Sign of Hope

Happy Monday, everyone! I trust February is going well for everyone. It’s almost that famous day of love that marks the halfway point of the second month of a new year. As always, time has been flying by faster with each passing day and the year has presented us with some bad weather days as well as some good ones. Over the weekend I found myself back in nature, enjoying the warm weather and getting closer to God, myself and the world around me. It was invigorating, but it didn’t end there. On my way home today I was greeted with the awesome sight of the first robins of Spring in my little nook of Virginia.

That has always been an incredibly welcome sight for me. Knowing the robins are back makes me feel like warm weather is just around the corner. That means it’s almost time for full, green trees, warm breezes, late nights, and bonfires. It means a cool night spent with the windows wide open, listening to the sound of the creatures that fill the darkness with their song. It means the freedom of a hot summer day and the blessing of warm summer nights. Needless to say these experiences have inspired me incredibly. I love being outside and enjoying the natural gifts this world has to offer. Being able to put myself back in nature, walking along the bank of  the Holston River, seeing the first robins of  the season, all put me in the mind of one thing. Hope.

As you all know, the last few months have been full of editing and new ideas for me. I’ve had my work in the hands of numerous beta readers while I work on preparing query letters and try to find agents to send them to. It has all been very eye opening and very stressful, and it’s left me feeling a bit drained and needing something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. This weekend did a lot to show me just what was needed. My inspiration.  It’s not a secret to those who know me that the time I spend in nature, being close to God and His creation, often inspires me like nothing else. When I was younger, I would often spend time sitting on my porch or by a cozy fire in the backyard, but after moving to a new location in 2016, that stopped being an option. Living in a town house, I don’t have much of a porch or a backyard to enjoy and I hadn’t realized just how important those facets of my life could be. I’ve missed the experiences since I moved here, but it hadn’t quite sank in just how much they cleared my head and brought me peace.

That brings me to the purpose of this post. We all have something in life that affects us like nothing else. For some of us it might be that first drink of coffee in the morning, or that nice burst of heavy metal madness we pump through our speakers on the way to work, or the endearing warmth of a hazy mountain sunset that brings us to peace and helps us connect with ourselves in the best way possible. Whatever it is, you often won’t know just how much it means to you until you don’t have it to rely on. Each and every one of us has our interests, our loves, our individual personalities that are all fed by the unique things that set us apart from the masses. When we find ourselves in a situation that doesn’t exactly allow us to embrace those things, some part of who we are is sure to suffer. So what we have to do is be sure to embrace it. Whether it’s that coffee, the music, the sunset or something else altogether, it matters to us for a reason. It is a crucial part of our lives and ourselves that will always be something we can fall back on – and it will always be something we will miss if it isn’t there, even if we don’t know just how much.

So, when you’re out and about this week, living your life as usual, look at everything about your life and figure out what it is brings you peace, inspiration, hope. Find one thing in your life that brings you peace and joy, one thing that makes you feel closer to yourself, your purpose, your destiny. Whatever that thing is, embrace it. Make time for it every single day. That thing is a crucial part of you, of your livelihood and it is something uniquely yours. I hope, whatever it is, you find a way to make it work to better yourself and your life. Find a way to make sure you can use it to get closer to your destiny with each passing day. It is that sign of hope that will help you make sure you’re on the right path in life. It’ll bring you more happiness than anything else, so make sure you stick with it! And, whenever you feel like something is missing, whenever you feel just a little off, take a moment to reflect on that thing and find your own little sign of hope. It will definitely make things better.

The mountains in my area are very photogenic, of course, so I  occasionally try to capture some of the beauty I in the world around me. The featured image for this post is one of the photos I took during my walk on Friday. Enjoy!

A Month In

Happy Monday, everyone! We are just days away from February and 2018 has been quite an adventure so far. In addition to spending nearly a whole month in this new year, I have been working on doing some new things with my life. I haven’t broadcast it much, and, although I may make the occasional post, I don’t plan on talking about it all the time, but I’ve been trying to get myself in better shape, mentally, physically, and creatively. It has been great. As far as the whole “sticking with resolutions” hoopla I discussed a couple of posts ago, this is something I’m proud to be sticking with, in every aspect, but I won’t beat myself up over a failed resolution if something happens to pause it – but more on that later.

Obviously we’re not quite a month in, but I thought the title was acceptable. I’ve been thinking for a few days now about what I wanted to talk to you guys about, and I decided that the answer was looking me right in the face everyday – goals. Every morning when we wake up, we usually have some idea or hope of what the day will (or won’t) bring, but how many of us actually set goals? How often do we wake up and say “this will happen today” or “I’m doing this today?” More importantly, if you don’t, why not?

Life is a series of days, weeks, months, years, decades, etc. So often we look at it like something that is happening to us that we have little or no control over. But nothing could be farther from the truth! Our lives, as I say quite often, are our own. They are the very essence of us, giving us ample opportunity to reach out and put our own little twist on the world. Some of us will even go so far as to make a long-lasting mark on the world. So why should we be content to just bumble through the day-to-day? It’s something I’ve touched on before, but it really hit me again recently after looking at what I’ve been doing since the year started. Goals are something we can use to help push us to  make our lives better than they currently are. A lot of people look at the process and idea of setting goals and get immensely discouraged. This is typically because all too often we are made to think that goals have to be huge, enormous, new phases of life that can take years to accomplish. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting goals like that, but it doesn’t have to be that hard.

