THRIVE TO SURVIVE #1: AN INTERVIEW WITH RENEE YAWORSKY

Hello all! Welcome to the first installment of Thrive To Survive! This is a very special blog/interview series where I, Jon Phipps, will sit down with some of my closest contemporaries to discuss with them how they overcame various physical & mental hurdles in their journey, or overcame obstacles outside of that realm! I couldn’t have picked a better guest of honor for this maiden voyage of TTS…….I had the thrill of sitting down and chatting with my best friend and closest co-creator, the inimitable Renee Yaworsky!

Renee is the embodiment of the words strength, kindness, fearlessness, love, compassion, friendship, beauty, care and inspiration. A native of New York and a long-time resident of the Peach State of Georgia, Renee has been involved with many different things over the span of her life, including law and prison work, modeling, acting, being a singer/songwriter, poet and novelist-all while valiantly and bravely battling health issues, namely lupus and seizures. Says Renee of first finding out about and subsequently tackling these issues in her life:

“I was 18, I was on Grady Avenue in Athens, Georgia and had a typical Athens night. We were swimming, and doing band rehearsal and was up most of the night and really having a great time, and when we fell asleep in the morning after being up all night, I did not wake up. And so luckily, one of my friends who was there tried to wake me up and was confused that he couldn’t, so he called my other friend and got on the phone with 911, and my other friend, my girl-friend was there with me and they were able to wake me up. The paramedics told me my heart had stopped and that they were gonna take me to the hospital. I said, I don’t want to go to the hospital and they said, well we’re taking you anyways. So they took me to St. Mary’s and determined that was the beginning of the understanding of the fact that I was going to have something going on with me, and I didn’t realize what it was. In fact, the initial doctors were reticent to call it a seizure.…….And then I came back up to New York and I was lucky, I was able to be seen by a cardiologist, a very, very good one, and he checked out my heart. And then I started seeing neurologists back in Georgia and they just, you know, called it seizures. At some point, they started saying seizures because they gave me EGS tests, and I was showing seizure activity. But actually after that moment, I didn’t have that many Grand Mal seizures. The Grand Mal seizures is like that when you’re losing consciousness. I’ve only had about two of those, maybe three In my entire life. Typically, my seizures that I had for the next six years, which I had almost every minute of every day were Complex Partial, I think they’re called. It’s been a long time, so some of my terminology might be wrong, but I was medicated and the medicine I don’t remember ever helping that much. I essentially had seizure activity 24 hours a day for about 6.5 years and that limited my ability. Even though I wasn’t losing consciousness, it affected my sense of self, the way I saw the world, what I was able to do, what I was not able to do. I sometimes would have to stay home because the lights outside could make it worse, fluorescent lights made it worse, sunlight could make it worse, But I didn’t get a lupus diagnosis until about 12 years later, and that’s disappointing because I had all of the symptoms. But for whatever reason, even though I was under a neurologist’s care, they never connected those dots.”

Despite the darkness and uncertainty, Renee nevertheless found a cure for the seizures she was suffering, and it was nothing short of a miracle. Renee portrays the scene when she found this miracle cure:

“It must have been 2005. I had trouble traveling, although I tried to travel as much as I could. I often was canceling trips because if the seizure activity was particularly bad, I wouldn’t even be able to leave the house. In 2005, my mother wanted me to come up for part of the summer, and I was able to make it up there. And when we got there, she mentioned that there was a shrine to St. René Goupil, which was not close, but in Upstate New York. It would have been a day trip. And I said, ‘that’s so weird because my name is Renee!’ I said, ‘how did I not know? I’m a Catholic! How did I not know that? I had a saint named after me that has a shrine right near where I grew up!’ She said, “I don’t know.” And we went there, and we toured the grounds, and it’s a lovely, lovely place. It’s out where the Mohawks were. There’s a lot of Native American history there, and a lot of museums, and it’s beautiful countryside.

I was having my general seizure activities, and the sun used to really adversely affect me. That’s a symptom of lupus, and it also can make certain seizures worse if you have that photosensitivity. And it was a hot day. And she went back to the parking lot and I said, “well, I’m gonna linger down near the river a little longer.” I had no plans, no hopes, nothing. I was just by myself and I for some reason bent down and put my hand in the water of the stream, a tributary from the river, which is where the body of St. René had been martyred. And it was once, it was maybe 3 seconds. I just put my hand in the water and I blessed my forehead and I said, “St. René, take away my seizures.” And I had never prayed for my seizures to leave me. I had never given them any conscious thought. I tried to ignore them. And instantly, my seizures were gone. The whole world looked different. The sun was different. And it was just…..gone. And I walked back up to the car, I didn’t mention it to my mother, but I knew I was totally cured and I never once had another seizure. I went off of medicine, I went to law school, my whole life totally changed.




As mentioned before, Renee has been involved with many different things, but one of her foremost passions earlier in her life was acting. Having taken acting classes at various points since the age of 2, she developed a brawny love of the stage, but a very serious incident made her steer away from acting. Renee recounts this event:

“I’ve been acting my whole life, but I always stayed away from screen because I felt it would be safer, and I love theater. I love the stomps on the stage, I love seeing the audience, I love memorizing the lines and I became a stage actress and that seemed safer to me. Fast forward to about 2007 or 2008, I was in with the acting troupe in Athens, Georgia, and they had a mass shooting there at a function that I was supposed to be at, that I overslept. That was when I made the decision to go to law school and to not continue my acting. So if you fast forward till now, you might understand when people who don’t know me when people who don’t know me think I’m looking for attention, or, “oh, you think you’re so beautiful, you want people to look at you,” they don’t understand how much of my life was spent trying to get people to stop looking at me and for various reasons, and when the mass murder happened, it was very, very intimate and very close, both in proximity to where I literally, physically was and then also emotionally where I was. I did not want anything to do with entertainment again. I only came back to entertainment at all in 2020 during quarantine, but sure that I was going to focus on writing and law, and I absolutely did not want to go back into modeling. I did not want to go back into any sort of public activism and certainly not anything entertainment, nothing with acting, nothing with music.”

Nonetheless, Renee powered forward and dove headlong back into the creative realms of acting, modeling, music and writing. As mentioned before, acting & especially modeling are just one part of Renee’s MO. Through her work in these fields, she inspires and encourages scores of others to find their inner & outer beauty and embrace it, not just for one time only, but throughout the rest of their lives. And Renee is truly a shining beacon of hope for those looking for inspiration, or for those just on a journey to love themselves and accept themselves for who they truly are, not for what society wants them to be. Renee herself talks about the long road it took to overcoming food addictions and to love the skin you’re in, no matter how long it may take:

“I never had an eating disorder, but when I had a fainting spell in my teen years, I was grossly underweight and I did spend many years of my childhood with doctors, you know, monitoring me for bulimia or anorexia. That’s not what was happening. I was eating everything in sight when I was free, but I was highly active and I had a bit of an insecurity about being so underweight. When I was hospitalized for the fainting spell, I weighed 94 lbs. It was quite shocking that that’s why I was hospitalized. There was concern about that, but it wasn’t deliberate. In fact, I would buy these powders and stuff and try to gain weight. It’s what I really wanted. But I was riding horses competitively, so I was active. I was also playing basketball, I was playing tennis, and then I was in a touring rock band while at the same time as starting college at age 16, and I was also running an N.G.O. I ran a nonprofit that I started. I was doing all of that and I was so young, and I just loved it. My mother was so concerned about me because she said, “you’re not eating, you’re not sleeping.” And I’m like, ‘yeah, but I’m so happy.'”

With the modeling & acting work, plus current music endeavors and past activism considered, Renee is no stranger to being in the spotlight. And while this has been a mostly pleasant experience for her, Renee, like any other who is consistently in the limelight, has had to deal with more than her share of catty comments, hurtful messages, situations gone awry, and in some cases, even stalkers and people spying on her. Renee describes what this is like, and what she has done to overcome it:

“It’s disappointing, certainly, because I do havefearful things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I would say that I was exposed to it early, to the point where now I don’t know any other way. I started my my anti death penalty work when I was 14. And the band I was in became really popular when I was about 15, and so between prisoner issues, prisoners or people from the activist world who maybe didn’t agree with me between that, and then the fans for the band……..I was a drummer. I was the drummer, but I was the only girl. So although I was not getting the level of attention that the front man was getting, I was getting the boy attention because I was the girl. And this is certainly pre social media, but the internet existed. I think we had AOL chatrooms, it wasn’t like what it was now, and it never occurred to me that that could exist. The technology wasn’t popular. So when I was 14 starting this, this anti death penalty work, it never occurred to me that I would be able to be tracked down or my family would be able to be tracked down by prisoners or families of victims or families of prisoners or gangs, it never occurred to me because the internet didn’t exist like that. We were primarily still doing things over snail mail. I created an alias, I had a a pseudonym and I had an activist alias, and I felt like that would be enough. I had no idea what was coming in the years to come with that. Now anybody can find anything. The rock and roll business of it was a little different. I felt very safe because most of our fans of course were like teenage boys our age. I remember our school would have events, we had interviews coming out in the papers and they would put us outside and we would autograph everybody’s copy and things like that. Certainly, there was a lot of attention on the band, but again, because there wasn’t social media and all that. One of the funny things that would happen is many times the band and I would be out in normal places, the mall or a carnival and we would see fans wearing our t-shirts and they wouldn’t recognize us because they had never been to a show, They heard our cassette tape or something, they were fans of ours, but they didn’t know what we looked like. There were fans that came to my house, there were fans that came to my mother’s place of work. There were fans that called us at all hours of the day and night, but they tended to be well meaning and I didn’t fear them, but it did make me very cautious.”

To say life for Renee has been ridges and valleys would be an understatement. But through it all, she has never lost her smile, her passion, her drive, and her compassion and love and kindness toward others. She is someone we all aspire to have as a friend and a cheerleader in our lives. I speak for myself when I say that having the gift of Renee’s friendship has benefitted me and change my life in ways I’m sure I don’t yet know. Add to that the fact that we both have a common goal for ourselves in terms of paths forward and creative ideas, and it’s a friendship that is rivaled by few and duplicated by none. Renee is the definition of taking the high road. When asked about how she would like to be remembered when her times comes, she said:

“I would like to be remembered as somebody who truly showed that you can suffer in your life, and shine a light instead of bringing more darkness into this world, and to be known as a bridge builder and a peacemaker. I think peacemaking and bridge building are things that came naturally to me because I have a duality in my nature. I’m that textbook Gemini, I really do see things from different points of view. When somebody is arguing with me, I always see it from their point of view. I can see it from their point of view as they’re describing to me how unhappy they are with me, and I can jump aboard. I really see things from both points of view. And when you do that, you become a diplomat, you become a leader, a coordinator and organizer. And at the end of the day, you’re becoming a peacemaker. You’re sitting down with someone who might have done something horrible to another human being and you’re finding some common ground there with those people. And that to me is the most important thing, because if we don’t have peace, we don’t have freedom. And if we don’t have freedom, we can’t have happiness. More than 51% of my time as an adolescent teenager and young adult were spent listening to older people talk about their journeys, telling me things and I got to sift through what I believed in, what I didn’t believe. But I was listening. I was acquiring that knowledge. I don’t always have an opinion, and that’s the part of peacemaking, when you’re constantly jumping to conclusions without all the data, you’re constantly, stubbornly clinging to what you believe is fact. Even when different facts are presented to you, with that type of rigid personality, it’s very hard to progress, and it’s very hard to build peace because the more that you’re segregating people and telling them how different they are and how horrible one side is and how great the other side is, all you’re doing is limiting truth and you’re you’re not allowing the person you disagree with to ever progress in their own journey. So hopefully, I will be remembered as a peacemaker. You can’t make everyone happy all the time, but at least that’s my ambition, and I think that’s what I was doing even at nine years old with my animal rights. I was trying to build peace even back then. I think that’s been the theme of my life.”

I want to thank Renee for taking some time from her busy schedule to sit down with me and be interviewed, and I want to thank you, the reader for taking some time from your busy schedule to read this first installment of Thrive To Survive through to the end! without you, none of this is possible! Thank you all again, and until next time, take care, much love and may God richly bless!

-Jon

WE ARE THE DREAMERS

I remember the exact moment I realized I had matured into a responsible adult. It was the day something didn’t go the way I wanted it to and instead of saying, “why is this happening to me”, I thought, “what did I do to create this outcome”. Somehow, life became easier after this revelation!

Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle in my life I did not create and I can not fix. Scleroderma is the beast I can not outsmart or outrun. It’s there, it’ll always be there. Every once in a while, I just want to curl up in a ball and shut out the entire world. But then I get discouraged and angry that I’m wasting precious time. The older I get, the more I realize how every minute matters. I don’t want to curl up in a ball, close my eyes and wake up having missed years of my life.

The lesson I’ve learned from being chronically ill is that everything matters. My lust for normalcy is insatiable. I want to get up, shower, drink coffee, whine about going to work, drive to work while bitching about traffic, survive my day to come home, make dinner and whine about doing it all again tomorrow. But my reality leaves no time for normal things.

On top of the desire to find balance in a world made for the healthy, I also want to do everything, see everything, meet everyone, and I want to experience all of the goodness in the world. Again, my reality leaves little time for all of these things. I can not tell you how many people have told me to “just do it”, go on that trip, and do all the things my heart is set on, while I still can. But I’m here to tell you that not everyone has the financial means or the health to be that person on TikTok traveling the world crossing things off their bucket list. I’m not hating, I say do all the things if you have the means. It’s just not possible for a majority of the disabled community. Whether it be a physical or mental disability, we live day by day with constantly changing medical needs and paycheck to paycheck trying to pay for those needs. We barely have time to write a bucket list, never-mind live it!

The other side of this is the people who, with negative intentions, have told me to shrink my dreams, to accept I’ll never have a normal life and move on, to adjust my life plans, and to just give in to my new reality. I’ve even had people tell me to just stop fighting the inevitable. What the…This one is probably the most painful and infuriating. When someone says this, I hear, “You’re inconveniencing my life and I need you to just be a good little patient”.

If you get nothing else from this blog, please read this and burn it in your brain. When we dream it’s with some semblance that these things are possible. Hope gets us through our darkest days. It drives us to push & never give up. Possibilities, goals, small triumphs, and even the hard work it takes to see a dream come true, are all burned as fuel to carry on. We savor the thought that the pain may end, that tomorrow will be better, that a cure may be found, and that our dreams will come true. Please don’t take that from us.

Yes, having a permanent and incurable illness means you will have to learn to navigate all the changes and hindrances that come with the diagnosis. But it does not leave a person less intelligent, damaged, incapable, irrelevant, unable to make their own choices, less worthy of friendship or love, and they, sure as hell, are not weak. An illness doesn’t make someone less of a friend. It doesn’t make them less fun or leave them not needing fun & excitement in their life. It doesn’t make them a burden, and it is not a free pass to steal their passions, hopes, and dreams.

I will not climb into my bed and be a good little patient. Sorry if this inconveniences some people & makes “their” life more difficult. But we all have the choice to be in someone’s life or not and love should be unconditional. If you see me as a burden, find a better patient, it’s not me. Unless you have a degree and can put Dr. before your name, I am not your patient. Do not cast shade on my hope. It would be better if you just walked away. It would be your loss. Because I am a fierce & loyal friend and you will never find a more welcoming & loving group than my circle.

Lucky for me, I’m a stubborn bitch who loves learning, life & people. I will not cower, I will not succumb, I will not have my life stolen by Scleroderma. Even on a bad day, I will accomplish something. Sometimes it’s a huge thing & sometimes it’s small. But to me it’s everything. I’ll continue to visit loved ones, make people smile, create, talk, study, practice, help others, make new friends, dream, hope, love, laugh, and fight until I take my last breath. I will not let the lack of money, resources, or bad health keep me from dreaming about doing all the things I want to do in this world. Will I do it all? Probably not. Will I die trying? Absolutely! 

Here’s to the warriors and all who know your worth and willingly step out into the world and share your journey. Keep hoping, fighting, surviving, and thriving, for we are the dreamers & we will not let anyone take that from us.

A WELL-SPENT LIFE

Death is a part of life. There is no way we can avoid it, the best we can do is take the steps necessary to postpone it, in the right circumstances. And no matter how we may view it, it nevertheless hits us hard in at least some aspects, whether we care to admit it or not. But for a death to hit us hard means that the person who shed the mortal coil left their mark on us. They may have encouraged us or showed us love, been a bright shining light to us in the darkness, gave us advice on how to best move forward through a tough situation, or just was there for us through mountaintops and valley floors alike. It could be someone you never met in person, someone you saw every day, or even someone you only met once years ago. Their memory and legacy will live on through the lives they touched. And maybe, they will have encouraged you to live your fullest and best life, to take the bad and the good with a smile on your face, and showed you a pathway forward in your own journey.




Earthly angels come in all shapes and sizes, backgrounds and walks of life. Some have had to scale mountains and swim oceans to get to us. Some just seemed to appear right out of the ether. Some came to us when we cried out for help. Some knew we needed a listening ear and a guiding hand long before we ourselves did. Some of them taught us that, even in the most ragged, tattered parts of our lives, there is still a silver lining, there are still reasons to smile. Some of them showed us that hurt is not the end-all-be-all, that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel, and some of them blessed us with how they did it, how they overcame and thrived, and how we could take their wisdom and apply it to our own lives. Some of them we knew only as folk heroes. Some of them we had the fortune of rubbing elbows with, or sharing stages with, or trading conversation with over a cup of coffee and a sandwich, or a cold pint of beer.

Most of all, these people showed us how to live a well-spent life. Not every part of it will be red and rosy. There will be storms with hail and wind and worse, trying to destroy the flower garden of peace inside of us all. There will be times where the road is rough. There will be times where the best maps cannot guide us. But with the blessing of those people’s presence in our lives, we can understand how to carry on and lace up our bootstraps and pull ourselves out of the muck and the mire, and continue onward toward daylight again. They pushed us to write that book, or record that album, or paint that picture, or express that love or affection. They showed us how to be ourselves, loudly, proudly, unashamedly and wholly. And if they are still in our midst, they will continue to spread their seeds wherever they go in this world. And if they have left this life for the next one, we can still admire what they’ve grown, and take comfort in the shade, color or beauty of what they planted, both in their own lives, and in the lives in which we live.

I hope this blog finds you well, and in the comments, please highlight someone who showed you these tips and tricks.

Wholeheartedly,

-Jon



This blog is dedicated to the life and memory of William Orten Carlton, aka Ort.

INTRODUCTION

Hello! Welcome to Thrive To Survive! This is a special side-project that will tie into Just Another Badass Warrior, a blog & interview series taking a look at how folks have overcome the various obstacles presented in their lives, whether they be physical or mental. Your host, Jon Phipps, will take an in-depth look into the stories of those he interviews, while also finding out the pathways to the light at the end of the tunnel for his guests, while seeking the same for himself. May you derive hope, inspiration and clarity from this blog!

I CHOOSE

My body has spent the last 2 decades trying to break me. Every day it takes something else away. I didn’t think there was much left to take away. I was wrong.

My job is to stay alive until the medicine & research catch up.

I put in a lot of effort to live. I know that sounds foreign to anyone healthy, but it’s true. Every day with a chronic illness is spent staying alive. My body throws one obstacle after another in my path. In November, I learned that it will take multiple procedures to save my teeth & jaw. It’s been difficult to process this & gather the strength to face it head-on. Then Covid hit me like the sky was falling. I was so sick and my first oral surgery had to be canceled.

At the same time, my meds & treatments caught up to me & I started losing my hair. Within a very short time, we had to cut it, & eventually shave it completely. I know it’ll grow back, but damn, enough is enough. It’s not vanity that leads someone to the breaking point when they lose their hair. It’s another choice stolen, by illness. It may seem silly but yes, losing the ability to choose your hairstyle is a big deal. I was still very sick at this point, with Covid & we ended up postponing our holiday festivities. Losing my hair at the same time was extra cruel. It was one more kick in the gut from an ugly disease. 

A few days later, my quarantine ended and I went for my routine labs. My rheumatologist called later in the day, to tell me that I needed to stop one of my medications immediately. I was on the verge of liver failure. What are the chances that out of all my medications & treatments, I’d need to stop the one medication that made a huge difference in my quality of life? I reluctantly stopped it after speaking to my doctor. In just a few weeks, I’ve noticed negative changes in my body. I’m hoping my labs improve and I can resume the medication soon. 

So here I am my teeth & jaw at risk, with a bald head, and on the verge of liver failure, still trying to schedule time with family for Christmas. Yet, I am still not letting my physical problems terrorize my peace. I was feeling pretty positive earlier this week when I went for my normal urology tests and follow-up. Easy peasy routine visit. I should’ve known better. If you follow my blog you know that my urologist has wanted to put in a permanent catheter port for my bladder. I fought it as long as I could. Last year I agreed to do it, but I never scheduled the surgery. Now I have no choice it has to be done soon. I will have my mic-key port in my stomach & now I’ll have a catheter port in my bladder. Having one of these ports is difficult, but two ports on top of everything else is overwhelming.

I’m not sure how anyone else would handle all of this, but it pisses me off. I refuse to give in to my body. Unfortunately, my body continues to fight back. One would think this would break me, but they’d be wrong. I get frustrated and angry, then I fight even harder. I refuse to feel defeated. I get one damn life, this is it, I have to live with what I’ve been given! When you’re living with an incurable disease your only goal is to stop progression & maintain your quality of life. Just because your disease can’t be cured doesn’t mean you can’t live a full life. I focus on the things I love, the joy in the world & the positive possibilities of what the future might bring. I want a long happy life just like everyone else. None of us know when death will take us. That is a fact we all live with until our last breath.

I’m nothing special. I don’t do all these things because I’m strong or courageous. I do these things because I HAVE NO CHOICE. I do them or I die. I’m not alone in this lifestyle. It is with mixed emotions I watch several people close to me go through similar trials. It’s heartbreaking to know they’re suffering, but there’s something comforting in knowing I’m not alone. Someone else gets “it”. 

If you’re in a health battle my advice is to build your team, your circle, your tribe whatever you choose to call it, a strong support system is imperative. I’m so grateful to have family, friends & a medical team who are there working side by side with me. They carry me when I haven’t the energy, they push me when I’m unsure I can give anymore, & they let me be when I need time to process all of it, they are never out of reach. My tribe doesn’t judge me, I can laugh or cry and they’ll be there. They aren’t afraid to give me a kick in the ass when I need a reality check or if my pity party has gone on too long. 

I know my body will continue to fight me with every minute of my life. It better be prepared because I do not back down, I do not give up & no matter how many battles I lose, I will continue to fight. I will fight for every minute I can get. I’m always saying, I’m going to live to be 124yo. Stay tuned to see how close I get 😉

Despite it all, I refuse to bow out, give in, or become miserable. As my good friend TC says, “I choose awesome!”

I choose to be happy. I choose to survive.

I choose!

LEARNING TO SMILE ALL OVER AGAIN

Happy New Year, one & all! I hope that 2023 has gotten off to a wonderful start for you! Most of us tend to make resolutions when the new year rolls around, some of them minute in stature, others towering over us like skyscrapers. Some are easier to adhere to and follow than others, but all of them carries weight in our lives, no matter how large or small they may be. We all want to see in-person that friend we made over the pandemic, or to go to that city, state or country we’ve always wanted to go to, or to dye our hair that color that would catch everyone’s eye. But what if we did something in the new year that cost nothing, did not require a gym membership or association admission, or did not even require approval from others?

What if we learned to smile again?

2022 was a hard year for a lot of us. Whether it came from events in the noisy news cycle, or events that happened in our own personal lives, or events that happened to others close to us in our lives, 2022 was a very draining and taxing year. Mental and emotional hardships. The projects or opportunities that just slipped through our fingers. The loss of a loved one or a beloved pet. 2022 threw plenty of ways to snatch our happiness and joy at us, and in some cases, it did steal those precious things away. To say nothing of what the last 3 years has done to the world as a whole, with the pandemic considered.

But what if I told you that we’re on a mission to get those things back?

A big resolution for 2023 is to learn how to smile again. 2023 is the year that happiness grows and re-re-regrows in our lives. With the sureness of a rose in the springtime, we will all find our way back to happiness this year. This is your call to manifest it! Cultivate your soul and make it into a garden of peace, love, joy and great happiness! Planting season in just around the corner in our lives; take advantage! This is the perfect time to rid ourselves of the reeds and weeds that was the happenings in 2022; in 2023, we will strive to toss the bad news and the noisy news and the discord and disaster and dissent into the wastebasket, and hold our heads high and look forward with clear eyes to the future! The future is eight months pregnant, and tomorrow has ALWAYS been better than today! Optimism, self-love, self-care, taking bold but calculated chances, speaking out, reaching out and loving others more will take root and flower in our lives in 2023. Gone will be the choking vines and weeds and invasive species of self-doubt, abandoning ourselves and our needs, timidness, fear, people-pleasing, attachments, conformation and self-flagellation. 2023 is our year, brothers and sisters. Let’s grab this thing by the horns and make it ours and MANIFEST all that we deserve!

I hope this blog finds you well, and in the comments, please list some ways you aim at keeping to our resolution of learning to smile again!

As always, take care, much love and may God richly bless

-Jon


RIDGES & VALLEYS

As 2022 draws to a close, I catch myself reflecting back on the year that was in this wild ride we call life. And it much resembles my beloved Appalachian Mountains: Lots of ridges, but a whole lot of valleys as well. Creatively, I summited several ridges, and was able to drink in the views from them. I was able to do things this year that most could only dream of doing. I got to interview several people I look up to across many aspects, I got to organize virtual festivals and fundraisers to help out several dear friends, I got to be witness to and have directing abilities over many wonderful, inspirational, eye-opening and moving shows this year. I scored one-third of my all-time front page selections on the poetry site I frequent this year, and furthermore submitted one of my poems for publication in an actual hard-copy book.

Outside of the creative realm, I was able to spend more time with beloved friends this year, including helping one move to this wonderful Tar Heel State. I also got to visit places I had not been to since I was a child, namely Nashville and surrounding environs. I got to attend multiple racing events this year at an array of historic tracks here in North Carolina, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hickory Speedway and the famed North Wilkesboro Speedway. I was able to find deeper love, meaning, kindness and care in the friendships I have already cultivated, and was able also to make several new friendships this year, both in my personal life and in my life online. I was also able to find several online communities that catered to the things I love, like auto racing, radio & television history, true crime and more! And not to mention, I finally found a new feline friend in Vidalia!



But also in the span of this 365-page book we called 2022, I fell to the valley floor several times. I let emotions and feelings get in my way on multiple occasions, which led to many worry-filled & sleepless nights this year, as my mind played out wildly unrealistic scenarios and events. I let the “red mist” overcome me on several occasions, and it resulted in me becoming a hassle to work with, and in some cases to be friends with. I found myself unable to take my foot off the throttle and give myself a break & a chance to get my head in a proper place, which resulted in me very nearly ending my life back in August. I lashed out at friends and co-creators when they didn’t deserve it, and when the situation I was mired in was nothing more than my mind feeding me lies and tall tales about those people. Above all, I put my own self on the back burner for the sake of those around me in my life. I thought I could be the knight in shining armor, rushing in at the last instant to protect them from themselves, when all I was doing was tripping over my feet and faceplanting into the mud.

