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.

Celebrating Christmas in the Smokies

Hello everyone! I hope 2021 has been a great adventure for everyone so far. One thing we want to be able to do with our travel and lifestyle series here at The Mathews Experience is discuss some of the great adventures and fun times we get to have. Of course, with the current climate, work, the seasons, and general lack of time, travel just hasn’t happened much so far this year. So, to remedy that, we want to take some time to talk about some of our past adventures. The most recent one we had took us to one of our favorite places in the world; the Great Smoky Mountains!

Amanda and I left from our mountain home around the middle of December and went to our mountain home away from home to celebrate the Christmas season and get a nice break from everyday life. The trip began with a fantastic drive, with plenty of great holiday music and fun conversation. Once we arrived in the Smokies we were immersed in the season, with lights on every available space they could be strung or placed, and holiday music coming from every speaker in existence. Despite not having a fresh blanket of snow on every surface we looked at, it was a Winter Wonderland.

While on this trip we found ourselves staying on the Gatlinburg parkway, so close to most of the attractions we were interested in we didn’t even move our vehicle to get to most places. Walking on the parkway was an enjoyable experience. There was quite a crowd most of the time, but the vast majority of people we saw were wearing their masks and making at least some effort to maintain distance from anyone they weren’t with. From the smells of food coming from every restaurant, to the sounds of Christmas, and the decorations surrounding us, we were definitely greeted by that mountain holiday feeling we were looking for.

While trying to cram as much Smokies experience as we could in our short trip, we decided to go to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and see the fish and fun there. We managed to arrive at a time when the aquarium was almost empty, and were one of the few customers wandering the aquatic wonderland. The whole place was decked out in holiday decorations, with ornaments and lights everywhere, even in several displays. It was very easy to take our time and look at all the various exhibits without being rushed – or being held back by crowds. This was, perhaps, one of the most peaceful aquarium trips either of us had ever experienced. The only down side being that we did not get to see the beautiful Green Sea Turtle, Sally, despite making our way through the Shark Tunnel twice. No matter! We saw plenty of awesome sea life, including a couple of baby Bonnethead sharks, so our trip was a great one.

Not to play favorites among the Ripley’s attractions nestled into the foothills of the Smokies, we also made our way to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum to see the wonderous exhibits there. This attraction also did not disappoint. Though a little more crowded, most everyone in attendance was sure to maintain a respectful distance and be cautious with their masks, which is something you really can’t be too careful with during such a time. The displays, however, were a little surprising in that some of the interactive ones were still uncovered and in working order. Some of the more hands-on ones were, of course, roped off or closed to the public, but there were several exhibits that had a button or switch you could use to turn this light on or uncover that bizarre fact, etc.. and several of them were nowhere near a sanitizing station. We also did not notice many employees coming by to clean as often as we would have expected, but we were more than prepared with our own wipes and sanitizers. None of that took away from our trip, but it was worth noting. The entire museum was enjoyable to us, particularly the large matchstick model of Hogwarts, and (for me at least) the shrunken head exhibits and the Devil and the Damsel rotating statue, based on the German epic poem, Faust.

The highlight of our trip, and reason behind it, was Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas. The day started with a nice breakfast at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp and such a massive amount of food that much of it went home with us. The quality of the meal was very good, and the environment, made to look like a novelty lumber camp of the 1800s, was quite appealing to me. From there we made our way to the park to bask in the down-home holiday traditions of those amazing mountains. From the second we got to the entrance to the park we felt the spirit of the holidays and the happiness of the park everywhere. Despite the cold, we were in awe at the millions of lights and fun displays that adorned the buildings and trees, filled the windows, and lit the park with every color imaginable. We started our Dollywood experience with a classic ride through the mountains on the Dollywood Express. Once a free for all, now the conductor requires tickets to board the train, which you can get from an employee for pretty much any scheduled time through the day. We felt this was a definite benefit and a way to, hopefully, help people maintain distance by limiting the amount of people who climb aboard the old passenger train.

