Dalkowski vs. Koufax (Or, the Importance of Sharpening Your Tools)

There is likely something you take to–something that, for as long as you can remember, has always come naturally to you.  As a child, when others around you struggled, you enjoyed doing it; it flowed like water down a mountain slope, easy, fast, and free.  The something in question can be anything: tennis, a foreign language, algebra, memorization, dancing, singing, juggling, writing.   But whatever it is, you always knew you had a natural bent toward it, a tilt, as if the skill in question were a star and you were a planet kept in orbit through its gravitational pull.

How to Understand Algebra (with Pictures) - wikiHow

 

For Steve Dalkowski and Sandy Koufax, the talent in question was throwing a baseball.  Indeed, it’s possible that someone could be a bodybuilder, the world’s strongest human, and still not be able to throw a ball inordinately hard.  And then you get someone like Dalkowksi, an unremarkable five foot eleven and 175 pounds but who could, reportedly, throw a baseball as fast as 110 miles per hour.  Koufax wasn’t quite as fast, but he was a contemporary of Dalkowski’s, and he threw plenty hard enough.

the long, hard journey of steve dalkowski, possibly the fastest pitcher ever!

 

Both men were lefthanders, and, at least early in their careers, despite their obvious inborn natural gifts, they were not overly successful.  Dalkowski, in fact, never was.  He never made it to the Major Leagues.  Blessed with that golden arm though he was (every batter who faced him maintained no one ever threw harder), he was fragile mentally, heaping enormous pressure onto himself before he took the mound.  He also, how shall we say, enjoyed a good time and did not train with the vigor he might have.  During his minor-league heyday, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dalkowski would essentially strike out, or walk, every batter he faced.  In 1960, for instance, he both walked and struck out 262 batters in a single season.  Statistics that would be unthinkable for anyone else.

Dalkowski never made it out of the minor leagues.  He toiled away for nine seasons before flaming out, a footnote in baseball history despite being the fastest pitcher who ever lived.  He had all the natural talent in the world.  But talent, alone, wasn’t enough.

Meanwhile, Sandy Koufax began his career in much the same manner.  Admittedly, Koufax was never as wild as Dalkowski–no one was.  And he did make it to the Major Leagues at a young age and stuck around.  But for the first handful of years of his career, Koufax was a mediocre pitcher–full of potential but not coming close to realizing it.  Like Dalkowski, Koufax was a lefthanded flamethrower, but he was also blessed with an off-the-table curveball that, coupled with his fastball, made batters look silly.  He had one major problem, though–he did not have pinpoint control.  He would walk too many hitters and didn’t hit his spots consistently in the strike zone.  As a result, for the first five years of his big-league career (1955-1960), Koufax was a forgettable player–just “a guy” as they say.

Sandy Koufax Gallery | Trading Card Database

 

But he worked at it.  He was determined to get it right, smooth out his form, take away the hitches in his delivery, and overcome his control issues.  The hard work really started to pay off in 1961, when he won eighteen games and posted a 3.52 ERA.  Not earth-shattering numbers, but he was on the right track.  Then 1962 came along, and the countless hours he’d put in, perfecting his craft, would manifest in the best five-year stretch of any pitcher in baseball history.  From 1962 until his forced early retirement in 1966 (Koufax had suffered massive arm injuries during his career), the lefthander was virtually untouchable, posting ERAs as low as 1.93 and 1.85, winning twenty-five or more games in three of those magical seasons, and striking out 382 overmatched hitters in 1965.  “Trying to hit Sandy Koufax,” Pittsburgh Pirates great Willie Stargell once said at the peak of Koufax’s career, “is like trying to drink coffee with a fork.”

From Oakland to Pittsburgh, Willie Stargell - African American Registry

 

Two pitchers–both blessed with almost freakish talent–but only one of them “made it.”  The difference?  One honed his craft, worked endless hours, refused to accept mediocrity, and never relied on just his talent alone.  If you are a writer, for example, maybe you have an innate sense of pacing, of language, of turning a phrase just so.  Maybe people have said things to you like, “Wow.  You are such a poet!  The way you put words together.  You make them sing.”

 

All may be true.  But if you don’t take that gift and work with it, if you don’t master grammar and punctuation; if you don’t study story structure and learn how to “kill your darlings”: if you don’t strive to prune and pare down and remove pesky adjectives and adverbs and redundancies from the text, you will be the equivalent of the 100-mph pitcher who couldn’t throw strikes.  Your talent will shine through, but it will be buried underneath too-wordy and sloppy prose.  It will not be maximized, and your potential will not be reached.

Off to the Red Pen! – Heidi Eliason

 

So, whether you write or sing or play basketball, or pitch a baseball–put in the hours necessary to master your skill.  Sweat the small stuff.

It can make all the difference.

Just ask Steve Dalkowski and Sandy Koufax–and the batters they faced.

PRACTICE CHART - Callirgos Music

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

 

Gutenberg–An Opinion and a Question

I must begin this post with an admission: I, generally, am not the first person in line to try out a technological advancement. In fact, if I’m being honest, I tend to stick with the tried-and-true, technology-wise. If something works for me, and always has, I see no reason to “upgrade.” The thing is, in the 2020s, often, upgrades are forced on you. At times slowly, gradually, with some advance notice, but, nevertheless, forced on you, just the same. And so it is with WordPress.

