men to pull her off.

Delighted (and bruised) I bounded up. “THAT’S IT!” I screamed. “THAT’S the place inside you! Inside your head and heart. THAT is where you go, what you access. Make every punch and kick come from THERE!”

She was crying again, but this time…the tears were of clarity, and joy. She was the standout student for the rest of the workshop, a maniac under careful control, sheer survival energy. After the workshop she hugged and kissed me, and told me that I’d given her the best and cruelest gift she’d ever had.

The gift of seeing who and what she really was. An animal, capable of fighting without concern for her own survival. All it took was knowing what she was fighting for.

It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight. It is the size of the fight in the dog. 

Or: It’s not what you fight with. It is what you are fighting FOR.

##

The world is not a safe space. It never has been, and by some standards, it is safer now than it has ever been. But it can be shocking to come face to face with people who don’t play by some set of genteel rules, the civilized reciprocal courtesies between civilized human beings.

The reality of animal existence is fang and claw. But even animals display respect for each other. I’ve seen lions and leopards in the wild, and the lion doesn’t attack the leopard, not out of friendship, but because it knows that the leopard might be smaller and weaker, but it can still blind the lion, dooming it to starvation. Predators prefer not to attack other predators. And what of the herbivores who are its natural prey? If that herbivore can defend itself, the lion STILL prefers to find the halt, the lame, the weak, the young, the old.

The story goes that two hunters were being chased by a bear. One was getting tired, and gasped out “It’s no use! We can’t outrun that monster!”

“I don’t have to outrun the bear,” the other said. “I just have to outrun YOU.”

Ouch. Truth, ugly as it sounds. Predators will take the weakest, least aware, most timid member of the flock. Don’t be that weakest link.

How? There is another story: a wolf cub was raised by sheep, and came to believe it was a sheep. It ate grass, and followed the herd as timidly as any other future mutton sandwich. One day, wolves attacked the flock, and were astonished to find the wolf, shaking and shivering with terror. The alpha wolf grabbed the terrified creature by the scruff of its neck, and dragged it to the river. There, for the first time, it saw its reflection. “You are a WOLF!” the leader screamed. “Wake up!”

And in that moment, the wolf was enlightened.

###

If there is a gap between how you would fight for your child, your sister, your loved ones…and what you would do to protect yourself, you are asleep.

If you play by social rules when dealing with uncivilized people, to the point that you are unable to defend your life, honor, principles or dreams…you are asleep.

If you believe there is nothing you can do to defend yourself against a larger person…you are asleep.

If you are a woman and think it “unfair” that you have to take responsibility for your own defense…if you think that men give each other a “pass” but single out women for violence, you are asleep. Look at the statistics of mugging and assault and you’ll see that men beat the holy living hell out of each other unless they believe they might be hurt.

Does that mean you stand and box with someone out of your weight class? Of course not: you’re a primate. Use a tool!

Does that mean it is cowardly to run away? Hell no! “He who runs always wins” may not be totally true, but its true enough.

How about courtesy and politeness. Is that weakness? Hell no! It is removing all possible legitimate reason for someone to attack you. If you have removed ALL rational reason, you have maneuvered the opponent onto moral ice, where they have no while your feet are on solid ground

Does that mean it is cowardice to seek help? Hell, no. There is safety in numbers, and seeking protection is simple rational response. But the bottom line, the core responsibility you have in your life, is to be your OWN last resort. The person who does that simply doesn’t attract predators as readily. A lion has to be starving to attack a leopard. It might attack a deer just for entertainment.

Talk to people who have been to prison. What is the rule? If confronted, you MUST fight. Even if you lose, you gain respect. If you don’t fight, you will be a victim the entire time you’re in prison, unless you can find someone to defend you…and that comes at a higher price than bruises or even broken bones. Just the BODY LANGUAGE of someone who is willing and ready to defend themselves deters casual assaults.

You can access this core wiring, beneath all of the “I can’t” “I shouldn’t” and “I mustn’t” simply by accessing the part of you that would defend another human being. All healthy adults can access this by thinking of defending their own child. Most can by imagining defending a family member. Most men can by imagining defending a woman, particularly a family member: sister, mother, daughter, wife.

Let’s not get into arguments about gender roles, shall we? That discussion is going on next door. Have fun. This discussion is about Adulting. Survival. Living your life with integrity, and I’ve known too many women who have accessed this head space to have any illusion that its about size, age, or gender. It is about being real in a world of illusions.

The trick here is to find the internal wiring that triggers an all-out response INSTANTLY. And to, before the occasion presents itself, have CLARITY on what your values and beliefs are about throwing that switch.

I can promise you that that martial arts instructor’s lines were crossed. Who knows what they were?

  1. Defending his home (dojo)
  2. Defending a helpless person
  3. Defending a woman
  4. Defending his own body

Every day for years, he had trained his mind and body. Why? Well fitness, skill, sport, all sorts of fun.

But really? For a moment like this one, when he had total permission to do what was necessary to use those skills. Some combination of the four above mentioned principles. What might have triggered an even greater response?

If the woman was younger, a child.

If she was older, or disabled

If she was related to him

If she had already been wounded

The attacker was said to have been taken to the hospital. Increase the motivations, and he might have been taken to the morgue. What happened triggered the instructor’s “I have permission to respond” wiring.

What is yours? Under what circumstances do you step OUT of yourself, forget everything except your commitment to survive unharmed? My brother Patric Young taught martial arts in China, to some of the Red Guard. He pretty much tore through their pretty Kung Fu skills. They were amazed by him (he’s an amazing guy) and asked him what his art was.

“My art is the art of getting home alive to my family.” He said.

Amen. He had the right to defend himself, because he has a vision of unity with his family, and an obligation to serve them. That makes him dangerous as hell. And would, even if he was small and untrained.

And here is the beautiful thing: this “wiring,” this survival energy, can be accessed by imagining yourself protecting someone helpless, or by slowing down your own breathing until the CO2 level of your blood triggers panic. At the edge of that panic, ask what you would do to stop someone stealing your next breath. Do this correctly, and you will feel that animal inside you bare its teeth, and you have identified the direction of the real, survival wiring inside you.

And that ability to protect yourself, your family, the helpless, the righteous, is also the strength that protects your dreams, your ability to access your creativity and speak your truth. That “first chakra” energy simply manifests in sexual energy (you must feel either totally safe or totally out of control to have a full sexual response), power, and emotion (fear and love fight for the same space in your heart).

The IMAGE (not necessarily the reality: that’s a different discussion) of the European knight is useful here. An invulnerable monster of war, but all that strength, and ferocity, and the deadly sword, the piercing lance, the godlike armor and the fiery steed…all of that were…

“At your service, m’lady.”

Strength, in the service of softness. This isn’t a “male” thing, although for the sake of dualistic discussion it can be labeled as such. The truth is that the ULTIMATE strength is found in protecting what you love.

And a mother protecting her young is as deadly as any male animal. Deadlier, unless he is operating at the same level of clarity and commitment, that “I’m ready to die, and I’m ready to take you with me” energy that parents have defending their children.

THAT is the energy that can not only make you a “black belt” but keep you safe on the street. Or in an abusive relationship. Or a board meeting. Or when faced by writer’s block. Or when you need to grow and change and evolve, at the cost of ego-death. That is the doorway.

The WHAT is the thing you must do to forward your life, to grow and evolve and awaken.

