In the Midst of the Action, a Quiet Remembrance (Or, Hanging Out in the Comic Book Shop)

In recent years, the world has been introduced to the Marvel universe through a series of Hollywood blockbusters, complete with endless action, A-list actors, and hi-tech special effects.  The result has been a surge in superhero popularity.  As a lifelong comic book aficionado and collector of the vintage comics from yesteryear, I view all of this as a positive development.  That said, I am not a huge fan of these movies.  I’ve seen a couple of them, thought they were okay, but I am far from a devoted watcher.

 

In a way, this seems counterintuitive.  Why wouldn’t I, of all people, who spent a good chunk of my childhood lost in the pages of The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and The X-Men, be the first in line to see the debut of a new superhero movie based on the comics I love?  Of course, it’s not that I dislike these modern-day box-office smashes.  It’s more . . . I can take them or leave them.  They’re okay.  Not bad.  If I had the choice to watch a recent Marvel movie or an episode of the original Twilight Zone or a rerun of Cheers or The Honeymooners, it wouldn’t be a close call.  I’d go for Serling and the sitcoms!

 

One reason for this, I suppose, is the fact that I am a comic book purist.  (Is there such a thing?)  I have a deep fondness for the comics themselves, the original stories, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and the talented staff at the old Marvel offices back in the 1960s.  So when I see the movie adaptations, which, while endeavoring to be as faithful as possible to these adventures from yesteryear, nevertheless take dozens of liberties with the characters and plotlines, I become, how shall we say, a bit unnerved.  I equate it to watching the film adaptation of a beloved novel.  It’s never the same, and you recognize the cinematic shortcomings and limitations within the first few minutes of the movie.

 

But it’s more than that.

The movies are loud.  In-your-face.  As they should be.  I’m not criticizing them for that.  They are, after all, action-packed blockbusters replete with the best special effects our technology offers.  But, for me, the comic books I remember, the comic books I still own in boxes and protective Mylar sleeves, are steeped in quiet.  Some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around the comics shop.  When I was a kid, before I was old enough to drive, and before the advent of the mobile digital age revolutionized our culture, my mother would usually take me to the local comic stores.  We didn’t have a comic book shop in our neighborhood.  We needed to travel to the other side of town–generally once or twice a month.  There were a couple of different comic stores we went to.  One was owned by someone I always thought of as The Lion Man.  But the store I went to the most was Empire Comics, located on Rochester, NY’s south side, across the street from Mt. Hope Cemetery, which at nearly 200 acres, is a destination unto itself, and just a few blocks removed from Highland Park, a verdant oasis amidst the urban hustle and bustle, and home every year to the Lilac Festival.

 

Sometimes I’d go there just with my mother.  Other times, some of my friends would tag along and we might make a day of it–starting out at the comic shop, then maybe taking a hike through the park or the cemetery (which is like a park), all topped off with lunch and ice cream at one of the many local restaurants.  Whoever was with me, though, I always savored my time in the shop.  Empire Comics was long and rectangular.  The owner, Jim, had his best, most valuable comics locked away in a glass display case by the register at the front of the store.  Beyond that, there were rows and rows of back issues, lining the shop, sorted in alphabetical order and arranged by issue number.  The layout and floor plan of the fictional Eastside Comics in The Singularity Wheel, where Mitchell works, is based on the interior of the old Empire Comics. (Empire Comics closed its doors about ten years ago.)

 

My mother, indifferent to the world of comic books, nevertheless made the most of these sojourns.  She’d talk to Jim and his staff–she was much, much more outgoing than I am.  It got to the point where, when my mother and I walked into the shop, Jim would yell her name, akin to the famous “Norm!” greeting from Cheers.  He wouldn’t shout “Michael!”  No–it was always, “Linda!”  I didn’t mind.  I just wanted to look at the comics.  And buy a few, too.  As my mother chatted away with Jim and the other workers, I lost myself in the comic book bins, browsing through hundreds of back issues.  I’d wander to the back of the shop, take in the sights–for me, it was heaven.  I felt as though I were in a magical cocoon.  It was quiet.  Oftentimes, my mother and I were the only customers in the shop.   I’d get lost in the musty smell of decades-old comic books, and I’d dread the moment when my mother would call over to me and tell me we had to go.

