Upcoming Poetry Performances

Hey folks! I’ve got some poetry performances coming up this week and next, so I thought I’d jot down the 4-1-1 here (linked up and all that) to make it easier for you to mark your iCals and take in some culture of the poetic form.

Here’s the slate (so far!):

Wednesday, 5/24: The Three of Cups Lounge, NYC; 6PM
I’m one of four featured readers for the Rimes of the Ancient Mariner Open Mic. Only $5 Cover. Enjoy fifteen minutes of classic and post-modern Trigonis!

Thursday, 5/25: Porta, JC; 8PM
Art House Productions’ original gangsta open mic is back in the basement of Porta in Jersey City. I’m not a featured performer, but I’ll be reading about three to five minutes worth of verse. $5 cover.

Sunday, 5/28: Theater for the New City, NYC; 4 – 7PM
I’ll be participating in this year’s LES Festival, reading between three and five minutes of poetry, so if you’re in the area, swing on by! (I don’t think there’s a cover for this one.)

Friday, 6/02: The Beacon, JC; 9 – 11PM
I’m very proud to be participating in Art House Productions’ JC Fridays event G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) Variety Show, featuring some of the best talents from the various Art House open mics across Jersey City. No cover! (That I know of, anyway.)

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Choose wisely which one(s) to attend, my faithful friends, and I’ll look forward to seeing some of your familiar faces on these dates!

Crusaders of the Heart: Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, You and I

Yeah, I did it. It was partly an impulse buy at one of three shops worth its weight in gold in Hoboken, New Jersey, and it was partly because of my fond nostalgia for the artist that I picked up his latest album that fateful day early in 2017, though the album had been out since September, 2016.

Nope, I’m not talking about Tom Waits, and I don’t mean Eddie and the boys of Pearl Jam, either.

I’m talking about the most dramatic singer and performer this side of a three-penny opera as reimagined in Baz Lurman lighting and a fast knob-flick turning up of the bass.

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That’s right –– I’m talking about Meat Loaf!

I walked into Tunes that day and picked up some vintage Springsteen for the “Nice Price” of $2.99, and I stepped back after my purchase, thinking to myself “let me see if there’s any old Meat Loaf in the stacks. And there I saw it, its bold yellow cover art screaming “danger, Will Robinson!” with all the power of Sinestro’s ring of Fear, yet at the same time, strangely inviting, like a yolk that’s burst from the egg’s center and frying in the pan because you didn’t over easy it easy enough.

I didn’t buy it then, that’s the worst part. I thought about it all night and it’s $12.99 brand new price tag. I hit up the Google machine for an hour or so before bed, reading articles about Braver Than We Are, and two things hit me: First, all the songs were written by Meat Loaf’s long time collaborator Jim Steinman, who wrote Meat’s greatest hits Bat Out of Hell (1977) and Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell (1993), as well as seven or so of the songs on Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose (2006), though this third installment swerves severely from the alternating fornications of fast and furious and forlorn and lost that made its predecessors the masterpieces they are. Second, I read about the cover of the album in this article from Ultimate Classic Rock, and Meat Loaf explains in it how the Four Horsemen (Cyclemen?) of the Apocalypse represent the music industry, and it’s up to Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman to battle them and save the music world from total annihilation. At closer examination, and being a super fan of Meat Loaf in my youth, I realized that the motorcycles the Horsemen ride upon were the same hellbound hogs featured on all of the covers of some of his other classic albums he and Jim had worked on together, namely the Bat Out of Hell Trilogy and Meat Loaf’s second album Dead Ringer (1981), which you can read more about from yours truly here, since I think it’s their most underrated collaboration and a fantastical followup to 1977’s Bat Out of Hell.

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And here’s that amazing cover art for Braver Than We Are by Julie Bell.

So, the following day, and after a good night’s rest, I journeyed back to Tunes and swiped my credit card and took Braver Than We Are to my car, unwrapped it, then slipped the CD into my car’s player and listened to the first track, which was supposed to have been included on Bat Out of Hell. Well, my initial thought was it’s a damn good thing that it wasn’t.

“Who Needs the Young” starts out with a blues riff that quickly decides it doesn’t want to be a blues riff, and instead adopts the guise of a 1950s doo-wop bop, invoking sad reveries of crashed muscle cars, flaming vintage leather Schotts, and various scenes in Back to the Future, spilling “Tears on My Pillow” into the sewers littered with the careless blood of youth and empty glass bottles of Coke. And then, like a brokendown American classic that refuses to be run into the ground even after 100,000 miles, the song shifts its gears yet again into something out of a Bertolt Brecht play, dark and stormy rhythms cut to pieces once Meat Loaf’s… voice?! –– enters the fray. Yes, it is Meat Loaf’s voice, but it’s like nothing I’d ever heard before. It’s no secret that musicians who start out singing soprano or tenor end up baritones or bass at best, with scratches on the vinyl of their vocal chords, making everyone sound a bit like old Tom Frost or the later years Leonard Cohen. But I just didn’t expect it from Meat Loaf, whose voice was so recognizable in songs like “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and even its debut in the 1975 cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show with the song “Hot Patootie (Whatever Happened to Saturday Night?” and I had read in that same Ultimate Classic Rock article I believe that his voice was different, and according to Steinman, it’s what his voice should’ve been in all their albums.

Don’t get me wrong –– I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just different. Jarring. Unnerving, even, and by the time “Who Needs the Young” ended, I didn’t know how to feel. I gave the second track a listen –– the eleven-minute-and-change anthem “Going All The Way,” which is a song in six movements, and just when I expected a more classic Meat Loaf sound, there was that same crumpled construction paper voice again, like he’d swallowed one of Jim’s earlier drafts of the song and was only now conjuring it up from his very bowels in the recording studio. Believe me, I know how this sounds. It sounds like I don’t like this album. That I’m upset that I went all the way back to Tunes to pick it up for two bucks on top of a Hamilton. (Three bucks if you count the 99 cents.) That this is my first (and only) music review.

