Reclaim Yourself

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope November is going well for you all. So far this month has given me quite a few twists and turns, but I can’t deny even for a second that things are looking fantastic. Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and with it comes the knowledge that things are very different for me than they ever have been. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My life has gone through some pretty significant changes in the last year. Of course, a little over a year ago I lost my grandmother to complications from long term illness. Shortly after that my mother grew sick and was hospitalized many times around the holidays last year. My personal life also took some attacks, from self-doubt and a lack of self-care, to bigger issues. As life took its twist and turns it eventually dawned on me that I was having even more difficulty facing my situation because I wasn’t there. I had disconnected. I was 100% not myself, and it was causing me even more trouble.

In the last few months I made an effort to change that. I started, piece by piece and day by day, to take back my situation and bring myself back in. I saw where my problems were and I made efforts to fix them, until the solution was staring me right in the face. I had completely let go of who I was. The Damean Mathews I knew and loved for more than two decades had gone into hiding. I was someone else. And that was not a person I liked very much. One day in October I woke up and took matters into my own hand. I decided I was going to take an adventure to the 2nd highest mountain peak in my state, something the old me would love. To say it changed my life is something of an understatement.

I arrived on Whitetop Mountain shortly after 3 p.m., after a leisurely drive through the surrounding county and found myself automatically feeling better. I was alone, 5,500 feet up, looking out over three different states in the early Autumn day, and peace was bountiful. The incredible views of the Appalachian Mountains were breathtaking. The hazy blue visage of the Blue Ridge area rolling in the distance, racing forward until it lay in farmland below my vantage point, tumbling right up the slope in high grasses and bent trees until it ended at my feet was nothing short of miraculous.

I spent the rest of the day and part of that night on the mountain, going so far as to build a small campfire and stay until the moon was high in the sky. I talked to God, I looked out over the scenery, I wrote in a journal, I read a few pages of a book, but most importantly I allowed myself to just be free. I truly reconnected with the person I had lost, and it was the best decision I have ever made. I allowed myself to wake up from the slumber I had been in and renew my soul in the blessing God had provided. But I didn’t stop there, of course. After leaving, I made decisions for myself and my life that I hadn’t done in a long time. I refreshed my desire to write and to publish my work, I started reading even more and finding new adventures to go on, and I reconnected with someone from my past who has boosted my happiness to levels I hadn’t imagined.

In the midst of life changes, confusion, and a lack of self-care, I made a decision that opened doors for me I thought had been closed for a long time. And it started with something as simple as getting in my car and taking a ride – doing something for myself. Since that day my life has improved significantly, going above and beyond my wildest dreams. Happiness has flooded my every waking moment, and I am blessed beyond comparison. My point is simply this; sometimes you have to do something for yourself. It really is OK to think about you. Sometimes it’s more than just OK, sometimes it’s necessary.

Life can absolutely attack us with tough times, scary days, and downright exhausting situations. But that doesn’t have to destroy us. There is nothing in life so bad – or so good, for that matter – that you should be forced to let go of yourself for it. You know who you are, what you want, what you need to be yourself. I’m here to tell you that you absolutely can’t let that go. You should never compromise yourself and who you are for any situation, any other person, any goal. Each and every one of us is a unique person under God’s grace, and that is not something we should ever be willing to give up.

So often in life, the things we want and do take a bit of us with them. Sometimes it’s a little piece that can grow back, something we won’t even miss while it’s gone. But sometimes it’s bigger. Sometimes it’s your very essence, part of what makes you you. Those things are the hardest to get back. You don’t want to wake up one morning and look in the mirror, or inside yourself, and not recognize the person there. That’s terrifying. But even if that happens, it’s not too late.

If you feel yourself in that situation, whether you’re just starting to stray from your true self, or you’re so far from the person you were that you can’t even see them anymore, the way back is simple. Take a moment to examine who you are, and who you want to be. Think of something that person would want to do. Something that would make them happy, and give them the freedom to be themselves. That can be one thing, or it can be a list. Personally I have an ever-changing list of goals and dreams that I have started achieving. Regardless of how many things you can think of, tackle one. Put everything else aside and take charge. Whether you want to go sit on a mountainside alone, go on a road trip, or even just go get a coffee from your favorite cafe, go. Do it. What are you waiting for?

Don’t take another moment to hesitate. Don’t spend another second being someone else, not being true to who you are. You never know which second is going to be your last. I put away everything that was holding me back and went after something I wanted. I made decisions on that day in early October that have brought me to an amazing place in my life, put a smile back on my face, and brought me back from where I had lost myself. There will be, of course, much more discussion of these things in the future. The point of this entire post is that you have to put aside the worry, the fear, the doubt, and take a leap. You know what you want, what you need, and who you are. Don’t spend another second not being true to that. You are the only person who decides how you spend your life, and the last thing you want to do is wake up one day with regrets.

