Happy Valentine’s Day


One of the groups I belong to is Matt Furey’s email copywriting group.  The “Zen Master of the Internet” is a fun guy, who has created a life that fits him just fine, thank you, and has aligned his voice with his intents in a way that allows him to make boucoup bucks in a flow state.  He said something valuable yesterday:  “The true goal of the truly successful people I admire is to be locked in on a process. The process is the end result rather than the end result bring the end result.”


Get that? The PROCESS is the end result.


In other words, you want to live your life so that the natural flow of your days provides the values you seek.  Chop wood, carry water. Get up, brush your teeth, wash your face, love your family, support your friends, laugh, love, play…and at the end of the day, look back over those 16 hours, happy that you’ve helped make the world a better place, and fall into slumber.


And because you have given to others AND properly aligned your adult and child personalities, you find your wealth increased, your body stronger, your family connections more intimate and satisfying.


Just…naturally.  It starts with love.


Love for yourself. A willingness to strive to create your dreams, and to protect yourself from predators and the drowsy drivers one encounters on the road of life.


Love another person enough to extend that love beyond your own skin. To create a world together, perhaps children, anchoring you to the external community, beginning to see the same patterns of growth and life everywhere.


Understand humanity enough to understand that those same fears and yearnings exist in every heart, however their actions manifest.   We are all doing the best we can. If we could do better, escape more pain and/or gain more pleasure…we would.  That’s how we’re wired up.  And to do better, we need more resources and role models and better strategies and more faith.


Find a tribe of people who hear your song, and strive to uplift them. And if you have aligned your child and adult selves, this becomes your “business”.  It is just hunting and gathering for your tribe, and having the heart to care and the head to demand to be treated with respect, and the healthy body to be an energetic force for good.


And to always be in the flow of your life. Hard? Easy?  Joyous?  Stressful?  Be with it.  Flow with it. Be kind to yourself, and to others. There is never a need for casual cruelty, even if you must from time to time defend yourself.   Remembering both kindness and strength.   That those who sleep can be awakened. That snakes are not evil and rarely aggressive unless hungry or fearful. That in the light of day, or reason, or love, even monsters are  often revealed as wounded children seeking lost love.

If we can forgive and love ourselves….we can forgive and love others.


One day a year, let us be gentle with each other.  Love each other.  Remembering that that is how we began, and with any luck at all…it is how we will end as well. And that the road between birth and death is one we all travel, and that, again, love is all that makes it worth while.



The divinity within me salutes and acknowledges the divinity within each and every one of you.





“Star Wars” X “Roots” = Black Panther

People giving you the fish-eye when you say “Wakanda Forever”?  Ask you what was wrong with “Meteor Man” or “Falcon” or “Luke Cage” or even the beloved “Blade”?  Getting sick of the faux negative reviews and thinly veiled insult.  Well, you aren’t alone.


I find that the set of people who don’t understand “Panther Fever” overlaps nicely with those who don’t grasp   SF in general, or comic book movies in particular.  And…to be honest, those who don’t understand or approve of BLM.  They tend not to have many black friends, either. Yeah, I peek at their FB friend lists, and it matches what I see in the real world among the same people with the same tired complaints.


I remember back in 1977  when Star Wars came out, and the frenzy. People spending overnight in tents for days to be the first in line. The cultural take-over was huge.   Or the Star Trek phenomenon, with people creating languages, legally changing their names, wearing Spock ears to work and getting married in Star Trek ceremonies.  Remember all of that?  And people asked me why the weirdos were acting like that.


I never slept on a line.  Or wore Vulcan ears. BUT I UNDERSTOOD.  Understood how hungry we are for myths that connect head and heart and body.  That say we matter.  That say it is all right to be different, that there is a place for all of us in the galaxy.


I needed that myself, God knows.


Now: that’s half the equation.   Here’s the other half.   Remember  the “Roots” miniseries?  I distinctly remember a lady at my college who had always mocked black concerns. After seeing “Roots” she was in tears. She had literally had no idea. How would she?  There were forces pushing against clear representations of the issues in film, such that the dominant images were those in “Gone With The Wind.”
I don’t know nothin’ bout birthin’ no babies, Miz Scarlette.” If you can read that without throwing up in your mouth a little, you are luckier than I am.


To this day, there are sleepers and snakes  claiming slavery was no worse than immigration, or that “Liberal social policies” were more damaging than 400 years of captivity,  Jim Crow, and segregation.   These are voters, employers, lawmakers, justice officials. How do you think those people interpret the statistics on income and arrests?  Think they believe in equality, no matter what they politely say in public?


No, they do not.   And we’ve been surrounded by them for centuries. And the  stranglehold on media and society that these attitudes have had is just breaking down, leading them to feeling desperate and afraid.  Fear leads to anger, anger to violence. Be careful–myths have power.


“Roots” had that power because it was the story of one man who fought through the walls, rebuilt historical bridges, connected family myth on the American continent to family myth in an African village.  In the process, regaining a slender thread of what had been ripped away from slaves:    Names. Language, culture, history, mythology, religion, agency.  The memory of a  time when people defined themselves in terms of their own people, or to the natural forces of the earth–not in reference to oppressors and colonizers, kidnappers and even kind but patronizing allies.  Alex Haley was the first black American to accomplish this connection and write of it widely, and for it he was both enriched and attacked.


I sat in my Mom’s living room, watching this ground-breaking  program over the course of a week, and for the very first time in my life grasped a history that was not created and approved of by the very people who needed to kidnap my ancestors and brainwash them into working for a fraction of their value, as well as giving up all agency over their lives and bodies and families…whose descendants would blithely claim that offering someone free sandwiches for a month is more damaging than torturing and raping them for a year.


I mean…the bald-faced temerity of this is staggering. AND THEY GOT AWAY WITH IT for decades.  But they cannot get away with it any longer, if you know who you are.  It was too late for me to be blown away by Roots. I had already done an end run around race with countless hours of meditation, connecting me directly with the heart of being.    There was no strength or power in being black, not in my house, despite the surface happy talk.  It took decades to revisit those questions, and the price for doing so was just as severe as I had feared.    I’m strong enough to handle it…but the cost of developing that strength was severe.  I do not want the next generation to pay such a price.  And see enough changes in business, politics, economics, and yes, entertainment, to convince me they will not.


If you want to understand the reaction to Black Panther, all you have to do is look at the “Star Wars” phenomenon (which is about the power of myth and family identity), and the “Roots” phenomenon (which is about the power of myth and social identity), add or multiply them times each other, and BANG, you have the explosion of joy.


“Star Wars” X “Roots” = Black Panther


Look at the reactions from people, black and white.   As with the Wonder Woman “No Man’s Land” sequence, the reaction is “I didn’t even know I needed to see this.”   That it is filling a hunger so deep that we were numb to it.  To be connected to our ancestors, our land, our gods, our sense of centrality in the universe. The precise thing every other group of people in the world have. Africans have it, even if they have material poverty. Colonized people have it.  Brainwashed and kidnapped people do not.


And whites?  Most just want to live decent lives, raise their families, deal with their stresses with integrity.  For our children to be able to play with each other without dragging the past back up again and again.  But until all of that past is actually dealt with, until the liars stop claiming they would have “gotten over it” faster, or that immigrants who fought to get here had the same experience as kidnapped Africans who fought to escape…until we are a generation beyond those lies, it is irrational for anyone to expect us not to join ranks and say “back the hell off.  Go back to sleep. Unless you’re a snake, in which case slither on over. To paraphrase Nick Fury in “The Avengers”:   “Snake?  Meet boot.”