It is the WHY that powers you.

The HOW is totally secondary to these two.

What is your “why” for any change you need to make? If you haven’t made that change, go deeper, into your secret inner self. Find the things you would fight and die for. Connect the change you need to make to THAT.

Do that…and you have accessed an entirely different level of the game. And then…God help anything that stands in your way, be it a threatening thug or your own limiting ego.

Namaste

Steve

(The path of “Adulting” involves physical sovereignty, responsibility for your body, your sexuality, your home and family. It all flows together. The “Soulmate Process” is specifically about finding the love of your life, but by implication PROTECTING that relationship afterward, and being an adult, aware human being. In February we will explore this path, in a FREE five part workshop. www.soulmateprocess.com)

A Cubic Inch of Opportunity

“From time to time, life gives you a cubic inch of opportunity. Either grab it, or its gone forever.” — Unknown.

Almost twenty-five years ago, my wife Toni decided to move to the Northwest. I had a choice: preserve and promote my Hollywood career, or be a father to my daughter Nicki. That was no choice: I’m a Dad.

During my ten years up there I struggled to keep my career in play, even while unable to take pitch meetings or network. My marriage dissolved, I fell in love and married Tananarive, and we adopted our son Jason. The dream was that, as soon as Nicki graduated high school, we’d move back to California and take Hollywood by storm.

But when I got down, my agent Jonathan Westover had some very bad news for me:

  1. He was retiring, leaving me without a trusted ally.
  2. In the time I’d been gone, the model for writing television had changed: everything was written by staff and…
  3. They didn’t hire anyone for staff over forty. I was already over fifty.

Screwed. I had moved my family to the most expensive real estate in the country, without a clear plan on how to support them. Well…T and I kept our heads down, worked like crazy, and after six years I’d started making some progress: a few television credits, a new agent, and starting to make networked contacts again. By the skin of my teeth, I was putting my life back together.

Then…her beloved mother was diagnosed with cancer, and we had to move back to Atlanta. Again, I had a choice: either protect and nurture the career I’d dreamed of since childhood, or be a husband and father. Again, as painful as it was…I had no choice.

And it was as bad as I’d feared. Between New York Publishing’s confusion in the digital age and my increased distance from Hollywood, my career all but collapsed. I was distraught. Saw all my dreams going up in smoke, with no safety in sight.

I used the “Morning Ritual” to break my cycle of depression, and got enough clarity to realize I’d made a horrible mistake: all my adult life I’d been balanced between family, martial arts, and writing. I needed a fourth leg to that table: BUSINESS. Separating my art as self-expression from art as income. To look at the making, saving, managing of money as a separate thing. By not doing that, I’d been caught unawares, and life had just about broken my back.

I clawed my way into the light and asked what I could do other than writing to earn money, and thought that the “Life Coaching” arena might work: I had specialized knowledge about health, writing, and relationships that people had found valuable over the years. Could I monetize that?

The answer was yes. Creating a “coaching” business from scratch, I built that business up and in the first year earned an excellent income. But…it was taking too much of my energy and time. I wasn’t writing enough, and that caused me grief.

What I needed was to move away from one-on-one coaching, to creating products and services that could serve and help people automatically. I needed to sell my EXPERTISE, not my ENERGY.

And that triggered a search, a desperate search, for a simple question: HOW DO PEOPLE REALLY MAKE MONEY ON THE INTERNET? You see, there are a ton of people clamoring for your internet education dollars. And you want to know the big dirty secret?

MOST OF THE PEOPLE MAKING MONEY ON THE INTERNET MADE THEIR MONEY TEACHING PEOPLE HOW TO MAKE MONEY ON THE INTERNET.

Yeah, its like that. It’s just like the California Gold Rush…most of the money was made by people selling Levis and Shovels, not actually digging gold.

It’s largely a con game. So…I picked up a few very delicate threads, and started sorting through the b.s.

  1. Was it actually possible? Yes. I’d seen it.
  2. Could I identify people who had really done it? Yes.
  3. Were any of them close enough that I could ask them personally how they’d done it?

Remember: MODELING is the key. If you want to master a skill, find someone who can actually DO it. Not someone who teaches at the local college or Learning Tree Annex, or can write a book or article. Have they DONE it? And I found three men who really had, and they were wonderful enough to actually point me in the direction of real knowledge.

For the next four years I followed those threads, searching and learning as I built a wobbly fourth leg for my “table”. Trying to pick nothing but nuggets. And between mentors like Matt Furey, John La Tourette and Andy Duncan I found a path that actually worked, with integrity (the first principle was PASSION for instance…you have to actually care about the thing you are selling. I liked that.)

I found pieces here and there, and started teaching classes and selling products by hooking a dozen different technologies and services together, enough to make me dizzy, and hanging on by my fingernails. Because I’d made a critical decision: I DIDN’T WANT TO BE A PROFESSIONAL WRITER ANY MORE. I WANTED TO BE AN AMATEUR WRITER. In other words, to write for the sheer love of the craft, without the added pressure of needing to support my family with the fruits of that labor. It was a mental rope-a-dope of course…with no pressure, I was going to do the most personal, and thus the BEST writing of my life. With the potential for being the most successful.

But I had to replace ALL that considerable income, or it wouldn’t’ work. That meant I had to keep studying. Constantly. I began to nurture an entirely new part of my head, grasping that “the business you are in is not what you think. It is not the art, or craft, or service. It is the MARKETING of that art, or craft, or service.” That single shift of thought made all the difference. It was amazing.

By focusing on the marketing, rather than thinking “if I’m good enough, I’ll make money!” I finally had the bull by the horns. And when I went deeper and deeper, through dozens of different “experts”, I finally came to someone rather amazing. I checked with my mentors, and yes, this guy was for real.

  1. He had made millions on the internet with a variety of products and services.
  2. He was an expert at TEACHING what he knew as well.
  3. He seemed a good and decent family man, with a deep faith in things larger than himself
  4. And by the most bizarre coincidence, he was a martial artist, a national champion wrestler who now studies MMA.
  5. And…a man of boundless enthusiasm, a living cheerleader section for any entrepreneur trying to make the world a better place.

His name is RUSSELL BRUNSON, and I’ve been studying his stuff intensely for the last year, more and more impressed all the time. And five months ago, he announced a “30 Day Bootcamp” for people wanting to get started, or accelerate their growth. I signed up instantly, and was totally blown away. Having searched the internet, I knew for certain that the quality and quantity of information he was giving away dirt cheap was more valuable than stuff I’d seen sold for thousands of dollars. No exaggeration.

Why? BECAUSE HE WANTS YOU TO USE HIS “FUNNEL” WEBSITE SOFTWARE. Its great stuff, but the truth is that his information works even if you don’t have a website at all. He gathered 30 of his students, people who had made over a MILLION DOLLARS on a single website, and asked them: “If you lost everything: your money, reputation, Rolodex, product line…EVERYTHING, what would you do in the first thirty days to get it back?”

A stupendous, staggering question. And the book that contains the answers is worth its weight in gold. Copies of “Thirty Days by Russell Brunson”, simply interviews with these thirty people, were reportedly selling on Ebay for FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS.

Yeah. It’s like that. But the book is the least of it. There were thirty days of interviews, lectures, behind-the-scenes videos, roadmaps to selling any kind of product or service imaginable (yep, including books!) So much, so well laid out, so incrementally presented that if I’d had nothing but this, I could have thrown the rest away.

