“You Can’t Get There from Here” (But You Can . . . with Some Delay)

It was one of those lazy, hazy midsummer days in the Northeast, when the humidity hangs thick and wet over the land.  I was driving through the back roads of central Vermont, looking for a particular house–an address tucked away on a dirt lane far from the beaten path.  These were the years before I had settled in this area and called it home.  I didn’t know my way around.

 

Sure enough, as I came to an unmarked intersection, I took a wrong turn.  I didn’t know it at first.  It took a couple of minutes.  But when I drove several more miles and didn’t have a clue where I was, I decided to stop in the gravel parking lot of a country store.  It was the only place I saw, aside from isolated farmhouses and old, weathered barns, that might offer the hope of someone providing directions to steer me back along the right route.

 

I parked in front of the store, a clapboarded single-story structure with white peeling paint and two ancient gas pumps out back.  They looked like something out of the 1950s.  I had no idea if they were operational, and had no intention of finding out.

 

The door was open, without a screen, and I walked in.  The interior was small and cramped, complete with wooden shelves, a pot-bellied stove in the corner, and thick bark-covered beams overhead.  Beside the unlit stove, four men sat at a round table.  Each eyed me suspiciously.

 

I approached the table.  The men, three of whom were seniors, and the fourth perhaps in his thirties, continued to eye me.  There were poker chips gathered in the middle of the table, and the men were holding playing cards in their hands.  Already uncomfortable at the intrusion, now I felt worse.  I was interrupting their game.

 

“Excuse me,” I said.  My voice sounded too loud in the close, warm space.  “Sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you might be able to help me find an address.  I thought I had everything mapped out, but I guess I was wrong.”

The men just sat there, motionless, looking me over as if I were a specimen to be driven over to the town taxidermist.  One of them cleared his throat.  A second placed his cards, facedown, onto the table.  The other two just stared.

 

I gave it a few seconds, and when no one said a word, I took a step back and turned toward the door.  I guessed I’d go knock on a farmhouse door and hope for a more cordial response.

 

That was when someone finally spoke up.

“Where ya headin’?” the younger guy said.

I turned back around, told them the address.  This brought on another round of silence.

Then, the oldest-looking guy seated at the table, a gaunt fellow with wire-rimmed glasses, said, “Thing is–if you was a bird, it’d be easy to get where you’re wantin’ to go.  But if you have to take the roads–it’s a field.  Fact is, you can’t get there from here.”

 

One of the other men smirked.  Another one coughed.

I wasn’t sure what to say.  I realized I was the amusement for the day.  There was no reason to hang around.  I’d just have to go back the way I had come and re-map the journey.

 

But then the younger guy held up his hand, and proceeded to give me the directions I needed.  He used short, staccato phrases, offering only the barest of minimums.  But I thought I had it when he was through.

I thanked him for his help.

“Would be easier if you was a bird,” the older man said again.

When I walked back through the doorway, I was sure I could hear them laughing.

As I got behind the wheel of my car and pulled away, I wondered if they had given me the wrong directions–just to further the joke.  But they hadn’t.  Twenty minutes later, I found the place I was looking for.  The directions were accurate.

 

“Though roundabout,” I was told later by someone in the know.  “He led you out of your way.”

But at least I’d made it–delay or no delay.

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

And that also accurately sums up the writing and editing process I have undertaken on The Singularity Wheel–the sequel to The Eye-Dancers.  It was a surprise project from the get-go.  I hadn’t even envisioned there would be a sequel–but then, out of the ether, an idea struck that wouldn’t let up and wouldn’t let go, and I had to write it.

 

When I began the book, over four years ago (!), I had no way of knowing how winding, circuitous, and bumpy the road would be.  I first announced the sequel’s existence in a blog post in the spring of 2014.  “It’ll take another year to write, no sweat,” I thought at the time.  But then 2014 bled into 2015, which morphed into 2016–and still, the book wasn’t finished!  There were character crises, plot points that needed wholesale makeovers, and twists and turns in the story line that needed alterations.  It was, and has been, the most challenging writing project I have ever undertaken.

 

Even so, as 2017 dawned, I was almost finished!  And in April, the first draft was finally complete.  I was at last able to key in the words, “The End.”  I even posted about it at the time.  So okay–I would release The Singularity Wheel at the end of summer!  Piece of cake!

 

During the editing process, however, I found that more changes still needed to be made than I’d realized.  Time slipped past, summer came and went.  Then again, The Eye-Dancers was originally published in November 2012.  I liked the symmetry.  Why not release The Singularity Wheel in November 2017?  It would be perfect.  Five years of real time had passed–and, in the story itself, five years of fictional time had also passed from the conclusion of the first book to the start of the second.  Everything was coming full circle.

 

But now–here we are, in November, and just like my journey through the back roads of Vermont that summer day years ago, I have discovered that “as the bird flies” isn’t always the way a story will proceed.  I am right now in the final edit/proofreading/copy editing stage.  The endgame.  But even here, I have found a few last wrinkles that need to be ironed out, a few tweaks that need to be inserted, a last assortment of fixes that need to be made.  Grudgingly, I have come to realize that the November release is too ambitious.  The project has been “a field” as the old-timer at the country store said to me once.  A field, indeed.

 

That said, the eleventh-hour adjustments are minor in nature.  Ninety-nine percent of the work has been put in.  It’s just a matter of trying to finish strong and present the best possible product I can upon publication.  As much as I wanted to meet my own self-imposed November deadline, I didn’t want to rush it now, at the end, after such a long journey getting here.

The delay will be one month.  And this time, there won’t be any further postponements!  The Singularity Wheel will be released prior to January 1, 2018.  I don’t have a single, specific date in mind–but it will be in December.  This time, I promise.

 

In this season of Thanksgiving, I want to thank all of you who have read and still read this blog and who have supported The Eye-Dancers these past five years.

 

Writing a sequel has been a long, long process, often beset with speed bumps and deep, tire-puncturing potholes, but, to paraphrase my old country-store friend, I have, at long last, “gotten here from there.”

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

A Land of Long Shadows

The hill country of east-central Vermont, where I have lived for over a dozen years now, is famous for its fall colors.  Tourists flock to the Green Mountain State from across the nation, and the world, to catch a glimpse of the reds, oranges, and golds that light up the hillsides every October.  The blazing foliage of autumn is as synonymous with Vermont as its ski slopes, dairy farms, and Rockwellesque small towns.

 

For me, though, October in Vermont is about much more than multicolored tree leaves.  Don’t get me wrong.  I marvel at the beauty of the season as much as anyone.  There is nothing quite like a stroll along a country lane in Vermont in the fall.  But it is the subtler, less showy aspects of the season that leave the most indelible mark.  The musky scent of woodsmoke on the air.  Fallen leaves crunching underfoot.  Warm, sunny days, the humidity of high summer over and gone.  Crisp, starry nights, quiet, the chorus of crickets silenced by frost and the encroaching winter.

 

And shadows.

Just the other day, I took a walk out back, in the meadow behind the house.  The land slopes down, gently in places, steeply in others, to the meadow, which is here and there interspersed with maple trees and elm trees and birches, their bark white and clean against the copper-yellow of the autumn leaves.

 

It was late afternoon, the sun was sinking to the west, and a recent end-of-summer heat wave was in the process of retreating, moving south like a migrating bird, leaving New England to the rightful, cooler temperatures of the season.  I looked at the maple trees at the top end of the meadow, standing, side by side, like deciduous twins, their leaves mostly green still, with the occasional flash of gold.  The sun was hitting them just so, and their shadows reached out across the expanse like dark, giant fingers.  My own shadow was long, too, as I stood in the path of the westering sun.  It spread across the grass, comically elongated, as if I were a colossus, a wanderer come down from Brobdingnag.  I walked south, changed direction to the east.  My shadow followed, sometimes merging with the shadows of the maples or the birches, or the woods, which ringed the meadow on all sides.  No matter where I walked, it came with me, always there.  Always present.

 

There was no escape.

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

There have been times when I was told that I am not always present–not fully, anyway.  “Sometimes, even when you’re here, you’re not here,” a friend told me once.  And I don’t deny it.  Ever since I was a boy, my mind has had a tendency to wander, to daydream, to roam over hills and valleys in search of the unknown and the unexplored.  Sometimes it’s playacting.  I spent more time than I like to admit growing up visualizing, in vivid detail, myself winning Wimbledon or batting in the bottom of the ninth inning in the World Series, the game on the line.  I’d pretend to hold an interview with the press afterwards, going through an elaborate question-and-answer session.  I’d think of new games to invent, new theories to drum up, new ways of looking at the tried-and-true.  Often, at night, I’d look up at the sky, count the stars, realizing that, as numerous as the visible stars were, they represented but a tiny fraction of the whole–just a slice of the firmament, a drop in a cosmic sea without end.