But you will not enter the nursery, even though baby Jason could strangle you in his sleep.  Black Baby Hercules?

No.  Little T’Challa.


What can you do? Just live a good and decent life with your eyes open.  Or…enjoy and support art that speaks to a wider world.   If you want to go deeper, share what you learn with your children, or children you influence.


And if you want to go deeper still, and are a creative artist, create your own inclusive worlds.  We need you: black, white, brown, yellow.  Christian and Jew. Male and female.  Liberal and Conservative. We need your perspective, and so long as you believe in human equality, you are welcome in the new world.


This is an opportunity, a NEW opportunity to close the door on the past without forgetting its horrors. To embrace a future grounded in a pretty new and revolutionary notion: that people can be different without being less than. We can create that world for our children, and must, or we have failed them. Let them deal with the new challenges of the 21st Century.  For God’s sake…don’t ask them to keep carrying the burdens of the 19th.


Science Fiction is just the mythology of the 20th Century.   Afrofuturism is nothing but this concept applied specifically to the children of the Diaspora–to their hopes and dreams and identities.  And if you never missed us from “Star Wars”, you have no right to complain that we are creating our own worlds now, and inviting all to share in the fun.


If you want to go beyond Black Panther, or understand its roots, we have everything you need in the “Afrofuturism: Dreams to Banish Nightmares” class–everything you need to understand, research, support, create, including the emotional tools and a full writing course, worth at least ten times what we’re charging.   Be part of the answer. To order it, go to:  www.afrofuturismwebinar.com


And…I’ll see you at the movies!  Got my ticket!



Wakanda Forever!


Turning a weakness into a strength


I recently had a conversation with a reader who  made a “terrible mistake.”  Call him “Quint.”

Quint:   I find myself in a position to ask you for some quick advice, if you don’t mind.  I made a mistake this weekend, got out of hand, and while no one got hurt… feelings were hurt, people were scared, etc. I apologized profusely, owned up to the mistake… took responsibility for it. But I cannot stop obsessing over it myself. I cannot stop beating myself up over it. I will, with time, but it’s frustrating and hurting my productivity. This is a pattern with me. I’m working on cutting it off, but if you have any suggestions, I’d be open to hearing them.

Steve: All right. Tell me what happened, and what you specifically request of me.

Quint:  Drank too much at a friend’s party (I don’t drink often)… got far too drunk, got into a tussle with some folks later on outside. No one was hurt, but my friend was embarrassed by my behavior (as am I) and I apologized profusely, accepted responsibility for my actions, and promised it wouldn’t happen again. Yet I’m beating myself up for the mistake, to the point that my close friends are more worried about that than what I actually did. What’s a good suggestion for breaking this cycle of beating myself up over my mistakes?

Steve:   Love yourself more. Never say anything about yourself you wouldn’t say to your most beloved child. The entire “Ancient Child” technique is designed to hook you into this. Heartbeat Meditation as well, and the Morning Ritual as well. Love and forgiveness toward yourself gives you the foundation to improve future behaviors.

Quint:    That’s what I’ve been working for, but it’s been a challenge to let go of the obsessiveness of my nature.

Steve:   Don’t “let go” of your obsessiveness. USE IT. Become obsessive about healing, about positive things.


Yeah, I like that. Are you obsessive?  Then be obsessive about meditating, visualizing. About your Morning Ritual.  THAT’S the proper use of obsessiveness.  Why fight it when you can use it?

Here is a good man, who simply wants to be a good person, walking the Road of Trials called life.   Like the rest of us, he makes mistakes.  And like the Heroes before him, he reached out to friends, associates, and potential mentors for advice.

The problem is not that he made the mistake. That was done with. The problem is that he kept the pain and shame with him, beat himself up.  Now, if beating yourself up worked to make you a better person, that would be fine. But the trouble is that it really only works if you have EXCELLENT role models.  For instance, if you have loving, healthy parents, and you are on the wrong life path, it can actually be healthy to crush your ego and allow them to help you reconstruct yourself in a new mold, much as a white belt would be wise to find a teacher who can be trusted to  crush and reconstruct your ego.

But for adults? In general? Not a good idea, as your crushed ego will diminish your confidence in yourself, and lead to a descending spiral of results, as well as attract predators: you have become one of the halt and the lame.   Limping sheep attract wolves.

So you have to start by loving yourself.   Simply imagining yourself as a helpless child will work for most people even over the internet, and in personal coaching I’ve NEVER met anyone it didn’t work with, although I might have needed hypnosis or deep visualization to get down to the core survival circuitry.  Those who have been neglected or abused often have no conscious memory of ever having been safe.  Sigh.

My heart breaks for you, but that means that YOU have to do it.  YOU have to commit to protecting yourself.

That’s the first step.   The most important step.  As an individual or a culture, you MUST start here, or you won’t have the motivation to do “Whatever It Takes” to change your life.

  1. Love yourself to begin the healing process, and find your strength. If you would fight for a child, but wouldn’t fight for your own life and dreams, you have work to do.
  2. Love another person.  Love forces us to empathize with others, to see our own soul in their eyes (intense sex is great for this!). If we can love ourselves despite our flaws, and love another despite theirs…we open the door to deeper understanding.
  3. Understand history without guilt, blame or shame.   Core perspective: people are just people. If you can see the same basic motivations and behaviors playing out in a variety of circumstances without hating or thinking “they” are less than “you”, you’ve taken another step. Can you embrace humanity without thinking either black or white are superior, “better” or “less” in any significant way?  How about male and female?  We have a LOT of stress there now. And a LOT of men and women who don’t trust each other.    Here’s a hint: you can trust other people to the exact degree that you can trust your own judgement.   If you cannot relate the behaviors of men and women to core humanity, cannot see how they are two sides of the same damned coin, you haven’t gone deeply enough, and have disowned half of your own nature.    Get to work.
  4. Embrace and protect your tribe, while avoiding sleepers and snakes. All you have to do is embrace the humanity of people willing to embrace yours…and all will be well. Not immediately.  Not tomorrow. But the human race is knitting itself together after the Great Migration.  And you can be a part of it.


Let me tell you a little story.  When I was researching GREAT SKY WOMAN in Tanzania, I had a bit of private trepidation. What would I see and experience? What if I found the negative stereotypes pervasive, and the sneers of the racists justified?  Could I be honest enough to admit that possibility?  Because if I couldn’t, I couldn’t be certain of my POSITIVE perceptions either.  So…I steeled myself, and went.

Interacting with as many people as possible at every opportunity.   Played little games testing abstract thought, reflexes, perceptions, memory and other things. And… was delighted.  The children, even those who had been living in very simple circumstances, were so quick and beautiful.  Compared quite comfortably with kids in far wealthier circumstances in America.

The damage, then, could easily be explained by  differential patterns of interaction with the rest of the world, distance from the Road of Silk and that pesky North-South continental orientation (domesticated grains and animals can migrate east-west much more easily than north-sound.  By the damage of colonialism, and the plunder of the slave trade.  In comparison, the Eurasian Land mass seemed almost custom designed for spreading genetics and information.)  Multiplied over tens of thousands of years, how was sub-Saharan Africa to catch up?  Copper phone lines were being scavenged by desperately poor people, crippling the attempt to wire together a communications infrastructure.

