The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Take the red pill

For multiple reasons (chiefly among them the existence of intantaneous communication beyond line-of-sight, and the current non-lineear, non-hierarchical thingie called the World Wide Web--representing humanity’s central nervous system)   This generation, I believe, is a tipping point for humanity.   And I believe we are tipping toward awareness. Wakefulness. And the demons who feed on us in our sleep are like Mr. Smith in THE MATRIX--just go to sleep.  Go to sleep.  Take the blue pill, eat the steak, and forget whose side it was carved from, and at what cost.
I am still sleeping more than I like.  But I’m committed to waking up.  And I recognize the brothers and sisters with similar commitment.  We may stumble.  We may nap.  But we prefer waking to sleeping.   An honest bowl of gruel to the illusion of Cordon Bleu.   They are my tribe. And they are growing.
The rest? Have a very nice dream, honestly.   Have a steak for me.  With freedom fries.



Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What an individual needs to succeed

10 basic principles

In general, here are some of the most important things for an individual:
1) The ability to be blisteringly honest, but courageously compassionate.
2) The ability to set clear goals in alignment with the deepest values and beliefs.
3) The capacity to believe in Self deeply.
4) A knowledge of past actions (positive and negative) without that knowledge limiting future options.
5) The ability to take action despite the “noise” of internal voices, if those actions are in alignment with deeply held values and beliefs.
6) The ability to postpone gratification, to move toward a worthy goal in an incremental fashion.
7) The ability to create healthy bonded teams of allies to reach those goals unreachable by an individual. The ability to create a primary bond with another adult, equal human being.
8) The ability to shift fluidly from “Yin” to “Yang”—from female to male modes of thought and action—depending on the circumstance.
9) The ability to raise and focus the physical and emotional energies on command.
10) A grounding in the physical body sufficient to provide accurate feedback about the material world.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dragon On Your Shoulder

I have a coaching client who was born with a challenging disability that threatened to crush her spirit.  She came to me three weeks ago, suffering from life-long depression (yes, she has medical support.  I never deal with chronic depression without knowing there is a doctor and/or therapist in the loop), and we started with the following:
1) The Five Minute Miracle: breathing deep and slow for sixty seconds ever three hours. (If you want to change your emotions, change your focus and physiology)
2) A letter from her “child self” to her adult self, written with her non-dominant hand (this is NOT an intellectual exercise, and if you have never done it, it is likely you have no idea at all what will come out), and back from her “adult” self to her “child” using the dominant hand.    
3) The “Child Story” which is a simple-language fairy tale, about 200 words, about how she grew up to be the person she is today.  
4) The “future history”--her life story from today until the day she dies.  Often written as an obituary.

After a week she told me she was disturbed--SHE ACTUALLY FOUND HERSELF BEING HAPPY.  For the first time in adult memory.  She was experiencing spontaneous joy.  And was unsure how to deal with it.    That’s another topic, but what i wanted to share (with her permission) was a “fairy tale” she wrote about her life.  This is a modification of steps #3 and #4, and I found it wonderful.

