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A Real Dead Ringer for ‘Loaf: A Brief Look at the Second Helping of Meat

Last month, for #ThrowbackThursday (or #FlashbackFriday), I posted an image of the first CD I ever purchased –– Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, Meat Loaf’s “follow-up” to his debut album Bat Out of Hell from back in 1977. It spurred on some swell conversations on Twitter between myself and a bunch of other Meat Loaf fans. @RealMeatLoaf even  favorited the photo.

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all heard the classic songs from the original Bat album –– the evocative seventies sex, love, and rock-and-roll anthem “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”; the melancholy “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”; and, of course, the title track that pits us in the pangs of a one-night stand gone awry.

Then, with the release of Back Into Hell in 1993, the motorcycles revved, the electric axes wailed through a familiar fog yet into an all new ‘90s sensibility with the unforgettable “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” –– and it always baffled me how I seemed to be the only person who understood what it was that Meat and writer/producer Jim Steinman “wouldn’t do” for love.

Once I got through with these two albums, I embarked on a quest to discover what other Meat Loaf albums were in existence. It wasn’t as easy as it is today to discover and even listen to Meat’s entire repertoire with just a few taps of your fingers on a keyboard. Back then I actually had to go from music store to record shop, from Sam Goody and Nobody Beats the Wiz to Bleecker Street Records discover new music on vinyl, CD, or cassette.

And it was on one such trip that I discovered Meat Loaf’s sophomore album, Dead Ringer, released back in 198. One thing that always immediately struck my fancy with Meat Loaf albums were the covers, and this one by noted horror artist Bernie Wrightson was no different –– a macho Fabio kind of cat riding through an ocean and accosted by nymphs or sirens, and the word “Meat Loaf” emblazoned on the sails and carrying the songs through the waters and into our ears. It’s easily one of my favorite covers of all time, one that captures the entire essence of the 1980s era of music, and also resounds with dark allusions to Homer’s Odyssey.

Meat Loaf Dead Ringer

A great album cover is par for the course of a Meat Loaf hit.

Now I didn’t know it back when I first listened to Dead Ringer that it truly was an album of comparable quality to Bat Out of Hell. With lyrics yet again by Steinman, who wrote both Bats in their entirety, and Meat Loaf’s signature sound and flare for the dramatic, I played side A of my cassette tape numerous times before popping it out of the deck, turning it over, and playing side B, which ran through the tape with just as much vigor and heartbreaking guitarmanship as the previous side.

It’s probably been a good seven years since I’ve listened to Dead Ringer, so I recently dug it up on Spotify, and I was instantly reminded of just how solid an album it is. But I also really listened to the lyrics of each song –– I mean really listened to them, with a mind full of different experiences and a more refined sense of  and how beautifully messed up they were, more so than even the most sultry lyric in “Paradise.”

My top four Dead Ringer favorites are “dead ringers” enough of this:

“I’m Gonna Love Her for Both of Us”

As if the title alone doesn’t say enough (or too much), the lyrics themselves go a step further:

And I’ve been closer to you now than any other boy
And you know that what I’m saying is true
You’re gonna break her up and tear her down and fade her away
And then there’s no telling what I’m gonna do

So basically, a guy tells his buddy he’s fed up on how he’s treating his girl. Now, if that isn’t enough, the chorus get’s even more intense:

But if you give me your girl and then you give me your trust
And if you give me till the end of the night
I’m gonna love her for both of us

You turned her into a ghost but she’ll be burning when the night is done

“More Than You Deserve”

This whole song burns with empathy for the main character, who loves a girl, but this girl “makes love” to his best friend. Things escalate to epic proportions when this guy sees her making love “to a group of [his] best friends,” but it also throws it in their faces, too: our narrator ultimately comes out on top, so to speak, when he finds the courage it takes to “look them right in the eyes” and say:

Won’t you take some more it’s what you came for
And don’t mind me I won’t throw you no curse
Go on and have yourself a ball with my good women
Won’t you take some more boys it’s more than you deserve

“I’ll Kill You If You Don’t Come Back”

My favorite lyric in this song happens at the bridge, where the music slows down, becomes a ballad, in which Meat Loaf “blesses” all the different types of high school girls, and out of all of them, there’s just “one girl [he'll] never forget.” (It starts at the 4:02 mark in the above video, though much of it’s power comes from listening to the entire song.)

“Read ‘Em and Weep”

The most heartbreakingly beautiful ballad since “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” and we’ve all been here before, but Jim’s lyrics, coupled with Meat Loaf’s painfully honest rendering of these lyrics make this song a heartache and a half, putting into words the fact that some feelings just can’t be put into words:

If I could only find the words then I would write it all down
If I could only find a voice I would speak
Oh it’s there in my eyes, oh can’t you see me tonight
C’mon and look at me and read ‘em and weep

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It’s funny –– when I was younger, I remember listening to the lyrics of “Bat Out of Hell” and envisioning an epic scene about a motorcycle jacket-clad hero who rides his bike, crashes and is “dying at the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun,” and all that. And perhaps that’s really what the imagery Steinman and Meat Loaf want us to envision. But why was he trying to escape “like a bat out of hell,” hmm? Same reason the guy and gal in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” go back and forth in the sexual scoring metaphor of a baseball game: guy wants girl; girl wants guy to promise forever else guy won’t get girl’s “forever”; so guy either says “I do” and tries for the hit and run. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

