Words of Wisdom from a Cartoon Character–Or, Reminders of the Meaning of the Season

Sometimes we just need to be reminded.  Sometimes world events, presidential elections, and our far-too-often harried personal lives threaten to throw us for a king-sized and ever-expanding loop.  The weather this time of year doesn’t help.  Daylight Savings is more than a fortnight in the rearview mirror; it’s dark when you go to work in the morning, and dark when you come back home.  And what little light there is, especially here in northern New England, is often muted by brooding thick gray clouds that hang low and bloated over the land, like dirty laundry concealing the blue beyond.

novemberskystart

 

For me, the reminders begin with the little things, the homey things, the kinds of things Truman Capote writes about at the beginning of his gem of a short story “A Christmas Memory” . . .

“Imagine a morning in late November.  A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago.  Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town.  A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it.  Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.”

achristmasmemory

 

Every year, early on Thanksgiving morning, when the house is dark and the sunrise is yet a rumor, I flip through some of the old classic comic books I’ve had since I was a kid, when I began a lifelong hobby of collecting comics.  Many of the issues I have tucked away in closets and boxes were printed decades before I was born.  Their pages, musty and faded with age, never fail to bring a smile.  There are old ads in those pages, tempting the children of sixty years ago with baseball gloves and magic tricks, radio sets and sea monkeys.

adxrayvision

 

adseamonkeys

 

And then there are the stories, of course–simple, far too often devoid of any real character or nuance, distilled to the most rudimentary of plot devices.  But for all that, they are brilliant, ingenious, and, perhaps most important of all, fun.  They offer a break from the stresses and strains of daily living, an escape from the next doctor appointment or set of bills, while simultaneously laying out a bridge to an imaginary world that is always there, only a thought away, ready and willing to amuse and cheer and revitalize us, if only we take the time to visit it.

On Thanksgiving morning, I spend fifteen, maybe twenty minutes with these old issues, these relics from a bygone era, these simple reminders of childhood . . .

comiccovermysteryinspace

comiccoversuperman117

comiccoversa46

 

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

In the 1965 musical The Sound of Music–based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway classic of the same name–Julie Andrews’s character, Maria, sings about some of her favorite things:

someofmyfavoritethings

 

“Raindrops on roses/And whiskers on kittens/Bright copper kettles/And warm woolen mittens . . . Cream-colored ponies/And crisp apple strudels/Doorbells and sleigh bells/And schnitzel with noodles . . . Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes/Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes/Silver white winters that melt into springs . . .”  These are a few of her favorite things!

sleighbellsend

 

It’s a basic list, simple and everyday; it echoes the sentiments of Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.”

But perhaps it was everyone’s favorite bookworm, Marcie, who said it best in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving:

marcie

 

“But Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck. . . . We should just be thankful for being together.  I think that’s what they mean by Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown.”

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The (Name’s) the Thing (Or, What Should I Call It?)

Has it ever happened to you?  An idea hits you, seemingly out of the blue, as the best ideas always do–unasked for, unplanned.

outofblue

 

You feel excited, energized, eager to get started.  You don’t have your story all figured out yet, but you don’t care.  Who needs an outline?  You have a situation.  You have a set of characters.  Most important of all, you have a need to get this boiling, rushing volcanic river of creativity down on paper (or on the computer screen, as the case may be).  You feel you’ll explode if you keep it locked away inside of you.

volcanicriver

 

You have a story to tell.  And you want to share it with the world.

There are few things more exhilarating than this in the life of a writer.  One moment, there is nothing, but then, in the next . . .

Maybe you’re between projects.  Maybe you’ve been in a slump.  Or maybe you’ve been on a roll, your creative powers at an all-time high.  It doesn’t matter either way, because when this new idea strikes, you feel as though you could spread your arms, catch an updraft, and soar for miles.

soaring

 

You begin the story, the keyboard humming along, the words pouring out of you so fast, your fingers are having trouble keeping up.  But at some point, perhaps a paragraph in, perhaps thousands of words in, it hits you.

You don’t have a title.  You are writing a story “Untitled.”

untitled

 

What to do?

