That Thankful Time of Year

Greetings and Happy Thanksgiving from the Appalachian Mountains, everyone! That time of year where we are encouraged to give thanks and be vocal about the things that matter to us is once again upon us. I am well aware, of course, that this year looks very different from what we are used to. In many places, a holiday that usually involves multiple generations of family and friends gathered together, is being limited to less than 10 people under one roof, some local law enforcement threatening the penalty of fines or worse. Fear of illness, hatred, political unrest, or general unhappiness are rampant in tons of us, but we are still hopeful. We are still dreaming. We are still pushing forward. And we are still thankful.

That, to me, is the important part, the part that honestly makes me see a glimmer of hope for the world as a whole. Despite the things making us unhappy or scared regarding the simplest tasks now, many people are standing tall and shouting their thanks for the things they have. What’s more, in my area especially, I have seen an incredible influx of people willing to give to others. The current state of the world has left a lot of people uprooted, unstable, unable to provide for their families in a consistent way. In response to that, there have been a number of food drives and donations made to families who could use the extra help. That is simply phenomenal. In a world where so many people seem to have lost the basic understanding of care and love for their fellow man, to see so many people leaping at the chance to help the less fortunate is something that we should all be thankful for.

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a tough year for many people, but we all have plenty to be thankful for. Personally, this year has been the absolute happiest of my life. I got engaged and married to the woman of my dreams and I get to wake up next to the love of my life every day, I finally have a teaching job (something I have worked toward for nearly as long as I have been writing), I have started countless new works, been to some new places, I have a new book coming out very soon so keep your eyes open for that, and there is also a brand new AC/DC album to rock out to. Needless to say, I have plenty to be happy about. Does that stop me from being a little down and depressed at times? It absolutely does not, but it means I have plenty to focus on to bring me back from the darkness.

In essence, that is the importance of days like today. Thanksgiving encourages people to reflect on their lives and look at the many gifts and blessings they have in everday life. We see pop culture references of the classic nuclear family, the group of friends, even the non-conformist family group all gathered around sharing at least one thing they are thankful for, and it is fantastic. The idea that we can gather with our loved ones and truly share one of our reasons for being thankful and happy is one that warms my heart, even if this year sees us doing that virtually. In solidarity, I offer one of my own happinesseses, which is the the undying love and support from my wife. Knowing she is on my side has helped me through so much, and gives me incredible happiness. What is something you all are thankful for? Feel free to add a comment or send me a message to share.

One problem I do have with the way people interpret Thanksgiving is the limitation of one day of thankfulness in an entire year. There are 365 days we can use to be thankful, but only one of those is set aside for thanks. That irks me. Several places have taken to calling November a month of thanks, but the idea of just having one day to be thankful is ridiculous. I say we should find at least one reason to be happy every day. So, there’s my little challenge for you all. Find at least one reason to be happy every single day for the next year and see how much of a difference it makes. Keep your heads up and the positivity flowing, everyone. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Schitt’s Creek and the Message to Change the World

Happy November everyone! The holidays have officially begun and I hope everyone’s Halloween was awesome. The end of 2020 is surging toward us full steam now, and we can only hope 2021 will bring us a much better world.

In our search for a good laugh and a fresh artistic experience, my wife and I recently binged the series “Schitt’s Creek” on Netflix, and it was absolutely everything we needed it to be. The show, a six-season story of a wealthy family who is forced to move to a small town and basically start over from scratch after losing their fortune, has pretty much everything you could ask for. Comedy, drama, love, anger, family, friends, motivation, and heartache all have their place in Schitt’s Creek. Created by Daniel Levy, his father Eugene, and his sister Sarah, the show follows the Rose family through their struggle to restart their lives and build themselves from the ground up. Amid metric tons of character growth, realization, and relationship building, we see the Roses coming to terms with who they are and just how different their lives must be from what they have grown used to.

One thing that never failed to amaze and impress us with the show is that, despite the small town atmosphere and the polar opposite social circles the characters all come from, there is never a question of their acceptance of one another. Acceptance is a perfect word to describe this show, honestly. There are no questions of racism, discrimination, sexism or any other form of making someone feel less than. It is perfect.

Dan Levy’s David Rose, a pansexual who “is into the wine, not the label,” falls in love with a local man and runs a general store with him. Their love is on display for three seasons and no one ever questions it. Not a single resident of the town has a problem with David and Patrick’s relationship, and the entire town supports their love from the minute it blooms until the very last episode of the show.

There are people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations through the town, even in positions of authority and there is never an issue. Schitt’s Creek is a town that is open and accepting of everyone, even the socially awkward and former upper class Rose family who may not always be understanding of how things work without a lot of money, but who always end up seeing the good in their situations and neighbors.

I think that acceptance is one of the most important messages the show has to impart on its audience. I continue to use the word acceptance because it has an entirely different meaning than tolerance. I find tolerance to be a disgusting word in regards to other people. It suggests that you look at those of other genders, identities, or preferences as somehow less than yourself and, rather than accept and attempt to understand them and their lives, you ‘tolerate’ them. I find it a terrible ideation and one that should be removed from all vocabulary. Other people are not here for you to ‘tolerate.’ No one should be expected to exist under the ideals of someone else.

