The Sublime Nature of Grief

Since the loss of my grandmother my life has been full of a lot of conflicting emotions. I’ve dealt with the loss as best I can, trying hard to honor her memory and move forward. One thing that is always painfully obvious when we lose someone close to us is that everyone deals with loss in their own way. What works for one person may not work for another, and one loss may not affect us the same as another. No matter how you handle the situation, sooner or later you will come to a time when you have to not only face the loss, but yourself.

This week I took some time on a particularly hard day and tried to do that. In an attempt to connect with myself, God, nature, and my grandmother I went to a local dam and nature area for some peace and quiet. If you’re unfamiliar with the summer season in the Appalachian mountains, we often have very hot days in the month of August. A number of summer afternoons often see some good thunderstorms or at least a nice passing shower or two. This, of course, can lead to amazingly beautiful foggy conditions. So much so that there is an old wives’ tale my grandmother used to remind me of often; if you count the foggy mornings in August that’s the amount of big snow events you’ll have that winter.

One of my favorite things in life is to find myself in the midst of a heavy fog, pondering the sublime mystery of the shrouded world around me. Is anyone else in the fog? Am I completely and utterly alone? What do the shadowy figures in the thick cloud represent? The feeling of floating in a cloud, the world around me oblivious of my own ideas and presence is marvelous. One of the best moments of my life has been in conditions like this. To say it has a special place in my heart and soul is a definite understatement.

When I arrived at my destination that evening, I had no idea the fantastic occurrence that awaited me. As soon as I rounded a curve in the road and my eyes fell on the river I was greeted with an amazingly thick, ghostly fog floating about a foot above the water. It snaked across the surface of the river like a living, breathing cloud. It rolled and swirled with the breeze, twisting like the spirit of the river itself. After a quick visit to top of the dam, I returned to the riverside and crossed a bridge to an island in the river, an island surrounded by fog.

I found a bench in the midst of this beauty and sat by the riverside, letting the sublime consume me. I communed with nature, God, my grandmother, and myself. I spent probably just under an hour there by the riverside, fog rising and rolling around me, taking photos and trying to find relief from my own strained internal presence. By the time I was ready to leave the fog had risen higher and was rolling over the top of the bridge that was my pathway.

Crossing this bridge, I was able to stand in the middle of the fog and feel the cool moisture settle on my skin. I breathed in the earthy mist and watched the world around me become veiled and reemerge anew over and over as the cloud rolled by. A sense of peace settled on me as this happened, bringing me some relief and allowing me to just enjoy the cool evening. It was a superb experience, and one that I won’t soon forget.

Before the loss of my grandmother, it had been years since I lost someone close to me. I haven’t dealt with loss in a way that other people do, depression and stress affecting me in a serious way. Because of this I feel like being able to express those issues and have experiences like I had this week are very important. If it has taught me anything it is that we all must find what works for us. Avoiding the mourning process and not allowing ourselves to grieve the way we need to is not helpful. It isn’t healthy. One thing that we have to admit and be aware of is that we may sometimes need more time than others to get over a loss. We may need time alone, or time with others, or even a mix. Whatever it is that you need in order to cope, you have to figure it out.

Embrace yourself, the world around you, and whatever helps make you more you. The things that bring you back to feeling like yourself are the things you need to cope with the loss. Don’t allow anyone, especially yourself, keep you from that healing magic. It can truly be life-changing. Honestly, it can be the difference between your own life and death.

Reach out to someone. Never be ashamed of your feelings, your hardships, your needs. Find the relief you need and make sure you are getting enough of whatever it is to help you return to the you you want to be. Accept yourself, accept your loss, but don’t let the grief and mourning consume you. Life can go on, if you find out how to let it. Happiness can return. Even if it’s just one step at a time.

Although I will never truly be over the loss of my grandmother, I now have an idea of what I can do to help me cope when things get tough. I will do what I can to make sure I am allowing myself the proper time and space to be able to let myself, and my grandmother’s memory, continue on.

If you are mourning, grieving, or otherwise in any emotional need, reach out to someone. I’d be more than happy to listen to anything you need. Find your method and make sure you’re returning your soul to its necessary health.

