Two years ago today, I lost a good friend named Travis “Achilles” Williams. I didn’t know it at the time, but his life and death would go on to forever alter the course of my life. The past two years have been a whirlwind of effort and emotion in curating this book, but I have learned, grown and changed. On this anniversary, I reflect on the past two years and where they have taken me.
March 17, 2015 – Excerpt from the Foreword of ACHILLES: A Meditation on Purpose & Inspirational Living:
“I was in Moab, Utah when I heard the news. I just spent six days in six different national parks, photographing each sunrise and sunset. Upon waking on the seventh day, I knew something was wrong. For the first time in weeks the skies were clouded over; there was no sunrise to be seen. Something was off; my stomach hurt and the world felt amiss. Nevertheless, I hit a trail in Canyonlands and started climbing upwards. Right as I crested the top of a hill, my phone started blowing up. It was shocking, I hadn’t had service in several days, and somehow it had switched from airplane mode.
Reading the text from Tito, I dropped to my knees, bawling like a child on the hilltop; shocked, heartbroken, and alone. I didn’t want to hike, I didn’t want to camp, I didn’t want to drive. All I wanted was to be with my friends - to hug them and reminisce. But even if I drove straight back to Atlanta, I wouldn’t make it there for several days, and I would miss the memorial service.
So I did what Achilles would want me to do. I threw my pack onto my weary shoulders and I proceeded to complete the most emotionally-grueling hike of my life. I struggled and wept and hurt, but I felt like there was a spirit pushing me forward, Achilles’ words ringing in my head, provoking me, inspiring me. That inspiration has still not left me, his words forever echoing, motivating, urging me onward. This book is a direct representation of his inspirational force and is a celebration of his legacy. Though he may no longer be with us physically, his spirit will forever live on. His immortal words and acts remain with us, reminding us how life should be lived; reminding us that life is an adventure and to love everything that comes our way.”
June 1, 2015 – Draft 1 ordered. Decided that any profits from the book should go to Achilles’ daughter, Azarria.
July 20, 2015 –
“I’m almost done with the Achilles project, which is extremely exciting. It’s been tough, though – sometimes I’ll come back out of flow and remember what exactly it is that I’m working on – a memorial to Achilles – and I lose it. The surreality of it has almost worn off, but then again I don’t think I’ll ever be used to it.”
July 27, 2016 - Realized that I could take the project to the next level if I got some write-ups from some of Achilles’ closest friends. Started soliciting contributions.
December 15, 2016 – Picked the project back up after a few month hiatus due to travels and a move to Colorado. Continued soliciting for contributions.
February 3, 2016 –
“Today I called Tamisha Moye’, Achilles’ good friend and the mother of his daughter, to interview her for the book. This project is turning into something more than I originally anticipated. It’s hilarious what my life currently is, I realized, as I introduced myself as a photographer and writer, voice recorder in hand. Tamisha was incredibly helpful, speaking to me in between work phone calls, providing incredible insight on Achilles role as a father.”
February 10, 2016 – Draft 2 ordered.
March 13, 2016 – Interviewed several more of Achilles’ closest friends; got personal write-ups from several others.
March 18, 2016 – Draft 3 ordered.
June 10, 2016 – Picked the project back up after traveling for a couple months. Draft 4 ordered.
July 6, 2016 – Draft 5 ordered.
July 8, 2016 – Weekly notes include research on:
- Charitable trusts, business organizations, custodial accounts.
- Initial cost estimates for shipping and packaging bulk orders.
- Social Media Strategy
- Subtitle brainstorm
July 23, 2016 – Draft 6 ordered. Announced that the final product would be released in August. Created a Facebook group for the book. Created Social Outreach committee.
August 1, 2016 –
“I’ve had some pretty striking realizations over the course of the project. Realizing how familiar Azarria’s story was – fatherless, at a disadvantage, at a young age questioning life’s fairness and what it all means… Why did it have to go that way? No one will ever understand. It could only be of ultimate disadvantage to the universe to take such a magnetic spirit from the people. He had only the most pure of intentions. He truly wanted to help people. It’s what he lived for. It’s what he died for.