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

When I began writing The Eye-Dancers, it wasn’t called The Eye-Dancers.  It wasn’t called anything.  It seemed as if I had the necessary ingredients in place to come up with an attention-grabbing title.  I had ghost girls and nightmares and endless blue voids, and worlds upon worlds, without end.  Why was the title so difficult to get right?

worldsuponworlds

 

I tried a few.  Pathways through Infinity.  Ugh.  Journey without End.  Double ugh!  Not to mention misleading.  There is, in fact, an end.  Through Time and Space.  Putrid!  It sounded like a B movie from the 1950s.  So I did the only thing I could.  I forgot about what to call the novel, and continued to write it.

bmovie

 

It wasn’t really a surprise that a title didn’t stick initially.  They rarely do for me.  Even with short stories, I often do not think of a title until after the story is written.  But with The Eye-Dancers, it grated on me.  A short story, after all, can be completed in a day or two.  It doesn’t compare with the months-long marathon of writing a novel.  And as I reached 30,000 words in my ever-growing manuscript, and then 40,000, and then 50,000 . . . I started to become concerned.  What if I never thought of a title?  How could I publish a book with no name?

booknoname

 

I tried force-feeding a few more would-be titles, but these were even worse than the first batch.  (Hard to believe, but true.)  So I plugged away and kept writing, and then . . . when I came to the final segment of the novel, Mitchell Brant, that weaver of tales and stories himself, helped me to solve the puzzle.

Earlier in the novel, when the boys are first transported through the void, via the swirling, hypnotic blue eyes of the “ghost girl,” Mitchell has the sense that they are dancing, or, more specifically, “eye-dancing.”  At the time, I never really considered that the makings of a book title were contained in those words.  (When you are tone deaf with titles, as I sometimes am, these things can take time!)

bluevoid

 

Thankfully, Mitchell bailed me out.  In the epilogue, Mitchell again uses the term “eye-dancing” to describe the dimension-busting adventure he and his friends have experienced.  This time, the lightbulb went off!  I had it.

The Eye-Dancers.

It was perfect.  It fit the story.  It had a catchy, mysterious sound to it–it was evocative . . . I liked it.

eyedancers

 

It just took a long time coming.

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

The more I think about it, the more I believe a title should come late in the game.

Writing a novel is like wandering through a maze, with lush, leafy ivy growing from the walls, ten feet high.  Just when you think you know the direction the story will travel, it does a sudden U-turn, then fakes right and goes left, taking you, the author, along for the wild, unpredictable ride.  This is why I don’t use chapter-by-chapter outlines.  I know the flux and flow of the narrative will change as I dive in.  The original conception will become a relic, a barnacle-covered shipwreck lying 3,000 fathoms beneath the sea.

shipwreck

 

Why, then, worry about a title at the beginning?  If you have a title, and you’re sure it will work, great.  That’s one less thing to concern yourself with.  But if you’re not sure, or completely in the dark, rest assured that your characters, your story, will ultimately provide the answer.

Some of my favorite novel titles include:  To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sound and the Fury, Far from the Madding Crowd, and The Grapes of Wrath.

maddingcrowd

 

Each one creates an instant mood and paints a word-picture and metaphor all its own.  Concerning the first three, I am unaware of how or at what point during the writing process they came to be (though I would be surprised if they materialized early on).  As for John Steinbeck, he struggled mightily to come up with a suitable title for his book, and only arrived at The Grapes of Wrath after his wife suggested it.

grapes

 

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

I am currently working on a sequel to The Eye-Dancers.  What will I call it?  At the moment, I haven’t a clue.  I’ll leave that to the roller-coaster ride of the story itself, with its ebbs and flows and sudden, unexpected turnabouts.  And its characters.

They will provide a title for me at some point.

I’m counting on it.

rollercoaster

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

A Journey into 2014, an Eye-Dancers Promotion, and Jumping Off of Cliffs

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

journey

 

A year ago, at the start of 2013, I had a distinct end in mind.  I wanted to spread the word as effectively as possible about my new YA sci-fi/fantasy novel, The Eye-Dancers.  Admittedly, generating a readership for the novel was my chief aim when I launched The Eye-Dancers website.

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But then a funny thing happened along the way.  I began to enjoy blogging in and of itself, for no other sake than for the joy of interacting with fellow bloggers, a virtual worldwide meeting of the minds.  Now I won’t lie.  I still hope you will all buy a copy of The Eye-Dancers!  (More on that in a bit.)  But, far more important, 2013 showed me what a wonderful endeavor blogging can be.  I was blessed as the year went on to make many new online friends, share some tremendously enriching conversations, both on WordPress and through email, and to read so many great posts throughout the WordPress community.  This has been a fantastic year, and I thank each and every one of you for it.  You are the reason why The Eye-Dancers site is still here, and why I love doing this.

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One of the things that has truly humbled me over the course of the past year are the awards The Eye-Dancers blog has received.  Recently, I was nominated for several awards that I had been lucky enough to win previously, but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the bloggers who thought of The Eye-Dancers . . .

