At Year’s End

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope the holiday season has treated everyone wonderfully. It has definitely been a wild ride for my family and I. From sharing first holidays with someone very special, to losing a loved one the day after Christmas, the season has not been without it’s rough moments. I wake up every day thankful for the wonderful blessings I have, and I hope each and every one of you take the time to do the same. As we wrap up December and say goodbye to 2019 (may it rest in peace), I look ahead toward the new year with bright and hopeful eyes. I have high hopes for great changes in the new year, and I feel very confident great things are waiting just around the corner.

I have written often over the last few years about the need for inspiration, presence, and peace within life, art, and creativity, but I’m the first to admit that I have really failed this year when it comes to producing new works. I have, unfortunately, fallen into the most dangerous trap of all for a writer who is nervous about a new piece of work: over-editing. As I type this post I am currently a short way into what may be my 6th or 7th edit of my long-completed novel, Maverip. I finished the more than 140,000 word monster on Thanksgiving morning in 2017 after a marathon writing session that left me mind-numbed and half-comatose in the wee hours of the pre-dawn holiday. From there I let the piece rest for a couple months while I recovered before diving in on the first of many alterations.

The book has been through two rounds of beta readers – none of whom have given me cause for concern I want to point out – and has seen more edits than any work I’ve published to date. I’ve queried it to a handful of agents with little to no response (to be expected in the market currently) and have considered self-publishing the piece as it stands. No matter what avenue I consider, though, I’m having trouble actually giving it my final approval and letting it prove itself. That conundrum, along with a plethora of other changes I’m planning to make in 2020, helped inspire this post.

As the month winds down, so does the  year and the decade. As we entered the 2010’s I was in my first year of college, writing the book I’ve just discussed (along with a handful of others. That other project count is now over 50), and had yet to publish a single work. Now, I’ve had more than a dozen titles published in several regional journals, and earlier this year I self-published my short story and poetry collection. Typing those things out makes me really step back and ask myself why I’m letting this novel get the better of me. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly as long, and I’ve had people the world over read the words that spill from my own twisted mind. So why is this piece giving me such pause?

The simple answer is because it’s my longest completed piece to date. It took ten years to complete it. It is the culmination of a lifetime of research, interest, and determination, and its success (in my head at least) is tied to my own prowess as a writer. Simply speaking: I’ve nearly convinced myself that if this book doesn’t do well, I’m doomed to fail entirely.

But that attitude is not carrying forward. In three days time we will be living in a new year, decade, time period, season. I will be that much closer to 30 years old, and if that’s not cause for getting a little wiser, I don’t know what is. In two days’ time we’ll be preparing to say goodbye to the teens and re-embrace the 20’s (and if that doesn’t thrill me to the core, I don’t know what ever could). So what better time than to leave behind the childish notion that all future success is based on whether this book – this one book out of the literally dozens of ideas I have – gets me a fast spot on the New York Times bestseller list?

While searching through some quotes and literature this morning, I stumbled upon a quote by Franz Kafka that I think embodies the spirit of every real creator better than most anything I’d seen before.

“This tremendous world I have inside of me. How to free myself, and this world, without tearing myself to pieces. And rather tear myself to a thousand pieces than be buried with this world within me.” – Franz Kafka

Of course, I don’t want to dwell on the quote too much, because that isn’t the point of the post, but to unpack it a little, I think Kafka is speaking volumes of power here. As a creator, there are worlds upon worlds and pieces upon pieces within you. For me, some of my story ideas are like a number of voices all talking at once, saying something a little different, hoping to come together just enough to make sense and gain their freedom. Whenever the words become clear enough I can write the tale, I can let this story out, I can keep it from tearing me to pieces and I can present it in its purest and most intact form. Sometimes, though, it isn’t that easy. The words jumble, they mix and mesh and writhe together in the pain of incommunicability until they die out from want of escape. Other times they seem as if they’ll burst forth from me whether I give them license to do so or not. Regardless of the idea, its strength, or where it comes from, I have a tendency to start it and let it get stagnant. I lose the power behind the words, or I lose confidence in my ability to tell the tale. For any number of reasons, I end up not completing the work that I feel only I can even come close to completing.

That is an attitude and a habit that I’m leaving behind. 2020 is going to be a year of huge changes. I’m going from letting life roll on around me, to taking charge. I’m finally standing up and taking the things I want in this world. I’ve actually already started doing this in my personal life and it has already led me to some of the greatest happiness I’ve ever known. As I move forward into my third decade on earth, I am taking charge and leaving behind wasteful attitudes and the habit of just letting life happen.

Rather than let these words and worlds tear me into a million pieces, I’m going to push through the struggle and the hesitation and release them. Rather than take the punches life offers, I’m going to stand tall and chase after my own happiness. As we enter the new year, I am standing tall and seeking out opportunities. I’m putting aside hesitations and demanding freedom from waste. In 2020, I will no longer just be going through life. I’m going to live it.

