The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fine-tuning the Diamond Hour

Some swift thoughts on making the most of your “Diamond Hour”

1) Mind.  Clarity is king.  Spend twenty minute writing out your goals, brainstorming with your Mastermind partner, planning your day or week.  Engage one part of your mind to remember to breathe smoothly and deeply as you do.
2) Body.    Choose a whole-body exercise like jumping rope, hindu pushups, yoga, etc, and explore it for twenty minutes.  Link EVERYTHING to your breathing.
3) Emotions.  Meditate, focusing on your heartbeat.  Visualize yourself, pure and strong, sitting or standing within the safety of your own heart.  Take your pulse at wrist if necessary, but stay with the beats.

Now then—during your “Five Minute Miracle” sessions (five 1-minute breaks scattered through the day) slow your breathing, and lower it to a point just below your navel.  There is a connection between body, mind, and emotions that cannot be put into words, but which you can experience if you tie them together with breath and heart.  

You are the center of your existence.  Define yourself, and your word with every action and every breath.  Walk the thousand mile road.  I promise the awareness of the journey is the most profitable investment you could ever make.


Monday, July 30, 2012

The Machine

I’ve had a model of writing success I call “The Machine” or “The Garden”, depending on who I’m talking to, and specifically which metaphor works better for that personality.
It is a description of process related to the creation of books and stories and generally creating a sustainable career.  The idea begins with the thought that it is valuable to consider “the ability to motivate yourself to do something” as part of the definition of “knowing how to do it.”
In other words, if you don’t exercise, it might be a useful lie (one of the most valuable things in the world) to say that you literally don’t know how, since understanding the value and the way to motivate yourself and sustain motivation might reasonably be considered part of “knowing how.”  Understand?
Well, I frequently have conversations with unpublished (or under-published) writers who have, to me, obvious interruptions in the process that would allow them to successfully publish.   I’ve taught semester-long courses, coached people for years, sold thousands of “Lifewriting” sets and been paid obscene amounts of money to lecture on this stuff, but I constantly search for simpler and simpler ways to express it.  In other words, if someone is willing to follow directions, what is the smallest amount of information they need to get where they want to go?
In the realm of consciousness, the minimum can be written on the back of a postage stamp (variously: “wake up”, “pay attention”, “go deeper,”  “Who are you?”  “What is true?” and so forth) so it stands to reason that writing would require no more.
Thus, “The Machine.”   Here is a version of it students have found useful.
1) Read and research constantly.   (Approximately 10X as much reading as writing.)
2) Write a story a week, or a story every other week.   (Stories are hugely more educational than novels.  Until you have published and been paid for five short stories, stay away from the longer form.  And trust me, I’ve heard every rational reason to try novels first.   None of them pass the smell test.)
3) Finish what you write, and re-write.   (Spend all the time you want re-writing, but remember: you have to finish an average of 2-4 stories a month).
4) Put it in the mail, and keep it in the mail.
5) When it is rejected, send it back out.  Continue until you’ve submitted it at least ten times.
6) Starting from now, set a goal of at least 100 stories.  (Give yourself room and time to fail, and fail and fail.  Get tough, dammit. The arts are not for sissies.)
7) Don’t try to be clever.  You can run out of clever,  but you can never run out of the truth.  The kernel of every story should be something you care about.  Deeply.  Preferably, enough to die for. After all—one day, one of your stories will be the last you ever write.  Assume it will be this one.  

That’s it.   I might dive more deeply into those, but I have this urge to empty myself out of everything that had gotten me this far in my life.   One of these essays will be the last I ever write.
Maybe this one.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Writers and the highest service

Locke's parable of the Prince and the Cobbler (they awaken with bodies switched) ends with them being the same men, but not the same persons. Note that this is really an attempt to create language for metalinguistic constructs. But at any rate, the concept is that, as with the parable of the Ship of Theseus (which was repaired until nothing remained of the original planks and ropes) the "identity" is not the physical reality, but rather a matrix of experiences and concepts. We are verbs, rather than nouns. To that degree, I ask the storytellers to consider how important they are. How story binds us in a non-temporal web of meaning, defines cultures as well as individuals. One of the reasons for my deep respect for Jewish culture is the degree that they have kept their "story" about themselves despite massive damage and horror. The stories of a culture...or the stories we tell ourselves...are as important as our bones and muscles. Never, ever, let anyone accuse you of being a "mere" storyteller. Dig deep. Tell your truth. Your profession is a noble as any long as you understand that your purpose is to serve all mankind, as well as to express your essence, your truth. There is no higher service than truth.