One other thing I couldn’t help notice about Bat Out of Hell and Dead Ringer is that they both follow essentially the exact same track format. The heavy growling opener (“Bat Out of Hell”/“Peel Out”); the sultry siren song (“You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”/“I’m Gonna Love Her For Both of Us”); the soft-spoken ballad (“Heaven Can Wait”/“More Than You Deserve”); then we kickstart back to a bit of fast-paced action (“All Revved Up with No Place to Go”/“I’ll Kill You If You Don’t Come Back”) before going all rock ballad again (“Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”/“Read ‘Em and Weep”); and disregarding “Nocturnal Pleasure” as an intro to “Dead Ringer for Love” the way the whole “On a Hot Summer Night” bit introduces us to “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”, there’s the duet (“Paradise By the Dashboard Light”/”Dead Ringer for Love”); and finally, we end with a heartfelt, thoughtful closer (“For Crying Out Loud, You Know I Love You”/“Everything is Permitted”).

Hey, if it ain’t broke, then it might just be a dead ringer for success.

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And for those of you who aren’t aware, Meat Loaf is still churning out the rock & roll tunes, and he’s also not holding back on the crazy lyrics. Here’s one of my favorites off one of his more recent studio albums from a song called “California Isn’t Big Enough”:

I can barely fit my dick in my pants
Come and lend me your hand
With my
Forthcoming release
Because
California isn’t big enough for me

*          *          *

So what’s your favorite crazy Meat Loaf (or any) song lyric? Fill ‘em up in the comments section, folks!

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The Iron Horse Novelist: Write Your First Novel Ten Minutes at a Time

If you’d have asked me a few months ago, “Trig, what is Hipster Noir?” I’d have replied with all sincerity I don’t know.

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What I can tell you is that Hipster Noir (working title) is a extranatural mystery story I’ve been working on since May of this year about a Dirk Gently-inspired private eye named Sebastian Holden and his case to find the killer of a poet’s muse. But perhaps the how I’ve been writing what seems to be my first novel may be more interesting at this stage than the what it is about.

I draft up two chapters a day, each in only ten minutes.

Ever since I joined the frontlines of the working class, the only time I really have to write is during the PATH train ride that shuttles me into Manhattan from Jersey City. The other reason is because the only time I’m not connected to the Internet is when I’m riding the underground rails.

The first few chapters began as simple character sketches for a slew of weirdly wonderful folks –– from an unemployed muse and a suicidal vampire (borrowing a few concepts from my feature-length screenplay A Beautiful Unlife) to a trio of sexed up assassin sisters (borrowed from another feature-lengther called Caput) to the development of our main protagonist of the story. Then from these character sketches, Hipster Noir started to organically turn into a detective story, no doubt inspired by two-year long stint watching solely film noir titles and soaking up the Hitchhiker’s Guide and Dirk Gently novels of Douglas Adams, which has bestowed on Hipster Noir a darkly comedic element to it what I’m writing, though at times, it doesn’t feel like.

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Write What You Know: Hipster Noir has also proven to be an excellent journaling exercise, as I’ve started to include a great deal of my own life stories (fictionalized, of course) and other ideas into it. It’s certainly helped me to cope with my silent internal conflict of going from a full- to part-time writer; but what shades of color that transition’s added to Hipster Noir’s naturally grey undertones; this first volume is aptly titled “The Case of the Murdered Muse.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of this is that most times I really don’t feel like I’m writing Hipster Noir, but rather it’s writing itself (or it’s writing me, if you wanna get all metaphysical about it). I know that sounds like a crock of Kerouacian hogwash, but when I began this project, I had no idea where it was going to go. I thought I was writing a poem, but it came out as if it were a narrative written for Philip Marlowe, and it flowed like an episode of Magnum, P.I. with a hint of Bored to Death.

The best part? I still don’t know exactly where it’s going. But it’s going.

I never once thought I could ever begin a novel, let alone get 60 pages into it. The lesson is simple –– use what you know and just write that novel. And give yourself milestones and commit to hitting them. For some it’s 5,000 words per week. For me, twenty minutes a day is all I need.

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A Tale of Two Cons, Part Two: VidCon 2013

Last month, I was in Anaheim from August 1st to 3rd. For those of you who don’t know, Anaheim is home to Disneyland (which my excellent friend Troy got me into and showed me around) and … well, that’s probably about it, really. But once a year, every YouTuber who is anyone swarms to the Anaheim Convention Center for a massive community experience called VidCon.

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VidCon started back in 2010 by Vlog Brothers John and Hank Green as a place where YouTubers could gather together with their fans and where the YouTube industry could come together and discuss where the future of online video  is headed.

