The Road (Not) Taken

On July 12, 1979, at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, between games of a twi-night doubleheader, there was a disco explosion.  Literally.  In game one, the Detroit Tigers defeated the Chicago White Sox, 4–1.  There would be no second game.  The reason?  A promotion that turned into a riot.

The White Sox were slogging through the 1979 season, mired in mediocrity.  Attendance was spotty, and the team was going nowhere fast.  Hoping to inject some interest, the Sox teamed up with local radio personality Steve Dahl.  Why not have a hate-on-disco night?  Why not cart thousands of disco records out onto the field between games of the doubleheader and then–explode them!  And so–Disco Demolition Night was born.  It all sounded good to the promoters.  But then things got out of control.

When the button was pushed, and the disco discs were blasted into bits, waves of fans stormed the field.  A riot broke out, and, due to the explosion and fans, the playing field was damaged, forcing the White Sox to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader.

disco1

 

disco2

 

disco4

 

disco3

 

To this day, Disco Demolition Night remains one of the most ridiculed and notorious  baseball promotions of all time.  It also is sometimes referred to as “the day that disco died.”  Days after the demolition, on July 21, 1979, the top six songs on U.S. music charts were disco.  Just two months later, by the end of September, not one disco song was listed in the top ten.

What happened?  How could something so enormously popular one minute become so mocked and dissed just a short while later?  As the 1970s flickered and died, so, too, did disco.  I remember, growing up in the ’80s, how my two older brothers and their friends would mock the disco craze of their younger years.

discofun

 

Disco was, essentially, a fad.  It had no staying power, no ability to transcend its generation.  There are still some who enjoy it, and think fondly back to its heyday, and there has even been something of a disco revival among fans.  But, culturally speaking, it enjoyed its proverbial fifteen minutes of fame.  And that was all.

discoball

 

This brings another question to the forefront.  Are things so different with writing?  Certainly there are fads in the literary world, as well.  Trends.  “Hot” topics and genres.  The Twilight series caused an explosion in young adult vampire fiction.  The Hunger Games and its sequels have initiated a surge in dystopian story lines.  Is this a trap writers should avoid?  Is it a mistake to ride the coattails of Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins, as well as the other best-selling novelists who determine the trends of the industry?

Perhaps it’s better to go in a different direction.  Maybe it’s wiser to write about other things, to explore the realms that are not “hot” today, but may be tomorrow.  Maybe we can be the trend-setters.

Robert Frost famously wrote:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less traveled by.

And that has made all the difference.”

roadnottakenbetter

 

Granted, these lines are taken slightly out of context, used in isolation here.  But the idea is still worth thinking about.  Is it better to travel the untrodden path?  Or the popular one?  Is it better to write what’s “hot”?  Or to deliberately go against it?

I would argue both are valid, and both are misguided.  Because, whether you write about something that’s in vogue or about something that’s currently standing far removed from the crowd, the end result won’t be worth reading unless it’s your story.  You can write about sultry, beautiful vampires with a mysterious and unknowable backstory.  You can write about flesh-eating zombies that create havoc in a world reeling from their takeover.  You can write about erotic red rooms of pain.  Something is not artistically “less than” simply because it fits in with contemporary popular culture and trends.  If you approach the story with your own ideas, and if you write it because you feel like you’ll burst if you don’t get it down on the page–then it’s a valid, original piece of work.  Likewise, if you decide to write the “anti-vampire” story just to prove a point, just to throw dirt in the eye of popular culture, such a work is not really your own.  It’s merely a forced attempt to go against the grain, to be contrary for contrary’s sake.

We each have a unique and layered perception of the world.  Shaped by our experiences, which in turn are distilled and perceived through our personalities, bents, idiosyncrasies, passions, desires, fears and dreams, we each have a story to tell that is uniquely our own.

I wrote The Eye-Dancers because I felt driven to write it.  The initial idea formed after a dream I had more than twenty years ago.  I dreamed of the “ghost girl” who haunts the dreams of Mitchell and Joe and Ryan.  I dreamed of her, wraith-like, frightening, yet unable to be ignored, and I knew I had to write about her.  For years, I didn’t know how or where to put her into a story–until I dreamed of her again more than a decade and a half later.  This time, when I woke up, the genesis of The Eye-Dancers was in place.  Immediately, I began writing it.  There is nothing like that epiphany, that moment when an idea hits, unasked for, unplanned, and you just know you have a story to tell.  It is a high like no other.

And so I wrote.  I wrote about the ghost girl, yes.  But I also wrote about childhood, and the four main characters in the story are inspired by friends I knew growing up.  We used to talk about things, wonder aloud what’s “out there.”  We’d ask questions like, What if this world, this earth we know and live on, is just one of many earths?  What if we each have doubles, triples, an infinite number of “selves” in other, parallel universes?  And what if there existed a connection so strong between two people, two strangers, that, even a universe apart, they were somehow able to communicate?  Questions like these, the kinds of things I’ve always been fascinated by, drove the story of The Eye-Dancers.  And the relationships I shared with my childhood friends served as the heart-engine of the novel.

