No Actors to Bail You Out (Or, You’re on Your Own)

There is a scene in the 1954 classic movie On the Waterfront that, one can argue, introduced the world to the art of modern, naturalistic acting.  Terry Malloy (played by Marlon Brando) is talking with Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint) in a park in the city.  He clearly enjoys her company–they only recently met.  But she isn’t sure about him, especially because they met in part due to the death of her brother.  Not exactly an auspicious way to start a relationship.


And Edie, at this point in the film, has no intention of starting a relationship with Terry.  But as they walk together, he talks a mile a minute, engaging her, trying to break the ice.  At one point, fiddling with a fashionable pair of white gloves, Edie drops one on the ground.  Terry quickly picks it up . . . but doesn’t give it back to her.  Instead, he caresses it, explores it, and then puts it on his own hand, all the while continuing with the conversation.  Edie doesn’t acknowledge it, though she shows through her glances and body language that she is very aware he now wears her glove.


Terry continues to fiddle with the glove as they talk, even as it’s wrapped around his hand.  The message is clear–Edie is not prepared yet to hold his hand.  But Terry simulates that action by wearing her glove.  It is a subtle, romantic gesture.  Eventually, Edie says she has to go, and she reaches for the glove and pulls it off his hand, reclaiming it.  They go on talking, as if nothing has happened.  It is a remarkably natural scene.


But what makes it more remarkable is . . . none of it was scripted!  Sure, the dialogue was.  But not the glove.  The actress, Eva Marie Saint, did not drop one of her gloves on purpose.  It was an accident.  Undoubtedly, she thought the director, Elia Kazan, would yell, “Cut!”  And they would need to reshoot the scene.

But Brando reacted with lightning-quickness.  Without missing a beat, he, completely on his own, picked up the glove and proceeded to do everything just described above.  Nowhere in the script did it say, “Edie drops her glove, and Terry places it on his own hand to simulate holding her hand.”  That was 100 percent Brando ad-libbing in the moment, so invested in his role that he simply responded naturally and had the instincts to understand his character, his motivations, and the dynamics of the scene.


Eva Marie Saint responded with aplomb as well.  She had no idea Brando was going to do that–neither did he, until it happened!  But she played off of him, without a script, perfectly.  And then when she reached to retrieve her glove from him–all in one fluid motion, without mentioning it–just 100 percent natural–that, too, was obviously unscripted.  Just pure instinct.


For his part, screenwriter Budd Schulberg wrote a first-rate script.  But he can’t take credit for this scene.  It was all the actors ad-libbing and playing off each other.

Of course, even beyond a scene like this one, where the actors, literally, create something out of thin air, a screenwriter is dependent on the cast delivering their lines well.  A movie script is words on a page.  It is designed to come alive on the silver screen (or on your TV, or on your smartphone).  It requires the actors to do their part.  The best script can fall flat in the hands of untalented actors.  And a so-so script can resonate and move an audience to tears if the performers on-screen bring it to life and make the words sing.


Either way, a screenwriter is dependent.  Their words are not enough.  In the hands of a Marlon Brando or an Eva Marie Saint, a scriptwriter can appear to be a genius.  And Schulberg deserves plenty of credit for his script.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  On the Waterfront is one of America’s all-time great movies because of the actors.


For a novelist (or short story writer, or any writer who relies exclusively on the written word), there are no Brandos or Saints to weave their alchemy and turn the words on the page to gold.  If you intend for a character’s dialogue to be funny, the words need to convey the humor on their own.  There are no gifted actors to deliver the lines and make them their own.  It is all on you–the author.


Creating mood, character, subtleties, innuendoes; depicting sarcasm, tone of voice, disbelief.  These are things an author needs to do through the crafting of a scene on the page, through the dialogue itself, the setting, the narrative, and a few well-placed and strategic descriptions–as much by showing as possible, keeping the telling firmly in check.

It is an enormous challenge.  If you don’t come right out and tell a reader, “Character X is sad” (and you shouldn’t), you have to show the reader–and, again, you need to do it exclusively through your words.  There are no shortcuts, no actors to bail you out.  No director whose unique camera angles and visual storytelling technique lift your words to the stratosphere.  It is all, and only, your words.


That is both the blessing and the curse of writing for the written page.  You have 100 percent ownership of the material and the characters.  It is your creation; no one else’s.

And, when you think about it . . . that’s pretty exciting.  Much more a blessing than a curse.  The opportunities are as endless as your imagination.


