Magnolia Moments

This weekend, I will go back home to Rochester, NY, and visit family and old friends.  It’s always an enjoyable time, and if I’m lucky, I’ll also have an opportunity to experience something as magical as it is rare. . . .

On the city’s southeast side, Oxford Street is a well-tended residential avenue, pleasant and attractive for much of the year.  But for one week in early May, a portion of Oxford Street is transformed into a fragrant, flowery paradise.



The Oxford Mall is a tree-lined section of the street, flanked on either side by stately homes that watch over the avenue like old poets contemplating the beauty in their midst.  And what beauty it is . . .

The Oxford Mall is famous for its long row of magnolia trees, which bloom each year in early May.  Area residents often make it a point to stroll or drive down the avenue, basking in the display.  I have experienced the magnolias on Oxford Street many times.  It’s something that never gets old.





But you have to catch the magnolias at the right time, or else you’ll miss them.  Generally, they are in full bloom for a few days, perhaps a week, and then they are gone, not to appear again until the following spring.  I have sometimes wondered–Why is something so beautiful, so breathtaking, also so fleeting?  Shouldn’t the flowers stay a while longer?  Why must they tease us, tantalize us each year, only to fall away within a matter of days?

Then I rethink it.  Maybe it’s their very transience that makes them what they are.  If the magnolias decorated the Oxford Mall for months on end, would they remain so special?  Or would the residents begin to take them for granted–just one more feature, albeit a lovely one, of the Rochester summer landscape?

It is much the same with writing.  Of course any writer wants each word of a manuscript to count.  Every sentence should lead into the next sentence.  Every paragraph should be germane to the story.  Every slice of dialogue should ring true to the character who speaks it.  But at the same time, can every line be a masterpiece?  Can each sentence be a miniature prose poem?

Try it sometime.  Even for one paragraph–try to make every word sing, try to end every sentence with a flourish.  It simply doesn’t work.  Much like the magnolias on Oxford Street, there is a time and a place to “wow” your audience in a manuscript.  If every paragraph was a thing of utter beauty, the overall beauty of the story would blur, blinded by its own brilliance.  You can’t hit a home run with every swing of the bat–nor should you attempt to.  Sometimes there are runners on first and second with nobody out, and a sacrifice bunt makes more sense.

Generally, especially in a long work like a novel, the role of the language is to move the story along, engage the reader, and intrigue.  Simplicity and straightforwardness accomplish this.  The story, in essence, needs to tell itself.  If each sentence is adorned with gold earrings and diamond necklaces, readers will become distracted.  The language elevates itself and becomes the star of the show, thrusting the story and characters into the background.  It may be beautiful writing, but it’s not necessarily effective.

There are, however, places in a story where you do indeed want the language itself to resonate, to leave an indelible impression on the reader.  If you pick your spots, and don’t overdo it, these sections of your story should make an impact.  They will stand out.  They will take the reader by the hand and not let go.  In The Eye-Dancers, I sometimes would try for this effect at the end of a chapter.

At the end of chapter 12, for example, after listening to Marc Kuslanski‘s theory on parallel worlds,  Mitchell Brant ponders the possibility of multiple realities, multiple Mitchells.  It’s a concept he finds equal parts fascinating, equal parts confusing.  The last paragraphs of chapter 12 read as follows:


“It seemed like hours before he got to sleep. . . . [He] lay there, thinking–of worlds upon worlds, layers of existence, side by side.  And he wondered.  What was he doing in those other worlds right now?  Did he have a sister?  Were his parents the same?  Did they get along, somewhere?  Were there really worlds out there where his mom and dad didn’t fight with each other?  Were there worlds where Mitchell was confident?  Where he could talk with ease, and his tongue worked as fluidly, as effortlessly, as his mind?

‘Good night, Mitchell,’ he whispered, to himself, to all of his selves, in all of the worlds in existence.  His last thought before sleep finally took him away was of a line of Mitchell Brants.  They stood, single file, one in front of the other.  He started to count them in his mind’s eye, but the line went on and on, forever.  He was infinite, endless.

When he counted the two hundred sixty-third Mitchell Brant, the line began to melt away, disintegrating into the netherworld of his dreams.”


Yes, I will be driving along Oxford Street this weekend when I’m in Rochester.  And yes, I hope I catch the magnolias at the right time.  But if I don’t, there’s always next year.

And there’s always the reminder . . .

Magnolia moments are precious.  Because they are beautiful?



But also, because they are rare.

Thanks so much for reading!