So why then, oh universe? How can it make sense to take Achilles at the age of 30? He had so many years left to live. He had so many lives to impact, so many plans, ambitions, dreams. He had a daughter to raise. Why universe? He wanted to change the world. He could have. He did.
I’ll never understand why the universe took Achilles from us. But then again, I’ll never understand why the universe granted me an encounter with him - a friendship, a brotherhood - which would directly alter the course of my existence. The universe broke us when it took him from us, but it built us when he was here. The world is different without Achilles. But it is also different because of him.”
August 1, 2016 – Started working on the video for the Kickstarter campaign.
August 9, 2016 –
“Finally, the launch of the biggest endeavor I’ve undertaken. The website was huge, but this is a different scale. This is a year and half of efforts – compiling, editing, interviewing; curating, designing, redesigning; working around obstacles that shouldn’t exist in this type of project; serving as head of design, marketing, social media, crowd funding, legal, accounting, public relations, videography… oh and writing. I want this project to go huge. I want Azarria’s opportunities to be limitless. I want Achilles’ words echoed worldwide.”
August 11, 2016 – Day tasks include:
- Assembling press releases and media kits.
- Emailing many, many media outlets – local Atlanta and LA news sources, smaller newspapers in Georgia, fitness blogs, motivational websites, black culture websites, various foundations, the associated press.
- Texting everyone in my phone asking for media contacts.
- Deciding upon a $10,000 Kickstarter goal.
August 15, 2016 –
“The Kickstarter launches in a mere 37 hours. Tomorrow night is Kickstarter Eve - Achilles Eve - and it happens to fall on Achilles’ birthday. 2 more sleeps – well, attempted sleeps – until the biggest project I’ve ever undertaken gets tossed into the universal winds.”
August 17, 2017 – Kickstarter Day 1. $880/$10,000 raised to date. Day notes include:
- Woke up jittery at 5:30 a.m.. Received notification that two media outlets wanted to do pieces on the project.
- Hit the big launch button.
- Emailed a few hundred new media sources.
- Updated press release.
- Checked Kickstarter page every 3 minutes.
August 18, 2017 – Draft 7 ordered. Limited Edition Draft 1 ordered. Draft 7 was referred to as "Final Draft".
August 22, 2016 – Kickstarter Day 6. $2,405/$10,000 raised to date. Day notes include:
- Write-up for another blog
- Sending Facebook messages to all my friends until Facebook threatened to suspend my account.
- Emailing more blogs and media outlets
- Creating an Instagram account for the project
- Sending emails out to PR firms asking for free advice
August 28, 2016 – Kickstarter Day 12. $3,290/$10,000 raised to date. Week notes include:
- Interview prep and Interview with a major news outlet
- Prep for cold-call pitches to the media
- Strategy on social media for the rest of the campaign
- Brainstorming on new outlets to contact, including: more motivational blogs, crowdfunding blogs, nationwide news sources, radio – both nationally syndicated and local, podcasts about motivation and charity work, corporations, marketing firms.
- Created a twitter for the project
September 1, 2016 – Kickstarter Day 16. $3,851/$10,000 raised to date. After a couple greatly informative phone calls to PR reps, I got some new ideas. New to-do list includes:
- Create IMDB account and look up agent information for highly influential/charitable celebrities which may take interest in the project. Contact agents to pass story along.
- Rewrite pitch. Practice.
- Email Oprah. Email Obama.
- Make edits on Draft 7
- Contact all media sources on new media lists (over 1,000 new contacts)
- Call in to local and nationally syndicated radio station's morning shows
September 5, 2016 – Kickstarter Day 20 (10 days left). $4,251/$10,000 raised to date.
At this point I started freaking out. We had only raised 42% of our goal in 20 days, and now we had 10 days to raise another 6 grand. I had to leave to roadtrip back to Atlanta on September 11th and I desperately wanted to hit the goal before then so I didn’t have to stress about it while roadtripping. It didn’t look promising.
September 8, 2016 – Kickstarter Day 23 (7 days left). $7,596/$10,000 raised to date.
“After multiple days of waking up at 3 a.m. to call east coast radio stations and day-long work binges which lasted past midnight, we’re starting to gain some momentum. We’ve had two hugely successful days and all of a sudden the goal is in sight. We still need a huge push, especially to get us to the goal before the roadtrip, but it is finally starting to look possible.”
