James Strait is not just an author, pilot, broadcaster, avid cyclist, and devoted husband…he is a survivor who meets life head on and doesn’t take prisoners. I am so incredibly honored that he agreed to guest blog on my website. His moving and honest words come from his heart and soul. I know this because he has touched mine deeply.
As a lifelong rule, I’ve refrained from tooting my own horn. I’ve always perceived myself as competent at everything I’ve done, but I’ve always baulked at promoting myself. And then came a stroke at age 56.
Millions of people suffer strokes. Some are mild, others severe, and still others, life ending. Mine was the type that produced memory loss in the form of not being able to attach names to family members—while still recognizing their relationship. Also, the mental deficit came in the form an inability to pronounce many polysyllabic words, and, not spelling as well as I had prior to the hypertension emergency. These symptoms all passed within a matter of months,and I enjoyed a full intellectual recovery. However, in the interim, corrective surgery was needed to prevent a repeat performance.
Hypertension is idiopathic;they have very little understanding of its causes. Fortunately for me, they are aware that the kidneys can sometimes be a source for the back pressure, and in my case they discovered a blocked renal artery. A stent solved that problem and within the same time frame that I recovered my intellectual faculties, my physical also returned to normal. My career had been that of a professional pilot, but since the stroke compromised my ability to safely fly airplanes,that aspect of my life came to a close.
Not accepting that my flying career coming to an end was “the end”, I had to contemplate my near and long term future. Not long into my convalescence I made the decision about what to do with the balance of my life. I had always been a fan of talk radio, had logged as much time listening to a wide spectrum of talk radio as I had flying hours,so in my diminished capacity becoming a broadcaster seemed completely appropriate. When I shared that decision with my family and friends, they were probably surprised beyond what they revealed, but they all fell into lock step support behind my new career path decision. The next issue became how to make a broadcasting career happen.
The Internet is an amazing creation. It’s a landscape akin to the wild west in its difficulty to police, but also like the world’s greatest free library where answers to any and all questions wait ready to be revealed as soon as some curious soul submits an enquiry. Thus, it was actually very easy to quickly discover a professional broadcasting organization that in turn linked me to an existing broadcast professional. After a couple of emails and phone calls, the broadcaster and I met for lunch.
It was decided during our lunchtime conversation that he’d take me under his wing and mentor me. Soon I was sitting in the studio watching my new role model do what he’d been doing for years. Like all truly talented people, he made the job of talk show host look easy. On occasion, he was generous enough to allow me to participate, and I’ll confess to being nervous for a period of time. During my flying career talking on the radio to air traffic controllers had become natural, and was an easy process even in high paced densely trafficked airspace. But talking into the microphone at high-powered radio station was a responsibility that brought new challenges…and in that same moment, offered an opportunity of significant personal growth.
After a few months of me looking over the shoulder of this generous broadcast professional, it was time for me to fly the roost. This mentor further demonstrated his generous nature by connecting me to a small “AM” radio station where I then began a one-hour broadcast taking place one day per week. It was a revelation taking the responsibility of that microphone. I was also a magnificent metaphor for what was to come. Early on in my solo radio career I copied the format of existing known names in the industry.
I interviewed politicians, local and national. Hollywood entertainers were also common guests, as were professional athletes, coaches, team leaders…etc. Soon, very soon, I became not just bored, but disappointed with the interviews. Quickly, I became comfortable with my on air voice, and I experienced satisfaction from such. But the voices of the people that I was interviewing had become a source of disappointment. They all began to blur into what felt like an annoying background noise, as if they’d all been birthed in some giant hatchery where independent and honest thought was subtracted from their intellectual potential. It all began to blur together. But then a stroke of good fortune came my way. My wife of thirty-three years had purchased a coffee table book with a unique title, “Weird New Jersey.”
She enjoyed the content that focused on the unique quality that exists across the Garden State as a result of the multiculturalism. She suggested that I invite the authors of the book as guest on my broadcast, which by then had become known as “Strait Talks.” Within days I was on the air with the authors and we enjoyed a twenty-minute interview where we essentially laughed ourselves simple! At the time had written books for about fifteen of the states, with Weird NJ being the flagship publication. After we’d exchanged a few social emails, they asked if I’d like to write Weird Missouri, knowing that I had grown up in the Show-me State. Interested in taking on the challenge, I submitted writing examples that they forwarded to the publisher, along with some digital photography. Within a few days, they’d received the go-ahead from the publisher. We then negotiated a contract, and before I knew it I was flying out to Missouri.
