Another Year, Another Path

2018 is winding down as we speak, everyone. From impossible situations, terrible storms, award-winning movies and novels, and countless memories – good and bad – this year has left many of us spinning.

My own year has shown me many things, about myself and others. As difficult as some of it has been, I do believe it has left me stronger. I’ve learned how much I can handle, what I do in unexpected situations, and a little more about who I am and who I want to be. I’ve grown quite a bit over the last 365 days and I can honestly say that there are days where I can’t believe everything that has happened since January 1st. It seems like there’s no way the year could have been so long, and it seems like half of it must have happened to someone else. But the lessons that year has taught me will never fade.

I have definitely learned not to take anything for granted. I’m blessed beyond measure, and I am determined to recognize that and remember it on the hard days. I’ve also learned that, when I do have hard days, my family is more than willing to be there for me. And my amazing wife is the best rock I could ask for. I can honestly say that I would not be in the state of mind I am right now if not for her. She’s saved me more times than I can count. Every experience I’ve had this year has brought with it a new lesson, a new bit of information, a new bit of clarity about who I am and who I want to be.

That’s the real point behind it all, I think. Life presents us with millions – billions – of situations, if we’re lucky, and we have to learn from them. Each notch in our belt, each calendar page that falls, gives us an opportunity to learn, to grow, to become more than we were before we experienced it. The real test of life is whether or not we learn from these attempted lessons. Do we listen as closely as we can to those attempts at making us stronger, better people? For that matter, how much of the message do we retain from day to day and how much do we let slip by us?

Those are the questions each of us has to examine, especially when we’re facing any form of hardship. Knowing that every problem, every challenge, every bad mood and tough situation we face is meant to make us stronger, better, more adapted and able, is one of the most important things we can take with us into every new day. If we look at every day like a chance to learn about ourselves, the world around us, then we’ll quickly find that there’s nothing out there we can’t handle. Personally, I often remind myself that God won’t give us more than we can take. That idea in itself is a powerful way to renew your strength on a rough day. But whether that is your personal reminder or not, one of the best ways to make sure we’re getting the most our of our lives is to learn to accept the things we can’t always change. Every situation we face is meant to help us grow and develop new skills and abilities.

So as we enter 2019, remember to always keep your eyes open for a new chance to learn, a new opportunity to be more than you were the day before. I know one of the most cliche and ridiculed things about entering a new year is setting resolutions. Often, we set our resolutions for renewed health, weight loss, new jobs, etc… But how long do they last? A week, maybe a month? It’s almost human nature that by at least the dawn of Spring, our resolutions are little more than collectors of dust in our lives, forgotten or abandoned because of the everyday world around us. So I decided to change it up a little. Rather than a long standing resolution that is almost certain to be lost in the clutter, I’ve built an ever-changing list of accomplishments for the year, a bucket list for 2019 that will be at the forefront of my decisions and my life. As I cross each obstacle off my list I will be that much more true to myself. I will be that much stronger and that much more accomplished, if only to myself. As I enter the new year, I have many ideas of what I want to accomplish, what I want to see happen, where I want to be 365 days from now. And I know that it’s up to me to make it happen.

The same goes for all of us. We can all be anything we choose to be. We can accomplish anything we attempt. In just a year, we can make our lives whatever we want it to be. It just takes making an effort and not letting anything set us back.

So what do you guys want to accomplish? What lessons do you hope to learn, and what obstacles do you want to overcome? Feel free to leave me comments or reach out to me another way. I’d love to see what you guys want to change this year. As the last few hours of 2018 wind down, I look forward to the beginning of a new year, and I wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year, an amazing 2019, and hundreds of memorable opportunities that will leave you happier than ever.

It Isn’t Just a Word.

Each year millions of Americans are plagued by symptoms and feelings related to depression. From feeling alone, angry, sad, hurt, and like you don’t belong, feelings of depression can come in many forms. Some people find themselves feeling lethargic and separated, others feel so affected by it that they have thoughts of suicide. Some, sadly, even attempt to commit suicide. Others, still, succeed. Some statistics say that as much as 15 percent of those affected by depression will attempt or commit suicide.

