2022

So draws to an end another year. I can look back at 2022 as one filled with peaks and valleys. One filled with a lot of promise that delivered and also stocked with a lot of grief, angst and exhaustion.

I’ll choose to give reverence but not dwell upon the negatives such as the passing of loved ones, the loss of employment and comrades I truly loved (albeit my layoff was a mere blink), my fiancée’s cancer scare and the heartache of betrayal. Fatherhood demands (and it did, boy did it) the utmost priority even when nurturing a relatively new romance and you bring it all together under pressure. The teenage years can suck it, point blank, and I’m no different from any parent fielding the fails and fallacies that come within. The victories are few, the frustration twofold. As Kurt Vonnegut wisely waxes, so it goes. We’re forced to adapt and find the resiliency to respond as parents must.

On the flipside, I’m very blessed to have had exuberance, triumphs, forward motion, physical and spiritual growth and above all, expanding my networks to twice they were prior to 2022. I’ve said it before in my videos where I sought to pump up other job-seekers, your network says everything about you. It’s paid off for me this year in the scores of people who rallied to my cause during my brief layoff. You all have my return love and loyalty.

Despite the ongoing trials in our lives since September, this will be a year I’ll look back upon with pride with the release of my short story collection, Coming of Rage, the title story drawing a nomination for this year’s Pushcart Prize. I wrote the stories in my old apartment after my separation and divorce, a couple months before TJ, an old friend from many pasts, came back into my life like a tempest of love. I wrote most of the stories on a butt-breaking bar stool at a breakfast nook in that apartment, feeling the momentary isolation and uncertainty of my life’s direction. Some were written on the weeks I had my son, getting up at 4:30 a.m. many days before he woke to write and polish these stories. The satisfaction I feel from Coming of Rage’s launch is something I’ve held onto like a good luck locket. I’m even prouder my publisher, Raw Earth Ink, has asked for a sequel story collection, which I am nearly finished writing for 2023 publication.

2022 brought me the opportunity to meet many writers throughout the year, at the Star Trek and sci-fi-themed convention, Shore Leave, for one. It came here at WordPress, meeting so many of you and getting to know you off the grid. I was able to build an audience here and though my past few months have been less than prolific due to a tumble effect of life events, I feel optimistic in the growth this page has made. Granted, my posts lately have been more off-topic to the theme of roads lesser traveled, but travel has been limited due to the aforementioned changes and hurdles. I appreciate all of you for sticking with me, as I do the people who gave me glowing reviews of Coming of Rage. A special shout-out to Willow Croft, who conducted not one, but two interviews with me in ’22. It’s been a pleasure kindling a friendship with you, lady.

My fiancée, TJ and I had a wonderful trip to Disney for just ourselves this year and a long weekend beach trip with the kiddo, but moving in together and preparing for our future wedding in the fall of ’23 took precedence. Our time out was spent more in the company of friends and family all of 2022 and building our respective networks in the creative and esoteric communities. TJ not only kicked cancer’s behind this year, but she had a number of book signings for The Healthy Witch and Four Little Witches. I’m happy to report I will likewise be on the promotional trail in the new year for Coming of Rage and its eventual sequel, Turning the Page.

I look to get myself back in the groove in 2023, here at Roads Lesser Traveled, along with my other writing endeavors while refining my duties in my new position in mortgage title. The juggle and the struggle is real, but we have a wedding to look forward to and new projects to complete and hawk out there. TJ will have an oracle card set based on The Healthy Witch come out this spring. The time has come for both of us to kick our lives as a couple and as individual writers up to the next level.

This includes the addition of two new kittens to our family, Ezio and MJ. They were brought to us from a litter by TJ’s son and they have sparked a spirit of joy in our household. These adorable fuzzbutts have been with us since they were two months old and have already bonded with all of us. Bast be praised.

2022, thank you for all that was good. Thank you also for the hard parts; it forces me to keep evolving. I ran a Spartan Trail race and competed in my first DEKA event, the latter proving you can train your tail off and still have your butt handed to you. It’s sobering and oddly uplifting, as it sparks that fire inside me to have another go at DEKA and whatever else my body will give me, fitness-wise in ’23. My motto, especially for my videos at TikTok, has been “Keep grindin’.”

Much love to all the people I spent time and grew with this year, many for the first time, others reunited after decades past between us. It’s refreshing knowing people can just pick right back up after long runs of time. May the new year bring even more of my friends whom I’ve inadvertently neglected to the table along with brand new faces. As I mentioned, my network doubled this past year and I look forward to adding more this one upcoming.

