The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Creativity and Parenting

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In response to the assertion that male circumcision diminishes pleasure, I proposed a way to test this that seemed fair: look at stats of time to erection based on physical stimulation. And then, time to ejaculation. It is fairly well known that men who have suffered nerve damage affecting the genitals will have derangement of these factors. They will be slower to erection, and slower to orgasm--if they can achieve it at all. I suggest that if these two factors are roughly similar for the two groups (circumcised and uncircumcised) that this is simply a matter of subjective feeling, the emotional response to this procedure, and has nothing to do with the physical procedure as a physical reality. I have to admit that when people suggest that something is beyond test or quantification, I tend to think they are speaking of a purely non-physical reality: emotion or spirit, not flesh or matter. Not that this arena is not valid, but it would seem to exclude the kind of “X does Y!” statements we’ve heard.
I respect passion, but I think such statements need to be clearly labeled as feelings, subjective evaluations, resentments, fears, anger. There would seem to be no more evidence that circumcision reduces pleasure than that it enhances it. In lieu of such evidence, this discussion cannot go anywhere at all. As with many choices regarding children, this one would seem to be parents’ choice. And as with many, many choices that parents make, sometimes kids will resent us. That doesn’t remove our obligation to make choices, however, and never has.
But that does beg the question: what are the obligations of parents to children? How do we make those decisions? When do we go too far? It seems to me that the most basic obligation is: any survival skills we have learned. How to survive, and be healthy. Then: basic rules for interacting successfully with our society. Then: how to find mates and create successful reproductive pairs. Then: joy, satisfaction, and self-fulfillment. How to avoid pain and gain pleasure. How to learn and create an accurate map of the world. And almost lastly: how to be free. How to find your way to a spiritual balance and focus.
Others will choose somewhat different factors, and others might organize them in a different sequence. Of course, they overlap. I may have forgotten something, but it seems that given these basic things, most other things can be extrapolated. Readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmatic would seem to be part of interacting with society, and creating accurate maps. Fitness and health? Basic. Courtesy and respect? Basic. Have I forgotten anything?
And considering that our kids will protest doing much of anything that isn’t immediately entertaining to them, what right/responsibility do we have to push? How far? Being a parent means making decisions our kids will live with forever. It means using pain as well as pleasure to teach, motivate, and manipulate them. It means making them cry sometimes at the doctor or dentist, or spanking them so they won’t stick a fork into the light socket.
This stuff is tough. What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Penile reform

The recent discussion about circumcision clearly stirred some passions. I would never advocate for children being circumcised: I merely chose this for my son, and am perfectly satisfied that I myself am. One gentleman had had an horrific experience being circumcised as a medical procedure at the age of six--real trauma that had nothing directly to do with the procedure. I empathize.
But the equating of the removal of the foreskin with female clitoral excision seems rather extreme, imprecise, and a seriously invalid comparison. Perhaps I’m wrong. The term “mutilation” was used repeatedly, which also seems to be invalid, and I think I can explain exactly why. Now, explaining my position is very different from saying I can “prove my point.” I merely want to explain why I see it the way I do, and say that my attitudes feel quite consistent to me.
The word “mutilation” is defined roughly as “an act or physical injury that degrades the appearance or function of any living body, usually without causing death.” of these things (aesthetic function) is quite subjective, and vulnerable to social programming. However, if we assume equal levels of awareness and consciousness on the part of circumcised and uncircumcised men, and women in cultures where circumcision is popular and those in which it is not, I feel (I’m not saying this is “truth” or that anyone should agree) then it should be possible to evaluate it “close enough for government work.”
And that would be the response to two questions
1) on a scale of 1-10 how satisfied is the average circumcised/uncircumcised man with the appearance of his schlong? In circumcision-dominant cultures? Other cultures?
1) On a scale of 1-10 how attractive do women consider circumcised/uncircumcised men’s willies? In circumcision-dominant cultures? Other cultures?
Now, it would seem to me that aesthetics do relate to the average human response to the thing. In my case, I’d give a LOT of credence to how attractive women consider my doohickey, since that will influence the amount of nookie I get over the course of my life, let alone shall I say this? How lovingly said John Thomas is treated in bed. Something that matters to me quite a bit, actually.
However, this arena is so subjective that I can easily imagine someone saying it simply doesn’t matter what others think. Fine. The other matter is a bit more objective: the question of diminished function. THAT should be pretty easy to determine.
What are the functions of a wiener?
1) Urination. Any stats on difficulties here would be useful.
2) Propagation. Any stats on different rates of fertility or production of children would be useful.
3) Pleasure for partner. Any stats on relative feminine pleasure and satisfaction would be useful.
4) Raw sexual function. And here is where the rubber meets the road. So to speak. If, as opponents claim, there is a reduction of sexual sensation, then it should be easy to measure. How?
a) uncircumcised men should become aroused more easily by physical contact. And climax more quickly (I have no reason to assume that they automatically have greater control. I’m holding everything else constant)
b) circumcised men should become aroused LESS easily by physical contact (fluffing, anyone?). And should last longer. If the difference is extreme, then they should far more typically exhibit ejaculatory dysfunction and difficulty maintaining erection. I mean, if I get it up as quickly, and come about as quickly, where is this huge difference in boners I’m supposed to believe in?
If there is no real difference in performance or pleasure, or in subjective judgment of aesthetics, and the “health” benefits are highly debatable either way...then it seems that what we’re left with is pure social stuff. Parents who decide either way are about equally right.
At any rate, that’s my contribution to the science of Dickology today.

Monday, June 28, 2010

To Cut or Not to Cut?

