Will J. J.

Day-to-day musings and occasional short stories for your delight.


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Forward and Back: A Short Story

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Today, I want to share a short story with you guys, one I’ve been holding onto for quite a while. Of all the short stories I’ve written over the past ten years, this is the one I’m most proud of, and it’s about time travel.

Time travel is one of my favorite topics, because it presents so many fascinating paradoxes and puzzles. For a science fiction writer, it’s less about “could it work?” and more about “how would it work?” Even within time travel, it’s easy to get caught in the abstract, and that doesn’t always make for compelling stories. This particular idea was so striking to me, because it tapped into a place of humanity and yearning, and it uses time travel to explore that question further than it could otherwise.

So, why hold onto it until now? I’ve written a great many short stories in the past ten years, and a lot of them will be seen by my eyes only, for one reason or another, but this one is special. It demands to be seen. After giving it some thought, I decided that it was time to share this story. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

 

Forward and Back

 

     Hello, my dear friend. You don’t know me, at least not yet, but you are the closest friend I’ve ever had. Let me introduce myself; my name is Julie Thorne. It’s nice to meet you too. If you were watching me write this letter, you would think that I was a 65-year-old woman, and you would be half right. I certainly feel like an old woman, and when I look at myself, I realize that I am an old woman. It’s just that I don’t look nearly as old as I feel. If you are a young man or woman reading this, I bow to you. You have so much of your life left ahead of you, but then again, perhaps I do too.

     I apologize, I’m not doing a good job of starting this. The truth is, it has gotten difficult to keep the story straight in my head, but I’ll do my best to tell it. The beginning is easy. I was 17 and bubbly, excited to finish high school and step into another adventure. My boyfriend Eric was the sweetest guy, always my chivalrous knight. Neither of us were particularly ambitious, but we were happy. With college approaching, neither of us knew where we were headed, but we both thought we’d figure out a way to be together somehow.

     It was a Friday. The one day I can never forget. I had stopped at Freddy’s diner after school for a quick bite, waiting for Eric to meet me. The entire restaurant was designed to pattern a 50’s diner, and the owners went to great pains to echo every decoration, from the checkered floors to the leather upholstery. Even the waitresses wore those awkwardly bright uniforms.

     It had been a long week. My best friend Jennifer and I had gotten into a fight over some trivial nonsense, and things had escalated because we were both too stubborn to admit we were wrong. Jennifer was a sweetheart, and I had known her since we were both little girls, so we knew each other a little too well by that age. I hadn’t seen Eric all week, and with everything going on, I really just needed one of his hugs.

     The waitress came by and took my order, putting on the brightest smile she could muster. I commended her effort. As she walked back toward the kitchen, I heard a crunch as her foot stepped on something. She didn’t break stride, but I was oddly curious, so I looked over the table and noticed a small, silver key lying on the tile floor. Stepping around the table, I picked up the key and twirled it in my fingertips. One side was blank, but on the other was an inscription that read “temp”. I didn’t think much of the key, but it seemed like a quirky, little item, and I was into knick-knacks like that back then. I was about to ask if someone had lost a key, but no one else in the diner seemed to notice, so I stuffed the key in my pocket with a smile.

     Not a moment later, Eric surprised me from behind with a “boo” and a tickle. He knew I hated that, but I was so happy to see him that I didn’t mind. I spun around and grabbed the hug I had so desperately needed. We sat down and I dove into my tale of the week, and Eric listened intently with that glistening smile he always had when we were together. I miss him so much.

     Eric drove me home and gave me the warmest departing kiss. Back in my room, I plopped down on my bed, decompressing at last. I thought about going out, but I was pretty tired, and some Netflix binging with a warm cup of tea sounded better. Slipping into my pajamas, I remembered the key in my pocket. It seemed so plain, like a house key from the Home Depot, aside from the inscription. I wondered who had lost it and what it unlocked. Running my fingers slowly over the letters, I found myself mouthing them. “Temp”, I whispered involuntarily.

     The moment the word escaped my lips, I felt lightheaded, and my vision became cloudy with specks of purple. Something was very wrong. Inside, I was frightened, but my body wasn’t responding to me anymore. I tried to reach for my phone, but before I could, I felt flat on my bed, completely unconscious.

     Gradually, I came to. My eyes parted, and I looked down groggily at the key in my hand. Something was off, but I couldn’t place it. Suddenly, I heard a “boo” at my back and two hands tickling my sides. I was so disoriented that I jumped forward in alarm.

     “What’s wrong?” Eric asked, alarmed and concerned. As I peered around, it hit me: I was back in the diner. The waitress was detailing my order to the chef. A middle-aged man with a hunch sat in the corner booth, slurping his soup. We Are The Champions was playing from the jukebox. My table was clean, because my food had not arrived yet.