One of the best things about Schitt’s Creek and its marketing and subsequent fanbase is the consistent freedom and lack of judgement amongst everyone in the show. Creators, actors, characters, and fans alike love each other and that love has spread farther than even Dan Levy and his father and sister thought it would when developing the show. Coming from a small town, where many people aren’t always open-minded and accepting, I feel an overwhelming love for this show and the message it sends to this world.

We are all equal on this planet, we all deserve the freedom to be who we are, love who we want to love, and live the way we want to live. As long as the thing that makes you happy is not harmful to someone else, you should be free to do it. I will always stand in support of that. In the state of the world today I think it is very important to have such a pop culture powerhouse standing up for acceptance and freedom. I truly think this show could be vital in helping create a world like Schitt’s Creek, where people don’t have to live in fear of judgement from their peers. It may seem like a dream, but it is one I very much hope comes true.

If you haven’t watched the show, by all means, jump into it and you’ll be hooked in the first ten minutes. It is a pretty great piece of history, and I am honestly ready to watch it again. I commend the Levys and every other cast and crew member who helped make the show and its message possible – and I admire them for the incredible way they have carried the message of love and acceptance across the world since the show’s premiere. Excellent job, Dan. Your idea has truly become the perfect reality.

What is Your Legacy?

Happy Spooky Season, everyone! I hope October has started strong for all of you. Personally, I have been working my days away as a teacher and enjoying feeling like I am finally on the career path I have been waiting for. I have been doing my best to enjoy Autumn’s welcomed arrival with some scary television and movies, as well as enjoying nature’s bountiful beauty as the leaves exhibit their brilliant hues, giving us one last show as their lives fade with the warm weather.

Unfortunately, not every loss is as beautiful and peaceful as leaves warming the mountains with their fiery colors. Yesterday the world lost one of the most talented and influential musicians of recent decades. Eddie Van Halen, guitar playing genius, icon of the 1980’s, generally amazing musician and human, lost his battle with throat cancer Tuesday morning. Eddie has been a staple of my own musical preference for most of my life, his wailing cords and mournful yet lively notes inspiring me to purchase my own guitar and begin playing more than a dozen years ago. Granted, as college and adult life brought changes and responsibility my way, my guitar playing took a back burner to writing (which is as it should be). Nonetheless, music is one of the key elements of my life to this day.

Hearing the news of Eddie’s passing hit me hard in a few of ways. For one, it was just another instance of the pain of loss and ridiculous theivery 2020 has been presenting us with. It really hurts to know there will never be another new lick played by Eddie Van Halen. His style and music have influenced me in countless ways, his dauntless energy and manic playing often leaving me speechless, even decades later. Most of all, however, it got me thinking about my influence and legacy. Eddie was the reason endless numbers of wanna-be musicians have picked up, and will pick up, guitars and begin to play. He has been a staple of innovation for his entire life, and his work can be heard in places some people don’t even realize.

Like Eddie’s music has inspired people, so can literature. A powerful quote, line, or work of art can influence, inspire, hurt, amaze, and realistically change lives. I have, of course, always been a reader. I have been built up, torn down, made happy, and been brought to tears by literature in the course of my life. One thing I have wanted since feeling the tug of writing within myself, the pull of the words writhing to escape my brain, has been to inspire those things in someone else. I want, above most anything else, to evoke that strong sense of emotion within an audience, to know I have brought them to a new way of thinking or made them feel a certain way with the words that came from my brain.

Feeling the loss of one of the biggest musical inspirations of the last 40+ years made me realize I have not been making that possible. I have allowed things to hinder me, slow me down in both production and marketing of my own work. I have recently been working more at the production side, but I still fall short on the marketing element. I have a hard time dedicating the time to explore and try new channels to get my work out there. Worse, even when I find those new avenues I tend to fall short of working them to their full potential. I think it would be fair to say I have a fear of failure, a lack of confidence that this route or that route may be best to get my work out there to readers the world over. No more. I can’t keep getting in my own way.

Yesterday the world lost one of the best guitar players to ever pick up the instrument, one of the most creative minds to ever write a note, or pluck a cord. In an instant the possibility of hearing new work played by those talented hands flew out the window. It got me thinking: how do I hold up? How will anyone out there be affected by my work if I never get it out there to them? How can I hope to touch the masses (or even one single person) with my creation if it lives forever on my computer or, God forbid, if half of it still lives in my head? That can’t be allowed to happen. I don’t know if I’ll be anywhere near as influential as Eddie, but I want to give my work a shot. I want to give me a shot.