I brooded for a couple of days,  and then saw something that made me laugh:  Maasai warriors, watching their flocks, standing on one leg leaning on their spears…talking into their cell phones.

I laughed and laughed, knowing at that moment that all would be well.   All I had to rely on was a sense of universal humanity, and there was no problem.

There is work to do, but we cannot let ourselves be dragged down into the muck by wasting time with trolls who infect us with dualistic, oppositional thinking.

Step 5:  Win with integrity.  Respect the rights and humanity of others.   While keeping the strength to protect your heart and family, come from a place of love. Of knowing that most anger is just fear. Understand what they are afraid of, and you can forgive them.  Understand that enough fear creates enough psychological pressure to shut down frontal lobes.  An educated person can believe in a Flat Earth if they delete enough contrary data.  Might such a person be someone looking for simple explanations to an increasingly complex world?  Be compassionate. If for no other reason, remember that YOU do this too.  You will need help, support, compassion, understanding. You’ve been wrong in the past, and will be again in the future.  Also…there is nothing more common than oppressed people becoming oppressors. The abusers turning out to have been abused.


I have to remember that I, too, am asleep in some ways.  That I, too, seem a snake to some.  That in some eyes I, too, carry the Monster in my heart.


Start by loving yourself.  End by loving the world.    Whether as an individual, a family, or a tribe, the pattern is the same.


And always has been.







A lesson from “Shelly”


I remember my first girlfriend in college was a smart, pretty lady we’ll call Shelly.  I met Shelly in the music department at Pepperdine when I was doing a nighttime radio chow. We started dating and finding out more about each other, as people do at that phase in their lives.


One day, I remember just hanging out with her, and she started talking about the life we could have together. Me teaching martial arts, her teaching music.


It was a lovely dream.  I could easily see myself enjoying the cycles of life, learning, growing, helping people and growing closer to this lovely lady who shared my life–




Wait a minute…I didn’t want to be a professional martial arts instructor.   I didn’t know WHAT I wanted to be, but at that point in my life I knew that wasn’t it.  She DID know what she wanted, and that was being a music instructor, and being married.


Even though we were walking different paths, and eventually drifted apart, I remember that conversation, and how easy it was to drift into a lovely trance…


–of fulfilling my own dreams. (Being a martial artist, having a family)


–of a partner on the road of life (someone supportive of my dreams, but with her own destiny)


Because she had painted a picture of how things could be, rather than ask a direct question, I got to FEEL what that life could be. And had I known what I wanted, I might well have said: “well…not a martial arts instructor…but how would you feel about a writer?” And we might have laughed and dreamed together, and who knows?


That’s what storytelling does.  It slips past the filters, touches our hearts.


T and I just did an interview for a social activism podcast, asking questions about Black Panther.  What should people do to get ready for it, we were asked.  While we discussed the history of the character, the reasons for the excitement and the place of Afrofuturism within the broader category of science fiction, my real advice was: just go and have fun.


Yep.  If Ryan Coogler did his job right, you don’t have to consciously THINK about the component parts of the story to get the value, any more than you have to know the names of the macro and micronutrients in a dinner salad to get the nutrition. They are right there.  Enjoy.  Have fun.  Nourish your soul, or just release stress and get swept away for two hours.


But then, if you wish, go out with your friends afterward, have coffee and talk about the movie you just experienced.   Share your FEELINGS about it.


That’s building community.  Want to do more?  Become a more discerning consumer of film, patronizing those that support your values.


More? Teach others about the connection between myth and consciousness.   Use your knowledge of that connection in your own life, and with your family.


More?  How about creating your own stories, learning how to KEEP rapport with your audience (so they don’t “pop out” like I did!), singing your song, expressing your view of humanity, or the universe.  I know that I felt that if I sang MY song loudly enough, I would find another bird in the forest who was traveling in the same direction.


Shelly needed someone on a particular life path.  So did I.  And she did the smart thing: declare “here I am” and if I’d been the one, if I’d wanted such a path, I could have done far, far worse than that young lady. She kept telling her story, until she found a man who shared her dream, and they’ve been married all this time.


You can change your own life. Change the life of another.  Build a career.Change the world.


Myth is magic.   If you would like to learn more about the Lifewriting notion applied to the myth and fantasy of the African Diaspora, check out the AFROFUTURISM: DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES class at www.afrofuturismwebinar.com



And if you’d like to “merely” understand how writing can change lives…and life change your writing, join us at www.lifewritingpremium.com



Write and live with passion!


Art, Craft, and the “Rocky” road to Black Panther

One great working definition of things like “Art” and “Craft” that all synchronize with a view of human existence in a useful way.


“Art” is Self-expression.   If a two-year old Jason has a creative urge, reaches into the potty and smears feces on the way…points at it proudly and says “look!” That is art.


“Craft” is the language that allows you to COMMUNICATE that creative urge to others.   You perform, the audience reacts.  It is like a language.  You are in Mexico, you want to say “that tree is beautiful” but simply don’t know how to say “El árbol es hermoso” you will be reduced to gestures and imprecise communication.


Every artistic discipline has craft. And the more difficult the technology of the discipline is to master, the harder it is for the creative “spark” to pass that gate.


Remember the four steps of learning?


  1. Unconscious incompetence (you don’t know bicycles exist)
  2. Conscious incompetence (you know they exist, and that you cannot ride one)
  3. Conscious competence (you can ride one if you focus all your attention)
  4. Unconscious competence (“look Ma!   No hands!”)


Stage #4 is where you have to be to express an emotion in your chosen art.  So what makes that possible?


  1. A clear idea of the specific tasks ahead.
  2. A role model of a successful person who started as close as possible to your own position, and got as close as possible to your chosen end point.
  3. An understanding of process. What does a person do between “here” and “there”?  The Hero’s Journey is wonderful for this.
  4. A flock of overwhelming emotional motivations, without which you won’t make it through the “dark night of the soul.”
  5. A model of humanity to understand how to organize your inner world to traverse the steps of the HJ.



Step #4 should provide the “creative spark,” the impulse.   There should be something you are trying to express in your work. A perspective, a dream, a nightmare, a fear, a love, a passion.


That passion not only gets you up in the morning, and powers you through the bad times, but is the thing that your readers really want from your work.


“Make me FEEL” they say. Now, you might simply have enough craft to manipulate them, but you will never do your best work if your heart and mind and physical energy are not in alignment.


This can be risky.   It can often feel that if we speak our truth, if we reveal ourselves, the world will not reward us.  In fact, it is easy to believe that the world will specifically reject us unless we do what everyone else does.


The problem with that is that “what everyone else does” is a “red” ocean.  A big audience, yes. But an ocean filled with fish that is also full of sharks.


You have to find a “blue ocean”, a sub-set of that larger group, where there aren’t so many sharks feeding on the same tuna.  And the way to do that is to find your voice, your special gift, your unique contribution to the world.


Then with craft, you learn to convey that essence within your heart so that people can feel it.


Ever watch the “Rocky” movies?   You have there a perfect example.  And in Afrofuturism Month, I think it important to acknowledge Sylvester Stallone.  Because of Stallone, Ryan Coogler was able to make “Creed”, which brought him to Disney’s attention, and led to Black Panther.  Sly?  I love you, man.

