The One Thing I Learned Today: Nicholas Sparks

In the first chapter of my book Bedtime Stories for the Living, I wrote:

I repeat the conversation I had with Dr. Thomas. Cindy’s voice quivers as she asks me to spell cerebellar atrophy and I know she is writing it down. Dylan cries. He is 6 weeks old. I tell Cindy I will be home soon and hang up. I know she is now crying. I do the same. Not a sobbing oh-Nicholas-Sparks-stop-pulling-at-my-heartstrings cry, just hard, manly chest chokes. Like the car is suddenly short on air. I am scared.

*Quick note: This week, Bedtime Stories for the Living earned its 100th Amazon review! Thanks to everyone who left a review to help my little book achieve such a milestone.

Now, it’s time to tell you something: I have never read a Nicholas Sparks book or even seen a movie based on one of his books. I know he’s a wildly successful author who writes romance novels full of passionate characters with yearning hearts and toned abs.

I still remember–10 years later–when the news of my diagnosis was settling in–how my heart was yearning and how my abs were not toned.

In January I wrote a letter entitled, 21 Questions to Help You Do More in 2024. Question #3 asks: “What can I do, right now, that would make life more exciting?” And if April is the start of the calendar year’s second quarter, I felt it was the right time to review my motto–“Do more in 2024.” So this week I read this question, rubbed my untoned abs, and typed into google “What can I do right now, that would make life more exciting?”

This virtual adventure led me to discovering the book Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding. Inspired by a Native American legend, the book was published in 1990 and written by Olympic runner and a member of the Lakota tribe Billy Mills and the heart-tugger himself Nicholas Sparks. It was Sparks’ first book.

Wokini, when translated from Lakota means “new beginning” and the book is a simple, slim yet powerful book that explores how setting new and interesting goals–despite struggle and setbacks–is one of the ten “Outlooks” of cultivating happiness.

In a recent interview with Amazon, Sparks described how he’s now writing plays and experimenting with new writing forms that are very different from the romance genre. For Sparks, even though he’s achieved massive success, exploring new ideas keeps writing fresh and exciting.

Later the interviewer asked Sparks, “What is your favorite book of all time?”

Sparks rolled his shoulders and exhaled, “Hmm. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. It’s a timeless reminder of how little people have changed and how little wisdom has changed. He writes about things that happened a couple thousand years ago that are spot on today.”

Again, it’s time to tell you something: I wrote the Nicholas Sparks reference in my book as tongue and cheek. Sparks writes love stories that are turned into melodramatic movies. Both mediums are not my mediums. I once believed Nicholas Sparks was probably like his popular books. Sappy. Mushy. Dripped with sentimentality. But as I get older I’m realizing things that are easily mocked and misunderstood are often interesting and relatable. I mean, my books are love stories. Not the French-kiss-in-the-rain type but they are love stories. Maybe they’re sappy, mushy, and dripped with sentimentality. But you know something– I don’t care. Because love is the only earthly emotion encouraging us to endure life’s long pain. And when you find a subject with that kind of staying power you write about it–for your entire life.

Again it’s time to tell you something: Meditations is one of my favorite books. It’s a book I continually return to. It’s a literary source of comfort and encouragement as I learn to accept– which is a daily practice–and attempt to live an inspired life despite my diagnosis. And I was shocked to hear it’s one of Sparks’ favorite books.

“Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it—turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself—so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“Do More in 2024” is not a lovely motto because it rhymes. It’s lovely because it’s always been true. It’s lovely because our highest responsibility and our greatest challenge is to fall in love with ourselves. And not in a egocentric, dangerous way. But in a humble, respectable way. To be the main character in our self-love story we must learn new things, set challenges for ourself, and embrace exciting adventures to continually attract ourself to ourself.

Today, I learned Nicholas Sparks is not just a romance writer. Yes, he’s best known for his romance novels—all 23 of them have been New York Times Bestsellers— yet he has written two nonfiction books. And his favorite book is not The Bridges of Madison County, it is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius—a cornerstone text of the transcendent Stoic Philosophy.

A philosophy I find interesting and exciting and ponder when I’m not toning my abs.

Be well,


If you’ve been following my journey you know I have ataxia–a cruel, incurable brain disease that impairs walking, talking, motor skills and a bevvy of other important functions.

Ataxia research has long been underfunded and awareness has long been underpublicized.

On May 4th, the National Ataxia Foundation and I are hosting Philadelphia’s first “Yo Philly, Stand Up To Ataxia– A Night of Charity and Comedy” event to support ataxia research and increase public awareness. Our goal is to raise $15,000.

I encourage you to check out the event link, donate, and share the event link with your entire network! Thanks!

To Purchase Tickets and Make a Donation Click Here!


One Line One Love with Author Cindy Villanueva Episode 15: Exploring Shifts of Being Through Action

If you haven’t heard yet… my friend Gail Boenning and I recently launched a podblog called, One Line, One Love.

OLOL is a unique listening and reading experience that will inspire everyday writers, who dream of writing, to pick up their pens and write one line at a time.

This podblog format (a hybrid of a podcast and blog) is for everyday writers who–like me–often need a creative boost, a scrap of encouragement, and practical advice to unleash the writer within. Each episode consists of five wide-ranging, writer-focused questions and a weekly writing prompt.

Please check it out! And please share with any writer friends or anyone in your life who has ever considered picking up the pen.


Purchase Link


Warm greetings to everyone who found me on the University of Pennsylvania’s Ataxia Clinic’s website! Thanks for stopping by. I have ataxia and though I’m not a doctor, I hope my words comfort, encourage, empower, and serve as good company on your journey.


Jay Armstrong is a speaker and an award-winning author. Despite 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.

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