This year’s VidCon pried open my eyes to the possibilities that YouTube has for digital content creators and fans alike. It’s set up a lot like San Diego Comic-Con: There’s a showroom floor, which showcases everything from MCNs (Multichannel Networks) like Maker Studios, Big Frame, and Fullscreen to YouTube service provides like LootCrate and social media websites like Lovvvit. VidCon showcases everyone from Smosh, Toby Turner, and iJustine to musical acts who found their start on YouTube. (Rebecca Black ring a bell?) The best part for someone like me were the keynotes and panels like the one I was on about advertising and branding while raising funds for your projects. Lots of learning mixed with lots of fun.

There are also tons of happening parties, epic rap battles in the foyer, signings, and giggle-screaming tweens galore, and even a giant “Sharkzilla” (no, not promoting the second installment of Sharknado, thankfully, but Discovery Channel’s Shark Week –– Whew!)

<< Rewind <<

A brief flashback about my prior relationship with YouTube: I’ve been the kind of person who’s never understood YouTube. When I first discovered it, I remember my friend Raul Garcia showed me a Simpson’s spoof video, and I said to him “this is what you wanted to show me?!” I can’t remember what exactly it was I watched, but I remember I didn’t enjoy it all that much.

> Fast forward >>

Then I spent some time working with my filmmaking comrades Alain Aguilar and Joe Whelski on this idea for a series of one-minute skits centered around a character simply called The Fool, a war vet who’s back from an unnamed war and tries humorously to fit himself back into society.

After six well-shot episodes, the series went nowhere. No virality. No five million hits. Nada.

>> Fast Forward >>

Years after The Fool, my girlfriend Marinell and I started up a short-lived but very fun movie review show called Trafflick, in which we’d watch movies, then drive home and talk about what we thought for a minute or so.

We got some views on our YouTube page, but nothing to warrant my thinking that YouTube could serve as anything more than a place to host silly videos.

> Playback

VidCon, 2013 –– the event that showed me just how wrong I was. Here are three brief misconceptions about YouTube I’ve since debunked:

Misconception #1: “YouTube is a video-sharing site.”

It’s not, it a video social network, and when used properly, it’s probably the most powerful social network out there. And only a select number of people use it right. Some even make some decent money uploading YouTube videos.

Misconception #2: There’s a lot of shit on YouTube.”

There’s not a lot of shite on YouTube, but rather a lot of niche. Today, if you can think it up, you can make it happen because somewhere in the vast universe of online content, someone will want to see your video, and like it, which creates the convincing illusion to many that there’s “a lot of shit” on YouTube.

If you mine for what you like, you can find gold on YouTube.

Misconception #3: “It’s too late to start my own YouTube channel.”

Absolutely not. YouTube can be an intimidating space, that’s for sure. I’ve learned a great deal about how it works during my three days at VidCon, and even though the space seems to be ruled by a handful of mafia-like MCNs, there are also thousands of gigabytes of user-generated content creators out there

My key piece of advice is to just do you.

Perhaps I’ll be getting back to doing movie reviews on the go with Marinell (heck, I bought an iPhone car mount from iPole for that reason). Maybe I’ll start a web series if the right idea presents itself. Who knows –– what I do know is that VidCon has completely transformed my perception of YouTube and this entire culture of content, and I’m glad there are folks like Ray William Johnson, Natalie Chan and Ashens doing their thing and inspiring others to do the one thing this world fosters most of all these days:

Create something.

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Φιλότιμο: Not Without Understanding When Felt Within

A couple Saturdays a month, I try and spend some time with a dear friend of my family’s named Maria. She owns a small Greek bakery on Central Avenue in Union City called Liberty Brand Pastries and Foods, where all the “big fat Greek” families near and far come for their koulourakia (butter cookies), baklava and holiday specialty foods. My Dad and I used to visit her for Kalamata olives and conversation in his native language; now I’m the one picking up olives, feta cheese, and those butter cookies I loved as a kid. Mix in a visit from the neighborhood mailwoman, a random diner owner, and even a priest from the local Greek church, and conversation and Papagalos Loumidis coffee abounds.

Maria talks to her friend Andreas at Liberty Brand.

Maria talks to her friend Andreas at Liberty Brand.

One particular Saturday, Maria and I spoke about many things, and we eventually landed on the subjects of my book and my new gig with Indiegogo. Maria’s fascination by my ability to tell her the weather for tomorrow just by looking at my phone today paled away when I explained to her what I spend my days doing from around 9:30AM to 5:30PM. I told her about my travels over the past five months and how many people and celebrities I’ve met in my short time with Indiegogo, and how I help them make their moviemaking dreams come true by helping them get the funding they need to make films they’ll be proud to show the world.

Maria then looked me in the eye with a certain sense of pride. “Yanni,” she said, saying my name in Greek, “you are a true filotimo.”

Having never heard this particular word before, I asked Maria what it meant. She told me it meant that I was a “friend of honor and integrity,” but then went on to say that filotimo is the most difficult word to translate from Greek into any language, and it’s an even harder concept to fully wrap one’s mind around. When I got home that afternoon, I did a little research. According to Christopher Xenopolous Janus, filotimo is “the most untranslatable and unique Greek virtue.” Composed from two words, filo- (friend) and -timos (honor/respect), filotimo is “a value of personal honor and pride that pivots on empathy and compassion for others as expressed through acts of generosity and sacrifice,” according to an informative blog post on Kafeneio.

Now, being that I’m more American than Greek, I grew up without any knowledge of the concept of filotimo, but it seems its seeds had been planted by my father ever since I was a boy. My Dad certainly embodied the essence of filotimo; he sacrificed so much for my sake, raising me right after my mother died; he stood tall and strong even in the face of the unseen adversary that took his voice and ultimately his life, but not without a near ten-year battle because he felt he still had to look after me. Much like every other story out there, and of course according to Joseph Campbell, we all must “atone with the father” and ultimately succeed him, as is the case with me. And so in that supersession, perhaps I’ve absorbed a subtle fraction of the filotimo he preached and practiced without him ever having to label it or give it a name.

reconciled Greeks, in general, have a strong sense of pride and are often accused of being selfish and having a formidable ego to contend with. But within all men and women who walk through life with open minds emerge two most important elements of storytelling and life: compassion and empathy, which each have their roots firmly planted in the ancient soil of the Hellenic world. With age comes growth and understanding. But to get there, we must first work on ourselves; we must be selfish (for a time, not forever) and start working on, as Michael Jackson once sang, “the man in the mirror.” In order to craft an award-winning screenplay, one must lock himself away with only a laptop, like Herman Melville had done with the writing of Moby Dick. And once the story is written, once the film premieres, we suddenly become the most selfless people in the world by having touched all those others around us in profound ways. Inducing tears, bellying up a laugh, moving a passive bystander to act. And once that happens –– or rather once we allow it to happen –– our individuality softly melts away, as it must, before we are allowed to become something truly great and selfless: a filotimo.

Therefore, filotimo is not merely a word, but a way of life; a feeling, not a philosophy. It’s something that grows alongside and within each and every one of us, not something we learn like mathematics or language. And while I’m still working on nurturing myself in mind, body and spirit, tapping out words on the page, I’m also giving back with each poem I publish, each Indiegogo campaign I help make successful, and with this very blog post you’re reading now. Filotimo resides in other people’s perception of you, like Maria and her perception of me. Its roots, though, come from years of growth and prosperity of the self, then sacrificing that self to the greater good by simply bringing out the greater good from within ourselves.

Perhaps the greatest show of filotimo ever.

Perhaps the greatest show of filotimo ever.

*          *          *

Filotimo. Machisimo. Mensch. These are all cultural concepts sometimes difficult to grasp. Are there any others that you know of? Share them below –– I’d love to know them and what they mean to you.

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From Auteur to Author, Part 3: Crowdfunding for Filmmakers Comes Full Circle

The circle is now complete –– I’m officially an author!

On Saturday, April 6th, I had my first-ever book signing for Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign, published by Michael Wiese Productions this past March.

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There I am reading to a captive audience at Tachair Bookshoppe, Jersey City.

The combination reading/signing was held in my favorite city in the country –– Jersey City, which also happens to be where I’ve lived for seven years now –– at a quaint little local bookshoppe called Tachair. The evening was special in many ways, mainly because I was surrounded by those who have been most supportive of me and my creative aspirations over the years. In the house was my lovely Lady Marinell, of course, to whom my book is dedicated; my brother Walter and sister-in-law Patti, who nearly made me well up when they told me how proud they were of me; and James Broderick and Vince D’Onofrio (not the actor, the playwright), two great friends, respected mentors, and former colleagues of mine from my days at New Jersey City University, where I’d taught Civilizations courses over the past ten years before trading in my adjunct status for the more reputable title of manager for film, web and video at Indiegogo.

Also in attendance were some exceptional folks whose friendships and support I’ve cherished over years, including Michael Ferrell and Devin Sanchez, two-thirds of the creative team behind the indie film Twenty Million People, which was successfully crowdfunded on Indiegogo between April and June of 2012, raising $13,515 on a $10,000 goal.

Amid a packed audience captivated by my personal stories of how Crowdfunding for Filmmakers came about and the various chapters I chose to read from, the evening was made even more significant simply because it was hosted by Tachair Bookshoppe. See, back in April, 2012, I wrote an article about Jersey City’s lack of a physical bookstore for Jersey City Independent. At that point in time, Tachair was a “roving” bookstore that would set up their tent at all the different markets and festivals in Downtown Jersey City. But partly because of my article and the spirited reception it received online, Aleta Valleau, her son Paul, and her mother Carol set up shop on Newark Avenue where they now sell used books, best-sellers, and books by local authors like me (and I hear those sell better than those best-sellers!)

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A throwback to the Cerise acrostic poem days –– an appropriate thank you to to a bookshoppe dedicated to preserving the written and spoken word.

It has been an amazing journey, and it’s not over yet! From crowdfunding my short film Cerise during the early dawn of crowdfunding for indie filmmakers to writing my first blog post in my “Tao of Crowdfunding” series, which would go on to inspire Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and onto my current calling as one of two film gurus at Indiegogo helping filmmakers to craft successful campaigns, I’m certain none of this would have been possible without the blessings of the crowd –– Not my initial book deal with MWP, not my book being made available on Amazon, and not this book first book signing.

Make no mistake: It’s because of all of you terrific folks who’ve entered into my life, and who have allowed me to enter into yours, that I continue to receive such humbling triumphs and rewards, and I’ll pay it forward in helping our community make their independent filmmaking dreams come true, one campaign at a time.

That, and making a few more of my own come true, too. Stay tuned for more on that!

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Professors Never Bow Out –– Only in New Directions

So here we are, folks –– my first Hat & Soul post of 2013!

This is also my first blog post as a former professor. Three weeks ago, I launched out into a brand new career with the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. Some of you may remember that back in 2010, I entered the world of online fundraising with a campaign for my short film Cerise. Since then, I’ve gone on to consult on various film, music, and book campaigns, free of charge, because I felt I had some insights to offer. Ultimately, I wrote a series of blog posts, which lead to my first book, Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, which will be published by Michael Wiese Productions this March.

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“Go Fund Yourself” –– Most rock ‘n roll tagline ever!

It seems that my keen knowledge on the subject of crowdfunding, and what people have called my “intense generosity toward others” have paved my path to the Indiegogo offices in SoHo, NY, where I’m in charge of helping get film campaigns on the platform and get them funded, as described by my partner Brad Wyman, who produced a little film called Monster, which won Charlize Theron an Oscar back in 2003. And much the way it was a conversation on Twitter that partially lead me to pitch my book to @FocalPress and @MWPFilmBooks, it was #gogofilm that got me and @IndiegogoFilm talking about taking my skills to the next level.

Brad, as well as Indiegogo co-founders Slava Rubin and Danae Ringelmann, whom I’ve known since the days of my Cerise campaign, and Adam Chapnick, who I finally met at the company’s all hands conference in San Francisco last week, have shown me nothing but the utmost respect, even long before I became Indiegogo’s Vertical Manager for Film, Web & Video (“vertical” is just a fancy term for “category”). During my time as an adjunct professor (or what I called “freelance” because it sounded more dignified), however, there was seldom any respect shown.

PCAdjunct2In ten years of teaching in the higher education coliseum, I always got the thumbs down from my colleagues, all except a few select champions, who remain my heroes –– you they know who they are). I even spent a brief semester serving as secretary of the American Federation of Teachers local at my alma mater, and I saw the worst evils Hydden beneath these Dr. Jekyll’s unleashed before my eyes. And the confrontations always came down to a matter of degree: Unless you had a Ph.D., you were merely an instructor, and they hosed us down with reminders, sicked the dogs at us when we tried to speak up.

The only ones who give adjunct professors the respect they deserve are the students. They’re appreciative of all the knowledge we bestow on them. Many of them have never even heard the term “adjunct.” To them, a professor is a professor. Throughout the crowdfunding community, too, I’ve been given a great amount of respect from every friend, Twitter follower, and campaigner I’ve helped out along the bumpy road of crowdfunding by way of blogs, monthly guest posts at Daily Crowdsource, or my BBC spot in which I speak about crowdfunder etiquette.

And for that, I thank you all for helping steer me towards this bright new path where I can still be a professor.

A Tale of Two Professors
My Dad used to frequent the local Path Mark in Weehawken, NJ. Up and down the aisles he’d traverse, laying in his basket only items that were on sale, and all the while being cordial and talkative to everyone he’d meet in those aisles, even when he ultimately lost his voice to cancer. He always induced a smile from the cashiers and stock clerks, and they would open up to him about things that bothered them, both at work and at home. And my Dad, he’d listen. He’d give advice. And before long, he became known at that Path Mark as “The Professor.” No degree required, but a ton of respect.

Professors come full circle: Father and son, circa 1980(ish).

Professors come full circle: Father and son, circa 1980(ish).

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Movies of 2012 I Missed Because I Was Too Darn Busy Writing

It’s been an on again, off again relationship between the movie theater and me.

There were a few movies I really wanted to see in 2012, but I spent the bulk of my time hunched over my writing desk working on everything from Crowdfunding for Filmmakers to the script for my very first comic book, Siren’s Calling; plus there were countless comic book reviews, blog posts, and guest posts for Daily Crowdsource and various online venues that required my attention. The bright side is that I’ve written more in 2012 than in any other year of my entire writing life. The down side? I’ve gotten a bit too far-removed from the best and worst movies of the year; half the time, I didn’t even know what was playing in theaters! (Pretty sad for an indie filmmaker, huh?)

That said, what follows is a trio of (very) short lists of movies that (1) I wanted to see, but didn’t, (2) I saw but didn’t care much for, and (3) I’m looking forward to seeing (and will put in the effort to see) in theaters come 2013. So here goes!

Five Films I Wanted to See in 2012 (and Why), But Didn’t:
Argo –– Because everyone’s saying how awesome a director Ben Affleck is in this one.

*Les Miserables –– Because Marinell really wants to see this.

Lincoln –– Because I want to see why Daniel Day Lewis will receive the Oscar for Best Actor.

Looper –– Because it’s about time travel, and I’m all about time travel tales.

*On the Road –– Because I’ll always be a beatnik at heart.

* I may still be able to see these films before the end of 2012 –– wish me luck!