Let’s look at Stallone’s journey to help us understand how passion works.

Stallone was a struggling actor who decided to create his own project. He took his desire (to express himself, to succeed in his art) and created a visual metaphor of a boxer who longed to find love (express himself emotionally) and prove he’s not “just another bum from the block.”

Quote:   “I took my story and injected it into the body of Rocky Balboa because no one, I felt, would be interested in listening to or watching or reading a story about a down-and-out, struggling actor/writer. It just didn’t conjure up waves of empathy, even from me and I was sure it wouldn’t do it from an audience either.


He was inspired to write it watching Chuck Wepner, an unknown pug, fight the world’s greatest boxer, Muhammad Ali.  Went home and wrote that script in something like three days.


What did he see?  Someone desperate to prove himself, to say “I’m here!” to the world.   Took that, joined it to his own hunger for success, created a story.


Over the next year he submitted the script to dozens of producers, and was turned down by all of them.


What kept him going?   A dream. A vision of what his life could be. Desperation.  And desperation. By the time he sold it, he had about 100 bucks in the bank, and had sold his car and his DOG  to keep going.


He was offered over eight hundred thousand dollars for the script, by producers who wanted it for stars like Robert Redford. Stallone refused. He saw himself in that role, knew it would make him.  The producers finally agreed if he would keep writing for free (it went through eight more drafts) and the studio agreed if the entire thing could be made for a million dollars.  Overages came out of the producers’ pockets.


Winkler and Chartoff mortgaged their houses to raise the extra hundred thousand dollars needed to complete the movie.  Why would they do that?


Because an unknown actor had infected them with his passion.


And the rest is history.  Belief.  Emotional power. A clear goal.


What is YOUR passion?  Is it personal? Cultural?   Philosophical?  Political? What change do you want to make in your life?  In the world?


THAT will be your creative impulse. Add to that the craft to communicate it, and you have something special, something precious.  But you will need a clear vision (the outcome) and enough emotion behind it to drive you through the dark nights, and a commitment to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to succeed with honor.


I have personal, familial, social, philosophical, and spiritual reasons to do what I do.   That cascade of emotions means I never have any lack of motivations to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to succeed.


Never.  I can literally stop at any moment in anything I’m doing, and know a dozen different reasons I’m doing it.   When you have that kind of inner fire, nothing can stop you except death.


That’s what I want for those of you who believe in a just world. Who believe in the unity of mankind.


The snakes and monsters have their hunger for raw meat and chaos.  They wake up in the morning looking for things to bite.


The heroes have to know what they are fighting for, and who, and why.  Only then does it matter what tools and strategies they will use.



Be a hero in the adventure of your lifetime.






(and by the way…after Stallone was paid, he bought his dog back.  That was “Bupkis” who appears with him in the movie!)


“Black People Don’t Write”

Here we are in Afrofuturism Month, discussing the power of myth is the ability to take the wisdom of “the ancestors” and emotionalize it so you can FEEL its truth.  And when they are stories, not lectures, they bypass conscious thought…



If you don’t believe in yourself, you don’t take action.   Or you take weak action. And when you hit the Dark Night of the Soul, YOU WILL QUIT, or at the very least interpret this as “I cannot”.   Take less action, get worse results, in a descending spiral until you crash and burn.


If you have UNSTOPPABLE belief in yourself? You take MASSIVE action, out of which SOME actions will get the results you want, you pounce on that like a Black Panther.   You get more results, leading to more confidence, leading to more action in an ascending spiral that becomes a raging fire…and you create the life of your dreams.


On an individual level, this is self-image, clarity of goals, the stories you tell yourself about your past, what your failures and successes in the arenas of body, career, relationships all MEAN.  Does a loss of love mean you are doomed to be alone?  Or was love a beautiful experience, the ending of the relationship a mirror for the things you will heal, shift and grow so that your next experience is even better?


I remember when I started writing.  It was all I wanted in life, and I got rejection after rejection for story after story.  I could feel the despair and hear the negative voices in my head.  My mother’s voice, telling me I would be crushed unless I chose a quiet, traditional, conservative path.   The voices of teachers telling me I was too “commercial” or conversely too odd.


One day at Pepperdine I was sitting in front of the cafeteria writing a story.  A  black upper classman walked by.  “Hey, little brother, whatcha doing?”


“Writing a story,” I said, happy that he was interested.


He looked puzzled.   “Is that a class assignment?”

“No.  Just…writing a story.”


“Oh,” he said, even more puzzled now.   “Did you see it on television?”


I felt the slightest thread of irritation.  “No.  I’m writing a story.”


“Oh,” he said.   And then paused and said four words that devastated me:   “Black people don’t write.”


Heard it from everywhere. Teachers. Friends.  Mom. Society.  When the rejections came in, it just weighed on me.  All the hissing demons in my heart screamed do loudly I could hardly hear my thoughts.

This is crazy. You are wasting your life.  You’re doomed. You have never even MET a writer. Let alone a black one.  Let alone a black science fiction writer…dammit, there are barely any science fiction CHARACTERS.    What makes you think you can do this…


With THOUSANDS of examples of white characters, hundreds of examples of white writers, unpublished white writers feel the same doubts, the same fears.  What would they have felt WITHOUT those advantages?

Would it be worse than what I felt?   Impossible to answer. But the voices in my head tried to use that to stop me, too. Give up. Its just too hard…

Anyone who knew me from college will remember how cocky I was.  That was sheer bravado, an ego shell hard enough to protect me, a chrysalis  protecting an emerging butterfly.


How did I do it? Wellll

Even though Mom couldn’t support my dream of being a writer, she had given me the basic building blocks to believe in myself.   God would not give you a dream you can hold continuously in your heart, unless somewhere within you unless you had the ability to bring it into existence.


I think she’d found that in  Think And Grow Rich.   That book, arguably the best self-help book ever written, also introduced me to the concept of modeling. I couldn’t find any black writers to model, but I believed that if I looked at enough of them, the humanity HAD to apply to me.  It just had to.  Hold onto that dream…


So I searched, and researched, and asked: what was the average number of stories a writer wrote and submitted before selling?  It was hard to say, but it looked like the average writer published at about 32.   After writing story after story after story.   I wasn’t sure…but it seemed the average number of stories written before successful publication looked like about THIRTY.


My mother had said something POC and women hear a lot, I think: “you have to be twice as good to get half as far.”   I dug down and found the place inside me that wasn’t’ angered by this.   Anger is fear. I was not afraid.  I found the I AM part of myself, the God would not give you a dream you can hold continuously in your heart, unless somewhere within you unless you had the ability to bring it into existence part of myself.


I would write 100 stories.  And submit them, one after another, moving on to the next one before the last one was rejected, so that I’d have a bit of emotional distance  and be able to handle the pain, and it WOULD be painful.  ONE HUNDRED STORIES before I even BEGAN to question whether I could make it.


And I wrote, and wrote…and made it to about #24 before I sold my first story, TRICK OR TREAT, about a man who gets into an escalating war of nerves with Halloweeners, every year things getting a little worse and a little worse, back and forth…until one year he accidentally kills one of them, and he knows that the next year…they will murder him.


