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"Steven Barnes (is) uniquely powerful
(in helping others balance) their physical
and emotional arenas along a spiritual pathway
to abiding self love and unifying purpose."
--Gerald M. Levin,
Former CEO, Time/Warner
“Thank you, brother. I took the psychological grace
you helped me foster into the cauldron….and came out with the gold. You’re the best!”
--Scott Sonnon, four-time Gold Medal Winner, 2010 World Martial Arts Game
"(I thought) this program would
be helpful. I was wrong. It wasn't helpful. It
changed my life. It SAVED my life."
--LaVeda Mason, writer
The Hero's Movie #5: Allies and Powers
There were and are a vast sea of skills, talents, and resources necessary to make DANGER WORD (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qI9-W4iG4u8&feature=youtube), our short film, made for less than 1% of the per-minute cost of a Hollywood film. Yes, it’s “just” a zombie movie. No. It is a dark fantasy, a tale of hope and love and family and the last 24 hours of a childhood…with zombies.
And we’re doing it for both personal and community reasons. Both to express ourselves and to teach others how to make films…or ultimately to bring ANY dream that you have to life, on your own terms. To demonstrate how to work with friends and family and your own childhood yearnings to create something that works for YOU.
You need to generalize from what I’m saying here, and see how this applies to books. Businesses. Fitness. Relationships. I’m taking the risk of doing this publicly, where I can fall on my face…or succeed, and you’ll see every step of it. I am sick of people thinking their dreams are dead if they haven’t reached them by forty.
Sick of it. So…here we go.
As I said, in Step #5 you face the reality of needing to gather a circle of allies who did and do have the basic capacities. Then I need to clarify my own goals, and ask them to clarify theirs. If our goals overlap, it makes sense to work together. But as “How to Make Friends and Influence People” insists, you have to bond with people based on THEIR needs and drives, NOT YOURS.
(By the way, the best way to understand the motivations of others is to deeply understand your own. The more honest you are about your own motivations…including the role selfishness plays in everything you do, the easier it is to understand, and motivate others. If you are often deceived or disappointed by the behavior of others, if you frequently have the “I didn’t see THAT coming” reaction, if you fall for lies repeatedly…it is very likely that you are lying to yourself, about yourself. That the lies you tell yourself to avoid pain, guilt, or fear keep you from understanding the people around you. Best litmus test I know.)
So the first question was: “what is this person’s dream, and would making a movie with me further that dream?” Well…first ally? Tananarive. My wife, my partner, my best friend. Frustrates the living #$%% out of me at times, but that’s human relationships for you. Heck, I frustrate me, so it’s inevitable that the people around me will as well.
But she’s also brilliant. And has resources and perspectives I do not. And yes, what she wants matches largely with what I want…sufficiently that we can have a successful relationship. We had a match. We could work on a short story of ours, “Danger Word” which would then have the advantage of being a shared dream, a story that could be done “on a budget”, a genre currently popular, an advertisement for the “Devil’s Wake” novels, a doorway to making a feature film…you name it.
Luchina Fisher, one of T’s oldest and best friends and an absolute sweetheart, was next to get on board. The “Master Mind” principle says that a “Master Mind” is formed when two or more people align in PERFECT HARMONY, in mutual support. That means that Harmony is more important than potential resource, or the size of the group. What you’re looking for is a “Supermind” formed by brainstorming. A little conflict is great, nothing more than the natural flow of spontaneous dance. But too much becomes like a brain seizure, left and right hemispheres of that three pounds of gray Jello in your skull fighting for control.
(By the way, this is what creates the conflict between labor and management, or art and business. There is a giant joke I’ve seen in publishing and Hollywood. The writers believe editors and publishers are Philistines. Editors often believe writers are spoiled children. Until…the writers start their own publishing companies to “do it right” at which point the writers who work with them start grousing the same way. Or until the publishers/editors write their own books and stories…and start complaining about the editors they work with.
The same thing seems true in Hollywood. The management complains about writers and actors. Let the writers or actors become “suits” and the people working for THEM start making the same complaints. Hell, you see it with voters and politicians as well. See this often enough, and I’d think people would start suspecting that it isn’t that the people in the other position are “bad.” It is that the nature of the positions places you in antagonistic balance, “Child/Creative/Emotional/Impulsive” selves warring with “Adult/Bookkeeping/Logical/Long-Term” self. Gee, does this resemble the struggles going on in your own head? Ever make a promise to yourself and break it? A sincere promise? Gee, were you lying to yourself? Overly optimistic? Unrealistic? Now…when others break promises to you, to you think they are “bad” or do you cut them the same slack? Understanding yourself helps you understand others. You don’t have to consider other people inferior to you in intent or capacity to avoid the negative consequences of their poor decisions.)
So…Harmony between me and T is the first step. Early in our relationship, realizing we wanted to both work together and stay married, we made the decision that when we had business arguments, we could “go at it” hammer and tongs, but the relationship itself was never, ever on the table. Never threatened. That if anything was going on that threatened the relationship that had to be discussed separately, and calmly, and directly.
This freed us from the fear that “if I don’t agree, I will lose my love.” It allowed us to really rip apart each other’s ideas, without feeling personally torn apart. Because brothers and sisters, you have to both feel free to offer crazy ideas, and know that your ideas and concepts ARE NOT YOU. They are just expressions, observations.
We love and trust each other, and also know that we are different people, close enough in values, beliefs and goals that we can make a relationship work. A RELATIONSHIP ISN’T TWO PEOPLE LOOKING AT EACH OTHER. IT IS TWO PEOPLE MOVING IN THE SAME DIRECTION.
Understand that distinction, or you are in terrible trouble. Now, then…with that basic unity established as the core “Mastermind” then add ONE PERSON. Still have harmony? Expand brainstorming and add ONE MORE PERSON…continue this process, willing to fall back to the previous number if there is any lack of harmony.
T, Luchina and I argued, but it was very very cool argument. Real respect, admiration, and affection there. I liked what I heard and saw, and breathed a sigh of relief—because Luchina had actually walked this path before, and succeeded in producing a fine short film. We now had a group with all the basic skills and connections necessary to accomplish what we wanted. I had a good overall (but thin) grasp of the steps necessary to create a 15 minute short, or THE AVENGERS. It was just a question of how much could I learn, how fast, or how many people could I enroll?