That’s the real point of what I have to say with this post, I think. Giving ourselves a shot. Eddie Van Halen was just a kid from the Netherlands until he made a connection with music and developed his skill. He made a real effort and put himself out there for the world to judge and enjoy. Eddie broke countless rules with his work, and forged a path for an untold number of musicians and artists. That is the legacy he is leaving behind. Musicians and music lovers will know his work forever. He will go down in history like Mozart and Beethoven. So where will I be? If I don’t take chances and push myself to get my work out there, people can’t be moved by it. It could spend the rest of its days half-finished and unpublished. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. I have the ability, the courage, to carry it forward, to see it finished and released to the world. I can push myself to new limits, try new things. Bottom line is that I will, in no way, allow myself to fail. None of you should either. Failure is not an acceptable outcome.

Too often we suffer the inexplicable hindrance of bonds we place on ourselves. We are limited by the amount of faith and confidence we have in ourselves, and too often those limitations do not allow us to come anywhere close to the person we could be, the talent we could bring into the world. I’m going to do my best to shatter those bonds, and I suggest you all try to do that, too. You don’t want to find yourself looking back on your life and realizing you should have invested more into yourself. You don’t want to realize there could have been a very different outcome for your work, your talent, your passion. So I encourage everyone to challenge themselves. Give yourself a shot at greatness. Push yourself to reach new limits and be something you never knew you could be. You won’t regret it. Feel free to tell me something you plan on working toward changing. Give me details about how you plan on making the change. What challenges are you going to present yourself? What skill do you want to allow a chance to breathe? It’s not something you should hesitate on. Make a bet on yourself. Trust me, you’re worth it.

Where All Light Tends To Go

As many of you know, I am a proud Appalachian man with a serious love of literature and of my region. I try, on occasion, to immerse myself in regional pieces, and see my culture from the eyes of other local authors. I recently had the pleasure of diving into the incredible novel “Where All Light Tends To Go,” by David Joy. This amazing piece of Appalachian Literature, or Appalachian Noir as Joy considers it, explores the life of Jacob McNeely, the son of a drug addict and what passes for a drug kingpin in the small mountain town.

I’ve read several Appalachian works, and know several regional authors, and this tale stands at the pinnacle of Appalachian literature for me. I immediately felt drawn in by Jacob’s story. He is an outcast in his life, largely forgotten by a mother who spends most of her time riding her current high or pursuing the next one, and pushed aside by a father who finds him to be weak and useless. A dropout, Jacob can’t even rely on his peers for comfort.

Being from a small town myself, I related to Jacob’s plight as a young Applachian man, living in a town where opportunities aren’t exactly aplenty. Jacob feels he is limited in many ways, not the least being that, as a McNeely, he is almost instantly branded a failure. He talks several times throughout the first person narrative of being trash, nothing but trash, pure McNeely trash. Our main character perhaps it explains it best by saying;

“A name like Jacob McNeely raised eyebrows and questions. In a town this small all eyes were prying eyes.”

Joy’s writing explores the depth of the Appalachian region, while tugging the heart strings in an attempt to show the truth of the struggle some feel growing up in these beautiful mountains. The McNeelys are a family that has been condemned by their choices, their actions, and the unfortunate judgement of others. Jacob, who some say has a chance to become more, struggles throughout the entire book with the penalties associated with being a McNeely and the decisions he makes because of it.

An underlying, but interesting element of the text is the repeated conflict Jacob has with religion. From his early childhood Jacob was encouraged to go to church, his mother and grandfather religious individuals for a time. His father, whom he ends up living with, however, is not the religious type. Jacob says more than once that he doesn’t believe in God, but follows that up by saying that God doesn’t answer McNeely prayers. I found this element to be very interesting, as most Appalachian literature brings religion into the text by presenting us with the heavily (if not overly) religious individuals who do nothing but judge others based on their beliefs. We get none of that from Jacob.

Jacob’s relationship with the woman he loves, his childhood best friend, Maggie, is nothing short of remarkable. We enter Jacob’s life to see him watching Maggie graduate high school (from a distance, granted), and throughout his story he is insistent that Maggie has everything it takes to get be more, to escape their small town prison and do incredible things. In essence, Jacob puts everything into Maggie that he refuses to give to himself. She becomes romanticized and placed on a pedestal that I never could quite tell if she deserves.

I think the most heart-wrenching part of Jacob’s life is the strained relationship he has with his father. Charles McNeely is, in essence, the worst kind of person. A drug pushing, abusive, womanizing fiend with no regard for life, he neglects his child and causes pain to everyone he knows. Between his father’s treatment of him, his mother’s abandonment, and his own inability to break free of the burdens placed on him, Jacob is haunted by the pain of a broken life. His pain bleeds from the pages in places, particularly during one of the hardest hitting lines in the text, which has Jacob mentioning how funny it is that it only takes one person taking the time to show you they care for the bad things in life to not seem so bad anymore.

I have no shame in admitting that I didn’t have any idea how this book would end, but, after reading it, I don’t think any other ending would have sufficed. Although not bogged down with the supernatural, or with the inescapable horror I usually seek out, this text has quickly risen to my top ten books right now. Jacob’s journey is not necessarily one for the faint of heart, but I feel like this is a book most anyone can enjoy. Fans of Appalachian literature in particular will love this representation of the difficulties of life in a small North Carolina town.

