Kill The Monster While It’s Small

A long time ago, I invested in a  weekend with master coach Joseph McClendon, who told a story about infomercial guru Tony Robbins.  Apparently, Robbins enjoys adventure outings with his friends, and took them all to a Fantasy Top Gun school.   Each had a jet (and of course a co-pilot actually doing the real flying) and the idea was that they would dog-fight.   Joe got into the air first, and before Robbins could get his own jet off the ground, Joe dive-bombed him and strafed him into oblivion.
“Why did you do that?”  I asked.

“Kill the monster while it’s small” he replied.

I loved that.

A lot of our negative behaviors have threshold points.  At one point, we can control the urge, and at another, the urge is in control: the anger, fear, hunger, whatever, has us in its grip. Or…our financial problems have yet to spiral out of control. Or the relationship rift is still small enough to yield to honest inquiry.  And then the point comes when we are rageaholics, or scarfing down that Haagan-Daaz quart, or stealing, or beating the hell out of someone, or binge drinking.   If you can break the pattern BEFORE you reach this point, you can maintain control, and possibly even change a habit.
But you must “kill the monster while it is small.”

I’d noticed that before Jason has what we call a “brain fart”–losing control, screaming, throwing things, disobeying etc.–he will make nonsense sounds, distort his posture or move without coordination, make small defiant gestures, and display unreasonable irritation with small things.
You can control your emotions if you control:

Your focus
Your internal monologue
Your physical movement.

One of the strengths of the “Five Minute Miracle” is that it forces you to “check in” on these three things during the day. You will eventually begin to check in automatically: what am I thinking? What’s my focus?   What is my posture and expression?  How am I breathing?
Just noticing these things and knowing what focus, thoughts, posture and breath patterns are optimal, and realizing you can make  conscious decisions that affect how you feel and therefore how you perform, is an incredibly powerful thing.
But could I give this to Jason?   I decided to teach him the concept: “Kill the monster while its small.” To point out to him the precursive behaviors that lead to an eruption.  Breathing. Voice. Posture. Movement.  Ask him what’s going on inside him.  Before he gets upset, are there internal sounds? Images? Muscle tensions? What happens?
After he comes “down” from a tantrum, ask him to describe what was happening inside him.  Did it have color?  Weight? Sound?  Motion? Temperature? Taste?  Smell?  Texture?
A headache thus addressed can often be eliminated (just rotate through the submodalities again and again. Every time you do, you’ll notice the pain diminishing).  Could it work for something like a “brainfart”?  I don’t know.  Worth a try, though.

Jason comes into my office in the morning, every school day. Stands against the wall with his hands at his sides and waits for me to acknowledge him.  When I do he bows. Then he comes and sits in my lap, and we hug.
The next phase has always been breathing–count from one to ten, breathing slowly.  I would hold his hands and watch his eyes, and if his eyes left mine, I squeeze his hand to remind him to get back on point.  A couple of years ago he couldn’t meet my gaze, and now he likes staring contests.
But recently, he has wanted to do headstands in the morning.   Hmmm…breath counting while standing on his head?  Does that give me feedback about his focus? You bet.  And headstands are a “royal” exercise for scholars, writers, etc., a yogic balm with vast respect.  I decided to let him do it, using fingertip pressure to guide his balance.   In a few seconds I can get an excellent fast-and-dirty measure of his health, focus, balance, emotional state and more just by how he does this one exercise, as well as putting him on a path that can lead to real internal control.  I like that.
After he comes down (20-60 seconds or so) we sit cross-legged and hold hands.  I ask him:
“What is your job?”

“To be good”

“Were you good yesterday” (if not, what went wrong?)

“Yes” (Yaaay!)
“What are the laws?”

(And here he recites Musashi’s Nine Principles.  If he had a problem the previous day, it is almost always relatable to one of those principles)
“What are the rules?’

(And here he goes down a list of behavioral rules we’ve evolved to cover problems at school.  These can shift a bit if he masters one)
“What are your goals?”

(And here he has had two goals, including enjoying reading.   I ask if he accomplished them the day before.  If not, what went wrong? If so, great!)
And here I added a new one: “Kill the monster while it’s small.”
This has only been a part of his routine for a couple of weeks.   Every time he’s had a blow-up I’ve asked him about the precursive sensations, sounds, movements, and thoughts.
We recently changed his after-school routine so that he has to do his reading BEFORE he playstations or goes to the skate park. He hates that, but I’ve held my ground.
He gets to take 60-90 minutes off after school before reading, and had some REAL problems with not being allowed to do his favorite things during that time.    Three days ago he got VERY angry, defiant, stormed off up to his “boy cave” stomping his feet.  It looked bad.
Fifteen minutes later I went up to check on him, and he was looking at Ipad videoes.  Looked up at me kind of sheepishly, and quietly said:  “I killed the monster while it was small.”
Moments like that make this whole “Dad” thing soooooo much more fun.



(p.s.–what “monsters” do you have in your own life?  How can you “kill them while they are small”?  Can you think of ways this applies to larger life or social issues?)

Being the Hero of your own story


It’s Sunday, and I’m mostly taking it off.  “Off” for me is working on something fun while I’m watching television.  Today that means a short story for the HIEROGLYPH anthology, a cross-fertilization between NASA and academia creating images of near-future space exploration.  I’ve got a great idea for a Bradbury-esque story, and have been given the space to do it.  This is great.   Short stories are a “palate cleanser” as well as the fastest way to increase skill.  I can always use both.


Right now, T and I have a dozen different writing projects: books in various stages of development or research, short stories, television and film projects.   Wow. All contracted projects earning money, which is funny as hell because I DON’T WANT TO BE A PROFESSIONAL WRITER ANYMORE.  Been there, done that.  My goal now is to be an AMATEUR writer. A “gentleman” writer who does it for the sheer fun of it.  THAT sounds like a real giggle.  Because I love writing more than almost anything in the world.

