“There is suffering in life, and there are defeats. No one can avoid them. But it’s better to lose some of the battles in the struggles for your dreams than to be defeated without ever knowing what you’re fighting for.” – Paul Coelho
We meet at the Green Owl for breakfast twice a month. He saunters in, red-faced and surly looking. He has the look of the man he is – a survivor of a bad childhood, three bad marriages, 20 years of alcohol addiction, and a bout with prostate cancer.
Yes, he’s a survivor. And he’s surviving still. About a year ago, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He’s already outlived the doctor’s projections by six months, and he’s going strong. He doesn’t like to talk about the disease. “What’s the use?” he says.
“You’re right,” I say. “How are your eggs?”
Kieran is one of my closest friends. I met him 30 years ago when I was running a publishing business and he was looking for work as a writer. We hit it off right away. He was on the wagon then and he stayed on the wagon for three years, producing some of the best editorial copy I was getting at the time. And then he disappeared. (“When I take one drink, it’s the end,” he told me. “I will ruin everything I have in a matter of months or weeks.”)
He came back after about a year to tell me he was sober again, and asked if I’d give him some work.
“Why not?” I said. “You’re the best writer I’ve got.”
He never forgot that gesture. And our friendship deepened. When he got married several years later, I was his best man. Since then, he’s stayed sober and has had a successful 15-year career.
He’s made decent money as a business and financial writer, and better money after I convinced him to take up copywriting. (“I’ve told you a dozen times I don’t want to write that kind of stuff,” he would tell me. “But let me show you the numbers,” I would say.)
He also began writing biographies for young adults. He wrote about William Penn and John Kennedy and the settling of the Old West. He didn’t make much money from writing those books, but it gave him a great deal of satisfaction.
Kieran and I shared a desire to write “real” books outside the business arena. While I was getting my short stories published in small literary magazines, he was getting paid to write books about historical figures he admired. When we met for breakfast, we’d talk about our projects.
About two years ago, he began his most ambitious project. A book on a shipwreck – this time meant for adults. He had been a part-time sailor most of his life, and has wanted to write about ships and sailing for as long as I’ve known him. Spurred on by some research he’d been doing for a book on Captain John Smith, he came up with the idea of writing a book about a famous boat, the Sea Venture, which went down in the Bermudas in 1609.
He shopped the idea to dozens of publishers – and then, lo and behold, he got a letter from St. Martins Press, saying they wanted to do the book. St. Martins is one of the most prestigious book publishers in the United States. In terms of our mutual ambition of “legitimate” authorship, Kieran had struck gold.
I helped him a little with the first few chapters. In the book, he kindly acknowledged my contribution, although I did less than he said. A year later, the book was published to great acclaim. One expert said it will be the definitive work on the Sea Venture for the next 100 years.
We don’t talk about the Sea Venture these days. We talk about what we are working on now – a book of poetry I wrote that he is editing, and a book he’s writing on the Lost Colony of Roanoke that I’ve been encouraging him to keep up with.
He doesn’t have a lot of energy for writing. The chemotherapy and lung cancer gobble up most of it. But he does have an hour or two every day when he has the strength to put in some work. He’s doing 200 words a day – short of the 500-word standard he kept before the cancer got him, but good enough.
His wife has her own health problems that take up a good deal of his time. And since he can no longer work on anything but the new book, he’s not making any money. Times are tough for Kieran – tougher than they are for you and me. But he doesn’t complain. He just gathers his nerves together once a day and gets to his writing.
I have forced Kieran to record a series of audio tapes that detail his amazing life. One day, I will write his biography – and I’m sure it will be my best book. In the meantime, he and I have our bimonthly breakfasts together. “Sometimes the eggs come out just the way I like ’em,” he says. “And sometimes they are f*cked. But you got to eat them if you are going to get through another day.”
Do yourself and Kieran a favor this Christmas. Buy a copy of his book, Sea Venture, for yourself and another couple of copies as gifts for a few good friends. Send them this essay along with the book. And tell them to enjoy their Christmas. Tempus fugit. Seize the day.[Ed. Note: Get Michael Masterson’s insights into becoming successful in your business and personal life, achieving financial independence, and accomplishing all your goals on his new website. You’ll find updates on all of Michael’s books, news on upcoming ETR events, Michael’s blog, and room to send in your comments and questions. Check it out today.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]