Tag Archives: Nashville

One Year Later, Part 2: The Drive

The morning I got the call started off fairly uneventful. The sky was overcast, with just enough of a chill in the air to require a jacket. I had started my new job on October 6th, and just a week later I could already tell that both the position and the company were going to be a good fit for me and for our family. I can’t tell you how reassuring that was. Things felt like they were falling into place, even though we knew there would still be difficulties ahead.

Michelle had an appointment that morning, and she had a bad feeling about it. I tried to reassure her on the phone the night before. I told her not to be afraid, that this was just a standard visit, and that there was nothing to worry about. I truly believed what I was saying, despite how wrong I turned out to be.

Around 10:30, Michelle called me, sounding more irritated than panicked. She explained that the doctor was sending her to the hospital; her blood pressure was elevated, and she needed to be admitted. They wouldn’t let her drive, so an ambulance was going to transport her and the boys to Vanderbilt. I told her I was on my way, and we hung up.

I put my phone down on the desk and took a breath. At the time, I was sharing an office with the COO of the company. He looked over at me and asked, “Everything all right?”

“They’re taking Michelle to the hospital,” I mumbled.

“Dude, go,” he replied. “You can call us later and fill us in.”

I didn’t hesitate. A minute later, I was in the car and heading up the highway. I actually think I left a half-finished cup of coffee sitting on the desk, though I can’t remember for certain.

Until that day, solo drives from Chattanooga to Nashville had always been quiet, calm stretches of time when I could think about things—usually whatever story I was working on at the time. In the early days of working for the Kirkland’s home office, I stayed in Chattanooga on weekends and drove up every Monday morning. It was nice to have that quiet time to myself. I didn’t always think about stories; sometimes, I just cleared my mind and enjoyed the scenery. The drive through the mountains just a couple hours after sunrise gave me plenty to take in. It was two hours of peace.

This drive was nothing like that.

Instead, my mind was racing. Is everything going to be all right? What are we going to do? What if he comes early? Who can take the boys for a few days so I can focus on Michelle and the baby? Dear God, what if he’s born today? No, that’s not going to happen. But it could happen, so we need a plan. Damn it, I don’t want to be thinking about this. This isn’t how it’s supposed to happen. This isn’t what we planned.

Normally, those kinds of thoughts would be limited to some kind of inner monologue. That day, it was out there in the open. I spent half the drive talking to myself. It was one of those moments where, looking back, I probably looked somewhat crazy to anyone who happened to be driving by. But, at that time, I didn’t care what other people thought. I cared that the plans we had made for baby number three were in cinders, and that we needed to come up with a new one.

Sprinkled throughout my ramblings were prayers. Some of them were in the form of questions, asking God why this was happening. Some were one part of a dialogue, with me imagining the other side of it and trying to make sense of the discussion. Most of them, however, were pleas—pleas for Michelle to be safe, for the baby to be safe, for all of this to be over soon (but not too soon), and, maybe most of all, for me to make it to the hospital in time to be there when my wife needed me the most.


One Year Later, Part 1: Back Home

How quickly things can change.

Well… they really didn’t change very quickly at all. I’ve written a total of three posts in the last 18 months of my life. I suppose if anyone decided to binge-read these, then everything I’m about to write would seem rather abrupt. But I promise—as quickly as it all may seem to have happened, it was all a long, winding, purpose-driven road.

When I last left you, I was pining for my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I wrote several hundred words proclaiming my love for it and my desire to return to it. There really is no city quite like it, you know. In moving to the lonely metropolis of Nashville, we discovered that running from our problems only created more. We tried to make the best of a depressing situation, but it was useless. We weren’t making an omelet; we were just breaking eggs.

After writing that post, I knew we would be coming home sooner than we had originally planned. Once we found out we were pregnant with our third little boy, my timetable was moved up. The last thing we wanted was to be stuck almost three hours away from our extended family with three small children.

We were about to be outnumbered. We took that very seriously.

I applied for a several different jobs in Chattanooga, and I went weeks without hearing anything. That was the hardest part. With every resume I sent that went unacknowledged, every letter I sent that went unanswered, my spirits sank a little more. After a few months of fruitless searching and dreaming, it was beginning to feel hopeless. (Writing this now, it seems rather silly. Some people search for years to find a job, and there I was all downhearted because a couple months had passed without any results. But that was mostly a product of my environment; it wasn’t hard to feel down during those days.)

Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one looking. Michelle was also browsing all the major job sites, forwarding any that she thought I might find interesting. She’s the one who found the posting at Vikus, a software company that creates HR software for the senior care industry. They were in need of a content writer who could also handle digital marketing and social media. It was a perfect fit.

I’ll save my hiring story for another post. It’s quite funny, and deserves to stand on its own.