Whatever it is that drives you, my friends, go forward in 2023 and beyond and capture it for yourself. I’ve captured the love of my life. I’ve captured a new audience after losing all but handfuls of my prior readership in music and horror journalism. I’ve reinvented myself and every step is slow, if adventurous. Fear is the enemy to your own progress. Go forward and conquer. Thank you for reading, as always…

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

“Hubris,” Spoken Word by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I shot my first spoken word video for a piece I wrote titled “Hubris.” I felt a piece of myself yearning to come out and I treated the entire session like I would’ve at open mike events I performed at years ago. Here is the transcript of the poetry piece, “Hubris.”

Hubris

By Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In my vanity, with or without imbibing,

I often think kicking open black doors

held sentry by interwoven golden scimitars, unguarded

leads to a bounty of greener pastures

a treasure laid and left by the divine

if one simply has the wherewithal to risk the unavoidable gashes

and the potential for beguiling catastrophe

sometimes the pursuit of happiness

is nothing more than a fool’s errand

no matter an accompanying pocketful of citrine

for luck and love

or a fistful of amethyst for reciprocal defense

a national lottery ticket often has better odds at a payoff

in the quest for mortal satisfaction

I can’t help but wonder sometimes

if ancestors laugh or shake their heads dismissively

when they catch you pleasuring yourself from the other side

or if they cheer you on when it comes with a partner

and it makes me laugh only to myself

thinking they invisibly face palm their invisible former selves

watching their descendants stumble, fall and choke as must do

evolution oblivion catcalled by celestial perverts

a dangling tiger’s eye between the breast

trumps a washout kind of day

whether you dwell in a shanty or amongst porcelain walls

even when you’re soft-spoken and complacent beneath the sun

yet you morph into a voluminous warrior of words

in literary combat against the espresso machine at an open mike

fueled, not by caffeine

but by ego and desperation

and you give louder voice, even still,

against defiance, counterpoint, and ennui

projected at you by people you love

or once loved

or think you once loved

rebellion equates rejection

equates burden equates self-defeat

you can’t help the obdurate

you can’t hold onto obsidian for longer than bare minimum

not everyone values the lapis lazuli

much less sees the excavating path to the latter’s

reviving ultramarine

the final folly of those who care too much

is believing they make a tangible difference

realness is both soft and hard to the touch

yet true comfort lies inside

a steeping cup of introspection and a burning incense of empathy

the lover of life held in check

by too much crippling static inside air

which rages against the suffocation

as it would at pollution and apathy

the madness comes from banging missed advice against the surrounding plaster

from those who would devalue effort and persistence

and those who would cheat themselves short

and you even shorter

sometimes there’s just no helping others

who don’t want the help

nor the sycophantic inspiration shared between old and young

a passing of life data often mistaken for narcissism

it’s like a rotary phone ringing to dead air

or an unclaimed pass to the fast track

tears of joy can still cloud

climaxes can still hurt as much as they release

desire means we never stop living

mining our paths towards our own blue heaven

in completely the wrong direction…

“Coming of Rage” Has Been Nominated for a Pushcart Prize

I literally had the wind sucked out of me to get the notification the title story from my short story collection, “Coming of Rage” has been nominated for the illustrious Pushcart Prize. Humbled is one the first words coming to mind, knowing all the esteemed writers who have been nominated for a Pushcart, much less won.

As the deepest personal story in my book, I am so moved “Coming of Rage” has resonated with my audience enough to be in consideration of something of this magnitude. Grateful beyond words. Squeeeeee!!!

Coming of Rage is available through Lulu, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Nook, Kobo and Kindle.

Barnes and Noble paperback

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/coming-of-rage-ray-van-horn-jr/1141914814

lulu bookstore (paperback)

lulu ebook

Nook ebook

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/coming-of-rage-ray-van-horn-jr/1141909254

Kobo ebook

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/coming-of-rage

Amazon

A Detour Worth Taking in the Smithsonian System: The National Museum of Asian Art, Washington, DC

My son and I took a much-needed Guys’ Day out to Washington, DC yesterday. Our primary destination, the ever-transitioning Air and Space Museum, was restricting visitors through its renovations strictly via QR code accessed, pre-timed block passes. A shame, since my own father took me to Air and Space faithfully every year and I did likewise for my own until a few years ago. He’d wanted a return visit, yet we passed on the long wait and ended up hiking through raw November winds from the Capitol Building all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, and back to our parking garage.

