Checking In

Hey there, friends and fans! The world certainly looks a bit different from last time I reached out to say hello. I hope each and every one of you are safe and secure from the global illness we are experiencing, and all the challenges we are faced with in its wake. I understand many parts of the world are, for better or worse, locked down. The states are facing their own similar situation, with each state and local government making decisions for its citizens.

In my situation, living very near the border of several populous south-eastern states, we are seeing a varying degree of changes to everyday life. Everything that we never really thought about, never really considered a privilege, has been altered. Grocery stores are now limiting the amount of customers that can enter the facility at one time (the general rule for one large chain being no more than 5 people per 1,000 square feet of building space). Restaurants are now only allowing drive-thru, delivery, or curbside service. Many non-essential businesses have been forced to close their doors, although provisions in my state allow them to remain open as long as there are only 10 non-employees in the store at one time. Even outdoor social gatherings have been restricted, with new orders in place that prevent groups of more than 10 individuals meeting at once.

Fortunately, as a bit of a recluse and private-loving person (I know, a blogger being private, how is that possible?) that last regulation doesn’t hit all that hard for me. I think I’ve only been in a group of ten or more people two or three times in the last couple years. But, for some, it’s life-changing. Certainly everything else is. My fiancee and I have resorted to ordering groceries online and doing a contact-free grocery pickup. Many retail establishments in my area have offered this service for a while, and it’s great for people with busy lives and a lack of desire to deal with big crowds on an average basis. Typically you go online and schedule your order and you can have it ready for pick-up in a matter of hours, almost always on the same day, but now the service is so bogged down some stores have no time slots for days. Literally for days. One large retailer is drowning in orders to the point their service just allows you to fill a cart and asks you to check back daily for an opening.

Schools are another hard hit area of life, especially in my state. Our governor made the decision weeks ago to close schools for the remainder of the school year, affecting a lot of people’s lives and abilities. Entertainment and educational facilities went along with that. In other words, libraries, although not called out by name, were guided into closure. My own library has been closed to the public since March 17th or so. That’s nearly a month without patrons. Of course, the initial excitement of being in a building so filled with mental weapons (looking at you David Tennant) was hard to ignore. Walking in this massive building with its (at last estimate) more than 5 million titles was nothing short of exhilarating. Employees have been kept on for cleaning and digital services, all given the option to take their annual leave hours if anyone felt unsafe. At first no one did that. We all came in and it was business as usual – almost.

As the days drug on, COVID-19 grew more threatening, its tendrils slowly creeping even into our rural mountains, the feeling changed. A staff of around 30 people started to dwindle. Some are over the age of 65 and felt it was much safer to follow CDC guidelines, which state people over that threshold stay at home at all costs. Some are immunocompromised and felt it was better to be safe than sorry. As of this writing our maximum in-building staff is around 18 or so. Granted, not everyone is in the building at the exact same time, and there is usually enough space for moderate social distancing, but still that figure is pretty telling.

And the feeling in the building has definitely changed. I have always been a huge lover of libraries and all things literary. One of the first things I do when I move to a new town or city is go get a library card. I’ve always loved the atmosphere of a library and have worked in a few during my career, with each one having its own special qualities. But there is definitely something unsettling about a huge library completely devoid of patrons. No books being checked out (at least not by the public. That hasn’t stopped me from grabbing a couple or few dozen for our use in the Mathews household), no programs to tell people about, no public computers being used, no one asking reference questions, or any of the other things that make a librarian’s job important. Libraries are always quiet, even to the point of satire, but there is something eerie about literally being able to hear a pin drop in such a building. Especially on another floor.