I have no shame in admitting that I am one of those who faces depressive thoughts and feelings. I have no shame in admitting it, but I can’t pretend I haven’t had some hesitation about writing this post. I’ve told you all before that I had bouts with depression in my past that were none too pleasant. In the time following my grandfather’s death, I was a very changed young man. Depression attacked me from quite a few angles, leading me down a path of upset and confusion. It was only when I put pen to paper and began to allow my creative abilities to flow that I found how to combat those feelings of depressive displacement. In short, as I’ve said before, writing saved my life. Never would I imagine something could hit me so hard that even writing would have trouble combating it.

That was before I lost my grandmother.

In August, after a long battle with a myriad of health issues, my grandmother went home to be with God. My grandmother was a woman of untold love, amusement and happiness. Throughout my life she was someone who was always there for me, working to make sure I was safe and happy no matter where I was. Losing her was nothing short of devastating for me. In the two months since her passing I have fought myself tooth and nail to avoid what I knew was sitting just below the surface. With each passing day I became more and more depressed. Anger, sadness, displacement, loneliness, uselessness were among the things boiling in my very soul.

I tried as hard as I could to fight it, but just ignoring the issues do not work. I found myself feeling that nothing was right. I wasn’t right. Work, home, reading, writing, driving, sitting, sleeping, waking. It was all wrong, and I was wrong for doing it. I couldn’t think about her, and I couldn’t not think about her. If I remembered her, I was certain it wasn’t good enough. If I tried not to think about her, I was disrespecting her memory. How could I work knowing she passed while I was at work one night? How could I not work, knowing her work ethic was so strong she worked well beyond the age she should have retired? The thoughts affected every part of my life.

The tricky part of this most recent bout of depression is that it wasn’t constant. It wasn’t an insistent, unavoidable pain. It came and went. One day I would be so low that I couldn’t possibly get any lower, and the next week would be fine. Some days were just as sunny as they could be, all my memories good and my heart soaring with possibility. But recently the good days have been few and far between. The depression grew and grew until it came to a head earlier in the week, forcing me to face the truth, even if I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

I’m depressed. I’m sad. I’m in a place unlike any I’ve found myself in before. And that is OK. That is something I can handle. My writing, which has brought me through more than even I understand, has been affected by this as well. Ordinarily, it has been something that brought me to new levels of life and helped me through anything, but it hasn’t been able to do that this time. Yes, it has brought me through some of it. I have found myself able to cling to my work, produce new ideas, and work on old ones, distracting me from the worst of the pain, but I left a very crucial part of the matter out. I didn’t face the problem.

Rather than allowing myself to feel the depression and the loss, I tried to shove it aside, thinking if I didn’t admit it to myself, then it couldn’t hurt me. Obviously, that isn’t the case. The pain and depression I’ve dealt with, the pain and depression that so many of us deal with every single day can not be ignored. I think that is the real secret here. So often in society, in our own minds, and in the view of the greater world, ignoring problems is one of the biggest false solutions presented to us. If we don’t admit that we’re depressed, if we don’t admit that we’re in pain, if we don’t admit that everything is not A OK, then it will go away, right? No.

I’m writing this post just as much for myself as for anyone else. Just by writing these words, by admitting that I have been depressed, I feel the hold of the sickness lessening. If there is nothing else I can stress in this post, nothing else that you will all take from this, I hope it is the message that you have to face the issue head on. You have to look your depression in the face and tell it that you absolutely will not stand by and let it take you. Admitting that there is a problem is the first step in conquering it. We’ve all heard that for any number of issues, and I finally understand how true it is.

Having an outlet is exceedingly important in the fight against pain and depression. Without it, even admitting the issue is there will not bring an end to the pain. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers here, but after dealing with this for so long and in so many forms, I think I’m beginning to understand more than I ever wanted to be necessary. I can’t speak for everyone who is, has been, or will be depressed. Of course I can’t. But what I can say is that, for me at least, admitting you are depressed is one of the most important steps you can take to combating the depression. Once you realize the problem is serious, and is not going away, you will have more than enough freedom to find a way to combat it.