With a quick stopover in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum where I got to pay homage to my Egyptian pantheon, we had a literal blast through a cold bluster, undeterred. It was one the finest times I’ve had with my teenaged son in the past few years. I scaled concrete risers and jumped off ledges with him and we talked like normal father and son in such a refreshing way it gave us both respite from his teenage angst. At least for a day, we could engage, frolic and carry on like we used to every weekend when he was younger.

Living a mere hour fifteen away, I’ve been to all of the core Smithsonian Museums (the collective sprawl plotted along Independence Avenue known as The Mall) so many times in my life, and I still never get bored of them. I look forward to each visit like I’m one of the countless domestic and international tourists forging a melting pot of people in our nation’s capital city. Yet it stands to reason, even knowing the nooks and crannies of the vast Smithsonian network of museums and galleries as well as any local, a missed gem can manifest itself.

With the Smithsonian expanding to showcase its continuous growth of cultural exhibits, inclusive of new Native and African American history museums, my son brought something cool to my attention on our way back to the car. The Asian Art Museum right next to the original Smithsonian Institute, lovingly referred to as “The Castle.” It’s been since this near-15-year-old was half his age I’d been able to lure him into an art gallery. For me, an instant sell.

Our stopover began as a curious, seemingly short and quick pit stop to thaw out from our venturing up to the marble feet of Abraham Lincoln where my son and I discussed the meaning of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963. We’d covered a lot of ground, including our blitz through most of the Natural History Museum and then the Hirshhorn Gardens before crossing through the flushing fountains of the World War II Memorial and the much more somber Vietnam Memorial. It reminded me of how I do any trip to Manhattan; relentless, on-the-go, pushing onward to see as much in a fell swoop as possible.

We quickly discovered the Asian Art Museum was anything but short and quick. The exterior is deceiving. To enter is to demand more of a commitment than meets the eye. 45,000 objects of art spanning the Asian territories with sacred devotionals to Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam spread throughout. A lot of the artifacts, paintings, crystals, ceramics, silk screening, metalwork and stoneware are stuffed into the Charles Lang Freer and Arthur M. Sackler curated galleries. I was surprised to find a lot of impressionist paintings.

Not everything was accessible, the exhibits were more spaced than the National Gallery of Art’s collection, yet, as you can see by the magnificent diamond-shaped staircase splitting the galleries and the 300-seat Meyer Auditorium, there’s magnificence to be found in this museum not every visitor to DC will discover without a proper length of time given to the Smithsonian alone on the travel itinerary.

I’ll leave you these pictures as a teaser with one amusing anecdote to pass… The Asian Art Museum houses a massive Buddhist shrine with a slew of statues splayed in what can only be described as the holiest of devotionals. Much as I gave love and silent offerings to my Egyptian lords and ladies at Natural History with hands pressed in prayer and deference without care to the public’s gawking at me, so too did a handful of the Buddhist faithful here. Would that I had made my son slow his roll, since there is a Ptolemaic Period image of Horus in this museum I’m kicking myself for missing. This spot of meditation was placed for Hindu and Buddhist flock, right down to piped-in ohm music. My son, no stranger to my and my fiancee’s esoteric spirituality, still told me later he’d been creeped out by the entire experience, adding he was at least glad we went inside the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art. That makes two of us, kid…

All photos except for museum exterior by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Wakanda Forever and Ever…

Obviously not a road lesser traveled with the deserving blockbuster theatrical sales for the Black Panther sequel, Wakanda Forever, but I wanted to share my immediate thoughts after catching it Saturday afternoon with the fam…

I don’t say this like it’s entitlement, but I have read Black Panther comics for much of my 52 years (and still do). Enough to see Shuri take the mantle in the comics before film while T’Challa rediscovered himself filling in as Daredevil. As a Caucasian middle class kid, I delighted one of the few characters of color in comics was regal, powerful, respected, acrobatic and an off the chart genius. This when the Civil Rights Movement was still feeling its aftereffects. I know what a tough thing it was to make Wakanda Forever without the franchise’s heart and soul, Chadwick Boseman. I was one of two people who cheered his arrival out loud in the theater during Captain America: Civil War and when T’Challa came back in Avengers: Endgame, my son and I both stood up in the theater and snapped off the familiar Wakanda salute. I don’t mourn celebrity deaths often, but I did Chadwick’s. He IS and always will be the Black Panther, and as a longtime fan of T’Challa and the fictitious utopia of Wakanda, I was mostly thrilled by Wakanda Forever.