Like all kids growing up in the irrelative geographic areas, I knew a few specifics about my home state. Meaningful to the research about the state, because of my familiarity, I was able to add two destinations to my laundry list of “weird” places to visit. However, I had very little intimate familiarity beyond a twenty-five mile radius from my home in what had been a very rural area south of St. Louis. As a result of needing a lot of information about the state at large, and because I was starting from a very modest laundry list of places to visit, I wound up driving 8,500 miles, visited over 250 venues, interviewed hundreds of Missourians, and took over 2,700 digital photographs. I then came back to my home on the east coast and sat down for three months and wrote the epic travel guide, “Weird Missouri!” It was rewarding to become a published author. I had always felt the desire to write, but for a variety of reasons I had only written instruction manuals, policy briefs, and other mundane types of writing as a function of my job. But the writing of “Weird Missouri” fired up a dormant aspect of my persona. After “Weird Missouri”, I want to write more. And then came Cancer.
In March of 2010 my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. The next year was spent jumping through all of the hoops that are associated with defeating that dreadful disease, repairing her body and spirit, and then moving on to a better future. And then came more cancer. During the Chemo phase of my wife’s cancer I was also diagnosed with that annoying failure of the body. I chose to not tell my wife until her entire treatment and recovery process was over because compared to her challenges, my cancer was like a toothache…without the ache. Treating cancer is time consuming, and I hate wasting time. Thus,during my wife’s many Chemo procedures, I decided to make something positive of my/our time…so I began to write. While chemo drugs were flowing into mybeautiful wife, a story was flowing out of me. The end product of that creative literary effort is my recent novel, “Déjà vu All Over Again.”
The story flowed out of me as if it were pent up emotion. I wrote 120,000 words in six weeks.Eventually, I rejected twenty-five percent of what I’d written, and the finished story was 90,000 words. Not wanting to dilly dally, I approached a publishing house that was local to my home and within six months Déjà vu was available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all of the other Online venues.During the publishing process, I went through the treatments to defeat my form of cancer. It was inconvenient, but not difficult. The biggest interference that the treatments produced was that it slowed my cycling…literally.
I’m an obsessed cyclist that rides an average of 200 miles per week. I also began racing on the track, more widely known as velodromes, and was hopeful that I’d regain my strength and speed prior to the Masters Track Nationals. And then came the crash.
During a training ride with the cycling team that I’m a member of, a brief distraction on the part of the rider in front of me, and of myself,led to a crash that produced a category two concussion, two separated shoulders, a compound fracture of the right clavicle, two broken ribs, and hands swollen like boxing gloves. It was a huge setback. One far more challenging than that of a stroke or cancer. However, while convalescing after surgery to repair the clavicle, and allowing the body to recover in general, I decided that another story needed to be put into my computers memory banks.
“Thomas Jefferson is Missing” is my third book, and second novel. It will be available in early 2013, providing we survive the prophetic date of December 21, 2012. If you’ve read “Déjà vu All Over Again”, then you already understand the significance of that date…if you haven’ read it, then you’d better hurry so that you can appreciate the fateful implication of December 21, 2012!
This story started some 1600 words ago talking about how I’d always resisted self-promotion. That all changed with the decision to make radio a second life career, and that reality has become even more significant now that I’ve become an author. As a working author I have every intention of selling as many books as possible. Conveniently, learning the profession of broadcasting also taught me the process of marketing. A published book that doesn’t sell is like a diamond still buried beneath the surface of the ground. Its potential for beauty is lost until it’s exposed to the world at large. Wanting to share my literary gems with the rest of the world has forced me to promote that fact that I’m now a broadcasting, book writing, marketeer! Who’d a thunk it?!
Life is about forward motion. For those of us fortunate enough to have been born into loving families, and raised in safe environments, we’ve been able to maximize our potential. I’ve always lived life hard because I’ve always marveled at its inexplicable rarity. To waste such an opportunity would be tantamount to holding the process of life in contempt. It was simply natural for me to continue forward at the same pace as always, even though some curveballs were being thrown my way. Forward motion for me, is always a no-brainer. Since those of you reading this are most likely authors, I hope that it’s your intent to share your stories with as many readers as possible.
Writing is an awesome responsibility. A reader has agreed to give you a segment of their life in order to gain something beneficial from your words. When someone gives me his or her time, I feel a responsibility to make that time meaningful. Thus, I hope that this brief story about how I created a second life while overcoming obstacles can be fuel for your fire should your flames need fanning. If you’re already involved in a four-alarm masterpiece…good for you, and keep at until you can’t keep at it no more.
It’s all about momentum!