Guest Blogger - Wendy E. Simmons, Author

Today I welcome guest blogger, Wendy E. Simmons. She's the author of the new book, "My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth."  Wendy has had a very impressive launch for her first book.

I enjoyed this witty and engaging book immensely and think you will too. It gives you a rare glimpse into the alternate universe that is North Korea from the safety of wherever it is you're at.

I am and have always been a traveler. Exploring the world, meeting its

people, experiencing their lives, and sharing what I see are my greatest

passions. I’ve traveled to more than eighty-five countries—including

territories and colonies—many of which I’ve been to multiple times, and

I’m struck more and more not by our differences but by our similarities.

Beneath all the trappings of politics and religion, and apart from variations

in the way we live our daily lives, I have come to understand how

fundamentally the same we all are as human beings.

 

Then I went on holiday to North Korea. And like Alice in Wonderland, I

fell through the rabbit hole.

 

This is my tale.

MY HOLIDAY IN NORTH KOREA:

THE FUNNIEST/WORST PLACE ON EARTH

 

WENDY E. SIMMONS

 

 

ALICE STARTED TO HER FEET, FOR IT

FLASHED ACROSS HER MIND THAT SHE HAD

NEVER BEFORE SEEN A RABBIT WITH EITHER

A WAISTCOAT POCKET OR A WATCH TO TAKE

OUT OF IT, AND, BURNING WITH CURIOSITY,

SHE RAN ACROSS THE FIELD AFTER IT...

  • Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

 

 Crashing a North Korean Wedding. Note the "stink eye" from the bride.

Crashing a North Korean Wedding. Note the "stink eye" from the bride.

PROLOGUE

 

It’s amazing how badly you want to go outside when you’re not allowed to. It was such a nice night in Pyongyang, and all I wanted to do was not be stuck inside my dim, drab, smoky, weird, empty hotel.

 

My handlers and I had just arrived back at the Koryo Hotel. It was only 6:00 p.m., but since foreigners aren’t allowed to leave their hotels without their handlers, I wouldn’t be allowed back outside until 7:30 a.m. the next morning, when they returned to fetch me. I felt like a dog with a shock collar on.

 

I moaned, “I feel like I’m being sent back to prison.”

 

Older Handler recovered quickly and volunteered to take me on a walk.

 

“Meet in the lobby at 6:55; walk from 6:55 to 7:05.”

 

Itineraries and meeting times are very strict in North Korea.

 

We walked two long blocks up and two long blocks back, with people

staring at me the entire time—clearly not happy to see an American

Imperialist. We stopped in front of a tiny enclosed stand. Older Handler asked me if I’d like to try a North Korean ice cream “special treat.” I declined, ruminating over the likelihood of an actual, real ice cream stand existing in the barren retail wasteland that is North Korea (probability: zero).

 

She was not having it. “You said you feel like you are in prison. Eat the ice cream!”

 

Her feelings, I guess, were hurt. I ate the ice cream, which tasted kind of like an orange Creamsicle, but without the cream, or the orange.

Depositing me back at the hotel at 7:05 p.m. on the dot, she turned and said to me, “There. Now you feel better,” like I was some kind of child who had been granted a magical five-minute ice cream mind-eraser furlough.

 

Yup, all better.

 

I asked (again) why the main hotel for foreigners couldn’t just put

a bench right outside the front door—right by all the guards and doormen—that tourists could sit on for fresh air and not be stuck inside the hotel all the time.

 

She responded in typical North Korean fashion (read: insane), “To be honest, because naughty Americans—but not you—are using this information to create false stories about our country to make it look bad, so not until the reunification of our country.”

 

Right, got it.

 

Coincidentally, we spent the next two days in the countryside at hotels that had benches outside in small courtyards inside the hotel grounds.

 

Older Handler was very quick to emphatically point out the benches to me, repeatedly letting me know I should sit there so I “wouldn’t have to feel like [I] was in prison.” By this point in the trip, I couldn’t tell whether she was trying to be helpful or just spiteful. I think it was a little of both.

 

+ + + +

 

I am and have always been a traveler. Exploring the world, meeting its people, experiencing their lives, and sharing what I see are my greatest passions. I’ve traveledtomorethaneighty-fivecountries—including territories and colonies—many of which I’ve been to multiple times, and I’m struck more and more not by our differences but by our similarities. Beneath all the trappings of politics and religion, and apart from variations in the way we live our daily lives, I have come to understand how fundamentally the same we all are as human beings.

Then I went on holiday to North Korea. And like Alice in Wonderland, I fell through the rabbit hole.

 

This is my tale.

 

 

HOW DO YOU KNOW I’M MAD? SAID ALICE. YOU

MUST BE, SAID THE CAT, OR YOU WOULDN’T

HAVE COME HERE.

- Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

 

CHAPTER 1

ARRIVAL

 

It was June 25, 2014. China Air Flight 121 touched down at Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport and taxied to a stop on the tarmac. The cabin door opened. I disembarked the airplane and descended the passenger boarding stairs. I was alone, a tourist in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, unaccompanied by an organized tour group or international liaison (unlike most other visitors to the country).

 

I had never been more excited.

 

Aside from our plane, twelve or so fellow passengers, the half-dozen soldiers and airline employees who’d met us at the bottom of the stairs, and a giant smiling portrait of Kim Il-sung affixed to the side of the terminal building, the area was completely empty. There were no baggage trains, no food or fuel trucks, no conveyor-belt vehicles, or vehicles of any kind for that matter. There were no ground crews doing their jobs. There were no other planes. We were it.

One of the soldiers pointed me in the direction of the terminal building. I walked to the entrance and went inside. That twenty-foot walk to the terminal’s entrance would mark the last time I was allowed outside alone for the next ten days.

 

The inside of the terminal was as devoid of normal airport activity as the outside was—something I would have expected had we just landed on a small island in the Philippines or a dirt runway in Uganda but not in the capital of North Korea.

 

There were three booths for immigration: two for “regular” people and a third for diplomats and other government officials. As if it was inconceivable that a foreign woman would travel alone to North Korea and not be a diplomat, my fellow passengers kept urging me to join the diplomatic line. I stayed put. I didn’t want to risk deportation trying to impersonate a diplomat when I hadn’t even been imported yet.

 

When it was my turn, I walked up to the counter, laid my papers and passport down, smiled, and chirped, “Hello!”

 

The agent grunted back without making eye contact.

He took one paper from me, stamped another, and handed it back with my passport, and I was in.

 

I was euphoric. The most exciting moments in my life, when I feel most alive, happen when I’m touching down anywhere in the world I’ve never been. I am reborn into a new world, where everything is a curiosity to wonder at, and even the smallest accomplishment is a victory. There was nothing but discovery and learning ahead of me. And I was in North Korea—the most reclusive country on Earth. This was going to be amazing.

 

Even though I’d done research to make sure the size and type of camera and lens I’d brought would be acceptable, cleared my iPhone of any applications I thought might be questionable, and had declared all of my other electronic devices and cash on my immigration forms, I still felt trepidation as I approached security.

 

“Cell phone!” demanded a guard.

 

I’d read online that North Korean officials take your cell phone and

examine it but give it back nowadays, so I handed it over without

argument. I put my bags on the baggage scanner, which looked about a hundred years old, and walked through the also-ancient metal detector. After being patted down, I stood watching as a gaggle of guards (soldiers?) huddled in a semicircle around my phone. I couldn’t imagine what they were doing with it, since it was locked. Installing a listening or recording device? They were probably just trying to unlock it.

 

After a few minutes, a guard returned my phone and pointed to a set of doors, indicating I was free to go. But my luggage was still inside the baggage-screening machine. I pointed to the machine and politely said,

 

“Bags?” hoping my luggage was merely trapped in the scanner’s inner sanctum, not confiscated. When the guard realized what I was saying, he began shouting at the other guards, who in turn began shouting at one another as another guard worked to dislodge my bags. To slake the mounting chaos, I smiled and jokingly said, “Don’t worry! Happens all the time!” I was summarily ignored.

 

Reunited with my bags a few minutes later, I emerged from security and was greeted by my two smiling, seemingly blissful North Korean handlers—the people who would be my near constant companions until I returned to the airport ten days later.

 

Older Handler stepped forward and introduced herself first. She was prim, wearing decades-old clothes that looked part Star Trek, part

1960s air-hostess uniform, only not stylish and in ugly colors. If we were the cast of a TV show, Older Handler would be the neighbor lady who always tries so hard to look put together

just so but can’t quite pull it off.

 

Older Handler then introduced me to her subordinate, Fresh Handler.

Older Hander told me she was “fresh” at her job—that is, she’d only been a guide a short time. Fresh Handler was young and diffident, and something about her shaggy-punk haircut and sweet demeanor told me I’d like her best.

 

As Fresh Handler said hello, Older Handler unabashedly looked me up and down, sizing up—as I would be called throughout my trip—the

American Imperialist. Then, without taking a breath, in a tone slightly less than suspicious:

 

You first time come Korea? You been South Korea? You been Japan? You speak Korean?

 

ME: Yes. Yes. Yes. No.

 

North Koreans’ antipathy for Americans cannot be overstated. They are taught aggressively from birth that the United States is their number-one enemy, that Americans are imperialist pigs hell-bent on occupying North Korea, and that we may attack North Korea at any time. The Party espouses this rhetoric to maintain its absolute power over the North Korean people. If there is an enemy from which the people need protecting, the Party can be their protector.

 

We exited the airport, and I was introduced to Driver, who had spiky hair and was standing next to our car smoking. He half grinned, revealing several gold teeth, then took my bag and loaded it into the boot.

 

Older Handler directed me to sit in the backseat next to Fresh Handler and took the senior position in the front.