Web Upgrades: Is it time to upgrade? | News

A couple of years ago, I began to notice a new editor in WordPress. “Gutenberg,” it was called. I didn’t pay it much attention, as the Classic Editor, which I had been using since joining the blogosphere in 2012, was easy and convenient to work with. I had never had any issues with it, and I enjoyed its clean, crisp document-creation functionality.

How to keep using the classic editor as the default option in WordPress 5

Then, about a year ago, when I would create a new post, a new editor would pop up by default–Gutenberg. For me, honestly, it was hate at first site. Where the Classic Editor struck me as easy to navigate, efficient, and user-friendly, Gutenberg was an eyesore, confusing, and needlessly “busy.” (For those who like the Gutenberg Editor, I am glad! I wish I did!) Alas! There was an option right there on the screen to revert back to the trusty Classic Editor. Which I most certainly did. Problem solved.

Stop the Presses! What You Need to Know About Upgrading to Gutenberg Editor  in WordPress

Until about a month ago. When I created my last post at the end of March (and now this one here), the option to use the Classic Editor had vanished. Gutenberg was now being forced upon WordPress wordsmiths. Or was it? Surely there must be a way to go back to the Classic Editor. Right?

Sort of. Plug-ins! I researched the issue online, and it appeared as though the Classic Editor was now an easy-to-access plug-in you could add to your WordPress toolbox. But when I looked for it, it wasn’t there. Evidently, it used to be–it had been a free plug-in, easy to find and employ. But now? When I selected it, WordPress informed me that if I wanted to have access to the old (and much-preferred) Classic Editor, it would cost me close to $300 per year. That was the apparent cost for adding the Classic Editor plug-in to my customized WordPress menu.

The Best WordPress Plugins for 2021 - aThemes

I doubt I’ll fork over $300 a year for a plug-in that should be free. So, I am creating this post with Gutenberg. Will I get more used to Gutenberg over time? Surely. Will I ever like it as much, and find it as user-friendly, as the Classic Editor? Not a chance.

But I wanted to take this opportunity to ask the WordPress community: What do you think of Gutenberg? (The WordPress content creator, not the inventor of the printing press.) Do you like it better than Classic?

Security | WordPress.org

Also–does anyone know if I am missing something? Is there a way to be able to work in Classic Editor mode anymore without paying $300 a year for the privilege?

I am not one to complain in a post, nor do I usually write about WordPress nuts-and-bolts issues like this. But I genuinely wanted to hear from the wonderful WordPress community on this. Please share your thoughts!

And tonight? Tonight, I feel motivated to open an old-school book–the kind you hold in your hands. The original Gutenberg, from the fifteenth century, surely would approve.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The Morning After . . . An Exciting Idea Strikes (Or, Overcoming the Doubts)

I am the first to admit–I am not immune to creative dry spells. Indeed, following the publication of The Singularity Wheel in 2018, I have had a dearth of ideas for new novels. Plenty of scenes, scenarios, characters, and situations come and go, but none of them have had the layers, endurance, or promise to propel me to begin a new novel. And so, it has been a frustrating season creatively.

Amazon.com: The Singularity Wheel eBook: Fedison, Michael S.: Kindle Store

Until last week, when everything changed. It happened as it often has for me–unasked for, unplanned. In fact, it happened one weekend morning, upon first waking up, just before sunrise. I had gone to sleep the previous night without any fresh ideas (or, more accurately, no fleshed-out, workable ones), and yet, somehow, some way, I woke up with the structure, plot, and characters of an entire novel in place. Immediately, I logged on to my PC, opened a fresh Word file, and jotted down all manner of notes. I didn’t want to “lose” the idea. The risk is always there that if I don’t immediately write the essentials down–especially for an idea that came to me while I slept–they will dissipate, like mist, on a sun-splashed October morning.

Sunny fall day at the beach! Lovely! | Outdoor, Nature, Beach

So, I wrote–notes upon notes upon notes. And then I closed the file, and let it sit for a while. And then . . . hours passed. A day passed. And I began to doubt. Was this really a good, workable novel idea? Now that I had the benefit of twenty-four hours of hindsight, a day removed from the epiphany of literary revelation, I examined the idea in a harsher, more questioning light.

Determine your depth of doubt – and turn it into confidence | PhillyVoice

Were the protagonists really convincing? Was the “villain” three-dimensional, and did I avoid the common stereotypes? Was the plot outline tight and structured, or meandering, full of potential pitfalls and tangents? The more I examined what I had, the more I doubted what I had. Had I fooled myself when the idea first hit? Did the unexpected revelation of a new idea blind me to the possibility that what I had was not worth pursuing?

I felt like a pin-pricked balloon, and was tempted to delete the notes file altogether. But I didn’t. Instead, I forced myself to open it up and go through everything I had–in painstaking detail. And as I read through it again, an interesting thing happened–I began to grow excited again. The doubts and nagging questions faded into the background, and I came up with new ideas for the plot, for the protagonist. I even created a new supporting character, on the spot. I generated another thousand words of notes, took a sigh of relief, and then . . .