               Once upon a time lived a maiden named M. She did not look like other little Girls, but as all human children are special and fair, so was she. She began life as a tiny whirlwind of laughter, love, music, and color, quite certain she was something very ALIVE and therefore Magnificent.
            When she was still very small, the adults in her life, who were powerful and well-meaning and who seemed very wise, fitted her with a special pair of Glasses, in order to make necessary (to their minds) corrections to her sight. The Glasses were rather thick and unpleasant, and M did not like them; but she knew these adults did love her. Soon she forgot how the world looked before, but she still found refuge in her imagination and artwork, and in reading about wonderful adventures.
            As she grew, she felt that some dark and heavy Weight was upon her shoulders, but she could not see what it was. No matter how hard she peered through her thick Glasses, it was invisible. Yet she could hear a voice, too, whispering mean things in her ears. The mean things felt so true and looked so true through her funny Glasses, and M withdrew even deeper into her imagination, storing up hope for a brighter future full of love and beauty and fun things to see and do.
            When she was old enough to go out into the World to seek her Fortune, she found the Heaviness on her shoulders traveled with her everywhere she went. It felt heavier than ever and she still could not see what it was! She often fell down, but always dragged herself to her feet again. As she approached the 1/3 point of her life, her Falls became terribly frequent. She tended her cuts and bruises from each Fall, but the heavy Thing on her shoulders remained ever present, threatening more Falls at every turn.
            Then came a day when she fell so hard that a tiny crack formed in her Glasses… and through the crack, while looking in the mirror one day, she caught a glimpse, riding on her shoulders, of a rather large… large is not the word - no, this was a morbidly obese Dragon! He had wings and fangs and breathed fire, as Dragons often do. But in his fat condition, perched on M's bony shoulders, he looked almost as miserable as M. She could also see, through the crack in the Glasses, a bit of her own true reflection. It swirled with color and love and glowing light, radiant and full of Power she had not dreamed possible in a long, long time.
            Now that she could see the Dragon, she could speak to him. As she began, deliberately now, to chip away at the Glasses she had worn for so long, she continued to speak with him and learned that he had grown fat off every negative message M had believed since her earliest childhood. He could only repeat what he heard, which was the source of the mean-sounding Voice that whispered in her ear, which, when M believed it, further fed the Dragon.
            So M put him on a strict diet as she learned to quiet her own mind and fill it with thoughts that became increasingly more True, and beautiful, and loving. And as she did, the Dragon began to shrink… and shrink… and shrink, until he was as pint-sized as a small Parrot and rested comfortably on her shoulder. Both he and M were much happier now, and he explained to her that his real function was to guide her and to protect her from negative, Untrue thoughts. But the Glasses had distorted M's True vision and, when those bad thoughts got in, the Dragon's job was to eat them and eat them until hopefully the discomfort of the growing Weight of the Dragon caught M's attention -- as it had finally done.
            Both M and the Dragon were so much happier now, and with the Dragon as a helpful ally, M began to notice that the next step ahead on her Journey through Life beamed brighter and clearer than before. What is more, without the Glasses, which M had done good work of chipping mostly away, each step along the way felt un-Troubling no matter what it might be, and her surroundings full of Beauty no matter where she was. As her True vision increased and her alliance with the helpful Dragon deepened, the path led to lovely and wonderful and Adventures for M that were as full and joyful as she had ever Dreamed.
--------THE END---------

THAT is how you do the work.  Just an excellent job.  


Monday, February 17, 2014

Betrayal and Healing


I've often said that my last remaining goal from my childhood was to sit in an audience and see a motion picture I name come up on the credits.     Well, yesterday I kinda did that, with DANGER WORD, which screened at the Pan-African film festival.  The audience  gasped, screamed and whooped at the right moments, and it felt...wonderful.. I have a serious question to answer for myself. As a kid, I never specified the LENGTH of the movie. Do I declare victory, and possibly lose a tiny bit of motivation? Or do I deny myself the pleasure of completion and keep that spark of hunger until I have a full-length film?

Each has its merits.  And to answer that question, I’m going to have to dive into the Ancient Child meditation.  Make contact with that little boy inside me who began this journey, and see what he really wants.   There may be a compromise involved: party now, AND party later.  Or he may say to celebrate.   Or wait. I honestly don’t know.  But...whatever he says, that’s what I’ll do so long as it is in alignment with my more mature values.

You see, once upon a time I betrayed that kid.  It was back in the 80’s.  I had a chance to pitch to a television show that will not be named here.  It was based on a notorious series of horror films. and had a quasi-anthology feel to it.   I came up with a story I felt had some meat as well as “bite” to it, with a moral center to support the expected carnage.

And went into the show offices and pitched them.  The executives stared at me and said: “we can’t do that story.  If we did that story, people would think this show was ABOUT something.  And our only excuse for putting on a mass-murder every week is that this is pure entertainment.”