 

My “North Korea Is Great! America Is Not!” indoctrination began immediately. The car doors had barely closed when Older Handler uttered “our Dear Great Leader” and “American Imperialist” for the first time.

 

As we drove from the airport to our first tourist attraction, the Arch of

Triumph, Older Handler turned to me with a smile plastered across her face and said, “Do you know what today is?”

 

ME: Umm, Wednesday?

 

(Which was true.)

 

OLDER HANDLER: It’s JuneTwenty-Fifth,  thedaythe American Imperialists invaded our country.

 

(Which was not true.)

 

On June 25, 1950, nearly the opposite happened. North Korea invaded South Korea.

 

Unsure what etiquette dictated in such a situation, I awkwardly said nothing, hoping the conversation would end. She asked me the question again, perhaps thinking I hadn’t heard her the first time. I offered the same answer.

 

Unsatisfied with my response, OlderHandlerresponded,  hersmile unperturbed, “It’s the day your country invaded our country.”

 

ME: Oh, that’s a coincidence then that I arrived today.

 

I quickly glanced at Fresh Handler with a look that said, “Ack. How did I screw this up already?” And like the new best friend I knew she would be, she giggle-smiled back at me the equivalent of “Don’t worry!”

 

I looked back at Older Handler, whose smile was now gone. Like a one-two-knockout punch, Older Handler said something to Fresh Handler and Driver, then Driver pulled the car over, and Older Handler and Fresh Handler switched seats.

 

Older Handler looked at me and said, “Now I watch you more.”

 

Welcome to North Korea

Sometimes Heartache Is The Best Medicine 

So this week it was back to reality after seven days in the Caribbean. I could say I am sad and depressed to come back to my normal life but that would be untrue. My life excites me, especially what lies ahead. Originally my plan was to get tons of work done on my novel during this trip to St. Thomas but I didn't. Honestly, I didn't add one word to it. The only writing I got done were a few poems here and there and social media posts. You know what? Typically this would leave me filled with extreme guilt but not this time, relaxation and fun is exactly what I needed.

Burning the candle at both ends for the past few years as an author-prenuer with a day job has caused my writing career to grow significantly but it's also taken a toll. The price I’ve paid willingly and it was very much worth it, I have no regrets. Basking in the warm Caribbean sun and floating in its pristine turquoise waters was a realignment for my soul and I needed it badly. After the trip I feel recharged and ready for what's next. What comes next for me is setting and achieving some pretty awesome goals. One of those goals is beginning to consciously realign my life to make way for even more writing, more growth, and more travel.

What I’ve found is writers are always working, even if it’s subconsciously. When we’re not writing we’re usually taking mental notes about nearly everyone and everything that crosses our path. While I was in St. Thomas I met many interesting and a few wonderful souls. I also had some true growth experiences. The wonderful souls were strangers at first but we parted as friends. When this happens you’re enriched because, in a way, these people's stories and experiences become your own.

We met a young couple from San Diego, she was a competitive swimmer and he was a personal trainer. Then there was a man from Romania and his wife. He had immigrated to the US when he was nineteen and almost died during a failed attempt to escape Communist Romania in the mid-eighties before the Berlin wall fell. He suffered abuse at the hands of nuns who taught at the school he went to as a child, and corrupt Romanian police and military officers later in life. Against those odds he still went on to immigrate to America and build a successful construction business. During a brief chat over a delicious breakfast he told me two or three ways to immobilize an attacker with my bare hands.

The last and most profound of the connections we made was with our AirBNB host, Lecia (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/3139209?s=p6pABAhB). She taught in in St. Thomas for decades and retired but is still very involved in the community. She cares deeply about the children of the island and their future, she also cares about the environment. Her home is almost completely self-sustaining, she eats a plant-based diet and drives an electric car (which is charged by her solar panels.) Even better, through very smart decisions and hard work she’s built a life that gives her freedom to do what makes her happy. This entrepreneurial path is the one I’m walking on now and I need to surround myself with these kinds of people and soak up their wisdom.

I've always loved travel but didn’t fully understand why. I’ve always been fascinated by new people, places, and experiences. Exploration runs deep in the DNA of humanity. I think our ancestors found out long ago that seeking new places and new experiences make us better and stronger, they deepen our knowledge of both ourselves and of the Universe. Growth doesn't come from doing more of the same things. Yes, ordinary life hands us its share of lessons but when we're traveling those lessons are condensed in significantly higher doses over a shorter period of time.

I came back from this trip feeling inspired and prepared to take more chances. Dreams have their place but I’m tired of dreaming. I want to make more of a conscious effort to build the framework that will bring about the birth of Eric version 2.0. (or is it version 3.0?)

I’ve learned many things through my two plus decades of struggle as a writer. Dreams only provide a temporary respite from a life that is less than ideal. For dreams to work they must be paired with smart decisions, follow through, and lots of hard work. Over the next few months I’m going to be shuffling many of the priorities in my life around to make more room for writing (of course) and travel.

I’ve learned during the St. Thomas trip that travel isn’t as much a luxury as it is a necessary element in my life equation. Now that I'm back into my weekly routine of being rushed and pressed for time my heart literally aches when I look at the pictures from our trip and recall the freedom we felt. I’m going to use that heartache as a motivator. From now on I’m going to be budgeting for travel just as though it was healthcare coverage or groceries, in my opinion it’s just as important.

I’m honored that so many of you wonderful souls are here with me to take part in my journey. I’m excited to see what the coming months will bring for us all. I promise you, the second novel, Truth Is Stranger, will be completed soon come Hades or rising tides.

~Eric Vance Walton~

Make Each Moment Paradise

My wife and I are in day three of our St. Thomas vacation and she decided to get her nails done in a little nail salon on the tourist strip in Red Hook and I decided to explore the area a bit.I bought a baseball cap to shield my sunburned forehead, chatted with the shopkeeper and she offered me a seat on her, "husband couch" until my wife's nails were done but I graciously declined. Having seen all of the tourist shops I could bare (2) I simply stood outside in the blazing heat hoping I wouldn't get charged with loitering. A baby iguana scurried right up to my feet and stared at me tilting his head. Right then I realized that I should make the most of this quiet moment. I decided to catch up on my email for a few minutes so I read James Altucher's latest blog on minimalism and really connected with it.  

   After I read his blog post I was inspired to write this one, and thought about how everything is connected. Each of our actions cause a ripple effect of which we'll never know the full extent of. In a way each of us are a tiny epicenter. Since studying the Tao Te Ching and trying to put its teachings into practice I've learned life is about surrendering to and making the most of each and every moment. Do I always remember to do this? No, but when I do life just flows better. A successful and joyful life is about learning the lessons, then teaching the lessons you learn in the subtlest most unobtrusive way possible. Most often the best way to teach is merely by example. Sometimes the very best moments in life are completely spontaneous, so we must be prepared to be awake enough to notice when they arise. These moments can be triggered by a blog post or a baby iguana. Your guards must be down and your heart must be open. So many people move to a beautiful place like Saint Thomas believing that living there will solve all of their problems. This much I have learned, paradise is not a place. Paradise is more like an attitude, it's a state of being. You must begin by radiating happiness wherever your feet are currently planted. When you begin to do this your life will start to miraculously change for the better.  I know this trip to St. Thomas is the first leg of the future my wife and I have dreamed about for years: traveling the world; writing; meeting interesting new people; learning; teaching; and loving.  I have many more miles to put on these feet, many more beautiful places to visit and so much more to learn but paradise, I've already found. ~Eric Vance Walton~

I Fell Off The Wagon...again

  My name is Eric Vance Walton and it’s been two months since I fell off the wagon.  There, I said it, I began to stray from the path that was working and back into an old and self-limiting, pattern of behavior that for the previous fifteen years had gotten me nowhere.  This feels strangely liberating to admit publicly.

It all started innocently enough.  About two months ago I became obsessed with listening to the New Yorker fiction podcasts while on my lunch break from my corporate job. In these podcasts authors who’ve been published in the New Yorker read their favorite short stories of other authors aloud.  This became like a master class for me in writing short fiction and it prompted me to craft a few short stories of my own. I took a break from working on my second novel and spent a good chunk of time getting the short story drafts just right. Then I offered my work to beta-readers for their feedback and when I had received all of their responses I spent even more time polishing these stories.

I then thought it might not hurt my writing career to submit these short stories to the New Yorker, so I did.  After fifteen plus years of being rejected by the traditional publishing world and another five years of heading down the self-publishing path, the New Yorker submission process was a stark reminder of how cold and unwelcoming the world of traditional publishing is to an, “undiscovered” (in their eyes) author. The submission guidelines stated as follows…expect a three month response time and due to the high volume of work submitted we will only respond if your story is accepted.

 

Right out of the gate this felt like a step backwards and like a blow to my self confidence after being in the writing game for two decades but I told myself, “It’s the New Yorker, just imagine how that would look on your writing resume!”

 

Around the same timeframe I also signed up for a writer’s conference in Chicago where I would get the chance to pitch my trilogy of novels to a seasoned literary agent. I was excited, this happened to be the exact conference that Veronica Roth, of the Divergent series fame, was “discovered”.

 

A few weeks after I signed up for the conference events in my life transpired to make attending it very difficult. I began to question my decision, it just didn’t feel right, it wasn't flowing. I felt like I was once again rattling the gate and begging the gatekeepers to allow me a glimpse of their rarified world. This didn’t jive with the entrepreneurial path I had been walking with my writing for the previous five years, the merits of which were strongly reinforced by James Altucher’s book, Choose Yourself.  I was giving away my power once again and I felt it diminished my strength as both a writer and as a person.