Thanks so much for reading!







Terry Malloy

Edie Doyle

For the Love of It

Imagine this scenario, if you will . . .

You are out taking a walk, a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood on a sunny, mellow evening in spring.  The flowers are in full bloom, and the whine of the occasional lawn mower can be heard as some of the residents finish their yard work ahead of the sunset.  You pass by a couple of fellow pedestrians:  a young couple walking their poodle; a middle-aged, silver-haired guy speed-walking with a purpose; a teenager with her face plastered in her smartphone, not paying attention to her surroundings.


As you walk, you relax.  Your mind rests.  You take in the scents and sounds and scene.  The smell of spring, of freshness, of new growth, is a balm to the soul.  You are at peace.

And then it happens.  An idea strikes!  Out of nowhere, supercharged, as if tethered to a bolt of lightning.  A scene visualizes, characters emerge, and, remarkably, the genesis of a new novel is there–just like that.  Gift-wrapped from the muse.  You quicken your pace, eager to get home and jot down the essentials of the story lest you forget them.  An idea like this–fully formed, riveting, interesting–doesn’t strike every day.  You don’t want to lose it.


Once home, you do indeed write out the details of your idea.  Old school, you use pencil and paper, the ideas coming so fast and furious, it is difficult for your hand and the pencil to keep pace with your whirling mind.  But finally, after several minutes of speed-writing, you have it all down on paper.  Reading through it, you are amazed at the level of detail, the depth, the three-dimensional characters.  Where an hour ago there was nothing, there is now the makings of a novel.


Emotionally spent from this unexpected burst of creation, you head to bed early, content to sleep on it.  You will see how you feel about it in the morning.

And, to no one’s surprise, you feel good about it the next day!  And the day after that.  But when, a few days later, you sit down to write chapter one, something feels off, missing, like a widget with a missing screw.  The piece is there . . . but it’s not fully alive.  It is not vibrant.  Like a department store mannequin, it looks back at you, unblinking, an emptiness to the eyes.  This surprises you.  When the idea struck, it felt like a winner.  What’s happened?


You take a breath, step back (literally!), and examine the story anew.  Interesting idea.  Solid characters.  Multi-layered themes.  You are puzzled.  What’s the problem?

Then you see it.  While, technically, everything is in place–it is all there, made to order, as it were–you don’t love it.  Sure, you like it.  The characters have depth.  The plot twists and turns like a mountain highway at dusk.  The drama and intrigue are knife’s-edge sharp.  But . . . you don’t love the idea.  Maybe it’s the genre.  Maybe it’s too dark.  Maybe something about just doesn’t quite hit the spot.  Maybe the chemistry is missing, like a blind date that your friend assures you will go well but that falls flatter than day-old soda.  It’s not the tangible aspects of the story that are the issue.  It’s the intangible.  When it’s all said and done, you cannot imagine spending weeks, months, perhaps years writing this novel.


So, what do you do?  Good ideas don’t exactly litter the roadside, awaiting anyone and everyone to gather them up.  Do you still write the novel, even if you don’t love it?

I wouldn’t.  In fact, I couldn’t.  Even if I wanted to, the lack of love, the lack of emotional investment, would make the task impossible.  If it were a short story idea, it wouldn’t be a problem.  While it’s always better to love your stories, even the short ones . . . the fact is, a short story is, well, short.  Even if you don’t love the characters or the genre, if the idea is complete and solid and powerful, the story can still work.  (Though, even then, it likely will not be your best.)  After all, you’ll only be investing three or four thousand words–you might be able to pump it out in a single afternoon.  But a novel?  A hundred thousand words?  Not a chance.

“Love,” Ray Bradbury once wrote.  “Fall in love and stay in love.  Write only what you love, and love what you write.  The key word is love.”


Thanks so much for reading!



Through the Wisps of Time (the Past and the Present Merge)

Just the other day, I stumbled upon something I hadn’t seen in years.  I was cleaning out an old dresser drawer, and at the very bottom, like a treasure hiding beneath mounds of stuff, shyly avoiding discovery, was an old cassette tape.  Yes, a cassette!  A relic.  An artifact from a distant age, from a previous century.