Thanks so much to D-Anna at Style Salvation for nominating me for the Best Moment Award; to Jennifer K. Marsh for nominating The Eye-Dancers for the WordPress Family Award; and to Sandra at the Quirky Books Blog for nominating The Eye-Dancers for the Dragon’s Loyalty Award, the Sunshine Award, and the Shine-On Award.  D-Anna, Jennifer, and Sandra have provided ongoing support to The Eye-Dancers over the course of this past year, and I can’t thank them enough.  I highly encourage everyone to check out their fabulous websites!

greatblogs

 

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

On two separate occasions this year, I decided to run a promotion for The Eye-Dancers, and now, as we make the leap from 2013 to 2014, I thought it would be a good time to run another one–very similar to the promotion that took place over the summer.

onefortheangels

 

Just as with that promo, whoever purchases a copy of The Eye-Dancers during the promotional period will be eligible to win a gift card. . . .

giftcard

 

Beginning today (December 27) and ending February 10, 2014, if you buy The Eye-Dancers, wherever it is sold, please notify me–either with a comment on this website, or via email at michaelf424@gmail.com.  I will keep track of  each person who buys the book during this time frame and then, on February 11, the day after the promotion ends, I will randomly select one winner.  The selected person will be awarded a gift card–to anywhere!  It could be to Amazon, a favorite restaurant or department store . . . it doesn’t really matter.  The choice will be yours.

choosedessert

 

The amount of the gift card will be based on the number of overall purchases of The Eye-Dancers during the promotional time period.  For each purchase, $2.50 will be earmarked toward the gift card.  (This is an increase from the $2.00 that was earmarked for each purchase during the last promotion.)  So, for example, if there are thirty purchases during the promotion, the gift card would be for $75 (30 purchases x $2.50 per purchase).  The gift card amount, in other words, will be determined by you!  The more purchases, the higher the amount on the card.

Please just remember that if you do purchase The Eye-Dancers during the designated promotional period to make sure and contact me so I can enter your name into the gift-card contest.

The previous winners of The Eye-Dancers gift-card promotion were Mel Fowle and Katie Sullivan.  Now it could be your turn!

The Eye-Dancers is available for purchase at the following online retail locations . . .

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Eye-Dancers-ebook/dp/B00A8TUS8M

B & N:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-eye-dancers-michael-s-fedison/1113839272?ean=2940015770261

Smashwords:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/255348

Kobo:  http://store.kobobooks.com/books/The-Eye-Dancers/nKFZETbWWkyzV2QkaJWOjg

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

So, yes, as you can see, I still am indeed hoping to sell many copies of The Eye-Dancers!  But just as Hemingway suggested, having a goal to aspire to is good, but the journey, yes, the journey . . . that is where the true joy and fulfillment are found.  And, because of you, the bloggers of the WordPress Community, this has been a truly rewarding year for me.  I can’t emphasize enough how welcome you made me feel when I was just starting out, how you encouraged me to keep writing and posting through your comments, Likes, and overall support.

thankyou

 

I genuinely thank you, and look forward to what 2014 has in store.  I am eager to read your future posts, share in more conversations with you, and continue on this fascinating journey.

journey2

 

One of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, also penned one of my favorite quotes.  It goes something like this: “Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall.”

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At the start of 2013, The Eye-Dancers website, fledgling, new to the blogging world, had in the neighborhood of 25 followers.  By the start of 2014, that number has grown to nearly 1,600.  It is that kind of support, that kind of community that makes all of this possible, and it’s why I can’t wait to begin 2014.

wordpress

 

One year ago, I was standing at the edge of the blogging cliff, not sure if I should jump, take the plunge, take the risk . . . I am so glad I did.  Any wings this Eye-Dancers blog has been able to unfurl on the way down have taken form and spread because of you.

birdsinflight

 

Thanks so much for reading, and for all the great and ongoing support.

Let’s make 2014 our best year yet.

stars

 

–Mike

To Believe or Not to Believe . . . (Or, How Far Can You Run?)

Whenever you produce something, and enough people see it, there are bound to be critics.  The world’s great masterpieces are not universally loved.  And Oscar-winning movies elicit a wide range of opinions.

So it was one day, several years ago, when, during a free moment at a former job of mine, I had a disagreement with a coworker named Rob.  Rob was a good, reliable employee, neat, orderly, someone who painstakingly dotted his I’s and crossed his T’s.

tie

 

He had an event planner on his desk that was always filled in months in advance.  If you were to look up the term “detail-oriented” online, you might just see Rob’s picture staring back at you.

I liked Rob.  He and I got along well–except when it came to movies.  We agreed every now and then, but most of the time we were the amateur version of Siskel and Ebert–always finding ways to contradict each other.  And on that particular day, he took aim at one of my all-time favorite films, Forrest Gump.