Following along behind that old steam engine, we got to see the massive park from all angles, catching glimpses of rides in progress, lights on display, even the newer developments that are almost always happening these days. It was a great, if frigid, way to start our Dollywood day. Most of the rides we wanted to go on were either down due to the weather, or had some very long lines, but we were able to cover nearly every inch of the park – and I’ve got the photos and video to show it! We were very impressed by the level of professionalism shown by the in-park retail locations and restaurants, many of which seemed to have one door designated as an entrance and another as an exit only, which kept the lines of customers flowing in one solid direction for the most part. We stayed in the park from opening (around 2) until after dark, loving the lights and the holiday celebration, but absolutely wore ourselves out walking around the park. Between grabbing a bite to eats at Red’s Drive-In and finishing our day by buying a little Dolly-approved merchandise, the park was absolutely fantastic. With the changes that take place from one year to the next, I think we will be happy to return year after year to see the wonderful Christmas displays and experience the warm Christmas spirit.

One of the last things I must mention about this trip was our great dinner at Dolly Parton’s Stampede. It had been years since either of us had ever been, but the show did not disappoint. This was one of the few places we ran into people who were a little reluctant to follow mask regulations, but it did not ruin our experience by any means. With a fantastic four-course Southern meal and a heart-warming show filled with positive messages and good, fun comedy, it was a great night for us. Overall, the trip was one that we will not soon forget and will hopefully only improve upon as years go by.

January is nearly over, which means we will hopefully have some warm weather to travel by soon, so keep your eyes open for more content. Follow our social media pages, and see the flashbacks of our past trips continue to roll out as we prepare for plenty of new adventures. In the meantime, feel free to share any great experiences you all have, or places you suggest we add to our list!

Starting the Year Strong

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope January has been a good start to a new year for everyone. I know the world is still going through quite a difficult time right now, and we are seriously adjusting to what may remain the new norm for a very long time.

Personally I have found the year already has a lot to offer, and I have had a pretty amazing couple of weeks. As I have announced in earlier posts, I recently published my novel, Moonlight, (buy it here) and it has already been moving pretty well. Several copies have been purchased from all over the place and reviews are starting to come in, making me very happy.

For everyone who has read the book and left reviews, thank you. Reviews are one thing that breathe life into the work of an indie author. So many platforms that allow indies to host their works use algorithms that are based on reviews to promote works. If work A has 300 reviews, but work B only has 100, work A will be promoted to a much broader audience. Even if the reviews are worse for work A. It’s not the most helpful, by any means. I know a lot of people may not be interested in providing online reviews and feedback about the books they read, whether they liked it or not, but it is a very important step in today’s digital world. That being said, if you have read the book, please leave a review either on Amazon, as linked earlier, or on Goodreads here.

Saturday I actually had my first book signing event of the year, at a local store opened by some college friends. Appalachian Books, in lovely Norton, Va., hosted the event and held a live stream where I read a sample of the book and had a chance to answer some questions about my work and my methods. You can view that video here. It was an incredibly humbling experience, and an honor like no other. To be able to present and introduce my work in a local shop, so close to where the idea for Moonlight originated was nothing short of awesome.

I can’t thank everyone who attended, either digitally or in person, enough. You are all simply awesome. It makes me feel like I’ve done some good work when people are interested in getting their hands on it, and that is something that makes an author absolutely giddy. And to Appalachian Books, I can’t thank you all enough for hosting the event on my behalf, and for giving my books a local home where readers can come and get a little slice of Appalachian literature. Thank you to everyone over the years, from my mother and other family members, to my friends, to professors and mentors, who have all given me words of encouragement and bits of advice.