Scribbled on the tape’s label, the words “Dave the Great” greeted my gaze, in my older brother’s neat, distinctive handwriting.  Dave the Great.  He used to take on that persona as a kid and perform interviews–often with himself.  He’d pretend to be Howard Cosell and he’d interview, well, himself, as a professional baseball player, offering a running commentary of his latest triumphs.  Or he’d simply introduce himself as Dave the Great and interview anyone who happened to be with him when he clicked “record” on the tape player.


And for this particular cassette, hiding in my dresser for years, I was the person he interviewed.  The catch?  I was five years old!  Indeed.  The cassette bridged the gap between centuries, taking me back, back, back, forty-plus years, to a January morning long before email existed for just anyone . . . or blogs, or the internet as a household medium, or smartphones, or social media, or self-driving cars.  It was a world full of landline telephones, handwritten letters, a world where, when you needed to discover something, you called up the reference librarian at your local library or maybe looked it up in a hard-backed encyclopedia.  Years ago, a chasm of time between then and now.


Curious to see if the old cassette still worked, I discovered a dusty tape player and inserted the cassette into it. And sure enough.  The old analog technology was working, a warrior of the decades, grainy and not as clear as it might be, but good enough.  It was my brother’s voice, at thirteen.  Clear as day.  Penetrating as the frost on that day four decades ago when he made the tape.


A few minutes in, he introduced . . . me.  And then I spoke . . . or who I was spoke, when I was five.  As I listened, I laughed out loud.  My voice was so high, a little kid’s voice, as if infused with helium.  The give-and-take with my brother echoed across the deep recesses of my mind, traveling through the years like a time-traveling space ship.  So long ago.  And yet, there we were.  Having a conversation in the very same house I’ll visit again sometime this spring, where my father still lives.  Past and present merging into one.


Many details are forgotten.  Most, sadly.  Forget four decades.  What did I do last week?  It’s a struggle to remember the day-to-day events of our lives.  They happen in an instant, replaced, inevitably, by the next moment, and the next, and the next, and the next, in an ongoing catalogue of movement and motion.  Nothing stays still.  Nothing stays frozen.  We are always stepping forward, second by second.  Individual moments, those pixels that make up our lives, dissolve into invisibility before we know it.  What did I have for breakfast last Monday?  Who knows?


But as I listened to the old cassette, from so many years ago, there were actually snippets of the conversation I recalled.  I could see us there in my brother’s bedroom, the snow falling outside the window, the slight hum of the heat through the vent.  Some of the things we said on that cassette–they brought me back to that moment, to being a little kid again.


And maybe, as much as I might wish I could remember everything . . . maybe that is enough.  Though details fade away into oblivion, the main story line lives on.  What the brain forgets, the heart remembers, and if we take a moment to be still (even though that moment will instantly melt into the next one), we can access the emotional memories of our heart, and we can capture them with our words, or our pictures, or our dance steps.  We can represent.  We can share with the world–or whoever is listening–something about our truth.

For now, I will just play that old cassette again, and I will listen to my brother at thirteen and myself at five.  Will something creative come out of it?  Maybe.  Or . . . maybe it already has.  I just need to find it.


Thanks so much for reading!


One Step at a Time (Or, the Link Between “Drop Foot” and Creativity)

Until this past October, in the shadows of Halloween, I had never undergone surgery.  I’ve been lucky.  But this fall, that changed.  I had a fairly straightforward and noninvasive surgery done on my lower back called a microdiscectomy–where the surgeon makes a small incision and then goes in and removes the extruded matter from a herniated disc, freeing up the lumbar nerve root that had been severely compressed by the herniation.


In my case, this disc herniation in the low back resulted not so much in sharp pain, but in a condition known as “drop foot.”  Drop foot results in an inability to dorsiflex–or lift your foot up at the ankle, making it very difficult to walk with anything resembling a normal gait.  All the research I did (and the fact that my own brother had the same thing in 2018!) made me realize that surgery was needed, and quickly, to minimize the the chance of the nerve damage being permanent.  Some of the nerve damage to the L5 lumbar nerve root in my lower back likely *would* be permanent.  But a prompt surgery would, with hope, bring back at least some of the functionality of my affected (right) foot.


The surgery went well.  I had never been “put out” before, and it was an interesting sensation.  There was no sense of time having passed.  I closed my eyes, and–it felt like one second later, I opened them.  I soon realized I had been out for close to three hours.