There is a principle in marketing: DON’T CREATE A PRODUCT WITHOUT A MARKET. Great way to go broke. We could have tried to fund it out of our own pockets. But you know something? Even hugely wealthy people very rarely do this. They know that if they cannot enroll others in the process, they are operating from pure ego, and are likely to fail. Luckily, there is something called Crowdfunding. If we couldn’t make a case to the public, and get them to help us FOR THEIR OWN MOTIVATIONS, if we couldn’t convince them that this project was worthwhile enough to help fund it, there was a very good chance that it wasn’t worth doing…or that we didn’t have the skills necessary to create tribe and ultimately market the result. If we could fund it, we had some of the critical skills, and a potential winner.
So: the “Allies and Powers” step meant to
1) model successful people to determine what they did, and compare enough of them to determine the “critical path” to success (for instance: some writers drink. Some beat their wives. Some overeat. These are individual, negative behaviors. But ALL successful writers read and write massively. THAT is part of the “critical path”, not the other, idiosyncratic behaviors)
2) Determine which of these behaviors, skills and resources you have, and which you do not. Those you can attain in the time frame available, begin to acquire.
3) Those skills and resources you do NOT have, or need to bolster, create “Mastermind” groups of like-minded individuals, beginning with a single friend, partner, or lover who you can, in this arena at least, trust 100%. Meet with them at LEAST once a week, preferably daily, and brainstorm and clarify goals and determine daily actions.
4) Add new partners to the “Mastermind” ONE AT A TIME, and see if you still have harmony. A little dissonance can be spicy and valuable. But if the new person disrupts your groove, no matter how knowledgeable or talented they are, let them go. You cannot afford conflict on this most basic level—it is like having a seizure.
5) Use the new person’s knowledge to clarify the plans, resource list and personnel roster necessary to achieve your goal.
6) Repeat the process as needed.
So we created a plan to get to a 15 minute short film we could use to understand the process of film making, have fun, make money, and leverage our way to a feature, if we liked the process of working together. If we decided we didn’t…no harm no foul. We’d back away from each other like porcupines after mating (very carefully!), protect the relationships, and take the knowledge into other ventures with other people.
Created a time line, budget, resource list, and then said: let’s do this.
The rest…is DANGER WORD.
The Hero's Movie #4: The Road of Trials
4) Road of trials. Here, you look at the overall plan, model the successes in your field (and if there is no one in your chosen field who has ever succeeded ethically, I kinda have to suspect you’re in the wrong field. Hell, there’ve probably been ethical hit men and Mafia dons, you know?), and extract their behaviors, beliefs, and emotions. What do I want? A feature film. Do people make their own features? Yes. Can shorts act as a stepping stone? You bet. What if I go the studio route eventually? Well…we’ve tried that. Had movies in development for years and years, made tons of money often with no ultimate result. Could making a short help me here?
The theory is…yes. The microcosm of making and marketing a short film forces me out of my comfort zone, and will teach me every basic part of making a 200 million dollar movie, just as a short story teaches you every basic skill necessary to write a 200k novel. So…where could I learn the basic pieces I needed? Well…there’s a guy named Dov Simens who teaches what he calls the “Two-Day Film School” that a number of successful film makers swear by. I’ve got his material, and studied it. He seriously broke it down into bite-size component parts, maybe 20 of them. Clearly, each of the 20 steps could be an entire semester, or even year of study. But however lightly he touched upon them, they were the links in the chain necessary to take a film from an idea to a finished product (for instance, he covers screen writing in a half hour!) But now I knew what I didn’t know. And it suggested the path ahead.
Here is where I’ll take my VERY limited experience and make a recommendation: don’t invest more than 500 dollars of your own money, unless you don’t care about earning it back. The truth is that you can make a film for that, if you carefully design your script as a one-act play, rehearse the actors thoroughly, and then use Hi-Def to tape it on an existing set. If your script is powerful, and sucks people in, and your actors sell it, the audience will suspend their disbelief and enter the emotional world of your piece. You will then be able to use this to stair-step your way to a bigger project…at no more than one order of magnitude per step.
If your idea is larger, then use crowdfunding of some kind to raise your capital. If you cannot, it means that you either have no sales ability, or your idea is not salable. Better to find this out NOW, than after you’ve mortgaged your house, yes?
One of the biggest mistakes I see is impatience. People don’t write and SELL short stories before they go for novels. They put everything they have into a single project that will bankrupt them if they fail. Almost anyone can walk up a flight of stairs to a 10 foot landing. There may be a handful of human beings on the planet who can jump that high. This is “talent”, the ability to take more component steps, absorb more lessons at greater speed. But that’s the Hare approach. The Tortoise works just fine. Don’t rush. You will learn so much at each stage, that there is simply no logical down-side to starting small and building up.
The road of trials. Simply put, you study the lives of people who have accomplished what you want. Preferably, three people, so that you can identify the “critical path” they took, and exclude as many idiosyncratic behaviors as possible. Look at their belief systems (“I have the ability! Art is important!”), their mental syntax (raise most of the money from the community you hope to serve. Enroll others in the project by appealing to their hopes and dreams. Make honest assessment of your abilities, and find others who have the missing pieces. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Budget 10% more time and money for EVERYTHING.) and use of physiology (get ready for 18-20 hour days if you want to direct. Apply butt to chair and get that script done. Don’t have sugary foods on your set. Have a masseuse on-set. Have a stress-coping mechanism in place BEFORE the stress hits) and so forth.
Now…look honestly and without mercy at your current abilities. Have you published? Produced anything? No? Then start at the very lowest level and work your way up. Give yourself a chance to learn.
Subtract your current skill and resource set from the skill and resource set necessary to accomplish your goal (as measured by the “critical path.”) In other words, what skills do you need? Do you have the positive beliefs necessary to power you past the “Dark Night of the Soul”? Trust me: IT WILL COME. There is no way around it. This is when and where you will find out who you are. Not when you are flush in the excitement of it all, dreaming in your living room, but on the set, at 1 in the morning, running out of time and money and your crew about to revolt. THAT is when you will learn who you are.
