New Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you want?

Last night I was having a typical scroll through social media when I stumbled upon a question that got me thinking a lot about my work. It was a simple enough post from a publishing group I follow, but it held a weight that I hadn’t let myself feel in quite some time. It asked “what is the biggest goal you want to achieve as a writer?”

You know, typical question people often ask writers, especially ones who are just jumping into the game. Most of the time we have a typical answer to go with it. I want to get my book published. I want to break through writers block. I want to write a bestseller. And, of course, those answers came to me, too. But my brain refused to stop there. As you all know, I love literature. I read almost constantly and have been having a very sordid affair with the greater world catalogue for my entire life. To say the written word is my passion would be a hopeless understatement. It is part of the very fabric of my being, as God meant it to be, and I love every minute of it. So could I really be satisfied with such generic answers to such a pregnant question? Of course not.

The ideas ran faster than ever as I sat down and really thought about it. What do I want out of my writing? What is my biggest and most hopeful goal? Sure, I want that bestseller. I want to have my book sold in local bookstores. I want people I know to see my book and be able to buy my work with memories of me in mind. I want to have unique and interesting books. But it goes so much deeper. After I thought about it the answer flowed easily. I want to be great.

I want people to feel my work. I want it to stand the test of time and change the world. I want to build on the face of literature like the greats of past generations and tear asunder the ideas of stagnance and convenience. I want, in essence, to be truly great. After all, if we cant be great, what’s the point?

This realization, although admittedly daunting, is also immensely liberating. I have, once again, come to terms with my purpose, my desire, the very reason I wake up in the morning. I will stop at nothing to achieve my goals and realize my dreams. They wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t make it happen, right? Right.

So the journey goes on. I’ve entered what I hope to be the final content edit for Maverip before I hit agents with my queries, and I’ve found my second wind. I will make it happen, and I’ll take you all along for the ride.

But now I want to know what you guys think. What does this question mean to you? Let’s not even just limit it to writing. I know some of you are painters, musicians, and artists of various caliber and medium, so apply it to yourself. What is the biggest thing you want from your craft? Is is an idea of greatness? Is it just to overcome that next big project? What are your goals? But more importantly, what are your dreams? Never limit yourself. Let yourself dream. But, I could speak on that for hours. In the meantime, let me know what you think, what you dream. Leave me comments or shoot me messages. And, no matter what comes up, never let your dreams die. Fight for them tooth and nail. I know I am.

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!

Stay True

As promised, guys, I’m still here talking about being and staying true to ourselves. It’s very important that we all make the effort to do this, but there are a lot of things in the world that can hinder us. It could be someone telling us that what we want is not important enough, or someone putting their own opinions on us, or worse. When it comes down to it, there is always going to be something in front of you that is going to try and keep you from being you. I could make incredible lists and comments on this, but the one thing I really want to talk about here is other people’s opinions.

The basis for this today comes from a lot of those “inspirational” photos and memes out there that have some sort of famous celebrity making either a scolding or sensual face with overlaid words that say “You should be *insert action here*” Of course the ones I typically see repeatedly tell me I should be writing. Why? Of course, naturally an artist can’t get anywhere without producing. That’s what we’re here for. But why should someone else be able to push us to adhere to their schedule. Sure, most people share these things in a light-hearted gesture intended to give the rest of us that little push that we may sometimes need, but in the long run they are part of a human habit that can be very harmful.

As an artist one of the most important things we can do is set a schedule for ourselves, push ourselves to produce. But an artist who is already struggling with the day-to-day who finds themselves pressured to follow someone else’s schedule may very well find themselves losing any and all inspiration they’ve gained. Honestly, that’s how a lot of budding authors and artists end up losing their confidence in their work. It’s just terrible. That’s not to say these memes aren’t interesting and amusing, and it’s not to say that talking with others about their schedules and the necessity for artists to produce is not sometimes helpful and important. But when it comes down to chastising someone for living their lives in a way that pleases them because they don’t follow your idea of what they should be doing and when, it turns into a problem.

I’ve been writing seriously for more than a decade. I’ve scheduled and rescheduled. I’ve broken schedules and I’ve revived them. I’ve decided to leave the idea of schedules behind and I’ve picked them back up, and through it all I’ve seen these kinds of images and I’ve been subjected to the commentary of others about how I should be doing anything but what I’m doing at the time. WHY?

