Action and Reaction

Happy Friday, everyone. We are officially slipping into the ‘Ber’ months and I am pretty pumped to be entering my favorite time of year again. Yes, those of you who know me personally know I am somewhat obsessed with the Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas seasons, and you can imagine I am leaping into the best time of year head first. I’ve been working hard at getting my recent releases out to as many new audiences as I can and trying to pick up some new events along the way, but unfortunately that has been difficult of late. With cases of this dreaded plague back on the rise two of the events I’ve lined up have been canceled and everyone – myself included – have returned to higher than average safety protocols. I fully support this, I might add. I would rather everyone be safe than run the risk of getting sick for a festival’s sake. I was fortunate, however, to attend one event on August 14th, and headline my own book signing last weekend. Both of these events proved to be a blast where I got to meet several new people and recieved some incredibly warm welcome that definitely made my day.

Free Comic Book Day on August 14th took me to my favorite comic shop, Cavalier Comics, in Wise, Va. I was set up with some other local artists and we had the chance to showcase our work to dozens of awesome folks who came in to chat with us. During this event I actually released my newest novel, Journey to the Winter Lands, in a limited first edition printing and it got great response. So much so that I have extended the first edition run and had to order a second printing (which I’m already about halfway sold out of). One young man stands out in particular during that day, which is kind of what I want to center this post around.

I met a young man early in the day who was thrilled to pick up my newest book and even wanted to have his photo with me and talked to me for a good few minutes about how exciting it was to meet a local author and get to have that face-to-face interaction. He quickly revealed he is also an author and artist and was very pleased to meet another. Needless to say, this made my mood soar. So often people ask how artists and authors stand ocassional rejection, being overlooked, not always making tons of money and other less than flattering facts of life. The answer is pretty simple when you consider reactions like that.

For myself as an author I have to say I have always been more interested in having people read and experience my work rather than focusing on the money it can bring. Don’t get me wrong, my dream is to ride the top of the best seller list and write something the whole world wants to read, but who doesn’t want that? It is so immediately thrilling and exceedingly gratifying for me to know that even just one person gained some inspiration and joy from my work, though. Being asked to give advice, and take photos, and talk about the craft and my methods of creating with an aspiring author and artist was an exprience that, above all, reminded me what it was like to be starting out.

I don’t consider myself a professional by any stretch of the imagination, but I do feel like I have a good deal of creative and publication experience to draw off of right now, so I like to use that to my advantage when possible. It was those types of connections that helped keep me motivated when I was starting out. I made contacts within my local authors guild, of which I am now a member, and got any and every piece of advice I could. Knowing that, if nothing else, my words may have helped inspire the next generation of creative success, is nothing short of flattering.

I have ridden that feeling for a while, right up until my latest event at Tall Tales Bookshop in Greeneville, Tn. on Saturday, where I received another incredibly warm welcome. A representative of Community Insurance in Greeneville came into the book store shortly after I got started and brought me a box of cookies to welcome me to the town and wish me luck on the event. That, honestly, is one of the things I love about our Appalachian region as a whole. Small town generosity and Southern charm never cease to amaze me. I had an incredible time at the event, feeling the warmest welcome from every person I encountered that day. I loved the bookstore as well, finding a few pieces of literary greatness I’ve been looking for for a while.

Overall one point behind this post is a pretty simple one to me. If you like an artist’s work, tell them. I know I’ve said that before, but it holds true even more the longer I am involved in the world of creative arts. Speaking with someone who enjoys my work is just an absolute blessing. I love being able to talk about my craft – particularly my personal contributions to the world of literature – with anyone who will listen, but knowing that person has read and enjoyed words that I created brings me a level of satisfaction I can’t even begin to describe. In short, it absolutely shows me that pushing forward through a lack of reviews or purchases or even a complete media blackout on my work is worth it for those few moments. When you encounter someone who truly enjoys your work and is not afraid to tell you it does a lot to remove doubt. And, believe me, for any creative out there doubt is a very real curse. Self-doubt is something that can utterly cripple a creative, so those brief moments of “hey, maybe I don’t totally suck” can be the difference between that person releasing another piece or throwing in the towel forever.