 

The proof was right there in the results, my writing career had grown infinitely larger and more quickly in the five years I was choosing myself than it did in the previous fifteen years of trying to convince the gatekeepers of the literary world that I was worthy.

Well, to make a long story as short as possible, I’m now back on the right path again.  I realize the only people’s opinion that I truly care about are my readers. The traditional publishing path clearly wasn’t meant for me, if it was I would be locked into a multi-book deal with film rights already. I plan on publishing the short stories I wrote for the New Yorker on my own platform and will eventually use them as material for a “funnel book”, a free eBook designed to drive readers towards paid content.  

 

I’ll also use the money that would’ve have been spent on the conference to redesign my website so I can start to build and manage my own mailing list. I attribute the missteps of the past few months to some kind of temporary insanity, or possibly a mid-life crisis…whatever the cause, it feels great to be steering my own ship again, it feels great to choose myself. Brené Brown said, "When you own your story, you get to write the ending.”  Just watch how I wrap this one up.

~Eric Vance Walton~

Showcase Saturday!

Showcase SaturdayWhenever you see this meme on my page it's your cue to share your books, your blog, your art, photography, or anything you would like share with my amazing global audience.  There's one rule and one rule only, if you participate please SHARE the entire post on your own timeline. As an extra added thank you if there are five or more contributors, the contributor who receives the most likes within the first 8 hours of when the post first appears will win a free eBook copy of my novel, Alarm Clock Dawn.  

Happy Saturday, everyone! ~Eric Vance Walton~

  

How To Fail

HOW TO FAIL MISERABLY AS A WRITER (or anything else) It doesn’t matter how good of a writer you think you are, if you can’t figure out how to connect with readers you’re not going to sell anything. Internet marketing for indie authors is especially tough to figure out. Often our budgets are small or even non-existent and the rules are changing often.

This is important stuff. If you don’t figure it out eventually you’ll be discouraged enough to give up on your dream. I admit that marketing has never been one of my strong suits. This is one of the reasons it took my writing career so long to take off.  I was that skinny and awkward kid with thick glasses that few things came naturally to. I would practice things hundreds of times until I perfected them. One of the few things I had on my side was persistence. I’m still that same kid inside, only larger, with a few gray hairs, and the nagging thought that time goes far too fast to waste it.

A month ago I tried to make a poached egg. It ended up looking like egg drop soup. It was terrible. Ten or so attempts and a few YouTube videos later I can make a perfect poached egg. The secret, once I learned it was like magic and made the process easy. What is the secret? Soak the eggs (still in the shell) in white vinegar for five minutes before cracking and boiling them. That was it.

Things are incredibly hard until you figure out the secret and then they’re easy. To find success you must have to have the patience and persistence to get to the EASY.

Most of us have heard the quote by William Faulkner, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” If a sentence or passage doesn’t work for the good of the overall project you must get rid of it no matter how brilliant you think it is. This is excellent advice but it isn’t easy to do partially because of ego but to a greater degree because of fear that you can’t write something better.

To become a successful writer you must subdue your ego and have the confidence to believe that great ideas come from an endless source within you. When you believe this amazing things begin to happen.

The opposite is true as well. The surest way to fail at this is to write from a place of fear or hold on to ineffective ideas. They become bars in an invisible prison cell that will keep you stuck right where you are.

I know this “kill your darlings” philosophy works for writing so I applied it to marketing. Sometimes the entire marketing idea stinks and has to go but sometimes part of it can be saved, retooled to try again. I’m not getting any younger and the books aren’t selling themselves so I’ll only try a retooled idea once. If the idea doesn’t get results it must go to the scrap heap.

Some of you might remember last summer I had a marketing idea that I was super excited about. While traveling I decided to hand out a few copies of my novel, Alarm Clock Dawn, to random people for free. There was a note inside the front cover asking the recipient to leave me a message on Facebook letting me know what they thought about the book. After they were finished reading it I asked if they would pass the book onto another friend to read and they could do the same, and so on. The whole idea was based on the Pay It Forward philosophy. It was a hard thing to accept because I was sure it would work but the whole thing fell flat. I waited for months but all I heard were crickets...not a single response from anyone. Ever. I had to accept it and move on to something new and better. All of us are a constant work in progress. 

Failure is not an option. Next week I’ll be traveling to Chicago for a long weekend, partially for business but mostly for fun. I’ll be visiting a few independent bookstores and doing some research for my new novel Truth Is Stranger. Along the way I’m going to try this Pay It Forward marketing idea once more. It’ll be interesting to see how it works after a few tweaks. I’ll be updating you all on my experiences throughout this process.

All it really takes in this world to be successful is working through the hard to get to the EASY. I hope your path to easy is a short one. More importantly, I hope you learn quickly from every misstep along the way.

With Gratitude, ~Eric Vance Walton~

Balancing The Books

  The life of an Indie writer can be filled with uncertainties, for most people the largest of these uncertainties pertains to income. As a writer, instead of receiving a regular paycheck your payday only comes when you sell what you’ve written.  Don’t let this dissuade you from following your dream.  The fact is there is no job that is completely safe in today’s economy. No matter what your profession, job security is now a fallacy. Even after you’ve worked for a company for years you can find one day without warning that your job has been outsourced.  Once we truly understand that risk is everywhere why not devote your time and energy to something you absolutely love?  If the financial challenges of becoming a full time writer are what’s holding you back from pursuing your dream, stop worrying and start planning.

 

For some people there’s an innate romance associated with a writer’s life but when you begin to think about it more practically it’s easy for trepidation to sink in. I know how scary it can be, I’ve been in the workforce since I was fifteen years old and receiving a regular paycheck for almost twenty five years. As I’m preparing to make the transition into becoming a full time writer I’ve done thorough research and have begun to retool my entire life to make the transition to becoming a fulltime writer less of a shock. You only have to stop thinking like an employee and start thinking like an entrepreneur.

 

Your odds of success as a full time writer will be much greater if you have a practical plan in place which includes concrete and realistic goals.  First off, it’s very easy to underestimate how much money you’ll need to support yourself with your writing but it can be done. I have a huge amount of respect for authors who have figured this out.

 

As I was looking at my budget  I decided the best way to start would be to determine how much money it would really take to make the transition into writing full time. I have always told myself that my magic number would be two year’s worth of my current salary.  If I could earn the equivalent of two year’s salary from my writing then I would feel comfortable putting in my notice at work and finally take the leap of faith that I’ve been fantasizing about for years. Of course, this amount needed to put your plan into action will differ for everyone based on your lifestyle and current finances. The first step is to determine your personal number.

 

To aid in your transition it helps to deeply examine your life and decide what can be eliminated from your monthly budget as well as how you can maximize the revenue from your writing. Unless you have a lot of cash saved or an alternate source of regular income it’s best to have a lean budget as you’re making the transition into writing full time, at least in the beginning. Frugality is your best friend during the transition into the writer’s life. This part came easily for me because I’m one of the few creative people I know of that are also very fiscally conservative. My parents love to tell the story of how when I was a young child I would save my allowance for months to buy a toy that I wanted only to decide the next day that I wanted the money back and I would return the toy to the store unopened.  

 

I guess it’s always really bothered me to hand over my hard earned cash on things that aren’t a good value or something that doesn’t add any real value to my life. I would much rather have money left at the end of the month to have wonderful life experiences like seeing new places and trying new restaurants than having my life cluttered with a bunch useless of things. When it comes to buying stuff I’ve rediscovered something our ancestors already practiced out of necessity, research everything you buy and purchase the best quality you can afford, it’s always less expensive in the long term. For example, it absolutely drove me crazy to spend twenty dollars on a pack of five disposable razor blades that lasted only a few months. Three years ago purchased a Merkur brand safety razor for $30 and a pack of 200 blades for $20. I’ve only gone through half of the box of blades in three years. This one purchase has saved me several hundreds of dollars so far.

 

As I was started striving to live my ideal writer’s life, the first thing to be eliminated from the household budget was satellite television. I was spending over one hundred dollars a month for this service and only watched a handful of channels. As an alternative, my wife and I discovered the digital TV antenna and AppleTV.  Now we get over twenty free local channels over the air from the antenna and more content than we can watch on NetFlix and Hulu for around sixteen dollars a month.  The content on these streaming services isn’t as current as cable or satellite television but it’s worked out just fine because we’re watching far less television and have more time for more important things. If we want to watch a more current film there’s always the option of renting DVDs from RedBox for under two dollars per movie.

 

If you really start to examine your life you’ll be amazed at the number of creative ways you can find to lower your expenses.  It’s just a matter of taking a look at your own personal situation and decide what you can live without. Some other suggestions to get you started are growing your own vegetables and canning for use later and shopping at thrift stores. I haven’t owned a new car for years but save thousands by buying cars that are still in great condition but just a couple of years old. I also bike to work when weather allows.  

 

Once you begin to analyze your situation ways to save money will become very apparent.  Ironically, you’ll find that most of the cuts you make to your budget will come along with the fringe benefits of simplifying your life, improving your health, enhancing your creativity, and giving you more free time to do things like read and write.

 

The English writer, Brian Aldiss said, “A writer should say to himself, not, How can I get more money?, but How can I reach more readers (without lowering standards)?”  It’s important not to let financial concerns slow the progress or stall the enthusiasm of your writing career.  As you grow your career your income typically will increase organically.

 

Even before you can make the full transition into your dream of writing full time it’s good practice to view your part time writing gig like the business that it is.  Before your writing can pay all of your living expenses the first step is to make your craft self sustaining.  By self sustaining I mean, try to support all the expenses associated with your writing with proceeds from your writing. When you try this you will realize that supporting writing expenses from only your writing proceeds sounds much easier than it is. If you don’t think outside of the box you may find yourself stuck in a cubicle.