I hope everyone who celebrates has an amazing Thanksgiving. Eat hearty, be merry, and make sure you love deeply. Feel free to share with me any situations where you’ve reclaimed yourself and tackled the difficult situations you faced, and share this post with anyone who could benefit from it. I look forward to hearing from you all.

At Long Last

Hey there, friends and fans! I’m beyond ecstatic to be able to announce to you all that my first ever self-published print work is available for purchase now!

In a rush of quiet editing and preparation I decided to get this short story collection off the ground this month. I have long wanted to be able to have a copy of my own work on the bookshelf, and with the grace of God it’s happened! I sat down and looked at the efforts I’ve made in the past and it dawned on me that for too long I’ve had a pipe dream that just having the book would make things happen. It seems silly, but after talking to some other indie authors (that’s right, even more than before I can count myself among the ranks of indie authors now!) I realized a lot of people make similar mistakes. Rather than accepting that we have the power to get our works to the world, we tend to think that just having them completed should make it happen. I mean, we put all that time into writing, right?

But that isn’t it. It’s got to be a full effort all the way, and I’m very happy I realized that. Having those proof copies come in and being able to hold a book completely full of my work that I put the effort into – needless to say, it awakened something in me. I truly feel, for the first time in a long time, that I have accomplished something as an author. For a long time, especially in the last part of last year, I feel I’ve let myself down in my writing. It’s been hard to focus and get a work out there, and I’ve often found myself just going through the vaguest motions in my publication efforts, content to hope an agent would grab me up based solely on my query letters. But I’m glad to say I’ve taken charge again. I’ve come into my own. I have reached for the stars and grasped my own shining moment. Lame, right? But it does feel amazing.

The stories and poems in the collection are a mix of some older and newer works, a couple of which have been living solely in my computer for quite some time. I am very happy to have a chance to give them life in this collection. Many of the pieces are centered around an Appalachian setting, some even including regional culture. My heritage, of course, is very important to me, so I love giving my work that mountain twist. It means a lot to me to be able to present these works to you all, and I sincerely hope you’ll pick up a copy. If you do, please make sure to leave an Amazon review for the work. Reviews go a long way for indie authors, especially online, and it would mean the world to me!

Also, I do want to thank you all for your endless support. I hope you’ll enjoy the works in the book as much as I enjoy being able to present them to you. And, in case you’re wondering; yes, I’m already considering going the same route for one of my novels soon. Stay tuned! Here’s the link for the work: https://amzn.to/2tC2jOX

The Waiting Game

Hey there, friends and fans! It’s been a crazy week, guys. Last Tuesday I took a huge leap that will lead to big things for my future as a writer. After editing and re-editing and debating and waiting and being a nervous wreck, I finally pulled myself up by my bootstraps and sent query letters to a number of agents. For those of you that haven’t done it, the query process is quite stressful at times, but it can be the difference between having a book on the shelves of your local literature haven – or gathering dust in your desk drawer.

Personally, I sought dozens of articles and opinions on what makes the best query letter. From different styles, different lengths, different organizational suggestions it was not hard to get bogged down in the insane possibilities. This type of novel should have this type of query, that type should have a different kind, your contact info should be one place vs. another. Needless to say it was quite daunting. Fortunately, while seeking out the help of as many print and web sources as I could deem fairly reliable I was also asking some close author friends of mine for advice.

Through all the muck and the mire one piece of advice really helped me organize my thoughts and figure out exactly what I could do to get myself moving in the right direction. A close friend told me that no matter how many bits of advice and how many query suggestions I read I needed to remember that they were all just opinions. As long as you include the necessary information and present your story in an understandable and exciting way, it’s going to ultimately be in the agent’s hands. If you send a query that doesn’t quite match what they expect, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s hitting the trash (unless of course you blatantly disregard some type of styling request the agent personally has).

At the end of the day, based on what I saw and what I’ve been told, the important thing to remember is making sure whoever reads your query is going to want to read your book. To the best of my ability, that’s what I did. I picked my first round of agents and sent the first communication to them with the best of hopes. Now I’m a week into the waiting game and every email I get sends new shivers down my spine. Of course, I’ll keep you all updated when that positive news comes rolling in (confidence, right?!). In the meantime, I plan to keep jotting down ideas and smatterings here and there. I’ve had some interesting inspiration hit recently and I’ve got a couple of works full of potential brewing, along with others that I’ve already started. The real task next will be to figure out which project I should pursue to completion now that Maverip is wrapped up (at least for now).