Three Films I Did See in 2012 And Was Disappointed With (and Why):
The Dark Knight Rises –– Because it felt like the first draft of a story that could’ve been as amazing as both The Dark Knight and Batman Begins.

Prometheus –– Because it was nothing like Alien.

Taken 2 –– Because it was just a sequel to a phenomenal first film.

Two Films I’ll Be Sure to See at a Theater in 2013 (and Why):
The Great Gatsby –– Because (1) the trailer looks amazing, and (2) I’ll always love the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Man of Steel –– Because it looks like the darkest take on Superman yet.

So my 2013 Resolution is, appropriately, to watch more indie and short films on a much more regular basis. What’s YOUR resolution?

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A Brief Meditation on the Connections that Create Us

It’s been said that everything in life happens for a reason, and that reason is always for the best. I subscribe to this philosophy wholeheartedly, since it’s yet to let me down. Through my brief studies in Zen Buddhism and my recent reading of Lao Tzu’s Hua Hu Ching, I understand this concept all the better.

Ma Yuan’s “Walking on a Mountain Path in Spring.” Song Dynasty, c.1160.

Everything we do is intrinsically linked to everything we’ve done and will do. Yet too often we take up arms against this natural Way of life, causing ourselves needless stress and anxiety. The sooner we accept what it is we are, the sooner we’ll be able to embrace the success and contentment we truly deserve. I certainly have, and I can only hope it’s the beginning of greater things to come.

In my brief 34 years, I’ve been afforded many wondrous opportunities to be myself. From the moment I received my first acceptance letter from Enigma for my poem “Paradise Lost” (much shorter than that other John’s poem) and turned my first 30-page script into an hour-and-a-half feature-length film to landing my first book deal, I’ve counted myself among the lucky ones who’ve been fortunate enough to share their stories with the world. Attending New York Comic Con this year further whetted a long dormant desire in me to write a comic book after I drafted the first issue of an original graphic horror story. And most recently, I’ve been offered a tremendous new opportunity to work with a team of dedicated individuals whom I greatly respect to lend a hand to crowdfunders and help get their projects noticed and funded, all because someone took notice of the advice I’ve been sharing on Twitter over the past three months under my #CF4Filmmakers hashtag.

Regardless of how it all turns out, none of this could have ever happened without connections. I’m not talking about the people we connect with, but rather the distinct vibrations of the universe that lead us to particular points in the time and space of our lives. For instance, I crowdfunded my short film Cerise on Indiegogo, something I could not have done had I not joined Twitter first and met a couple hundred awesome people who shared my interest in filmmaking. People like Gregory Bayne, who helped pique my interest in crowdfunding when I saw he was raising money online for his documentary Jens Pulver: Driven. Because of this, I launched my own campaign and raised $1,300 over my $5,000 goal from folks like you. My campaign ultimately led me to write a trio of blog posts, and those posts paved a direct path to Michael Wiese Productions, where I pitched the premise for what would become Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign.

That’s a proud me holding up a proof copy of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers.

One event connects to the next, and it’s this culmination of events that helps shape what I call “The Pu of You” (hmm…sounds like another book title…) Pu is the ancient Taoist concept of the “Uncarved Block.” The majority of us spend a lifetime trying to make ourselves what we want to be, and this can be a very positive thing, of course. But if the obstacles presented before us are too great to overcome, or if our skills necessary to make us thrive remain uncultivated, we carve ourselves in vain. If we let go, however, and allow the universe to create what it wants of us, then we become something else entirely. I’d always known I was a writer, but prior to my completing Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, I never thought it possible for me to focus on a long-term writing project and see it through to the end. That’s why I’ve billed myself as a poet for the past twenty years –– poems are short and can be finished (contrary to Paul Valéry’s old adage that a poem is never finished, only abandoned). But finishing a 253-page book, including three rewrites and a number of additional revisions? That gave me the confidence I needed to embrace the writer with a capital “W,” which the universe was trying to lure out of me despite my own uncertainty and doubt in my abilities.

And what if the universe has something different in store for me for the future? If that’s the case, it’s just fine by me. I know it’ll be all for the best. The connections that push us in the directions we’re headed have only our best interests in mind. If an obstacle thwarts our way, we need only find a new path around it. And we do this all the time. Some of us just over-think it, is all, and hold tight to things like regret and that heart-gnawing question: “What if?” But the truth is there is no “what if?” There’s only “what now?” We need to leave that kind of mental baggage on the side of the path ahead and never dwell too long on the detour sign that’s occasionally placed before us. After all, a detour is simply a new direction to the same destination. Enjoy the ride.

What advice, philosophies, and/or beliefs do YOU subscribe to on your journey towards greater things ahead? Share them in the comments section below. I’d love to read them!

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My October Country: Trading in Meat Loaf for Bloody Kisses

October is one of my favorite months, and many years ago, it used to be my favorite month of all. The time of Halloween, of changing leaves. A time for light jackets and pumpkin picking, fresh apple cider, and recollections of the summers passed. Yes, for me, October means all that and more. Let’s do a little time traveling, shall we?

