Saturday, March 14, 2015

How it came to be.

I had just left Grayton Beach State Park and was heading east towards my next stop – whatever that was. A sign indicating a bike path took me off course. The route I was on was taking me further away from the beaches and I wanted to be near the water. Hearing the sound of the crashing waves reminded me of home – a place I was yearning to be. As traveled along the path I quickly realized that it didn't lead to the beach. I took my phone out so that I could have a look at a map and figure out the best way to get back to the road I was on.
After getting myself back on course I crossed paths with a World War II veteran who was walking his dog. As he approached me I could see that he was reading the sign on my cart because his lips mouthing the words, Walking across America for St.Jude Children's Research Hospital. "Where did you start?" the man asked. "I started in Los Angeles on May 7, 2012." I answered. "You're almost done." he said. "No sir, I still have a ways to go. I'm planning on finishing in Portland, ME." I told him. As we stood on the bike path conversing I shared some of my experiences with and told him about all the incredibly kind people I had met along the way. "That's an amazing story. Are you writing a book?" he asked. "No, but I do keep a journal of everything that's happened during the course of my walk." I responded. "You have to share your story." He exclaimed. The gentleman informed me that he chooses not to follow the news anymore because it was mostly all bad. "I don't turn on the TV, listen to the radio, or go on the internet anymore." He told me. "Everything you just said reminds me that humanity still exists and other people need to be reminded of that as well." To be the one to remind people that humanity still exists sounded like an enormous responsibility and I wasn't sure that I was the right person for that task. "You have to write a book." He said emphatically. "Ok." I said. "Please tell me you'll write a book. People need to hear your stories." he said. "Okay, I'll write a book." I told him. "Well, I wish I had some money to give you." He said embarrassingly. We shook hands wished each other a good day and then went off in opposite directions.
Writing a book was not a challenge I was up for. English was not my best subject in school. The classes were always incredibly boring. Reading wasn't a favorite pastime of mine so I had absolutely no idea how to even go about writing a book. If I really wanted I could just forget about the fact that I just said I would write a book. However, I sort of promised I would – to a war veteran no less.
As the days passed all I thought about was how much I did not want to write a book. If I was going to stay true to my word I needed find a way to hold myself to it. So, what I did was use social media to let people know that I was going to write a book about the experiences I had while walking across America to raise money for St.Jude Children's Research Hospital. Once I did that there was no going back. If I backed out I would need to disappear and hide on a remote island somewhere because people would be very disappointed in me. Now that the news was out for everyone to see I needed to start thinking about what I was going to do with my book. Initially I thought, if I publish a book about walking across America I might sell a few hundred copies – probably mostly to friends and people who followed my journey through social media – and I'd have a little extra money in my pocket. Then I thought, if I publish a book and donate all of the earnings from the book to various charitable organizations I could sell a lot more copies thus raising a lot more money for other causes that are important to me. Giving away all the money earned from the book didn't seem like a big deal to me because it was money I never would have had in the first place. The thought of being able to help many more people excited me.
I spent the remainder of my trek learning everything I could about writing. Every opportunity was spent reading about publishing, marketing, and everything else that goes along with publishing a book. For what I had in mind self-publishing was going to be the best way to go. It gave me much more control over what I did with the book.
After showing people some my earliest writings they had pointed out that it was similar in style to Jack Kerouac's On The Road – a book I had not read in almost five years. As I learned more about stream-of-consciousness writing my book began to take shape. That mode of writing is where I felt most comfortable.
As the months went on I found myself having to do things to make the writing process interesting for me. I went from writing the book in a linear fashion to jumping around from state to state – which is how the chapters are divided. Altogether there are thirty chapters. The book could be read as two parts – east to west or south to north – but then people would miss the subtle changes I went through. Whenever I go through and edit parts or rewrite chapters I'm reminded of all that I went through. Walking over 5300 miles across the country was both physically and mentally exhausting at times. At times when I felt I had nothing more to give I had to dig deep that thing that would keep me going. There were moments of real danger. At times I'd be walking along a busy road with cars passing me at 70 miles an hour with little more than a foot between us. Add to that various wildlife such as bears – which I did encounter – a mountain lion, rattle snakes, mosquito infested swamps, and other disease carrying insects. Walking across the country alone taught me just how much I can endure. Then of course there are all the amazing people I met and unique experiences that were had. Beyond raising a lot of money for charitable organizations and school I hope that people will be able to take something from my experiences on the road.

Friday, February 27, 2015

What the f**k was I thinking.

  How does being broke and homeless sound to you? Not good? After I returned from walking across America that is exactly what happened to me. When I boarded a plane in Portland, ME on November 2, 2013 I hadn't the slightest notion that I would end up spending my nights outdoors or that I would find myself standing in line to get a free sack lunch with the homeless.

I had envisioned my life going much differently upon my return to Los Angeles. My plan was to spend two months writing a book about the experiences I had while walking across America, find an inexpensive place to live, and get a job so that I could replace all the music equipment I sold to fund my walk and get back to work writing music.

Job interviews were few and far between. Whenever I would go to an interview the person conducting the interview was more concerned with the possibility of me leaving the job in a few months to walk across the country than they were about my skills and qualifications. The fact that I spent 17 months walking across the country to raise money for pediatric cancer was not working in my favor. More than anything else it seemed to be working against me.

Since nothing was going according to plan I needed to figure out a way to make the best out of my situation. If I wasn't sleeping or sending off resumes I was writing and learning everything I could about book publishing. Everything I did was centered around the book. To accomplish what I had in mind I was going to have to make sacrifices.

I had always known that I wanted to donate the earnings from the book to various charitable organizations and schools. I felt like there was no limit to the amount of good I could do.

Writing is a challenge for me and at times the inability to translate my emotions into words frustrated me so much that I would feel discouraged and not want to write, but my passion for wanting to help others was a major driving force and it kept me going; kept me from throwing my hands in the air giving up.

In October 2014 I decided it would a good idea to spend the winter in Sacramento so that I could finish the book, work with the artist who was going to be designing the cover, create a marketing campaign, and start finding a new editor, because the person who had generously offered to edit part of my book a few months back changed their mind. Everything seemed like it was going great then on the day I arrived in northern California the person who was going to allow me to stay at their home contacted me to let me know that something had come up and that they wouldn't be able to offer me a place to stay. To make matters worse the artist who was going to design the cover told me that he wouldn't be able to create what I had in mind because it was too difficult for him. In an instant everything fell apart. I finally reached a point where I was burnt out. I was fed up with all the people who never followed through on their commitments; I was tired of sacrificing my time and giving up things in my personal life that were important just so that I could finish writing a book I never wanted to write in the first place.

  For nearly two months I did absolutely no writing at all. I still planned on finishing my book –  I did promise a WWII veteran in Florida that I would – but I needed motivation. One afternoon while searching for uplifting news stories on Twitter I came across a video of people reacting to hearing sound for the first time in their life. The video brought me to tears. Seeing the overwhelming joy that the people in the video felt reminded me why doing positive things that make a difference in a person's life is important to me. All the challenges and frustrations I had experienced over the past year now meant nothing. They were minor inconveniences compared to what other people have to go through. It was time to leave the pity party I had thrown myself. If I had to carry my belongings from place to place – not having anywhere to call home; be dirt poor; and have to wait to go back to earning a living doing music for another year, knowing that I was successful in my mission to help people with this book it will be worth it because being able to witness the happiness that the people feel in the video clip below is all the reward I need.

Please take a moment to watch the video and try to think about what it must feel like to know that you were able to give these people the gift of hearing and how much it means to them.