The Better Angels of Our Nature (Or, Rediscovering the Wonder)

When I was growing up, in the halcyon days of the 1980s, I used to invent things . . . and they ran the gamut. I scribbled my first stories with a yellow #2 pencil.  Most were short–eight pages max–and all involved some aspect of fantasy or science fiction.  I then began writing plays–epic adventures featuring my real-life friends, journeying to other worlds, other times, other places. We’d have sleepovers and I’d read them the entire play!  Hard to believe, looking back on this, that they stayed awake through the whole thing.  It would take hours.


I also invented games.  Active games that incorporated running and jumping and searching. Takeoffs of existing sports, too.  One game was a combination of soccer and basketball, where, outside ten feet of the hoop, soccer rules reigned, but within ten feet of the basket, the rulebook switched over completely to basketball.  We called it “Manny Ball”–christened for a neighbor who had been a professional soccer player in his youth and who would sometimes come over and watch us play.


But there were sit-down games, too.  I collaborated with my friends (the same ones who inspired the protagonists in The Eye-Dancers) as we created our own board game–an adventure epic with ourselves as characters in the game, along with other people we knew and some select professional athletes and celebrities.  We played that a few times.


And spoken-aloud stories!  Lots of those.  We’d stand on the driveway in July, the sun setting to the west, and we’d start talking about nothing, and everything, and I’d just make things up, invent narratives, what-ifs, scenarios, and we’d go from there.  I told them about the “window to nowhere” in the basement, the “dirt hole to the center of the earth” in the backyard, the swing set (also in the backyard) that, if you were able to get high enough, pump hard enough, you’d be able to see into a shadowy other-dimension, similar to the “Upside Down” in Stranger Things. Maybe the Duffer brothers telepathically listened into our conversations, via time and space travel . . .


All in all, I admit.  It’s fair to say that a good portion of my childhood was spent on fantasy, on invention, on transporting my mind to . . . elsewhere.  Did I do that more than the average kid?  Almost for sure. I’d head into the backyard, play wiffle ball with myself, going through the lineups of a fictional World Series matchup, creating my own teams, broadcasting the play-by-play as I went, televising to an audience of one–me.  I was on a cloud somewhere, in my own universe. Letting my mind wander where it will.


All children do that to a degree, of course.  That’s an aspect of childhood that inspired The Eye-Dancers–the unfettered ability to imagine, to allow the “unbelievable” to permeate the consciousness, to accept without question that supernatural forces exist in the universe (well, unless you’re Marc Kuslanski). On the surface, this quality, these whims and megrims of children, don’t appear to be overly important or eventful.  Kids are kids, after all.  They invent things.  And then they grow up and deal with reality.  Isn’t that the way of the world?  But maybe we have it backward.  Maybe it is we, the adults, who can learn from the ghosts and fancies of our long-ago past.  Maybe we had it right back then.  Maybe there is wisdom in the games and inventions of our youth.


It’s not as if “reality” is going so well.  The year 2020 is rapidly deteriorating into one of the worst in recent memory–and perhaps non-recent memory.  A worldwide pandemic.  Employment numbers that compare to those of the Great Depression.  Intolerance festering and spreading.  Governments laced with corruption and grift.  We have to deal with it all.  We can’t pretend it away.  But then again . . . in the face of it, in the dark bowels of the muck and mire, a little pretending, a little escapism never hurt anyone.  In fact, escaping when you can might just well be the tonic you need to remain sane and productive as we trudge forward as a society and a world.


And here, I believe, creativity is a godsend.  For, as authors, we can make our own worlds, our own characters, even, as in the case of The Eye-Dancers, our own universes.  We can leap across the chasm of the solar system in a single bound.  We can imagine a parallel world into existence, and make it come alive on the page (or the screen, as the case may be).  We can imbue our protagonists with a sense of wonder, and send them on a mind-altering journey across the void.  We can imagine.  We can rise above.  We can believe in the unbelievable, the grand, the mysterious, the magical.