I sat there with those trolls, and realized that I needed the money.  Badly.  That these men had the ability , with a single phone call, to pay me enough money to pay my mortgage and put food on the table for my family.  So...I just started pitching ideas. Anything I could think of.   But when my heart isn’t into it, I have no leverage to access my creativity, and they politely showed me the door.

The instant I walked out, it felt as if I was walking out of an opium den. into clean air.  It was as if a veil was lifted from my eyes, and I realized I’d been acting in some kind of stress-induced tunnel vision.  I VERY clearly heard the voice of the little boy inside me, the creative kid who has been with me since childhood, saying “Daddy, why did you have me talking to those terrible men?   Don’t you love me enough to protect me?”
And that voice, that had always been clear...his visage, which had always been close...disappeared.  For months, although I continued to work, I simply couldn’t access him in any meaningful way.  My work was competent, but lacked any spark of originality or honesty.  It was just...hack work.   I’d lost something precious.

SoI began to practice a meditation regimen I’d learned from some book or lecturer (I honestly can’t remember where.)   In it, I went to a place I used to love in childhood.  The beach.   And I would visualize myself going there every day, sitting and looking out at the waves. I hoped that that little boy image would appear, so I could talk to him.  Nothing.

So I began to bring toys and food, and leave them.  Would come back the next day...nothing.  I kept this up for weeks.  Months. I felt so much grief at what I had done that I just sat there sobbing, tears gushing down my face as I meditated.
Then, one day, I went to the beach-place, and noticed small footsteps in the sand.  Miracle of miracles, while I’d been “gone” that little boy had come and inspected the toys and food.  Hadn’t moved anything, but he’d been there.

Then in a few days the toys were in a different position. And bites had been taken from the food.  Day by day, I continued to go there. happy day I saw his figure, far on the horizon.   I would sit quietly, watching the waves rolling in, but he didn’t come closer.

I waited.  Day by day, every day he seemed to come just a little closer.  Then finally I stood and faced him.  He looked at me and walked away.
More time passed. Weeks.   Finally he stopped leaving when I stood.  Then...he took a step toward me. Closer.  Closer.  About a week later, he was only a few dozen feet away.He was crying, too, little round swollen face, hollow eyes, wounded trembling mouth.  I realized what I had done to him was equivalent to putting your child out on the corner to turn tricks.  
Dear God.

And then...I took a step toward him.  And he took one toward me.  And then...we ran to each others’ arms, and he jumped into mine, and I held him and swore  over and over  that I was so terribbly sorrry, and would never, ever leave him again.   

And he said that he loved me, and had missed me so much.    And showered me with sweet kisses.

For some of you, this will sound crazy.  That’s fine.  I don’t blame you a bit.    If I hadn’t experienced it from the inside, it would sound crazy to me, too.  But for some of you, you will understand EXACTLY what I had done to myself, and what that year of penance and focus on healing represented.

It is to those people I address my words.    I’ve kept my promise to that little boy, the one who started this journey.  And he has never walked away from me again.  And I ‘ve tried to be as good a father to my external children Nicki and Jason as I’ve been to that boy.

Most of us have found ourselves betraying our values, subjecting ourselves to abuse.  As adults, we have to do things we don’t always want to do, just to make ends meet or survive.  That is not the sin.  But when we do these things, we have to remember to protect what is precious and fragile within us.     If in childhood we were not protected and held precious by our families, our communities, our society, and carry that damage within, it is not too late.  

It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.  

Steve and Li’l Steve
Together, now and forever.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Taking Control

Yesterday I received a PM from an old friend who said she desperately needed coaching.  We talked, and she described a situation of work stress—a possible promotion triggering resentments and resistance, knocking her off balance so that she responded with inauthentic emotions and “masks.”

I don’t know her office dynamics, or the people involved.   Developing specific strategies and tactics would require deeper discussion. But what I DID know is that our emotions are not caused by external events, they are caused by the way we interpret those events.