Goals can help us take our lives in our own hands and truly change our current and future situations. An important thing to remember about goals is that they can literally be anything. Do you want to get out of bed earlier? Make it a goal. Do you want to catch up on that sitcom you’ve been missing? Set a goal to watch an episode a day before bed. Do you want to get the next great novel finished before year’s end? Set a daily, weekly or even weekly word goal. Make it happen. There is absolutely nothing that goals can’t help us do if we stop letting the disappointing tropes of mankind get in the way. Our goals don’t have to be things like saving the rainforest or landing a man on Pluto – of course, if those are your goals there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The important thing to keep in mind when setting your goals is to remember that it doesn’t matter how big or small they are. You can plan to land on Pluto, or just plan on cleaning out the junk drawer. Goals are different for everyone, and they mean something different for everyone. Some of the goals that we have can be tied to memories of lost loved ones, potential opportunities, our future, our past, and everything in between. No matter what the goal is, the main thing we have to do in order to be successful is to never give up. Never let anything stop us. A man (or woman) with a goal is a force to be reckoned with as long he or she has the determination to make sure they stick with it. We are all here with a purpose, and we have hopes and dreams for a purpose. Goals can help us fulfill that purpose. God has given us all a destiny, a purpose, and He wants us to succeed. He wants us to live in happiness and be the best versions of us that we can be. So that’s the goal, right?

I hope that you are all setting plenty of goals as you read this. 2018 can be your year if you take the time to make it happen. If you haven’t started setting goals, or if you’re nervous about them, try starting small. For instance, try setting goals for a new routine or schedule, or set a word or project goal for the day or week. Get your end goal in mind and find the most comfortable way to build up to it. I’d love to talk to you about your goals, if you’d like. One of the best ways to make sure you stick with your goals is by finding someone to talk to about it. It’s very helpful to have someone to help keep you accountable. But, of course, there is always the possibility of a failed or postponed goal. Life is unpredictable sometimes, things can get in the way of our goals. That can sometimes be discouraging, but the important thing to remember is that a missed goal doesn’t equal a failure. The only way you ever fail is if you give up. If life gets in the way for a bit, just push through and keep the goal in mind. Whether you want to climb Mount Everest or just drop a few pounds, nothing is impossible if you set a goal and put your mind to it.

If you’ve done it before, how has goal setting worked for you in the past? What have you been able to achieve? Do you have any words of wisdom for those looking to make a difference in their own lives, or in the world as a whole? Feel free to leave me comments or send me a message!

Be True

It’s January 10, everyone. Have you stuck to your resolutions so far? If so, you’re doing better than a lot of people. Personally I’ve been doing a moderate job of keeping up with some, not so well at keeping up with others. It’s so easy to let life flow without a thought for what you’re doing, following the ‘norm’ and letting yourself fall into a bit of a rut. That’s a bit of what this post is going to be about. I do think it may end up being a two-parter, too, because I’ve seen a lot today that has motivated me to write my little heart out, but the basic message behind every word I’m going to say here is the same. You have to be true to yourself.

Going back to what I was saying at the start of this post, New Year’s Resolutions are notorious for being set on or around January 1st, and many are lucky if they make it out of the month. But I recently saw a very important question that stuck with me and made me think hard. Why is it that New Year’s Resolutions are such a big thing? Why should we focus so much on the beginning of the year – more importantly, why should we only set aside one time throughout the year to make changes? It’s a doozy of a question, and I honestly don’t have an answer for it. We are all (at least in theory) strong, free-willed human beings with the ability to make decisions to better ourselves at any time. So why do we place so much focus on the whole “new year, new me” fad?

I’ve seen people in March decide something about their lives is unsatisfactory and decide to make it a New Year’s Resolution and live with the unhappiness for 9 months rather than take a stand right then and there. Why? This life is so precious, so fleeting, and so important. How can any of us afford to live even one second being untrue to ourselves? You wouldn’t wake up hungry and say “oh, I’ll eat next month.” Or break your arm and say “oh, I’ll get it fixed eventually.” No. You’d stand up and take charge. Why, then, would anyone choose to wait to make themselves better, happier? Why would anyone decide to allow time to choose when they can make a change that may improve their lives infinitely?

We were placed on this earth with a certain amount of time, a certain purpose, and a sure freedom. God gave us the free will to make choices for ourselves – if he didn’t, there would obviously be no sin, because He just wouldn’t allow it to happen. That’s the surest way to know He wants us to choose for ourselves. I’ve often heard the old saying “if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.” As much as I think the phrase has been misconstrued to mean something else at times, I do agree. God wants us to dream big. He wants us to take the life and the world He has given us and make it bigger and better than ever before.

If you’ve ever needed proof of that, examine the parable Jesus gave his disciples of the three slaves with talents (Matthew 25:14). Of course, there are multiple ways to interpret this, but I take it quite literally. Three slaves were given talents by their master. Two of them used their talents to make more, to create, to better themselves and their situation. When their master returned and asked about the talents, each had doubled what they were given for their master and because of this they were rewarded. But one of the three servants buried his talent where it would never be seen, but never be lost. When his master returned the man could only dig up and return what already belonged to his master, with no return and no use being made of the talent, and thus he was punished.