The weeks directly after the surgery were challenging.  At first, you’re feeling worse, not better.  But slowly, as the days bled into weeks, and as I tried acupuncture for the first time in my life, I began to regain a little bit of strength in my right foot.  First, the ankle was offering more support, then I was able to raise my toes a bit more, then flex the foot up a bit more.  By the time the holiday season was in full swing, I was able to walk without a foot brace, and had regained perhaps two-thirds of my natural gait.


And that’s about where I still am today.  I can move around quite normally and don’t feel all that restricted.  As the long Vermont winter eventually recedes, I will again take the mile-long round-trip walks to the mailbox every day, and mowing the lawn is actually something I am looking forward to, come May!  I look forward to putting the foot to the test.

Throughout this process, it’s been important not to rush things.  The damaged lumbar nerve root needs to time to heal.  The weakened muscles that raise the foot need time to regenerate and strengthen.  It is a process, a step-by-step approach, literally!  And it made me realize–recovering from drop foot and writing a novel (or any long creative work) are very similar!


With a novel, you often get an inspiration.  An idea flashes.  Scenarios merge.  Characters form out of the creative ether, ready to come to life and populate the story.  But the novel isn’t written in a single day.  It takes time, multiple drafts, edits, starts and stops, and to see it through, you must persevere through the doubts that inevitable arise, the nagging insecurities that at times scream like a howling wind racing down the mountain passes.


“Will the story come together?”  “Will the characters pop?”  “Will readers like it?”  “Will anyone even read it?”  “Will I even finish it?”  Or . . . “Will I be able to walk again?”  “Will I be able to mow the lawn, get around without a brace?”  “Play sports again?”

The questions nag and persist, trying to trip you up, sometimes seductively subtle, weakening you piece by piece; other times, they are loud and obnoxious, in your face like a schoolyard bully.  The only thing that matters is how you respond.

Keep going.  Don’t stop.  Don’t give in to the doubts.  Just keep grinding through.

Step by step.


Thanks so much for reading!


Endings . . . and Beginnings (Or, “This IS Next Year!”)

When I was growing up, my mother would plan holidays like no one else.  For Halloween, she’d have literally hundreds of candy bars at the ready for the throng of trick-or-treaters that showed up, without fail, year after year.  For Thanksgiving, we’d have so much food, it’s quite possible we could have fed every soldier in the 82nd Airborne.  And Christmas.  She went all out for Christmas.  Every year she would try to top the previous year’s tree, and she’d hand-make gifts for her brigade of friends–hundreds of people.


But things at our house were curiously quiet for New Year’s Eve.

“It’s the death of a year,” my mother would say.  “I don’t want to be awake when it happens.”  And she never was,

I sometimes was.  It never was a big deal for me, one way or the other.  But if I could stay awake and watch the ball drop in Times Square, why not?  After a while, it set me to thinking.  Why did “the death of a year” depress my mother so much?  And was that really the way to look at it?


Maybe the end of the year is not so much a death, but more of a chance to take a step back, look at the months that have come and gone, and reflect.  Certainly where I grew up, and still live–in the northeastern United States–it is a fitting time for reflection.  It’s cold and dark, the days so short it often feels like you wake up, eat breakfast, blink a few times, and then it’s sunset.  It’s a time for quiet contemplation, for warm fires, hot chocolate, ruminations.  Deep thinking.


Like the end of a story, a novel that has traversed hundreds of pages, we can look back, assess, and recognize the highs and lows, the lessons, the areas still ripe for improvement.  The next story looms.

The next year. The new year.

My mother was okay by January 1.  The old year had been snuffed out–it was over and done.  The new year was upon us.  Beginnings.  Resolutions.  Promises.  Fresh vistas of opportunity.


True, it is all man-made, arbitrary, artificial.  There are several different calendars, of course.  And no doubt there could have been dozens more.  Even so, the new year means something . . . just as the new story does.  The new creation.  The new endeavor.  There is always something new to accomplish, learn, pursue.  There are new sunrises to savor.


“Every moment is a fresh beginning,” as T. S. Eliot once said.

Decades ago, fans of the old Brooklyn Dodgers would struggle to keep the faith.  Every year, it seemed, the Dodgers would win the National League pennant only to lose to the cross-town New York Yankees in the World Series.  It wasn’t every year, of course, but it was a lot!  1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953.  Like clockwork.  The Dodgers perennially felt they had the more talented team–why did they always lose?  Indeed, their roster was dotted with a veritable who’s who of the all-time greats: Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges.  They were overflowing with talent.  But they could not beat the Yankees.