With all of the other changes happening daily, it’s no surprise that creative motivation has also taken quite a hit. Shortly after the infection reached a notable level in the states I received my second or third rejection of 2020 and had a change in my job expectations and schedule. These things alone sent me off the creative rails for a little bit, but with the world undergoing such unprecedented experiences, I’ve found it harder than ever to focus on creating fictional material, or even writing blogs on a regular basis. I have been journaling almost daily and reading more than  I had been before the plague hit, but it hasn’t done a lot to lift that creative veil I’ve found sliding over my writing. I’ve completed a couple of short stories so far this year, and Maverip is currently being examined by another great beta reader. My book sales have been fluctuating, however I did discover that someone checked my short story collection out of the library alongside Slyvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which was nothing short of flattering. But none of it has done anything to open the floodgates and allow me to really kick out the pages on any new material, unfortunately.

I’ve seen a lot of my creative friends posting on social media (our only means of public communication these days) about their own lack of creative motivation, and I definitely feel that burden. I hope none of you all have been hit by this block, but if so, I believe there has to be a way out. This creative constipation can’t last forever, especially in a time when the world needs creatives and escapes more than ever. I plan to keep pushing through until I find what works to collapse the wall being built between mind and hands and allow my words to flow. In the meantime, have any of you faced a similar challenge? Have any of you found yourselves unable to create, unable to escape from the real world into that of your own creation?

What challenges are you facing in your day-to-day lives? Have you seen similar quarantine efforts in your location? Feel free to reach out and share your experiences in this strange situation. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that it’s not just in your hometown. We’re all facing it. But we will make it through.

 

Lord of the Mountain

Hey there, friends and fans! We’re almost through the second month of 2020 and life goes on. As always, I’m devouring new literary material as much as possible, and I recently got to read a book that is incredible to me for a few reasons.
The book in question, Lord of the Mountain, by Ronald Kidd, is a tale that takes place during and after the famous Bristol Sessions. The Bristol Sessions is the two-week recording event that took place on State Street in Bristol, Tennessee that launched country music to the nation. Ralph Peer came to the Twin Cities with the dream of finding the music that had long been passed down among mountain families – and what he found changed the face of recorded music. 

Kidd’s book deals with a young boy who lives on the outskirts of Bristol, a city divided right down the middle by the Tennessee/Virginia state line, and his fascination with science and music, despite his father’s preaching, which includes a violent opposition to music. Nate, the narrator of our tale, finds himself in the middle of inner turmoil as he struggles to find his place in the world. He is facing either a life in his father’s world, where music is the devil and the voice of God can be heard in every whisper, or a world where he is free to pursue music and science and live in whatever way he pleases. Nate finds himself attending the Bristol Sessions, and helping the world famous Carter Family as they sing the songs of the mountains for Ralph Peer’s recording machines. He later even finds himself traveling with A.P. Carter and gathering songs from other mountain folks for a time. 

I found this book to be absolutely enthralling, from the very first line, to the very last period. I yearned to learn more about Nate and his struggle. Kidd is able to capture the feel of Appalachia in a way that some authors I’ve read have not. Living less than 20 miles from the place all this happened, I loved his use of local landmarks (and it didn’t hurt that he used Bristol Public Library, my place of work, as a hub for some of his research) to help tell his story. 

Nate’s struggle and internal displacement run rampant throughout this book, leading him to often compare himself to State Street, “torn right down the middle.” Nate, a 13 year-old living in a time when the world was a very different place, often broke my heart with these statements. Kidd gave Nate a huge heart, and a huge interest in what basically put this area on the map, and I loved every word. I’ve long been interested in the history of the region and its culture, although I admittedly have a love/hate relationship with country music. Appalachian life is a fascination and a lifestyle that I am very proud to uphold, and this book does a fantastic job of celebrating that. 

I found myself write down pages and pages of quotes from the book, as I do, and I think Kidd’s writing style is amazing as well. As he travels farther away from the tent his father preaches in and deeper into the mountain songs that call to him, Nate finally sees clearly what he wants. This quote, to me, speaks volumes of his struggle and his purpose. 

“I had a new life now, or a glimpse of one. It sparkled in the distance, like the silver microphone.”

The microphone Nate speaks of here is Peer’s microphone, where so many mountain songs were sung, recording the history and soul of the region in a way that never before had been done. 

Kidd, a resident of Nashville, Tn., brought forth a tale of  heartache, soul-searching, heritage, and culture that I think anyone with a familiarity with the Bristol region will love, and anyone who isn’t familiar with the area can still definitely enjoy. Nate’s story is one that we can all relate to, having sought our own place in the world both in relation to and away from our families and those things familiar to us. I highly recommend this book and plan to read it again and again. It’s really that good. 

*Featured image: front cover of the book, Lord of the Mountain, By Ronald Kidd. I own no rights to this image.

Rejection, Revisited

Hey there, friends and fans. The first month of 2020 was a doozy, and February promises to hold a lot of changes. I plan on discussing some very interesting topics in the months to come, so keep your eyes and ears open for that.

Recently I’ve found it a little difficult to steadily produce new creative work, often having an idea and starting or plotting it and just falling off the trail again. Or worse, falling back into the trope of over-editing, which I mentioned in a previous post. Through the month of January I began querying for two of my completed novels, as well as sending new pieces to various magazines and contests, trying to revamp my writing efforts and reawaken my own self-esteem and passion for my writing.

As many of you know, that game is a hard one to play, as once you submit your query it’s the longest waiting game known to man while you hope the agents in question like your work enough to ask for more. After what seemed like an eternity waiting on some sort of response, I finally received my first one yesterday. A rejection. Not only a standard rejection, but one from the agent I felt most excited about reaching out to, given their publishing history and interests.

It goes without saying that it was a tough blow to an already damaged and strained confidence. I allowed myself to immediately fall into a minor depression, telling myself that it was obvious I should just give up and not worry about writing anymore, because it obviously just didn’t seem to be panning out.

But I took a step back. I got words of encouragement I needed from someone very important to me, and I re-read the rejection. It wasn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill rejection. The agent took the time to address my work personally, address my query even. The rejection notice told me that the work was in the agent’s genre, but it just wasn’t an exact fit. Rather than being a simple “not at this time” or “no thanks” this agent took the time to address my work and my effort with some personalization, which did help soften the blow.

The irony of the whole situation is, upon looking back in my writing and blogging history, I realized that on this exact day four years ago I received the first rejection of that year. It was a very similar situation. I had submitted a short piece to a journal that I felt particularly interested in and excited for, only to be told that the piece didn’t fit what was needed for that issue.

It brought me back to this blog post, and I have to say, it reminded me that this rejection of my novel is not the end of the world. It is not the end of my career as a writer. It is not even the only query currently awaiting response. My writing is still very important to me, and while I may not currently have the muse by in my control, the work I have already produced is something i am very proud of. So I will continue to push forward, attempting to write more, and seeking publication in as many places I can. In the meantime I encourage each and every one of you to take a look at whatever it is you’re passionate about, revisit just why it is that this thing (or these things) matter so much to you, and rekindle that flame. Refresh that connection. Strengthen the bond holding you to whatever future you are trying to create. As long as you remain true to your dreams, they can’t possibly die.

Einstein once said “you never fail until you stop trying.” That’s something I fully believe. If you don’t give up on yourself, there’s a good chance the rest of the world won’t either. So stand up and take a piece of the world, get the lead out, and make a change. It might not seem like it now, but one day this is all going to be a distant memory of your journey to absolute success

 

via Rejection

The Difference a Year Makes

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope the first week or so of 2020 has been productive and enjoyable. I have found January to be quite a good start to the new decade. Life, love, and laughter abound every day, and I have never been happier.

Today, while running an errand, I went to a local museum the offers a beautiful view of the downtown area of my town to enjoy the view and snap a photo. While beautiful, the day was cloudy and dark. Rain and fog crowned the distant mountains and the town was almost completely still, those people with the opportunity to do so having stayed home to avoid the gloom. I couldn’t help but find the image beautiful as I realized how little the scene reflected my own inner thoughts. It didn’t dawn on me when I went on that adventure that exactly 365 days ago I had done the exact same thing under a very different set of circumstances. Today, I was able to relect on the amazing way my life has been going, but I will be the first to admit recent years haven’t started on nearly such high notes.