Over on Facebook, there was a discussion about female genital mutilation, specifically clitoral removal in Nigerian society. The very fine writer Nnedi Okorafor wrote a story criticizing the practice, and got some nasty emails from African intellectuals basically saying she was airing dirty laundry in public. I sided with Nnedi, saying that I disagree with the term “female circumcision,” considering the removal of critical nerve clusters to be more like “female castration.”
While that term isn’t precise, a couple of guys added their thoughts that male circumcision was mutilation. A discussion ensued (and is still going on) to the effect that it was horribly wrong (I am paraphrasing) and that if I had the facts, I’d agree. Hmmm. Well, I’ve invited them to make their case, but I’m not sure I see what all the fuss is. Here’s my thinking, and I invite you guys to comment.
1) Whether or not the practice of (male) circumcision is a health benefit has been roundly debated, and I’ve seen decent data on both sides. What DOES seem clear is that there is no massive effect either way.
2) There were definitely arguments about male circumcision decreasing masturbation. This seems kinda funny to me. I mean, how much more could I possibly have done it? Jeeze. Not sure how any work ever got done by anyone, if that was really a factor. Feels like a b.s. reason to me.
3) Decreasing male pleasure? Well...I’m not sure how much better sex could feel. And if it felt better, I suspect that my endurance would have been affected, yes? Which, if true, would decrease female pleasure, yes? Anyway, I see no way to really measure something as subjective as this--it’s a “he said/she said” situation.
4) Mutilation? Well...isn’t that a term which generally relates to a decrease in aesthetics? Considering the number of women who have said, in no uncertain terms, that they prefer the “cut” look, that doesn’t seem to be valid. Now, one has to add in the fact of cultural “brainwashing” of course, (programming to believe the “cut” look is superior) but regardless, how in the world can you ever remove cultural programming from aesthetics? Does that even make sense?
5) Campaigning for parents to feel free not to have their sons circumcised makes sense. But the passion here seemed to suggest that the “appropriate” attitude is horror, that something precious is being stolen from their sons. In which case...what? I’m supposed to think my Willie is ugly? That’s interesting. Or was I supposed to get the hood reattached? Or not have Jason circumcised, and have him wonder why he and Daddy are so different? I see complication here around an issue which, when it comes down to it, doesn’t seem much more important to me than whether or not my ears are pierced.
6) Which comes to the social thing. If I can’t see an objective reason to care either way (mortality stats? sexual pleasure? Aesthetics?) then it seems that it’s just a matter of either going with the social flow, or not. If I was creating a society from scratch, the discussion seems pretty valid. In the 1950’s society I was born into, it makes sense for my parents to have taken the conservative path (baby resembling Daddy). I see no advantage to going against the current in something that just doesn’t make a lot of difference--I horde my rebellion and spend it very carefully. God knows I’ve paid enough price for not being “like the rest” and fail to see how my Earthly existence would have been better had I been different here, or how I damaged my son by having him circumcized.

Of course, it’s possible that I’m missing something here. Is there some objective evidence I’m missing about this issue? I just don’t have any heat on it, and some guys seem to. What do you guys think?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Two Tortoises At Wimbledon

“John Isner of the United States outlasted Nicolas Mahut of France, 70-68, in the fifth set of their epic three-day first-round match at Wimbledon on Thursday. In an astonishing display of endurance, the players fought for 11 hours and 5 minutes, breaking all records for length of match, games played, and aces served…”

All around the world, eyes were on France, and the utterly remarkable battle between two titans of the court, resulting in the longest, most grueling tennis match in history. As recently discussed, sport has been considered one of the deepest, truest metaphors for life itself. For thousands of years it has been used to teach young men and women the lessons that will carry them into full adulthood.

One is endurance. Remember “The tortoise and the hare”? In this ancient tale, the fast-sprinting rabbit is outmatched by a turtle who simply kept going…and going…and going. In my own life, my original goal was to become a world-class writer. One of my spiritual mentors told me that if I would not achieve this goal UNTIL I WAS IN MY FIFTIES! Here I was, about 22 years old, being told by someone I trusted deeply that I would have to postpone my satisfaction for THIRTY YEARS? Good grief. I cried. I raged. It wasn’t fair. It couldn’t be true.

And yet…what if it was? What was I being asked to do? To work hard, and incredibly long. To learn, and grow, and give, and be prepared to outlast my competition. How many people have what it takes to postpone their ultimate pleasure that long? Almost no one. And I knew in that moment I had been given a secret to life.
1) I clarified my goal so that THE PROCESS OF ACHIEVEMENT was in and of itself a glorious victory. In other words, if if was going to be a long trip, I was going to have fun along the way.
2) I gave myself intermediate goals, so that I could have yearly, and monthly celebrations.
3) I made my peace with the fact that I might not live long enough to achieve the ultimate goal…and that freed me to enjoy every day, every moment.
4) I resolved to outlearn, outlast, outwork, and outlive any potential competitors…in fact, to even forget that I had competitors, and concentrate on the glorious joy of actually being a writer.


Well…I’ve been published in fifteen languages, worked in books, film, television, stage, magazines…lectured and worked around the world, made millions of dollars, and every day I get emails and calls from people who say I’ve changed their lives. I am now 58 years old. Did I reach my goal in my 50’s? I don’t really know, darn it. I was so fixed on the daily process of living that the RESULTS of the work were less important than the process. In other words, my teacher had given me a great gift…the gift of patience. The gift of a life spent pursuing excellence rather than external reward. And because of that, I got every reward I ever wanted…beginning instantly. Because I was willing to wait, I didn’t have to wait. Life is filled with these paradoxes.

Life is a miracle.

Be the Hero In the Adventure of your Lifetime!


P.S.: Here's great FREE interview I did with Andy Duncan of Enjoy!

Insights into Sex and Spirituality

To see the value of this essay, just take a look at the comments that will follow. You will find fear of ego, performance, and seeking the smallest flaw in the way Dr. Chopra expresses himself as a way of invalidating his position. Words are always less than the thing itself, always require a bit of good will on the part of the listener or reader, a willingness to empty the cup. There is no common human experience as potentially spiritual and ennobling as sexuality. In at least four different "sacred sexuality" traditions from around the globe, a basic principle is as follows: "the intensity of an orgasm is in direct proportion to the amount of ego released at the moment." In other words, if you can remember your name, it wasn't good sex. To release completely is to touch the essential energetic state that preceded ego awareness. It is a moment as potentially profound as any artistic breakthrough, deep meditative state, or near-death experience. But it must be approached without guilt, fear, or small thing in a culture that both obsesses over sex and demonizes it. You must find a middle way. If you can find a way to combine love, sex, and faith...this "animal" act can show you the path to the inner world.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Meeting Place for Religion and Science

In a binary sense, science chunks "up" from tiny bits, and religion/spirituality chunks "down" from infinity. Neither approach allows understanding of the totality of existence, but the capacity to embrace both gives a sense of a dynamic sphere of existence, encompassing all that we see and feel, what we touch with our senses, and what exists beyond the veil of our deaths and before the moment of our conception. Different human beings in different cultures at different times need (or desire) different aspects of this totality, and the beauty is that we can dive into it at any depth we choose, admiring the poetics, philosophy, or rigor of either, or both. There is no need to choose, although there are certainly adherents of either who are at war with the other. That is their battle, and there is no need to make it yours.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Good and Bad

Scott Sonnon posted this on Facebook:

"Playing catch with my kids, my daughter dejectedly pouted that she was bad at throwing. I replied, "good and bad don't exist, only getting better, or not practicing. One or the other." She placed a finger on her chin looking distantly into the clouds while considering my comment. Suddenly she smiled and said, "well, that makes this PRACTICE, and THAT means I'm getting BETTER!" Kids learn at such tremendous speed."