God has given us all a talent. He has given us all life, love, a desire for something and a way to get what we want. When we put that talent to use in whatever way we can, it will grow. Just like a muscle that is used and worked it will get stronger and bigger, more useful and worthwhile. Soon others will take notice. We can put our talents out  there and have them return to us even bigger. We can take each and every day of this life and inject ourselves, our dreams, our desires and our strengths into it, and when all is said and done, each day will have been bigger and better than the last.

I think that’s what we’re here for. It’s not about New Year’s Resolutions that often fail, leaving us to fall right back into the same routine. Obviously if we’re setting a resolution to change it, some part of us is tired of letting it happen, right? So why wait for a new year? Why wait until the world tells you it’s OK to make a change? Do it now. If you want that haircut, go get it. If you want to lose weight, do it. If you want to publish a book, write it and push it out there. None of us are given a promise that we will wake up tomorrow, or that there will even be a tomorrow. So why wait? Why let the man-made constructs of conformity and waste ruin the time we have left? Get out there and climb that mountain, lift those weights, write that book, go for that management position, travel the world. Will you be like the servant who hid his talent from the world and had nothing to show for it, or will you get out there and make the most of what you’ve been given and make your mark on the world? Be true to yourself, people. We have so little time here. None of us want to be on our death bed and realize we didn’t live to our fullest potential. I challenge each of you, before the week is over, to do something that your heart desires.

Find something that you have been wanting to do that you know will make you happy, break out of a routine that has been holding you back. Make a difference in your own life, and see just how much happier it makes you. It can be something as huge as getting a new car, or something as small as trying a new route to work. But do it. Break free. Find a way to take the life God has given you and truly be thankful for it. Dare to live a little, eh? That’s the end of this post. In the next couple of days I’m going to come back with another similar message regarding things that have been bugging me in this regard – namely suggestions that we have to base our lives on the lives of others.

In the meantime, get out there and showcase your talents. Bring yourself to a new level and take your life in your own hands. In the end, you’ll have something to show for it. Be true to yourselves, guys.

Bridge to Terabithia

Happy Banned Books Week! I’ve always been a huge fan of celebrating banned books, partly to stick it to the ridiculous censorship-loving administration, but mostly because I find that the books that people don’t want you to read can often offer you the most. This book is definitely a part of that list. I absolutely LOVE it. My first experience came from the movie, but I was immediately enthralled. For the last ten years I have adored the movie and the book. It is actually one of the inspirations behind my own decision to move forward with my desire to be an author.

One of the greatest things about this novel, for me, is the fact that it points to the total liberation of mankind via the imagination. Being written in the 70’s, it was kind of published in that time when kids were first being encouraged to let their imaginations guide them through portions of their lives, and this book captures the cusp of that idea. Jess’s family and fellow students represent those who feel imagination is not something to be given in to. Jess’s parents, consistently burdened with the challenge of feeding the children and running the farm in the fragile economy they live in, can be seen as the old style of shunning imagination and things that aren’t ‘real,’ where others – Leslie in particular – represent the new and liberating views of allowing imagination its place in life.

Leslie’s introduction into Jess’s life really allows him to open up and be who he is meant to be. She doesn’t act or think like the rest of the kids, or even the adults (with the exception of Ms. Edmunds) that he is used to, and that makes him feel more free than he ever imagined. When Jess and Leslie create Terabithia I truly resonated with his description of the mythical magic of the place. He allows Leslie to bring him into this magical realm, but he still has his doubts. Many times he says that he can’t do it without Leslie, or can’t think of it the same as her. His love for Leslie and Ms. Edmunds is what allows him to embrace the creative side of his own life. After Leslie’s death Jess is obviously devastated, particularly considering the fact that his day had been spent further embracing his own love of art and imagination.

I love the way Paterson brings Jess to reality while allowing him to avoid everything involving Leslie’s death. He adamantly denies that she is gone, so much so that after he runs away and is brought home he wakes up almost completely convinced that it was all a guilt-ridden nightmare because he didn’t invite her to the museum. When he is forced to confront the fact of her death he reacts in much the way a child would, destroying memories of her in anger. Once he calms down he begins to instantly doubt himself again. The inspiration and freedom that Leslie brought him threatens to leave. When considering Terabithia he is terrified that he won’t be able to make the magic happen without Leslie, even worries that the make-believe kingdom won’t be there if he goes without her.

The fact that he is able to make the magic happen is, to me, a testament to the amazing power of love and imagination and creativity. Jess is able to keep the magic he and Leslie created, is even able to be in touch with her memory as he reflects on his friendship with her. I love that. I feel like it is a huge representation of the strength we all possess, even in the midst of a tragedy that threatens everything we hold dear.

Another thing I loved about this book is the way Paterson makes Leslie and Ms. Edmunds strong female figures who refuse to fall into the social norms. The feminist themes that offer these two strong female characters a whole other kind of freedom were both embraced and feared when this book was published (and still are today). I find it very important that there is so much emphasis on Leslie and Ms. Edmunds breaking the norms and being their own women, without holding to social construct or listening to “girls can’t do that.” It is a huge testament to the nature of the piece and its deep running themes of freedom and exceptional behavior.