The Wasp

Jason watched five minutes ago as I rescued a wasp trapped in our house. I slipped a plastic cup over it, while murmuring: "I mean you no harm. You are safe. If you will allow me, I will return you to your home. I understand you are afraid. You are safe..." Jason cowered on the stairs as I slipped an index card under the cup, then carefully took the wasp outside and set it free. I told Jason that if I was a wasp, I would want to meet a human like me. That empathy is being the change you wish to see in the world. He said: "but if I was a wasp, and I met a human who wasn't like you, I would sting him. Repeatedly." And if that isn't the essence of the martial arts, I don't know what is. Every moment can be a lesson.

Friday, July 27, 2012

What We Know That Ain't So

What We Know That Ain't So

Apparently, (and somewhat to my surprise) there is a very popular idea that men think about sex every seven seconds. The article above rebuffs this notion, taking that to a more reasonable estimate of a little more than once per hour. I have no idea why anyone would ever have believed that nonsense in the first place, unless one defines "sex" so broadly that it barely has any meaning at all.

Think about the misunderstandings between men and women who have such absurd, irrational and unfounded beliefs about each other. "Men Are From Mars" indeed. Even more disturbing, I have to assume that many of those spreading the meme were men. Excuse me, weren't they alerted when there was a mismatch between their own experience of life and a bizarre new "factoid"? Didn't they trust themselves at all? Apparently not.

Writing is often about a character learning and growing, or declining/decaying and learning they have been wrong. The "Hero's Journey" details the growth from one level to another in this fashion--we are either growing or decaying, and the only third option in fiction is to tell tales in which a character apparently does neither, and merely displays either skill, courage and genius (typical Sherlock Holmes story, any Bond movie) or displays their idiocy and "quirky-ness" (any situation comedy).

That's fine for fiction--a minimalization of the arc of change so that, apparently, nothing meaningful occurs but entertainment results. Bt what of our lives? How can we continue moving forward?

1) Continually question both your cosmology and your epistomology: what is true, and how you know it to be.
2) Constantly test your assumptions. This is the importance of having goals in all four basic areas of your life: body, mind, relationship, and finances. This is like a bat "pinging" a cave with squeals to map the territory. Our goals and actions teach us about the world. Our demons will hide in the arena we fail to search.
3) Constantly clean the lens of our perception. Every time I break through to a new level of meditation, it is like plunging into a cess pool--I have discovered a new world of illusion, pain, and fear. Fascinating, and the exact opposite of what many teachers suggested to their students. It is clear to me why people stop searching. The work literally never stops.

But the more I clean out the "stuff" inside, the stronger my body gets, the better my relationships, the more satisfying the career movement, and the more honest and fluid the writing becomes. Ultimately, it is just the work. A cycle of progress. And while it is as endless as the cycle of eating, sleeping, and defecating, so long as I continue to treasure truth, and accept the need for daily struggle with joy and a sense of adventure, the path is the most amazing adventure imaginable.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why zombies..?

It is arguable that consciousness has little survival value.   Amoebas do just fine.   Zombies lurch through the world doing many of the things we do: eating, hunting, even shopping...without thinking or feeling.   The Walking Dead are no less than the Sleeping Living.    It is possible that they are so popular because on some level we know that we all are in danger of falling into automatic living.   I find politics disgusting (but necessary...kind of like diarrhea.  From time to time the system needs an adjustment...) in the way that ordinarily lovely people fall into name-calling, lying, imbicilic simplification, demonization and general irrational "we rule you drool" schoolyard antics, using the exact same tools they decry when the "other guy" uses them.  Christ, it's nauseating.    If you wake up, there is no external success or reward waiting for you.  If you try to encourage others to wake up, you risk being nailed to a cross. People don't want to wake up: they want to have a nice dream.  If you commit to being an awakened being, you must do it because you feel anything less is inauthentic, and be willing to die in the process.  Trust me: you will.   But since you have to die anyway, you might as well die being who and what you really are, rather than what you were programmed to be.   To die having lived your own life is simply nature.  To die having lived someone else's, never knowing who you are... is a tragedy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why Frank Darabont is Walking Dead to me.

“My friends in Chicago have a saying, Mr. Bond.  Once is happenstance.  Twice is coincidence.  The third time, it’s enemy action.”
—Goldfinger (Ian Fleming, 1959)

I’m reading my way through the 1000-page Walking Dead compendium (one of the fun things about my job is doing “research” that would otherwise be called goofin’ off.  The point is to see what the creators (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore, and Cliff Rathburn) did in the original comic, so that my work on the “Devil’s Wake” series doesn’t accidentally  duplicate imagery, thematics, or plot points.  Doing that as a deliberate echo is one thing.  But when lurching through the world of zombies, I have to assume that readers will be familiar with what has gone before, and out of respect to them and the WD creators, I want to be informed.  A couple hundred pages in, some things are clear:

1) Walking Dead, the comic, is brilliant stuff.  Maybe the best “zombie” story I’ve ever read.  Total kudos. The characters are very real (both flawed and heroic), the plot twists wrenching, the sense of a microcosmic humanity is simply excellent, far beyond most fantasy work I’ve read.

