What Does Local Mean To You?

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope you all have had an absolutely awesome spring so far. Aside from the allergies that try daily to smother me in my own fluids, it has been amazing for me. I love the sense of renewal and renaissance as fresh leaves push aside what remains of the old and stretch their green-veined fingers toward the sky. It thrills me to watch as, a little each day, fresh and beautiful flowers burst forth from the earth and claim their place under the sun. Personally, I’ve always found spring to arrive exactly when I need it most and give me a sense of renewed purpose and motivation.

Of course, as many of you know, I published my first print collection in February and have been marketing and spreading the word about it ever since. One thing I’ve been doing is reaching out to local libraries and seeing about getting my work in their circulation materials. As a former librarian and long time lover of the amazing institutions that promote reading as much as an individual can get their hands on, it thrills me to have an opportunity to have my work possibly be one of those bits of material that a person may discover among the stacks, having never heard of me before. Or, of course, my work being one people eagerly seek out and go on waiting lists for. But I digress.

Tuesday I found myself in my hometown visiting with my mother and was struck by the idea that I should go talk to the library there. After all, that squat, brick building houses so many memories for me, provided so many fresh literary experiences, that I couldn’t be more honored than to find my work shelved along with the well-read R.L. Stines and Stephen Kings that influenced my early life. As I was talking to the librarian there, he asked if I could show him a copy of my work, so I went to go grab a copy from my vehicle. As I did, a patron caught up with me and made my entire day.

She had overheard my conversation with the librarian and asked about my work, showing unbridled interest in the fact that I am a local author in the Appalachian region. After a description of my work, she purchased a copy and had me sign it. We talked for a few more moments and bade each other good day, but the interaction really made an impression on me.

Growing up, I would always be extremely excited to meet someone who could be considered a local author or artist, often going out of my way to start conversations with them and examine their work. But, until yesterday, I hadn’t had quite the same thing happen to me. Needless to say, I remain flattered, but it definitely makes me think. Each and every one of us can probably think of a time we’ve encountered a local artist – regardless of the medium. I’ve seen painters and authors everywhere from local coffee shops to flea markets half a state away from their home. And it always gives me a sense of pride. But it makes me sad in some ways as well.

As many people that stop to talk with the artist about their work or the craft in general, just as many people pass right by without so much as a second glance. Personally, I find that to be more damaging than someone saying they don’t care for the work. At least that person took the time to check it out. My interaction yesterday, coupled with those previous experiences really made me realize just how important it is to support the arts again.

There was a time in society when people would seek out artists and beg for examples of the work, staring for hours as a sculptor or painter created their masterpiece. At one point in history people would flock to the harbor in droves to get the latest edition in a serial that later was put together as the Dickens favorite “Great Expectations.” Our ancestors had an equivocal appreciation of and yearning for the arts. Of course, not everyone was subject to this love then either, but that’s another tale. My point for today is that we must make a real effort to embrace the arts again. With each passing day funding for the arts in public education is cut. Many schools are no longer able to provide music education or drawing classes because of a lack of material funds. New generations are growing up in a society where are education funds are cut so governments, both local and national, can pay for biased investigations, unnecessary private expenses, and a basic disregard for the general public and its future. So it’s up to each and every one of us to recognize the importance of art and those who make it.

Of course, my own opinions on that matter may be a little biased as a creator, but I still reflect on times when I had little to turn to except art. Whether it was art created by someone else or my own creative efforts, art has saved my life more times than I probably even realize. So, I’m encouraging all of you to reach out and find some local artists. Talk to a painter or an Indie author about their work, or the craft in general. Let them know what the work means to you. Show them that, even if sales aren’t in the triple digits, the work matters to someone.

I’ve been told, at some events, an artist is lucky if they make three sales. And I’m fine with that. I would love it if my writing could pay all the bills, supporting my wife and I and allowing us to pay off debts and advance. But that isn’t the only, or even the main reason I do it. I do it because I’m passionate about it. Because it’s what I was put here to do. Because the arts have shown me what life really means. And those who support the arts, sharing that same passion, can make all the difference.