Of course, this is one of the things that has lead to the book being challenged. The language and the obviously difficult ending are two others. The fact that Paterson wrote such a strong and impactful book 40 years ago, that still stands the test of time today, says a lot about the topics and her own prowess as a writer. Putting my own hatred of literary censorship aside, I find these reasons to be abhorrent for shunning such an awesome work of literature. When children can pick up a book and see that their creativity and imagination should be embraced, find out that it is OK to be different, even see someone their own age faced with and learning how to handle death, that book is a treasure. To push it out of libraries, schools and off of reading lists is a real travesty and I shudder to think there are parents out there who think otherwise.

But I’ll get off my soapbox. I don’t have many faults with this book. I would like a little more explanation of why Jess’s father doesn’t show affection to him the way he does the girls. Granted, this was 40 years ago and many people, particularly in rural America, were still under the impression that showing too much love to boys made them ‘soft,’ I think that knowledge is lost on a lot of youth and they may come away with the impression that the father is just a jerk. Which is harmful to an overall interpretation of the text, I think.

Overall, this book will always have a huge place in my heart. Aside from being a piece of YA literature that truly has the means to empower kids, it is an easy-to-read work that is educational about real-life issues. I love it. I hope you all enjoyed it as well. But what are your thoughts? Do you agree with its challenged/banned status? Tell me your thoughts! And be sure to give me your ideas for the best horror novel we can cover in October!!

Stand, Sit, Whine

Anyone who sees any kind of mass media news, be it via TV, newspaper or even just Facebook, has seen the latest (although not really new) scandal rocking our nation’s collective conscience. Some athletes have chosen to sit, kneel, or stand and not participate during the National Anthem. How terrible! How can we ever overcome this latest threat to our once-great unified country? Surely this will bring the end of all happiness as we know it. Funny thing the sun’s still shining and we’re still free (for now), though, ain’t it? Since Kaepernick decided he was going to take a knee last year during the National Anthem in support of his desire for equality and unity, the whole country has more or less gone batshit crazy over it. Now, a number of others have chosen to take up this mantle and do the same, with entire professional teams making the choice to stand out of the public eye or drop a knee during the song that we have adopted to show our strength as a nation. Their reasons are similar, for the most part. This country is becoming more divided each day, with massive amounts of people waging active assaults against those they see as ‘different,’ ‘less equal,’ or ‘dangerous’ (read; bullshit excuse for racism). Sensible people want to see that behavior come to an end, and this is how some have chosen to make a difference.

Before I continue here, let me say that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I can stand, I can sit or I can play hopscotch – because I know it is my right. I’m not calling out the sitters or the kneelers any more than I am calling out the people who stand and shed tears every time they hear the words we all know by heart before first grade. What I am calling out is the ridiculous fight about the whole thing. I understand that many people feel it is their (our?) duty to stand and sing along with the National Anthem, perhaps while they imagine fighter jets circling overhead, fireworks exploding in the background and bald eagles laying eggs filled with freedom all around them. But then again maybe that’s a bit much. Regardless, a lot of people find it a point of pride that they are free enough to stand and belt out the tune that has stood the test of time in honoring our country and what it stands for. I get that and I fully respect it. As someone with family who has served in the armed forces and in-laws who both have and continue to serve, I feel that pride and honor as well. I’m insanely happy and grateful to live in this country and I can be the most patriotic individual you’ve ever seen in the most clichéd sense of the term – but along with that comes the knowledge that if I choose not to stand there is not a single thing that can make me.

My great-uncle, my friends, my in-laws have all served this country, fought for this county, had their lives inexplicably changed in service for this country, so that I can have the right and freedom to make the choices I want to make. While seeing the stories about this ridiculous controversy (why does everything have to be a controversy??), one of the things we see quite often is a large amount of people screaming about how generations of soldiers have died in battle so that people could stand while the National Anthem plays. This is often accompanied by the political cartoon that depicts soldiers in fatigues correctly stating they are actually fighting for our right to sit OR stand during the song. But you know, that must be an exaggeration, right? Soldiers who fought for our freedom can’t have been fighting for total freedom, right? They were fighting only for the freedom for us to live and work and worship freely, but there must be a clause in there somewhere saying we have to stand during the anthem. Wrong again.

One of the greatest things about this nation is the freedom we have to live and worship and serve as we please – as long as it is not damaging another’s right to do the same. So explain to me again how someone kneeling during the National Anthem hinders your right to stand and sing and hoop, holler and cry. That’s right. It doesn’t.

What hinders someone’s right to be free is thousands of people shouting about how someone kneeling is wrong. It is free citizens calling for the punishment and even imprisonment of people exercising their rights. It is the president calling those kneelers “sons of bitches” in front of the whole world and calling for their dismissal from their jobs. The only thing hindering anyone’s right here is the injustice being done to the people who are making a stand for unity. The National Anthem is a song of pride and strength, meant to symbolize the power and unity displayed by this country, even in its darkest hours. It is a song that is intended to fuel the strength and honor we as citizens of the United States are able to feel knowing that we live in a free country. There’s that word again. Free. A free country. That’s what we are. That’s one of the things that sets the United States apart from other countries. We are free. I am absolutely free to get up tomorrow morning and put on a T-shirt celebrating my favorite band or author or tourist destination and go to work listening to rock & roll music and, if I feel like it, I can choose to sit and observe while others sing the National Anthem. And, ideally, that would be perfectly acceptable. It hinders no one’s freedom and it harms no one’s right to stand and sing.