Most of all, I want to give a huge shoutout to my amazing wife, who has been supporting me and encouraging me to get this book out to the world for more than a year. She was right by my side when I took the book through another edit, worked out glitches and problems with my formatting, obsessed over my cover, my marketing and every other little detail I could possibly freak out about. Most importantly, she was there with me during the whole event Saturday, cheering me on and sharing the news every day leading up to it. Thank you so much, Amanda, for helping keep me grounded and keeping me confident in myself. Thank you for everything you do for me. I truly don’t know what I would do without you.

As 2021 rolls on, I hope to have more works released, and certainly will have more works finished, and I hope you will all remain on board for the ride. This week I have a few news interviews about my works, and I have some plans to hopefully bring one of my projects to a close before the end of the month as well. Again, I can’t be more thankful and appreciative of the support system I have. It means the world to me. Anyone with questions or comments, feel free to reach out, as always. Until next time, keep creating, keep reading, and keep your heads up.

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.

Where All Light Tends To Go

As many of you know, I am a proud Appalachian man with a serious love of literature and of my region. I try, on occasion, to immerse myself in regional pieces, and see my culture from the eyes of other local authors. I recently had the pleasure of diving into the incredible novel “Where All Light Tends To Go,” by David Joy. This amazing piece of Appalachian Literature, or Appalachian Noir as Joy considers it, explores the life of Jacob McNeely, the son of a drug addict and what passes for a drug kingpin in the small mountain town.

I’ve read several Appalachian works, and know several regional authors, and this tale stands at the pinnacle of Appalachian literature for me. I immediately felt drawn in by Jacob’s story. He is an outcast in his life, largely forgotten by a mother who spends most of her time riding her current high or pursuing the next one, and pushed aside by a father who finds him to be weak and useless. A dropout, Jacob can’t even rely on his peers for comfort.

Being from a small town myself, I related to Jacob’s plight as a young Applachian man, living in a town where opportunities aren’t exactly aplenty. Jacob feels he is limited in many ways, not the least being that, as a McNeely, he is almost instantly branded a failure. He talks several times throughout the first person narrative of being trash, nothing but trash, pure McNeely trash. Our main character perhaps it explains it best by saying;

“A name like Jacob McNeely raised eyebrows and questions. In a town this small all eyes were prying eyes.”

Joy’s writing explores the depth of the Appalachian region, while tugging the heart strings in an attempt to show the truth of the struggle some feel growing up in these beautiful mountains. The McNeelys are a family that has been condemned by their choices, their actions, and the unfortunate judgement of others. Jacob, who some say has a chance to become more, struggles throughout the entire book with the penalties associated with being a McNeely and the decisions he makes because of it.

An underlying, but interesting element of the text is the repeated conflict Jacob has with religion. From his early childhood Jacob was encouraged to go to church, his mother and grandfather religious individuals for a time. His father, whom he ends up living with, however, is not the religious type. Jacob says more than once that he doesn’t believe in God, but follows that up by saying that God doesn’t answer McNeely prayers. I found this element to be very interesting, as most Appalachian literature brings religion into the text by presenting us with the heavily (if not overly) religious individuals who do nothing but judge others based on their beliefs. We get none of that from Jacob.

Jacob’s relationship with the woman he loves, his childhood best friend, Maggie, is nothing short of remarkable. We enter Jacob’s life to see him watching Maggie graduate high school (from a distance, granted), and throughout his story he is insistent that Maggie has everything it takes to get be more, to escape their small town prison and do incredible things. In essence, Jacob puts everything into Maggie that he refuses to give to himself. She becomes romanticized and placed on a pedestal that I never could quite tell if she deserves.

I think the most heart-wrenching part of Jacob’s life is the strained relationship he has with his father. Charles McNeely is, in essence, the worst kind of person. A drug pushing, abusive, womanizing fiend with no regard for life, he neglects his child and causes pain to everyone he knows. Between his father’s treatment of him, his mother’s abandonment, and his own inability to break free of the burdens placed on him, Jacob is haunted by the pain of a broken life. His pain bleeds from the pages in places, particularly during one of the hardest hitting lines in the text, which has Jacob mentioning how funny it is that it only takes one person taking the time to show you they care for the bad things in life to not seem so bad anymore.

