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

The Difference a Year Makes

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope the first week or so of 2020 has been productive and enjoyable. I have found January to be quite a good start to the new decade. Life, love, and laughter abound every day, and I have never been happier.

Today, while running an errand, I went to a local museum the offers a beautiful view of the downtown area of my town to enjoy the view and snap a photo. While beautiful, the day was cloudy and dark. Rain and fog crowned the distant mountains and the town was almost completely still, those people with the opportunity to do so having stayed home to avoid the gloom. I couldn’t help but find the image beautiful as I realized how little the scene reflected my own inner thoughts. It didn’t dawn on me when I went on that adventure that exactly 365 days ago I had done the exact same thing under a very different set of circumstances. Today, I was able to relect on the amazing way my life has been going, but I will be the first to admit recent years haven’t started on nearly such high notes.

One year ago today I found myself in the midst of one of the lowest points of my life. I was depressed, angry, and unhappy. My mother was in a physical rehab facility healing from some serious illnesses and I was still reeling from the loss of my grandmother. I was not happy in my employment or, honestly, most other aspects of my life. On the morning of January 10th, 2019, I left the rehab facility after visiting with my mother and stopped at the same museum I went to today. I snapped a photo of the lovely view there, trying to relish in the small amount of comfort the beauty provided me. Beyond a shadow of a doubt the sun shining through the clouds and illuminating the beautiful mountain scenery was an exact contrast to what was going on inside of me. I remember the feeling of utter helplessness that ran rampant in my mind that day, but the image God presented me gave me a glimmer of hope.

I didn’t remember the event that took place exactly a year ago until I saw a memory on social media. In the post I made on that day, I didn’t mention any of the hard times life was presenting me with, but I ended my post by saying “one step closer.” I didn’t know then the changes 2019 would present me with, but I knew God had a plan for me. In the last year my mother was released from the rehab facility, I’ve self-published a short story collection, I got a new and amazing job, and I’ve reconnected with the love of my life. I’ve seen more happiness in the last few months than I thought could be possible on that January day in 2019.

It got me thinking of the unpredictability each and every day offers us. From the moment we wake up each morning, we have no idea what is going to happen. Some days are simple, others are complicated. Regardless of what happens during the day, what reallty matters is how we react to it. If we lay down and let life run us over, every moment will be harder than the last. The hard times are infinitely harder if we do not have the hope and peace of better times to look forward to. During those hard times in my life I kept myself going – frankly, kept myself alive – by not accepting defeat. I pushed myself as hard as I could and, although it was by no means an instant turnover, life has turned around a lot. So many of the things were causing me pain and stress this time last year have disappeared.

If life is presenting you with hard times right now, I encourage you to find a ray of light, a glimmer of hope. Look to the future and don’t give up even for a second. Things may be looking down right now, but there is always a higher place to go. From my employment, to family health, to my inner struggle to accept and enjoy the life I have, I’ve seen a complete change in nearly every aspect of my life in the last year. It does happen. Things may get a little worse before they get better, but you have to remember that a caterpillar literally has to tear its entire body apart in order to emerge from its coccoon a beautiful butterfly. Most things worth having in this world aren’t easy to come by, but everything can be achieved by hard work and faith. Don’t give up. Who knows, this time next year you might be looking back with a completely different outlook on life.

At Year’s End

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope the holiday season has treated everyone wonderfully. It has definitely been a wild ride for my family and I. From sharing first holidays with someone very special, to losing a loved one the day after Christmas, the season has not been without it’s rough moments. I wake up every day thankful for the wonderful blessings I have, and I hope each and every one of you take the time to do the same. As we wrap up December and say goodbye to 2019 (may it rest in peace), I look ahead toward the new year with bright and hopeful eyes. I have high hopes for great changes in the new year, and I feel very confident great things are waiting just around the corner.

I have written often over the last few years about the need for inspiration, presence, and peace within life, art, and creativity, but I’m the first to admit that I have really failed this year when it comes to producing new works. I have, unfortunately, fallen into the most dangerous trap of all for a writer who is nervous about a new piece of work: over-editing. As I type this post I am currently a short way into what may be my 6th or 7th edit of my long-completed novel, Maverip. I finished the more than 140,000 word monster on Thanksgiving morning in 2017 after a marathon writing session that left me mind-numbed and half-comatose in the wee hours of the pre-dawn holiday. From there I let the piece rest for a couple months while I recovered before diving in on the first of many alterations.