     “Are you alright?” Eric asked softly. I must have looked insane, staring wildly from side to side, wide-eyed and antsy. It took a few more seconds for me to calm myself. I grabbed Eric in a tight hug, this time for an entirely different reason.

     “I’m okay. Just a little spooked,” I told him, forcing a smile and trying to laugh it off. I didn’t know how to explain what had happened, so I didn’t try. Eric sat me down with my hands in his. He picked up on my discontent, but he didn’t press me.

     “How was your week?” I told him about everything that had transpired with Jennifer, and we ate our dinner, but it was different. I was on edge. The conversation went in another direction. On the drive home, I stared out the window, preoccupied. At my house, I rather coldly told him goodbye and rushed up to my front door. It didn’t seem possible that what I had experienced was real. No, I must have had a dream or a premonition or something, except that it felt real. I had to know.

     Back in my room, I set the key on my desk and turned the lamp on to get a closer look. Again, a blank front side with the word “temp” inscribed on the back. I noticed a few harsh scratches along the edge, but nothing that gave any clue to its origin. It was just another house key. I scooted my desk chair back and stood up with the key in my hand. It must have been a dream, right? Somehow I knew it wasn’t that simple, and it seemed foolish, but I was afraid. Part of me wanted to toss the key in a drawer and forget about it, but I also knew that I’d never be able to forget. Looking down at the key, I slowly uttered the word “temp” once again. The same dizzy, lightheaded sensation washed over me, and I passed out on my bed.

     Waking up, I was back in the diner with the key in my hand. Eric yelled “boo” and squeezed my sides once again. It is a uniquely surreal experience reliving the exact same moment. Though everything around you may be precisely identical, you never see it quite the same way. Any surprise quickly fades. You start to notice the details you hadn’t before. A white Volkswagen passing up the street just after we sat down. A young boy in a booth, pouting as his parents tried to feed him.

     I sat down with Eric for a third time and had yet another, completely different conversation. While I could not explain the situation, I did not doubt its authenticity. I was no longer afraid, but intrigued. I already knew the questions he was going to ask and the thoughts running through his mind. Midway through our meal, I clutched the key in my hand and whispered, “temp”.

     “What?” Eric asked, a puzzled expression washing over his face just as my vision faded to black and I was reset once again to the moment I picked up the key. Waking up, I smiled. It was like a game where I could save and reload anytime I wanted. I started playing out different scenarios at the diner, seeing what kind of reactions I could elicit from Eric. Poor guy, he was my unwilling guinea pig. I’d play up a sullen mood to see if he really cared or act super surprised about something that I knew he had already told me a million times. Occasionally, I’d try and get him to admit that he was cheating on me. God, I was so insecure with myself then.

     When I grew bored with Eric, I started toying with the diner. I found that if I scooted my chair back, the loud squeak alerted the man in the corner, and he raised his head. If I went to the restroom, the waitress took longer to bring my food. For a time, there was nothing more exciting to me than seeing what I could change in that little world. I felt like a god, and the diner was like play doh in my hands. Between the uncertainty of college and my relationship with Eric, all I wanted was something I could control. My mind ran wild with ideas, and I saw no reason to restrain them. I couldn’t say how long I spent playing in that diner, but I’m embarrassed to think that it might have been months, though perhaps no “real” time at all. I retained all the memories from every reset as if they were separate realities coexisting within my mind.

     Eventually, I grew tired with the diner. It was so limited. Rather than resetting myself every few minutes, I started spending an hour at a time, then a day. This yielded even more fascinating results. Good lord, I sound like a twisted scientist saying it like that, don’t I? But it’s true. I’d spend my Saturday heading as far away from home as possible before resetting myself and exploring the other direction. Everything, even the minutest observation, became a noteworthy puzzle piece in my mind. I wish I could say that I had altruistic motives at heart, but truthfully, I just liked seeing my changes at work. Then one day came the wake up call.

     I was driving to the store with my mom, staring out the window, when I heard screeching tires. Whirling around, I barely caught a glimpse of the truck before it careened into us, sending our car flying upside down. When I woke up, I was upside down, with the blood rushing to my head. My mom was unconscious in the driver’s seat. A fire had started under the hood and was spreading. I felt a pounding in my head, and when I reached up at my forehead, I realized that I was bleeding, badly. Just as I struggled to free myself of the seatbelt, I noticed the lights from another car headed right for us. Quietly, I slipped my bruised hand into my pocket and grabbed the key, whispering the magic word. The car slammed into our side just as my consciousness slipped.