So, as you go forward, keep an eye and an ear open for an artist who, like you, enjoys a passion for life. Talk to them about what that passion can lead to. Make a purchase or leave a review on a work you enjoyed. Make sure you recognize the importance of the arts before they disappear. After all, as we rapidly approach the release of that certain long-anticipated superhero movie this week, it pays to remember; without the arts, none of that would have been possible. Artists drew those characters, thought them up, gave them new life on the silver screen. If we let the arts die, nothing like that can happen again. With the right support, and enough effort we can all keep the arts alive. And, honestly, that’s one of the best ways to keep ourselves going.

Who is a local artist that has made a difference to you? What is one local work that has influenced you? Or, for that matter, if you’re a local or regional artist in your area, what’s an experience you’ve had that showed you your work and your effort was appreciated? Leave me comments, send me messages, and make sure to get out there and enjoy life!

Be True

It’s January 10, everyone. Have you stuck to your resolutions so far? If so, you’re doing better than a lot of people. Personally I’ve been doing a moderate job of keeping up with some, not so well at keeping up with others. It’s so easy to let life flow without a thought for what you’re doing, following the ‘norm’ and letting yourself fall into a bit of a rut. That’s a bit of what this post is going to be about. I do think it may end up being a two-parter, too, because I’ve seen a lot today that has motivated me to write my little heart out, but the basic message behind every word I’m going to say here is the same. You have to be true to yourself.

Going back to what I was saying at the start of this post, New Year’s Resolutions are notorious for being set on or around January 1st, and many are lucky if they make it out of the month. But I recently saw a very important question that stuck with me and made me think hard. Why is it that New Year’s Resolutions are such a big thing? Why should we focus so much on the beginning of the year – more importantly, why should we only set aside one time throughout the year to make changes? It’s a doozy of a question, and I honestly don’t have an answer for it. We are all (at least in theory) strong, free-willed human beings with the ability to make decisions to better ourselves at any time. So why do we place so much focus on the whole “new year, new me” fad?

I’ve seen people in March decide something about their lives is unsatisfactory and decide to make it a New Year’s Resolution and live with the unhappiness for 9 months rather than take a stand right then and there. Why? This life is so precious, so fleeting, and so important. How can any of us afford to live even one second being untrue to ourselves? You wouldn’t wake up hungry and say “oh, I’ll eat next month.” Or break your arm and say “oh, I’ll get it fixed eventually.” No. You’d stand up and take charge. Why, then, would anyone choose to wait to make themselves better, happier? Why would anyone decide to allow time to choose when they can make a change that may improve their lives infinitely?

We were placed on this earth with a certain amount of time, a certain purpose, and a sure freedom. God gave us the free will to make choices for ourselves – if he didn’t, there would obviously be no sin, because He just wouldn’t allow it to happen. That’s the surest way to know He wants us to choose for ourselves. I’ve often heard the old saying “if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.” As much as I think the phrase has been misconstrued to mean something else at times, I do agree. God wants us to dream big. He wants us to take the life and the world He has given us and make it bigger and better than ever before.

If you’ve ever needed proof of that, examine the parable Jesus gave his disciples of the three slaves with talents (Matthew 25:14). Of course, there are multiple ways to interpret this, but I take it quite literally. Three slaves were given talents by their master. Two of them used their talents to make more, to create, to better themselves and their situation. When their master returned and asked about the talents, each had doubled what they were given for their master and because of this they were rewarded. But one of the three servants buried his talent where it would never be seen, but never be lost. When his master returned the man could only dig up and return what already belonged to his master, with no return and no use being made of the talent, and thus he was punished.

God has given us all a talent. He has given us all life, love, a desire for something and a way to get what we want. When we put that talent to use in whatever way we can, it will grow. Just like a muscle that is used and worked it will get stronger and bigger, more useful and worthwhile. Soon others will take notice. We can put our talents out  there and have them return to us even bigger. We can take each and every day of this life and inject ourselves, our dreams, our desires and our strengths into it, and when all is said and done, each day will have been bigger and better than the last.

