To the Top of the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loss, Appreciation, and Thanks

Today’s post is one I have simultaneously contemplated and avoided for over a week. Often we take things in life for granted without even realizing we are doing so and, when faced with that realization, it can be a hard pill to swallow. Likewise, we may not always recognize just how much someone is in our corner, rooting for us and cheering us on. We might appreciate their friendship and support, but the real effort behind those actions may not always be clear. In short, we might not even realize just how much someone means to us until we don’t really have an opportunity to tell them.

Last Monday I got word that a dear friend and lifelong mentor of mine passed away. Jereial Fletcher, a professor at Southwest Virginia Community College, where I started my college career, passed suddenly after some health issues. Jereial was first my mother’s college professor in the early 90’s. I met him as a young kid and we became pretty fast friends even at that point. As I went into high school and began considering college and life after public education, he was more than willing to discuss options with me. Once I started at SWCC, Jereial was always there to help with any issues I had on campus and, often, opened his office just to have a chat if I wanted. He made sure I had every resource I could possibly need available to me, and often encouraged me to go above and beyond my own scope of ideas. I honestly can’t even remember who my actual college advisor was there, because I just went to Fletcher for everything I needed, every question I had.

My first short story publication, “The End,” was possible in large part because he encouraged me to submit my material to the college’s literary journal. I work-studied in the library and continued to write and do research into subjects that interested me because I had the undying support of my family, and my professor. This led to another friendship that I hold very dear to this day. My boss at the library, Teresa Yearout. Teresa and Jereial were very good friends and always remained in my corner, encouraging and supporting me more than I was even able to comprehend at the time.

Both of these amazing people were on the board in charge of setting up the Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium in the years it ran, and both encouraged me to attend for at least 2 years before I found the courage to do so. If you’ve been with me since the beginning, you’ll know the symposium itself it what inspired me to start blogging in the first place. I had never imagined building a platform I could share my thoughts with the world, much less ever attempted to write an idea that wasn’t fiction in the hopes someone would care to read it. Once I finally agreed to be part of the symposium, Fletcher took care of the tuition, and even went out of his way to offer to let me ride with him that first year. He knew I was a bit of a socially awkward person, often preferring to be more of a wallflower than a social butterfly (don’t worry, Fletcher, other than online that hasn’t changed much) so he made sure I was comfortable mixing and mingling with the other attendees of the symposium.

I was instantly out of my comfort zone, as a 19 year old with one publication under his belt, going to workshops with dozens of people varying in age from 30-70 many of whom had been writing and publishing for years. It was Fletcher who told people who I was, pointing out my publication and telling them how talented I was as an author and a scholar. Teresa did the same thing, both of them encouraging me to speak to those individuals they felt would offer the most assistance and ideas in my interest areas. The two day symposium opened me to a world I never truly imagined was out there; a group of authors who knew each other, workshopped with each other, shared ideas and experiences. A group that I am now a member of, thanks to Fletcher’s encouragement. A fact that, sadly, I was unable to even share with him before his passing.

I continued to write and pursue creative and educational publication thanks to the support, knowledge, and encouragement of Fletcher and Teresa. Jereial remained in consistent contact with me after I graduated SWCC (Summa Cum Laude, thanks to the support I received) and went on to UVa-Wise. I continued to attend the symposium for a few more years, even teaching a workshop there in its next to last year of existence. As I pushed forward in academia and creative writing Fletcher remained a close friend and I would often send him emails or make the hour long drive from Wise to SWCC to sit in his office and vent and catch up.

The support of my friends did not end with creative writing by any means, I found out when I had a paper on “The Great Gatsby” accepted into an undergraduate conference. Jereial and Teresa met and drove together from SWCC on a Saturday morning to attend the conference, held at UVa-Wise. They were both so visibly and vocally proud of my accomplishments and made me feel incredibly successful. It’s a feeling I definitely appreciated.

