The Greatest Distance Is Only a Thought Away (Or, A Morning on the Beach)

I have always loved the sea.  From the first time I experienced an ocean beach, I felt drawn to it, its vastness, the steady rhythm of the waves, the sounds and smells and textures.  Growing up in Rochester, New York, hundreds of miles from the Atlantic coast, I didn’t have the chance to visit the sea very often (though Lake Ontario is a pretty fair facsimile!).  And so, whenever my family would take a trip to the coast, I always looked forward to it, counted down the days.  The trips never disappointed.

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But there was one trip, one particular experience, that stands out, apart from the rest.

It was midsummer 1994, and my family and I took a two-week expedition to Prince Edward Island, Canada–to this day, the most beautiful place I have ever seen.  We toured the Island, took in the sights, the rich red dirt roads and farms and quaint seaside villages.  But most of all, we went to the beaches.  PEI is famous for its beaches.  We stayed at a hotel right by the shore.

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One morning, at dawn, I woke up.  I don’t know why.  I just felt an urge to get up early and experience the day.  Everyone else was still asleep.  I quietly let myself out of the hotel and walked down the narrow footpath, through grasses still moist with dew.  Off to the left, a raven, an early riser himself, pecked at something in the grass, ignoring me.  I continued on to the beach, empty at this hour, as the sun began its ascent in the east.

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I walked along the beach, my feet making patterns in the sand, down to the water’s edge.  A gull flew overhead, calling out, perhaps demanding a scrap of food I didn’t have.  The water was warm as it flowed over my feet and around my ankles–just another of PEI’s many charms.  Despite its northern location, the ocean water surrounding the Island is the warmest anywhere along the Atlantic coast north of Virginia.

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The waves were gentle that morning, the breeze blowing in softly off the water.  I looked out, as far as I could see.  The sky was some nameless variant of pink, the sun rising, slowly, steadily, the start of a new day.  Another gull–or perhaps it was the same one–squawked again, its call echoing, echoing.

pinksunrise

 

I peered at the horizon.  It was hard to tell where the sea ended, and the sky began.  It all appeared to be joined somehow.  Not separate, but whole.  Not two, but one.  That’s when it happened . . .

I suddenly felt something, I wasn’t sure what.  It was a jolt, like a surge of electricity, but it was also airy, gentle, a feather swaying, nearly weightless.  I closed my eyes, opened them, and I saw.

featherinwind

 

I saw, in my mind’s eye–so clearly it was as if I were seeing it directly before me–a distant beach across the water.  It was hours later there.  People were milling about.  And some of them were looking to the west, looking toward me.  Maybe they, too, were feeling something above and beyond themselves.

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

In The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski travel through the void, whisked to a parallel world through an unexplainable psychic connection with the “ghost girl” who haunts their dreams.  While Marc, ever the rational scientist at heart, attempts to explain their remarkable situation through the principles of logic and quantum mechanics, Mitchell–inquisitive by nature, intuitive, with an imagination constantly in overdrive–believes there is much more to it than the laws of physics can explain.

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And yet, he, too, wants a reason, something to grab hold of, something that might begin to explain why this happened, how this happened, and how Monica Tisdale, the “ghost girl,” was able to draw them into her universe.

dreams

 

At novel’s end, when she once again walks in the shadows and secret places of his dreams, Mitchell asks her, point-blank  . . .

“Why did you ever come to me in the first place?  We . . . I . . . don’t even live in your world.”

To which Monica Tisdale answers, “I never really picked you.  I didn’t say to myself, ‘I need to get Mitchell Brant to help me.’  I just called, and you were there.”

But Mitchell needs more than that.  It’s not good enough, doesn’t go far enough . . .

“‘But the distance,’ he said.  He couldn’t even fathom it.  The void.  The gulf.  ‘You and me, we’re so far apart.'”

“‘Are we, Mitchell?’ she said.  ‘Are we really?'”