First thing to do in coaching?   Build rapport with the client.  Second?  Understand the situation.  Third? Be certain that they are motivated to change: “get leverage.”   If they are in a negative spiral, interrupt the pattern.   In my mind, the difference between a coach and a therapist is that a therapist is like a doctor who sets broken bones.  A coach works with healthy athletes (physical, mental or emotional)  who want to improve performance.

So my task is to identify the parts of the client that already work, and then create a context in which those healthy aspects can grow like yeast in warm bread dough.

In other words, I believe that people have within them everything they need to succeed, but sometimes don’t have access to that.  But their hands on the wheel, and they can drive their own vehicle.

This leads to the standard initial advice I give people: five times a day, stop and breath for sixty seconds.  Do this every three hours, deep, low, and slow.

This accomplishes the following things:

1) It interrupts the “pattern” of focusing on the negative and the external.  Puts change under your control.

2) Stress isn’t the problem. “Strain” is the problem—more stress than you can healthfully adapt to.   And before stress becomes strain, your breathing will change from deep and slow (restful and centered) to high in the chest, shallow and rapid (fear based).  If you can keep your breathing low and slow, you are “tricking” your brain into believing that it can handle whatever is happening…and improve your ability to do so.

4) Avoiding tunnel vision.  Panic creates psychological and physiological tunnel vision, as well as behavioral and conceptual rigidity.  But a state of relaxed focus is conducive to creativity.   I start with the belief that THERE IS AN ANSWER if you could only see it.   I’m sure that’s not literally always true, but so far, I’ve never seen a situation where it wasn’t.   That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

5) Everyone has five minutes a day. Everyone.  If you say you don’t, you are lying.    It is extremely valuable to show people where they are being dishonest with themselves, where they cheat themselves and are in denial.  Under stress, we often blame the outside world.  “They made me feel X” is the frequent line.   Well…under any normal circumstance, other people don’t “make” adult human beings feel anything.  I’ll take that line from a child, but not from a supposed adult.   Adults are responsible for their own emotions.  (Note: this is not a license for cruelty, and denying that we have any influence over others.  I’ve seen people do that.  There is no such thing as a fool-proof statement: fools are so damned ingenious!)  

6) Want to change how you feel?  Change your focus, and change your physiology.  The “Five Minute Miracle” does both.  And you have total control over it.  It costs nothing, and takes almost no time.   AND YET QUITE OFTEN, PEOPLE IN EXTREME EMOTIONAL TROUBLE WILL NOT DO IT.   This is one of the best diagnostics imaginable.  It opens the door to serious questions about the self-image, about self-destructive programming, about lack of self-love and self-respect.    Sometimes worse, it identifies patterns of “I’ll show them by killing myself” behavior that literally DOES NOT WANT to get better.    Vile, destructive, horrid patterns.  And yet…even those patterns are potential allies, if you can align them properly and understand what they are about.

7) Once the 5MM pattern is established, you can “load” additional tactics, strategies and technologies into each of the five slot. You begin to notice the difference between resourceful and unresourceful states.  You gain confidence in your ability to control your life.  You learn the basics of meditation.  You can go to a yoga or Tai Chi teacher and deepen your understanding and use of breathing—an infinitely deep topic.  You can apply that breathing to every step you take, practice it while driving, or watching television, or during sex, or falling asleep…

And on, and on, and on. Incredibly powerful, incredibly flexible. And incredibly diagnostic.   

Try it yourself, please.  It costs nothing, and can change your life for the better.


Today is the last day for the Valentine's Day special on the SOULMATE PROCESS. Give yourself the gift of love and healing. The greatest gift we poor humans can experience--owning your own heart, and filling it to bursting with love and

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Firing God"

Good morning Steven,

I have been refer to you by David Roel in regards to a question pertaining to the Hero's Journal emails that are sent out, in particular, the hero refuses the challenge email.

My question is, how does one know the difference between refusing the challenge and moving on from a situation?
Obviously, I ask this because I find myself in such a situation. I have been dreaming quite a bit lately and as you suggested in your emails, I have been keeping a journal to record my dreams as well as my thoughts pertaining to them. I typically don't dream this vividly and I've learned from past experiences that when I do, those dreams tend to be significant.