The problem comes when we try to force people to do what we want them to do. The more dangerous situation comes in when the government tries to step in and force people to stand, act or react a certain way to the anthem. Freedom means we’re free. If our government is allowed the power to tell us we have to stand and react a certain way to a song being played before a sporting event (or anywhere for that matter), that government is no longer supporting the rights of a free country. It is a totalitarian system that is infringing on the rights of everyone. In a perfect world everyone would be truly equal, would be treated as such, and there wouldn’t be a large faction of people being discriminated against. There wouldn’t be murder and racism dividing our country hundreds of years after we fought a war to help end it. And there wouldn’t HAVE to be people who feel the need to take a knee during our nation’s song in order to fight the injustice running rampant in its borders. But that is not the world we live in, is it?

Innocent people are ridiculed, judged, even murdered for the color of their skin or their place of birth EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. We are in the 21st century, people. We are all people, we all bleed red, we all deserve freedom and life and rights. Maybe instead of focusing so damn hard on what people are doing when a song plays over a loudspeaker, we should focus more on why they choose to do it. If we want to truly unify and be a country, we have to learn to stop trash-talking people who live, act or believe differently than we do. Then, and only then, will the National Anthem be able to stand for what it was truly intended to stand for. So next someone takes a knee during the song, how about you ask them why they made that choice instead of feeling offended. As much as it pains me to say it this way; snowflakes do melt. The cold weight of injustice doesn’t.

Make it Natural

As I’ve written about before, life can very easily get in the way of our crafts at times. Writing is a huge part of my life and, in essence, is literally who I am. So it should be the easiest thing in the world to belt out page after page day in and day out, right? Unfortunately that isn’t the case. With a full time job, a crazy and unpredictable schedule, and family that lives an hour away, life is very busy these days. So busy that I have had the unfortunate displeasure of seeing my writing dwindle in the past month or so.

I wake up each  morning and tell myself that I’ll write x amount of pages today, or I’ll spend x amount of time writing today- no matter what. How often do you think that happens? Not nearly as much as I’d like. I hate to admit it, but the most important things I’ve written in the last two weeks have been the short story I shared in a previous post and what I consider a fun twist in Maverip. And it hurts! I want to write more, and I know it’s my own responsibility to make it happen. That’s what I wanted to talk about today.

I read an article recently on the topic of time and it said the most cliche, blatant and helpful thing possible. More or less, it asserted that,  if you want to be a writer you have to do only one thing: write! Of course that’s painfully obvious, but it was a reminder. The article went on to enforce the idea that, no matter what is going on in life, you can make time for your writing – or any other craft, of course.

Yes, life crowds around us and responsibility sets in, but how much time do we spend watching TV or playing with our smart phones? How many hours in a week do we waste performing mindless tasks that take away from our lives?

That’s not to say we should abandon these things altogether, not at all. But, and I know this is true for me, if we’ve been called to write or produce any sort of art, then we have to do what it takes to make sure that we do it. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again; I was created to be a writer.  God put me on this earth to be an author, to produce written works unlike any other (not to sound too full of myself). So why should I allow life to take that from me? Why should any of us?

We shouldn’t! We are the people in charge of our lives. We have complete control over what we do, how we spend our time and how we use our gifts. Granted, that doesn’t exactly extend to when or how inspiration hits, but that’s a story all of its own. We, as artists, need to take control of our lives, assert ourselves against the mundane things that threaten to pull us away from our purpose.

We all know that every little bit of inspiration can lead to the next 30 chapters of a book, or our next Monet-esque masterpiece. So why not make it happen? One thing the article I mentioned pushed was that sometimes writing doesn’t come easy. Some days you can sit down and write a dozen chapters without blinking, but other days its hard to get a sentence to come out.  But WE HAVE TO KEEP TRYING.

Some people will tell you that you shouldn’t force it. You shouldn’t push the writing or the craft. When it’s ready it’ll come. That’s crap. I’ve told you all before; it’s yours. You are in the care of it. You have the unique pleasure of cultivating this lovely bit of art, whatever form it is in, and you have to take the time to make it happen. So that’s my advice for today, friends and fans.

It gets hard sometimes, it does, but there is not another other person on the planet who can do what you can do with your ideas. There’s no one who can produce the same thing you can. There is no one who can do it for you. So my challenge to each of you is this; take one hour a day for yourself.

No matter what else you have going on in your life, take an hour every single day for yourself,  for your craft. If you’re pressed for time, write in those few minutes between appointments. Jot down a sentence here and there, while you’re waiting on your coffee, while you’re on hold during a phone call with those people who get paid for wasting our time, whenever. Make it happen.