Later, upon reflection, in his own words, Mitchell states . . .

“Maybe more than anything, I learned that everything’s connected. . . . I’m not sure how I can explain it to make sense.  It’s like, even the things that seem so far away you can’t even imagine . . . even those things are right there with you.  And the people, too.

“Maybe we’re all connected to each other, in ways we can’t even really understand.  And that’s okay, I guess.  Because maybe we don’t need to understand it.

“We just need to believe it.”

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

Standing on that beach along the sandy shores of Canada’s garden province, the sunlight warming the morning air, I felt a part of the whole, as if a million invisible fibers extended from me, in all directions, everywhere, across the expanse of the globe.  I thought of the fish beneath the water, miles offshore, swimming, pursuing, surviving.  I thought of giant squid and crustaceans and blue whales, slicing through the water like living, breathing ocean liners, and blind, glowing creatures with fangs and stings, as yet undiscovered by humankind.

deepseafish

 

Looking across the surface of the waves, their rhythm timeless, eternal, I thought about the continents on the other side.  What were people doing at this moment?  And I realized–everything.  Babies were being born in London, Moscow, Johannesburg, and Rome.  Somewhere in Berlin, there was a car crash; elsewhere, there was an unexpected visitor popping in unannounced, perhaps a long-lost son returning home and bringing smiles to his parents’ faces.  In Ankara, in Casablanca, in Madrid and Paris and Warsaw and every town and village and hamlet in between, life was happening.  People laughed and cried, some shared and felt good; others were alone, in run-down apartments or dark alleyways, thinking of surrendered choices and opportunities now irretrievably lost.

theworld

 

Here I was, standing by myself on a fine Island morning, the sea and the wind and the gulls my only company, and yet–I was everywhere, plugged in, one small cog in an infinite and incomprehensible machine.

The gull squawked again, as if acknowledging my thoughts, and then another gull swooped in low, and then another, and another.

seagulls

 

I watched as, moments later, they flew out over the water, becoming smaller and smaller, until they vanished, like a sea mirage.

seamirage

 

It was then that I heard voices.  Other early risers were coming now, the beckoning of an Island summer day too much to resist.

The spell broken, I turned around and headed back for the hotel.

As I walked, I thought of sandy beaches halfway around the world, fish that swim in the dark, and stars that shine, like diamonds, in the night sky.  I realized, the light from some of those stars, distant beyond imagining, takes millions of years to reach our planet.

Yet reach us it does.

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Thanks so much reading!

–Mike

At the Crossroads of Infinity . . .

Pick a point, any point.  It can, literally, be anything, anywhere, anytime.  From this point, look out in all directions.  Imagine an invisible line, tiny, microscopically thin, shooting through time and space.  If you were to imagine this line replicated again and again and again–would there be any end to it?  A million lines, a billion, a billion-billion . . . they would shoot out, imperceptibly, everywhere, never ending, always seeking and probing and searching for something more.

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This is the kind of feeling I always get when I sit down to write a new story.  A story can begin anywhere.  For instance, take the following situation . . .

Sharon is a thirty-year-old woman who works for a computer software company as a technical writer.  She is the only liberal-arts sort of person amid a sea of logically thinking programmers.  She enjoys her job, mostly enjoys her coworkers, but sometimes feels out of place.  On one particular afternoon, she neglects to save a document she has been working on for several hours.  Her mind is elsewhere–on her parents’ divorce, her daughter Lauren’s struggles adjusting to the first grade, her creepy new neighbor who too often studies her with something in his eyes she doesn’t like.  And when the prompt pops up to save her changes, she doesn’t do it.   Only after closing out of the document does she realize what she’s done.  Hours of work gone to waste.  She will need to start all over, work late–it’s a time-sensitive document, and needs to be finished by tomorrow.  How could she have been so stupid?  She calls her sister, asks if she can babysit Lauren until she gets home.  “I’m so sorry,” she says.  Her sister tells her it’s no problem.