I think that’s what we’re here for. It’s not about New Year’s Resolutions that often fail, leaving us to fall right back into the same routine. Obviously if we’re setting a resolution to change it, some part of us is tired of letting it happen, right? So why wait for a new year? Why wait until the world tells you it’s OK to make a change? Do it now. If you want that haircut, go get it. If you want to lose weight, do it. If you want to publish a book, write it and push it out there. None of us are given a promise that we will wake up tomorrow, or that there will even be a tomorrow. So why wait? Why let the man-made constructs of conformity and waste ruin the time we have left? Get out there and climb that mountain, lift those weights, write that book, go for that management position, travel the world. Will you be like the servant who hid his talent from the world and had nothing to show for it, or will you get out there and make the most of what you’ve been given and make your mark on the world? Be true to yourself, people. We have so little time here. None of us want to be on our death bed and realize we didn’t live to our fullest potential. I challenge each of you, before the week is over, to do something that your heart desires.

Find something that you have been wanting to do that you know will make you happy, break out of a routine that has been holding you back. Make a difference in your own life, and see just how much happier it makes you. It can be something as huge as getting a new car, or something as small as trying a new route to work. But do it. Break free. Find a way to take the life God has given you and truly be thankful for it. Dare to live a little, eh? That’s the end of this post. In the next couple of days I’m going to come back with another similar message regarding things that have been bugging me in this regard – namely suggestions that we have to base our lives on the lives of others.

In the meantime, get out there and showcase your talents. Bring yourself to a new level and take your life in your own hands. In the end, you’ll have something to show for it. Be true to yourselves, guys.

It Matters

Have you ever been down and out, feeling like things were going all wrong and life was a bit much, but you encountered a piece of art that changed everything? Have you ever looked on or listened to something that completely altered your mood, your mindset, your attitude, your entire day – or even your life? If you haven’t, don’t worry, you’ll find it when you need it most. And if you have, I want you to take a moment to think about it. Remember what you felt both before and after. Remember the way it felt to have everything change in that moment. Go on, I’ll wait.

There. You remember? What does it make you feel now? Grateful? Surprised? Genuinely happy for the art and artist that changed, and may well have saved, your life? Good. I want you to hold on to that and never let it go. That is what art is. That’s what it does. That is the complete and entire reason it exists. It is motivation. It is inspiration. It is emotion. It is pure, unadulterated soul laid bare on a piece of paper or in a note of music. It is the very core and essence of human life, passed down to us by God, or the universe or whatever it is you choose to believe. Art, in every form, from painting to drawing to music and literature, is here to help us and inspire us, to allow us to lay down our burdens and look into the timeless web that connects each and every soul that was, is and shall ever be in this universe.

I was taking a small social media break today, despite the damaging effects of such things on one’s creative ability at times, and one of my oldest friends sent me a video of Jim Carrey. Now, I can take a wild guess and say that your minds automatically went to one of his hilarious and memorable film roles that have been forever embedded in our hearts and minds, but that wasn’t it. It was a video of Carrey talking, painting and discussing why he paints. In the video he discusses what painting is to him and what it can be to everyone, the release it gives, the fact that it saved his mind and soul from incredibly dark times. It inspired me so much I couldn’t stop myself. I had to share it, I had to write about, I had to obsess over it.

Carrey has always been one of my favorite actors, and his influence has meant so much to me over the years. I know the things he’s been through. I’ve followed his life and career fairly closely a good portion of the time and, while I don’t fully agree with everything he’s done, I get why he’s done it.

So often people just look at the slapstick, hilarity inducing roles Jim Carrey plays, but they don’t look at the man. He does that on purpose. He understands the world around him. He understands pain, and sadness and remorse and guilt – and he understands joy. He uses his presence, his influence in the world, to instill the latter because he knows the world is torn from the inside out by all the rest. He understands that if he can make just one person laugh, get one sad human being to just crack a smile, then he has gone a great distance toward healing the human heart. And that is immensely important.