I have no shame in admitting that I didn’t have any idea how this book would end, but, after reading it, I don’t think any other ending would have sufficed. Although not bogged down with the supernatural, or with the inescapable horror I usually seek out, this text has quickly risen to my top ten books right now. Jacob’s journey is not necessarily one for the faint of heart, but I feel like this is a book most anyone can enjoy. Fans of Appalachian literature in particular will love this representation of the difficulties of life in a small North Carolina town.

I’m the kind of reader who loves marking passages that I enjoy so I can go back and look at them later and explore their meaning and depth. Usually I try to do this with sticky tabs that I can slap on the page right beside of my preferred quote. I have no shame admitting that I used an entire stack of sticky notes for this novel, as the featured image above shows. I will absolutely be seeking out more of Joy’s writing in the near future, and will be keeping my eyes open for a chance to meet this fantastic author and delve into his creative genius. If any of you pick up this masterpiece, I would love to know what you think. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or send me a message. As always, if you have any suggestions for a future review, or even just a book recommendation feel free to let me know!

I must leave you with this final line, that I am convinced will go down in history right alongside “So we beat on…” Though it gives nothing away, I have to admit it literally gave me chills. It is only a part of the power this text holds, and I’m sure everyone will love it.

“Only the middle ground of this wicked world mattered, the vast gap that stretched between, and those who were born with enough grit to brave it.”

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,

10 years

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope life is flowing smoothly as schools are let out and summer heats us up. Things are going fantastic in some aspects on my end. Recently I worked with a local craft retailer and now my book (https://amzn.to/2KLRvsY ) is available in a real brick-and-mortar store in my hometown! The store, Between Friends, is located on Main Street in Tazewell, Va., so, if you’re ever in town and want to pick up a signed copy of my book, make your way there!! Of course, if you’re interested in a signed copy and don’t have the means to go to the store, reach out to me!

This year is something of a monumental one for me. Not only do I have my first print work available for purchase, but this year marks the 10 year anniversary of my high school graduation. Specifically Sunday, June 9, I had officially been out of high school for ten years. And it has been quite a whirlwind decade. I went from being a high school kid with dreams of published works, to being able to say my book is for sale in a local retailer, for one. For another, I went from thinking I knew something of the world, to being more than willing to admit there are still tons of things I would love to learn. But, most importantly, I’ve found the love of my life, I’ve learned countless life lessons, and I have an idea of just who I want to be when all is said and done.

I’ve done a lot of soul searching in my day and I’ve tried a lot of different career paths in the last ten years, and I’ve landed right where I am. In high school I was very stubborn and had little on mind besides my writing. Ideas and inspirations for teaching and other jobs would come into my mind and I would close the door on them. I wanted nothing more than my novels. By all means, that is still something I want for myself. The idea of being able to support my lifestyle and my family solely with my writing still brings a tear to my eye, but it has taken some focusing to really figure out the specifics. I find myself desiring to teach, to live an awesome life, and to enjoy every waking moment I have available to me. But it took some navigating to figure out.

I went for multiple jobs, in multiple places, and I still find myself returning to the desire that is deep-rooted in my heart. With each venture that I try, I find myself drawn more to teaching and to writing, and I remind myself time and time again of the days all those years ago when those were my dreams. I am one step closer to achieving those dreams each and every day, and in times of doubt that is what I try to look at. Basically what I’m getting at is I’ve fought tooth and nail – with the outside world as well as myself – to become the man I’ve wanted to be. I’ve considered my dreams and my destiny and everything else, and it always brings me back here. I may not have achieved my total dream yet, but I’m on the way. Ten years after I left high school behind, I’m almost where I imagined I would be.