The road of trials. The pre-production, production, and post-production. Study those who have accomplished it. I believe Dov Simens has his entire basic book on his web site, one chapter at a time, FOR FREE. If you’ve never done this, and you don’t take the time to study what he’s saying…you are probably shooting yourself in the foot.
Get moving. My VERY incomplete knowledge should be the barest of starting points. Get out there and learn. And then…divide the work to be done into chunks and handle those chunks a bit at a time.
How do you eat an elephant? One forkful at a time. Start eating.
The Hero's Movie #3: Accepting the Challenge
3) Acceptance of the challenge. I decided that the effort itself, separate from any ultimate result, was worthwhile. If I failed, I’d still have fun. But if I succeeded…I could take a step toward my single largest remaining life goal: a feature film. But looking outward, I saw how it could strengthen my relationship with T. That I could create a role for Nicki, forwarding her career. That T had a dear friend who was a filmmaker, and that it could be a “Gurlz on the Loose” situation that they could remember forever. The potential upside was huge, the downside relatively small. “Go for it” was the answer.
Yesterday T and I did an internet radio show, on which we spoke of our motivations to create DANGER WORD. But here’s the trick: if you want to do something, and do it effectively and efficiently, you not only need to have “permission” on every level, but it needs to fit your self image. Be in alignment with your childhood dreams, adult goals, and deathbed values. You need to be “becoming”—in other words, if you ask yourself if you will become a purer, stronger version of the person you believe yourself to be, and the answer is “Yes” even if you don’t live to actualize the complete goal…paydirt.
And…would you have fun in the process? I realized that no matter how I sliced it, this was something I wanted to do. It might lead no where, or to fantastic, wonderful things. There would be no way to know without actually beginning the journey.
“Adulthood” is the moment when you take responsibility for your own life and existence. Response-Ability. Not guilt, blame, or shame, but the ability to stand up and say “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.” “If there are only two jobs out there, I’m getting one of them.” “Patience my ass, I’m gonna kill something.” Yeah, THAT thing. We all know children take responsibility for nothing, if they don’t have to. It’s someone else’s fault. They made a mistake. It was their friends. You “made them” feel bad. You’re so selfish for not giving them what they want?
You are an adult when you stop this nonsense. Stand and tell the tide not to come in, and see how the natural world reacts. Rail against the fact that you are a rabbit, and there are eagles in the sky…see how long you last. This is the only life you get, and you either go for it, or it comes for you. And Brothers and Sisters…you aren’t going to like the result. No matter how small you play, no matter what deep, dark hole you claw for yourself, no matter how little you ask for, and how quiet you are…Death is still going to find you.
How much success would it take for you to be willing to die the day before you achieved it? There is NO level of external success worth your life. And yet, we all pay that price…our lives. Whether we get that success or not. I don’t know about you, but I interpret that as meaning I should set my ambitions as high as the sky, give it everything I have…and then watch the results with a certain level of bemusement.
Yes. I take responsibility. I want this. I’m willing to give it everything, and let the chips fall where they may. This is who I am, it is my life, and I’ll succeed or fail being ME, not pretending to be someone else.
The Hero Makes A Movie Step 2: Rejection of the Challenge
All right, the first step was to recognize that there was a problem, an opportunity, and something that could be done. Once we acknowledge that, why don’t we act? That leads us to:
2) Rejection of the challenge. I could have done this years ago. Why hadn’t I? Well…I’d defined myself as a writer. Not a producer or a director. Done a small amount of stunt choreography, but that was it, really. So the fear associated with the rejection was “am I that person? Do I have the energy to do this? Will it be a distraction from the critical path I need to reach my goals?” Really a version of “who am I?” and “what is true?” which are the most important questions in life.
What are some of the most common reasons I see that people are paralyzed?
1) If I try, I’ll be disappointed. Children will fall down a thousand times just to take a single step. If they were as easy to discourage as adults, we’d all be crawling to work.
2) Everyone who accomplishes this goal betrays their ethics. Really? Everyone? Geeze, I’d bet that there are ethical hit men and Mafia dons out there, if you looked carefully enough. You really chose a profession or hobby where everyone who succeeds is a sell-out selfish bastard? Really? If that’s what you think, you have some seriously damaged emotional filters. That’s just not reality.
3) Everyone who succeeds at this has resources I do not have. Really? Everyone? Not a single person has ever succeeded at this starting from where you started? People have risen from nothing to become leaders in any field you can think of: acting, athletics, business, politics, the arts, the sciences. And if you can find ONE person who was as bad—or worse—off as you, and made it, it punctures that belief. And the chances are that there are a LOT more than one person, especially if you are willing to look at parallel fields. No one has ever published a Western Novel about Sioux Indians protecting a Gold Mine in Wyoming in April of 1866 while it’s raining in Kansas City and a Mule is giving birth to a rabbit in Boston Commons? Well…maybe we need to back off that level of specificity a bit. Oh! Here’s one with a mule that gave birth to a rabbit on a ship in Boston Harbor. Maybe that will suffice as a role model..? Ya think?
4) I’m too old, too young, too female, too black, too gay, too poor, too uneducated, too…too…whatever. Yeah. But if one person ever did it starting from where you are, you’re just accepting an excuse.
You have to remember there is a part of you that is going to throw up every possible negative reason, every pain, every threat, try to convince you that IT IS IMPOSSIBLE. And if you can’t find a square inch of open space, of blue sky, can’t remember the times in your life you thought I CAN’T! And did it anyway…you don’t have a prayer.
First, you have to control your state. Your belief. You have to focus on what you want, and why you want it.
Put your love in front of you, your fear behind you, and run like hell.
Had other people made shorts? Yes.
Had other people used shorts to leverage their way to features? Yes.
Did I have resources in my mind and heart that I had not used in my writing career that I might apply to this? Yes.
Was it in alignment with my values and dreams? Yes.
Did I have allies who had the skills and experience I lacked? Yes.
Did it sound like fun? Heck, yes.
And…here’s a big one. When faced with the question “should I or shouldn’t I take this risk?” Ask yourself one important question: “how long am I going to be dead?”
If the answer to that question doesn’t get you up and moving, you may already be shuffling and moaning for brains.