Another reason I wanted to make this post is to remind those creatives who have maybe forgotten what it’s like to be new to their craft how important it is to be kind and supportive of those joining our noble pursuits. An artist or creative just starting their journey into the world of releasing their products into the wind is, unfortunately, a fragile creature that often should be handled with care and encouragement. When someone who is just starting out reaches out for advice or even slight validation one bad experience can make them close that creative door forever. It is so important for those of us with some experience in the matter to be kind and uplifting if we are asked for advice or approached by someone wanting to talk to us about getting started. I’ve seen some people be outright nasty to fans or newcomers to the craft who are approaching them for help or advice and it is disgusting. I always try to be as kind as I can and encouraging, but honest. If someone is approaching something in a way that has traditionally been more trouble than it is worth I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I don’t want to steer anyone down a path that will be harder for them in the long run. In general, the most helpful thing I can say is we should always strive to uplift and help one another. Life is hard enough without us all being jerks to each other.

I hope this post finds you all doing well throughout another tough time with health and safety. We all are struggling along as best we can, but I understand how truly difficult it can be. Personally, I can report that it hasn’t been as much of a destroyer of inspiration and motivation as last year was. I have been able to work on some new projects that I am very excited about. I hope to have some announcements on upcoming projects, as well as upcoming events soon. Unfortunately, two of my September events have been canceled, but I do have a book singing lined up for September 18 at Appalachian Books in Norton, Va. This store is one of my absolute favorites so I hope to see as many of you there as possible. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to me with any stories of your experiences as a creative, reach out for any advice or comments on the craft in general, and by all means, please remember to review the work of any creative whose work you enjoy. It can make their day. I hope everyone who had gotten copies of my works has enjoyed them and will give them a review so they can reach all new audiences as well. Make sure to believe in your own work and don’t be afraid to reach outside of your comfort zone to get what you want. Art makes the world go ’round, so make sure you are doing your part!

A New Decade

April is coming to a close in yet another year, this one filled with nearly as many surprises as the last. Hopefully the first four months of 2021 have gone well for all of you. I can honestly say there have been some pretty interesting changes come about so far this year, not the least of which is my entrance into the third decade of my life on this big blue ball.

That’s right, last weekend I celebrated my birthday and the start of my 30th year of life. It hardly seems possible, if I’m being honest. I don’t feel a day over 75… wait? But seriously, I feel like 30 years old is a pretty good milestone. I don’t feel like I should be that old, though. I still find myself looking around for an adult when I have a question about something I’m working on, only to realize I am the adult. Nevermind that I typically know the answer I’m looking for anyway, my brain doesn’t want to accept that it has pondered life’s larger questions for three decades already.

I was able to celebrate my birthday in a pretty fantastic way, thanks to my amazing wife. We got some great food, and I got some fantastic gifts (not the least of which was the full series of “The Office” on DVD with more than 15 hours of extras) and we spent the actual day of my birthday enjoying the Flower and Food Festival at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tn. Arriving shortly before the park opened, we spent the entire day celebrating great rides, delicious semi-international cuisine, and wonderful Appalachian culture in the Great Smoky Mountains. It was definitely a day to remember.

All of that got me thinking, of course, about just what sort of wonderful memories I had created throughout the day and my life, and what others I would still be able to create within my life span. There are a lot of things I want to do in my life. Plenty of travel, cruising, writing, exploring nature, and having a fantastic life with my wife. Frankly, continuing to think about the things I want to do is making me quite excited for the years to come and what they will hold. But it is also making me beyond thankful that I have had the opportunities I have had already in this life.

I have seen a lot of things in my short 30 years (ouch, saying it that way kind of stings a bit…) and I have accomplished a fair bit as well. As of now my books are being sold, not only by me personally and on Amazon, but in several local stores as well. I have created a page for those locations here, to make it easy to find!