I think that love came out in the “Writing and Social Justice” teleseminar we did on Friday for a hundred avid listeners.  If you were there, you know how much fun it was.  If you weren’t, then please listen to the replay:


The most important concept from the entire workshop (IMO) is the “Lifewriting” principle, which is simply that you use the SAME tools IN the story (plot, character, etc.) that you use to CREATE the story (the Hero’s Journey as your path of action,  Understanding human nature to push through your own fear and lack of focus and writer’s block, etc.) and to guide your LIFE (using The Hero’s Journey to look at the entire process of your own life; body, mind, emotions) and to understand the market (the “journey” your readers are traveling in their lives, and how you can add to their resource) and your allies (editors, agents, producers…all have their own human issues, all on their own journey).


In other words, if you understand people and process you understand yourself, your characters, your audience, and your potential business partners.  Concentrating on this core thread is the very core of “Lifewriting”, and everything I’ve taught over the last thirty years has proceeded from this insight.    


Used properly,



That’s the core of it.   


See yourself as a character in a story you are writing.   At the end of the story, that character has the love, the health, the career that they desire.   What do they do next?   What do they do this week?  If they are totally happy with their progress–JUST KEEP DOING IT!  Until you hit the “wall” (you always will) and then the way through is trusting someone to help you break “out of the box”.  You will need new resources, allies, habits.  You will have to push your way out of your “comfort zone.”


Just as in every story, you test your character to the limit, force them to learn new things about themselves of the world.     If your story doesn’t push them, they don’t learn, and your tale is “flat”.    If you don’t push yourself, your life is “flat.”


Think about your five favorite films, and ask what the point of maximum pressure was.  It was probably within 15 minutes of the end of the movie.   The hero/heroine has reached maximum internal or external resistance.  This is their moment of truth.


YOU have experienced this countless times: you get 90% of the way through your book or story or script, and then quit. Or don’t rewrite. Or don’t submit. Or don’t immediately start on your next project. Or don’t re-submit when you’ve gotten a rejection.


What stopped you?  Whatever it is, write your next story ABOUT THAT EMOTION.   Give your character the same issue.  Work through it.  Do that, and your next story will not only be more honest, but you will have engaged your problem-solving mechanism in a way that, the next time YOU run into that issue, you’ll remember what your character did, and actually gain strength.  


Try it!



Remember that the special sale price on the LIFEWRITING TEN WEEK workshop expires at midnight tonight.   There is a 100% money-back guarantee.  If our approach to writing and life appeals to you, please don’t get 90% of the way to making the decision.  MAKE IT!  DO IT!   NOW!   


Here’s your link if you want to continue and deepen our conversation.    This HALF PRICE SALE price is only available until midnight tonight, Sunday the 20th!


Be the Hero in the Adventure of your lifetime!

Steve and Tananarive


The picture above is of a regulation 16-pound shot (next to my iPad, for reference).    I use it for various grip, endurance, and power exercises, and was showing some two-man drills to Jason yesterday, much like using a medicine ball, passing it back and forth.  Let’s just say that a mistake was made, and it ended up falling on my left toe.  


Yeouch!  The swelling and bruising was a wonder to behold (let alone “befelt”) but that’s not the most interesting thing…


I knew I needed a good night’s sleep to give my body a chance to heal. And got a pretty good rest, but when I woke up in the morning…my toe felt pretty good…


But my left groin muscles ached.  If I hadn’t seen this before, it would have been a real WTF moment.  I bang my toe, and ANOTHER part of my body gets the pain?  What’s up with that?   


Well, there are a lot of things, but the most obvious one is that when you hurt part of your body, you change balance and focus to protect it…putting strain on ANOTHER part of your body.   The pain/injury can “travel” to another part of the kinetic chain, nesting there like a rabid rat, burrowing in and waiting for you not to notice…so that you can get hurt again, and again, bouncing around your body one step ahead of your perceptions.


Lasting, deep injury is made of such things.   So in a few minutes I’ll do yoga, because my routine (a single repetition of the entire Bikram series.  Takes about 35 minutes) works the entire body, every bit of the “chain” whether I have conscious awareness of the issues or not.   And when I do that, no matter where the damage “bounces” I’m dealing with it, and the whole thing will fade within a couple of days.


The trick is that this works psychologically as well.  Damage, fear, disappointment, guilt, shame…they enter our systems through one door, but then bounce around and break a window in another room.  Your boss makes a disparaging remark, and you take it out on your kids, damaging your relationship.  You get a rejection on your latest story, and become more vulnerable to “road rage.”  You stop smoking and gain weight.   The examples are endless.


And you CANNOT always predict where the “redirected” damage will pop up.  This is why you need a “generative” practice of some kind, something that shines light into the entire room, whether you think about that little dusty corner or not.  That corner is where your demons will hide.


Heartbeat Meditation, the Ancient Child, pranayama, journaling…there are endless possibilities.   My Morning Ritual covers everything in “Quantum” form, the minimum necessary to check in and step forward in body, mind, and emotions.   The “seed” of all my other actions, so that if I do it, I know that I’m moving, moving, moving, never sliding backwards.  And as long as you are making any progress, your fear level drops. Which increases faith, which makes it possible to take more actions, in a positive spiral that can take you anywhere you want to go.


Find something that will have this function for you.  Do it every day, to get those dust bunnies out of the corner.


Those psychological/emotional groin sprains are no fun at all.




Last Day for advance registration!




Frankly, I’m so convinced that this is the distillation of everything I’ve learned about success since childhood, that I’m applying it to EVERYTHING in my life.  Are my goals clear?  Do I believe I can and should have them?   Am I taking daily action that is NOT dependent upon external cooperation?   Do I fill my heart with love and gratitude every day?   If I do, if I do these things correctly, I WIN, no matter what anyone else thinks or does.


And this is the point behind my insistence that writers write short stories: not only do you learn your craft (and the business) most rapidly, but there is a great satisfaction in completing a task.  But it wasn’t until a couple of technologies matured that it became possible to apply this same idea to movie making.  Changing the order slightly (which is perfectly cool with a multiplicative equation):


GOAL: To make movies, entertain and enlighten, express yourself…and generate the resources necessary to support your family and live with grace.

FAITH: Thousands of others have done this.  If you are willing and able to pay the same price, you can get the same results.

GRATITUDE: Sheer joy in spending your days doing the thing you love.  And of course, all of the love, health, and positive experiences that have brought you to this point in your life.