74 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Seyi sandra
    May 03, 2013 @ 18:11:58

    Oh Mike, this is one of the best post I’ve read this year! And though I rarely comment when I read, I couldn’t help myself! Have fun with the Magnolias if you catch them and if you don’t, there ‘s always another spring! You have blessed a writer by your words! Have a beautiful weekend!
    Much love. 🙂


  2. Sue Dreamwalker
    May 03, 2013 @ 18:15:11

    Hi Mike, so pleased I logged in and looked in… Lovely write up and amazing photos of Magnolias. I have a magnolia tree in my garden its blooms are just starting to open… They don’t last long enough do they..

    Wishing you a safe journey and Happy times spent with family.. and Many Magnolia Moments!…. ~Sue


  3. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83
    May 03, 2013 @ 19:05:14

    Your very words are “magnolia moments”. I found myself captured by Mitchell Bryant’s image of himself “disentegratng into the netherworld.”


  4. words4jp
    May 03, 2013 @ 19:38:15

    I used to live in DC. The cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin. Very similar. You are right their beauty is rare. 😉 enjoy your trip home!!


  5. countingducks
    May 03, 2013 @ 19:39:24

    I love Magnolias myself, and I really enjoyed the way your comments about Magnolias moved on towards writing. So well done. Like the lady above I loved ” the line began to melt away, disintegrating into the netherworld of his dreams.”


  6. Jilanne Hoffmann
    May 03, 2013 @ 19:55:42

    Yes, the magnolias remind me of the cherry blossoms in Washington DC. I haven’t lived there in years, but I still dream about them.

    Your point about writing is a good one, although I think it may depend on the overall style of the piece. If certain sections get special treatment, meaning if they vary too much from all the rest, then the strategy might backfire, This section you show here is very lyrical and lovely. If the rest isn’t, I think a reader may notice and be drawn out of the story by the abrupt change. Just a thought.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 08, 2013 @ 17:56:15

      That’s a great point, and I probably should have been more clear in the post. You’re right–a writer shouldn’t do a radical change in those “magnolia moments.” Even though you do want to be selective with language flourishes, even there, the language overall should still be relatively consistent. Nothing should be jarring. Thanks for bringing this up!


  7. 2embracethelight
    May 03, 2013 @ 20:18:12

    What an amazing photographs. It is like when our Lilacs are in bloom. It isn’t for long, but it is such an ectasy of scents and colors. I can actually smell these. Thank you for sharing them with us.


  8. merrildsmith
    May 03, 2013 @ 20:37:36

    I loved this. We were both thinking about nature today–and writing, as well. I hope you get to experience your magnolia moments this year!


  9. philosophermouseofthehedge
    May 03, 2013 @ 20:53:22

    NIcely done. Hope you snag some magnolia views (they are rare and beautiful – and so finely crafted with care they look totally created by without a thought – like good writing?)


    • sakuraandme
      May 08, 2013 @ 14:14:12

      Stunningly beautiful!!! Hugs Paula. Xx


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 08, 2013 @ 17:59:40

      That’s a great comparison! And very true. The best writing is often that which flows like rushing water during a first draft. Of course, it then usually needs to be edited and re-edited . . . but the initial thrust of creativity, when it flows like that, is a high like no other.


  10. Letizia
    May 03, 2013 @ 21:12:52

    A street lined with magnolias must be quite a sight! I have the good fortune of having a hundred year old magnolia in my garden and it is truly breathtaking when in bloom (even when not in bloom, in fact). Have a wonderful trip!


  11. Lyn
    May 03, 2013 @ 23:04:18

    Glorious pictures – wonderful words – what a combination!


  12. Angela Grant
    May 03, 2013 @ 23:25:36

    Hi Mike,
    This story pulled me deeper and deeper into magnolia moments. :). -Angela


  13. honeydidyouseethat?
    May 04, 2013 @ 01:26:44

    Nice job! Glad this post came up on my mail. It’s time for me to return to your novel.


  14. peacelovegreatcountrymusic
    May 04, 2013 @ 02:29:48

    Beautifully written! We have magnolias here, but as you wrote, the timing has to be just right. We can’t seem to get rid of winter and we are behind on Spring colors. Hopefully soon.


  15. WyndyDee
    May 04, 2013 @ 02:49:31

    I can almost smell them…beautiful!


  16. WyndyDee
    May 04, 2013 @ 02:49:49

    Reblogged this on Wyndy Dee.


  17. Marlene Herself
    May 04, 2013 @ 04:04:53

    Your writing is very insightful. I am enjoying it very much and looking forward to more.


  18. Russel Ray Photos
    May 04, 2013 @ 05:25:41

    Interesting. I’ve never seen magnolias bloom like that. I’m used to the Southern Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora).


  19. WordsFallFromMyEyes
    May 04, 2013 @ 07:21:34

    I like the way you try & end sentences with a ‘flourish’ 🙂

    The photos are beautiful. I hope you have a great visit… and bring back more photos!!


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 08, 2013 @ 18:05:10

      Thank you! But, unfortunately, with such a warm week last week in Rochester, the magnolias bloomed before I got there, and were all but gone by the time I arrived . . .