At this point in time, after realizing that I wanted to write this post and actually going through with it, I feel more like myself than I have since my grandmother died. The inspiration to write is really coming back, and I think doing so will actually begin making a difference in helping me get myself and my brain back to normal.

Being depressed is not something to be ashamed of. It’s not something that signifies weakness. And it is definitely not something that can be ignored. I understand that now. That’s the real difference between my life then and now. When my grandfather passed I was open with myself about the issue but, until now, I’ve told myself and others that I’m fine. I’m not. I see that. Depression is a very real issue, and it is something that must be accepted and honestly dealt with before it can be dispensed. I have been dealing with, or rather not dealing with, depression since August. But today, for the first time since I got the news about my grandmother, I honestly feel like things will be OK. I am depressed, but I can accept it now, and deal with it. I might be going through a rough time, but it is not the end of the world, and already the days ahead look a bit brighter.

Are any of you dealing with depression? Have you felt yourself slipping away, becoming someone else, becoming something you aren’t? I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. This isn’t all there is. If you’re depressed, there is more out there you can do. Reach out to someone who can help, someone who cares. Accept that you are having an issue. Find your outlet. That is the real step. Once you’ve accepted that you are depressed, you have to find what works to fight it. And then you stand strong against it. Get back to yourself. Be true to yourself. Depression is something we all face, but it does not have to be all we know. I’m always open to talk if someone needs a shoulder to lean on.

I want to thank everyone who encouraged me to write this post. It has been a real battle for me, and I have finally realized why. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I didn’t want anyone to think I was weak. I finally realize that battling depression is one of the strongest things you can do. And I will never forget it again. Thank you all for the support, and please – please – do not let depression win. Find what works for you, and stand strong against the pain of depression. You can do it, and you’ll be stronger than ever if you do.

Mother!, Inspiration, and Life

Happy Thursday, friends and fans! I hope life has treated you all well since my last post. It’s certainly been a roller coaster on my end, but that’s to be expected at the moment. We’ve almost made it through another summer here in the states, with about two months of unbearably hot weather left before the leaves begin their slow transition to mesmerizing colors and take a dive from their stoic wooden perches to coat the ground below. Then, of course, comes the snow. But let’s have that conversation another day. Some of you might kill me if I encourage the coming cold to arrive any time before its predestined moment.

As the title of this post notes, one thing I have to talk about to today is the 2017 film “Mother!.” I very much wanted to catch this movie in theaters, but my busy schedule didn’t allow it. I caught it Tuesday night while I was recovering from a busy week and I must say … that I’m still not positive what to think. The film was in no way what I was expecting. Wanting no spoilers for my future viewing, I intentionally avoided any detailed reviews and spoilers so I walked into this movie with a clean slate and an open mind, which was subsequently twisted, squeezed, and left shivering in a corner.

Although listed as a horror film. The movie has few to no actual horror-themed moments. There are, however, more moments of “what the heck is happening here” than I can count. I found myself often muttering variations of this phrase aloud in my living room (gaining at least a couple of equally confused looks from our silly feline companion) right up until the movie’s conclusion.

The themes of feminism, conservatism, misogyny, and outright insanity are rampant in the film- if you pay attention. For me most of the real message the movie intends to bring has become most clear in my reflection of the film (gratuitous spoiler alert warning).

The nameless mother figure and her marriage to the poet are used to openly bring about a highly disturbing and confusing situation that, at times, closely resembles that of the couple in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. We’re presented with a male character who shows distance, but love, and an inexplicable relationship between the two despite their differences. When outside characters are brought in, the story grows heavier and darker, with an act of fratricide that begins a deluge of strange occurrences and sends our nameless female antagonist into a frenzy reminiscent of classic damsels in distress.

As the movie goes on things become weirder. It’s only at the movie’s conclusion that the intentions of the director are laid out on the table. The movie’s expansive scenes call to mind reflection on creationism, and the plight of our precious planet. The disrespect showed by the others, the indifference of the poet, the open annihilation of all that is meant to represent their own personal paradise, all reflect our own violent treatment of all that is given us. I won’t spoil the true gut-wrenching moments or the strange conclusion of the tale, but I will say that anyone with a weak constitution should proceed with caution through the last 25 or 30 minutes of the nearly two and a half hour film.