And YES. If you have a skill, and a younger “you” would have paid for the knowledge supporting that skill, and I mean a skill of ANY kind that anyone finds of value…you can do this. Using totally free services like Facebook, Paypal, WordPress and Youtube…you can do this.

I have a friend who is in ill health, who used these principles (he got them elsewhere, but truth is truth) to create a business earning A HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS A YEAR working only two hours a day on his computer.

No kidding.

Now, this person has serious skills, and already had a teaching business, but I tell you that because there are teachers, coaches, people who have succeeded in some arena or another, people who have hobbies, have overcome obstacles, raised children, lost weight…who have expressed that they would like to learn how to leverage that to make extra money.

Let me be blunt: if you have any skill that can help someone earn money, improve their health, or find love…you have a potential business. Help them raise or teach children? You have a potential business. All you have to do is be better at something than you were ten or twenty years ago, and people like you WERE would pay you money for what you know.

Its about the marketing.

And I want to be honest: I was so blown away that every one of those thirty days I was shaking my head and almost babbling to my wife: “I can’t believe what he’s teaching!” And still can’t.

Wow. What a month.

###

Yesterday, I got an email from Brunson’s company Clickfunnels saying that they were repeating the program. And I INSTANTLY signed up, and immediately made a list of the friends and students I wanted to turn on to it. They HAD to do this. And then…decided that I would go ahead and tell everyone. ANYONE who wants to make extra money, or share and teach valuable knowledge needs to have this. And if you don’t think you have that knowledge?

FIND SOMEONE WHO DOES, AND HELP THEM GET THEIR MESSAGE OUT. Partner with them. A teacher, a chiropractor, a gardener. Someone excellent training pets. Someone who has raised a special needs child. ANYTHING where there are people interested. Any valuable knowledge.

Because if you know how to market, you actually have a skill MORE VALUABLE than the person who “just” knows how to “do” the thing. And when you wake up to that, you’ll change your life.

IN about two weeks, Brunson will teach this class again. I swear that it is worth at least ten times what he is charging for it. That is the truth, and I’d recommend it to my own friends and family with zero hesitation. He is the real deal, and if you need to make extra money, or want to get out of a bad job or career, or want to share your ideas with the world THIS IS AN AMAZING OPPORTUNITY.

Please. Do yourself a favor and at least look at this. I’m going back through the course myself, and signed up INSTANTLY when I saw it would be available. No kidding. No bluffing.

From time to time life gives us a cubic inch of opportunity.. You either grab it…or its gone forever. I’ve had about a dozen of those over the course of my years. One came when I realized my life path had been obliterated by family needs. And stumbled around until I found something that worked.

That was mine. This is one of yours. If you want to learn more, go to WWW.LIFEWRITINGINTERNETSECRETS.COM and see if your instinct says “yes.”

Namaste

Steve

www.lifewritinginternetsecrets.com

“The Godfather” (1972) and “Breaking Bad”

(Spoilers)

Generally considered one of the greatest American films, Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster epic really is a magnificent effort, stellar in almost every part. Even the ad libs (“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli”) are just priceless.

I suppose everyone loves movies for different reasons, and takes home different things from them. I see “Godfather” as a fairly classic tragedy: the downfall of a great man, generally due to a character flaw. And “Godfather” has this in spades.

Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), is the youngest, war hero “good” son of a major Mafia don, Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). The plan was to keep Michael out of the “family business” and on the path to legitimate power (“senator Corleone…governor Corleone…”) but when his family is threatened, he is pulled into the world of criminal violence, which eventually corrupts him and leads to his downfall…

Well, that is the narrative I heard most often.

“Breaking Bad” exists in the top tier of television serial drama, just an amazing piece of story telling. And in it, we follow the story of Walter White, a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher, who, due to medical bills, is forced into the path of crime, slowly corrupted more and more, until the criminal world infects everything in his life, leading to his downfall…

Or so I heard.

But there is good reason to question both narratives. In “Breaking Bad” the fan base was so loyal to White that the filmmakers finally had to have him specifically and explicitly state that he did the things he did because he liked the power. In other words, the series wasn’t about circumstances corrupting a man as much as a man who was evil having the misfortune of stumbling into a set of circumstances where that evil was given expression.

And if, over the course of three movies we see the rise and fall of the Corleone family, from Vito’s flight from Sicily (Godfather 2) to his efforts to protect his family in the new world, playing by the only rules he knew, to (in Godfather 3) Michael’s eventually being forced to witness extreme tragedies rooted in actions HE took as a younger man, we can and should ask what led to the downfall.

Well…the seeds planted by Vito, of course. But it isn’t fair to say that Michael had no choices. We always have choices. And if the murder of Fredo in Godfather 2 is pretty clear evidence that he has become a monster, it is reasonable to ask if that is the first evidence.

And…I say not. We can go back to the first movie, and find a big stinking pile of dead soul, in the form of his execution of Connie’s husband. I’ve read the book, and interviews with author Puzo and director Coppola, and so far have found nothing to disabuse me of the notion that Connie’s husband was innocent. I watched the scene that lead to his death again last night:

Connie ( Talia Shire), daughter of Vito and Michael’s sister, is an abused, pregnant wife with a philandering husband Carlo (Gianni Russo). Michael’s elder brother Sonny (James Cann) has warned Carlo that if he ever touches Connie again, there will be hell to pay. And an entire neighborhood heard him say it. One night, as Carlo prepares to go out of the house there is a phone call, and a woman tells Connie to tell Carlo that she can’t make the date.

This is critical, because if you think Carlo is setting Sonny up, then you have to look at his behavior in this scene and make it all fit. It should be the behavior of someone about to get savage revenge, but also that of a man about to risk his life assassinating the son of the country’s most powerful Mafia don.

Imagine this scenario. Carlo is a no-good out to have a sexy date. That’s all he is thinking of. His wife comes in and starts accusing him of…well, of doing what he’s doing. Leading to a fight. The fight leads to Connie calling her brother, which leads to Sonny’s ambush and murder as he rushes out of the family compound in a reckless rush.

Time goes on, and one day his brother in law Michael confronts him the an accusation that he was, not part of a manipulation by clever Mafiosi (getting a woman to call Connie to trigger a fight) but deliberate betrayal and murder. You are surrounded by killers who smile at you and whisper: “just confess. Confess and you’ll be fine. You’ll be exiled, that’s all. But don’t insult our intelligence by denying…”

What do you do? If you say yes, you are dead. If you say no, you are dead. But maybe, just maybe, Michael is telling the truth. You cannot be forgiven but will not be totally blamed either. Maybe, just maybe…

Imagine the fear, the doubt. The guilt (he WAS beating Connie. Cheating on her. And this DID lead to the tragedy) is chewing you up inside. And you crumble, and “confess”.

And are killed.

If Carlo was innocent, then Michael’s murderous actions were definitely a major evidence in his corruption. But was it the first?

Was it the murder of the cop and mafia don in the restaurant? I can see that case being made. But because they are “soldiers” in an invisible war, it is arguable that this is simply self-defense, combat. While not “good” behavior in some objective sense, it is understandable, and frankly, I think most audiences agreed with what he did.

There is another moment. It happens in Sicily, when an exiled Michael, bored and in hiding, meets a beautiful girl, Apollonia, and is “hit by the thunderbolt.” He must meet her. He describes her to a local merchant, who is angered immediately: Michael is describing his daughter!