After I got the job, the planning began. Our third was due to arrive at the end of November, which gave us a couple months to get things figured out. We didn’t have a place in Chattanooga anymore, so we decided that I could stay with my parents for a bit while Michelle kept the boys up in Nashville. It wasn’t ideal for all of us to be split between two different cities, but my wife and the boys had developed a fairly active social life in the two years we had been living there, and it didn’t feel right to yank them away from it without a home of our own to go to. So we put the plan into motion, and I started looking for places for us to live while counting down the days to my new job.

Then came October 14th—the day history repeated itself in a way we hoped it never would.


My City.

My family and I have lived in Nashville for over a year and a half. In that time, we have managed to explore the city and even make a few friends along the way. We found the best pizza place . . . practically ever. We discovered some really cool places to hang out (like the Adventure Science Center and the Nashville Zoo), and we frequent them as often as we can. I found a great comic store that Liam and I like to visit on occasion, and the Dave & Buster’s that’s up here has proven to be a blast every time we’ve stopped in.

Downtown Nashville Skyline

We’re starting to learn our way around. The GPS is still a necessity, but it’s not a complete and total wash if I leave it at home. Nashville is a maze of highways and traffic, but it’s one that I feel I am beginning to learn to navigate.

All of that . . . and this place still isn’t home.

This weekend, we spent some time in Chattanooga. We were in town for a birthday party, and we managed to carve out some time that morning to see some friends, too. That night, I made the mistake of driving around downtown on my way back to my parents’ house to sleep. It could be said that the mistake was in attempting to navigate downtown Chattanooga during the notoriously chaotic Riverbend Festival currently taking place. But that wasn’t it at all. The roads weren’t difficult—the feelings were.

As I drove around, seeing the familiar sights and weaving through the familiar streets, I was hit with an overwhelming wave of feeling: This is home. This is where we belong. This is where life makes sense.

Downtown Chattanooga - Miller Plaza

This is My City.

When I talk about going home, I talk about coming here. Even when we’re in Nashville, the Reader and I both know that when we say the word “home,” we’re speaking of the next time we visit Chattanooga. No other place has ever felt like it, and I highly doubt any other place will.

When we left, it was due to necessity. We were in a tough position financially, and I was offered a job that would basically save us. And that’s what I keep telling myself: We didn’t have a choice. I was given an opportunity to advance my career as a writer, learn some new (and potentially valuable) skills, and get a pretty hefty pay increase at the same time. All I had to do was pack up my family and move to Nashville. I would have been an idiot to turn it down.

I still sometimes wonder if I should have.

Nashville is not home. It just isn’t. Many people have told me to give it a chance—that it has a lot of the qualities we’re looking for in a place to raise our family, and that it could be home if we wanted it to be.

And they’re half right.

It does have a lot of the qualities we’re looking for in a place to raise our family. It has a rich cultural heritage, and there is always something going on in some part of the city. Aside from the places I mentioned earlier, there is also the library system, which is one of the best I’ve ever had the privilege of using. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, and I’m sure we haven’t even begun to unearth all the possibilities that Nashville has to offer us.

But, no matter how much we might want it to be, Nashville will never be home. The most it will ever be is a way station—that place we stopped one time when we needed a helping hand. Funny thing is, it hasn’t been nearly as helpful as it was supposed to be. Despite having a substantially higher salary, things have never been harder for us financially than they are right now. With the bright lights and the big city came a big price tag. When you add the fact that we have never felt more alone and isolated than we do right now, we have come to one inescapable (and overwhelmingly relieving) conclusion:

I think it’s about time we came home.

The Space Between.

Right now, I am entering what I have just decided to call “The Space Between.” It’s the space between projects, that all-too-short time period between finishing one thing and beginning another. I finally finished the second chapter of One Less Hero, entitled “With A Little Help From My Friends,” and it has made it through my rather ridiculous editing process for the most part unscathed. All that is left is incorporating my edits into the final draft and then publishing the finished product. I’ve set a publication date of Monday, November 11, and I think I’m in a position to keep that deadline. It actually flows pretty well for a draft that contains various pieces from five very different drafts written over the last eight months.

[Note: Not all of the chapters are going to be like that one. I always knew what I wanted to happen in it, but I could never quite figure out exactly how I wanted it to happen. The final version is an amalgamation of several different ideas. Like I said above, I’m slightly amazed at how well it seems to flow considering how it came about. Of course, I could be completely biased and it might be a complete piece of crap that is all over the place thematically. I’ll leave that for the readers to decide.]

So Chapter 2 is finished, and it’s time for me to move onto my next endeavor. Unfortunately for my free time, I’ve already decided what that next endeavor will be. And the holiday season is the perfect time to be writing it.