Why should my choices not be good enough? Why aren’t yours? Why is it that anyone else on this planet should have a say in what we do and when? I know, like I said before, these interjections aren’t intended to be harmful. They’re supposed to be helpful and inspirational. But the thing is, they’re usually not. I’ve spoken to others who feel the same way. As a free-thinking human being who knows what is best and when, who has looked their life over and decided when, where and how their lives best work, having someone else say that we ‘should be’ doing anything other than what is currently making us happy is not OK.

It comes right back down to being true to yourself. There are more than 8 billion people on this planet. Each and every one of us have our own lives, our own personalities, our own desires and our own plans. We all know what is making us happy. Is that not what is the most important? Don’t get me wrong. I understand sometimes in this age of abrasive technology and hypnotic television, sometimes we may need a little reminder of what else is out there, but there is a limit. Our lives are ours to live in our best way, not for someone else to judge what we do and when.

My point here is that we all have to look at ourselves and our lives in the most serious way. We have to examine what we want, when we want it and how we want it. As I said in my last post, we have a very limited time on this rock and none of us want to realize that we wasted that time living our lives for someone else. You have to do what makes you happy when it makes you happy. Don’t let anyone discourage you from your life and your plan. Don’t ever fall into the rut of following what others want from you without giving yourself what you want as well. That’s something that everyone, artist or not, has to wrap their head around. Your life is yours. You have to live it your way. As long as you’re not hurting anyone else, impeding someone else’s happiness, you have the right and the freedom to be yourself. You have to be yourself. No matter what is going on around you, never forget to make your life your own. Do what makes you happy. Live your life to the fullest, and don’t be discouraged when others try to press their own opinions on you. Just let it roll off your back and keep being you. Stay true to yourself. Nothing is more important.

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.

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.

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 married my college sweetheart, and we are fast approaching our own two-year anniversary (of marriage that is. She’s been putting up with me for closer to five years, God bless her). 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!

Don’t waste it

I’m the kind of person who looks at the world and wants to find the next great adventure. The entire world is out there for us to enjoy. That’s why it’s here. We have been given this incredible gift – really countless gifts if you look at it the right way – and more often than not we end up wasting it.

One thing that I’ve always wanted to do with my life is travel. I absolutely love getting out in the world and seeing things that I don’t normally see. Recently my wife and I decided we were going to get up and take a trip to Atlanta, Georgia. For some people that might not seem like much, but for us it was a very different world. Neither of us had ever been to Georgia, so it was just like opening up a brand new experience overall.

For us the trip was about five and a half hours each way, and it was an opportunity to see some very interesting things. Leaving from Virginia early in the morning, we unfortunately ran into fog, but that didn’t hinder our experiences at all. Even though we only did two things in Atlanta it was a wonderfully eye-opening time. I couldn’t help but feel an old spark rising back inside of myself, and it excites me beyond all reason.

When I was younger I had plans to travel the whole world. I planned to leave for California with one of my friends and just drive (or walk; we also discussed hiking) until we reached the other coast. I still remember the things we discussed, and I honestly still plan to do most of the things I always wanted to. The experience of traveling to a new place is incredibly invigorating to me. The sense of walking in a new place, looking at new sights, breathing new air… it’s all just awesome. The experience of going to a place you’ve never gone before is worth so much more than just sitting at home.

That brings me to the point of this blog. How many of you are drawn to travel the way I am? We can all say that we love to travel, but how much do we actually embrace it? How often do we make an effort to break our routine and try something new? Almost never. Humans are so much more content not getting into the world and wasting their time with electronics and other such things. Granted, as a product of my generation I have to admit that I love those things, too, but we have become way too reliant on them. We waste so much of our lives not seeing the world at all.

Life is hard, I get that. I think we all do once we reach adulthood. We get up and go to work through the week and by the time our weekend rolls around we are so tired and ready for a break that we tend to just sit around the house telling ourselves that we are resting and relaxing. But at what cost? Is it really worth it to just spend our down time not experiencing new things? Life should NOT consist of living to work and working to live. If we don’t get to actually enjoy our lives, what’s the point?

All of us are only given a certain amount of time in life. We have both the advantage and disadvantage of not knowing how long our time is. We could live for decades more, or we might not make it to next week. The question you really have to ask yourself is whether or not you want to waste it. Is it worth spending your life doing nothing but working and holding down your couch? Do you want to be on your death bed looking back at things and regretting the chances you didn’t take, the adventures you didn’t go  on, the life you didn’t live?

No. None of us want that. As a matter of fact, that is one thing that I truly fear. I don’t want to know that I cost myself  a good day, a new experience, a new country, or making a new friend. In my early adult life I have found myself occasionally falling into the routine of taking my weekends to rest and missing out on going to new places – or even just enjoying the place I live in. I mean, I live in the Appalachian Mountains. How hard is it to find something to enjoy? But things are changing. I have made the decision to make sure that I enjoy my life as much as possible, even if that just means taking more time to read and write and go sit on the porch at night rather than watch TV or play a video game.