Well, it’s none of these. See, I got through those two songs and a little bit into the third track, “Speaking in Tongues,” and then I found myself tapping the arrow on my Pioneer car radio twice to get back to the start of track two. And for a week straight, I went all the way with “Going All the Way.” I listened to it over and over again. It helps that the car ride from my apartment in Jersey City Heights to my fiancée’s (yeah, we don’t live together yet) downtown takes close to eleven minutes with a moderate amount of traffic. And the more I heard it –– Jim’s lyrics sung harrowingly through Meat Loaf’s new broken baritone, blessing each strained syllable with newfound melodrama; Ellen Foley and Karla DeVito’s dueling backups causing a ruckus in the heavens; and what seems like a damned choir in the background, particularly during the “Say a Prayer” segment of the song –– I started appreciating the entire composition all the more. It’s very much a piece of musical theater than a single song sung on an album, and as a closet enthusiast and proud owner of both the original Broadway recording and “The Complete Work” of Jekyll & Hyde, I’m no stranger to gothic musicals.

And while this blog post is not a music review, and I won’t be going through every song on the album, mainly because I only got through all ten tracks for the first time as I was writing this piece, I will say that it’s not all gothic, but with four out of ten tracks having featured female vocalists, it does have that big Broadway musical feel throughout the bulk of the disc. And sometimes it works brilliantly, as in “Going All the Way” and especially in the humorously titled “Loving You Is a Dirty Job (But Somebody’s Gotta Do It)” which invokes the kind of fatal attraction and the mixing of amorous chemicals that makes “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” such a 104.3 classic rock song. Other times, like in “Skull Of Your Country” which incorporates the “Turn around, bright eyes” lyric from Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (they are Jim’s lyrics, after all, written in 1969, way back before the iconic go-to karaoke duet number hit the charts in ’83), it does not, since you can’t help but want to start singing “every now and then I fall apart.” But it’s songs like that that show the importance of not taking oneself too seriously. There’s even a fun little part where Jim gets meta, referencing a well-known line from his other Bat-classic “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” that made me laugh out loud when I heard it in the song “Souvenirs,” which was also supposed to have been included on that same seminal late ’70s album.

So why am I going on and on about Meat Loaf’s latest album, you ask? Well, truth be told, I needed a blog post to write for the month of January so I could start 2017 off right. No, not really. Going back to the song “Going All the Way,” I found something interesting. I had been listening to only this song for a for about a week at least, and then a strange thing started happening to me. By movement four (or maybe it’s movement five), once Meat Loaf, Ellen, and Karla get to sing the “Say a Prayer” part of the song, well, I found myself getting a little emotional in the car as I was driving. Once I had learned the lyrics to the song, I would sing them loudly in my Scion as I sped down Palisade and then Newark Avenues. But it got to a point that once “Say a prayer for those who crawl” came out of my speakers, the words would slip right back down my throat and not be given a chance to soar. I was getting choked up. The words were quite literally sticking in my throat, and I couldn’t explain it. So I’d hit pause on my own vocals and let the trio take over. Then I’d try again with a random of “say a prayer for…” lyric. By the time I’d get to who or what the prayer was for, my voice would crack again, and I’d feel that somewhat unfamiliar heaviness you get when you watch a movie with a strong father and son moment in it like Click or Sing or something. (Okay, maybe that’s a bit too specific to me, but you get the idea.)

Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, back in the day.

Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, back in the day.

Whatever the reason, it’s bizarre. I mean, the lyrics, they’re quite beautiful (and long! –– If I knew how to anchor text, I’d probably not include one just so you still read the actual lyrics anyway), and here they are:

Say a prayer for those who crawl
Say a prayer for those who run
Say a prayer so all in all
There’s a better life to come

Say a prayer for those alone
Say a prayer for those apart
All the golden boys and girls
The crusaders of the heart

Say a prayer for all the lost
Say a prayer for the unborn
Say a prayer for all the young
It takes a fire to keep them warm

Say a prayer for those obsessed
Say a prayer for those enslaved
Say a prayer to beat the drums
From the cradle to the grave

Say a prayer for all the saints
Say a prayer for all the sins
Let the dancing never end
Let the future now begin

Say a prayer to all the gods
Some are near and some are far
Say a prayer to all the gods
To make us braver than we are

Reading them now, it got me thinking. We all do so much for things that ultimately, in the Grand Scheme of all existence, just don’t matter all that much. We go to work, we commute home; we commit ourselves to things we just don’t want to do; we spread ourselves thin, stress ourselves toward an early flatline for no good reason, because whatever will happen will come to pass with or without our suffering. We battle our own Horsemen day in and day out, and sometimes all it takes to sooth our tortured spirits is a nice home-cooked meal from the one  you love, and whom loves you with all the essence of their being. Or kicking back playing some Space Invaders with your best buds over some craft beers. Sitting –– truly sitting –– still to silence the mind long enough for it to connect to the heart once more.

And it’s that phrase in Jim’s lyrics, “Crusaders of the Heart,” that I think hits me the most, makes the tears want to burst right through my eyes. Not because I’m sad, but because there’s so much love out there. (And a lot of hatred, anger, jealousy, stupidity, and all those other not-so-positive emotions, too, of course –– ’cause without them, we wouldn’t understand or appreciate love, so stop praying for a perfect world already!) Real love. The kind of love we all are crusading after every day in our own unique snowflake sorta ways. The type of love that’s essentially nothing more than a tiny seed from which some greater happiness might sprout and grow, if only we nurture and care for it the Right Way.

Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, closer to today.

Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf, closer to today.

I’ve written this piece after good day’s work for someone else. This blog post is the start of at least one evening’s blip of happiness. Sending my fiancée our favorite new emoji seemingly out of the blue is another. Going to the Friggin Fabulous open mic night on Tuesday nights and having a Brooklyn Blast double IPA waiting for me at the bar, then reciting some of my spoken word is yet another. Now what about you? What are you doing today or tonight or this coming weekend to make sure your crusade for love comes from the heart? That you’re “going all the way” for? Because, as Jim writes and Meat Loaf sings, “going all the way is just the start.”

And yes, I know this song is really probably just another sex anthem, “a catchy cousin to ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’,” as Jim Farber from EW.com writes, but that’s love, too, and we can all find deeper meaning in just about anything. We simply have to stop, listen, and look around once in a while.

Or we might miss it.

