To the Top of the World

Hello there! As we prepare for some lovely travel experiences this year, we would love to share a short tale of our trip to, well, not the top of the world, but to the second highest peak in the state of Virginia. Whitetop Mountain, that colossus who thrusts his mighty peak up to a whopping 5,520 feet above the Commonwealth of Virginia, offers multiple hiking trails, nice picnic areas and photo opportunities, and an astounding view of three states. The view alone includes a good chunk of the Blue Ridge Mountains, beautiful farm land and mountainous wonder as far as the eye can see, and brings the sky so close you feel you could reach out and touch it. Whether you want to see Virginia, Tennessee, or North Carolina, you are in luck on Whitetop Mountain.

We started our journey, as many would, coming in off Interstate 81 at the edge of Chilhowie and driving past some beautiful farmland, climbing ever higher on state maintained roads until we reached the gravel turnoff to our destination. Immediately the thick forest closed in on the road and we rolled down the windows to breathe in the fresh air that, honestly, brings me so much joy I can never get over it. The higher we climbed, the rougher the road became, but we made it over the worst of the conditions and finally broke free of the forest to see the first of the vast views the site has to offer. Looking out over the farms and forest that surround nearby Grayson Highlands State Park (a visit for the near future we hope) we felt the awe of the height we had achieved already.

The main parking area, just short of the peak, was our destination, so we carried on up the mountain, watching as the view just got better and better. Once we reached the parking area, we were eager to get out and get our adventure moving. Despite the warm weather the air was obviously much cooler at such a high elevation, which probably helped some in the long run.

Right away we made note of just how close the sky looked to us, how intense and beautiful the clouds were, and how far we could see thanks to the clarity of the day. Amanda and I, no stranger to mountain and forest hiking, made our way through a short forest path that gave us some lovely views of the flora and fauna of the high elevation, with thick pine and brilliant green ferns galore, it was like falling into an ancient wilderness. As multiple signs will tell you on your way up the mountain, Whitetop is really its own ecosystem. There was no shortage of lovely flowers, brilliant colors, and the scent of deep forest air to enjoy high above the nearby towns and cities. As we trekked our of the forest again, we saw our immediate destination in a rock and grassy outcropping a little further down from the peak.

It was a relatively easy hike down, the shin-high mountain grass blowing gently in the cool breeze with giant cottony clouds floating just out of reach overhead. The sun played on the grass and stone as we approached our area of interest. We could see for miles, the gorgeous haze of the Blue Ridge Mountains standing broad in the distance. The clouds sent enormous shadows scurrying over the land below as they played across the bright blue sky, the colors of the world around us shining in mesmerizing clarity as we snapped pictures at first, and then just paused to admire the beauty. We explored the outcropping for a while, sidling through the tall grass, climbing stones for better views, and just breathing in the air high above the every day world.

The hike back to the vehicle was a bit exhausting once we were ready to leave. We quickly got a bit warm as the breeze died down. Thicker, darker clouds moved mercifully over the sun as we climbed back up the mountain and got closer to our return to reality. With what seemed to be a potential for a nice summer storm, a lot of the people who had been enjoying the mountain’s sublime beauty began flocking to the parking lot as we were. Many people were leaving as we reached our vehicle, taking one last look at the scenery and getting one last breath of fresh air before we started our return to the lowlands.

In short, Whitetop Mountain is an incredible destination for anyone with a passion for beautiful scenery. It can be a bit of a daunting drive, sitting at around 40 minutes outside of Chilhowie with some pretty quick changes in elevation, but it is absolutely worth the wait. While there aren’t attractions per se, there are several places to rest and take in the beauty of the natural world around you, which is honestly something we could all stand to do every now and again. We would highly recommend this trip, and hope if you all take the time to go here you will share your experiences as well. A word of caution we can offer is to remember to take account that however far you hike down the mountain, you have to come back up! It’s easy to become enraptured by the beauty of this incredible place, but don’t exhaust yourself to the point of misery. That’s no good for anyone!

With warm weather hopefully here to stay, we hope to have plenty more adventures to enjoy and share with you all, so keep your eyes open for the future posts. If you have a suggestion for a place we can go or an adventure we can leap into, share them with us! Check The Mathews Experience out on social media for more pictures and some videos of our adventures!

Living, Creating, and Self-Investment

Happy February, everyone. We’re not quite two months into the new year and things are going quite well so far. I hope you all have found the start of this year to be better than the latter half of the dreaded 2020. I know the state of the world isn’t quite back to the previous normal, and it may never fully return to that, but I hope you have all found ways to adapt and create your own happiness in the new normal, such as it is. My wife and I have been very blessed to have plenty to enjoy and plenty of opportunities to adapt, and I can’t thank God enough for that. It has, so far, remained a strange year for travel hopes, job stresses, life stresses, and the like, but I have been able to power through and continue writing.

