Returning Home

Greetings and Salutations, everyone! We are growing ever closer to the spookiest time of year, quickly chased by the merriest time of year. In other words, I am absolutely in my element! I have been immersing myself in all things horror for the last few weeks, as opposed to the rest of the year when I immerse myself in all things horror. It’s very exclusive. As I near another busy time of year, filled with events and signings and all manner of awesome opportunities to meet you all, I have to tell you about the most recent one.

On October 9th I was honored to do a discussion and reading in my beloved hometown of Tazewell, Va. Being from said small town, the Appalachian tradition of ‘coming home’ took on a new meaning for this event. The Tazewell Historical Society asked me to do the event, which was held in the recently revamped and reopened Tazewell Train Station, formerly known as ‘the old depot.’

The old depot had been abandoned, just sitting in its historic spot, going back to the earth for years, decades even. Fading, dirty bricks, boarded windows and doors, vines crawling up the sides with reckless abandon, the building was exactly something that would inspire this little horror lover’s heart (and there may or may not be something in the works based on this). The coolest thing about this is the fact that I lived less than a quarter mile away from the building. I passed it every time I was going home, every time I left to go anywhere. It was always a figure of history that loomed on the edge of my vision, and instilled curiosity consistently. I may or may not have tried various times to take a peek inside the building, with never a spark of luck, so this was an even more interesting opportunity.

Needless to say when I was asked if I would be interested in doing a presentation on Appalachian Myth and Legend, along with a reading of some of my work, I leapt on the chance. The fact that it was going to be held in the depot building was just icing on the cake.

To prepare for the event I examined much of what I already knew of myth and wives’ tales that exist in Tazewell. There are a fair number of those, but one that has always interested me is that of Devil’s Slide Cave, otherwise known as Higginbotham #1. Supposedly farmers that live and work near this cave, which rests just off the road at the foot of a mountain, have heard moans and cries of unknown origin coming from within. Animals that get too near the cave are said to die soon after or simply disappear. A group of spelunkers and cave mappers went into the cave and reported a sinkhole not far from the entrance. Once they made their way down they went several miles in (I’ve heard they may have spent as much as two days within, but I’m not sure of that part). Eventually they found another dropoff and began hearing the sounds they had been told about. They lowered themselves down to the full extent of their equipment and reported that they couldn’t quite reach the bottom, although they could see it. The group claimed to have seen a set of heavy iron doors at the bottom of the hole, through which the sounds of Hell itself could be heard and a great heat could be felt. I’ve heard the tale several times throughout my life, but I have never gotten to explore the cave, as it is on private land.

Being a lover of all things lore and myth, I made the connection here with the Devil’s Looking Glass in Erwin, Tn. and several other evil seeming legends, of which there are no shortage. The group of people that showed up to listen and converse with me were fantastic, and it was honestly an amazing event. Looking back on it, I can’t imagine how I could be so blessed to be able to experience that thing of wonder, the Appalachian Homecoming. Getting to present some of my work and my research, an object of my passion, that close to where I spent some of my most formative years – in a home that was and is still passed down through my family I might add – is nothing short of a blessing that I am ever so thankful for.

That, I think, is something we all sort of hope for. To be able to return to our origin with our story strapped to our back, not in an act of desperation, but an act of triumph. To be able to return home and say “look at what I’ve done. I’m here because I WANT to be here, not because I have to be.” It is a feeling of success and achievement that I hope I can always keep with me. Having a passion for the arts is by no means an easy journey, and it does not often come with the sort of instant gratification the world is growing more and more used to, but this truly makes me feel like I am on the right path. I have had my ups and downs lately with my work, especially while striving to revamp my website, up my market presence, and make myself more widely known. Sometimes it seems like I’m just pounding my fists against a brick wall, hoping against all odds to bring it down. On the bad days, it seems this is a futile attempt, but on the good days, every now and then, one or two of those bricks come tumbling down. These last few weeks, those bricks are tumbling, and I can’t be more thankful for that.