On a more positive note, I can say that I’ve felt the inspiration of some very interesting stories buzzing in my person this week. I can feel elements of the stories, see scenes, get hints of some of the characters, but none of them seem quite ready to tell me their stories just yet. Another novel from my past has resurfaced, though. The very first novel I began writing, an uncompleted bit of fiction that doesn’t involve horror or the supernatural or paranormal (I’ll pause here to allow you all to pick your jaws up off the floor). I’ve begun revisiting what I had written over the last decade, trying to figure out what parts of the story I want to stick with and what should be reimagined for the character as I see him now. I’m quite excited for this. I always have felt interest in this story. Granted, it is the book idea that quite literally saved my life, so I naturally would be a bit drawn to it, I do think it’s a book with a lot to say.

On another front, I’m also looking at placing “Moonlight” back on the table for edits. I think there’s a pinch more to that story that I want to put in. Of course, all of these things can’t happen all at once, so my big attempt is going to have to be figuring out what to do first. We all know how well I do that.

I’m now six solid weeks in on the query waiting list, by the way. Round two will be going out in under a week. One of those I’ve already sent out was sent to an agent who only responds if they’re interested and tries to respond within two weeks. So one of the more than half dozen I sent out may be a no. Life goes on, right? Rejections suck, but at least no one is saying I suck. Yet.

But anyway, enough about me. What’s new with you guys? What awesome projects have the summer muses of warm weather and sweet nights sent you? Are you building some amazing creation that will blow all our socks off? Tell me about it! Leave me a comment, send me a message, find me on social media. My contact page on here is a great way to reach out to me. If you want to get updates that I don’t put in my blog feel free to join my newsletter (if you didn’t do it here, you can find the info on my Facebook fan page under Author Updates). I look forward to hearing from you all! Remember, if the muse won’t come to you, find out where it’s hiding!!

Sign of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Month In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay True

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be True

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back

Sometimes in life we find ourselves so wrapped up in the “right now” that we find it nearly impossible to look at the past. We tend to put our heads down and pay no attention to the world around us, barely even looking up to see where we’re going, much less where we’ve been. I was granted a prime view of my own past as I found myself riding around in the town I grew up in yesterday. It was very eye-opening. I saw things that I remember from my past, and new things that weren’t there before.

It has been about 6 years since I lived in Tazewell, Virginia full time and about three years since I moved away altogether, but I can still smell the air, still see the first stars piercing the deepening blue veil of the night sky. I can remember so much without even trying, but the flood of memories that came back to me while I was riding around shocked even me. From seeing the old high school, to the first place I ever worked- Grant’s Supermarket, where I served just under two years as a bagger and cashier during high school –  my childhood was nearly tangible to me in those moments. Just riding the roads helped bring me back through the years to memories that I’d even forgotten I had. I saw things I’d enjoyed as a child and things that I’d never seen there before. Despite the years since my residence, little has changed in the old place. The roads are a little wider in places, the storefronts a little more modern, but the thing that struck me most was that the shape of the town is still the same. The mountains that looked over my youth, shaped my adolescence, sheltered me when the world around me threatened to press in too tightly, are still the same. They are the same mountains that looked over generations before me, are currently looking over my friends and family that remain there, and will look over the generations of future residents.

Isn’t that a comforting thought? Once upon a time I might not have thought so. I can remember, as I’m sure many of us do (perhaps particularly those of us who grew up in Tazewell, where sometimes you could literally just sit and watch the grass grow) I wanted nothing more than to put my hometown behind me and move on to bigger and better things. Now I’m a little older and, I like to think, a little wiser, and I do miss it. I miss the way the sun rises over the mountains in the winter, the fresh, hot rays pulling steam from the icy roadways and frigid waters. I miss the sounds of summer rolling through the fairground as the town prepared for the demolition derby – because who doesn’t like a bit of destruction, right? I miss the quiet that settled down over the town at night. I used to have bonfires with my friends in my backyard, and sometimes we would be laughing and talking and joking until sunrise, but even on the most raucous nights there would be times that we would just grow quiet and be in awe of the silence, the world seeming to end at the edge of the light produced by our tiny fire. Those were times of peace.