“Wait ’til next year!” the Dodger faithful would say, year after year after year.  “You’ll see.  Wait ’til next year!”

And then, finally, after all that coming up short, the Dodgers defeated the Yankees for the World Series championship in 1955.  Pandemonium in Brooklyn.  “This IS next year!” the fans proclaimed.  And, in fact, so did the front page of the New York Daily News the day after the victory.  It had happened at last.


And now, nearly seven decades after the Dodgers finally triumphed, let’s make 2023 something to write home about.  Write that novel.  Paint that portrait.  Sing that song.  Pursue that dream.

When 2023 arrives, let us all proclaim, “This IS next year!”


Thanks so much for reading!



“Suddenly Seymour” Moments (Or, On Epiphanies)

Before the start of fifth-grade, I was afraid.  Granted, I never wanted summer vacation to end, but that year, I was filled with an unusual dread.  My teacher that year would be Mr. Bansbach.  He’d been teaching the fifth grade since the time of Confucius, or so it seemed to my ten-year-old sensibilities.  He was old-school, even when old-school was still in vogue–this was the 1980s.  He was tough.  He was no-nonsense.  But, more than anything, he was strict.


Not that I was a troublemaker.  Shy to the core, I said little at school and was a good student.  But I still worried.  Stories about Mr. Bansbach circulated through the school.  He was as feared as any teacher I ever had.  I dreaded that first day.

When it arrived, Mr. Bansbach introduced himself and, standing at the front of the class in his suit and tie, his thick glasses reflecting the fluorescent overhead lights, his thinning, dyed-black hair combed back on his head, he called us “preteens.”  “You’re not ‘kids,'” he said.  “A ‘kid’ is a baby goat.  You are preadolescents, you are growing up, and you will take responsibility in my class.”  Great, i thought.  The rumors were true.  This guy was going to be a nightmare.


One day, about a week into the new school year, I finished an in-class assignment early.  Not sure what to do, I just sat there, hands folded, waiting for the other students to finish.

Mr. Bansbach was not impressed.

“Class,” he said.  “I want to direct your attention to this young man.” He pointed at me.  “He finished his assignment early.”  That was good, wasn’t it?  I was on the ball!  Evidently not.  “Don’t do what he just did.  Ever.  When he finished, he sat there, blankly, wasting time.  Next time, young man”–he stared right at me–“take out a book and read.  Make use of your time.  Understand?”


I did.

And I didn’t like Mr. Bansbach.

A few weeks later, before class, Mr. Bansbach pulled me aside in the hallway, just outside his classroom.  I stiffened.  What had I done now?  Finished my homework too early the night before?  Did he have some way to monitor me at home?

“That was an impressive victory last night,” he said.  “Maybe your Steelers will win a fifth Super Bowl this season.”

And he patted me on the shoulder and winked.  Then he went into the classroom and I followed.

What had just happened?  And how did he know I was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan?  And why did he care?  Was he a sports fan, too?


He was.  Throughout that fall, he would talk to me about the Steelers games.  Win or lose, he always took a few minutes early in the week to go over their previous game with me.  I didn’t say much.  I was still nervous around him.  But it impressed me that he was so in tune with his students.

As the year rolled on, I genuinely learned to like Mr. Bansbach.  And he seemed to like me.  He congratulated me on several homework assignments, when I went above and beyond the parameters of the assignment.  The following year, when I entered sixth grade and had a new teacher, Mr. Bansbach would still seek me out in the hallways on Monday mornings and talk about the most recent Steelers game.

And while I learned to like him more and more as my fifth-grade year progressed, it was that first kind gesture, that initial time he talked to me about my favorite football team, that stuck with me.  I can still remember it–the way he stood there, outside his classroom, waiting for me.  His way of letting me know we were okay.  That I was okay.


You might call it a moment of epiphany, a realization, that the rumors were false, and that Mr. Bansbach was different from his reputation.  Oh, he was strict.  You definitely did not want to slack off in his class.  That part was true.  But no one ever said he was nice, that he cared.  That he would take the time to learn about his students and show them he was on their side.  I had to learn that for myself.