     When I was reset back to the diner, I awoke with a shudder. Suddenly, it had all become more real. I was not immortal, and I had to be careful. Additionally, while my body was reset to its 17-year-old self each time, my mind was not. The combined time of all my reset timelines was adding up to full years now, and my memories were beginning to scramble together. I had trouble keeping my current reality separate from all the previous threads, and each morning I woke, it became harder and harder to make sense of it all. I was done playing scientist, and I knew that I couldn’t keep resetting myself every day or two. After some thought, I resolved never to reset myself again, but this was a difficult promise to keep. They key had become an addiction, always lingering in the back of my mind.

     I managed to go four days into that life, the furthest I had ever traveled since finding the key. Those days were peaceful, not free, but content. I relaxed with my family on the weekend, trying my best to reacquaint myself with them as people and not test subjects. On Monday, I went to school for the first time in years, and I was alarmingly rusty. My classmates asked if something was wrong, but they had no clue how much I had experienced in that single weekend. On Wednesday morning, I was walking up the street, when I noticed my neighbor’s newspaper lying on his driveway. I wasn’t in the habit of reading the paper, and I’m not certain what drew my eye, but the headline read “Former CEO Dead” with a picture of the former executive below.

     The picture seemed oddly familiar, but it took me a few moments to realize why. When it finally hit me, I stepped back in shock. The man in the picture was the middle-aged man from the corner booth at the diner, the one who always sat there, eating his soup in silence. I sped through the article. The man’s name was Richard Stevenson, and he had been the CEO of a fortune 500 manufacturing company that went under several months prior. He had left a note apologizing to all of his former employees before throwing himself out the window of his 30th floor loft downtown.

     I was stunned. I had seen the man in that diner hundreds of times, and yet, until the moment I read that article, I had never thought to ask who he was or why he had eaten there. I stood in my neighbor’s driveway thinking back upon every expression I had seen on the man’s face, and it dawned on me just how dispirited he had seemed sitting in that corner. I knew I had to go back, even though I didn’t want to. I felt like it was my fault, or at least my responsibility, and I needed to save this man. I had found the key for a reason, right? It couldn’t be a coincidence. And yet, I had been doing so well. I reminded myself of all the days I had spent toying with the people in that diner, and my guilt won over. I pulled the key out of my pocket and reset myself once again.

     My eyes parted, and Eric appeared from behind me. I greeted him mindlessly, muscle memory of a thousand identical experiences guiding me. After our meal, I walked over to the corner booth. Mr. Stevenson looked up at me. He had bags under his eyes. I knew from the newspaper that he still had millions of dollars despite his company’s collapse, but in that diner, on that day, he had chosen to wear a ratty jacket with holes and a black t-shirt.

     “Is this seat taken?” I asked. He shook his head and returned to his soup. I sat down and clumsily asked him how he had been. I couldn’t tell him just how sad I knew he was, but I could express an interest and provide a listening ear if he wanted to share. After a few minutes of uncomfortable prodding, he opened up, and I could tell that no one had cared to listen to him for a very long time. Talking to Richard Stevenson in the diner that evening, I changed the course of his life. I felt accomplished, but more than that, I felt that I had repaid this man a debt he never knew I owed.

     The following Wednesday, I passed by my neighbor’s house once again. I kneeled down to look at their newspaper hesitantly, hoping I had saved this man. Replacing the headline about Stevenson’s death was a story about a missing girl. I optimistically unfolded the paper and read on, but when I had finished the story, my heart sank. The missing girl was none other than my best friend Jennifer Gray. She had never made it home from volleyball practice the night before. I thought back on the silly argument we had gotten into before I found the key, and it all felt incredibly distant.

     I was furious to the point of tears. I had gone back and saved a man, but somehow, because I talked to Mr. Stevenson that night in the diner, my best friend had gone missing. The connection made no sense to me. It wasn’t fair. I was too stubborn to accept the truth of the matter at that point, so I reset myself again, and again, and again, each time determined to save Mr. Stevenson and prevent Jennifer’s disappearance within the same reality. The only time I managed to achieve both, a young boy was shot instead. Where within the diner I had felt like a god, I was powerless to provide balance outside of it. I felt exhausted and disheartened. I can’t even remember now which reality I left things on when I stopped trying to save them.

     Next came a phase of apathy that grew into acceptance. I reset myself to the diner with the intention of merely living my life straight through once again, and this time, nothing was going to pull me back. I must have been at least 30 years old inside of a 17 year old body then, and it was beginning to become torturous, reliving the same days over and over. All I wanted was to move forward with my life. Even if my body would never catch up with my mind, I figured the gap would no longer matter at some point.