When it comes right down to it, isn’t ONE of the reasons zombies are popular because we fear not death so much as LIVING DEATH? The “negation of the negation?” Lurching through the world in dreadful imitation of life, going through the motions? Infecting our loved ones with our own emotional rot? Tearing down the living? Becoming a shell of the vibrant, hopeful, optimistic beings we used to be? Allowing our fears, doubts, resentments, angers, false self image and ego shell to keep us from accomplishing what we wanted in childhood?
Isn’t that more terrifying? I am not a zombie, damn it. The little kid who began this journey is still inside me. He plays with Jason every day. He still loves THE AVENGERS and JOHNNY QUEST. Still likes crawling on the floor and playing with kittens. HE’S STILL THERE. And damn it, I know that if I gave him that gift, the gift of trying, no matter what happened, he will reward me with smiles and love and creativity and energy.
So…yes, I had doubts. And fears. And questions. But also knew that if I didn’t try, I’d be betraying something deep and precious within me.
Say it with me, now, and aloud: I will NOT feed my child to the zombies. I will NOT voluntarily join the living dead! I will fight and scratch and work and pray and love and live for my dreams, every damned day. They can break down the door, but I will NOT open the door for them. And by God, before they get me I’ll jump out the window and laugh all the way down to the sidewalk, saying “what a rush!”
Because this is the only life I have. And I will not live it by anyone else’s rules.
Damn it, I’m gonna make a #$%^^ movie!
We’re doing this in plain sight, so that people can see just how far we get, and the attitudes, actions and strategies we used. Then they can either follow, or learn from our mistakes as they navigate their own paths. The truth is that the process looked one way BEFORE we began. It looks a different way now. And after this process is complete, and whatever DANGER WORD is, and if it does or does not morph into the DEVIL’S WAKE feature we would like to do next year…after this is done, the process will have yet another complexion. I swore that if you guys supported this, we would share EVERYTHING, without reservation. In this way you can not only see the mistakes and solutions we create or encounter, but you will be able to see in real-time how the “Hero’s Journey” pattern I’ve taught for over 20 years applies to real-world situations.
No b.s. No hiding. When we finish the 15 minute film WHICH IS CERTAIN AT THIS POINT we will be able to finalize this portion of the process, and formalize a teaching. Then, of course, we’ll be maneuvering to use that as a stepping stone to making a feature—either ourselves, or in partnership with investors and/or a studio. But it is worthwhile to begin the documentation process now, only a few days before our first Trailer is complete (and you’re going to LOVE IT!) So let’s take a look at the 10-step “Hero’s Journey” as applied to this particular situation.
1) Confronted with Challenge. During the Octavia Butler symposium, we were faced with talented young artists who had made short films. I watched a bunch of them. Some were VERY impressive, some…not so much. Some seemed expensive (at least in terms of skills and talent) others very budget-conscious. And what occurred to me was: wait a #$% minute. “We could do this. In our circle are all the skills and resources we need. Do I want to do this?”
And yes, I did. And do. Since childhood, I’ve wanted a feature film with my name on it. Watched movies with the kind of simple joy one rarely finds in life, and has never ever left me. I wanted it. What has the result been? Twenty-eight novels, about twenty hours of produced television scripts. A handful of films in development, but never produced. A credit as “creative consultant” on “The Secret of NIMH.” Creating the bible for a series of Swedish ninja movies (!) starring Chuck Conners (!!). In many ways, I accomplished more than I’d dreamed of as a child…but one dream remained. And remains. We watched movies in development at different studios, getting paid but without positive result.
I ran into executive after executive politely asking “if we could change the race of the lead character.” Not HIS preference, you know. It’s the audience…
When supporting T’s projects, I had the humiliation of a production executive basically asking who the hell I was, and would I please shut up during the brainstorming sessions. And I shut up. Because I wanted my baby to get her dream onscreen. But God, it hurt so badly. I just had to sit on it.
Could I accept this challenge? Was there more potential pleasure than pain here? Yes. But the conflict remained…
It isn’t what we do once in a while that shapes your destiny. It is what you do…or don’t do…continuously. Every day. Day after day. When no one’s looking. See someone successful in any career? You’re seeing countless decisions and actions made in private that impacted his public life. See someone with a loving relationship that lasted long enough to raise children (whether they have kids or not)? Someone who was honest enough to know what they wanted and needed in a mate and fight for it, sacrifice for it, dance with the chaos of human emotions every day. See someone with a strong healthy body? You’re seeing someone who had permission to be healthy, and made daily decisions about how to move, eat, and rest to support their physical values.
Everyone has excuses and reasons they could accept to be sick, or broke, or lonely (alone is a different thing), or whatever. Never met a human being who didn’t have contrary voices in their head, conflicting values given by family or society, failures and foibles by the bunch. In fact, the most successful people fail more often. They just interpret that failure as feedback.
In writing, one of Tananarive’s teachers said “a real writer papers his walls with rejection slips.” The failure says: “this story was rejected, it must not be good. I’m not good.”
In relationships, the truth is that hearts break but heal and grow stronger—if you learn. The failure says: “there are no good men/women out there.” Or “all the good men/women are taken.” Or “I’m not worthy of love.”
In the physical realm, it’s “fat runs in my family. Diets have failed before. My body disobeys the laws of physics. I’m not strong enough, fast enough” or whatever. The winner says “I have these challenges and advantages. If anyone in my situation has ever earned that black belt/lost that weight/gained that muscle in a healthful way…I can learn what they did, do it, and get the same result.
It took me SEVENTEEN YEARS to earn my first black belt (the average is about five), because I was dealing with so much childhood trauma, so much fear, so much pain, such a negative, weak self-image. But I kept picking myself up, kept going back, because I knew if I didn’t I would never be whole—I would be “papering over” damage from my past, and would spend the rest of my life hoping people wouldn’t notice.
In every arena, there will be people who tell you no, you can’t. Will try to convince you that you actually NEED to be imbalanced, lonely, poor. That a spiritual person ignores his body. That misery is the path to growth.
But if anyone has ever embraced her path with joy and accomplished what is in your heart to have, be, or do…so can you. If anyone has ever healed the same wounds you carry…so can you. If anyone has ever overcome your ethnic, gender, social, or financial obstacles…so can you.