2) I never want to meet Frank Darabont, who adapted this to television.   In my experience, he now has the most offensive pattern of negative racial imagery in current cinema or television.  He achieved this Sambo Trifecta through two films  The Mist (100% death rate for black men), and The Green Mile (leaving out a little detail Stephen King had the wisdom to include in the book: the Tom Hanks character tried to save John Coffey’s life.  Unlike the book, in the film Hanks KNEW this man was innocent, and didn’t lift a finger to try to save him.   The number of times people have suggested “time constraints” [oh.  We had time for ten minutes of stupid mouse tricks, but not thirty seconds to pick up the phone?] or “Coffey was tired and wanted to die” [oh.  So   every film I’ve seen my whole life where someone wanted to give up, followed by an inspiring speech and a phoenix-like rise from the ashes is b.s., and the only film that got it right just happened to be one in which the character was the only black man, surrounded by whites.    Never, ever, ever have I seen this before.  Sorry, but they smuggled him out to heal a white woman.   This was purely reducing a human being to a symbol.  The absolute worst case of combined Spiritual Guide and Sacrificial Negro I’ve ever seen).

But The Walking Dead is the nail in the Coffey.  I mean, coffin.  You see, I noticed the “T-Dawg” character very early.  Lumpy, not too bright, cowardly (he, an Asian kid and an old man are all intimidated and abused by a redneck who is casually slapped down by the white hero.  All right…)  He has little to say, nothing to do, makes no contributions to the movement of plot or theme, no interest in any of the women (WTF?), no background, no apparent emotions.  He’s just…there.   And “T-Dawg”?  I daresay I know ten times as many black people as any white guy  working on that show.  Never met one named “T-Dawg” or anything close to it.    And week after week, I got more irritated.    It was suggested that the actor was at fault.  Well…even if that’s true, that’s the fault of the person who hired him, I’d suggest.  There are plenty of fine, fine black actors out there.  Someone, at the least, wasn’t on their job.

But the problem got worse.   According to fans, the original source material had a black character named “Tyrese” who some hoped would come onto the series and compensate for T-Dawg.
I do odd things, like wander over to the Storm Front site to see what the racists are up to.    And I found a thread there about…The Walking Dead comic books (which at that point I hadn’t read).  And the topic of conversation was this “Tyrese” character.  They were complaining.  Tyrese, it seemed, was too macho, too competent, was immediately the target of white female attention.  Just a stereotype “supernigger” according to Storm Front’s fans, and thereby offensive to the Klansman in their soul.

And a horrible suspicion began to form in my mind.  Wait a @#$$ing minute, I thought.   WHAT IF T-DAWG WAS TYRESE?    Holy crap. What if Darabont literally transformed one black man into another, inferior one?   What might indicate this?  Well…I would multiply the percentage chance of the first letter of their names being similar (1 in 16) times the percentage chance that their race is a coincidence (1 in 8) and come up with about 1 in 208 chance that it’s a pure coincidence. Or about .5%.   

Then, on another matter altogether (yeah, right) I picked up the 1000 page compendium and began to read.  It was and is terrific. The non-white characters are treated EXACTLY like the white ones, so far as I can see: they have the same humanity and depth.  Tyrese, who comes in after about 100 pages, is ex-football player who left sports after an injury, and had been selling cars.  He has a daughter he loves, who has a white boyfriend.    He is courageous, intelligent, the strongest of them, a powerful force in the group contributing to their survival.   One of the women begins flirting with him immediately.  Everyone is the comic is having sex—as is realistic, given human psychology under survival stress.  

Then I looked at the fact that the exact things that BOTHERED the avowed racists were the very changes Darabont had made in the character.  Inwardness.  Strength, courage, intelligence, sexuality, force in the plot and thematics.

Holy crap.

I really enjoy TWD the series, but this is as offensive as anything I’ve seen on television in a very long time.   Some will say that the Michonne character, a bad-assed black samurai woman, coming onto the show should fix this.  No.   It doesn’t.    The treatment of minority females and minority males is different.  In war, the men are killed or emasculated, the women turned into sexual chattel.  So my prediction is that Michonne will jump into bed with one of the white guys, and the white guys writing this will start singing “We Are The World” and think they’ve done something to compensate for the transformation of Tyrese into “T-Dawg”, a white fantasy of a black man.

No, it doesn’t.     Incidentally, if/when that happens, I stop watching the show.

I remember a writing teacher talking about the movie “Psycho” where you thought the lead character was Janet Leigh, who  (SPOILER!)…um, shall we say “leaves the movie” about 25 minutes in.   This creates psychological disorientation as the audience tries to figure out who to identify with, that disorientation cannily used by Hitchcock to mold the overall effect of the film.  Bear with me—there is a point here.

The 1954 Brown versus Board of Education case, I believe, included a demonstration of the damage of segregation, where black children preferred white dolls as a result of the pain of racial prejudice, something considered damaging to their psychology.