My first story. Actually published.  Sure, I “only” got a fifth of a cent a word, but dammit, I was PUBLISHED!!!!


Because I took massive action.  Because I refused to quit. Because somewhere deep inside myself I remembered what my mother’s book had said: that I could not hold a dream in my heart continuously unless somewhere within me there was the ability to fulfill it.


That belief had saved me.  I believe in heroes.  In imperfect people in an imperfect world still finding love, and courage, and connection.   Why? Because that is the world I see and feel, and have since childhood.


That is what I used to compensate for the ugly history, the arid reality, the lack of father or uncles or brothers or role models who had experienced what I experienced.


Belief that somewhere inside me, no matter what anyone said, I had what it took to be a writer.


And now, three million published words and over thirty novels later, I look back at that kid, and I say: what could anyone have done to make his path easier?


And that is what I write.   My stories are for THAT kid…because I know that if I can do it right, I am leaving a trail of bread crumbs for other little boys and girls. That while boys of my own ethnicity are the focus, I’ve had thousands of men and women of all races tell me that the stories move them.  THAT is my bliss. Beliefs matter. When encoded in fiction, they bypass the conscious filters, and therefore the hissing snakes of doubt.


When they are deep enough, they can communicate across all social, gender, and ethnic lines. If a READER is deep enough, they can extract what they need from other writers, despite superficial differences.


But…most people are just people.  They aren’t “deep” they are average.  And for the average person, the closer to “them” the images, the easier it is to silence the doubting voices:


That’s not you. That person was born rich/white/male/in a “better time”.

That’s not you.  You are too old/too young/too uneducated/too educated/too intelligent(!)/ not intelligent enough/not talented

That’s not you. It is too late/too soon.


That’s not you.  Except that God Dammit, it IS you.  They are ALL you.   There is, I believe right down to my toes, one soul looking out through many eyes.   You are ALL me. And I am all of you..


The doubting voices will use ANYTHING to slow you down. To cripple your ability to break your ego box. And if you are part of a disadvantaged group? The “Crabs in a basket” thing kicks in, where others will try to stop you from achieving, because if you achieve the doubting voices in their minds will awaken from slumber to try to force THEM to remain in the box.


Hope kills. If you give up, you save yourself a world of pain and disappointment.

But I knew that if I gave up, I was already dead.    I’d just be one of Romero’s zombies, lurching along in an imitation of life, my dreams already putrifying.


God would not give me a dream I could  hold continuously in my heart, unless somewhere within me I had the  ability to bring it into existence.


And in every arena of my life, that has proven to be true.  Have I achieved every individual goal? Hell no! But I GOT THE LIFE I DREAMED OF IN CHILDHOOD.


Could I have dreamed a little better, a little more “adultly”?  Sure.  Working on that now.   But the core reality is that if I died tomorrow, I’ve already gotten more than I ever expected to get from life.  I have a beautiful family and a loving wife, thousands of fans all over the world, have helped countless people find THEIR dreams (thanks, Mom!), and have had mind-blowing martial arts and adventure experiences that would have melted the brain of the little nerd who dreamed of one day being a hero. Of being admired by the men I admired, and desired by the women I desired.


Life is good.  It will get better. Especially if I now concentrate on helping others, as I was helped.


Believe in yourself.  Help each other. Keep moving. And if you lacked the cultural or personal myths to empower you CREATE THEM.  Heal yourself with them. And share them with the world so that others can heal.


Ask “where did we come from?” without guilt, blame or shame.   Ask “where am I now?” taking responsibility without fear.  Ask “where are we going?” with confidence that if ANYONE can do it, you can.


That God would not give you a dream you can hold continuously in your heart, unless somewhere within you you had the ability to bring it into existence.


Because even though you won’t  get everything you set out to do, if you choose your goals carefully, NO ONE can stop you from being the person you were born to be.


And frankly, that’s enough.






Of Panthers and Tigers

65 Reviews. 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. You know? Last year I was praying that Marvel wouldn’t lose its Mojo for just one more movie. Just one. All it had to do was be better than, say, “Ant Man”, which I enjoyed. Just that much. And I’d be happy. This is way above that minimum.  It’s like  “Star Wars” times “Roots”. I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to be 10 years old and see this happening. No one in the “Liberals damaged black people more than slavery” crowd could have the slightest idea what this is, they are too deeply in denial.


Why is Black Panther hitting so hard?


I’ve listened to plenty of Conservative talk radio. And one of the themes is that the essence of a people is “borders, language, and culture.”   The ESSENCE. Consider that for a moment.  IF that is true, then what does that say about what was taken from Africans?  Names, land, history, mythology, agency, religion, language.  Slavery in the U.S. mutated from a simple theft of labor into a theft of ESSENCE.  It was turning wolves into dogs.  Wiping the hard drive and installing “Slave 1.0” then pretending that was the Original Manufacturer Specifications.    The damage is so phenomenal that the men and women who did it engaged in a (mostly unconscious and emergent)  multi-generational cover-up, trying to control the image systems (the major CINEMATIC image of black people was D.W. Griffith’s  “Birth of a Nation” and “Gone With the Wind” throughout the entire 20th Century.)  That delusion didn’t even BEGIN to break down until “Roots”, but that was television, where the images are smaller than you. Ever notice that “Jurassic Park” feels different on a small screen than a large screen?  That when the tyrannosaurs are big enough to eat the audience the experience is different from when you could pick one up and shake it with one hand?


Yeah, me too.


“Django Unchained” and “Twelve Years a Slave” were the first real cracks in that armor, the “CSA”,what I call “The Current Southern Apologia”, the attempt to absolve slavers from responsibility for rape, torture, murder, and kidnapping.   The sad thing is that some of their descendants and allies continue to defend the actions.    The “Liberals damaged black people more than slavery” people are like arsonists   standing over the smoldering ashes claiming that fire-axes did most of the damage.    It is an insanity nearly rising to the level of Flat Earthers.  Certainly the level of Birthers.


They are asleep, or snakes.  At best.


If, specifically, you steal the “essence” of a people, then program them to be servile by killing the aggressive ones and breaking the rest, then after 250 years you set them kinda free…but follow that with 150 years of Jim Crow and Segregation, you have created something truly damaged.  And you have to either disown that damage…or defend it, pretend it didn’t happen, or that it was, for instance, no worse than voluntary immigration.   More insanity. Let’s see…Europeans, Asians, and even Africans left their homes, fought and sometimes died to come to America, and wrote letters home urging their families to follow them.


And in what universe does that voluntary immigration equate to the situation where people risked life and limb to ESCAPE?    Does it really not occur to people that those two states (voluntary immigration and kidnap) are not equivalent?  By any chance are these the same people who don’t know the difference between sex, even “bad” sex, and  rape?






I never saw Obama coming.  Black President?   Unlikely. With an African name?   Fuggetaboutit. But…in retrospect, it makes sense.    He had something no black kid grew up with had. No black person I had ever known until I was in my 30’s.  Late 20’s at least.


He knew who he was.  Who his ancestors were.   The village his father came from in “the mother country”.  He knew his name, his history.  Wasn’t crippled by the same cultural slaughter.   This was precisely why “Roots” was such a sensation, and why Haley was attacked: he was just about the first black America to undo a critical thread of that damage.   He actually managed to connect with his ancestors.