When I told Jereial I wanted to become a teacher after that, he became a resource of knowledge and support once again. He gave me tips and directions aplenty, never once making me feel like any goal I wanted to reach was unattainable. His friendship and mentorship meant more to me than I honestly knew. In January of this year I received my last communication from him. His message included the surprising information that he planned to retire this year. In my response I told him that I planned to come see him in his office before he said goodbye to the college. That’s a visit I will never get to have.

Thinking back on the influence he has had on my life, from encouraging me to pursue education and writing, to steering me away from things he felt would not have benefited me in the long run, I can not be thankful enough. If not for his encouragement, I don’t know that I would have ever gotten a work published. I certainly don’t think I would now be sitting on the print collection and novel that are in publication. I can pinpoint so many areas in my life where I know the support and encouragement of Jereial Fletcher helped make me the man I am today. What hurts, what made me hesitate to even put these thoughts out to the world, is that I don’t think I ever fully expressed to him how thankful I was for it all. I don’t know that I ever told him how much it meant to me to have him in my corner, going out of his way to make sure I could be a success. My wife told me she fully believes that he knows now just what he meant to me, even if he didn’t get told in so many words before he passed, and I believe that. I hope he knew then just how much I appreciated everything he did, but I am certain he now has that knowledge.

I hope that I can be even a fraction of the amazing, supportive, influential person that Jereial Fletcher was to me and thousands of other students over his four decades of teaching. I will strive to be that kind of teacher, writer, human, and friend throughout my life, and I hope I can do Fletcher’s memory justice. I would like to extend a heart felt thank you to Jereial Fletcher for everything he did for me, every ounce of support he gave, every encouraging word. I truly feel I owe him more than I even know. And to Teresa Yearout, Gillian Huang-Tiller, Larry Hypes, and every other professor and mentor who has invested their time and friendship into me and my future – thank you so much. If you have someone who has been this kind of influence, friend, and supporter in your life, don’t waste a moment of time. Make sure you thank them for what they have done, for all they mean to you. Furthermore, if you are in a position to be this kind of mentor and friend to another person, don’t hesitate. It isn’t about getting thanks, it’s about changing lives. Don’t be afraid to go out of your way to invest in someone you feel has a talent or ability. Don’t be afraid to provide a kind word of a bit of knowledge with someone who could benefit from what you have to say. We’re all in this together, and everyone deserves to have someone in their corner. Don’t be afraid to be that someone.

Rest in Peace, Jereial. I will miss you, my friend.

March Like a Lion

Happy March, everyone! I hope February ended on a positive note for everyone. The third month of the year, which we’ve always heard can either come in like a lamb and go out like a lion, or the opposite, is definitely starting on a rough note in my region. With hard rain, wind, and flooding, we’re definitely seeing some rough and tumble behavior on the forefront of this one. On the positive side, I heard the first of the Spring Peepers yesterday evening, and I have been able to start the month out on a good note with some great news.

I recently wrote a short story entitled “Mountain Service” for a local writing contest. I began pondering the characters and letting their story flow a few weeks ago, after hearing about the contest. The main requirements for the contest were to present a 500-1,000 word short story that involved Appalachian living. From my love of the region, to my recent foray into the incredible writing of Appalachian author David Joy, I have been wanting to dive into a similar story for some time. I used this opportunity to begin exploring the lives of the Gardner family who lives in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains and embodies my idea of what it means to be an Appalachian. I have so much of their lives flowing through my mind already and I can’t wait to write more about them.

I turned “Mountain Service” in for consideration a few days after it was finished – coming in at 999 words. While hopeful for positive news, I like to try to put those things out of mind once I turn them in, otherwise I’ll never be able to think of anything else. It came as quite a pleasant surprise yesterday when I got the news I had won the contest! My prize for winning is a one year membership to the Appalachian Authors Guild, with whom I have worked closely in the past (especially during the unfortunately short-lived Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium) and inclusion in this year’s Guild sponsored anthology. It is incredibly humbling and quite an honor to officially be a part of the Guild for the first time. I hope I will be able to do the organization justice.

