Category Archives: Inspiration

Robin Williams… And More

I’m not sure what to say here that’s coherent or will make sense, but I gotta get this out of me.

Robin Williams passed away today of an apparent suicide.

I’ve lost more than my fair share of close friends to suicide. It’s one of the most painful ways to lose someone you love. Probably the most painful. I hate the word. I hate the act. I hate what it does to friends and families. I…

Let me rewind a bit before I get carried away on that train of thought.

I’m 13 years old and living with my grandparents full time. My grandmother is in the hospital with her second heart attack, and I’m horribly frightened to my very core that I’m going to lose the woman that’s taken me into her home without hesitation or question. I’m scared like I’m 3, not 13, that she’s going to leave me behind. I’m old enough to know that everyone dies. I’m young enough to think that I have forever with those around me. These two conflicting thoughts rage in my mind, and I’m not sure what to do with myself.

My step mom is staying with me in the house while my grandfather cares for my ailing grandmother. We’re flipping channels, and get to HBO (I think it was HBO) that’s showing the intro for Robin Williams’s An Evening at the Met performance. Despite the adult material and cussing in the show, my step mom lets me watch the whole thing. We laughed together until we cried. For those scant few hours, my tears were of joy, my shaking was from guffaws, and my soul was soothed from the worries about my grandmother.

That’s the night I fell in love with Robin Williams. I looked up to him like that crazy uncle that everyone loves and he loves everyone back with such ferocious passion that no matter what he does, you support him in everything.

When Robin went to repeated rehab trips, I prayed for him. I truly wanted him to get better. I wanted him to overcome the demons that drove him to drug and alcohol abuse in a healthy manner. I suppose it was a selfish desire because I wanted more of him in my life. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every movie he’s been in. I’ve seen most of his stand-up comedy. I loved it when Whoopie and Billy and Robin would riff and act-up between sets on all eight Comic Relief shows.

When I fought my own, personal darkness in my early 20s, I remember heading to a Hastings to find something to rent to watch. I didn’t know what I wanted. I meandered through the aisles of tapes looking for something to rent. Something caught my eye, and I pulled it out. It was a Robin Williams act I’d seen before. Then I realized they had a full section of Robin’s stand up.

I rented every tape that afternoon. The cute girl behind the counter looked at me weird, but I didn’t care. I was going to have some “me time” with Robin.

I got home, and binge watched every minute of it. I think I finally came up for air two days later. During that time, I cried more. You see, some of these were from later in his career when he didn’t have to fling endless jokes. He could put his own humorous spin on the tragedies of life. He delved into some deep, hidden areas of his psyche that many people didn’t know where there. His vulnerability and honesty and comedy about it all made me cry tears of sympathy, tears of joy, and just tears for no damn good reason.

From that darkness in his life came laughter. It was hard to see the pitch black because of the bright lights Robin put on everything. Maybe if we’d looked a little closer, we could have seen what was coming. Maybe not.

My favorite show on TV last season was The Crazy Ones because of the pain-inducing laughter that I suffered through while I had an inflamed intercostal nerve. It drove lightning-like pain through my torso to breathe deeply, move quickly, or shake my body. The Crazy Ones led to all of the above, and I didn’t care about the agony because I was laughing along with one of my favorite people in the world.

Now he’s gone. I never had aspirations of meeting Robin or becoming a friend of his or anything like that. It was just nice to know that it could happen. Now it can’t. Ever.

Even the most brilliant comedians or the most upbeat people or the happiest souls in the world have pain and sadness and internal agony and demons plaguing them.

I know. I’ve been there. I still go there (unwillingly) from time-to-time.

It’s a hard thing to do, but if you think you’re in (or heading for) one of those times of life when even the brightest light can’t shine, reach out for help. It doesn’t have to be professional help (though I advocate that as well). For starters, it can be a friend, sibling, parent, grandparent, cousin, or anyone close in your life. If you’re a person of faith, find a counselor that shares a similar faith and talk to them. Talk to someone. Talk to many someones. Check in with psychiatrist or psychologist and see if they think you need professional counseling or medication to help with a chemical imbalance.

Having a medical condition that affects that way your brain works is not shameful. Would you be ashamed of having a ruptured appendix or a gallbladder full of stones? No. I don’t think so. Those are serious medical conditions that you don’t ask for or bring upon yourself. The same thing goes for clinical depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, and a host of other mental illnesses.

They are medical conditions, just like that popped appendix.

They can be treated, just like that inflamed gallbladder.

They happen to the best of people. Having a mental illness doesn’t make you less of a person. Having the strength to find help, accepting it, and putting that assistance to good use makes you a better person.