But if you surround yourself with people who believe it is impossible, that genetics are destiny, that race is determinative, that it takes money to make money, that love is a myth…you are in trouble.
You can kill your dreams with standards that are too HIGH as well as those that are too low. Both are designed unconsciously to create the same situation: lack of change. Maintaining your self image. Examples:
1) I recently spoke to a famous actor who has never been married. His definition of an acceptable wife was someone who saw everything as he did, felt about everything the way he does, thinks the same things when she sees the same sunsets, is turned on or off on the same schedule. He will never find it. He couldn’t even have a relationship with HIMSELF, because two twins, identical in every way when they leave the womb (and no, they wouldn’t really be identical even then) will have different experiences during life, and therefore must develop differently. There is just no way. His actual programming is not to find love, but to avoid pain of disappointment. It is an utterly childish view of relationships, one that hearkens back to some mythological point when someone understood our every need without being told. In other words, Mommy fantasies.
2) “It takes money to make money” is a common belief…among poor people. It ignores the fact that money is just an abstraction of perceived worth of goods and services. It also ignores all of the people who manage to build something…starting with no money. Countless people have leveraged their energy, intelligence, commitment, bonding capacity, perception, and personal likeability into jobs and careers. “There aren’t any jobs out there.” In the worst economy in America’s history, the general unemployment rate was 23.6% (1932). That means that one in four people was out of work. Horrible statistics. Terrible statistics. But will you look at that from the other perspective? THREE OUT OF FOUR PEOPLE WERE EMPLOYED. That means that you don’t have to be extraordinary at all, in the very worst economy. You have to be better than the bottom 25%, AND BE ABLE TO PROVE IT. You have to be able to demonstrate that you can make more money for a prospective employer than the bottom 25%. If you’ve chosen a career that is far from the money stream you may be in trouble—but you chose that. That was your decision. But in that case, it is still a matter of demonstrating value, in a way that the decision makers in your field accept. My brother in law Patric Young has a great, fabulous attitude: “if there are two jobs left in the world, I’m getting one of them.” You can’t beat, can’t stop someone with an attitude like that. You can kill them, but you can’t keep them down. Statistics have nothing to do with individual success.
3) In relationships, people take all kinds of courses in how to “pick up girls” and how to “find men.” Most of this stuff boils down to projecting the body language and attitudes of a healthy mammal. It is so sick and sad to watch men who are living in Mommy’s basement wondering why women aren’t attracted to them. Women who have been married six times and consider this evidence that “men are crap.” (And the woman who actually said this to me was a therapist! This is where my “most optometrists wear glasses” theory comes from, btw). My comment to her? “There is only one thing in common in all your relationships: you were there.” You can attract and hold your own level of energy and integration. Attracted to people who aren’t attracted to you? Either you need to raise that energy and/or integration, or you need to love and accept yourself more so that you can see the beauty in people who AREN’T at that different level.
No. It would be a nightmare world. A world in which people deliberately sought failure, dysfunction, sickness, and ignorance, insanity and imbalance. I might be able to write a savagely cynical short story set in that world, but a novel? No. And LIVE in it? Hell, no. Want my CHILDREN to live in that world? You don’t want to hear my answer to that. Trust me.
So…grow up. Be in the world as it is, rather than the fantasy you had of it when your mommy and daddy loved you even if you were drooling, unable to walk or talk, and babbled nonsense. If you want adult privileges like freedom, money, sex and the respect of adults…be an adult. Take responsibility for your life, your dreams, your actions. Even…ESPECIALLY… when no one is watching.
Otherwise the REAL children of the world…as well as the childhood dreams you nurture in your heart…are in terrible, terrible trouble indeed.
BRADBURY AND THE BLESSED BURDEN
My current writing schedule involves juggling three films, three books, a non-fiction project, and multiple short stories. This would be CRUSHING stress, except that I don’t try to hold them all in my head at the same time. Heaven forbid. Here’s what makes it work. I…
1) Have separate computer files for each project, in SCRIVENER, the perfect organization tool for writers.
2) Write a minimum of 1000 words of rough draft on the most urgent/important project every day, during “Diamond Hour”. This means that, no matter what, I’m always chipping away at the load. This is a minimum of five days a week. Sometimes seven. That guarantees me between 250-365k words a year.
3) know what tomorrow’s writing will be before going to bed. In this way, my unconscious can chew over it as I sleep.
4) Every morning in my “Morning Ritual” of incantations and visualizations (while performing Tai Chi) I pump myself up, remind myself of all I have to be grateful for, and extend that gratitude into the future for my next year’s goals. I visualize successfully completing whatever tasks I have TODAY that dovetail with those yearly goals. Those yearly goals dovetail with my lifetime goals.
5) I input the very best writing I can find, every day. Currently, I’m working through the complete Shakespeare A-Z, as performed and produced by the BBC. Incredible stuff. Also reading a short story every day. Currently working through Ray Bradbury’s favorite 100 stories. What a master. Even better…he LOVED his craft, and life itself. What a sweet, decent, loving human being!
And I wanted to tell a story about Ray Bradbury…just because it is instructive on several levels, and might help people understand why I am so driven to share what I have. I have been blessed to be guided and encouraged by masters.
I always loved Ray Bradbury’s stories, his reading style, his general attitude of life and love. So in my twenties, I wrote a story called “Trick or Treat”, a Halloween piece (Bradbury loved Halloween!) about a guy who gets into an escalating war of nerves with the Trick or Treaters in his neighborhood, each Halloween getting a little nastier, until one practical joke goes too far and a kid is accidentally killed. And he knows that next year, they will kill him. A nasty little piece of work.
I wrote it up, and my soon-to-be-wife Toni designed art to accompany it, and we put together a nice package. Sometime in the late 70’s Bradbury was signing books at a bookstore, and we went down, and offered him the story package, and he graciously accepted it. Low and behold, about a month later I got a letter from him thanking me for the story, congratulating me on its quality, and encouraging me to seek a career. This was the very first encouragement I had ever received from a pro, and it meant the world.
That story was the first I ever published. I was paid in contributor’s copies, but hey, I was published!