One year ago today I found myself in the midst of one of the lowest points of my life. I was depressed, angry, and unhappy. My mother was in a physical rehab facility healing from some serious illnesses and I was still reeling from the loss of my grandmother. I was not happy in my employment or, honestly, most other aspects of my life. On the morning of January 10th, 2019, I left the rehab facility after visiting with my mother and stopped at the same museum I went to today. I snapped a photo of the lovely view there, trying to relish in the small amount of comfort the beauty provided me. Beyond a shadow of a doubt the sun shining through the clouds and illuminating the beautiful mountain scenery was an exact contrast to what was going on inside of me. I remember the feeling of utter helplessness that ran rampant in my mind that day, but the image God presented me gave me a glimmer of hope.

I didn’t remember the event that took place exactly a year ago until I saw a memory on social media. In the post I made on that day, I didn’t mention any of the hard times life was presenting me with, but I ended my post by saying “one step closer.” I didn’t know then the changes 2019 would present me with, but I knew God had a plan for me. In the last year my mother was released from the rehab facility, I’ve self-published a short story collection, I got a new and amazing job, and I’ve reconnected with the love of my life. I’ve seen more happiness in the last few months than I thought could be possible on that January day in 2019.

It got me thinking of the unpredictability each and every day offers us. From the moment we wake up each morning, we have no idea what is going to happen. Some days are simple, others are complicated. Regardless of what happens during the day, what reallty matters is how we react to it. If we lay down and let life run us over, every moment will be harder than the last. The hard times are infinitely harder if we do not have the hope and peace of better times to look forward to. During those hard times in my life I kept myself going – frankly, kept myself alive – by not accepting defeat. I pushed myself as hard as I could and, although it was by no means an instant turnover, life has turned around a lot. So many of the things were causing me pain and stress this time last year have disappeared.

If life is presenting you with hard times right now, I encourage you to find a ray of light, a glimmer of hope. Look to the future and don’t give up even for a second. Things may be looking down right now, but there is always a higher place to go. From my employment, to family health, to my inner struggle to accept and enjoy the life I have, I’ve seen a complete change in nearly every aspect of my life in the last year. It does happen. Things may get a little worse before they get better, but you have to remember that a caterpillar literally has to tear its entire body apart in order to emerge from its coccoon a beautiful butterfly. Most things worth having in this world aren’t easy to come by, but everything can be achieved by hard work and faith. Don’t give up. Who knows, this time next year you might be looking back with a completely different outlook on life.

At Year’s End

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope the holiday season has treated everyone wonderfully. It has definitely been a wild ride for my family and I. From sharing first holidays with someone very special, to losing a loved one the day after Christmas, the season has not been without it’s rough moments. I wake up every day thankful for the wonderful blessings I have, and I hope each and every one of you take the time to do the same. As we wrap up December and say goodbye to 2019 (may it rest in peace), I look ahead toward the new year with bright and hopeful eyes. I have high hopes for great changes in the new year, and I feel very confident great things are waiting just around the corner.

I have written often over the last few years about the need for inspiration, presence, and peace within life, art, and creativity, but I’m the first to admit that I have really failed this year when it comes to producing new works. I have, unfortunately, fallen into the most dangerous trap of all for a writer who is nervous about a new piece of work: over-editing. As I type this post I am currently a short way into what may be my 6th or 7th edit of my long-completed novel, Maverip. I finished the more than 140,000 word monster on Thanksgiving morning in 2017 after a marathon writing session that left me mind-numbed and half-comatose in the wee hours of the pre-dawn holiday. From there I let the piece rest for a couple months while I recovered before diving in on the first of many alterations.