But after every valley floor comes another ridge to climb. I started therapy in November of this year, and I am very much looking forward to scaling this ridge in front of me, and to take in the sweet, unobstructed view from high atop it. It’s going to be a hell of a mountain to climb, but now being equipped with the right tools for such a task, I feel I can fly to the top of it, or better still, take that mountain and move it outright! With the help of great friends, a wonderful therapist, and readers like you, I can do no wrong in this ever-evolving journey ahead! Not every part of this leg of the journey will be easy, but I feel a lot more confident about than I did a year ago, a month ago, even just one minute ago! And I hope you all will stick with me on this journey ❤

I hope this blog finds you well, and in the comments, mention some of the ridges and valley you have experienced in the year 2022!

As always, take care, much love, and may God richly bless,

-Jon

THEN IT HIT OUR HOUSE

I challenged myself during the Mental Health Campaign to being more honest about my health journey. I’m holding myself to this commitment.

I love the holidays. It’s the perfect time to share smiles and lift others when life is weighing heavy on them. A chance to end the year with love & hope. I’m that person who decorates right after Thanksgiving. I send out hundreds of Christmas cards. I make dozens of random personal gifts for those who make my life better, in ways they may not even comprehend. I hide gifts around town & make baskets for the fire department, town hall, post office & animal shelter, to lift our communities spirit & say thank you. I pay attention all year & try to make or purchase gifts I know people want or need. But this year is kicking my ass & although I managed to get a few things done, it’s taking all I have. Every day I get slower & struggle more to get simple things completed. Christmas will look much different this year.

It’s the little victories that make me smile.

I’ve been going through it with my Scleroderma for the last few months. It’s raging again & it’s been difficult emotionally & physically. I’m undergoing treatments that come with side effects that amplify all of the negatives that come with a chronic illness. My jaw is destabilizing again and my teeth will take a lot of work to save. I’m losing my hair from the treatments & will soon have to just shave it off. The worst is knowing my brain fog has made me forgetful & I know I’ve let people down. It’s been damn hard. It wouldn’t be half as bad if my husband wasn’t battling health issues this year, as well. His doctors don’t want him working. They tell us he’s risking major damage to his body, and that one wrong move could be catastrophic. So we are sitting in a holding pattern financially. We sit at the mercy of his doctors deciding what surgery is next. He’s doing what he can to work, despite the warnings. Bills don’t care if you’re unhealthy.

Not everyone can afford to be sick.
That is just reality in America.

It’s one thing to be chronically ill & another thing to add in financial struggles. It’s astronomical the cost of survival. I’ve said it again & again, it does not matter how much you make, save or plan, we are all one illness away from financial disaster. On top of it all, this is one of the worst years for everyone financially. Heating, electricity, food, fuel, everything is more expensive right now & increasing regularly. Despite the negatives, we are fighting to have a great holiday & to share it with all we care about. Then it hit our house, Covid.

David tested positive first and was put on Covid meds the same day. We have to be aware and cautious of any lung or breathing issues with him. For those who don’t know he had lung cancer & a bacterial infection that resulted in the partial removal of one of his lungs. Both of his lungs have damage and it would be hard for his body to fight Covid if it settles in his lungs. I believe the meds are helping control his symptoms. He seems to be in a holding pattern, with no changes for the worse or better. He’s still battling but he’s remaining stable.

I tested positive late Friday night. Leave it to me to find out on the weekend and while there’s a major storm hitting us. I managed to get a hold of my doctor’s on-call service Saturday morning. It took hours and numerous calls back and forth between me, my PCP office, my doctor’s offices in Boston & the pharmacist. Finally, they had a plan. They called in some medications, changed the dosage on a few of my medications & held some of my regular medications. It was a whole process but I started the Covid meds Saturday night. I’m miserable. I’m trying to get up and move around as much as possible. It’s been a cycle of getting up and doing one or two small tasks & then I have to lie down again. My pain is maxed out & making it difficult to do the simplest things. I have slept more in the last few days than I have in decades. My normal nausea is increased, I’m experiencing excruciating muscle cramps & I feel like I have the worst cold, I’ve ever experienced. I’m hoping today improves with the medication. The doctors warned me that the side effects may be difficult and I may need to stop the medication.

I don’t know if Covid is ready.

Still, I carry on. Friday I did get some random gifts sent out to thank people who make me smile & I know don’t always get the appreciation they deserve. It took me all day yesterday, but I did get our tiny 4’ tree up & decorated. Today I will try and work on some gifts. It’s not looking like we will be having Christmas with our families on Christmas Eve as we planned. We realize we can not financially buy gifts right now, but we will make some amazing personalized gifts & bake some family favorites as soon as we test negative. We will not skip Christmas, just delay it if necessary to keep us all safe and strong.

I’m stubborn and refuse to change how I feel about the holidays and how I reflect on the end of another year. As usual, I will use my energy to make others smile. That will fuel my healing until I can find my smile again. So although we won’t be able to do all the things we normally do this time of year, we will still create a magical Christmas.

Today I may feel awful physically & under stress trying to figure out how we will pay for basic expenses & my treatments. But I continue to look forward to a healthier & prosperous New Year for everyone. I pray that Covid will not continue to be such a destructive force in the world. I will work hard to improve myself so I can bless others. I will continue to send smile mail & volunteer when I can. I will give freely my time & energy to those I care about & those who make me smile. Although I may be down hard right now, I choose to believe this too shall pass.

Happy holidays to all, for whatever holidays you celebrate. If you choose not to celebrate then happy end of the year! Be kind to yourself & others. In the worst of times there is always hope, love hard, & pray harder. I am so grateful for you & I love you ❤️

A WEDNESDAY IN APRIL

Those who have read my blogs may not know that I also am a poet. I have over 360 published pieces on AllPoetry, with nearly 50 of those being front page selections. On this day, I am dealing with drama within friend circles I am in. And rather than write a long, angsty blog for the millionth time, I decided this time to channel what I am feeling into a poem. This poem summarizes my feelings toward the matter, without saying it directly. In this poem, the title summarizes the wanting for peace, friendship, kindness and love to flourish; simply put, the wanting is a Wednesday in April.

“i wish for a wednesday afternoon
in the middle of april
cotton ball clouds, silver springs babbling

green leaves in the trees
birds standing shoulder to shoulder

on the telephone wire, singing
dogwoods and azaleas blooming

dandelions flying through the air
an apple orchard with shade enough

for a post sun-bathing nap
the hum of a passing car on highway 45

or a plane engine overhead
dogs barking, children giggling

the scents of pies in window sills
still-damp clothes hanging on the line

drying in the springtime
an orb weaver spider spinning a web

in a corner on the roof
a bottle of apple wine

and a pair of gold-rimmed glasses
for you & i
an old blanket and a hillside for cloud-gazing

kisses and embraces”

I hope this poem finds you well, and in the comments, tell me a bit about how you deal with drama.

As always, take care, much love, and may God richly bless,

-Jon

LIFE, HAPPINESS, AND THE WAY IT USED TO BE

On this Sunday evening that I am writing this to you, I decided to do a story reading on my personal Facebook page. Nothing out of the ordinary for me, as I have in recent weeks been doing an increased number of them, as I set about publishing a poetry or short story book of my own in the future. I elected to do a reading from a book I had gotten in the mail the day before, a book by Garrison Keillor called Lake Wobegon Days. I read a section of a story in the book called “Fall”, and went for just under an hour in the reading that I did. After I had closed the stream, I decided to take a look through the log of streams that I had done from the amount I have on the streaming platform I use. It is the same one I have used many times, in hosting shows and recording interviews, doing poetry reading or concerts, etc. And virtually thumbing through the stream log, I saw many things that I had did over the past 18+ months I had been using that platform. Many memories came back to me. And a twinge of sadness darkened my door once again.



I remembered back to those salad days of my virtual creative journey. How I thought I had the tiger by the tail. How I thought I was on the cusp of reeling in the interview, the one that would get my name out there, How I thought I was growing alongside my creative friends, not knowing the strain and worry, spats and darkness that would come in the future. And it made me wonder: Has it always been this way? Has this feeling been a cornerstone of my life?

As mentioned many times prior in my blogs, I’m always one to slink back to the past at times, to the way things used to be. In some part of my mind, I think that, if I go back to that point, I will find a little retreat of happiness, like a shelter or lean-to on a long trail, a tiny roadside chapel on a highway, or something similar. But I catch myself looking back at those places I go to in my mind, and I remember what I was going through during those times. And in many instances, I was absolutely not happy or satisfied or whatever in that period. I often find that I was in a less-amplified state of where I am currently; though the difference in then from now is, back then, I didn’t have as many aggravating factors in my life. I did not have commitments, meetings, shows, platonic and romantic feelings and terrors of creative failure………

…….But I damn sure paid no attention to the mental scars I bore that were weeping and festering, nor did I pay attention to the tornado-in-a-china-shop state of affairs in my heart, mind and soul, and how my happiness and peace of mind were in complete tatters, ragging in the breeze.

So were times ever really better? Or are these times in which we live really the good ol’ days?

It all boils down to perspective. One could easily look back at where I came from in my life and where I am now and say, ‘well, he was a lot better off in the past, if ignorance really is bliss.’ I could have kept putting off the inevitable and kept putting on a happy face and kept going out into the world, wearing my heart on my sleeve, and making cries for help that I thought at the time would go unanswered. I could have kept staying awake until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning stressing over factors and people that were many miles outside my control. I could have kept bottling everything up inside, and letting feelings and fears and emotions control my every move. I could have kept doing it.