Harry Potter and the 8-book review

Hey there friends and fans! It’s the end of May and, as promised, here is the first in a new kind of review for me. I apologize for being a bit later than intended, but between work and some personal challenges, here we are. Without further ado, let’s jump right in! Obviously, the appeal of the standard review isn’t something I can completely drop when a book particularly calls to me, but this has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while. In case you’ve had your head in the sand, I’m talking about my review of the Harry Potter series in its entirety. As someone who grew up with J.K Rowling’s amazing books (although I admittedly didn’t join the celebration until the release of the third book) I have been incredibly influenced by the ideas and art within them. My style, my interests, even some of my own moral ideas reflect some of those exhibited by The Boy Who Lived and his closest friends. One reason I wanted to do this review, aside from having an excuse to talk about them, was to make myself buckle down and read the series from beginning to end again. The last time I read each book in succession like this was immediately after the release of “Deathly Hallows,” and, after doing it again, I think I see why. I’m pretty sure my brain was saving me once again from the pain of having to deal with the end of this amazing series. However, in this instance I also had “The Cursed Child” to stave off the ‘ending pains.’ As a side note, since this book comes so long after the originals and acts as a very different sort of book, I’ll probably set up a separate paragraph about it as well.

To begin, this series is about Harry Potter, a young wizard who was attacked by the most powerful Dark Wizard who ever lived. Potter, after being raised by muggles (non-magic folk) for 11 years, is thrown into the wizarding world and his own fame with no knowledge of any of it. The series follows Harry’s footsteps through his 7 year tenure at Hogwarts, where he and his friends must face typical teenage angst, learning the facets of magic, and the return of Voldemort, who still wants nothing more than to see Harry dead.

As I said, I fell into this series at a young age and I was instantly hooked. From the first paragraph J.K. Rowling drives you into this fantasy world that, despite the silly antics littering the pages, is almost entirely believable. Even now, more than a decade later, I love reading about Harry’s adventures and his education at an antiquated, unusual, and wonderful school. The characters were, for the most part, incredibly relatable to me. I was very impressed to find out that this was still the case after all these years. As I read into these characters I found myself understanding their conflicts, their sadness, and their excitement.

One of the strongest things Rowling presents, in my opinion, is the threat of darkness that surrounds Voldemort’s return. Every one of his followers we are introduced to is more dastardly than the last – despite the blatant incapability of some of them. Harry’s link to his would-be murderer is something that, even at the end of the seventh novel, feels like it is much deeper and more involved than we could ever understand. This idea is, of course, further explored in “The Cursed Child,” but more on that later.

One of the things that continuously interested me with this series – even more so at this point in my life and the state of the world – was Rowling’s continued incorporation of the necessity of equality, between sexes, genders, sexualities, species and races. Time and time again our main characters (particularly Hermione) find the mistreatment of anyone who is different from the pure-blood, magical standard in the wizarding world deplorable. Organizations are started (S.P.E.W. – not spew), punches are thrown, spells are cast, and lives are lost in the name of equality. I love the repeated examples that show all species and races and sexes should have the same claim to the world and its happiness. Rowling doesn’t back down from bringing these issues to the forefront of the novels in many different ways, and I think the story and morals are all that much more important because of it.

Harry’s coming of age was something that made many of my generation feel a little less alone, a little stronger, and a little more at ease about our own lives. Rowling’s tale reflects some of the difficulties that can face all of us as we enter adulthood – with the hopeful exception of a murderous psychopath chasing you through your life. So many of us bonded incredibly with this tale, feeling the characters experience some of the same things we all felt, facing some situations we were familiar with, and it showed us all that everything would be fine. After all, if a 17 year old can handle battling most of the wizarding world and coming toe-to-toe with the most powerful wizard alive, we can surely handle high school, right?

Rowling’s nonchalant style throughout much of this saga makes the books very easy to read. Her often lighthearted approach at even the most difficult situations helps drive these novels home and make them stick with us long after we’ve closed the books. The saga is so immense and full that I’m not sure I have a favorite part, or even a favorite book, although I think “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Order of the Phoenix,” and “Deathly Hallows” are steps above the others for me.

Overall, I’m not sure there are many things I don’t like about the series. I would like to see more of Harry’s story played out. I would really love Rowling to write a book about the events before Harry’s birth. A nice long exploration of Dumbledore’s past, the true story of Voldemort’s rise to power, background on James’s family. Of course these things have been touched on in various ways since the original novels.

When it comes to “The Cursed Child” I had a good deal of inner conflict when reading the work. I was very excited to see the script released in novel format, and I would love to see the production, and I do think it could be a great movie. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, as this was my first reading of the book, even though I preordered it and have had it for well over a year. This continuation of Harry’s tale, bringing his family into focus and revisiting events of his past was a wonderful idea. I had a good deal of trouble relating to the adult Harry and his son, Albus, at first. I found the boy to be quite impetulant and much more like a Malfoy than a Potter, and I thought Harry did not feel like the same person he was in the series. As the story went on I did relate a bit more the characters, and I admittedly do enjoy the idea of Hermione as Minster of Magic. I won’t mention too many more spoilers here, because a good deal of people have missed the book. Suffice to say that I enjoyed the continuation, but still would have loved more mention of the past events of the wizarding world.

