Beyond the Next Traffic Light . . .

Imagine a road, any road–perhaps it winds its way through rolling countryside and charming villages, Capra-esque, with town squares and old brick storefronts that make you feel as if you’re traveling through a set piece for It’s A Wonderful Life.



Or maybe you’re downtown at rush hour, in a large city, frustrated by the snarl of traffic and the honking horns.



Perhaps you’re feeling stressed, burdened, so much still to do, and so little time in which to do it.

You look ahead.  The next intersection awaits, the next red light. . .



Or does it?


I have long enjoyed mainstream, literary stories, and much of the short fiction I write is in fact mainstream, with no supernatural or otherworldly element to it.  This stems from a long-standing appreciation of literature.  I love the classics, the works of writers like Truman Capote and Harper Lee, Willa Cather and John Steinbeck.  A good, dramatic story has the power to move us and touch us in very personal ways.



But my first love, and the kind of storytelling that I come back to, time and again, is science fiction and fantasy.  And yes–I will combine the two genres beneath one imagination-stirring, speculative-fiction umbrella.  While some stories are clearly sci-fi and others clearly fantasy, often the two overlap, and, just as often, they do so within the same story.  Hard-core sci-fi fans may take issue with this, just as they did when Ray Bradbury famously put an atmosphere on Mars.  But I read his Martian stories and loved them, just the same.  Are they science fiction?  Fantasy?  “Who cares?” I said.  They were great.  That’s all that mattered to me.  They accomplished what all first-rate imaginative fiction does.



When I read Ray Bradbury, or watch a post-apocalyptic thriller, or read an old Fantastic Four comic book (like Mitchell Brant in The Eye-Dancers, I am, and have always been, a fan of classic old comic books), or enter, through the enchantment of the dusty page (or touch-screen, as the case may be), into the heart of a city full of dragons and witches and hairy little elves who shuffle discreetly underfoot, I want the story to take me by the hand and transport me to a distant, faraway place, perhaps to a different time or a different universe or a different reality.



Maybe the story takes me there via a time machine, but it can just as easily be a dream sequence or a fantastical world that just is, always has been, and always will be, right from the opening scene of the book.  Or, just maybe, I am taken there through the swirling, hypnotic blue eyes of a “ghost girl”. . .



It doesn’t really matter how it is done, as long as it’s done in such a way that I can believe it, that I am right there, along for the ride with the characters.  And once I am there, in this fantastic new world, I can then get absorbed in it, marooned like a sailor on some remote Pacific island but without any desire to leave.   And yes, it may test and stretch the limits of my imagination (with hope, that’s precisely what it will do); yet, simultaneously, and again, hopefully, it will cause  me to reflect and look at my own world in a different way, with a different perspective.



That, to me, is the definition, and the essence, of speculative fiction.


Let’s return to our traffic light, then, shall we?  There you are, sitting there, the car idling, the list of to-dos spinning in your mind, over and over.  Groceries to buy.  Bills to pay.  A house to straighten up.  Dentist appointment next week, and that tooth has been really throbbing lately, too.  Ugh.  Another cavity?  The project at work is only half-finished, and the boss continues to harp about it, demanding it be completed yesterday.  And what’s that?  Does the car sound a little funny?  Does the engine sound as though it’s laboring?  But the mechanic just worked on it a month ago . . .



So many thoughts, stresses, tasks, worries . . .  And the traffic is moving so slowly!  There is a bend in the road.  You can’t see around it, but you know what lies ahead.  Another traffic light, another delay as you listen to the car’s sputtering engine, and think about everything you have to do, all over again.



But wait.  Your mind begins to drift.  You think of the novel you’re reading.  You just finished chapter twenty-four last night, and are eager to return to it.  Every time you read it, the story carries you on fine, feathery wings, so silent, so effortless, you are hardly aware that you’re moving at all.  It lifts you up, higher, higher, to a dreamscape world, far away, immeasurably distant–and yet, you are there.  And now, here, stuck in traffic, suddenly your train of thought shifts.



You know, logically, that you will have to wait at another red light, and then another, and another.  You know your list of things to do seems to grow, organically, on its own, with each passing minute.  The burdens of day-to-day tasks, the unending grind, the perpetual treadmill are all still there.  But now there is something else, too.

An openness, perhaps–an acknowledgment that, despite the obstacles and the mind-numbing routines, all things are possible.  The novel you are reading–the magic of it, the scope of its plot and the vastness of its universe–makes you want to believe in the unbelievable, search for the unknowable.  It makes you want to reach . . . reach for the moon, throw a lasso around it like George Bailey said he would do for Mary Hatch in that Frank Capra classic sixty-seven years ago.





But why stop there?

There is an entire galaxy to explore.  A universe.  And, perhaps, a parallel universe.  There is no end.



The light turns green.  You drive through it, imagining the possibilities, embracing the adventure.



Thanks so much for reading!


44 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. BroadBlogs
    Oct 25, 2013 @ 17:28:52

    “The light turns green. You drive through it, imagining the possibilities, embracing the adventure.”

    Thanks for that!


