Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Nicholas Swart. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Nicholas, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Can you talk to us about serving the underserved.
In 2017 I began volunteering at the Salvation Army Homeless Shelter in downtown Minneapolis. One of the first people I met at the door was George Floyd, the hired security guard. For the next year or so I interacted with Floyd nearly every time I entered the building, asking him for a parking pass for my vehicle. His portrayal in the media has toggled between being demonized and being martyred, however, at the end of the day I think it is important to understand that for this brief time in his life he was doing good work. He was giving back to the community and protecting the vulnerable and powerless with his considerable size and calm demeanor. He was trying to make a life for his family and rise out of the hell of his past mistakes and indiscretions. As a volunteer I was protected by Floyd. I volunteered the dinner shift on Saturdays and Sundays from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm. I served food, washed down the tables and then swept and mopped the entire cafeteria both nights nearly every weekend. Sometimes I came in the morning to serve breakfast and cook lunch. In the winter I would take the garbage out into the back ally in the dark, Minnesota night. On more than one occasion a hulking man would round the corner and instead of scaring me, I would think “Thank God it’s George Floyd.” So, in serving the underserved I don’t want to so much talk about my willingness to do so, but his. It is not spoken about enough, how a man trying to do right with his life unexpectedly fell from grace.
I stayed with the Salvation army until the Spring of 2019. Floyd left his position sometime at the end of 2018 but I was never really sure of the circumstances. I remember “The Big Unknown” by Sade had just become popular and now it is a constant reminder of my time at the shelter. George Floyd fell into the big unknown as he was cast out of God’s grace into the colder world. You might ask yourself what can be more severe than working in a homeless shelter, where people are desperate, where lives fall apart? I can tell you that I had more optimism for the world in that place with Floyd than I have in the years past. That bleak shelter was a beacon of hope for so many and if I could bottle those feelings and share them I would. Floyd had so many friends and coworkers aiding him in giving back to his community. I almost feel ashamed that these circumstances were hardly discussed.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
In 2013 I sat down to write a suicide note and I began writing a book. When putting down my story I found a reason to live and when I reached the current moment in my manuscript I decided to live out the remainder of the book. I finished writing during a civil commitment in a mental hospital, completing the story at a bedside table and sitting on an upside down garbage can. I published my first memoir “Corners Untouched by Madness” in 2019. In 2021 I published it’s sequel “Burn This City to the Ground,” which details my time living in downtown Minneapolis and volunteering with George Floyd. I currently have two more books in the works, “The Warmth of Ashes” and “An Outcome as Perfect as Morning,” which will complete the series of memoirs. I am proud that I was able to demonstrate how a naive, small town America, caucasian boy can enter the city, experience different cultures and different kinds of heartache and then emerge as a hardened, streetwise sage. If you want to be culturally “woke” these stories can do the work for you as you follow my trajectory through the recession, mental health difficulties, the pandemic and riots in Minneapolis, alcoholism, confrontations with the police and then finally peace.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative in your experience?
The most rewarding thing about being an author is having a voice and the ability to tell stories that can change the minds of your readers. Through my life and work I have had the opportunity to share my experience in a way that is meaningful, impactful and relevant to the struggles of others. Part of writing is reprocessing your emotions and experiences in a way that is simple for others to understand, to teach them the hard lessons through the written word so they won’t have to struggle in the same way. I write to allow readers to skip the suffering, the heartache and the frustration. They can jump straight into the gooey center of the story, surrounded by lessons and dialogue that can help them navigate their lives with ease. The small amount of ache for the characters held within is a minimal price to pay to be shielded from these harsher aspects of the human experience. Learn along with the characters, let them feel the difficult emotions and reap the benefits of accompanying them on their journey. A good writer can do all of this and more.
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
I have severe persistent mental health issues. I have been in five or six psyche wards. My mental health has found me in a civil commitment, it has seen me charged with a felony and put in jail, it has gotten me into so many difficult situations and has nearly ended my life a dozen times. I have been held at gunpoint by local law enforcement. I have been brought to the hospital in handcuffs. When you are having an episode that almost seems comforting. When you feel like the villains in life are attempting to hurt you, the confines of a psych ward or a jail welcoming and safe. I have lived my life in fear of writing, telling the truth and speaking out for others like me. I am often sick because my words are dangerous to my situation. The political pressure to silence me has been severe and I often find myself paranoid and at odds with myself. These feelings grind on me for months until I need to get help or put myself into inpatient care. I am incredibly proud to offer my stories to the public. It definitely demonstrates my resilience that these books exist and are being published on the free, independent market. Being a mentally ill author is difficult, especially writing about complex political topics. I am just grateful to be here and to have a voice.