With these changes, I plan to see a great improvement in every aspect of my life, and I hope you will all feel the same motivation to make changes. Take charge of your own happiness. Find out what in this world is going to allow you to truly be free from stagnance and unhappiness and go after it. Don’t keep over-editing yourself or your work. Take the time to put it out there. Let it stand on its legs. Show the world who you are and take the chances you need to take. I hope you all enjoy the last couple days of 2019, and I look forward to seeing you all in the new decade – hopefully with fresh faces and brand new determination. Happy New Year, everyone.

College changed my life

It has been two years to the day since I walked across the stage at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and accepted my new position as a college alumnus. When I think about the fact that it has been that long it really blows my mind. In some ways it doesn’t feel like two years, but in others it does. So much has happened in my life since then, and it can all be attributed to the blessings of God and the experience I got in college. And to think, I was one of the people who considered a gap year (not that there’s anything wrong with doing that, of course)!

Since my college graduation I have worked in a library, I have been a newspaper reporter, and now I am a marketing representative for one of the best and coolest theatres on the planet! I have married my college sweetheart, and we are fast approaching our own two-year anniversary (of marriage that is. She’s been putting up with me for closer to five years, God bless her). I have taught a writing workshop to authors with decades more experience than myself, I have been published in local journals and have continued to be true to my own writing both on this blog and in my novels and short stories, while also starting my own online book club. Personally, I think those things are some pretty big accomplishments.

The selfish and arrogant part of my brain almost wants to say “well, Damean, that’s because you’re awesome,” but how “awesome” would I be if I hadn’t gone to college? How many of those experiences never would have happened if I hadn’t decided to take six more years of my life for education?

I have been writing for most of my life, of course, but even that has changed because of college. Looking back at the original ideas and versions of some of my work I sometimes actually laugh at how immature my voice was. Because of my college education I have been exposed to centuries of incredible literature and writing methods. I have had mentors work with me on my academic papers and my personal writing, which has changed the way I see things in many ways. I have been given the chance to write for multiple newspapers and experience a completely different style of writing that has enhanced how I view and handle my personal work. In turn, because of my time as a reporter, I have had some awesome experiences and have been able to relay some heartwarming, as well as tragic, news to thousands of people.

On the employment front I have to openly admit that, in high school, I was qualified to do only a handful of things, including write and run a cash register. Now, I have written more, gone more into the retail element by running departments and managing employees, and I have entered the professional work front with some really awesome jobs. Because of the experience I received at UVa-Wise I was able to work as a library specialist at a local community college, I was able to share breaking and interesting news to thousands for a year as a county reporter, and now I’m working at the longest-running professional theatre in the nation! That thought still blows my mind. I grew up just an hour away from Barter Theatre and it was always an amazing thing to just come and witness, and now I’m a part of the team here. And I would never have been able to do it without my education and experience.

The point here is that, for all those graduating high school and thinking about your futures, college is often the best choice you can make. I remember how I felt graduating high school, though. I wanted to take a year off and ‘see the world’. Granted, my version of the world, without a good paying job, didn’t extend much farther than the middle of Tennessee, North Carolina or the other states surrounding my own. I made a choice, though. I chose, despite my own desire to rely on myself and my writing for a while, to go to college and get a degree and put my fate in the hands of the higher education system. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Because of my time in college I met some amazing people, and my life has been forever improved.

I know that a lot of the time it seems like 13 years of school is enough (14 if you did pre-k), but believe me when I say it’s the extra 2, 4, 6 or 7 (or more) years that really make the difference. You might think you have your life planned when you walk out of prom and prepare to get that cap and gown and start your post-public education state of life, but don’t be fooled. The world has changed quite a bit. It used to be very possible to walk into a local company and get an internship or apprenticeship with little more than a high school degree and a give ’em Hell attitude. Not anymore. Higher education is something most businesses require now. Without a college degree, the doors of the employment world kind of close tight.

So, as many of you graduate college, be thankful for that experience. If you’re going into the job market or going on to grad school, take the time to consider just what difference your choice made for you. What experiences have you had that wouldn’t have been possible without college? And for those of you who are in that limbo state of deciding to wing it or go to college in the first place; really think about it. The idea of taking the world in your own hands and trying to forge a path with a high-school diploma and a dream might seem great, but it won’t be easy. Not that college is a piece of cake, but that’s a different story. If you’re on the fence, the best advice I can give is this; take the summer. Put in some applications, take your three free months and experience something new. Think about you. Do what makes you happy. Go somewhere new, spend time with friends, let go of school for a while. And when you finally feel like you again, when your brain isn’t cowering in the corner of your skull at the thought of having more knowledge crammed into it, think about what kind of life you want. Decide who you want to be and what you want to do. Figure out what is going to make you feel the most satisfied in life. Then figure out what it’s going to take to make that happen. The answer just might surprise you.

Have a good week, a good weekend, a good summer and a good life. Congrats to all those graduates out there. Let’s all raise our glasses to those who survived high school, college, university, and grad school. There were most certainly times when you thought you wouldn’t make it – but you did. Congratulations. Now enjoy your life and do what makes you you!