I think it almost goes without saying that this particular win is one that automatically put me in a good mindset. It is very easy to get down on yourself, as a creative, between times of new creative success. Granted, finishing one novel earlier in the year, working on another, and finishing a short story also count as successes. It’s not always enough to grant a reprieve from the negative thoughts that follow an unfortunate rejection – of which I have received my fair share this year, but that should not be the case. I think too often creatives, myself absolutely included, put more emphasis on the public side of the creative process. It is too easy to look at how much we have accomplished through the lens of how much of it is in the public eye rather than just how much we have to personally be proud of.

I have spoken several times since the pandemic began about how hard it is to maintain any level of consistent creativity with the added strain and stress of the current state of things, and that hasn’t changed much. From the stress and worry this current world climate is causing, to the general exhaustion so many of us have been feeling, sometimes it is honestly near impossible to realistically create with any level of regularity. But so many of us keep trying. That is amazing. So many of us have pushed through the barrier of stress and strain to fight for our creative voice and maintain the habit of bringing our works into the world and, frankly, that deserves to be talked about. Heck, that deserves a reward in and of itself. I know as much as anyone else how difficult it can be to keep pushing ourselves to write and create when the world around us seems to be doing everything it can to keep us down.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, though, I have come to realize that times like this are when we need our creativity more than ever. It’s one thing to write or produce our art on a bright, sunshiny day when nothing seems to be going wrong and we’re getting deals and requests from all around. Of course our creative spirit can bask in the ease and happiness that comes with positivity and demand. But times like this, when uncertainty lurks around every corner and rain is falling in torrents (literally and figuratively) around us, within and without, the spirit of creativity needs to be pushed and cherished with a renewed vigor. It is times of great stress and pain when the greater part of humanity find themselves in need of such an artistic boost. How many of you have found solace in binge watching your favorite shows or movies in the last year, or have devoured countless new books, or listened to hours of your favorite kind of music, or enjoyed other forms of art? How many of you honestly feel your current sanity and coping skills can be largely attributed to the ability to turn to art during such a difficult time? That is only the start of it. The world needs art in times of hardship, and it is no different for creators.

If you’re like me, you found a lot of peace with your favorite forms of art since the world started changing, and I’ve got to tell you, it doesn’t look like that need is going anywhere anytime soon. But, have you noticed the same thing goes for creating? When you put yourself in the world of your own creation it provides you with almost the same sense of euphoric peace that enjoying someone else’s creation can bring. The main difference being it is sometimes harder to open those doors these days. I have found myself feeling all the much more creative when I push myself to break through the walls of writer’s block and stress the world (not without my contribution) has placed on me to begin my work. It is often hard, and even the most powerful of personal accomplishments may not always have the power to shatter whatever chains are holding me back, but I know how important it is.

My wife often reminds me whenever I mention feeling like I am unable to create at the level I’d prefer, or if I ever get down because I have gotten a rejection, that it should not be about how much I am creating, or what anyone else thinks about it. At the end of the day, I write because I feel it is what I was born to do. At heart, sure, I want the world to see and experience my creations. I want people to read and fall in love with the words I placed on paper the way I do. I want to be someone’s favorite author – preferably in my lifetime. But that those things are not guaranteed. Those things are not even what started my journey. I started writing because I heard the whisper of a story within myself. Because when my purpose was awakened within me, I needed it in a way I didn’t even fully understand. My passion for writing and for the written word as a whole come, not from a need for validation from others, but from a burning desire to bring these ideas that exist within myself out into the open. That should be the focus for all of us. We should not limit ourselves to creating just for others, or making art with the sole hope for making money. Sure, that can be a goal. I won’t pretend for a second I don’t (no so secretly) yearn for the day I can support mine and my wife’s lifestyle solely with the profit of my own creation. But that may not be in the cards.