The book has been through two rounds of beta readers – none of whom have given me cause for concern I want to point out – and has seen more edits than any work I’ve published to date. I’ve queried it to a handful of agents with little to no response (to be expected in the market currently) and have considered self-publishing the piece as it stands. No matter what avenue I consider, though, I’m having trouble actually giving it my final approval and letting it prove itself. That conundrum, along with a plethora of other changes I’m planning to make in 2020, helped inspire this post.

As the month winds down, so does the  year and the decade. As we entered the 2010’s I was in my first year of college, writing the book I’ve just discussed (along with a handful of others. That other project count is now over 50), and had yet to publish a single work. Now, I’ve had more than a dozen titles published in several regional journals, and earlier this year I self-published my short story and poetry collection. Typing those things out makes me really step back and ask myself why I’m letting this novel get the better of me. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly as long, and I’ve had people the world over read the words that spill from my own twisted mind. So why is this piece giving me such pause?

The simple answer is because it’s my longest completed piece to date. It took ten years to complete it. It is the culmination of a lifetime of research, interest, and determination, and its success (in my head at least) is tied to my own prowess as a writer. Simply speaking: I’ve nearly convinced myself that if this book doesn’t do well, I’m doomed to fail entirely.

But that attitude is not carrying forward. In three days time we will be living in a new year, decade, time period, season. I will be that much closer to 30 years old, and if that’s not cause for getting a little wiser, I don’t know what is. In two days’ time we’ll be preparing to say goodbye to the teens and re-embrace the 20’s (and if that doesn’t thrill me to the core, I don’t know what ever could). So what better time than to leave behind the childish notion that all future success is based on whether this book – this one book out of the literally dozens of ideas I have – gets me a fast spot on the New York Times bestseller list?

While searching through some quotes and literature this morning, I stumbled upon a quote by Franz Kafka that I think embodies the spirit of every real creator better than most anything I’d seen before.

“This tremendous world I have inside of me. How to free myself, and this world, without tearing myself to pieces. And rather tear myself to a thousand pieces than be buried with this world within me.” – Franz Kafka

Of course, I don’t want to dwell on the quote too much, because that isn’t the point of the post, but to unpack it a little, I think Kafka is speaking volumes of power here. As a creator, there are worlds upon worlds and pieces upon pieces within you. For me, some of my story ideas are like a number of voices all talking at once, saying something a little different, hoping to come together just enough to make sense and gain their freedom. Whenever the words become clear enough I can write the tale, I can let this story out, I can keep it from tearing me to pieces and I can present it in its purest and most intact form. Sometimes, though, it isn’t that easy. The words jumble, they mix and mesh and writhe together in the pain of incommunicability until they die out from want of escape. Other times they seem as if they’ll burst forth from me whether I give them license to do so or not. Regardless of the idea, its strength, or where it comes from, I have a tendency to start it and let it get stagnant. I lose the power behind the words, or I lose confidence in my ability to tell the tale. For any number of reasons, I end up not completing the work that I feel only I can even come close to completing.

That is an attitude and a habit that I’m leaving behind. 2020 is going to be a year of huge changes. I’m going from letting life roll on around me, to taking charge. I’m finally standing up and taking the things I want in this world. I’ve actually already started doing this in my personal life and it has already led me to some of the greatest happiness I’ve ever known. As I move forward into my third decade on earth, I am taking charge and leaving behind wasteful attitudes and the habit of just letting life happen.

Rather than let these words and worlds tear me into a million pieces, I’m going to push through the struggle and the hesitation and release them. Rather than take the punches life offers, I’m going to stand tall and chase after my own happiness. As we enter the new year, I am standing tall and seeking out opportunities. I’m putting aside hesitations and demanding freedom from waste. In 2020, I will no longer just be going through life. I’m going to live it.

