A Sense of Wonder

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite pastimes was playing Trivial Pursuit.  One Saturday night each month, my parents invited our neighbors to come over and play.  We would usually play two games, eat impossible amounts of food, laugh a lot, and compete.  Though the games were fun, each team wanted to win.

trivialpursuit

 

Some of the questions were easy, others remarkably obscure.  I tried to remember as much of the trivia as I could from game to game–I have always had a knack for holding on to useless information!

Many of the questions were run-of-the-mill.  Who won the Cy Young Award for the National League in 1984? (Rick Sutcliffe.)  Who was the 23rd president of the United States? (Benjamin Harrison.)  Who won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1956? (Ingrid Bergman.)

ingridbergman

 

But others were mind-bending.  I recall one such question that asked what object weighed approximately 6.5 sextillion tons.  (The earth.)  What was the heaviest known substance in the universe, so heavy, in fact, that a teaspoon-full would weigh more than every person on the globe put together? ( A neutron star.)  Where did the lowest-ever recorded temperature on earth, -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit, occur in 1983?  (Vostok Station, Antarctica.)

antartica

 

Somewhere along the line, though, something struck me.  Here we were, playing a game, testing our knowledge on everything from baseball to cooking, from television history to astronomy and the mysteries of the universe.  And I realized–I was much more concerned with getting the questions answered correctly than I was absorbing the information and thinking about it.  Some of the facts I learned playing Trivial Pursuit were astonishing.  Didn’t they merit at least some pondering and reflection?

catthinking

 

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In The Eye-Dancers, when we first meet Marc Kuslanski, he is a know-it-all, the class science wiz, the one Mitchell Brant, Ryan Swinton, and Joe Marma turn to when they are haunted by the “ghost girl” in their dreams.  Marc likes to figure things out.  He reduces complex puzzles to their simplest form, and logically and meticulously solves them.  His view of the universe has no room in it for the unexplained.

equations

 

In chapter 6 of the novel, the narrative describes Marc’s views . . .

“Few things irritated him more than mindless adherence to false beliefs, or unsubstantiated assertions of ‘magic’ or ‘miracles.’  Or ghosts.  There was no magic.  There were no miracles, and there were certainly no spirits who stalked you in dreams.  There was only truth, and fact.  Everything had a valid, natural explanation, a reason grounded within the existing laws of the universe.  Today’s mysteries were nothing more than tomorrow’s ongoing catalog of scientific advancement and discovery.”

scientificdiscovery

 

Over the course of The Eye-Dancers, Marc’s perspective will be tested, challenged, and, ultimately, ambushed.

Maybe we are not as rigid with our views as Marc Kuslanski is with his, but certainly we live in an age of scientific marvels, technology that, a generation ago, would have been relegated to the world of science fiction.  No matter how hard we try to guard against it, sometimes the sense of wonder escapes us.

technology

 

A century ago, very few people would have conceived of commercial jet aircraft that can transport you around the world in the span of hours.  If they had observed such a machine, they would have gaped, wonder-struck, perhaps terrified.  Today, we are so accustomed to jets, we may yawn as they fly overhead.

We are saturated with technological marvels, advancements that have shaped and altered society.  Just twenty years ago, the idea of a smartphone, and all the accoutrements that go along with it, would have seemed a fiction, something to be found in the pages of a novel or in the mind of a movie producer or screenwriter.

smartphones

 

Even in this age of computer chips and digital communication and information overload, however, there are still many phenomena that boggle the senses and stretch the limits of the mind.

For instance . . . nearly everyone has stepped outside on a crisp, clear night and looked up at the stars.  They dot the sky, one by one; there are so many it becomes dizzying to count them all.  And yet . . . what we see is only the slightest fraction of the whole, a microscopic drop, a solitary snowflake in a winter storm.

starsinsky

 

There are more estimated stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all of the earth’s beaches put together.  And when you look up at those stars, when you make an errant wish, a resolution, a promise to the vastness that surrounds you, you are observing, in effect, the equivalent of a mere handful of sand.

grainsofsand

 

At times, the stars appear so close, close enough to reach up and touch.  But their distance is nearly impossible to fathom.  They are so far away, in fact, that the light you are seeing, striking your eye from the depths of space, may have taken millions of years to reach you.  You are, in effect, looking into the distant past. . . .

lookinpast

 

Or consider the sun.  We see it every day (well, not quite in Vermont in winter!).  It is constant, our own personal star, the one thing we can count on through all the changes and winding pathways of life.  It is so there, so present–it’s easy to forget the power and energy it emits.

thesun

 

Imagine for a moment that a pinhead-sized piece of the sun were to be brought down to the surface of the earth.  A speck, a mote of sun-dust.  Yet powerful enough to kill you if you were to approach to within even ninety miles.

pinhead

 

I fear that, at the beginning of The Eye-Dancers, Marc Kuslanski would have simply shrugged at these facts.  He is so concerned with the inner workings of the wonders of the universe, the reasons behind them, the ratios and equations that prove or disprove them, he cannot appreciate the wonders themselves.

logic

 

I would like to think that, by novel’s end, he would be more ready to pause and look and ponder.  And more ready to admit that not everything can be explained by a mathematical formula or a cold, logical theory.  Some things, by their very nature, must remain a mystery, beyond the purview of a textbook definition.

mystery

 

Some things must be experienced, not explained.  Marveled at, not dissected.

Loved, and not taken apart and analyzed.

Several decades ago, astronomer Carl Sagan may have said it best . . .

“Our Sun is a second- or third-generation star.  All of the rocky or metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star.

“We are made of star stuff.”

starstuff

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The Time Machine

Tomorrow I will be traveling in a time machine.  No, not the kind you might find in an episode of The Twilight Zone or in the pages of Ray Bradbury or H.G. Wells–but a time machine, nonetheless . . .

timemachine

 

For many years now, I have taken the drive from Vermont, where I currently live, “back home” to Rochester, New York, for Labor Day weekend.  It’s always nice to visit family and old friends.  My parents still live in the same house where I grew up.  Sometimes, at night, when they’re asleep, I will walk through the old house, head down into the basement, where I spent a lot of time when I was a kid, keeping cool on hot summer afternoons.  Mostly, though, I’ll pause, listen, listen–until I hear them.  The echoes of the past.  Memories upon memories built within those walls, living things, so near it often feels I could reach out and grab a whisper of 1985, inhale it, and be a boy again.

echoes

 

After I arrive and get settled in tomorrow, some old, old friends will stop by, and we’ll re-create various elements of our childhood.  You probably don’t know these friends of mine “for real,” but you may know them in another way.  You see, the main characters of The Eye-Dancers were modeled after several of the friends I’ll be visiting with.  The characters in the book, of course, took on a life of their own–it’s not a one-for-one match.  But the friends I grew up with definitely were the primary inspirations for the protagonists in the novel.   “Joe” will be there tomorrow, “Mitchell” and “Ryan,” too–even supporting characters like “Tyler” (“Ryan’s” brother in the novel) and “Grronk.”  Our friendship goes way back, to the days before the Internet and email and cell phones.

cellphones

 

The Eye-Dancers is, in many ways, a tribute to our childhood, the adventures we shared, the conversations we would have, the things we would wonder about.  Some of our old “in” jokes made their way into the novel.  Some pet phrases and favorite expressions did, as well.  More than anything, I hope, the spirit and curiosity of childhood, the quest to know and learn and discover, made their way into the book, too.

There will be a special quality to our get-together on Friday.  There always is, every year we meet like this.  We reenact some of the old childhood games.  We talk about the past.  We act like kids, even if for only one night out of the year.  For a moment, on an end-of-summer evening, as the days grow shorter and the first subtle hints of autumn manifest themselves in ways so quiet, so soft-spoken, you will miss them if you’re not looking, we are twelve years old again, running, and playing, and laughing like we used to.  The kind of experience that inspires novels, indeed . . .

latesummer

 

It strikes me as fitting that this nostalgic weekend falls at the end of August.  Summer’s end in the Northeastern United States has always been one of my favorite times of the year.  The oppressive heat and humidity that sometimes weighs down June and July days is, for the most part, gone now, blown to lands far to the south.  The angle of the sun is noticeably lower, as darkness falls an hour earlier than it did during the height of summer.  Long shadows filter through the trees, lingering, not in any hurry to leave.

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There is an easy comfort in the air, the sunshine languorous, the breeze a soft kiss upon your cheeks.  It feels as though Time itself, tired of being perpetually on the go, has decided to take a moment to relax on the back porch, sipping a glass of cold lemonade, and just rest for a while.

backporch

 

Sunflowers dance and bob in the wind.

sunflowers

 

Fields of goldenrod carpet the land.

goldenrod

 

Farewell-summers and marigolds and rows upon rows of corn stalks, six feet tall, whisper a fond good-bye to the heat and a subdued hello to the chill of the coming fall.  It is a quiet time, a time for memories and stories and old friends reliving the days of their youth.  For me, it is an especially creative season.  When I began writing The Eye-Dancers, it was evening on a late-summer day, with the light fading, the shadows slowly spreading across the lawn.  A plump woodchuck waddled through the yard.  A hummingbird filled up on sugar-water at our feeder, preparing for the long migration south in just a week or two.

hummingbird

 

Looking at it all, I felt ready.  I knew I had a story to tell.  I knew I needed to share it.

So, to my friends, my lifelong friends, who I grew up with and  will see tomorrow–thanks, guys.  If it weren’t for you, The Eye-Dancers wouldn’t exist.  And for one weekend each year, you remind me why I wrote the novel . . .

  • The universe is full of questions we often do not even ask, let alone answer.
  • Friendship, especially a friendship forged in childhood, is a special and life-affirming gift.
  • An open mind is a mind able to learn and discover and ask the question, “Why?” and then be receptive to the answer.
  • And if we want it to, if we cultivate it, nurture it, and never stop believing, the magic we knew and wished upon when we were kids still exists, even into adulthood.

magic

 

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And to all of you in the wonderful WordPress community, I thank you so much for reading!

–Mike

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