*      *      *      *      *

Thanks for reading my first blog post of 2017, everyone! It’s a bit long, but this year I’m going to be writing 100% the kind of blog posts that I want to write, which I hope will be worth your time reading. If not (or if so), let me know in the comments below.

So… is anyone else listening to the new Meat Loaf album…?

[Crickets.]

 

A Writer’s Manual: How Nintendo’s Booklets Instructed the Writer Inside

When I was a novice sapling of a writer back in the late eighties to mid-nineties, I drew a lot of inspiration from video games. Not from video games per se, as I would play my NES and Super NES consoles as a means of relaxing after a particularly rough day at the blackboard or connecting with my Dad over about 25 or 30 phases of The Original Mario Bros.. No, it was the instruction manuals. I would read these little booklets that came with the game paks cover to cover, marveling at the colorful imagery of The Legend of Zelda or Knights of the Round, a little-known side scrolling Arthurian adventure game for the Super NES from back in 1994. More than the imagery, I was taken by the background stories, character descriptions, and weaponry that was frequently featured in these little rectangular booklets, as it not only opened up the word of their respective games to my young mind, but also opened my mind itself to the possibility of telling stories like these one day.

This is the only instruction manual I still own today.

This is the only instruction manual I still own today.

With that, and thanks to the awesome web resource gamesdatabase.org, here are the five most influential Nintendo instruction manuals that helped me develop as a writer.

ActRaiser (SNES)
The first time I wrote about ActRaiser was as this post about how playing the game taught me about how to be humble and help others. In terms of the actual manual, and aside from the many gorgeously painted illustrations revealing the backstory, the ActRaiser manual came complete with an area map, and to this day I love maps of mystical lands and worlds that don’t exist, but could exist.

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The ActRaiser instruction manual, along with a couple of the others listed below, was a major influence in my writing a five-act play when I was fifteen called Ordeal of Love, which was part one of a trilogy of plays under the auspices of the “Jonathan Gracco Saga,” which by today’s standards would be a G-rated version of Game of Thrones, which would basically just be Dragon’s Lair. Think Shakespeare’s Henry VI, parts I – III, but more enjoyable despite also being written in iambic pentameter –– yes, I had a lot of time on my hands back then!

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (NES)
From the first moment I saw the image of Count Dracula’s fangs soaking in a glass of water like my Dad used to soak his false teeth in a glass of water he kept in the fridge (TMI?), I was hooked! But this game fascinated me from the start because it was the first multi-player action/adventure side-scroller I’d every encountered, and I loved how the instruction manual dives briefly into each of their backstories. The most interesting one of them was that of Alucard, Dracula’s son, who would go on to become the main playable character in 1997’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

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Trevor Belmont, Alucard, and the rest of the cast of characters in the third installment of Konami’s hit vampire hunting action/adventure game would inspire me to write a series of Castlevania fan fictions (I wrote about this once before, so you can read it here), which got me started as a writer.

Final Fantasy II (SNES)
In a nutshell, what drew me to read this manual numerous times was the detail in the story, up until the characters blast off to the moon (whoops! spoiler alert!) I also enjoyed the fact that much of the “illustrations” were simply the 16-bit imagery from the SNES game itself. It was quite different from all of the other instruction manuals I had paged through at the time, except for the Super Star Wars trilogy, which also exclusively used 16-bit graphics as their main illustrations.

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For me, interesting characters make or break a story, more so than a convoluted or ingeniously contrived plot. And as I played Final Fantasy II and read over this manual, it was the characters and their backstories that made me want to play more. And which made me want to create characters like these, too, because what it made me realize, even at that young age, was that my characters were little more than two-dimensional caricatures controlled by a higher power –– this writer’s will and whims –– and not by their own choices and actions.

Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters (Game Boy)
I’m Greek, so of course Kid Icarus was bound to make an appearance in some form or another. I never owned the original NES classic when I was a kid, but for some reason I did make my Dad buy me the Game Boy sequel Of Myths and Monsters. The instruction booklet featured anime-esque illustrations throughout the instruction booklet, some a bit less detailed than others, but what I was more interested in at the time was that people like Pythagoras, described as “…a lively old man who throws equilateral triangles,” were making some appearances. Uh, sold!

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Whether non-fictional like the man who discovered the Pythagorean theorem, or fictional (what is an Eggplant Wizard, anyway?), it was these peculiar characters that would work their way through the gears of my mind, and the fact that many of them were based on Greek mythology, that got me working on poetry about mythology.

Metroid (NES)
If there was one booklet that lives in my Mother Brain in vidid detail, it would be the instruction manual for Metroid. (And the one for Game Boy’s Metroid II: The Return of Samus, too.) Although I must say I do have a pet peeve here; this is one booklet that is probably the most inconsistent of all the manuals I’ve ever read through, art-wise. There can be a very cartoony rendition of our main character on one page, and then, right on the next page, one of the most awesome and iconic depictions of her.

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But by the time we get to the descriptions and depictions of the enemies of Planet SR388, all is forgiven, for these are some of the greatest illustrations of any Nintendo manual around, not to mention some of the most creative, creepy, and downright disturbing baddies I’ve ever seen.

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The characters of Metroid have definitely inspired a few of my own sci-fi stories and characters that I haven’t quite gotten around to putting down into any medium just yet, though I have worked something of it into my comic Siren’s Calling. This is not directly based on Metroid or even science fiction –– as a matter of fact, it’s more connected to Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters with its Classical mythology angle –– but the concept of a strong female protagonist, which is what Samus Aran is in Metroid, and exactly what Lorie Lye is in my graphic novel. More so, I’ve got at least two other stories with strong women leading the charge, which I can’t wait to put my prowess to and write up.

Honorable Mention: The Goonies II (NES)
I’m adding this one other game for a couple reasons. First, for it’s connection to the 1985 Richard Donner classic, but also because even though, like Metroid, I couldn’t even get past the first boss stage of this game, I spent hours reading and rereading all of the cool pictures of weapons included in this particular Konami instruction manual. And it was the first time I learned what a molotov cocktail was. (Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, we may never know!)

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There are many more Nintendo manuals I could site, from Top Secret Episode: Golgo 13 (NES), Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge and Double Dragon (Game Boy) to Super Mario World (SNES) which all aided in sparking ideas about characters, plots, and overall premises of the stories I would ultimately be telling or will tell in the near future. But it was these that really piqued my interest in telling stories.

