Sedona, AZ: Traveling Back Through Time

Whenever someone asks me where I’m “from,” there’s no easy answer to that question. While many people grew up in one location, I moved around a lot throughout my early years. Do I say California, the place I was born — and where I traveled back to when I became an adult? That one does make sense. But there’s also North Carolina, where I went to high school. Or what about New Hampshire, where I live today? On top of that, all of the travels I’ve been on as an adult have left their mark on me, as I always carry a little bit of Morocco, Thailand, Laos, and other places with me everywhere I go.

All of those journeys form a part of my history, each location a shimmering strand on the spiderweb that is my life. But none of them are really where I’m “from.”

But then again, maybe I’m needlessly complicating things. Because when it comes down to it, the place I’m truly “from,” the place where my roots really go back to, is the town of Sedona, Arizona.

 

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Sedona, a town famous for Red Rocks, vortexes, adobe houses, and breathtaking views, is probably my favorite place in the world. There’s something special about it, something indescribably magical. Maybe it’s the scenery. Maybe it’s the history, or maybe the vortexes. But it’s something.

Either way, when I think about the concept of “home,” at least in the way that others seem to mean it, I think of Sedona. I lived in Sedona throughout almost all my childhood, up until I was nearly a teenager, and the little red town left its imprint on me in a big way. Going back there, I’m always surprised by how much I connect to Sedona — by how many little elements, features, and aspects of my personality seem directly rooted in that one place, nestled between ruddy, rocky guardians.

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The last few weeks, Veronica and I took a chance to go back and explore it — me, for the first time in almost a decade. Her, for the first time ever. Coming back to Sedona is always a major moment in my life, and it was truly breathtaking to go back there, to look up and see Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and all of the other old “friends” again.

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Whenever I’m leaving Sedona, I feel like I’m leaving a piece of myself behind with it. It’s always so weird, feeling so far away from the one place where all my childhood memories go back to. In many ways, it always feels like going back into a dream I experienced one night, a dream that felt real… except in this case, the dream really does exist. But I also feel like every time I go back, it marks some kind of major event. That I’ve passed through another threshold in life, and the next one is coming up.

I’ll always come back. I’ll always remember. And I have a feeling that the next time I make it out there won’t be so long, this time.

Sedona Arizona Nicholas Conley

Off to Thailand!

The travel siren has called out once again. It’s been almost a year since going to Morocco, and it’s time to head across the world again.

After getting married last August, we decided to hold off on doing the honeymoon immediately; since we already love traveling to distant locations as often as possible, we decided to plan out something special, a longer trip, and we decided that the place to go was Thailand.

Tomorrow morning, we’ll be jetting off to Bangkok, and then heading to northern Thailand, where we’ll spend the rest of the month exploring as much of the country as we possibly can. Will post pictures as soon as I get a chance, but in the meantime, we have bags to pack, lists to check off, and a flight to catch. Hope all of you are doing well; let me know if anything exciting happens, and we’ll talk again soon!

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Favorite 12 Posts of 2015

It’s crazy to realize that I’ve been writing blogs for Writings, Readings, and Coffee Addictions for a few years now, and to look back on how much has changed in that time. Every year is a new adventure, a new saga of highs and lows, and 2015 was the biggest year yet.

Last year saw not only the release of Pale Highway, my proudest achievement to date, but also publications on Vox, Alzheimers.net, SFFWorld, and more. This blog gained more followers in the second half of 2015 than it did in all of the preceding years combined. Of course, I also wrote quite a few blog posts, and in order to look back on the last year, I’d like to look back on the ones that meant the most to me.

I originally meant to make this a top ten list, but why limit oneself to artificial rules? After straining to narrow them down, I decided to settle on twelve instead.

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12. Why Superheroes Matter

To start with, a disclaimer: the only reason that this doesn’t rank higher is that I actually wrote it toward the end of 2014, not 2015 as I originally thought. Still, I wanted to give it an honorable mention.

Why? Because this is one of the most personal blogs I’ve ever written. It’s not just an analysis of why superheroes have become such a huge part of popular culture, but also a personal tale of the impact that characters like Spider-Man had on my childhood, and how they helped me to become who I am today.

