I’m Now A Member of the Steemit Team!!!

This week I became a member of Steemit.com.  Steemit is a new blogging platform that actually pays writers for their work. I’m excited to join this team of amazing individuals.

Beginning today my new blog posts can be found here: https://steemit.com/@ericvancewalton

Please visit often and if you like what you read don’t forget to upvote!  Upvoting is how Steemit authors get paid for their time and energy.

I appreciate you sticking with me through this exciting transition!

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WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM MY 44TH YEAR ON EARTH

For the last decade I’ve written a poem just before my birthday. It’s been insightful to look back on these and see how I’ve grown or not (sometimes I’ve slipped backwards.) This year it’s not quite a poem but, nevertheless, the tradition continues.

So here it goes…WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM MY 44TH YEAR ON EARTH

There are no such thing as, “golden years.” Enjoy today.

Life is fragile.

The largest obstacle is my own mind.

Experiences are always better than things.

Two glasses of wine can indeed give you a hangover.

Happiness in life is 98% perception.

Vintage or artisan are just synonyms for “expensive.”

Being busy doesn’t equate to being productive.

A writer’s work is never done. Ever.

The sooner you remove toxic people from your life the better.

Most everybody has an angle (and that’s okay, people have to make a living).

Absinthe is a powerful laxative.

Talk less, listen more.

People can be fickle.

Things happen in their own time, you can’t rush fate.

White Castles taste better than 90% of gourmet meals.

The US political system is far more corrupt than I suspected.

Simple is almost always best.

There are more productive hours in a day than I thought.

I care less about what people think than I used to.

Meditation is more important now than ever.

Say what you mean.

Never sacrifice what is important to you.

Excuses create regret.

Be yourself, always, no matter what.

Dreams must be made a priority. Now.

Success never happens without risk.

I need at least seven and half hours of sleep to be my best self.

When you think you can’t go on, you’ve only just begun.

_________________________________

For more of my writing check out my website at www.ericvancewalton.net and please sign up for my newsletter for upcoming projects and events.

I’m Sorry Dad But I Don’t Want To Be A Welder

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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 it’s 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 fabrication 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 just 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 rarely talks 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.

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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. Ours was the antithesis of today’s, “everybody wears helmets and knee pads and everybody gets an award” kind of childhood. Looking back now I see that our childhood was my father’s second chance to enjoy all the fun he missed out on when he was younger. He certainly made up for a lot of lost time with us.

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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 work extremely hard, 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 sure as hell 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 when every single door was slammed in my face 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. If I would’ve given up 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!

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Thank you for being the man that you are. You were and are the perfect father for me.

Never forget that 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.

http://www.ericvancewalton.net/

 

 

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.

IMG_4304beijing-1I 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

 

WSimmons-Noko3_pyongyangPROLOGUE

 

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 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.

 

 

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

 

WSimmons-Noko1_pyongyangCHAPTER 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 June  Twenty-Fifth,  the  day  the 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, Older  Handler  responded,  her  smile 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

WSimmons-Noko2-pyongyang

Special Announcement

I’m excited to announce that next Wednesday, June 8th, I’m going to have a special treat for you! Wendy E. Simmons, author, will be appearing as a special guest blogger* on my website and social media pages. Wendy’s new book, “My Holiday In North Korea – The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth” chronicles her adventures in North Korea as a solo traveler. You heard that right, not only was she one of the few Americans to experience North Korea but she went there alone. I’ve read the book and really enjoyed it and I think you will too. Please watch for her guest appearance here less than one week from today!

Wendy’s website can be found here.

Here’s a link to a newscast appearance from her recent book tour: https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__denver.cbslocal.com_video_3406356-2Dwendy-2Dsimmons-2Dauthor-2Dnorth-2Dkorea_-23.V1BBv6w0Nuk.facebook&d=CwIFAg&c=3OfU9rcgQiAohND-1k-GbQ&r=uJyNvae_jreP9weXV4zlkjVf8tx7pNZAvHhKxn86BAc&m=sqSD3SoMAZdiGcusmmbzSqzNluZXvMQoyJsePs89jUU&s=m69-Sky5so_aSsZxkmX0nioqPQKIWjri79AlpEH4wC8&e=

*Please contact me at – ericvancewalton@gmail.com if you would be interested in becoming a guest blogger.

