In your first memoir ‘A Grand Canyon’ you bare your heart and soul. Did you find it difficult to pen such a personal experience, or was it cathartic?
I began A Grand Canyon with some specific ideas about what I wanted it to be. You see, I started writing just a few months before marrying my wife, Vicky, and I wanted to let go of a lot of personal baggage that had been tying me down. And so, just a few months before my wedding, I decided to let it all go in a book that I wrote to myself. That book turned out to be A Grand Canyon. I didn’t actually think it would go to the outside world until I was nearly done, which is when the bookseller in me wondered, “You think you could sell this.
As a result of that strange journey, writing A Grand Canyon didn’t turn out very difficult or cathartic. In fact, neither of those words so much as entered my vocabulary.
That is, until I was stuck for an ending.
I had told Vicky, “I’ll just write until I reach the present and let it end there.” But that never felt like a very good idea for an ending. Somehow, between the two of us, Vicky and I somehow came up with the idea of bringing me back to the place where I had tried to, had desperately wanted to, kill myself only a few years before. So, we planned a trip to the Grand Canyon.
That part was difficult. As I mention in the book, I was terrified of going back there and I was afraid that Vicky feared I’d try to jump again. No matter how much pain and hurt I had left from the loss of my first wife, I still had plenty packed deep inside of me. But then, Vicky – who is not always an angel by any measure – showed me how lucky I was to have survived my first trip to the Grand Canyon, how much my life had improved. And in one day, one afternoon, I faced something both difficult and cathartic and got my ending to the book.
‘A Grand Canyon’ just became available in audiobook, how do you think this medium will affect your reading audience? As a writer, which do you think is more powerful, reading the words or hearing them?
About a thousand years ago, I used to be an actor. And despite my love of writing and the gratitude I feel towards being able to live as a writer, I miss acting the way you might miss a lost love. So, it wasn’t too difficult for me to realize that I could utilize my talents by recording my books as audiobooks. And once I did, there was no stopping me.
In the end, I’m hoping that the move towards audiobooks will help grow my audience. My first audiobook, The Worth of Dreams The Value of Dreamers, showed me an audience I had never dreamed of attracting when it became iTune’s Top 10 audiobook in Finland. I hope A Grand Canyon continues this growth. And, in future months, I will be releasing three more audiobooks.
I can certainly understand the attraction to audiobooks because – don’t tell anyone – I never have the time to read anymore. Chances are if I’m reading, I’m writing. Audiobooks are how I get to enjoy most books these days. And I like how, in personal work like memoirs especially, the spoken word can add context to the writing.
Your second book is ‘Climbing Maya’. It is an intriguing title; could you summarize Maya, the illusion of life?
Well, that’s the thing. It’s all illusory. Maya, the veil of illusion, can be seen all around us if you take a moment to look.
I used the word “Maya” in the title specifically because success is such a difficult thing to understand. Everyone seems to have their own ideas about success, or their own “connotation” as you mention below. My job in writing Climbing Maya, as I saw it, was to find a way for everyone to understand success from a common ground. Climbing Maya doesn’t tell you how to achieve success, but it does lay out a common framework so we can all approach it from the same point of view.
We all have our own connotation of success, what is yours?
Would it be rotten of me to say “Read the book?”
Okay, then let me put it this way. Success is very simple. And it’s very close. The minute someone else tells you success is over there or over there, when someone tries to tell you it’s real estate or drugs or money – because we’re ultimately talking about fulfillment here – you can immediately stop listening. Anything that is “over there” isn’t about you because you are right there. You see? Odds are, it’s that person’s way of making you buy into their success.
And while Success is simple and close, it isn’t easy. It’s like one of those games that are easy to grasp but difficult to master. In Climbing Maya, I show just what that means and how success is a lifelong journey. Every step is more fulfilling than the last.
Humans are incredibly frail, why do you think that the ability to push through is given to some, when others give up on life?
I’ve just never been smart enough to quit.
Listen, as a writer, I certainly haven’t been an overnight success. I’m nearly 50 and every day is a struggle. And I have to face a world filled with people who are completely apathetic toward my plight.
And yet… here’s the thing. I’ve known a lot of good writers. I’ve known people who could knock your socks off from across the room… sometimes when your socks were across the room. And when they’ve given up, I’ve asked myself, “What’s so special about me? If they couldn’t cut it, what makes me think I can?”
But, then, what’s the alternative? Should I give up my dream because others do? That doesn’t make any sense. So, I take what little talent I have and I work at it and I work and I work. As tough as it is sometimes, the more I work the better I get. And now, I’m probably as good as some of those writers I knew who already gave up.