"Mu" who?

A monk asked Joshu, “has a dog the Buddha Nature?” Joshu answered “Mu”

This is one of those zen sayings that lets me know where my head is on any given day. Originally, it seemed like nonsense. Then I got it. And now, on days when I lose my balance, I “understand” it, which is definitely not the same thing. This isn’t accurate, but it’s kind of descriptive: on my less balanced days, it is as if my ego is too big to slip through the crack in my world illusion. The “explanation” has to do with not-this, not-that: that if you answer either “yes” or “no” to this question, you have fallen into precisely the wrong state of mind. But “understanding” that this is the right answer, is very different from “getting it”--actually seeing and feeling that falling onto either side of the dualistic response denies the full view. Of course, that’s another duality right there, right? “Full” as opposed to “not-Full.” The problem (as opposed to “not-problem”? Hah!) is that that part of your mind, or way of thinking, operates that way, and has no option. The direct perception of reality has to move beyond this without being attached to having done so.

Like I said, I know that I’m balanced on the days when statements such as the above flow effortlessly, and feel as solid as a rock. The rest of the time, I just “understand” it, which is stale cheese indeed.

The Secret to Success for Artists and Creatives

This is excellent--except that Mr. Pagliarini has mislabeled his actual premise. It is NOT that "artists should just create." It is that artists must take control of their own process. And there are at least two major aspects to that process, if you would survive as an artist:

1) To create, to the absolute limit of your capacity for passion, honesty and skill. And to create every day.

2) To market what you have created. This might be through signing with a company, an agency, whatever. Or it might be handling these things yourself. For most artists, it will have to be some combination of the two, if they would survive: both finding allies, and getting out there and spreading the word about your creation.


This is two entirely different "hats," and many artists aren't comfortable wearing both. Easy to understand. It would be wonderful if all we had to do was create brilliant work, and the world would beat a path to our door. But that is the child-artist within us speaking. The adult self understands that money is a matter of commerce, and makes our peace with it. Keeping that balance while keeping your integrity can kill you if you aren't careful. I remember a writer who passed me his card: "freelance hack and literary mechanic." He was dead a year later, from alcoholism.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)

"Toy Story 3" was simply awesome. Walt would be proud, except that Disney never created anything as sophisticated as the "Toy Story" Trilogy. The perfect reason to make a sequel is to build on what came before...and nobody's ever done it much better than Pixar did here. An "A+". Laughed my ass off, cried my eyes out. Who could ask for anything more? The less said about this film in a review, the better. I cannot imagine anyone who loved the earlier movies, or ever loved a toy, not rejoicing in this modern classic fairy tale. Pixar is magical.

Friday, June 18, 2010

“As for those who try to understand through other people’s words, they are striking at the moon with a stick"
The Gateless Gate.

Mindfulness, Movies and <em>The Karate Kid </em>

A lovely article. Additional lessons from both "Karate Kid" films:

1) That purity of action can build respect and understanding, even between enemies.

2) That to master any discipline requires daily practice

3) That the gateway to maturity is found on the other side of fear and effort.

4) That love and fear compete for the same place in our hearts

5) That the core experiences of life are universal, beyond culture or age.

6) That every one of us has lessons to teach.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why Do We Care What Others Think? Our Addiction To The Opinions Of Others Explained

The cure for this addiction is a constant deepening of your connection to true self. It is said that there are only two core questions:

1) What is true?

2) Who am I?

As we go deeper and deeper into these questions, we slip deeper and deeper through layers of ego identity, false reality maps, herd behavior and group-identity, tribalism (racial, national, gender-based, etc.) and more. We realize our minds can often be a conflicting web of values and beliefs gathered over a lifetime--and ripe to cause a "system crash" when you try to fulfill all of them simultaneously. We are social creatures from birth, and cannot survive (as children) without the approval of others. But as adult human beings we must be capable to walking alone, if necessary, or we will never have relationships that are non-co-dependent. Only one unafraid of being alone can ever be free to speak her truth.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mindfulness Meditation and Children: An Interview With Susan Kaiser Greenland

My son Jason was having difficulties with anger and obedience in kindergarten. We began a twice-daily (morning and post-school) ritual: a sun salutation (keyed to breathing) followed by cross-legged breathing, chanting "om" with Jason counting breaths up to ten. If he didn't keep track, and steady his mind, it would drift and he wouldn't be able to remember the number quickly. There was a direct relationship between his ability to be still in the morning, and his success at school. And it has become something we look forward to doing together.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

When are remakes justified?

There's been a lot of criticism about "remake fever" in Hollywood. Probably justified. But the question remains: when IS a remake justified? To reinterpret for a new generation? To showcase a new star or technology? To undo errors or lacks in the original? Plays are continuously re-interpreted by new directors and... casts. Why not film? Thoughts, please

Monday, June 14, 2010

Trouble in Happy-Land: The Problem With Self-Help Books

1) We don't find happiness by doing external things. We find happiness and love within ourselves, and learn to express it in our actions and life.

2) Once we've made connection with our hearts, we need goals that express our values and beliefs. The reward for pursuing them is the person we become along the way.

3) The best self-improvement book I've ever read is "Think And Grow Rich." The point is to have well defined goals expressed in continuous action. The "do-ing" of our lives is the external action. The human "be-ing" of our lives is to root ourselves in love and grace.

4) Once we are rooted and directed, we can spend our lives in the flow of action, engaging totally with the moment.

5) Goals should be balanced between career/educational, family, spiritual/meditative, health/fitness. Design them with the fewest moving pieces (I like career, family, and fitness, with spiritual at the "center of the triangle) and take action toward them every day.

6) Take time for stillness every day. Dwell in the center of the cyclone. In the midst of the storm, find shelter in the depths of your heart.