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Nicholas Conley – Morocco – Sahara

11. Morocco

Travelogues are challenging to write, because it’s such a struggle to isolate the moments that most define these experiences, to pinpoint what one takes away from a new culture. Going to Morocco last winter, experiencing the Sahara Desert on camelback, was a mind blowing experience that I won’t ever forget.

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10. Echoes of Leaving

The single most defining moment of my post-high school young adulthood was when I first hit the road, exploring the country on my own terms, going from state to state on a daily basis. Echoes of Leaving, a blog post named after one of my first flash fiction publications, is a nostalgic look back at a time that truly defined so much of the rest of my life.

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9. Pharmaceutical Nightmare

Now, onto a blog that tackled a recent news story. The one good thing about recent Turing Pharmaceuticals controversy was that it raised awareness about a very real problem facing the United States, where drug companies can exploit the sick to reap huge profits. It’s something that we need to keep talking about until real change happens.

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8. Five Things More Important than the Color of a Starbucks Coffee Cup

Seriously. Stemming from what was undoubtedly the most ridiculous “controversy” of the last year, the best thing we can learn from the #StarbucksRedCup nonsense is that arguing for the sake of arguing does nothing to improve society, and that we have real concerns that we should work to find common ground on.

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7. Cover Reveal: Pale Highway

After years of hints and suggestions, this was the moment where I finally got to spill the beans and show Pale Highway to the world for the first time. It was all new then, and I remember how my heart was pounding as I finally posted the cover image. It’s insane looking back, realizing how long ago this already feels!

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6. Thank You, Lane

It’s amazing how much the simple kindness of a stranger can impact a person. Though I might never see Lane again, I can’t thank him enough for helping me out of a tough spot.

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5. Hogewey: A Better Kind of Nursing Home

Working in Alzheimer’s care, one of the greatest tragedies that I’ve seen is the system itself, and how it doesn’t give proper attention to the individual. As I mentioned during my radio interview last week, Hogewey is a “dementia village” in the Netherlands, and it represents a potential beacon of hope for the future. Let’s hope that someday, there will be many more Hogeweys all over the world.

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Nicholas Conley – Pale Highway

 

4. The Proof Has Arrived

Wow. Wow. That moment where Pale Highway came in the mailbox for the first time, that first experience holding it… there are few forms of happiness that are as deeply personal as seeing one’s dream realized in physical form, holding it, knowing that all of the work paid off.

Alzheimer's - Vox - Nicholas Conley

Alzheimer’s – Vox – Nicholas Conley

3. I’m on Vox!

Okay, so this is really more of a tribute to the Vox essay than it is to my blog post that links to it. But the reason I’m listing it here is that this was really the first time I ever publicly wrote about my experience with Alzheimer’s patients, and the outpouring of responses I received was truly transformative, as I got my first true look at how so many, many people connect to this issue. This is one of the pieces I’m most proud of in my writing career so far, and I hope that I’ve done my small part to raise awareness about the reality of Alzheimer’s disease.

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2. Top Five Coffee Moments  

Okay, so I have to admit, while this post was fun to write, the real reason that it’s here is because of you. And by that, I mean everyone who replied to the prompt. While it was enjoyable to think back on my top five Coffee Moments , it was an absolute blast reading all of the Coffee Moments that you guys came up with.

Cheers, all!

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Pale Highway – Nicholas Conley

 

1. Release Day: Pale Highway

Of course, you knew this had to be number one. Out of everything that occurred over the course of 2015, this was the achievement I was most proud of. I’ll just finish this off with a quote from the blog itself, as the Nicholas of that day can explain the feeling better than I can:

What I’m feeling right now is so surreal that I can’t quite put my finger on the right word to describe it. I wrote Pale Highway because I believe that people with Alzheimer’s—people who suffer from a neurodegenerative disease that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed down—deserve recognition. It’s crazy to look back on that first day I began typing this story, or the first day that I set foot in a nursing home and met the many residents who lived there, amazing human beings would have such an unexpected impact on my life. Pale Highway is a book inspired by my connection with these courageous people, conceived during my experiences in healthcare, and finally born here, now, today, in the form of this book that I’ve spent the last few years pouring my heart into. And so now, here it is, and I hope you all enjoy the read.
Admittedly, now that we’re in April, 2016 isn’t quite a “new year” anymore. But still, happy new year to all of you, and I hope to continue seeing all of your icons and text for years to come!

