Arn? Narn.

Shakespeare on Cowardice:

“A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.” – William Shakespeare

And make no mistake, Jacob Will was a coward… in love, truth, and most importantly, himself. He lived no truths, without love, and he would have to learn to know and trust himself before he could do anything about it. He would have to die at least eleven times before he could live.

He was fearful… and he was a coward.

Jacob Will was both, not the best combination for someone looking to destroy his former self in order to live a new and better life. Could he do it? Could he take that plunge (not a knife, but just as deadly in its own way) and come out on the other side?

Shakespeare may have put in best, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.”

#acowardsguidetoliving

A future with love, not fear: D – Part 4. A Thistle and Bee story.

Since getting in to “The Hive”, D feels like a whole new, completely different person. For the first time, in her adult life, she had access to health care, regular meals, her own bed, and clean clothes. It has shown her how she could live without cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol.

It is not without responsibility. She goes to meetings to learn how to deal with her plaguing issues. However, a couple of instances stands out in her mind. D was recently going to a GED class and there, in plain sight, was a guy selling dope. The school knew the guy was selling but didn’t do anything about it. She knew she couldn’t stay there. Temptation is everywhere, even where it would be considered “safe.”

Looking for a safe place, she then took herself to a church and right outside there, people were smoking dope. Everywhere she turned, there were drugs to be had. Fortunately, her ride was waiting, and she was able to avoid temptation.

This underscores a greater problem: the easy availability of drugs. When one can score at a public school, a church, it’s not difficult to understand why the problem is so rampant. “Addiction don’t discriminate, child, adult, no difference.” Age doesn’t factor into it either. D is right, she witnessed a 13-year-old shooting right into their hand and foot. How could that not bring up terrible memories?

Thistle and Bee is helping D to learn to love and respect herself. Before coming to The Hive, she didn’t care when she was high and wasn’t ashamed to be out on the streets. But her family did care and was ashamed for her. They knew she was using, their mother was a junkie, a crackhead. But now her future is in front of her and she feels like a new baby, being birthed.

D is experiencing freedom and feels like a child in a candy store with so much to see and now something to live for. She’s doing “The Twelve Traditions.” She along with the other women at The Hive are learning how to live, on their own and together. They’re learning how to share and to help. D calls this “love help.’

Most of all, D wants other people to her story. “If they need help, ask for it.” It was hard for her to ask for help; she didn’t want to admit she was an addict who needed a helping heart. D knows how hard it is but knows it’s not as hard as the life she’s leaving behind.

#bmeisterman.com

Getting our s— together.

Here we are, five weeks or so into the WFH hostage situation. This is the spring we’re all missing. As I look out the window of my home office, I notice that it’s become very green outside. Usually, this would lighten my spirits, but as we’re confined to our homes, we must look for spirit-lifting actions elsewhere.

I find I’m “unfriending” on social media a large number of people who, generally, I respect. But to turn this situation into an opportunity to spew negativity is counter-productive. Can fingers be pointed? Yes, of course. Does it make things better? No, not really.

Instead, I’m quietly celebrating those whose concern for their friends, neighbors, and family make life worth living and as I said, celebrating. This certainly includes those healthcare and essential workers. But I’m also thinking about those people who, on any given morning, nod a hello to you and go off to their daily endeavors. Today, they’re inquiring about their neighbors, whether there is something they can do for others. Asking whether or not they can pick up something at the market for them or leaving small, unexpected gifts of food or treats.

In John Carpenter’s film, Starman, the alien (Jeff Bridges), in talking about humans, states, “Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst.”

Down here at the granular level, he was right. Something good is happening. We need to take notice of these acts of kindness and thoughtfulness and remember when this finally runs its terrible course, that perhaps we have gained something we lost sometime ago. Let’s not forget what these small lessons are teaching us. We can and maybe are getting our s— together. Instead of playing politics, let’s play together.

Brienne of Tarth, maybe.

The first time Jacob Will saw Hannah, Brienne of Tarth from the Game of Thrones TV series came to mind: not so much the perpetual scowl but her countenance. Uncommonly tall, uncommonly beautiful, and a dazzling smile. But why was she with an older, a much older man? And in Key West. All of it seemed unlikely.