“It’s the worst movie I ever saw!” he exclaimed.  “Totally idiotic.  The guy runs across America.  For three years!”  (Actually, it was, according to Forrest, three years, two months, fourteen days, and sixteen hours, but who’s counting?)  “A superhero couldn’t do that!  It’s not humanly possible.  It’s completely illogical and stupid.”

forrestbeard

 

I tried to explain that on many levels, Forrest Gump, based on the novel of the same name by Winston Groom,  is a fairy tale.  Not everything in the movie can be, or should be, taken literally–which is one of the many aspects of the film I love.

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On the one hand it is the humorous, wacky, larger-than-life story of a man who always finds himself at the center of history-making events.  But on the other hand, it is a probing character study, a very personal story about Forrest and the people closest to him.  It is a rich, layered movie that never gets old, no matter how many times I watch it.

Rob wouldn’t hear of it.  He was able to accept many of the film’s eccentric qualities and plot lines (“I liked the ping pong,” he admitted), but Forrest running across America?  That’s where he drew the line.  Much like Marc Kuslanski, Rob could not, would not, get past the logic/commonsense divide.  No one can run across America for three solid years.  For him, the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy any fantasy was shattered during that scene.  It ruined the story for him, and, as much as I disagreed with him, it did get me thinking about the kind of speculative storytelling that stretches and challenges the imagination.  How do authors, screenwriters, television producers, creators, present fantasy in a way that most people can digest as believable and “real”?

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For me, the “running sequence” in Forrest Gump works beautifully.  It fits the theme, tone, and style of the movie, and enhances the story.  But why?  How?  And, while there will always be some readers (or viewers) like Rob, who cannot take the leap you as the storyteller want them to take, what elements need to be in place to portray an “impossible” or improbable scene in a believable way, a way that an audience can enjoy despite (or perhaps because of) the logic gap that so angered Rob?

I believe the answer lies, as it so often does, in character.  Consider, for instance, the scene that precedes the Forrest Gump running sequence.  A constant theme throughout the movie is Forrest’s unwavering love for Jenny, his one and only girl.  From the time they were children, he and Jenny went together “like peas and carrots.”

forrestjennykids2

 

forrestjennykids

 

Except–Jenny grew up, a very troubled person, and wandered the country, searching for a meaning and peace she never seemed to find.  She would occasionally cross paths with Forrest over the years, but usually they were miles apart.  He loved her, wanted to be her boyfriend, as he openly admitted, but she never seriously considered his offer.  “Forrest, you don’t even know what love is,” she tells him, assuming his low IQ prevents him from understanding and knowing. . . .

But then, after years of separation, Jenny returns, spends some time with Forrest at his home.  He calls it “the happiest time” of his life.

forrestjennyreunite2

 

forrestandjennyreunited

 

At one point, he asks her to marry him.  “I’d make a good husband, Jenny,” he says.  She agrees that he would, but when he asks her why she doesn’t love him, she just shakes her head.

“I’m not a smart man,” he says.  “But I know what love is.”

jennyflowers

 

That night, for the first time, Jenny comes to him not just as a friend, but as a lover, telling him she does love him.  For Forrest Gump, this night is the one he has always dreamed of, the moment he has always longed for.  But then it all comes crashing down, a house of cards strewn and wrecked by a gust of wind.

In the morning, while he sleeps, Jenny leaves.  Without a word.  When we see Forrest next, there is no dialogue, no music, just a series of shots zooming in on him, silent.  We can feel his loneliness, his heartbreak.  From the crest of the highest, most exhilarating wave, he has fallen into the depths.  So what does he do?

In Forrest’s own words, during a voice-over that begins the memorable running-across-America sequence . . .

“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run.  So I ran to the end of the road.  And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town.  And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County.  And I figured, since I’d run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama.  And that’s what I did. . . . For no particular reason, I just kept on going.  I ran clear to the ocean.  And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going.  When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going. . . .”

And for several minutes, we watch Forrest, now with long, uncut hair and a beard that would make even Santa green with envy, run through pristine mountain hollows and along winding country lanes.

panoramarun

 

Many things happen during the scene, which has its share of zany humor and entertaining encounters.  But at its heart, it is about Forrest dealing with Jenny’s departure.  “I’d think a lot” (as he ran), he tells us in a voice-over.  He’d think about his mother, his friend Lieutenant Dan, but, “most of all, I’d think about Jenny.”