Limits, SCHLIMITS

“If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” – Bruce Lee

After two decades in this business I realize that writing will either; 1. break you; or 2. polish away your imperfections and make you a better human being. Sometimes getting to number 2 requires number 1 to happen first.

Yesterday I listened to James Altucher’s recent podcast with Jesse Itzler to promote his book, “Living With A Seal: 31 Days Training With The Toughest Man On The Planet.”  Jesse’s book is about how this former Navy Seal pushed to crush limits he didn’t even realize he had. This made me realize how human nature so often causes us to perceive our limits to be far less than they really are. There was a time in our history when this was probably useful for survival but in today’s world it often only limits our success and happiness.

Writing, and pretty much every other worthwhile goal in life, requires you to develop a certain psychological toughness over time.  Much like training for a marathon we have to consistently push ourselves to our limits, embrace the pain, and then explode beyond those self-perceived limitations.  This is how people have always found success. After meditating for nearly half of my life I have learned very useful Jedi-like mind tricks that cause the shift in perception necessary to conquer fear or many things that seem impossible.  I’m also aware of just how weak my mind still is sometimes.  I’ve learned that a true growth-moment always occurs just after the pain and yearning is almost too much to bear.  It’s the closest thing I can imagine to giving birth.

Recently had one of those moments.  I was feeling frustrated and sorry for myself.  My day job, personal responsibilities, work on the second novel, promoting my writing, and building a website seemed like it was too much to handle.  I was feeling overwhelmed and, as a result of that, nothing was getting done.  The excuses were flying, “There aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.”,  “I don’t know how to create a website.” “I can’t meet that deadline.”

As it normally does, life presented me with a few examples that became solutions.  One example was James’ podcast with Jesse Itzler that I previously spoke of, the other came in the form of a friend of mine, Ulrika, from Sweden.  Ulrika is a pharmacist, owns her own candy company, is raising children and still manages to write two (or more) large novels per year.  At first this seemed impossible to me…until she revealed to me the simple secret of how she did it.  No matter how much she has going on in her life she writes one hour per day.  One hour. Every. Single. Day.  It was that ingeniously simple.

I decided to try out her method for myself and here I am, three weeks from the depths of my pain and frustration with a fully functional website (www.ericvancewalton.net) that I built myself.  I’m also waking up an hour (or more) early before going to my day job to work on my second novel, Truth Is Stranger.  This has reminded me is most of us can do and be so much more than we are.

No matter what life throws at us, there’s never not a solution. Life will show us the way (sometime’s it’ll even kick us in the pants). Our only job is to be awake enough to see it and be willing to do the work.  I can tell you first-hand, the glorious lack of regret is worth every single ounce of the pain.

~Eric Vance Walton~

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~

Indentured Solitude

Indentured Solitude

It was four-thirty in the morning and Ernest stared blankly through the fog that clung to the window of the black cab. He found himself lost in the lights of London shimmering on the Thames. He realized how close he was to getting the one thing he most desired.

“How far away are we?” Ernest asked the cab driver.

The cabbie glanced up and their eyes met briefly in the rearview mirror.

“Six more blocks, Sir, roughly,” answered with a strong Hindi accent.

Ernie reached into the inside pocket of his wool pea coat for a wad of Pound notes and started thumbing through them.

“You can drop me off right here.”

The driver pulled to the curb, draping his thin arm across the back of the passenger seat, “That’ll be an even fifty-five quid, please.”

“Keep the change,” Ernest nodded as he slipped two carefully folded fifty pound notes in the driver’s ashy palm.

The driver quickly jerked his hand away.

“Ouch! Nothing starts off a shift like a paper cut! Paper cuts are like annoying little f*cking barking Chihuahuas only you can hear,” the cabbie said.