Again, bear with me.

Combine these two ideas.    When I was a kid, and went to see adventure or SF films, either there were no black characters or, totally disproportionately, they died.    Black kids in my neighborhood wondered why I bothered to go.   “How’d they kill the brother this time?” they’d ask.  

The exclusion or distortion of minority characters or creators in the SF field is obvious to anyone whose eyes are open.  And I’ve literally had SF editors suggest that, well, maybe black people just aren’t interested.   Something innate, I suppose.  I wonder what…

I’d gag, if that weren’t so transparent.  Readers who ask “well, why don’t you write such a movie with good black characters” are ignoring the implications.  I’m not asking people to make them.  I’m saying that the pattern of exclusion and insult is a measurable expression of unconscious hostility and fear.  I’m just watching the barometer, not asking anyone to make rain.
Back to the subject. 

The reason we’re given that most films, books, television shows, comic books etc. feature white characters is that white audiences, quite reasonably, identify more with them. Fine.   Turnabout’s fair play.

Studies have suggested that people in hospital waiting rooms reading fiction cope with death and fear better than those reading non-fiction.  In other words, fiction contains valuable philosophies and perspectives that actually make it easier to cope with life.  And by implication, the more one immerses one in the fantasy of the story, the more of these values are conferred. Reasonable?   See where this is going?   It seems reasonable to me to suggest that we are seeking perspective as well as stress reduction, and most entertainments mirror the ethnicity of the target audience so that the maximum of this is conveyed.

Well, then…

When there is only a single black character on screen, if black audiences are like white audiences, they will tend to identify more with that character, on average.  But if that character dies, or is emasculated, or is offensive…that same black audience, seeking the psychological values contained within fiction, will experience cognitive and emotional dissonance: they need the values, but cannot identify with the character that looks like them without fearing that that character will die, or be mistreated, or prove a buffoon.  So they begin to identify with the racial Other more than the people who look like them…a result that is great for whites, and devastating to blacks, especially if they are as unconscious about it as everyone else seems to be.

I saw it in my own reading of Tarzan, or Conan, or James Bond—I needed the “male” imagery enough to ignore, or crush down, the sometimes horrifically racist implications or statements in the work.  As I’ve said, I “sacrificed my melanin on the altar of my testosterone.”

And the damage was deep.   And now I have a son.  And he’s started noticing that black characters tend to die in these films.   Which means that he will experience the pain of fearing to identify with the character which looks more like him—an emotional hill whites are careful not to ask their own children to climb (try to name a single American film where all the white characters die, leaving only non-whites.  You can’t.  In fact, I’ve only seen such imagery in foreign films that are hostile to whites or some other group, dealing with war or occupation—in other words, expressions of anger and fear.    No relation to anything here, of course.)

Tyrese becomes T-Dawg.  Darabont “accidentally” doing exactly what Storm Front wanted.   His previous films (but wait!  You say.  What about Morgan Freeman in “Shawshank”?  Wipe that smirk off your face.  Morgan Freeman is the go-to Spiritual Guide, the ultimate emasculated figure, who has played God onscreen more often than he’s kissed a woman.     He’s exactly who you cast to convince yourself you aren’t a racist.  He played Alex Cross.  Now they’ve cast Tyler Perry.    Do the cultural  math.)

You, reading this, will probably try to say it’s coincidence.  If not, it is something isolated in Darabont.  Or Hollywood.  Or America.  Or white people.

Wouldn’t that be comforting, if you didn’t have to take responsibility?   If it had nothing to do with who you see in the mirror?

There is only one way I can look at this without jumping on the Farrakhan bandwagon.  And that’s by considering it just human stuff, which I have the misfortune to be on the losing end of.  Whites do it to blacks, men to women, straights to gays, thins to fats, liberals to conservatives—and vice versa, right down the line, when they can.  I’d suggest an average of 5-10% “emotional disconnect” to anyone who can be defined as an “other.”

That’s average.  But some people have more of it. A lot more.

So Frank…sorry, but I don’t want to do that lunch with you.

But don’t worry.  There are a couple guys over on Storm Front who would be happy to buy you a sandwich, and shake your hand.  You’ve made ‘em proud.

Steven Barnes

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rocket Man and Boy

I took Jason to a wonderful hobby shop on Saturday, and bought him his first Estes rocket. I wanted a rocket that would be easy to build...but not too easy. One where he would have to take steps one at a time, see the progress, become and overcome frustration, understand the value of planning and cooperation, have opportunities for me to get "angry" (yeah, right) with him when he makes safety errors or doesn't follow directions...ah, the possibilities are endless.

We built it in about four hours and Sunday afternoon took it to the park. The first park was closed. We drove to his new school, and there was no open space. The third park we went to was perfect. We set the rocket on its platform, attached the igniter to the engine and put in the plug, attached the ignition wires, and tested the circuit by pushing down the safety key. The bulb lit brightly.