Overall, this series is by far one of the best things I’ve read in my life – and, believe me, that list is NOT a small one. The wizarding world continues to have immense appeal to me, particularly in that they have little to no need of the technology that continues to drive this world forward and diminish our connection with the universe. The continued use of quills and lanterns, a lack of trivial things like television and video games, and the obvious embrace of the natural world still warms my heart, too. But what did you think about it? Do you love the series, do you hate it? If you’d never read it before, how did it hit you, and if you were returning to the books did you still find yourself interested in the story? What, if anything, changed for you? Share your thoughts in the comments and share this as far and wide as you can to get plenty of people involved! For me Harry Potter was, and is, truly an inspiration. The laughter, the tears and the passion that filled these pages will never die and I am exceptionally glad that I can always turn to them. I am proud to have grown up on them. I will be happy to pass them on to future generations. Always.

Who I Really Am

My life has been filled with an uncanny love of literature, an unquenchable obsession with the written word, and a passion for the arts that absolutely can’t be rivaled. I have lived my entire life with a book in my hand, a pen in my pocket, and written words surrounding my every move. I have always been drawn to books and literature. The very thought of books ignites a fire in my heart like nothing else. I struggled for a bit in my youth with just what that meant for me, often finding myself reading where my peers were playing sports and writing in my free time when others were hunting and carrying on in their own way. More often than not I was the guy in school who would be seen with a novel as big as his head and more interest in the library than the gym or the football field. People often questioned why I loved books the way I did, and they often got various answers, but one thing always stayed the same, whether I voiced it or not; it’s who I am.

By the time I made it to high school and realized that I wanted to be a writer, another seed planted itself in my mind. My junior year of high school I found myself in Larry Hypes’s class. This was a man who had quite a reputation for being an excellent teacher at Tazewell High School – often noted as such by the various non-academically minded students who professed how little they liked his class. But it was here that I flourished. I found myself in the midst of literature I hadn’t covered before, and where new light was shed on works that I was familiar with, and something clicked inside of me. I realized, somewhere deep within myself that there was a whole new world of literature appreciation for me to embrace – in the form of teaching. I grew closer to Mr. Hypes through that year, finding his ideas often matched my own and his methods opened up the written word in ways I hadn’t experienced before. As I went through the year, reading and writing more than ever, the idea of teaching dug itself deeper in my conscious.

I had been asked about teaching before this, of course, and I had shrugged it off with little more than a thought. I was too young to know for sure what I wanted. I knew I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world, to experience the incredible sensations the world has to offer, and I wanted to make a difference. Teaching was something for old men and women, for huge brains with more knowledge than they knew what to do with and too little adventure left in their hearts to care. It couldn’t be for me. But suddenly it was in my mind, in my heart. During those formative years the idea remained, although buried by the urgency of graduations and colleges, by new novel ideas and dreams of publication. I continued to embrace the craft, feeling with new heights the impressive weight and passion of literature and the world. As new concepts were introduced to me by new professors, I grew more and more fascinated with the concepts that lived through the centuries, feeling sometimes that they were put down on paper and flowed through the ebb of time to plant themselves in my very soul.

I explored this new literature with a ravenous passion as the seed that had planted itself within me grew to new levels. Subtly allowing myself to accept the possibility of education, I entered the teaching program in college. The concepts and ideas brought a sense of calm to my mind where before there was a mild form of panic when I considered what career path I could embark on while seeking publication. In addition to exploring theories and methods of standard education I was allowed the opportunity to observe. The very word itself is a disservice to what I experienced. I was able to join educators in their pursuit, spreading knowledge to kids of various ages. I observed in a number of classrooms in a number of grades, and always felt the same things. Wonder. Passion. A desire for education that encompassed all else – perhaps not from every student, but no matter what classroom I was in, the feeling was alive. As much as this feeling enlightened me, I allowed life to get in the way. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say I put the idea of teaching on the back burner. Dreams were replaced with jobs. I placed myself in position to make money and allowed goals to slip into the background.

Recently, though, the urge to teach has raised its head again. The desire to spread my knowledge and love of literature to new generations has become such an immovable mountain within myself that I can’t ignore it. Each passing day brings new ideas, new elements of literature, new things I want to teach my future students. I can barely go an hour without having some new project, a new element of one of my favorite books or facets of literature that I can explain to students taking over my thoughts. It’s becoming more and more a yearning with each passing moment. My life is tied with literature, the art of the written word is fused into every fiber of my being, and nothing could make more sense than to share that passion with others. More than ever I want to give back to the world what my favorite professors have given to me. As the world changes, literature becoming more of an afterthought as technology rises to all new levels, it is ever more important to me to give it a voice. Despite its strong presence, the written word can’t pick itself up and introduce itself to the coming ages. So it’s up to teachers. It’s up to people like myself for whom the passion never sleeps. I will stand in the face of the darkness of the world and shed the light of passion on its battle-scarred face.