Maybe The Eye-Dancers is a good story, well told.  Or–maybe it’s full of shortcomings and faults.  Perhaps it’s a little of both.  Ultimately, that’s not my call to make.  I leave that to you.  But what I can say is this–it is my story, something I felt compelled to write, and driven to complete, even on those days when the narrative seemed to bog down or the characters didn’t want to cooperate.

In the end, that’s about all we can do.  Write the things that matter to us as individuals.  Sometimes these topics, themes, and passions yell and kick, demanding to be let free onto the page.  Other times, they are hidden, like fragments tucked away in a secret corner of the heart.  Either way, cultivate them.  Listen to them.  Share them.  They are yours.

A paradox, perhaps.  But a truth nonetheless . . .

When you write for yourself, you write for us all.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

38 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. indytony
    Mar 21, 2013 @ 13:15:05

    You have a much more democratic view of art than I do. I would say that while good art may take various forms (perhaps there might even be such a thing as a “good disco song”), there is still a distinction between good art and bad art. Some writers write well and some don’t.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 21, 2013 @ 13:23:44

      You make a good point, and I agree fundamentally with what you say. The point I’m trying to make, though, is–even if you can write well, no story will truly be worthwhile unless it’s your own. To copy or go against a template for the template’s sake pretty much guarantees a second-rate piece. But if you write something because you really just want to write it–then it has a chance to be something great.

      Reply

      • indytony
        Mar 21, 2013 @ 13:27:26

        I think I would mostly agree with you. At the same time, I am drawn to something John Steinbeck once wrote (which may be a slightly different, though related, subject) –

        “I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”

  2. mcwoman
    Mar 21, 2013 @ 13:23:13

    Mike — Love the line: When you write for yourself, you write for us all. So true. Great post.

    Reply

  3. Catherine Sherman
    Mar 21, 2013 @ 14:44:27

    I’d never heard of this failed baseball promotion. Wow. What a bad idea.

    Fad creators are tapping into some already existing need for a group experience. Their genius is to be ahead of the game. The fads themselves seem lame after their day is done — pet rocks, hula hoops, hair bands, Cabbage Patch Kids, but they sure seemed powerful at the time. I’l always love the Bee Gees, though.

    You’re so right that we need to write our own story. Maybe that’s the source of a lot of writer’s block — when we stray from what we really want to write.

    Reply

  4. The Eye-Dancers
    Mar 21, 2013 @ 16:27:47

    Great comments, Catherine! And I think you’re right about writer’s block. Ray Bradbury once had a great quote about that once–something I will post on at a later point . . .

    Reply

  5. words4jp
    Mar 21, 2013 @ 19:06:15

    some may look at disco as a fad, but those who created the music wrote what they were passionate about – and it mattered to them – just like what we write what matters to us. and yes, the same can be said about other fads. i may be playing the devil’s advocate here, but every idea had/has a brain behind it and a want or need to see it become reality. who are we/who am i to question this need or even motive? certain things – books, music, art,…… will stand the test of time and only time will reveal who or what does exactly.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 21, 2013 @ 19:46:49

      These are good points–and you’re right about disco in the sense that some of it was created by people who truly believed in it. Where I think the problem lies is when someone copies what’s in style simply to try to fit in. At this point, a work loses its originality. You’re right, of course–this motive shouldn’t necessarily be questioned or criticized. But it will lack something. If we want to reach our potential, we have to write/sing/play the things that resonate within us, independent of what’s already “out there.” Thanks so much for your very insightful comments!

      Reply

  6. chiaink
    Mar 21, 2013 @ 20:11:32

    Work that comes from the heart will always have merit, even if no one else values it. Interesting post, thank you.

    Reply

  7. 2embracethelight
    Mar 21, 2013 @ 20:41:39

    Hi Mike
    Good story. I could tell it was a passionate story. I felt your heart in it. I think whether something is worthy to be written is in the heart of the writer. I have learned so much from those who wrote with heart whether it was relevant today or not, than current things that were written from the mind only. I am a studen of Dr. Carl Jung, a noted Psychologist of his time, who’s philosophies, are written by many. He said this and this is my mantra also- ” Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
    The best things I have written by far and by the words of other’s are what was written from my heart. I often don’t even recall writing all of it. My spirit was touching the keys as my heart poured forth the emotions. I will also eventually get to writing about the nomination. This period is a hectic time for me.
    I appreciate the honor.
    Always
    Yisraela

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 22, 2013 @ 13:50:59

      Thank you, Yisraela! What you describe when writing something from the heart is very true. Sometimes, when a draft is going smoothly, it’s almost like an out-of-body experience, and you feel like a vessel through which the words are flowing. That is certainly one of the highs of the writing process. As for the award–please just take your time.:) No rush at all. You have a fantastic site, and you deserve all the awards you receive.

