Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - A Look Back - The Road Grew Longer

I thought with all my heart that after the years I had endured in 2013 and 2014 that I would finally get to write a much different type of reflection on 2015.  The year even started out incredibly, even to the point I felt it was a miracle, but as I sit here now writing this on the cusp of another New Year I cannot shy away from the reality that 2015 turned out to be yet another year of trial and endurance.

I can't sugarcoat it.  I can't try to say what it is not.  I don't live in fear.  I live with reality and this reflection comes from the gut and heart.

Once again, I'm still standing, and more strides were made, and I'm still fighting forward.  It was just a case of far too many tears and far too few smiles.  But there were some smiles.

2015 started out in what I genuinely viewed as a miraculous way.  A development had occurred in my life that aimed toward what I want more than anything in all the world; a dedicated home for my heart.

I often have used the metaphors of storms, gray skies, and sunshine to indicate this crucially important aspect of my life.  For once, genuine sunshine emerged, the kind of light that I could feel in my heart.  The sunshine brings out the full me, the real me.

I felt alive.  My smile and my eyes reflected real happiness, for a change.

As the Collective Soul song Better Now says:

"Break the news out
I've got to get out
Oh I'm feeling better now"

And I did start to come alive.

Assembling children's toy sets, buying lego figures while browsing toy stores, a real Valentine's Day with a multi-course dinner and where I was able to give a gift of jewelry, trekking through snow to shovel out a mother's driveway and having a playful snowball fight, sharing a bottle of wine, playing with little noise-maker guns, cooking a family dinner all by myself, playing board games with kids and helping them with their homework, acting silly in the aisles of a grocery store while shopping, making snow angels, and all kinds of things that made my heart smile like it had not for a long, long time.

If you really want to understand me, these are some clues.  Hint, nothing in my creative fields can ever bring me genuine happiness, not of the kind that truly centers me.  That's one painful truth I know.

I began to get centered in a way that I had not been for many long years.

Things began to get even better as I had the release of Heart of a Lion approach, the first novel starring Rayden Valkyrie, the character of mine who is nearest and dearest to me.  The whole notion of having a heart of a lion resonated with me, after I had pulled out from such difficult years in 2013 and 2014, and it looked as if things were finally going to be okay and I was finally going to get to experience a new day.

My dear friend Kylie Jude made me a book trailer for Heart of a Lion, and the lyrics to it echoed my whole experience covering the past couple of years and the period of the book release, as a triumphant moment.

"You can't break me 
I will still be 
where there is need 
there I will be 
 I will keep 

The book release event for Heart of a Lion was incredible, held at Joseph-Beth Booksellers here in Lexington.  Physique competitor Carrie Rapp came and starred as our Rayden Valkyrie wearing a custom outfit matching the one on the book cover art (Book cover art was by the amazing Bonnie Wasson, and the outfit was tailored by Angela Bensusan).  There was even a custom menu for the night in the Bistro for the after party, from appetizers to entrees to desserts, and even a custom drink!  Even more wild, I was even presented with and given an actual SWORD during the signing!

When I walked out of Joseph-Beth that night with the Colonel, Eric Jude, I felt so good about everything, and that moment was even captured on camera.

Being presented with an actual sword by Isaac Hickman
My backdrop setup for the night

Carrie Rapp in costume, myself, and the daughter of a reader and friend of mine, Carrie.Sirles-O'Connor

Walking out with Eric Jude at the end of the night

Everything looked so promising.  I was centered at last, I had a book I was very proud of that had just come out.  Convention season was right around the bend.  Finally, at long, long last, it looked like I'd get to live the life I'd always wanted to have.

A balanced life.  A life in which I could love as I know I can.  A life where everything has a bit of magic because I have someone to SHARE it with.

And yes.  Once again, once more, sudden heartbreak brought the clouds back thick into my skies.

The shock of it all felt so surreal.

This time, I handled it a little stronger than the periods I suffered in 2014.  I did not question my self-worth and value, or what I had to offer.

Nevertheless, it was a very, very painful time with a lot of heartache.  I am grateful for the chance to walk again in sunshine in a way that I had not for so many years before and have not since.  I will always love her for that precious time.

The rarity of sunshine in my world makes me value it all the more. It also made for a lot of pain as I knew I had to keep moving forward, and see ahead through eyes clouded by tears.

It was, once more.  A cold day.

