For most of us, iPhones have become the new necessity. But while there are some features we couldn’t live without (looking at you, Apple Maps), there are others that annoy us just for existing. Mainly, those pre-downloaded apps that we rarely use and just take up space on your phone.
One that immediately comes to mind is the “Notes” feature. Occasionally, I’ll use this app to write a quick grocery store list or jot down points in a meeting when I’m caught without my computer, but that’s about the extent of its use for me.
But for Brett Cimino? This ignored app changed his life.
In December of 2012, Brett Cimino was rushed into the hospital for emergency surgery. It was a terrifying and hurried turn of events, but he was relieved; Brett had spent the last eight months of his life in excruciating pain, waiting for this moment.
For nearly 20 years, issues with Brett’s neck had become increasingly painful to deal with. He believes the trouble started when he was 16 and got into a head-on collision with a snow plow, ejecting him through the front windshield of his car. Only 17 years later, Brett was crushed by a 700 lb. boiler, which broke free of the rope that was keeping it suspended in mid-air.
Miraculously, Brett survived both accidents, but he walked away with the debilitating neck troubles that were haunting him.
As the years went on, Brett grew his successful plumbing company, often working up to 100 hours a week doing physically demanding manual labor. And the more Brett worked, the worse his condition became.
“The ducking and crawling and lifting that came with plumbing, that’s what got me to this point,” Brett said. “But it was through my own doing, I worked my body too hard…and here we are.”
By 2012, the neck issues had reached its peak. Brett was in constant, intense pain and the nerves in his arms were so weak that he could barely hold up a wrench. After months of tests and physical therapy, he got the news that if they didn’t take care of the issue right away, he could lose the use of his hands. The doctors told him that at 38, he had the neck of an 80-year-old.
Fast-forward to that fateful December day, when Brett was quickly rushed into the ER for the surgery that would finally fix his neck.
What happened next was a complicated and gruesome procedure called a neck fusion. Essentially, Brett’s neck was split open, the skin peeled back, the esophagus and wind pipe removed, the space between vertebrae ground down and cleaned, some cadaver bones put in, and a metal cage was implanted to keep everything together. Then Brett was stitched back up and put in a magnetic neck brace, which he would have to wear for months to help the procedure take.
Not just that, but he would have to lay down for at least three to four months without movement. After 12-16 weeks of being motionless, his neck would still require another four months to fully heal. Brett was forced to close down his plumbing business for close to a year while he recuperated on the couch.
And for someone who loves being busy and engaged, like Brett, that was torture.
“I’m always getting bored and wanting to work on some new, fun project,” Brett said. “So being stuck on the couch for months? Forget it. My family went out and got me a flat screen TV (I still didn’t have one of those) and put it up on the wall for me. They told me this would be a chance to catch up on television, since I had been too busy running my business for the last 20 years to really watch TV at all. That was really where it all started.”
Watching thrillers and travel shows started to inspired Brett; his innate curiosity for people and the world was sparked by these characters, and he felt like he had to express it somehow. His go-to instinct was to write, but being unable to sit up at a computer, in front of a piece of paper, or hold up an iPad limited his options.
Desperate to express himself, Brett picked up his iPhone, opened up the “Notes” app, and started to write.
At first, it started out as a character. Brett started to create a fictional plumber who got knocked out in a clients’ old attic and traveled through time. The story didn’t stick with Brett, but the character did; he started to know and love this imaginary person more than he would have thought he could.
So when the idea for writing a crime thriller set in his home state of Rhode Island came to mind, Brett knew he had to put his new character in the mix.
“It just felt right to put this character I had developed in this story that was brewing in my head,” Brett said. “I just plopped him into this world, started at the beginning, and kept going.”
And keep going he did. Brett wrote an entire novel on his iPhone, over 6,000 words about a Providence police officer on a twisted hunt to find a vigilante killer in the city. It took him five months to finish the story, and he knew that once he was back on his feet, he had to pursue publication.
Brett found a seasoned editor in New Mexico, to whom he sent the first draft of his book, all copied from his “Notes” app. The editor responded with close to 80 pages of revisions, which Brett dutifully applied to his manuscript.
“I had never written anything fictional before, so the hardest thing for me was learning about view point,” Brett admitted. “My editor help me with that. I had to learn that in a moment, you had to stick to one person’s point of view, rather than jump around to all the thoughts of all the characters in the scene.”
Once he mastered this technique and did all the revisions, Brett’s editor said it was ready for publication. Brett titled the story Exhale with Intent and published it on Amazon, where it’s now sold a couple hundred copies and garnered excellent online reviews. I myself read the book, and I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish, falling in love with the characters and loving the relatable, quippy dialogue.
Brett has now written a follow-up to the novel, which will be a prequel to the original story. He foresees at least one more book in the series, but he’s leaving it open for potentially writing more installments. However, Brett now has his hands full with a whole slew of projects.
After he wrote his first novel, the creative floodgates essentially opened.
Brett’s current writing project is a children’s book inspired by his two adorable dogs, Belle and Sarah. During his painful recovery process, his pooch Sarah stayed by Brett’s side tirelessly, and he says that she was his biggest source of inspiration throughout the writing process.
Sadly, Sarah passed away this past March, and Brett will be dedicating his upcoming children’s book to his four-legged friend.
But above anything else, Brett’s newest passion is painting. He paints mainly abstracts and figures, and his work has been displayed in galleries all over Connecticut and Rhode Island. Currently, his paintings are on display at AS220 in Providence, he just took home an award for his work in the Newport Art Museum, and he’s being featured this month in Tussle Magazine, a publication in Manhattan.
Although he is mainly inspired by interesting, intelligent people, as well as different countries and cultures, Brett says that you can see a lot of his physical pain manifested in his art.
“You’ll see in my art a lot of calls to the physical pain I’ve been through – like the X’s on my neck, for instance. But doing creative work like this or like writing, that’s what gets me through the pain. When you’re creating something, it can have huge highs and it can bring you very low. But when I’m out there [his art studio] and I’m not plumbing, art gets me away from that. When I’m there doing that, nothing else matters because I love what I’m doing.”
It’s truly inspiring to see Brett channeling his lifelong physical pain in his art and, more appropriately, using that art as a therapeutic way to overcome that pain. Out of what seemed like a horrible situation, Brett took an iPhone and a character and started a whole new chapter of his life, one filled with a passion for the creative that he always had but could never pursue.
To learn more about Brett and his projects, check out his website at artbycimino.com. Click here to read about and purchase his debut novel, Exhale with Intent, and make sure to keep an eye out for his second installment of the series, which should be published within the next couple months.