I’m the kind of reader who loves marking passages that I enjoy so I can go back and look at them later and explore their meaning and depth. Usually I try to do this with sticky tabs that I can slap on the page right beside of my preferred quote. I have no shame admitting that I used an entire stack of sticky notes for this novel, as the featured image above shows. I will absolutely be seeking out more of Joy’s writing in the near future, and will be keeping my eyes open for a chance to meet this fantastic author and delve into his creative genius. If any of you pick up this masterpiece, I would love to know what you think. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or send me a message. As always, if you have any suggestions for a future review, or even just a book recommendation feel free to let me know!

I must leave you with this final line, that I am convinced will go down in history right alongside “So we beat on…” Though it gives nothing away, I have to admit it literally gave me chills. It is only a part of the power this text holds, and I’m sure everyone will love it.

“Only the middle ground of this wicked world mattered, the vast gap that stretched between, and those who were born with enough grit to brave it.”

Summer in a New World

Hello there, everyone! I hope this fine August is treating you all well so far. The world definitely looks a lot different than it did this time last year, and for many that hasn’t been the kindest change. The virus that has plagued our planet for the last 10 or so months has certainly changed the way everyday life looks in ways we couldn’t even have predicted.

For me, since last I spoke with you all, I have lost one job due to circumstances we are all faced with, and gained another. In about a week I will be entering new territory that I’ve been preparing for my entire life. I have accepted a position as an English teacher in a neighboring county and I will be covering classes at all high school levels. This is a dream come true for me, and brings me a level of excitement I haven’t felt about my career choices in some time. The chance to impart knowledge and love of literature and the written word to future generations is something I have wanted for longer than I even remember. It’s one of the reasons I believe I was created to be a writer and the main reason I feel such a passion for the word itself. Now, that chance becomes a reality as I embark on one of the greatest work avenues I have ever had the chance to enjoy.

In addition to this, I finally have seen some breaks in the creative wall that has hindered my writing so much since we entered Plagueland 2020. I have begun work on a series of stories involving pirates, the supernatural, and world wide adventure the likes of which I’ve never encountered. I already have such a knowledge and a working love of these characters that I can’t wait to share them with you all. I have laid down a few thousand words of their tales so far, but that’s nowhere near the end. Although I have found several gaps in the writer’s block that has affected so many of us, it still hinders me often. I am working hard to shatter that wall and push forward with these works, as well as the release of my novel “Moonlight” in the very near future. I hope to have some big news on those things for you all soon!

Even more importantly, the month of July gave me the happiest day of my life when I got to marry my absolute best friend and soul mate, and the most beautiful woman in the world. After changing dates, venues, guest numbers and so much more, we finally were able to join in matrimony with a number of our closest friends and family. The ceremony was beautiful and our lives as husband and wife have been nothing short of great so far. I look very forward to a life filled with adventure and love with this incredible woman by my side.

One thing I have learned over the last handful of months is that we really should never give up. When faced with adversity we, as a species (and as creatives, who some would argue are their own separate species apart from the average Homo Sapien) must double down our effort and push forward. In many cases that is not the easiest thing to do, as we all know, but the results can often lead us to greater happiness than we even anticipated. I know many of us have felt the urge to give up as life seems to crash down around us during this pandemic, but I am here to encourage each and every one of you to carry on a little further. Keep your head up just a little longer. The hard times are not here to break us down, but to give us come calluses and show us more about how strong we are.

In light of the absolute destructive nature of this pandemic on everything we know to be “normal” I am reminded of the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which is the technique of piecing together shattered pottery pieces with lacquer infused with silver or gold. Rather than hide the cracks and imperfections in the final product, Kintsugi emphasizes them, strenghtening the bond of the broken pieces with the beautiful gold and showing that adversity did not end that work of art. We will all be faced with hard times in life, but at the end of the day what really shows who we are is how we react to these challenges. Will we lay down and give up, or stand up taller and stronger with our golden calluses shining in the sun and push forward until we meet our goals?

I think I know the path many of you will choose. Creative souls, generous souls, helpful souls do not just lay down and quit. We don’t take no for an answer. “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams,” as the fantastic poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy said. Those who are placed here to make life better for others, whether you be artists, writers, musicians, pastors, therapists, educators, parents, or someone else who has a chance to encourage and inspire, know that challenges are things to overcome, not gates to bar you off from your path. As we approach another month of a very different world, remember that. If you’ve been knocked down by all the mess the world is in, stand up and force your way back onto your path. This isn’t the end. This is just another bend in the road.

I plan to keep writing, keep publishing, keep teaching, keep traveling, keep blogging, keep living my incredible life with my wife, and I look forward to sharing more of all this with you all. What challenges have you overcome in the midst of this different and unexpected summer? More importantly, what are you going to do to overcome those challenges? Comment away and, as always, feel free to share far and wide with anyone who may need a little boost!