The book has been through two rounds of beta readers – none of whom have given me cause for concern I want to point out – and has seen more edits than any work I’ve published to date. I’ve queried it to a handful of agents with little to no response (to be expected in the market currently) and have considered self-publishing the piece as it stands. No matter what avenue I consider, though, I’m having trouble actually giving it my final approval and letting it prove itself. That conundrum, along with a plethora of other changes I’m planning to make in 2020, helped inspire this post.

As the month winds down, so does the  year and the decade. As we entered the 2010’s I was in my first year of college, writing the book I’ve just discussed (along with a handful of others. That other project count is now over 50), and had yet to publish a single work. Now, I’ve had more than a dozen titles published in several regional journals, and earlier this year I self-published my short story and poetry collection. Typing those things out makes me really step back and ask myself why I’m letting this novel get the better of me. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly as long, and I’ve had people the world over read the words that spill from my own twisted mind. So why is this piece giving me such pause?

The simple answer is because it’s my longest completed piece to date. It took ten years to complete it. It is the culmination of a lifetime of research, interest, and determination, and its success (in my head at least) is tied to my own prowess as a writer. Simply speaking: I’ve nearly convinced myself that if this book doesn’t do well, I’m doomed to fail entirely.

But that attitude is not carrying forward. In three days time we will be living in a new year, decade, time period, season. I will be that much closer to 30 years old, and if that’s not cause for getting a little wiser, I don’t know what is. In two days’ time we’ll be preparing to say goodbye to the teens and re-embrace the 20’s (and if that doesn’t thrill me to the core, I don’t know what ever could). So what better time than to leave behind the childish notion that all future success is based on whether this book – this one book out of the literally dozens of ideas I have – gets me a fast spot on the New York Times bestseller list?

While searching through some quotes and literature this morning, I stumbled upon a quote by Franz Kafka that I think embodies the spirit of every real creator better than most anything I’d seen before.

“This tremendous world I have inside of me. How to free myself, and this world, without tearing myself to pieces. And rather tear myself to a thousand pieces than be buried with this world within me.” – Franz Kafka

Of course, I don’t want to dwell on the quote too much, because that isn’t the point of the post, but to unpack it a little, I think Kafka is speaking volumes of power here. As a creator, there are worlds upon worlds and pieces upon pieces within you. For me, some of my story ideas are like a number of voices all talking at once, saying something a little different, hoping to come together just enough to make sense and gain their freedom. Whenever the words become clear enough I can write the tale, I can let this story out, I can keep it from tearing me to pieces and I can present it in its purest and most intact form. Sometimes, though, it isn’t that easy. The words jumble, they mix and mesh and writhe together in the pain of incommunicability until they die out from want of escape. Other times they seem as if they’ll burst forth from me whether I give them license to do so or not. Regardless of the idea, its strength, or where it comes from, I have a tendency to start it and let it get stagnant. I lose the power behind the words, or I lose confidence in my ability to tell the tale. For any number of reasons, I end up not completing the work that I feel only I can even come close to completing.

That is an attitude and a habit that I’m leaving behind. 2020 is going to be a year of huge changes. I’m going from letting life roll on around me, to taking charge. I’m finally standing up and taking the things I want in this world. I’ve actually already started doing this in my personal life and it has already led me to some of the greatest happiness I’ve ever known. As I move forward into my third decade on earth, I am taking charge and leaving behind wasteful attitudes and the habit of just letting life happen.

Rather than let these words and worlds tear me into a million pieces, I’m going to push through the struggle and the hesitation and release them. Rather than take the punches life offers, I’m going to stand tall and chase after my own happiness. As we enter the new year, I am standing tall and seeking out opportunities. I’m putting aside hesitations and demanding freedom from waste. In 2020, I will no longer just be going through life. I’m going to live it.