There are moments like that throughout literature and film–moments of awakening, when a character learns something about him- or herself, or someone else.  Indeed, The Eye-Dancers and The Singularity Wheel are chock-full of such moments–Joe Marma learning that he doesn’t even like football, a sport he pursues with reckless abandon, but only plays it to best his brother; Mitchell Brant finding out that his long-distance (a multiverse away!) relationship with Heather doesn’t mean what he’s thought the past five years; or Marc Kuslanski coming to grips with his guilt over the accident he feels responsible for with his little brother.  The characters realize these things in a moment of revelation, a tipping point in the symphony of their lives.  Epiphanies are real.  But they are also hard to pull off in literature or on film.


You want to say so much without, well, saying so much.  You want the scene to speak for itself.  You want the reader or the viewer to feel it right along with the character.

Like the performance of “Suddenly Seymour” in the 1986 remake of the musical Little Shop of Horrors.  Throughout the film, Seymour (Rick Moranis) and Audrey (Ellen Greene) work together at a florist shop.  Seymour is shy and awkward, but clearly carries a torch for his coworker.  She, however, is in a relationship with someone she, herself, describes as a “semi-sadist” (an outrageous dentist played by Steve Martin).  Audrey thinks lowly of herself, and she gets involved with abusive men like the dentist.  Throughout the movie, she speaks in a squeaky, mousy voice, almost as if she doesn’t even feel she is worthy to say anything.


But then this scene happens.  Seymour encourages her, praises her, and expresses his true feelings for her.  He stands, and sings “Suddenly Seymour.”

Audrey is touched, listening to him.  Then she joins in the song.  At first, her singing voice matches her speaking voice–timid, lacking in confidence, unsure.  But then, when she hits her own “Suddenly Seymour” note, there is a transformation, an awakening.  An epiphany.  Audrey finds her voice, literally, and she belts out the rest of the song in an astonishingly strong, beautiful, and full-throated rendition.  Before our eyes, without any speeches, without any blaring announcement, she and Seymour have changed.  They have awakened.  It is a cinematic performance for the ages.


And that’s how epiphanies work–in life, and in story.  They hit you with the force of a tidal wave, but, counterintuitively, they also do so quickly, quietly, in a moment, without any narrator making a bold, big proclamation.  There is no need to tell or exclaim or pontificate.  There is only a moment, the moment, when everything becomes clear.

Even just a moment in a song, or a moment when your fifth-grade teacher shows you–rather than tells you–that he’s had your back all along.


Thanks so much for reading!


An Unscary Halloween

I freely admit, over the years, I have often gone with the flow on Halloween, watching scary movies, creepy episodes of The Twilight Zone, reveling in ghost stories and monster yarns.  This year, though, I will go against the grain.  Maybe it’s the state of the world, the precarious position of our institutions and structures, the downright disturbing events that we’ve all had to deal with on a national and global level.  Whatever the reason, I am going to go with lighter fare this All Hallows Eve.


After all, there will be more than enough people watching horror movies.  Who needs Michael Myers when you can have Ralph Kramden?  Who needs Jason Voorhees when you can tune in to Forrest Gump?  And who needs Rick Grimes when you can watch Cary Grant or Johnny Carson?


I remember one Halloween when I was a teenager, I invited some neighborhood friends over (some of whom were inspirations for the protagonists in The Eye-Dancers), and we had a horror marathon, watching Psycho, Halloween. and Dawn of the Dead back-to-back-to-back.  It was well past midnight when we were through.  No one wanted to leave that night–the wind was blowing, the temperature dropping, and we all knew the ghosts and goblins of the season were lurking out there in the dark.  So they stayed and slept over.  The next morning, with the clear, crisp light of day bringing in the month of November, we all felt better.  The sun was up, you could see up and down the neighborhood streets–the spooky atmosphere of the previous night had passed, evaporating like smoke on the wind.


This year, though, I am vowing not to have to recover from anything.  Why scare myself with ghosts or killer dolls or axe murderers?  Why not break the ghoulish tradition and play for laughs instead?


I don’t mean to discourage you from filling up on frightful movies this Halloween.  If that’s your preference, drink deeply!  Enjoy.  Tune in to a Vincent Price masterpiece or a Hitchcock thriller, or a classic horror film from yesteryear.  Turn off the lights and dare yourself to watch in the dark.


But not me. Not this year. This year, I’ll watch an episode of Cheers, the “old” Cheers with Shelley Long as the costar–when the show was at its best.  I’ll watch The Honeymooners–maybe the episode where Ralph is being investigated by the IRS, and employs Norton to help him figure out what he might have done wrong with his income taxes.  And then?  Maybe an old Happy Days or an Everybody Hates Chris episode.  Maybe an old Cary Grant classic where Cary climbs buildings, dodges crop dusters, or saves the world–all without breaking a sweat.  In short, I will keep it light, corny, and optimistic.