Years passed. My mother had discouraged me from seeking a writing career (she was terribly afraid I would fail as a writer, as my father had as a singer) but saw that Robert Kirsch, literary editor for the L.A. Times, was teaching a creative writing class at U.C.L.A. This was about 1980. She suggested that we both go and take night classes—she in something cultural (I forget what) and me with Kirsch. I leapt at the opportunity. I was an odd duck in that class. Most of the others were writing literary stories (filled with tone, scant on incident) or poetry. I wrote a story called “Is Your Glass Half Empty?” about a compulsive gambler who hocks his pacemaker.
Kirsch looked at my story as if he had no idea what to do with it, and politely asked if he could show it to a friend of his. I said sure. A month later I got a letter from…you guessed it…Ray Bradbury, again congratulating me, and encouraging me to seek a career. I’m sure he didn’t remember the earlier story, btw. That story was my second publised work. Got 1/5th of a cent a word. But hey, it was money. Framed that damned check. Ummm…until I was so broke I had to cash it. Ahem.
Years passed. I worked with Larry Niven, published a few books, became known in the L.A. Fan community. In the early 80’s I was asked to be the master of ceremonies at “Planet Fest”, an event by the Planetary Society in Pasadena. One of the guests was Ray Bradbury, and it was my pleasure to introduce him. I had the honor of standing on that stage in front of hundreds of people, and telling them what he had done for me. He strode on stage like a giant, and embraced me, and the audience applauded wildly. Ever be embraced by your hero while a crowd cheers? IT CHANGES YOUR NEUROLOGY. I was never the same afterward.
Years passed. In the early 1990’s I was teaching at UCLA extension, and did a “Science Fiction Symposium” event. Every week a different guest: Octavia Butler, Larry Niven, Robert Bloch, Gregory Benford…and Ray Bradbury. He did not drive, so I picked him up at his house (!) and took him to Westwood where we had dinner. While there, I overcame my shyness and poured out my heart to him. You see, I was afraid that the amount of writing I’d done in collaboration, or for money in Hollywood, had “poisoned the well.” Had numbed me to the sound of my own voice. Trembling, on the edge of tears, I asked him if he thought it was too late for me.
He grew very serious. “Have you published?” He asked.
“Oh, yes,” I replied, and reeled off a list of about ten novels, multiple television episodes and so forth.
He laughed and laughed, the kind of booming, sincere, deep-throated mirth that reminded me of a literary Santa Claus. “Oh, you’ll have no problem at all!” He was brilliant that night at the Symposium, btw.
The last time I saw him was in 2010. There was a 90th Birthday celebration for him at, I think, the Universal Sheraton. I was contacted and asked if I had anything joyful to contribute, and I scrambled to say “yes.” Ray had had strokes, was in his wheelchair and could barely speak. The mind was still there, and still sharp however. I took the podium and told my story, how he had inspired me with his writing, been kind to an unpublished writer in desperate need to believe in himself, and comforted a lost artist seeking to find a way to meld commerce and personal expression. I was crying by the time I was done, and with effort he lifted his arms to me, and we embraced. It was raining as I drove home. Oh, hell, maybe it was just me. I knew I’d never see him again.
But…a few weeks later a letter arrived. It was written on a manual typewriter, and I could imagine it being painfully pecked out, one letter at a time.
“Dear Stephen,” it said (and this is from memory. The letter is filed away somewhere.) “Thank you for your wonderful words, which added so much to my natal celebration. Some of your tears are my own.” And signed, Ray Bradbury.
Like I said initially, I am currently CRUSHED by my work load…except that every action in connection with it is infused with joy, the kind of joy I learned from this man, and others along my path. I have been blessed with wonderful friends, wonderful family, wonderful mentors, a wonderful life.
It is the greatest pleasure of my life to pass those blessings on to those I love.
This Day, This Precious Moment
We’re drilling down into the “Diamond Hour” Concept, because almost everyone can find a single hour a day to claim as your own. In general, a writer might spend twenty minutes a day on each of three different things:
1) Twenty minutes meditation
2) Twenty minutes exercise/incantation
3) Twenty minutes focused writing, FLOW STATE FIRST DRAFT. On alternate days, polish and edit. (Or something in alignment with deepest personal values and goals)
1) Fifteen minutes meditation
2) Fifteen minutes planning
3) Fifteen minutes exercise/incantation
4) Fifteen minutes FLOW STATE writing (or something in alignment with deepest personal values and goals)
1) Ten minutes meditation.
2) Ten minutes planning
3) Ten minutes exercise/incantation
4) Thirty minutes FLOW STATE writing (or something in alignment with deepest personal values and goals.)
Don’t do more than four basic things in your Diamond Hour, and don’t let any of the pieces get smaller than 10 minutes. But you can mix and match a bit to find the best pattern that works for you.
In combination with the Five Minute Miracle (Five sixty-second “breathing breaks” distributed through the day) you are kicking yourself into ultra-high gear. You are focusing your mind, raising your energy, moving toward your destiny, protecting your health, engaging your fitness, mastering stress, aligning with your “inner child”, creating a Daily Ritual of power, and far more.
EVEN IF YOU ARE TOTALLY BUSY THE REST OF THE DAY, you have moved toward your deepest goals.
And even more importantly, you are answering the two most important questions in life: Who Am I? And “What is true?”
Who are you? A moving, living, evolving being. One in alignment with your values. What is true? That the world can be navigated with joy and power, that every day has meaning and significance. That you have FAR more control over your life, destiny and emotions than 99.9% of the people around you believe.
Remember the idea that information is not power? Only information that causes or changes ACTION is power. If your emotions truly change, your actions will change. If you see the world more clearly or accurately, your actions will change. IF YOUR ACTIONS DO NOT CHANGE, YOU HAVE NOT CHANGED.
On this level, behavior is truth.
On the worst day of your life, you can “fall back” to the Five Minute Miracle. But NO ONE has fewer than five minutes of guided breathing time in a day. You are simply lying to yourself. And if you do that…you have just learned a bit about how you lie, how you distort your reality map.
Imagine you are on a road trip between birth and death. Is it valuable to know that your map is distorted? You think?