With these changes, I plan to see a great improvement in every aspect of my life, and I hope you will all feel the same motivation to make changes. Take charge of your own happiness. Find out what in this world is going to allow you to truly be free from stagnance and unhappiness and go after it. Don’t keep over-editing yourself or your work. Take the time to put it out there. Let it stand on its legs. Show the world who you are and take the chances you need to take. I hope you all enjoy the last couple days of 2019, and I look forward to seeing you all in the new decade – hopefully with fresh faces and brand new determination. Happy New Year, everyone.

Are You Present?

Hey there friends and fans. I hope Thanksgiving was a great time for everyone, and that December is starting with the cheeriest of moods. Personally I found myself meeting a ton of wonderful and important new people as well as enjoying some quiet celebration at home. Of course with the many changes in my life currently, as well as the impending holidays, my mind has been all over the place. I have found myself worrying a lot about the past, whether it be mistakes I’ve made or things I could have done differently, and the future. Yesterday I (after having discussions about it fairly regularly with someone very important) fully came to the realization that these thoughts are much more damaging than they are helpful.

I realized as I thought more about it that, rather than allowing me to make any real changes to improve anything, worrying about things either past or future was only taking me more and more from the present. Which takes away from the absolute joy I’m currently living, and opens the possibility of something drastic that could ruin the happiness entirely. It seems only natural, of course, to worry about our lives. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and there is nothing more human than rethinking and overthinking everything we ever have and ever could do. But it’s some of the most damaging behavior we can exhibit. Worrying about things puts an excess of stress on our minds and bodies, distracts us from enjoying the good things right in front of us, and often negatively effects our mood as well as our health, and I decided to put an end to it.

My life has absolutely taken some turns in the last few months, and I am currently happier than I have been in quite some time. Of course that inspires the insecure human impulses in my mind to question what I could have done differently earlier in life, and whether I’m good enough to maintain this level of happiness without screwing it up. But why? What point does any of that do? Absolutely none. Considering anything other than the present is not going to change what has happened, and can have some very negative impact on what’s coming. I came to the conclusion yesterday that life is just too good in its current state to allow myself even another moment of doubt about anything. Just living in the present would be the best thing possible. And the last 24 hours have proven to be quite impressive. I was able to live and laugh and love more freely in the last day, without worrying about things I have no control over. I had a long, spontaneous night filled with joy and adventure – not tainted by worry.

I felt even more emboldened by this decision this morning while listening to a reading of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance” when realizing the father of Trascendentalism himself spoke on the matter more than 175 years ago. Emerson said:

“These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.”

It was like someone was speaking directly to my situation, my mind, my experience. Nothing could be more true. Man absolutely cannot accept happiness, or reach the true potential of his own happiness, if he consistently worries himself with past or future. The present holds our truth, our peace, our consistency. It is by living in the present that we truly come to terms with who and what we are. I have always been one to revisit past experiences and wonder what I could have, or should have, done differently. I have also always been a worrier, plagued by concerns with what might go wrong in an hour, or tomorrow, or a year from next week. But what good has it ever done me? None.

Feeling myself working hard to let go of these tendencies has been quite freeing over the last 24 hours. I can already feel a change in myself and my mentality. I feel more connected with the world around me, more affected by the things that are working to make me happy. I can see already how much time I’ve wasted by not being fully present in the present, and I don’t plan on going back to that. Focusing on the past doesn’t change it, but taking the experience gained and applying it to improving the present is a sure way to help the future. All that, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at memories with fondness, or even look to the future with some ideas on how to live it up. There’s nothing wrong with reflection or planning.

I look forward to living each moment I can in the present, focusing on living every day to the fullest. I’m going to disconnect from technology a little more, and give more attention to my surroundings. I plan on putting down the cell phone and looking at the sky more often, sparing social media likes in favor of smiling at those around me. Rather than looking back and saying ‘what if’ I will make an effort to strengthen my future by living bountifully in the present. Life is far too short to stress yourself with what may be, what may not be, or what could have been. Make it what you want. Live each moment like nothing before it has mattered and like there may not be another. Don’t waste your time worrying about anything. Live your life the way you want to live it and make sure, above all else, that you’re completely present.