It is clear that the father wants nothing to do with Michael, possibly because he is an outsider, possibly because he has the smell of Mafia about him, possibly because his bodyguards used somewhat crude language to describe the girl.

Who knows? It is a father’s right. And what does Michael do?

He flexes his muscles. He isn’t an ordinary man, he is the son of the most powerful Mafia don in America. He tells the father his real identity, and then says that if the father talks, he will be killed. On the other hand, if he cooperates, his daughter will get a rich and powerful husband.

Plomo O Plata, as the South American drug lords say. You will take either lead or silver.

Wow. And the father sees the different roads he can take, and makes a tragic decision: to allow this thug to court his daughter.

##

There it is. The first moment when Michael demonstrates that he LIKES the power. Knows how to use it. Is not a hero, a good man forced by circumstances to protect his family, but rather a man of no real morality, a worse man (IMO) than his gangster father. We see that he does what he wants to do with no real concern for the consequences, that his judgement and whims are more important than the lives of the people around him. And that he is on the road to damnation, even though most of his family precedes him on that path.

“Godfather” really is a great movie, and like all great films, as an imitation of life can be analyzed endless ways. But from the “Lifewriting” perspective, it can be seen as a failure of the “Leap of Faith.”

If he had had FAITH that love and good would come to him after he had done his penance for the murder of men who tried to murder his father, it is plausible that he could have come back into the light, out of the shadows, and lived a good life. But he lacked that faith, and went after an entertainment that he probably didn’t even kid himself was actually “love.” Did he ever mention his first wife again? To anyone? Certainly not in the films. Did she matter to him at all? Who can say?

But we can see a man taking a small step off the path of righteousness, and he would keep taking those steps across six hours of film, leading to utter disaster.

It isn’t the big things. It is the small ones. That “path” described by the Hero’s Journey, or the Yogic Chakras, or Milton Erickson or Abraham Maslow is one of growth, maturation, contribution. Not being side-tracked by the fool’s gold of dishonorable wealth and power, meaningless sex, or over-indulgence. Navigating a complex world while keeping your eyes on the ultimate values of life.

So easy to lose your way. Vito Corleone did what he did to protect his family. Michael did what he did arguably in IMITATION of this, but actually to relish the power he’d always craved from afar. A bad man. Who might have avoided ever nurturing that evil if life had been just a little different.

THAT is a movie. THAT is a story. And…THAT is a cautionary tale for all of us. Doing what seems expedient, for “the right” reasons, is still skipping down the road to hell. Doing the “right” thing early would have prevented this. A ripple effect of returning to America and letting his father’s lieutenants divvy up the empire, maybe taking his father home to Sicily. Marrying Kay, having never intimidated a simple Sicilian father into offering up his daughter.

A different path. Possibly even a great movie. But a different one, arguably told from a different perspective.

A better one for Michael, certainly. “Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in!” he screams in Godfather III.

No, Michael. There is no “they.” there is only you. And you were not the man you thought you were. And because of that, everything you loved…died.

It’s the little lies that get us. Especially the ones we tell ourselves.

Namaste

Steve

(“Do Not Think Dishonestly” is not only a principle of the classic “Book of Five Rings” martial strategy, but a core lesson for all of life, and a foundation of the SOULMATE PROCESS. Join us for a FREE exploration of this path of “adulting” in February. WWW.SOULMATEPROCESS.COM

2019: The year to avoid the “Talent Trap”

“Max” was the new guy in karate class. He’d been there about two weeks the first time we fought.  He was a white belt. I was a green belt. And…he was so strong, so fast, so aggressive that I could barely hold him off.  What was clear was that in a few months I wouldn’t be able to. I knew that the first time I fought him.  He was “a natural”.  He had “talent.”  I felt sick, anxious.  It was unfair.  What the hell was the point in trying, when there were guys like Max who could just walk off the street and make you look silly?

 

He exploded through that school, earned a black belt in record time, did well in tournaments, leapfrogged ahead of me in a matter of months.  Talent.

 

It wasn’t until years later that I learned the truth. True, he had never studied karate. But he had boxed. And fought in the street since childhood. And been a sprinter and basketball star. And…had had an abusive stepfather who beat him to the point that one day he said: “no more. Never again.”

 

He’d served his time in hell. Karate was just a game.  He was already in touch with the core “survival wiring” and after you do that, the rest is just technique.   That “born black belt” was actually a human being who had done a massive, massive amount of work before he ever walked through the door.

 

It wasn’t fair that he had “talent”.   It also wasn’t fair that he had been beaten, tested, had focused and driven himself for years before we ever met him.  All we saw was the result.   “Talent.”

 

The least useful concept in all of human performance.

 

While the “10,000 hour rule” isn’t precise, and is far too simplistic, in truth, while there are people who spend 10,000 hours who are not masters, all masters have spent that 10,000 hours.   In general, the better people are, the more time they have invested in practicing the thing, usually under coaches.

 

  1. They put in the time.  More time than anyone else
  2. They learn to manage their fear.
  3. They are coachable, and seek out mentors and role models they can pattern.
  4. They interpret failure as a challenge rather than a wall.

 

Are there people who, even given these things, never get particularly good?  I think there would have to be, people with damaged nervous systems, clinical depression and so forth. But there ARE high performers who suffer depression, are on medication and in therapy, and struggle with it every day.  They are champions, heroes.

 

But all of this is on a continuum.  If you have removed the negative beliefs, have the best coaches, work more than anyone else and STILL don’t improve…you are that rarity.  You gave it your best.

 

##

 

Years ago, someone asked me: “Steve…why do you work so hard? Try so hard? Set your goals so high?  Aren’t you afraid of being disappointed?”

 

And…my answer was this: “if at the moment of death, I had an insight into my true potential, and saw that I had aimed too high…I’d laugh and think I’d had a hell of a ride. But if at that last moment I saw that I could have had everything, been anything, if only I’d had the courage to demand more of myself…that would be hell.”

 

Forget talent. Give me hard work, honesty, and superb coaching over time.   I’ve not seen a single person fail to respond to that recipe in any arena. NOTHING can promise you being “the best” because now you are comparing yourself to others, and the very time you spend noticing where others are is time NOT spent on deepening your internal connections.

 

And yet…competition is important in the arenas in which there is objective measurement.  So you have to be detached from the external result, and simultaneously care deeply.

 

I remember my friend, Ray Doss.  Incredibly fast and precise young karateka. Blazed through his competition at the tournament.  He won the lightweight championship, easily.  But when it came time to fight for the grand championship, the middle and heavyweight champions were from the same school…AND REFUSED TO FIGHT HIM.   They just took the trophy home with them, and the judges let them get away with it.  I was shocked.  But Ray was perfectly calm.

 

“But they cheated you!” I protested.

 

“No,” he said.  “All they did was turn the trophy into a piece of plastic.”

 

Whoa.   THAT is the mind of a champion. He worked blisteringly hard, managed his emotions, was coached by the superb Steve Muhammad, and understood the proper place of competition in his overall quest for excellence.  He was on the path to mastery, even if he didn’t use that term.

 

What January 1st represents to me is a chance to ask: what is my most important outcome this year?  And find one in each major area of my life: business, art, fitness, and family.  Make it a big, inspiring goal, something in alignment with my major lifetime goals. Big, meaty, requiring lots of sub-goals.