1,415 Deflated Balloon Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

. . . I opened a new document, created a title page, and then moved on to chapter 1, page 1. I began to write. I didn’t have a lot of time, but I needed to begin. Surprisingly, the words flowed like water, and I hammered away at the keyboard, almost frantic, my fingers struggling to keep pace with my thoughts. One paragraph turned into two, which turned into three. Dialogue sprang forth, out of the ether. New ideas emerged. The creative process was in full bloom.

Rochester's Lilac Festival – May 14-23, 2010 | The Finger Lakes Travel Maven

And I was reminded, again, of a truth that every writer understands. Doubts and insecurities are our constant nemeses. Every writer, every artist, is plagued by the same questions: “Does it work?” “Does it make sense?” Is it any good?”

The initial splash of inspiration, so glorious when it first strikes, is replaced by second-guessing and hesitancy. The morning after the epiphany is a time fraught with peril, when, if we’re not careful, we might sabotage our fledgling idea before it has chance to take flight. Before it has an opportunity to be told.

How albatrosses fly, find food, and nest - BirdWatching

The only way to push through is to write, to cast aside the doubts and the questions, and to key in the first sentence, and then the second, and then the third. And to keep going. And, all the while, to have faith, to believe–that, eventually, the toil will be worth it and a story will be told.

Here’s to creativity. Here’s to ideas that enthrall and excite, and motivate us to make something new.

How can I see the Andromeda Galaxy? - BBC Science Focus Magazine

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

A Nine-Year Thank-You

I have always been a believer in the old saying “time flies.”  And I wouldn’t qualify it with the often-added “when you’re having fun.”  Time simply flies.  Period.  Always, fun or no fun.  One day, you wake up, and it’s spring, a golden May morning with blooms and fragrances and new beginnings.  Then, you blink, and it’s February, snow falling, the world a monochrome of grays and whites, the sky the color of lead.  Where did the months go?  Where do the years go?

Vermont Snow Wallpapers - Top Free Vermont Snow Backgrounds -  WallpaperAccess

 

I think of all this presently because, it occurred to me just this week that I have been blogging for nine years now.  Nine years!  Indeed.  Where does the time go?  And, indeed, in this case of interacting with the WordPress community, it has been nine years of fun.

The thing is, my schedule has changed over the years.  During the first few years of The Eye-Dancers blog, I was able to post regularly–as often as two or three times per week.  As time went on, that dropped to once a week, then twice a month, and now, nine years in, I generally publish one solitary post per month.  I also have far less time to read the blogs of others–which I deeply regret.  I still do sometimes–I enjoy it!  But not nearly as often as I used to.

The Once-A-Month Pay Option | Military.com

 

All this to say, my presence in this wonderful blogging community has been lacking in recent months.  Honestly, I’m not sure that will change.  I likely will only be able to post once per month going forward, and I won’t be able to visit others’ blogs as much as I might want to.  (But I will pop in from time to time, and that’s a promise.)

The reason for sharing all of this now, on the last day of February?  (And yes, it is gray and monochrome here in Vermont.)  Just a thank-you to all of you for sticking with this little corner of the internet all these years.  Even as the posts have dwindled to one per month, you still take the time to read my digital scribbles, and for that I am eternally thankful.  I genuinely enjoy sharing my thoughts with you, and I hope some of those thoughts are worthwhile.

How much longer until the snow is gone in Vermont?

 

So, no.  I am not going anywhere.  I intend to stay and keep blogging–even if only once per month.  I’m sure I’ll blink and it will be summer.  That’s how time works.  But I hope you’ll still be here then, too, and that you’ll enjoy the once-monthly posts and stories and memories shared on here.

Thank you for reading these past nine years!

–Mike

What’s Old Is New Again (Or, Tapping into Your Own Personal Literary Slush Pile)

One way or another, fiction or nonfiction, seeking publication or simply scribbling away for my own enrichment and edification, I have been a writer for a long time now.  Not all of my literary endeavors have been successful, that’s for sure.  And some will never be seen, even fleetingly, by any eyes not belonging to me.  But the point is, good or bad, published or unpublished, I’ve been at this for a while.  And so–there is quite a “slush pile,” as it were, on my hard drive.

Infographic: Publicist Slush Pile | Real Pants

 

But before delving into the slush . . . of course, I am wanting to create something new, to explore an idea that is swimming around, like a rogue fish, in the fluids and nooks and crannies of my brain.  Do I have such ideas?  I do.  All writers do.  Ideas are our stock-in-trade, after all.  The thing is, not all of these ideas are good, or even workable.  In fact, the majority are not.  Or–maybe an idea has potential, but, in its current state, it is too unformed, too skeletal to work with.  So, though enthused by the germ of it and intrigued to pursue it, you temporarily set it aside, allowing it the space and quiet it needs to form sinews and cartilage and nerve endings, to pulse with the literary blood flow of a living, breathing story.  I know, for me, such idea-germs need to work themselves out on their own.  I can never force them.  I must be patient and wait for them to tell me when it’s time to put them down on paper.

Swim bladder disease--is your fish swimming sideways?