 

I’ve found that launching a writing career takes a fair amount of two things, time and money. To make your work known to the world you must pay for things like marketing, professional editing, and travel to and from appearances just to name a few.  If you can get to the point in your career where your writing is paying for itself you will be that much closer to achieving the dream of making a living with your words.

 

Since income as a writer can be so sporadic it’s important focus on diversifying your revenue streams as much as you can to make the most from your writing.  Begin to think of different and creative ways your can market the same work.  For example, I publish collections of my poetry in book form but I also sell the poems individually, matted on parchment paper.  In doing this, I produce two different products and can profit twice from the same poems.  Additionally, I offer a service where I will collaborate with clients to create a completely original poem for a gift or special occasion and by doing so can use my talent as a poet for a third potential income opportunity and the best part is I love doing all of them.

 

As an indie author, you’re busy writing so it’s easy to overlook all the ways to profit from your work, and many writers often do.  The first, and most effective, thing to focus on is making it as easy as possible for readers to find you and buy your work. It’s important to have a page on your website or blog that list live links to where readers can purchase each of your published books.  Regularly post a link to this page, with an attention grabbing introduction on your social media sites.  It’s also imperative to choose the correct keywords on your pages so they show up in internet search results.

 

Whenever you have the opportunity to do personal appearances like book club meetings, readings or any event where you have the chance to make a face to face sale it’s important to have extra books on hand and provide your readers the option of purchasing these books easily with a credit card.  Companies like PayPal and Square offer reliable, easy to use, and compact credit card readers that plug right into your smartphone.  Buy one of these credit card readers and learn how to operate it.  Never be hesitant to wisely invest in yourself and in your career.  According to a recent survey of BankRate.com, fifty percent of Americans admit they carry less than $20 in cash, and nine percent say they don't carry cash at all. Giving your audience the ability to easily pay with a credit card is a simple way to improve your sales potential.

 

Another great way to add another source of revenue is to monetize your blog through pay per click ad programs such as Google’s Adsense. This service will embed ads in your blog that usually correlate, at least remotely, to products or services you’re writing about in your blog post. Once you sign up for these programs you will get paid each time a reader clicks on an ad. You can even download the free Adsense app to your mobile phone to manage your account on the go. You won’t generate much revenue at first, but it will grow as more readers begin visiting your blog. Although it’s not typical, Google reports that some users are making tens of thousands of dollars per month off this program. Whatever you make, every little bit helps.

 

I can’t stress this enough, just because you choose to pursue a writing career doesn’t mean you have to be a starving artist, it only requires you to think differently and have the discipline to stick to a budget.  Use your gift of creativity to discover new and different ways to get people to pay you for your work and be mindful of the money that you’re spending. If you accomplish this balance you will be well positioned to successfully support yourself with your words. More than ever before writers really do have control of their destinies. Utilize all of the tools at your disposal and you will soon see that reaching the goal of becoming a full time writer will feel every bit as amazing as you imagined it would be.

 

Here’s to your success!

~Eric Vance Walton, Author~

------------------------------------------------------

More information on finding success as an indie author can be found in my book, One Word at a Time, Finding Your Way as an Indie Author. This book debuted at #7 on Amazon and currently has 19 reviews with an average of 4.9 stars.

 

The Happy Path

Lately I've been steeped in the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. I'm reading it, slowly and deliberately, one verse per night, and letting the wisdom sink in.  I've read the Tao Te Ching many times before but it's never resonated with me like this. There's such a infinite wisdom in this book I can see how it's survived thousands of years. The message is so good, so poignant, so useful to humanity that it's stood the test of time. I've been doing my usual year-end reflection and have been thinking a lot about my writing, mainly the snail's pace in which my career has grown. Many times I've asked myself why I haven't achieved the level of success I've wished for. I've been working at my craft for more than two decades and each time I hit a wall and feel like giving up my psyche has always offered up a myriad of excuses:

You haven't met the right contact;

There's too much competition;

It's impossible to make a living at writing;

Facebook is severely limiting my outreach;

Blah, blah, blah, blah.

These excuses are falsehoods that, once I climb from the mire of self-pity, eventually allow me to justify continuing down a path that isn't working out.  Yes, I receive great joy from my work, there's no denying that, but one thing the Tao Te Ching has taught me to do is step outside myself and look at things objectively.  When I do this I see the truth, my work is just not good enough. Admitting this is an amazingly freeing and cleansing experience. If my writing was good enough my words would resonate with people to the point they would catch fire. I would be doing what I love for a living.

This very moment I'm taking full ownership of my life, both the successes and the failures. Like James Altucher has said many times before, there are no longer any gatekeepers. This is very important to realize because when you do you can't blame anyone but yourself.  I'm totally responsible for my own happiness and success.

My second novel, Truth Is Stranger, will be done by June, a series of short stories called, Embrace The Wobble will be published shortly after that, and I'm actively seeking people interested in making my trilogy of novels into films.

Indentured Solitude, my latest short story, is the best fiction I've ever written. I know I can do this. I see that all of the struggles and life experiences I've been through have made my writing better. I'm going to continue to learn, continue to walk down my happy path, and continue to write.

A few other things the Tao has taught me is: 1. everything happens in its own time, when it's meant to; and 2. we must act but detach ourselves from results of those actions.

2016, like any year, will be filled with the usual ups and downs but this year I refuse to see myself through the lens of any falsehoods, any excuses will be hunted to the point of extinction. In the New Year, and every year thereafter, I'm going to work harder than ever before at my craft until my words absolutely catch f*cking fire. There’s no other way.

Until then, my head and heart will be completely in my work, I will try to see things as they are and not how I wish them to be, and my nose will be trained for that first sweet whiff of smoke.

Happy New Year all!  Thank you all for the wonderful support and ideas.  May 2016 bring you truth and may that truth lead you to the success you seek.

~Eric Vance Walton~

PROJECT - PAY IT FORWARD FOR THE HOLIDAYS

A chance encounter with an old co-worker yesterday sparked a crazy idea. Well, maybe it's not so crazy. It began like this...I asked her what she was doing for the Holidays and she said, "My family has decided we have enough stuff. We're very fortunate so we're going to hand out twenty dollar bills on Christmas Eve." This is how it all started. (Thank you Joan.)

The news this year, more than any other year I can remember in my 44 years on the planet, is full of violence, racism, war, and fear mongering. It seems our world is going haywire. This really got my brain going about how we could start a wave of love and positivity. Through my social media pages I'm fortunate enough to have a pretty good sized global audience of amazing people. I'm a firm believer that there is still more good than bad in the world and I'd like to prove it.

Our society has turned this Holiday season into a frenzy of consumerism that brings with it a whole host of negative emotions for a lot of people. More than any other time of the year, the Holidays make people long for loved ones who are no longer here, brings back feelings of regret, it can make people feel like they don't have enough money or things, and like they don't measure up in general.

Your Participation Is Requested.

What I propose, if you can spare it, is to invest $20 in the goodness of humanity. You can use this $20 to help someone you know or a stranger you cross paths with. Pay someone's bill in a restaurant, buy a homeless person a hot meal, or simply hand someone a twenty dollar bill and say Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or whichever Holiday Greeting you prefer. It's easy to forget that each of us are fighting a battle every day and, despite appearances, we have no idea what kind of struggles others are going through.

This idea is very simple. It serves a twofold purpose. It may just help renew someone else's faith in the goodness of humanity and, I promise, it will make you feel INCREDIBLE! This simple act will bring you much more joy than anything the $20 could purchase. In fact, it might be the best gift you get this year.

I'm doing it and will report back my results.

If you decide to participate, please report your results on my author page as well. I'll be reposting this a few times per week until Christmas. Please SHARE this post. Let's start a wave of light to drown out the darkness of this world...or maybe just forget about it for a little while.

Thank you for your interest in my work this year. May your Holidays be rich with all the things that truly matter.

With Gratitude, ~Eric Vance Walton~

WAKING UP FROM THE AMERICAN DREAM

housing-bubble.png

My wife and I just sold our house and were ecstatic that we almost broke even. It has been a serious a struggle to get to that point. We are what most people would consider to be conservative and responsible. We don't live beyond our means, for almost ten years I saved 12% of my income in my 401k.

But like millions of other Americans my wife and I were fooled and swindled. We paid way too much for our modest craftsman style bungalow just before the housing bubble exploded in 2008. Although I don't place the full blame on the financial or real estate industries the American public was undoubtedly misled and conditioned to put our fiscal sense aside and trust the lies we were being fed. Many of us did just that.

"Real estate is the safest investment" they promised.

"Your home will never lose value" they assured.

In hindsight we all know now that this was total bull$h!t. It was so alluring of a con that the con men started to believe it. Everybody was getting rich, on paper, even us little guys. Everyone was happy, until the whole scheme sank. The largest tragedy of it all was the con men got to keep their Italian loafers dry and board the life raft while the little guys were left to tread water and figure out how to save themselves.

In retrospect, we should've mailed back the keys to the mortgage company and walked away in 2008. If we did our credit would now have been almost fully repaired. Instead we put our lives on hold and spent the following seven years being as resourceful as possible to bail ourselves out of a $60,000 deficit between the market value of the house and what we owed the bank.

The housing crisis of 2008 set us back so far financially that it forced us to strive more than we normally would have. I started writing like a madman and finished the first in a trilogy of novels in late 2012. Shortly after self-publishing my first novel, Alarm Clock Dawn, I discovered James Altucher's book Choose Yourself and started listening to his podcasts, which have helped me immensely. His work taught me about multiple revenue streams and how to market myself and my writing in different ways. The knowledge lit a fire underneath me to finally take my twenty year dream of becoming a writer and turn it into reality. For that, I'm very thankful.

