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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.
This guy makes even my green tea habit look tame. 😳
What if all that we’ve been taught is wrong?
What if we live in a world
where vanity is a kind of virtue?
A place where confidence and
self-love are the first steps
in opening up your heart
to the miracle that exists
What if reality, as we know
it isn’t truth at all but its antithesis?
Comprised of falsehoods
that serve all but the greater good,
bars to keep us imprisoned
so that we may never know
the true power of our souls.
~Eric Vance Walton~
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
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 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
I had a lot of misconceptions in my youth. One of them was that making money was the ultimate goal. I think dispelling this myth was one of my biggest lessons in this life. I started doing regular lawn jobs when I was eight so I always had a little stash of cash on hand.
Once I saved for months for a set of walkie-talkies. All I could think about was how cool it would be to be able to talk to someone down the block, wirelessly. This is commonplace now but in 1979 it was still like magic to an eight year old kid.
The thing I discovered is after a few times of using the walkie talkies is this wasn’t cool at all. They were a burden, you had to buy batteries, my friends fought over them. Really, what did eight year olds have to talk about on walkie-talkies anyway…Saturday morning cartoons? How good looking Daisy Duke was? I quickly discovered that this “thing” didn’t make me happy and I felt robbed.
Fast forward a few decades and I got the bright idea that I wanted to become a writer. I dreamed of having a bestseller and getting that huge advance that would change my life in an instant. I wanted to travel and live the glamorous life. I was an idiot. I worked and I worked for years but that day never came for me. The truth was I was still dreaming of and chasing money instead of it being about the love of the craft, connecting with, and helping others.
Only about seventeen years into my writing career did I change my attitude. Honestly, my spirit was broken by the struggles of this career, I was humbled, and had no ego left. I found this little book called, Choose Yourself and read it on a flight to Cleveland. This is when it all changed for me. I started writing from a place of love instead of a place of greed and after a while I saw the world with new eyes.
Just yesterday I received the first batch of royalties for my first traditionally published book, One Word At A Time: Finding Your Way as an Indie Author. Although I was incredibly grateful, the experience felt weirdly anticlimactic. The positive feedback I’ve received from indie authors about how the book has helped them provided me with many more sparks of joy than the money.
I had a wise uncle who referred to money as, “fun tickets.” Only now do I fully fathom what he meant. Money doesn’t buy happiness but what it can provide is a little independence and, yes, a little fun. The happiness you must create yourself.
The days of one book providing you enough “fun tickets” to live on are pretty much gone. Indie authors must hustle and use their ingenuity to dream up multiple revenue streams. Books, consulting, freelancing, speaking engagements.
I’m spending this dreary and cold weekend in a city far from home to visit bookstores and drum up some new readers. My life is far from glamorous but I’m beginning to catch a glimpse of real freedom and what a writer’s life is like.
I’m here in a loud hotel lobby in downtown Chicago banging out this blog post. Tired, strung out from getting about four hours sleep the night before and waiting for the hotel staff to have the room ready so I can nap for an hour.
Reality is usually so much different from our dreams. Sometimes it’s even better. I’m writing the best I have in my whole life, I feel completely alive, and am full of hope. This, I couldn’t buy with all of the fun tickets in the world.
~Eric Vance Walton~