I read somewhere once that it only takes 21 days to form a habit. Three weeks to create an automatic repeated motion, an action that you literally don’t have to think about anymore. It becomes NATURAL. So try it. Find that hour every day and make it happen. Take an hour of your own time back and dedicate it to the gifts you have been given. You won’t be doing it alone, by any means. I’ll be doing it, too. Try this for one whole month and see what difference it makes for you. Does it become a habit? Does it open the floodgates from 8-9 p.m. every night? Do you find yourself anticipating the coming hour? Keep me posted! Of course, I’m not saying limit yourself to one hour – that time frame is a minimum! I’m hoping that this will literally open the doors and inspire you to be able to reclaim your craft in the best possible way. So let’s do it. Let’s take back our gifts, our skills, our crafts, our purpose. Let’s make it as NATURAL as it should be.

Starting today, take an hour for yourself. Write, paint, draw, do whatever it is that makes you happy, and don’t accept anything less any more. I’m certain you’ll notice a difference in yourself, and I’m excited to hear all about it!  Keep me posted in the comments, or send me a private message and let’s take back our lives! Remember to read “Gwendy’s Button Box” for the July review and keep your eyes open for the post in a couple of weeks!

It’s a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird

Ok guys, this month’s book was an incredible classic, of course. I have been enamored with the book since the first time I picked it up more than a decade ago. There is such a powerful message in the pages, and it has so much weight, even more than half a century later. If we’re being honest, it’s probably just as if not more relevant than before, given the rampant bigotry and racism ruling society these days, but that’s a completely different discussion. Let’s dive in!

First and foremost, as a true son of the South, I love that this book is set right in the heart of the area where racism has perhaps done some of the worst damage. Reading a book that was written in such a simple, uncomplicated and conversational style – yet with such a pregnant message – that included vernacular I’m familiar with is definitely something that makes the book a joy to come back to again and again. Scout is the quintessential rough-and-tumble girl that we all knew growing up. As a matter of fact, if anything, we realize that it is this exact quality that helps her be so strong in the face of what is happening in her town and her home. Of course, we see in the sequel – which was actually written first – that she never changes from this persona, her innocence and strength deriving from the influence this attitude has on her approach to life.

Scout herself is one of the reasons this book is so great for readers of all age groups. She can be understood by everyone who reads the words running through her mind. I can honestly say I have’t met anyone who didn’t relate to Scout in at least some way. her strength in the face of the things that try to break her down and her determination that Tom Robinson deserves justice – as well as her general disdain mixed with a lack of understanding for discrimination of any kind – makes her a character that has survived as a near heroin in my mind. One of the best scenes with Scout comes when she is speaking to the group of angry men outside the courthouse. Scout is doing nothing more than being polite, but she manages to single-handedly diffuse the situation and bring these angry men to their senses, very likely saving Tom and her father without even trying.

The themes of equality and misunderstanding and the blatant condemnation of racism in this book still fascinate me. I see the racism in the world around me now, with people being told to leave the country based on the color of their skin, regardless of where they were born, and entire races and groups of people being torn down by hatred on a daily basis, and I realize that even now it isn’t as bad as it was then. When a black man can be condemned for a crime he obviously didn’t commit just because of the color of his skin and no one bats an eye is insane. Granted, similar things do happen now, there are at least more people standing against such behavior. Knowing that Harper Lee wrote this book speaking out against such unfair treatment of people makes my heart soar. While knowing that so many people haven’t listened hurts deeply.

The character of Atticus has always stood out as a good, strong man in my mind as well –  let’s not discuss the negative comments in “Go Set a Watchman.” I admire the way he taught his children about equality and fairness. Atticus, despite the generalization of the time the book was written, was an amazing father to his children and he instilled in them the hope of a new generation, the essence of equality, and the role of acceptance that men of his own generation so clearly never exhibited. I think this really was Lee’s own dissatisfaction with the world coming out in her writing. She understood humanity and equality and she wrote it with strength and confidence. She stood strong in the face of adversity and showed the world how wrong this behavior was.

I think the biggest question the book raises is whether Boo Radley or Scout is intended to be the greater example of innocence here. Boo, a man who seems to be mentally disabled, is the subject of so much rumor and speculation (which happens too often in Maycomb) and is, in turn, a feared sort of boogeyman figure to the kids. They taunt each other and dare each other to go touch the house or sneak into the garden. And we never see Boo retaliate in anger. In the end we see that Boo, despite being feared, has actually been leaving gifts for the kids, fixes Jem’s pants, and even saves Jem’s life. Regardless, I love the character. He stands for so much in my opinion, that I could could go on for hours about the misconceptions he is faced with and who I think he really is both in the novel and to the literature itself. In a sentence; Boo Radley is the withdrawn control, not joining society, therefore not being damaged by it.

I don’t think I have any real critiques of the book that stand out, other than the fact that I still hate Scout’s aunt and don’t really care much for Dill. I understand their overall contribution to the book, but they were more like annoyances to be dealt with than beneficial characters in my opinion. My biggest problem would be that racism did, in fact, prevail in the case of Tom Robinson, even though he was obviously innocent. The fact that he was shot for committing no crime at all, while an abusive man was let off free is a harsh reminder of the way the world was – and still is – an entirely unfair place. But that’s the point of the book, right? We have to expose the negative behavior so we can fix it.

But what did you think? What are your thoughts on a book that has been so controversial over the years that it has even landed on banned book lists across the U.S.? I hope you’ll all weigh in on the discussion, and definitely let me know what your suggestions are for future reads! I love participation and comments. Share this far and wide and let’s have a big discussion!