FLASHBACK: OCTOBER, 1993. I was a freshman at Weehawken High School, writing poems during homeroom, skipping out on gym class after stretches, and listening to Meat Loaf’s recently released Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell album 24/7. I had also just reconnected with some friends I’d known since kindergarten. Now they wore leather motorcycle jackets, Levis jeans, and Steel Toe boots. They’d grown out their hair. They hung out in back of the school and never spoke with the baggy-pantsed hip hoppers from the Heights. On their chests they bull-horned album covers of their favorite bands like Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, and Slayer, and to top it off, chains carrying pewter logos of those bands dangled round their necks. In short, these guys looked like trouble, and these troublemakers wanted me to hang out with them.

So I did.

Back Into Hell: Still a bad-arse album cover.

On that first October night of many more to come, I put on my best attire: chinos, my best (and only) pair of Payless sneakers, and my Bat out of Hell II T-shirt. I was so afraid these guys would poke fun at me for proudly displaying my well-seasoned Meat Loaf pride in the midst of what I deemed would be a night of Satanic music tartare. Surprisingly, they didn’t so much as chuckle. They accepted me for who I was. Then Brian, the eldest and thus the crew’s leader, pulled me aside and showed me a spellbinding sight: one of his dad’s motorcycles, and on its fuel tank a beautiful rendition of the original Bat Out of Hell album cover. Immediately I was put at ease and felt like one of the boys.

That night, we sat in that basement and listened to music. That’s all we did, and it seems that was all they ever did. Brian and the crew introduced me to all sorts of heavy metal music. No Death or Deicide, but what I heard was definitely harder core than the Meat and potatoes I’d immersed myself in. They played Danzig’s self-titled album, and his iconic “Mother” stuck in my head all through the night. Then Type O Negative’s debut album Bloody Kisses queued up and I was hooked. They changed up the pace with some more Brooklyn natives –– the boys behind Biohazard, and I can’t recall how many times I listened to “Punishment” with Dolph Lundgren speaking a line as the Punisher from that terrible 1989 movie.

This was such a mistake of a movie, but I remember enjoying it back in the ’90s.

After a few hours, we ascended from the basement and went out for some quarter juices and chips at the corner store, then sat on Brian’s steps while we ate and drank. Then we went back down into the basement and listened as Brian rocked out some riffs on his B.C. Rich Warlock before calling it a night. After all, tomorrow was a school day.

NOVEMBER, 1993 – SEPTEMBER, 1996. It wasn’t long after that first night before I started listening to Megadeth, Iron Maiden, and other (slightly) more heavy metal bands, though it wouldn’t be until college when I’d finally be able to appreciate death and black metal bands like Sepultura and Cradle of Filth. I bought a $100 leather motorcycle jacket, stocked up on T-shirts of all my new favorite bands, though I never discarded my Meat Loaf Tees. I picked up a Guns N’ Roses chain to wear around my neck. I hung out at the back of the school. My hair grew past my shoulders. I wore Steel Toe boots (Doc Martens were too expensive), and I started learning the electric guitar.

In 1998, my hair was still long (as was my best friend’s Alain Aguilar, pictured on the left) and I was still proudly sporting my leather motorcycle jacket.

One thing I noticed even then was that these guys I was spending my time with were good kids. Yes, we had long hair and blocked off the B-side steps of our high school, but in those years between 1993 – 1996, there was never an altercation with a crew of hip hoppers (we carried knives, just in case), no issues with drugs, and only an occasional night of passing a 40oz bottle of Bud between us in the yard of the grammar school we all went to or tagging up trailers in North Bergen. Maybe there were a couple mischief nights egging houses and TPing the trees, too, but most of our time was spent listening to music and eventually learning to play it as well. Many a night we would stand on a corner when the steps grew weary of our chatter and the autumn breeze would try to freeze out our discussions about everything from songwriters to science fiction, or our marveling over photos of our favorite musical personalities in the latest issue of Hit Parader Magazine. Seattle Grunge was riding the waves out East, too, and by the time Kurt Cobain had shot himself, we were all mixing a little Pearl Jam and Nirvana into our daily repertoire of head-banging goodness; teen angst seemed a natural progression.

BACK TO BLOG: OCTOBER, 2012. October always conjures up those critical days in my youth when I discovered a little smidgen of the person I wanted to be, a taste of my identity to come, because despite my black leather appearance and Alice in Chains outlook on life, I was never much of a man in the box. Even then I knew I’d never keep myself cornered, listening to only one kind of music, reading just one book genre. October has always been the time of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicket This Way Comes or The Halloween Tree, Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery and Salem’s Lot, Dean R. Koontz’s The Voice of the Night and Shattered; the time of year to populate my Netflix queue with classic horror films for 30 days of blood and gore; the time to drink obscure German beers and like it. And why? The trees are decked in a mélange of color and become more beautiful due to the diversity of their leaves. The older they get, the more gorgeous they become, if only for a brief moment in time before they crisp and fall. And shouldn’t it be similar with us? With every story we endure, shouldn’t we become something more beautiful with each passing October?