I hope you all have luck making some of these same changes. Feel free to share any success stories, or any comments you want moving ahead. I hope the holiday season is good to everyone and I look forward to hearing from you all!

 

Reclaim Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Un)Dead in the Darkness

Hey there, friends and fans! Once again the power of All Hallow’s Eve is upon us! I hope this year is proving to be lovely and terrifying for each and every one of you. I’ve immersed myself in countless instances of new horror, and look forward to enjoying it for one more day before the world turns over to Christmas.

As a horror lover, I often consume all manner of spooky, scary, eerie, and dark stories. From ghosts and goblins to aliens and demons I have watched, read about, and listened to stories of it all. But through everything there is one creature that has captured my interest above all others. I’m speaking, of course, about the vampire.

Cultures the world over have told tales of the blood or life-energy draining creature that comes to us from the grave, spreading its chilling affliction. Sometimes these creatures are described as spirits who come and slowly pull life from the living, while others present us the image of corpses who dig from their earthy beds to consume the driving force of their dead relatives. Still others present us with the image that has become synonymous with the word. A pale skinned, dark clothed figure with menacing eyes and fangs long enough to pierce the throats of their living victims. These creatures rise in the night and drain the blood from unsuspecting mortals, often leaving death and infection in their wake.

Something about this creature has grabbed the imaginations of writers, music and film-makers, readers, and even avid television watchers for centuries. The most famous vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, has appeared in more than 200 instances of film and television alone. And we still can’t get enough.

But why? What is it about these immortal beings bent on taking our lives, our will, our mortality that makes us fascinated?

Earlier this year I  had a chance to sit down with Dacre Stoker, great grand nephew of the infamous Dracula author for a discussion on the latest Stoker contribution to the Dracula legacy, the novel Dracul, written with author J.D. Barker. Stoker had much to say on the reason vampires have remained such a popular legend throughout history.

“The vampire was actually created out of something that everybody in the world believes in or thinks at some time: and that is what happens in the afterlife,” Stoker said.

In times of death, disease, famine, growing scientific belief, and general open-mindedness, the legend of the vampire ran rampant and explained a lot of horrific death as well as the spread of illness. Stoker said he felt one thing that contributed to the power of the legend was the knowledge of the time.

People weren’t aware of how illness worked. Germs and viruses were knowledge far beyond the most advanced medicine. When an explanation came along that gave a possible insight into the death of a large number of people, it took root.

The legend of the vampire, in addition to help explain violent death and illness, was also increasingly appealing for those examining mortality.

“What if there was immortality,” Stoker said, noting that this question alone makes the appeal of the vampire grow exponentially.

In literature and film there are few creatures as versatile as the vampire. Even in the Anne Rice saga of bloodsucking creatures of the night, there are class systems and different beliefs and ways of life. From the high class vampires that blend into sophisticated society to those who live in tombs under graveyards, almost no two vampires are the same.

Personally I feel part of the appeal of the vampire is not only the fact that they do have such versatility, but what they stand for. For millennia humans  have been terrified of dying, death, and what lies beyond. The vampire stands as a doorway to that question. On the one hand, the vampire can dole death daily as a means to survive, literally taking the lives of others to continue their own, but they can also provide immortality to those they choose. This almost reversal of a divine power is enticing to anyone who has ever pondered the end of life and what else may exist. Stoker said this thought of death is one of the reasons vampires will always be a part of culture.

“It’s so deep rooted in our psyche, that quest to find out what happens after we’re dead. That’s why it [the vampire] never does go away.”

