Here we are, friends. At the end of yet another journey. I have so many stories to tell you yet, but first… I want to tell you how this all started. It began last year when I was speaking with my friend about his not wanting to watch a television show because it reminded him of a past girlfriend. I knew that feeling. I felt the scars on my heart where the wound had been made and I thought to myself about how terrified I still was of so many things. So I sat down, late at night, and began working. I wrote and drew and painted and screamed. I cried and I begged for mercy. I considered giving up this fight so many times, and just when I knew I was on the verge, I would push one more time. I would swing my blade one more time. With the final push, I realized I had made ground and I looked down at this map I had made for myself. I took solace in the quiet moments. Where there was nothing hunting me. Where I was hunting nothing. I’ve made a thousand campfires and eaten whatever I could gather. I have starved and I have bled this year. I have cried and I have ventured out, and though I still have dragons to slay, I am so much father than I was a year before. This journey is far from over, friends, but I will be travelling alongside you until one of these beasts takes my life. That much, I can promise you.

Life can be difficult to navigate. It seems like every day we are in a new place with new faces and new scenarios and new quests that we must complete. That being said, it is about the adventure and not the destination. Those who complete it will be gifted with bounties of all kinds, but what we will truly take away are the sounds of laughter with friends, tight hugs from family, the bite of the cold rain on a bad day. The exhaustion that comes from navigating these mountains and valleys and these joys and sorrows. My mind is often complex and difficult to keep under control. At the first sign of danger it pushes me to flee from anything that could harm me.

This includes so many things, being let down by friends, rejected by a woman, owning up to the fact that I work myself to death. It comes when I send off for a story to get published and must wait in anguished silence as I ponder the contents of their return letter, or, on the worst days, the silence that they send me. I take a deep breath when I post a new blog post or poem because I’m terrified that people won’t like it. I’m afraid that people won’t like me and won’t be kind to me. I’m scared that I will lose my job and I won’t be able to get a new one. I’m scared of the dark. I’m scared of myself. I’m scared of being in the desert on my own. I’m scared of waking up one day and losing someone that I love.

I am afraid of so many things, and that was why I set out this year to do battle.

I have lived for far too long with this idea in my head that I can be bested by anything at all. That simply isn’t true.  It isn’t true for you either, there is nothing that can kill you. You are invincible until you allow yourself not to be. By that, I don’t mean to shelter yourself and to hide away from every hint of adversity. I’ve tried that route to, and to my surprise it did more damage than getting knocked down in a straight fight.

What I’m saying through analogy, is that I don’t want you to sit and hide from your pain or your fear or your anger. Embrace all of those things. Use them. Transform that emotion into energy to write or sing or dance or work. Use it as fuel for the next blaze of enjoyment and life that sparks within you. Use it as ink, fill up your pen and begin drawing a map.

Before any traveler leaves the comfort of their home, they will always be sure to carry a map.

This year, I have been working harder than ever before to map things out. To find the highs and the lows, to become intimately familiar with all of my misery and all of my elation. It has done more for me than any other tactic. I have amazing friends, I have a compassionate and deeply caring family. I have a job where I find comfort. I do what I love for hours every day. There is nothing in my life that says to me “You are afraid. You will be unhappy.” Yet, there are days when a dragon is bellowing into my ear and screaming “You are full of fear. You will never make it out of this alive.” I travel through that every day.

Within the laughter of my friends and the joy my family brings me, the security my job and my passion lend me, I have managed to forge an armory of weapons to hunt this dragon. But more on that later, because weapons will do you no good when you don’t know where you’re going.

So I created a map. Every day I awoke to a pained world that was full of strife and doubt. I awoke to a room that I was raised in, or a room I was renting and I looked at myself. I saw the doubt and the fear etched into my face with wrinkles that wouldn’t go away. I stayed up late at night, every night searching for a plan. A way to defend myself from the monsters that haunt me. I found it through experience, see… this year was intended to be a journey. It was meant to stress me out. So I knew I would be facing many ups and downs I wasn’t used to. I unrolled parchment and began tracing the things that made me happy. A tree outside my parent’s bedroom window in the morning that filtered out the sun. The crisp air of fall. The small messages and gifts that are given to me by friends and family. I took everything that made me happy and secure and drew it out. I placed it on this map and the daunting unknown space began to get filled in.

Then, with trepidation I began thinking and experiencing the things that hurt. Rejection. Sadness. Anger. Bitterness. I found their sources and began to map them down too, finding every shitty hole in this universe that I could fall into and painting big, red X’s across their surfaces, telling me to never go there. The shadows that bristled at my spine began to ease away when I produced the map. They saw that it was bountiful with good thoughts and feelings. They saw the mountains that had been made of my small accomplishments and began to whisper pride into my ear. Then a family member or a friend would come to me and tell me that I was doing good work, that they hoped I would be well, and the dragons and demons quit their whispering. They saw the running waters of the rivers that I had filled with determination and they whispered to me that I would fail. That no matter how much work I put forth, I will never go anywhere. That I won’t help anyone. Then someone from outside my circle would tell me how much help I have been to them, and those demons screamed in pain from behind me. They saw the forests that I had mapped for shade, so that I could cool myself when my anger overwhelmed me. They whispered to me that I was a fool. That my anger was just. It never was. I was reminded of this because I snapped on a friend some weeks ago, and she broke down into tears. I knew immediately and the demons cheered, but they were silenced when she came to me and I apologized for what I had done. Then, they found the deserts where I would go to parch my soul of jealousy, my biggest opponent and my most fearsome dragon was waiting for me there. He spoke to me, he didn’t whisper. He was unafraid. He would rake at me with his claws before my weapons were drawn. He would tell me that I was a fool. That I knew nothing. But the desert itself had proven otherwise. Written in the sand here a handful of hints and clues that I never took the time to see. I watched as more and more demons and dragons and monsters fell by the wayside as I ventured forward. I carried the kind words of friends and family and strangers. I pocketed every glimpse of hope that I could see and I pressed forward until only a few dragons were left. I set out, and I had my route to find them, because I had drawn a map.

This year I have battled harder than I ever have before. I have written down so many of them in these passages and they are here for you. In the future, when dragons rap their claws against our doorframe, know that I am here. I have fought and I have lived.

I have mapped out my future, and in it, I am alive. All that it takes is that you grab your pen, your paintbrush, your computer or your arms and you start drawing. Do whatever it takes. Create a map of the places you can go to recuperate, where you can go to fight, where you can go to resupply. When you’ve done that, you can begin your journey. I promise you it will not go as you expect it to, but it will be worth every bloody, sweaty step forward, because you will come out on top. I know, because I will be fighting alongside you every step of the way.

Thank you for coming this far with me, next year will be another battle. I am glad that you are on the front lines, too. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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