 

And so when I watch one of the new Marvel movies, they just seem too aloof somehow, too loud.  As the cliche goes, and as I’ve said aloud to more than one Marvel movie, “It’s not you, it’s me.”  Because, for me, those old comic books, those long-ago visits to Jim’s shop, are sacred.  Personal.  They are embedded, tucked away in a corner of my heart, entrenched in a permanent wrinkle of my soul.  In some ways, The Eye-Dancers saga is an extension of this, a literary shout-out to my childhood, the comic books I shared it with, and the remembrances that remain, steadfast and solid, like a faithful and devoted friend.

 

Will I watch another Marvel movie, despite my lukewarm, even critical, view of them?  Sure.  Any movie that features The Avengers can’t be all bad.  But while I do, you can bet I’ll be thinking of Jim and my mother and the sounds and silences of the old comic book shop on the corner of Langslow and Mt. Hope on the south side of Rochester.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Joy in the Journey (Or, Stopping in Dot-on-the-Map Towns Along the Way)

Tomorrow, I’ll be heading “back home” to Rochester, NY, to visit family and old friends–some of whom served as the inspiration for the protagonists in The Eye-Dancers and The Singularity Wheel. It’s a visit I always look forward to.  It’s good to see the old house where I was raised, to walk through the same rooms and hallways I did when I was growing up.  It’s good to sit and chat and reminisce; to enjoy the company of people I’ve known and loved for my entire life; and to play Trivial Pursuit, my favorite board game, and a tradition every time I return home.

 

So when I arise bright and early tomorrow morning and hop in the car, I will look forward to arriving in Rochester later in the day.  But that’s not the only thing.  Because, as much as I want to get there, I also enjoy the getting there.

 

Indeed, there is an appreciation for the drive from my current home in the hills of east-central Vermont to my childhood home not far from the water’s edge of Lake Ontario.  The drive itself comprises approximately 350 miles, one way–and takes just shy of seven hours.  There are different routes I can take, especially once I cross the state line into New York.  I can get on 87 South and whip down to Albany, and from there speed west on I-90 straight into Rochester.  That’s the fastest way–all highway driving.  It is also the route I will not take.

 

Sure, I’ll merge onto I-90 eventually, but not at Albany.  No.  Rather than zipping down to the state capital, I will instead travel first on Route 4 and then Route 29, traveling through small towns like Whitehall, Hudson Falls, Fonda, and Herkimer–off-the-beaten-path places with weather-beaten houses and 19th-century storefronts and village greens, straddling the verdant valley of the Mohawk River or the easy, gentle path of the Erie Canal.  The kinds of towns most motorists sail right through without a thought, eager to arrive somewhere else, somewhere bigger or glitzier and more represented in travel brochures.

 

But me?  I like to linger.  Not too long.  I want to visit my family, after all, and there are still miles to go before I get there.  But for a little while.  I’ll pull into an empty lot or park along the shoulder of the road and take a ten-minute walk–perhaps down the Capra-esque Main Street or along the quiet sidewalk of a side street, appreciating the architecture of the century-old homes, breathing in the spring air, contemplating the aroma of flowers and newly sprung leaves.  Or I’ll enter an establishment, a local shop as far removed from a chain store as possible.  Maybe it’s a general store or an antique shop, or a restaurant with the town’s name emblazoned somewhere on the awning above the door.  Even when I don’t get out of the car, I make sure to slow down, observe the surroundings, take note of the pedestrians and the signs and the banners flapping in the breeze.

 

I’m not sure why I’m drawn to these old, old little towns in eastern upstate New York.  Maybe because there is a sad charm to them, a dignified sense of age and experience that, while not showy or ornate, commands a species of respect.  Or maybe it’s just realizing that these towns, these way stations in the rural heart of the Empire State, are rich with history, with experiences.  With ghosts.  How many stories are contained within the town limits?  What might the buildings and houses, some of them crumbling, in states of disrepair, say if they could speak?  Or . . . maybe they can speak.  Maybe you just need to stop for a moment, look beyond the peeling paint and the broken shingles, and listen.

 

This isn’t so different from a literary journey, either.  How many times have we undertaken a novel or a memoir, or anything that requires us to write hundreds of pages, and bemoaned the pages yet left unwritten, the scenes yet left unrealized.  “Only on page 57?” one might complain.  “How am I going to finish?  How can I get to the end?”  It’s human nature, I suppose.  We want to complete what we start.  We want to beat our competitors.  We want to get there.

 

As such, the words “The End” are two of the most fulfilling for any author.  But . . . are they not also bittersweet?  Because while you may have become tired of the never-ending work-in-progress, and longed for the beginning of a new project, a new novel, you have also spent hour upon hour, day upon day, week upon week, with your characters.  And now–you are done.  Finished.  What once seemed a burden (“What will I do in the next chapter?  How will Jennifer deal with that?  Does George call her out in chapter 30 or not?”) now seems like a friend who’s left you, who’s gone across the globe, or the universe, to a faraway and inaccessible land.

 

In driving the seven hours to the old family home, or in writing a novel that carries on for months or even years, there will always be an ambition, a quest, a need to finish, to accomplish, to arrive.  But while in the midst of it all, it’s a good idea to take a breath, forget about where you’re going, and instead experience where you are.

There is a joy in the journey.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

 

A Walk Across Upstate New York (Or, The Rewards of a Step-by-Step Process)

I’d been looking forward to it for weeks.  We had been talking about it since the early spring, and now, at the height of summer in western New York, the time had come.

It was 1995, I was still in college, and the prospect of a new century, a new millennium, was still five years into the future.  Cell phones were still mostly a novelty, and the Internet was a newborn, slowly gaining traction, just beyond the outskirts of the mainstream.  No matter.  As summer approached that year, I was excited, eager to partake of the adventure.

 

It wasn’t hard to plan.  School was out, we had cleared our schedules.  We had a full week to do it.  I had hoped to corral the entire gang–Rick and Joe and Matt and Andy, the neighborhood friends I had known for years–and also the people who inspired the protagonists in both The Eye-Dancers and its soon-to-be-released sequel, The Singularity Wheel.  But some of the guys backed out, citing potential dangers, scheduling conflicts, previous commitments.  That was okay.  We still had three of us going.

 

So it was that on the warm, humid morning of July 10, 1995, precisely twenty-two years ago today, my neighbor Rick (on the right), my cousin “Moose” (left), and I (center) set out on our mini-journey.

 

We would spend the next week walking across a portion of upstate New York.  I had long romanticized about walking across America.  This bite-sized facsimile would have to do.  We’d trek west from Rochester, traveling through remote, rural towns, experiencing the pastoral heart of the Empire State on foot.  And while our experience would only last a few short days, I knew, even before we started, that I would never forget.

 

The first day was the hardest.  We weren’t used to walking so many miles.  Our feet ached, we drank copious amounts of water, and we rested every few miles.  But we had a blast.  Walking mostly on the shoulder of the road, we traveled along both main thoroughfares and sparsely used back roads.  With our packs and gear, it was obvious to passing motorists what we were up to.  Some cars honked at us.  A group of college students sped past at one point, calling us “nerdballs.”  That made our day.  A middle-aged man in a straw hat, doing yard work at the base of his lawn, stopped us and offered us water.  We politely declined, letting him know were well stocked.  He asked us where we were going.  I’d like to say we were honest–just a weeklong walking trip across western New York.  Alas, we embellished the details–substantially.  Something about Colorado to Cape Cod, and back again.  What’s worse, the guy believed us.

 

“I wonder if we should have told him the truth,” I said, a mile up the road.

“Well, we’re walking across most of the country in spirit,” Rick said.  “So, I mean, it’s kinda, sorta the truth, right?”  That was good enough for us.  I have no good excuse to offer now.  What can I say?  It was a heady moment.  We were young.