Of course, I thought my life was hard sometimes. I went to school, I worked, I did chores, and I maintained a social life. I was a regular marathon man. Looking back on it now, after graduating college twice, being a regular part of the full-time workforce and paying bills for years, I wish things could go back to being that simple. I wish I hadn’t taken the small town life for granted. Riding through the old park, below the lake where my grandfather and I used to go fishing, I saw a glimpse of the old town theater through the trees. I used to live within walking distance of the place, and memories of countless movies came flooding back. Midnight releases of the latest Harry Potter movie, watching “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” there no less than six times, seeing Toy Story there for the first time. Granted I remember the trip to the theater to see that more than I remember the full movie, but it’s the memories that brought me back to who I was in those days, who I still am, who I occasionally lose sight of when the bills seem too expensive or the days seem too short.

My experiences really inspired me to think about my life and who I am, and it hit me that I owe so much of my own life to where I came from. I can pinpoint so much of Tazewell and the surrounding areas that played crucial parts in helping create the man I am today. Most importantly I can look back at that life and remember the things that led to me being a writer, a lover of literature, a lover of music, a lover of family and laughter and happiness. Those things that I hold dear, the things that I was always sure would get me out of that small town life, are things that I can directly attribute to being part of that very thing. If I hadn’t had Larry Hypes as a teacher in high school I may not have such a love of “The Great Gatsby.” If I hadn’t had Jill Vogel (then Rhudy) as a teacher, I may not have been given the right nudge toward my writing. If I hadn’t had the friends I did, I may not have the lust for life that lets me know waking up in the morning is one of the most crucial and rewarding things I can do.

My point is that sometimes in life we have to look back on our past to appreciate where we are in the present, and remind us where we want to go in the future. Life is a huge and multi-faceted thing. Sometimes you’re on the top, sometimes you aren’t. Sometimes you’re the bug and sometimes you’re the windshield. But no matter where you are or where you go, there are memories that you hold dear that keep you going when times are tough. The older I get, the more I appreciate the place I came from. I told myself for years that I wanted nothing more than to get out of the town and never look back, but now I’m more than grateful for the things it gave me, for the person it made me. More importantly I’m beyond thankful to God for putting me there and giving me the life I’ve had.

As my ten year high school reunion grows nearer, I realize a part of me has been worried of where I will be at that time in my life. Often in popular culture we see references to high school reunions that indicate it should be little more than a one-up contest. Who got old? Who got fat? Who went to jail? Who has kids? Is anyone famous? Naturally, that worries me. As someone who has been writing for more than a decade I always expected to be able to walk into that reunion with a novel or two under my belt, maybe even be able to walk into the school library and find my own title on the shelves. So far that hasn’t happened. I’m still plugging away, blogging and writing, publishing when I can. I’ve got a couple of novels complete, but for one reason or another I haven’t pushed them out to publishers yet. Maybe it’s because I’ve been afraid of NOT being able to have the pleasure of putting that on my resume for anyone interested in seeing what Damean Mathews is up to. Yesterday showed me how wasteful that is. When I go back to that place and see all the people I grew up with again, I’ll going with my amazing wife and some amazing memories to share with everyone. Sure, there will hopefully be a book or two along for the ride, but those things won’t be what makes me who I am. It’s the love and the memories I have and the ones I continue to make that contribute to who I will become.

I fully believe – and have since I first seriously put pen to paper – that God put me on this earth to write. I have stories in me that are bigger than even I understand, and I know that this is my purpose. Seeing the things that helped inspire my writing, visiting my old haunts where I used to write for hours, and seeing the places that I still associate with some of my favorite memories really showed me that I have a lot left to do to get where I want to be in that aspect. But it also showed me that my dreams have never been more attainable. I’m a happily married, hard-working, fully dedicated man with a passion and a destiny, and I see that now more than ever. The dedication and determination that helped put me through the tough times in my life were reignited with a fiery passion in those moments, and I know now that I can’t rest until I make it happen. And it’s all because I took the time to stop and revisit the past.