I know, of course, that every journey is one of ups and downs. As happy and successful as I feel this week, I may end up feeling just as unsuccesseful next week, but the key and point of this post, is that sense of failure, that ever-present nag that is imposter syndrome, is false. Your journey is always successful as long as you don’t give up on yourself. You have to push through the bad days, the low times, the negative commentary, and realize that these are merely speedbumps. Tests. They are nothing more than life’s way of making sure you don’t get moving too fast or flying too high before you slow down and take a tumble. Your time of ultimate achievement, your moment in the spotlight, will absolutely come. But no amount hemming and hawing, whining and crying, forcing and threatening will make it happen. It will happen when you have overcome those obstacles and truly have everything you need to embrace the big finish.

So, my advice, as always, is to keep going. Push through the pain, the bad days, the sadness. Never let a road block cause you to come to a full stop. Turn the wheel and seek out a different path. Have faith in yourself and your journey. Fight your way through the hard days and enjoy every moment of the good ones. Most importantly, remember those good feelings and use them to keep you motivated through the bad. One day, you too may have that storybook ‘homecoming’ and it will be a moment you can definitely be proud of.

If you need anyone to talk to or motivate you through those hard times, I am always available as well. You can find me on social media, use the contact page on the site, comment on a post, or use any other method you can to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to help any way I can. Also, my amazing wife filmed my presentation at the depot and I have since uploaded it to Youtube. You can watch it here, if you’re interested. Have a great rest of the week, everyone. I look forward to hearing from you!

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.

The Road to Greatness

Last week I made a post talking about what I would like to be remembered for. I asked for feedback from my readers and got some great responses as well, and it made me think about something that I’ve often had on my mind in regards to writing and the future. The simplest way to say it is this; I want to be great. Not just at writing, mind you, but that is the task at hand here. I want to be great, I want to wow people, and I want to create something that is not just going to be remembered, but something that is worthy of remembering.

One of my favorite movies (developed from an amazing book that I am just now getting my hands on) that addresses this best is Eddie and The Cruisers. Eddie Wilson was a man with a passion that few people could understand. It burned inside of him so hot and so strong that he literally couldn’t be happy unless he was letting it out in his music. He struck it big with an album and his band toured the East Coast for a while before things got a little hairy. The movie, obviously straying a bit, portrayed this by having The Cruisers cut an album with a different style of music than most people were used to in the 50’s, which the execs of their label flat out condemned. Eddie, driven mad by rage, left the studio and wasn’t seen again (spoiler alert), at least not until the second movie. Eddie left in a rage because his passion, the thing that he felt he was created to do, was being stomped on, his ideas being viewed as poor quality. Eddie felt immensely betrayed at being told his ideas weren’t good enough and he uttered a statement which always sends chills through me.

“If I can’t be great then there’s no sense in ever playing music again.”

Since I first put pen to paper I have felt this way about my writing. But during that time; during the writing, the stress, the feeling that I’ll never make it to the top of anyone’s slush pile long enough for my work to be considered, I’ve never taken the time to define exactly what ‘great’ is. To Eddie Wilson it was creating a sound unlike anyone has ever heard before. But what is it to me? After some deliberating and thinking, I think I have one potential tentative definition to strive for.

To me great is; having someone read my work and be inspired or moved by it. Having someone read one of my books and rethink what they thought they knew of the topic before finding my work. Having someone who considers one of my book to be one of their favorites. Maybe even someone who can’t stop thinking about words that I wrote, something that I created. To me that’s great. Of course a million dollar book deal, book signings in at least 5 major U.S. cities and a book tour where I get to read from and discuss my work after riding the top of the best seller list would also be great, I think the others hold a similar impact. At least for the person affected by the work.

That leads me to another instance of asking for all of you to tell me your own opinions on the matter. We all want to be great at our respective crafts, to have the satisfaction of knowing that we did our best and that our best is pretty darn good, but what exactly puts us over that line? So tell me, when you all think about what constitutes greatness in regards to your work, what exactly do you see? Are you presenting your art work to a group of a few dozen at a private show, playing music for a state leader, or are you sitting around the campfire telling scary stories to your children and knowing that the story will then be passed down to your grandchildren because the words were so powerful they stuck and became a solid foundation in your child’s memory? Leave a comment or, if that’s too open, send me a message and tell me what you think of when you think of greatness. What level do you think your work must reach before you will finally consider yourself having achieved greatness? And, furthermore, why?

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and I welcome all comments and questions. If any of you have a topic suggestion, I ask that you definitely get it to me. I would love to know that I’m talking about the things that you all want to hear more about. Leave your comments below and happy writing!

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