And like Jaime Lannister, Jacob would be smitten too and it would change his life forever. But that wouldn’t happen until he had committed his own eleven little deaths.

“Reality” Reality

Central to each of our lives is what we purport to be or rather believe is reality, or at least our reality. Each day, we are surrounded, if not bombarded, by that which is supposed to be reality, or what is portrayed as reality. Who is it who wants us to buy into that? Perhaps more importantly, we often do, but why?

Turn on any screen and see “reality” played out in its various guises. Want a shipboard romance with no strings attached? Got it. Think you’re as strong or wily as the person next to you? Be prepared for a ritual back-stabbing. And love? Not as in The Princess Bride – Wuv? Twoo wuv? That’s the stuff of fantasy, not reality unless you also buy into the premise of programs such as The Bachelorette and its opposite-gender version, The Bachelor. Scratch the surface of any of these programs and you’ll find a script, directing how this “reality” will be played out.

How is it possible that those amateur chefs in Hell’s Kitchen know how to make all those Beef Wellingtons without assistance? Reality? As Gordon Ramsey might say, “Donkey!”

So, what does it mean when “Reality” is spoon-fed to us, and we like hungry puppies, lap it up? In no way am I suggesting we believe this pablum. Do I believe there are those who do? Probably. If it works for them, go for it. But why does this fascination with “reality” continue so much as it does? Yes, it is entertainment, not of a higher form, but maybe it takes our minds off of our own reality. It is pure escapism that cheerily offers a way of life that doesn’t exist. That’s dangerous. It’s brain candy with no nutritional value.

It’s important to know where this lust for reality began and why. In 2007, the Writer’s Guild of America, (mostly television writers) went on strike causing all scripted programming to cease. The networks, confronted by losing revenue and eyeballs, developed what is now called Reality TV, and a new genre was born. Eschewing creative scripts, contestants (the new “actors” and happily unpaid in this fledgling genus) took on the responsibility of enacting “life.” It saved money, both on writer’s, and actor’s paychecks. And it made money. It was a win-win situation, the holy grail of media.

One hundred days later when the strike was resolved, things went back to a new normal, meaning the new Reality TV was here to stay. In that new realm, programs such as “Who Wants to Marry My Dad?” became visual fodder for the masses. One may ask themself the question, ‘Well, who would want to marry my dad?’ Your mother did and I hope she’s glad she did. But that’s in real life. Would you offer up one of your parents for such an opportunity in real life? No, but if so, help is available. To those in the back who’ve raised your hands to answer, please sit down. We’ll deal with you later.

No, that’s not reality by a long shot.

But getting back to your reality and mine, where’s the script? Who authored it? I contend the real reality is that we’re all works in progress for which there are no scripts. Of course, we may have made plans to become a lawyer, write a book, and serve others. All are reasonable and even noble, but then life, the real reality, says, “Slow down kid, I got something to say about that.” Yeah, there ain’t no script for that. And there are no guaranteed happy endings either in this reality.

And one other thing completely unrelated to reality: Is anyone else tired of seeing Paul Giamatti acting as Albert Einstein for Verizon? Surely he is not as the royalties keep piling up. Good for you Paul, but please stick to Billions.

Irony

It’s the holiday season, (Happy Holidays to all!), and that means we’re subjected to all sorts of advertisements asking or hawking something. It’s not enough that we’re just recovering from a slew of political advertising, but insult is now added to injury.

Take this coupling of back-to-back commercials seen the other night. The first one was for Feed the Hungry featuring a very sincere Scarlett Johansson. Certainly a good cause for those with little, especially around this season of giving. The second commercial immediately after that was for high-end David Yurman jewelry featuring, wait for it, a very alluring Scarlett Johansson. What is the message here?

This is not to say Ms. Johansson should refrain from such commercials activities. It’s likely she believes deeply about feeding the less fortunate. That does not prevent her from capitalizing on her fame to promote jewelry, some which she may already possess.