I am beyond pleased to share that I have completed my as yet untitled fantasy novel after about five years of writing. It has been an incredible journey filled with quite a few days immersed in various fantasy movies, books, and games, with more medieval style music than I can name providing the background for my nearly 90,000 word first foray into the world I created. I have given the book to a couple of trusted beta readers to give their thoughts before I make my first edit, but it is very difficult parting from the world while I wait. I am incredibly excited to share this work with the world as soon as I feel it is ready. If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter yet, make sure you do that, either through the pop-up window on my website or on the “Author Updates” tab on my Facebook page to get a sneak peak at the first few paragraphs of the book!

In order to maintain my writing habit, keep my craft strong, and move on to the next big thing, I have put my magic and fantasy down for a bit and have picked up my cutlass and bandana to dive back into the realm of swashbuckling pirates! I have always been fascinated with stories of pirates and high seas adventures and the like, but I really got slammed with my idea last year and started brainstorming and immersing myself in pirate literature and adventure tales through the summer – my awesome wife even treated me to a pirate-themed dinner show during our honeymoon to keep the creativity flowing. After I got my basic outline figured out and started a direction with my characters, I eventually put the pirates on the back burner so their story could simmer a bit longer. But now I am unfurling the sails and setting them free. I have big plans for my gang of pirates, from sailing to undiscovered places in search of the world’s mysteries, to encountering legends that have been passed down even to modern sea-farers. No stone will remain unturned, no body of water unexplored as I take on such a beloved topic.

On top of revisiting my pirates and eagerly awaiting feedback on my fantasy novel, I have begun working on a bit of Appalachian fiction again. I brainstormed a story about an Appalachian family last week and it has exploded with possibility in my mind. I wrote a story that came in at just under 1,000 words that gave me a feel for these characters and I have become increasingly excited to dive into their lives, as well. I am letting them roll around in my head and develop more of their personalities before I set them free on the page. I am very excited to see what their stories will be, and I think it could very well be a good, strong Appalachian tale that I will be pumped to develop.

Overall, it has been helpful for me to invest in myself and in my writing. I have been working hard to remind myself that I am, at heart, a writer. It is what I feel I was created for. It is the reason I have such a passion for the written word, and it feels great to allow myself to embrace that. I suppose, in essence, that is the point of this post. In light of the changing world and the stresses of change and pandemic, I allowed myself to stray from my writing. I fell off the track of investing and believing in myself, and I am working hard to get back on the right path. It is honestly because of my incredible wife that I am reminded of my purpose. She has encouraged me so much since we got together, and she convinced me to invest in myself again. It’s a great feeling knowing that she believes in me so much. I know not everyone has that type of support system in their lives, especially creatives, and that is devastating. I am telling you right now, I support you and and your dreams.

If you are a person who has a passion for art and creating, no matter your medium, you are incredibly important. Your creations matter more than you know. Even if no one but you is ever allowed to see them, you have been given your passion and ability for a reason. That reason may be so you can survive in such a crazy world by expressing yourself and your inner voice in an external way to release frustrations, or that reason may be so you can create something current and future masses will adore and consider amazingly influential to their own passion and creativity. From either extreme and everywhere in between, I fully believe everyone’s desires and passions exist within them for a reason, and they should be embraced. If your passions don’t involve hurting anyone else, I fully support you and your dreams and I promise that you deserve the chance to see them come true. So, I encourage anyone out there who has a passion to take a chance on yourself. Regardless of what anyone else may or may not have said about your craft (because, believe me, I know a lack of comment can be just as devastating as an insult), you deserve to invest in yourself.

The world we live in may not be the one we’re used to, and it may never reflect the past as much as we’d like, but it is ours, and we deserve to make it such. So get out there and draw, paint, sing, dance, write, do your podcast, act, whatever it is that you feel a pull for, make it happen. Take a little time each day to invest in yourself, believe in yourself, or even just allow yourself to do that thing. You won’t regret it. Even if it’s something you do in private and keep it tucked away in a closet no one else ever goes into, do it anyway. You deserve it. The stress of the world melts away for that little bit of time when you are taking a moment for yourself, trust me. It makes a world of difference to know that you embraced that part of yourself that allows you to express your innermost thoughts and creativity. It is a great thing. I want to give a thank you to my family and friends and everyone who has encouraged and supported my craft and passion throughout my life, and I want to give a huge shout out and a booming thank you to my incredible wife who reminded me, above all else, that I deserve to invest in myself, and that my writing and my creativity are important. Amanda, you are an inspiration to me every day, and you don’t know how much that means to me.