What about colonialization?   Clearly, it damages the colonized.   Yes.   But colonialization doesn’t destroy EVERYTHING.   Vietnamese, Zulus, Irish still have their names and history even though they are dominated and controlled.  And I suggest to you that it isn’t an accident that Barack Obama ascended as he did. He didn’t come from a history defined by his oppressors, didn’t have a name given to him by his grandmother’s rapist.    That what you were seeing there was a more natural human being. He wasn’t born standing in a hole.


“What about `Blade’? `Steel’?  `Meteor Man’?   What about  `Falcon’?   `War Machine’?  Don’t they count?”


In some ways, yes.  I was delighted to see them when they came out.  (Well, “Blade” anyway.)  But not only was he suffering from the same theft of “essence” I speak of, but he was alone in a world of white people.   Not to mention a eunuch in a world of sexualized vampires.  And when Wes complained, they promised him that Blade would have a love interest in the third movie…until they had his name on the contract.   At which point they reneged.   And Wes flipped a bit, leading to the problems we’ve all heard about, for which he was blamed.  Of course he was.    The idea that he was supposed to be happy handing Massa his balls in exchange for a pile of money was so deeply engrained that people never even asked if there might be a REASON that he was angry.


Blade, Falcon, War Machine, Black Lightning…all those black Superheroes lack “essence” in the way I’m using the term. Every one of their ancestors were owned, stripped of everything those Conservative radio commentators consider central to identity.


Why is Black Panther hitting so hard?  Because T’Challa has exactly, precisely what was stolen.  Name.  Language.  Culture.  Agency.  Religion.  History.   PRECISELY.


Remember what women watching the “No Man’s Land” sequence from “Wonder Woman” were saying?  “I didn’t even know I needed to see this.”  Female animals are pretty much as dangerous as the males.  In a sense humans made a “deal” maybe 30k years ago that the women would focus on the “softness” while males focused on the “hardness”. Both sides get advantage from this, and both sides suffer.  And due to the Trifecta of Birth Control, Machine Technology and Peak Population we are entering a new era in history where we are re-negotiating this contract, and it will be to the benefit of all…but those addicted to the past will fight it like crazy. They will lose. But there will be damage in the process.   Oh well.


Black people are looking at BP and having that same reaction. Only stronger, IMO.  Why? Because men and women aren’t just symbiotic, they are two halves of the same organism.  Almost every men and woman has men and women that they know intimately and love deeply.   You can’t sink half a boat.


On the other hand, tribes really can hate and exterminate each other.   Happens all the time.   Slaughter. Exterminate.  Genocide. Or…cultural genocide. The theft of “essence.”  The nature of the conflict is not “we will organize thusly to produce the maximum grandchildren” but rather “we will either exterminate you or program you into sub-humans, and then pretend that was your natural state.  And insist you should be happy.”


And after generations, the survivors accept that programming.  And the former masters and their allies can breathe a sigh of relief.  They actually got away with that shit!


For a while, yes. Yesterday, an exceptionally fine black writer expressed surprise that I knew this day was coming.  It was obvious to me, if I started with the assumption of equality between the races.  Black people are not inferior.  All cultures are emergent qualities of basic survival wiring.  That meant that, given time, it would re-emerge.  Oh, yes, it would. Multi-generational damage requires multi-generational healing, however.   But it was coming.


And the other half of it, of course:  Whites are not some special evil.  Americans did what they did to gain labor, discovered there were social (and sexual! Take the #meetoo movement and think for just a moment what sexual abuse is if/when there are no laws against rape or murder.  What the hell do YOU think happens?  Where do YOU think all the “light skinned black people” came from.  Give me a break) benefits.  But also realize that, the Chinese have this expression about Riding the Tiger–as exciting as it might be, its dangerous as hell getting off.  Especially if you aren’t just riding it, but sodomizing it.


There’s an image.


But what I knew is that if we became full citizens with full rights in about 1970 (the voting rights acts), then all that had to happen was all the  white people born before that point dying and we’d be in a new world.   Yeah, that sounds brutal, but there it is. That is EXACTLY what I thought. Deal with it.  Or don’t.  I have run out of fucks to give.


And as that generation, those who had to defend the laws and strictures designed to make it safe to get off that damned tiger without getting clawed died out, their children, in a way they had not for 400 years, could say: “this is bullshit.  I don’t need to defend this.”


And as that began to happen, we could say: “wait a minute. If there has been a myth of inferiority, what is the truth?  (And trust me, this went all the way to the top.  When I was about eight, I was in a white friend’s house and read through an old Encyclopedia Brittanica which stated clearly and for the record that blacks were less intelligent than whites.  Thanks a heap.  Hey, what do YOU think the “Encyclopedia Wakanda” would say..?)


There is, in other words, an awakening from the Matrix, a system of lies and myths designed to extract labor from one tribe and invest it in another, along with all the methods that made it safe to rape that tiger, and simultaneously absolve oneself of guilt.  “Why, slavery was GOOD for those people…”


It’s a version of Charlie the Tuna begging to be eaten. Why, animals LOVE to die for us.


Sorry, Charlie.


But this is the opportunity. If the CSA is finally breaking down, if the mythologies are dying, then the reality is the bedrock on which we can finally build a home for all.  And people both white and black are shaking themselves like people stumbling out of an opium den. Saying: “wait a minute.  If you aren’t these servile subhumans you’d have to be to be natural second-class citizens, what the hell are you?”


And as soon as you are far enough from the pain to disown it without defensiveness (“hey. Screw all of that. I want nothing to do with it!”) you want to know what is true. Remember the two core questions?


  1. Who am I? (What are human beings)
  2. What is true? (What is the actual map of reality, not the myths or illusions)


The gap between reality and fantasy is dangerous. And it takes energy to sustain that fantasy, especially if you are pushing against a coiled spring like the human spirit.  That means that the first person who tells the truth releases that energy…and if you do that through the structure of craft and commerce, there is money to be made.


Are you hearing me, artists?  TELL YOUR TRUTH.  Dive deep. And you will find others who, for their own selfish reasons, NEED to hear you.


We cannot create our country’s future without shedding the lies of the past.   And those who are still addicted to the CSA will hate and fear this discussion. Those who disown it will say: “finally.  Someone spoke the truth.”



At the core of art is an impulse, a vision.  Mine is the universality of humanity.  We are neither good or bad, we are creatures crawling through the muck with our eyes on the stars.  We do wonderful things and think we are “bad”, but we also do terrible things and think ourselves “good.”


We can choose which path to take.


And the most “trivial” of our entertainments speak to our basic yearnings.    Our view of the world.   Those who protest the “politics” of the “SJWs” were perfectly happy with the philosophies that excluded minorities or kept men and women in toxic boxes.  That stuff was invisible because it matched their perceptual filters.


“How DARE you wake us up! How DARE you deliberately, consciously alter the narrative.  Let us roll over and go back to sleep.”


Well, sure. But if you’re sleeping, you don’t get to drive the bus.





The pressure point, I think, is the intersection of race and gender, and the  illusions that served different purposes.  It is time for those illusions to die, and for us to explore the realities.   This is part of the strength of art. It takes the “Who am I/are we?” and “what is true?” and says that the stories we’ve been told are not the only stories.   If you WANT to be free of them, these new stories will be a joy.


But if you NEED to be free of them…they are a revelation, an explosion.


“Dear God.  I didn’t even know I needed to see that.”