So my message to all new graduates, or to those old ones who may have lost sight of their goal; don’t give up. Don’t put your dreams aside. Chase them until you can’t anymore. Nothing is too fantastic, too far-fetched. Nothing is impossible. You may have just been turned out in the “real world,” but that doesn’t mean you should hesitate for even one second to make it your own. We’re given a purpose on this earth. It may take some of us a while to reach it, or even to figure it out, but at the end of the day it’s there. You’ve just got to go for it.

Apply for that job you don’t think,you’re qualified for. Reach for the goal you don’t think is quite withing reach. Take the leap, even if you’re not sure where you’ll land. Even if you don’t reach your goal right away, you’ll be closer than you were. No one should live a live that doesn’t make them happy. Some of us may have to struggle to get there, but it’s worth it. After all, if we never felt pain or strain, how would we recognize peace when we finally reach it? Put aside the worries, doubts, old days, and old things that hold us back and keep us from making our dreams a reality. Whatever you’re going through just make sure you have a goal in mind. No matter how great or small that goal may seem, go for it. Don’t give up. If you feel like it’s your destiny, your purpose, your heart and soul’s desire – chances are it is. And it could be exactly what you’re made for.

No obstacle or dream is too big. What do you want to do no that you’ve put the old days behind you? Feel free to reach out and share!

Belief and Support

Hey there, friends and fans! I have had an incredible week, and yesterday provided me with quite a surreal experience to round it out. One of my friends and coworkers received their copy of my recent publication from Amazon. The second she ordered it she asked me to sign it when she got it. Of course, I agreed. I’ve done book signings before – I’ve even signed books with Jeffery Deaver – but this was different. Before, I’d signed my writings in various journals and publications where my work appeared alongside other authors and artists. But this one was mine.

I was handed a book entirely of my work and asked to personalize it. I’m honestly still beside of myself from the experience. It really hit me at that point just how blessed and lucky I am. God blessed me with the talent to create, to write, to paint with words – and then He gave me a way to share it with the world. Those things alone are incredible. I couldn’t imagine asking for more.

Then He gave me more anyway. He gave me people who believe in me, who support me. Throughout my life I’ve had an amazing support system, from my mother, grandmother and family to my friends and all of you guys. I’ve always been unbelievably thankful for the network of love and support that I’ve had, but it really hit me last night just how important those things are.

Having gifts and talents and publications and inspiration are all amazing, but without a support network it can all fall apart. The best artists and authors in the world would be so much dust in the wind now if there was no support for their work. It is of utmost importance for a creative individual to have support. There are countless examples throughout history of creatives without a support network who lose all faith and inspiration.

I am beyond blessed to say this is not so for me. I can never thank you all enough for the support you have provided me. It is more clear to me than ever that a support system can truly change the life of a creative individual. As I’ve said before, creating an original piece of work, of any kind, is more than just putting words to paper or paint to canvas or plugging notes on an instrument. It is, quite literally, baring a part of yourself, a bit of your soul, for the world to see. It’s never easy. But a good support system can change that. Knowing there are people out there eager to receive your work and support your efforts makes a big difference.

My point, I guess, is that everyone should support artists. If you find a piece of work that you enjoy, that resonates with you, that makes you feel something – tell the artist. Give them a review, give them a kind word, share it with friends, shout it from the rooftops and let the world know. Knowing their work is appreciated can and does make all the difference to an artist who has put themselves out there.

Speaking from experience, it makes you feel great knowing someone is excited for your work. So I thank you all again, and I encourage you to make sure you tell your favorite artists what it is you like about their work. It will mean more than you know.

Once again, I thank you all for your support. My collection is, of course, available for purchase from Amazon. I look forward to sharing more work and more experiences with you all soon. Keep your eyes open for any upcoming news, and if you’d like to purchase my collection, I’ll put a link at the bottom of this post. If you get a copy, don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or social media in general. They help exponentially, especially for indie authors.

As always guys, feel free to reach out to me with any comments or questions. I look forward to hearing from you all!

https://amzn.to/2tC2jOX

The Shape of Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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