 

Once I know that goal, I have my “what.”

 

Then I ask WHY I want it. And this is where most people fall down.   Inevitably, if someone fails at a goal and are asked “why did you want it?”  They will have one or two weak and wishy-washy reasons.  Often, because someone else wanted them to do it: parents, spouse, doctors, teachers. Whatever.

 

But it is never a burning, seething, driving desire, something wired into their survival drives and spiritual vision.  Something that consumes them from morning to night.  How effective is this?  I can’t quantify this, but do know that people commonly can do things for their children they cannot do for themselves. Can claw their way up from malaise to get the kids breakfast, get them to school, help them…even if they cannot summon the same energy for themselves.

 

Similarly, there are people who are timid and nervous about fighting for themselves, but if they were protecting their children would transform into tigers.  THAT is who they really are.  That “core wiring” can be approached by fighting for yourself, your dreams, your values as if you were fighting to protect an innocent and helpless child.

 

And living in the clear understanding that death will come for you, and you have a limited time to live and give.  Combine those two, and you have something special.  Day after day you know what you need to accomplish TODAY to reach your weekly goals. What you need to do THIS WEEK to reach your monthly goals. What you need to do THIS MONTH to reach your yearly goals, and THIS YEAR to reach your lifetime outcomes.

 

You know WHAT and WHY.   And when you do, you don’t worry about “talent.”  And you notice that those who do are just hitting the “dark night of the soul” without the faith to move through it, or are so busy comparing themselves to others that their attention isn’t on the simple joy of learning who YOU are.

 

They will never be “Max” or Ray.   And they could have been, if their commitment is to reaching 100% of THEIR excellence, given THEIR strengths and weaknesses.

 

Forget “talent.” Know what you want and why you want it.  Model excellence in those who have already achieved similar excellence.  If your goals are in alignment with your deepest values, every day spent engaged in that struggle is its own reward.  And then…you have your very best chance to not only reach your external reward, but have the inner satisfaction of knowing you’ve lived your life in your own way.  And that in its way, is not just a practical journey but  a spiritual one.

 

This is a new year, filled with new possibilities.  Embrace them.  Decide today who and what you will be in this world.  Then…one day at a time…

 

Make it happen.

 

Happy New Year!

Steven Barnes

(If you want to contact that hyper-motivating “child” self, find the self-love and healing that makes any efforts worth while, find the loving partner who can join you on the path of life…join us for the New Soulmate Process in February.  Totally free for the first 200 people!   www.soulmateprocess.com)

Where “Bumblebee” (2018) and “Mary Poppins” meet

This is the first Transformers movie that really felt like playing with the toys on a Saturday afternoon, especially in a mash-up with your G.I. Joe dolls.  Heck, Barbie and Ken damned near makes cameos.

 

No one is going to mistake two hours of product placement for Shakespeare, but there is enough genuine heart to keep things humming along.

 

So…Charlie, (Hailee Steinfeld) is a teenaged girl who lost her father to a heart attack two years ago. The rest of the family has moved on, but she cannot.    Obsessed with rebuilding the Camero she and her dad used to play with on Saturdays, she comes across a decrepit yellow VW Beetle and falls in love with it, taking it home.

 

If you know the catch-phrase “Robots in disguise” (or “robots in the skies” as we used to say) you’ll pretty much guess the rest of this.

 

John Cena plays G.I. Joe…I mean, “Agent Burns” who finds himself  in the middle of the Autobot-Decepticon struggle  (and yes, that’s Angela Bassett voicing the Decepticon “Scatter”!)  and, well, you don’t need more information than already given.  You know if this is for you or not.  If it is, it delivers the goods.   Kids will be thrilled at the teenaged angst and robo-damage, adults will be amused by the snarky humor and relieved that the action doesn’t look like it was edited in a mix-master. There is actually some clarity in spacial geometry going on, something Micheal Bay seemed allergic to.

 

And there is enough real heart to make you care, as Charlie and Bumblebee forge a believable girl-and-her-Autobot bond that heals them both.  Its genuine fun.

 

And genuinely moving, tugging a few heart-strings.  There is a scene where Charlie sees her mother and little  brother and new step-father sitting on the couch, snuggling on the couch, Charlie unseen in shadow. She cannot join them.   The death of her father hurts too much, and that pain makes her an outsider, alone and bleeding emotionally. Walled off. She talks about how eager she is to leave home.

 

And when, in a later scene, that family she has (in some ways) rejected comes to her rescue, puts THEIR butts on the line to help her, and help her save the world, she is able to see their love, see her life in perspective, accept an aspect of “adulting” that is so damned painful: we will lose everything we love. But we will find new passions, new friends, new family…if we let ourselves.

 

##

 

The search for the emotional core of a story like this is essential–without it, all you have is action beats and jokes.  And predictably, they stick with the basics: a girl’s love for her father, the wish to build a home.  Friends, acceptance by peers, young love, a mother moving on to new happiness, soldiers recognizing and honoring each other across species lines.    You can see the strings, but they work.

 

“Mary Poppins” pulls a similar trick.  By creating a shattered family (the death of a wife and mother) in peril (impending loss of the family home) you INSTANTLY create rapport with the audience, simply by disrupting the basic “flow” of that adulting river: building a nest, raising children, falling in love.  Seeking the stability that enables growth.

 

The children need a stable home, the father needs healing and the sense that he is being a provider, the adult sister’s “ship has sailed” for romance, and there are snakes in the darkness (there were no real enemies in the original “Mary Poppins” as I recall) ready to bite. Into this mix comes the “practically perfect” catalyst (I was tickled to learn that her name is a pun.  Apparently, the term “Pop-In” is British slang for a quick, unexpected visit.  “Merry Pop-ins.” Get it?)

 

So “Mary Poppins Returns” is about a damaged family seeking the “magic” of love and life that bonds us together.   There is a wonderful scene where Emily Blunt as Mary sees that her work is done, the family is happy…but that she herself cannot share that warmth.   She is a catalyst, unchanged by the change she brings to the world.

 

“Bumblebee” deals with a similar shattered family, but one that has more security, and has moved on emotionally, isolating the daughter as the one who needs healing.  Her arc is one of opening her heart again, which means that there are predictable action and emotion beats as she gets back on that “Adulting” path that her father’s death jolted her out of.

 

There is just enough honesty in that to make a convincing “imitation of life.”  Between the two movies, there are almost every basic message you need to become an adult:

 

Acceptance of loss

Accepting new friends and the possibility of love

Recognizing threats to the family

Finding courage

Forgiving and admitting mistakes

Learning to play

Working to support the things and people you love

 

And there is a scene in Mary Poppins Returns where we are told that we will find what we have lost when we look “where the lost things go.”

 

And the father, mourning the death of his beloved wife, is able to see her eyes, her smile, her walk in their children.  That death is conquered in the creation of new life.  And realizes that while he thought he was caring for his children, it was just as true that they were really caring for him.

 

I felt that.  We’ve all lost mothers, fathers, friends, mentors.  And if you aren’t connected to the flow of life, you can become overwhelmed by grief.

 

The antidote for fear…is love.

 

 

No one will mistake either film for a masterpiece. But both are good, solid stories about people struggling to find meaning in life, and finding comfort in the bonds of family and friendship, in embracing love and mastering fear.

 

Do that in a story, and people will cheer.  Do it in your life…and you are walking the “Thousand Mile Road” of mastering your existence, one step at a time.