7) Laugh often. We're really pretty silly!
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

'Karate Kid' Crushes 'A-Team' In Battle Of The Remakes

I loved the original "Karate Kid." And have practiced both Japanese and Chinese martial arts. the name "Karate Kid" is a label, that's all, used to market. It is amazing how attached people get to inconsequential things. The only question is: is the film good? Jaden can be knocked over with a feather? When did you ever believe Ralph Macchio was tough? Please. His voice is a little less expressive than Macchio, but his body is FAR more expressive. Jackie Chan is wonderful. The film is a little longer, but I loved the chance to see more of China. I would have given my left thumb to see this movie when I was twelve--it would have changed my life. I am incredibly proud of Will Smith--without his leverage, nothing like this would or could have been made. Nepotism exists in every field, every profession, and always has. The raw, unreasoning antipathy exhibited toward Jaden and his parents is nothing but jealousy and fear.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Karate Kid (2010)

Listen, there is no way in hell I can be impartial or objective about this movie, for too many reasons to list. So with full disclosure that the original hit every button I had, and this remake, for reasons anyone with half a brain will figure out, does even more so. Jaden does fine--a touch wooden a few times, marvelously alive others. Jackie Chan treated with more respect than any American film has ever given him, ever. The action and martial arts are vastly superior to the first film. Give it an "A."
Only complaint: they didn't go quite far enough to justify the "Karate Kid" title. Some criticism there is justified.

Warning! Sambo Alert!

This is what happens when Will Smith leverages his entire social capital to create a showcase for his son, who fully deserved the chance. A miracle of a film on a sociological level, unlike anything ever seen onscreen before. I have no memory of the "Rocky" formula ever being applied to anything but white folks. God, I would give my left thumb to be twelve again, and start my life with imagery like this. Jason was hypnotized. I am so happy for him, and his generation. The audience was packed at a noon show. Movie deserves to make a zillion dollars.

The "A-Team's" Hidden Heart

Today we get a cinematic update/reimagining of the classic 70’s action-comedy “The A-Team.” And I can’t wait to check it out! But while on the surface we understood each of the basic personalities that made the team work (the planner, the pilot, the seductive “face”, and the snarling mechanic) behind the scenes there was a different dynamic entirely. Mr. T, the mohawked, super-buffed mechanical genius who was afraid of flying “B.A. Baracus” was secretly a softie. I know this because his former bodyguard, the amazing martial artist Cliff Stewart, is also my instructor. And Cliff tells stories about those days.

It seems that, while “T” crafted his super-tough public image carefully, behind the scenes he was an absolute wimp when it came to children. He donated time, money, and skill to children’s centers across the country, his generosity knowing no limit…except for one thing. NO PUBLICITY. No cameras, no reporters, no whisper to papers or television stations, or he would stop giving. This wasn’t about fame or self-promotion. It was purely because he loves children, sees them as the future of the world, felt a deep and abiding love for their hearts and minds.

That is an adult human being. On the path of the Hero’s Journey, it is the final step: “the student becomes the teacher.” This is the stage when you give back, teach what you have learned, share what you have acquired. Without this, you CANNOT move on to the next stage of your life, and even snarling B.A. Baracus knew it. Do you?

I don’t know how I’ll like “Rampage” Jackson will do imitating the inimitable Mr. T, but I know one thing: when it comes to filling THOSE shoes, I pity the fool.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Gender Fluidity: Are Men Still From Mars?

Throughout time, men and women have collaborated in making men and women what they are. We have created each other, and our roles have always had both advantages and limitations. This article, thankfully, doesn't try to suggest that men have been in control of this--as if they WANTED to do the violent, dangerous jobs, die younger, and have less contact with their families. Men have programmed women to be more yielding and "feminine" and women have programmed men to be more aggressive and "masculine." As each becomes more conscious, the awareness that these were roles designed to increase certain aspects of cultural efficiency--and therefore produce the largest number of surviving, reproducing children--spreads among those capable of seeing beyond the surface. And we can choose to live our lives differently, more authentically, and more long as we feel safe and secure. If society ever collapsed, however, we'd be right back in Tarzan-Jane territory. Just one of the reasons why our web of social contracts and protections is so precious.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Power of Simple Courtesy

Simple Courtesy

Flying home from Phoenix to Ontario last week, I was sitting next to a couple of angry gentlemen who were...well...bearded, pierced, pumped up, covered with prison tats, constantly made seethingly derogatory comments about one's ex-wife, laughed about past instances of assault and battery, intractable life problems, and more. They seemed about to explode with violence. This was making the other passengers rather uncomfortable, I noticed. And since they were coming to my neck of the woods to live, I wasn't too happy about it, either. There were also a slew of barely veiled racial comments. Both were white, but one lived in "the 'hood" and his thoughts on his neighbors...well, let's just say that I suspect his language would have been a little more specific if I hadn't been sitting next to him.

I decided to see what I could do to chill these guys out, and pulled out my Ipad and started playing a game on it. Their eyes lit up. "That an Ipad?" one asked. "Yes, sir," I said, deliberately and with my most neutral body language extending courtesy. I showed it to them, watching their reactions and storing away information of which aspects of such a device were of interest. Not gaming--the older one was interested in business applications. He was trying to get a motorcycle detailing business off the ground. The other mentioned internet in Iraq, and I realized he was a vet. Inquiring obliquely, I verified that, and thanked him for his service to America.

It was amazing how fast they shifted. Language, body language, subjects, facial expressions, tonalities...everything became lighter, was amazing. They returned to speaking about their issues, but now...they were seeing solutions. And listening, some of them were rather good. Each of them was addressing the other's concerns, and I realized that they had formed an informal mastermind group. All that it required was the presence of someone who would treat them with respect, shift their mood with an entertaining toy/tool, and deal with them without fear or threat.
By the time we landed, it was all I could do to artfully avoid giving them my business card and arranging to meet for drinks. I watched them walk away, and they were friendly, considerate, and really quite charming to the other passengers, one of whom took me aside and thanked me for changing the mood. "What did you do?" she asked.

"Just assumed they were people," I said. "Had the sense it might have been a while." And that's the secret, you know. Assume the people you are dealing with are human beings, like you. When you do that, barriers fall. When that happens, they can help each other in profound ways. Each of us, at every moment, has the potential to make the world a better place through our own actions, when they express our deepest truths, and that truth is Love.

What can you do today?

The ultimate benefit of goal setting is clarifying the map of your territory. Find mentors, stay flexible, take action, have faith.

The Soul Of A Place: Where Does Your Soul Call Home?