     I managed to go 11 years without touching the key. Looking back, I’m awfully proud of those years, to go from days to over a decade cold turkey like that. In those years, I went to college and eventually married Eric. He entered a career as an engineer and I worked as a journalist. We had two children, a boy named Tommy and a girl named Elizabeth. We were happy. Oh how I miss that.

     One evening, I was washing the dishes and scolding Tommy when the phone rang. Eric was late coming home, so I expected it to be him telling me about a long day or a terrible traffic. I wiped my hands and answered the phone without bothering to check the caller, but I quickly realized it wasn’t Eric. On the other end of the line was a doctor at Southeastern General Hospital. Eric had been mugged and left for dead at the door of his car, and he was in the hospital, not expected to survive the night. I threw up on the spot.

     Grabbing Tommy and Elizabeth, I told them to get their shoes on as fast as possible.

     “What’s going on mom?” Elizabeth asked me.

     I yelled from the master bedroom. “We have to go sweetheart, I’ll explain in the car. Please, just put your shoes on.” I slid a box out from the closet and took out the key. It was the first time I had thought of the key in years.

     Standing in the hospital, my children cried their eyes out as they said goodbye to their father, his body hardly recognizable under the tubes and bandages. I was heartbroken and inconsolable. Tears streaming down my cheek, I twirled the key in my fingers as an idea popped into my head. I thought that maybe, just maybe, if I could go back, I could keep him alive. I knew that I would be resetting myself all the way to the diner 11 years ago, but I was emotional and irrational, and I couldn’t bear the thought of going through the rest of my life without him. I wasn’t ready to bear the pain I knew was coming, so my desperation won out. I told myself that I could do everything exactly the same as I had this time around and change the path a few days before his mugging to keep him alive. I was wrong.

     11 years is an interesting amount of time. It is not a lifetime, but it can easily feel like one. In my despair, I underestimated just how torturous it would be to know what was coming for such a long period of time. I just wanted time to speed up so I could get back to my children’s smiling faces, but I was trapped years before their existence. Every day and every moment dragged on for an eternity.

     To make matters worse, I wasn’t able to stay on my previous path. With so much knowledge of the future, all of my surprised reactions were faked. Even if I had been a better actor, I doubt my memory would have been up to the task of replicating every single action perfectly for 11 years. It was just too long, and the smallest changes make such a massive impact down the line. After two years, I was so far off course that I knew I couldn’t return to the future that had been my past. I wept for Tommy and Elizabeth, because I knew they would never again exist. The agony I had felt in the hospital room was nothing compared with my regret at going back.

     Only three years into this reality, Eric broke up with me. I couldn’t blame him either. I had been a shell of a person. I hated myself for a time after that, knowing that I had created my own undoing, but then I asked myself whether I would have been happy after Eric’s death anyway. Those kinds of questions can easily lead to madness.

     You already know what happened next. I went back again, determined to live my life free of any resets, but I was unable to break free. In one life I married a fisherman and moved to Malaysia. In another I became a high-powered stockbroker. A homeless old maid. A revolutionary. A computer programmer. An oncologist. I learned so many skills that I could have done anything. Each time, I thought that I would be able to let go and live free of the key, but I always committed some crucial error that I felt compelled to correct or I discovered something I thought I needed to fix. Without fail, there was always another reason to go back, even when I told myself there could never be another reason. The temptation in that ability was simply too great. The key became the ultimate addiction for me, and knowing that I could go back provided me with an everlasting source of misery.

     I’ve had more children than I can remember. I don’t know if they exist, or if they once did, or if they never did. I don’t know much of anything anymore, but here is what I do know. My name is Julie Thorne, and my body is 65 years old. This is the furthest I have ever gone without resetting myself. My husband was named Mark Robinson, and he died of lung cancer two years ago. We had three kids, John, Maria, and Hope, who are all grown up and have carved lives for themselves out of this universe. I feel bad leaving them, but I know there is one more thing I have to do.

     I’ve spent almost my entire life reliving my life. I’ve gone through anything you can possibly imagine, certainly more than I could imagine. I feel old. Going forward and back so many times has left me weary and drained. I don’t know if I have it in me to do this, but I have to try.

     You see, after my husband died two years ago, I began to think about the key once again. It occurred to me that I have never discovered why that key was on the diner floor in the first place. Perhaps it’s not a question I am meant to answer, only question, and as I’ve grown older, that idea has sat better and better with me. I am no longer the oblivious 17-year-old I was then. The thought of experimenting with reality no longer seems appealing. After all, what is the point of having all the time in the world if you don’t have anyone to share it with?