ACTION:  Well…this is where we can fall down.    The usual pattern is “writing scripts” and beyond a doubt, it works.   But what you CANNOT do by “writing scripts” is complete the cycle of art, so that you actually share what you have done, learn what happens after you type “the end,” and learn what the actual “thing” called “cinematic art” might be.  


And traditionally, you could not do this without the cooperation of multi-million dollar studios, and executives walking on thin ice to keep their cushy jobs.    But until you GET that cooperation, you literally don’t understand what you are doing…unless you cheat.


Yeah, we’re talking about cheating.   Making your own @#$$ movies. Short movies: 10-15 minutes, perhaps.    And in that way, whether or not you want to “get into Hollywood”, you are not only learning at your fastest rate, but actually creating real works of craft and self-expression.  And at the most basic level, it costs NOTHING but time, energy, and storytelling ability.


And that is the subject of tomorrow’s FREE webinar.  My wife, the rather amazing Tananarive Due and I will explain exactly why and how to make your own movie, for your own entertainment, to learn, to share, or to advance your career.  It’s up to you.


Please join us by going to  At 6pm pst tomorrow we are creating a module for our course the SCREENWRITING MACHINE, and it is your opportunity, FREE OF CHARGE, to ask anything you want.    This is community building, one piece at a time, and if you join us, you are helping us lay the foundation.


Join us!  Register now at  I promise you won’t be disappointed!


Write with passion,

A Note From “Future You”


Hey there!   I know this feels strange, but yeah, this is a note from you,   three years from now.  Just thought I’d reach back and give you a little encouragement, and a little push.


You see, I’ve accomplished so many of the goals you set out to achieve that I just wanted to say “thank you.”  For what?


–for keeping my dreams alive.

–for working so darned hard

–for maintaining faith that tomorrow could be better than yesterday

–for keeping a loving, optimistic heart no matter what.


That’s what it takes, you know.   


And one of those dreams seemed impossible, I know.   You wanted to write movies.  But you understood what that meant: not “write scripts”.  Anybody can do that.  You wanted to write MOVIES.   To create, to share, to build images that change the world.  And oh, yes, you wanted to conquer Hollywood, the apex of the world’s creative flow. There was and is NO other world destination that pulls the greatest talent from every corner of the globe.


And that is not just the tallest mountain, but all those hands seeking to climb it have polished it slicker than glass.    


You saw the task ahead, and climbed anyway.

You saw the crushed bodies at the bottom of the slope, and climbed anyway.

You listened to everyone saying “you can’t do it” and climbed anyway.

You saw the awards and money going to others.  Sometimes these were people with wonderful skills and talent…and other times it was to people willing to sell out, or those who had connections, or those who were the flavor of the month.


And you never gave up.


Because you saw a way to do something extraordinary.  You realized that the game had changed, and that there was a different way up the mountain.


One that would teach you the skills necessary to climb as fast as you were capable, but at the same time actually have the fun and satisfaction of REAL CREATION.  That’s right. You were one of the first to see that you could have both. And that if you did, then no one could stop you.


You were like “Rocky.” Remember that terrific first movie, before Stallone discovered Roman numerals?  Where he decided he couldn’t beat Apollo Creed?  When Adrian asked him what they was going to do, and he said that if he could just be on his feet at the end of fifteen rounds he’d declare victory?


And because of that change, because he defined success as something within his grasp, something determined by HIS actions, not the judgements of others, he ultimately became champion of the world?


Remember that?   Wow. What a moment.  That was TRUTH. And you saw and felt it.


And because of that, I’m where I am now. And I owe it all to you.


I just wanted to encourage you to trust your instincts.  Follow your dreams.   To clarify your goal of writing MOVIES, not just “scripts.” Of creating, and having faith that if you do your very best, day after day, learning as you do, that you will raise your skill and ability to the highest level you can. And that you can have FUN along the way, learning at accelerated speed, meaning learning the WHOLE business…


-How to write

-How to FINISH and polish

-What a producer needs to make a movie

-What a director needs and wants

-What actors need and want

-How an audience responds to your work.


You knew that without ALL of these things, you could chase your tail forever, hallucinating that you were making progress instead of actually growing.


Yes.  You found the “loophole” in the game.   A way to succeed, GUARANTEED, simply by shifting your paradigm a little.   And that made all the difference.  


You decided to go to WWW.HOLLYWOODLOOPHOLE.COM and take control of your career, your creativity, your learning process, your ability to speak your truth to the world.  You did it, and I am so darned proud of you.


I’m nothing without you, really.  


Today was the day we planted that seed, wasn’t it? The day we made one of the best decisions we’d ever made?  Trust your instincts about that.  If you like this future “you”–one who is writing and making films, who has a new supportive community of like-minded people, who is taking our dreams to the next level…just go to and take the next step.


I’m counting on you…


Signed, YOU
(p.s.–only five more days to be a part of the three-part teleseminar where you’ll have a chance to ask Steven Barnes, Art Holcomb and Tananarive Due ANY QUESTIONS you have about the SCREENWRITING MACHINE or writing in general.  I’m SO glad you didn’t miss this opportunity!)

Hollywood’s panic is your gain

I’m a dinosaur. For decades, I’ve discouraged students from self-publishing (although that’s MUCH better than “vanity” publishing, where you pay a company to publish your book for you). The “Machine” for writers says that you stay away from publishing books until you have published 10 stories (on average). Because there are hundreds of magazines, anthologies, webzines and so forth that pay at least a little money, Tananarive and I have always believed that a talented hard working writer WILL find her way through the system, no matter where in the world they are.

But I’ve come to realize that THIS IS NOT TRUE WITH SCREENWRITING.

The traditional method is:
Move to Hollywood.
Get a job in the industry/go to Film School
Write a stack of scripts.
Attract the attention of an agent
Enter production
Enter post-production
Get distribution deal

Fail a single step, and the entire “chain” breaks. Your “bridge” to success collapses. A single step. And frankly, that sucks. Even if you SUCCEED at doing it…once…you might not ever do it again. There are screenwriters who have won OSCARS and still struggled to get another film made. What chances do we have?