That does not mean I should not create. Writing is a big part of who I am, just like your art is a part of who you are. The main reason we have for embracing our creative talent and passion are because these things make us happy. These things are a part of us, and in their own way they help make us complete when we embrace them. That is our purpose. That is our motivation. More than whether or not the world will see and enjoy these creations, more than whether pursuing those passions will one day pay our bills, more than whether anyone will ever know our name or consider themselves our fans is the fact that these talents and passions are within us because they are who we are. We need to openly embrace a culture of creating just for ourselves, for just enjoying our worlds and understanding they can be just as therapeutic for us as they can for anyone else. Emily Dickinson kept most of her work locked up, sharing only 10 of her nearly 1,800 poems and only one letter during her lifetime. It truly is not about whether anyone else ever reads or enjoys our work, it should be about us enjoying the creative process. We should have our worlds close to our hearts and minds, and use them to fully embrace who we are.

That’s the most important thing to take away from this message. Rather than pursuing your art like a lamb, giving small portions of your attention to your creative tendencies you should charge in like a lion. You are the king, queen, ultimate master of your creation. You were given your ideas, your creative spirit, your creative nature because only you can create the things you are meant to create. Only you can produce your creations the way you can, and no one else could ever do it the same way you can. If for no other reason than that, I urge each and every one of you to take charge. Grab that creative nature by the horns and make it your own. Don’t ever hesitate to produce and create. There are few things better for a creative than seeing your own world unfold before you, and few things worse than having your world stuck inside of you. Never betray yourself in such a way that you lock your world and your creation away from even your own enjoyment. Regardless of what negative things are going on in the world, we need to fully embrace our creative nature and push aside anything that holds us back from that. I say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, we all need to march forward like a lion. Only we can tackle our creations in the way we are meant to. So we owe it to ourselves to make it happen!

As always, I welcome your feedback and commentary. I love hearing from you guys and I look forward to seeing what you all have to say. Feel free to share this message with anyone who could use the boost, and be sure to jump over and check out my podcast The Modern Prometheus. Keep your eyes open for new posts, new episodes, and all the news I’ve got coming up. If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter, subscribe today to stay up to date! Most importantly, take the time to day and every day to accept yourself and create!

The Modern Prometheus – Relaunch!

Greetings everyone! I am super excited to announce the official relaunch of my podcast The Modern Prometheus! It has been a long time since I scrapped the idea, but I have brainstormed and decided I want to give it another run. This first episode is a bit of an introduction to the idea, and a way to announce the return of the program, so feel free to share, listen, and stay tuned for more!

Living, Creating, and Self-Investment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye 2020

Happy New Year, everyone! 2020 is coming to a close and, as the last 8 hours or so wind down, I just want to say that I have huge hopes for 2021. This year gave us all several challenges and honestly changed the face of every day life, possibly for good. From natural disasters, to celebrity deaths, to a global pandemic, none of us could have predicted the way things would look this time last year. I hope that each and every one of you have made efforts to remain safe and healthy through the year, and that you have plenty to be proud of coming out of it.

Personally, I can easily say, despite the hardships, this year has been one of the best of my entire life. In addition to surviving such trying times, I am glad to say I am coming out of this year as a high school english teacher, a dream I have chased for quite a while. In addition to this, I have recently published my first full novel, Moonlight, which is getting great response so far. If you are interested in purchasing, it is available internationally here, and for anyone with a U.S. address who would like to purchase directly from me, you can do so here.

Most importantly for me, this year has made me the happiest man alive because this is the year I was joined with the most amazing woman in the world. Early this year I was engaged to the love of my life, and we got married over summer. Being able to call this woman my wife is one of the most satisfying blessings I have ever received. I can not thank God enough for every happiness she has brought into my life and for how amazing this year has been with her. If not for the love and support we have been able to provide one another I have no idea how this year would have turned out for me.