Like the generation who survived the Great Depression (which was far worse in every conceivable way) we came out on the other side of the housing crisis viewing the world very differently:

We value experiences more than things;

We're less trusting of government and authority;

We are more trusting in the Universe and are willing to accept and surrender to the experiences it presents us with;

Being in debt of any kind makes us nervous;

We are content with less; and

We're more empathetic to other people's struggles.

We're closing on the house in about a month and are looking for a small one bedroom apartment to rent for a year as we figure out where we go from here.

As the leaves are starting to blush in their vibrant fall colors we're taking our final walks with our beagle in the neighborhood we've called home for the last eight years. I'd be a liar if I said I didn't feel a tinge of melancholy and defeat but, to me, this seems more like a new beginning than the closing of a chapter. On some deep level I know that the slate of our previous life had to be wiped completely clean for us to build a life of true freedom.

There are two ways to look at it: 1. our future is uncertain; or 2. our options are wide open. I prefer the latter. Thankfully we have our health; we are rich in love, good friends, and everything that matters.

We have discussed becoming expats eventually or building a self-sustaining tiny home. I will definitely continue to pursue my writing with everything I've got.

I know we're not alone. There are probably hundreds of thousands of families who have gone through the same struggles. I can't help but wonder how the experience has changed them.

It's important to succeed...at the right things.

Could it be that we fail at the things that don't really fit into our life's plan so we can keep perfecting the parts of our lives that truly matter? I like to think so.

Having nothing left to lose makes it easier for a person to be ballsy. Like Babe Ruth pointing his bat towards the center field bleachers in Wrigley stadium, I predict my version of a home run..a best-seller. I have no college degree, no plan B, and meager savings but my head is overflowing with ideas and countless books yet to be written. I choose to write my own story. I choose myself.

There's no time like this very moment for us all to handcraft a dream uniquely our own.

~Eric Vance Walton~

Eric Vance Walton is a novelist, poet, traveler, and tea junkie. He invites you to follow his unfolding story by "liking" his Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/EricVanceWaltonAuthor for updates and promotions on his current and upcoming projects. You can find Eric's books on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Eric-Vance-Walton/e/B00B2OS082

© 2015 Eric Vance Walton

THEY WALK AMONG US

maxresdefault.jpg

I was five years old and panic stricken. I was away from my parents for the first time, laying on a hospital gurney in some cold and sterile holding area waiting for my turn in the operating room. Through my tear filled eyes I noticed I wasn't alone, there was a man lying there on a gurney beside of me. He resembled a young Cat Stevens. This man reached through the bars of his bed to pat my hand as he asked me what my name was.  He told me his name, of which I forget, and shared that he was a poet. He asked if he could recite some of his poems to me. A great sense of peace washed over me the moment he began reciting his poetry. This small act of kindness calmed my racing heart and made everything feel as if it was going to be okay. It was the first time I realized the true power of words.  This kind soul gave me only five minutes of his time but these five minutes were immensely valuable to me. So valuable, that the lesson has survived inside of me for almost forty years. Small deeds can have a huge impact, they can transform lives. and create lasting change. Could this experience be partially responsible for my becoming a writer and poet?  Maybe or maybe not. It's interesting to think about. I have many other examples in my life that I can share. There was Mrs. Bohl, who could have made me repeat kindergarten for being out sick so many days but she didn't. Mr. Morgan, my seventh grade teacher who took an extremely skinny, shy, and awkward pre-teen boy and over the course of the school year transformed him into a much more confident young man. There was also that one boy in the group of twelve who chased me down for blocks in our inner city neighborhood that dark Friday night in the mid-80's with every intention of beating me up and/or robbing me. I had been in enough of these situations to understand what the outcome would be if they caught me and they were gaining on me fast. I ran through all of the options in my head and chose the only one I had left, I stopped under a streetlight, turned to face them, and plunged my hand inside my jacket as if I had a gun. The group stopped instantly. Suddenly this boy said to the others in his group, "Wait, I know him! It's cool, he goes to our school."He didn't have to say anything, but he did.  A few of them paced, high on adrenaline and testosterone, itching to take part in a beat down. More recently, as my writing career has started to go global, I've had the good fortune of having many virtual mentors. The largest, by far, has been James Altucher. I've devoured his podcasts and blog posts and feel as though his guidance alone is responsible for most of the growth in my writing career this past year.  There's also Maja Gray, Joan Holman, and many more people that I've met through the Choose Yourself Facebook group who give so freely of their time and their ideas even though they're busy themselves. Add my loyal readers to this list, my true fans, people like Ulrika and Cecilia Fjellborg, Annie Rider, Bobby Leigh, Anthony Smith, Jeanne White, Charles Bond, Claudia Tucker and the list goes on and on. These folks have been with me from nearly the beginning of my social media presence. They enthusiastically purchase my books, they like and share my social media posts. Some even geek out on the fictional characters in my novel (I LOVE this.)  I feel like they are an army rooting me on, they make me continue to march on when I feel like I'm up to my knees in mud. They make me believe in myself through the countless struggles of this profession. Each of us are presented with opportunities. I call them Angelic moments. These are brief points in time in which we make a difference or not. We can step outside of our comfort zone or not. We can risk being ostracized by the herd by voicing an unpopular opinion that we truly believe in or not. We can have the patience to lend an ear and offer words of support or not. It takes a certain kind of courage and isn't always comfortable. The choice is up to us and the beauty is each moment presents us with new opportunities to test our wings. We simply can't help everyone but if you feel a strong urge to do or say something in a given moment, take heed. If you feel something tugging at your heart, pay very close attention to it. Act, don't over think. Act. It could make all the difference. The truth is Angels are more common than we think. They walk among us. Sometimes they're dressed to the nines and other times they wear filthy clothes. Sometimes they offer sweet words of praise, sometimes they swear at us like sailors. Yes, sometimes the angel is even walking in your shoes. ~Eric Vance Walton~

CRACKED ACROSS THE KNUCKLES BY THE UNIVERSE

img_6538.jpg

Do you remember what an incredible feeling it was to believe in Santa Claus or Superman? There was a certain comfort and hope as a child believing that there were really no limits, not everything could be explained, and that some element of magic was part of everyday life. When we were young the line between magic and reality, as we know it, was blurred. As a child you knew there was something beyond what your five senses could perceive.  For all its great contributions over the last hundred years science has indirectly taken something immensely valuable away from humanity. Science has imposed false limits that have held us hostage in accordance to our level of intelligence. Our egos lull us into believing that nothing more than we currently think is scientifically possible can be real.  

I’m not knocking science, it’s not the main culprit but our egos most definitely are. We must understand that science’s system of so-called absolutes is limited by our level of intelligence and sophistication of our tools. Science is only the ability to measure our uppermost understanding of reality. It’s important not to confuse a system of measure with absolute truth. 

We must never think we “know it all” or lose our hunger to evolve into a greater version of ourselves. To give into the ego is the lazy path and although it might seem easy at first it only brings suffering in the end. This causes mental and spiritual stagnation and will prevent us from growing to solve problems that, on the surface, appear to be trying to bring about our demise. 

As we’ve seen in the brief snapshot of the last hundred years as our intellect grows we realize things science once told us were impossible are, in fact, possible. Albert Einstein searched but never was able to find the elusive Unified Theory, the theory of everything that tied all of his other theories together. As the sophistication of our tools have grown many physicists are theorizing that consciousness itself is the golden string that ties everything together. What amazing power we possess if this turns out to be the case. 

As I’ve progressed down the path of meditation in the last twenty years my sense of reality has drastically changed. In some ways it has come full circle. As my consciousness has expanded through meditation an inextinguishable sense of wonder and hope have returned. I’ve come to realize that “I’m” just one tiny drop in a vast ocean of consciousness. 

Meditation taught me that the Universe is an interactive web that presents each of us with lessons, in real time, as we’re meant to learn them. We are students and our job is to merely pay attention and to learn. Life will teach you everything you need to know. Until you grasp the meaning of the lessons you can bet they will be repeated, again and again until you get the message. The Universe is like the proverbial nun that cracks you across the knuckles with a ruler if you don’t get the message. This is happening to a lot of people but they don’t realize why.

I’ve been cracked across the knuckles by the Universe more times than I dare to admit. There has been great struggle in my life but I’ve also experienced magic, many things that I once believed were impossible. The severity of the struggle can be far less the more quickly we learn our lessons. I’m convinced that the purpose of this physical life is to learn, to love, and to evolve into that greater version of yourself. I have no doubt this is one reason I’ve connected so much with the Choose Yourself movement because they share this same philosophy.

I truly believe consciousness is humanity’s next great frontier to explore and it makes me ecstatic to think of the possibilities. After I’ve seen what meditation has done for me I have no doubt that, if practiced on a global scale, it would spark the next phase of humanity’s evolution. Meditation is the single most powerful evolutionary tool we have at our disposal. 

Imagine waking up each day with a sense of wonder and that you're beginning a wonderful new adventure. To do this we must only invest a few minutes of our day to venture inward with a daily meditation practice. If you do so one thing will quickly become apparent, we have only scratched the surface of our superpowers. $h!t happens in life but so do miracles and these miracles occur every single moment. The real question is...are you awake enough to notice? 

~Eric Vance Walton~

----------------------------- About the author: Eric Vance Walton is a novelist, poet, traveler, and tea junkie. He invites you to follow his unfolding story by "liking" his Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/EricVanceWaltonAuthor for updates and promotions on his current and upcoming projects. You can find Eric's new book One Word At A Time: Finding Your Way as an Indie Author, on Amazon in print or as an ebook. Article © 2015 Eric Vance Walton 

PERFECTING OUR STORIES

legacy-300x200.jpg

It’s astonishing is how fast it happened. One day I was young and then I blinked my eyes and somehow landed in the unchartered territory of my middle years.This June I turned the double quatro, forty-four years old, and have started to notice some interesting very things going on.