To give an example, I had a multiple part dream in mid 2003 that preceded my Army deployment overseas in 2004.

I will add two things...
1) a couple of months ago, I fired God and decided that I would do it myself. By this I don't mean that I don't believe in God, just that I have chosen to no longer rely on God. As Miyamoto Musashi indicates as part of "The way of walking alone", item 19... "Respect Buddha and the Gods without counting on their help". I will be honest though... I'm still working on the respect part.
2) From that moment until now... I feel so much better about my life. Much more centered and balanced, as well as more clearly defined boundaries.

Please feel free to ask questions if you feel it'll help to answer my question.

Thank you for your time,

Dear Frank--

1)  Look into your personal history.     If you have a pattern of going 90% of the way and turning back, then it might be wise to set a goal JUST to practice following through.  Knowing whether it is really time to quit, or just refusal of the challenge is as much art as science.  In general, if you are moving forward in all three arenas of your life, you really DO have to pick and choose between the various options, and cannot take on every possible challenge.  What would you think if you were advising your own son on this matter?

2) “Fired God”.   I love the idea, even if you may have phrased it a bit harshly.    It’s more like “stopped insulting God by refusing to use the gifts of agency, energy, and intelligence He gave me at birth” to me.   The “Secret Formula” suggests that if you want luck, or blessings, you have to design a path to success that doesn’t require it.   YOU have to be responsible for 95% of it--not friends, associates, or God.   That may mean scaling down your dreams (or at least the first step toward them)  until they fit within your current resource circle.  GOALS X FAITH X ACTION X GRATITUDE = RESULTS.   When you’ve successfully taken the first step, it is like moving forward in the fog: a little bit more will be revealed.  Take enough incremental steps, and it is as if the universe begins to notice, and says: “hey!  This one is taking responsibility for his own fate!   My kind of guy.  Let’s give him a little help.”  Not only that, but people love positive energy.  The whole world loves a winner.   Start taking successful action, and potential allies will come sniffing around.  It is cruel and bizarre in its precision, and you may have to experience it to believe it.  To put it another way...if you aren’t praying hard enough to motivate yourself to do EVERYTHING you possibly can, damn your fears and false ego...what makes you think those prayers will move inanimate objects or strangers?  Get real.

3) Clearly defined boundaries are great.  Consider them like the shell of an egg or wall of a cocoon, protecting you as you gestate. The goal is to find your center and not NEED an external shell, if said shell numbs you at all.  You need feedback from your environment. That means that you have to FEEL what is happening, and as rapidly as possible.  That means that you have to have a spine, not a shell.  Does that make sense?  But we’re talking stages of development, not an absolute state.  A vector.   Right now, it sounds as if you are taking care of business.


Friday, February 07, 2014

Valentine's Day DIAMOND HOUR

Diamond Hour February show - Saturday, February 8, 2014, 1:00 PM Pacific Standard time (4:00 PM Eastern)

Connect via phone or VoIP (Skype, etc.)

(724) 444-7444

As Valentine’s day approaches, we’re going to revisit the Soulmate Process, love, Core Transformation, Heartbeat Meditation, and other love-centric topics.  There are only two safe ways to Awaken.  One is starting by rooting in physical existence and trying to live a balanced, healthy life from there “up.”

The other is to begin with love.  For Self, family, and then community and all Mankind.    All of life.

Either works.  What DOESN’T work is trying to think your way through it.   Watching someone do that is as sad as listening to a virgin talk about sex.  It also leads to disastrous relationships, and the attempt to “think” your way through emotional responses, and to create reality maps that have no relation to reality.  Without being specific, there are  political movements, some  major and some minor but vocal, which in my mind did (or are attempting to do) exactly this.  The results have not been pretty.  But oh boy!  Did it ever sound good on paper!

No.  Either ground in reality, or love.  Since the reality of human existence IS love, either approach will work, but starting with love is a lot more fun.

Join us?