Musashi’s First Principle: “Do Not Think Dishonestly.” Until you stop lying about the fact that, barring serious illness, your adult body, adult relationships and adult careers are created by our consistent behaviors, and our behaviors are created by our beliefs, perceptions, value hierarchies and emotions. ADULTS TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. Children blame the world, their parents, their pasts. Either take responsibility, or the metaphorical “children” of your dreams and goals will simply wither and die.
“If it’s to be, it’s up to me” has to become your mantra, if there is any part of you that is still blaming the world. The world is just what it is. It is up to YOU to learn to read the map of that world, to align your values with your goals enough that just practicing or working toward them brings you satisfaction.
Why? Because no one is guaranteed a tomorrow. Live so that even if you die tomorrow, today was a triumph.
TODAY you expressed your dreams. TODAY you learned more about your mind, body, and emotions. TODAY you told your loved ones that you adore them. TODAY you celebrated your life. TODAY. TODAY. TODAY.
This day. This hour. This five minutes. This sixty seconds. This breath. This moment. The macro in the micro.
Perfect moments make a perfect minute. Perfect minutes make a perfect hour. Perfect hours make a perfect day. Perfect days make a life of mastery.
You will have ups and downs. Days when your head is full of fog, or your body is full of fire. Days of depression and those of exaltation. Days when your tasks seem like stones, and others when your goals are like wings.
But up or down, we must move forward, even if only a single step. Every person you’ve ever admired has their “down” days, their challenges, their flaws and heartbreaks. EVERY ONE OF THEM.
This is one of the most important things you learn if you study success. They ALL had their “dark nights of the soul” and one of the worst myths is that somehow they didn’t know about failure. No, they know more about failure than the people we call “failures.” Why? Because they got up and kept going. Which means that
1) they understand failure from both sides and
2) they fail more often.
Your ritual of daily action, even a piece as small as five minutes, will change your life. Begin today.
Continue tomorrow. Build the live of your dreams. Ask “who am I” and “what is true” with every act, every breath.
One step at a time, walk the Thousand Mile Road.
Pierce the illusion. Embrace your destiny. Live this one most precious life you have to live.
I close with the Sanskrit expression that means “the divinity within me salutes and acknowledges the divinity within you,” the same idea as the West African term “Num” which means that there is one spirit peering out through many eyes.
At 12:30 in the morning, Mick Jagger saved us...
It was 12:30 am Sunday night, and the crew was exhausted. The cast was exhausted. But the great Frankie Faison was driving us on with energy and clarity. “Motor through it!” he insisted, and we did. What a guy! But we had another major sequence to film after this, and I saw that we were in trouble. By the time we got through set-up, and changing location, and lighting (we had to fake daylight!), and everything else…multiple takes of a CRITICAL emotional sequence, without which DANGER WORD simply wouldn’t work…the risk of injury or hell, MUTINY was very real. And Tananarive and I went into a huddle. This is where it is useful to be a writer/producer. We understood the moral and emotional core of our film. We knew that the purpose of a story is not to supply information, but to convey an emotional charge. Information that does not change emotion (and therefore, influence action) is useless. Pointless. Trivial (why do you think they call it “Trivial Pursuit”?)
Tananarive was exhausted, nodding off between takes. But when she sat up and focused, a possibility occurred to her: with some re-jiggering, we could play the entire outdoor scene indoors. Right here on the set. I was shocked, but then thought about it (and yes, I’m being artfully vague here). I thought it through.
1) Did it make story sense? Would viewers “miss” the missing set-up? Would they say: "gee, I wonder why they didn't do X?" No.
2) Did it make “reality” sense? A modification was needed to the actual way the zombie disease attacked the system. Did it make sense? Immediately, I saw that it damned well could. In fact, it made perfect sense, even though we’d never stated it in the books.
3) Did it make logistical sense? Oh, yes indeedy. So much so I was gobsmacked.
4) Was there a way that it made the sequence BETTER? Yes. And this is critical. Nothing ever comes out the same. In general, it’s either better or worse. THINK OF THE WAY IT CAN MAKE THINGS BETTER. And I could: simplicity, directness, speed.
5) Did it make emotional sense? Yes. It allowed us to play out a major emotional change without a shift in location. It allowed the actors to “flow” from one powerful moment to another, without an hour-long break during which their exhaustion would sap their energy. That energy would transmit to the audience (“sales is a transfer of enthusiasm from one person to another”—and trust me, children…storytelling is sales, and sales is storytelling.)
I tested it. Looked at it from every direction, and oh my God, it made perfect sense. I kissed T, and went to our director. She was in the middle of putting out a half-dozen fires at once as the makeup people made magic. People were pulling at her, but I pulled rank on them. “Luchina,” I said, “give me sixty seconds, and I’ll make you very happy.” She trusted me. I told her our idea. It took a moment to sink in, and her eyes lit up.
With her permission, I went to our little star, Saoirse (SEER-SHAH) Scott, and told her. The little trooper had been game for everything, hadn’t ever complained about anything, no matter what we asked her to do. But when I explained my plan, and she realized that instead of another two hours of filming WE WERE ABOUT TO FINISH she hugged me and said, with simple sincerity: “I love you.”
We powered through that last sequence, the entire crew energized. Emotions were at a peak. Tears flowed. Then Saoirse’s mom said “she wants to hear the words.” Luchina paused and said: “It’s a wrap!” and the crew applauded.
Oh, my God. We were done! And there was a lesson there, an important one. You MUST be able to tell the difference between what you WANT and what you NEED. We WANTED the scene the way we wrote it, but it was becoming logistically nightmarish. What Tananarive saw was that the emotional core, represented in a few critical lines of dialogue, and the emotional peak we’d been working toward for two days, could be maintained even though the way it “looked” was different.
YOU CAN HAVE ANYTHING YOU NEED, IF YOU CAN LET GO OF HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO LOOK. Go deeper into the actual meat of it. What is it you really need? What is the emotional hunger you are feeding. Go far enough, into its emotional roots, and you’ll find that the external aspects are often just “presentation,” the box it comes in. I love fancy boxes. But if you are starving, you don’t care what color the plate is. If you’re putting out a fire, you don’t give a #$%% about the wrapping the extinguisher comes in. Find the “fire” you are actually putting out, the “nutrients” you are actually seeking to ingest. While satisfying every basic NEED…begin to sacrifice your WANTS. Feed your emotional “children” but don’t let them dominate you into putting smiley-faces onto every damned pancake.