     In all my trips back to that moment, there is only one action I have neglected to take, and that is leaving the key where I found it on the diner floor. I know that if I do this, I will never be able to reset myself again, and I will be forced to live with any choice and every mistake I make. Considering everything I have done, that seems more like a blessing than a curse, to be finally able to live like a normal person free of this damned temptation. I only hope that I have not ruined myself, that I still have the spirit in me to live a life.

     So, you may be wondering, why did I choose to write this at all? I have decided to reset myself one final time, and that probably means that this letter will cease to exist because I will no longer be here to have written it. However, I don’t claim to understand how time works, and should this letter somehow manage to survive after I have gone, I wanted someone to know who I was and that I lived. Because of the unique nature of my lives, I have never had a witness to my existence, and I’ve never been able to explain to someone exactly what I’ve gone through. I’ve never had a friend like you.

     I’m holding this key in my wrinkled, arthritic fingers, knowing that when I say the word, I’ll be back at the diner where I spent so much of my life. And when I arrive, I’ll drop that key to the floor where I found it and spin around to surprise Eric just as he sneaks up on me. We’ll share burgers and laugh about teenage nonsense, because we’ll both be teenagers again. When we’re both done, Eric will hold the diner door open for me on the way out, and as I pass through the doorway, I’ll take one parting glance at the key before stepping out into the cool, spring air of that moment, feeling it for the last time, but enjoying it at last.

 


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My 24th Birthday

 

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Ever since I can remember, a large portion of my identity has been my willingness to introspect, but recently, I’ve found it difficult to find the time. Soon after publishing Darkness Reflected, I started a new job as a Software Engineer, and between work and traveling for the holidays, things have been incredibly hectic. Sometimes, you don’t have time to stop and look around, you just have to keep going. That’s what life has felt like for me these past couple of months, like I’m flying, rocketing far faster than I intended, but I don’t dare stop.

 

That’s how it came to be that, for the first time in my life, my birthday has snuck up on me this year. Today, I am 24 years old, an age that carries no particular significance for me, but signals that I am no longer in my early 20s but instead my mid-20s. Yay! Or, nay? Again, not sure what the significance should be, but as someone who counted each and every single day for 10 full years, I see it this way:

 

Some people take age very seriously, and others say it’s only a number. I see years simply as landmarks in time, something to attach significance to through its context. Some landmarks are more important than others, and the importance changes as you age. When you’re a kid, every year seems to make a huge difference, but when you get older, you may not think about your age as much until you hit another decade of life. There is a reason that people lose track of their age after a certain age. Relevant milestones become fewer and further between.

 

I’m also starting to understand what people mean when they say that time goes faster the older you get. Today, I am 24. It feels like just yesterday I was turning 23, and 25 will no doubt come faster than 24 did. That’s why I find introspection so important. There’s no way (that I know of) to slow down or turn back time, so documenting our thoughts, feelings, and dreams in the moment we’re living is the only real way to time travel. It provides the closest alternative to speaking with our former selves.

 

Time is a funny thing. When you’re heading forward, each day feels so minute, but when you look back at yourself in years past, you realize just how much has transpired between then and now. Every year, I realize that I’ve changed more in the previous year than I thought I would, and this year is no different. 23 was the best year yet for me, but I have a feeling that 24 bears even greater experiences. I’ve learned a great deal about myself in the past two years, both my strengths and weaknesses, and my motto this year is simply “go after it”. I feel like I’m adulting harder than ever, and I’m quite proud of that fact. I’m thankful for the incredible people and adventures that have changed my life over the past few years, because without them, I would be lost.

 

I’m sure that I will look back on this post as I look back on previous posts, with fondness and with a slight shake of the head as I think “if only I knew.” I’m perfectly content with that. Today is my birthday, and it’s time to celebrate 🙂


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The End Of The Ten Year Bet

Day 3652

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What is ten years? Ten years is two presidential elections, two leap years, two summer Olympics, and two winter Olympics. Ten years is ten Thanksgivings, ten Halloweens, and ten New Year’s celebrations. Ten years is 3652 days. Ten years ago today, when I was in eighth grade and thirteen years old, I made a bet with my cousin David.

For context, here is what the world was like ten years ago: George W. Bush was president. The first iPhone was still two years away. MySpace was the dominant social networking site. You could rent a DVD at Blockbuster. AIM was a part of life. Hurricane Katrina hit. YouTube was founded. Lance Armstrong won his seventh Tour de France. “Hollaback Girl” was the most downloaded song of the year. The sixth Harry Potter book was released, while the fourth Harry Potter movie came out. Among all of this, I made a simple bet.

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At the time, I loved Mountain Dew, so much that I had upwards of four cans a day. David challenged me to go ten years without drinking a single soda, because he didn’t think I could do it. The wager? $5. Why stop at carbonated drinks, I asked, and soon caffeinated beverages were thrown in as well.