We are faced with not an improvement on the old myths, but a new set, a chance to start over.  But we have to actually look at the past, and welcome the future.

In this case…the afrofuture.





The Power of Myth

I remember Star Wars.   Back in 1977, no one had ever seen fast-paced storytelling hooked to “2001” level special effects, dynamic soundtrack  and a real sense of fun.   It was everything SF fans loved from Space Opera, delivered in a way we’d never seen.  People camped out overnight to see it, EVERYONE in the science fiction community was talking about it.   And when you added the mythical resonance…just wow.  It spawned clubs, a felled forest of tie-in novels, billions of dollars in sequels, and an avalanche of toys.


It was, and remains, a cultural event, even after all this time, and all the changes and deaths and technological upgrades.  It matters.


Myths matter.  We look at the tale of Luke Skywalker, a simple farm boy who turns into the galaxy’s greatest warrior, who with his corrupted father will one day take down the Emperor himself.  We watch that, and dream.


Science fiction fans tend to be intelligent, friendly, enthusiastic…and wounded.   It is no insult to suggest that the more time you spend immersed in fantasy, the less likely you are to be happy with the “real” world. You find in those stories the romance, adventure, belonging, and empowerment lacking in your real life.


When people thought the fans were insane, and asked me “why?” I think back on what was, to me, the most important scene in the movie.


Remember: Luke Skywalker is flying his X-Wing in a desperate assault against the Death Star, a battle station the size of a moon.  Darth Vader and the defense forces are hammering them, killing them two at a time, while Luke tries to get into position to drop a torpedo into a vulnerable vent.


Meanwhile, Grand Moff Tarkin is positioning the Death Star to blast the rebel base to kingdom come.  The entire sequence is set to driving John Williams music, and executed with the most stunning effects ever seen onscreen at the time. Overwhelming.


Luke is in the trench. The Death Star is moments from firing.   All seems lost, and suddenly there is a voice in Luke’s head: his dead teacher Obi-Wan Kinobi, saying “Luke.  Trust your feelings.”


And he does.  Shuts down the computer and uses “The Force”, a quasi-mystical power that connects him to the universe at a level deeper than conscious thought.  Fires. And blows up the Death Star just in time.




I was stunned.  Metaphorically, what they had done was something magnificent.   The rapid pace of all that input, all the threat, was pure Future shock overload.  In the midst of all that carnage, all that speed and explosions and massive scale, human effort seemed to mean nothing at all.


And at the height of the driving chaos, a voice whispered: trust your feelings.

Even in the midst of the cold and violence and impossible scale…the human heart mattered.

We mattered.   I mattered.


That was the power of myth, of storytelling. To connect us with a fictional character, to put that character through the wringer and take them to a moment of impossible stress where all hope is lost. Defeat. The “Dark Night of the Soul.”


Then show that the way through the Dark Night, the way to the next level of your life is…faith.


Faith that within you is greater strength than you have ever known.

Faith that your companions will not desert you, that your teachers were right to say you had a spark of excellence in your heart that you can fan into flame.

Faith that whatever creative force you believe in would not set you along a heartfelt path unless within you, somewhere, you had the power to do it.


Faith. That’s what gets us through. Along with commitment, decision, action, role models and allies, and a realistic knowledge that progress demands tolerance for pain, fear, and failure.


That path, that truth, is why stories, myths, legends are not frosting, not trivial…they are part of what make us human, and every culture in the world has created and nurtured them, taught them to their children in the desperate hope that when the shit hits the fan…and it always does…they will remember the stories of great heroes, of their ancestors, of men and women of courage and capacity…and drag themselves back up and try again.


I’ve lost count of the men and women who have told me that Batman, or Superman, or Wonder Woman, or Captain America, or Luke Skywalker, or whatever, inspired them to be better people, stronger people, helped them through crisis of adolescence or adulthood.  Those who say stories don’t matter are lying to themselves, or to you.  Perhaps they are the lucky ones, who internalized the stories that make us strong at such an early age that they are part of the core DNA that drives every breath, every thought, every action.   They are lucky. But they are not wise, if they don’t understand.


I’ve spent my entire adult life writing millions of words, dozens of books, all metaphors for finding strength, clarity, puzzle-solving, loving, living, and sometimes dying.  Put the deaths of my mother and father, the failure of my first marriage, the love of my children, the glory of healing my heart and finding myself deserving of a good woman…all these things and more, I’ve poured into my work.  Because I believe it matters.


And it does.  If you are a creator, you are my tribe so long as you strive to speak your truth.  If you are a teacher, I hope some of my words have helped you raise up seekers to be strong and true to their hearts.  And if you are a fan…bless you.  We need you.  To understand, and patronize, and let us know there is someone out there who hears us.  God, do we ever need you.  And love you.  Without you, we’d have no reason to do the thing we must.




Steven Barnes


If Talent doesn’t rule…what does?

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race
 Calvin Coolidge



I don’t believe in talent.  I believe in honesty,  hard work and modeling excellence.  When I was in college, after a couple of years of trying not to write (to make my Mom happy) I finally took a writing course from a teacher we’ll call Jane Swallows.   She had a student in her class we’ll call Carl, who was quite smart, and had a flowing, literary style Jane loved.


She loved more than that about Carl, but we’ll postpone that part.    At any rate, Carl would write stories about strong, silent guys who ponder The Meaning Of Life as they go about   buildin’ and fixin’ stuff.  The sort of stories where guys erect mighty houses and then, from their perch on the rooftop, look out over the world and See Things about Humanity.


I thought he was very good.  So did Dr. Swallows. She  went on and on about how wonderful he was, and defended him like a Mommy Tiger if any student dared hurt his feelings with a criticism.

And when a shy, nervous kid named Steve asked her what she thought of his OWN work (wasn’t exactly existential.  I think it was about a giant amoeba that ate a village), she derisively called him “the king of slick.”  The class laughed.  Carl laughed and sneered.


I sat there, burning.  Humiliated.    Carl was the star, and I wasn’t even in the same league, she’d made that clear.  Later, I found out they were bumping pelvises.    Wasn’t that chummy?


Carl rubbed in his contempt for me, every chance he got,  and I bit back my anger. Because I knew something.  I had watched him react when people criticized him.   Even a mild criticism of his work pissed him off. He never considered it.


And I knew in that moment that while he laughed at me and mocked me…I was going to succeed, and he wasn’t.  Why? HE COULDN’T HANDLE CRITICISM.


And that meant that I would seek out critiques, and teachers, and role models who would tear my work to pieces in front of me, and learn from every one of them.  I would write every day.  Would use my anger and pain to motivate me to work harder.   Would do my million words of crap to find my voice.


The Hero’s Journey says:


  1. I had to know what I wanted
  2. I needed to have enough reasons to act to outweigh the resistance
  3. Needed to make a clear declaration, and cut off the chance of retreat
  4. To take daily action, and observe the results
  5. To find allies and mentors and role models to teach me not just how to write, but how to SELL what I’d written
  6. To prepare for the inevitable disasters and setbacks along the path
  7. To know how to deal with total emotional crash-and-burn
  8. To find the faith I needed to keep going when I was emptied out.
  9. To define victory clearly, and keep fighting until I succeeded
  10. To commit to constant improvement, as well as teaching others the path to success.