 

Truth be told, I still do all of these things from time to time.  Not as much as I used to, but I still do them.  On one level, it’s embarrassing.  I’m not a kid anymore, after all.  On another level, I hang onto these wonderings, these musings left over from childhood.  Without them, something essential, something life-affirming and good, would be lost.

 

More than anything, though, I get lost in my stories.  That’s to be expected while I’m hunkered down at my PC, of course, frantically pecking away at the keyboard.  (I’m old school.  I don’t have a laptop.  I still prefer the bulky old desktop.)  But it’s not only when I’m physically writing.  My stories are with me always–especially the novels.  I can be seated at my desk at work, out taking a walk along the shoulder of the road or through the woods, showering in the bathroom, even visiting friends or family–and suddenly, out of the blue, an idea will hit me.  So that’s how chapter 27 should be resolved!  Oh, so Ryan shouldn’t do that, he should do this.  I’m not sure if Joe handled that the way he really might have.  How about this . . .?  And on and on it goes.

 

Beginning with The Eye-Dancers, which I started in 2009, and continuing on through its sequel, The Singularity Wheel, still on schedule to be released in November, I have lived and breathed with the protagonists in these tales for almost a decade.  They are never far from my thoughts, always ready to intervene or interrupt, as if to say, “Hey, remember me?  You got that last scene all wrong, partner.  I would never do that!  You better go back and fix it.”  Or the story itself, like a living, breathing entity, a sentient thing, will communicate with me, vying for my attention.  If I’m not sure what to do in an upcoming chapter, it does not stay silent, tucked away in the background.  It speaks, shouts, demands to be solved.

 

So forgive me if, while we talk, I occasionally have a distant, faraway look in my eye.  The story never sleeps.  The characters can never be put to bed.  The questions and musings and machinations of the creative process are as stubbornly and persistently present as shadows.

 

And while there are times when this is taxing, draining, even downright annoying, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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

Ready to come inside, I walked back up the slope, leaving the meadow behind me.  As I crested the hill, I paused to take another look at the trees and the grass and the deep, forever blue of the sky.  I stood there like that, taking in the scene, pondering its beauty and its vastness, and its truth.  Then I turned around, and headed for the house.

 

My shadow followed me every step of the way.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

A Winter Walk in Old New England (Or, Down the Rabbit Hole)

Winter in Vermont arrives early, and it hits hard.  Already there is a stubborn sheen of ice on my driveway, creating an adventure every time I drive down.  The meadow out behind the house, with its rolling hills and undulations, is an unbroken sea of pure white.  And the wind chills?  Let’s not even talk about the wind chills!

wintervermontstart

 

I make no secret that winter is my least-favorite season.  People sometimes kid me about that.  “You live in Vermont, and you don’t like winter?” they say.  I reply that it’s not a big deal.  I love the spring, summer, and fall–three out of four seasons isn’t bad.  Nevertheless, winter in New England has a way of holding on, reluctant to let go.  Even in the brighter, milder months of March and April, winter digs in its heels, delaying the inevitable, resisting the birth of spring with every harsh gust of wind and squall of snow.

snowsqualls

 

So I am under no grand illusions.  A long, unbroken string of arctic-like months awaits.  Still, I have no desire to huddle beside the portable heater all winter, hot chocolate in hand.  (Though surely there will be some of that!)  I enjoy the outdoors, and on days not quite so harsh, on days when the sun–too often a stranger in New England–chooses to shine, I will take advantage.

hotchocolate

 

Recently, on one such sunny, crisp afternoon, I took a walk.  Navigating the icy slope of the driveway, I walked down to the road.  The road in question, as are so many in rural Vermont, is dirt–dry and dusty in summer, muddy and soft in early spring, hard and snow-packed right now.  If I turned right, I’d walk toward a paved road a mile away.  But if I turned left, within a third of a mile, the road would morph into a narrow trail, not maintained by the town.

winterdirtroadvermont

 

I went left.