 

The question naturally arises, then.  What to do in the meantime?  What to write, what to create, while awaiting the muse’s unannounced and capricious call?  For me, I sometimes simply write a scene–even if it has no chance of developing into something more.  Working out the narrative muscles, keeping dialogue top of mind, describing the situation, letting it all play out.  It’s the literary equivalent to practice.  And sometimes–rarely, but sometimes–such a writing exercise can bloom into a full and fleshed-out story.  It does happen.

Exercising your Literary Muscle – Limelight Publishing

 

But what if even that amounts to nothing more than a dozen unrelated scenes, scattered around your hard drive like unreadable hieroglyphics from an ancient civilization, unable to be deciphered or turned into anything more?  Where do you go when the fully formed ideas are few and far between, or even nonexistent?

Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics Alphabet

 

Perhaps . . . to your own work?  If you have any sort of track record of writing projects, surely you have some old stories lying around.  Some of them may be so old, and so forgotten, they read as if another person created them.  (An odd, almost disembodied sensation, but recommended!)  Now, it’s true–some, or even most–of these stories may strike you as second-rate–especially if they’re more than ten years old.  After all, we move forward as writers, as artists.  We accrue more life experiences, hone our craft, enrich our voice.  Our old work really shouldn’t be as polished as our more recent efforts.

Top 5 Creepiest Disembodied Voices Ever Recorded

 

But sometimes, every now and again, they are–or, if not, they contain enough depth, imagination, and spark to revisit them.  So, if the well is running dry–maybe dig into that old slush pile.  And if you see a short story, or even a novel that has been collecting dust for years–perhaps sit with it for a while, and then . . . if you’re encouraged by what you’re reading–begin to rework it.  Editing an old piece of writing to make it new again.  Superimposing your in-the-now abilities over your abilities from ten or twenty years ago.  Making the old new.

Dry Wells

 

Of course, such a project is only applicable if you are, in fact, short on new ideas, and if you find the old work in question worthy enough to edit.  But it’s an often overlooked source of material–your own stories!  (Sometimes, too, your old stories can ignite an entirely new idea, and off to the races you go on a brand-new novel.)  There are plenty of possibilities.

Either way, though, it is a good idea to check out your old stuff–whether you want to rework it or not–if, for nothing else, to see how far you’ve come as a writer, how you’ve matured and grown.  And to see a snapshot into what the younger version of you thought was important enough to write about.  In some ways, it’s almost like reading old journal entries.

The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives | The Morgan Library & Museum

 

And, right now?  I think I’ve convinced myself.  I have an entire thumb drive of old stories I wrote, years ago.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to revisit them.

After all, our younger selves have much to say to our current selves.  There has to be a story in there, somewhere.

Daily Devotional – 12/1/16 “Letter to my younger self!” – Lakisha, the  Author

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

 

Holiday Inspiration (Or, From Seneca Falls to Bedford Falls)

I’ve lived in the remote east-central hills of rural Vermont for quite a while now.  It’s a beautiful land with four distinct seasons, replete with dense woodlands and interspersed with dairy farms and the rare but intrepid vegetable farm, as growers do their best to cultivate crops from the hardscrabble and stony soil.  But for the first half of my life, I grew up and lived in Rochester, New York.  The Eye-Dancers and The Singularity Wheel are both set in western New York, in the Rochester area.  It is a region I will always carry with me and write about.  So it was with a sense of pride that I learned, years ago, while I still lived there, that the legendary film director Frank Capra sought inspiration from upstate New York.

Photos From Western NY Amish Country

 

In 1945, as the Second World War came to an end after six interminable and deadly years, Capra was looking for just the right model for his next movie.  The world had been through hell and back, and he wanted to make a film that would uplift, inspire, and celebrate the best in humanity.  He was preparing to make It’s a Wonderful Life–still my all-time favorite movie.  The movie would be based on Philip Van Doren’s story “The Greatest Gift,” and set in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, New York.

It's a Wonderful Life: George and Mary Bailey's House in Bedford Falls | It's a wonderful life, Wonderful life movie, Bedford falls

 

Capra intended to keep the small-town New York State setting, but he didn’t want to create a fictional town without first seeing the real thing with his own eyes.  His search brought him to the town of Seneca Falls, a small, pastoral town about an hour east of Rochester and already famous for its Women’s Rights Convention from the summer of 1848.  While strolling through the town, Capra knew he had his model.  Bedford Falls would be based on Seneca Falls.

Seneca Falls, New York - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia

 

Indeed, many aspects of the fictional town were, in actuality, replicas of the real-life Seneca Falls–from the grassy median along Main Street, to the Victorian architecture, to the distinct upstate New York feel, complete with a row of old shops located in the center of town.  Seneca Falls at the time even had a real-life version of Old Man Potter, the crusty, wealthy villain in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Old Man Potter: The Real Hero of 'It's a Wonderful Life' | Intellectual Takeout

 

And now, during the holiday season, when millions watch It’s a Wonderful Life each year, I am, well, inspired by Capra’s inspiration.  Much as things were in 1945, we, today, are at the end of a deadly and treacherous year.  No doubt, 2020 is one for the ages, and not in a good way.  We can all use some inspiration this yuletide.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be It’s a Wonderful Life (though it will be for me).  It can be anything.  Maybe you have another holiday film favorite, or a particular TV episode that you love this time of year.  Watch it.  Enjoy it.  Laugh and cry along with it.  Or perhaps there’s a favorite book, or a tradition you keep.  Or a song you sing.  Maybe you want to take a long walk along a quiet country road or drive through town, just observing the sights and sounds of late December.  Perhaps the night will be clear, and, bundled up against the cold, you head outside, look up, contemplate the cosmos, the vastness, and count the stars, which glitter like diamonds across the canvas of the sky.