And when, after more than three years, he finally stops running, he says:  “My momma always said, ‘You got to put the past behind you before you can move on.’  And I think that’s what my running was all about.”

forreststopsrunning

 

Yes.  A three-year run across America is pretty far-fetched.  And yes, it would be near-impossible to do, on so many levels.  But we can overlook these things because the scene is, at its core, a response to something we can all relate to–hurt, rejection, a lifelong dream evaporating through your fingers like a hundred tiny pebbles scattering to the earth.  Needing to find a way to cope with loss.  Coming to terms with something that leaves a sour, bitter taste in your mouth every time you swallow.  It’s a fair assumption that none of us has ever run across a continent for three-plus years.  But we’ve all experienced the feelings that motivate this title character to journey on his fairy-tale marathon.

And that, I think, is the axle around which everything turns.  Certainly, when I wrote The Eye-Dancers, a story of parallel worlds and ghost girls that invade dreams, I was taking the risk every speculative fiction writer does–creating a story that might come across as too fantastic, too impossible, too “out there.”

parallelworlds

 

But for every quantum leap across the void, for every haunted dream sequence, for every step further into a mysterious and alien world, there is also a quiet, small moment when one of the main characters laughs at a joke, or shares a childhood memory, or tackles an insecurity that has been gnawing away at him for years.

Forrest Gump, I think, would agree.  If we can create characters readers will root for, care about, become invested in, we can then, boldly and imaginatively, fly them across the empty, black reaches of space, or transport them through endless blue voids, or have them go on a journey to another dimension entirely.

parallel2

 

So, all these years later, Rob, I still disagree with you.

Great fictional characters, characters we believe in, can take us anywhere.

galaxy

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Beyond the Next Traffic Light . . .

Imagine a road, any road–perhaps it winds its way through rolling countryside and charming villages, Capra-esque, with town squares and old brick storefronts that make you feel as if you’re traveling through a set piece for It’s A Wonderful Life.

itsawonderfullifetribute

 

Or maybe you’re downtown at rush hour, in a large city, frustrated by the snarl of traffic and the honking horns.

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Perhaps you’re feeling stressed, burdened, so much still to do, and so little time in which to do it.

You look ahead.  The next intersection awaits, the next red light. . .

redlight

 

Or does it?

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

I have long enjoyed mainstream, literary stories, and much of the short fiction I write is in fact mainstream, with no supernatural or otherworldly element to it.  This stems from a long-standing appreciation of literature.  I love the classics, the works of writers like Truman Capote and Harper Lee, Willa Cather and John Steinbeck.  A good, dramatic story has the power to move us and touch us in very personal ways.

myantonia

 

But my first love, and the kind of storytelling that I come back to, time and again, is science fiction and fantasy.  And yes–I will combine the two genres beneath one imagination-stirring, speculative-fiction umbrella.  While some stories are clearly sci-fi and others clearly fantasy, often the two overlap, and, just as often, they do so within the same story.  Hard-core sci-fi fans may take issue with this, just as they did when Ray Bradbury famously put an atmosphere on Mars.  But I read his Martian stories and loved them, just the same.  Are they science fiction?  Fantasy?  “Who cares?” I said.  They were great.  That’s all that mattered to me.  They accomplished what all first-rate imaginative fiction does.

martianchron

 

When I read Ray Bradbury, or watch a post-apocalyptic thriller, or read an old Fantastic Four comic book (like Mitchell Brant in The Eye-Dancers, I am, and have always been, a fan of classic old comic books), or enter, through the enchantment of the dusty page (or touch-screen, as the case may be), into the heart of a city full of dragons and witches and hairy little elves who shuffle discreetly underfoot, I want the story to take me by the hand and transport me to a distant, faraway place, perhaps to a different time or a different universe or a different reality.

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Maybe the story takes me there via a time machine, but it can just as easily be a dream sequence or a fantastical world that just is, always has been, and always will be, right from the opening scene of the book.  Or, just maybe, I am taken there through the swirling, hypnotic blue eyes of a “ghost girl”. . .

blueeye

 

It doesn’t really matter how it is done, as long as it’s done in such a way that I can believe it, that I am right there, along for the ride with the characters.  And once I am there, in this fantastic new world, I can then get absorbed in it, marooned like a sailor on some remote Pacific island but without any desire to leave.   And yes, it may test and stretch the limits of my imagination (with hope, that’s precisely what it will do); yet, simultaneously, and again, hopefully, it will cause  me to reflect and look at my own world in a different way, with a different perspective.

scifi2

 

That, to me, is the definition, and the essence, of speculative fiction.