I made this post to let you all know that I’m on my way to doing something about it. I have started the application process to get my provisional teaching license in order to get the ball rolling. I allowed my dreams to sit on the shelf for far too long. Writing has been and always will be first and foremost. I am a writer by nature, by purpose, by passion – and in the same ways, I’m now all too happy to realize, I am a teacher. I let myself sit on this idea, this dream, this inexplicable desire, for far too long. I’m not afraid to admit that. I sought jobs and career choices that kept me in the written word and allowed me stay alongside of my desires, but now I am pursuing them all wholeheartedly. No more hiding, no more waiting. This is who I really am, guys, and I couldn’t be happier to admit that. I will be keeping you all updated as my pursuit continues. With any luck I’ll be teaching by the time the next school year starts and getting my life going in a direction that, until now, I’ve only dreamed of.

What do you want?

Last night I was having a typical scroll through social media when I stumbled upon a question that got me thinking a lot about my work. It was a simple enough post from a publishing group I follow, but it held a weight that I hadn’t let myself feel in quite some time. It asked “what is the biggest goal you want to achieve as a writer?”

You know, typical question people often ask writers, especially ones who are just jumping into the game. Most of the time we have a typical answer to go with it. I want to get my book published. I want to break through writers block. I want to write a bestseller. And, of course, those answers came to me, too. But my brain refused to stop there. As you all know, I love literature. I read almost constantly and have been having a very sordid affair with the greater world catalogue for my entire life. To say the written word is my passion would be a hopeless understatement. It is part of the very fabric of my being, as God meant it to be, and I love every minute of it. So could I really be satisfied with such generic answers to such a pregnant question? Of course not.

The ideas ran faster than ever as I sat down and really thought about it. What do I want out of my writing? What is my biggest and most hopeful goal? Sure, I want that bestseller. I want to have my book sold in local bookstores. I want people I know to see my book and be able to buy my work with memories of me in mind. I want to have unique and interesting books. But it goes so much deeper. After I thought about it the answer flowed easily. I want to be great.

I want people to feel my work. I want it to stand the test of time and change the world. I want to build on the face of literature like the greats of past generations and tear asunder the ideas of stagnance and convenience. I want, in essence, to be truly great. After all, if we cant be great, what’s the point?

This realization, although admittedly daunting, is also immensely liberating. I have, once again, come to terms with my purpose, my desire, the very reason I wake up in the morning. I will stop at nothing to achieve my goals and realize my dreams. They wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t make it happen, right? Right.

So the journey goes on. I’ve entered what I hope to be the final content edit for Maverip before I hit agents with my queries, and I’ve found my second wind. I will make it happen, and I’ll take you all along for the ride.

But now I want to know what you guys think. What does this question mean to you? Let’s not even just limit it to writing. I know some of you are painters, musicians, and artists of various caliber and medium, so apply it to yourself. What is the biggest thing you want from your craft? Is is an idea of greatness? Is it just to overcome that next big project? What are your goals? But more importantly, what are your dreams? Never limit yourself. Let yourself dream. But, I could speak on that for hours. In the meantime, let me know what you think, what you dream. Leave me comments or shoot me messages. And, no matter what comes up, never let your dreams die. Fight for them tooth and nail. I know I am.

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!

9/11; How One Day Changed The World

Fifteen years ago the world was rocked by the news that planes had struck the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Virginia and a field in Pennsylvania. Just under 3,000 people in New York lost their lives in an act that is still under scrutiny by many, but that is not the point of this post. I’m sure you’re all aware I have my conspiracies about a number of things, but this is not the time. Those who lost their lives never had the chance to really consider who had put them in such a situation. They just knew they had to act if there was any chance of staying alive.

I remember the day fairly clearly – well parts of it. I remember being in school that morning and feeling like something was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just felt something wasn’t normal. I was in fifth grade at the time, with more innocence than many fifth graders have these days, thanks to such acts, and my school pretty much left the decision of making the announcement in the hands of the teachers, from what I recall. I know, one way or another, that my teacher did not tell us what had happened. Being a kind, old-fashioned woman, I imagine she was still doing her best to shield us from the harsh reality that awaited us. Or perhaps she just thought it best to allow our parents to describe the situation to us.

Of course, the secret couldn’t really be kept. Some teachers did tell their students what happened, some even letting their students watch the news while the stories broke. The rumors spread between bathroom breaks and lunch break, one student who was friends with someone in a class that heard the news getting the scoop as best they could before passing it along. Before long we all knew that something had happened, but none of us at that time had the capacity for understanding how to describe just how bad it was.