As I walked, I was struck by the silence.  No cars.  No people.  No sounds.  There was a gentle breeze, but no leaves to rustle–only the empty spaces in bare trees and lonely expanse of snow-covered fields and stripped woodland floors.  Even the songbirds were silent.   Briefly, a sound to my right–a wild turkey, startled by my intrusion, scurried into the woods, disappearing from view.  More silence.  I inhaled.  The air was a winter knife, cold, sharp, as if it might draw blood if I weren’t careful.

turkeyinsnow

 

I walked on, reaching the trail, where the snow depth swelled, coming up above my ankles.  Even back here, though, there were tire tracks, the residue of rugged four-wheel drives and snowmobiles, no doubt.  My footfalls crunched the packed snow, punctuating the stillness.  My breath hung on the air before dissipating, molecule by molecule.

tiretracksinsnow

 

Then I paused.  Stopped.  I listened to the silence.  It washed over me like a vacuum, snuffing out the sound.  I breathed again, in and out, in and out.  A gray squirrel chattered from a nearby tree, but then climbed higher.

squirrel

 

Everything was so quiet, so white–the world seemed asleep, slumbering beneath the blanket of snow.  For a moment, reality itself seemed slippery, as if, perhaps, I had gone down a rabbit hole and was standing there only as an apparition, or maybe some figure within the realm of someone else’s dream.

downrabbitholefirstmention

 

What is real? I wondered, looking over the frozen pond that lay just meters before me, and, beyond that, the snowcapped mountains that rose in the distance like ancient giants worn and weathered by time.

mountainsendpartone

 

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

In The Eye-Dancers, what we perceive as real is explored, and challenged, over and over again.  Indeed, in chapter 2, Joe Marma feels so disoriented that “reality felt too elusive, too fragmentary, as if it were crumbling away into jigsaw pieces that could not be put back together.”  Indeed–are his dreams, along with Mitchell Brant’s dreams and Ryan Swinton‘s dreams, real or “just a nightmare,” something to wake up from and escape and put safely and securely in the rearview mirror?  Who is this “ghost girl” who continues to haunt them?  And when they are transported to a different dimension, an alternate universe, is what they experience “real” or illusory?

jigsawpuzzle

 

When the boys first arrive in the alternate town of Colbyville, Ryan isn’t sure:  “The line between dreams and reality had certainly been blurred, if it existed at all.”

Have you ever felt that way?

George Bailey did.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a holiday staple, and one I partake of every year.  Many people know the story of Bedford Falls and George and Mary and Old Man Potter.  We know George has a string of bad luck and at one point contemplates jumping to his death off a bridge, only to be saved by Clarence the bumbling but lovable angel who is still searching for his wings.  And we all know the movie ends with a rousing rendition of “Auld Lang Syne,” along with Zuzu’s memorable line, “Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”

itsawonderfullifefirstmention

 

And George’s response:  “That’s right, that’s right.”

But how does Clarence ultimately convince George to step away from the cliff, or, in this case, the bridge?  How does he earn his wings at the end?

georgeatbridgehowdoesclarenceconvice

 

By showing George what the world would look like without him.  Admittedly, this isn’t Clarence’s idea.  It is his response to a despondent George’s muttering that he wishes he’d never been born.  Wish granted!  You want to be erased, George Bailey?  Consider yourself erased.

clarencegrantingwishneverborn

 

In other words, Clarence helps George to see his many blessings not by hopping on to his personal soapbox or through any words of wisdom; rather, he rescues George by taking him down the rabbit hole and in to an alternate reality, allowing him to witness the fallout of a world that could have been, might have been, had he never existed to touch the lives of others.

georgeseeingworldwithouthim

 

He saves him by changing the very nature and shape of what we deem to be real.

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

I stayed there on that path, overlooking the iced-over pond and the far-off majesty of mountains and sky, for several minutes.  The wind picked up, and the bite of the cold chomped down, stinging my face and eyes.  But I just wanted to take it all in.  What is real?

whatisrealbeginningoflast6section

 

In an age where unfiltered bias is immediately disseminated to millions upon millions of people, when individuals can and do attempt to delegitimize the press, when various forms of social media can be used to spread truth or lies with equal fervor, what is real?  If someone tweets out a lie, and sixty million people read it and believe it, is it now true?

tweeting

 

The shifting, changing, amorphous lens through which the world views itself, and through which we view the world, is in a state of disarray.  Reality for many has become as confusing and inexplicable as George Bailey’s journey through his own personal rabbit hole.

georgebaileyconfusednearendrabbithole

 

But as I turned to leave the path, to retrace my steps in the snow and head back home, I attempted to answer the question that lingered on the air like wood smoke.  What is real?