It does say something about the TV station/network in carelessness in scheduling commercials. A David Yurman ad right after a PSA (public service announcement) for the hungry is pretty thoughtless in itself. But when the spokesperson for both is the same, it borders on insensitivity. It diminishes the message of both. Perhaps they were making a statement of their own, “Look even the rich care about the poor.” Doubtful. What would Scarlett say about it?

But we’re confronted with this kind of thing daily. It’s not unusual to see a horrible highway accident story on the news followed by an ad for a personal injury lawyer. Tasteless? Sure. Too soon? Probably not – for the lawyer.

Late night TV is where a lot of this occurs. Watch Fallon, Kimmel, or Colbert and see countless ads for personal injury lawyers back to back to back. Each one claims to make you richer than the other. That’s nice. Now you too will be able to afford David Yurman jewelry. Just don’t count on Scarlett delivering the check.

D.I.Y.

No, this is not a post about the joys of shopping at Home Depot or such. Nor is it about how to install a toilet by yourself although that could be very helpful. For years, the image of a person fixing something by themself has encouraged many to embark down a road of self-discovery and all too often, frustration and electric shocks.

No, again, this is about taking your art into your own hands and doing something about it.

It used to be if you were a musician, you would practice, practice, practice, with or without your mates, and play everywhere you could in hopes of being discovered and eventually signed to a record contract. And that was just the beginning.

The same thing pretty much held true for writers. Write and write and write and then submit your work to agents and/or publishers in hopes of being discovered and signed to a contract. That too was just the beginning.

As Joni Mitchell wrote, you had to “stoke the star-making machinery” to get ahead of the competition. Though times have changed, that part is still true today. You have to market yourself.

When musicians found they could not generate interest from record companies in their work, they turned to producing their music digitally. Digital changed everything. No longer were musicians captive to labels and/or agents to get their work out to the public. Best of all, they owned all the rights.

Digital and the Internet changed everything. It closed a lot of businesses and categories. When was the last time you saw a record store? A camera store? That’s only scratching the surface of its impact.

The same is true of writing a book and getting it published. The quest for agent representation is a long and arduous task with more often than not, poor results. That doesn’t necessarily reflect negatively on the author. The agents who pore though the tons of manuscripts received will undoubtedly miss some good books. They will also publish some not so good books. It’s a bit of a crap shoot.

Most writers I know don’t write to get rich, though none would mind that occurring. They have stories to tell and want to share them. Digital has made that possible. With programs such as Kindle Direct and 48 Hour Book, they can publish their book as they see fit. While those books may not have the benefit of professional proof-reading and editing, the stories are getting out there. And a lot of them are good, very good.

So, it may come down to this for the reader – do you want a nicely edited book with no typos (though most publishers will happily accept 3-4 per book) with not much of story or a book with perhaps some flaws but with a great story you may not have ever heard of if it wasn’t self-published?

Billions and billions…

That was how the late Carl Sagan would describe how many stars there are in the cosmos. And that’s how many ideas there are out there for books and stories. Some are even good. That’s not to say the rest are not, no. It’s just that they never get exposure (like undiscovered planets) and therefore are unfairly consigned to the scrap heap or a desk drawer unfinished.

However, all of those stories fall into one of seven tropes or plots. In no particular order, they are: the quest; a voyage and return; rebirth; tragedy; rags to riches; comedy; and overcoming the monster. Any story may be a hybrid of these, but this about covers the basic plots.

A question I’ve been asked is have I chosen a particular plot before writing a story. No, consciously I haven’t but that doesn’t mean other writers follow the same game plan. There’s more of them (billions and billions) than the seven tropes listed above.

But, it could be lurking in my subsconscious as the idea develops. To paraphrase an old-time radio show, The Shadow, “Who knows what lurks in the mind of the writer?” At the outset, I sure as hell don’t. That’s to be discovered in the writing. It will go where it wants to.

Do I know how the story will end? No, just like life, I don’t. It’s not circular, ending where we started. It’s one of the tropes mentioned earlier, the quest, just one of billions, yet to be revealed.

Your honor, please.