Thursday, February 06, 2014

Origins of Lifewriting #4

Origins of Lifewriting #4

Campbell’s study of world mythology produced a specific “step outline” of the total arc.  And his contention was that no matter where you went, in what genre or form, no matter what culture or time, you would find the same things.

Was it true?  Well, in my opinion it is, if you are willing to grasp that most fiction is not a full “myth pattern” but rather a smaller “degree of arc” it fits just fine.   Others are minimalizations, reversals, abstractions, repeated steps, and so forth.

But viewed that way, I know of no “story” that has any level of recognizability or  longevity that doesn’t fit in the pattern.  I’m not even sure what such a thing would look like: a random collection of events or images, perhaps.

I decided to interpret Campbell’s pattern in a specific way: I wanted it to relate to the STRUCTURE AND MEANING of story, but also to the PROCESS of creating a work.

I mean, there are countless plots.  The simplest are things like “Someone wants something, and something stands in his/her way.”  If you’ve ever taught writing, even at the university level, you’ll know that there are plenty of literate, intelligent would-be writers who don’t understand that.   

The first plot pattern I heard that was professionally useful was the one in Dwight Swain’s “Techniques of the Selling Writer”
Situation, Character, Objective, Opponent, Disaster.

That, in combination with his “Motivation-Reaction Cycle”   (Goal-conflict-disaster-reaction-dilemma-decision) was my first real insight into how to consciously phrase what I already knew unconsciously (in fact, most “structure” books and courses seem to be left-brain approaches to teaching things that “natural” writers simply absorb by watched movies and reading books).   It was great.  But I wanted more.  I wanted elegance.  A single pattern that related to BOTH the product and the process.

And my interpretation of Campbell’s model came out like this (and I’ll use STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE as an example.   Note that you might interpret the steps differently.  That’s fine.)

1) You have a character in a situation with a problem. (“Come with me, Luke.  Learn the Ways of the Force”)

2) Initially, they will reject the challenge of solving it. (“I promised Uncle Owen and Aunt Baru I’d work on the moisture evaporators.”)

3)  The Hero  is forced, or allowed, to accept it (The Empire conveniently toasts said aunt and uncle, leaving Luke free to do what he wanted to do in the first place)

4) The Hero begins the Road of Trials—either a geographical or psychological (preferably both) journey to fulfill his intent. (Mos Eisley, Alderaan, The Death Star, etc)

5) The Hero collects Allies and Powers.   Generally, if the Hero had met the challenge at the end of the story at the beginning, he would have failed.  If Luke had been plunged into the attack on the Death Star without the intervening experiences, I doubt that film would have had a happy ending.  Allies?:  Chewy, Han, Leia, R2D2, etc.  In fact, knowing that the “Star Wars” cycle is actually the story of the Skywalker clan versus the Emperor, even Darth Vader is actually an ally.

6) Hero confronts evil—and fails.  There is always a point of maximum stress in a story.  I’m going to say that, for me, this point is when Obi-Wan is killed. He was the father figure who was supposed to take Luke all the way to the promised land.

7) Hero enters the Dark Night of the Soul.  This is the point where it feels as if all your innate capacities are insufficient to meet the challenge at hand.   I’m going to say that this point was during the attack on the Death Star when all his allies have been destroyed, and Grand Moff Tarkin is about to toast Leia and crew.

8) The Hero takes the Leap of Faith.  This is always faith in (at least) one of three things:
1) Faith in Self
2) Faith in companions
3) Faith in a Higher Power.
“Trust the Force, Luke”

9)The Hero confronts Evil again, and is successful. The Death Star blows up.

10) The Hero becomes the Teacher.   Also “return to the village with the elixir” and so forth.  Luke and Han are given medals by Leia.  Medals are given to reward and encourage exemplary behavior, or behavior the culture considers worthy of emulation.  In  other words: “learn by studying this good citizen.”

I’ve been asked if there is a “Heroine’s Journey.”  Well, sure.  But I believe it is subsumed within this pattern, just dealing more with the interstitial material, the emotions, relationships and “understructure” than the typical Bruckheimer epic.  But note: the shallowest “Blow-em-up” still needs to have SOME emotional thread, or it devolves into a SFX highlight reel.