 

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Back Home

I’m home!

And after finishing my trip to Morocco, spending a couple of days in Barcelona, and finally making it back to Boston after a 24-hour period that included two stopovers, I’m both tired and happy to be back in the USA.

Of course, my mind is still trapped in a different time zone, but my body is now sitting in my office in New Hampshire, sipping on some coffee and catching up on everything that’s happened since I left.

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Hassilabied

I have many pages of notes that summarize all of the amazing events that occurred in Morocco, but I’m going to need a few days to process everything before I write it out.

Camels, souks, snakes, desert landscapes…I don’t even know where to start! I could probably write three or four books about this whole trip.

I should have something written up by this weekend, which I’ll share with all of you then.  Needless to say, going to Morocco was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

In the meantime, as I play catch up, one of the more exciting parts of my return was coming back to see all of the new reviews for Pale Highway that have been popping up. In closing out this post, I’ll share a few of my favorite quotes so far.

It’s good to be back, and I appreciate the many comments that you all left in my absence!  I look forward to catching up with everyone.

Pale Highway - Nicholas Conley

Pale Highway – Nicholas Conley

First off, I’m excited to present this wonderful review by Ann Werner, the writer/actress who once played Eliana on Days of Our Lives.  Ann calls Pale Highway “a thoughtful journey into what it means to be human,” and says the following:

In the best tradition of writers like Stephen King, Conley stretches the imagination, provides thoughtful insight into what it means to grow old and lose parts of what once defined us and, in the end, takes us on a fantastical ride into the very nature of what it means to be human.

I loved this book!

Marian Thorpe of Wind and Silence also has great things to say:

Conley has worked in care homes with Alzheimer’s patients, and this is clear not only from his descriptions of the environment, procedures, and organization of these homes, but from his accurate, compassionate depiction of the residents. Pale Highway is a science-fiction story, but it is also speculative fiction, speculative in terms of what reality is and might be in the mind of a man with Alzheimer’s.

And to finish up this post, I’ll also share this review by my fellow coffee enthusiast J.D. Thompson:

Let me say this: Pale Highway is like nothing I’ve ever read before. At once a sci-fi, it remains at its core an intimate look at a man’s struggle with a devastating disease. Conley’s style of writing is solid but his greatest talent lies in his character development. The journey of getting to know Gabriel was absolutely touching. Conley has openly said that his work in a nursing home was a huge inspiration for Pale Highway and his connection to the patients shines through in his writing.

 

Travel Update

Hello, fellow book readers and coffee fans!  Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

 

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I’m updating you today to announce that I’ll be out of the country for the next few weeks, as I embark on a voyage to the Kingdom of Morocco in Northern Africa.

 

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Along the way, I’ll be stopping in the Netherlands. Looking forward to the trip, and if I get a chance to access some wifi I’ll update you guys with pictures.

In the meantime, before I head out, let me update you on the latest Pale Highway happenings:

I was lucky enough to be interviewed by Michael S. Fedison of The Eye-Dancers, who asked me several fascinating questions about the book’s title, the inspiration behind it, and how much research went into its science fiction themes.  Thanks for the great questions, Mike!

 

5. The novel is wonderfully written and beautifully layered. It flows so well. How long did it take to write, from beginning (first-draft stage) to end (ready for publication)?

Thank you, it’s amazing to hear that. After putting so much work into it for such a long time, that sort of comment makes my day!

I started coming up with the story ideas that would lead to Pale Highway back in 2012, even before The Cage Legacy came out. These concepts went through a lot of transformation after that point, but as a whole, Pale Highway was something that I worked on for the better part of three years. I’ve been anticipating its entry into the world for a long, long time.

Pale Highway was reviewed by Stalking Shelves, where Shelley says the following:

The storytelling is done in a manner to slowly show the reader both the sad and joyous sides of life. To take this journey with Gabriel felt like living portions of his life. Gabriel Schist and all the residents of the Bright New Day facility left me with a profound desire to call my aging family members and remind them how much I love them and to sit and listen to as many stories of their youth as they care to tell.