He was so excited he could hardly contain himself. While Tananarive took photos and film, we had a count-down: "!" and I let him push the button. Oh MY! I'd forgotten the sheer pleasure of watching the rocket zip up, SWOOSH! Keep climbing two, three, four...five hundred feet! Trailing a snake of white smoke...then clear air as it soars...then the secondary charge popping out the parachute, followed by a spiraling descent to Earth and a light, lovely landing.

Jason was popping out of his skin with joy. We did it again, and then after some free play time, headed home. That night, tucking him into bed, he asked me the sweetest question I may have ever heard.

"Your Daddy wasn't there to teach you, Daddy?" He asked.
"Not much, no." I have no memory of my father throwing a ball with me, teaching me to read, helping me with homework...nothing. He was a good man. He just wasn't there.
"Well, then," Jason said, heavy with happy fatigue, "How did you learn to be such a good Daddy?"

The lump rising in my throat almost choked me. I wanted to run out of the room, but didn't. Jason deserves to see my tears, my heart.

"I just ask myself what I would have wanted," I said. "You're teaching me how to be a good Daddy."
"And you're teaching me how to be a good son," he said.

Now that was a fine day. It's a good life, if only you decide to care about the right things.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Well, Nolan fans can relax--I think I can safely say he has delivered the film you were waiting for. DKR is huge and intimate, exciting and thoughtful, and I enjoyed it very, very much. All kudos to acting, effects mavins, stunt crews, and all technical folks. This story, which brings Nolan's Batman vision to completion, pits an emotionally and physically reduced Bruce Wayne against his greatest nemesis, an occassionally unintelligible Tom Hardy as the monstrous Bane, a masked terrorist who brings Gotham to it's knees.

Ann Hathaway makes a formidable catwoman, and her flirtation with Batman is charming and the only real source of "fun" in the film. Dour and ultimately hopeful, DKR delivers what fans want, and if I have reservations, I wanted to say first that it is seriously powerful genre film-making, and should be seen in theaters.


And now a couple of thoughts. Nolan loses me a bit because he was so committed to making it "realistic." Because there is a huge raft of stuff I just don't buy as realistic, in the context of the world he created. Gotham is sealed off for four months, and it simply looks too clean and ordered. There would have been enough social collapse to turn it into a burned-out war zone, with tens of thousands of casualties. How do you get enough food into the city to feed it, without also providing escape routes for thousands? Stuff like that reminded me I was watching a comic book, and that made me wonder why I wasn't having more fun. It was neither fish nor fowl in that sense. I gave it an A- originally, but I think I have to give it a "B"--what it does well, it does very very well, but I found myself enjoying stunts and effects rather than thrilling to what was happening to people I believed in. Oh...and I'm supposed to believe no citizens of Gotham would have joined in the final action? That's...outrageous. Oh, well...I still liked it, and will probably take Jason to see it this weekend.

But "Dark Knight" was the best of the three.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Writing and the Hero's Journey

  Writing and the Hero's Journey

The reason I like the Hero's Journey as story pattern is that it is the only story pattern that does triple duty:
1) It is a powerful and flexible way of looking at story itself.
2) It is the only story pattern that relates directly to the PROCESS of writing, as well as the product.
3) It is the only story pattern that relates to life itself.
4) Viewed as a life pattern, it represents the combined wisdom of all world cultures on the nature of life itself.

Therefore, as you delve into it, you learn to connect the external world of the writing with your own internal process. Everything you write teaches you about life, and everything you do in life makes you a better writer. The only down-side is that people often mistake a set of guidelines ("if you structure your events in this sequence, audiences worldwide will recognize your work as a `story'") with some kind of cookie-cutter miracle pattern ("story events MUST be organized in this way. This is the only way to do it.")

That is not the fault of the Hero's Journey, or any other story pattern. Art is a matter of self-expression, craft is the mastering of basics. Combine the two, and you have the road to mastery: Learn the rules, master the rules, then create by varying application of the rules.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

He Said I was Depressed...

Anyone who has read these notes for the last year knows that I've been under tremendous pressure, connected with family emergency, and a move that turned life upside-down.
Despite this, within one 13-month period I'm releasing four new novels (THE MOON MAZE GAME, DEVIL'S WAKE, SOUTH BY SOUTHEAST, and DOMINO FALLS) an e-book novella (THE SECRET OF BLACK SHIP ISLAND), two short stories, and wrote the best screen play of my life. The external stress has been very real, but when you are balanced, stress pushes, drives, and motivates you, rather than crushes you.

On one of my blogs, a reader speculated that, based on some of my comments I seemed depressed. And that might have been true. Looking back, it seems like I was a man fighting his way through a tunnel, making whatever moves I could, focusing on what I COULD do, and allowing the things I could NOT do to devil me.

