Thursday, May 11, 2017

When the Shadows Come

            I looked down at the busy street below. I was sitting in my usual spot on the balcony, twenty floors up. Sunlight glinted off the tall buildings around my condo, and the sound of a jack hammer echoed along the street. It was another bad day. There’d been too many lately, so many I couldn’t remember the last time the clouds had lifted. I’d dealt with depression since my early twenties, but this was probably as bad as it had ever been.

CONTINUE READING at Stephenrburns.info

Monday, April 24, 2017

NEW SITE: GO THERE!

As of today, all my posts and blogs will be at a new site.

STEPHENRBURNS.INFO

Thank you for coming to this site over the years, and for walking the journey with me. I'd love to see you at the new place!!

Stephen

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Changes Coming

No one needs to tell you that change is hard, and that sometimes life can just about rip your guts out. We all go through it. This past year saw me put much of my life on hold... just to find myself again. I've documented the effect of those changes in my life and how difficult they were, how many days I spent not wondering if I wanted to even bother trying anymore.

This is the impact of not only drastic life changes but my own battle with mental health issues. I've been largely silent over the years with my struggles with depression, except for the odd essay. No more.

I've experienced what happens when we try to hide, when we think we can overcome these things by ourselves, when we refuse to admit that we are sick and have limitations. I've also seen what happens when people embrace who they are, without shame, and reach out. A number of people have reached out to me this past year, some because they wanted to help me, and others because they needed help. And in both instances, the results were stirring. I will continue to advocate for my tribe, and that will be one of a few changes coming to this site.

As well, I'm hoping to have a cleaner, more professional looking site very soon. I do as well as I can when it comes to web design, but I'm no expert, and quite frankly, graphic design isn't one of my strengths. But even if you aren't interested in my books, every reader who comes here deserves a good experience. My goal over the next six months is to improve that experience for you.

THE WRITING

I've written a thousand words a day for almost twenty five years... until last year. And I am still only starting to get my groove back. (Thank you, Angela Bassett) Creative writing -- hell, any writing -- is extremely exhausting, both mentally and emotionally, and this past year I just didn't have the energy.

With the arrival of the new year, however, I have started writing again. WINTER, the third book in my series, is nearly complete. I've also started a new novel, AFRAID OF THE DEAD, which will kick off a new detective series. It's always fun to stretch yourself as an artist, and AOTD is a new challenge for me. I'm looking forward to finishing the first draft.

OTHER CHANGES

I'm so grateful for the help I've received over the years, and the encouragement from my readers from my first two novels. With your permission, I'd like to connect with you more this year, My goal is to not only build my audience, but give you, the reader, more insight into what I'm doing and hopefully, receive more feedback from you.

One of the advantages of the digital revolution is that an author can now connect more easily with their reader. And this year, I look forward to getting to know you all as well as I can, and creating a community that talks not just about books, but life as well.

We're all in this together, and I hope you'll all take the journey with me.

-Steve

NOTE: You can sign up for my mailing list on the link at the top right hand side of my web page. Or shoot me an email or connect with me on Facebook (My BIO/ contact page). I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The End of the Bench


1989

Sweat dripped down my face as I leaned over the end of the bench. A weight banged down behind me. Van Halen blared over the speakers. Beside me, two huge men in their late twenties were doing deadlifts. I stared as one of them began his set. 450lbs?
I want to be strong like that.
I laid back to do another set of bench press. One hundred and eighty five pounds. Not much compared to the others in the gym, but it was the most I’d ever done. I managed to lift it seven times, and while I struggled with the last rep, I was careful not to make any noise. I was the kid, the apprentice. I knew my place.


I sat up and looked at the old photos of competitive bodybuilders on the walls. Galaxy 2000 was Welland’s local gym for serious weightlifters. The smell of mold and decay and sweat marked the ancient rubber mats and steel plates scattered across the gym. Families did not work out here. Neither did old men. Even the women had arms the size of my legs.
I loved it.
I’d just turned seventeen, and from the first moment I’d stepped inside the gym, it felt different to me. It reminded me of a library or a book store. A place of possibility and growth and safety. A place where I could challenge myself.
A place to be.
I took a deep breath and leaned back for another set.