 

Well done, both of ’em.

 

Namaste

Steve

(if you would like to explore connecting the internal and external “families” of the heart…please join us in February for a totally FREE five-part webinar THE NEW SOULMATE PROCESS.  Sign up at www.soulmateprocess.com)

“Bandersnatch” (2018)

 

Netflix’ justifiably notorious experiment in “choose your own adventure” video storytelling is here, and it is something to behold.   I’ve only played with it once, but understand that depending on the choices you make, the experience is between 50 and 120 (!) minutes.  As anyone who has ever “read” (or better, “experienced”) a CYOA, they are gimmicks, and fun, but we don’t expect emotional response. The fractured story lines make it difficult if not impossible to BOTH have genuine choices AND for the author to follow every possible permutation and craft them dramatically.  If they genuinely make it possible to really branch at each choice, if they give you twenty branching points, that would be over a million possible outcomes.

 

Oops.

 

So you HAVE to keep that in mind as you watch “Bandersnatch” but that news isn’t bad. While the emotions might have some difficulty engaging, the brilliant minds behind “Black Mirror” KNEW this, and actually use it to the advantage of this extraordinarily advanced storytelling.

 

Wow.

 

##

 

So the story deals with Stefan Butler, an emotionally stunted but brilliant game designer, who is creating a game based on an infamous non-linear CYOA novel called “Bandersnatch.” This book, which deals both thematically and structurally with multiple realities, arguably drove the author insane (very Lovecraftian, this) so that he murdered his wife.

 

You can probably imagine the plot turns and twists generated by this concept in a LINEAR film. Stephen King could write it in his sleep. But the screenwriter, the annoyingly brilliant Charlie Brooker (MAN is this guy good!  He wrote most of the “Black Mirror” episodes, and he is in amazing form here) actually has the game match the structure of the book, and the film itself operate as an even higher-level version of the entire concept.  If you watch it on Netflix, you actually get to make choices, some absurdly trivial (which breakfast cereal to eat) and others profound (do you kill a certain character?). And apparently, EVERYTHING that you do ripples through the entire structure.  Some of the choices seem to be finite loops that really don’t affect much.

 

But others…Holy Crap.

 

There will be a zillion imitations of this, and few of them will be any good: this is master-level stuff.  By touching on Stefan’s past, choices that he made early in life that changed EVERYTHING, and his emotional journey through an increasingly fractal reality (and yes, of course, there is the drug scene where the possibilities of multiple realities is discussed directly and entertainingly, laying out the premise explicitly, thanks to the restrained yet gonzo performance of Will Poulter as a gaming guru) the filmmakers invite you to surrender to the madness, with just enough genuine heart to keep you engaged.

 

Most of those who follow this path, try to imitate “Bandersnatch” will NOT be able to do this, and will produce crap. “Bandersnatch” ain’t crap. As drama, the thread I followed wasn’t totally satisfying, but that wasn’t the point. It really wasn’t. As an experiment, it blows the doors off. This…is something different.  And if as Marshall McCluhan said “the medium is the message” and the structure reflects the structure of your fictional universe, then as a work of art this is ass-kicking stuff, something not to be missed.

 

###

 

I’ll tell you what engaged my emotions: a childhood choice that haunted Stefan all his life.   It involves a rabbit.   He was innocent, not just young but it would have been impossible to predict the consequences. But those consequences were SHATTERING.  Fractured his mind.   And unless he could re-connect with that child, comfort and assure him, and lift the load of pain and shame and guilt from his shoulders, the stunted and fractured young man who would later struggle so with basic emotions is almost inevitable.

 

The damage we take in childhood stays with us all our lives, if we don’t find a way to heal it.  And there is a recurring image of this man-boy, or boy-man, trying to undo what was done, find a way to “make it didn’t happen” that are heart-breaking, even in this fractured form.  Devastating.  We all have had such damages. All struggled with the “If Only…” self-recrimination, whether there is any logical reason for guilt or not.   The heart doesn’t speak “logic.”

 

##

 

“What if?”   “If only” and “If this goes on…” are the core questions of science fiction. But they are powerful because they are also emotional dynamite.

 

What if…I had chosen differently.

If only…THAT hadn’t happened at THAT moment.

If THIS  continues to happen…I don’t know if I can go on.

 

The “motor” to keep us going through the worst-case scenarios is our motivation. The more motivation, the easier it is to struggle on.  The “How” of finding resources and mentors must be powered by that “why.”    Parents can do this unto death for their children: NOTHING will stop them. They will move heaven and earth to heal or teach or rescue their children.

 

All you have to do is have the same connection to your own heart, your own “inner child” and you can dig your way through a mountain of mirror fragments, even if each of them is reflecting back some secret ugly soul-stain.

 

The answer is to not get lost in the infinite complexity. To focus on the most basic and fundamental healing of our hearts, and connection to our physical reality through our bodies.  The brain will lose itself in an infinite hall of fractured, splintered mirrors.  But there is a moment in “Bandersnatch” where the programming guru introduces Stephan to his world.

 

And in the midst of all the chaos is a mother and child.   Infinite complexity.   Simple primal love and life.

 

The answer is to get out of your head, and into your body, or your heart.  THAT is the door out of Wonderland.   It is the path home.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.theancientchild.com

My Fourteen Year Old Called Me A Liar…Good!

Last night, Jason accused me of lying, was angry and accusatory. I was almost happy. This, I thought, is a teachable moment.

##

Getting Jason to engage with his homework is always a struggle. As is getting him to stop playing his video games.

But there may be a small breakthrough. Three weeks ago Jason broke his ankle, and has been home-schooled ever since. Serious resistance, every day, combined with savage cabin fever. Last week, we bundled Jason up and got him to the Glendora Public Library to meet with his math teacher. For the first few minutes we were all seated together, and then I realized all was well — the teacher is a stone pro, and immediately engaged him and challenged him. T and I moved to a side bench, chuckling to ourselves. After the time was over, he was in a great mood (the teacher verified that when J engaged, his understanding was perfect) and asked how long he’d been working. When we said an hour he didn’t believe it: it felt like about fifteen minutes.

Why? Because he’d gone into flow.

Last night, he was to midnight playing his new Playstation VR games with friends in far cities. When bed-time came, he held up a finger asking for one more minute. I came back into the bedroom, noting that it was 12:02. I waited until 12:04, and then went back out and said that his time was up. He was angry, told me that it had only been a couple of seconds, that he KNEW that it had because he’d “been watching the clock” and refused to believe I’d very patiently made certain he got at least 1:01 minutes. And went to bed angry and blaming me for ruining his game time.

And…I was patient. Why? Because I knew what had happened: he’d gone into flow.

Sure, he insulted me, and challenged my honesty and authority. But because I knew I was right, and understand that he strikes out in fear and insecurity, I could feel the real message:

BUT IT DIDN’T FEEL LIKE A MINUTE. YOU HAVE TO BE WRONG. IF YOU AREN’T WRONG, DAD, THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME.

He doesn’t understand how his mind works. I do.

What will happen today? Today, calmed down, he will be sorry for his behavior. And I will have a chance to explain something that will help him along the path to being an awake, aware, adult human being. That is, after all, my job: to deliver him safely to his adulthood.

And flow is one of the most powerful tools along that path.