There are the well known physical changes of middle age, decreased muscle tone, laugh lines starting to form, higher forehead and gray hair. As we approach the autumn of our years, no matter how hard we try to hide it, our faces truly reveal the kind of lives we've lived.

The psychological changes are even more interesting. Before middle age I thought the repetition of stories was just something seniors did along with complaining about whippersnappers and eating dinner at three-thirty in the afternoon. I was wrong. Yes, my friends and I are now beginning to tell the same stories over and over again.

This could easily be attributed to some natural age-related cognitive decline, stress, or maybe the accumulative effects of too many beer bongs in the 80’s and 90’s but I don't think this is totally it. It’s as though we are retelling the stories that comprise the mosaic of who we are because a small part of us are afraid we’ll be forgotten. On some level we want our stories to be forever etched into the collective consciousness of humanity. We want our brief blip of existence on this planet to be remembered.

The middle years usher in wave after wave of profound realizations or “Oh $h!t” moments as I call them. I think Generation X, like every generation who came before us, are experiencing, “Oh $h!t” moments on an epic scale. I see it in mass media, social media and face-to-face, we are waking up to the fact that we’re not going to live forever. When you have an Oh $h!t moment it can’t be denied and isn't easily forgotten. It’s a realization that can be felt on a deep cellular level.

Because of this, Gen Xers are discovering how valuable time is and are figuring out how we can best spend the time we have left more wisely. I’m concerning myself much less about what others think of me or the balance of my investment portfolio. Lately, I’m focusing more on happiness, facing fears, and making awesome new memories. Most importantly, I’m thinking about how I will be remembered by those I leave behind. Lately, I’ve been making a conscious attempt to shed anything or anybody who doesn't bring a spark of joy to my life. Time is just too short to spend what you have left of it mired in drama and negativity.

I’ll admit this year I’ve given a lot of thought about my legacy. To get to the bottom of it I asked, what do I love greater than myself? After a little contemplation I decided that the legacy I wish to leave the world with will be small, often anonymous, acts of kindness and my words. I hope the many words I’ve written and the words I’ve yet to write will spark some joy in others. I hope my words make someone think, or smile, or even know that they’re not alone in this world. If my words accomplish this my life will have been complete.

Thinking about legacy can be uncomfortable. It can even border on morose but it doesn’t have to be that way. Contemplating and then consciously creating a legacy can provide an extra boost of octane to those of us in middle age who are beginning to feel a bit weary and worn around the edges. I tend think it as a little red button on the steering wheel of life that, once pressed, propels me through mires of the middle years, soreness, fatigue, and at times, the worry that my life will never quite measure up to the one I wished for in my dreams.

Time can teach, time can heal, and time eventually always reveals the truth...IF a person is awake enough to notice. Sometimes we simply must take a deep breath, have faith and take comfort that the universe is unfolding exactly as it was meant to. One thing's for certain, there’s no fighting age or time. There’s such a profound beauty in learning from our missteps, gathering wisdom, and surrendering to time gracefully.

I would like to leave you with a three things I’d like you to ask yourself. What do you love greater than yourself? What will be your legacy? How would you like the world remember you? When you answer these questions your life changes in some pretty amazing ways. What once seemed so important starts to seem trivial and some things that seemed trivial all of a sudden pretty damned important.

Shakespeare penned the following lines in his play, As You Like It nearly five hundred years ago,

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slippered pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Here the Bard sums life up with his typical genius. Yes, life can hard and it is short but it is also the most amazing ride. Not a minute of it should be taken for granted. We are put on this Earth to love, to learn, to grow, and perhaps to help make life a little easier for others. Each of us have the chance to leave our own unique stamp on the world. What will yours be?

~Eric Vance Walton~ ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Eric Vance Walton is a novelist, poet, aspiring world traveler, and tea junkie. He invites you to follow his unfolding story by "liking" his Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/EricVanceWaltonAuthor for updates and promotions on his current and upcoming projects. You can find Eric's new book One Word At A Time: Finding Your Way as an Indie Author, on Amazon in print or as an ebook. Article © 2015 Eric Vance Walton

10 WAYS TO PIMP PROOF YOUR LIFE*

img_6429.png

10 WAYS TO PIMP PROOF YOUR LIFE*Pimped (slang): To be persuaded, smooth talked or tricked by another person into doing something for their benefit. Apparently I'm an extremely slow learner because it's taken me twenty years to just begin to find modest success as a writer. In my defense, writing is one of the most difficult professions in the world. In the last twenty years I've learned some hard won lessons by being pimped (i.e., taken advantage of, swindled, led on a professional equivalent of a snipe hunt) in almost every imaginable way. Below are some of the most effective ways I’ve learned to shield myself from the pimps of the world:   1. Realize your true worth and never tie that self worth to anything outside of yourself. Your self worth should never be measured by anything external like money, possessions, looks, or anything other than the treasures you hold within yourself. Never seek acceptance or validation from others. This alone takes away most of the pimp's power of persuasion. If you are walking around with a general feeling that you don’t measure up this is a good indicator that you have work to do on yourself, spiritual work. I realized this in my early twenties. I began a self improvement regime that prompted me to move eight hundred miles away from home and to master meditation. I became a new person because of it.   

2. Get to know your true self. This isn’t as easy as it seems. Have the courage to learn who you really are beneath the mask that you’ve become accustomed to wearing so you will be accepted and liked by others. This takes courage and honesty, this takes deep reflection, this involves assessing your strengths and weaknesses. Pimps seek out victims who don't know who they are, the confused, and the indecisive. We spend too much of our time and energy trying to figure out other people and events in our lives but not nearly enough attention on introspection and contemplation of ourselves. Once we know ourselves we can learn to love ourselves. If we don’t like what we see, we can also identify what we need to work on.  

3. Be original. Once you have removed the mask and are comfortable with who you are relish it then unapologetically flaunt the h@ll out of it. There's only one you, a single person who sees the world through the exact same lens as you. Don't dare compromise your future fans and/or customers by emulating anyone else. There are many people waiting to connect with your uniqueness. Do you. Learn to be confident and comfortable in your own skin and others will be drawn to you. People can feel genuine confidence and are attracted to it like a magnet. Authenticity sends the pimps running for an easier target.     4. Live, eat, and breathe your business or craft. You must learn your business or craft inside and out. It must be absorbed into your DNA. It’s cliche but knowledge truly is power. Your passion in life should not feel like work. I repeat it should not feel like work. Your business or craft should give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning and provide you with hope that is the guiding light through dark days. If this is the case, it is a very good indication that you should doggedly pursue it. Your passion simply must feel like one of the greatest loves of your entire life.    5. Don't be afraid to fail. Pimps can smell fear from a mile away. Unless you're extremely smart or very lucky you will fail a few times. You may even fail five times like me, or more but that’s okay. I published five books before I sold even two hundred copies of a book title. Sure I was depressed about it but I learned something from each and every failure. If you learn a lesson it’s never a failure.    6. Do the work. Research shows that it takes ten thousand hours to master a new skill. I would argue it takes another five to ten thousand hours to learn the skill well enough to put your own unique stamp on that skill. This will set you apart from everyone else doing the same thing. The most important thing is to start...start today. It’s absolutely not necessary to “pay dues” in anything, never let anyone let you believe this line of thinking. This is a trick the pimps of the world use to exploit you. But you better believe there’s no way around having to do the work. There’s a difference.    7. No excuses. Believe me, I've used them all, "I'm too old, I don't have enough time, I don't have enough money, no one will publish my work, no agent is interested in me, I don’t know the right people, etc." This is pure bull$h!t. Very few people are handed anything in this world. The problem is some people just make it look easy. The clock of your life is ticking, don’t delay. The sooner you begin the sooner you’ll eventually find success.    8. Be patient. The universe unfolds according to its own timeline, not yours. For fifteen years I watched almost every single one of my peers far surpass me in every measurable way. Have faith and trust that everything that mystifies you will eventually make sense in hindsight.Trust me, it will. Most people quit when they’re just inches away from the finish line. Don’t quit.    9. You can’t do it alone. Trying to wear every hat and be an expert in everything will not only lead to exhaustion it will take you years longer to achieve your goals. Outsource what you’re not proficient in to the experts and focus on your strengths this creates a shortcut. Do you remember those first five books I mentioned before that didn’t sell? I failed because I did everything myself from book layout to cover design, to promotion. I spread myself too thin to spend enough time on the things that mattered. Learn from my mistakes, assemble a talented team to help you achieve your goals. If you don’t have money offer to trade skills or offer them a percentage of future sales up to a certain amount. Also, find an altruistic network of people who support you and provide honest feedback. I found a wonderful online forum of like minded individuals on Facebook called, “Choose Yourself” (based on James Altucher’s bestselling book of the same title) that has been a tremendous help to me.   10. Help others whenever you can. This is especially important to do when you’re feeling depressed or like you’re a failure because it boosts you up! This kind of behavior is the ultimate pimp-repellent. It confuses them, they don’t understand it. In truth, there’s so much success to go around that it should never be hoarded, rather it should be shared. There’s plenty available for everyone to have their own piece. No matter where you are in the pursuit of your passion there’s likely someone you can teach or encourage. When you do this the world literally opens up to you. We’re so lucky to live in an age where it’s easy to connect with large groups of people to share our stories and teach. Others can learn from the mistakes you made and you can offer them the invaluable gift of providing a shorter path to success. The really beautiful thing is the universe rewards this kind of behavior and you’ll ultimately find much greater success because of it.    I hope these tips have helped to give you something to think about. In reality, the pimps of the world are cowards and bullies that thrive on intimidation, scare tactics, and empty promises to survive.    These people will never find happiness and true peace until they learn to evolve and become a better version of themselves. Even if a few of the steps above are mastered your life will quickly become more pimp proof.   Each of us have a right and an equal opportunity to experience life as a victor instead of a victim. The only true limits are the ones we perceive in our minds. Life can be much more wondrous than we can even imagine. The choice is yours, which path will you choose?  ~Eric Vance Walton~

THE WAY TO THE SECRET GARDEN (INSIDE YOUR HEAD)

peaceful-garden.jpg

Just this morning a coworker told me about her recent vacation to a family lakeside cabin in mountains of Pennsylvania. She said her favorite memory of the whole trip was picking huckleberries that grow wild around the lake. Her family fashioned a metal pail with a shoestring from the handle so they can hang the pail around their necks. This way have both hands free to pick berries. With the most serene expression on her face she said picking those huckleberries for an hour was the best therapy in the world. These moments, to me, are like visiting a secret garden inside your own head that only you can access. The time spent in this garden is special and it is sacred. Our world today is so demanding that to stay balanced we need access to the garden more than we realize. We need the visit the garden as much as we need to breathe oxygen. For most people a trip to this garden is can be triggered by some external thing or memory (most often connected to childhood). When discovered, this trigger can act as a magical pathway to that wondrous place.

