The Bedrock Beneath My Feet

When I sat down to begin writing The Eye-Dancers, I’m not sure I realized straightaway that it would ultimately be a novel about home.



Indeed, if asked at the time, I probably would have said it was more about alienation, finding yourself, discovery, overcoming obstacles.  And make no mistake–alienation is a key theme in the story.  The four main characters–Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski–are in junior high, and for various reasons, each one often feels like a social outcast–not fitting in to that group, not comfortable in this group, not popular with the girls, never quite sure what to do or what to say when the cool kids are around.  Add to this the interdimensional journey they are forced to take, waking up in another world, another universe, and that sense of alienation is increased a thousandfold.



But beyond this and at its core, deep within the soul of the novel, The Eye-Dancers is really a story about home–embracing it, remembering it, trying hard to return to it when everything seems hopeless and lost.  Keeping the faith that, with apologies to Thomas Wolfe, we can, in fact, go home again.




It’s nothing special, really, or remarkably distinct to the objective eye.  It’s just a simple ranch home–one of many–on a suburban street, three miles east of Rochester, New York.



It’s also the house where I was born, and where I grew up.

My parents were not the original homeowners, but they didn’t miss by much.  The house was built in the mid-1950s, during the construction boom of the post-World War II era, neighborhood streets filling in what had been, for generations, the farmlands and vineyards on the east side of the city.



When my mother and father moved in, it was 1965.  The original owner wanted to sell, to move away–no one knows or remembers why anymore, if they ever did.  My parents had been married five years, already had three children.  They weren’t planning on having a fourth, but I would come along, unexpected, unplanned, years later.



The remarkable thing is–my mother and father still live in the old ranch house, on the same street, in the same neighborhood.  Many neighbors have come and gone–though a few, who go back to the time when my parents moved in five decades ago, have remained as well.  The house has undergone makeovers and paint jobs, additions and updates over the years–but it’s still the same house, overflowing with memories, echoes I can’t help but hear anytime I go back for a visit.



I am one of the lucky ones.  I know that.  While other children are uprooted, forced to move to a different state, different country, different hemisphere, forced to attend new schools and make new friends, my childhood was spent in one place, built on a sturdy and solid foundation.  It’s hard to imagine the old house belonging to anyone other than my parents.  That’s the way it has been since I’ve been in this world.  It seems almost an affront to picture it otherwise.  But one day, inevitably, it will happen.  I can visualize it even now:  Me returning to the old neighborhood, needing to see but not wanting to.  Stopping.  Pulling up the driveway.  Knocking at the door.



“Hello?” someone would answer, peeking out at me, as if I were the intruder and not they, as if this house, with all the memories and love and traditions and childhood dreams and longings were somehow more theirs than mine.

“Sorry to bother you,” I’d say.  But what I’d want to say is, “Do you still have the old stone fireplace in the backyard?  You haven’t gotten rid of it, have you?  It was there when my parents moved in, so many years ago.  Or the scribbling down on the basement wall?  I scribbled those words there when I was ten–tucked away in a corner where no one could see them but me–unless they knew where to look.  And what about the first room down the hallway, on the left?  That was my bedroom, you know, back when I was a little kid . . .”

I came along in the 1970s, nearly a decade younger than my two brothers, eleven years younger than my sister.  I grew up in the ’80s, a Generation Xer, an interesting time to come of age.  The generation I was part of growing up, it seems to me, served as a bridge between the baby boomers who preceded us and the Millennials who would arrive on the scene later.  In the ’80s, things were becoming high-tech, with home computers and car phones and increasingly mind-blowing special effects when you plunked down your dollars and went to the movies.  But at the same time, vestiges of the past were all around.  The postal service was still how you contacted people when you wanted to write.  There was no email, no Internet, and certainly no smartphones or Eye-Dancers blogs!  It was a period of transition, of one generation waving to the previous one in its rearview mirror while at the same time paving the way for the super-tech, digitalized world to come.



And I spent it all at the house where I grew up, sitting on the land of old, forgotten vineyards and fields on Rochester’s east side, the ghost of them, the hushed, lingering whispers manifested by the grapevines we had in our backyard–later ripped up and pulled out in favor of a deck.

When the ’90s came along, and then the 21st century, I moved on, as we all must, and relocated to a neighboring state, a six-hour drive away.  But the home of my childhood is still there, my parents are still there, and every time I visit, I make sure to linger in a quiet moment, to listen, and remember.



The Eye-Dancers came about from a dream I had when I was in high school.  The novel wouldn’t be written for many years, but the dream–that stayed with me and served as the impetus for everything that transpired in the story.



It was the same dream Mitchell Brant experiences at the start of the book–waking up in the middle of the night, looking out into the street, seeing a ghost girl standing there . . . And when I wrote the scene, it was my old street I visualized–the street light shining through the airy, ethereal form of the girl the same one that still  stands just beyond the mailbox that I’d dash to on long-ago summer days when I saw the mail truck pull up and I was expecting something special to arrive.  The memories from childhood run deep, and, inevitably, bits and pieces flutter into the stories I write like magic confetti, sprinkling my present-day with vestiges from the past.



It’s funny how it is.  To strangers driving by, the old ranch would just be another house, nearly indistinguishable from a million others.  They may not even see it, nondescript as it is, blending in with the neighborhood, just a cog in the wheel, just one small part of the whole.  It brings to mind one of Kevin Arnold’s voice-over narrations in The Wonder Years, one of my all-time favorite shows . . .



“Growing up happens in a heartbeat.  One day you’re in diapers, the next day you’re gone.  But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul.  I remember a place, a town, a house like other houses, a yard like a lot of other yards, on a street like a lot of other streets.  And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back . . . with wonder.”



Thanks so much for reading!


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