Well…this is where my friend Art Holcomb came in. Frankly, as an in-demand columnist, lecturer, Hollywood script consultant and media advisor, he has insights I lack. I’ve had plenty of scripts produced, but never actually been “on the other side of the table” as it were. What Art said about the actual nature of the game was depressing at first…and then exhilarating.

Because once we put our heads together, compared our experiences, and looked at what was working for young artists in the 21st Century, we realized that there really was another way. A NO-FAIL, NO-EXCUSES way for a screenwriter with a teaspoon of guts to actually “hack” the system.

Because THERE IS A LOOPHOLE. Yes, there is.

The shift in technology makes it possible. HOLLYWOOD IS PANICKING because of these “loopholes”, which are shattering their century-long “hold” on the industry.   (Think of the alarm in the music industry as services like Napster came into existence.  The movie industry isn’t as bad…it’s WORSE.  And that, my friend, is bad for major studios…but good for me and you!)

This panic, and the new technologies and social changes that triggered it, are YOUR ADVANTAGE, if you have the heart to take it.

This isn’t a joke, and it isn’t a gimmick. The answer? MAKE YOUR OWN SHORT MOVIE. We raised 30 thousand dollars to make “Danger Word” and it changed our relation to Hollywood. BUT YOU DON’T NEED THAT MUCH. NOT EVEN CLOSE.  In fact, you can probably do it for UNDER A HUNDRED DOLLARS.  Tananarive made hers for about SEVENTY BUCKS.

In two hours, we can teach you why this works, how it works, how to find the resources, why EVEN IF YOUR ONLY AMBITION IS TO BE A SCREENWRITER, with no slightest interest in being a director or producer, you will learn more screenwriting in ONE YEAR of following our program than you will from a FOUR YEAR film school.

This is new. It is complete. It is radical, and it is FUN.

You will learn:
How to START your script
How to FINISH your script.
How to banish the FEAR that stops you from speaking your TRUTH in your script
How to learn at accelerated speed, and learn the things that, before now, you had to join an expensive film school, or be one of the “annointed ones” who, through some combination of luck and skill actually “win the lottery” and get a film made.
How to position yourself to attract real Hollywood talent when you’re ready
How to have real FUN again. To recapture what made you want to write in the firstplace–to MAKE MOVIES.

Even if all you want to do is write, and have NO ambition to direct or produce, this is the fastest route to understanding your craft, guaranteed.    And if you DO want to actually make movies, to create your own films with total control?

Ladies and Gentlemen…start your engines!

Art and I have created something that opens the door to a totally different relationship with your creativity. You will have specific homework, specific guidance, a social media group to support you, a THOUSAND DOLLAR contest to inspire you, and teleseminars where you can ask anything you want. And at the end of the year, if you don’t agree you’ve had the time of your life, learned more, done more, and advanced your skill and career knowledge beyond your dreams, we’ll gladly return your tiny investment.

This is a path from “nothing” to “everything.” If you have even a smidgeon of self-confidence…if you are sick of being an “outsider” and want to get into the Great Game, just check out the “Screenwriting Machine” at WWW.HOLLYWOODLOOPHOLE.COM

You have nothing to lose but your helplessness!

Write With Passion!

Mastering the Unknown Unknowns


So…what would we have to do to actually chart a 21st Century path to screenwriting success?  What would it take?


The “Hero’s Journey” is the tool that I use to diagram not only a story, but the process of writing a story, or indeed the process of achieving any goal.    But as valuable as it is, it is not the complete picture.  It CANNOT be.  No pattern can be.  Because part of life, and the creative process, is chaos.

Just as no martial art can fully prepare you for a real fight–a REAL fight is like two cats in a sack.


The REAL process of achievement involves stuff coming at you from every direction, unexpectedly, such that logic of any kind yields to pure, powerful emotion. And if your emotions aren’t strong and rooted, you won’t survive.   Many years ago, a student asked me if there was a “Heroine’s Journey,”and I took that to mean a non-linear path, because the specific steps are not specific to either inner or outer journeys, neither masculine or feminine values.


But beyond question, there were linear and non-linear approaches, and mine was the former, a ten-step process I swear by. But…what if your mind doesn’t work that way?  What if you are a typical artist, and your creative mind is like a rabbit off its ADD meds, hip-hopping all over the place?


Well, I have a gift for you, Art’s “String of Pearls” technique.    It is PERFECT for non-linear creativity, and filled in the “gap” by showing the “unconscious” pathway to completing projects.  Great stuff, and here is an article on it:  


Read it.  You’ll thank me.   


But I’ve got more for you today.  We’ve spoken of the “Secret Formula” (GOALS X FAITH X ACTION X GRATITUDE = RESULTS) and if you take that, and apply it to the process of writing, wow, you will accelerate your pace of growth.   But I just came across an article that made it even clearer why managing your emotions is CRITICAL to the process of growth, change, and success.  You’re going to want to read this as well:


Put these things together, and you’ll be able to glimpse what Art and I saw: that the Industry has so many invisible walls and trap doors, it is so hard to get feedback or ever actually get into the game that it is like trying to learn to swim without ever getting in the pool.  


The “full circle” of skills and actions, represented by the Hero’s Journey, String of Pearls, and the “Secret Formula” would require a four-year film school to help an “outsider” even learn what they need to learn. To know what they don’t know.   The “unknown unknowns.”  And without that, you are thrashing in the dark, and will eventually lose energy and enthusiasm, be consumed by fear and frustration, and just…give up.  


And I tasked Art, just as he had challenged me.    “Can we create something that we would have given our left thumbs for when we were starting out?  Something that would allow us to really learn what we need to know, or at least have a real idea what we NEED to learn?  Is it even possible?”


And we created an answer. And came together to create something special, something new.  Unlike anything I’ve done before. And yeah, I’d have given my left thumb to have this when I was twenty-five.  


And I can’t wait for you to have it. And that opportunity comes…tomorrow!   The “Screenwriting Machine” is about to come to life.  And if you accept our challenge…you’ll never be the same.


See you tomorrow!


