Thursday, May 23, 2013

Imagine Dragons

I admit it.  I’m stubborn.  I’m older than my years let on.  I can be a curmudgeon.  A fuddy-duddy.  I fancy myself an artist and therefore often find I turn my nose at those I perceive to fancy themselves artists in this hipster generation. 
And for that reason, I will admit that when I first saw there was a band called Imagine Dragons, I immediately rejected them and whatever they stood for.  How dare they choose a name I would have otherwise thought cool if not taken by some hipster, emo band of alt-rock minstrels posing as the next big thing?  Okay, maybe that’s a bit much.  In truth my reaction was more like:
“Imagine Dragons?  Um, already do.  All day.  Every day.  Gets me in trouble.  So no thanks VHI Artists I oughtta know.” 
It takes a real man to admit when he was wrong. I can’t speak to the rest of the album, but yes, I am officially in love with their anthem, “It’s Time.”  Go ahead, press play now . . . 

Yeah that’s right, I said anthem.  It’s mine now, that’s for certain.  For whatever reason something compelled me to download it today, and while driving listen to it over and over.  Every line, every stanza resonated through me.  I get it.  At least I get what I’m supposed to get.  It brought me to my emotional knees.  I got misty-eyed.  This guy is me.  He’s talking about what I’m doing right now.  He’s singing about the journey so far . . .   
Many of you know the road I’m on these days.  A few years ago I was laid off from a dead-end, soul-crushing corporate job; my third layoff in five years.  This time with a young child and another (and soon to be another) on the way.  I was scared, angry, the usual.  But that time I was something else.  I was resolved. 

“So this is what you meant when you said that you were spent.”

My dream since I was a kid was to be a storyteller.  I saw when I said or did something funny, or when I wrote out a little story or drew a picture, people laughed and smiled.  My biggest inspiration growing up  was Walt Disney and the Disney Company.  I decided then that I had tried to play the game the way we’re told we’re supposed to, and look where it got me.  Especially in this economy, there’s no security and there’s certainly no loyalty.  And I’d turned my back on my dreams for this?   

“And now it’s time to build from the bottom of the pit right to the top.  Don’t hold back!"
I declared that I would no longer do things the way I had before.  It was going to be a year of doing things different.  After all, following the established patterns had only led right back to the public dole.  Certainly no commendations, no reward.  Yes, I would find a job to make sure I was contributing, keeping the family fed and sheltered.  There were thoughts of going back to school, but I just knew there were stronger and stranger forces at play.  It was like something was saying the door is open.  First, I needed a test.  I published a little novel I’d written when my son was born, and low & behold, it actually sold a couple copies.  More importantly I got some of the most touching feedback, especially from parents of kids who’d read it.  One even took it to school and did a presentation about it.  That it made any money didn’t matter.  It was that feeling.  That fulfillment that I wanted, that fuels me.  I’ve got a virtual drawer full of follow-ups to that one still awaiting some final polish, holes filled, etc.  But I knew to soar I first needed to unchain my wings. 

“Packing my bags and giving the academy a rain check.”

Twain said “Write what you know.”  What I know, to some degree or another is Disney, specifically Walt Disney World.  I’m not one of those who gets lost in the minutia (to me at least) of who designed what, how many bricks are in this walkway, what year this opened and that closed.  It’s not my thing.  All I know is how much I love it all, how it refuels my creative cells every time, and plasters a rictus grin to my face the entire time I’m there, even when I’m exhausted and my feet are throbbing.  I also know the reactions I get from people when they find out me, all 6 ft, buh-buh-buh-hundred lb. man of me, loves Walt Disney World.  There it was.  The seed of creation.  The spark of inspiration.  A book about Walt Disney World for men. 
Seemed like a great idea.  I ran it by a trusted mentor, one I might mention already in the writing about Disney game who could have very easily said “scram kid, we don’t need another one around here.”  Instead he said it was indeed a great idea, and told me to lean in and charge, rather than retreat.  That was the boost I needed. 

“It’s time to begin, isn’t it?”

Of course I still had to run it by my wife.  Hey honey, I’m going to take a week and spend a chunk of money to fly Walt Disney World by myself to research a book I want to write completely on spec.  How could that go wrong, right? 