This was lovely. And there is a core lesson in the first paragraphs: this woman stepped beyond the political illusions of the "Evil Empire" position, which often resulted in Americans believing that Russians were not as fully human, loving, and caring as Americans. Sting's "if the Russians love their children too" needs to be applied across the bar to Arabs, Israelis, Liberals, Conservative, Gays, Straights, Mexicans, Blacks, Whites, Asians, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Men, Women...whoever "the other" seems to be. The illusion of apartness is killing. We can stand strong and defend our borders, way of life, or religion without seeking to shrivel the souls of our opponents. But clearly, that is devastatingly hard for most people. It is easiest to "rally the troops" when our enemies are presented as less than us on the hierarchy of humanity. Pay careful attention when someone invites you to engage in such speculation about another group: that they are essentially "different" and implicitly less: not "wrong in this instance", not "in opposition to us," but less human. Don't be fooled: When your back is turned, they are saying it about you.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

7 Depression Busters for Men

Only the alcohol comment, with its tantalizing suggestion that male and female brains might respond differently to depression, really addresses "male depression." The rest is useful, thoughtful information...for everyone. It still seems far more valuable to address what positively or negatively affects the human condition than to constantly harp on "men" and "women" as if we were different species raised on different planets. It just doesn't serve humanity to foster that kind of thinking. That kind of thinking would depress me...if I didn't meditate, practice yoga and exercise, connect daily with family and friends, love myself, organize daily progress toward meaningful goals, and laugh at myself, all very "male" solutions, right? Right? Sure.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

The difference between school and life is that in school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test; in life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson. ~ Tom Bodett

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Fear and the "Karate Kid"

Fear and "The Karate Kid"

This weekend, the remake of one of the seminal 1980's films will hit the screen. I'll be there! But until I actually see it, it is fun to go back and take a look at what made the original so powerful an experience for so many millions of fans. Basically, it is the story of a skinny kid named Danial (Ralph Macchio) who, with his mom, moves to a new neighborhood and school and is promptly beset by karate-chopping bullies. His apartment building's superintendent Mr. Miyagi (a really excellent Pat Morita) turns out to be a master of this ancient art. He takes Danial under his wing, becoming a father substitute, martial mentor, comic relief, and tragic figure all in one. There follows a series of training montages that are part "Rocky" and part "Kung Fu", leading to a karate tournament where Danial finally faces his enemies, and emerges with genuine pride and the respect of his former enemies.

The film spawned three direct sequels, countless imitations, and now an indirect, updated sequel set in China (the title now refers not to the art he studies in China--which is Kung Fu, but the art he studied in Detroit which is now proven ineffective. "Karate Kid" is a derisive label in the new film.)

I remember seeing it, loving it, seeing it again and again over the last thirty years, and loving every time. It is an almost perfect march along the Hero's Journey. Shall we see why? Understand this and not only will you understand how to write a life-changing story, but how to change your life--or the lives of those you love.
1) Confronted with challenge. Danial-san wants to fit in in the new neighborhood, but is beaten at a beach party--there are bullies who object to his presence.
2) Rejecting the challenge. He runs, (understandably) afraid to face them.
3) Accepting the challenge. Realizing he has a teacher who might be able to help him deal with the situation, Danial decides to take a stand. This is a moment of adulthood--taking responsibility.
4) Road of Trials. Danial trains. His mind, body, and heart are taxed to the limit, and he is pushed beyond his perceived limits.
5) Allies and powers. Mister Miyagi is his core teacher. The girl he wants (Elizabeth Shue) is a motivation to change (adulthood is often spurred by the drive to love and sex). He must learn techniques, but most important, he must learn to control his fear. Fear is the killer of dreams, and always has been. If the martial arts give any single benefit above all, it is the realization of the degree to which we are drained of hope and promise by our fears. It is not necessary to banish fear so much as to understand that it is a natural part of our human experience.
6) Confront evil--defeated. The "evil" karate teacher (Martin Kove) forces one of his students to damage Danial's knee.
7) Dark Night of The Soul-- Later, in the final match, the knee is re-injured and Danial loses all hope. His resolve crumbles.
8) Leap of Faith. Mr Miyagi convinces Danial that he can do it if he believes. Danial trusts him, even when he cannot trust himself.
9) Confront Evil--and emerge victorious. The Crane Kick!
10) Student Becomes Teacher--Danial's remorseful opponent (and former bully) congratulates him, telling him he deserved to win--he has learned.
This film, following the classic "Rocky" formula of redemption through courage, discipline, love, and sacrifice, is probably the very best version of the pattern not starring Sylvester Stallone. To understand the path we must follow on the path to excellence...or critical for us all. If we do not learn to deal with our fears, we will never rise to our full potential, and the world will be poorer as a result. "The Karate Kid" pointed the way about as well as it's ever been done in popular entertainment. Uplifting, inspiring, heart-breaking, funny, honest, and thrilling, all in one. Here's hoping Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan can bring it home for a new century.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Beauty of Looking Inward

The odd paradox is that we must both love ourselves absolutely, and be capable of criticizing our behaviors and/or the way we manifest in the world. To hold both unquestioning love and severe evaluation is the challenge for adult human beings, and one that few of us manage. That balancing act has to begin within us, embracing the child within without letting her have every darned thing the kid

wants, or allowing her whining to control our adult decisions. There is a middle ground between total acceptance and demonization. Love is almost certainly the better place to start...but remember that our emotions can be like a beloved pet or child. Our hearts rebel against discipline, but needs it like roses need rain. There is nothing more horrific than a spoiled child who controls the home--in her heart, she knows she is in danger if her parents cannot control her. And so are we, without both deep love and strong clear vision: are our actions really in alignment with our deepest goals and values? If not, pain is appropriate. But always, always, there must be love.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Too hard a knot for me to untie

"It is too hard a knot for me to untie..."

Took Jason to the Circus on Saturday, same day Tananarive got home from New York. My favorite part was actually when someone flubbed a stunt, which happened a couple of times--once with a tricky trapeze move, once with a very tricky balance stunt (they repeated the "walking a ball up an incline" stunt, and got it right. Impressive). Cute clowns, a unique juggler juggling big geometric frames (never seen that before), and one gorgeous circus girl who was flexible enough to fold in a suitcase, and later gave us a demonstration of some form of Latin dance that made me totally believe the statistic that Latins are the sexiest people on Earth. I turned to Tananarive and soberly informed her that she had my permission to learn to move like that. Good Lord. I guess I must have seen stuff like that on television, but never in person. The level of energetic control, separation and precision was just awesome. I'm thinking it was some kind of Brazilian dance, frankly, because it looked like a combination of some kind of South American Indian and African fusion. Like nothing from Europe or Asia or Polynesia, that's for sure.