To me it’s everything. If we, as artists, can use our gifts and talents and abilities instill that same joy, that same mirth, that same sense of happiness in at least one person, then things will be better. If you can relate to the feeling of needing something, anything, to make your life a little better, a little easier, a little happier, then you need to understand why you have the calling you do. If you take nothing else away from this, remember; when you have a calling – like Carrey’s comedy and his painting, like Bob Dylan’s music, like my writing – you don’t have it or use it just for you.

You use it because somewhere, somebody is needing exactly what you have to offer in whatever form you have to offer it in. Someone out there is struggling and, when they need it most, they’ll find your work – and it will change their life. You do it because one of the best and most worthwhile things we can have is to know that we made a difference in the world. You use it to fight as hard as you can to make this agonized rock a better place than you found it. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll succeed. Even if it’s just for one person. You’ll succeed.

I had to write this blog and share these ideas with you all, because there comes a time in every artist’s life that they question whether or not their work is even worth it. Whether the effort they are putting forth is ever going to make a difference for themselves or for someone else – whether or not any of it even matters. I’m here to tell each and every one of you now that it does. It absolutely does. I’ve said this before, but it’s well worth repeating; you have your ideas and your calling because there isn’t a single person out there who can produce what you can produce. Do you think artists like Van Gogh woke up every day and felt like painting? Do you think anyone in the history of the world has ever lived without experiencing at least a twinge of doubt, depression, even outright disgust at what they do? No. But they fought through. Van Gogh battled crippling depression to become one of the most famous and most notable artists in history. Edgar Allan Poe fought depression and a lifetime of death and despair to become one of the most prolific writers to ever live. Your gift matters. Your talent matters. Your work matters. You matter. Just keep going. Never give up. Even if you don’t see it pay off, someone else will. It’s all being produced for a reason.

Jim Carrey has always been a huge influence on me, and continues to be so. I’d love to meet him, spend just five minutes of time with him. I’d never be the same. I know that some of his work has made a huge impact on me, and I’m so glad I stumbled across that video at a time when I needed it most. I hope this blog has done something to help at least one person who was going through a tough time and questioning their work. If it has, then I’ve already succeeded. Please share it where it may be needed in the hopes that someone else in need may get a glimpse of it as well. Oh, and if any of you happen to have Jim Carrey’s number, feel free to pass my info along. I’d like to thank him myself.

Have a good day, and keep up the good work, everyone.

The Influence of Doubt

As I said in the comments of my last post, doubt can be a very detrimental thing to a writer, but it can also be very powerful. As artists (and human beings in general) one question that is likely going to come up time and time again while we do our work is “why”. It’s a simple enough word, a simple enough question, but the answers to it almost never are. When it comes to something that we are passionate about, asking ourselves why can be the difference between succeeding and failing miserably, achieving a goal and fall short, and happiness or a permanent sense of failure. You might look at that statement and think I’m being a little dramatic, but think about it. How many times have you stopped yourself from doing something just by asking yourself why you would do it, or what good would come of it?

Have you ever attempted to take on a task that you felt strongly about and then gave up on it because you questioned it? I’d be willing to bet we all have.

Whenever we are presented with a thought that develops into a real desire we must consider everything about the possibility before us. Whenever I am getting the idea for a new piece settled down and trying to hammer out the details one thing I try to look at is just how well I think I can develop a piece about the particular topic at hand. When I started writing Maverip (the magnum opus of my budding career) I felt very confident in the work I was doing. Having been a lover of the paranormal my entire life, with a particular interest in vampires, working on that piece just felt RIGHT.