Ernie laughed to himself and immediately repeated the line under his breath so he wouldn’t forget it. Life sometimes handed you these glorious lines, words that deserve to live forever in fiction and this was just such a gem.

“Thanks, mate. Enjoy your stay.”

One more act of kindness can’t hurt he thought closing the cab door and watching the taillights of the taxi as they disappeared into the darkness.

Despite how unfair the world seemed Ernie still believed in karma. Besides, money would be of no use to him where he was going now. Taking in a few deep breaths of the cool, fresh air he almost forgot for a moment why he was here.

Ernie had been extremely shy as a child and life was easier when he lived it inside his head. He spent most of his childhood within the confines of his own imagination. Solitude was Ernest’s cocoon, the shield that protected him from the world’s harshness, and over time solitude grew to be his best friend. Back then, if he wasn’t scribbling in his bedroom you could find him lying on the shag carpeting in front of his parent’s console T.V. engrossed in some British sitcom on PBS.

Ernie had always felt an unexplainable familiarity with British culture. He loved their dry wit and even the gloomy weather. It didn’t surprise him when he discovered later in life that his ancestors had immigrated to America from Warwickshire in the late 1600’s. He’d always suspected he’d lived a past life as a Brit but now his theory leaned more towards genetic memory.

Ernest sighed heavily and made his way against the biting November wind. He tried to focus on the rhythm of his footsteps instead of his fears but he was failing miserably at it. It didn’t help that his brain still buzzed from too many cups of coffee during the flight. He could never sleep on planes so any trip over four hours was pure torture.

As he turned the corner he realized that this would be the last block he would walk as a free man. As charming as this neighborhood was, each step brought with it a greater feeling of dread.

This is my own green mile, he thought.

He wasn’t literally losing his life but it felt like it.

Ernie’s eyes scanned the addresses of the Victorian row houses as he walked. When he spotted 1356 Tenley Place the gray canvas duffle bag he was holding slid from his fingers and fell to the sidewalk with a dull thud. He felt a sharp stab of pain in the pit of his stomach followed by the urge to retch up the remains of the disgusting breakfast sandwich he devoured on the plane.

“Just what in the bloody ‘ell ‘ave you done now, mate?” he whispered in the best Cockney accent he could muster.

Thank God I still have my sense of humor, he chuckled nervously to himself.

A few months after he received the advance for his first novel, Ernest bought a condo in the very building F. Scott Fitzgerald was born. He thought the place would be inspirational, and it was for a while. In the quiet hours, just before dawn, there was a perfect stillness and it was as though he could hear Fitzgerald’s ghost whispering words and ideas into his ear. For almost three months last winter he rarely left the condo and wrote the best fiction of his life. This gave him such confidence that he felt his second novel could be the next Great Gatsby. One morning, about halfway through the first draft of his second novel, the ghost didn’t pay him a visit and the whispers stopped.

Ernest didn’t overlook the irony in the fact that his literary agent chose London for this scheme. The city now considered so civilized was built on a foundation of suffering and barbarism. Ernest knew that nearly everything of any value was born of suffering, if he didn’t he would never have agreed to this plan.

Ernie remembered so vividly the afternoon this insane idea was born. He was alone, cooking dinner in his condo, streaming Tito Puente a little too loudly from his phone. He was already two glasses into a bottle of a nice cabernet and feeling the comfort of its cozy warmth. A cool breeze blew in from the open window and the scent of pepper beef stir-fry filled the air when the music stopped and his phone began to ring. He almost didn’t answer the call when he saw it was Harold, his literary agent. He knew what it was about but decided he had avoided the conversation too long already.

“How’s my favorite author?” Harold said.

Ernie rolled his eyes dramatically.

“Hey Harry, I’m doing okay,” Ernie answered.

“You don’t sound okay, Bud. We’re only six months away from the publisher’s deadline. How’s the progress coming?”

Ernest didn’t want to admit that he hadn’t written a word of substance in months and was beginning to fear his debut novel was a freak thing he couldn’t repeat. Every time he sat down to write his mind went blank. He was desperate to get his mojo back.