So, as the spooky season comes to a close over the next few hours (or days, depending on your interest in multi-cultural views), I invite you to ponder the vampire. Is it a cunning, shadowy demon, hiding in the misty ruins of a graveyard, or is it a suave and charming socialite who attends the highest social functions and feeds only on the upper class? Whether you fear a spirit who feeds on energy or a fanged physical being that slips into open windows in the night, I advise you to be on the lookout tonight, when the veil between worlds is thinnest. Make sure the window latches tight, hold tight to your crucifix as you cross the darkened dooryard after work and, whatever you do, don’t invite someone you don’t know to cross your threshold.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

A Decade of Change

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope things are going swimmingly for you as we rapidly approach another change of season. Days are growing shorter and (if almost imperceptibly in some areas) cooler, football has started again, leaves are falling, and geese are flocking. With the cooler, foggy mornings comes the inevitable spookiness of Autumn and Halloween. It is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the beginning of my favorite time of year. That’s something that, for me, has never changed over the years. But, like the seasons, many things have.

Over the weekend I celebrated my ten year high school reunion. Many alumni of the Tazewell High School Class of 2009 reconvened in our home town and spent days catching up, remembering those we’ve lost, and reliving old glories. It was an absolutely fantastic series of events and gatherings, and, while I couldn’t join in all the festivities, I am beyond ecstatic for what I attended. It was wonderful to catch up with my classmates. Realizing that you spent somewhere between 4 and 12 years of your life seeing the same people nearly every day for at least 8 months out of the year and then just scattered to the wind after graduation is crazy. Of course, some people are able to reconnect or stay connected thanks to social media and more conventional means of communication, but in a class of more than 100, sometimes people disappear.

As those of us who made it to the reunion discussed our lives, our accomplishments, our future plans, we realized something that I’m sure everyone can relate to. Our lives were not at all what we anticipated they would be. Old plans and career goals transitioned to new ones, old looks and styles changed with the times. Ultimately, what makes us happy sometimes changes.

This inspired me a lot. Seeing the things that have changed about all of us, the ways we have grown and become, for lack of a better term, adult, is incredible. As I pondered this, though, I also noticed the things that didn’t change. Entering the company of our peers was, surprisingly, effortless. Once we got past the initial questions of reacquaintance it was like the years melted away. Laughter rolled as we shared memories and experiences from bygone days.

This was accompanied by the deep-seated comfort that, of the things that have changed, some things remain the same. Of the small alterations in my ideology and personality my love of music, travel, arts, and literature are still huge parts of my life. My writing remains my ultimate goal, the core of my person, and one of my biggest personal accomplishments. That thought brings me a comfort. Each of us showed, despite the ways we are different, we are also the same people we were a decade ago.

My senior class developed a farewell video that each of us got a copy of shortly before graduation. In it many of our classmates were asked to give a quick statement about what they planned to do after school. It’s no real surprise that some of those ideas changed over time, of course. We watched the video together and had a good laugh at how differently our lives turned out from what we anticipated. From some of us planning to own businesses or follow certain educational paths, to those who were planning to leap into the world of professional sports, few of us made accurate predictions. Yet, I saw something of the past in each of us. No matter where our lives took us, our spirits followed, stayed strong.

The point of this post, especially for anyone going through an altering state of life, whether it be a graduation, a job change, or something else is is: don’t forget who you are. Whether your plans go exactly as you’d imagined or not, you are still the person you were when you made them. I believe there are some fundamental things that make us who we are and, no matter what else may come or go, these things still remain. For myself writing, reading, music, and travel are some of these. Whether I think about it very often or not, I’m always aware that those things are there. It’s a comfort in the day-to-day and a window, not only to my past, but to myself.

That’s what I advise you to hold on to as life batters us about. Grasp those fundamental qualities that make you who you are and cling to them. It can be difficult at times, as life’s challenges get tougher, but it can be done. When you look back on your past, whether it be one year or one hundred years later, knowing that, at your core, you remain the same person can make a lot of difference. As we all go forward and pick up life’s reins again, leaving our reminiscing for another day, I implore everyone to try and focus on at least one thing that makes you who you are. Think of something you have, love, or do, that makes you feel like you. Then keep an eye on it going forward. You might be surprised to see just what happens.

The featured image here is the facade of my high school and the statue of our mascot, taken while our reunion weekend was going strong,

The Power of a Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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