After school I waited for my mother to pick me up, and heard the workers in the daycare programs talking about it in sort of hushed tones, as there were a variety of age groups gathered around. Still, I gleaned what I could from the conversation, not knowing exactly what buildings had been hit, but picking up that some planes had crashed, one not too far from my Virginia home. Once my mother arrived, the severity of the news began to sink in. She worked for a government agency at that time, in a production company that made parts for night vision goggles, missiles and mining equipment. She told me that many people had been afraid they would also be hit, adding to the panic she had felt. The radio produced a steady stream of news reports of bombings, fires, rescue attempts and a steadily rising death toll.

Once we got home I remember doing my homework and trying to study and read and write while my mother watched news reports that repeatedly showed video of the planes striking the World Trade Center, which I finally recognized as being one of the most memorable parts of the New York skyline. Reports came in of possible retaliation, and eventual bombing in the Middle East. Still with the videos coming in, the reports of death, knowing that many people had lost loved ones in the tragedy, there were two things that really brought it home to me and made me realize just how massive this was and how much it would change the world. They may seem odd, but many of you may also understand.

My mother insisted that we ride out later that evening to get gas because many reports were saying prices would begin to go up, some even suggesting a possible shortage, I think. I remember sitting in the passenger side of the car as we rode through our hometown, trying to find a gas station with lines short enough to wait in. Dozens of cars were lined up at every station we found, as everyone around us had heard the same thing we had – this was, I might add for anyone younger than myself, the last of the $1.00/gallon or less gas prices in our country – and wanted to fill up as quickly as possible. I don’t know for sure why this drove it home for me, but it was very shocking to see that sort of thing in my normally quiet town.

The other thing that really made it sink in was the radio reports that I heard while trying to sleep that night. For a bit of background; music is and has always been a huge part of my life. For many years I would sleep with the radio on all night, and eventually got a radio I could program to go off at a certain time and then be my alarm clock the next morning. Music has always been something that I use to make my life greater. That night, however, things were very different. On the Country station I listened to (I’m not that big of a country fan these days, but I was a product of my location) there was a heavy mix of news reports from all over the world about the event and the reaction to it and a barrage of exceedingly patriotic music (including, if I recall, at least one version of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American”). On the rock station I listened to they played a lot of regular music, but it was often interrupted by news reports, sound bites of people crying and sirens. I think the sirens remain one of my most disturbing memories of trying to sleep that night.

As much as I hate the cliché way it sounds, I think I lost a good portion of my innocent view of the world that night. My mother told me at least once during the evening that the world as we knew it was over. I didn’t have a clue what exactly that might mean, but as the next 15 years shaped me and made me the man I am today, I think I have a clear understanding of it. Looking back at how things were before that day – a task which, for me, largely just means looking back on the 90’s – I almost can’t fathom that the world used to be a much easier place to live in. People used to care so much more about one another and be so much more free with their security measures. I will never again walk up to a building with a bag and be certain it won’t be searched. I will never be able to run into an airport ten minutes before a flight takes off and be able to make it onto the plane. My children will never know what it is like to take a plane from one place or another without having their entire person searched relentlessly. My children will never get to see a (recent) movie about New York and see those two, gallant towers dominating the skyline.

I could go on and on about what has changed since that day, but I’m sure those of you who have read this far have probably had enough, as many of you may remember life before the events that shaped the future of U.S. Homeland Security. I would like to hear what you all remember about the day. Leave me a comment below or send me a message sharing the story of your day on September 11, 2001. Were you near one of the sites? How has your life changed since that day? I would love to hear from you and I would really appreciate it if you would share this with anyone who has a story to tell about the day.

Changing Seasons

Writing for a living and writing for pleasure are still proving to be quite difficult, but the urge to write is increasing by the day. The reasons for this are a bit varied; I’ve seen a lot of inspiration lately, but it is stronger today than it has been for quite some time. And I absolutely know the reason.

For the first time in a long time there has been a familiar cooling in the atmosphere and a wonderful scent started filling the air last night. It is the smell, of course, of Fall. That incredible time of year when Summer begins its slow retreat to the Southern Hemisphere and the land begins to get drowsy as the air chills.

Soon the leaves in these beautiful mountains will flash their incredible, fiery colors before making a quick descent to the ground and being covered in a blanket of refreshing snow. Not to mention the holidays that see us dressing up our faces and our houses to ward of the evil spirits that will surely walk the earth before the freezes lock them in their world for another year, and the warm feasts that put us together with our families in front of the hearty fire.