As we burst into the new year with high hopes and higher expectations, I just want to take the time to wish you all a fantastic 365 days. I hope everything you could want for your lives comes true and I hope you don’t lose sight of the blessings and the important things you have each and every day. As 2021 blossoms with fantastic intentions, move ahead with gusto and intention. List your priorities and your goals and strive toward them. Keep them realistic, but make sure they matter to you. Not just to your parents or to your neighbor, your grocery store clerk or your mail carrier. Make sure they matter to you and they are something you will be proud of. Every small step is a step toward a completely happy you, so make it count, guys. As always, feel free to reach out to me and give me feedback or just say hello. We’re all in this together, so we should all be more than happy to keep each other going! Have a great end of the year and don’t let anything hold you back!

That Thankful Time of Year

Greetings and Happy Thanksgiving from the Appalachian Mountains, everyone! That time of year where we are encouraged to give thanks and be vocal about the things that matter to us is once again upon us. I am well aware, of course, that this year looks very different from what we are used to. In many places, a holiday that usually involves multiple generations of family and friends gathered together, is being limited to less than 10 people under one roof, some local law enforcement threatening the penalty of fines or worse. Fear of illness, hatred, political unrest, or general unhappiness are rampant in tons of us, but we are still hopeful. We are still dreaming. We are still pushing forward. And we are still thankful.

That, to me, is the important part, the part that honestly makes me see a glimmer of hope for the world as a whole. Despite the things making us unhappy or scared regarding the simplest tasks now, many people are standing tall and shouting their thanks for the things they have. What’s more, in my area especially, I have seen an incredible influx of people willing to give to others. The current state of the world has left a lot of people uprooted, unstable, unable to provide for their families in a consistent way. In response to that, there have been a number of food drives and donations made to families who could use the extra help. That is simply phenomenal. In a world where so many people seem to have lost the basic understanding of care and love for their fellow man, to see so many people leaping at the chance to help the less fortunate is something that we should all be thankful for.

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a tough year for many people, but we all have plenty to be thankful for. Personally, this year has been the absolute happiest of my life. I got engaged and married to the woman of my dreams and I get to wake up next to the love of my life every day, I finally have a teaching job (something I have worked toward for nearly as long as I have been writing), I have started countless new works, been to some new places, I have a new book coming out very soon so keep your eyes open for that, and there is also a brand new AC/DC album to rock out to. Needless to say, I have plenty to be happy about. Does that stop me from being a little down and depressed at times? It absolutely does not, but it means I have plenty to focus on to bring me back from the darkness.

In essence, that is the importance of days like today. Thanksgiving encourages people to reflect on their lives and look at the many gifts and blessings they have in everday life. We see pop culture references of the classic nuclear family, the group of friends, even the non-conformist family group all gathered around sharing at least one thing they are thankful for, and it is fantastic. The idea that we can gather with our loved ones and truly share one of our reasons for being thankful and happy is one that warms my heart, even if this year sees us doing that virtually. In solidarity, I offer one of my own happinesseses, which is the the undying love and support from my wife. Knowing she is on my side has helped me through so much, and gives me incredible happiness. What is something you all are thankful for? Feel free to add a comment or send me a message to share.

One problem I do have with the way people interpret Thanksgiving is the limitation of one day of thankfulness in an entire year. There are 365 days we can use to be thankful, but only one of those is set aside for thanks. That irks me. Several places have taken to calling November a month of thanks, but the idea of just having one day to be thankful is ridiculous. I say we should find at least one reason to be happy every day. So, there’s my little challenge for you all. Find at least one reason to be happy every single day for the next year and see how much of a difference it makes. Keep your heads up and the positivity flowing, everyone. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Schitt’s Creek and the Message to Change the World

Happy November everyone! The holidays have officially begun and I hope everyone’s Halloween was awesome. The end of 2020 is surging toward us full steam now, and we can only hope 2021 will bring us a much better world.