If you’re having a hard time in life, feeling a little lost, or even if you’re on top of the game and loving every aspect of your life, take the time to stop and revisit where you came from. Step out of your present and leap into the memories of the past. See what you saw before, put yourself in the shoes of the person you used to be and see if you’ve accomplished what you intended. See if there is anything you can do to be be truer to yourself. There’s nothing like a blast from the past to remind you what you want for your future. Looking back I would probably take the time to breathe in the night air more often, enjoy the simple things. I would spend a few more hours on the front porch, take the time to throw a few extra logs on the bonfire and ride out the sunrise one more time. I wouldn’t complain so much at the slow speed of things in town. Life will be speeding up plenty soon enough.

Have you revisited your past? When was the last time you rode through the town you grew up in? What has changed? What did you learn? I look forward to seeing if this has happened to anyone else, and if you’re out there reading this and you feel like you need a nudge to push you in the right direction in your life, I suggest taking a step backward and looking where you were and using that knowledge to help you take a step forward and go where you want to be. Trust me, it’s worth it.

I’d like to say a special thanks to my beautiful wife, my amazing friends, and my awesome family who have helped me be the man I am today. I know I sometimes let the rough patches in life make me step back from my purpose, but I think now I’ve got a great way to combat that. Thank you all for your support through the years, and thank you for helping me build the life I have, and the life I’m continuously working toward.

 

My Grandfather

I love Autumn. I love October. Leaves are changing, the spooky nature of the world is being celebrated, the weather is cooling off and nights are growing long and, most importantly, I got married in October! Tomorrow will make two years since my wife and I said “I Do.” The last two years have flown by and we’ve fallen more in love with each passing day. It definitely doesn’t seem like two years, so it’s a little hard to believe. But it’s harder to believe that it has been 13 years since my grandfather passed away.

As happy as the month makes me, October 3 is one of the hardest days of the year for me. October 3 was my grandfather’s birthday. For 13 years I’ve woken up knowing what day it is and knowing that I won’t be able to tell him to enjoy the day, or tell him how much he means to me. My grandfather was the biggest male role model I had growing up. From the time I was a little kid I can remember staying with my grandparents and knowing, if I didn’t wake up as he was leaving (or if he didn’t take me with him) that he would be gone fishing until at least breakfast time – closer to noon if he was having good luck. When he came in and ate he would immediately go outside and spend hours prepping or taking care of his garden, often while I “helped.”

The man wore hats and flannel nearly every day of his life, his white hair often sticking out below the back just a little, protecting the lightest part of his dark skin, the Native American blood in him more obvious than ever at the end of a nice long summer. In the winter he wouldn’t shave, a habit left over from the days he farmed for a living, knowing the best trick to keep the winter wind from biting too much was to keep as much body heat in as possible. I can still remember him teasing me if I got a haircut during the winter months, telling me I’d freeze if I wasn’t careful.

He and my grandmother raised their 3 children on a farm-hand’s wages, moving where the work took them and providing what they could for their kids. Retirement was kinder to him, my grandmother working when he was no longer able. He wasn’t a shirker by any means, working through at least one heart attack without stopping, only finding out he’d had it later on. Even after he stopped working for a living, he farmed and fished nearly every day of his life. Only the most extreme heat or cold could keep him from the water most of the time, and he always produced enough crop to feed most of the family – even just working out of his own backyard.

He saw the world much differently than others, in more ways than one. Being blind in one eye, he had to learn to do everything in his own way, but it never slowed him down. He could fix most things wrong with the family vehicles, could do basic home repair – and he could tie a hook on a fishing line as fast as anyone I’ve ever seen. He also wasn’t much for what he called ‘putting on airs.’ You are who you are, and there’s no reason to hide it. That’s one of many lessons from him I’ll never forget. From the time my grandfather opened his mouth until he closed it he was as real with you as anyone in the world, never pretending to be something he wasn’t. He loved good jokes, and loved to laugh – but he hated nonsense.

