Celebrating Christmas in the Smokies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!

Merry Christmas, everyone!! I know this year has been difficult, and the holidays can sometimes be stressful, but I hope you will all take the time to cherish the good things today and every day for the rest of this year – no matter what holidays you celebrate (or don’t).

Personally, I have had an excellent Christmas with my wife here in our snowy mountain home. I am beyond ecstatic that our first Christmas as husband and wife has been a white one and a happy one. All things considered, the blessings we have been able to enjoy this year have given me so much to be thankful for.

Our Christmas adventure has shown us a lot of excitement, a lot of smiles, and a lot of joy- and it isn’t over yet! Tomorrow will be yet another happy day of celebration for us. I know a lot of people haven’t been able to celebrate with their loved ones this year, and many traditions have been put on hold or altered to meet the current state of affairs, but I hope everyone has been able to draw a bit of joy from the holiday. With luck next year will bring a return to the things we have enjoyed in the past, hopefully with an added sense of appreciation and love for those traditions.

Whatever your holiday brought to you, however you were able to celebrate, I sincerely hope love and peace met each and every one of you. Do your best to enjoy the rest of this day and this last week of 2020!

That Thankful Time of Year

Greetings and Happy Thanksgiving from the Appalachian Mountains, everyone! That time of year where we are encouraged to give thanks and be vocal about the things that matter to us is once again upon us. I am well aware, of course, that this year looks very different from what we are used to. In many places, a holiday that usually involves multiple generations of family and friends gathered together, is being limited to less than 10 people under one roof, some local law enforcement threatening the penalty of fines or worse. Fear of illness, hatred, political unrest, or general unhappiness are rampant in tons of us, but we are still hopeful. We are still dreaming. We are still pushing forward. And we are still thankful.

That, to me, is the important part, the part that honestly makes me see a glimmer of hope for the world as a whole. Despite the things making us unhappy or scared regarding the simplest tasks now, many people are standing tall and shouting their thanks for the things they have. What’s more, in my area especially, I have seen an incredible influx of people willing to give to others. The current state of the world has left a lot of people uprooted, unstable, unable to provide for their families in a consistent way. In response to that, there have been a number of food drives and donations made to families who could use the extra help. That is simply phenomenal. In a world where so many people seem to have lost the basic understanding of care and love for their fellow man, to see so many people leaping at the chance to help the less fortunate is something that we should all be thankful for.

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a tough year for many people, but we all have plenty to be thankful for. Personally, this year has been the absolute happiest of my life. I got engaged and married to the woman of my dreams and I get to wake up next to the love of my life every day, I finally have a teaching job (something I have worked toward for nearly as long as I have been writing), I have started countless new works, been to some new places, I have a new book coming out very soon so keep your eyes open for that, and there is also a brand new AC/DC album to rock out to. Needless to say, I have plenty to be happy about. Does that stop me from being a little down and depressed at times? It absolutely does not, but it means I have plenty to focus on to bring me back from the darkness.

In essence, that is the importance of days like today. Thanksgiving encourages people to reflect on their lives and look at the many gifts and blessings they have in everday life. We see pop culture references of the classic nuclear family, the group of friends, even the non-conformist family group all gathered around sharing at least one thing they are thankful for, and it is fantastic. The idea that we can gather with our loved ones and truly share one of our reasons for being thankful and happy is one that warms my heart, even if this year sees us doing that virtually. In solidarity, I offer one of my own happinesseses, which is the the undying love and support from my wife. Knowing she is on my side has helped me through so much, and gives me incredible happiness. What is something you all are thankful for? Feel free to add a comment or send me a message to share.

One problem I do have with the way people interpret Thanksgiving is the limitation of one day of thankfulness in an entire year. There are 365 days we can use to be thankful, but only one of those is set aside for thanks. That irks me. Several places have taken to calling November a month of thanks, but the idea of just having one day to be thankful is ridiculous. I say we should find at least one reason to be happy every day. So, there’s my little challenge for you all. Find at least one reason to be happy every single day for the next year and see how much of a difference it makes. Keep your heads up and the positivity flowing, everyone. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Schitt’s Creek and the Message to Change the World

Happy November everyone! The holidays have officially begun and I hope everyone’s Halloween was awesome. The end of 2020 is surging toward us full steam now, and we can only hope 2021 will bring us a much better world.

In our search for a good laugh and a fresh artistic experience, my wife and I recently binged the series “Schitt’s Creek” on Netflix, and it was absolutely everything we needed it to be. The show, a six-season story of a wealthy family who is forced to move to a small town and basically start over from scratch after losing their fortune, has pretty much everything you could ask for. Comedy, drama, love, anger, family, friends, motivation, and heartache all have their place in Schitt’s Creek. Created by Daniel Levy, his father Eugene, and his sister Sarah, the show follows the Rose family through their struggle to restart their lives and build themselves from the ground up. Amid metric tons of character growth, realization, and relationship building, we see the Roses coming to terms with who they are and just how different their lives must be from what they have grown used to.

One thing that never failed to amaze and impress us with the show is that, despite the small town atmosphere and the polar opposite social circles the characters all come from, there is never a question of their acceptance of one another. Acceptance is a perfect word to describe this show, honestly. There are no questions of racism, discrimination, sexism or any other form of making someone feel less than. It is perfect.

Dan Levy’s David Rose, a pansexual who “is into the wine, not the label,” falls in love with a local man and runs a general store with him. Their love is on display for three seasons and no one ever questions it. Not a single resident of the town has a problem with David and Patrick’s relationship, and the entire town supports their love from the minute it blooms until the very last episode of the show.