Have any of you sent query letters before? In your opinion what, if any, are the benefits of going the self-publishing route over traditional publishing or vice versa? I’d love to hear how this process went for you all and what your thoughts are on the various publication possibilities available to the 21st century author. Feel free to leave your comments here or send me a private message. I love hearing from you guys and I can’t wait to have good news to share with you! In the meantime, enjoy the beginning of your summer and get out there and take advantage of these warm summer nights – but don’t step too far into the shadows. You never know what might be lurking there!

New Experiences

“The sea is everything. It covers seven-tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and life-giving. It is an immense desert place where man is never lonely, for he senses the weaving of Creation on every hand. It is the physical embodiment of a supernatural existence… For the sea itself is nothing but love and emotion.” – Jules Verne.

Greetings friends and fans! It’s been a while since we’ve heard from one another. I’ve been adjusting to a new work schedule and working my way through some challenges. Currently I find myself sitting outside on break, staring at the mountains and pondering everything. As many of you know I’m a huge supporter of life, joy, adventure, and happiness.

Humans are made to thrive on excitement. After all, idle hands are the devil’s playground, right? We wake up in the morning needing stimulation, invigoration, not stagnation. If our minds and spirits are not elevated to new levels, we find ourselves bored and unhappy. We say we’re “in a rut” or just generally stuck in the mud. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Rather than allowing ourselves to fall into the same old routines day in and day out, we need to find new things to bring into our lives, new experiences to keep the “wow” factor strong and steady for us. Being someone who loves travel and excitement, I’ve always leapt at the chance to do new things, go to new places, add another notch to my proverbial belt. Recently I got a chance to do something that I had never before had the chance to do. As a 27-year-old man, I went to the beach.

I have lived in the Appalachian Mountains my entire life. The culture in these rocks is so ingrained in my bones my soul practically oozes the charm of the region. I have traveled to many places along the spine of these mountains, my travels taking me to many cities and small towns between Georgia and Maryland, most of these journeys within a day’s drive of my home near the birthplace of country music. I have always been intrigued by the idea of the beach, having seen the ocean once, at a glance through the window of a charter bus, so to have the opportunity to go there thrilled me to the core.

As my wife and I made the more than half a dozen hour drive across the state of Virginia, we relished in the sight of the mountains we love, the thrill of watching them fade to flat, swampy coastal land putting a smile on our faces. My first sight of the ocean that day, with my wife by my side and adventure in my soul is one I’ll never forget- but it pales in comparison to my first time wading out into the turbulent water.

The feeling of the cool surf surging against my body as I waded further out, the Atlantic occassionally clashing against itself, salt water splashing in my face, is an experience that truly changed me. I knew the power the sea had, having felt its draw my whole life, but nothing could have prepared me for the calm that washed over me with those waves. Even in the cool, cloudy, windy state we found ourselves. I was, and am, enamored.

My reason for writing this is simple; that experience reminded me that, no matter what life throws at us, no matter what hardships we face, the world – all of God’s amazing creation- is still there, waiting for us. For me, the opportunity to see the beach, and experience it, not only with my wife, but with some of our dearest friends, came exactly when I needed it. For me it was a reminder that adventure, experience, and love are things we should never cease to seek out.

Our hearts, minds, and souls are hardwired to search for the beauty and adventure of this world, whether we realize it or not. For as long as mankind has been on this rock we have spoken and written about this fact. It has gone by many names over the years. The unknown. The Sublime. Colonization. I would even venture to say things as commonplace as the search for the New World and the various gold rushes would fall under this mantle.

The bottom line is that we, as a species, need experience. We need adventure. We need to wake up and seek out things that we haven’t seen or done before, fill our lives with something other than routine. No matter how far we go or what we do, nothing will compare to the feeling of seeing and swimming in your first ocean, climbing your first mountain, crossing into a country or state previously unexplored by you. We can’t let the monotony of life bring us to a stopping point, wear us down, or distract us into forgetting about our lives. I know many people who live to work and work to live, never stopping to smell the roses or appreciate the things around them. If you let yourself fall into this trap, you need to find a way out before you wake up one day and realize how many opportunities have passed you by.

I challenge each and every one of you reading this to find a way out of that rut right now. Pick yourself up and find a new experience. Take a new route home, go to a new city or town, try a new type of food. Do something you’ve never done before. Break your rut and remember just how much the world has to offer, before it’s too late. I’d love to hear how you guys break the rut. Feel free to reach out to me in the comments or in a message. Let me know what new things you try and how the experience made you feel. This life is ours, guys. We can’t let it go to waste.

Who I Really Am

My life has been filled with an uncanny love of literature, an unquenchable obsession with the written word, and a passion for the arts that absolutely can’t be rivaled. I have lived my entire life with a book in my hand, a pen in my pocket, and written words surrounding my every move. I have always been drawn to books and literature. The very thought of books ignites a fire in my heart like nothing else. I struggled for a bit in my youth with just what that meant for me, often finding myself reading where my peers were playing sports and writing in my free time when others were hunting and carrying on in their own way. More often than not I was the guy in school who would be seen with a novel as big as his head and more interest in the library than the gym or the football field. People often questioned why I loved books the way I did, and they often got various answers, but one thing always stayed the same, whether I voiced it or not; it’s who I am.

By the time I made it to high school and realized that I wanted to be a writer, another seed planted itself in my mind. My junior year of high school I found myself in Larry Hypes’s class. This was a man who had quite a reputation for being an excellent teacher at Tazewell High School – often noted as such by the various non-academically minded students who professed how little they liked his class. But it was here that I flourished. I found myself in the midst of literature I hadn’t covered before, and where new light was shed on works that I was familiar with, and something clicked inside of me. I realized, somewhere deep within myself that there was a whole new world of literature appreciation for me to embrace – in the form of teaching. I grew closer to Mr. Hypes through that year, finding his ideas often matched my own and his methods opened up the written word in ways I hadn’t experienced before. As I went through the year, reading and writing more than ever, the idea of teaching dug itself deeper in my conscious.

I had been asked about teaching before this, of course, and I had shrugged it off with little more than a thought. I was too young to know for sure what I wanted. I knew I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world, to experience the incredible sensations the world has to offer, and I wanted to make a difference. Teaching was something for old men and women, for huge brains with more knowledge than they knew what to do with and too little adventure left in their hearts to care. It couldn’t be for me. But suddenly it was in my mind, in my heart. During those formative years the idea remained, although buried by the urgency of graduations and colleges, by new novel ideas and dreams of publication. I continued to embrace the craft, feeling with new heights the impressive weight and passion of literature and the world. As new concepts were introduced to me by new professors, I grew more and more fascinated with the concepts that lived through the centuries, feeling sometimes that they were put down on paper and flowed through the ebb of time to plant themselves in my very soul.

I explored this new literature with a ravenous passion as the seed that had planted itself within me grew to new levels. Subtly allowing myself to accept the possibility of education, I entered the teaching program in college. The concepts and ideas brought a sense of calm to my mind where before there was a mild form of panic when I considered what career path I could embark on while seeking publication. In addition to exploring theories and methods of standard education I was allowed the opportunity to observe. The very word itself is a disservice to what I experienced. I was able to join educators in their pursuit, spreading knowledge to kids of various ages. I observed in a number of classrooms in a number of grades, and always felt the same things. Wonder. Passion. A desire for education that encompassed all else – perhaps not from every student, but no matter what classroom I was in, the feeling was alive. As much as this feeling enlightened me, I allowed life to get in the way. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say I put the idea of teaching on the back burner. Dreams were replaced with jobs. I placed myself in position to make money and allowed goals to slip into the background.

Recently, though, the urge to teach has raised its head again. The desire to spread my knowledge and love of literature to new generations has become such an immovable mountain within myself that I can’t ignore it. Each passing day brings new ideas, new elements of literature, new things I want to teach my future students. I can barely go an hour without having some new project, a new element of one of my favorite books or facets of literature that I can explain to students taking over my thoughts. It’s becoming more and more a yearning with each passing moment. My life is tied with literature, the art of the written word is fused into every fiber of my being, and nothing could make more sense than to share that passion with others. More than ever I want to give back to the world what my favorite professors have given to me. As the world changes, literature becoming more of an afterthought as technology rises to all new levels, it is ever more important to me to give it a voice. Despite its strong presence, the written word can’t pick itself up and introduce itself to the coming ages. So it’s up to teachers. It’s up to people like myself for whom the passion never sleeps. I will stand in the face of the darkness of the world and shed the light of passion on its battle-scarred face.

I made this post to let you all know that I’m on my way to doing something about it. I have started the application process to get my provisional teaching license in order to get the ball rolling. I allowed my dreams to sit on the shelf for far too long. Writing has been and always will be first and foremost. I am a writer by nature, by purpose, by passion – and in the same ways, I’m now all too happy to realize, I am a teacher. I let myself sit on this idea, this dream, this inexplicable desire, for far too long. I’m not afraid to admit that. I sought jobs and career choices that kept me in the written word and allowed me stay alongside of my desires, but now I am pursuing them all wholeheartedly. No more hiding, no more waiting. This is who I really am, guys, and I couldn’t be happier to admit that. I will be keeping you all updated as my pursuit continues. With any luck I’ll be teaching by the time the next school year starts and getting my life going in a direction that, until now, I’ve only dreamed of.