A couple minor gripes aside, this is a poignant, reverential, emotional tribute, not only to Chadwick, but to Black Panther’s creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. These were two white, Jewish men who created T’Challa and Wakanda in the interest of empowering a downtrodden race. The cast for the Black Panther films have understood the meaning of legacy and ascendancy. Watching both films, I had the same recurring thought, these are no mere movies; they are the revolution Lee and Kirby propagated more than 50 years ago. Strength and honor be yours, Wakanda, forever…

“Night Jazz,” by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Here’s an old clinker from my open mike days, a fan-favorite often requested from the regulars…

Night Jazz

by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

the moldy fig wakes at dusk,

falls in and latches on

steppin’ out in its sable zoot suit

swishing its fly, starry plume

atop its inky conk

scatting to the clambake of

the wolf’s gutbucket trumpet

the coyote’s sly sax

the thrumming bass of the bullfrog

and the beaver’s mod skins

snapping its jazzy onyx fingers to the four beat

with a cool, crazy bop

don’t bring me down, cats

the caliginous hipster croons

blow those blue notes proper

peel me off some hot licks…smooth…

watch that clinker, daddy-o, dig?

none of that Mickey Mouse cornball drag

kill me right into the dawn, baby

yeah, that’s wild, Jack

sharp, baby, sharp

out of this world

I’m gone, man…real gone

Absence Excuse Notice…

Hey there, friends. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted, but I see a lot of you dropping in and poking around the page. Thank you for that. Much love to you, my gracious readers.

I’ve been on an odyssey that was thankfully short-term, but it’s kept me from regularity here at “Roads Lesser Traveled.” You see, I work full-time in the mortgage title industry. Or I did until last Monday. Yet now I am again, a week later. I have a few friends here at WordPress who’ve been in the real estate business and y’all know the deal. It’s one of the most cyclical industries to work in. Building a career for the long haul toward retirement…um, yeah. When mortgages are hot, we’re running with our keisters on fire. Title companies, mortgage brokers, realtors and lenders hire high in those fruitful, stressful times. They also drop personnel when the business dries up as it does and has of late with the Fed hiking interest rates in response to this confounded inflation and ludicrously priced houses from sellers looking to drop their junk as-is for a tidy profit.

Nobody outside the business ever thinks of it, but all of this high-fallutin’ gouging and rate spikes displaces people in my profession in droves. I’ve been laid off in the mortgage title industry so many times I’ve had to develop a sixth sense for when it’s about to come and when to get my ducks in a row. The scariest moment of my entire life came when the local foster care agency brought a six-month-old baby into our lives. I fell in love with that child upon sight and knew he would become my son. The day after, a title company I worked at 14 years ago laid me off, even knowing this child was coming to us. Frightened beyond comprehension I was responsible for a new life I’d signed up to foster then adopt, I was on the horn immediately after I packed up. I had resumes faxed within hours of layoff. I went after it with desperation and hunger. I had a new job the day afterwards.

It’s how I’ve approached my life, be it in title work, music journalism, writing or any job I’ve held. When the sources dry up and I’ve found myself on the streets, I’m already networking and pounding resumes before I even file the unemployment claim.

As it was this time and because of my outreach through social media and because I projected gratitude instead of angst toward an employer who’d been forced into an unfavorable business decision, I found a veritable army of friends, family, business compadres, recruiters, people I’d graduated high school with. The support I received made me emotional enough to record a few videos for my social media as people phoned me, emailed me, texted me, rallied for me with reposts and forwards and sharing of my resume. It only took a couple of interviews to weather, and I was proud to announce my new position yesterday with a close to home title company with reputable standing (and an enviable pipeline of work) in its local industry.

It truly is about who you know in life. The rest is up to your wherewithal. Fight for yourself if you find yourself downsized. Never take your network granted. In fact, build it bigger in organic fashion with each new venue you find yourself a part of. Take a layoff on the chin with grace, but never take it personal. Exercise in the mornings to calibrate your body before your mind. The achievements from working out creates a positive, can-do mindset for tackling your days spent in search of work. Above all, believe in yourself. I’ve said in a prior post, we all matter, so GO GET IT!!!

Thank you all, readers, for continuing to support my writing and this blog. I will be making efforts to resume activity here and to visit you all on your pages as well. It may be slow as I get acclimated to my new digs, but I’m here, friends. I’ll see you, sooner than later…

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.