Speaking from the point of view of someone who has completed many other works since the start of that series I can easily say that it doesn’t always feel that way. Sometimes you get an idea and you can feel that the idea is just absolutely awesome but once you sit down to actually work on it you question your ability to do it correctly. This is often the case with some people, unfortunately. We will begin a new project, perhaps one that is just outside of our comfort zone or slightly off center from our typical line of work and we will be plagued by the thought that, since it isn’t the same thing we always do, we will be unable to make it work for one reason or another. Often my own bit of doubt is that, upon completing the piece, whomever reads it will absolutely hate it and I will be little more than a failure. In the case of Maverip my doubt has really only kicked in fairly recently, but it is that I won’t be able to make a convincing argument for my piece and that, either in the advertising of the book or with the presentation itself, I will fall short and no one will take the time to check it out. But that is a different post as well.

Regardless of whether or not you feel doubt, the real clincher is how you react to it. So often people will just give up and stop the work the second they get that first hint of doubt. This is one of the most self destructive behaviors I have ever seen. Doubt acts as a cautionary emotion for us, guiding us in the right direction and helping ensure that we don’t take the task at hand too lightly. Unfortunately people don’t always see this. I have spoken to a number of people who have had the desire to do something, be it writing or painting or any number of other things, that have never acted on the desire because they doubted themselves, feeling that they would never be able to perform their desire well enough to suit others or consider themselves a success. This is rubbish. When looking at doubt one must never allow it seep into their psyche to the point that it interrupts the passion that is kindled there. This is such a terrible waste of talent and opportunity. As a matter of fact, for those readers who have a religious background, think back on the parable of the talents that we are told in Matthew 25; 14-30. Three men are given talents and each of them treats the gifts differently. Two of the men use the talents given and get more in return, gaining the favor of their master, while the third buries his, not using it for anything and returns it to his master alone.

The basis of this story is one that can easily be rendered applicable even to those who don’t look at the religious aspect (or choose to adhere to a different belief system). Basically what it says is that when you have something and you don’t use it, you get nothing from it. Would you buy a car just to put it in the garage and never look at it or drive it? Would you buy a house just to let it sit on its plot, never lived in or used? Would you buy food just to let it rot and go to waste with no intention of touching it? The answer to those questions was likely no, right? If not, I’m personally glad someone with such a financial blessing is reading my blog, but I must discourage the behavior! The same mindset should be applied to this. If we are so blessed to have a passion for art (or anything really) we cannot allow ourselves to be discouraged!

Doubt can be one of the scariest things you can experience as an artist of any kind, but it is also well worth the fight. If you give up on a project every time you doubt your ability or the possible outcome of your efforts, chances are you will never know what you are capable of. However, if you push through the mire of this heavy and scary feeling it can be replaced with the satisfaction of completing the work in question and having it taken beyond where you thought it could go.

By pressing through the doubt the weighted me down for the days before sending it, I was able to see my very first piece in print in a small, nonprofit circulation five long years ago, and I haven’t looked back since. Such is the case with many incredible talents. Even the horror master himself, Stephen King, was plagued with such doubt that he threw the manuscript for Carrie in the trash. His wife retrieved it and, after looking through it, convinced him that, rather than giving up, he should trudge on. She recognized the potential in the work (as well as the man himself) before he even did. Carrie went on to become King’s first published novel and has since had three movie adaptations, one spin-off sequel and countless stage performances. And it was literally plucked out of the trash.

The rewards for overcoming doubt often will vastly outweigh even the harshest of situations in which the doubt can be proven to hold even the most minimal amount of truth. In reality, if we finish a work that we have some doubt about and move forward with the process of getting it out there, what’s the worst that can happen? Someone won’t like it? Big deal. There are over seven BILLION people on this (that’s 7,397,799,570 people  at the time of writing this for those of you that want exact numbers). There is bound to be AT LEAST one person out there who likes the work, who is thankful you finished the work and who may even be inspired by the work. The bottom line is, even if your work only truly touches one person, that’s still one person who is better off because you didn’t give up. That’s one person whose life or confidence may be saved because you pushed through your own sense of doubt. And you tell me; isn’t that worth the battle?

Feel free to add your thoughts to this post or send them to me in a message. I love getting to hear all of your thoughts on these blogs! Until next time remember; don’t give up- embrace your doubt. Trust me, it’s worth it.