And the stagiest, weepiest “understructure” piece still has to have SOME incident, or it’s audience shrinks to almost nothing.

Now…whew.  That was a big chunk.  The next step was applying that pattern to the process of writing itself.  And that I’ll talk about tomorrow.



Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Lifewriting Origins #3: We create stories, and stories create us

Origins of LIfewriting #3

The response of my UCLA class stunned me.   Merely thinking of their lives as a story they were writing enabled them, somehow, to gain sufficient perspective to begin solving problems that had been intractable for years.  Why?

I did some digging over the next week, and came across a statement by Joseph Campbell that opened a door in my head.  Paraphrasing: “Cultural myths are depersonalized individual stories.   Our individualized life stories are the personalized cultural myths.”

In other words, the myths and fictions that we tell each other over camp-fires, in songs, books, movies, television and comics are representations of actual life experiences, exaggerated or realistic depictions as they might be.  And our life experiences are framed in the contexts of the stories we have heard from childhood.

In my novel GREAT SKY WOMAN I theorized that not only did human beings create story, but that in some crucial ways, stories created humanity.  That fiction and myth creates a web of meaning out of an almost infinite mass of events, facts and feelings in a given situation.  That this meaning is both linear and non-linear: we react more powerfully to certain events from childhood than we do to things that happened yesterday.

That story enabled human beings to travel from one part of the world to another, preserving their identity as they did: “we are the people of the valley, descended from the First Men.  And when the great fire drove us forth, we traveled far, fighting beasts and beastly men, to come to this place of shelter…”  and so forth.

Just as we tell ourselves stories about our cultural identity, we also have stories about ourselves as individuals.  These stories are positive or negative or some combination of both.

One of the first things I do in most coaching situations is have the client write what I call the “Child story” which is a short essay on how they grew up to be the person they are today.  Because it is short, it will contain many of the basic building blocks of identity: events, beliefs, emotions, relationships, successes and failures.

Remember that our pasts don’t control us, but the stories we tell ourselves about our pasts most certainly do.  The same is true of our present.

Each of us has been exposed to countless thousands of stories since childhood.  We understand “story” organically, instinctively, unconsciously.  And when I asked my student to view his current life as if he was a characters in a story…and that the character ended the story getting everything he wanted, in order to parse my statement and make sense of it, he literally had to dive into a trove of countless movies, books, comic books, television episodes and what not where at the end of the second act all seemed lost…but somehow the character “pulled it out” and ended with a smile.

What did this do?
1) Created context.  Changed the meaning of the current situation.  It was not “I can’t” but rather “I have to solve this.”

2) It made it fun.   Adventures are fun…once you are sure you ain’t gonna die.  If some part of you STARTS with the assumption that you can succeed, you don’t slide into a pessimistic “fear tunnel” in which you can see no options. You literally have more access to your own resources.

3) And…you get more resources.   The attitudes, beliefs, and experiences of fictional characters usually overlap with reality.  Flash Gordon may be fighting Ming The Merciless in space, but the lessons of courage, trusting companions, honor, honesty, and ingenuity resonate with audiences.  I would suggest that ANY story that lasts more than a generation contains lessons that the audience found valuable on an actual life level…there was “meat” under the frosting.   

4) You take the “long view”—the “can’t see the forest for the trees” aspect of tunnel vision.  We lose perspective.  Forget the value and meaning of our daily efforts because there is so much going on, or we are so far from the finish line.

5) The structure of story, passed down to us through the ages, in and of itself contains a BRILLIANT syntax for success.

And that…we will discuss tomorrow.



Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Origins of Lifewriting

So I said that the most important single conceptual decision of my life was to cross-reference  the Hero’s Journey and the yogic Chakras in my writing.   HJ for plotting and structure, and the Chakras for personality.