When we were young it was easy. We could find the garden instantaneously. Our lives were uncomplicated, we still believed in magic, our heads weren't filled with excuses of why we couldn't do things. Somewhere between childhood and where we are today our worlds became a lot less a land of laughs and magic and much more of a scary and dangerous place. A small portion of this scariness is real but most of this is false perception, propaganda, and conditioning. These false perceptions keep us from achieving our best life.

It’s easy to see that we don’t have to live each moment of our lives in fear once we find our way to the garden. The trick, as a lost and stressed-out adult is rediscover our triggers that we once could so easily access. Ask yourself...what made me happiest as a child? Once you have the answer to that question think how this can be integrated back into your life as an adult, even if it’s silly. The sillier the better, we need more silliness!

As I child during summer vacation my feet rarely touched the ground. Except for meals I was on my black Huffy BMX bike from sun up until the streetlights came on. As an adult I can still spend hours not only riding my bike but also restoring them. My father taught me how to fully dismantle a bike and restore it by the age of eight. My latest project was a 1958 Raleigh three speed bicycle and it’s a gem. Any time spent with or on a bike transports me instantly to the garden.

One major hurdle to finding our triggers is technology. You must put your mobile phone on airplane mode and ignore it for a while. As useful technology can be, it occupies all of our attention and robs us of our chances to experience these sacred moments. It's difficult to calm our minds and be present when we're constantly connected. In all reality have you ever paid attention to how many times you check your mobile device in an hour? It’s astonishing. Anything that keeps your ears from tuning in to the music of life is a roadblock to the garden and the music I'm speaking of can't be found on iTunes.

What are your triggers? I urge you to delve into your deepest of memories and answer this simple question. Once you find your triggers I urge you incorporate these things back into your routine and see how quickly your life changes.

Do you know someone who needs their own trip to the garden? If so please share this post with them. By all means, after you revisit your garden come back and let us know how it felt. I guarantee the world will seem like a better place.

--------------------------------------------------------------

Eric Vance Walton is a novelist, poet, aspiring world traveler, and tea junkie. He invites you to follow his unfolding story by "liking" his Facebook author page at for updates and promotions on his current and upcoming projects. You can find Eric's new book One Word At A Time: Finding Your Way as an Indie Author, on Amazon in print or as an ebook. Article © 2015 Eric Vance Walton

10 TIPS FOR BETTER UNDERSTANDING CREATIVE PEOPLE

images.jpeg

If you are not creative but have creative people in your life the following list may help you decipher some of our perceived oddities. If you are a creative person you might recognize some or all of these attributes in yourself and find some comfort in the fact that you're not alone. With a little understanding and compassion we can all happily coexist and even learn from one another. Here are some tips to help better understand us:

1. Absolutely by no means sneak up on us. We are often deep in thought and we are easy to startle.

2. Most of us tend to be empaths (whether we realize it yet it or not). This means we have the ability to be very "in tune" with others and feel their negative and positive emotions. This is confusing to us until we figure it out. Other's emotions tend to easily transfer to us and we can misinterpret them as our own. Because of this it's very important to pay attention to the company you keep. William Gibson's quote (often falsely attributed to Sigmund Freud) comes to mind here, "Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assh*les." Also, we tend to make most of our decisions based on gut feeling instead of intellectualizing as analytical people do. Sometimes this works out, sometimes it doesn't. It's a roll of the dice.

3. We will occasionally have outbursts when ideas come to us or mumble incoherently to ourselves. When this happens please excuse the wild look in our eyes and our scrambling to find some way to quickly record those ideas. We are like channels and when we're in the creative flow complex ideas hit us spontaneously and swirl inside our heads. When this happens we tend to shut everything else out until we record those ideas. If we don't write them down chances are we'll forget them and we're afraid that we might lose them forever.

4. Life can be especially difficult for us. As a creative we're either: 1. working a job that doesn't afford us the chance to use our creativity and satisfying our creative urge on our own time; or 2. pursuing our creative passions as a full time career. Both are equally as challenging. Those of us who fall in the first category usually have money to pay the bills but often have to work the equivalent of two full time jobs. Those creative people brave and smart enough to figure out a way to monetize their passion to the point of making a full time income usually have the stress of trying to financial make ends meet . As James Altucher (The Choose-Yourselfer-and-Chief) explains, finding multiple revenue streams is often the answer. Either way we're very busy folks.

5. We're typically introverts in varying degrees. Even if we truly enjoy and appear comfortable socializing it can sometimes take more energy for us. This is partially attributed to #2 above.

6. It can sometimes be difficult for us to make other, non-creative people, understand how we feel (and vice versa) but it can be done with patience and practice. In my opinion, this is why so many creative people express their feelings and emotions through their chosen art.

7. Most of us creatives are eccentric and rebellious. We feel smothered by routine and conformity. Creative people tend to not follow trends. We see through propaganda and it makes us angry and agitated when we feel someone is trying to control us for their own agenda.

8. We tend to enjoy altered states of consciousness because we quickly learn that achieving these altered states of consciousness can open up our creative channels. Those of us who are lucky discover that through meditation we can achieve this altered state without the outside help of drugs, alcohol or anything external. Meditation is the creative person's best friend, personally and professionally.

9. We need quiet time to devote to our creative passions. Creating is what feeds our souls and we get frustrated and depressed when we don't have the time to do this. Please be respectful of a creative person's privacy when they are creating. If you give them the gift of this time they will be happier in all other aspects of their life.

10. Honest support and feedback is invaluable to us, even if it stings at first. I can only imagine how frustrating and tiring it is for non-creative people when their creative friends and relatives are constantly and enthusiastically sharing their latest idea. It's easy to say you like everything but if the idea stinks, tell us it stinks. You might save us valuable time and give us ideas to polish our idea and make it better.

Pass this along handy guide on to all of your friends, creative and non-creative alike. It's a big world and it takes all kinds. As the French say, "Vive la difference!"

---------------------------------------

Eric Vance Walton is a novelist, poet, aspiring world traveler, and tea junkie. He invites you to follow his unfolding story by "liking" his Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/EricVanceWaltonAuthor for updates and promotions on his current and upcoming projects. You can find Eric's new book One Word At A Time: Finding Your Way as an Indie Author, on Amazon in print or as an ebook.

Article © 2015 Eric Vance Walton

Copywriting: The Key To Selling Self-Published Books

I’ve seen indie authors who’ve done nearly everything right except for one thing. These authors have poured their hearts and souls into their book projects. Their prose sings. They have an amazing book cover and interior design. They have good editing. Yet too many of these books will never reach their sales potential...[read more]

I'm Sorry Dad, I Don't Want To Be a Welder

10252169_720919821353042_4568616801808446972_n-1.jpg

I was eighteen years old, had absolutely no life plan, and I was sweating it. I was just weeks out of High School and working as a busboy/dishwasher at The Grill and Skillet diner. This place was gritty, like a diner out of some obscure Hollywood film. Walter, the cook, looked exactly like James Brown. Roaches would drop from inside the range hood right onto the grill. Walter would nonchalantly scrape the roaches away from the home fries into the grease trap without missing a beat. This was extremely hard work, paid nearly nothing but I liked the people there and it was fun when I was still in school. Now that I had my diploma this job lost its luster and it was time to move on to something better. All of a sudden I felt like my life was going nowhere and, even scarier, I had no idea what my next move was going to be. I had two things that interested me, writing and architecture but didn't know how to make a living at either of them.

I was also the first in my family to graduate High School and college didn't seem within my grasp. With each day that passed I sank deeper into this abyss of terror and confusion at the realization that I was now an adult and I had to make my way in the world. My father must’ve keenly noticed the state I was in. One morning, as he was getting ready to leave for work dressed in his chambray work shirt with his first name, “Verlo” stitched in navy blue cursive across the white patch on his chest pocket, he asked what I was planning to do with my future.

My father’s question was met only by my blank stare accompanied by an orchestra of imaginary crickets.

“I could get you on at the shop.” he said.

His offer immediately filled me with a sense of trepidation. My father had been a welder in a machine shop as long as I could remember. He worked extremely long days, came home tired, dirty, and smelling like metal. Some nights he would walk the floors unable to sleep due to the pain of flash burns and metal shavings in his eyes. Despite all of this his job was honorable, it took great skill, and it provided our family with everything we needed and a little extra. His job as a welder allowed my mom not to have to work outside of the home while raising my brother and I.