That being said, I have to admit I have been struggling recently with feeling like I have truly accomplished anything in my life. Between receiving more rejections than I care to admit on my recent agent queries for Maverip and seeing fluctuations in my sales for Moonlight and Tales of the Mysterious and the Macabre, it has been a touch and go situation for my own positivity lately. My wife has done an amazing job reminding me that I have plenty to be proud of and feel accomplished for, however. As of this writing, my books are being sold in 3 book stores and 3 local boutique and general store type locations. It’s kind of hard to believe, but I do fully appreciate the magnitude of that figure. To know that there are people in two states able to physically walk into a store and see my work on the shelves of a store is a fantastic feeling.

I plan to continue trying to expand my distribution to new locations and continue writing and publishing more work as well. Mainly, with this post, I just wanted to take the time to encourage you all and remind anyone reading that, no matter how old you are or what stage of life you find yourself in, you have unlimited possibilities for what you can accomplish. You might not have achieved every goal you wanted to achieve, and you might not feel like things are going exactly as planned, but the only way to change that is by not giving up. Believe me when I tell you I know it is not always easy, by any means, but it is definitely worth it. One day soon you will look back at when you didn’t think these things were possible and you won’t believe how much you have done!

As a tip for those days where you feel you haven’t accomplished anything worthwhile – because they will come, believe me, I recommend removing yourself from the situation for a moment and looking at your work with an outside view. Look at the creative works you have completed, especially if people are paying money to enjoy them and are talking about them in a positive way. Take a moment to truly examine the magnitude of what you have done. Look at the personal goals you have achieved and the things you have to hold dear. Frankly, seeing it in that light may well make you more proud than you ever thought you would have a right to be. From there, I recommend setting realistic goals to look back on later. Finish that chapter, that painting, complete the edits you have been putting off. It will make a difference, which may well be the thing that continues to inspire you and help you believe in your work and yourself in the long run. I am always available to help with encouraging and inspiring, too. Don’t hesitate to talk to me about the ongoing frustrations of being a creative in this climate – believe me I know!

Keep your eyes open for more news coming up, and enjoy every minute of your lives. Another year will be starting before we know it!

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.

Flowers for Vases/descansos Album Review

Happy Friday, everyone! I haven’t done a lot of music reviews in my day, but this album definitely deserves tons of attention. I knew a new Hayley Williams solo album was coming after seeing some hints earlier in the week, but I had no idea when. I saw the news last night that we would get the full album today, so I jumped on it as soon as I got the chance. To say I’m impressed may be an understatement. I’ve been a fan of Hayley Williams and Paramore for years, and I loved Petals for Armor, so I was super pumped to hear this one, which Williams calls “a prequel, or some sort of detour between parts one and two of Petals.”

From the album’s first notes, I was drawn right in. The tone of the entire album felt like a discourse in heartache and isolated growth. I have always been drawn to Williams’ musical choices, from the range she uses with her vocals to her instrumental choices over the years, and this album furthers that beyond even my expectations. Flowers for Vases, written and performed entirely by Williams in her home studio, plays with a low, light melodical tone that is very pleasing to the ears.

With song titles like “First Thing To Go,” “Good Grief,” and “My Limb” the album reads like a letter to the pain and trauma Williams has experienced through her career. From the confines of a year of quarantine, the album and its inspiration are fantastically strong, an ode to the independence Williams has been embodying since starting her solo pursuits.

One of my favorite songs on the album (I’ll have to have a few more listens to pinpoint a single favorite) was “Trigger.” Beginning with a haunting piano melody which is soon joined by the low tones of Williams’ voice, the song is a testimony of the determination the artist has after suffering heartbreak.

“At first it seems easy, I vow not to give up

Let ’em debase me, while keeping my chin up”

-Hayley Williams, “Trigger”

Just some of the lyrics from this song, detailing the strength Williams is portraying as the album gains its footing.

Another great track, “Inordinary” details Williams’ move to Tennessee in her youth, discussing the hardships of moving and relationships, as well as the feeling of shattered trust that can result in a broken relationship. I feel like this track showcases some of the impressive lyric writing Williams is sure to continue to build on. She tells an entire story in around 4 minutes, with a chorus that is somewhat repetitive but never tiresome, and verses that are weighted with memories of betrayal and change that are very relatable to most anyone.