Andromeda Galaxy | Description, Location, Distance, & Facts | Britannica

 

Whatever it is, hopefully we can all find our inspiration at the end of this challenging year.  And then look ahead to what has to be, what must be, a far better year in 2021.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and, like Frank Capra all those decades ago, may we all discover something “wonderful.”

It's A Wonderful Life' Live Stream: How To Watch 'It's A Wonderful Life' For Free | Decider

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Thankful (for the Memories, and the Inspiration)

Late November, the northeastern United States, the hill country of east-central Vermont.  No snow whitens the landscape yet this year, as the fields and meadows remain a stripped, subdued green dotted with dead, scattered leaves.  Cows and sheep enjoy the cool, bug-less weather.  There is a stillness, a quietness in the air.  It is a season of thanksgiving, even amid the calamitous year of 2020.

Post-Thanksgiving R&R AND Putney Craft Tour! Nov 27-29 | Vermont Gay Male  Rock River B&B Resort near Brattleboro

 

And for me, today, this year–and always–one thing I am eternally thankful for is my childhood.  I was lucky.  I was raised in a stable and loving family.  My father still lives in the same house where I grew up.  I never had to move as a kid.  And, with that stability, I acquired neighborhood friends who stood the test of time, season after season, year after year.  Fixtures of my youth.

Indeed, as I’ve mentioned previously over the years on this blog, the protagonists from The Eye-Dancers were inspired by the friends I grew up with, the kids from the old neighborhood.  And I think, even back then, in those long-ago summers of the 1980s, navigating a childhood without the Internet, without smartphones and tablets and smart speakers and Wi-Fi, I knew that what we shared was something special.  Something enduring.  To this day, when I hit a dry patch in my creativity, I pause, think back, and remember.  Because I know that the essence of creativity–my creativity, anyway–streams forth from those adventures decades ago–the inquisitiveness of childhood, the explorations, the stories, the inventions.  The wonder.

1980s retrospective - National Library of Scotland

 

I am thankful for that.

Rick and his brother, Bill (Ryan and Tyler from The Eye-Dancers), lived next door, and Joe (well, Joe, from The Eye-Dancers) lived kitty-corner across the street.  Grronk (well, Grronk from The Eye-Dancers), Matt K. (Marc from The Eye-Dancers), and Matt B. (Mitchell from The Eye-Dancers) lived a few streets away.  If I felt bored or had nothing to do on a weekend or a summer day, I’d head outside, grab the basketball, and start shooting at the hoop my parents had in place above the garage.  And–like clockwork–snap!  Screen door opening and shutting.  Rick next door, coming over, responding to the bouncing basketball.  And, moments later: slam!  Joe’s screen door across the way banging shut, as he waddled over. And we’d shoot at the hoop.  Talk.  And plan something for when Matt, Matt, and Grronk would come.

93,032 Basketball Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

 

There were sleepovers, too.  We’d head down into the basement, where we’d play games I had invented.  Sometimes I’d read aloud from stories I’d written, and it would be well past midnight before we turned in in our sleeping bags.  The basement was old, creepy, with mysterious noises and strange clicking and hissing sounds that would come unbidden, in the dark.  As we drifted off to sleep, I’d be sure to tell them of the ghosts, the goblins, and the vampires that hid, silently, underneath the stairs.  Invariably, a flashlight would flick on, cutting through the gloom.

A guide to ghosts by Jonathan Stroud | Children's books | The Guardian

 

Mostly, though, I just remember the camaraderie.  The walks we’d take.  On some of those summer sleepovers, we’d take a walk around the neighborhood, after midnight.  Was it safe?  We thought so.  Safe enough, anyway.  Besides, there was strength in numbers, and there were half a dozen of us.  As we walked, we’d look at the houses.  Most were dark.  A few still had lights on.  We’d guess who lived there (if we walked far enough afield and no longer knew), what they might be doing on the other side of the walls and windows.  We’d look up at the sky, and if the stars were out, we’d talk about space travel, time travel, and how the light from those stars took millions and millions of years to reach us, and how, seeing them now, we were, in effect, gazing into the past.

What's Your North Star? A Short Guide In Defining Your Purpose | The  Minimalist Vegan

 

“Is it possible that some of those stars aren’t even there anymore?” Matt B.  (Mitchell) would ask.

“What kinda stupid question is that?” Joe shot back.  “‘Course they’re there!”

“Well, I don’t know,” Matt K. (Marc) would chime in.  “Theoretically, they could be gone.  The light we’re seeing is from millions of years ago.  We have no way of knowing what’s happened in the intervening years.”  (Hey, Marc Kuslanski didn’t materialize out of thin air!  Matt K. was a grade-A inspiration for the character.)

We’d keep walking, talking, wondering, arguing.  We felt very young, and very strong.  Full of potential, the years ahead of us yawning wide, decade upon decade.