It is very hard to describe just how deep the pain is when things of a magnitude like this happen and you have placed your heart with someone.  But the Lacuna Coil song One Cold Day does give the best musical representation of how it feels:

"As I stand in the rain of this cold day
Tears are the words when I cannot confess the pain
Time will heal
But I don't want to feel

Cry in the rain
Release the pain

So cry now
Cry now and let it go?"

You have to keep moving forward.  And I did.

I kept up my physical training, which was progressing and the practice of martial arts gave me focus and a channel for so much pain and frustration.  It also gave me a number of small milestones, both fitness and skill-wise, to celebrate during the storm.

The song that has been such a battle-cry for me for a long time now, Pop Evil's Trenches, represents this so well.  It truly is being in the trenches, and working to fill those trenches, and not giving up, and keeping yourself going, so you can stand up above ground once more.

"I've waited all my life to get out of the trenches 
 I'm ready to fight for what I believe you can steal from me 
 I won't take this 
 Gonna fill these trenches and stand up 
Wake up, 
I won't give up 
 'Cause here I come, here I come"

It is is so hard to describe how much energy it takes, how deep you have to reach, to push ahead as hard as you can when your heart aches so much.  But I somehow found a way, even if I had to cut back on a few appearances.

One appearance I did keep, even during a very raw time of emotion for me, was a workshop for kids at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in late March.  I conducted a workshop on character creation and took the 9-12 year olds through a truly pro-level character development process. It was a fantastic experience and brought me a few smiles that I badly needed.  I thank Patricia Murphy very much for this special day.

Me with my class of 9-12 year olds for a workshop at Joseph-Beth Booksellers

I did make it to the Author's Fair in Madison, Indiana, continuing my streak there of attending every one of these.  Doing events when you are struggling internally is very hard, as you have to do all you can to be upbeat for your readers and fellow writers, and be a good guest for the book fair.  This one was not an easy one to do but I had to keep on my road. I think I delivered well as a guest for them and I did enjoy seeing readers, both new ones and those who had already come aboard my creative world.

Me at my setup at the Author's Fair in Madison Indiana, April 2015

Spring brought with it a bit of a landmark moment, a pro photo session in later April with Eric Jude of Frozen Creek Studios.  This photo session captured the significant progress made in me physically and also reflected many of the things core to my world.

It was a reminder that despite all the heartache suffered, I had indeed made many strides.

The shoot with Eric and his wife Kylie was wonderful.  I feel it captured a guy who keeps fighting forward and somehow manages to keep his head up.

I knew I was winning the battle to reclaim my physical self, and with so much going through my mind, about everything in my world, I began to notice the Camaro that had been sitting idle for several years, a 1992 25th anniversary Z-28 that had come into my life the last time I was in good physical shape.  A Z-28 that had come into my life during a tremendous period of heartache back in my college years.  

Looking at that car sitting there, not running, fading paint, my heart hurt.  How had I let that happen? That's a long story, but I knew that the situation with the car was not right.

Just as I knew I haven't deserved what I've endured, that car deserved so much better.  If I was reclaiming myself and fighting my way back to being the best of me again, then that car deserved to come back to full glory and beyond.  

The car needed a name.  And there was only one that fit with the color that I wanted that car to be.  Valkyrie.  After Rayden Valkyrie and in honor of the idea of having the heart of a lion.  The color I envisioned was silver, to have Valkyrie look liked a honed sword blade gleaming in bright sunshine.  

It took many months, starting with my tremendous neighbor and friend Bob Cable and his dad getting Valkyrie off the ground again.  Then the folks at Car Masters of Lexington, KY, truly honest, kind, and dedicated folks, undertook a lot of work (one of their mechanics Tom is superb with muscle cars and you will not work with a nicer guy than Tim).  The folks at MAACO capped it off by giving Valkyrie her new silver attire.  A new stereo from Autosound and new tires from the good folks at Tire Discounters on Nicholasville Road. 

After the set of 8 new high-end injectors were put into that 5.7 L 350, the very last step, she was back and she roared.

We were together again and it sure felt good. :)

This song, "With a Full Head of Steam" by Armored Saint, is the first song I played in her when she had her new stereo system installed.  Certain cars have a spirit and she does, and when I'm driving her I can feel  the fight in her and it is like she is reminding me to keep fighting, moving onward with a full head of steam.  This song is what she and I would sing together, just like Jon Bush and Pearl Aday do in this song: I think Valkyrie would have a voice like Pearl, especially when she belts it out later in the song!