      Reply

  8. Bonnie Marshall
    Mar 21, 2013 @ 21:25:05

    You reminded me of an episode in a TV series…WKRP…involving a Thanksgiving Day promotion. Radio station disc jockeys dropped frozen turkeys all over Chicago from a helicopter.

    Reply

  9. seeker
    Mar 22, 2013 @ 05:03:57

    Do, Do what you are good at. And you are right to say, there’s no point of doing what you don’t enjoy just because it’s fashionable or it’s a fad. On the second hand, try it once and see where this road will take you. Then for sure, you’ll know which road to take.
    Question: Have you had your story reviewed yet? I would like to see professionals reviewing it.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 22, 2013 @ 13:53:47

      Thanks for your comments! They are always very thoughtful and insightful. As for reviews–yes. The Eye-Dancers has several reviews on Amazon, as well as several to be found on reviewers’ blogs. If you’d like, I can send you links to the blogs!

      Reply

  10. kelihasablog
    Mar 22, 2013 @ 23:34:28

    Excellent post Michael…. 😀

    Reply

  11. tommiaw
    Mar 22, 2013 @ 23:49:47

    Fantastic read, Michael. Thank you for sharing. The line I’m making note of now is the last one: “When you write for yourself, you write for us all.”

    Reply

  12. Christy Birmingham
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 00:26:52

    When you discuss being compelled to write The Eye-Dancers, I completely understand you. I am that way about my poetry. It is not a decision as it whirs away in my head until I have to write it. It is a writing adrenaline rush when we get that inspiration!!

    Reply

  13. greenlightlady
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 03:00:02

    Mike, I like your advice about telling our own story regardless if it’s trendy or not. I remember the disco days well. It is not one of my favorite memories. 🙂

    Blessings ~ Wendy

    Reply

  14. Amanda
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 18:00:10

    Mike,

    It sounds like your book came from your heart. The title is wonderful. I befriended a fiction writer several years ago and learned so much about exactly what you describe here. “The writing coming from you.” I learned that although it is fictitious, the novel is rooted in real life. The life of the author.

    I’m also struck by your evaluation of original work. I think there is also an indelible mark left that occurs when we are not original. When our work is not coming from the depth of our being, it is riding on the surface and the status quo. This kind of writing/creating can be damaging as it encourages us to stop thinking and searching and to start following.

    I think that following is OK, but it’s very important to follow an individual or organization that is consistent with our values, goals and ideologies. This requires quite a lot of evaluation.

    Thank you for following my blog, Steven. I look forward to following yours.

    With love, Amanda

    Reply

  15. cariwiese
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 23:52:24

    I, too, love the line: “When you write for yourself, you write for us all.” Thank you for visiting my blog!

    Reply

  16. Joanna
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 23:59:52

    Yes I agree with you that it doesn’t matter what road you take, as long as it’s your voice, or else the result will be a compromise of what you could have done. Catherine Sherman’s comment above about the possibility that writer’s block happens when we stray from what we really want to write is a good observation. You are lucky to have experienced that compulsion to flesh out an idea to its conclusion. Awesome!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 25, 2013 @ 14:28:07

      Thanks, Joanna! And yes, I agree–Catherine’s writer’s block comment was spot-on. Writing what we love (or hate) — as long as we feel passionate about it one way or the other)–is the best way I know to tackle writer’s block.

      Reply

  17. Anne Chia
    Mar 24, 2013 @ 08:45:31

    I completely agree with you. No story is worthwhile unless it is wholly and completely the storyteller’s. But we live in a bandwagon society,and who doesn’t want to succeed? Most writers will end up riding the tail coats of the already successful bestselling authors. I doubt that the publishing houses help matters. But hey,that’s why people like us are exploring self-publishing right?

    Reply

  18. maryamchahine
    Mar 26, 2013 @ 17:20:10

    “when you write for yourself, you write for us all”

    I love this line and I hope it will be true about the novel that I’m writing. Like you, I feel very compelled to get these words out on paper although it has been a long process – over 3 or more years now of writing the story on and off again. I’ve only just now been getting very serious about writing my story every day. However, once I’m finished I will feel that I have said something that I felt was important not only to myself but to the world.

    I agree with you that whether you write on a popular or unpopular topic, it is that you write what is true to yourself. Readers can usually tell when a story is fake, when there is no heart in it.

    Great post and some very good questions and advice.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 26, 2013 @ 18:04:01

      Thanks so much for your great comments! It sounds like your novel is something you truly believe in, and that’s where all great art has to begin. And, believe me, I know how hard it can be to navigate the writing process of a novel.:) I’m glad you’re sticking with it, and I’ll be very interested to hear how you’re progressing as you continue on!

      Reply

  19. joseyphina
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 20:23:47

    Interesting perspective there….a lot to ponder over.

    Reply

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