Now I understand that some people have anxiety or other issues that keep them from being able to enjoy some of the things I’m talking about here. I also understand that some people’s idea of new things rests in watching new shows and movies, playing new games, etc.. One of my favorite ways to enjoy life is by reading, so believe me, I know what it’s like. Everyone definitely deserves to choose what makes them happy and then pursue it. That’s part of what I’m saying. If your idea of happiness is just relaxing in your home rather than going to new places, then by all means – take the initiative and enjoy it!

This world has more things to offer than we can ever hope to achieve. The real question you have to ask yourself is; how much do I want to do? What is one thing you’ve always wanted to do, one place you’ve always wanted to go, one experience you’ve always wanted to have? Well what’s stopping you?! YOU ARE! Make an effort to get out there and try something new.

So, as you go out (or stay in) and turn over this new leaf, make sure you share what you did (or plan to do) and how it goes! Tell me in the comments below or send me a message elsewhere I really want to know what changes you guys make and how it changes your life!

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

This book is simply a classic. Of all of the stories in literary history, this is one that almost everyone knows about in some fashion. Even people who have never read it may have watched one of the dozens of movie adaptations that have been made over the years. Dickens, while not necessarily intending to, created one of the most called upon and cherished Christmas tales in the history of the holiday. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge finding his humanity and embracing the true meaning and love of Christmas is a tale that has never died and has only grown in popularity. Let’s jump right in!

First of all, this book is obviously written in that impeccably detailed and British style that Dickens is known for. The picture of a dreary, foggy, yet remarkably beautiful London  Christmas brings us right into the picture. When reading this book I feel myself walking around in this world, being a third (fourth??) party observer that even Ebenezer and his spirit guides don’t sense, much like the visages of Scrooge’s life don’t sense him watching them. Doesn’t that kind of set the stage for an unending spiral of who’s watching whom? But that’s a different story.

Dickens describes Scrooge as a miserly old man, coining a description that has since become synonymous with anyone unwilling to look  on favor at his fellow man. Scrooge is only happy sitting in his frigid counting house keeping count of his money, only happy as he gains more and more to add to his purse. Never one to spend money, Scrooge is described as being so cold that “no warmth could warm or wintry weather chill him.” I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like a man I would never want to meet. Scrooge’s reaction to being told Merry Christmas is one of the most familiar phrases coined in classic literature. Bah Humbug. The harsh nature of Scrooge’s character runs so deep when we first meet him, that he refuses to believe in Marley’s ghost as it stands right in front of him.

Watching Scrooge’s transformation in this short novel may one of the most rewarding parts of the piece. We see his heart soften as he experiences the truth of his life, the truth of Christmas. He is immersed in the true spirit of Christmas from his past and gets to see the happiness of those people he thinks have nothing to celebrate before being bombarded by the possibility of what awaits him should he not change his ways. The truth of the story is almost biblical in nature in that it gives Scrooge a look at the damnation that awaits if he does allow peace, love and compassion into his heart.

The lesson that money is evil is one of the largest messages Dickens put forth here in an attempt to show people that material desires can not bring you happiness. Scrooge must come to terms with that fact in the book, and he does in a great way. He overcomes everything that he has built, everything he has destroyed and he is well on his way on Christmas Day.

The style of this book is one that stands out among a lot of other, for me. Dickens writes very candidly about the occurrences here and he takes the time to do it in an incredible way. Dickens does an awesome job of tackling this somewhat risky subject matter in a way that captures the minds and hearts of countless generations. One of the things that I’m most drawn to is the sheer conversational manner of the piece and the way that Dickens breaks the fourth wall. Granted, at this time I don’t even think there necessarily was such a thing as the fourth wall.

The linguistic stylings of the book, of course, are classic Dickens and follow closely to his other works. One thing that I really love to consider about the book is the idea that it can be classified as a gothic novel. Ooohhh… I just felt the chill of countless literary minds screaming at me in disagreement. But take a look at the material. Some of the things that makes a work a gothic novel are a haunted or ghost/monster visited house or castle, romance or love, madness, ghosts, and the classic one-dimensional character. For most of these I really don’t even have to give an explanation. Obviously there are ghosts. That’s one of the main points of the work. Scrooge’s very large mansion (in which he only occupies one part) is visited by four of these ghosts. Scrooge himself experiences a wide variety of love and madness throughout the novel. He goes from being an angry old man, to falling in love with life and Christmas, to being considered mad by it. This can also be attributed to The Sublime Sickness (which is a term I coined and an entirely different topic) but is the reason for the story. This change does kind of lead us away from considering Scrooge as one-dimensional and static, but we’ll put that aside for the rest of the qualifications.