Because, when you come right down to it, the world can use a little optimism right now . . . even on Halloween!

Enjoy the holiday!  And enjoy the coming of November.


Thanks so much for reading!


In Praise of Clark Kent

Among the pantheon of comic book superheroes, Superman is the greatest and the first.  Indeed, prior to Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s super creation in the spring of 1938 (in Action Comics number 1, DC Comics), comic books were decidedly ordinary with characters like private detective Slam Bradley and Scribbly the boy cartoonist.  Nothing wrong with old Scribbly!  But those early titles lacked the pizzazz and punch of the hero age.


Superman changed all that.  The world had never seen anything like him, and his popularity took off like a runaway locomotive.  The character’s popularity quickly led to the emergence of a star-studded lineup of other DC universe heroes:  Batman, the Flash, and Wonder Woman, among them.  Not to mention a collection of villains such as Lex Luthor, The Prankster, and Mr. Mxyzptlk.  The Man of Steel’s superhuman power and abilities, coupled with his otherworldly adventures, mesmerized readers every month, providing needed entertainment and relief as the 1930s bled into the war-ravaged 1940s.


But what truly made Superman so memorable?  What enabled him to transcend time and place?  How did he remain so popular decade after decade, despite changing styles, new generations, new worldviews?  I would argue that his alter ego, Clark Kent, had a lot to do with it.


Clark is the complete opposite of Superman.  Where Superman is brave, bold, daring, strong, Clark presents himself as hesitant, soft-spoken, bookish, and gentle.  Obviously, he does this as a guise, to conceal his identity as Superman.  (Incidentally, I have always thought it hilarious that Clark’s only “disguise,” when out of costume, is a pair of thick glasses.  As if observers wouldn’t be able to discern that Clark and Superman are one and the same merely on account of a pair of spectacles.  But, this, too, is part of Clark’s enduring charm.)


Clark, of course, is a reporter for the newspaper the Daily Planet, where he consistently acquires the best stories and photos–obviously because he is Superman and therefore is right in the middle of the action.  But no one ever figures this out.  Clark has his super intelligence, of course, and he is always one step ahead of those who would discover his legendary secret.


Clark Kent is a study in quiet, in calm introspection, in everyday blandness, in hominess.  He is the antithesis of the action hero.  He is milk and cookies at 8:00 p.m. while settling in to watch PBS.  He is a quiet evening in front of the fire reading Dickens or Austen or Montgomery or Hardy.  He is a weekend at home, writing in his journal, making a homemade meal, sipping hot chocolate, tending to his garden, walking to the mailbox, and heading to bed early.  He represents our home self, our quiet self, relaxed, in contemplation, at rest, still, taking a step back and allowing the world and its noise to slip on by.


And we need that.  Action stories need pauses.  Novels need moments of introspection, where characters reflect and where we get to know them better, settling in beside them as they sit back, recline, and let their guard down.  If Superman were only, well, Superman, all action and fighting and saving the world, it would be too nonstop, too frenetic, too loud.

We need Clark Kent to hit the pause button, ground us, make us smile, and charm us with his quiet, steady presence.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ll always be a Superman fan.  The Man of Steel’s adventures never disappoint.


But if it weren’t for Clark Kent coming onto the scene from time to time, those adventures would surely be less enjoyable.


Thanks so much for reading!


After All These Years (Or, You Can Go Home Again)

This Friday, I’ll be taking a little trip.  I’ll be hopping in the car, driving west through the state of Vermont, then crossing into New York State, where I’ll head south for fifty miles and then travel west, across much of the Empire State, until I reach the Rochester area, where I’ll spend the Labor Day weekend with my family.  It’s a tradition that goes back decades.  Every year, for Labor Day, I head back home, to the town, to the house where I grew up.


I’ve lived in Vermont for two decades now, but I grew up in Rochester.  I never moved growing up–my parents bought their house before I was born, and kept it through the decades.  When I go back now, the house feels both different and the same.  My mother is no longer there, passing in 2018, and the absence is palpable when I’m there.  But the memories are alive and close in the old house, swirling around like pixie dust.