Nature of Perspective

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope this strange new world we live in is treating you all fairly and well. Many of us have been touched in negative ways by the changes to the landscape of our daily lives. Plans have been changed, jobs have been lost or put on hold, lives have been taken both because of the global pandemic and the disease that is racism and inequality. Basically, it seems like we wake up each day with no clue what strange new terror the day is going to hold – and it takes its toll.

I’ve been reminded this morning, however, the nothing has the power to control us unless we let it. Multiple times in multiple places throughout my morning I have seen a message that basically reminds me that our own ideas and perspective have a much stronger hold on us than anything coming at us from outside. The things that come against us can seem to be terrible, inconvenient, dangerous, worrisome, angering – I could go on. But the only thing that matters is us.

My amazing fiancee has reminded me more than once in the past few months that we can’t control the things that happen to us, but we can control how we react to it. I think that’s the main point my mind is latching onto today. So many things have shattered the world as we knew it in various ways so far this year, but the heart of our own understanding of it all comes from just how we let it affect us. Do we get angry because our plans changed and we suddenly have to wear masks, or do we sit back and take a moment to be thankful we still have breath in our lungs and those masks will (hopefully) help keep us and others a little safer – for those able to wear them, of course.

I’ve seen so much unhappiness around me stemming from the fact that this year has, in no way, gone the way any of us planned or imagined it would. From sick loved ones having to deal with surgeries or hospital visits alone due to hospital restrictions, to schools cancelling or postponing such coming-of-age events as prom and graduation, almost no one in the states can look at the events that have taken place since March and say that everything has gone exactly as planned. In my own life, I’ve already written about the ghost town that is my library and the almost complete lack of creative inspiration. In addition to that I’ve not seen some friends and family in months, my wedding has been pushed back, even vacations have been rearranged. The year 2020 has been nothing like anything many of us have seen before.

I won’t pretend I’ve handled it all graciously, either. It’s taken its toll at times. I’ve had angry days and sad days. Days where I could scream at the top of my lungs at the injustice of it all, and days where it’s all I can do to get out of bed and get moving. I’ve also had days where things seem almost completely normal and I’m happy beyond my own ability to describe. None of that is unique to me, though. I’ve seen people the world over saying similar things. We are in no way used to the changes we’ve seen in the last few months, but then again, who is?

My biggest point in all this is that we must learn to find a reason or a way to stay on top. Yes, the world is throwing things at us we’ve never even thought of, but we’re still going. The human machine of brain, heart, body, and soul is a force to be reckoned with. Already rays of light are coming through the darkness. The world is slowly finding hope in the amount of recoveries around us. We are finding new reasons to unite and come together in spite of adversities. Violence is being overcome with positivity in many places, and things are struggling to return back to a place we can consider, perhaps not quite normal, but acceptable.

In the midst of all this, the most important thing we can do is find our own reason for carrying on, our own motivation to keep struggling forward, our own way to climb as close to the top as we can be and conquer the things that have been trying as hard as they can to slam us back to the ground. A friend on social media recently told a story of how they had experienced an incredible sensation when they realized they were listening to the world around them for the first time since the world began changing. Countless things stood out as they realized they had been going about their life almost on autopilot. They were sure the sounds they heard and the feelings they experienced had been going on all along, but they finally felt connected and open enough to hear them – and that made all the difference.

So, I challenge everyone today to take the time to listen and feel. Reconnect with yourself, with the world around you, with the things you love. Move away from the things that have been bothering you about the way the world is changing, and move into a place where you can make sure it doesn’t stop you from being you. Find the things you love and put your effort and essence into them. For creatives like myself, it has been a struggle finding the motivation to bring your ideas to life, but I encourage you to try. Channel the upset you’ve felt at this strange new life and make something beautiful out of it. If you aren’t creative, channel the same frustration into anything that makes you happy. Whether it’s reading, gardening, watching television, or making plans. Whatever you can find that makes you feel even just a little bit like yourself again, go for it. Make it your own.

I know these things are in no way easy, but if you can make the world work for you just that much, it does seem to make it a little better. Like I mentioned earlier, the way we react to what happens to us is much more important than what happens. Stand up and fight for happiness and freedom. Fight to keep your head above water and out of the funk of depression and distaste with the world around us. For me, a breath of fresh air while I’m eating some food on a much needed outdoor lunch break has made things a little clearer for me. Rather than react with annoyance and anger at the things I don’t like about the world right now, I’m going to do my best to focus on being happy about the things that are making my life amazing and worth fighting for to the very end. Our reactions under pressure say almost everything there is to be said and help determine what sort of world we live in. What kind of world are you making for yourself?

Resurrect Creativity

Hey there, friends and fans! How is everyone holding up in plague land? Life goes on here in the states. Virginia and Tennessee are slowly opening to life again, but things are nothing like they were this time one year ago. They may never be that way again – and that may not necessarily be a bad thing, but that’s a topic for a whole other discussion. My main purpose for writing this post is to touch on the point of creativity in our current climate. I think it goes without saying that, for a lot of people, it has died a painful death.