But at this very moment, I have so many more tools than I had 10 years ago, 5 years ago or even just a single month ago. Yes, I may have a lot more things going on that amplifies what I go through on the inside, and I may have more eyeballs on me at every turn, and more people willing to spout off with a comment. But, at the same time, I have outlets to channel into when I feel down. I have a therapist I am seeing once weekly. Many of my friendships and creative partnerships are stronger and tighter than they’ve ever been. And I am starting to fall in love with the idea of living again. I am addressing what desperately needed to be said, and in turn, beginning to clean, dress and heal those wounds in my soul. While I may not have my mother in my life, I now have 10 ladies carrying her power and grace at any given time.

So in some ways, the traits of the old me served me well. But in a many myriad of different ways, the me of today is much stronger, with thicker skin, clearer eyes and sharper visions, and with renewed goals for tomorrow. And for that, I am grateful. ❤

I hope this blog finds you well, and in the comments, talk about how you’ve overcome obstacles in your past, and how you can focus on the good of the past!

As always, take care, much love and may God richly bless,

-Jon

JUST DON’T

It’s that moment in a social situation when things get awkward. When the person you’re talking to starts squirming & fumbling for words. They are struggling to keep the conversation going. That moment when people are at a loss for words. I realize my illness, my pain, my wheelchair & dozens of other chronic illness-related issues, I live with make “them” uncomfortable. If I’m being honest, saying the wrong thing happens a lot.

These are innocent, benign comments from people with no malicious intent. Many times they think it’s funny and yet they’re completely serious. Sometimes I can shrug it off or laugh it off. Other times, my bitch switch is flipped and it’s on. I’m ready to completely obliterate someone in anger and frustration. Faster than you would think, anger turns to frustration, and frustration turns to pain. Before you know it, I’m launching headfirst into the abyss that leads me down the dark road to depression.

“You’re so lucky you don’t have to work.”

“I wish I could stay home all day, like you.”

When you want to say it, just don’t.

I hear this often. Each time my mind’s eye suddenly sees my day in what it perceives, they think I do all day. There I am on a lavish sofa, the sun gleaming through the windows, making me appear like a starlet under the glow of the spotlight. I have snacks to the left of me, a controller to my right, and I’m snug in the middle with… Netflix. My dogs are at the table playing poker with their friends. My house is a magical place where dirt evaporates and items walk themselves back to where they belong. Once in a while, I glance up from the TV long enough to see my dishes take a bath and dry themselves with my self-cleaning dishcloths. All I do is think about dinner and bam! There it is, ready to serve itself when the time is right. The washing machine collects dirty laundry and bedding, proceeds to wash, dry, put it away, and make my bed. I’m like 5 episodes into my binge-watching by now. This fantasy vision is short-lived, and my brain brings me back to reality.

What they don’t think about is the fact that you can’t work because you can’t function. Your day is consumed with effort through pain, fatigue, and brain fog. There are meds to take, scripts to fill, doctor’s appointments, organizing all of this, and dozens of other equally not-fun medically related things that need to be done. They have not had to consider the implications of being unable to work for an extended period. How do you pay for your bills and healthcare, the isolation, your lack of relevancy in the world, and a multitude of other equally reasonable questions that rattle in your brain, echoing throughout your life?

I don’t work in a regular, scheduled, leave-my-home capacity because I’m unable to. I have physical limitations. I would give anything to be healthy enough to go back to work. I’m not on vacation.

The truth is, when you’re chronically ill, you spend most days just trying to stay alive. Prioritizing what has to get done & figuring out which filth you can live with for today. Because it’s not all getting cleaned. By the time most people arrive at work, your body has already begun to retaliate, to get you to retreat to your bed.

A lesson I’ve learned the hard way is that when someone living with a debilitating chronic illness shares their time with me, I must be very important to them. I know what sacrifices were made for them to give me space in their lives. Don’t depreciate their value. Appreciate every minute they give to you.

TO MY BEST FRIEND

To my best friend,

I am sincerely grateful for the gifts of your friendship, care, lovingkindness, patience, grace and encouragement. You and I have rode out many a dark time together in our time of friendship, but have had many beautiful days as well, and not a second of this would I trade. You love me when I can’t love myself. You offer me a torch when I am going through the dark wilderness of my mind, and a life raft when I am drowning in the oceans of emotions. You and your unique kind of full-service friendship is so welcome in my life, and to have had it now for two full years is a blessing wrapped in a miracle.

I know I’ve not been the easiest to deal with. I have fucked up many times. I have given you ten thousand reasons to leave me dry. We’ve clashed on many things. But you always take the high road, and are always willing to work things out and listen and hammer out a solution for those issues. I am so grateful you have a long fuse with me, and your patience is worth its weight in gold. I know I worry a lot about you, and I know you wish I wouldn’t worry so much, but you are my dearest friend, my closest confidant and one of the most valuable assets in my life. To win the friendship of someone like you is to catch lightning in a bottle, and I will forever cherish this.

I am so thankful to have a creative partner like you in my life! We’ve done so much together, and have both climbed and moved mountains together! I cannot wait to see what the future holds for us creatively, whether it be in music, television, poetry or book writing, or even something beyond those! I am so proud of you and us and the work that we have done together and apart, but the best is yet to come! Memory lane is in the headlights, and I cannot wait to experience it all with you! Thank you for taking a chance on me over a year and a half ago, and trusting and encouraging me in these endeavors. I hope I’ve been a good leader, and have set a good example for all ❤

Without you, I wouldn’t have so many things. I wouldn’t have been able to create an online network with a wide-ranging variety of programs. I wouldn’t have been able to find the courage to send a writing of mine off for publication. I wouldn’t have been able to find my voice as a musician and songwriter. I wouldn’t have took the time to re-sharpen my skills as a poet. I wouldn’t know all the wonderful people I have come to know over the last two years. I am blessed beyond any possible explanation. You came into my life and completely changed it for the better, and more than that, you have helped me change and grow, and have helped me heal and move past the scars that I thought would define me. You are a saving grace.

I am so thankful you hold my hand when times get rough. I’ve been through so many changes over the past weeks and months, and it’s been hell. But you have stayed by my side through it all. Even though you don’t experience the things I go through, I so love, admire, respect and cherish your willingness to learn, to offer help, and just to be my shoulder to cry on. And I pray I’ve been this for you, when you face challenges and hurdles in your own life. I am so grateful we have experienced both the ridges and the valleys together.

My dearest friend, you are red-on-a-rose beautiful, sharp as a tack, strong as steel and sweet as love. I’ve seen you overcome so many things, and don’t think for one minute that I’ve not been watching! You are leading me and showing me how to overcome the hurdles that appear in my own life, and I would be forever lost if not for your guidance. You wield great power inside you, and to watch you harness it and use it for the greater good is so wonderful, so beautiful, so inspiring and so amazing. You are changing, touching and molding so many lives right now, and your impact will be measured in terms of decades and centuries. I will forever be so proud and so blessed to know you, and to have you as my best and closest friend ❤

To Renee, you are my sunshine, and you are an angel. I am so thankful for our friendship, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for the both of us, as friends and creative partners! Thank you for taking me under your wing and teaching me so much. You are the best, and I love you ❤

I hope this blog finds you well, and in the comments, please talk about your best friend on this side of life!

As always, take care, much love, and may God richly bless,

-Jon

TAKE INVENTORY

I may be an enigma. If I am, I’m ok with being odd-woman out.

I do not play with drama. I will not listen to gossip. When it comes to love I’m all in. My integrity means more to me than anything. My reputation is so far down on the list of things that matter. Giving first is a compulsion. I trust until given a reason not to. I’m not afraid of confrontation. As a friend, I’m all in. I choose kindness, honesty, love, & peace.

I have a few sayings that if you know me, you’ve heard.

~“Don’t waste your minutes.” Life is short we are only given so many minutes, don’t waste them.

~“Make good choices.” We all have choices. Don’t let anyone make them for you. Remember all choices come with consequences so put thought into them. Once you’ve made a choice, own it. If it was the wrong choice, learn from it, make amends, & move on.

~“Protect your peace.” Set strong boundaries. Do not bend them for anyone. Personal peace is as vital as breathing when it comes to quality of life.

I don’t try to fix people or their problems. I support them, love them, but allow them the space to fall. All of life’s stumbles teach us how to be better. I won’t take the chances to learn away from others & I do not let them take them from me. I’ll handle my business & be grateful for loved ones support.

This time of year we all start taking inventory of our lives. Checking in with ourselves, what we like, what needs work, what we can leave behind, what we need moving forward, etc… We seek out & celebrate our blessings, reminisce about those we’ve lost, & make an effort to express our gratitude to those still here. I always try and do this all year. But life is busy & messy. I’m grateful we have this time to remind us to focus on what is important & to contemplate changes that may be needed.

Kindness doesn’t have a season. It’s so simple. Start with being kind to yourself & it’ll grow. It’s so much better than growing the gossip grapevine.

WAKE UP IN MY SHOES

Wake up in my shoes.

I slept. It wasn’t long, probably less than an hour. But I slept. As I awaken, I thank God for another day. Now comes the worst part of my entire day.

My eyes open, not fully, just enough to let a sliver of light in. My morning is seen through the sandman’s sleepy seed remains, in the corner of my eyes. I contemplate opening them further. I’m not yet ready.