“What I need most is inner inspiration and motivation”


The lovely thing about conducting a survey is that it clarifies what people need, so that I can speak directly to actual concerns, not just talk about whatever comes into my mind on a given morning.   Here’s one which, in various forms, was repeated quite frequently:


“What I need most is inner inspiration and motivation.

Sounds easy, but it seems to elude me.”


Let me look at this one bit at a time, because the apparently simple statement is actually quite deep.


“Inspiration” and “motivation” are the things that get us going in the morning, or even better, that push or pull us to achieve beyond our current capacities or status.   Most of us can do “the status quo” just fine. In fact, it is engaging in certain behaviors, thoughts, and feelings on a daily basis that CREATES that status quo.  Understanding how to adapt new behaviors requires understanding what drives your CURRENT behaviors.  


Pleasure and Pain. That’s it, on the simplest level.  You do what you do to move away from pain and toward pleasure.  All animals do this.  Heck, maybe plants too. Depends on who you listen to.   Whatever you do in your life, at some point you defined these actions as pain-avoidance or pleasure-seeking behaviors.   Which means you need to look more carefully at the emotions beneath them.  Pain and pleasure are sensations. The associated emotions are fear and love.  We fear what causes us pain, we love what gives us pleasure.   One of the steps of maturation is the ability to accept pain or postpone pleasure in order to reach a worthy goal.  People who are gym rats, for instance, often learn to LOVE certain kinds of pain, because they know it leads to pleasure (a transformed body).


In fiction, there are countless examples. In CASABLANCA, Rick has associated emotional intimacy, love and commitment to pain–because the last time he loved, Ilsa ditched him and broke his heart. The entire film is about him “coming back to life” and embracing the emotional paradox of human existence.   Both his love of Ilsa and his commitment to a larger cause are awakened as result.


In the movie TRAINWRECK, Amy avoids love and intimacy because her father drilled into her that love leads to pain.  She drowns her real emotions is drugs, alcohol and meaningless sex to avoid the natural human urge to connect with another human being on a profound level.   And her “cheerleader dance” at the end is her declaration that she is willing to go beyond her stated limits, to be outrageous, and to take a chance.  She might be hurt, yes.  But if she doesn’t take that chance, she is utterly lost and broken…forever.


(Really liked that movie, by the way).


Now, how does this relate to the common sense of “I’m not motivated”?


Simple.  Do you have to motivate or discipline yourself to eat ice cream?  No?  Why not?  BECAUSE IT’S GOOD. Because you reliably anticipate pleasure from eating it. In fact, the reason it is easier to eat ice cream than diet is that one is immediate pleasure, while the other is certain pain and often very uncertain pleasure (the observation/belief that “diets don’t work” suggests that all that discipline and discomfort will be for nothing).  So to lose that weight, you have to have a path that is either less painful, or more certain of delivering the desired positive results.  Without that, your pain/pleasure equation inclines us to empty that carton.


Back to writing.   If you write well, and honestly, it is often painful.  You have to “make” the time–often at the sacrifice of other things that seem more certain.  You have to actually dig into your own emotions, even the painful ones. Have to fight against the voices that say “it’s no good!  You’ll never be any good! No one cares!  You’ll just be rejected!” as well as doubting voices from real members of our tribe: parents, teachers, lovers, co-workers, friends, spouses, bosses…if they don’t believe in what we’re doing.


Those outer voices are killer. The inner voices can be even worse.


Tim Piering said that you can accomplish anything if you have:

1)Well defined written goals and plans for their accomplishment expressed in continuous action.

2) The ability to take action despite the voices in your head.


Let’s go a little deeper.  You will have inspiration if you connect with your own dreams.  Motivation if you believe you will experience more pleasure than pain if you pursue them.


Here are some component things that will do this:

  1. Heartbeat meditation or “Ancient Child” work to connect to your essence.
  2. Goal-setting to clarify what you desire and why you want it.
  3. Organizational skills to make it as easy as possible to move forward.
  4. Completing short projects so that you have the total experience of creation.
  5. Setting a goal of (say) 100 short stories so that rejection is merely seen as a step along the path.


You have to know what you want, why you want it, how to get it, and how you will cope with disappointment, because there WILL be disappointment.


Let’s map this onto the Hero’s Journey, one tool that has never failed me. It is not the only way to look at these things, but it is damned powerful.  Let’s look at my own life.


  1. Hero confronted with challenge. As a child,  I wanted desperately to be a writer.
  2. Hero rejects the challenge.   I was told I could not have it. My mother tore my stories up.  People laughed at me.  I had no role models of possibility, and had never met a writer in my life.
  3. Accepts the challenge.   I DECIDED I WOULD RATHER FAIL AS A WRITER THAN SUCCEED AT ANYTHING ELSE.  In other words, I burned my bridges behind me.   All my love, all my fear, all my energy was focused on this goal, with the belief that “we become what we think about” driving me onward.
  4. Road of trials.   I decided that I would write and submit 100 short stories before I even began to ask whether I “could” or not.   In this way, the voices in my head had less traction.
  5. Allies and powers.  I needed role models to show me the path.   Read incessantly. Wrote every day.   I needed to learn how to enter flow state (meditation, tai chi, yoga), how to deal with fear (meditation, martial arts) allies (choosing certain friends carefully), a “point of view” on life (reading, studying) and so forth. My “voice” was developed simply by imitating enough different writers that my own “way” emerged.
  6. Confront evil-fail.   My heart was broken countless times.  Ideas were stolen, promises broken, friendships betrayed, work laughed at.  I was broke and discouraged, and my greatest idol told me that my first solo book wasn’t worth publishing.   
  7. Dark Night of the Soul.  I’ve been crushed more times than I can say. Lost, abandoned, shattered.
  8. Leap of Faith.  What got me through was the belief that the goal was possible: others had done it, why not me?  That I had accomplished other goals I’d considered lost causes. That I had friends or mentors who believed in me.  And more than anything else, when all else failed, I had developed a meditation practice that took me deep within myself, to a spark of divinity within. Took me YEARS to develop it, constant daily effort.  But I am made of the same stuff as the stars, and I love love LOVE writing. And the reward, in the end, is spending my life doing something precious to me.
  9. Confront evil–succeed.   I’ve been through this, again, countless times.   Both failures and successes.  I just concentrate more on the successes.
  10. The Student Becomes the Teacher.   As soon as possible, I began to share the path to happiness I had found. And in the faces of my students and the tales of their successes, I saw myself as part of the circle of life.    And as there have been tears along the way, so too there has been much laughter,and love, and joy. And I wouldn’t trade the life I’ve created for a billion dollars.


Look, the HJ is one way to organize resources.  As is THE SECRET FORMULA.  As are Musashi’s Principles.   As is the “Machine” concept that fuels the new course I’ve created with Art Holcome.  FIND SOMETHING.   Dig in.  Prepare for battle.  Find the resources you need to make contact with your real ambitions, your joys.  Find allies and mentors who have been discouraged, defeated, disappointed, betrayed, crushed, lonely, and lost…and got up and @#$$ won anyway. Get mad, or joyful. Whatever works for you.


Live your life. You’re the only one who can.




On CREED and why this New Years Eve is the best!

CREED hit $97,886,653 as of Tuesday. That means that beyond any doubt, it  will cross 100,000,000 dollars this weekend.  And that means…what, precisely?

I’m not sure.  Have to think about it.  Right now, I’m just exhaling, happy that a goal I’ve been watching for at least 25 years is about to be reached.

The specific goal is “a black male lead has a love scene in a movie earning over 100 million domestic.”  The reason why it is important, my theory goes, is that this threshold, the rough measure of “success” or “wide acceptance” in Hollywood, could not be crossed because of unconscious (or conscious) racism or tribalism on the part of white audiences, specifically white male audiences.  That, then, I could use the inability of such films to cross that line as a measurement of the “invisible hand” of racism in America, which also manifests in arrests, convictions, sentencing, employment, lodging, and any number of other arenas.


This  all began on Wednesday July 4th, 1990. I was on my way to Portland Westercon, and had a flight out of LAX at about 7 pm.   I had nothing to do, and stopped in Westwood to catch a 2pm screening of “Die Hard 2”.   Before the movie, there were coming attractions, and one of them was for “Mo Better Blues.”    And during that coming attraction, there was a scene of Denzel Washington making love to his girlfriend.   I was the only black person in the theater. Because I was in an evil but curious mood,  instead of watching the screen, I turned around and watched the audience, and saw something fascinating: all the women in the audience leaned TOWARD the screen.   All the guys in the audience pushed back AWAY from the screen.

I laughed my ass off. This was in alignment with what I expected, based on a lifetime of observation:

  1. Racism is not rare among human beings. Rather, it is as common as dandruff, something that needs to be rooted out, not something that is rare and triggered only by extreme circumstances or personalities.
  2. Try these definition, which will help you understand my thinking on these things.   “Tribalism” is cheering your team.  “Racism” is believing the other team is actually inferior.   “Bigotry” is being willing to knee-cap the captain of the opposing team.  I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone at all who didn’t exhibit some Tribalism.  I’d guess 80% of people have some detectable Racism.   And somewhere between 10-20% of people are detectably Bigoted.   Probably the same percentage most of us consider to be “assholes.”  They show their hand in reducing human beings to labels and doing the “Those X’s are Y” routine about politics, gender religion, nationality, or whatever.   My Spidey Sense starts tingling the instant I hear someone say any of those things.  To do it in one arena increases their likelihood to do it in others. About you.  When your back is turned.
  3. Much of it is unconscious.  When it is not, people re-define the term (“the differential attribution of average quality or worth based upon race or ethnicity” is the only definition that makes sense to me.  It offers comfort to neither side of the political spectrum, excuses no racial group, and mocks the idea that someone isn’t racist because they have “some X friends” or   “have no power.”  Feh.  Both attitudes are twisting language, like someone trying desperately to convince themselves their farts don’t stink.)
  4. It is stronger between males than across gender lines. Theory: when tribes war, the men are killed, while the females are taken as sexual chattel.   My opinion: death is worse, based on the simple fact that if Y is worse than death, you have the option of choosing death.  If you didn’t, it wasn’t worse.  So the threats, violence, fear and competition are more intense.
  5. In this male-male war, a  primary way it manifests racism manifests is  in sexuality.   Tribalism always has a “we want access to your females while preventing you from having access to ours” tinge to it.  Klansmen would have black girlfriends.  Slave masters and overseers routinely visited the slave quarters.   Needless to say, traffic going the other way was punished lethally.    
  6. This makes total sense biologically.  Heck, the reason we’re agriculturalists not hunter-gatherers is NOT that sedentary farmers are healthier.  No, they simply breed more, producing more fighters, enabling them to win wars more often.  Hunter-gatherers just can’t compete reproductively.  So the fear of being outbred (and therefore outgunned) by “the other” is a very real thing.  One of the most basic insults racially/culturally is that “Those X’s breed like rats.”  Literally a fear of extinction.
  7. Add it up. Racism then is tribalism taken a step further, to the point that you don’t fully extend your own humanity to “the other”.   You attribute to them different motivations, core values, and so forth.  And that “uncanny valley”, fear of something that looks “sort of” like you but isn’t quite, manifests in lots of different preferences–and one of them is that “being outbred” thing, that repulsion thing, that fear of them having access to “your” females thing.   And it can be measured in a couple of useful ways: 1) approval of interracial relationships (and there are some fun Gallop polls measuring this in different states, regions, and across political parties.  I will leave it as an exercise for the reader if you care to discover how your group holds up).   2) Willingness to relish the sexuality of the “Other” as you do   “your own.”
  8. People point out pornography, which has a thriving market in black-on-white sexual couplings.    Doesn’t this indicate an acceptance?  Well, porn also has a thriving bestiality market. And a thriving kiddie porn market.   I’m no expert, but I’m not willing to wade through that stuff to crunch the data necessary to measure what’s what.    A theory: black-on-white porn is the next thing to bestiality, often enjoyed by men who specifically consider it degrading to women.   