  20. europasicewolf
    May 04, 2013 @ 07:33:11

    Very engaging post…I like its flow and the smooth transition from nature’s beauty to that little gem of knowledge re writing 🙂 Being a perfectioniat by nature I could so relate to the idea we often get that every sentence we write should be a masterpiece! I am so guilty of thinking that…and I 100% agree with your comments on this..not a good idea! Not good at all but even knowing it can still lead to attempting to anyway lol…yes! Very weak willed lol I know 😉 Doesn’t work…just leads to intense frustration! Your post may help me to stay focussed on the points you made instead 🙂


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 08, 2013 @ 18:06:53

      Thank you! I really enjoyed your comments, and you’re right–it’s sometimes hard NOT to try and make every sentence a masterpiece. But you’re also right in that, if we try doing that, it just leads to frustration.:)


  21. becky6259
    May 04, 2013 @ 11:59:34

    Beautiful! I hope you make it home at the perfect time to see the show!


  22. Angela Grant
    May 04, 2013 @ 17:15:25

    Magnolias are indeed beautiful as I did not miss, my one magnolia tree blooming its delicate, pink flowers.


  23. conjurors
    May 04, 2013 @ 21:54:21

    Thoroughly enjoyed your beautiful post.


  24. greenlightlady
    May 05, 2013 @ 22:48:44

    Mike, you speak the truth about the magnolias having a fleeting bloom time. My daughter was just commenting, today, about our tree being finished already. I like what you said about the timing and amount of “flourish” in our writing. It also applies to poetry.

    Blessings ~ Wendy


  25. Fashion Mayann
    May 06, 2013 @ 08:40:15

    When I read the title of your post, I thought about the divine “Steel Magnolias”, then I discovered the gorgeous magnolias and your interesting advice … As always, this is a great post !


  26. kelihasablog
    May 06, 2013 @ 13:09:02

    They remind me of my Japanese Cherry trees. I have one in back and one in front of my house which are BEAUTIFUL, but they only last about a week too and when the little pink petals begin to blow off… it looks like pink snow. Magnolias ARE always beautiful, but being from Georgia I’m probably biased, LOL 😀


  27. laurie27wsmith
    May 06, 2013 @ 19:34:33

    Beautiful pictures of the magnolias and great thoughts on writing. I think a novel should be like a sine wave, with its peaks and hollows, then those great sweeping moments that carry you away and back to the peaks and hollows again. I’ll put a review up for your book when the grandson finishes it. He reads it on the kindle when he comes to visit and is over half way through. He reckons it’s great so far.


  28. Christy Birmingham
    May 08, 2013 @ 17:54:33

    Diamond necklace sentences can distract but the jewelry certainly does look good around a lady’s neck!


  29. Charron's Chatter
    May 09, 2013 @ 15:15:43

    I wonder about the parallel meez too…am I happier? A better person? This is where I gird my thoughts too–being a very suggestible type–lest I imagine an unsavory instance and thereby bring it into being (somewhere)

    Enjoy the scent. 🙂


  30. Polly Robinson
    May 13, 2013 @ 21:37:13

    How utterly beautiful ~ we’re lucky in the UK if the frost doesn’t nip them ~ a whole avenue, gorgeous 😀


  31. traditionis
    May 15, 2013 @ 10:36:33

    How gorgeous!! I had never seen before! I like the way you write!


  32. reocochran
    May 20, 2013 @ 21:56:22

    There is nothing like the joy of blossoms and blooms to see! I love the way the flowering trees look and their scent is especially nice. My favorites are the bright yellow forsythia and the sweet smell of lilacs. We always had fruit trees and I liked the way the apple trees had very low branches and nice sturdy places to perch…Take care, Robin


  33. Dilip
    May 21, 2013 @ 13:46:36

    Beautiful pictures which capture the magnolia moments very well. Thank you 🙂


  34. Kim 24/7 in France
    May 23, 2013 @ 15:22:53

    Hope you had a great time and are doing well!


  35. ksbeth
    May 23, 2013 @ 22:03:45

    wow these are so beautiful, i’ve always wanted a magnolia in my yard and i will have one before long. enjoying your blog and thanks for reading and enjoying mine – beth


  36. vision5d2012
    May 28, 2013 @ 23:15:21

    Hi Mike — thanks for visiting and following 13th Paradigm. I think we may have some ideas in common. I recently got an e-reader for my birthday and I think I know what my next e-book download is going to be. Coming your way. Beautiful post and intriguing blog, Alia


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 29, 2013 @ 14:06:21

      Thank you, Alia! And I am very happy to hear of your interest in The Eye-Dancers, the e-book! I hope you enjoy it and would welcome your feedback after you read it. I will certainly be back at your website and visiting often!:)


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