In other words, my absolute favorite time of year. Not that I don’t love the whole year, but there is something particularly magical about the end of the year. For me the combination of the end of the year magic is combining with the absolute thrill, charm and history of our new location. Living in Abingdon is adding to the usual thrill of the incoming seasons and making me NEED to write. I have three new story ideas that I am brainstorming, with big expectations.

My hindrances, of course, remain a bit of an issue, but after this weekend I think things should lighten up a bit. I have to work on Labor Day, but beyond that I expect the approach of Autumn should combine with my own ability to open doors in a major way and allow me to break the slight writers block I have been dealt recently.

One thing that I am so far unsure of is what I will do about NaNoWriMo. Last year I was able to write a 68,000 word novel in around 18 days; an accomplishment that I’m incredibly proud of. This year, with a full time job that sees me writing all day, going to late night meetings and working a shift that isn’t always predictable, I’m not sure what November will hold for me. I look to my fellow reporters on occasion and think that I may be able to still handle the pressure of NaNo; it only calls for around 1,700 words a day, after all. Not that hard, right?

One way or the other I plan on making a serious effort to get something big to a publisher by the end of the year. Granted, I’ve said this since at least March, a lot of things have put some holds on that, not the least of which has been an unfortunately lackadaisical attitude by most of my beta readers which hasn’t exactly helped moral. But no excuse is a good excuse. Either way, I am making serious headway with some ideas that will lead to some excellent local color pieces for my area (if I do say so myself) and I will be setting aside some time every day to write if possible and I expect it to make a big difference.

Is there a particular time of year that any of you all feel more inclined to write? Is there anything that makes those switches inside of you flip, all of those lights coming on at once and leading to an influx of inspiration and writing? Let me know in the comments and keep up the good work!

Always keep working

I have been a terrible blogger lately. Life, it seems, can often get in the way of writing and blogging. Of course, the irony of that is that I write for a living. I was told before accepting a full time job as a reporter that if I wasn’t careful that writing for work could very easily replace writing for pleasure. I didn’t believe that, and to an extent I still don’t, but I do see the point  behind it and the truth in the statement.

I must begin my explanation for this by stating that I do, in fact, love being a reporter. I very much enjoy my job (although on a hard day I tend to complain about it as much as the next person, but that’s life), not least of all because it does allow me to write words that hundreds, if not thousands of people see on a daily basis. This is very gratifying and will certainly be good experience for the future, but the work does sometimes spill over into my free time.

Of course, such is the life of a reporter, but what some don’t understand is that when you write all day it can be very challenging to come home and write all night as well. Not only is the work writing in a very different format than novel writing, but it can be very hard on the hands, eyes, and brain to do both all of the time. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; writing is what I was made to do. It is literally what I was created for.

So the question remains; how does one manage this?

The answer is just as hard as it is easy. You have to maintain conviction, passion, and determination. As it is currently, I work around 45 hours a week (getting paid for 40, but again, that’s life), come home and spend at least that much reading and watching a little television. Somewhere in the midst of all of this I also have to find time to sleep and write. The break down makes the issue seem much more simple than it is, of course. What brings the complication in is finding motivation.

So how do you find the inspiration to write at night after writing all day? By pressing on as hard as humanly possible, of course. Personally I do my best to make time for everything, but it honestly can be hard, as I’m sure many of you know. Personally I have let the inspiration that still so frequently shows up unexpectedly to have full reign of my mind when it comes. Granted, it sometimes is fleeting and likes to toy with various ideas without settling on one, it still leaves me with a fair amount of new material.

One of my most recent accomplishments is a short story that I was able to completely revamp and elaborate on so I could send it to a journal for consideration. Even if I don’t make it into that particular publication, I can honestly say that I’m much happier with the current version of said short story than I was with the previous one. But the thing that I may be most involved in right now, aside from editing Maverip, is a new story that I have been inspired to write that (at least so far) has a very elaborate plot with a story spanning centuries. I don’t want to say much more about it currently, as the idea is still very fresh and I’m toying with plot lines, but I have decided to include a small sample that really excites me. I would love to have any and all feedback you all have on this piece. I would also love to hear how you all balance writing, motivation and everyday life. Leave me comments or send me messages, however you would like to communicate! I hope you all enjoy the small sample!

“Jonas woke suddenly, breathing heavily and sweating. He stared into the dark, waiting for his breath to slow. He felt himself drifting off to sleep when the image rushed back to his conscious. He saw the women, aged and wrinkled yet somehow vibrant, covered in blood and nothing else. Fire blazed in the middle of the clearing, filled with a shadow that made him scream aloud in the night. Looking into the fire Jonas was certain that he had looked into the very eyes of the devil himself.”