Can we move forward now?  I think so.  If I’m right, then you could measure the invisible presence of racism in our culture simply by looking at   black lead films and white lead films in the above 100-million club. In a perfect world, I would think that the same percentage of those films would contain love scenes.   But when I went looking, what came out is that about 22% of the Above 100 million Club had love scenes.  And about 20% of them had black leads.   And those two circles never overlapped at all.  Not one.   In fact, it didn’t overlap for Asians, either.  However, Asian and black WOMEN did have love scenes in the Above 100 Million club.  But only with white males.

To repeat, the reality seemed to be this: no black or Asian male lead has sex in a movie that earns over 100 million dollars domestic.  Not inter-racial, and not same-racial.  Nothing.  The fun thing is that once I started pointing this out, it violated the world view of certain people.  Especially those who believed racism was “a thing of the past.”  The denial was hilarious.  Some of the reactions would have seemed very familiar to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

  1. Denial.   “You’re wrong” followed by a frantic search for a counter example. There are none.  “But what about international box office!” Nope, only domestic.  “But in “Independence Day” Will Smith had a girlfriend!”  Yeah, but there was no love scene.   I’m comparing apples to apples.   Period. “But Vin Diesel had love scenes in XXX…”  Do you really want to go there?   If you say that someone who is perhaps an Octaroon is “black” you are saying that 20% black blood makes you black, but 80% white blood does not make you white.   That, frankly, is such a racist formulation that I have real questions about the kind of person who would defend it.
  2. Anger  “You’re wrong about what it means!” You know, perhaps black people just don’t WANT to appear in such scenes, because they’re…umm…so spiritual.  Or don’t want to be type-cast as Superstuds…I know black actors and actresses.  And yes, they relish playing love scenes equally with their white counterparts.  We’ve spoken at nauseating length about it.  Or “it’s Hollywood!  Yes, those devilish Hollywood racist liberals are the bottleneck!” Umm…no, the movies get made. The AUDIENCES don’t turn out for them.  Dem Hollywood Lib’rals ain’t no saints, but I see no reason to believe they are worse about this  than human beings in general.   And of course “don’t look at me! I don’t care about race!  I don’t see race!” and so forth.  If one listens to what people say, NO ONE sees race.   And yet somehow it is a defining characteristic in American life, and has been for 400 years.   IMHO, Occam’s Razor   suggests that the simple answer is that, yeah, we see race, even if we’re not consciously aware of it (or willing to speak the truth).
  3. Bargaining.  “Well, have you adjusted for inflation?  Surely a movie like “Purple Rain”, which earned 80 million dollars in 1980, would earn TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY million  dollars today!  Victory (drops the mic).”   Umm…I think you need to look at that again.   The standard was created in 1990.  To be fair, I would have to adjust that number UPWARD to compensate for inflation.  100 million dollars in 1990  money would be about 180 million dollars in current cash.  But no, I don’t adjust it upwards because hell, that would be too damned depressing. I like to win. So I leave it at 100 million, knowing that eventually inflation and demographic shifts will push some movie across that line.  But speaking of depression…
  4. Depression.  After a desperate search for SOME movie that crosses that line, running out of excuses, and having no alternative answer that explains as elegantly and predictively, about 99% of people have had to admit I was right.   “Shit” is the usual response.   And then a meek: “but are things getting better..?”
  5. Acceptance.  Yes they are.  No, this doesn’t mean America is evil, or white people are evil, or men are evil.  Reverse the situation, and blacks would (IMO) be just as racist, and just as self-servingly oblivious and congratulatory.  And males are the ones with the territoriality hormones pumped up to “overdrive.”   Females are just as “flawed,” although perhaps in slightly different ways.   That’s how nature made us, and we’d not be here as a species without it.   And over the course of my life MASSIVE change has taken place.   It is blindness to say it has not–but also blindness to pretend we’ve grown beyond it as a species or a country.  What is the answer?   

Heck, I’m just a guy who noticed a measurable phenomenon easily observable to anyone who can Google  And devised a theory about it that makes no one inferior, inferior, or different from anyone else.   And if I was asked what I think the answer is, I have to move from the arena of logic and statistics and social theory to some beliefs about the basic nature of human beings.

  1. We are not basically good. Or evil. We just “are.”  We are creatures trying to move away from pain, and toward pleasure.  Fortunately, game theory suggests that in the long term, honesty and kindness are more productive than dishonesty or cruelty.   So that means that just asking the question “how can I find joy?  Be happy?” leads us, over time, to those behaviors we call “good.”  That said, the apparent basic nature of mature awake human beings (as opposed to sleeping children) is what we call “good”.  For purely selfish reasons.
  2. The beliefs and attitudes we are programmed with prior to puberty are almost impossible to blast out. We can cover them up, but it is a rare human being who really manages to move beyond those basic programmings. And many of them deal with the first couple of levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy: survival and sex.   That means jealousy, territoriality, and us/them-ism.   I’ve noticed that racism has faded with just a couple of core things: communication and time.   This is why, despite the utter horror of some of the social violence we’ve observed, some of the police and judicial injustice I see, I feel no despair.  This crap has always happened.  Smartphone video has just flipped over that flat rock so that we can actually SEE, without denial, what is going on. And I trust that human beings want to be happy and stop hurting.    

Which leads to the second piece: if you genuinely believe black people are inferior, have different motivations and core values, you must be terrified of the changes around you. I empathize with that, and can only try to reassure you that no, we are the same.  No better no worse.  And those who were born before about 1970 remember clearly the LEGAL strictures, the violent oppression, and they must be terrified that, if we are “the same” blacks will seek vengeance. That the tables will be turned as soon as you lose demographic advantage. I empathize: this is the very last generation where White Males get to dictate the terms of engagement. Another generation and White People as a whole lose that capacity.  And then we will deal with some fascinating questions, like “What Is America?” And “what is the true nature of humanity?”