Flow is the state of focused, emotional engagement. One symptom of entering flow state is that TIME VANISHES. You are so connected to the thing you’re doing that you aren’t thinking of past or future, and exist, in essence, in a timeless state. Everyone experiences it: driving long distances, reading, watching a good movie, reading a good book, distance running, meditating deeply, Tai Chi, and sex are all doorways into this state. YOU CAN DEVELOP THIS STATE, make it stronger and deeper. My mentor Larry Niven trained me to enter this state HARD during writing. It was finding the same state in running, and martial arts, and in the sexual magic I studied thirty years ago that demonstrated that there are multiple doors into the same room.

“Flow” is the first step out of “ordinary mind” and the last vestige of the ego state as you go into deeper, non-dualistic thought patterns. “Non dualistic” is kinda like flipping a coin and your brother says “its heads!” and your sister se says “its tails!” and you say “it’s a quarter.”

People will be annoyed with you, if they are partisan to heads or tails. But you will be able to solve problems that can be resolved no other way. It is the doorway to the higher mind.

Jason experienced something precious: the ability to enter “flow” in relation to math. Learn THAT skill, and you can learn almost anything. If, today, he is sorry, I can explain what happened, and get his agreement to work to develop that ability: something he is already experiencing in his video games. Something that would make him a straight-A student if he can apply it to school. Or a great athlete. Or a good father.

He can use it to master any skill, including those leading to adulthood, and trading profitably with his community. That gives him the healthy resources to “build his nest” and attract a healthy female of the species, someone with her OWN resources and skills. And together, they can either raise baby birds or challenge and explore the world in whatever manner gives them pleasure.

It is part of the “adulting” path, and a doorway to mastery.

So…yeah, he insulted me. But I’m gonna use it, you betcha.

I’m a Dad, dammit. That’s how I roll.

Namaste

Steve

(If you have struggled to enter “flow” state, the free “Ancient Child” MP3 will teach you. You can get it FREE when you sign up for the NEW SOULMATE PROCESS to help you either win or nurture the best relationship in your life. Get it at: www.soulmateprocess.com)

“Rare Exports” (2010) and a Christmas gift of love…to you.

I have to admit loving evil Santa movies. Maybe it’s a matter of needing a palate cleanser sometimes before diving into “Love, Actually” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “Silent Night, Deadly Night” with its faux Christmas Carols (“Santa’s watching, Santa’s creeping, now you’re nodding, now you’re sleeping. Hope that you’ve been good this year…too late now, ’cause Santa’s here!” Brrrr) is your typical 70’s slasher movie with a very, very nasty sense of humor.

But “Rare Exports” just might take the cake. It’s a Finnish movie, with subtitles, about reindeer farmers near the Russian border (a Russian mining operation where all the Russians speak English. Maybe they were Americans. Running a Russian mining operation. Maybe I was missing some political commentary, I’m not sure). Apparently the mining folks accidentally pull a “Reptilicus” style monster movie error, and dig up something that was buried many hundreds of years ago: the creature that birthed the legend of Santa Claus, cleaned up over the centuries so as not to give kids nightmares.

And let me tell you…you’d better watch out. Seriously.

It is straight-faced funny, with a melt of comedy, horror, adventure and suspense, very well done, beautifully shot and acted.

And at the core of it is the relationship between a widowed reindeer rancher and his son. There is a noticeable lack of women in the movie, taking place in a bleak snowscape. All the shown children, all of the adult human characters, and all of the supernatural antagonists (hint, hint) are male. I’d think that there was some kind of commentary going on, but somehow I doubt it. “Rare Exports” might well yield to gendered analysis, but that’s not my interest at the moment.

Looking at the core relationship driving the film, we find Rauno and Pietari Kontio (played by father-son pair Jorma and Onni Tommila) the aforementioned Reindeer herder and son. While the “overstructure” of the movie deals with defeating the threat, the “understructure” is simply about a man trying to raise his son, the son trying to understand his place in the world. What is the phrase? “The young man grows up, and the old man faces death.”

There’s nothing profound going on in “Rare Exports” on this level although there is a moment that touched me. There is a sequence where the basic secrets of the situation have been revealed, and the father is trying to protect his son from danger, but the son knows that HE is the one who created this problem, and also the one who must solve it. The father/son relationship is flipped. The father must trust. Let go. Let the son step into his young manhood.

Each is risking everything. And while they don’t go deeply into these emotions, I felt it.

The fear in Rauno’s care-ravaged face. He’s lost his wife. He no doubt questions himself as a man, as a husband, and now as a father. Wants so desperately to deliver his son Pietari safely to his manhood.

Pietari wants to be “good” — both because he wants his father’s pride but because children trust their parents to guide them safely across the threshold of childhood. Adults live in a world of mystery and magic, of unfathomable power and opportunity but also danger and chaos.

“Stay a child” the father seems to be pleading. The world is too dangerous a place.

“Let me be a man” the son seems to beg. “You have to let me go.”

There, with the snow blowing around them, surrounded by death and danger and the creeping unknown, both of these fragile human beings stand emotionally stripped. Just a father and son, son and father. And the moment that follows will test both, and determine the rest of their lives…if they will survive at all.

It is just a moment, and I wouldn’t lie and say they handle it with full grace and power. But it is there. It is real enough to give the movie an extra “umph.” That is the cradle of humanity, the nurturing of children.

Looking at that maturation train, the bond between parents exists to create enough safety to raise helpless children. The dead wife/mother takes them closer to the edge of survival in a harsh and unforgiving natural setting. The introduction of the supernatural just pushes it harder.

Survival, though…without it, the species collapses in a generation. This is why sexual passion is so ineffably sweet. Love so intense. Abandonment so despised, and jealousy so strong. And despite all of our fears and inadequacies…we manage to shepherd our children to adulthood, most of us do.

What if you don’t want, or can’t have children? The bond, the love, the strength and passion that COULD protect a child are still there, and protect your heart. Enhance survival. A human pair, standing against the world if necessary.

It is a beautiful and precious thing, so basic and yet so complex. So powerful and so fragile. So common and yet so rare to find The One.

The ultimate “Christmas gift” in “Rare Exports” will be survival, love, maturation. And if Christmas itself exists for any reason, it is to build that bond, anchor in joy for at least ONE time of the year, because a closed heart leads to an empty life. We do everything we can to make our loved ones happy BECAUSE we understand how much pressure and pain life can bring. Give them all the fire you can, because the night and cold are inevitable.

And bring love into YOUR life, and shelter and protect it. And here, at last, I come to what I wanted to offer you for Christmas.

We gave away the “Ancient Child” MP3 in order to help people heal. The point was to give you an introduction to the Lifewriting approach to personal development, and give you a chance to see if our approach to finding love might work for you. THE GEEK’S GUIDE TO SOULMATES arose from that, and our plan was to teach it in January.

But two things happened: a bunch of new work dropped in our laps, forcing us to push the class back to February. People asked why we had to limit the class to “Geeks”. And people reminded me that many of those who need love most lack the resources to take the class.

We looked at all of that, and made a decision. The decision was this:

The truth is that the first time you teach a class, you are building it. Documenting what people need to succeed. After you do that, you have a finished work and testimonials of its power. So…the first group is helping us.

Why not GIVE it away? Why not let the first group, or at least the first 100 or so of the first live webinar attendees…take the class for free?

I talked with my partners about that, and we agreed that it would be a good thing, and a good gift to the world.