Bridging the Gap

I don’t know why, but for some reason graduation is weighing on my mind this week. It could be because a couple of times this week I let Youtube play through a list of songs that, inevitably, led to some of the ones I associate with high school and graduation. I seriously can’t believe it has been seven years since I left Tazewell High School to never walk those hallowed halls as a student again. I can still remember a lot about high school, and honestly some days it feels impossible that I am actually in my 20’s and no longer a teenager.

A lot has happened in the years since high school, and life has put me through many twists and turns. No matter how much I hate to admit it, I’m not the exact same guy I was back then. I’m a little older, a lot (I think) wiser, and a lot more experienced and I have much bigger goals than just getting through the semester and into summer. Granted, some of my goals are the same; I still want to make a difference in the world, I still want that best-selling novel to help me take the world by storm, and I still want to see as much of the world as possible before my time is over. But most of all, I want to be accomplished. I want to know that, when I leave this world, people will know who I was. I want to write the words that will astound people for generations to come. I would like to be able to look down from Heaven and see, even decades after I’m gone, that there are scholars out there studying my work and teaching it to the masses.

I’ve talked about all of this before, and I know it’s something a lot of people want. Maybe it is largely just that human urge to never really die. According to James Dean; “If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.” I think I finally fully understand what that means, and I agree with it completely. If some part of us can truly exist after we are gone, and if someone somewhere continues to contemplate our life or our ideas, then maybe death itself isn’t quite so final. So ominous.

That’s always the fear, I think. We want to know that, even once we’re gone, we will never be forgotten. Honestly, I fully admit that’s something I want. If the world is still spinning after I’m gone I want there to be people out there who remember me and what I’ve done. The good thing about this is that it can be done in many ways. One of the best is by being a good, strong person and setting an example others can actually follow. Our children can be the legacy that makes the world remember who we are. The way our children see us can create an impact that will impact their lives forever, and in turn can impact the lives of countless others.  As I’m getting more and more used to post-college life and as I begin to consider my future, I’m realizing more and more that this sort of legacy is one that I am also looking very forward to and it is one that is very much multi-faceted. The impact we have on the world, quite often, starts with the impact we have at home. Some of us occasionally let that truth escape us, but fortunately it is something that I’ve caught onto.

I look back over my life and I find very little I would even consider changing. I might not be rich, and I might not be world famous – YET – but I have done some pretty awesome stuff and had some pretty awesome experiences. My question for each of you now is this; if you had to be remembered for one thing in your life, just one thing, what would it be? And, if you’d like a bonus question; what have you done so far to make sure that happens.

Personally, I’d like the world to remember that I was someone who never let a challenge get me down and who always kept my eyes on God and the prize at hand while loving with my whole heart and helping others as often as possible. So far, I think I’ve done a pretty good job for the most part, but I can always step it up. Particularly in the whole confidence area, of course, since the main reason I haven’t sent a novel to a publishing house or agent is because I  feel unworthy, but that’s a different story altogether!  So how do you all plan to bridge the gap? What are you leaving behind when you go that could make you a household name?

I hope you all have an amazing weekend and enjoy what life gives you while making the most of everything. If you missed my last post, hop back and check it out and let me know if you’re interested in joining a book club! If there are any topics you’d like to discuss, feel free to drop me a message or leave a comment here. Have an awesome day!

Light up the Darkness

A lot of things have happened in the world in the last week, and most of it hasn’t been very good. The hate and intolerance that holds us back as a species is still running rampant in our society, and it is something I don’t often address. I try to stay out of public affairs and generally avoid discussing things of this nature because I have a very strong opinion on the matter. I believe in love and peace. I believe in loving what we love and not having to hide who we are, no matter who we are around. Despite my sometimes near crippling social anxiety when it comes to being in a crowd, I still love making sure I have the opportunity to share my opinions – something which many people, even in the 21st century, are still persecuted for.

The world reacted roughly when acts of terrorism were announced in the last month; bombings, looting, a night club shooting that left 50 people dead just because someone didn’t agree with whom they loved. And the past week has been similar. In case you haven’t caught the news in your part of the world, a young black man was killed earlier this week in the U.S. by police officers in what can be considered nothing short of police brutality. Many people reacted harshly, calling all cops corrupt and racist, allowing the hate that has kept us back for so long continue to rule their lives. That hate led to a sniper opening fire on police in Texas and taking the lives of five officers who put their lives on the line to keep others safe.