I can remember the sound of his laugh even now as I told him my lame jokes, and I remember how quickly that laughter dried up whenever someone turned on a goofy 90’s Jim Carrey movie. If he didn’t like something he made it obvious, and if he didn’t want to be somewhere he left. It was always easy to tell when he didn’t want to be around someone, because he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t be rude to them, but if someone came in a room that he didn’t want to be around he would silently stand and leave. I think he realized that life is too short to waste it doing things that don’t make you happy. Of course, I like to think he had a lot of life’s answers tucked away in his hat somewhere, so maybe I’m putting a philosophical spin where one wasn’t intended.

I could write about my memories of him and tell stories of how, as I got older, my grandfather would talk on the phone with me for hours sometimes, even though we just lived across town from each other – but when we went fishing together the talking was minimal and hushed, so as not to scare the fish away.Of his grandchildren I think I was the only one that had the connection with him I did. We had our understandings and we liked many of the same things. We could sit in a room together for hours without uttering a word and could say all we needed to say in a moment.

I could tell any number of stories of how he was so selfless that he often went without in his own ways, wearing his clothes until they were threadbare and falling apart before he would worry about trying to buy a replacement. I live for hours in these memories sometimes, wishing for just one more day, one more hour to talk to him. Granted, I understand he wasn’t perfect. He smoked, he drank, he ate food that clogged his arteries and he lived life in an antiquated fashion. He was very much a product of his generation. But I think I would be the only one who would get the full effect of all of these stories and memories.

My grandfather would have been 76 years old today. So much has changed over the last 13 years. The world is nothing like it was when he left it. Technology has taken over, racism has become breaking news again, and everywhere we look there is a fear of bombs falling. I know none of these things would have changed him, though. He wouldn’t own a cellphone, and he certainly wouldn’t pay attention to things like vegan diets and low-carb foods. If there was ever a constant in my life, it would still be Calbert Mathews. He would get up at the crack of dawn and make coffee, watch a few minutes of the local news (I’d love to hear his opinion on his favorite weatherman retiring) and would hit the river bank or lakeside. Like clockwork he’d spend his afternoons weeding, tending the garden and resting on the porch until a little after sunset. I miss knowing that if I wanted to find him, there were usually only half a dozen places I’d have to look.

I often wonder, though, what he would think of me. He wasn’t one to talk about the future much, so I can’t be sure what he had in mind for me as I grew up. I chose a very different path than he did as I went on in life, picking books over farming equipment and writing over being a full time farmer. He always encouraged me in my reading, though. He maintained an interest in my grades and never seemed to mind if I did want to pick up a novel instead of weed the garden or fish. I had not made the decision to be a writer before his death, though. I would definitely like to have gotten his opinion on that. I wish I would have been able to see his face at my high school and college graduations- although I’m sure he would have ducked out and avoided the crowd after seeing me walk across the stage for each one. I wish I could have been able to hear his reaction when I told him I got my first post-college job or hear his frustrations that his house was just outside of the delivery range of the newspaper I worked at later on.

I would have loved to have seen him at my wedding, sure his dressy flannel shirt and fresh, clean jeans would have been perfect contrast to my own suit and Chuck Taylors. I’d give nearly anything to be able to pick up the phone and tell him that I still look up to him to this day. That his hard-working nature rubbed off on me, whether it is in a different field or not. That I strive to be myself as openly as possible and that I don’t ‘put on airs’ to make people think I’m someone I’m not. I like to think that he would be proud of the man I’ve become, the way I’ve handled myself and my life through thick and thin. I know one day I’ll see him in Heaven, and I look forward to seeing what he has to say about everything we never got to talk about. Until then, I have my memories, I have my mementos, and I have the strong will and morals that he provided me with – whether he knew it or not.

Happy birthday, Papaw. I love you and I miss you every day. I’ll see you again on God’s great golden shore and we’ll go fishing, or maybe just take a walk and catch up. It will be a glad reunion day.

Bridge to Terabithia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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