So, get out there and take the world by storm. Put your art out there and be yourself. Believe in yourself. Allow yourself. Invest in yourself. It’s an investment you can’t lose on.

How have you all fared through our mighty changes over the last 11 months or so? Have you found yourselves on a creative down-spiral, or have you kept your head up? Feel free to comment your stresses, your successes, your fears, anything at all. I’m open to any and all discussion, and I look forward to hearing from you all as the world continues to move around us.

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.

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

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!

 

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.

The Power of a Word

Hey there, friends and fans! It has been a fair while since I’ve met you here with fresh words of wisdom, advice, or even admission. For this I do apologize. Life has certainly thrown me for a loop lately, but that is another matter entirely. I hope whatever vacations or projects this warm summer has brought you have gone swimmingly (speaking of swimming, I’ve hope you’ve gotten some of that in as well). I’m working on getting all of my projects and inspirations back on track, and hopefully this will be the first step in jumping back in head first.

I’m currently re-reading the epic saga that is Stephen King’s magnum opus. The Dark Tower series has always called to me in a variety of ways, but for one reason or another it has always been too vast for to consume at once. I am glad to say that, as of this paragraph, I am less than 100 pages away from finishing book number six (“Song of Susannah,” for you newcomers) – the farthest I’ve ever been in the series, and I came across a word today that changed everything. Wordslinger.

Wordslinger. Such a simple word, but it contains a power I never thought I would consider so seriously. To understand the depth of this title, given to the great Sai King by Roland of Gilead himself, you must first understand a little of the tale. The gunslingers, of which Roland is technically the last (and the last teacher of the last generation – it’s all about the timeline), are revered gunfighters, peacemakers, lawbringers, warriors, and more. The very title of gunslinger is an elevated one reserved for those who, above all else, remember the face of their fathers. A gunslinger is someone born and bred to ensure the proper order is kept and justice is served wherever he goes.

All throughout the series, the title and position of gunslinger is revered to an almost holy level – some would even argue a fully religious respect of the gunslinger is given by certain characters. The legend of the gunslinger is similar to our tales of the good cowboy who rides into town to save the day, but holds more depth and meaning because, as previously mentioned, they are the law, the strength, the power of good that is represented by the line of Eld and given by birth and years of physical and mental training. Only the best of the best become gunslingers, and their title – their responsibility – is to bring equality, peace, justice, and strength to the world. The premise of Roland referring to King as a wordslinger comes from the fact that part of the story of the fifth and sixth books in the series is realizing that King is writing the tale of these characters, and the people are living the story. A bit of an old writer’s fantasy, of course, but no less powerful than any other version of the same idea.

Now you can see, perhaps, a little of why the term wordslinger gave me literal chills. To imagine that power, that sense of responsibility, being given to a writer is nothing short of breathtaking. My mind instantly soared when it dawned on me that the term wordslinger can hold the weight of the world. As an author, and one who has been met lately with quite a bit of creative resistance, that idea has an incredibly freeing power. I am a wordslinger. A love of the written word, for creative arts, for producing whole worlds with nothing more than my thoughts and some way to record them all work together to make that a reality. I am a wordslinger.

I want each and every one of you to ponder that idea for a moment. If you write, whether it’s long fiction, nonfiction, journal articles, blogs, or poems, the same is true for you. You are a wordslinger. Literature has long presented a means of freedom and escape for those who read it. Sometimes that may mean a book in the hands of a bedridden individual can help them soar above the highest peaks, or swim in the deepest ocean when they otherwise might not have been able to. It can mean that a depressed individual who otherwise may not have been able to cope with the day can break out of the darkness by opening a book and diving into the words inside. It can mean that countless people faced with countless problems can be united by the power of bound pages and have similar ideas and unique understandings of the words therein. There is no end to the power presented by a wordslinger.

That goes for all mediums of art as well. You can be a brushslinger, a stoneslinger (not a bad term for either a builder or a sculptor, I think), or a lensslinger. Whether you refer to it in those terms or not, the power of creativity is, as I’ve expressed before, one of the things that makes this life bearable. It brings joy, peace, and understanding to the masses. Creativity is ageless, sexless, nonjudgmental, and open for all manner of interpretation. It is one of the rewarding, and the most difficult, blessing to be given, and it is not something that should necessarily be taken lightly. Whether your creative work is intended just for you or for the masses, it is an outlet both during creation and for every experience it brings after.