Even at the age of eighteen I knew I was at a major crossroad. This was a point in which, depending on my choice, a course would be set that would be difficult to veer from. Even though I wasn’t sure what my dreams even were then I knew if I accepted this offer to become a welder it would mean a future with little time or energy to pursue any endeavors outside of this job.

I quickly responded with, “I’m sorry, dad, but I don’t want to be a welder.”

My heart was pounding so hard as he silently left for work that morning. I don’t even remember his response but I do remember being concerned that my answer hurt my father’s feelings. I was worried that he would think I was ashamed of him, that he would view me as ungrateful. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. I just knew in my heart his path wasn't my path. I was destined for something else, not something better but something different.

I am extremely proud of my father. His dad passed away when he was three years old. His mother (my grandmother) was poor and, although she did the best she could, my father found himself being raised off and on in a succession of foster homes throughout the 1940’s. In these foster homes he was subjected to abuse that he’s only briefly talked about. As a result of this he had a difficult time adjusting in school and he eventually dropped out in the eighth grade.

Despite all of the hardship life threw at him my father retained an extremely kind heart and a sense of selflessness. His childhood could have left him a bitter man, with a closed heart but it didn’t. To this day I know he would do anything he could for anyone he cares about, this alone is a monumental accomplishment given his upbringing. There’s much more.

Even with no paternal example to follow he has been a great father to my brother and I. He was always willing to be the first one to go down the biggest sledding hills, ride bikes the fastest, and fly kites the highest. I remember one afternoon we were flying a kite in the field of our neighborhood elementary school, Fairmoor. We had the kite up so high that we could barely see it and ran out of string. What did he do? He went to the store to get two more packages of kite string and we flew it even higher.

I was a very sickly, asthmatic child and he pushed me to my limits and beyond by taking me on twenty mile bike rides, long walks, and hikes when I was not more than nine or ten years old. As a result of this I became strong and fit and eventually rarely needed to use my asthma inhaler. Still today I have a love of bike rides and physical activity.

When my brother and I were growing up dad was the first to rush towards anything that had a hint of danger and fun. Naturally, my brother and I eagerly followed his example. Looking back now I see that our childhood was his second chance to enjoy all the fun he missed out on when he was younger. He made up for a lot of lost time with us.

My father was very strict when he had to be. He wasn’t the kind of dad that taught me how to get into an Ivy League University or the best mutual funds to pick for my 401k. However, his words, more often his actions, taught me everything in life that matters. He taught me to jump into challenges with both feet and to never be afraid to take chances. Dad raised me to always do my best and more importantly to never give up. He also taught us how to be creative, frugal, and how to survive without a safety net because he surely never had one.

My father’s lessons of dedication, strength, and determination have served my brother and I well in life. As I look back throughout my twenty years of struggling as an author, the fire that kept me going was largely stoked by my dad’s lessons. I often think if fate were just a little different and I would’ve had a different kind of father I would’ve given up decades ago. By doing so I would now be living the worst kind of life, a life of regret and I would always have wondered...what if?

Happy Father's Day, Dad! Thank you for the man that you are. You were and are the perfect father for me. Never forget you are loved, you are respected, and you are appreciated.

I promise, just like that kite we flew all those years ago, I will keep this life of mine flying higher and higher, no matter what.

~Eric Vance Walton~

Bobos

905-8.jpg

  As we’re all finding out in countless ways Facebook is a blessing and a curse. Tonight it was a true blessing for me. Let me share with you why...nestled in the comments of a childhood friend’s Facebook post was a word that I hadn’t heard in about thirty years and it is a gem. In fact the term was completely erased from my memory. What was this gem?  Bobo.

 

It’s funny because back in the seventies bobo (pronounced, boe boe) was a word of shame. Bobo was a derogatory term but it was a shame all of us shouldered. Me, my brother Curt, my friend Sean, and our other friend Shawn all grew up on Elizabeth Avenue in a lower middle class neighborhood on the eastside of Columbus, Ohio. Before any of us had the means to scratch together our own money with paper routes or lawn jobs our parents had to buy our clothes and shoes. None of our parents had a lot of extra money so those shoes were always bobos.

 

Just incase you aren’t familiar with the term bobo or have forgotten, like I did, bobo was a term for generic, no-name shoes. Bobos never cost more than ten dollars, they sported, “made in Taiwan” on the label, smelled like burning rubber, and were almost always from Kmart. I have to hand it to the Taiwanese, they were inventive.

 

I suspect the foundation of the entire modern Chinese economy was built by the bobo tycoons of the 1970’s making knock-offs of popular brand shoes like Nike and Adidas. At first glance bobos looked strikingly similar to the popular name brands but had crazy features that were just a little off like an upside down Nike swoosh or four stripes on the Adidas-style shoes instead of three.

 

When new, bobos were magical. The funny thing about bobos is all of us were convinced that we could run just a little faster and jump higher when our bobos were brand new. This luster wore off in just a few days when they were covered in mud and grass stains. The life span of pair of bobos was way too short, it only took a month before they looked like they had been run over by a herd of buffalo. We would still try to make them last all summer.  Between Curt, Sean, Shawn, and I our parents probably paid for the Taiwanese bobo factory several times over.

 

In retrospect I think bobos were actually a good thing. Those parents of the seventies were wise because bobos built character. In our neighborhood you weren’t measured by the clothes or the shoes you wore. You were measured by how fast you could run, how high you could jump, or how far could sail off of a flimsy plywood ramp on your BMX bike (sans helmet or knee pads.)

 

So many children walk around these days with an air of entitlement. I would bet a majority of kids now would refuse to step out their front doors without their smartphones, let alone wearing non-name brand shoes.  Children of the seventies, this is our chance to make a difference in the world. We need only pool our money together, stoke the flames of that Taiwanese shoe factory, and get it churning out bobos again.

Parents, it will be difficult, but we must work together. For this plan to succeed you must refuse to buy your children a pair of name brand shoes ever again. From here on out it’s nothing but bobos until the kids can pay for their own name brand shoes. I have faith that we can stand united and together we will change the world, one child (and one beautiful pair of bobos) at a time.

 

~Eric Vance Walton~

A DIFFERENT STORY

img_5824.jpg

   

Until I was eight or nine years old our neighborhood was the kind of place where few people locked their doors. We were all lower middle class and mostly white. We knew almost every family that lived on our street by name.  The neighborhood always felt safe and the threat of violence was totally absent from our minds. In reality we existed in not as much of an oasis as in a bubble.  Our city had already changed outside our imaginary borders but our neighborhood still had only one story.

 

Life provided a few hints of stories that were different from our own during my days at Fairmoor Elementary School.  Damon came to our school in the first grade. He was the first African-American I can remember meeting in person. Kids would run up to him and ask to touch his hair because the texture was different from their own. Damon was quickly accepted as "one of the guys" when kids realized although he looked different, he was really just like us.

 

Just a few weeks after the start of the school year the Principal introduced Sivaley (pronounced, civil-lay) to our third grade class. Sivaley was a shy Asian boy who didn't speak a word of English. We discovered he and his family were recent immigrants from war-torn Vietnam. At first Sivaley seemed so foreign to us that he may as well have been from another planet.  He spent the first few weeks quietly taking it all in and drawing tanks and artillery on the blackboard, which were likely the last memories he had of his country.

 

A few of my friends and I took Sivaley under our wings and made sure he had someone to hang out with during recess. I had a Superball, which was a small rubber ball that would bounce hundreds of feet in the air. This is the first time I remember Sivaley relaxing and attempting to communicate. We connected on a human level. It was as though playing with the ball made him forget everything else that was running through his head. I lost track of him after third grade and often wonder what became of him.

 

Our neighborhood changed pretty significantly at the start of the 1978-1979 school year. This was the year desegregation began in Columbus, Ohio. I'll never forget when the outcome of the voting was announced on the radio during my summer vacation. That day I sensed a general helplessness and disbelief amongst the adults in my life. It was a done deal, for fourth and fifth grades I would be bused into one of the worst neighborhoods in the entire city. As a child of nine my stomach felt like it was twisted into knots as the end of Summer approached, I was terrified.

 

The first day of fourth grade I realized it was only a fifteen minute ride to a different world.  Mrs. Love, greeted us with a smile as we boarded her bus, the stereo blasted funk music the entire way to Fair Avenue School.  As we approached the school I saw a neighborhood that was much different from our own.  Houses were boarded up, yards unkempt, and trash littered the streets. The first few days were uncomfortable and were a shock. This was my first immersion in a story different from my own.  It got easier every day.  Although it was uncomfortable at first, I consider the education I received at this school, from the curriculum and otherwise, was among the best I ever have in my life.

 

By the time I started ninth grade at Eastmoor High School in 1984 our own neighborhood was undergoing a transformation.  It was the golden age of the crack epidemic and gangs from larger cities, including the L.A. Crips, had started to move into the east side of Columbus. Law enforcement wasn't prepared. Our neighborhood fell quickly, seemingly overnight, to become a haven for drug dealing, prostitution, and violence. Everyone who could afford it moved away and we became the minority.

 

As my teenage years went by I met many different people of many different backgrounds and races. Sometimes it was hard. The lesson I've taken away is people are pretty much people and the only real measure of a person is the content of their character. I appreciate exposure to their various perspectives which have enriched my life in ways that I could never have imagined.

 

There is a great divide in our country and our world today. This divide exists primarily within the confines of our own minds.  I think possibly the first step to building the bridge to understanding one another is to realize that there is more than one story. Each of us has the opportunity to be both a student and a teacher. Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt, it can also breed compassion. We must teach our stories and learn the stories of others. When we can finally open our minds to this maybe the true healing can begin.

 

~Eric Vance Walton~