One thing it made me think of: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I know that those guys have their own form of yogic discipline. I also know that people who work with them describe the feeling of grappling with the most advanced practitioners in a way that made me think of the male version of movement like THAT. Boy oh boy, would I love to see a porno film with experts in the male and female versions of that movement quality. Is that wrong?
It's kind of interesting how the discussion of Israel brings out such passion in people. There are ways in which Jews seem more measured in response than many Christian Americans. Varying reasons for this are offered by either side of the argument. As I've made it clear, I absolutely believe in Israel's right to exist, but think that they've made serious mistakes--like all human beings, especially those under pressure, will do. The fact that the blockade runners aspired to martyrdom doesn't make them "Terrorists." In fact, it makes them about the opposite: they hope to demonstrate that it is the other side which uses violence and terror as a primary weapon. This doesn't necessarily make 'em nice people, although I approve of the tactic. But the mislabeling of their efforts and tactics makes the fur on the back of my neck stand up. As soon as people distort language or reality for one purpose, it is reasonable to question everything they say.

This is, of course, the problem with the corruption of the term "terrorist," which has come to mean "any non-uniformed enemy" in the popular lexicon, as opposed to "a person who specifically uses terror, usually by attacks on civilian populations, as a tool to weaken political will" (that's my definition, which seems to be in alignment with Webster's and Wikipedia). The attacks on the WTC were certainly terrorist acts, but the linguistic distortion began rather swiftly, referring to them as "cowardly" (err...cowardice generally relates to someone UNWILLING to risk life and limb. This seems to be the wrong use of the term). I get it, though, and instances of this kind of thing are probably universal, to be found in the popular culture of any people preparing to go to war--distortions which make the "Other" seem sub-human, or at the very least, not as good as "us." It is interesting to watch this at play even in America's Civil War, where brothers fought each other, labeling the other side as weak, cowardly, dishonest, traitorous, etc. etc. This all seems totally natural, and in fact it seems damned difficult to get people to the point where they will kill one another unless there is this kind of disrespect. You see it in High School football game pep rallys. In school yard fights. One of the most fascinating things to me is the ethic that allows professional warriors to kill each other WITHOUT such emotions.

You definitely get this in the Left-Right split. While I generally listen to Left-leaning radio if I'm in the mood for political theater, I get totally disgusted with the hosts who position their positions as the only representatives of truth, justice, the American Way, and so forth. So I'll flip over to the Right Wing station, and sometime they make more sense...for a while. Sigh. This is an aspect of human nature that is probably a survival value, and it makes little sense to push against it. It is, as the Bard said in Twelveth Night, "Too hard a knot for me to untie."
Saw "Splice," and despite my antipathy for mouth-rapist Adrian Brody, thought it was pretty darned good, a throwback to the David Cronenbergian school of distorted-body horror. Basically, you have a married pair of geneticists working with recombinant DNA, who make the mistake of thinking they are sane, or are making sane rational decisions. They are not. The woman is disturbed, the husband a total spineless dishrag. And the human-animal hybrid they produce does nothing we haven't seen before in movies like Species or Embryo, but does it with a sense of creeping doom that is really cool. Without a lot of explicit gore, and with some REALLY nicely executed effects (almost flawless) they tell the tale of "Dren" ("nerd" spelled backwards), an artificial being who...well, that's the story. And it's well-told. A cautionary tale about science and sanity. I really liked it. An A-, if you get into stuff like this.
Apparently James Cameron is going to give his opinion about the Gulf Oil spill tonight. Should be interesting. He has genuine knowledge of deep-water work, is said to be a straight-up genius (by people I serious trust with such judgments) and has a science-fiction writer's imagination. This could actually be interesting.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

On Meditation

"The practice of meditation takes us on a fabulous journey into the gap between our thoughts, where all the advantages of a peaceful, stress-free, healthier, fatigue-free life are available, but are simply side benefits.

The paramount reason for doing this soul-nourishing meditation practice is to get in the gap between our thoughts and make conscious contact with the
creative energy of life itself." ~ Dr Wayne Dyer

This is a terrific way to language it. Our minds can get so incredibly busy, so full, that they create an entire world of sensation and cause/effect. Get quiet enough, still enough, and the cracks in the world's mask become large enough to see. Peel the ego back sufficiently, and we become small enough to slip through those cracks, and join with the primal forces within. And THAT is an experience beyond language...or limitation.

My favorite question...

Lifewriting Talk!
Sat., June 5, 2010, 1:00 PM Pacific Daylight time
Connect via phone or VoIP
(724) 444-7444
Call ID: 77111
We're doing our fifth talk today. I'll be answering questions sent in since the last session. My favorite: "why do you think you have the right to teach?"

Friday, June 04, 2010

Be A Fool!

Be a fool!

"A good knave, i'faith, and well fed"--All's Well That Ends Well

What is the best friend? One who supports you in all you do? Or one who will call you on your b.s. when you need it? One who is scrupulously committed to telling the truth, as she sees it? That friend may be wrong, but I can promise you one thing: if it stings, it might well be truth. After all, if someone says: "Steve, you're a Martian!" I would look at them as if they were nuts. But if they said, "Steven, I think you treated X unfairly" that might sting if I had the slightest worry that I may have behaved unethically.

Traditionally, in the King's court, the Knave (or fool, Jester) not only entertained, but fulfilled the function of deliberately casting doubt on the wisdom of proposed actions. It is just too easy to drift along in a fog of agreement. Who is the best "knave" in your life? Who tells you the truth, no matter how painful it might be?

If you don't have that, might I suggest that you become your own best "fool"? Think of taking responsibility for three things: your health/fitness, your relationship history, and your career. Stop blaming your genetic, statistics, race, gender, or anything else. I promise you that no matter what your history, there are others with worse who have done better. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. If you don't you're being a child. Now, once you have owned the situation, assume that some part of you craves the results you have achieved, be they positive or negative. What part? To what end? Why would you hurt yourself in such a way? What was the pay-off?

Asking questions like this can save your life.

Send down the Terminator!

The Gaza situation sounds like a genuine screw-up on Israel's part. The talk of "well trained mercenaries" or "terrorists" doesn't make sense to me unless they had the kind of weapons any self-respecting "well trained mercenary" would have. You know, like automatic weapons and fragmentation grenades? There are a couple of readers of this blog with specific knowledge of these areas: you know who you are. Would you please contact me persnally and tell me if I'm off base? It sounds very much like these guys attacked the Israelis because they were pissed and thought THEY were being attacked. A mob armed with pipes and bats simply doesn't smack of "well trained."

Of course, one could take the position that they were martyrs trying to elicit a violent response...but doing that requires the assumption of guilt on the side of the Arabs, and the assumption of innocence on the side of the Israelis. My assumption is that the Israelis have the right to their home, that they have, overall, done very well to remain mostly humane considering that they are surrounded by people who do not accept their legitimacy, and have vowed to "push them into the sea." But that, being human, they make mistakes...and this feels like one of them, an overreaction based on that automatic human tendency to deny the "other" full humanity, especially when you are afraid that there are genuine, no-b.s. threats to your survival.