“This road never looked so lonely.  This house doesn’t burn down slowly.”

Where we come from, our backgrounds, our environment, people don’t write books.  They also don’t make movies or television, or write and record music.  Around here, those are things that happen elsewhere.  At least that’s the popular thinking that was drilled into our young heads.  So it wasn’t immediate, but she came around to it.  She didn’t understand it, but she got it.  Years ago she had a passion and wanted to start a business, and she did, and has been very successful.  She saw this was my turn.  Writing is my passion, and this book was a real dream.  It’s hard to explain to someone that being a writer is your business, but she did see it was a chance to focus this geeky obsession of mine into a product.  This was something I not only wanted to do, but it made sense.  It was something I had to do.  So it wasn’t much longer beforel I was on a plane before the sun came up, on my way to Florida with a full backpack, but also so much more riding on my back. 
                          “I don’t ever want to let you down.”

And now here we are, not even two years later, and that book Ears of Steel: The Real Man’s Guide to Walt Disney World is officially available for pre-sale on Amazon.  And will be on store shelves in the fall.  Is my next hope that it will be the greatest selling humorous travel guide of all time?  Well, of course it is! 

“So this is where you fell, and I am left to sell.”

The truth is I do hope many people read my book.  And yes, I’d prefer you buy it to stealing it, but we address that in an early chapter.  Either way, just read it.  Yes it’s a travel book.  But I promise it’s not what you expect.  Those are made by real writers.  People who paid attention in English class and understand the mechanics of the craft.  I’m not really a good writer.  I’m a storyteller.  Even when writing non-fiction.  My book is a little bit travel-narrative, a little bit guide book, and a handful of deranged tangents and flights of fancy.  The publisher has of course attempted to tame it a bit, still I don’t expect would-be travelers to read it with a highlighter or a notepad, carefully mapping out their next vacation.  If they do they’ll be lost.  It’s just fun, whatever your reason for reading it.  And it’s to get you to go.  It will hopefully answer the question of those who don’t get why so many guys like me do love Walt Disney World.  Listen I don’t make a dime from Disney for telling people to go there (yet. . snootch!) but I want people to go anyway.  I’m still that kid who wants to bring laughter and joy to people, sometimes just by pointing them in the right direction.  I’m doing just that.    

“Turn in the rags and giving the commodities a rain check.”

Now that it’s almost ready for release, I will slowly get back to those other novels along with some other more fantastic ideas.  I can’t leave my own dragons alone for too long.  And yes, I’ve got a couple.  And we're still only halfway through the journey of this book.  But after nearly two years of working and sweating over it, I feel like (if you'll forgive the non-Disney reference) the white dragon in Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows when he finally broke free of his prison in the goblin bank in that great moment where he perched atop the building overlooking London and just let out a sigh of relief, as if to say "I made it."  Yes, there will be more books in the Ears of Steel brand too.  If it does well there will be a research trip west very soon, and to sea, and to who knows where (can you say “Aloha, Mr. Hand?”)  Beyond that, the sky is quite literally the limit.  I’ve got plans that stretch far beyond the page, paper or digital. 
I’m not stopping now.  Forty isn’t so far away, and my Twenties are long gone.  If not now, when?  If not me, who?  I won’t be constrained by the thinking that greatness is only for others.  That magic is only made by the established magicians.  That the best one can hope for is a healthy 401K at the end of the rainbow, and maybe 10 healthy years left to enjoy it.  Quite honestly, I owe it to my kids to show them they really can do anything they want.  Nobody instilled that in me, so it took me longer and with a lot of stumbles and falls to find it out for myself. 

“The path to Heaven runs through miles of clouded hell, right to the top.  Don’t look back!”

So now again, on my knees and near tears I say to that band I once dismissed, thank you for reminding me.  Thanks for telling my story, as I imagine it is the story of many, many others. 

“I’m never changing who I am.”  Never again.

Imagine Dragons?  I am one.  Watch me fly.  Better yet, break your own chains.  Spread those beautiful wings and soar alongside me.  It’s our time.  It’s our world.

It's time to begin.  Isn’t it?  

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