One thing I enjoy tremendously about the trip back home is, well, the trip.  Late summer is my favorite time of the year in the northeastern US, and the landscape in Vermont and upstate New York is especially beautiful this time of the year.  Summer crops are ripe and lush, the corn taller than me.  Trees are still mostly summer green, though a few hints of fall can be observed, some of the leaves getting a jump-start on the autumn color show to come.  Fields are green and vibrant.  Late-summer flowers dot the roadsides–goldenrod bobbing and dancing in the breeze.  If I stop in a Vermont town early on the drive, I might smell woodsmoke in the distance, lingering in the mountain air, the scent musky and invigorating.


Then, into New York State, I drive, listening to an audio recording of The Illustrated Man, Bradbury’s words taking me back, back, the poetry of the phrasing sublime in the late summer sun.  The towns I pass through in eastern upstate New York, in the foothills of the Adirondacks and then, farther west, the green, lush Mohawk Valley, are old, at times run-down, but magical–at least to me.  Storefronts a century and a half old line the main streets.  Stately old mansions, weather-beaten and often in need of repair, stand stoically and proudly along the way, like thoughtful old philosophers pondering the meaning of life, repositories of countless memories in their ancient walls.


And as I draw closer to Rochester, the hours melting away as I continue west, as the terrain flattens out into the farm country of western New York, my own memories beckon.  Heading home.  The same house.  Family.  Friends that date back to a different century.  Indeed, a few of the inspirations for The Eye-Dancers will be there, and we’ll get together for a while, and we’ll remember.  We are grown men now, from the perspective of our childhood selves in the 1980s impossibly old, and yet . . . when we get together, it feels like 1988 again.  The vibes are the same.  The laughter is the same.  It is good, even if it’s only for just a single weekend.  Maybe that’s as it should be.  Special things, by their very nature, must remain rare.


Of course, when I return to Vermont after the trip, I’ll need to dig back in to work and responsibilities and the rhythms of everyday life.  But for a couple of days this weekend, I’ll be entering the past, as if starring in a Twilight Zone episode.  Revisiting.  Going back.  Remembering.  Reliving.


It is good.  I look forward to it.  And maybe, while I’m there, I’ll create a new memory to look back on in future years.  To blend and merge with the old.

Going home again won’t always be possible.  There will come a day when the old house belongs to a different family, when no familiar face is left in the neighborhood I grew up in.  But that day is not yet here.

And for that I am grateful.


Thanks so much for reading!



She Called Me “Decade” (Or, Ten Years! Thank You for Still Being Here!)

When I turned ten years old, back in the 1980s, my older brother’s girlfriend at the time called me “Decade” to commemorate the milestone.  Little did I dream at that time that, many years hence, there would be an internet and a blogging universe and a way to publish posts for anyone, anywhere in the world, to see in real time.  I also never would have dreamed that I’d be doing such a thing for, well, a decade.


Indeed.  When I began The Eye-Dancers blog, I did so without much of a plan–except I knew I had just finished a novel of the same name and wanted to “get the word out” to would-be readers.  I had never blogged before, had no idea what I was doing, but decided to take the plunge.  At the time, I figured I’d write a few promotional posts–maybe for a few weeks or months–and that would pretty much be it.


That was in the summer of 2012.

And now, here we are, ten years older.  In the summer of 2022.  Never at the outset of this blog did I think I’d still be here a decade on.  I suppose something I wasn’t counting on when I began this cyber-adventure was the friendships and online connections I would make.  I didn’t realize how special and loyal and stellar the WordPress community was, and is.  But I found out in a hurry.


This blog turns ten years old this summer, and you all are the reason I am still here.  I don’t post as often as I used to–not even close.  A quick check of the archives would tell the tale.  Back in 2013, at the height of this blog’s output, I would publish multiple posts per week.  As time went on, that dipped to two per week, then one per week, then one every two weeks, and now it is one per month.  But I’m still here, still enjoying this wonderful online literary adventure, and still trying my best to come up with posts that are interesting and, hopefully, sometimes encouraging.


I cannot thank each and every one of you enough for welcoming an online neophyte a decade ago and, through your ongoing support, keeping me writing and blogging all these years.  Whether or not I am working on a novel or short stories–whether I am in a literary whirlwind of ideas or a dry, barren desert without a story to be seen or discovered for miles, one constant has been posting on this blog.  And you are the reason for that.


So, again, my deepest appreciation to all of you.  If you’ll keep reading, I will certainly keep posting.


Thanks so much for reading these past ten years!  And now, on to the next ten . . .



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