“Honestly, Harry, I’m petrified. I have the worst goddamn writer’s block of my whole life. These past few months have been a roller coaster. Between the book tour and the media interviews, I feel like time is rushing by too fast. Everybody wants a piece of me. All I need is solitude, some time away…from everything.”

During the flight’s excruciating hours he had questioned a thousand times if he would’ve agreed to this Harry’s plan if it hadn’t been for those two glasses of cabernet. He always came up with the same answer; no. The wine was the rickety bridge that had temporarily merged his world with Harry’s.

The line went quiet for a moment. “Gosh, Ernie. You know if you don’t give them something Doubleday can terminate your contract and we have to pay back a substantial part of the advance.”

Harold Cincotti thrived in the alternate universe that was Manhattan. A person who didn’t know his backstory would never guess he fought his way up from poverty in the streets of the Bronx. Ernest didn’t see the other side of Harry until the final days of the contract negotiations with Doubleday when Harry’s demeanor went from polished executive to a Soprano’s cast member in under three seconds. Witnessing that kind of explosive fury scared the hell out of Ernie. However blunt they were, Harry’s negotiation skills secured a record-breaking three book deal from one of New York’s most respected publishers and made Ernie a rich man.

“I have an idea, I know this guy who owes me a favor in London…” This was the exact point where Ernie couldn’t bear to replay any more of the conversation in his head, it made him feel too foolish.

So, instead of taking in the sights of Britain here he stood, before the heavy wooden double doors of a fancy Victorian row house. This is the first moment it all felt real. This place would be his prison and the length of the sentence would be totally up to him.

“You are a desperate and a very stupid man,” Ernest muttered.

The creaking brass hinges of the heavy wooden double doors broke him from his self-loathing.

“Please come in, Mr. Solomon. Mr. Jacobs has been expecting you,” the butler said with nothing but emptiness in his eyes. He looked more like a linebacker than a butler; this man weighed three hundred pounds if he weighed an ounce.

As hard as he tried Ernest could conjure no words. His head was spinning and the salt crunched under his feet as he climbed the stairs to the front door. By the third step he realized he left his bag on the sidewalk behind him but he knew if he turned back the urge would be too strong to try to make a break for it. As he crossed the threshold, the air inside held a different kind of gravity, it was heavier somehow. He knew he was entering a world in which he didn’t belong. The scent of the place was just as he expected a proper English house to smell, the subtle fragrance of fine leather, expensive candles, and generational wealth.

“This way, Sir,” the butler said as Ernie followed him towards the back of the house. Ernie felt the man’s heat signature as he walked three feet behind him.

Ernest’s breath quickened. Beads of cool sweat began to form on his forehead as they approached another doorway leading to a flight of stairs down to the basement. The old wooden stairs groaned, protesting each of the butler’s footsteps as they descended.

“Watch your ‘ead, please. I believe you’ll need it,” the butler whispered, smirking over his shoulder.

The bottom of the staircase opened to the limestone walls of the damp, windowless cellar. Two leather wingback chairs were facing one another on a faded red Oriental rug. In one of the chairs sat a dapper man with a perfectly shaped bald head. His legs were crossed at the knee and he wore an impeccably tailored gray suit with brown saddle leather boots polished to a mirror shine. As the man stood to shake Ernie’s hand he noticed a deep and jagged scar that ran from just above his ear to his chin.

“Welcome to London, Mr. Soloman, I’m Peter Jacobs. Before we begin I must tell you how much I admire your work. I can tell from your writing that you’re an honorable man. I told Mr. Cincotti that after I read your book I saw the world in a completely different way. Do you know how rare that is for someone like me? When Harry told me of your troubles I couldn’t bear it because I recognize such an immense greatness in you.”

Mr. Jacobs stood so close that could Ernie feel his warm breath on his face. Ernie’s body tensed as Mr. Jacobs rested both hands heavily on Ernie’s shoulders and gave them a firm squeeze, staring him straight in the eyes.

“I’ve developed a great instinct for people. It’s a talent that has served me well in my business. We’re rooting for you.”