"You can't always get what you want" Mick Jagger sang. But if you try sometime, you just might find that you get what you need. Thanks, Mick.
We won. Because we weren’t afraid to lose what was non-essential. I may be happier with that single insight of T’s than any other she ever made, other than deciding to marry me.
Jeeze, I love that girl. Well done, baby.
I'm Off To Be The Wizard!
Tomorrow, we take off for Albany to create our first short film. The goal is to use DANGER WORD to leverage ourselves into a full feature (on the theory that you can move up one order of magnitude per project, max) that first feature being a feature-length version of this story, and/or a feature-length version of T’s book “My Soul To Keep.” We hold the rights. We have the experience, and the circle of allies. We have powerful motivations that go WAY beyond our personal careers—so it has been gratifyingly possible to enroll others in this dream.
Regardless of what happens next, I’d like to thank everyone who has supported us, in every way that they have. I don’t really think there are “pivotal moments” in life so much as “clusters” of pivotal moments, actions, and decisions that create change. But what winners do it assume they have some agency in their fates, sufficient to make it worth while to push the edges, to get up early and stay up late. To totally invest themselves emotionally and move beyond their comfort zones. Using the model of the Hero’s Journey, I wanted to once again diagram the process of moving from one level to another
in life, whether that be a model of integration, success, or satisfaction.
1) Confronted with challenge. You have to recognize a problem or opportunity.
2) Reject the challenge. If the challenge is large enough to change your life, YOU WILL FEEL FEAR. It is how we’re wired up. People without enthusiasm are people who have had the hope crushed out of them. They have been slapped down so many times that it is safer to be blase. Or they have experienced the pain of accomplishment, and found that success equaled pain: the pain of losing friends, of attracting predators, of losing a sense of self.
3) Accept the challenge. You must see a way through the minefield. Deal with the emotions. DECIDE. Or nothing happens.
4) Road of Trials. You have to realistically assess where you are currently, and develop a crystal-clear vision of where you intend to go. Subtract where you are from where you need to be, and divide the gap into bite-size pieces you can address at the rate of about 1% per week for a 2-year goal. To do this, you may have to steal a beat from step #5…
5) Allies and Powers.
a) Find a peer group who will support your vision, if you don't they will drag you down. Friends with less ambition or ability are fine, AS LONG AS THEY SUPPORT YOU, AND DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR EFFORTS. We've all experienced this: people who bring over cake when you try to diet. "Pity parties" about how all men are X or all women are Y or this or that group will stop you, or your history confines you, or...or...
and what they're really doing is talking to themselves. Because if YOU succeed, it means they have to look at their own excuses, and feel the pain of not changing their own lives.
b) role models who have already accomplished your goal. Find three. Learn what they did in common to accomplish their dreams. See what they do that you don’t do, AND START DOING IT. Take action. Study their belief systems, mental syntax, and use of physiology. What they do, what they feel, what they think. And start programming yourself with these things. Seek out the technologies of implanting beliefs, raising energy, clarifying goals, gathering a mastermind…focus, flow, enthusiasm, sales…whatever. And especially learn to deal with fear and failure, because you WILL…
6) Confront Evil—and fail. This could be an internal or external opponent. “The voices in your head.” The fact that you are not internally aligned to succeed. Don’t have permission to “break through.” And in any arena where you have “beat your head against the wall” I can pretty much promise you that you’re dealing with mixed internal messages. Negative beliefs about money, or sales. Negative beliefs about relationships (or unrealistic expectations. Just recently I met a wealthy, famous gentleman who has never been married. His beliefs about relationships: a woman would have to be his perfect partner, share all his values, be able to read his mind and feel what he feels and think what he thinks about any entertainment or activity. With a standard like that, he will go through life alone!), conflicting values about body image (boy is there a lot of that right now. A major movement to accept your body “where it is.” That’s fine…as long as you can be satisfied and simultaneously maintain massive motivation to change. Difficult balancing act.)
7) The Dark Night of the Soul. You WILL crash and burn on any project that could change your life. There WILL be a point where it seems all is lost. That’s just the way it is. But if you know AHEAD of time, before you ever begin, that you will fall on your face at some point, why do we forget the lesson? Why don’t we remember that, and lay the plans in advance? Get your allies together (or be your own ally. One of my favorite tricks is to wait until a student is “up” and have them write a letter to their future self, to be opened only when you are “down.” Works like a charm.
8) Leap of Faith. This is ALWAYS faith in one of three things: yourself, your companions, or a Higher Power. Optimally, all three. This is what gets you through when you’ve come to the end of yourself.
9) Confront Evil—and succeed. IF you have taken the previous steps: clarified your goal, studied the behaviors of those who have succeeded, learned as much as they can teach, taken massive and constant action, maintained a positive attitude and kept the faith, THEN you have optimized your chances of success. If you have chosen your goal properly, then external success will be secondary to the person you are becoming along the way. You become internally focussed, and at some point, you are simply “becoming” who you are committed to being. Do this by finding the way that you goal is answering the twin questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?” You have reached this point when you are simply doing what you do…and the external results are happening “like magic.” Even for these evolved beings, it is sometimes necessary to drop back and punt. To go back to basics, and re-build a faulty bridge to your future.
10) The Student Becomes the Teacher. When you have learned a way to do something, share it with others. Help others. The best way to know that you know something is being able to transmit it to others. Note that this is not the “those who cannot do, teach” attitude. It is “those who can do, and teach others to do, are in harmony with the universe.” They are the ones responsible for every good thing we have as human beings. As individuals, we’re not that much smarter than chimps. It is in passing information from one generation to the next that we SHINE. We are the only animals with more information in our brains than in our genes. This sacred progression is a deep current of what we are as a species. When you swim WITH the current, you’ve found another level of integration. You have also taken a step toward Awakened Adulthood.
There you have it, again. I’ve said these things before, and will again. But tomorrow I take another step toward my future. What will happen? I don’t know. I simultaneously care passionately and don’t care. Because the ride itself is so much fun. Because I’m becoming a better version of who I am. Because whatever I learn, I will turn around and teach others.
That’s called being the Hero in the adventure of my lifetime.
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