Well, no more. I can feel it. The stress crushed me down to a core that would move no further, and that part of me, a purer part than any construct my ego could manufacture, is taking control.

And everything is good. It feels...different. As if I can't quite go back to who I was. And that is fine.

The first thing is to look at my work, and teaching (which are quite intertwined) and extract from them only those actions and attitudes which remained positive and productive, no matter what.

Here's one that applies across the board:

Re-write your goals every day. I re-write the top ten goals for the year, WITHOUT looking back at the previous days' writings. This forces me to think hard, and also reveals which goals I can remember most easily--these tend to be the ones in greatest alignment with my values and beliefs. The last two or so can be like pulling teeth. Invariably they are important, but some part of me doesn't have the same level of comfortable faith with them. In other words, my difficulty remembering them reveals where there is work to be done. Try this, and see which of your goals are easy to believe and remember...and which ones are a struggle.

More later...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Changing my mind...

I reserve the right to change my mind. So many important things need to be done and communicated that I don't want to take six days to work through the rest of the observations I made about life, learned traveling with Jason for two weeks. There is too much. I've had important breakthroughs in my meditation, my relationship, my fitness, and my writing, all in the same time, and can't wait to share them. So instead, let me just list them briefly:

5) Children are only children once. Treasure every moment.

6) Don't let yesterday's troubles spoil today.
7) Hugs are better medicine than anything sold over the counter
8) The best games can be the ones made up in the moment
9) Small kindnesses from strangers can last a lifetime.
10) Use driving time for valued input.

What I want to extract from this is that the time I spent with my son was important to both of us. I got to watch him at close range, morning to night, on the road with just the two of us, no outside input to dilute the transmission.

Here's what it comes down to: If I look at Jason as a version of my own heart, all I want is to support him, help him, discipline him, love him. Give him everything. He teaches me to treasure every moment of life. What he feels, he feels in the NOW with an intensity that seems as if it will last forever. He loves more deeply than any words could say, and forms heart-bonds with people and places that are so pure they shame me.

He is my boy. He represents the seed of my own personality and life, in living form. I could write books on it, but know that all I have been teaching can be boiled down to the following: love, treasure, protect and discipline the child within you. Listen to the whispered wisdom of the elder you will be, at the end of life. Know that you are walking a path between these two extremes. If you balance so that both the oldest and youngest "you" agree with your actions and have life utterly whipped. It doesn't get better than that.

Thanks again to my boy. Loving him is learning to love myself more deeply. And that is something none of us can do too much of.

love you, Jason.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Jason's Lesson #4: We Are Surrounded By Love

It seems that we make friends more and more slowly as we age. But Set an eight-year old in a group of other eight year olds, and he will make friends almost instantly.

A.C. Gilbert was a renaissance man. Inventor, Olympic athlete, philanthropist, magician, and puzzle expert. I had some of his magic sets, and a train set, when I was a kid, but had no idea he held world records for pole vaulting and punching bag displays (as a kid, yet! He traveled with a carnival as the "Kid World Champion") and convinced a congressional committee during WW2 that play was essential to the development of healthy kids. Apparently, he brought some of his toys to this group of hard-line military guys, and within an hour they were all on the floor playing with them, remembering their childhoods.

Well, Gilbert gifted Salem Oregon with a Discovery Village, and it is terrific, one of the best "playlands" I've ever seen, with dozens of little nooks where kids can play, explore, learn, My friend Jonna Hayden told me about it, and we had a fabulous day there. Jason spent twenty minutes getting a "feel" for it...and then dove in. I either played and explored with him, or sat back and played Plants Versus Zombies on my iPad while he ran with new friends. Friends. He made them everywhere, and they were like long-lost BFFs or cousins from the cradle. Amazing. I found myself sneaking around, watching him. Watching them. Their affection, excitement, joy in discovery was amazing, and infectious. He gave himself completely to the relationships, nurtured them for hours, and when it was time to go, walked away without regret.

Damn. How does that compare to the way we behave as adults? How many of us can still open our hearts like that? I suspect we hold back, fearing the grief and loss when they walk away.

What a loss. How much joy are we missing with an attitude like that? Life is just too short.

We are surrounded by love. By potential friends, companions, mentors, students, lovers, supporters. Children are little marvels.

For writers: what can you create that reflects the difference between adult and child attitudes toward friendship?

For Diamond Hour followers: can you make a commitment to spending five minutes being more open and friendly than usual? Treating one person as if they might be important to you five years from now? Or conversely, give love and support without asking or expecting anything ever in return?

A question: what would you need to live with a more open, expectant heart? How can you do this safely?