This simply sounds too much like a well-established pattern of police explanations, found all over the world, ALWAYS trotted out when there is a major class, ethnicity or racial difference between the police/army forces and the citizens--where the police storm into an area, are met with sticks and thrown bottles, retaliate with bullets, and claim that the citizens were "well armed terrorists." They're missing a basic fact: when you violate what people consider to be their home, community, or property, they will attack. Forgetting this leads to the belief that anyone who resists our own troops when the U.S. invades must be a "terrorist." Now I could be wrong here, of course. I just think that any group, no matter how well intended, will make mistakes...and this feels like cover-your-ass time.
When looking at the chaos in the world that, arguably, can be attributed to our hunger for energy: terrorism, a misbegotten war, financial stress, the gulf is easy to blame specific companies or political structures. But we have to remember that we, the people, were willing to pay six dollars a gallon for gas. WE drive this wave. And changing that will be harder than most people want to believe. There is an entire definition of "human being" that suggests our species is notable chiefly because, over our evolutionary history, we have steadily used higher and higher amounts of energy per capita. As opposed, say, to chimps and dolphins which (in the wild) on average probably consume the same amount they did a million years ago. Human consumption has probably increased a thousand fold during the same time.

What does this mean? Well, a recipe for disaster without very serious conscious consideration. Growing population plus growing energy demand plus shrinking petroleum resources is an invitation to violence, shortage, poverty, pollution, terrorism and economic chaos on multiple fronts. And if the tendency to make babies, try to live longer, and increase energy consumption is pretty much hard-wired into us as a species...well, I certainly think there are going to be answers, but I doubt any of them are going to be easy. And it won't be helped by partisans on either side of the political spectrum who act as if the extremes of either Right or Left are not suicidal.
I loved the rumor that James Cameron was going to be consulted about the Gulf leak, BTW. Science Fiction writers have often been consulted by governments for out-of-the-box thinking. Cameron has unique knowledge of deep-sea exploration and photography, and is said (by people I trust completely) to be a legitimate genius. It would have been fascinating to see what he came up with. How about some speculation?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

How to Turn Fear Into a Blessing

Fear is energy, your body and psyche attempting to warn you, prepare you, preserve you. Fighting against it is slamming on your brakes. F.E.A.R. can also mean a Fountain of Energy for Active Response. If fear and love compete for the same place in your heart, find things to love in the situation. Imagine how the people you love will benefit. Feel how your love of life will expand. When the levels of fear and love equalize, the "fear" is revealed as energy, white light before striking the prism of ego. And we see the path to our next level of existence--by moving through our fear.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Lifewriting Talk!
Sat., June 5, 2010, 1:00 PM Pacific Daylight time
(724) 444-7444
Call ID: 77111

"When Canada is Dead And Gone...

There'll be no more Celine Dion!"

Well, not really. My trip wasn't a vacation, although we had nine kinds of fun along the way. Lots of fascinating moments. One of my favorites was discovering the hidden dining rooms reserved for VIPs. Poor Blair wouldn't have had a moment's peace if not for these, and the personal security guards that surrounded him in public. We went to an R&B concert on the ship with Frankiee Beverly and Maze, and the women trying to get photos with Blair were such a stream he couldn't really enjoy the concert, and had to be hustled out the side door. Ah, celebrity. On the other hand, he gets to do lots of really incredible stuff related to that very "disadvantage"--like meet Nelson Mandela. Darn him. That is probably the human being I would like most to meet.

If we get a Cape Town movie, that is absolutely the thing I would like to do most. Meet Mandela.
I knew I was getting exhausted on the last leg of my trip because my cuticles were splitting, and I would wake up with threads of silly song weaving through my mind, and meditation couldn't get rid of it completely. In this case, "Blame Canada" from the South Park movie. Steven Sondheim said it was the best musical film in decades, and I tend to agree...but wow. Not exactly the way I want to start my day.
"Hence is it that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge, when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear..."

The Bard, again, from a comedy no less. The Enneagram is a fascinating pattern, nine points arrayed around a circle, with geometric designs within linking them. Most people in America are only familiar with it in terms of "personality types" but that is a tiny fraction of what this "paper computer" is about. One of the most important things to note is the gap between points four and five. This is the point of no return, where if one does not gird up one's loins and move through the fire, forsaking hope and ignoring fear, the risk of falling backwards into old patterns is huge. We all do it in some areas of our lives. I've never met, or even heard of, anyone who did not.

The very best among us seem to focus our energies so that we make the most important leaps, and don't sweat the small stuff. For me, this is why I say to have 3-5 major goals and focus points, with one being physical, one being relational, and one being in the arena of business/finances. A human mind can handle about seven things at a time, max. When you ask someone what their most important goals are, and they list seven of them and not one touches one of these three arenas, it is quite easy to predict where their chain is going to break--and make no mistake, you are no stronger than your weakest link.

One of the most fascinating things about stress is how it seems to be a living thing, plotting and planning to worm its way deeply into your existence. It will dissuade you from performing the precise actions necessary to keep stress from becoming strain: you will do what is imperative (short term emergency) rather than what is important (long term benefit). And trust me, there is absolutely no end to the short-term urgent in life. This is one of the reasons that people can have a fantastic amount of difficulty meditating. Anything and everything seems more important, including cutting your neighbor's cat's toenails. Bizarre. And it is all fear. If you clear away all of the superfluous "stuff" what remains is the responsibility to be in alignment with BOTH your childhood dreams and the ultimate values you will embrace on your deathbed. When both the child you were and the ancient you will become agree upon your daily actions--well, you pretty much have life nailed.

What stops us, of course, is fear. Fear of how far we have wandered from those childhood ambitions and simple loving values. How terrifying it is to acknowledge the end of days. From that perspective, we have the obligation of living our lives with integrity, melding, say, Harlan's definition of success: "to bring into existence, in Adult fashion, our childhood dreams" and the Sufi definition of enlightenment, to "die before you die." This takes a level of both courage and honesty that I have seen in only a tiny, tiny fraction of humanity. Maybe around .1% even try. The sad thing is that almost every human complaint relates to a failure of one of these two challenges. Even sadder is the fact that we are so dishonest about wanting the basic values: love, health, security--that we allow our psyches to stuff our pain and grief into whichever arena becomes our "black bag" (repository of unprocessed emotion) and then surround ourselves with people who have matching wounds, so they will not challenge us.