Please don’t suffer in silence or alone.

How am I to know all of this about mental illness? I don’t claim professional training. I don’t have any specialized knowledge or skills in this area.

These are all things I’ve learned by living it. There’s something most of you don’t know about me: I’m bipolar. I go through bouts of severe depression followed quickly by sessions of increased anger and inability to sleep or think straight.

It took me until almost two weeks of no sleep drove me to the doctor. I sat in his office shaking from fear. If I’d had a cold: antibiotics. I knew something was wrong with my brain chemistry, but I didn’t know what. I didn’t know if there was a “magic pill” that would make me better. I didn’t know if I’d end up in a padded room. I didn’t know if the doctor would just shrug and tell me to drink some warm milk before bed time.

I didn’t know. That scared me more than anything.

He talked with me at great length and ran me through some self-assessments. After spending almost two hours with him, he declared me bipolar.

I cried. Not out of fear or anger or frustration. I cried because someone finally had figured out what was wrong with me all those years ago. I started seeing a psychiatrist for the chemical imbalances in my brain. After trying one medicine, I asked for something different because of some side effects that were messing with my life. We swapped to another medication, and it’s been a miracle drug for me. I’m not going to give the name here because I don’t want to endorse my miracle drug. You see. It’s worked wonders for me but your mileage may vary.

I want you, if you need to, find a mental health professional and seek their guidance, not mine. Well, I guess I’m guiding you, but I’m pointing you to someone that can help you more than I can. Assume I’m a sign post that’s pointing the way out of the forest of scary thoughts.

This post has gone on long enough and I’m emotionally exhausted from the news about Robin Williams. I’ll wrap things up here.

I just want you to know that you’re not alone and there are always positive options out there. Please think about that.

Good night, and rest in peace, Mr. Williams. You’ll be missed.

PS: I still have An Evening at the Met on VHS. It’s late now, and I need to get to bed. I think I’ll watch the tape tomorrow night and remember the good times with Robin.


Guest Post: Inside the Trunk with SJ Abraham

The moment in my writing career I’m most proud of happened just last year. I took the 85000 words of my debut novel that had consumed years of my life, hundreds if not thousands of hours of effort and thought, editing, querying and pining and…

I trunked it.

Then I put the proverbial fat guy on top of said trunk to ensure the novel never escaped ever again. It was the best thing I ever did for my life as a novelist.

Anyone who has strung together more than a couple of sentences in hopes of having them someday published, has heard the phrase “kill your darlings.” I’ve heard the quote attributed to everyone from Stephen King to William Faulkner (though it actually first came from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch). In those early days of writing, we naive writers think “killing your darlings” means occasionally cutting that bit of overly-flowery prose. By the time we’re starting to mature it means cutting that unnecessary character or that scene that just doesn’t move things along. I’ve also come to believe it can mean permanently setting aside that first novel. Don’t take my word for it. Brian Sanderson on his podcast Writing Excuses called first novels “One giant darling.”

I think most everyone goes into their first novel with dreams of becoming JK Rowling or Bernard Cornwell, where that first brilliant work is scooped up after a dozen queries and then rockets to worldwide acclaim. First novel greatness is an exception, not the rule! Most first timers don’t get that and I think that’s part of why they (me included) spend so much time agonizing over that début novel: they don’t want to face that they’re not going to be JK Rowling. I’m not saying if your first novel isn’t immediately picked up you won’t be a success, or that it’s some sort of indicator that you’ll never be huge, I’m simply saying the story of your writing career won’t be the same as JK’s.

In a session at Pikes Peak writers con a few years ago, Marie Lu, author of the now-huge Legend series stated that she’d written six books before Legend was picked up. Five before she got an agent. Now she’s sitting on the next big thing with a movie in development and slated for release in 2016. In the same session her agent, Kristin Nelson, said that across the board, authors average TEN books written before being published. This includes Harlequin romance writers, and we all know they’re like the rabbits of the writing world.

Here’s why I think clinging to that first novel is such a stumbling block and why they should probably be “killed” more swiftly than they usually are. I spent a total of seven years “perfecting” my first novel (five back-to-back years, and two non-consecutive). Much less than half of that was actually writing. Most of it was editing, tweaking and trying to fix the problems I didn’t want to really admit were there. My second book took three years to write with about half spent in editing. The third which I just finished took under a year and a half I spent less than four months editing. When I set aside my first novel and wrote something entirely new (just like Marie Lu did), I not only got faster, my writing got better. If I’d stopped fussing with my first novel sooner I could be on my fifth or sixth novel. I’d have more practice, better skill and less frustration.