While those matters are terrible, something that hasn’t gotten a lot of mass media attention is the fact that there were also two shootings in my part of the country within 24 hours of one another. The first, taking place early Thursday morning, claimed the life of an innocent woman who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That woman worked for the same newspaper that I work for. She was killed in cold blood while on the way to work, while four others were injured by the same shooter. The next day someone reported being shot by an unknown assailant for an unknown reason. Why? Why have we allowed ourselves to be bogged down by the senseless hate and racism and every other pointless thing that does nothing but cause pain?

I’ve been thinking on this for a bit and I think that one of the biggest problems is that we don’t address it unless we have to. In everyday life, when there hasn’t been an assault, a shooting or an act of terrorism, how often does racism and hate come across your mind? Even if you have a prejudice against someone, be it over race or not, how often do you look at yourself and say “wow, that’s racist/prejudiced?” Not at all. Because unless someone has performed an act that complies with the extreme ideas of racism and hate, we sweep it under the rug. Humans don’t want to live in misery and fear. We want to enjoy life and act as if there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way we live, even if deep within us boils a cauldron of hatred.

Realizing this got me thinking a lot about light and darkness. A bit cliché, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I thought about the difference between happiness, which is light and hatred, which is obviously dark. We look at the world with blinders on more often than not because it is easier to believe everyone is happy and there are no problems with anything than it is to look at the problems and try to find a solution. This leads to things like hate and racism being stored away to be ignored until we are forced, by some tragedy, to address them again. This lead me to thinking of the things that grow in light vs. things that grow in darkness. The concept might sound overly simple when saying it like that, but it does make sense.

If you put a plant in total darkness, does it flourish? No. It might struggle on feebly for some time, but it can’t be healthy because overall, most plants need sun to live. The same goes with love. You can’t shut it away and never use it. It won’t last. It needs exposure, it needs fresh air, it needs to be EXPRESSED.  But hate… you put hate in a dark corner of your soul and pretend it doesn’t exist and it will thrive. It will grow and grow and consume everything until you are full of the hatred that leads to innocent people being gunned down in the street.

So often we want to look at ourselves and say that nothing is wrong with the way we think or feel, that we are fully happy and fully right in our way of life. But do you avoid certain people because of what they look like or what they believe? Racism and prejudice aren’t just about killing someone who is different than you. It often starts just by thinking “that’s different. I don’t care for that.” But that can’t be the case, can it? Just because you instinctively cross the street if you see a black man walking towards you, or you wait for the next elevator because the woman who just got on this one is wearing a hijab, that isn’t racism, is it? Yes. And it’s the denial of that fact that leads to the problems in this world.

We can’t go on acting like it’s OK to bash someone because of how they live. That is not human, guys. You can’t wake up one morning and give change to a homeless man and then go home and talk about how dumb your neighbor is because he buys a new car every year. That’s hate. You can’t say that the person who hung a black man 70 years ago was racist and then call a black man you see on the street a thug because he dresses differently than you. That’s not how life should work. We can not keep acting like being different is wrong. You are not going to find a single person on the face of this planet who likes everything you do in the same way that you do. That would make us all robots.

We have the free will to make out own choices for a reason. God put us all here on this rock and said “Love thy neighbor”. Are you loving your neighbor when you walk down the road and badmouth someone for having darker skin than you? No. Are you loving your neighbor when you drive by a mosque and think about how ridiculous the people inside look as they pray facing Mecca? Absolutely not. It is one thing to recognize that someone is different, but it is another thing entirely to feel they are inferior because of it.

This is an issue, people. It is not something that we need to continue letting go un-discussed. Racism will not go away until we stop hiding it. We are all on this planet together and it is meant for us all to live in peace. We can’t do that if we keep pretending we don’t have a problem. People are going to keep dying if we can’t learn to accept that everyone is different. That’s all it takes. We need to look at the world and say “there are over 7 billion of us here, and not one of us is completely alike. And that is perfectly fine.” Until we learn to do that, innocent lives will continue to be lost and pain will continue to be felt. I will leave you with a quote from one of the best human rights advocates I’ve ever studied; Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley.

“Light up the Darkness.”

That is what we have to do. We have to look at the world and look at ourselves and stop hiding what issues exist. If we have a problem with someone due to race, religion or anything else we have to stop acting as if that is normal and OK. Because it is not. We have to shine a light on those bits of darkness and accept that we have an issue with something. And then we need to find a way to deal with it that does not involve violence. Taking the life of someone we don’t agree with is not a solution. We have to find a way to live together in peace. As much as I hate to say it, in times like these I see a group of leaders like those in “The Giver”, and I think they may have had some good points. They did away with religion and race and even the ability to see color – because mankind couldn’t handle it. Unfortunately with that went the chance for individuality, opinion and emotion. Is that what we want, people? An existence that is literally just that? This world, this life, is precious. For everyone. Not just the people you agree with. We have to learn that before it is too late.

Light up the darkness.