In our search for a good laugh and a fresh artistic experience, my wife and I recently binged the series “Schitt’s Creek” on Netflix, and it was absolutely everything we needed it to be. The show, a six-season story of a wealthy family who is forced to move to a small town and basically start over from scratch after losing their fortune, has pretty much everything you could ask for. Comedy, drama, love, anger, family, friends, motivation, and heartache all have their place in Schitt’s Creek. Created by Daniel Levy, his father Eugene, and his sister Sarah, the show follows the Rose family through their struggle to restart their lives and build themselves from the ground up. Amid metric tons of character growth, realization, and relationship building, we see the Roses coming to terms with who they are and just how different their lives must be from what they have grown used to.

One thing that never failed to amaze and impress us with the show is that, despite the small town atmosphere and the polar opposite social circles the characters all come from, there is never a question of their acceptance of one another. Acceptance is a perfect word to describe this show, honestly. There are no questions of racism, discrimination, sexism or any other form of making someone feel less than. It is perfect.

Dan Levy’s David Rose, a pansexual who “is into the wine, not the label,” falls in love with a local man and runs a general store with him. Their love is on display for three seasons and no one ever questions it. Not a single resident of the town has a problem with David and Patrick’s relationship, and the entire town supports their love from the minute it blooms until the very last episode of the show.

There are people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations through the town, even in positions of authority and there is never an issue. Schitt’s Creek is a town that is open and accepting of everyone, even the socially awkward and former upper class Rose family who may not always be understanding of how things work without a lot of money, but who always end up seeing the good in their situations and neighbors.

I think that acceptance is one of the most important messages the show has to impart on its audience. I continue to use the word acceptance because it has an entirely different meaning than tolerance. I find tolerance to be a disgusting word in regards to other people. It suggests that you look at those of other genders, identities, or preferences as somehow less than yourself and, rather than accept and attempt to understand them and their lives, you ‘tolerate’ them. I find it a terrible ideation and one that should be removed from all vocabulary. Other people are not here for you to ‘tolerate.’ No one should be expected to exist under the ideals of someone else.

One of the best things about Schitt’s Creek and its marketing and subsequent fanbase is the consistent freedom and lack of judgement amongst everyone in the show. Creators, actors, characters, and fans alike love each other and that love has spread farther than even Dan Levy and his father and sister thought it would when developing the show. Coming from a small town, where many people aren’t always open-minded and accepting, I feel an overwhelming love for this show and the message it sends to this world.

We are all equal on this planet, we all deserve the freedom to be who we are, love who we want to love, and live the way we want to live. As long as the thing that makes you happy is not harmful to someone else, you should be free to do it. I will always stand in support of that. In the state of the world today I think it is very important to have such a pop culture powerhouse standing up for acceptance and freedom. I truly think this show could be vital in helping create a world like Schitt’s Creek, where people don’t have to live in fear of judgement from their peers. It may seem like a dream, but it is one I very much hope comes true.

If you haven’t watched the show, by all means, jump into it and you’ll be hooked in the first ten minutes. It is a pretty great piece of history, and I am honestly ready to watch it again. I commend the Levys and every other cast and crew member who helped make the show and its message possible – and I admire them for the incredible way they have carried the message of love and acceptance across the world since the show’s premiere. Excellent job, Dan. Your idea has truly become the perfect reality.

What is Your Legacy?

Happy Spooky Season, everyone! I hope October has started strong for all of you. Personally, I have been working my days away as a teacher and enjoying feeling like I am finally on the career path I have been waiting for. I have been doing my best to enjoy Autumn’s welcomed arrival with some scary television and movies, as well as enjoying nature’s bountiful beauty as the leaves exhibit their brilliant hues, giving us one last show as their lives fade with the warm weather.

Unfortunately, not every loss is as beautiful and peaceful as leaves warming the mountains with their fiery colors. Yesterday the world lost one of the most talented and influential musicians of recent decades. Eddie Van Halen, guitar playing genius, icon of the 1980’s, generally amazing musician and human, lost his battle with throat cancer Tuesday morning. Eddie has been a staple of my own musical preference for most of my life, his wailing cords and mournful yet lively notes inspiring me to purchase my own guitar and begin playing more than a dozen years ago. Granted, as college and adult life brought changes and responsibility my way, my guitar playing took a back burner to writing (which is as it should be). Nonetheless, music is one of the key elements of my life to this day.

