Updated: Jul 4
On June 30th, 2021 I was gifted this Haiku from Thomas L. Vaultonburg . He is always there to listen and he's been the only editor that I've never called a motherfucker in private. As writers, we should be allowed to speak freely of criticisms in private, this is essential to growth. We should allow ourselves a day to mope and to criticize those would cast judgement on our "genius".
But with Thomas--I never feel judged. I feel inspired. His notes are authentic and honest. He's one of the greatest listeners I've ever spoken with which is probably why he's such a fantastic editor--and I don't call Thomas "my editor" because there is no ownership. I don't believe in calling anyone "my editor" or "my actor" or "my sound recordist".
The editor The actor The sound recordist
Thomas is more of a mentor than an editor. I often tell the story of how we met and how strange a path weaves in front of you without your knowledge--like tracks being hammered before the train comes rolling through, to build the town, to create the voyage to another town, and so on.
I met Thomas on the set of Memoirs of a Stinky Couch, a low budget production produced and directed by Travis Legge. We were surrounded by students and extras in a cramped apartment rented out by cinematographer Tim Stotz. I was nervous and when I get nervous I tend to reach for the nearest adult beverage, which Tim had, but these were off limits to the cast and crew...but he made an exception for Thomas and I, so we both dived in at the same moment and our paths crossed and our worlds collided. We stood outside, both agoraphobic, and we spoke to each other. I had met Thomas prior to this filming, when he was running a bar called Castaways and we played some sort of battle of the bands, but he was working and we didn't get to talk. I didn't know anything about him.
It was only after the shooting wrapped that Tim Stotz told me more about Thomas. He was an author--a poet. He had been published alongside Bukowski, during the 90s when people still submitted work to magazines. He was a legend. This story was corroborated by my landlord Rick Zilhart who was an artist during the early days of physical creation and labor. I had never met an author, or I should say, I had never met anyone who had been officially published.
It was when I finally read Detached Retinas that I was gifted the cosmic revelation that the man who I had shared a Pabst Blue Ribbon with on a sketchy-ass deck was in fact a literary genius.
There was no going back--the past, the time before I read Detached Retinas, was considered my BC moment--everything else after was my AD. I reached out to Thomas to ask for his guidance. I wanted to write a book and had been writing short stories and poetry for a while, but I didn't know how to accomplish the task. Thomas helped me without a second thought. And with his help, and the fuse of inspiration afire, I self-published my first book Love is Meat in 2011.
Even stranger is the path that came after. There were no fireworks of fame from the book itself, no literary agents came knocking on my door, but something better found its way inside my life. I received a call from a professor at Rock Valley College who believed that one of the short stories I had written could be adapted into a short indie film.
During our first meeting to discuss the prospective adaptation, I was introduced to the cinematographer...a young woman by the name of Kim Brown, my soulmate and the woman I would eventually marry. The film didn't get out of the preproduction stage until around 2016. Synthetic Love Incorporated is the name of the movie, which is ironic, because the story is about a man who is physically incapable of falling in love without the use of a prescription medication, and I very much pulled this story from my own experiences when I wrote it. I had been alone and unloved for years and then, here she was. Strange world. Strange.
We can stare back at the path of our lives, but we should always move forward. However, as we move forward, we should never forget those who have helped us along the way. We are not indebted to our friends, as one friend should never be indebted to another, but we should always remain faithful and remind ourselves that chance encounters can make large waves. Do your best to always answer. Do your best to listen. Do your best to travel your path knowing that there is only one direction: Forward.
God speed, Thomas.