I’ve talked before about that first step. It brings me excruciating pain & remains the most difficult step, I’ll take all day. I lie in my bed for a long time slowly talking myself into getting up. I’m finally ready, I’m full of dread and drag my legs to the side of the bed. I sit there and again give myself a pep talk. I set my first foot on the floor, then my second. I feel around to get my feet in my slippers. I sit awhile and then push myself up onto my feet. I’m standing. I did it.

There it is, my morning kick start…pain. It starts in my feet and crawls up my legs into my back and ends at the base of my skull. It feels like every bone, muscle, tendon, nerve, every single fiber of my existence is on fire. I’m in my head screaming, this will end, this will end, this WILL end! It takes me a minute to refocus on the task at hand & I eventually take that first step. Other steps follow and over about an hour the pain subsides.

Here’s the thing, my pain tolerance is high. I’ve endured nagging, lingering pain for over a decade with this disease. My pain level holds at around seven all day, every day. The pain of those first steps is so far beyond measurable on the pain scale, it’s impossible to convey. Starting my day is physically & mentally exhausting.

I go to bed every night knowing I will play this whole scenario out again for all of my tomorrows. Here’s the miracle in this story. Every day I’ve been lucky enough to wake up. So far I have a perfect record for taking that first step. I’ve managed to survive the pain 100% of the time. I have a full & happy life. It’s just more challenging than it used to be & some days I have to surrender & let pain win. But the next day I take that first step again.

I know that many of you can relate in some way to this post. You’re not alone, I’m proud of you & never forget the amount of strength that first step takes. You slay dragons before your feet even hit the floor & that is badass. Carry on Warrior.

IN THIS VERY MOMENT, EVERYTHING IS OK

Many times in our lives, especially this time of the year, we often catch ourselves hung up on all that has transpired over the last year, or looking ahead to what may be coming in the new year. We may fret over projects we have completed, or a job opportunity that passed us by, or deadlines and commitments. I am not above this, either. Quite frequently over recent days and weeks, I have found myself worrying over friendships, partnerships, when to commence recording music, when to start writing my first poetry book, plus starting therapy soon, getting my ducks in a row for a potential move in the new year, taking care of my new feline friend Vidalia, amid many other things. It can get to be a slog. Until seven words cross my mind. Seven words that immediately put my mind at ease. Seven words that is a saying, one that my dear friend and musical co-creator Kim Ware taught me to abide by:

In this very moment, everything is OK.

I will repeat: In this very moment, everything is OK.

These seven words have become a big help to me lately. It helps me center and focus on the now, instead of worrying about what I should have said or done in the past, or worrying about what the future might hold. I can apply these seven simple words to heart and use it to see the good that is around me at this time: I have a cat for the first time in over two years. I am starting therapy, the first part of a brave, new leg of my journey. I have confirmation that a poem of mine will be published in a physical book. I have a head full of creative ideas. In this moment, I am listening to a podcast and doing something I love doing, blog-writing.

In this very moment, everything is OK.

Never has seven words been so freeing to me like these seven are. Anxiety has always been a bear for me to whip, and so too FOMO, the fear of missing out. But these things cloud my view of life, and as a result, it makes me not see the trees for the woods. Taking in the good around me, the glory in front of me, the sights of my dearest friends, co-conspirators and creatives stepping up to the plate and crushing home runs in their endeavors-and the fact that I’m here to watch it and cheer them on!!! It’s a blessed, refreshing and welcome feeling. Too long I have spent in the midst of fear, uncertainty, the hungry, biting wolverines of my yesterdays and the grim, brooding specters of tomorrows.

I’m alive.

I am six feet above the ground.

I am surrounded by some of the best people a man could ever ask for.

Is every day red and rosy? Not by any stretch of the imagination, but by taking in the good and filtering out the bad in my life, I can see that today isn’t so bad. Nor is it fleeting and forgettable. Every day that I wake up and see the sunrise is a blank canvas, my opportunity to make a masterpiece out of it. And I intend to create many, many masterpieces in my time. ❤

I hope this blog finds you well, and in the comments, tell me about something positive that happened to you today, and how you savor the little moments of your day!

As always, take care, much love, and may God richly bless,

-Jon


THE REALITY WE KNOW NO LONGER EXISTS

As may be the case with some of you reading this blog post today, I am a sucker for the past, the way things used to be. Many nights, I find myself drifting off to sleep listening to old radio airchecks, or an album from decades ago, or even episodes of old dramas from an era gone by. To say nothing of the old sports highlights I cherish, the various pieces of memorabilia from the past I have collected, the classic cars I gawk at when I see them, and the beautiful sound of old guitars. Ditto for friendships, relationships, talks had in the past, some with complete strangers. The reality of the past is a safety blanket, and can be very useful in moderation. But as quickly as those warm, nostalgic feelings settle in over me, a cold chill flashes up my spine and puts the freeze on my mind. And riding on the frosty wave is a realization:

The reality we know no longer exists.

In the hustle and bustle of living in today’s realm, it is awfully tempting to pull off the path and look back. It’s so easy to take a turn down Memory Lane and reminisce about the way things used to be. But if you’re not careful, especially if you are an empath, you can quickly find yourself entangled in and being choked by the vines of yesterday. We will always savor a fragrance, a kiss, a hug, a touch, or sweet conversation. We will always cling to the memories of that one house or apartment, the way the light shone through the trees in a friend’s backyard, long and aimless road trips under the stars, even the sound of a new-strung guitar or the first taste of wine. Memories can be boons, but they can also be banes in our lives, hassling us, making us yearn for a situation or environment, friendship or relationship we’ve since grown out of, but still one we feel comfortable in, if for no other reason than it’s all that we knew at the time.

In my case, I have many attachments to the past. Some of these are healthy and warming, such as memories of where I was for certain sports moments, my first time visiting places, the first time I wrote a song on the guitar, etc. But still, there remains many attachments to the past that drain me and serve me no purpose other than to weight me down, such as seeing friends and loved ones suffering, thoughts of romantic relationships that never played out or blew up in my face, finding things out about friends and partners you once held close to you and in high regard, missed opportunities, no matter how small or large they may be. As much as the past comforts me, it also haunts me with its ragged whispers and icy fingers at times.



While I cannot claim to have an end-all-be-all solution to breaking those attachments and moving on, some of the things I have tried includes talking it out to someone, whether it be to a therapist, close friends, etc. Better still, if you are attached to someone from your past or even someone in your present, talk it out with them. Being honest with them and about how you are feeling can be as rewarding and healing as being honest with your own self in regard to the situation. Additionally, expunge the bad, dark memories from your mind about someone or a past situation or environment. If these revolve around a friend, lover or family member, remember the bright times you had with them, the laughs and smiles you shared, the places you went, and the time well spent. If they revolve around a situation or environment you left, turn those feelings into congratulations to yourself, for escaping that place and landing yourself in a new place that encourages your growth, healing and prosperity.

I hope this blog finds you well, and in the comments on this blog, feel free to share tips or tricks you have at dissolving attachments and adapting to the reality/realities of today!

As always, take care, much love and may God richly bless!

-Jon


NANCY PHIPPS: IN MEMORIAM

Nancy Benge Phipps. That name may not mean much to you, but that name will forever warm my heart and set my spine in a block of ice. That name belongs to the lady who brought me into this world, soon to be 26 years ago. She is my mother, and I am forever grateful. On the day I write this blog, she would have been turning 63 years young. She is the first one who shaped me, molded me, inspired me and taught me. She was my rock, if only briefly in my life. Below, I will tell you mom’s story, and I will tell you about five very special women in my life who carry on mom’s legacy in their journeys and what they do, and I will close this blog with a letter, written not by me, but by a son or daughter to their mother, under the auspices of better late than never.

November 6, 1959 was when her journey started, under less than ideal circumstances. Mom was the product of her mother, my granny, being raped, when she was just 15 years old. Her arrival into this world could have easily not happened. And in another realm or time or place, it may not have happened. But November 6, 1959, it did. Back against the wall, from birth. But nobody could back Nancy Phipps into a corner, for damn sure. Mom grew up as most children in rural northwestern North Carolina did in the 1960s and 1970s: Without adequate means, but she always made do with what she had, and always was able to pull a lot out of a little. That was and still is the way of many in the High Country of North Carolina. She was an excellent student in her school days, receiving high marks and higher praise by those she had as teachers. I still have a couple of her notebooks, many pages covered in meticulous notes.

Mom’s first job out of high school was at the Bantam Chef, one of the many greasy spoons in the little town of Jefferson, North Carolina, where her and I were born. It was here that she first caught the attention of my father, and a relationship began. May 28, 1982, the relationship culminated in a marriage that lasted to the day mom left this life for the next one. After several years of trying, on November 25, 1996, yours truly was born. It was I that first gave mom that very badge. And blessed I was, coming under her tutelage and care, and likewise my brother Evan, who came along a little over two years later, on December 28, 1998. Mom gave her all and at least 110% more to the both of us. She loved u with her entire heart, and did her level best to protect us best she could from the world and what all it can and will throw at you. And she did this to perfection. Even when the bottom dropped out.

In 2001, on a date that I don’t remember and honestly don’t care to remember, mom sat us down and broke the news to myself and Evan: She had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and that she could die as a result. I hugged her neck like I never had. I cried harder that day than I ever had. It was at the age of 4 or 5 that I first caught a glimpse of what mom was trying to protect myself and Evan from: The harsh reality of life, one of the millions of them dealt to each of us in time. Over the next 3 years, I saw sights and felt feelings no small child or grown adult should ever have to see or experience.