 

BigAl’s Books & Pals also offered their 5-star review of Pale Highway, and said the following:
 

As Gabriel’s condition worsened, I often found myself uncertain what was hallucination and what was science fiction.
That’s all for now.  In the meantime, I have a flight to catch. I’m going to finish packing and head to Boston.  Talk to you all soon!
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Niagara Falls

They say that if you’re going to see Niagara Falls, you have to go to the Canadian side.  Based on the sweeping vistas that we witnessed, I have to agree.  Niagara Falls earns its historical reputation in every possible way that a place can earn such a thing. We only made a brief stop there as we were on the road to visit family in Michigan, but for the benefit of all fellow living creatures who possess eyes and desire interesting ways in which to use them, I must concur that it’s certainly a sight worth seeing.

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A Weekend in Canada

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We took a short drive up over the Canadian border this past weekend.  When one considers the fact that Canada is only a few hours away – at least, a few hours from New Hampshire – it’s rather strange that it feels so far.  After this weekend, I plan to make it up there more often.

Obviously, Canada is a big country, so when visiting you have to pick a location.  This weekend we managed to sneak in a quick trip to both Montreal and Ottawa, both of which are absolutely beautiful locations – and most importantly, both worthy of many future visits.  The graffiti in Montreal is mind-blowing, and Ottawa is a stunning capitol.

Before I go, I’ll leave you all with some pictures:

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Jamaica

Nicholas Conley in Jamaica

Greetings, everyone!

As I write this, I’m currently surrounded by the lush greenery, radiant sunlight and smiling faces of Jamaica.  Quite a change from the snow that we’ve been surrounded by for some months now, that’s for certain.

So far, Jamaica has turned out to be one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited.  The locals have such a wondrous joy for life that can’t be matched; though so many people here possess so little, everyone here is always ready to greet any stranger they come across with a smile.   It’s a beautiful place, in every possible way that a place can be beautiful.

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When we travel, my fiancée and I like to submerge ourselves in the culture, to really experience the country and get to know it.  And that’s exactly what we’ve done here in Jamaica – through three power outages and no available hot water, while spending countless hours exploring the towns of Negril, the West End, Montego Bay and Roaring River – and, of course, enjoying many long hours on the beach.

One of the more beautiful aspects of being in Jamaica is how fast you can become a part of the town, how quickly you can make true, lifelong friendships with the people there.  There’s already a long list of new Jamaican friends that I’ll be staying in contact with, and we make new ones everyday.

It’s an amazing place.  Red Stripe is a new favorite.  The jerk chicken is beyond comparison.  And the coffee is pretty excellent, too:

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But hey, I’ve said enough.  I’ll let some pictures do the talking, and then I’ll get back to enjoying my last few days here in the heart of the Caribbean.

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Echoes of Leaving

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Remember the day you first moved out?

It’s certainly hard to forget.  Though a person’s life will always roll forward like an ocean—never stopping or hesitating, always rushing forward—there are occasionally moments where one can actually hear the rustling paper of a page being turned, as one chapter ends and another begins.

That first day that a teenager moves away from his parents is one of those times.  Though it’s usually an event preceded by lots of buildup and preparation, there’s a truly palpable sense of closure when it finally occurs.  It’s one of the defining moments in life, really.  The child becomes an adult.

Though I’m originally from the West Coast, I spent my teenage years in the mountains of North Carolina, where much of my family still resides today.  The first place that I rented out, on my own, was also in North Carolina, about a twenty minute drive from my family; I moved out in the middle of my senior year in high school, to thrust my feet out into the world and to get a feel for how all these strange adult things worked.  That itself was an important move, significant in many ways.

The move that really mattered, though, was after I graduated.  I’d always had an adventurous side; an ache to see the world, a piercing desire to experience everything, and to have stories from wherever I went.  So after graduating, I decided that I would move to California for a while—and that, on the way there, I would travel the entire country, living on the open road and freely moving from place to place.

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I went by myself, with nothing but a car full of stuff, a notepad, a camera and a box of snacks.  Every day, I enjoyed a cup of coffee in a different town.