Last year around this time, I had just moved to Nashville and I was living in a cheap hotel with cable and a spotty wireless connection. I was missing my family, and one of the things I did to fill that time (aside from watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory and Restaurant: Impossible—don’t judge) was writing. One Less Hero was one of the projects to come out of that hotel stay, and it heavily influenced a novelette I’m shopping around called It Starts and Ends with You. However, the story I focused on the most while I was actually staying in the hotel room was a Christmas-themed story that started with a retelling of Frosty the Snowman and made a sharp 90-degree turn after that. I’m very excited about it, mostly because a Christmas story is one of those things I never really thought I’d be writing. They always seem too sugary and tired and predictable, but this one is none of those things; it’s very much me. It’s also a little bit someone else, which is another reason why I’m excited to write it.

I’ve made no secret of my love of the work of Neil Gaiman. He’s one of my biggest inspirations as a writer, and I still constantly point anyone and everyone to this commencement speech and dare them not to be floored. The Christmas story I’m about to start working on again is probably the closest I will get to writing a Gaiman story. It’s a little bit real-world, a little bit fantasy, a little bit horror, a little bit heart-wrenching, and a little bit allegory. Gaiman himself has paid tribute to one of his favorite writers, fantasy staple Michael Moorcock, in numerous short stories over his writing career, so I feel no shame in doing the same.

Generally, the Space Between is a pretty short time period for me; sometimes it can be measured in minutes. I think I’m going to give myself a few days for this one, then dive in headfirst. And maybe, just maybe, I can actually finish this story before the holiday that inspired it arrives.

Thanking Neil Gaiman.

On July 10th, my favorite author, Neil Gaiman, came to Nashville during his latest (and last, he claims) book-signing tour. He is promoting his newest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, across the country, and the War Memorial Auditorium was one of the final stops on the tour.

For Father’s Day, my wife surprised me with tickets. I had mentioned the signing to her a few months ago, and she knew me well enough to know that I would probably just procrastinate and put off buying them. It’s something I do often; I will come across something I really want, something that excites me to my core, then I will talk myself out of it because the thought of actually experiencing it makes me nervous and possibly even a little sick to my stomach.

I know, I’m weird. A lot of people remind me on a daily basis.

But since she bought the tickets for me, I had no excuse not to go. I’m lucky to have a woman at my side who practically forces me to do the things she knows I will enjoy. That may have even been in our vows, hidden somewhere between the lines.

Our seats were not the best, but I didn’t care all that much. I could still hear the amusing anecdotes and stories behind the stories, even if Neil Gaiman’s face was obscured 90 percent of the time by a towering stack of speakers. He answered questions submitted by audience members (“How do you take your tea?” one asked. He deadpanned, “Orally.”), and he read a selection from his latest novel enhanced by the deep rumblings of a Tennessee thunderstorm. He also read an excerpt from a children’s book coming out this fall entitled Fortunately, The Milk, accompanied onstage by Nashville native Bela Fleck, who provided background music and sound effects for the story with his banjo. It is a story about the incredible and unbelievable adventure a father has while trying to bring home a bottle of milk for his children’s breakfasts. It was the perfect way to end my father’s day present.

The signing was next. We made it close to the beginning of the line, thanks to the very thoughtful planners who allowed pregnant or disabled people to move to the front. My wife is 37 weeks along, and she certainly appreciated the gesture. After waiting maybe 15 to 20 minutes, I was next in line to have my copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane signed.

So what do you do when you come face to face with one of your idols?

You thank him.

The attendant handed him the book, complete with a Post-It note on the inside cover inscribed with my name in all capital letters. (A rather ingenious move on their part—no misspellings, no misheard or misunderstood names.) He nodded to me as I approached the table. He then addressed the book with my name, his signature, and a single additional word: “Dream.”

Neil Gaiman's signature on the title page of The Ocean at the End of the Lane

He placed the signed book in my hand, and I simply said, “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome,” he replied.

Sure, he probably thought I was just thanking him for the autograph. And maybe, in that moment, I was. But I was also thanking him for other things. I was thanking him for the body of work he had created. I was thanking him for the stories he had dreamed up and cast out into the world—stories that eventually inspired me to tell my own. I was thanking him for this speech. In short, I was thanking him for doing what he did, and for doing it so well.

As I write this, I have dozens of unwritten stories in my head, along with a handful that exist in some kind of tangible form in one place or another. One will be finished in the next few days, a 14,000-word novelette that is probably one of my most personal stories to date.

Neil Gaiman is one of the reasons I decided to become a writer. His work showed me how powerful words, ideas, and stories can be. Meeting him tonight and hearing him speak of the power that all these made-up stories can possess has been more than inspiring; it’s been invigorating.

Thank you, Neil. For everything.

(And also . . . thank you for signing my book.)

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