This is lethal to our dreams, and hopes for clarity in life. The answer? Every human being must find her own, ultimately. But one that seems to have worked fairly globally is to aim at a balanced life in alignment with both ancient principles and modern thought. With both the newborn and the elder who takes her last breath. The more deeply I think on this, the more it seems that every mistake I've ever made arose from straying from this truth.

A warning: if you are committed to this, you will have health, love and success. But you will also lose friends and experience an existential loneliness that must be experienced to be believed. But the trick is that the loneliness was always there: you just kept yourself too numb and busy to notice. And the friends? Well...if they don't want the truth, and they don't embrace your quest to be the very best self you can you really want them? Crack heads have friends, too. And usually, they must leave them behind if they would heal. Of course, in healing, they leave the door open for those friends to follow, if only they can shake off their own despair and illusion, and embrace life.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Lifewriting talk coming up...

I loved the conclusion of "24." President Logan revealed his true colors. I mean, I always knew he was a weasel, but wasn't totally certain he was a viper. Yup. Viper and beyond. The man was Satan. Too bad he couldn't have married Sherri Palmer...
There's a sci-fi horror film called "Splice" that has been getting major buzz, and comes out this Friday. Starring Adrian Brody, it deals with recombinant DNA from a Cronenbergian angle. Supposed to be strong, scary, thoughtful stuff. Can't wait!
There are so many things going on right now that I have to be very careful to stay balanced in the midst. Really does seem to be an example of "magic"--effort in one segment of my life having unexpected benefits in another. Building up that coaching/information business seems to open the gates of Hollywood. Bizarre.

While I was on my trip, I met with a filmmaker who wants me to create a 30-minute film for her. The most powerful black executive in Hollywood was on the Tom Joyner cruise, and we met with her. I met one of the most powerful PR people in America, who is currently evaluating one of my projects. Cliff Stewart is creating his new Within Arms Reach program next week, aimed at teaching civilians his Close Protection techniques (amazing stuff! What a scientist he is...ask ANYONE who has ever worked with him)

It will be a four-volume set called "The Art of W.A.R." and I'm co-producing the set. Love it.
The gel ant farm I bought for Christmas is finally pretty dead. There are a few elderly ants groping around the farm, but most are dead, and mold is growing at the bottom. Actually, they lasted longer than the three months I was told, so I can't be unhappy...but I am. Kind of sad. At their peak, it was a really beautiful farm. Roll with it, Steve.
"Documents To Go" is the first word processor for the iPad that talks to Drop Box. I knew it would happen before July, but I'm impressed with how fast it happened. My guess is that other iPad Apps will follow pretty quick. Then it's Game On! This thing is just huge fun.
Lifewriting Talk!
Sat., June 5, 2010, 1:00 PM Pacific Daylight time
Connect via phone or VoIP
(724) 444-7444
Call ID: 77111

I'm soliciting questions to be answered on the call--balance, writing, health, know, the basic model we've been working with. Let me know!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

What are the three most important things in your life? Mine:
1) Family and friends.
2) Teaching/writing
3) Martial arts/ movement

A War Worth Winning

I recently spent two nights sleeping on the gym floor at the house of my karate instructor, Sijo Steve Muhammad in Atlanta. This was during a pause between traveling to the Bahamas on the Tom Joyner cruise promoting "From Cape Town With Love," driving to Quincy, Florida to help T's mom during her recovery from radiation treatment, and flying to Philadelphia to speak at the yearly Art Sanctuary event, this year honoring Nikki Giovanni.

In the middle of all of this, I had about 36 hours to spend in the presence of one of my favorite human beings in all the world. Far beyond being "merely" the finest karate man I've ever known, or am ever likely to know, he is also quite arguably the best MAN. Whatever it means to be an adult human being, Steve Muhammad exemplifies it, warts and all. Seeing him with his beautiful wife Connie...watching him hold his grandson and just burbling with joy...seeing the way young men of all persuasions, races, and ethnicities react to him...not to mention the way women seem to know, at the most basic human level, that they are dealing with a mature male of the species and not a boy or a wannabe...

He just blows me away. The man once voted "the most feared karate competitor in America" is my friend, role model, father figure. And when I knew I would be visiting with him, I knew there was something I wanted to ask him. Alone. It was just too embarrassing, and too personal.

Thursday morning at 10am, Sijo Muhammad teaches his karate class, and I had the honor of attending. It was small this morning, just four of us sweating and moving in the room that serves as Steve's gym (and where I had slept the night before.) And after class we sat in our sweaty uniforms and spoke of martial arts, and life, and family...and suddenly, my private concern came to the tip of my tongue, and spilled out.

It was simply this: I damaged my first marriage, and I do not want, under any circumstances, to damage my relationship with Tananarive in any way shape or form. But as higher levels of success come to us, so do greater temptations and opportunities for mischief. While I have maintained the integrity I promised her upon marriage, hell...nobody's perfect. And I want so much to be perfect for T. She deserves that. And Steve has mastered that aspect of his life, been surrounded by serious temptation on isolated Hollywood sets, notorious for lax morality, and stood tall and strong.

I asked him how I might best follow his example. Now, Steve being Steve, he didn't offer light generalizations but rather a specific path: by mastering one appetite, we can master another. And the more primal appetite is physical hunger for food. For thirty years he has been a vegetarian eating a single meal a day. And if you can control that gnawing urge, so basic to survival, you can handle the voices in your head that urge one to explore new connections, new energies, new matter how inappropriate or destructive. I thanked him.

I asked him point blank: if I called him at 2 in the morning asking him to support me in being the husband I am sworn to be, would he mind..? He looked at me as if I was crazy: of COURSE he would help, in any way he possibly could. But then the other men interjected. They would ALL be there for me. We spoke of the commitment to our families, temptation, and the fact that men must stand together against the evils both within and without. That together, we are stronger, can remind each other of our obligations, of who we are sworn to be in the world. We shook on that, exchanged contact information. And I felt that I'd touched something real and all too rare: men sharing their vulnerabilities as well as their strengths, men swearing to stand together to protect our hearts, our souls, our families, our communities.

Did there use to be more of this? Once upon a time was it more accepted to admit that we are not perfect, that we need and crave help? When did we as men, as people, stop admitting that we are flawed and limited, stop striving to be our full potential, and settle for the mediocrity of what we can accomplish as isolated individuals? I don't know. But I do know that I walked away from that workout with far more that physical skills. I walked away with brothers in a sacred struggle.

The struggle to be awake, adult human beings. The struggle to be worthy of the magnificent women who have deigned to share our lives. The struggle to be men in a world that celebrates eternal childhood.

That is the war worth winning.