That does not mean it doesn’t come without responsibility, however. Even if it is just for yourself, creating worlds and characters is a power like no other. For myself, as well as many other authors, it’s not so much like creating the worlds sometimes, as it is opening the gate and letting the world out, letting the characters dance over the pages and tell their tale. Or, as the novel version of King puts it, letting the stories flow from his navel and write themselves with his body. As a wordslinger, the power may sometimes slow to a trickle, may even tighten to a drip, but when the flow opens back up it can be quite a flood.

That realization has left me with a sense of renewed purpose, a direction to move in, a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel that I am now striving to move toward in an effort to regain sight of the things I have been missing. I am working on a new string of edits and brainstorming some new connections and stories, with the hope of jumping back on the creative wagon quite soon. In the meantime, I will keep my newest motivation in mind, beyond all things that may try to suppress my creative abilities, and I implore you to do the same. No matter what happens, no matter what life throws at you, there is one phrase to remember above all others when your task, your purpose, seems to be escaping you: I am a Wordslinger.

I am, as always, forever grateful for my favorite author, one of my greatest inspirations, and a man whose level of genius I hope to one day at least be able to touch for a moment. Without you and your words much of my current inspiration may have fallen to the wayside. To the ever brilliant, always creative, and bone-chillingly scary master of horror, the chief Wordslinger, Stephen King; Thankee-sai.

The Shape of Water

Hey there, friends and fans! I have been wanting to watch The Shape of Water since I first saw the announcement about it. I was beyond disappointed to miss it in theaters, but I am ecstatic to say that I finally got to see it this week. I can very easily say that I am not at all surprised that it won and was nominated for so many awards. The film absolutely oozes sophistication and originality. I can honestly say it is one my favorite films of all time.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the film, it’s a tale of a mute woman in 1960’s America who realizes the institution she works for is studying a creature that is basically a modern version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, this film studies a number of themes including race relations, equality, sexuality, and personal identity. Our main character, Elisa, goes from a monotonous life with her friends and coworkers, almost invisible to the powers that be, to a bold and courageous woman, a hero to this creature that has otherwise known pain and judgement from modern man (aside from apparently being treated like a god by an unnamed Amazonian tribe that is).

I was enthralled from the start of this movie and I truly didn’t want it to end. I found Elisa to be an incredible person, with a nearly infallible character. Elisa’s entire experience with the creature was that he accepted her, he loved her, he made her feel whole and special for the first time in her life. As a mute woman, she was no stranger to mocking and disrespect, a tertiary character in the film repeatedly referring to her as ‘mutie’ and ‘dummy’ (a common colloquial term for those unable to speak in the past was that they were dumb or , if they also could not hear, deaf and dumb). So it was very important for her that this humanoid creature didn’t see her in terms of her difference, the explanation of which is one of the more endearing and heartbreaking scenes in the film for me. The themes of acceptance and equality steer this movie in a direction that couldn’t even have been hinted at in the trailers. From the homosexual neighbor, the African American friend, the mute orphan woman with an unknown background, to the otherworldly creature – each and every one of them is discriminated against in this world. Each and every one of them is met with opposition and stifled in some way throughout the film. And they band together. They stand in light of adversity and they win. They are each targeted by the ‘average, white, American male’ and they come out on top.

Persistence, decency, and love basically run the film’s two hour run time and bring us a tale that honestly warms the heart. From Elisa’s friendship with Giles, to her instant attempt at understanding with the creature, dubbed Amphibian Man by the film’s credits, the characters show us a bit about what it means to be human. Even the moderate humorous elements of the film stand to teach a lesson in humility and understanding.

I was intrigued to see the continued use of water itself and its own importance in Elisa’s life even before meeting the Amphibian Man. From her daily bath, to the boiling eggs, to the very image of rain itself, water is one of the most important elements of life and of the film.

I think the only thing that really threw me off about the film was the ending itself. I do like the open-ended nature of the story, but the transformation element is one that was a little odd for me.

Overall the film is an absolutely incredible work of art. It is a love story written for love stories themselves. Guillermo del Toro wanted to create a story and film stronger than anything, that could fill any space and be exactly what it needs to be – just as water is. And The Shape of Water is exactly that. With an amazing cast, an incredible message, and a story that will remain as timeless as its presentation, this film is one that will forever be in the annals of film history. The message of equality and the almost demand for justice for all those affected by prejudice of any kind could not have come at a better time in this world, either. In a political climate consistently pushed toward discrimination and judgement and a social tendency for the same, this film is beacon of light in the darkness that has plagued mankind. To me, the message is clear: we all need to come together in love and understanding and put an end to the meaningless squabbles that arise over minor differences. The separation and judgement that affects daily life in this world has to come to an end before we truly destroy teach other, ourselves, and what beauty remains in this world. Of course, until such a thing happens, this film and works of art that hold similar themes will remain of the utmost importance.