Why I never thought to become a writer for video games, one may never know.

 

What video game manuals do you remember paging through numerous times, whether marveling at the illustrations and stories or simply learning the gameplay? List them in the comments!

UnM.A.S.K.ed: Following the Condor

Let’s face it, in all of the M.A.S.K. mythology, Thunderhawk may have been the must-have vehicle of the franchise, but it was the little neon green motorcycle-turned-helicopter codenamed Condor that captured the cool factor and would lift many a child into a brave new world where illusion is the ultimate weapon.

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Box pic courtesy of albertpenello.com/mask, the best M.A.S.K. resource out there.

This isn’t the first post about this classic eighties toy line and cartoon (you can read my first one at my Medium page here), and it won’t be my last, since I’m about to start a crusade to get Hasbro and/or IDW Publishing’s attention so they’ll read my book proposal for UnM.A.S.K.ed: The Komplete History of the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand in Toys, Television, and Today. I figured I’d start with a quick piece on one of my personal favorite vehicles: Condor, with its yellow clad rock star pilot and M.A.S.K. agent Brad Turner and his mask, Hocus Pocus.

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Now, for those of you who’ve never had the privilege of experiencing this action-packed cartoon, which ran from 1985 – ’86, it’s a true classic, right up there with TransformersG.I. Joe, and Silverhawks. Okay, probably not Silverhawks, but that’s another of my personal favorites, though it’s a tad too similar to its progenitor and more successful brethren, ThunderCats. Anyhow, M.A.S.K. pitted the titular team, their super-powered masks and mild-mannered vehicles that transformed into weapons against the Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem, or V.E.N.O.M., for short. Each week the dastardly plots of Miles Mayhem were foiled by Matt Trakker and his highly trained Mobile Armored Strike Kommand. And yes, you guessed it –– the cartoon was a way to market and sell more toys, and it worked like a charm, at least for a time.

Condor was an inexpensive (around $6 back in 1985) way in to the toy line for most kids, being that the vehicle itself was a sleek motorcycle which quickly converted into a helicopter in three simple motions. As if the eighties neon green paint job didn’t make Condor cool enough, Brad Turner plays the guitar in a rock band when he’s not called to action by Matt and the gang, and he seems to always wear shades. The figure was no different.

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As a seven-year old kid, I remember owning Condor, but somehow I never owned Brad Turner, which is very strange being that Brad comes with the motorcycle! Or perhaps I did own him at one time, and he must have gotten lost somewhere. Apparently it happened a lot to me as a kid –– Here’s a piece I wrote a while back about misplacing my black costume Secret Wars Spider-Man, which I think I’m still scarred from and subconsciously searching for in my dreams.

It’s only fitting then that Condor (complete with Brad Turner) marks the first M.A.S.K. vehicle in what would seem to be my 2.0 collection. See, back when I was around sixteen years old or so, I started this thing called “growing up,” taking interest in music, playing the guitar, hanging out at the corner shop sipping quarter juices with my headbanger friends, and such. So one day kicked all of my favorite toys to the curb except for select ones that had extra special meaning to me, like my original Star Wars action figures. Sadly, my TransformersSilverHawks, He-Man, and yes, most regrettably my massive collection of M.A.S.K. toys were all coffined in their boxes and left for the garbage man or any less fortunate kids who happened to pass by Liberty Place and wanted to lug them to their homes. (I like to think someone did.)

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It doesn’t get any cooler, or more eighties, than Brad Turner.

I’ve carried this weight with me ever since –– like the titular Mariner, who shot and killed an albatross that was flying over his ship in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. (Actually, let’s stick with the eighties theme here: Listen to this interpretation by Iron Maiden instead.)

Now, I mentioned that I “started” growing up because I never really finished. Around that same time, give or take a year or two, Kenner (purchased by Hasbro in 1991) unveiled its Star Wars: The Power of the Force actin figure line, and I began collecting them. All of them! Today, I’m doing something similar, but with what are now classified as vintage toys. I’m hunting down M.A.S.K. vehicles across the Ebay expanse in an attempt to (slowly) piece a new collection. (I’ll keep you posted on the progress; since the writing of this piece about Condor, I’ve acquired my second vehicle –– codenamed Piranha!)

Appropriately, Condor marks my first foray into this revisited world of M.A.S.K. and its very cool and practically cult toy line. And though I still have no recollection of ever owning Brad Turner himself, I’m reveling in this near mint, short mask (early figures came with short masks, later ones with slightly larger ones to prevent kids from choking if swallowed) as a strong start to what will hopefully mimic the grandeur of my original collection that I remember with verve and childlike enthusiasm.

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The don’t make aviators like those anymore!

Until next time, tell me: What was your first M.A.S.K. action figure you remember owning (or your first action figure in general)?

Published: In Print or Online (A Meditation)

I struggle a little everyday with something.

It’s something that in the Grand Scheme of It All isn’t worth struggling with. You might say after reading this “Trig, look to the future, man!” and you’d be 1,000% right! Maybe it’s my five years studying to get a BA in creative writing, plus another two years at Brooklyn College earning my Master’s in writing poetry (’cause you need an MFA to write poetry), but whenever I get something published, it’s still a bigger deal to me when it’s published in print versus online.

Some of my proudest moments in print publication.

Some of my proudest moments in print publication.

Perhaps it’s as if by publishing a poem of mine in a print publication like the dozens I have on my shelves, someone is saying that my work is worth paying money to impress onto a page for sale at brick and mortar Barnes and Nobles across the country. Or maybe it’s that’s some editor sitting behind piles and piles of unsolicited manuscripts has sifted through the sop to discover a bioluminescent fish miles below the surface of Poetry and New Yorker verse which lighted on a treasure chest filled not with doubloons but a single sheet of poetry preserved until that deep-diving editor happened upon it.

But why would that be important? Why should it be important?