George Bailey found the answers at the end of the movie.  Clarence the angel penned a personal note to George:  “No [one] is a failure who has friends.”  And with George surrounded by friends and family, singing off-key in a cinematic moment for the ages, he understands the truth, the essence, and so do we.

clarencenoteend

 

So, as 2016 nears its end, as we forge bravely ahead into the uncertain climes of 2017 and beyond, maybe, just maybe, we can all pause for a moment and tune in to a corny old holiday classic, walking the avenues and sidewalks of Bedford Falls, reliving the miracle on 34th Street, soaring with a red-nosed reindeer as he leads the way, or witnessing a walking, talking snowman.

miracleon34thstreetend

 

These are, it seems to me, rabbit holes very much worth exploring.

frostyendofpost

 

Have a wonderful holiday season and a happy and blessed New Year.

happyholidaysveryend

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

 

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

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

thesea

 

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

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

pei

 

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

raven

 

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

peiwarmwater

 

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

pinksunrise

 

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

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

featherinwind

 

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

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

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

imagination

 

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

dreams

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We just need to believe it.”

allconnected

 

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

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

deepseafish

 

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

theworld

 

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

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

seagulls

 

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

seamirage

 

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

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

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

Yet reach us it does.

stars

 

Thanks so much 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.

nightsky

 

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.

dandelionmeadow

 

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

Short Story — “Stone Wall”

The Eye-Dancers, at its core, despite the ghost girls and parallel worlds and strange, recurring nightmares, is a coming-of-age story, where the main characters must confront certain aspects of themselves and deal with the inner demons they have always wrestled with.  This coming-of-age theme is one I have written about many times–often in short stories.

One such story, “Stone Wall,” is a very short tale I wrote quite a few years ago about a moment between a father and a son.  The intent, when I wrote it, was that the short interaction presented in the story was one that would leave a lasting mark on the boy . . . something he would always remember.

Looking at the story now, I question some of the choices I made when I wrote it a dozen years ago.  Dissecting their old stories is something all writers do, I suppose.  But I wanted to share “Stone Wall,” in its original form, and I hope you will enjoy it!

stonewall

 

camelshump

 

blackbird

 

vermontmarch

 

“Stone Wall”

Copyright 2014 by Michael S. Fedison

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

When Dad asked me to go outside with him, I felt a little worried.  He didn’t talk with me much—didn’t have a chance, really.  He tended our herd of Holsteins and worked full-time at the power plant in Montpelier on top of that.  So, usually, when he called for me it was because I had done something wrong and deserved a good talking to.  I wasn’t sure if I had done anything wrong recently.  I couldn’t think of anything, unless calling Jane Hanson a no-good little tramp was off limits.  But that had been over a week ago, and I wasn’t even sure if Dad knew about it.

“Get your jacket, Billy,” Dad said as we walked toward the back door.  “Kinda cool this mornin’.”

I put on my jacket, now a size too small for me, and we walked out onto the back porch.  The air was wet and a thick fog hung over the valley.  In the distance, I could see the summit of Camel’s Hump mountain peaking above the low-lying clouds.  It made me think of a sleeping giant.

“C’mon, Son,” Dad said.  “Follow me.”

We walked into the yard.  It was the middle of March and much of the ground was still covered with snow.  It crunched under our boots.  But the first patches of pale grass were beginning to show up on our hillside, where the cows would be grazing just a few weeks from now.  It looked like a soiled green and white quilt that had been exposed to the Vermont elements for too long.

Dad continued walking, and I followed close behind.  I wasn’t sure where he was taking me or what his purpose was, but I figured I would find out soon enough.  I took a deep breath, inhaling the clean late-winter air.  The air felt sharp in my nostrils, as if it might draw blood if I wasn’t careful.