Hearing the news of Eddie’s passing hit me hard in a few of ways. For one, it was just another instance of the pain of loss and ridiculous theivery 2020 has been presenting us with. It really hurts to know there will never be another new lick played by Eddie Van Halen. His style and music have influenced me in countless ways, his dauntless energy and manic playing often leaving me speechless, even decades later. Most of all, however, it got me thinking about my influence and legacy. Eddie was the reason endless numbers of wanna-be musicians have picked up, and will pick up, guitars and begin to play. He has been a staple of innovation for his entire life, and his work can be heard in places some people don’t even realize.

Like Eddie’s music has inspired people, so can literature. A powerful quote, line, or work of art can influence, inspire, hurt, amaze, and realistically change lives. I have, of course, always been a reader. I have been built up, torn down, made happy, and been brought to tears by literature in the course of my life. One thing I have wanted since feeling the tug of writing within myself, the pull of the words writhing to escape my brain, has been to inspire those things in someone else. I want, above most anything else, to evoke that strong sense of emotion within an audience, to know I have brought them to a new way of thinking or made them feel a certain way with the words that came from my brain.

Feeling the loss of one of the biggest musical inspirations of the last 40+ years made me realize I have not been making that possible. I have allowed things to hinder me, slow me down in both production and marketing of my own work. I have recently been working more at the production side, but I still fall short on the marketing element. I have a hard time dedicating the time to explore and try new channels to get my work out there. Worse, even when I find those new avenues I tend to fall short of working them to their full potential. I think it would be fair to say I have a fear of failure, a lack of confidence that this route or that route may be best to get my work out there to readers the world over. No more. I can’t keep getting in my own way.

Yesterday the world lost one of the best guitar players to ever pick up the instrument, one of the most creative minds to ever write a note, or pluck a cord. In an instant the possibility of hearing new work played by those talented hands flew out the window. It got me thinking: how do I hold up? How will anyone out there be affected by my work if I never get it out there to them? How can I hope to touch the masses (or even one single person) with my creation if it lives forever on my computer or, God forbid, if half of it still lives in my head? That can’t be allowed to happen. I don’t know if I’ll be anywhere near as influential as Eddie, but I want to give my work a shot. I want to give me a shot.

That’s the real point of what I have to say with this post, I think. Giving ourselves a shot. Eddie Van Halen was just a kid from the Netherlands until he made a connection with music and developed his skill. He made a real effort and put himself out there for the world to judge and enjoy. Eddie broke countless rules with his work, and forged a path for an untold number of musicians and artists. That is the legacy he is leaving behind. Musicians and music lovers will know his work forever. He will go down in history like Mozart and Beethoven. So where will I be? If I don’t take chances and push myself to get my work out there, people can’t be moved by it. It could spend the rest of its days half-finished and unpublished. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. I have the ability, the courage, to carry it forward, to see it finished and released to the world. I can push myself to new limits, try new things. Bottom line is that I will, in no way, allow myself to fail. None of you should either. Failure is not an acceptable outcome.

Too often we suffer the inexplicable hindrance of bonds we place on ourselves. We are limited by the amount of faith and confidence we have in ourselves, and too often those limitations do not allow us to come anywhere close to the person we could be, the talent we could bring into the world. I’m going to do my best to shatter those bonds, and I suggest you all try to do that, too. You don’t want to find yourself looking back on your life and realizing you should have invested more into yourself. You don’t want to realize there could have been a very different outcome for your work, your talent, your passion. So I encourage everyone to challenge themselves. Give yourself a shot at greatness. Push yourself to reach new limits and be something you never knew you could be. You won’t regret it. Feel free to tell me something you plan on working toward changing. Give me details about how you plan on making the change. What challenges are you going to present yourself? What skill do you want to allow a chance to breathe? It’s not something you should hesitate on. Make a bet on yourself. Trust me, you’re worth it.