Personally, I’ve found myself in a long slump that has my creativity on a roller coaster and hiding behind quite a veil. Some days I really have an insane urge to create and put down line after line to build on what I hope to be the next great American novel, while other days I feel like there is nothing but a dusty lump of coal where my creative heart lies. Worse, on more than half the days I feel creative, I can’t decipher what idea I should write, or even have one that I can consider. Which, having more than 60 pieces in various stages of completion is some special kind of Hell.

I’ve seen a lot of authors and artists saying similar things as the problems continue to burn on, and not many seem to have found a good way around it. For many people being in social situations is helpful for inspiration, even if it’s literally just sitting in a coffee shop listening to those around you while you recharge your human interaction batteries a bit. Others hate creating in public, but they still find themselves in the midst of a creative block during these trying times. Personally, I am more of a private writer as well, finding it easiest to write when immersing myself in nature, or listening to music, or letting the TV play in the background and just letting the words flow. Despite all this, I still find myself forcing the words sometimes, which obviously works, but it hurts morale beyond a shadow of a doubt.

There have been a lot of theories about why this is, but I think my own personal philosophy is the unexpected changes we are all facing have thrown us through a loop and confused even the most reclusive of us. With such a sudden and intense change to pretty much the entire way the world works our minds and habits don’t quite know how to cope. It’s taking us a bit to catch up, basically. And the fact that things continue to change really don’t help. Going from life as we knew it, to being locked down, to being allowed to have a little freedom is presenting us with different ways of living our lives, and it is more than a little shocking, even terrifying to some. Waking up each and every day not knowing what to expect is causing us to almost have a complete reset each day. Our once standard routines like going to the grocery store, seeing a movie, taking a walk in the park, or grabbing a mean in a restaurant are now almost privilege. It’s like nothing any of us has seen before, and that in itself is like being trapped in one of the weirdest bits of creative fiction I’ve ever heard of. So, how do we combat it?

That may be the hardest question of all, since we never know what’s next. Some people need to have a set routine to write, putting aside a certain time-frame each day which, if deviated from, can be devastating to their creative blood. For these people the change in what life looks like has surely been one of the biggest reasons creativity is dead. I have complete sympathy. For others, writing or creating only happens when the moment’s right and no amount of scheduling makes much of a difference since you can’t force the muse. I tend to lean toward the latter myself, but, in an effort to combat the destructive force of the world’s changes, I’m going to try and change my own methods up a bit.

I’m going to try and set aside a time each day, likely in the evening, to write, edit, or do whatever the winds blows me toward that day. I’m hopeful that setting aside a specific time to create might become something habitual and it will at least inspire me to find new creative limits to push. If you are feeling a lack of creativity and seeing a general fall in your own production I might suggest the same for you. Since the world is nothing like what it was, we should all make an effort to adapt a bit and try to resurrect our poor shattered creative spirits. By putting the pieces back together with a schedule, at least a minimal scheduled time to put pen to paper, perhaps we can find a way to return to some semblance of life as we knew it and at least get some release for our pent up creativity.

As we move forward and try to find exactly what works for each of us, I send you all positive thoughts and encouragement. I know the world is not what any of us expected, but I’m sure a bunch of imaginative creatives can find a way to make it work in our favor. What sort of things have worked for you, if anything has? Have you all been feeling let down by your own mind’s lack of production like I have? Moreover, if you do make an effort to start a schedule I encourage you to share your stories and experiences with me. What type of thing is working to help you find a creative solution, or least a happy medium? Now, more than ever, is a time creative people should be more than willing to be open and help each other with our blocks and trials. I’m always willing to talk to a fellow artist, so feel free to reach out any time! As always, stay safe and healthy everyone.

Checking In

Hey there, friends and fans! The world certainly looks a bit different from last time I reached out to say hello. I hope each and every one of you are safe and secure from the global illness we are experiencing, and all the challenges we are faced with in its wake. I understand many parts of the world are, for better or worse, locked down. The states are facing their own similar situation, with each state and local government making decisions for its citizens.

In my situation, living very near the border of several populous south-eastern states, we are seeing a varying degree of changes to everyday life. Everything that we never really thought about, never really considered a privilege, has been altered. Grocery stores are now limiting the amount of customers that can enter the facility at one time (the general rule for one large chain being no more than 5 people per 1,000 square feet of building space). Restaurants are now only allowing drive-thru, delivery, or curbside service. Many non-essential businesses have been forced to close their doors, although provisions in my state allow them to remain open as long as there are only 10 non-employees in the store at one time. Even outdoor social gatherings have been restricted, with new orders in place that prevent groups of more than 10 individuals meeting at once.