September 9, 2016 – Kickstarter Day 24 (6 days left). $7,736/$10,000 raised to date.
With only one full day left before I left for the roadtrip, I held a meeting with a couple friends to discuss how we could possibly hit our goal the following day. It would require the biggest day we’d ever had. We discussed potentially offering special Achilles stickers for anyone who pledged the following day. Then Ben came up with the idea: Tat-two Thousand. If we could raise ~2 grand the following day and hit our goal, I would get an Achilles-themed tattoo.
September 10, 2016 – Kickstarter Day 25 (5 days left).
“One of the most emotionally draining days possible. We were still making great headway and the Tat-two thousand idea was definitely giving us a push. The goal was in reach and excitement was high. That is, until I tried to export the “Final” draft of the book and my hard drive crashed. I slammed my head against the wall and screamed expletives as David texted our computer friends for advice on recovery.
I went outside and did some yoga to calm down, the California summer sun melting my worries. I realized that, even if the project was unrecoverable, I still had the previous version saved on the publisher’s website. Worst case scenario, I could call that one final. I breathed deeply, remembering how close we were and how far we had come. I wrote a book, I marketed the hell out of it, I set a goal, and we were going to get there.
I slipped into no-thought as my mind reintegrated with all that surrounded me. The struggles now became a source of bliss - a grin lightly spread across my face until I erupted into laughter, realizing the “classic universe” situation of the day. Of course my hard drive would crash on that last day, right when I should be celebrating. Of course the project would challenge me to the core of my spirit. It pushed me because I could handle it; it pushed me because, for some reason, I needed to be pushed and I needed to learn how to push back.”
September 11, 2016 –
“Trembling as I write this, tears welling as I still can’t truly believe it. We reached our goal. We raised $10k. We fuckin’ did it. Never has a joy so pure resonated through my bones. What a ride, what a journey! To think, just 5 days ago we were stagnant at $4k with only 10 days left. We were screwed.
Jesus, this project. It took me to an absolute breaking point. I don’t think I could ever imagine encountering so many ridiculous obstacles, so many hurdles the universe threw at me. And why, universe? For a project as pure as this, why push back so hard? Why the struggles of getting contributions and the bullshit dance with the media? Why was it so hard to get his 30,000 followers to follow this? Why did my damn hard drive crash on the final export? Why did I have a psychological crisis (caused by said crash) at a point where only celebrations should be happening? Why did I have to push so damn hard every step of the way? Because I could.
It’s like the universe knew that I would only be willing to push myself this hard for Achilles. It knew that this was a project that I couldn’t half ass. Only for Achilles, with his profound existence screaming at me each time I picked up the book. It knew that I would push through every obstacle - each one an opportunity to learn, to grow.
All the struggle, all the BS, slips away in a light of bliss. September morning ecstasy taking me for a ride as I smile skyward, accepting, inviting the blue skies, the warm sun, the waving palms, and any shit the universe is going to throw my way. A lone Coors rolls across the back patio, crinkling and shining in the morning rays - its shotgun hole pointed towards the sun, still celebrating.”
September 16, 2016 - Kickstarter campaign ended. $11,561 raised in total.
October 15, 2016 - Draft 8 ordered. Also referred to as "Final Draft".
November 10, 2016 - Replacement copy of Draft 8 ordered due to print errors.
November 16, 2016 – Draft 9 ordered. Also referred to as “Final Draft”
December 6, 2016 – Sat down with an Art Director to solicit advice on a font I was struggling with. He ended up giving me some great feedback on the entire book, which led to major reformats. The book was far from finalized.
December 16, 2016 – Draft 10 ordered. Referred to as "Final".
January 16, 2017 – Draft 11 ordered. Called it "Final Draft" once again.
February 6, 2017 – Draft 12 ordered. Another draft mistakenly referred to as “Final Draft”.
February 27, 2017 – Draft 13 ordered. Limited Edition Draft 2 ordered. The true Final Drafts.
March 17, 2017 – In final talks with the publisher before the books go to print. I reflect on the past two years and where they have taken me. What a ride. Achilles, I wish you were still here; but, in a way, I know you are. Thanks for everything.