The bet began as a stubborn crusade. David had challenged me, and I wanted to beat him. I was thirteen, and ten years was a laughably absurd time span for a bet. I still remember those first days so clearly, when I craved a Mountain Dew more than anything in the world. It didn’t seem possible that I could make it ten years, so early on, I wasn’t aiming for ten years, merely the day I was living. At first, it was all about beating David. He and I were three years apart, but fiercely competitive, and as much as I wanted a soda, I hated losing to David more. In truth, that’s as simple as it was at the start.

Slowly, imperceptibly slowly, the bet became something more. As days turned into months, and months turned to years, it stopped being about David, and it was all about proving to myself that I could. One day at a time, I kept myself in check, and no matter how much I wanted a soda, I refrained. The longer I went, the more I had invested. Soon, I was drinking only water, milk, and juice. What began as a stubborn challenge became a quest of willpower that changed me.

Over the past ten years, I went from being a kid in middle school to an adult in the working world. The bet was by no means my driving force, but it has been perhaps the only constant in my life between then and now. Frankly, I’m a bit sad the bet is coming to an end. In some ways, it has been a shield, and in others, an identity. I’ve been telling people about this bet for ten years, and thousands of people have heard about it. It’s the kind of story that makes for easy conversation at parties and social gatherings. Still, despite the longevity of this bet, it remains a story of individual days, one by one.

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Shortly after the first year, I bought a Dilbert, page-a-day calendar, the kind where you rip off each day individually. Seems silly, but with a bet over ten years, you need some way to congratulate yourself for the little victories. I started writing the number of days it had been since I drank a soda on each page of the calendar, and when I’d tear off every page, it served as a reminder of how far I’d come. Nine years later, I’m tearing the final page. I have always been a deeply sentimental guy, and writing this to you now, it all feels very surreal. In some ways, I still feel like I’m that 13 year old kid, but in other ways, it feels like that life couldn’t be further from mine today.

You can never know the full effect of any action, that’s something this bet has taught me. When this all started, I just wanted to beat David, but making that choice to give up soda, something everyone around me drank without question, it sparked something bigger. I began to question things that other people took for granted, and that inquisitive essence has never faded in me. This bet, and the choice to restrain myself, has impacted so many of my choices since then. Alcohol, in particular, was a huge turning point for me. I chose not to drink, knowing that it might mean becoming a social outcast, because I wasn’t ready. Despite the urging of so many friends over the years to share a drink, I have never had even a sip of alcohol.

You might expect that after years spent sober, I might despise drinkers or hold drinking with some negative connotation, but that’s not true. My views toward drinking have morphed considerably over the years, and while I have seen alcohol used in negative ways, I’ve also come to associate it with celebration and joviality. I never grew to hate or judge drinkers; I sought only to understand before making my own choice. In many ways, I feel like abstaining has helped develop me in other ways I might never have explored, because socializing sober for someone as shy as I used to be is a tough task. I’ve never felt that I needed alcohol to be happy, and that’s something I’m very proud of. I didn’t want to drink for the sake of drinking. I wanted to drink on my own terms if I ever did choose to drink, and that’s what this bet has afforded me.

100 days

And now, the question so many have asked me over the past ten years: when the bet is over, what will I drink, or will I ever drink? People have been giving me recommendations and advice for this day for the past ten years. So many have said they thought I was crazy or tried to get me to quit, and lots more have given me drink suggestions. A vocal minority has suggested that I keep on the teetotaler path. So. What am I going to do? The answer will probably surprise many of you.

I have no desire to have soda by itself anymore, but as far as caffeinated and alcoholic drinks go, I’m going to try them. I am going to try things I have never tried. I’ve thought quite a bit over the last couple of years about what I would do when this day came, and in the end, the decision came down to a single question: why wouldn’t I drink? I’ve always found that, if you’re honest with yourself, it’s much easier to be honest with others, and this is something that took me years to be honest with myself about.

Yes, I have never needed alcohol to be happy, but the truest reason why I haven’t ever drank is because I have been afraid of who I might become if I do drink. I have feared losing control. In my estimation, the reason behind a choice is just as important as the choice itself, and fear alone is never a good reason. As of today, I have gone ten years without drinking a single carbonated, caffeinated, or alcoholic beverage, and I am closing the door on a journey that saw me grow in ways I could never have imagined. I owe a great deal to this bet, but it is time for me to say goodbye and welcome something different and exciting. I am going to try some new things, because I want to. After ten years, I believe I’ve earned that right 🙂


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Japan

Japan

Day 3639

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The Thousand Torii Gates in Kyoto

Last week, my best friend returned from Japan, and it brought me back to the many adventures we had when I visited him in September, adventures that I have yet to share with you. I think it’s high time I told you guys about Japan. 