  1. I can’t tell you what to think. I can tell you how I think I’d feel if I were you.   I have been, as a black man, willing to see the humanity in those who denied my own.    Attributed that to fear and ignorance.   And believed that, in their own ways, they were just trying to find their way to joy and away from fear. I have not changed my sense of that, and as I look at the various measures of positive change (including the public awareness of the horrid rot at the core of some of our institutions) I feel nothing but optimism. It will be a bumpy road, but we’re getting there.   And I would look into my own heart. If I come from love, and understanding, and extend that to “the other”, then there is nothing to fear.  If I come from fear, there is much to fear. If I do not believe “the other” is as I am, there is much to fear.  
  2. To those stuck in those positions, I can only offer love and understanding, even if you hate or resent me. I am not your enemy.  We, as a people, never were.  Screw with me of my family and you will reap what you sow, but offer me friendship and honest discourse, and I’ll meet you at least 51% of the way.  But do not mistake that for weakness.  And I think others are much like me.  So if they are, all I need do extend love from a position of strength, see their humanity, grasp that violence stems from fear, and that love is the antidote for that…and all will be well, in time.
  3. And those born before 1970 might all have to die before we complete this transition. That was the approximate point when black Americans were really acknowledged as equal. Before that, the assumption seemed to be that we were mildly inferior but deserving of being treated decently.  The 1935 (I think that was the date) Encyclopedia Britannica openly stated a belief in black intellectual inferiority. It was a total given in culture, the accepted back-drop of much of our cultural mythology.  Politely avoided, but never really denied.  And if that is the poisonous stew you cooked in, the chances that that didn’t seep into your marrow, coloring and distorting your perceptions, is pretty low. It isn’t your fault. But if I’m right, then the NATURAL tendency is to be slightly racist, slightly tribalistic, and only those who can admit it and “lean into the wind” a bit, have any chance at all of not acting out on those values in a thousand unconscious ways, every damned day.

Which leads me back to the beginning. Those guys leaning away from the “Mo Better Blues” love scene (and yes, I’ve watched the same phenomena with other racial pairings and groups, and I’ve seen it repeatedly, and no, guys don’t do that if they are the same race as the guy on the screen) in 1990 would not be as repelled today.   As “Creed” crosses that marker (and a later essay will examine my thoughts about why this film did the deed) I think there is a feedback loop: growing acceptance leads to successful films, which lead to a diversity of image, and those images influence the younger generation, which in terms learns to accept and extend their own humanity…


It all depends on what you think humanity is.  What you think the nature of racial differences is. How you interpret the history of the world, and of America.   The degree to which you extend your own humanity, and are able to say: “My group would behave the same way, given the same history.”  

Whether fear or love have won the war in in your heart.  

“Creed” is a milestone.  Not the end of a struggle, but perhaps the end of a very easily measurable “gap” is attribution of full humanity.   We’ve still got other measures: differential inherited wealth, life expectancy, infant mortality, arrest and incarceration statistics and more. I really like “Percentage representation in the Senate” as a measure. But those are fights for generations beyond my own.

I cared about this one because it was a way to look into media, my area of greatest occupational interest, and ask what it means, and what I might be able to do to move the line a little, by writing books, television, film. By commentary and discussion, and trying to point out simple truths.

Maybe next I’ll explain why I think the term “Social Justice Warrior” would, denotatively, be one of the noblest and highest callings a human being could have, and that rudeness or dishonesty in its cause is as objectionable as is twisting language to try to demonize the term.   But that’s for another time.

Right now, I’m closing out 2015 declaring victory in a battle I’ve waged my entire life, and only been able to measure in an effective manner for 26 years.  It is ineffably sweet, and things will never be QUITE the same again.

With gratitude to all who have listened to my thoughts on this all these years, and also to the audiences who embraced the film, and the filmmakers who created this minor miracle: Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, and especially Sylvester Stallone, who had the vision and heart to lend his forty years of cred to these young men, and let them take the baton forward, I trust you’ll understand what I mean if I echo one of the most classic lines in the history of cinema:






Can you help me with “The Ancient Child”?

The “Ancient Child” program combines a dozen different incredibly powerful tools into a single “sigil” with (according to comments from students) amazing effectiveness and efficiency.    And because the specific way they came together was suggested by a text I no longer own there are implications beyond my personal experience.

For instance, if we look at the three major aspects involved: Child self, Adult self, “Ancient” self, they are not “objective realities” but rather psychological symbols of different aspects of our personalities, experience, and perceptions and skills or wounds.  By giving them a visualizable status, we can “see”damage as well as growth, and it becomes easier to shift our resources around.

But in addition, there are three major “energy centers” in the body-mind complex.  Again, not necessarily “objective realities” but ways to look at things (this perspective is so powerful in martial arts, however, that I know there is SOMETHING going on there.  What, precisely, is beyond my kin.  Possibly merely shifted perspective.   Or something.)

These three are: Belly Brain (below belly button. Core survival drives), Heart Center (emotions) , Head Center (logic, intelligence, ambition).

Now.   In morning meditations I originally started with my “Child” self in the belly brain (or at the base of my skull), the “Adult” in the heart center, and the “Ancient” in or slightly above the head center.

My morning meditations were then beginning with Anahata (heartbeat) meditation, running a line of “light” down to the belly brain, collecting that light into a “child” self, letting him conduct light up to my heart to create an “Adult” and then running it up to my head to create the “Ancient”.  Very nice.

But I later experimented with other orders.  For instance, I’ve noticed that when I want to concentrate on business, visualizing a triangle at my forehead (point “up”) seems to facilitate a more focused and successful day.   As it is the “adult” self that seems to be connected with worldly success, I could raise the “adult” up there, but that felt a little unbalanced, so I visualized my ‘child” rooting deeply into the earth, on the shoulders of my ancestors.  Nice.


I don’t want to be too specific.  What I want to say is that the three “Energy Centers” can be conceptualized many different ways, sure, but even if they were stable realities, there are at least six different arrangements of the “Ancient Child” three aspects.  And I suspect that each of them is a little different.

So I’m making an open request that those who have been practicing this amazing technique report back their experiences.  I suspect that different arrangements prioritize for:

Success, self-love, emotional healing, physical energy, creative energy, problem solving, sensuality, sheer fun, discipline, focus, and more.  

But…which orders?  Which emphasis?   I honestly don’t know, and even if I was certain what worked for me, I wouldn’t know if that was anything other than my own personal “recipe”, which might shift next year, and may not have any application to others.


Would you please do me the honor of reporting back what you have experienced?  It will help me help others, as well as develop Ancient Child 2.0.