It was, quite possibly, the defining trip of my life.  I first took off on the morning of December 31st, so that I could begin the trip with a bang…and by a bang, I mean that I started my journey by going to Times Square on New Years Eve, and watching the ball drop—an event which is everything it’s cracked up to be.  After that, I roamed the US highways, going from state to state.  I saw Boston, New Hampshire, Connecticut.  One day I’d be at Gettysburg, the next day I’d be in Hershey.  The next, I might go to Ohio.  Missouri.  Chicago.  Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Everything was open, available and waiting for me.  Every highway exit was an opportunity for exploration.

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But before the trip, there was that morning—the morning of December 31st, the day I truly moved out, the day I took off on my adult life.  It was dark.  There was snow on the ground.  And, of course, there was coffee.

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For those of us who love coffee, our affection for that dark, caffeinated substance is usually more than simply a liking for the taste.  The distinctive smell of good coffee connects us back to memories of our most cherished moments—all those other times when we sat down, took a break and enjoyed a cup.  The coffee I had on that morning of December 31st will never leave my memory.

That’s why I wrote about it.

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Echoes of Leaving is a piece of flash fiction that first appeared in the wonderful anthology The Coffee Shop Chronicles, Vol. 1: Oh, the Places I have Bean!, published by A Word With You Press.  While Echoes of Leaving wasn’t the first story that I published, it was the first one that appeared in print, so it’s always held a special place in my mind.  It was first published in September of 2010, nearly five years ago.

Today, I’d like to share that story with you guys, right here.  While it’s certainly a story that stems from my life, I believe that it’s more universal than that.  I was taking off across the country, sure, but someone else might have been going to college, starting a new job, getting their first house, or any number of other situations.  I believe that this is a story that, in one way or another, almost everyone has experienced for themselves.

You can read the story right below.  Enjoy.

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The day I moved out, my mother made me a cup of coffee. I definitely needed it. It was 5:00 AM and the sky was still black. The ground was covered in snow. It was going to be a long day and I wanted to get a head start on things. I decided to leave as soon as the coffee was finished.

As she sat down across from me, I remembered a similar scene four years ago. It was the first day of high school and as I waited for the bus, she’d made a cup of coffee then, too. It almost felt like reliving a photograph. I looked at her, wondering if she was also remembering that time. She stared out the window as I drank my cup and she drank hers, the familiar warmth of the coffee easing the surreal transition that was about to occur. After 18 years of living at home, I was going to be leaving.

 A long time ago, my mother wrote a poem anticipating this event. I guess everyone imagines it before it happens, both parent and child; it’s one of those defining moments in life. She’d predicted I’d feel a kind of resolve, that I’d have pictured the whole scene in my head well ahead of time. She was right, but not completely. The day when you move out is the kind of thing that sneaks up on you. It’s something you can’t be ready for. All the speeches you planned in your head evaporate like mist on a sunny day.

We’d exchanged no more than a few words. I kept grasping for something significant to say, some way to show how much I’d grown up, to make her feel comfortable with the fact that I was departing. I couldn’t. There were no regrets, I knew that this was something I needed to do, but at the same time it felt more like a chapter in a book than a real moment. There’s nothing quite like that feeling when you first realize your world is truly yours and no one else’s.

So as soon as I finished my cup of coffee, I stood up. Tears were in my eyes, but they weren’t going to be released until I started driving. We hugged goodbye, said a few token words, and just like that, I left. I stole a final glance at the house I’d grown up in, and then charged forward into the real world. My car rolled out of the driveway, chewing up gravel beneath its tires. I whipped around the corner, taking off into the first streaks of dawn. The arrows pointed forward and life was mine for the taking.

Sometimes, as much as you love the comforts of home, you have to leave them. You need to step into the world and carve your place into it. You can’t look back too long, or you’ll never move forward.

All you can do is go.

 

Nicholas Conley, 2010. 

Nicholas Conley - photo from January 2010.

Nicholas Conley

Travel Update

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Greetings!

It appears that I’m a couple days behind on my weekly update; traveling can sometimes be a hectic business!

That said, I’ve been having an amazing time here overseas.  It’s been a very interesting experience, as I ventured from the beautiful volcanic landscapes of Iceland, to the fascinating architecture of England, and finally to the busy crowds and warm sunlight of Paris.  I’m currently here in Dijon, France, getting ready to venture out once again.

I’ll be coming back to the states late next week, and I’ll post more details once I make it back.  Talk to you guys soon!

-Nicholas Conley