These days, October breeds an appreciation of all the ghosts of Octobers come and gone, pulling out the Misfits and mixing in a pinch of Tom Waits while enjoying a chill breeze that’s kind of cold, yet helps keep in my mind all the stories that continue to push me onwards and upwards toward new heights without boundaries of boxes, days, or decades. So this Halloween, treat those little Avengers and tiny Dark Knights with chocolate, but every day, give yourself a treat and remember all those moments that have brought about change, but never stop haunting who you were, are, and will one day become.

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And because I just couldn’t not include it, here’s the music video for Danzig’s “Mother,” which I remember being fascinated with and must have watched over a hundred times.

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What months have helped make YOU  the person you are today? And if there are any specific stories you can share, please do so in the Comments section. I’d love to read ‘em!

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Riding the Writer’s Road: Three Lessons Learned in Three Months of Writing

Today marks the beginning of my fourth month writing The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and on May 1st I should have a complete manuscript ready to turn in to the editors at Michael Wiese Productions. Back in December, I wrote a post called “Tao Te Trig: The Flow, the Muse and the Working Writer’s World” about what I’d learned during my first month of being a working writer, so I thought I’d continue that here with three important lessons I’ve learned in three months as an author.

Lesson #1: Get Organized, Stay Organized
I’m no stranger to the written word; I’ve written at least a couple thousand poems (if you count my napkin poems of 2000 – 2003), a dozen short stories, one five-act play, and four feature-length screenplays (two of which are still with us) and the one thing I’ve learned is to get and stay organized. I wrote about my ten pages a day screenwriting philosophy, but I find each type of writing demands different requirements and so each requires unique organization.

Sometimes the texture of a napkin is more conducive to a decent poem than a page from my Moleskine.

For The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, I spent a day and broke each of my eleven sections into weeks. I worked a four-day per week writing schedule, my days off from teaching, and squeezed in some extra hours on the days I did work but had a substantial lull between classes. If I finished my weekly quota, I refrained from getting a head start and instead worked on something else; I was already being pretty ambitious with my weekly schedule as it was, and sticking to it was challenge enough.

Now, I have a complete first (and rough) draft of my book of about 300 pages (more than I ever thought I’d write!), which will now need to be cut down during the revision stage; and a new stage means new organization.

Lesson #2: “Be Impeccable with Your Word”
This is the first of four agreements I took to heart from reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s book of Toltec wisdom The Four Agreements, which I discovered buried at the bottom of a box of books at one of the universities where I teach.

The Four Agreements of Don Miguel Ruiz.

You may wonder why my two blogs, Hat & Soul and The Trigonis Review, don’t have a regular frequency for posts, and that’s because I refuse to push any of my writing out into the world that isn’t at its very best. An idea is precious, and it exist in our minds in its purest form; there it retains 100% of its power to inform, to inspire, and ultimately, to transform. Once we attempt to translate that idea into words, it will undoubtedly lose some of its original essence because words are all too human while the idea itself is divine. By the time we choose our words, we may only be getting across to the reader 75% of the actual, untainted idea.

Therefore, in order to maximize the power of language, writers must be impeccable with our words. If we know we can say something more clearly and concisely to ensure that our readers will understand exactly what we want them to understand, then we owe it to ourselves and to our readership to put forward only our very best writing.

Lesson #3: Resistance is Futile
As much as I don’t want to admit this to myself, let alone to all of you reading this, I spent a great deal of time resisting my natural calling as a writer. I’ve always prided myself on being a poet, and I’ve been trudging along this mysterious life with a suitcase packed full of self-imposed rules of what it means to be a poet –– Always Think Deep Thoughts; Always Appear Beat and Brooding; and above all, Never Sell Out, which oftentimes means only the first two words of that sentence for me.

"Untamed Muse" by Tom Kidd: A great depiction of my vision of a poet.

Sometimes it takes more than a imaginary muse to tell you how it is and help you see the world through a different pair of shades.

How did The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers come about in the first place? My girlfriend Marinell and I were talking one night about how so many crowdfunders were benefiting from my first Tao of Crowdfunding blog post, and she suggested I write a book about it since I’d been grumbling about not having an actual book of poetry published yet. I declined, to which she retorted that I really should start making money off my writing. Initially, the poet in me got upset, but the writer hidden deep inside heard the call. I wanted to write a poem, but instead I wrote a solid proposal with the idea in my mind of proving to Marinell that a legitimate book publisher would, in fact, want to have this book as part of its catalog. Interestingly enough, I didn’t need to prove anything to her –– she already believed in me with utmost certainty that I could do it; instead, I ended up proving it to myself. The rest is history and a Twitter hashtag.

And here I am now, closing in on my 34th year and I finally understand that while only living the life of a poet I’d been neglecting my “Unlived Life” as a working writer; I never believed someone would want to pay to read something I’d written. I’ve since unpacked my old Million Miler filled with fabricated Rules and the faintest whispers of Resistance and embrace the scribe’s boulevard up ahead, with all its curves, turns and crossroads, and green lights as far as the eye can imagine.

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What are YOUR thoughts about life on the “scribe’s boulevard”? Writers, any advice you’d care to share from your experiences? Readers, any thoughts from the reader’s perspective of things will help us pack this Comments section for the long journey ahead.

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