We crested the hillside and headed for the perimeter of our property.  We were in the high meadow now.  I loved coming here in the summer.  The grasses would sway in the wind and the cows would look so peaceful below me, and the mountains would appear so far away and yet so close.  They would make me think of soaring birds and barefoot rambles in the hollows, of stars that shimmered mysteriously on an oily canvas of October sky.  And sometimes the mountains would cause a longing in me, a longing for something so beautiful it couldn’t be expressed, like the sound of a butterfly’s wings flapping, velvety soft, on a windless summer twilight.  I didn’t understand it all.  I just knew I belonged here, in the hill country.

“See that stone wall there?” Dad said then, jolting me back into the moment at hand.

I nodded.  We were at the very edge of our acreage now.  Just beyond the stone wall was a thick copse of fir trees.

“That wall was built near two-hundred years ago, Son,” Dad continued, “and look at it.  Standin’ firm and true to this day.  Weathered, maybe, but still gets the job done.”

The stone wall actually bounded our property on three sides.  I always thought of it as The Barrier.  I could go anywhere I wanted, within reason, on our forty acres, but never cross over The Barrier.  That would be an offense bad enough to get a spanking.  My brother, Davey, crossed The Barrier without permission once and got tangled up in some barbed wire just beyond it.  He didn’t get a spanking, though.  Dad figured the barbed wire was punishment enough.

The wall wound its way through fields and woods, through flat land and hilly terrain.  It even crossed over the brook that bordered the east edge of our land.  I had never thought much about the wall.  I just knew it was old and, as I have mentioned, not to cross it.

“Your great, great, great grandfather Abraham built this whole wall, all round this forty acres, with his own two hands.  He built it as a dividin’ line.  Set off his property, maybe keep the goats from leavin’—or comin’ in if they were someone else’s.  That’s why folks built these walls in the old days, Son—to divide up the land and keep the animals penned in.  Nowadays, they’re reminders, mostly, relics.  Folks like ‘em, but don’t get much use out of ‘em.  Amazing thing is that they’re still standin’, even after all this time.”

Dad lifted his head, as if listening for something.  I heard nothing out of the ordinary.  But then—

“Hear that?” Dad said.

I did.  Red-winged blackbirds.  I heard their watery call ride the chilly March air.  Their call made me think of the sound swamps might make if they could talk.  It was a wet sound, damp, like the lushness of a springtime shower or the sweet coolness of dewdrops dripping lazily from the grassblades on a fragrant May morning.  It was the sound of spring coming, ever so slowly, ever so shyly, to the Vermont hills.

Dad smiled.  “Winter’s comin’ to an end,” he said.  “The blackbirds are here.  But c’mere, Son.  Let me show you something.”

Dad walked right up to the stone wall and knelt beside it.  He touched the weathered surface of the wall with a work-worn hand.

“Feel that, Son,” he said.

I felt it.  It was cold and old and hard.  It made me think of Dad’s will when he set his mind to something—unyielding, unbendable, stern, and proud.

“What do you think?” he asked me.

“It’s hard,” I said.  “Solid.”

“And old, Son, very, very old.  It’s been here longer than any of the trees we got still standin’ on our farm, I’d say.  It’s seen a lot of hard times, blizzards, winter winds, even a few floods.  But it’s still standin’, true and sturdy.  You know why?  You know what it is makes this wall last so long?”

I shrugged.  “I guess not,” I said.

“Look at the stones,” Dad said.  A gust of wind picked up, and I almost put the hood of my jacket over my head.  But I didn’t.  I wanted to show Dad I could take it like a man.  I was almost thirteen, after all.

I looked at the stones but noticed nothing out of the ordinary.  They looked like stones, granite stones, nothing more.

“Look at the sizes, the shapes,” Dad said when he realized I wasn’t understanding.

There were hundreds of individual stones just in this one small section of the wall.  I examined them.  They were various shades of gray.  I touched several of them.  Some were smooth, some rough and craggy.  Some of the stones were actually colder to the touch than others.  The most striking aspect of all, though, was the shapes and sizes of the stones.  No two were alike.  Some were small, barely larger than a pebble.  Others were the size of a pumpkin, big and round and cumbersome.

“They’re all different,” I said.  “No two are the same.  Some of ‘em are pretty close, but no two are the same.”

Dad nodded.  “Ayuh,” he said.  “They’re all different.  Different but not different.  That’s why this wall’s been standin’ here for so long, Son, and why it’s gonna keep on standin’ long after I’m gone.”