There are people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations through the town, even in positions of authority and there is never an issue. Schitt’s Creek is a town that is open and accepting of everyone, even the socially awkward and former upper class Rose family who may not always be understanding of how things work without a lot of money, but who always end up seeing the good in their situations and neighbors.

I think that acceptance is one of the most important messages the show has to impart on its audience. I continue to use the word acceptance because it has an entirely different meaning than tolerance. I find tolerance to be a disgusting word in regards to other people. It suggests that you look at those of other genders, identities, or preferences as somehow less than yourself and, rather than accept and attempt to understand them and their lives, you ‘tolerate’ them. I find it a terrible ideation and one that should be removed from all vocabulary. Other people are not here for you to ‘tolerate.’ No one should be expected to exist under the ideals of someone else.

One of the best things about Schitt’s Creek and its marketing and subsequent fanbase is the consistent freedom and lack of judgement amongst everyone in the show. Creators, actors, characters, and fans alike love each other and that love has spread farther than even Dan Levy and his father and sister thought it would when developing the show. Coming from a small town, where many people aren’t always open-minded and accepting, I feel an overwhelming love for this show and the message it sends to this world.

We are all equal on this planet, we all deserve the freedom to be who we are, love who we want to love, and live the way we want to live. As long as the thing that makes you happy is not harmful to someone else, you should be free to do it. I will always stand in support of that. In the state of the world today I think it is very important to have such a pop culture powerhouse standing up for acceptance and freedom. I truly think this show could be vital in helping create a world like Schitt’s Creek, where people don’t have to live in fear of judgement from their peers. It may seem like a dream, but it is one I very much hope comes true.

If you haven’t watched the show, by all means, jump into it and you’ll be hooked in the first ten minutes. It is a pretty great piece of history, and I am honestly ready to watch it again. I commend the Levys and every other cast and crew member who helped make the show and its message possible – and I admire them for the incredible way they have carried the message of love and acceptance across the world since the show’s premiere. Excellent job, Dan. Your idea has truly become the perfect reality.

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.

10 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shape of Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Love, Simon” vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Hey there friends and fans! A handful of months ago I wrote a review of the YA novel Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, linked below. I absolutely loved the book, as I said, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to check out the film version, Love, Simon. I finally got my chance over the holiday weekend, and I feel inspired to write this short follow-up post for anyone interested in watching it.

Love, Simon is a great cinematic piece of art. The story, of course, is the same. Simon, our beloved protagonist, is coming to terms with being homosexual in a climate that is still quite unforgiving, and trying to, frankly, learn how to “be” gay. The whole thing really starts with a post on a local social media page, where one of Simon’s classmates professes to being gay – anonymously, of course. Simon, also anonymously, responds with his own confession, leading him down a journey of self-discovery that we’re brought along for.

Simon’s tale is not one for the faint of heart, and certainly not one for the closed-minded. One of Simon’s classmates realizes his secret and uses it for his own benefit. This sends Simon reeling as he tries to cope with not only the demands of his classmate but his own attempts at connecting with the boy he now feels he’s falling in love with.

One of the things that I was really impressed with was the way the movie stayed in sync with the novel for the most part. I really feel Simon’s story, although slightly altered for the screen, was still true to its book counterpart. I think the actors were well selected, Nick Robinson doing a phenomenal job as the main character.

One of my personal favorite parts of the film was the attempt to show that Martin, the unfortunate antagonist, was not your typical high school bully. Rather than being the biker, the jock, or the general rough and tough kid in the halls, Martin was actually kind of the stereotypical nerdy loser character. Mascot on the football team, avid lover of graphic tees and magic, Martin was the kind of guy most people love to hate. His affinity for blackmail didn’t make it hard to dislike him, either.

Simon’s struggle with finding a way to tell his friends and family his secret was well described and heartfelt. In his attempt to be himself and find the best way to be himself he posits the question why straight is the norm. Why it’s only homosexuals who have to “come out” to their loved ones. Which is a strong question in and of itself. Rather than assuming everyone is attracted to the opposite sex, maybe it isn’t that difficult for us to stop assuming and allow our loved ones to tell us their preference in their own time. However, that would require the world being a much less judgmental place.

Of course, Simon’s secret does get leaked and he has to come to terms with everyone learning he is gay in a way he had no control over. Which, for me, was one of the most heartbreaking parts of the film, and led to one of the best lines and best deliveries in the film. Martin apologizes after seeing what damage he caused, and Simon, for the first time, truly lets go.

He tells Martin that no apology is good enough. He took something that was Simon’s, ruined his chance to let people know of his sexual preference in his way. In essence, this scene made the tone of the film for me. Apart from everything else that happened, this scene really showed the pain and anxiety that can be brought on by coming out – and even more so the pain that can come from not being able to make the decision yourself. Robinson’s performance here truly brought Simon’s struggle home for me.

Needless to say, this is a YA work, so there was a definite form of happy ending, which I won’t spoil, although that wait for the mystery poster was something that really brought the anxiety game to a new level.

Overall, I thought the film adaptation of Simon’s story was a great movie. It didn’t stick with what I felt were some of the more interesting or important areas of the novel – the focus on music, for instance (although there was a very prominent Elliot Smith poster), but it was a great movie. If you are at all interested in this movie, I urge you to give it a watch. If you liked the book, again – watch the movie. If you haven’t experienced either, I recommend both. I personally liked the book a little better, but that’s my natural go to.

What about you? Have you watched the movie or read the book? Which did you prefer, and why? What was your favorite part of either? Let me know in the comments. Also, check out the link below to see my review of the book if you haven’t already.

As always, thanks for reading and subscribing. There’ll be a new podcast soon, and plenty of new words written before year’s end. Stick around for the journey to stay updated on everything! Thanks again, and Happy Holidays!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

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.

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.