But what did you guys think of the film? Have you seen it yet? Did you read as deeply into it as I did, or was it just another movie for you? I’d love to know your thoughts. As always, I’m definitely interested in hearing about what you guys want to read about here or hear about in the podcast. Leave me comments or reach out to me on my contact page on my website. I hope you guys are enjoying the holiday season, and I wish you all the best in the last few weeks of 2018!

**The featured image of this post is an original image by Edgewise Art (https://facebook.com/edgewise.art/): I retain no rights to the image, nor did I have any part in creating it.

“Love, Simon” vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Hey there friends and fans! A handful of months ago I wrote a review of the YA novel Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, linked below. I absolutely loved the book, as I said, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to check out the film version, Love, Simon. I finally got my chance over the holiday weekend, and I feel inspired to write this short follow-up post for anyone interested in watching it.

Love, Simon is a great cinematic piece of art. The story, of course, is the same. Simon, our beloved protagonist, is coming to terms with being homosexual in a climate that is still quite unforgiving, and trying to, frankly, learn how to “be” gay. The whole thing really starts with a post on a local social media page, where one of Simon’s classmates professes to being gay – anonymously, of course. Simon, also anonymously, responds with his own confession, leading him down a journey of self-discovery that we’re brought along for.

Simon’s tale is not one for the faint of heart, and certainly not one for the closed-minded. One of Simon’s classmates realizes his secret and uses it for his own benefit. This sends Simon reeling as he tries to cope with not only the demands of his classmate but his own attempts at connecting with the boy he now feels he’s falling in love with.

One of the things that I was really impressed with was the way the movie stayed in sync with the novel for the most part. I really feel Simon’s story, although slightly altered for the screen, was still true to its book counterpart. I think the actors were well selected, Nick Robinson doing a phenomenal job as the main character.

One of my personal favorite parts of the film was the attempt to show that Martin, the unfortunate antagonist, was not your typical high school bully. Rather than being the biker, the jock, or the general rough and tough kid in the halls, Martin was actually kind of the stereotypical nerdy loser character. Mascot on the football team, avid lover of graphic tees and magic, Martin was the kind of guy most people love to hate. His affinity for blackmail didn’t make it hard to dislike him, either.

Simon’s struggle with finding a way to tell his friends and family his secret was well described and heartfelt. In his attempt to be himself and find the best way to be himself he posits the question why straight is the norm. Why it’s only homosexuals who have to “come out” to their loved ones. Which is a strong question in and of itself. Rather than assuming everyone is attracted to the opposite sex, maybe it isn’t that difficult for us to stop assuming and allow our loved ones to tell us their preference in their own time. However, that would require the world being a much less judgmental place.

Of course, Simon’s secret does get leaked and he has to come to terms with everyone learning he is gay in a way he had no control over. Which, for me, was one of the most heartbreaking parts of the film, and led to one of the best lines and best deliveries in the film. Martin apologizes after seeing what damage he caused, and Simon, for the first time, truly lets go.

He tells Martin that no apology is good enough. He took something that was Simon’s, ruined his chance to let people know of his sexual preference in his way. In essence, this scene made the tone of the film for me. Apart from everything else that happened, this scene really showed the pain and anxiety that can be brought on by coming out – and even more so the pain that can come from not being able to make the decision yourself. Robinson’s performance here truly brought Simon’s struggle home for me.

Needless to say, this is a YA work, so there was a definite form of happy ending, which I won’t spoil, although that wait for the mystery poster was something that really brought the anxiety game to a new level.

Overall, I thought the film adaptation of Simon’s story was a great movie. It didn’t stick with what I felt were some of the more interesting or important areas of the novel – the focus on music, for instance (although there was a very prominent Elliot Smith poster), but it was a great movie. If you are at all interested in this movie, I urge you to give it a watch. If you liked the book, again – watch the movie. If you haven’t experienced either, I recommend both. I personally liked the book a little better, but that’s my natural go to.

What about you? Have you watched the movie or read the book? Which did you prefer, and why? What was your favorite part of either? Let me know in the comments. Also, check out the link below to see my review of the book if you haven’t already.

As always, thanks for reading and subscribing. There’ll be a new podcast soon, and plenty of new words written before year’s end. Stick around for the journey to stay updated on everything! Thanks again, and Happy Holidays!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda