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.

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.

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”.

Who knows where the time goes? – Part 2.

“Like sands through the hour glass…” – goes the opening quote from the TV soap opera, The Days of Our Lives. That quote is misleading though, time never runs out. It is us who run out of time.

“There’s never enough time” we may complain. “I don’t have time for that” we can protest. “If only I had more time” we cry. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Look, it’s what we make of it. I’m as guilty as the next person in managing time. Time spent frivolously on the internet, time spent worrying about things beyond my control. Time wasted in useless endeavors. The list goes on.

It would be easy to recommend time-saving devices, programs, and tools. The truth is they don’t really work unless we make ourselves slaves or acolytes to and of them, spending all our time on them. Nah, not for me.

Am I stating I’m about to initiate a profound change in my life? No, not really, just maybe be a little more aware of where my time goes.

So, perhaps that will start with breakfast. What better way to start saving precious time than with a one minute egg? I’m feeling better already.

A Day-Glo, Chromium Yellow Panda Bear? Well, of course. And now you can find out why.

That Panda Bear is only one of the characters in my new book, A Coward’s Guide to Living. In this coming-of-middle-age story, Jacob Will is charged with getting his life together via a most unusual method. He must commit a number of little deaths, “killing” those things preventing him from living a genuine life. Be assured, no animals or people were harmed during his quest.

His adventures will take him across the United States in an an attempt to fulfill that charge. Why did he destroy an expensive bottle of Champagne? What’s the meaning of that tattoo? And will he sue the manufacturer of a metal detector? Will he discover what love is?

These and more questions are answered in A Coward’s Guide to Living. Available now through Amazon on Kindle and paperback.

Violence was never far away: D- Part 2. A Thistle and Bee story.

The content in this story is true, portraying violence against women, drug use, and prostitution. The woman’s identity is protected.

Previously: She wasn’t there for the babies she’d had back-to-back. D was too busy selling things and stealing. D describes it as “illegal things.” No one was spared, she even stole from her drug man.

Part 2 of D’s story from Thistle and Bee.

While she had no pimp, she was “ho-ing around.” Her drug man would come around with a guy he expected D to service. When that would happen, she “would jump up and take a shower.” Somewhere deep in side of her, there was a spark of pride.

Looking back, it was who patronized her that stands out. They were police, probation officers, cab drivers, and pushers; they were young, old, retired, bus drivers even. She alludes that some of them were people one could read about in the news.

The streets were not safe. She usually carried a knife for protection, even a gun once, but found that to be too much trouble. It was only recently she put the knife down, six of them to be exact.

There was no safe place anywhere for D. Violence was common in her life. One time, she shot one of her kids’ daddy and stabbed the other. Another time, when she was high, she stabbed a man who’d pushed her down stairs. Yet another man dragged her kicking and screaming through her yard. D recognized that the violence came from either being under the influence or attempting to get something in order to get high again.

Sidebar: Each year, it is estimated that more than ten million people experience domestic violence with women more likely to be the victim. In 2010, Tennessee ranked as one of ten states with the highest rates of female murder. 93% of these women were killed by a male they knew; 63% of them in the context of an intimate relationship.

#bmeisterman.com

“We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.” ― Oscar Wilde

Has any quote been more appropriate for now than this one by Oscar Wilde? Say what you may about him, Wilde sought to transpose the beauty he saw in art into daily life.

Wilde believed that the artist should hold forth higher ideals, and that pleasure and beauty would replace utilitarian ethics. His pursuit of such led him into situations that would see him incarcerated for “gross indecency” and “homosexual” behavior. Thankfully, laws such as those that imprisoned him have been overturned in most places. But prisons don’t need to have walls to remove people from society. There are other ways of separating those “undesirables” from the larger group. And unfortunately, we’ve become quite adept at doing so.

It is the quote at the top of this post that resonates the most with me today. We find ourselves in a terrible place – one where we’re isolating ourselves from a world that has become dangerously contagious; one that has become horribly divided; one that is economically insecure; and finally, one that ignores or worse, pits brother against brother.

This is a world we have created, perhaps not intentionally, but through neglect and inconsideration of others. We have looked out for ourselves to the detriment of others in an Ayn Rand wet dream, focusing on the individual over each other. Indeed, “We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.”

Wilde had it right. This is our world and we have made it a hell, but we can also change that. Do we have the fortitude and the intention to do that? It would mean some seismic shifts from the top to the bottom of this country. No one will be left unaffected by it; some will be pleased and others will be furious. Change isn’t easy.

Again, “We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.” What are we going to do about it?

#bmeisterman.com

The devil you know vs…

At what point in a person’s life does self-awareness seep in? Or perhaps the question should be, does everyone achieve self-awareness? The fates aren’t that egalitarian. Arguably, they appear to be sheltering-at-home lately, wherever that may be, and not doling out that quality broadly. I would posit that at no time in our recent history has there been a greater lack of self-awareness than now. Yes, the fates are either staying at home or are enjoying no small amount of Schadenfreude over the current state of affairs.

Nowhere is that lack of self-awareness more apparent than in government. Not just at the national level, but state and local as well. There are those carelessly handing down edicts whose ramifications will be felt for generations. There has been too much division in this country for too long, the latest line of demarcation being old vs. young. Who gets to live and, well, you know the argument.

In the ’60’s, one of the rallying cries was “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Has that come to pass? Were I still in that demographic, I could very well be carrying that placard. It seems that too many of those in power shouldn’t be trusted with those decisions affecting our lives and not surprisingly, they are over 30. Maybe we should have paid more attention to that slogan.

Some are just simply over their heads, flailing about (see Peter principle below) with maybe some cognizance of their limitations. Others believe their own PR and are enamored with their self-importance (see Dunning-Kruger below) and believe in an unrivaled omnipotence. Both are dangerous, one more than the other.

So you decide, the devil you know or… Who wants to make that decision?

Info dump: To keep all things equal, the source for the information below is Wikipedia (for better or worse).

The Peter principle is a concept in management developed by Laurence J. Peter, which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence”: an employee is promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another. (Wikipedia)

In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, people cannot objectively evaluate their competence or incompetence. (Wikipedia)   #bmeisterman.com

“The future’s uncertain, and the end is always near…”

So sang Jim Morrison in the Doors’ song, Roadhouse Blues.

Prescient? Perhaps, but in the same song, he also sang “Save our city, save our city
Right now”. While some of the sturm and drang of the Doors’ music could be over the top, (disclaimer: I’m a fan), it reflected the zeitgeist of the time. It’s also pertinent today with so much uncertainty about our future.

Each day brings a new revelation or speculation about the future, short and long term. Truth is no one really knows. And in A Coward’s Guide to Living, neither does the middle-aged protagonist Jacob Will. His future is uncertain, and the end? Well… that’s to be discovered.

But, as with Jacob, we’ll all have to plow on through this to find out what happens.

In the meantime, in the closing words of Roadhouse Blues, Morrison wails “Well, I woke up this morning, I got myself a beer.”

Why not?

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.