In short, we can tap into the sense of discovery and boundlessness we had once, long ago, a spirit of imagination and possibilities that we too often lose upon the mantle of adulthood.  So yes.  Some might say writing a novel, creating a fictional universe, is frivolous.  But you know what?  If allowing our minds to soar above the clouds, to picture the what-ifs of a new and better way, to imagine worlds and places and times where things could be different, to pursue the unvarnished creativity of our truest self is frivolous–then I would counter that we should all be frivolous in our own way.  For you, it might be through painting.  Or singing.  Or cooking.  Or inventing a new form of mathematics.  Or dancing.  Or playing softball.  It doesn’t matter what the outlet is.  It just matters that there is one.


Because, when it’s all said and done, imagination and creativity are aspects of our humanity that allow us to strive to become more human, more understanding, and more compassionate.

Or, as Lincoln said long ago, at another time in our history fraught with peril and uncertainty, they pave the way for us to live our lives according to “the better angels of our nature.”


Thanks so much for reading!


21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Alexis Chateau
    May 30, 2020 @ 21:38:13

    I spent a great deal of my childhood inventing games and living in my own fantasies as well.

    My friends had a code name for a game called 6-1-14. Basically, it was just us sitting around while I made up stories about all of us and threw in some other people we knew. 😅


  2. joannerambling
    May 31, 2020 @ 00:17:00

    Living in ones fantasies is something many us have done at times and it can feel so good to lost in one’s dream world


  3. Sally Bosco
    May 31, 2020 @ 14:28:56

    This is a great post! I can definitely relate to being hyper-imaginative as a kid. Travel to other dimensions was a major fascination to me. All of that is what turned us into writers, I guess. Keep writing, my friend!


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 01, 2020 @ 01:46:17

      Thanks so much, Sally! And you’re right. Writers, I think, perhaps hold on to that childhood imaginative spirit just a little bit more than non-writers . . . at least in general.:)


  4. Anna Waldherr
    May 31, 2020 @ 18:53:36

    Thank you for the reminder of days gone by, and the encouraging sentiment for these difficult times. ❤


  5. magarisa
    Jun 02, 2020 @ 19:29:03

    What an uplifting, well-written post! Yes, imagination and creativity are gifts that should never be taken for granted. I read your book Eye Dancers earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Will post a review on Amazon in the near future.


  6. Sherri Matthews
    Jun 03, 2020 @ 09:01:13

    Ah, Mike. Those halcyon days indeed. I love Stranger Things. Thank you for your timely and heartwarming post…just what we need in these times. Keep safe, my friend 🙂


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 04, 2020 @ 10:32:04

      Thanks so much, Sherri! I admit, when I was a kid growing up in the ’80s, it never really occurred to me that the decade of my childhood would one day become the backdrop for period pieces.:) It’s weird because some of the memories from back then are so vivid–hardly seems possible that so many years have gone by. As for 2020 . . . let’s just say I am looking forward to 2021 and a new year.:)


  7. Ste J
    Jun 08, 2020 @ 09:26:34

    Stories are wonderful, sometimes the sandbox realm of video games keeps me amused, whether it be Stardew VAlley, GTA V, or Skyrim, I always come back to books, they have a deeper wisdom and I love them so much, and of course the wonderful authors who overcome so much to share their words. We appreciate you sirrah for what you do for us.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 12, 2020 @ 01:38:57

      Thanks so much! You just made my day. And you’re right about books. Books (and comic books) have been my lifelong friends. Hard to imagine a world without books, and, as much as I like to imagine, I won’t even try . . .


      • Ste J
        Jun 12, 2020 @ 08:45:40

        It would truly be a terrible world were we to lose the medium of literature. Our blogs would be a bit rubbish too…

  8. Carol Balawyder
    Jun 09, 2020 @ 00:38:57

    You must have been such a fun kid to hang out with. 🙂


  9. Karina Pinella
    Jul 17, 2020 @ 02:14:26

    Alas, this seems to be a first for me in feeling like I’m living a story of horror. Real life has never felt like one of the stories I used to read and escape into. It’s like being trapped in a story where you can’t find something to read to escape. Of course, there’s always the romance genre, but I’ve gone through that genre ages ago. Yes, now is the best time to really use our imagination and re-create our old creations.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jul 20, 2020 @ 10:27:20

      Well said, Karina! And let’s hope this particular horror story (the one we’re living through) ends fairly soon. It’s definitely affecting my ability to write. As you say, it’s hard to get lost in the imagination right now–“reality” is proving so horrific and distracting. Let’s hope we can return to a sense of something resembling normalcy in 2021!


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