Dad got up from his crouch and sat on the stone wall.  He motioned for me to sit beside him.  I nearly let out a squeal when I did.  The coldness of the wall went right through my jeans.  But I just sat there, my backside freezing, hoping I would get used to it soon.

“Y’know what I mean, Son, what I’m tryin’ to say?” Dad asked me.  Another gust of wind came up, but Dad appeared not to notice.  He looked out over our meadow.

I shook my head.  “Not really, Dad.”

“They’re different—the stones—but not different.  They’re all different shapes and sizes, but they’re all stones, see?  They’re all sturdy and hard.  They ain’t gonna sway when the wind blows, when the rains come, when the storms come crashin’ through.  They’re gonna hold steady, lodged in this hard wall.  They’re different, but they’re the same, too.

“Sometimes, different is good,” Dad continued.  “Sometimes, we get stodgy, too set in our ways.  I know I have.  Take the Bakers up the road.  They’ve been here since before you were born, but time was, they moved here from California, and some of the folks didn’t take too kind to ‘em at first.  And when Harry Baker suggested we take down the church steeple and repair it, we almost lynched ‘im.  But he was right.  That steeple was old, dangerous.  It needed fixin’.  It took an outsider to see that, Son—someone from away, someone different.  The Bakers’ve helped this town out in lotsa ways since then, too.  Sometimes, different is good, Billy.”

“But they’re the same, too,” I said.  “They’re all stones.  All rocks.”

Dad nodded.  The wind came up, stiff and strong again, rustling the boughs of the fir trees, sounding lonesome, longing for something I could not see, hoping for something I could not touch.

“Lots of folks in the world,” Dad said,  “and lots of notions.  A man, he needs to be like a sturdy stone wall.  Listen to ideas that help him out, learn new things, new ways of lookin’ at things.  Be open-minded, or else he’ll drive out the Harry Bakers of the world, and he’ll be worse off because of it.  But a man needs to know when different ain’t good.  He needs to be able to separate the good grain from the bad, the wormy fruit from the good fruit.  That’s what old Herb Preet has to do up on Newkirk Hill Road in his apple orchard.  Separate the good from the wormy.  You gettin’ me, Son?”

“I dunno,” I said.  “Sometimes, different things are good, and sometimes they’re bad?”

“Ayuh,” Dad said and for some reason, I thought to myself, Dad isn’t young anymore.  He won’t live forever.  “You got to let yerself grow, hear people out, take in the big stones with the little ones, you might say.  That’ll build you up, make you a better man.  But you need to be stony, too, solid.  Like this wall here.  Ain’t nothin’ here but good hard granite.  No wood.  No nails.  Wood rots.  Nails rust.  You felt the wall, Son.  It’s tough.  Don’t break easy.  Doesn’t sway and bend in the wind, going here and there.  That’s the way a good man needs to be.  You believe in what’s right, and you don’t bend.  Don’t let some smooth talker get you to do somethin’ that you know ain’t right.  Stand up for yourself.  And when the storms come, they won’t blow you down.  Different, but the same.  Just like this wall.  You understand now, Billy?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I think so.”

Dad nodded.  It was quick and subtle.  It seemed he wanted to say something else, but he didn’t.  He sat there for awhile, his face turned to the wind.  Perhaps he was thinking of red-winged blackbirds and crocus flowers and dandelions.  Perhaps he was thinking of me, of the challenges I would face as I grew older, of the choices I would make.  I could have asked him what he was thinking.  I could have.  But I didn’t.

Dad stood up.  I did, too.

“C’mon, Son,” he said softly.  “Your mom’ll have lunch ready soon, I guess.”

We walked back into the high meadow, away from the wall.  We didn’t speak, but the silence was warm and comforting, like an old mitten that fits snugly on your hand and protects you from the cold.  Dad walked briskly, and I had to hurry to keep up with him.  I wished he would slow down, linger, to extend the moment and not have it be so fleeting.

We headed down our hillside, our home coming into view.  Smoke rose up from our chimney, billowing into the chilly air like ungraspable tendrils.  I loved the sight of it and again wished Dad would slow his pace.  But he kept on going and soon we were back inside, and I was taking off my jacket, and we would be eating lunch, and Dad would have chores to do, and so would I.

Dad never spoke to me of stone walls again.