If I believed in such things, I’d say Carl had talent.  I had a dream, and was willing to get kicked in the teeth again and again….until I learned enough to kick back.


Despite the mockery, it was comforting to know that Carl would never get there, would end up being one of those guys who built houses, instead of someone who wrote about them. A good life…but inside, he’d always know he’d let himself down.


And if you think THAT was petty, just wait.


And I knew that if I could handle that pain, and keep going, if I kept learning and growing and was too pissed to let him or her or anyone on this planet tell me “no”…I’d make it.   That would be my revenge on Carl.


That, and, well…I slept with his wife.


I contain multitudes.






(The path to successful writing starts with a commitment to write just ONE SENTENCE A DAY.  If you will make that commitment, you will be a different, better, more successful writer in one year…guaranteed.   ONE DOLLAR gets you started!   Oh, and by the way…Carl never published a damned thing.   www.lifewritingpremium.com)

Coco (2017)

The newest Pixar wonder is almost a perfect piece of storytelling, combined with a real commitment to accurately portray the mythic world-view of the Mexican  culture.   It deals with a   boy named Miguel who longs to be a musician while his family wants him to join their shoemaking  business. He rebels, and that’s as much as I want to say about it, or as much as you should let anyone tell you, other than to say that it rocks.


We’ve spoken at length about the power of storytelliing on a personal or cultural level.  They create perspective on the infinite complexity of life, and if you allow your heart to guide you, you will be able to glimpse the overall pattern of existence if you absorb enough gems from bards and griots from around the world.


I wanted to look at a tiny sliver of an idea in the movie, and that in response to sentiments I’ve heard that  Miguel’s family was “abusive.”  Similar comments I’ve heard over the years is that parents, or society, or school are “dream killers”, “creativity crushers” and so forth.   That is certainly Miguel’s position at the beginning of the movie.  It probably isn’t giving anything away to say that both Miguel and his family change over the course of the film.


But let’s examine that core thought, shall we?  It is a common cry of the child, or the artist: “You aren’t supporting my DREAM!”  WAHHH!




Remember that there are two ways to mature, to grow and evolve as a human being.  One is “from the bottom up”.  The other is “from the heart out.”  Never, ever, ever from the head down.




My mother burned my stories.   I was horrified, heartbroken, furious.   How dare she. How could she do such a thing?


She was just trying to do her job. Poorly, yes.   But attempting to do what parents do, regardless of how it felt to me.  Of how painful it was to me. Of how I cried myself to sleep.  No one understood me. No one supported me. There were no paths to success for me, and I was clear on the notion that if I couldn’t succeed, life would crush me.


“No matter what you do in life, you’ll have to work very hard” she had told me.   “So be sure that you choose something that you love, and put everything you have behind it.”


I’d found something that I loved.  And the person I trusted most in all the world told me it was wrong. OR impossible.  I’m not sure which was worse.




“When I was ten years old, she told me “If you let white people see how smart you are, Stevie…they will kill you.”


There it was.  I couldn’t follow a path that called to my heart.   I couldn’t shine to the limits of my capacity without being killed–she had grown up in rural Georgia in a time of Klan lynchings, and was just tying to give me the lessons I needed to survive.  Instead, she had boxed me in. There was, according to her, according to the lessons she had learned, NO WAY FOR ME TO BE HAPPY. Couldn’t follow my heart, couldn’t even shine and succeed. And if I did neither, I’d be crushed anyway.


Heads you lose, tails they win.  THAT is what happens if you are cut off from the stories of your ancestors.  They went through anything you can imagine, and in the stories told around the campfires, in the manhood ceremonies and in the communcal songs, are all the seeds of all the answers you could possibly want or need.  And damn, did I need it.


I had no tribe to protect me, no path to success, no role-models to guide me.   Anyone who wants to know why someone like me would spend almost half a century studying how to kill people, or that same period studying how to love himself and forgive others…the answer is in my attempt to solve that puzzle.




My father was a back-up singer for Nat “King” Cole.  He had artistic dreams, and artistic talent, and ultimately his career failed.   That failure led to the destruction of my parent’s marriage.   Heartbroken, she put everything she had into helping me and my sister Joyce prepare for life, although she screamed at night from the nightmares of Universal monsters chasing her across graveyard landscapes of her dreams.  The fact that these nightmares usually came after staying up late trying to make $100 cover $250 of bills is a coincidence, I’m sure.


Was she cruel to burn my stories?  Hell, no.  SHE WAS TRYING TO KEEP ME ALIVE.


It isn’t a parent’s primary job to help you find your dreams.  It is their job to get you safely to your maturity, and in terms of genetics, to help you become a parent.   Genetically, you don’t succeed when you become a parent.  You succeed when you become a GRANDPARENT. A parent’s job is to become superfluous as rapidly as possible.


That means that you have to be sure that your children can survive without you.  So they teach you the attitudes, values, perspectives that helped them survive.    They give you their connections, pass you their connections, give you opportunities that they understand will help you minimize pain and gain pleasure.   But mostly avoid pain.


That’s living from the bottom up.Survive, reproduce, control your environment to minimize pain…and THEN begin to ask what makes you happy.


First generation, sharecroppers. Second generation, storekeepers.   Then teachers.  Then doctors and lawyers.  THEN artists.  You have built a foundation, so that if those artists fail, they have siblings and cousins to help them with a safety net.   This is a reason why it is critical that artists remember where they came from: their right to make a living singing or dancing or storytelling is dependent upon providing something of value to those doctors and lawyers and teachers and storekeepers and sharecroppers.  Otherwise, they are just playing with themselves.


IT WAS NOT HER JOB TO ENCOURAGE ME TO BE AN ARTIST.  It was my job to gain my survival skills FIRST. And then, if I had the heart, or the mind to focus my energies sufficiently to survive the countless bumps and disappointments and learn, and master my art AFTER I mastered the basics of life…if I could accelerate despite the barriers and chains and survive the sniping that MAYBE I could achieve escape velocity, escape the “gravitational well” of the multi-generational wisdom of SURVIVE, DAMMIT then I could BOTH raise my family AND create dreams that whispered “this is the way to meld your heart with your survival drives. Do this, and you have something precious to teach.”


So the martial arts for focus and fear

Yoga for energy and removing emotional blockage

Meditation for focus

Shamanic training for alignment with nature.


I refused to fail.  Driven by BOTH fear and love, I took another step, and another and another.   Did I make mistakes?  Hell, yes, because I had no role models for the complete process. What was the biggest?  Not saving 10% of everything I earned. That would have handled a vast swath of issues that were hiding in the shadow of the very success I won.  Another story.


Mom wasn’t being abusive. She was coming from a broken heart, a world of fear, a desperate hope to give the son she loved the tools he needed to survive and be strong enough that, one day, I COULD  show myself to the world without fear.


Christ, its been a long road.  But I made it, Mom.  I know what you were trying to do, the dreams you had for me and the nightmares that tore you apart.


If SHE had had a “Coco”…one that touched on her cultural experience, connected her to a wisdom stretching back a hundred generations…if we had been able to watch that movie together when I was ten…maybe, just maybe, we would have understood each other better.  But we damned sure understand each other now.


I have very few pictures of you.  But I have your ashes in my office in a green-tinged copper urn.  And every day I look at it, and ask: “am I doing all right, Mom?”


And I swear I can see her smile.