Joseph Campbell in his “Hero With A Thousand Faces” suggested that there was a single story humanity has been telling itself for all recorded time.  Maybe twenty-five years ago  I was teaching a class at UCLA, a sort of “Writer’s Tool Box”: flow state management, characterization, rewriting, breaking writer’s block, etc.  And in the middle of the class, one of the students raised his hand.

“Mr Barnes?”  He said.  “You’ve taught us all these tools and techniques, but I don’t think I’ll be able to use it.  My wife doesn’t understand my wish to write, my job takes up too much time, my kids demand so much energy…”

There is an expression I heard once that, from time to time life gives you “a cubic inch of opportunity.” Grab it, or its gone forever.  Well, I got one of those cubic inches at that moment.

“Imagine,” I said, “if you were a character in one of your own stories.    In your current life situation.   And at the end of the story, that character got everything he desired and deserved.  What would you have that character do NOW?”

He was stunned.  Silent for a moment. And then…began to solve his own problems.  He could negotiate with his wife to exchange blocks of free time.  He could brown-bag it to lunch, eat at his desk, and get forty minutes of writing—a thousand words of rough draft—done, five days a week.  He could convince his kids that having a writer dad would be exciting and fun…

I tried the same exercise with the others in the class, and every one of them began to solve problems that had been intractable until that time.

I was stunned. What the @#$$ had just happened?   I went home that night in a bit of a daze.  I told my wife Toni what had happened, and asked her if she thought it was worth looking into.  Bless her heart, she enthusiastically agreed.

And I began to research…

More tomorrow!

Namaste, Steve

Monday, February 03, 2014

Diving Deeper

“The most important thing I found out from [my father] is that if you asked any question and pursued it deeply enough, then at the end there was a glorious discovery of a general and beautiful kind.”—Richard Feynman

'Know One Thing, Know Ten Thousand Things." --Musashi Miyamoto

The single largest conceptual breakthrough of my life was the juxtaposing of the yogic chakras and the Hero’s Journey.  I was just looking for a way to understand my writing better, seriously.  The HJ is, I believe, like the 88 keys of a piano.  You don’t play each of them every time, in the same sequence, or it’s just a finger exercise.  Music comes from striking them in different orders, rhythms, intensities…setting up aural expectations and frustrating or fulfilling them, playing multiple overlapping patterns at the same time, and so on.

And so with what Campbell called the Hero’s Journey.   Slavish addiction to fulfilling every step is simply a left-brained person trying to imitate the way a balanced artistic brain works (gee, anyone encountered this in editors or Hollywood executives?).

The HJ is gender-neutral, although it might be observed that male versions tend toward conflicts with environment and groups conflict (overstructure), and female versions tend more toward inter and “intra” personal conflict (understructure).  The best and most memorable deal with both at the same time.  

Because we reach adulthood having heard/scene countless thousands of basic stories, many of us begin to savor the minimalized story, or even those that are inverted, scrambled or abstracted (say, Luis Buñuel’s Andalusian Dog, which depends on a sophisticated audience which attempts to extract meaning from apparently disconnected and often intense images, or is willing to simply cascade from emotional response to emotional response).

So while the endless “Star Wars” style HJ pastiches grow trite, consider these like musicians who are simply playing scales, rather than seeking new arrangements and rhythms.

The “Chakras” I first encountered in yogic psychology.  At the advice of Ray Bradbury, I began to form a view of human nature that I could express in my writing, and the most complete and elegant model in the world is, I believe, the six-thousand year old chakras, which model is echoed in such disparate arenas as  Maslow’s hierarchy, Milton Erickson’s model of human change, and the Kabbalah.  

It was when I used the HJ as the “X” axis, and the Chakras as the “Y” axis of a model of story that oddness began to happen.   More on this tomorrow…

But the echo of Feynman’s statement is just this: if you follow ANY subject deeply enough, not only will you learn interesting things, but you must, by necessity, ultimately learn everything there is to know.   Every subject is actually connected to every other, just as all living beings are connected, and matter and energy are different expressions of the same underlying reality.

We’re going to have fun with this: it’s been a while since I dove into these waters.