I find myself asking this question a lot lately. I recently got word from The Good Men Project that my poem “At Closing Time” is up on their site. And that’s awesome! What’s more awesome is that it’s not the first poem I’ve had published on this site; my classic spoken word piece “Old ’89” and “The Naked Kiss” which I’d written after watching Samuel Fuller’s 1964 classic of the same name, were also published at The Good Men Project. But after having it printed in Iodine Poetry Journal –– my favorite print magazine of poetry –– having “At Closing Time” –– my favorite poem I’ve ever written –– online didn’t feel as much of a big deal as it should have. Same for “Old ’89,” which was first published in Harpur Palate, Volume 8, Issue 1). But I was pretty stoked when “The Naked Kiss” was published online, partially because I never actually submitted that poem to any print publications.

Here’s the thing: I look at my aforementioned bookshelf where I keep journals like Iodine Poetry JournalConcho River ReviewThe Chaffin Journal, and the many others (I had to get up for a moment and walk to that shelf to look up the names of them all), and I wonder to myself: Who else has a copy of these wonderful print publications featuring my poems, and the poetry of talented other poets and writers like me? Truth be told, it’s not many. Probably some of the more hardcore poetry aficionados, maybe? Certainly a few Ph.Ded professors who actually still have subscriptions to Poetry Salzburg and Pennsylvania English. When you get a piece published in print, the best you can do to share is snap a pic of the cover or even the piece itself and post it to Instragram, then send folks to where they have to pay $8 to $12 for a copy of the magazine or journal. In today’s world, that’s two too many steps to ask of people.

A great image chosen by The Good Men Project to capture "At Closing Time."

A great image chosen by The Good Men Project to capture “At Closing Time.”

But online? Having something published online opens us writers up to an audience of infinite potential readers. With the click of a share button, I (and you) can send my poem to Twitter, Facebook, heck, even Pinterest if you know how to really use it, and possibly uncover more readers than you ever thought you could –– if the piece is quality enough to stand out from the countless others being shared every day.

I will say, though, that the Activia ad a mere inch below my heartrending closing of “At Closing Time” does spoil the catharsis slightly for me –– hopefully it won’t spoil it for you.

You don’t get that in print, either.

*          *          *

What do you think about publishing in print versus online?

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Taking a Leap of Faith with “The World’s First True Public Radio” – Anchor

I’m a fan of social media, as most of you know. Lots of you follow my crowdfunding tweets, my inspirational update videos on Facebook. Some of you even repin my pins on Pinterest. (Boy, say that three times fast!)

Recently, I’ve discovered a new app –– Anchor, which is a voice-based platform that allows you to record two-minute “waves” and share them with your following. I first learned about it from this piece that Gary Vaynerchuk posted about it, so I immediately dove into and started listening. It would be a full week of this, and replying to other people’s waves, before I finally recorded my #firstwave.

It’s been about three weeks, and I’ve been having the best time I’ve had in a while with social media because of Anchor. I’m meeting some amazing and inspiring people. I’m replying to a lot of questions of the day, and I’m sharing everything from my own #QotD to advice on crowdfunding (my professional expertise), lines from poems I love, and opinions, breif stories, and things like this:

Most importantly, I’m interacting in a way that I haven’t interacted in a long time on social media. Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram have all become more about me putting value out to an audience (and believe me, I’m humbled and honored that people have allowed me the privilege of doing this), but I’ve been getting less and less inclined to want to genuinely converse on these platforms. Anchor has proven different for me.

For me, it’s in the voice, really. Even when I simply listen to other wavers waves, I pay more attention. I’ve tried the broadcast apps like Periscope and Meerkat, and I focus too much on how terrible my background looks or the quality of the lighting (I like my rooms dark, my stories darker) when these platforms are supposed to be raw. With Anchor, I can record anytime, anywhere, and the message and meaning carries through my voice alone, which is closest to the medium I love most: Words.

How about you? Are you #makingwaves on Anchor yet? If so, what do you think about it so far? What’s the lure for you?

Hmm… actually, let me ask this a different way, and give you a more refreshing way to reply, so you can try it out firsthand!

Happy Leap Day, everybody!

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Running Through the Sixth with my WOEs

I don’t write much about my grammar school years. They were pretty much standard: I cried the first day my Mom and Dad “left me” at kindergarten (I didn’t think they were coming back); between first through third grades I became so well-versed with Janet & Mark until I couldn’t help wanting one to kill the other; and being that I was the quiet one, I’d always sit in the corner during recess or lunch and play with my He-Man figures, continuing where yesterday’s story left off.

Then came the sixth grade, where I encountered one of the most influential educators I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking a class with: Mr. Torio. The legends about his greatness echoed legion through the halls of Woodrow Wilson School. All anyone ever talked about was how cool the sixth grade would be. “That’s what all the seventh graders are saying,” my best friend Jeremy had said. I even remember meeting a seventh grader once –– a long blonde-haired headbanger (long before I even knew what “headbanger” meant) with a Wilson brand black motorcycle jacket and fingerless gloves. “Just get through these other grades, kid. Sixth grade’ll change your life.”

Well, I made it through six grades (kindergarten included –– my parents did come back for me after all), and I had some memorable teachers: Mrs. Gioffre (kindergarten and Grade 3), Mrs. Fitzgerald (Grade 2) and Mrs. Perz (Grade 7, I think, though it might’ve been Grade 8). Then there were some old guard” types like my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Wickle who made me admit to the whole class that Edith Hamilton’s Mythology was fiction when I believed otherwise. (And still do –– there’s truth to everything, y’know.) And although I recall Mrs. Lange’s fifth grade classroom being pretty stellar, what I remember more vividly reading a copy of Robin #1 over and over again during her math lessons ever since my friend Brian slipped a copy in my desk.

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Photo of Mr. Torio’s sixth grade class at Woodrow Wilson School. (And that’s me at the bottom and to the left.)

All the while, though, I was anticipating just how great it was gonna be once I get to the sixth grade. And it was, in many ways.

See, Mr. Torio was the type of teacher whom you know enjoys sitting up there at his big teacher’s desk, watching over his “kids” like a headmaster out of Harry Potter and making sure we paid attention to the spells of knowledge and completed our home concoctions in our notebooks before morning. But he was also the kind of teacher that cracked many jokes throughout the day, which prior to my then six years of schooling was practically unheard of. Don’t get me wrong, they were all great teachers except for Mrs. Wickle, who was just okay, but they rarely cracked a joke; they smiled, but always made certain you knew you were here to learn, and that learning was serious business and not to be lightened by a brief moment of laughter until after the lesson was complete.