ᐈ Vortex stock pictures, Royalty Free vortex images | download on  Depositphotos®

 

That’s what I remember the most.  The feeling of possibilities.  Ambitions.  Dreams.  The sense that we had all the time in the world, and nothing was going to stop us.  The full-throated expression of creativity and what-ifs.  Daring to imagine.  To wonder.  To consider.  Nothing was off-limits.

Which brings me back to today, 2020, decades removed from those days of my childhood.  Back then, the year 2020 would have seemed like a century away, some distant, inconceivable future on the other side of tomorrow.  Yet here I am.  Here we are.

The City of the Future: Closer than We Imagined? | IndustryWeek

 

But those memories live on.  And the energy and enthusiasm of those long-ago days, and the friends with whom I shared them–spur me to press on, to continue dreaming and writing and creating.  To continue looking up at the night sky and asking questions.

And to never, ever forget.

What's the matter with the Universe? Scientists have the answer | Deccan  Herald

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

An Ode to Fluff (in a Sober Season)

It is indisputable.  We live in historically stressful times.  While a worldwide pandemic rages on, growing worse by the day, while crises arise in both far-flung places and close to home, and while perhaps the most consequential election in American history approaches, people everywhere feel a sense of anxiety, a tightening of the chest, a species of fear.  When will the pandemic end?  How will we get out of this?  When will we feel safe again?  When can we return to a sense of normalcy?  Stressful times, indeed.

Great whites found to contain very high amounts of mercury and arsenic -  Insider

 

And while it is important to engage, to tackle the issues and problems of our time head-on, to speak out for truth and common sense–there is also something else that is important: our well-being, our state of mind.  Our sanity itself.  One thing is certain–too much stress and anxiety, especially over a protracted period of time, can have a deleterious effect on our health.

So, what to do?  Well, there is much we can do.  Go out for a jog, get the heart pumping.  Write a poem, or a novel.  Or a song.  Read a book.  Do Pilates or Tai chi.  Volunteer in the community.  Mow the lawn.  Meditate.  Take a night and go to bed early–regardless of what you have to do.  But one thing I try to do when the pressures of life seem too great, when the vice pinches tighter, when the clouds darken and multiply in a bruised sky the color of gunmetal is–to seek out something fun.

Dreary and cool day ahead

 

I am a proponent of the serious, the studious, the deep, and multilayered as much as anybody.  But in times like these, when the world is collectively holding its breath, there is also much to be said about lighthearted, airy entertainment.  Do you have a “guilty pleasure”?  Perhaps a silly movie or absurd TV show that you love?  Does a certain sitcom make you laugh, even as you realize how ridiculous it is?  What do you enjoy that is fluff, light on substance but high on laughs?  There must be something.

Sugar Free Marshmallow Fluff - Step Away From The Carbs

 

Seek it out.  Take an evening and stream some episodes or, to go old school, break out a DVD and pop it in.  But give yourself permission to enjoy something frivolous.  Are you a Seinfeld fan?  The GolbergsModern Family?  What about The Big Bang Theory?  Or maybe it’s a movie.  Maybe it’s an old movie–perhaps a golden oldie like Caddyshack or Trading Places or The Seven-Year Itch.  Maybe it’s all of them and more.

Episode 44: THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH with Grae Drake — CLARKE WOLFE

 

For me, when I’m in need of something to make me laugh and forget about the strains and the struggles for a while, I turn to Cheers, The Honeymooners, and–though not exactly a comedy, and certainly not altogether lighthearted–Forrest Gump.  Or maybe I’ll seek out a classic 1970s sitcom like Sanford and Son or Happy Days.  Or something really old like The Philadelphia Story, or, my all-time favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.  Again, not all of these are pure fluff.  The point is, they take me away on a pleasant journey.  They allow me to disengage for a time.  They make me laugh.  They sometimes make me cry (but in a good way; the climax of It’s a Wonderful Life gets me every time).  They enable me to step away from the insanity and the craziness and the deadlines and the worries and the anxieties and the strife, and they provide a moment of respite, a safe space, an oasis overflowing with elixirs for the soul.

The Odd Places It's A Wonderful Life Has Turned Up | Den of Geek

 

Your places of fun-filled and lighthearted refuge may be different from mine.  But you have them.  You have your go-to sources for comfort.  We all do.  So, on this Halloween weekend, I hope you have the chance to dip your toe in, if only for a while, to settle in and relax and laugh.  Laugh at something silly.  Laugh at some corny, dated sitcom produced in the years before you were born or a contemporary comedy that never fails to amuse.

Stressors are all around us.  And real problems need to be tackled and overcome.  But we can all benefit from taking a brief detour in a friendly neighborhood bar where “everybody knows your name” or a lively and song-filled jaunt down the Yellow Brick Road.  I know I can.

There's no place like home: The Wizard of Oz, 80 years on

 

And, maybe, just maybe, this weekend I will.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The Name’s the Thing (Or, “Call Me Galen!”)

By all accounts, I have a simple first name.  “Mike” is as run-of-the-mill as it gets.  Throughout my life, whenever I’ve been in a group of people and someone says, “Mike!  Hey, Mike!” several heads turn toward the voice.  It’s a common moniker.

Mike | All names have meanings................