College changed my life

It has been two years to the day since I walked across the stage at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and accepted my new position as a college alumnus. When I think about the fact that it has been that long it really blows my mind. In some ways it doesn’t feel like two years, but in others it does. So much has happened in my life since then, and it can all be attributed to the blessings of God and the experience I got in college. And to think, I was one of the people who considered a gap year (not that there’s anything wrong with doing that, of course)!

Since my college graduation I have worked in a library, I have been a newspaper reporter, and now I am a marketing representative for one of the best and coolest theatres on the planet! I have taught a writing workshop to authors with decades more experience than myself, I have been published in local journals and have continued to be true to my own writing both on this blog and in my novels and short stories, while also starting my own online book club. Personally, I think those things are some pretty big accomplishments.

The selfish and arrogant part of my brain almost wants to say “well, Damean, that’s because you’re awesome,” but how “awesome” would I be if I hadn’t gone to college? How many of those experiences never would have happened if I hadn’t decided to take six more years of my life for education?

I have been writing for most of my life, of course, but even that has changed because of college. Looking back at the original ideas and versions of some of my work I sometimes actually laugh at how immature my voice was. Because of my college education I have been exposed to centuries of incredible literature and writing methods. I have had mentors work with me on my academic papers and my personal writing, which has changed the way I see things in many ways. I have been given the chance to write for multiple newspapers and experience a completely different style of writing that has enhanced how I view and handle my personal work. In turn, because of my time as a reporter, I have had some awesome experiences and have been able to relay some heartwarming, as well as tragic, news to thousands of people.

On the employment front I have to openly admit that, in high school, I was qualified to do only a handful of things, including write and run a cash register. Now, I have written more, gone more into the retail element by running departments and managing employees, and I have entered the professional work front with some really awesome jobs. Because of the experience I received at UVa-Wise I was able to work as a library specialist at a local community college, I was able to share breaking and interesting news to thousands for a year as a county reporter, and now I’m working at the longest-running professional theatre in the nation! That thought still blows my mind. I grew up just an hour away from Barter Theatre and it was always an amazing thing to just come and witness, and now I’m a part of the team here. And I would never have been able to do it without my education and experience.

The point here is that, for all those graduating high school and thinking about your futures, college is often the best choice you can make. I remember how I felt graduating high school, though. I wanted to take a year off and ‘see the world’. Granted, my version of the world, without a good paying job, didn’t extend much farther than the middle of Tennessee, North Carolina or the other states surrounding my own. I made a choice, though. I chose, despite my own desire to rely on myself and my writing for a while, to go to college and get a degree and put my fate in the hands of the higher education system. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Because of my time in college I met some amazing people, and my life has been forever improved.

I know that a lot of the time it seems like 13 years of school is enough (14 if you did pre-k), but believe me when I say it’s the extra 2, 4, 6 or 7 (or more) years that really make the difference. You might think you have your life planned when you walk out of prom and prepare to get that cap and gown and start your post-public education state of life, but don’t be fooled. The world has changed quite a bit. It used to be very possible to walk into a local company and get an internship or apprenticeship with little more than a high school degree and a give ’em Hell attitude. Not anymore. Higher education is something most businesses require now. Without a college degree, the doors of the employment world kind of close tight.

So, as many of you graduate college, be thankful for that experience. If you’re going into the job market or going on to grad school, take the time to consider just what difference your choice made for you. What experiences have you had that wouldn’t have been possible without college? And for those of you who are in that limbo state of deciding to wing it or go to college in the first place; really think about it. The idea of taking the world in your own hands and trying to forge a path with a high-school diploma and a dream might seem great, but it won’t be easy. Not that college is a piece of cake, but that’s a different story. If you’re on the fence, the best advice I can give is this; take the summer. Put in some applications, take your three free months and experience something new. Think about you. Do what makes you happy. Go somewhere new, spend time with friends, let go of school for a while. And when you finally feel like you again, when your brain isn’t cowering in the corner of your skull at the thought of having more knowledge crammed into it, think about what kind of life you want. Decide who you want to be and what you want to do. Figure out what is going to make you feel the most satisfied in life. Then figure out what it’s going to take to make that happen. The answer just might surprise you.

Have a good week, a good weekend, a good summer and a good life. Congrats to all those graduates out there. Let’s all raise our glasses to those who survived high school, college, university, and grad school. There were most certainly times when you thought you wouldn’t make it – but you did. Congratulations. Now enjoy your life and do what makes you you!

Sink Your Teeth Into This!

Hey guys! I hope everyone has been having an awesome Spring. So far it’s been pretty great for me. I have to admit that I’ve been having an amazing time at my new job. I get to see in depth, behind the scenes things that make the theatre run smoothly, and I’m very impressed. I feel very fulfilled with my job, and the fact that it gives me a solid schedule – which means I don’t have to scrounge for time to read at night! Isn’t that exciting? Anyway, I wanted to give everybody our May book club read, and I promise it’s awesome.