But Mr. Torio, he had jokes, animal noises, and on occasion a little Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor grunt. He also had some of the greatest facial expressions around. He helped break the monotony of standardized schooling in the best possible way, all the while being able to provide us with a trove of treasured knowledge from inside our brown paper bagged textbooks and outside of it. He was the first teacher who made me want to go to school everyday, and made me understand my Dad’s story about how when he was a young boy in Greece, whenever school was closed, he’d cry.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Torio was the first male teacher I ever had. In fact, before I heard the legends of how transformative an experience his sixth grade class would be, I had thought that teaching was exclusively a woman’s career –– to nurture in their students not only with knowledge, but compassion and empathy, as well as the alphabet. Mr. Torio was able to do all that, too, and he did it just as well.

During the sixth grade, I never read comics halfway inside my desk during Mr. T.’s lessons. I waited until lunchtime to run around and play with Kareem, who had replaced Jeremy as my best friend by that time. My Masters of the Universe figures stayed at home until the day was done, at which time I’d resume their stories after my homework was done. Thinking back to those years, 1989 – 1990 was a time before I became who I was meant to become. The man I’m still becoming. Mr. T.’s sixth grade class cultivated in me a genuine love of learning that I carry with me to this day. While fifth grade blackened my eye from my first fight with a bully, it was sixth grade that saved me with my first tryst with teenage love. And when I had questions about it, Mr. T. was there with the answers, whether as a look of approval or words of sage advice.

It’s teachers like him you don’t forget. It’s lessons like those I learned in sixth grade that linger on until “the last syllable of recorded time.”

Years later, when I was finishing up my bachelor’s in creative writing at New Jersey City University in the early 2000s, I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I also knew that it probably wouldn’t pay the bills for quite a some time. (And still doesn’t to this day.) Dr. Chris Wessman, my mentor and advisor, made an interesting recommendation on the final day of my independent study in playwriting:

“Why don’t you apply for graduate writing program, John?”

What?” I sneered, much more cynical then than I could ever be now. “What would I do that for?” I’ve had enough of these “Ivory Halls,” I thought to myself. It was time I became a writer.

“Well,” Chris continued, “with an master’s degree, you can get a job teaching, so there’s money coming in while you’re writing.”

Teaching? I had always thought of teaching as something you do later in life, after you had spent your life learning something worth teaching. I remember the word itself being the bane of all writers’ existences, Kryptonite to a real author’s superhuman sense of syntax and soliloquy. The darkest night of a would-be scrivener’s soul that most likely might never see a new dawn. I for one didn’t want to trade in my own black ink for red ink, sacrifice my precision-crafted words for the disjointed ramblings of college freshmen. No, no writer ever wants to teach. It’s the final nail in the coffin before you actually go out do the dying. Teach? I thought to myself. I want to write!

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NJCU graduation, 2001. That’s me (yeah, with a ponytail –– I know!) with my Dad.

But then that same night I thought of Mr. Torio. I thought about all those lessons I packed up in my cerebral suitcase and took with me from his sixth grade and all through my undergrad years. I thought about how much I enjoyed his methods, even though I didn’t know there was such a thing as methodology at that age. If I could be that kind of teacher –– that kind of professor –– well, then I just might consider going to grad school, and soon after saying goodbye to the various seats I sat in as a student, saying hello to the front of the classroom.

And teaching.

I put in my application the following year to CUNY’s Brooklyn College, and I was accepted to its MFA program for creative writing, specializing in poetry writing, my passion. And upon graduating in the summer of 2003, I landed my first gig as a university professor at NJCU teaching a poetry workshop, thanks to Chris Wessman.

Through the wonders of Facebook, I’ve managed to reconnect with Mr. Torio, and it’s quite humbling to see his comments on an Instagram photo I’d taken of my writing station, or when I read a heartfelt message from him. And I try to send him pictures of Jersey City when I’m out and about, since he asked me to send him some so he could see how the city he spent so much time in had changed.

This also got me thinking early this year. About how I spent over ten years teaching at various universities across the Garden State –– from NJCU to William Paterson University, with a few community colleges thrown in for good measure; about how during that same time, I produced over a dozen short films, two theater productions, and a feature-length movie, read at dozens of poetry slams and open mic nights, and wrote the first edition of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers in a little under six months –– “an impossible task” as most of my writer friends warned; about how today, I still consider myself a professor of not only writing and storytelling, but of crowdfunding, and how even at my neighborhood coffee shop, I’ve become a cross between Norm and Frasier from Cheers, giving life advice to baristas and regulars alike. And everyday I try and make sure my Facebook friends and Twitter followers start their days with something positive in the morning, because life doesn’t always give us that opportunity.

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Trigonis the poet reading at Cool Beans Open Mic, circa 2002 – 2003.

But just like “Know Yourself” by Drake, in this blog, I guess you can say I’m running through the sixth [grade] with my WOEs –– WOEs being an acronym for “Working On Excellence” –– and in all these years, I’d say one thing’s been proven: you may not be able to take the writer out of the professor after all. But you also can’t take the professor out of the writer, either.

Thanks for that, Mr. T. –– er, I mean Joe.

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My Nightmare Before Christmas (Writing Something That Scares Me)

In 2015, I can count on practically one hand how many blog posts I’ve written here:

Six. Only six.

Well, five actually, since one of them, “A Ferris Bueller Kind of Day Off,” a piece I wrote after I sprained my ankle pretty severely during a Top Gun high velocity volleyball match with my Indiegogo coworkers, which kept me off the sand for half the season, I reposted on my Medium page as “A Ferris Bueller Kind of Day Off (Or, Lessons Learned From a Sprained Ankle)” to see if I’d get more hits there than on this WordPress (old school, I know) blog.

Although now that I think of it, it may only be four blog posts, because “Calling All Trigonauts! (‘Cause ‘Trigonaut’ Sounds Cooler Than ‘Intern’)” isn’t really a blog post, but a call to action for me to seek out a Trigonaut (like an astronaut, but more Trigonian or something like that…) to help me take the crowdfunding sage side of me to the next level. This yielded a few prospects, but no one I could necessarily let run with a ball that encompasses a rather large portion of my current identity.