  2. jjspina
    Oct 25, 2013 @ 21:05:41

    Love it! You did take me away from all the mundane things in this world. That is what a great book does for me. You definitely have the talent to do that! Thank you Mike! You are a wonderful writer, xo


  3. Minister Gertrude Ferguson - Founder & CEO- Enough Tribulations
    Oct 25, 2013 @ 22:07:10

    Harper Lee “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” is one my classics too. Good pick.


  4. worldsbeforethedoor
    Oct 25, 2013 @ 22:28:27

    Love this post! This is exactly why I read fantasy!!! Thanks for the encouragement!


  5. stormy1812
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 02:30:35

    There are fabulous non-fiction books out there but it’s really wonderful to find a great story to take you out of reality on occasion. That’s why one of my personal favorites is “The Hobbit” (I still need to read the trilogy but plan on it). An entire world outside my own is created and I get totally sucked into it. That’s also part of why I loved “The Eye-Dancers” because dreams can very much be part of the escape from reality and yet they can feel so real. It’s like being in a whole other world. 🙂


  6. likeitiz
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 05:08:44

    The Silver Surfer lives on! Thanks for the trip! It was such a pleasant read after a long grueling day for me. You have down it again!


  7. BeWithUs
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 06:16:08

    This is one very inspiring post!!

    Thank you for sharing, my friend! Cheers!! 😀


  8. laurie27wsmith
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 07:28:25

    it’s like following the rabbit down the burrow, who knows what you will find?


  9. Fashion Mayann
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 15:32:03

    I like the fact that you’ve chosen a beautiful rainbow to illustrate the end of this wonderful post (because, yes, It’s A Wonderful Post !) because it exudes optimism ! Just what we need as the days are becoming darker and darker …


  10. Bruce Thiesen
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 19:55:45

    Mike – what a wonderful blog post you’ve given us!


  11. FreeRangeCow
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 22:08:44

    I soooo agree with you on the Martian Chronicles…who cares about the details, if the story gets your mind going (and allows you to blow a few traffic lights)…great analogy, by the way!


  12. Morbid Insanity
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 00:08:23

    “A good, dramatic story has the power to move us and touch us in very personal ways.” I agree with that. ^_^


  13. BroadBlogs
    Oct 31, 2013 @ 18:10:19

    Embracing the adventure. How cool is that?

    Love the pictures. That first one totally made me think of “it’s a wonderful life,” so good pick. And a great way to start out a piece that ends with embracing the adventure.


  14. stockdalewolfe
    Oct 31, 2013 @ 22:47:33

    There IS a parallel universe. I have seen it. That is what is great about SciFi. You can write about things like that and not sound like a wacko. A great post from you.

    Thank you so much for all the likes from you. I am taking a much needed break from blogging. Too much other stuff going on. Thanks so much for your continued generous support!


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Nov 01, 2013 @ 12:41:46

      Thanks so much! I am a big fan of your blog, and will certainly be here when you return to blogging! And you’re right about sci-fi. It’s one of the many reasons I love it.:)


  15. 2embracethelight
    Nov 01, 2013 @ 02:25:36

    I am back. Had to make a 1200 mile move from Minneapolis MN to Houston Tx. Life is good here. Am happy, content healthier and glad to be back in the world of infinite possibilities. I enjoyed your post. Martian Chronicles, haven’t heard about those in many years,
    Keep up your enjoyable posts.
    Always Yisraela


  16. WordsFallFromMyEyes
    Nov 01, 2013 @ 08:14:43

    Great post! Well punctuated with photos, & pithy 🙂 You’re an interesting writer, you know that?


  17. reocochran
    Nov 02, 2013 @ 03:32:37

    I like the idea that you give us lots of roads to take. I also think people misunderstand the poem about the road less taken. He wants to come back another time and take the other path, too! It is always good to keep on looking ahead, each streetlight, path or road will take you to another lead on a new story or a new way to live, too! I like how my h.s. boyfriend wrote, although you may never reach the horizon… it is good to think what will you do along the way… I am rambling! Take care, Robin


  18. melanie
    Nov 04, 2013 @ 21:58:10

    great post… I love those writers, too, John Steinbeck has been my “idol” since highschool and I had the chance to visit his house in California years ago…
    my very best and tons of inspiration! Cheers, Mélanie


  19. merrildsmith
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 20:20:47

    Wonderful! I’m taking a short work break and stopped to catch-up a bit with your blog. Right now, my road is taking me back to my book manuscript that is due in a couple days, but I will make time later to travel some other paths.
    I love all the authors you mentioned (and a fan of Capra movies, too, of course). We had a family dinner discussion the other night about Ray Bradbury–we’re all big fans.


  20. michellejoycebond
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 17:35:54

    Thank you for this post! I once had to teach the difference between science fiction and fantasy and told kids that even though sci fi generally consist of things that could happen in the near or distant future based on science as we know it (a puritst’s perspective) and fantasy (though sub divided into more specific genres) is a catch all for things that could never happen, one needs to look more closely at a book for what it is on its own–transcending the constraints of genre to explore the possibilities of this author’s particular world. 🙂


  21. M. Talmage Moorehead
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 20:43:06

    “But my first love, and the kind of storytelling that I come back to, time and again, is science fiction…”

    I can relate. To me, there’s sf and there’s everything else. At least when it comes to writing.


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