So…this is my Christmas present to the first 100 of you to sign up at WWW.SOULMATEPROCESS.COM. You’ll take the February class, all 5 weeks of it, FREE. Healing. Understanding relationships. Finding the love of your life. Nurturing that love for a lifetime.

Whether you HAVE a relationship, or want to keep the passion and connection in the relationship you already have…whether finding or “care and feeding”, the NEW SOULMATE PROCESS is what we want to give the world, a way of saying “thank you” to the universe for the gift of love in our own lives, and to each and every one of you who would like to spend five weeks with me and Tananarive, exploring the human heart.

Anyone who wants to end the “gender war” is our tribe, and we want you there.

So please…if these messages speak to you, join us.

Namaste

Steve

www.soulmateprocess.com

“Aquaman” (2018) and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)

Pleasant, fun, visually gorgeous, “Aquaman” forms, with “Wonder Woman”, a foundational piece in how the DC Universe should proceed. When its bad (some cheesy dialogue, a bit of unclear spacial geometry, and oh, Jason Mamoa is a personality, not an “actor”) its bad in a fond, familiar way, and what the heck, it’s a comic book movie: you knew what you were going to see.

I was asking myself why we so love these simple colorful stories of heroes, and I think it is because their basic structure is the basic path for any action of our lives.

Arthur Curray, “The Aquaman” is the son of the queen of Atlantis and a lighthouse keeper, the “uniter of their two worlds.” The external journey of the story is to stop a coming, vicious war between the ocean and the land — the ocean folk claiming that the surface fired the first shot, in the sense of dumping millions of tons of crap in the ocean, seriously the most understandable motivation to wanna kill us I’ve heard in a long time.

Nice conflicts. But his real struggle is to deal with his heritage. Why did his mother abandon him? What is his true nature? The laid-back party dude personae the screenwriters crafted to fit Mamoa’s personae (trust me, you don’t want him speaking Shakespeare)? The reluctant king?

In fact, James Wan and executive producer Rob Cohen bring some of that “Fast and the Furious” energy: its all about La Familia.

It works. The major fights are about bonds of father and son, mother and son, brother and brother, father and daughter, husband and wife. All about the bonds that connect us. And there is a clear moment when Curray has to face an impossible challenge, one that has slaughtered heroes before him, and he says that he is afraid.

And is told “good.”

Why is he afraid? What is making this superman-strength bro-dude (predictably, one of the problems in this and most comic book movies is trying to figure out exactly how strong this guy is. I mean — the same guy who grunts lifting 250 pounds of armored human can lift 40K ton submarine out of the water. Think about. If you can benchpress 200 pounds, do you think you could swim that 200 off the floor of a swimming pool and press it above the surface without your feet on the bottom?) Anyway, at this moment, he explains why he has to win: for his family. For his people. For the world.

That is his duty, his heart. NOT for himself.

It is little grace notes like that that make us care. And when he (SPOILER. Yeah, right) ultimately becomes “Ocean Master” he grins to Amber Heard and says “This is gonna be fun.” He has earned it.

###

In “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold is half loving father and half maniacal doofus. But there is a moment when we fall in love with him, and want him to “win.” It happens early in the film, when they’re talking about the big Christmas Bonus he is expecting. A co-worker says “I hope you spend it on yourself.” And Clark says that, no…he’s building a swimming pool for his family. His FAMILY. And we understand everything about this rather silly, emotionally fragile man. And want him to win.

And at the very end of the film, after all the absurdity, when Clark looks at his impossibly lit-up house and all the fried Christmas tree and orbitally launched Santa Claus ornament and says “I did it”, he succeeded in bringing Christmas to his family…we feel it.

##

Jason didn’t sleep well two nights ago. Why? Maybe because of the homework to be turned in. Maybe because of the final exam he had to do, or the project he had to turn in by noon. Stressed, he became defensive and rude, and I was not happy.

But fear creates procrastination, which increases fear in a negative loop. I could understand. But there was also another problem…later in the day, he was stepping back into the social realm.

Jason hasn’t wanted his friends to see him in his broken-legged vulnerability. I can understand that: teenaged kids can be like a little school or sharks, sniffing for blood. So he’s been camped out for almost three weeks. But I knew he wanted to see Aquaman, and I decided to invite his friend Jaden along. Oh, it was a hassle, getting kids and crutches into the car. But just watching him step back into his body, connect emotionally with possibly going out into the world with a friend, nervousness and excitement joining together…that was a joy.

He lost some of that teenaged boy sense of invulnerability when that football sled ran over his foot. And listening to him talking to Jaden about how, when his adrenaline kicked in he lifted that sled and the entire team off him, sorta like lifting 200 pounds from the floor of a swimming pool…

I could see him putting his ego back together. Asking “who am I?” in relation to his body, his friend, the world. His academics. Everything. And that after a day of struggle, we not only got his grades ALL passing, worked through reflexive rudeness, got him to understand the importance of taking responsibility for his emotions and actions (the door to adulthood) but re-connected with his buddy.

We all got into the theater in a row where his cast-bound leg was not cramped, and settled into the movie. It took me a little while to totally surrender to it, but I was enjoying myself terrifically. Tananarive was enjoying herself even more: hey, she had Jason Mamoa’s naked torso to drool over: what’s not to like?

Then, just after a major action scene, when it was clear that major plot points were about to surface, Jason said his Sl;urpy was empty, and could I get him more?

Why, sure. I took his cup out and built him a “suicide” and was on my way back in as I heard the sounds of a major conflagration. Also someone was coming the other way. It was Tananarive. She saw me and grinned, saying “you were missing a great scene! I wanted to relieve you in the concession line.”

We went back in, I gave Jason his Surpy (“how did you make the rainbow, dad?”) and sat watching the movie. Jason and his buddy were digging it. Tananarive seemed to like it even more. And I felt supremely happy. My family.

##

That night, Jason settled in to play video games until late. The house was quiet, the Christmas tree and outside lights blinking. Tananarive met me in the kitchen and put her arms around my waist. “You did it.” She said. “you did a good thing.”

Oh, we all did good, Jason did his work for his teachers, the school, himself, sure. But also for his Mom and Dad, wanting us to be proud of him. Wanting to believe that he is worthy of stepping into adulthood.

Tananarive gave up a spectacular scene because she wanted to be sure her hubby enjoyed the movie.

I just wanted my son to be happy and healed. Help him re-build his relationship with his friends, and with the world. For T to have a great night out. When you are focused on the people you love, you just do what has to be done, for as long as you need to do it.

That’s when you really deserve to win. Jason needs to believe in his future, be able to rationalize past failures and believe that his body is strong, not weak. He needs to BOTH take responsibility for his actions AND grasp that yes, the education system failed him by not giving his parents the information they needed to know how he was doing. And to develop a sense of “screw you. I’m smart. I’ll show you, dammit.”

Anger can be a great motivator, if channeled. But you can’t go it alone. You need tribe. And he was afraid that his friends were only friends as long as he was strong, and fast. So…pull Jaden back into the mix. Let him feel that life will continue.

Do that…absorb the fear-based rudeness and insecure defiance, see the desperate hope and love inside, the “please don’t reject me. I’m doing the best I can…”

And you are a Dad. I might fail at another thousand things in my life. I’m not the writer I wish I was. I’m not the martial artist I wish I was. I need to be a better husband, and a better man.

But this Christmas…I’m definitely a Dad.

That works for me.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Steve

www.theancientchild.com