That first night, we stayed at the farmhouse of a family friend just outside the small college town of Brockport.  Well, we didn’t spend the night in the house.  We slept out in the yard, in sleeping bags, under a sky dotted with stars.  We were tired–we had walked twenty miles that day, and had run through the wheat field out back behind the farmhouse that evening.  It took us a while to get to sleep, though.  We lay down, listened to the cries of hoot owls, the rustlings in the plants and shrubs that flanked the yard, the whispers of the night breeze as it shared its sacred, eternal wisdom.

 

We talked.  We joked.  We savored.

And the next morning, bright and early, we set out west again.  The walking was already growing easier, our bodies acclimating to the journey, adjusting to the rhythm.  It rained, briefly, and then the sun came out, a hot, large July sun that tested our stamina.  More cars beeped at us.  More insults were hurled.  More strangers stopped us, took a moment to chat.  For every derogatory remark we received along the way, we got ten more that were kind.

 

We walked through tiny, speck-on-the-map towns, with names like Clarendon and Holley and Albion, dotted with old capes and town squares and corner stores.  Interspersed between the towns, acres and acres of cornfields and dairy farms spread across the land like a luxurious green carpet.  We slept in cheap motels and ate convenience store pizza.  And then, on the fourth morning, we turned around, headed east, back to Rochester.

 

Suddenly, it seemed, the miles grew longer, the movements more laborious.  We had lost some of the spring in our step.  It was easy to understand why.  While we had journeyed west, away from Rochester, we were exploring new ground, in full discovery mode.  Sure, we’d seen many of these same towns before, but it’s far different zipping by in a car than it is taking the time to really look and listen and experience while walking.  Not to mention, a few of the smallest towns were in fact new to us.  We had never visited them prior to the walk.

 

Now, though, we were going back, covering much of the same ground we had just days earlier.  We took a few different roads, tried to change it up a bit.  But the truth was undeniable.  The return trip back was a known quantity.  We were heading back to the point of origin, no longer breaking new ground, no longer heading away, deeper into the unexplored.  The sun felt hotter, the humidity more taxing, the water supply less plentiful.  Even the pizza lost some of its zing.

 

As I reflect back on the experience now, two decades later, I realize the entire episode was not unlike writing a novel.  The walk away from Rochester was akin to the twists and turns and highs of creating the first draft.  You know where you’re going in a broad, general sense, yet the specifics of how to get there are shrouded in mystery and intrigue.  There is always a bend up the road, and until you take it, you can’t be sure what lies beyond. The euphoria of discovery is in the air as you boldly journey into the unknown.

 

Likewise, the return trip back to Rochester, plodding through familiar territory, was like the editing process, hashing over material already on the page, pruning, crafting, reshaping.  There is nothing new here.  The story has already been written.  This is the time to sharpen the focus, tighten the prose, and make sure the plot developments and characters and events link seamlessly together from front to back.  If Character X does this in chapter two, the reverberations must be felt in chapter twenty-seven.  The editing process can be tedious and slow–but it is a crucial aspect to completing a finished project.

 

And that’s where I am currently, in the process of finishing The Singularity Wheel.  I’m walking back to Rochester, as it were, through towns and streets and along back roads I have traveled along before. And yes, it can feel like walking uphill sometimes.  But I have to hope that the extra time and effort will help to shape the final product into something worthwhile.

 

One thing I do know for sure.  When we did get back home to Rochester that hot July of 1995, we felt as though we had accomplished something.  Sure, it would have been easier to hitch a ride back, shorten the journey.  But it wouldn’t have been the same, wouldn’t have meant as much.

 

That first evening back, the sofa had never felt so good.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Five Years and Two Hundred Posts!

Two hundred years ago, on July 4, 1817, construction of the Erie Canal began.  It had been a long time in the making. First proposed in 1780 as a means to create a navigable water route between Buffalo and the Great Lakes to the west and New York City and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Erie Canal had its share of roadblocks, delays, and controversies.

 

Construction wasn’t completed until 1825, and along the way, there was plenty of public backlash and criticism.  Skeptics of the canal referred to it as “Clinton’s Folly” and DeWitt’s Ditch,” mocking one of the primary movers and shakers of the new waterway, New York State governor DeWitt Clinton.  But it was Clinton and other proponents who would ultimately have the last laugh. The canal fostered a population upsurge in upstate and western New York, including my hometown of Rochester.  And it also served the primary purpose for which it was built.  By 1855, 33,000 commercial shipments traveled up and down the Erie Canal.

 

That number would slowly and inexorably decrease as the decades ensued, as first the railway and, later, the automobile and the truck superseded the canal as avenues for shipments.  Nevertheless, the Erie Canal would live on.  It wouldn’t stagnate and succumb to neglect and decay.  As the canal’s primary function shifted from shipping goods to recreation, it would remain an enduring jewel of the Empire State.  Today, water enthusiasts still can boat along the canal, either in their own craft or on a cruise.  Bicyclists, joggers, and walkers (Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski among them!) enjoy the miles of trails that line the water’s edge.  Two hundred years after ground was broken for New York State’s grand man-made waterway, the Erie Canal continues to prosper.

 

The Eye-Dancers blog is no Erie Canal!  But this entry marks the site’s two-hundredth post.  If someone would have told me, back in the summer of 2012, that The Eye-Dancers website would last five years and two hundred posts, I would have smiled and asked them if they might like to buy a bridge I wanted to sell.  There was no way I could envision it.  I was just trying to craft a few coherent blog posts, not make a fool of myself in the process, and help to spread the word of the at-that-time soon-to-be-released novel The Eye-Dancers.  Along the way, though, I learned that there was nothing to worry about.  I learned that the WordPress community is made up of generous, kind, interesting, and wonderful people who welcome blogging neophytes with open arms.

 

And so, today, five years on, I pause, take stock, glance back, look forward, and thank you all so much.  You are the reason why I’m still here, still blogging, still enjoying every minute of it.  If it weren’t for you, there surely wouldn’t be a two-hundredth post.  You have all inspired me to keep going, keep writing, keep believing, even when doubt and uncertainty threatened to sabotage my efforts.

 

That’s true, too, of The Singularity Wheel, the sequel to The Eye-Dancers.  The support I have received from you regarding the sequel has been a motivator, an elixir, encouraging me to press forward with optimism.  I am in the stretch run of editing The Singularity Wheel, and will look forward to releasing it just as the trees here in the Northeast begin to transform from a canopy of green to a color show of golds, reds, and oranges.

 

In the meantime, and long afterward, I will continue to post, and continue to appreciate everything I have learned and experienced in this worldwide community.  I hope you’ll stick around for the next two hundred posts!

 

Thanks so much for all the support these past five years, and thanks, as always, for reading.

–Mike

When the Lilacs Bloom

Spring, in my neck of the woods, is easily the most longed-for season of the year.

All too often, however, spring is like a bashful pixie, a reluctant, shy, embarrassed late-arrival to the all-season party where winter dominates the proceedings and monopolizes the conversation. Eventually, though, as the pages of the calendar flip forward, day by day, we reach the month of May, when spring finally unfurls its plumage, the self-consciousness gone, the reticence of March and April a forgotten thing.

pixie

 

Almost overnight, it seems, grasses that were yellow and brown turn a rich, verdant green.  Buds appear, as if by magic, on the trees.  Colorful grosbeaks and bobolinks return to the area, and the year-round songbirds sing louder and longer, as if basking in the long-awaited, nearly forgotten warmth.

grosbreak

 

And. perhaps most spectacular of all, May is when the lilacs bloom . . .

This weekend, I will take the seven-hour drive from Vermont, my adopted state for the past eleven years, “back home” to Rochester, New York.  I’ll visit my parents, my brothers and sister, extended family, and old friends.  I look forward to it.  It is always nice visiting my roots, inspirations, the people and places who have been there for me from the beginning.

rochester

 

And, time permitting, I will also make a point to see the lilacs.

Rochester has long been nicknamed the Flower City, and no time of the year embodies this more than the month of May, and no single piece of real estate more so than Highland Park.

highlandp

 

Situated on the city’s south side, Highland Park is home to the largest collection of lilac bushes in the United States, boasting more than 500 varieties of lilacs and 1,200 plants in all, bedecked on a green hillside that spans 22 acres.  Every May, for a span of ten days, the park hosts the Lilac Festival. It’s an enormous event, bringing in more than 500,000 visitors from around the world.

lilacfest

 

For me, though, I most enjoy the park early in the morning, before the food and craft stands open, before the crowds gather–when there is still dew on the grass and when you can listen, without interruption, to your thoughts and luxuriate in the heady fragrance of the lilacs.

lilacs1

 

lilacs2

 

I savor it, savor them, drinking them in because I know they will be gone within a fortnight, the delicate petals fallen, the purples and pinks and lavenders stripped away, the color show over and done until the same time next year.  It always seems sad that such a magnificent display should be so brief, such a bounty so fleeting.

highlandsummer

 

Perhaps it is.  But it also serves as a reminder.

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

Have you ever been struck by an idea, something so inspired, so riveting, so full of life and vitality that you instantly knew you had to let it out?  Maybe it was a concept for a short story, or a new focus for a novel.  Maybe it was a poem, gift-wrapped, arriving in total, the lines and rhythms dancing before your eyes like gemstones.  Maybe it was a landscape or a street scene for you to paint, the contours, shadows, and nuances perfectly clear in your mind’s eye.  Maybe it was a tactic, an approach, a way to sway your audience or win the approval of your coworkers on a long-debated and polarizing project.

gems

 

Moments like these are energizing, and often hit us without warning, a creative bolt from the blue, as it were.  They are as invigorating as they are rare.

boltfromblue

 

Sure, ideas strike every day.  But how many of them make you stop what you’re doing mid-thought, or distract to the point where you forget the supper in the oven or fail to see that red light switch over to green (the motorist behind you will certainly let you know should this happen–and yes, I speak from experience!)?  I know for me, such ideas only occur infrequently, and there is no way of guessing when they will come.

redgreen

 

I’ve tried to figure it all out.  Is there something specific I tend to do that might encourage the best ideas to strike?  Is there a certain TV show or movie I should watch?  Maybe a book I should read?  Or maybe a particular food . . . perhaps a “creativity diet” that exists, a certain combination of vegetables, starches, and nuts that assures at least one winning idea per day?

creativediet

 

But if there’s a secret magic formula, I’ve yet to discover it.  The muse strikes when it will, a capricious, fickle thing, as inscrutable as the undiscovered wonders at the bottom of the sea or the farthest reaches of space.

farthestreaches

 

The truth is, those earth-shattering ideas that rock my creative world and send paradigm shifts running through every page of a manuscript are as rare and transitory as the lilacs that grace Highland Park for a fortnight every spring.  And maybe that’s as it should be–for all of us.  If they struck every day, they would no longer be special, no longer demand our attention and make us take notice.  They’d become ordinary, just another check mark on the to-do lists of our lives.  “Brush teeth, check.  Make breakfast, check.  Pick up groceries, check.  Pay the bills, check.  Be inspired by fabulous, Pulitzer-Prize-worthy idea, check.”

pulitzer

 

As tempting as it sounds (especially in those seasons of writer’s block) to have an ideas-on-demand app that we could tap into anytime we want, I kind of like it the way it is now.  Not everything should be so convenient and easy.  Some things are meant to be special.

Like Highland Park in the month of May . . .

ilacsend1

 

. . . when the lilacs bloom.

lilacsend2

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Quiet Moments, Green Meadows

“Everything in life is writable about,” Sylvia Plath once said, “if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.”

plath

 

Everything?

Sure, large events are worth writing about, both joyous as well as painful–perhaps a wedding, a graduation, a medal of honor; a death, an accident, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity lost.

graduation

 

Who among us hasn’t experienced life-changing moments, moments we want to record on paper or in song, on canvas or in film?  This is at the heart of what it means to create art . . . to take an experience, highly personal and unique to you, and then share it with the world, making it, as if by magic, accessible to everyone, a universal tribute to the human condition.

art

 

But what about the small moments, the quiet times, the everyday jobs?  What about that time you shared a lighthearted conversation with a friend, or had lunch with a coworker?  What about the special meal you prepared last Thursday or the audiobook you’re listening to as you commute to your job each morning?

smallmoments

 

Are these things writable too?

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

Every year, on a weekend in May, I take the seven-hour drive from the hills of east-central Vermont, where I live, to Rochester, New York, where I grew up.  This year, that weekend has arrived.  I’ll be heading out first thing tomorrow morning.

rochesterbetter

 

I always enjoy the drive.  May in the northeastern U.S. is a special time, a time made for driving across the countryside.  Lilacs bloom, showering the land with a riot of color–deep pink, lily white, warm purple.  Tall grasses, lush-green, sway in the breeze.  And the trees, bare and gray for so many months, are now bedecked with the leafy accoutrements of spring.

lilacs

 

The towns, too, are alive, as if awakening from a winter-long slumber.  Before merging onto the New York State Thruway, I travel through places with names like Hudson Falls, Schuylerville, Fort Ann, and Fonda.  Small towns, old towns, with local diners and rambling farmhouses and village squares that, very easily, I can imagine as cinematic set pieces for a Frank Capra classic.  It’s all very nostalgic, and it creates in me a stirring, a yearning, an appreciation.

hudsonfalls

 

Driving through the towns, I see children playing catch, a lemonade stand on the corner, a couple walking their dog.  And I realize–it’s good to be alive on this spring day, in the 21st century.  It’s good to be going home.

lemonadestand

 

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

I lived countless “little” moments in the house where I grew up, the house where my parents still live.  There were so many, in fact, they tend to merge in my mind, one upon another upon another, like an old home movie playing at triple speed.  But I remember.

homemovies

 

I will always remember  . . .

. . . all the times I played with my brother.  We’d re-create baseball and football seasons with our favorite game, Strat-O-Matic.  Or we’d go into the backyard, and he would play quarterback and I would run routes, pretending I was playing in front of a hundred thousand fans on a Sunday afternoon.  I was just a kid, of course, nine years old, eleven, twelve, and at the time I may not have appreciated the attention my brother gave me as much as I should have.  But I’d like to think that, deep down, I did.  He is nine years older than me.  He was a junior in high school, a senior, then a college student, and still he found the time, and the desire, to be there for me.

strato

 

Is that worth writing about?

Or what about my mother?  Some of my earliest memories are of her reading picture books to me.  I was three years old, and she play-acted the scenes and made the stories come alive, no doubt planting a seed, creating in me a love of reading and writing that would stay with me always.

beanstalk

 

Is that worth writing about?

Or what about my friends, who lived in the old neighborhood?  The same friends who inspired Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski in The Eye-Dancers, not to mention various supporting characters who pop up throughout the course of the novel.  I remember the games we invented, the trouble we got into, the things we would talk about on those clear summer nights when the stars, twinkling like precious diamonds, spread across the great dome of the sky.  We’d wonder–is there life up there, somewhere?  Are we really alone in the universe?  We didn’t think so.  Not then, and not now.

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Is that worth writing about?

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

These quiet moments, these small moments, these green May meadows of the soul–soft with morning dew, carpeted with dandelions and velvety to the touch–are the sorts of places that encourage us to stop and linger for a while, to ponder where we’ve come from, and where we’re going.

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To reflect on the ever-expanding, layered embroidery of our lives, the day-to-day happenings that comprise the bulk of who we are and what we do.  And what and who we love.

And that’s something worth writing about.

memoriesmoments

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Precious Jewels Hidden in Tattered Pages

I remember it well.  It was one of those lazy midsummer days in western New York State, the air thick with humidity, the droning, mechanical call of the cicadas giving voice to the trees.

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My parents were entertaining an old family friend, who lived out of state.  He hadn’t visited in several years, and now, upon his arrival, I wanted to impress him–with my growing comic book collection.  I was seventeen years old, a month away from my senior year in high school, and I was eager to show this well-traveled gentleman, who lived in a fancy home out West, that I was no slouch myself.

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He slapped me on the back, told me he remembered me as a little kid with a bowl-shaped haircut, four feet tall–where had that kid gone?  I told him I collected old comic books, had been for years now.  Would he care to see the cream of my collection?

me

 

“Comic books?” he said.  “They’re worth something, eh?”

Were they ever!  I showed him the latest edition of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, published annually each April with updated market values for every American comic book that has ever graced the newsstand.  And I pointed out some of the issues I owned, purchased months or years ago, but which, over time, had appreciated, their price tag growing like green plants in a well-tended garden.

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“Kind of like buying blue chip stock, I see,” he said, as I showed him my most prized issues, vintage copies of The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, along with select issues of Superman, Batman, and other heroes from yesteryear.

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After a few minutes, I could no longer resist.

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“You know what these are all worth, put together?”

He didn’t hesitate.  “Absolutely.  They’re worth whatever someone will pay you for them.”

I exhaled, feeling like a pin-pricked balloon, all my pride and anticipation and excitement bleeding out of me, drip by drip.  Whatever someone will pay for them?  But . . . what if I didn’t want to sell them?  Did that negate their worth altogether?  And besides, I didn’t like viewing my comic books as commodities in such a bald, in-your-face manner.  Sure, I bought the Overstreet Guide every spring when it came out.  And sure again, I enjoyed seeing issues I already owned rising in value.  But that wasn’t why I owned them, or why I’d bought them.

Was it?

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

In The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell Brant shares my love of old comics, particularly The Fantastic Four.  They hold for him, as they always have for me, an undeniable magic.  And yet, he, too, feels the need to put a monetary value on them–and a fictional one at that.  As he is prone to do, Mitchell exaggerates their worth, claiming, to anyone who will listen, that his collection would go for thirty thousand dollars if he wanted to sell it.  He knows this is a gross misrepresentation of the truth, but he just can’t seem to help himself.

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I would like to believe, however, that when he is alone, thinking about it in more depth, he will realize he is not only lying to his friends.

He’s also lying to himself–for reasons that go far beyond the actual market value of his collection.

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

When the out-of-state family friend left the next day, returning to the house he had built, the life he had fashioned, I still felt bad.  And I felt worse when I checked the values of my best issues yet again in the price guide.  What was I doing?  Had my perspective really shifted so far from center?  I needed a new outlook, or, to be more accurate, an old outlook–the same one I once had, when I was nine years old buying my first comics off the drug-store  rack that squeaked when I spun it, round and round, watching the covers flash before my eyes like action scenes from the greatest movie I ever saw.  I needed something to remind me why I had started collecting old comic books in the first place.

spinningrack

 

So I sat down on my bedroom floor, cross-legged, and pulled out my priciest issues–not as a collector, or an investor, or even a hobbyist.  But as a reader.  As a lover of the ride they took me on.  As a seventeen-year-old, standing on the rocky, high precipice of academic choices, college majors, and career decisions but wanting, desperately, to cling to an aspect of my childhood that seemed to be receding, day by day, further into the shadowlands of an irretrievable past.

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I read issue after issue that day, copies printed years before I was born, stories that transported me to other worlds, distant galaxies, negatively charged universes, where the very atoms of matter itself were in complete opposition to our own.  I read about super villains who wanted to rule the world and who spouted off the corniest dialogue I had ever heard, and yet I loved every word.  I read about characters I had grown up with, who I knew so well it seemed they were real, and might at any moment jump out of the illustrated panels and join me in my room.

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And when I put those comics away, I felt better than I had in days . . .

I won’t lie.  I still purchased the Overstreet Price Guide in subsequent springs, still checked the market value of my comics from year to year.  But I also read through the entire Price Guide, enjoying the pictures of countless old comic book covers and reading the informative articles on the hobby.  It was now a supplement, a part of a whole.  It no longer defined the whole.

Because the truth of the matter was, those old comic books, many with brittle covers and spine rolls, water stains and clipped-out advertisements, housed jewels of the rarest sort within their tattered and yellowed pages.

sparklingjewels

 

Later that same summer, talking with a friend of mine, my comic book collection came up.

Inevitably, perhaps, the question arose:  “So, what’s your collection worth?”

I looked at him, smiled.

“Priceless,” I said.

sunsetpriceless

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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