For this book, I chose another new (yet pretty old) release; “Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula.” Of course I chose this! It’s a book that was originally written by Valdemar Asmundsson in the early 1900’s (it was translated and released by Hans de Roos). It was first thought to be just a translation of the original text from English to Icelandic, but after it was examined researchers realized it is actually a complete retelling of “Dracula” that features an altered story, changed names, new characters and bits of text that coincide with Bram Stoker’s original ideas and notes for his classic novel. I know this book might not be the type of thing some of you look for, but I assure you it promises plenty of amazing scenes. Unlike “Dracula”, this book isn’t just told in the form of letters and such, but is written in a slightly more standard style, with the majority being told through Harker’s (Thomas rather than Johnathon in this text) journal entries.

Unfortunately, some book stores view this book as slightly more scholarly that what they typically carry, so you may have to specifically request it if you want to buy it. Since it is such an interesting topic it can be a little hard to track down in libraries as well. I had to have my copy shipped from a library in New York so I could dive in. But it’s definitely worth it to a vampirologist and “Dracula” scholar in the 21st Century.

Either way, I look very forward to diving into this book and I hope you’ll all join me in this awesome experience! Feel free to follow me on social media (https://www.facebook.com/DMathewsBooks ) if you haven’t. Now that I have more time at night I have been writing a lot more, and I think I’ll start making more regular posts and discussion on my various pages. With luck there may also be some discussion from a special guest once this review goes up! I’m thinking it will go up around May 25. I know that doesn’t give a lot of time, but this book isn’t as long as “Dracula” and, based on what I’ve read so far, will likely be consumed pretty quick by most people. There are also some interesting forewords and commentary, including a great one from Bram’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker, throughout the novel that I find fascinating.

I hope you guys will be able to track the novel down and enjoy it! If you do have any trouble finding it, feel free to let me know. As a former librarian, I know some tricks of the trade that might be able to help. Ok guys, let’s dive in to a retelling of one of the greatest Gothic novels of all time!

Preparing for dystopia

The world has certainly kept turning since January 20. But that’s really the only way we can say it. Global citizens have watched, many in unabashed horror, as the new leader of the free world has stomped on countless toes and attempted to create little more than an industrial, alienating wasteland of our once-great country. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the U.S.. I still see that, as a citizen of the United States I have countless opportunities to see and explore the world in ways others may not, and I fully respect the great country I live in. But the danger is here nonetheless.

Just in the last month we have heard about how certain people should be banned (but not banned) from the country, we’ve heard that actually counting the heads of those present to get a number is clearly a dated practice that doesn’t mean anything, we’ve heard how large a threat grizzly bears pose to the public school system, and we’ve realized that some people think an industrial pipeline is more important than preserving the resting place of the dead. And that’s just the drop of the hat.

I have kept my over-sized nose out of the discussions of politics that are rampant on every form of news and social media available, but I do want to share my very real concern for how much worse things may realistically end up getting before they get better.

Just today I’ve been seeing the news of an overturned regulation that now allows coal mines in my region to once more dump their waste into streams. This particular practice has led to filthy, sulfurous, uninhabitable water for a good portion of my area. The repercussions of this practice have only recently started to see a reversal. I honestly fear what problems may start to arise from these things alone. I look to the future and, sometimes, I find myself unable to see little more than a ruined, smoking hole in the ground that is not unlike the disaster showed us at the climax of countless apocalyptic movies. But, (and on a much less serious note)it would appear Mother Nature has also picked up on the problem and is working to rectify the situation.

Thousands of people in my region have been hit by a severe strain of the flu this week, leading to around a dozen counties in my neck of the woods going so far as to cancel school for multiple days in an attempt to slow the spread of the illness. I hope I’m not the only one who sees the truth here. We are now entering the real-life culmination of the events in Stephen King’s “The Stand” – and our new president is Randall Flagg.

What other explanation is there? He walks out, looking somehow less than human, feeding off of human suffering and strife, turning as many people as possible against one another, while the rest of the people around him are fighting a severe version of the flu that medicine doesn’t seem to be able to help. Schools are closing, streets are filling with people shouting for change and help, hospitals are being overrun …. My only question now is; where is Mother Abigail when we need her? Who else is going to throw down the Walkin’ Dude and bring us back to a moderate form of social peace? Or, if that can’t happen, where is Roland, who will stop the fall of the tower and bring order back to the realms. Shout out to those of you get the interconnected references of a King fiend here.

In all seriousness, though. There are some administrative decisions being made by “those in charge” that are going to continue to cause problems for those of us who, like Atlas, are left holding up the rest of the world. Wow, that was pathetically conceited and hopelessly deep. I’m in a league of my own today, huh? Basically I just wanted to share that the world is slipping into rough shape, but that we can still survive and use humor to get through life. Most importantly, we can compare the real-life horror story that surrounds us to literature and find true peace to comfort us as the world burns!

I’ve shared my own ideas of the lack of existence of true democracy many times, so none of you really need to hear that again, I’m sure. So the question of the day must be; what book are you reading now? What fictional world are you pushing your consciousness into in order to escape the harsh mundane reality of everyday life? And, more importantly, what’s next?! I hope all is well for everyone here, and I hope I’ve at least brought a smile to a few faces. Keep reading, writing, watching movies and enjoying the world while we have the chance. My review of Thirteen Reasons Why will go up next week and then I’ll be ton the lookout for the next big review, so send me your ideas and let me know what we should read. Have a good February, a good weekend, and make sure to take advantage of any half-priced candy you see!

 

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