For me, this year has been a year of experimentation. Too often writers, filmmakers, and artists of all sorts start to rest on the laurels we have instead of trying to earn new ones by trying something new. By attempting to do something different or innovative, even if we fail it’s fine because we had the guts to attempt it, and hopefully we did so to the best of our present abilities. Because even if we did succeed, the next thing we do should is something else that shadows that most recent of triumphs. That’s how we grow. And this year, I’ve certainly grown.

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The bulletin board that reminds me that I am, and always will be, a writer.

I know I’ve grown despite the fact that I feel I’ve done significantly less with my time than perhaps any other year before this one, as evidenced by this fifth, sixth, or seventh blog post you’re reading right now. Why have I been away from the blogosphere since August, you ask? (Well, I hope you’re asking!) Well, ironically, I’ve been busy! Here are a few things that have kept me occupied over the year:

  • At the start of the year, I was spending much of my free time working on The Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse, book one in the “Sebastian Holden, P.I.” mystery novel series I’ve been tapping into my iPhone’s Notes since 2013 during my morning and evening commutes. I stopped revising it mid-way partly because I showed my highly stylized proposal to my most excellent friend and former university colleague Jim Broderick, and he proceeded to hand my metaphorical arse to me with his no bullshit, very constructive but also very deconstructive critique.
  • It was also partly because my friend and illustrator Lauren Clemente informed me that our first ever comic book Siren’s Calling –– was finished after four long years of scripts and sketches and social media. This became my top priority, and after a successful Thunderclap to get our six-page preview into as many hands as possible and an equally successful Indiegogo to do a print run of issue #1, this first chapter of our horror noir story will make one hell of a splash in 2016.
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The scintillating cover of Siren’s Calling Issue #1, by Lauren Clemente.

  • I finally started meditating. That takes time. (Five minutes a day, but it is time, nonetheless.)
  • Then, I got an email from Ken Lee, editor at Michael Wiese Productions, the company that published my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign back in 2013, and they asked me if I’d be interested in writing a second edition, to which I replied “absolutely.” I gave myself a total of four months to completely revamp the book and add in their required 30% worth of new content. (It’s actually more like 45% new content.) I then delivered the manuscript on time on November 2nd, and I’m currently waiting for my scrupulous editor Gary Sunshine to finish red-penning my work so I can give it one more rewrite before it’s published and on shelves in summer of 2016.
  • I’ve been getting “lost” in Lost. Yes, the TV series that I admitted to my coworkers that I’d never seen an episode of, to which they replied “you need to watch Lost.” And so I am, and I’m hooked and currently caught up to Season Four.

Lost

  • And I’ve also been writing more crowdfunding blog posts for the Indiegogo Blog and my own Medium page, have taken on the role of Head of Marketing and Distribution for my fiancée’s large format quarterly EIGHTY, and I’ve been getting more involved in the local arts and culture scene in Jersey City, attending poetry readings, and for every eight hours I work for Indiegogo, I work at least three for me everyday.

So I guess I have done quite a bit this year, even though, to me, it doesn’t quite feel like I have.

Back in my college days, in all the creative writing classes I’d ever taken, there was always this one staple of a writing exercise, and it was called “Write Something that Scares You.” I can’t remember if I first read it in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones or Wild Mind. Or perhaps it was Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I know it was an exercise in a book called The Practice of Poetry. Whenever I first encountered it, I remember scoffing at the idea. Until I did it. Until I really did it, and I felt the change that confronting one’s fears in a little piece of writing could cause. The catharsis. The release of all that society tells you never to put out into the world.

I’m remembering this because one thing I’ve always been scared of has been slowing down in my productivity. This year, at least in my mind, that fear was realized. And it bothered me for a while. Am I burnt out? I thought to myself. Washed up? Is time finally killing me because I took a little time to kill? Of course not. I’m merely following the Paths that was laid out before me –– the comic being finished; getting the gig to write the second edition of my book; becoming Lost to find new creativity I may have temporarily lost sight of within me.

In truth, the fear was not realized. It was met with eyes wide open. I faced it head on!

So while the fledgling blogger in me feels as though I’ve let you, my readers, down a bit this year by publishing only a child-sized handful of posts, rest assured that 2016 will not only be an important year for my professional writing, but also for yielding some entertaining and informative bits of content that I had wanted to share this year, but alas, Time, she got the better of me in 2015. (Although, I did have quite a hit on my hands with my prior post “Hitting the Writer’s Block (And Breaking Right On Through It),” so thank you to all of you who read, liked, and shared this one!)

We’re all our own worst critics, I know, and while I’m certain you’re all happy to have read a few decent pieces from me this year, next year I’m resolved to post one blog post a month (at least). Until then, I hope you enjoyed this one and some of the things I’ve linked out to, and remember –– before this year ends, do something that scares you.

And then, tell me all about it.

 

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Hitting The Writer’s Block (And Breaking Right On Through It)

In all my nearly twenty years as a poet and writer, I’ve never believed in writer’s block.

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And this isn’t a piece expounding on how I suddenly found myself staring into the blank Microsoft Word document glowing back on my laptop, how my fingers froze, or how some unfelt before fear from the Great Beyond had turned on the faucet and I started sweating profusely.

No, I still don’t believe in writer’s block.

But it believes in me, and it almost hit me nonetheless. Hard.

As many of you probably know, since March of 2013, I’ve been writing a series of mystery novels under the auspices of “Hipster Noir” on the PATH train during my morning and evening commute to work. Three novels later, over 200,000 words, and one proposal to pitch them all to an agent or publisher, I’m still going strong with my fourth novel, The Curious Case of Tomorrow (Or, The Trouble with Time Travel).

But this fourth novel, which is a direct continuation of the third, the way Quantum of Solace is a continuation of Casino Royale, started making me second guess some things. I would still get on the PATH train from Grove Street in Jersey City to the World Trade Center stop on the other side of the Hudson, and my fingers would still go to work with my iPhone music library shuffling between Tom Waits and Gin Wigmore, with an occasional Lykke Li ballad or Pearl Jam anthem cutting in over the seven-minute or so ride.

This time, however, felt different.

I knew that I was really searching blindly for a spark. Now I can’t get too detailed here because I’d have to divulge what my fourth novel is all about, and I haven’t even published any of the first ones yet, but this was the first time over the course of almost thirty-six months that the writing was not yielding anything that I was getting truly excited about, the way the first three novels had done.

Nonetheless, I kept going. I kept writing every morning and evening, just like I’d done for nearly three years. The only difference was that instead of having my characters, story, and all its plot twists, McGuffins and organically sprout from within, I was actively searching for that spark, yet never thinking to admit that I may have finally found what no writer has ever actively searched for:

The Writer’s Block. And yes, I capitalize it like a proper noun ‘cause it deserves a proper level of respect. Anything that pushes us to become better writers does.

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The way I see it, we are the ones who create the Writer’s Block, by pouring out so much of who we are and what we are in our writing. At one point, we run out of things to write. But as Tom Waits sings, “you build it up, you wreck it down…” in a song appropriately titled “Hold On,” that’s exactly I did. I gave it form, shaped the shapeless into something that, in time, and once I found its weakness, I could hope to break right through.

Back to my Curious Case of Tomorrow. Amid my searching within not one, but two separate timelines that this new novel has split into; after figuring out that what I was writing this time around was no longer a mystery novel, but a science-fiction spaghetti western (if there’s even such a thing); when I finally surprised myself one day riding that iron horse through those morning and evening tunnels humming with the electricity of possibility, I knew I had finally blasted right through that ‘Block.

I had found my voice. Again.

Then I realized that it wasn’t the first time this ever happened, but it was the first time I became aware of it’s happening. And I dealt with it.

The Writer’s Block isn’t a stumbling block, it’s an uncarved block. It doesn’t necessarily have to stop your creativity. It’s not the blank page we stare blankly at, but the page that stares at us and pushes us to shut up our minds and write anything, which proves to be the most frightening thing for us writers –– to write without purpose. Without saying anything.

Writing for the sake of writing. Of calling ourselves writers.

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The Uncarved Block, or Pu, as Taoist abstract art.

But at least we’re writing, and in doing so, we’re showing that ‘Block whose boss.

Not enough of us do this. We hit the ‘Block and we wait for the right words. We complain about it on Facebook. We may go out with our friends to forget about that blank stare for a few hours. And each of these may actually work (or seem to work) to get you back on track.

But to find the right words, you’ve got to write down the words. It’s the Taoist principle of Pu –– the Uncarved Block. Though this particular tenet tells us we should let the world carve us into what it wants. From a writerly perspective, we simply need to start with a vague idea and the raw materials of what needs to be said and then hack out the words that don’t add to it. This way, all we’re left with are the ones that do work, and which will resonate and be remembered long after they’re read.

They’ll also be the ones that will remind us why we started writing in the first place.

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Calling All Trigonauts! (‘Cause “Trigonaut” Sounds Cooler Than “Intern”)

The time has come for expansion, and I cannot do it alone!

As many of you probably know, I’ve been putting out crowdfunding advice for filmmakers and various other content creators and storymakers for over five years. Ever since I successfully crowdfunded my short film Cerise, I’ve been mentoring crowdfunding filmmakers and content creators in the fine art of online fundraising through Twitter, via my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and exclusively for Indiegogo. But there’s so much more I want to do, mostly by way of content creation and various new ways of distributing that content and knowledge (Meerkat and Periscope, anyone?), so I’m looking for a Trigonaut –– an fellow explorer –– to work with me, to learn about and explore the chartered and unchartered realms of crowdfunding for independent film, and to help create more top quality content so that we, together, can keep the “indie” in independent film and make sure that creators are crowdfunding using only the best tools, advice and insights available.

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So here’s what I’m looking for, specifically:

QUALIFICATIONS / “A PARTICULAR SET OF SKILLS”
– Writing and editing (basic grammar and usage skills)
– Strong interest in crowdfunding, particularly for film (or creative projects)
– Graphic design (skills in Adobe Creative Suite, mainly Photoshop and InDesign)
– Editing content for social media that’s on-brand
– Organizational abilities
– Creativity and wit
– Speed (ability to execute tasks quickly)

REC’D (BUT NOT REQ’D)
– Owns a DSLR (or similar camera) and microphone
– Video editing skills (proficiency in either Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere)
– A moderate knowledge of digital advertising (Google AdWords, Facebook Ads / “dark posts”, etc.)
– Listens to The #AskGaryVee Show religiously

JOB DESCRIPTION / “TO BOLDLY GO WHERE NO [TRIGONAUT] HAS GONE BEFORE”
– Outreach (to film festivals for speaking gigs, blogs / movie websites, etc.)
– Writing content for Medium (will be credited as guest writer under my personal culture / branding
– Content creation (if we go the Gary Vee route; TBD)
– Filming any local events, speaking gigs
– Research on the crowdfunding space in general, but specifically crowdfunding for indie film / web / video content
– Discover and attend events, Meet-Ups, Tweetups, etc. pertaining to film and / or crowdfunding

DAYS / HOURS
– 2 -3 hours a day,
– Three days per week (preferably Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, to start, but I’m totally flexible here

COMPENSATION / “WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?!”
– Crowdfunding (for filmmaking) knowledge and insights from a noted expert and practitioner in the field
– Travel to and from events (subway / Lyft)
– Lunch once a week, during our weekly meetings, preferably on Mondays
– Drinks (at events, and just in general –– there’s always something to celebrate)
– Depending on performance, we can talk…

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
– What it takes to be a proper crowdfunding consultant and / or manager
– How to utilize various forms of social media (FB / Twitter, plus Instagram & Periscope, perhaps) for crowdfunding
– How to build, broaden, and make “Beliebers” out of your community (really, how to turn your networks into actual relationships)

Now, if by reading this you feel like you’re standing in front of a mirror, then I want to hear from you sooner rather than later, so reach out to me at jtrigonis@gmail.com and let’s get ready to explore the ever-changing landscape of the crowdfunding filmmakers together.

Oh, and a neat hat and soul patch to match are not requirements 🙂

Looking forward to hearing from you all soon!

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