Fortunately, as a bit of a recluse and private-loving person (I know, a blogger being private, how is that possible?) that last regulation doesn’t hit all that hard for me. I think I’ve only been in a group of ten or more people two or three times in the last couple years. But, for some, it’s life-changing. Certainly everything else is. My fiancee and I have resorted to ordering groceries online and doing a contact-free grocery pickup. Many retail establishments in my area have offered this service for a while, and it’s great for people with busy lives and a lack of desire to deal with big crowds on an average basis. Typically you go online and schedule your order and you can have it ready for pick-up in a matter of hours, almost always on the same day, but now the service is so bogged down some stores have no time slots for days. Literally for days. One large retailer is drowning in orders to the point their service just allows you to fill a cart and asks you to check back daily for an opening.

Schools are another hard hit area of life, especially in my state. Our governor made the decision weeks ago to close schools for the remainder of the school year, affecting a lot of people’s lives and abilities. Entertainment and educational facilities went along with that. In other words, libraries, although not called out by name, were guided into closure. My own library has been closed to the public since March 17th or so. That’s nearly a month without patrons. Of course, the initial excitement of being in a building so filled with mental weapons (looking at you David Tennant) was hard to ignore. Walking in this massive building with its (at last estimate) more than 5 million titles was nothing short of exhilarating. Employees have been kept on for cleaning and digital services, all given the option to take their annual leave hours if anyone felt unsafe. At first no one did that. We all came in and it was business as usual – almost.

As the days drug on, COVID-19 grew more threatening, its tendrils slowly creeping even into our rural mountains, the feeling changed. A staff of around 30 people started to dwindle. Some are over the age of 65 and felt it was much safer to follow CDC guidelines, which state people over that threshold stay at home at all costs. Some are immunocompromised and felt it was better to be safe than sorry. As of this writing our maximum in-building staff is around 18 or so. Granted, not everyone is in the building at the exact same time, and there is usually enough space for moderate social distancing, but still that figure is pretty telling.

And the feeling in the building has definitely changed. I have always been a huge lover of libraries and all things literary. One of the first things I do when I move to a new town or city is go get a library card. I’ve always loved the atmosphere of a library and have worked in a few during my career, with each one having its own special qualities. But there is definitely something unsettling about a huge library completely devoid of patrons. No books being checked out (at least not by the public. That hasn’t stopped me from grabbing a couple or few dozen for our use in the Mathews household), no programs to tell people about, no public computers being used, no one asking reference questions, or any of the other things that make a librarian’s job important. Libraries are always quiet, even to the point of satire, but there is something eerie about literally being able to hear a pin drop in such a building. Especially on another floor.

With all of the other changes happening daily, it’s no surprise that creative motivation has also taken quite a hit. Shortly after the infection reached a notable level in the states I received my second or third rejection of 2020 and had a change in my job expectations and schedule. These things alone sent me off the creative rails for a little bit, but with the world undergoing such unprecedented experiences, I’ve found it harder than ever to focus on creating fictional material, or even writing blogs on a regular basis. I have been journaling almost daily and reading more than  I had been before the plague hit, but it hasn’t done a lot to lift that creative veil I’ve found sliding over my writing. I’ve completed a couple of short stories so far this year, and Maverip is currently being examined by another great beta reader. My book sales have been fluctuating, however I did discover that someone checked my short story collection out of the library alongside Slyvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which was nothing short of flattering. But none of it has done anything to open the floodgates and allow me to really kick out the pages on any new material, unfortunately.

I’ve seen a lot of my creative friends posting on social media (our only means of public communication these days) about their own lack of creative motivation, and I definitely feel that burden. I hope none of you all have been hit by this block, but if so, I believe there has to be a way out. This creative constipation can’t last forever, especially in a time when the world needs creatives and escapes more than ever. I plan to keep pushing through until I find what works to collapse the wall being built between mind and hands and allow my words to flow. In the meantime, have any of you faced a similar challenge? Have any of you found yourselves unable to create, unable to escape from the real world into that of your own creation?

What challenges are you facing in your day-to-day lives? Have you seen similar quarantine efforts in your location? Feel free to reach out and share your experiences in this strange situation. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that it’s not just in your hometown. We’re all facing it. But we will make it through.

 

Lord of the Mountain

Hey there, friends and fans! We’re almost through the second month of 2020 and life goes on. As always, I’m devouring new literary material as much as possible, and I recently got to read a book that is incredible to me for a few reasons.
The book in question, Lord of the Mountain, by Ronald Kidd, is a tale that takes place during and after the famous Bristol Sessions. The Bristol Sessions is the two-week recording event that took place on State Street in Bristol, Tennessee that launched country music to the nation. Ralph Peer came to the Twin Cities with the dream of finding the music that had long been passed down among mountain families – and what he found changed the face of recorded music. 

Kidd’s book deals with a young boy who lives on the outskirts of Bristol, a city divided right down the middle by the Tennessee/Virginia state line, and his fascination with science and music, despite his father’s preaching, which includes a violent opposition to music. Nate, the narrator of our tale, finds himself in the middle of inner turmoil as he struggles to find his place in the world. He is facing either a life in his father’s world, where music is the devil and the voice of God can be heard in every whisper, or a world where he is free to pursue music and science and live in whatever way he pleases. Nate finds himself attending the Bristol Sessions, and helping the world famous Carter Family as they sing the songs of the mountains for Ralph Peer’s recording machines. He later even finds himself traveling with A.P. Carter and gathering songs from other mountain folks for a time. 