"So pristine 
Well I keep pushing onward  
With a full head of steam"

Summer got underway and I had some pleasant experiences, such as my trip to Hypericon in Nashville where I was given a fitness award.  Mind you, this is a book-centered convention, so I was a bit floored by the recognition, but some very dear friends of mine, such as Mandi Lynch and Stephania Grimm, wanted to recognize the physical journey and battle I'd been fighting in that area. It really touched me and I felt honored to be recognized like that.

My fitness award from Hypericon 2015! 

At the same time, a glimmer of hope was appearing in my world, and for a brief period I thought I might have another path back toward the sunlight.  From a beautiful walk across the bridge in Louisville to the first real birthday party I'd had in a long time, a wonderful pool party in Louisville, I allowed my heart to hope again.

Once more, disappointment and some difficult inner hurt.  An once more, nothing that made sense.

FandomFest came soon after all of that, and our literary track there was a great success. Everything ran so smoothly, the vibes were so positive, and the track and event really felt, for the second year in a row, how I knew they could be during the earlier developmental years.  Always an adventure when you work with the legendary Ken Daniels!  He and Myra have a great thing going with FandomFest and with the format it has now, it really is in a good place.

There was one moment in August that was truly special and represented the best in life.  One of my best friends Christina Butcher and my friend Evan Richardson welcomed their son Elijah into the world.  I got to visit in the hospital and hold baby Elijah.  I can only imagine how amazing and incredible it must be to have a child and it represents what is most important in life.  Life, family and love, the highest of things without question.  This day was a celebration of all of that and I was so lucky to be able to hold baby Elijah and visit with Christina and Evan there at the hospital.

Me with baby Elijah 

The second year of Imaginarium arrived in September, and took a nice step forward.  It grew in size, we had a great Guest of Honor in romance author Lori Wilde, and we added some great new things such as a Friday night rock concert and a Magic the Gathering game tournament.  The heart was there and while we still haven't gotten to meeting the costs of the event, a big stride was made and there's a lot of motivation and momentum toward our third year.  Senior staff like Frank Hall, Robin Blankenship, Eric and Kylie Jude, and Jill Campbell were true champions, and our volunteer staff shined (from Mary Holt Blankenship, to Sandy Kachurek and Resa Sandora, to all involved.),  Of course, our representative at the Crowne Plaza, Nicole Castaneda, is aces!

Me with the one and only Frank Hall at Imaginarium 2015

One fun thing that I started doing as fall arrived was beginning my journey on the Bourbon Trail here in Kentucky.  Bourbon is a big part of Kentucky, historically and in terms of industry, and seeing the distilleries has been something I've long wanted to do.  I got to do this with with the great Jude family (Eric, Kylie, Rachel their cousin Lisa Marie Ross, and Bobby Little, and ,my awesome friend Robin Blankenship came aboard for our second excursion) of course, and was able to hit Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, and Four Roses, netting me a third of the nine passport stamps I need to complete the official trail.  The tours were all amazing, with a lot to see, to learn, and to sample! :)

Me with Eric Jude at Jim Beam

My physical journey all this while had been proceeding very well.  Krav Maga is a great fit for me and the workouts continued to advance as my physicality enabled me to do more and more.  I've said before that Krav Maga has been a gift and a blessing these past two years, and now as I surpass where I was in my 20's and able to do things I could not do in my 20's, it becomes more self-evident. In the fall I took a photo that showed the stages from the beginning, to earlier in 2015, to later in 2015.

I had another book release in October, the 2nd volume of my Hellscapes collection of short stories. This time, the cover art was created by the uber-talented Aaron Drown of Aaron Drown Design, who writes as A. Christopher Drown and is a top-flight author by any definition (As his novel A Mage of None Magic proves).  These tales aren't for the faint of heart, but there's a moral to all of them, as it is an exploration of evil.  Perfect book to have out around Halloween too!

I also did some events and appearances, including another one at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, a place that is very special to me.  I love to encourage kids to stay strong and go for their dreams and thankfully I've been able to do that many times at PLD.  Their LitCon was a great success, and major kudos to Summer Stockwell Perry for spearheading such a wonderful thing for high school students. 

Me with some of the great students at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington

The holiday season then arrived.  

In recent years, this has been a very difficult thing for me, as I haven't found a home for my heart, where I can start my own family again (whether that be becoming part of a partner's world, starting a new one, or a combination of both), and I've had so many loved ones pass away in what was already a smaller family to begin with.  It's down to just me and my sister now, and I know it's very hard on both of us when we were used to warm, joyous family holidays in the past. 