Hours later, nearing evening now, she arrives home, exhausted, frustrated.  Alarm bells immediately ring in her head when she pulls into the drive.  Her sister’s car is nowhere to be found.  “It’s okay,” she tells herself.  She must have picked Lauren up and taken her to her own house.  She pulls out her cell, calls her sister.  While the phone on the other end rings, she notices her neighbor sitting out in a lawn chair.  He salutes her with a beer bottle and smiles.  Something inside her crawls.  Of all people, why did he have to buy the house next door?

She gets her sister’s voice mail, leaves a message.  She tries to convince herself that everything is all right, but a bad feeling nags her, takes hold of something deep within, and locks on tight.

***********

Where should this story begin?  What would the first scene look like?  The first paragraph?  The first sentence?  You could start it anywhere.  Maybe at the office, just when Sharon fails to save her changes and realizes she needs to start over.  Maybe earlier that day, in the lunch room, when she has an upsetting conversation with a coworker.  Maybe when she calls her sister, asking her to babysit.  Maybe when she arrives home, sees her ogling neighbor, and gets a bad feeling.  Any one of these starting points would work, along with so many others.  The options beckon, tantalize, mock, jockey for position.  And it doesn’t end when an opening sequence is selected.  Whichever way you begin a story has reverberations that filter through the rest of it, like ripples in a pond.  One sentence leads to the next, one scene shapes and influences the next.  At every stage, there are decisions, choices, and consequences.

linesinspace

 

When I began writing The Eye-Dancers, I had a premise–three boys each sharing the same dream, three nights in a row.  Each one thinks he is the only one having the dream, not realizing–yet–that it’s a shared experience.  Given this, I could have started the novel anywhere.  I decided to begin with Mitchell Brant in the midst of this recurring nightmare–dreaming of the “ghost girl”–again.  How would the novel read, though, if I had opened with Joe Marma or Ryan Swinton instead?  Or even Marc Kuslanski, the one protagonist who does not experience this dream?  The idea, the overall concept of the plot, might have remained the same, but the end result, with each scene leading in to the next, would have looked quite different.

And of course with writing, with art–there are no airtight equations, no 1 + 2 = 3 comfort zones.

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Whatever choice you make on page 7 will influence what happens on page 8, and page 88 and page 308.  It is natural to ask, throughout the process, “Did I make the right choice?”  But the thing is, in a story, in a movie, in a painting, in a song–there is no “right” and “wrong.”  There is only art.  Hopefully, a story will interest and captivate the reader, a movie enthrall the viewer, a painting mesmerize the onlooker, and a song move and engage the listener.  Even then, every reader is different, every viewer unique.  In the end, all we can do is tell our story the best way we know how, tell it with feeling and passion, with heart–tell it because, if we don’t let it out, it will scratch and kick and punch, demanding to be let loose onto the page.

At one juncture in The Eye-Dancers, the intuitive, imaginative Mitchell Brant tells the logical, rational Marc Kuslanski, “Haven’t you ever just felt something to be true?”  When it comes to art–that may well be our best guide as we travel through the myriad choices at our disposal.  You can write the greatest scene in the world (it would pass the technical 1 +2 = 3 test with flying colors)–but if it seems out of place, if it doesn’t feel right to you, then it doesn’t belong in your story.  The detail-oriented work of revisions and line editing await–but the creative first-draft stage is all about endless possibilities and wide, expansive vistas that spread out before us like green, lush valleys full of promise and potential.

valley

 

All those choices can be daunting.  You can take your story anywhere.  But isn’t life like that, too?  Each moment presents its own limitless set of possibilities, and whichever course you take directly influences the next moment, and the next, and the next . . .

Daunting?  Yes.  But liberating, too.

Because every day, every minute, every second, we stand . . .

infinity

 

. . . at the crossroads of infinity.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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