I found this book to be absolutely enthralling, from the very first line, to the very last period. I yearned to learn more about Nate and his struggle. Kidd is able to capture the feel of Appalachia in a way that some authors I’ve read have not. Living less than 20 miles from the place all this happened, I loved his use of local landmarks (and it didn’t hurt that he used Bristol Public Library, my place of work, as a hub for some of his research) to help tell his story. 

Nate’s struggle and internal displacement run rampant throughout this book, leading him to often compare himself to State Street, “torn right down the middle.” Nate, a 13 year-old living in a time when the world was a very different place, often broke my heart with these statements. Kidd gave Nate a huge heart, and a huge interest in what basically put this area on the map, and I loved every word. I’ve long been interested in the history of the region and its culture, although I admittedly have a love/hate relationship with country music. Appalachian life is a fascination and a lifestyle that I am very proud to uphold, and this book does a fantastic job of celebrating that. 

I found myself write down pages and pages of quotes from the book, as I do, and I think Kidd’s writing style is amazing as well. As he travels farther away from the tent his father preaches in and deeper into the mountain songs that call to him, Nate finally sees clearly what he wants. This quote, to me, speaks volumes of his struggle and his purpose. 

“I had a new life now, or a glimpse of one. It sparkled in the distance, like the silver microphone.”

The microphone Nate speaks of here is Peer’s microphone, where so many mountain songs were sung, recording the history and soul of the region in a way that never before had been done. 

Kidd, a resident of Nashville, Tn., brought forth a tale of  heartache, soul-searching, heritage, and culture that I think anyone with a familiarity with the Bristol region will love, and anyone who isn’t familiar with the area can still definitely enjoy. Nate’s story is one that we can all relate to, having sought our own place in the world both in relation to and away from our families and those things familiar to us. I highly recommend this book and plan to read it again and again. It’s really that good. 

*Featured image: front cover of the book, Lord of the Mountain, By Ronald Kidd. I own no rights to this image.

Rejection, Revisited

Hey there, friends and fans. The first month of 2020 was a doozy, and February promises to hold a lot of changes. I plan on discussing some very interesting topics in the months to come, so keep your eyes and ears open for that.

Recently I’ve found it a little difficult to steadily produce new creative work, often having an idea and starting or plotting it and just falling off the trail again. Or worse, falling back into the trope of over-editing, which I mentioned in a previous post. Through the month of January I began querying for two of my completed novels, as well as sending new pieces to various magazines and contests, trying to revamp my writing efforts and reawaken my own self-esteem and passion for my writing.

As many of you know, that game is a hard one to play, as once you submit your query it’s the longest waiting game known to man while you hope the agents in question like your work enough to ask for more. After what seemed like an eternity waiting on some sort of response, I finally received my first one yesterday. A rejection. Not only a standard rejection, but one from the agent I felt most excited about reaching out to, given their publishing history and interests.

It goes without saying that it was a tough blow to an already damaged and strained confidence. I allowed myself to immediately fall into a minor depression, telling myself that it was obvious I should just give up and not worry about writing anymore, because it obviously just didn’t seem to be panning out.

But I took a step back. I got words of encouragement I needed from someone very important to me, and I re-read the rejection. It wasn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill rejection. The agent took the time to address my work personally, address my query even. The rejection notice told me that the work was in the agent’s genre, but it just wasn’t an exact fit. Rather than being a simple “not at this time” or “no thanks” this agent took the time to address my work and my effort with some personalization, which did help soften the blow.

The irony of the whole situation is, upon looking back in my writing and blogging history, I realized that on this exact day four years ago I received the first rejection of that year. It was a very similar situation. I had submitted a short piece to a journal that I felt particularly interested in and excited for, only to be told that the piece didn’t fit what was needed for that issue.

It brought me back to this blog post, and I have to say, it reminded me that this rejection of my novel is not the end of the world. It is not the end of my career as a writer. It is not even the only query currently awaiting response. My writing is still very important to me, and while I may not currently have the muse by in my control, the work I have already produced is something i am very proud of. So I will continue to push forward, attempting to write more, and seeking publication in as many places I can. In the meantime I encourage each and every one of you to take a look at whatever it is you’re passionate about, revisit just why it is that this thing (or these things) matter so much to you, and rekindle that flame. Refresh that connection. Strengthen the bond holding you to whatever future you are trying to create. As long as you remain true to your dreams, they can’t possibly die.

Einstein once said “you never fail until you stop trying.” That’s something I fully believe. If you don’t give up on yourself, there’s a good chance the rest of the world won’t either. So stand up and take a piece of the world, get the lead out, and make a change. It might not seem like it now, but one day this is all going to be a distant memory of your journey to absolute success

 

via Rejection