Summer in a New World

Hello there, everyone! I hope this fine August is treating you all well so far. The world definitely looks a lot different than it did this time last year, and for many that hasn’t been the kindest change. The virus that has plagued our planet for the last 10 or so months has certainly changed the way everyday life looks in ways we couldn’t even have predicted.

For me, since last I spoke with you all, I have lost one job due to circumstances we are all faced with, and gained another. In about a week I will be entering new territory that I’ve been preparing for my entire life. I have accepted a position as an English teacher in a neighboring county and I will be covering classes at all high school levels. This is a dream come true for me, and brings me a level of excitement I haven’t felt about my career choices in some time. The chance to impart knowledge and love of literature and the written word to future generations is something I have wanted for longer than I even remember. It’s one of the reasons I believe I was created to be a writer and the main reason I feel such a passion for the word itself. Now, that chance becomes a reality as I embark on one of the greatest work avenues I have ever had the chance to enjoy.

In addition to this, I finally have seen some breaks in the creative wall that has hindered my writing so much since we entered Plagueland 2020. I have begun work on a series of stories involving pirates, the supernatural, and world wide adventure the likes of which I’ve never encountered. I already have such a knowledge and a working love of these characters that I can’t wait to share them with you all. I have laid down a few thousand words of their tales so far, but that’s nowhere near the end. Although I have found several gaps in the writer’s block that has affected so many of us, it still hinders me often. I am working hard to shatter that wall and push forward with these works, as well as the release of my novel “Moonlight” in the very near future. I hope to have some big news on those things for you all soon!

Even more importantly, the month of July gave me the happiest day of my life when I got to marry my absolute best friend and soul mate, and the most beautiful woman in the world. After changing dates, venues, guest numbers and so much more, we finally were able to join in matrimony with a number of our closest friends and family. The ceremony was beautiful and our lives as husband and wife have been nothing short of great so far. I look very forward to a life filled with adventure and love with this incredible woman by my side.

One thing I have learned over the last handful of months is that we really should never give up. When faced with adversity we, as a species (and as creatives, who some would argue are their own separate species apart from the average Homo Sapien) must double down our effort and push forward. In many cases that is not the easiest thing to do, as we all know, but the results can often lead us to greater happiness than we even anticipated. I know many of us have felt the urge to give up as life seems to crash down around us during this pandemic, but I am here to encourage each and every one of you to carry on a little further. Keep your head up just a little longer. The hard times are not here to break us down, but to give us come calluses and show us more about how strong we are.

In light of the absolute destructive nature of this pandemic on everything we know to be “normal” I am reminded of the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which is the technique of piecing together shattered pottery pieces with lacquer infused with silver or gold. Rather than hide the cracks and imperfections in the final product, Kintsugi emphasizes them, strenghtening the bond of the broken pieces with the beautiful gold and showing that adversity did not end that work of art. We will all be faced with hard times in life, but at the end of the day what really shows who we are is how we react to these challenges. Will we lay down and give up, or stand up taller and stronger with our golden calluses shining in the sun and push forward until we meet our goals?

I think I know the path many of you will choose. Creative souls, generous souls, helpful souls do not just lay down and quit. We don’t take no for an answer. “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams,” as the fantastic poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy said. Those who are placed here to make life better for others, whether you be artists, writers, musicians, pastors, therapists, educators, parents, or someone else who has a chance to encourage and inspire, know that challenges are things to overcome, not gates to bar you off from your path. As we approach another month of a very different world, remember that. If you’ve been knocked down by all the mess the world is in, stand up and force your way back onto your path. This isn’t the end. This is just another bend in the road.

I plan to keep writing, keep publishing, keep teaching, keep traveling, keep blogging, keep living my incredible life with my wife, and I look forward to sharing more of all this with you all. What challenges have you overcome in the midst of this different and unexpected summer? More importantly, what are you going to do to overcome those challenges? Comment away and, as always, feel free to share far and wide with anyone who may need a little boost!