Now, I can already hear some of you going on about how I don’t understand that your book is different. It’s the first book in a series of eighteen novels each woven together by—Aaaand I’m going to stop you right there. You do not need to worry about sequels when you’re trapped in a bloody, wrestling match with your first and most precious darling. If you’re an exception to the rule and get picked up, great! Then start working on the sequel. But, if like the other 99% of us and your first novel isn’t snatched up, let it and the unwritten sequels go graciously, rather than wasting years in stagnation when you could be improving your writing and stories.

Even across the ether of the internet I can hear your grumbles about elitist publishing gate-keepers and the values of self-publishing. Be that as it may, here’s one final thing to consider. What other career would you ever—EVER—expect to start out with absolute brilliance? Would you pick up a tennis racket and assume you’d be in the Olympics two years from today? Would you assume your small business will be a fortune five-hundred one year after you start it? Writing is a skill, and just like any other skill, it improves the longer you study and practice it. Don’t be ashamed of that. Don’t cling to something that’s going to hold you back because it’s your darling. Save the ideas. Kill the novel. You’ll be glad you did.

~SJA

SJ_AbrahamS.J. Abraham is a writer working towards publication. He’s a geek to the core and seeks to write stories that will inspire younger geeks to embrace their nerdy side and never look back. In addition to his novels, he writes fiction for his blog GeekyWriting.


You Never Knew Me, But I Have Met You

I awoke yesterday morning, and the very first thing I saw in my RSS feeds was news of Jay Lake‘s passing on SF Signal.

Jay didn’t know me. We were Facebook friends with the occasional “like” or “share” between us, but no real conversation or comments to talk about.

However, I met Jay. I met him through an interview he gave over at SF Signal. I met him through his writing, his short stories, his novels, and his non-fiction.

Did I know Jay? No. I can’t claim to have known him as deeply as other people in his life. Far from it. However, I knew him through his words. That’s the extent of my relationship with someone no longer with us. That will be the only kind of relationship I’ll have with Jay. It will never change as the only thing I have left are his stories on paper and his voice coming at me through my iPod.

I’ve met quite a few people that were touched by Jay during his short forty-nine years on this planet. Without exception, they related to me the kindness, generosity, love, and care he had for everyone around him. Even when busy with his own concerns (like fighting off the cancer that eventually took him on the next part of his journey), he had time to guide “Hugo newbies” through the process of what to expect and how to do things. From the tales I’ve heard, he put out an incredible amount of energy and concern into others.

Jay, you don’t know me, but I know you through your deeds, actions, words, and legend. You’ll be missed. I only wish we could have met on this side of things. Maybe we could have had a Hawaiian shirt contest (odds in your favor, of course). I hope to be able to meet you on the other side of this life and swap some stories while wearing hideously-colored clothing.

Thank you for the words… more than that really… that you’ve shared with the rest of us.


The Other Side of Fear

other_side_of_fearI friend of mine posted this image with a quote from Jack Canfield. For those of you that are somehow unable to read the quote, it goes, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I used to be afraid of almost everything important. I’m not talking about phobias or fears of “scary” things like snakes, spiders, scorpions, graves, darkness, heights or things like that.

I’m talking about fear of companionship, friendship, family, success, and giving over my heart to other people for them to do with as they wish. This fear paralyzed every relationship I had before they even started. The people I grew up with (mom, dad, grandparents, cousins, etc.) were already established in my heart. I had very little fear of them, but there was some. It was all on me, not them. They rarely gave me reason to be afraid, but I found reasons within myself to not want to be close to them. I couldn’t bring myself to trust them. Again, it was all on me.

Sometime in my sophomore year of high school, I met a wonderful girl a year ahead of me in high school. Her mother was our french teacher, and we shared that class together. She was always a friend to me. Early on in our relationship, I kept her at a distance. By this time in my life, my ability to do this was well-honed and sharp as a razor. I could easily cut someone out of my life without them even knowing what happened. Katie disarmed me with her kindness and warmth. My razor fell by the wayside and rusted so quickly, I didn’t realize it had done so. She brought me out of the iron casing I’d wrapped myself in. I was free of my protective, and restrictive, armor. I was vulnerable in the cold wastelands of high school.

This was not an overnight process. It wasn’t until I was near the end of my junior year (well over 20 months after Katie and I first met) that I peeked out the shell and found that happiness could be had. Sure, there was a chance to be hurt, but I had to take that risk. With it being the end of my junior year, I realized Katie was about to leave to go to college since she was about to graduate. Without her there to hold my hand in friendship and drag me through the painful birthing processes as I escaped the constriction of my armor, I felt lost.