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

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

On a (Cloudy) Day, You Can See Forever

There are places in the state of Vermont, high meadows, where, if you stand in them and look out over the land, you feel as though you’re on top of the world.  In winter, thick, crusty snow crunches underfoot; the air, cold and sharp, feels like it will draw blood when you inhale; and your breath rises with the wind before vanishing like smoke.

wintermeadow

 

In summer, tall grasses sway in the breeze, the distant hillsides are a palette of green, and, if the sky is clear, you feel like you can see beyond the asteroid belt, out into the far corners of the galaxy.

vermontmeadow

 

Sometimes in those moments, ideas come, whole, complete–like a lightning strike out of the blue.  It is as exhilarating as it is rare.  One moment, there is nothing.  In the next, you carry with you an idea that screams and kicks and demands release.  When this happens, I rush to my PC, open that new Word document, or WordPress Edit form (!), and let the sentences come . . .

ideas

 

But other times, most of the time, ideas do not arrive as gift-wrapped wholes.  Usually there is but a peek, a whisper, a shooting star that speeds across the canvas of the sky so fast, you barely have a chance to see it.  I can’t even count how many times I have experienced this–a germ of an idea, tantalizing, but far from workable.

shootingstar

 

In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King pens that he doesn’t believe stories come from within us.  Rather, he says, they are “found things, like fossils in the ground . . . relics, part of an undiscovered preexisting world.”  I agree.  I have always believed that ideas discover us, not the other way around, and how they discover us, and how much of themselves they share–is often out of our hands.

onwriting

 

One night, as the 1980s gasped their last, dying breath and while I was still in high school, I had a dream–a dream so vivid, it stayed with me for decades.  I dreamed of a girl, six, perhaps seven years old, with an airy, translucent quality to her.  She stood outside, beyond my bedroom window, the light of the streetlamp passing through her–as if she were only partly there.  As if she were a ghost.  She beckoned for me to come outside, her eyes, even from a distance, appearing so blue that I felt if I looked into them long enough, hard enough, I would see where the universe ended, and began.  There was a visceral feel of threat about her.  Who was she?  What was she?  And what did she want?

ghostunderlight

 

And then, I woke up.  The bedsheets were kicked away, crumpled in a heap at my feet.  I looked out the window, wondering if she would still be there.  She wasn’t.  Slowly, my breathing returned to normal, and I wrote down the aspects of the dream that stood out to me.  Even back then, decades ago, I knew I had an idea I needed to write about.

messybed

 

The thing was–I didn’t know how to incorporate this “ghost girl” into a story.  Should she be the protagonist?  Or the villain?  Should it be a twelve-page short story, or an epic novel?  A few days later, I attempted to write a short story about her, but it fizzled by the third page.  I had a scenario, a scene.  But I didn’t have a story.  If there was a story to be told here, it was still hidden from view, shyly concealing itself behind a thick, gray mass of clouds.  Several times, I tried to force it, inserting the scene into existing story lines–just to see if it would fit.  It never did.  As frustrating as it was, I realized I would have to remain patient.  The story would bloom and take shape only when, and if, it was ready.

throwawayideas

 

The wait lasted nearly twenty years, and then, on a late August night eight years into the twenty-first century, I dreamed of the “ghost girl” again.  But this time, upon waking, the mists and clouds had cleared, and I was able to see the story.  I took a deep breath, amazed, as I always am, at the capricious whims of the creative process.

capricious

 

And then I got to work on the first draft of The Eye-Dancers.

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

Just the other day, I had another scene strike me, another partial image, the rest of the story obscured, half-hidden in the shadows, tucked away behind a rocky, impenetrable promontory.  Will it ever materialize into something whole?  Time will tell.

promontory

 

But for now, I return to that high Vermont meadow.  The sky is sealed behind a sea of clouds, gray, thick like lead.

grayclouds

 

But the clouds will disperse, eventually, the lead will melt away, drip by drip, revealing the blue beyond.  And somewhere in that expanse, the entire story lives.  I just need to watch, and wait, and hope that it will fall to me, the words and images tumbling down like pieces of the sky.

cloudsdisperse

 

And maybe that’s the most exhilarating thing of all.  Knowing that somewhere up there, high above the clouds, a new creation awaits, something with your name on it, for you to tell and share with the world.

The possibilities are as endless as the sky itself, and limited only by the scope of our imagination.

milkyway

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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