Answer that question, and you've opened the door to another world.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Enlightenment for a buck

"Do not live as if you will survive ten thousand years, for death is always near."
I purchased the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius audiobook on iTunes for .99 yesterday, and am listening to it during my Diamond Hour of personal time this morning. Good lord. Another instance of the thoughts of an awakened human being. Once you grasp the nature of the awakened spirit, you will begin to find those voices through history, and by studying them, learn to identify the moments of varying consciousness in your own life. By identifying those moments, they begin to cluster together, mating and reproducing. One moment at a time, walk the thousand mile road. And .99 is a hell of a low toll, dudes and dudettes. Jump on it. Six hours of genuine wisdom for a buck.

Things Jason Taught Me #3

Lesson #3: Don't try to match the energy curve of an eight year old

During school days, Jason goes to sleep at eight in the evening, and wakes up at about 6:30. But in summer, he'll stay up until after midnight if he can, and then sleep until noon. On the other hand, under natural circumstances, I would probably stay up until about two in the morning and sleep until ten, but being a Dad I need to get to bed by 11 so that I can get up early and take care of Jason. Note that, already, I've compromised my own energy curve.

But on the road? Fuggetaboutit. I'm sharing a hotel room--and sometimes a bed--with an eight year old. That means that his hours are mine, and him being on vacation means that he wants to stay up super late, and get up even later. Thirteen hours of sleep aren't unusual for the boy. And you can imagine what that means once he's up and around.

Good lord. Explosions of energy, wanting to run, and jump, and climb and go go go. Of course, he gets to sleep while I'm driving, and I can't EVER take a nap while he is awake and eager to engage.

I watched some of the other parents. There is a weary "youth is wasted on the young" expression on their faces. Yeah, right. And wisdom is wasted on the old. While I have no doubt that time has indeed reduced my energy, it hasn't done that as much as it SEEMS because Jason gets to run a schedule very different from my own.

It's taken him over a week to adjust to being back in Atlanta (oh! Right! There's that pesky time zone thingie in addition. Forgot about that), and he just rolls with the sleep, and irritation, and change in eating patterns that that implies. But me? Any ache, sleep cycle interruption, irritation or mood swing feeds the voice in my head that says: "you're getting old..."

Whatever. I first heard that voice in my late 20's. It's the same little demon now, maybe a little more impatient because I just don't give it as much attention as it thinks I should. But, it thinks, perhaps it can use Jason against me. See? You can't keep up with your own son. A child. It's over. Give up...

Oh, yada yada yada. Jason is Jason. I'm me. We are two ends of a single chain, and both holding on with all the heart we have. What a wonderful ride. Having an opposite-sex child is like falling in love again. Having a same-sex child is like watching yourself beginning life anew. I'll be damned if I will resent, regret, or envy my boy for who he is. Those are just games the ego uses to try to slow you down, usher you into the ranks of the living dead.

Not me. Not now. Not ever. And no one, ever, will use my boy against me. My family is the joy of my life, and only my connection to God will ever be stronger.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What Jason taught me on my Summer Vacation #2

#2: Some days you just won't get
 anything done. Relax and enjoy it.

We inhale, we exhale. We wake, we
 sleep. Life is cycles, an inescapable
 truth we struggle mightily to escape.

 Recreation means "re-creation," and
 yet vacations, down-time and so on
are often labeled "mere fun" rather
than "essential time for laying fallow."
  Early in human agricultural history,
farmers learned to rotate crops--and
leave a patch of field unplowed,
unseeded. Let the soil "rest."

On my recent trip to Cali, I had
intentions of writing every day,
researching, conducting interviews,
and more. Everyone has a battle-plan
 until the first punch hits 'em. Then
 it's just a matter of who you are, in
the crunch.

In the crunch, I'm a dad. My concern
morning to night was Jason's well
being, his happiness. I knew that
 would be true when we drove
back to Glendora to have dinner
with our former neighbors, the
wonderful Nambu family. As
he began to recognize landmarks,
it was as if his face and mood and
 body language shifted. "I'm home!"
he said, happy in a way I hadn't
 seen from him in months.

He was home. He had such a
 great evening, so alive and...well,
it was as if some pale, heavy syrup
 had been poured out of his body.
And right then, all my plans
disappeared. My only function
would be to make sure he had
 that experience every day, as
often as possible. So every day
became a process of asking what
 the healthiest, happiest, most
nourishing experiences for my
boy. Knowing that I was actually
 serving myself by serving him.

So we stayed up late, and got up
late. Sampled local roadside
cookies in Grant's Pass, and shot
zombies out of the window in
some nameless stretch of land
near Ojai. Lunched in Santa
Barbara and ran on the beach
 in Playa Del Ray. Work was
a distant memory.

 I watched my heart at play.

Sometimes, all we can do is
relax and enjoy it. And do
you know what?

At times, that is the most
precious thing in the world.


1) For writers: If you've established a writing schedule, deliberately take a week off from it. Journal your thoughts, emotional reactions and observations...about your enforced "vacation" from writing.