I wanted to crawl back into my armor.

Then a girl I’d met through Katie called me out of the blue during summer vacation. She continued where Katie left off with kindness and friendly love. It wasn’t until years, perhaps decades, later that the glimmer of an idea popped into my head: Did Katie arrange to “hand me off” to Heather because they both knew I needed it? To this day, I’m not sure, but I like to think their secret conspiracy was for my betterment.

Heather introduced me to a whole slew of friends. I’d love to list them off here, but there are too many. I don’t want to do any of them the disservice of forgetting their names on my list of vital people that helped me grow strong after I cast off the internal supports of my distance from others.

During my senior year of high school, I made a decision. It was a hard one to make. I could still see my protective gear in the rear-view mirror of my past. It loomed in my shadow and demanded I return to its safety. My fragile, yet strengthening, psyche of what friendship meant wanted to flee to its protective coverings. I decided not to allow that to happen.

I turned my back on my past and swore to forge a new me.

I had moved past the barrier of fear that kept me from being the true man that I would eventually become.

The person you know today is nothing like the boy he was so many decades ago. The confidence I have in myself, the willingness to make friends, my drive to excel against all odds, and the compassion I have for others are due to the massive emotional efforts of Katie and Heather.

Almost everyone I’ve met since those distant days of high school has supported me and held me up.

The most important person in my life today that keeps me going on my path is my wife, Kimberly. It’s for you that I continue to strive to excel. It’s for our son that I want to make proud that I do what I do.

The point of all of this?

I’m certain you have fears as well. Again, I’m not talking about phobias or those strange things that go bump in the night. I’m talking about deeply internal fears of you build for yourself.

You can get past them. Perhaps not alone. Probably not alone. Find someone in your life you can trust and extend your hand. Ask for help. There are people out there willing to help you for as long as you need. It won’t be an overnight process, but you can do it. I know you can.

Work past your fears and get to what you want. Get to what you deserve.


Christopher Nolan — An Inspiration

Christopher Nolan was an Irish writer with exceptional talent, and a great desire to write. His drive to put words down on paper overcame the facts of his birth. He was born without the ability to move anything other than his eyes, and later advances in medicine granted him the ability to move his neck. With a stick strapped to his head, Nolan was able to write beautiful poetry, and even a novel.

Here are some quotes of Christopher in a NY Times article.

“My mind is like a spin-dryer at full speed, my thoughts fly around my skull while millions of beautiful words cascade down in my lap.”

“Images gunfire across my consciousness and while trying to discipline them I jump in awe at the soul-filled bounty of my mind’s expanse.”

These quotes are going on my Quotes Page for they deserve the company they’ll find on that electronic summary of what moves me.

Christopher was an inspiration to me in his life, and will continue to stand on that pedestal even in death. The world lost a great writer in Christopher this week at the age of 43. I can only hope to attain such lofty goals as he did in his short and rough lifetime.

I feel we have a little something in common, which lightens my heart even with the news of his loss. Here is a quote I once rambled off about myself and a friend of mine managed to write down for me.

“My ideas are brilliant sparks of light that illuminate the dark pathways of creativity just long enough for me to see my next step.”

Without my sparks, I feel I would be lost in a world of despair and darkness. I assume (safely, I hope) Christopher probably felt the same way.

You will be missed, Mr. Nolan. Thank you for what you brought into this world, and may you use all ten fingers (and toes!) on your next typewriter.


Arthur C. Clarke’s Last Vision

I read this article on CNN a while back, and it inspired me a great deal.

If Clarke and Pohl, with all their age-related disabilities, can produce a novel, then why can’t I? I’m young (my 35 years as compared to their 91 for Clarke and 89 for Pohl), healthy, intelligent, and creative. Other than a severe lack of time on my hands, there is nothing stopping me from producing quality writing. The lack of time issue can be resolved with less time in front of the idiot box, and more time banging away at the keyboard. Now that my vacation is over, I feel it is time to prune the idiot box time back and see what I can do with those extra hours that I will gain each week.

Am I ever going to produce work at the level of Clarke or Pohl? Maybe. I honestly doubt it. That glorious pair of writers have more literary ability in their toenail clippings than I have in my entire existence. I’m not bashing my abilities, mind you, but it’s like comparing the brightness of a distant star to Sol during Summer Solstice. Sure, I have brilliance and abilities, but it’s hard to see my light when standing anywhere near one of The Greats of fiction.

Rest well, Arthur. Your brilliance will shine on longer than you think it will.

Thank you, Frederik. Your Herculean efforts to bring us the vision of Clarke’s last glimmering light are greatly appreciated.