No, this is not a post about the law. This is about honor. Yours, mine, and society in general. And in general, it appears to be missing.

Let’s talk about honor. Who are some honorable people? Lincoln? OK. Washington? Yeah. Rosa Parks? Definitely. Anwar Sadat? No question. Nelson Mandela? Without a doubt. The list goes on and on. Each one need not be a complete paragon of virtue, after all they were only human and surely must have had their own failings.

So, what are the qualities that make an honorable person? Generosity – for sure. Honesty – top of the list. Considerate – of course. Civility – you bet. This list could go on and on as well.

But, and this is important, who in positions of influence would be included on your list? Certainly, everyone will have their own list of candidates and depending on the individuals asked, there may be little to no overlap of opinions. However, lists currently drawn up may be on the short side. Why is that?

The world, and particularly the USA, is in a fractious period. Trust is at an all-time low. Not blind trust for that originates in ignorance, a pie-in-the-sky belief that nothing requires questioning. Honor may be ascribed to someone for no other reason than position of authority. Let’s not confuse respect with honor. Respect should only be rewarded when honor is displayed and not only for one time though that is to be recognized.

Honor is not a sometime thing. Either you got it or you don’t. We strive to live with honor daily, a hard task. In the long run, that will benefit everyone.

Now, who wants to tell our friends in DC to do the same?

What is art? And what does it cost?

All art, arguably, is a partial self-portrait of its creator at that moment in time. No matter the medium, look or listen closely enough and one can learn something intimate about the artist.

Years ago while going through a particularly rough time, I endeavored to memorialize, by photographing, those people throughout my life who were meaningful and had a profound impact on me. They were with me (some in spirit, others in reality) to that point and helped me get through it.

In creating this body of work, I attempted to reveal something about the subject that also addressed their influence on me. By and large, it was successful. Each person’s portrait was unique from the others. Some were humorous, others quizzical, a few ambivalent, and a couple displayed discomforting elements. All I believe were honest portraits – both of the subject and myself. All but one of the subjects approved their portrait.

That one who didn’t cost me a friendship that had endured for twenty-odd years. What was once a close, sometimes raucous relationship had become casually indifferent. It was heart-breaking. None of the portraits were meant to be demeaning or injurious, yet one of the subjects felt offended by their portrayal. What was displayed in that image was accurate on how both of us were entering a similar phase in our lives. Was it too accurate? Was the mirror too honest? I still don’t know.

What I do know is that piece of well-intended art cost me a valuable friend. And that’s a cost then and now I did not want to pay. Like the cliche, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”, the intent was good, the result, not so much.

What is art? And what does it cost?

All art, arguably, is a partial self-portrait of its creator at that moment in time. No matter the medium, look or listen closely enough and one can learn something intimate about the artist.

Years ago while going through a particularly rough time, I endeavored to memorialize, by photographing, those people throughout my life who were meaningful and had a profound impact on me. They were with me (some in spirit, others in reality) to that point and helped me get through it.

In creating this body of work, I attempted to reveal something about the subject that also addressed their influence on me. By and large, it was successful. Each person’s portrait was unique from the others. Some were humorous, others quizzical, a few ambivalent, and a couple displayed discomforting elements. All I believe were honest portraits – both of the subject and myself. All but one of the subjects approved their portrait.

That one who didn’t cost me a friendship that had endured for twenty-odd years. What was once a close, sometimes raucous relationship had become casually indifferent. It was heart-breaking. None of the portraits were meant to be demeaning or injurious, yet one of the subjects felt offended by their portrayal. What was displayed in that image was accurate on how both of us were entering a similar phase in our lives. Was it too accurate? Was the mirror too honest? I still don’t know.

What I do know is that piece of well-intended art cost me a valuable friend. And that’s a cost then and now I did not want to pay. Like the cliche, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”, the intent was good, the result, not so much.

The first cut is the deepest…

So states the title of a Cat Stevens song. To paraphrase it, the first line in a story is the hardest. It will help determine the direction of your story. Where does one start? How much does one have to write before you realize, damn, that’s the wrong direction. Then you have to go back and start all over again. Creating a first line that grabs the reader is one of the biggest obstacles a writer faces. “It was a dark and stormy night…” Uh-uh, I don’t think so.

It may be the reason why so many stories/books are started and go either absolutely nowhere or downhill fast. My own file on these stillborn ideas grows large. Could it be the fault of a bad first line? Or was it just a lousy idea? Or both?

On the other hand, I’ve written, what I think are, some really great first lines only to have them sink upon review into the tar pit of my imagination. Yet, there may be hope.

Nowhere is it written that one or several of these ideas may not be revisited, even salvaged into something readable. It might be a hell of lot better than its crappy first line.

But how do you know if it’s any good? Initially, you may not. Go back and review it periodically. Does it relate to the story you’re now writing? Will it intrigue the reader to soldier on through your book? Or should you table that project and start a new one?

There’s nothing wrong with that but now you have to find a new first line.

You get a review, and you get a review and…

Oprah Winfrey aside, this is what it’s starting to feel like. Now don’t get me wrong – if Oprah were to offer me a new car, I’d have to seriously consider it. But that’s not going to happen, at least I don’t think so.

However, reviews of my book A Coward’s Guide to Living are coming in and I’m more than willing to accept them as they’ve been very positive. I”ll even take the less than positive ones as they have real value as well.

So, here are excerpts from some of them as posted on Amazon, GoodReads, and Reader’s Favorites:

“I felt as if I saw a human caterpillar turn into a butterfly; the character development was compelling. Great read.” – JW

“Just like Homer and Kerouac, Meisterman peels back layers of his protagonist with a journey, one only the courageous can truly complete.” – FM

“Bruce Meisterman provided so many nuggets and passages of wisdom in A Coward’s Guide to Living that were eye-opening… If you’re looking to gain some understanding and direction for improving your life, this book will be a great way to start.” – VN

“A character-driven drama about a young man’s quest for self-discovery, A Coward’s Guide to Living focuses on the little things that can hold a man back from living his life to the fullest.” – PD

“I highly recommend this book to anyone in search of a good story. This story makes you laugh and cry and feel like you’ve never felt before. This book is not to be missed.” – AS

“This is a GREAT BOOK !!! It will hold your attention. Full of Truth, Love, Discovery and Humor. Once you start to read it, you will not want to put it down. You will definitely “become” Jacob, the main character. It is a MUST READ.” – MF

So with reviews such as these, I’ll skip Oprah’s cars and go for more of these. But if she wants to include me in her book club, I’d have no choice but to say “Yes”.

The game is afoot, Watson.

So says Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective Sherlock Holmes. And indeed it is.

In many things in our lives. persistence is often the key to success. How many times have we given up on things too soon? Think about sports teams who when faced with lop-sided scores against them have thrown in the towel rather than continue to fight. Then think about those teams when confronted with similar situations, endured and ultimately prevailed. Which ones do you think get the movies made about them?

A definition of persistence is as follows: Refusing to give up or let go; persevering obstinately.

A definition of stubborn: Refusing to change one’s mind or course of action despite pressure to do so; unyielding or resolute.

Those who know me well will attest to my persistence. If I had a family crest it would probably feature a dog with a bone, unwilling to give it up.

And those same people know when I believe in a project, I become resolute in its pursuit. Foolish? Perhaps. But why?

In publishing and marketing a book, one must be either or both. Getting the book out there is not enough. While writing the book is perhaps more time consuming, it is in comparison far more enjoyable. But the effort put into that is wasted if commensurate industry is not committed to its marketing. Most authors I know want people to read what they’ve written. How can that happen if no one knows about it?

Media must be contacted ( incessantly?) and sold on the book’s premise and why it’s significant enough for them to commit time and/or space to it. Outlets need to be influenced in order for them to see the value in the book’s placement. It can’t be a one and done enterprise. Reviews, good or bad, need to be solicited. From the outside, it may appear to be small steps and yes, that is exactly what they are. But with enough small steps, you’ve built a staircase whose height is unlimited.

The game is afoot. Just take one step at a time and see where it takes you.