As he smiled slightly, the light caught the flash of a gold-capped tooth as he turned on his heel and began to pace back and forth in front of Ernie.

“Anyway, I digress. I’ll be administering the process here today,” he said.

“Let’s run through the terms of our agreement, shall we?”

“Well, umm, Mr. Jacobs you see…I think I’ve changed my mind,” Ernie pleaded as his eyes dropped to the floor.

“Come now, Mr. Solomon, relax. Shall I remind you that I made our friend Mr. Cincotti a promise? In our world our word is all we have and we live and die by it,” he said, staring at Ernest intensely with his piercing blue eyes.

“First, we ask that you turn in your mobile phone and empty your pockets of all personal belongings and place them into this plastic tub.”

Ernie tried to find comfort in Harry’s words as they kept echoing through his head, Let me tell you two things I’ve learned, Number one, in this world the hero and villain can possess the same kind of greatness, and Number two, everything in this life, good or bad, comes with a price.

He didn’t have the life experience it took to understand what Harry meant until this very moment.

Back in Manhattan Harry was probably already two whiskeys into the night, getting his ego stroked by an attractive waitress in some swanky Manhattan restaurant. This plan was easy for Harry because he wasn’t the one standing in this dank basement, alone with a powerful British crime boss who happened to be Ernest’s biggest fan.

Ernie tried his best to swallow but his throat was far too parched. He began to accept his fate as he started to empty the contents of his pockets into the clear plastic tub.

“The terms of our agreement are as follows,” Mr. Jacobs said as he walked a few feet towards a gray steel door, rapping it two times with this knuckles as it rang like a bell.

“This is your new home. You will be housed in this secured room, eight feet by ten feet in diameter including one writer’s desk with a chair, a bed, a lavatory, and a shower until such a time as a draft of your new novel, deemed worthy of publication by Mr. Cincotti, is produced.”

Mr. Jacobs’ face took on a more serious expression and he started pacing back and forth again as he continued, “You will be issued a laptop computer and access to reading material of your choosing. A chef will be at your disposal from 6am to 9pm to prepare anything you desire. There will be no internet access, radio, or television to distract you. There is an intercom system in the chamber to communicate to my staff but you shall have absolutely no contact with the outside world save for one call per week to a single party of your choosing. These calls will be monitored closely and I promise you that there will be a severe penalty if there is an attempt to breach any of these terms. A press release has been prepared by our staff informing the public that you are taking a hiatus from public life for an undetermined amount of time until your task is complete.”

Ernie twitched as the large stainless steel lock on the gray door buzzed loudly. Mr. Jacobs swung open the thick door to reveal a sparse vault-like room.

“Smith, show Mr. Solomon into the chamber, please.”

“Of course, Sir,” Smith quickly complied, he rested his enormous hand in the middle of Ernie’s back and pushed him six feet into the middle of the room.

“Hey!” Ernie screamed as spun around to see the steel door slam shut behind him.

This last outburst was like the final whimper of a baby before surrendering to sleep. After a few seconds Ernie’s tightly clenched jaw relaxed and his shoulders slumped forward. Everything was instantly quiet and still. Instead of feeling confined by the tight space he felt his imagination expanding, this gave him hope.

In a moment of desperation Ernest had agreed to pay a price far greater than money for what he desired. He willingly agreed to pay with his freedom and his time but now that he understood his predicament on a deeper level, he realized he might even pay with his life.

Ernest slid the simple wooden chair away from the desk and sat down. As he opened the laptop and rested his hands lightly on its keys he felt a shiver run down his spine. Ernie realized that for all of Harry’s wisdom there was one thing a person like him couldn’t begin to understand and that one thing was how complex an author’s creativity could be.

Muse was magic, like a beautiful monarch butterfly that decides to land on you when you’re standing all alone in a garden, perfectly still. Muse could never be forced or even willed. Ernie closed his eyes and prayed that this locked chamber, in the basement of this Victorian row house in London might possess the kind of perfect stillness that would welcome the fickle whispers of Fitzgerald’s ghost.