The sight of mom pinned to the couch, not having the energy to do so much as move.

The sight of mom and dad fighting, and getting her getting hit by the man you viewed as your father.

The sight of mom ordering, getting mailed and trying on various wigs, as her beautiful hair slowly but surely fell out due to chemo.

The sight of mom lying in a hospital bed, unable sometimes to keep her eyes open, as every morsel of energy got ripped out of her over time.

The sight of the many face masks and hospital wrist bands, demented souvenirs of the many trips to Boone hospital.

And the sight of a school full of eyes looking at me, when mom’s valiant battle ended.

February 18, 2004. A Wednesday. I remember waking up that morning to the sight of some men in suits setting up a small table in the living room. They were from the funeral home. On the small table was a book, for visitors to sign their names. They told me that mom had lost her battle with ovarian cancer. I refused to believe it. And maybe in some twisted, circuitous way, I still don’t believe it. But whether or not I decided to dwell in fantasyland, the cold reality was that my rock was gone. It did not crumble. Nancy Phipps did not crumble under those unique and hellish pressures. But it left me. The bottom dropped out from under my feet. At 7 years old, my world went dark and forever changed.

I spent several months afterward just trying to make it make sense that she was gone. I swore up and down this wasn’t real. I do not remember mom’s funeral or when we buried her. In a reverse way, I am glad that the waters of time eroded those memories away. But I remember the feelings. The moments. Hearing certain songs on the radio. Clinging to the memories of her I did have. The smells of fresh bread baking, something she loved to do. Taking comfort in friends in and their parents, including Angie Salmons, the mother of my friend Kierra, who took me and Evan in as if she were one of her own, even though she herself was deep in the throws of her own valiant battle against breast cancer. Remembering rides in the red 1994 Oldsmobile we had. Her taking me to the grocery store with her, and thinking the Lowe’s Foods in our town was so expansive. It looked like a skyscraper inside and out, to my child mind. Remembering how mom loved to watch NASCAR races on television, and how she loathed listening to them on the radio. The quilts she loved to knit. The food she made, that she aced every time, without fail. Hugging her. Telling her I loved her. How I wish I could do it all, just one more time. 44 years young. It wasn’t fair, and it isn’t fair now. But it is life. And mom would want me to move on. And I have. Or I’d like to think I have, even though the battle scars I bear from that time period may never fully heal. The milestones me and Evan have reached and will reach…….they are sweet, but also tainted with the bitter taste of knowing she isn’t present for them, and never will be. Me and Ev graduating. Evan getting married. Me publishing my first poetry book and putting out my first album. But the memories live on. And somewhere, some way, somehow, she is there. Even if we cannot see her, she is there.

I may not have her valiance and love and care in a physical form, but I for sure see it in those around me. In six ladies in particular, I see it. Six bright, razor sharp and valiant ladies in their own right. Each carries a piece of what mom embodied, and it is because of this that I gravitated toward them.

The first of these valiant ladies is my best friend, Renee Yaworsky. I first befriended Renee the day after my 24th birthday, in November of 2020. I right away noticed that the beauty of her heart and spirit matched exactly that of mom’s. This would only become exemplified, as I found out about the health struggles Renee so bravely fought and is currently fighting. I saw in Renee’s soul that it carried 10 pounds of mom’s strength and bravery in a 2 pound sack. My jaw was on the floor, and a tear was in my eye when Renee told me her story, as it so closely paralleled my own. I couldn’t believe it. It was as if I was looking into a mirror, and I was seeing mom’s reflection. I gravitated toward Renee, and it connected even more when I found out Renee so loves to wear wigs, or hair-hats as she calls them! Mom courageously rocked the wigs she owned, and I am sure she would have smiled had she seen Renee’s collection of them. From the valiance grew a friendship, which has become a close friendship, and a working, creative partnership, which has so enriched me.

To Renee, I thank you for carrying mom’s torch with such dignity and courage and respect, and for being my light on a dark corner. ❤

The next of these incredible ladies is one of the co-founders of this very site, Em Farwell. Em I came to know through Renee, after we had brought her aboard to help us in Cosmos Creative TV, the wide-spanning array of digital programming Re and I put together. I very quickly noticed how Em ran things: Tight and concise, just as mom had been in the doings in her own life. Like Renee, I soon found out about the various health battles Em faces on the daily, and how she is fighting and overcoming them. After I told my story, Em quickly took me under her wing, and made me one of her own. It’s as if God and mom each put a hand on her shoulders and guided her toward me. With Em’s encouragement, love and support, I am now charting a course to helping heal a lot of the wounds that I received in those times when I was lost in that deep, dark jungle, and was unsure of how and when I was going to get out.

To Em, I thank you for showing me a path forward, and for teaching me that it’s OK to not be OK, and for holding my feet to the fire. ❤



The next of these shining, sparkling souls is Diane Marie Coll. Diane is someone I met through Kimono My House, a virtual concert group on Facebook. As wonderful a singer, songwriter, comedienne and show host as she is, she is also a wonderful therapist, and a close and cherished confidant. When the bottom fell out for me mentally over the summer, Diane was one of the first to pick up the broken pieces of my soul and rearrange them into something presentable again. She loved me at a point when I could not, would not love myself. And moreso than that, she presented me with options and resources, and was firm but kind in her insistence that I seek help, after many years of brushing it off. And am I ever glad I listened. It was Diane’s holding me accountable and spearheading the necessary changes that got me started down the path to self-betterment, and I cannot wait to take those first big leaps!

To Diane, I thank you for being part drill sergeant and part cheerleader, and for encouraging me to see things in a completely different light. ❤

Th next of these clear, powerful voices is Sandie Dee. Sandie is another person I met via an online concert group on Facebook, this one being Socially Distant Fest. There have been few who have encouraged me and waved the pom-poms and drove the hype train for me quite like Sandie has. What she has been as a supporter, she also has been for my best interests. Sandie is a persistent, driving force in my life, and is always looking out for me and wanting what’s best for me. She’s a splitting image of mom in this regard, and I am forever grateful for this. Like Em, she has taken me in as one of her own, and although Sandie and I butt heads from time to time, it’s always from a place of love, kindness and wanting. Sandie has been there for me for so long, and her kindness and support has been greatly encouraged.

To Sandie, I thank you for always being here, and for making sure I am taken care of. ❤

The next of these human roses is Corrie Lynn Green. Corrie is another one I came to know from Socially Distant Fest, and to chronicle her journey is to have it run parallel with mom’s. Like mom, she valiantly fought cancer, in her case breast cancer. And like mom, she fought this awful disease tooth and nail. And Corrie Lynn whipped that bear. And she decided to sing out in joy. Corrie has just released an album of music from my beloved Appalachia, and like mom, Corrie loves to sing, and her voice fills me with joy. Mom would be so proud of Corrie and how she has fought and continues to fight for others, even though her battle is won. Precious is the souls who can continue to shout and advocate for those who are fighting cancer in place of mom, and Corrie’s is one I hold in the uppermost echelon of my being.

To Corrie Lynn, thank you for being a voice to those fighting, and for encouraging me to find my own, in the Blue Ridge hills. ❤

To conclude this tribute to those in my life who carry mom’s legacy, I will honor my friend Jaime Bennett. Jaime is someone I came to know a little later down the pike, though also from Socially Distant Fest. I had the pleasure and honor of directing Jaime’s show called The Warrior Within, and in that show, Jaime would always touch on a topic that was near and dear to her heart. In directing these episodes, and hearing her tell stories of things almost unimaginable happening to her over her life, it made me cry to know that she had fought many of the same battles mom had fought in her time. While Jaime’s battles align a lot with ones I have fought in my own life, it drew me that much closer to Jaime to see the battles of mom’s that she has fought, and all of them so fiercely and valiantly.

To Jaime, thank you for showing me that my battles are valid, and that I can indeed talk them out without fear of judgement. ❤

In closing, I will include a letter. This letter was not of my own hand, but is influenced by me. It is a variation of a letter that Paul Harvey read on a Father’s Day broadcast many years ago, and one that I changed slightly to be from the point of view of a son or daughter writing to their mother. The letter reads as follows:

Dear Mom,

I am writing this to you, even though you have been dead for 30 years. Whether you can read these lines, perhaps you can read my thoughts, but there is still some things I need to say, even if it’s too late.

Now that my own hair is gray, I remember how yours got that way. I was such an ass, mom……..Foolishly believing in my own teenage wisdom, when I know now I would have benefitted most from the calm, right, wholesome wisdom of yours.

Most of all, now that I have children of my own, I want to confess my greatest sin against you, the feeling I had, for which you did not understand. Though when I look back now, I know that you did understand. You understood me better than I did my own self……How patient you were, and how futile your efforts to get close to me, to win my confidence, to be my guardian angel were. I wouldn’t let you. I simply wouldn’t let you. What was it that held me aloof? I’m not sure, but despite my best efforts, my own children had to build the same wall between them and I. And there’s no way I can climb over it or go through it, and what a shame, what a waste.

I wish you were here now, across this table from me. There’d be no wall now. We’d both understand, now. And God, mom, how I do love you, and how I dearly wish I could be your companion again. Well…….maybe that day isn’t far off. I’m guessing you’ll be there, waiting to take me by the hand and lead me up the further slope. I’ll put in the first thousand years or so, making you realize that not one pang of yearning, not one morsel of thought, not one second of worry you spent on me was wasted, it all came back, and it all paid off eventually.