For the past year, my best friend Fezz was in Japan, teaching English. In early September, I finally carved out enough time and money to go see him, and we had an incredible week traveling the country. Here are my thoughts:

Japan is magnificent. I had never before been overseas, nor had I ever spent more than a few hours in another country. Before I left, I did a ton of research on what to expect from Japan, but all the google searches in the world won’t tell you as much as five minutes on a Tokyo street corner. Traveling somewhere so entirely different from your normal life shows you just as much about your own culture as it does about the one you’re visiting. Every little thing was incredible to me, because it was all so different from what I experience on a daily basis. Several times, I found myself wondering, why don’t we do it that way? Case in point:

Trains are amazing. Japan has one of the most advanced public transit systems in the world, and it’s all based on trains. Tokyo is a city with more than 13 million people, and the vast majority of them use trains to get everywhere. Their trains go everywhere, and they’re always on time. If, for some reason, a train is late, the rail company will issue every passenger a note for work apologizing for the tardiness. That’s how absurdly dependable their trains are. What’s more, they’ve got all sorts of trains, subways, elevated, bullet trains, and they go just about everywhere. While I was there, Fezz and I almost exclusively used trains to get around, and I was continually amazed.

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Overlooking Kyoto

Tokyo and Kyoto show two very different sides of Japan. The first thing Fezz told me when I found him in the airport was, “Remember this moment, because you’ll be surrounded by thousands of people for the rest of this trip.” He was absolutely right. Tokyo is a massive, sprawling city filled with so many people. Every time we were in a train station, it felt like 100 thousand people were flying by me. On every street corner, thousands rushing by. There are blaring, electronic ads everywhere. The pace of Tokyo is dizzying. Every single building is 5-20 stories high, and every inch of space is carefully planned.

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Feeding monkeys in Kyoto 😀

Kyoto, on the other hand, is a city of 1.5 million, and it is much more relaxed. In Kyoto, there is a sense of warm friendliness and less of the hustle and bustle that I found in Tokyo. I love Kyoto, and a big part of that is because there is an incredible balance between industrial, natural, modern, and classic there. The city is huge, but it’s located in a valley, surrounded on all sides by mountains. The ocean of buildings melts seamlessly into the lush, green mountainside, with colorful temples peppered throughout. It’s truly a beautiful city, and I felt genuinely welcomed there.

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Akihabara, Tokyo

Everything in Japan, except for the people, is massive. I’m serious. We went to Akihabara, the shopping district in Tokyo, my first day there, and it feels endless. Roads full of 5-10 story shops. We went into a 6 story, SEGA arcade, and when we left, there was ANOTHER 6 story, SEGA arcade right across the street. We visited the Skytree mall in the heart of Tokyo, and after shopping and wandering through its shops for hours, we never found the end of it. I’m convinced that Japanese malls just don’t have ends. It’s like an optical illusion.

Japan has amazing history. We visited the Tokyo National Museum and countless shrines throughout Tokyo and Kyoto while I was there. Kyoto, even older than Tokyo, has shrines and temples all over the city. Something that struck me when I arrived is that, as an American, I think of national history as covering the last ~200 years, but that’s only because the United States is relatively new. Japan has been around for millennia. Let that soak in for a second. At the Tokyo National Museum, Fezz and I saw swords nearly a thousand years old, masks used in ancient plays, and maps scribed so long ago, the years only had 3 digits. Japan’s history is rich, and I found it intensely fascinating.

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There is nothing like spending time with your best friend. A good portion of my time in Japan was spent goofing off, watching terrible John Cena memes, playing Super Smash Bros Project: M, and talking life with Fezz. Really, I would have traveled anywhere to see him, and the fact that we got to explore Japan was just a bonus. It’s good to have you back Fezz! 🙂


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DARKNESS REFLECTED IS NOW IN PAPERBACK AND HARDBACK!!!!

Day 3618

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BIG NEWS!!! I am very excited to announce that Darkness Reflected is now available in hardback and paperback on Amazon!!! Click here to get your copy today!

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What is Darkness Reflected about? Darkness Reflected is a science fiction/suspense novel that asks one question: what if all our minds are connected in an unseen world, and what if you could go there? From the first moment I began outlining Darkness Reflected, I wanted most to create something bold and exciting that had never been done before; it was the only way to do my idea justice.

So much of what I read and watch is woefully predictable, and I wanted the twists and turns in Darkness Reflected to keep the reader guessing. With the novel’s main characters, I wanted to create complex and nuanced identities, and in the end, each of them carries a distinct piece of me at their core. With the Oneiros, the world at the heart of Darkness Reflected, I sought to create a place that captured the feeling of creativity, a landscape that felt impossible and real all at once.