 

In my case, though, there are backstories, and stories behind the backstories.

When I was a toddler, I decided early on that I loathed the name “Michael.”  “I don’t like the ‘cole’ at the end,” I said.  “Everyone call me ‘Mike.'”  And, basically, they did.  In fact, this is a preference I still hold to this day.  I still prefer “Mike” to “Michael”–though I do not loathe my “proper” name anymore.  It’s okay!  I don’t hate the “cole” anymore.  But “Mike” is still the name of choice.

Coal | Facts, Uses, & Types | Britannica

 

The thing is, shortly after I declared that childhood proclamation, I swerved headlong into a new name.  When I was four years old, I fell in love with Planet of the Apes.  And I mean, head  over heels!  I watched the movie dozens of times, collected the action figures, played made-up games with all the characters.  One time, my cousin Symone–born in the same year I was–came over to play.  She wanted to play with my Planet of the Apes action figures.  “Okay,” I told her.  “Just don’t play with Galen!  You can touch anyone else, but not Galen.”  I can’t remember why I didn’t play with her.  I just let her play with my action figures, and did my own thing.

Ape Soldier (Planet of the Apes 1968) | Deadliest Fiction Wiki | Fandom

 

To back up, as much as I loved Planet of the Apes, I loved the character Galen more.  I wanted to be Galen.  In fact, in my mind, I was Galen!

“Call me Galen,” I announced one morning to my mother.  She may have thought I was joking.  I was not.  “I won’t answer to ‘Mike’ anymore.  My name is Galen!”

Galen (APJ) | Planet of the Apes Wiki | Fandom

 

I also announced this to my sister and two brothers, my father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, everyone.  I was Galen!  Not Mike.  Who was he?  He didn’t exist anymore.

So, when Symone did exactly what I told her not to do, I lost it.  The first thing she did was reach for Galen.

Instantly, I snatched the figure away from her.  But that wasn’t all I did.  I got up, ran out of my room, Galen in hand, and yelled to my mother, “She touched Galen!  She touched Galen!”  I felt compelled to make the case against her, as if arguing before a grand jury.  This was an infraction of the highest order.

Virtual Grand Juries? | New Jersey Law Journal

 

Symone came running out, too, trying to take Galen back.  “It’s not fair!” she said.  “It isn’t fair!”  (Keep in mind, we were both four!)

I honestly cannot remember how it all turned out that day.  But even now, all these years later, the family gets a good laugh out of it.

But that was just the start.

I didn’t limit my new name of choice to my family.  Far from it.  My mother had recently signed me up for a book club at the local library.  Two dozen or so toddlers would sit in a circle in the library once a week, and the librarian would read to us, the parents watching, nearby.  Each child in the group had a name tag they needed to wear.  I insisted the librarian write my name in as “Galen.”  I’m sure my mother had to explain why, but in the end, “Galen” it was.

Library / Library Policies

 

It was summer.  There were two months before I would begin kindergarten.  My mother, surely, was anxiously eyeing the calendar, hoping against hope that my Galen obsession would clear, like the summer heat and humidity, at the start of the school year right after Labor Day.

But right then, in mid-July, it was going as strong as ever.

My parents took the entire family to the Adirondack Mountains, a three-hour drive through upstate New York, before arriving at our destination of Whiteface Mountain.  It was a rare mini-vacation for us back then.  And I was in full Galen mode.  Both of my older brothers mocked me on the drive up, taking liberties with my adopted name.  Bring it on!  I was Galen.  I didn’t care what they said.

Exploring Whiteface Mountain - The Whiteface Lodge

 

At one point during the trip, after we’d arrived, I was frolicking in a playground, my mother right there, monitoring.  Several other children were there, swinging, sliding, running around in circles like puppies chasing their tails.  I was having a blast.  But then my mother called out, telling me it was time to go.

“Michael, we have to go,” she said above the din of children’s voices and the sounds of our play.

I ignored her, kept right on playing.

“Mike!” she said, knowing that was the name I preferred.  I didn’t acknowledge her.  She knew what my name was.

There was a pause.  Then:  “Galen!”

I came running!  All I asked was to be called by my new name!  There were other parents there, too, no doubt glancing askew at the child with the odd name.

But from there, the Galen fascination did in fact wane, I moved on to other things, and, indeed, by the start of school that fall, I was “Mike” again.

*************************************

In the years since, I have never populated a story I’ve written with a character named Galen.  But I always think about what to call my characters.  They are not named without consideration and consequence.  It’s an odd feature of being an author–we create people, living, breathing human beings on the page–and we must name them.

What Are the Different Parts of a Book?

 

For The Eye Dancers, the protagonists were inspired by real-life friends of my childhood.  Each character’s initials mirror those of my actual friends, so Mitchell Brant is inspired by the real-life “MB,” Ryan Swinton by “RS,” Marc Kuslanski by “MK,” and so on.  Beyond that, why Mitchell Brant?  Why Marc Kuslanski?  Why Joe Marma?  Like Galen when I was four, something popped.  The neurons fired.  The names felt right.  It’s the kind of thing where . . . you know it when you see it (or hear it).  It’s more an art than a science.

Amazon.com: The Eye-Dancers (9780692262788): Fedison, Michael S., Gaston, Matt: Books

 

So much of writing, creating, exploring, imagining, is.