Your pod cast ‘So Dream Something’ hosts a variety of writers and artists. What do you want the listener to take away with them?
The same thing I take away after every episode.
When I began working on So Dream Something, I had a set list of questions. Some of those questions asked about getting discouraged and giving up. And I included them because, so often, I feel discouraged. I feel like giving up. And yet, the fine folks I have had the privilege to speak with in my podcast – every single one of them – keep at it and they don’t let discouragement get to them. They believe in themselves and they believe in their dreams. They are superhuman, really.
And each and every one of them shows us that we can be superhuman, too. We all have the capacity to dream, to believe in ourselves, and give it all we’ve got.
I didn’t realize how inspiring So Dream Something would be back in December when I sat down with Vicky and said, “I think I want to do a podcast.” Probably because I hadn’t had the opportunity to speak with my guests. But every single episode leaves me smiling and, I guess, that what I want my listeners to take away, too.
What is Recovering the Self?
Recovering the Self is a few things.
It’s a journal of hope and healing, both online and in print.
It’s also a magazine that occasionally runs articles by me. And it’s a website that posts a monthly piece I write.
For me, however, Recovering the Self is like a water fountain in the desert. You see, several years ago I found myself finally healing from the loss of my first wife and the repercussions that resulted. And it was a whole new feeling for me, this “healing”. I didn’t know what to do. Vicky had encouraged me to take up cycling and it was the first time in my life I had undertaken anything approaching “athletic”.
On the day when I cycled my first century, which is a 100 mile ride, I decided I wanted to write about it. I wanted to talk about the little victories each of us experiences that help us get through life, that help us heal. After I wrote the piece, and I wish I could remember just how, it somehow made its way to Ernest Dempsey, the editor at Recovering the Self. After publishing Little Victories in the magazine, Ernest asked if I would like to write more. With a little hustling on my part, this turned into a monthly piece on pursuing your dreams, which turned into an audiobook, and so on.
The only reason I write every month on pursuing your dreams, just as I host a podcast on following your dreams, is because that’s really become my specialty: chasing that dream and not giving up. It’s what I can speak about with authority.
I don’t think of myself as a self-help writer or inspirational. I’m just a writer trying to speak honestly about what I know about life. Somehow, between Recovering the Self and So Dream Something, I’ve been lucky enough to share that.
You are sending a message of hope. In one sentence tell us why one should have hope in the face of adversity?
Because the alternative isn’t exactly a day at the park.
I don’t know if my writing provides hope. At best, I would hope it provides a message of realism. It’s easy to give up; I know all about that. And I lost a life I built as a result of that. So, giving up is not the answer. Understanding your place in the world. Knowing yourself. Being honest with yourself. And letting nothing stand between yourself and happiness – those are closer to the answer, I think.
What advice would you give to a writer who isn’t confident exposing their raw emotions?
My advice would be not to worry too much. Go out and enjoy a day doing what you love. Have a good meal. Read a good book. Love your fellow human beings if such a thing is at all possible.
I think the ability to honestly talk about your emotions comes when we are honestly able to face our emotions. And this comes with time and maturity, with experience and acceptance. If you want that, it’ll come to you.
In my case, I’m a comedy writer. So, I wrote a lot of jokes (most of them bad jokes) before I found a place where I could honestly look at myself and said, “Oh, I know him.” So, don’t worry. Do what you love. If you want it, it’ll happen.
What was the defining moment when you chose life over death?
Honestly? I have no idea.
Not the best answer, is it? I suppose I could say that my first trip to the Grand Canyon, the day I wanted to kill myself, was that defining moment. I faced a storm unlike any I’d seen before and faced my mortality before I even reached the Grand Canyon. And yet, I don’t know if that was it. That was the first time, but it wasn’t the last.
A Grand Canyon is about finding happiness, acceptance, and love inside ourselves. It’s about allowing ourselves to be ourselves, even when we don’t want to be. In Climbing Maya, I took this a step further and looked for actual success. But finding success did not mean an end to the story, which will continue in my third memoir (which I recently completed), The Day We Said Goodbye.
And even through all that, there hasn’t been a defining moment. Since then, I’ve learned that there’s a part of me that can talk about pursuing your dreams. I’ve learned that there are others out there who can inspire me in each episode of So Dream Something. I’ve written more books and look forward to following my dream wherever it goes.
My defining moment has been every moment since I got to the Grand Canyon and turned around and went home. That moment has been a life in the making and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.