If you feel like you’ve read everything and you’re searching for something new, read Darkness Reflected. You won’t regret it. The Oneiros is a world unlike any you have ever explored, and I invite you to visit 🙂

If you’re interested in reading the incredible story behind Darkness Reflected, click here, or click here to get your copy today.


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Updates Galore!

Day 3562

    Hello friends, I’ve got some big updates for you today!!

    First off, after several rounds of discussion and design, Darkness Reflected has a new cover!! I’m stoked to see it printed, and I feel like this cover really captures the excitement and mystery of the novel. Darkness Reflected is a science fiction, suspense novel CURRENTLY available for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Google Play, and will be available in hardback and paperback through Amazon very soon. If you’re interested in hearing more about the novel, feel free to check out the story behind the book HERE and for more all updates about Darkness Reflected, click HERE.

Final Cover

    Second, I’ve got even MORE exciting news about Darkness Reflected. When I first self-published the book in March of 2014, it had one additional chapter than the version currently available. I took out the first chapter, because it was turning off too many readers, confusing rather than intriguing them. It was a painful decision, because that was one of my favorite chapters, but I recognized that it wasn’t drawing people in.

    Fast forward a year and a half to last month, and I was working with my publisher, California Times Publishing, on edits for the book. I sent them the original first chapter, asking their thoughts, and much to my surprise, they loved it. The major issue with the original first chapter was that it contained a great deal of intense, complex imagery, and with no time to set up or explain the scene, the chapter was simply too fast-paced and overloaded to convey the feeling I was trying to express. After talking with my publisher, I decided to rewrite the chapter, and it came out far more exciting, relatable, and intriguing after I was done. I stripped it down and focused on the urgency, and I’m pleased to share that I am reintroducing it back into the novel as a prologue. As a writer, getting a chance to correct my mistakes and improve my writing is an incredible feeling. I edited the entire novel over the past couple of months, and I just sent the my publisher the finished version of Darkness Reflected yesterday. Expect to hear more news on the book VERY soon 🙂

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Me and Fezz in Austin

    Lastly, in news unrelated to Darkness Reflected, I’m going to Japan!! My best friend Fezz lives has been living there for nearly a year, teaching English, and I’m going to visit him! We’ll be making our way through Tokyo, Kyoto, and climbing Mount Fuji. I’ve been really missing Fezz, and I’m thrilled to be exploring Japan with him 🙂 Heading out today, but I promise I’ll be back with lots of stories and pictures!


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The Grind

Day 3558

InnerJourneys

The Grind

    Hello, my friends! It’s been a while, far too long. Today, I’d like to talk about a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. I want to talk about the grind.
    What is the grind? The grind is the pursuit. The grind is the fight. The grind represents your struggle to achieve something. For some, the goal is something easily definable. Maybe you want to lose 10 pounds, ace a test, or win a game. With short-term goals like that, you can easily keep it within sight, but not all goals are so simple. Maybe you want to become a better person, get a college degree, or reach a certain occupation. You start off on this course with a clear idea of what you want to do, but because it’s such a long journey, it’s easier to get lost along the way.
    I am a grinder. I tend to set my ambitions high, not always realizing how long it will take to reach them. I dial in and work and work and work, and when I finally look up, I often realize that I’m somewhere totally different from where I began. Something I’ve realized in recent years is that the journey is just as important, if not more, than the destination. With any long-term goal, you will never reach the end as the same person you were at the beginning. The question is simply, who will you become? It’s not an easy question to answer. I meet people all the time who never reach that end, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps you realize that the goal you set out to reach wasn’t what you wanted after all, or maybe your goals change midway, and you change course. What scares me, though, isn’t the idea of changing course, but of forgetting why I started.
    As an adult, your life can easily become mired in routine. Day in and day out, you do much the same, and it’s natural to get comfortable. You subconsciously settle in for the long haul, and each day passes by in a second, scarcely long enough to hold onto. I, for one, do not want to get comfortable. I remind myself, as often as I can, to never forget why I started. Do not be ashamed to ask yourself how you came to be where you are, or what it was you sought at the beginning. Truly, sometimes that’s the only way to right yourself.
    Maybe your goal isn’t something that you consciously put into words, but something you’ve always felt. Maybe your grind is simply finding food to eat, but rest assured, we are all in the grind together. One of the great, unrecognized trials of the grind isn’t the difficulty but the duration, the fact that you’re struggling for so long that you lose sight of the goal. Remind yourself, for no other reason than to say, this is how far I have come.