The main thing is–when you write for your characters, when you craft their dialogue, personas, loves, hates, dreams, fears, hopes, and aspirations . . . invest in them.

Maybe even as much as I did when I was four with my favorite character from Planet of the Apes.

AusReprints - Planet of the Apes (Marvel, 1974 series) #5

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The Literary Leap–Writing as an Act of Faith

Have you ever walked in the dark?  Seriously.  Say it’s the middle of the night, and, for some reason, you need to get up.  Maybe you need to head down the hall to the bathroom.  Maybe you failed to eat supper and now, your stomach is grumbling at 2:00 a.m., and you remember there’s a blueberry pie stashed in the back of the fridge.  Maybe you just can’t sleep and need to get up, stretch your limbs, unwind before lying down again.

 

It’s dark.  Pitch-dark, a moonless, starless night, a gentle rain falling from low-lying clouds, the sound of the drops pittering and pattering off the eaves and gutters and windows.  But your significant other is in bed with you, and you don’t want to disturb them.  So you don’t flick on any lights.  You just plant your feet onto the floor and stand up, stepping slowly across the room and out into the hall, where, also for the sake of discretion (maybe there’s a house guest snoring away on the living room coach), you keep the lights off.

 

Dark.  You know the house well, of course.  You live in it.  But you generally navigate it during the day, or with the lights on.  Now you feel your way through darkened corridors and Stygian rooms until you reach the kitchen.  Finally, opening the refrigerator door, some light!  And yes.  There’s the pie.  You secure two pieces, place them on a plate, grab a fork, and . . . close the refrigerator door.  Plunged into darkness again (the house guest is in the next room and you don’t want to disturb them), you push through the dark and sit down at the dining room table.  There, you eat your pie (without seeing it).

 

And when you finish, you have to walk through the dark again, empty the plate into the sink, navigate the pitch-dark hall, back to the bedroom.  You see nothing. Everything is done by memory, by feel, familiarity.

Faith.

Indeed.  Are you sure there is nothing in your path, some tripping hazard blocking your way?  The dog had been playing with his toys earlier.  Didn’t he leave one of them in the hall . . .  Hmm.  But you keep going, slowly, moving forward, trusting in your instincts, your senses apart from sight that will guide you through.  You are not crippled with fear.  You dare to proceed.

 

And eventually, of course, you safely reach your bed.  You have completed your mission, in the dark–and in the process shoveled in a thousand nighttime calories.  But who’s counting?

 

You had an awareness of where you were going–from your memory of the house and its layout, from feeling your way forward.  You couldn’t see.  You couldn’t be sure until you took the next step.  But you believed.

You jumped, as it were, and landed on your feet.

***************************

It is much the same when we write–or do anything creative, really.  Think about it.  An idea hits you, unasked for, unplanned.  You feel inspired to write it, to unfurl the story wherever it leads.  To create characters that dream and fear and imagine and make mistakes and pursue redemption and say all manner of dialogue over hundreds of pages of manuscript.

Where do their words come from?  How do you know what they will say, exactly, to whom, and when?  As you sit down at your PC or laptop to begin, a blank screen staring back at you, do you know what page 76 will look like?  How about page 200?  Or page 6?

 

What will character X do in chapter 16?  In short, this idea you have, this general outline of a story–how will it develop once you begin keying in the words, once the sentences build on themselves, one upon another upon another?  The answer is–you don’t know.  You have no idea.   You have a general outline of the story, as a whole.  But–aside from maybe a scene here or there–the details are a mystery.  The plot developments are far off, concealed signposts in a mist.  The characters haven’t spoken a word yet.  Some characters will emerge in your story that you aren’t even aware of yet.  But when the magic of storytelling commences, when you dare to move from paragraph to paragraph and chapter to chapter, they will come upon the scene and make their presence known.

 

Writing, creating, is an act of faith.  There are no guarantees.  No promises.  While you may have the first chapter, the first scene, planned out, you most certainly do not have every word mapped out.  You key in the first sentence with a belief, a silent trust that the second sentence will come into existence, and then a third, and a fourth, and, ultimately, a thousandth and a ten thousandth.  But it’s all started in the dark.

Perhaps the story you’re beginning was always there, somewhere deep in your subconscious.  Or somewhere out there in the stars, floating amid the dark matter of space, unobserved, a literary Schrodinger’s Cat–until the moment when you observed it and breathed life into it and, now, are revealing it, syllable by syllable.

 

Yet, even as you reveal the story, you cannot know that it will be told in its entirety.  What if you get stuck in chapter 10?  What if you see two forks in the road, and, unlike Frost, cannot decide which to take?  What if you get fenced in somewhere along the middle of the story, unable to see any way out to a satisfying conclusion?  What if you can’t finish the thing?

 

The path ahead is murky, and it will only begin to clear and lighten as you walk along it, your destination never guaranteed.  It’s dark.  You cannot see where you’re going, not exactly.  You have only a general sense of direction.  You have to trust the process, have faith in the muse.  Believe in the story to reach you and talk to you as you continue placing one foot in front of the other, in the dark.

 

And keep going.

Something far better than a piece (or two) of blueberry pie will be waiting for you when you get there.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

 

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