Between the lyrics, the low-toned melody, the piano and acoustic accompaniment, this album is a great continuation of the impressive work Hayley Williams has given us since she first hit the charts. I am certain the next album in her solo career will be just as, if not more impressive, and I look forward to listening to Flowers quite a few more times. If you haven’t listened to the album yet, I highly recommend it. If you have listened to it, what did you think?

**It goes without saying, but the featured photo here is not my art work, and I own none of it. Simple screenshot of me listening to the album on a streaming service!

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.

Rejection, Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

via Rejection

Reclaim Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Gift of Leap Day

It takes roughly 365.2421 days for the earth to make one full cycle around the sun. The traditional Gregorian calendar, based roughly on the Julian calendar, was originally made having only 365 days a year – every year. Those extra six hours might not seem like they are a very big deal, but after ten years of leaving six hours out of our calendar, we would be roughly 60 hours behind the earth’s true location in its path of orbit. So in the 1500’s we listened to the Egyptians and Leap Year was created, adding an extra day to the end of February once every four years so we could more accurately monitor our trip through space. What does this mean for us? Extra time.

For many writers and artists, our craft, our passion is something we do on the side, spending our typical work day in a 9-5 average job in order to pay our bills. By spending our lives in this fashion it is very easy for us to get bogged down in our jobs and in the every day activities therein and allow our passions to fall to the wayside. This is a terrible thing, we know, but what can we do? After all, there are only 24 hours in a day and we’re only one person. If only we had more time…. Well here you go, people!

Once every four years there is 24 extra hours added to the calendar year that  (assuming we can take one day off of the standard 9-5) can be used purely for our craft. I’m aware that doesn’t seem like a lot, but believe me, it can make a huge difference. Let’s assume that in one hour you can write about 2,000 words – and yes, that number definitely varies, but this is just for example’s sake – and on this particular day you can set aside ten hours to write. That gives you somewhere in the ball park of 20,000 words that you didn’t have before. That’s almost the size of a novella. That’s a very sizable short story. Basically, that is one heck of an accomplishment.

Too often we use the excuse of time to prevent us from doing things that make us happy, that might make us successful, that might literally make our very dreams come true. Why? I think Jack Kerouac may have said it best with a quote that, although altered in many different ways says, basically; “Climb that damn mountain. Because in the end nobody is going to remember the time spent mowing the lawn or working in an office.”

If that isn’t a powerful thought, I really don’t know what is. We allow ourselves to do the day in and day out monotonous crap while we’re younger because we want to pretend that we have forever to do something else. We put off so much because we say that we just don’t have the time, don’t have the money or just aren’t ready. So many excuses keep us from achieving our dreams that it’s almost shameful to admit it. The bottom line is that we’re only here for a little while and if we keeping putting everything off until that fabled and ever busier “tomorrow” we may wake up one day and realize that “tomorrow” is never going to come. So make the most of TODAY, after all it only comes once every four years. Even if you put everything off for another four years and decide to make Leap Day your “whatever the hell I want” day, that’s a start, right? So drop it all. Pick up the pen, the paint brush, the clay, put on the boots and the jacket, get on the surfboard – do whatever it is that you feel is going to make you happier and improve your life in even the smallest way. Be it eating a new type of food or discovering a new type of plant because you decided to take a hike in a new part of the forest, you deserve it.

Life is short, people. We need to remember that. If we have a passion, a desire, a talent, we need to embrace it. We deserve to embrace it. Take the time out of life to make yourself happy, no matter how small the task is that will provide that happiness. Even if you decide to literally only take one day every four years to dedicate to yourself, it’s a start. And if you dropped the ball this year, you’ve got four more years to make the plans. Leap Day of 2020 is on a Saturday, so there’s even more reason to make it awesome. Plan out that book and start writing, buy paints and canvas, buy new hiking gear and request a day off of work. Whatever it takes to accomplish the goal, whatever it is. Just stop making excuses and climb that damn mountain before you wake up one day and realize it’s too late.