2016

I leaned over the end of the bench and wiped my face with a towel. Drake rolled through the speakers. The mirrors gleamed in the dim light. So did the trainers, with their bright red shirts and perky smiles. It wasn’t my kind of gym, but it was steps from my condo. I could make do.
I pounded out a set of eight chest presses and let the dumbbells thud to the floor. The gym had always been a place to forget about the outside world. Forget about my job. Forget about the emotional flotsam in my life. But lately it had become difficult to relax.
                I thought back to my first summer lifting weights and learning the rhythms of the gym. Little did I know that it would become a sacred place for me. A place where I could go when times were hard. A place to remember that time passed and healing came. The gym had seen me through three painful breakups, numerous battles with mental health issues and every form of displacement. Wherever I was, whatever happened, there was always another bench. Always another set to do. Always another weight to rack.
                I rolled the dumbbells into place and grunted as I propped them on my knees. I’d recently finished a book about being present in my life. In it, the author* discussed the importance of staying in the moment, of not getting lost in what was to come or what had happened in the past. It was a challenging idea. How could someone be in one place – physically, mentally and emotionally – when there were so many things that still needed to get done? When my “to-do list” numbered one to infinity? When my personal life felt like a wave pool?
                And even if such a thing was attainable, there were reasons for avoiding the moment. I’d just emerged from a decade long relationship. The memories were painful. Some days they bubbled to the surface, and to face them was hard. So was the understanding that I hadn’t always wanted to be present during that relationship. That I’d been unwilling to confront my unhappiness – our unhappiness – in a healthy way. That for all I’d fought for a good ending, too often I’d closed my eyes during the middle of our story.  
And it wasn’t just a recent phenomenon. I could point to far too many times over the course my life when I’d wanted to be anywhere but “here.” Sometimes it looked like sports. Sometimes it looked like rum. Sometimes it looked like work. The faces changed, but the notion of “escape” remained.   
                And for as much as I’d learned the past year, I still struggled with it.
                Instead of dealing with the bouts of loneliness that had plagued me for most of my life, I preferred to look at my phone and find the latest on my teams, lose myself in my novels or argue an arcane point on Facebook. There was always another world to explore, another place where I could escape the hurt and fear and anger bubbling to the surface.
                This week had been especially tough. Fresh memories of old wounds. Scabs peeled. New dabs of blood on my skin. I’d come to the gym to help me get back to the present. To help me stop running. To help me find the strength to remember that the pain would pass and time would heal.

I replaced the weights on the rack and carried another set over to my bench. A thick guy in his early thirties was doing curls near the back. I walked over.
                “Hey, man. Can I get a spot?” I said.
                “Sure.”
                He strolled with me to the bench and glanced down at the weights. “Wrists or elbows?”
                “Elbows,” I said.
I cleared my mind and took three deep breaths. I’d never lifted this much weight. I let out a loud grunt, and with help from my spotter, managed four clean reps.
The dumbbells thudded to the floor.
                “Thanks, man,” I said, standing.
                He shook his head. “Wow. I hope I’m as strong as you when I’m your age.”
                I smiled at the back handed compliment as he walked away.
How strong was I if I couldn’t relax at my sacred place? If I couldn’t face what I needed to face? If I couldn’t deal with the things that had risen to the surface.
I got a new set of dumbbells as moments from my previous relationship began to scroll through my mind. Moments of laughter. Of joy. And pain.
Relentless and ruthless, it was all I could do to even out my breathing.
Broken promises.
Broken vows.
And brokenness.
I let the memories roll through me as I continued to work out. Continued to breathe. Continued to be. I slumped onto the end of the bench as the film finally rolled to a finish. It would play again, but not today. I stared into the mirror and realized the man looking back at me was smiling, ready for the next exercise.
My smile widened as I leaned back for another set. Listened to the chatter behind me. Felt my hands curl around the steel.
It wasn’t perfect.
But I was here.
And that was something.
  

 *Rob Bell, How To Be Here