We make the most of it and had Thanksgiving with lifelong friends who we deem as family, Maria Peltier, and her daughter Michelle.  

During this time, once more a glimmer of hope occurred in that area that is most important to me.  I was so excited as just when I was girding myself for the holidays it looked as if something bright and wonderful was entering my world.  A situation I would have been absolutely happy with.  I had many very wonderful experiences, from daytime lunches, to walks in the park, to frozen yogurt forays, to a hike, to helping out with essay papers in a coffee shop, a special holiday dinner and party I held at my favorite restaurant Pete's Wok, to a big concert night seeing Trans-Siberian Orchestra where I felt a touch of the Christmas magic I had not felt in so long.  

This song doesn't have lyrics, but it is one of my favorite Trans-Siberian Orchestra Songs and this is how my heart felt that night at the concert, from the 14th row back from the stage: 

Yet once more, heartache arrived.

Right in the Christmas season.

And nothing I could understand.

I wanted to cry out.  How much heartache can a person take?  Does the Universe think I'm made of Titanium?

Dammit, it hurts SO deep.  I always give my best, I having a loving heart, I am always kind, I am always giving, and yet it always seems it gets tossed aside as if it were nothing.

I'll never understand that. It never gets any easier. And yes, I know with absolute certainty I deserve better in light of what I offer. At least I believe in myself and know that, no matter how much my heart hurts.

I just couldn't believe what had happened, and the song A Day in My Life by Five Finger Death Punch really hits home hard in regard to this latest hurt.

"Feels like I'm falling away
Getting deeper and deeper everyday
And like nothing has changed or ever will
It seems like I'm going insane
Getting farther and farther everyday
I just swallow the pain
And always will
Welcome to a day in my life"

Deep breath.

I have to keep moving forward as long as I'm breathing.

I have to give myself a chance that things will indeed change and someone special will recognize what I have to offer, will appreciate me, and will give my heart a home.  And they will discover that they have won the lottery because they'll have a dedicated, loyal, steadfast, big-hearted and caring guy ready to give them the adventure of a lifetime.

So, after enduring a particularly painful Christmas period, I thought I'd just look to wrap the year up quietly.  Another tough one, another year of trial with a high dose of heartache, and some strides in a few areas.

I then decided to make one final statement.

Over a year ago, I was still too anxiety-ridden to take my shirt off at a beach or pool.  I realized, here in late December of 2015, that I had become confident in myself, no matter what, and I have changed how I view myself in many ways.

So I took a selfie of myself wearing an unbuttoned flannel shirt, showing some of my chest and the flatter stomach I've attained.  I posted in on my mainstream social media areas such as Facebook and Instagram.

It was my way of saying I was still standing tall and believe in myself more than ever.  A year ago afraid to take my shirt off at a pool, now posting a pic with exposed chest and stomach right there in public on Facebook.

It was a self-affirmation.  It was a statement of confidence and belief in myself.

I never expected the response, especially from a very, very talented romance and erotica author who has indicated she will use me as a cover model for one of her books.  This meant so very much to me, as a cover for an author is not just personal, but also the representation in marketing their book and selling books.  To hear that an established romance author that I highly respect would like to use me for a cover model meant a ton to me on many levels and was a tremendous validation of the 2 years of very, very hard work that's been involved in reclaiming my physical self.

It was a lightning bolt of positive energy at a time when I've been surrounded by a lot of darkness.  It meant so much that I told her I'd be willing to be clean-shaven and even cut my hair if the look for her book cover required it!

So where do things stand as 2015 comes to a close?

I believe in myself.  I'm a fighter.  I'm still standing.

It brings to mind a song that played over the baseball field loudspeakers when a 12 year old boy took the mound in a championship game as an underdog.  He, and his father, were the only two that truly believed it could be done.  That boy struck out the first three batters he faced and led his team to win a championship.

Now, many years later, that twelve year old boy has become a man and embraced a warrior's path.  He is stepping into 2016 as an underdog once again, against great odds.

Don't underestimate him.

The 2016 version of him, like the recent cover of the song, is full of fire and fury.  I make no predictions about 2016 but I am going to come out swinging and I'm hitting harder than ever these days.

"Risin' up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance
Now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive
So many times, it happens too fast
You trade your passion for glory
Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive"


Erin Nance said...

Amazing, and your accomplishments this year alone have been astounding to say the least!

Erin Nance said...

Amazing, and your accomplishments this year alone have been astounding to say the least!