With these changes, I plan to see a great improvement in every aspect of my life, and I hope you will all feel the same motivation to make changes. Take charge of your own happiness. Find out what in this world is going to allow you to truly be free from stagnance and unhappiness and go after it. Don’t keep over-editing yourself or your work. Take the time to put it out there. Let it stand on its legs. Show the world who you are and take the chances you need to take. I hope you all enjoy the last couple days of 2019, and I look forward to seeing you all in the new decade – hopefully with fresh faces and brand new determination. Happy New Year, everyone.

Are You Present?

Hey there friends and fans. I hope Thanksgiving was a great time for everyone, and that December is starting with the cheeriest of moods. Personally I found myself meeting a ton of wonderful and important new people as well as enjoying some quiet celebration at home. Of course with the many changes in my life currently, as well as the impending holidays, my mind has been all over the place. I have found myself worrying a lot about the past, whether it be mistakes I’ve made or things I could have done differently, and the future. Yesterday I (after having discussions about it fairly regularly with someone very important) fully came to the realization that these thoughts are much more damaging than they are helpful.

I realized as I thought more about it that, rather than allowing me to make any real changes to improve anything, worrying about things either past or future was only taking me more and more from the present. Which takes away from the absolute joy I’m currently living, and opens the possibility of something drastic that could ruin the happiness entirely. It seems only natural, of course, to worry about our lives. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and there is nothing more human than rethinking and overthinking everything we ever have and ever could do. But it’s some of the most damaging behavior we can exhibit. Worrying about things puts an excess of stress on our minds and bodies, distracts us from enjoying the good things right in front of us, and often negatively effects our mood as well as our health, and I decided to put an end to it.

My life has absolutely taken some turns in the last few months, and I am currently happier than I have been in quite some time. Of course that inspires the insecure human impulses in my mind to question what I could have done differently earlier in life, and whether I’m good enough to maintain this level of happiness without screwing it up. But why? What point does any of that do? Absolutely none. Considering anything other than the present is not going to change what has happened, and can have some very negative impact on what’s coming. I came to the conclusion yesterday that life is just too good in its current state to allow myself even another moment of doubt about anything. Just living in the present would be the best thing possible. And the last 24 hours have proven to be quite impressive. I was able to live and laugh and love more freely in the last day, without worrying about things I have no control over. I had a long, spontaneous night filled with joy and adventure – not tainted by worry.

I felt even more emboldened by this decision this morning while listening to a reading of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance” when realizing the father of Trascendentalism himself spoke on the matter more than 175 years ago. Emerson said:

“These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.”

It was like someone was speaking directly to my situation, my mind, my experience. Nothing could be more true. Man absolutely cannot accept happiness, or reach the true potential of his own happiness, if he consistently worries himself with past or future. The present holds our truth, our peace, our consistency. It is by living in the present that we truly come to terms with who and what we are. I have always been one to revisit past experiences and wonder what I could have, or should have, done differently. I have also always been a worrier, plagued by concerns with what might go wrong in an hour, or tomorrow, or a year from next week. But what good has it ever done me? None.

Feeling myself working hard to let go of these tendencies has been quite freeing over the last 24 hours. I can already feel a change in myself and my mentality. I feel more connected with the world around me, more affected by the things that are working to make me happy. I can see already how much time I’ve wasted by not being fully present in the present, and I don’t plan on going back to that. Focusing on the past doesn’t change it, but taking the experience gained and applying it to improving the present is a sure way to help the future. All that, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at memories with fondness, or even look to the future with some ideas on how to live it up. There’s nothing wrong with reflection or planning.

I look forward to living each moment I can in the present, focusing on living every day to the fullest. I’m going to disconnect from technology a little more, and give more attention to my surroundings. I plan on putting down the cell phone and looking at the sky more often, sparing social media likes in favor of smiling at those around me. Rather than looking back and saying ‘what if’ I will make an effort to strengthen my future by living bountifully in the present. Life is far too short to stress yourself with what may be, what may not be, or what could have been. Make it what you want. Live each moment like nothing before it has mattered and like there may not be another. Don’t waste your time worrying about anything. Live your life the way you want to live it and make sure, above all else, that you’re completely present.

I hope you all have luck making some of these same changes. Feel free to share any success stories, or any comments you want moving ahead. I hope the holiday season is good to everyone and I look forward to hearing from you all!