Regardless of whether or not you think it is a gothic novel, what do you think of this book? Is it something that you read (or watch) every year? Or was this the first time you’d actually read the tale of Scrooge’s trial (yes, I just moderately compared this to a Herculean tale, and that can definitely spark something in the comments – hint hint). I look very forward to hearing what you all think about this book, and I would love to know if you plan on making it or keeping it a part of your Christmas celebrations!

Finally, I’m hoping to get a lot of suggestions for my January book, which will start a whole new year of writing efforts. Expect that post after the first, of course. Make your suggestions in the comments or shoot me a message on any form of social media or via email. I hope you all enjoyed this book the way I did, and I hope you all had a great Christmas (or any and every holiday you celebrate!) and Happy New Year! Here’s to a great 2017 and a great year of awesome books and book discussion. As always, share this with anyone who will appreciate it and read on!

Bridging the Gap

I don’t know why, but for some reason graduation is weighing on my mind this week. It could be because a couple of times this week I let Youtube play through a list of songs that, inevitably, led to some of the ones I associate with high school and graduation. I seriously can’t believe it has been seven years since I left Tazewell High School to never walk those hallowed halls as a student again. I can still remember a lot about high school, and honestly some days it feels impossible that I am actually in my 20’s and no longer a teenager.

A lot has happened in the years since high school, and life has put me through many twists and turns. No matter how much I hate to admit it, I’m not the exact same guy I was back then. I’m a little older, a lot (I think) wiser, and a lot more experienced and I have much bigger goals than just getting through the semester and into summer. Granted, some of my goals are the same; I still want to make a difference in the world, I still want that best-selling novel to help me take the world by storm, and I still want to see as much of the world as possible before my time is over. But most of all, I want to be accomplished. I want to know that, when I leave this world, people will know who I was. I want to write the words that will astound people for generations to come. I would like to be able to look down from Heaven and see, even decades after I’m gone, that there are scholars out there studying my work and teaching it to the masses.

I’ve talked about all of this before, and I know it’s something a lot of people want. Maybe it is largely just that human urge to never really die. According to James Dean; “If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.” I think I finally fully understand what that means, and I agree with it completely. If some part of us can truly exist after we are gone, and if someone somewhere continues to contemplate our life or our ideas, then maybe death itself isn’t quite so final. So ominous.

That’s always the fear, I think. We want to know that, even once we’re gone, we will never be forgotten. Honestly, I fully admit that’s something I want. If the world is still spinning after I’m gone I want there to be people out there who remember me and what I’ve done. The good thing about this is that it can be done in many ways. One of the best is by being a good, strong person and setting an example others can actually follow. Our children can be the legacy that makes the world remember who we are. The way our children see us can create an impact that will impact their lives forever, and in turn can impact the lives of countless others.  As I’m getting more and more used to post-college life and as my wife and I begin to consider our future, I’m realizing more and more that this sort of legacy is one that I am also looking very forward to and it is one that is very much multi-faceted. The impact we have on the world, quite often, starts with the impact we have at home. Some of us occasionally let that truth escape us, but fortunately it is something that I’ve caught onto.

I look back over my life and I find very little I would even consider changing. I might not be rich, and I might not be world famous – YET – but I have done some pretty awesome stuff, had some pretty awesome experiences and I have an amazing wife that I can’t wait to change the world with. My question for each of you now is this; if you had to be remembered for one thing in your life, just one thing, what would it be? And, if you’d like a bonus question; what have you done so far to make sure that happens.

Personally, I’d like the world to remember that I was someone who never let a challenge get me down and who always kept my eyes on God and the prize at hand while loving with my whole heart and helping others as often as possible. So far, I think I’ve done a pretty good job for the most part, but I can always step it up. Particularly in the whole confidence area, of course, since the main reason I haven’t sent a novel to a publishing house or agent is because I  feel unworthy, but that’s a different story altogether!  So how do you all plan to bridge the gap? What are you leaving behind when you go that could make you a household name?

I hope you all have an amazing weekend and enjoy what life gives you while making the most of everything. If you missed my last post, hop back and check it out and let me know if you’re interested in joining a book club! If there are any topics you’d like to discuss, feel free to drop me a message or leave a comment here. Have an awesome day!