I know that the richest, most priceless thing on earth and one of the least understood things is that mighty love and tenderness and that everlasting craving to help that a mother feel toward her little ones. But none of her children can realize this until the roles are reversed. Even now, mom, I’m tired, weak and longing, and would hasten to join up there in the Great Beyond, except for my children…….They’re all fine, sweet, caring and upstanding young ones, all very capable, self-sufficient, highly talented and loving toward all. But, mom, I reckon I’ll stand by a little longer, to help them along, and to watch them shoot for the moon and land among the stars, and to be there for them, if they ever need me. You understand.

Signed,

Your loving child

I hope this blog finds you well, and in the comments, please feel free to share memories of your own mother, whether she is still with us or not.

Take care, much love, and may God richly bless,

-Jon

WHERE THE END AND THE BEGINNING MEET

Milepost 264.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in my beloved North Carolina will find you at The Lump Overlook, one of 195 scenic overlooks on the 469 mile Blue Ridge Parkway. Following a short trail up the hill, you can see for miles into the picturesque Yadkin Valley region. A plaque telling about Tom Dula (Tom Dooley) stands at the trailhead at the bottom of the hill. Wooden fences lines the hill and adds to the charm of the area. Beyond the hill, there is a narrow paved walkway, offering travelers and tourists a second opportunity to peer into the Carolina foothills. The scenery is lush and green in the spring, and alight with many colors in the fall. It is a place where snapshots are taken, and memories are made.

And for me, it is the place where I nearly ended my life.

In August of this year, I hit absolute rock bottom mentally. I have touched on this in previous blogs, but have never fully dove into it. I found myself to be completely frayed in my personal life, and in my work/creative life. I found myself constantly worrying and obsessing over everyone and everything in my circle. Even in doing things I enjoy, I still found myself straddled by the weight of anxiety, of uncertainty, of FOMO, the fear of missing out. It was completely wrecking my life. Being an empath, it can be very hard to tame your care for others down when you need to. And in my case, these feelings were like kudzu, covering every fiber of my being in a thick layer of choking anxiety vines and leafy panic. But I kept ignoring it. And ignoring it. And ignoring it. I kept lying to myself, saying I things under control, when it was gnawing-no, eating-at me, from the feet up.

Many times, I had visited The Lump Overlook in rides on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I remember vividly the view, and how sharp the drop-off was from the aforementioned narrow paved walkway down into the chasm beneath me. I had my mind made up. I was going to free myself from these feelings, emotions, worries, panics and fears by jumping from the overlook into the valley below. I didn’t care how long the fall would be, nor what I may or may not hit as this body cascaded into the valley below. I knew I’d had enough. I had reached the end of my rope. A running start and a leap into the valley from the overlook was going to be the solution to all of my problems, so I thought. But little did I know, a new beginning was about to meet my planned end.

I confessed my intentions to a handful of close friends, even going as far to admit I had begged and pleaded my own brother to drive me to the overlook, so I could carry out what was to be my final wish. Shocked and terrified they must have been, but judgmental and critical, they were not. They sat me down and identified what had caused this to build up, things I had wholeheartedly ignored. The stresses, the worries, the anxieties, the fear of not being present, the pressures of making sure everything ran correctly, and that everyone was appeased, both within the group and outside of it. They made a map of progress for me to follow, with careful and concise instructions going forward. And at times, it’s been damn hard to follow. Even now, I get that wrenching feeling in my gut that I should be present, I should have my sleeves rolled up and that I should be getting my hands dirty in the online network we are running. But I know that, if I was insistent, I’d just find myself right back at where I was, and I would have erased every shred of the progress I have made.

Instead, I take those wrenching feelings and tun them into knocking on doors, looking into options for mental health services, emailing potential therapists, and airing out these wrenching feelings to that same close knit group of dear friends. And apart from that, I am channeling those feelings elsewhere, into writing poetry and short stories, and in recent days, even going as far as submitting one of my poems for publication in a physical, hard-copy book! And I’m always looking forward to the future……..some of my early goals for the next year is to find a solid therapist, to visit some more dear friends, to write and publish a full book of my own poetry, and to take some of my music ideas and get them recorded, with the hopes of having at least an EP of my songs released by the end of 2023! Many bright things await me, and it all came when my end and my beginning met, at milepost 264.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway ❤

I hope this blog finds you well, and in the comments, talk a bit about how you’ve overcome those feelings of anxiety, the fear of missing out, suicidal thoughts, etc. Your feelings and stories are valid, and well welcomed and cherished!

As always, thank you all for taking some time to read this blog! Take care, much love, and may God richly bless

-Jon

P.S.-Special thank yous to Renee Yaworsky, Diane Coll, Sandie Ingrande and Just Another Badass Warrior co-founder Em Farwell for taking me into their arms and helping me chart a course toward a better and brighter future for myself. Without their care and love and kindness, I do not know where I would be. Thank you ladies, from the very bottom of my heart. ❤ ❤ ❤

NOISY NEWS, PASSIONS AND GIVING PRECEDENCE TO HEART, MIND & SOUL

On the day I am writing this, I am currently visiting with a friend in the wonderful city of Statesville, North Carolina. The last few days away have been a much-needed retreat from the real world, but I woke up this Monday morning to the awful news that more violent attacks are ongoing in Ukraine. My heart was in my throat, knowing the people I know that are touched deeply by the ongoing war in that country. To say nothing of those who are deeply affected by news stories that may not be front page headlines every day, but are nonetheless topics folks invest a lot in, ranging from self to state to world. And it made me wonder: At what point do our hearts, minds and souls take precedence over the 24 hour noisy news cycle? At what point do these three things take precedence over things we have deep passions for? Can a happy medium be reached?



I know this is a slippery slope, especially in the times in which we live. The 24 hour news cycle is a hard thing to get out of once caught in it. Couple that with the social media boom, and the fact that anyone can say anything about anything, and you find yourself in a draining, depleting mindset. And that’s just with news stories. What about things we are fiery and passionate about, thing that may not make the headlines routinely, or may not even make the news at all? It’s good to have that drive, that passion, but I believe a healthy dose of moderation is also required, so we don’t find ourselves in the whale’s stomach time and again. After all, it is the testing time once again with humanity. We stand at the precipice of today, with the golden horizons of tomorrow within sight. But storm clouds and lightning bolts lie between us and that, and to traverse these metaphorical storms, we must be well prepared for what lie ahead.

The legendary Paul Harvey once said about the seemingly never-ending news cycle: “Noise makes news. One gunshot makes more noise than a thousand prayers. And we will continue to be attracted to it, so long as the fire which burns others warms us.” And this statement I couldn’t agree with more. The human race has such an obscene fascination with bad news. But I also understand where that fascination may be coming from. We may be broke out with woe and worry and discord and disaster in our own lives, but if we see the news about a village in Ukraine being decimated, or about an athlete with a broken leg or torn muscle, or about stock market numbers plunging, or a small town somewhere getting blown off the map by a tornado or hurricane, we can all feel relatively comfortable in our own lives and positions. We can see the misfortunes of others and say to ourselves, “well, at least I’m not as bad off as those people!” But before you do this, please stop and ask yourself the following questions:

1) Is this the way to be?

2) Is it right to make light of the splinters in someone else’s eye, when we have logs sticking out of ours?

3) Is it right to mock and ridicule others’ situations, just because we’re tired of facing our own, or not wanting to face our own?

4) Is it OK for us to bury ourselves in other’s despair or worry or anxiety?

5) Is it OK to substitute what I’m going through with what someone else is going through?

If your answer is no to any of these, I advise you look deep inside yourself and take an inventory of your mind, heart and soul. I used to be one of those who would find some twisted level of comfort in the pain of others. Then I found myself following the news cycle 24/7, and finding that the happenings of the world were replacing my own needs and low points in my life. Every little breaking story would send shockwaves through my being. I found myself losing sleep at night over everything. Someone else’s bad news was something I would revel in. I had to divorce myself from the noisy news cycle before it completely enveloped me. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was a first step in setting boundaries in my own life. And the great thing is, it’s never too late to set those boundaries in your life!

If you feel the fire in your belly by the news stories that impact you, a good place to start would be donating to a worthy cause tied to said news stories, ranging from a local food bank to medical donation websites to storm relief. Spreading the word about notable causes tied to news stories is a much better way of channeling the fire inside one’s self. Another way is to volunteer, if you are able to. So many charitable causes are short-staffed in these trying times, and every helping hand is welcomed. Detoxing from the social media cycle is also highly beneficiary. Try and limit yourself to checking the news cycle just once a day, but if you struggle with that, slowly decrease your time spent on news sites or watching various 24/7 news channels, until the number dwindles downward all the time. And if you find yourself getting caught up in the rat race of the cycles, take a step back and a deep breath, and remind yourself of the positive. Take a look at what’s around you. Go for a long walk. Read, write, listen to music or take a nap. Remember that misfortune for one does not necessarily equal fortune for another. We are all in this boat together, and we must look after one another, if we are to make this work.

I hope this blog finds you well, and in the comments, please feel free to share tips you use for pulling yourself out of the news cycle and into brighter, better mindsets!

As always, take care, much love and may God richly bless,

-Jon

Just Another Badass Warrior