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

Let’s return to our traffic light, then, shall we?  There you are, sitting there, the car idling, the list of to-dos spinning in your mind, over and over.  Groceries to buy.  Bills to pay.  A house to straighten up.  Dentist appointment next week, and that tooth has been really throbbing lately, too.  Ugh.  Another cavity?  The project at work is only half-finished, and the boss continues to harp about it, demanding it be completed yesterday.  And what’s that?  Does the car sound a little funny?  Does the engine sound as though it’s laboring?  But the mechanic just worked on it a month ago . . .

todolist

 

So many thoughts, stresses, tasks, worries . . .  And the traffic is moving so slowly!  There is a bend in the road.  You can’t see around it, but you know what lies ahead.  Another traffic light, another delay as you listen to the car’s sputtering engine, and think about everything you have to do, all over again.

tasklist

 

But wait.  Your mind begins to drift.  You think of the novel you’re reading.  You just finished chapter twenty-four last night, and are eager to return to it.  Every time you read it, the story carries you on fine, feathery wings, so silent, so effortless, you are hardly aware that you’re moving at all.  It lifts you up, higher, higher, to a dreamscape world, far away, immeasurably distant–and yet, you are there.  And now, here, stuck in traffic, suddenly your train of thought shifts.

imagination

 

You know, logically, that you will have to wait at another red light, and then another, and another.  You know your list of things to do seems to grow, organically, on its own, with each passing minute.  The burdens of day-to-day tasks, the unending grind, the perpetual treadmill are all still there.  But now there is something else, too.

An openness, perhaps–an acknowledgment that, despite the obstacles and the mind-numbing routines, all things are possible.  The novel you are reading–the magic of it, the scope of its plot and the vastness of its universe–makes you want to believe in the unbelievable, search for the unknowable.  It makes you want to reach . . . reach for the moon, throw a lasso around it like George Bailey said he would do for Mary Hatch in that Frank Capra classic sixty-seven years ago.

georgelasso

 

lasso!

 

But why stop there?

There is an entire galaxy to explore.  A universe.  And, perhaps, a parallel universe.  There is no end.

andromeda

 

The light turns green.  You drive through it, imagining the possibilities, embracing the adventure.

allthingspossible

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

Have you ever gone through something and wondered if you were losing your mind?  Have you ever witnessed something no one else saw?  Did you try to convince others that what you saw was in fact real, only to be met with skepticism, unbelief, and odd, quizzical glances?  And, after facing the doubts, did you then begin to question your own perceptions, doubt your own eyes and ears?

This is precisely what happens to Robert Wilson (played by William Shatner in a pre-Star Trek role) when he boards a plane in an unforgettable fifth-season Twilight Zone episode called “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”  Recently released from a sanitarium, where he’d been admitted for six months following a nervous breakdown on a flight much like this one, Wilson is noticeably nervous as he takes his seat–beside the emergency exit.

shatner

 

“I’m not acting much like a cured man, am I?” he says to his wife.

talkwithwife

 

His wife assures him all is well, they just need to get home.  “Everything is still intact,” she says.  To which Wilson replies, “Except me.”

Adding to his distress, the aircraft is flying through an electrical storm.  It is night, as the thunder rumbles and the lightning flashes across the black canvas of the sky.  His wife now asleep, Wilson glances out his window.   He does a double-take.  There is a man on the wing of the plane!

onthewing

 

Wilson buzzes for the flight attendant, but when she arrives, the man on the wing is gone.  He draws the curtain, as if trying to block out the vision of what he just witnessed.  The commotion wakes up his wife, but he tells her not to worry, he’s just having trouble falling asleep.  She gives him a sleeping pill, and dozes off again.

He tries to relax, but the pill isn’t working.  Glancing at the window, tempted, he pulls the curtain back again.  An inhuman face stares back at him.

monsterthruwindow

 

The man–the creature–is back.  But how?  How can there be a living thing out there, on the wing of an aircraft flying through a storm at 20,000 feet?  “It isn’t there,” he tell himself, closing his eyes.  “It isn’t there!”

questioningsanity

 

But when he opens his eyes, the creature is still looking in at him.

onlyhecansee

 

Wilson rings for the attendant again, but, just as it happened earlier, the creature vanishes when she looks through the window.   Sure enough, when the attendant leaves, the creature returns.  Only this time, he begins to tamper with the wing, as if he wants to crash the plane.

onthewing

 

Wilson wakes up his wife, tells her there’s a man on the wing.  “No, no, don’t look!” he says when she tries to see past him and out the window.  He explains the man out there disappears whenever anyone else tries to see him.  Then he clarifies.  The creature on the wing is not a man.  It’s “a gremlin,” he tells her.

She looks at him like he’s lost his mind.  He can’t deal with that look.

wifelook

 

“I’m not imagining it!” he says.  “He . . . he jumps away when anyone might see him.  Except me.”

He continues to explain himself:  “I know it sounds crazy.  But do I look insane?  I know I had a mental breakdown.  I know I had it in an airplane.  I know it looks to you like the same thing’s happening again, but it isn’t! . . . If I described him [the gremlin] to you, you’d really think I was gone.”

His wife tries to console him, telling him it’s all right, but he grows angry, tells her not to patronize him.  He could see in her eyes that she doesn’t believe a word of what he’s telling her.

“I am not insane!” he shouts, and says he’s only telling her about the gremlin because he’s starting to tamper with one of the engines under the wing.

arguingwithwife

 

He asks her to tell the pilot what he’s just said, and to keep an eye on the wings.  If they see nothing, he says he’ll re-commit himself to the sanitarium.  “But if they do . . .”

When his wife gets up and walks down the aisle, Wilson sees the gremlin return.  The creature pulls up a cowling plate.

wingplay

 

“Hurry!” Wilson shouts.  “He’s out there!”

But of course when his wife and the flight engineer rush to his seat, the gremlin is gone.  The engineer, however, pretends that he’s seen the creature before.  Wilson sees through the act.  They are merely trying to placate him.  “You can stop now,” he says.  “I won’t say another word.  I’ll see us crash first.”

otherslook

 

Later, his wife asleep again, Wilson sees the gremlin come back.  The creature continues his assault on the wing, and Wilson decides to take matters into his own hands.  He steals a gun from a sleeping policeman, then returns to his seat, careful not to wake his wife.  Before allowing himself to back down, he opens the auxiliary exit window, and, despite being nearly blown out of the plane, succeeds in shooting and killing the gremlin.  He screams as he fires the final shot.

After the plane lands, Wilson is carted off in a straitjacket.  Everyone on board is sure he has gone insane.  But then the camera pans to show us the damaged airplane wing–which no one has yet seen.  But when they do, they will realize Wilson had been right.  There had been a gremlin out there.  He wasn’t delusional, after all.

wingdamage

 

The beauty of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is that we the viewer, along with Wilson himself, are not sure what he sees is real.  Is there really a creature out there, on the wing of the jet?  Or is Wilson suffering another breakdown?  We do not find out the answer for sure until episode’s end.

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

A parallel exists in The Eye-Dancers.  The four main characters journey through the void, and when they emerge on the other side, they find themselves in a strange new world.  But are they still dreaming?  Is this nothing but an extension of their shared nightmare of the “ghost girl” and her hypnotic, swirling blue eyes?

In chapter 6, as Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, and Ryan Swinton, walking in their sleep and caught up in the throes of their nightmare, begin to vanish before Marc Kuslanski‘s eyes, Marc wonders the same thing.

“He reached out with his own hand, placed it on top of theirs.  Instantly, he felt a force, like a vacuum, grab hold of him.  He tried to pull away, but couldn’t.  . . . Had he somehow entered into their dream?  But that was impossible.  He was wide awake.  Besides, since when did dreams exert a force, a literal, tangible force, that could hold you in place?

“He tried to think–all of his knowledge, the theories he had studied, the insights he had gained–searching for the answer.  Possibilities, potentialities spun around in his mind like clothes tumbling, layer upon layer, in a drier.  He hoped one of those possibilities would stick, make sense, unlock the trunk that contained the answer.  But nothing could adequately describe what he was experiencing.”

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

What is real?  What is a dream?  How much does perception shape what each of us views as “reality”?

Maybe Einstein was right when he said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a persistent one.”

Or, in the words of Thoreau:  “The question is not what you look at.  But what you see.”

reality

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Shadow Play

When I was six years old, I had a nightmare. I have never forgotten it, even all these years later.  In the dream, I stood at the edge of a deep indoor pool.  I was alone, and knew something wasn’t right.  For one thing, my two older brothers were supposed to be watching me–but they were nowhere to be seen.  I called out their names. but the only reply was the reverberating echo of my voice as it bounced off the walls.

When I called their names again, and still received no answer, I became worried.  I instinctively knew they were in trouble, perhaps deadly trouble–trouble that lurked beneath the surface of the water.  I looked into the pool–I couldn’t see the bottom.  I shook my head.  How could I not see the bottom of an indoor swimming pool?

Nervous, thinking about the warnings I had received from my parents never to dive into a pool unsupervised, I jumped in.  As soon as I went under, I realized I had somehow switched locations.  I was no longer in a pool.  I was in an ocean, surrounded by coral and strange, green plants undulating in the current of the water.  Sharks swam past, menacing, threatening.  But where were my brothers?  How would I find them in this vast expanse of water?  I started to swim, but then realized, horrifically, that I wore no underwater gear.  I couldn’t breathe!  I raced for the surface, kicking and thrashing, passing exotic fish along the way, wondering if I would make it.

I never found out.  As my lungs burned and my heart thumped in my chest, I woke up–gasping, out of breath.  I raced down the hall and looked into my brothers’ room, just to make sure they were all right.

I wondered if I would experience the same dream when I fell back asleep.  I didn’t.  I never had another dream like it.  What did the nightmare mean?  I’m not sure.  But even to this day, the memory of it is so real–as if it really happened.

And, in a way, perhaps it did.

dreams2

 

***********

In a second-season episode of The Twilight Zone titled “Shadow Play,” a man named Adam Grant is sentenced to the electric chair for first-degree murder.

shadowplayweaver

 

When the judge issues the verdict, Grant screams, “No!  Not again!  I won’t die again!”  Adam Grant, you see, believes that this is all a dream, a recurring nightmare he experiences every time he falls asleep.  In his dream, he is always sentenced to die by electrocution–and the judge always says the same exact thing.  Grant actually mouths the judge’s words as the verdict is spoken.

shadowplaychair

 

Grant tells everyone that if they electrocute him, they will all cease to exist.  Since they are merely figments of his dream-imagination, they will vanish into nothingness when he dies in the chair and wakes up.

One person who believes in the possibility of this story is the local news reporter.  After the courtroom scene, he visits with the DA, Mr. Ritchie, and talks to him about Grant.

shadowplaydaandreporter

 

He says Grant’s dream theory makes a weird sort of sense.  Maybe this is all just a dream.  “Can we prove he’s wrong?” he asks.

Ritchie won’t hear it.  “I can’t prove the world isn’t going to end,” he says, realizing after saying the words that this is exactly what Adam Grant predicts.  Than, almost as an afterthought:  “But it isn’t.”

Ultimately the reporter urges the DA to visit Grant in his cell–to talk things over with him.  Reluctantly, he agrees.

Ritchie is escorted to Grant’s cell and begins talking with him, trying to get him to see reason.  It doesn’t go the way he wants.

shadowplaydattalkingsense

 

Grant tells the DA that things are all wrong here.  For example, he was tried and sentenced the same day.  “It doesn’t work like that!”  But in a dream, it can . . .

Ritchie counters with a bit of logic:  “You say all this is a dream.  When you’re electrocuted, you wake up, and when you wake up, we all disappear.  Well, what about our parents?  And our parents’ parents, and everybody who never even heard of you?”

“What about them, Mr. Ritchie?” the condemned man says.  “A dream builds its own world, Mr. Ritchie!  It’s complete–with a past.  And, as long as you stay asleep, a future.”

Ritchie, growing flustered, asks Grant why he doesn’t just sit back and enjoy his electrocution.  If it’s all just a dream anyway . . .

Grant laughs maniacally.  How can he enjoy it?  “Haven’t you ever been hurt in one of your dreams?” he asks the DA.  “Haven’t you ever fallen out of a window or been drowned or tortured?  You have!  Don’t you remember how real that it seemed?  Remember how you woke up screaming?  How do you like to wake up screaming?  That’s what I do!  Because I dream the same dream, night after night after night!  It’s this one!  I can’t go on dying, I can’t go on dying . . .”

That night, at the stroke of midnight, Adam Grant is electrocuted in the chair.  As the switch is pulled, the scene shifts to the DA, his wife, and the news reporter.  They vanish, one by one, just as Grant said they would . . .

Another scene shift.  We are back in the courtroom, and a judge is sentencing Adam Grant to die in the chair for first-degree murder.  It’s the same exact scenario as the one we saw at the beginning of the episode.  Grant was right all along.  It’s the next night, and he is asleep again, dreaming–an endless nightmare that won’t let go . . .

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

This is certainly a theme explored deeply in The Eye-Dancers.  Throughout much of the book, the four main characters wrestle with the question:  Is this all a dream?  Or is it really happening?  And is there any difference?

dreamsvsreality

 

The “ghost girl’s” visitations, the journey through the center of her eye into the endless blue void.  The variant world of Colbyville.  What is real?

In chapter seven, when Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski find themselves in a strange new place, they try to figure this out.

“‘You know what it felt like,'” Mitchell says near the end of the chapter. “‘When she [the ghost girl] was in our dreams, it felt real–like when I skinned my knee and Ryan hurt his wrist.’

“Ryan nodded.  The line between dreams and reality had certainly been blurred, if it existed at all.”

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

Returning to “Shadow Play” . . . and Rod Serling’s closing narration  . . .

“We know that a dream can be real, but whoever thought that reality could be a dream?  We exist, of course, but how, in what way?  As we believe, as flesh-and-blood human beings, or are we simply parts of someone’s feverish, complicated nightmare?”

Or, in the words of Edgar Allan Poe,

“Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?”

dreamwithinadream

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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