2) Diamond Hour followers. Turbo-charging a single hour every day can be head-bending work. Take a few days off from that discipline, and just watch the world around you. Again, journal ideas for increasing efficiency by gaining clarity as to your true values and priorities.

3) Think And Grow Rich. Take a few days off and observe the way you move through the world. When you are aligned properly, life "glides" around you, like water parting for the powerful, coordinated motions of a shark. There is effort, yes, but there is also a sense of support for your efforts, if you are engaged in work and play that is consistent with your values. Seek this sense of "effortless effort."

Ten Things Jason Taught Me On My Summer Vacation

Promised to share some of the thoughts
 I had on the road with Jason for 2 1/2
weeks up and down California and
Oregon. Trust me--they ranged over
the full spectrum of my life and
teaching, and I suspect that that trip
will form a line of demarcation in my life.

1) Let your children teach you. They
are only children once, but they have a
 clarity about their emotions that adults
 obscure. Spending days cooped up in
 a car or a hotel room with my son, I
was sensitive to his every mood and
need. But one thing I really picked
up on was the fact that he feels first
and thinks second. He has an
emotion, and then tries to find the
 logic to justify it.
For instance: he feels like having an
 ice cream. Pure emotional response
 to a sweet urge.

He asks, and I say "no." Immediately ,
he begins to ask "why." And every
reason I come up with, he either
 ignores or tries to use to leverage
me into saying yes. "But you said
I should eat more protein!"


"Well, popsicles have milk in them,
and milk has protein..."
or: "It's hot and you said I should
stay cool..."
or: "You said I should drink a
 lot of water, and popsicles are
made of water..."
or: "I just want to see if they have
 any new flavors. You said I should
try new things..."

Oh, it was a monkey circus in that car.
 I loved it. But I asked myself: how
far do we really come from this stage?

 Do we really advance beyond it at all?

How often are arguments between
adults based on emotion, but cloaked
 in logic?

Political discussions, and discussions
 of religion seem especially vulnerable
to this. Logic on the outside, pure
emotion at the core. Understand
what the emotion is, and address it
directly, and the rest of the argument
will often quiet or dissolve, even if the
 arguer doesn't know why its happened.

How did this work? "Dad, I want a
"And I want you to do your math flash
cards. Tell you what: do twenty of
them, and you can have a popsicle."
"Aw, Dad! Why do I have to wait?"
"That's the offer. It's okay with me
 if you don't have the popsicle. But
you're doing the flash cards regardless.
Your choice."
"Twenty cards is too many!"
"Twenty One."
"Twenty One! How about twenty?"
"Twenty two."

Ah. And now we're having a totally
 different discussion. Did you
catch the shift? What he REALLY
wanted to know was what he had
 to do to get a popsicle. Once
the conditions were basically
established, we could argue and
enjoy ourselves.

But at the core of that, was the
question "am I safe? Do you hear
 me? Are you engaged with me
 in the process of helping me grow
up? Do you care how I feel?"

THOSE fears run deep. Popsicles
are a momentary symptom, a way
of testing whether he has power,
whether I care, in other words...
will he survive long enough to be
 big and strong enough to care for

The answer: yep. You're gonna
survive. And you're gonna be huge,
and dangerous, and sweet, and smart.

But meanwhile, kid, forty-two
divided by seven equals what..?


Friday, July 06, 2012

Three weeks with Jason

I've been on vacation for the last three weeks, traveling across California and up into Oregon with my son Jason, while Tananarive taught at Antioch University in Los Angeles, and Vona in San Francisco. And while, yep, I can work on the road...I decided to spend more of my time just grooving with Jason. And that meant no fake "fourth of July" sales, no attempts to do anything but just enjoy my boy, and give us a chance to get to know each other a little better.

I have one memory of a road trip with my father when I was perhaps five years old. Very vague, not much to lean on when it comes to nurturing family memories. Jason will have better. He is laying the foundation for the remainder of his life. Right now.

I played with him while driving about three thousand miles, listened to radio and various courses on writing and meditation, and had a chance to think deeply about my life, and what has happened to it in the last year and a half...and what is coming up.

I'll be sharing those thoughts with you over the next few weeks, but just wanted to start the communication process: I'm back.


Remember that your entire adult health rests on a foundation of childhood memories and emotions. A lifetime of creativity and growth can be fueled just by re-examining what happened to you at that point. The compromises you've made along the way. Sacrifices for family. Feelings about parents and society, from a child perspective.

Ask: what do you believe that you were taught as a child? Would you have accepted those beliefs if they'd been offered as an adult? What of your programming would you voluntarily give your children? Which would you resist passing on?

Oh, we'll be breaking these thoughts down for you Diamond Hour people, for those interested in writing, or improved efficiency, and other sub-lists.

But first...why not take a little time to hug your kids, or the kid inside you? I can't think of anything better and healthier to do.

love to all of you...