No Handrails (Scenes from Miami)

Last week I shared with you some internal dialogue that exposed dollops of anxiety turning in my stomach prior to my trip to Miami, Florida to receive an award for “Bedtime Stories for the Living.”

One of those dollops was: What if there are steps without handrails leading to the stage?

Well, welcome to my nightmare…

Michel de Montaigne was born in France in 1533. He was a statesman, writer, and philosopher. A forefather of the pedagogical belief that individualized learning was the most effective way to teach children. A belief that, when I wore those pleated public school teacher pants, was still an important tenant of modern education.

Yet de Montaigne may be best known for his thoughts on anxiety. He was a pioneer in emotional studies and believed that a majority of human anxiety is caused by worrying about things that will never happen.

“My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”- Michel de Montaigne

500 years after Michel died, inspired by his work on anxiety, Cornell University conducted several year-long studies on human fear and worry. The studies revealed that 85% of things people worry about are things that never happen.

My family and I were ushered into the Hilton Blue Lagoon ballroom an hour before the award ceremony began.

We sat in the back row however after surveying the room, I motioned my family to move up to the front row. “It will be easier,” I said.

With Clark Able holstered to Sir Johnny Walker and we rolled to the front row. And that’s when I saw it. That’s when dollop turned sour and my knees locked and the room tilted. Smiling people glided across the ballroom floor in sparkly gowns and pressed suits. They were shaking hands and hugging and laughing and seemingly unbothered there were no handrails on the stage stairs.

I looked at my family and behind a smile, I was thinking, “I’m sorry. I’m not going to be able to get on stage. I made a mistake. Let’s go home.”

The ceremony began and behind a black podium the MC explained the “ceremony will unfold back to the front.” Meaning that the writers in the back row were first to receive their awards. Meaning I would be one of the last. Meaning that I would have plenty of time to stare at the steps with no handrails and think about how if de Montaigne were here I would probably say something snarky to veil my fear like, “So this must be one of those 15% of terrible misfortunes.”

As names were called, as writers ascended the stairs like literary angels and gracefully floated across the stage, as cameras flashed, as hands clapped, as lips whistled, Cindy must of felt my temperature rise and heard my heart thump because just then she looked at me and said, “When you’re called, I’ll go up with you and help you up the stairs.”

The room settled. My nerves cooled. The sour dollop in my stomach turned almost sweet.

My brain disease taught me that we need people. We can not do this life (or the stage stairs) alone. The ability to rely on others takes courage and self- awareness and vulnerability. Three qualities we need in order to evolve into a better human.

I grabbed Clark Able and pulled myself up from my seat. Cindy stood and we walked towards the stage stairs. The MC read author names, their book titles, the book’s category, and what award author received.

Cindy’s soft hand and Clark’s plastic handle guided me up the first step, then the second, until I was standing on stage. My brain disease also taught me when you’re with people you trust and feel safe around, the world is a less scary place.  

“Jay Armstrong. Bedtime Stories for the Living. Nonfiction. Parenting. Gold Medal.”

Clark and I floated across the stage. Hands clapped. Cameras clicked. Cindy and our kids stood at the edge of the stage looking up at me.

Sometimes we need to focus on the things we can do, the adjustments we can make, the actions we can take rather than the things we can’t change. Wishing for handrails is like wishing Michel de Montaigne was alive. It’s a futile waste of time and energy. Sometimes we need to realize life is going to be different than how we want it to be. Sometimes we need to accept help from others. And sometimes we simply need to be less scared.

I stood in the center of the stage, bowed my head, and a gentleman in a fine gray suit congratulated me and ringed my neck with a Gold Medal. I was instructed by a woman behind an expensive looking camera to look up and smile.

And for a brief, delightful moment I was standing firmly on stage.

Be well,


PS: I would like to wish you and your family Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for supporting my writing and inviting my story into your life. Like a slice of warm pumpkin pie, I hope my writing has provided comfort and satisfaction to your soul.

Do you like t-shirts?

I love a good t-shirt. Especially a t-shirt that is both super-soft and super-comforting. Like receiving a hug from an elderly teddy bear. Anyway, the new Write On Fight On shirt was inspired by one of my favorite novels, “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy and a deeply personal need to remind myself not to give up. Especially when life becomes a bastard and there are not any elderly teddy bears around.

These t-shirts are on sale for a limited time only! Men’s, women’s, and children’s sizes are available. Also, they make great holiday gifts for friends, family, and elderly teddy bears.


November Book Promos:

Are looking for inspiration? Are you searching for a better version of yourself?

This month I joined literary forces for some best-selling authors to promote our books in, Become Inspired. Become You. 

Memoirs, Biographies, Self-help books…oh my!

This month I joined literary forces with some best-selling authors to promote our books in the inspiring November Nonfiction Collection. 

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take…

A few months ago, with low expectations, I took a shot and entered “Bedtime Stories for the Living” in the highly regarded, highly competitive international book contest presented by Readers’ Favorite. Readers’ Favorite is an established force in the publishing industry. They have worked withPenguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins, and have received the “Best Websites for Authors” and “Honoring Excellence” awards from the Association of Independent Authors.

Anyway, just before I was about to take a midday nap, I was informed that this suburban dad had won…

First Prize, the Gold Medal, in the Non-Fiction/Parenting genre!

The award ceremony is in November and is at Hilton Blue Lagoon in Miami, Florida.

It was totally unexpected. I’m totally honored. And I totally can’t wait for my kids to question my parenting skills so that I can gently remind them I wrote a Gold Medal winning parenting book.


Quote of the Week:

If you would like to share something with others (a photo, a poem, a song, a quote, etc.) that tosses some positive vibes into the world, please send your suggestions to me at Thanks!


Are you a reader? Looking for your next good book to read or listen to? Check out my new page “Jay’s Book Shelf” for some book recommendations.

Here’s what I’m currently reading: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I taught this book for years to my 12th grade students (hence the tattered, Post-it filled copy). Most of the students hated it. It’s not a beach read or one you could casual skim like Tik-Tok videos. I mean, at 18 years-old, I’d probably hate it too. This is an “old” person’s book. I think the longer you live, the more joy and heartbreak you experience, the greater appreciation you will have for this Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Also, if you haven’t heard, McCarthy’s novel “The Passenger” was recently published. It’s his first novel in 16 years. 

If you like this post, you may also like:

The Big Reveal


How to Climb Today’s Mountain


Your Voice is the Most Powerful Thing You Own


A Letter to My Son (mostly about) Baseball


Jay Armstrong is a writer, speaker, former high school English teacher, and an award-winning authorDespite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. The leader of the Philadelphia Ataxia Support Group, he hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:

1. Reading
2. Writing 
3. Exercising
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents or a drink with his friends)

Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time. 

You can also visit Jay at

Leave comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *.