fantasy

How Can I Rediscover the Magic of Childhood?

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Your alarm clock rings at seven in the morning. You wake up. Yawn. Stretch. Groan. Great, you think. Another day. You go outside to grab the newspaper, wrapping a robe tight around your waist to block the cold, grumbling about work and the weather. You look up, ready to go back inside, and that’s when you spy a cluster of neighborhood children across the street, running, jumping and shouting like manic chimpanzees.

First you think, why aren’t they in school? Then you remember it’s the middle of July. When did I stop looking forward to the summer, you wonder. You ponder this mystery for a while, and when the answer comes, you sigh in resignation. It’s when I left childhood behind, you realize. It’s when I grew up.

Why is our adult vision constrained to such a narrow field of view, composed only of the ordinary, the boring and the mundane? Children, by contrast, seem capable of perceiving so much more.

In fact, it appears that our kids interact daily with a world unseen, a parallel universe whose existence is always just out of reach to the rest of us, and we secretly (or not so secretly) envy them.

You rightly wonder, “what magic power do children have that I don’t?”

Children look at the world with fresh eyes.

To a child, everything is new. They haven’t had time to articulate the familiar. They haven’t yet derived the abstract theoretical models that make the world predictable. To a child, shadows, reflections and moonbeams are magic, entities without explanation, realities which are to be accepted at face value.

Children don’t know that the wind is composed of loosely coupled molecules, driven about by pressure and momentum. They only feel the cool restorative touch of its invisible caress. Children don’t know that a rainbow is the product of a spectrum of electromagnetic frequencies refracted at different angles through a prism. They only perceive an inexplicable burst of multi-colored light in the aftermath of a storm.

This simple humble acceptance of the world as it is inspires wonder and stimulates the imagination.

Children are faced with a universe saturated in magic. They marvel and conclude that anything is possible.

If birds and planes can fly, why can’t people? If animals, people and other more exotic forms of life can exist, why can’t fairies, dragons and monsters?

Because anything is possible, the world of reality and the world of fantasy are inextricably linked; one connects directly to the other. Through humble awe and wonder, a child is issued a passport to the world of the imagination. Children pass back and forth between the two worlds so fluidly that unless we’re paying close attention, we might not even realize they’re gone.

We adults, on the other hand, take our limited knowledge of the world for granted.

We assume that things will always work the way they do because they always have. Our vision narrows, and anything that doesn’t fit into our empirical model of the universe becomes impossible.

Birds and planes can fly, but not people. Animals exist, but never monsters. There are people, but no fairies, orcs or gnomes.

One by one, the possibilities dwindle. Our vision of the world continues to constrict until we become stodgy old men, cynical and philosophically nearsighted; before we know what’s happened, the world of fantasy has evaporated. We experience sadness in the wake of its disappearance, but we have no idea where to find it again. Instead, we look on as our children pass back and forth between the worlds, and we spend the rest of our lives lamenting the loss of our imagination, convinced that it’s an inescapable consequence of growing up.

But adulthood done properly is actually childhood fulfilled.

What we need is not to surrender what we know of the world in favor of ignorance, but to surrender our skeptical attitude in favor of simple awe and wonder. We adults lose access to the world of fantasy not because we articulate a more complete model of the universe, but because in doing so we often refuse to believe in anything beyond it. We believe that all we know is all there is, and as a result we lose our sense of mystery and wonder.

We must look beyond the surface, so that we can once again perceive the world through a fresh pair of eyes. We understand that a rainbow is the product of light of different frequencies refracted at different angles through a prism. Instead of saying that’s just the way things are and shrugging it off as a solved problem, we might instead dig into the mystery a bit further.

Why does light of different frequences refract at different angles? And what, for that matter, is light? Suddenly, we discover that there’s a whole new set of mysteries, waiting to be explored. We’re plunged into a winding rabbit hole that takes us deep into electromagnetism and the other fundamental forces of nature, things which simply exist for reasons that we don’t yet understand.

Once again, everything is new, and we find that we can use our imaginations once more. If electromagnetism can exist, along with gravity and the strong and the weak nuclear forces, why not other fundamental forces of nature that we haven’t yet discovered?1

The reason why we search for what we lost in childhood is that we’re still children.

We might have bigger bodies, and we might know more about the world and how it works than we did in our nascent existence. But inside, we’re still that five-year-old kid we thought we left behind so many years ago. This is good news, because it means that what we thought we lost when we grew up was really never lost at all! Awe and wonder are accessible to everyone, children and adults alike. We might have learned some bad habits in our old age, but it’s never too late to change our attitude.

Adopt a new outlook, and the magic you thought you’d lost what seems a lifetime ago will return in spades.


Footnotes

1. When I first started studying Math and Physics in 2006 (God, I’m old), I dreamed up a fifth fundamental force of nature that governed interactions between objects at a distance. I came up with a mathematical model to define its properties, then plugged it into real physics to discover how it would behave if it were real. I spent five years combing through the math and making sure everything was consistent, and when I was done I had a new realistic magic system ready to use in a new fantasy series. Now that’s imagination!

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What Am I Working On?

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I’ve been blogging once a week for half a year now. In that time, I’ve written about all sorts of things. But I rarely talk about my projects.

One reason is that I don’t want to come off as salesy or spammy. Though my blog does exist in part to help me build an audience for my work, I want that to be the by-product of what I hope are meaningful thought-provoking articles and stories that resonate with hearts and enrich my readers.

Another reason is that I don’t have a whole lot to show for myself, not yet anyway. There’s my short story, The Sign, but that’s pretty much it. Though I’ve been writing in some form or another since at least the third grade, it wasn’t until early 2013 that I began to take it seriously, and writing good books (and then publishing them) takes an insanely long time.

But I’ve decided I owe you some kind of update, if for no other reason than to let you know that yes, I am writing and yes, there are books on the way, even if it’s going to take me a while to get them to you. I’m not ready to reveal detailed information about titles, plot or characters, but I do want to give you a brief taste of things to come.

1. Middle Grade Fantasy

In March, 2013, shortly after I published The Sign, I began work on a middle grade fantasy about a boy who accidentally makes his sister disappear. The funny thing is that my target audience has always been adults; I never set out to write a book for kids.

It started as a simple novella. I had the idea while I was out for a walk. It wasn’t until after I’d completed the first draft and started showing it to my critique group that I realized I’d unwittingly stumbled onto a children’s book. In the process, I discovered that writing for kids is a delight, and I’ve since decided that, no matter how difficult it is to write for more than one audience, I want to make books for children as well as for adults.

Books are often difficult to write. It doesn’t matter how powerful an idea is or how inspired you might feel. Most of the time, writing is hard. There are of course those moments of pure unadulterated joy that every writer lives for, when the story flows out of you like a babbling stream, and your only job is to sit there and catch as much of it as you can before it stops. But as a serious writer who’s committed to creating stories come Hell or high water, I’ve discovered how rare those moments are. But writing this one was a dream. I sat down each night to one fiery burst of ideas after another. I usually have to outline at least some of the books I set out to write, but this one was completely off the cuff. It simply came to me, a wandering orphaned idea in need of form and expression. I completed the first draft in two months.

I’ve since been revising like crazy. I’ve gone through every chapter of the book with my critique group, have had my first round of beta readers provide me with their detailed thoughts and have almost completed my final initial revisions. Once that’s done, the manuscript goes off to a developmental editor for further refinement. I’m still deciding if I’m going to query agents and try to get this published traditionally or if I’m going to self-publish. Either way, I hope it won’t be too much longer before you start reading about the experiences of characters who’ve become very dear to me.

I actually plan to make this a series, because the characters and the story grew so large that to confine them to just a single book would be a crime. I’m excited to see how this story will evolve in the next few years.

2. Dark Fantasy Novel for Adults

I started this one in July, 2013, a little while after completing my middle grade fantasy.

Inspired by films like “The Neverending Story” and “Stranger than Fiction,” this book chronicles the life of an isolated and socially anxious writer with an unusual gift, whose stories are more than they appear to be at first glance. This tale, which is as much a symbolic reflection on the nature of art and writing as it is a modern fantasy, is very dark, and is intended for an adult audience.

The initial draft is only about 20% complete. It’s a full-length novel, and I anticipate that it’ll be a little while longer before it’s done. That’s fine with me, as I’m happy to let it ferment slowly over time. I care deeply about this story and want to take the time to tell it right.

3. Other Novellas and Short Stories

While alternating between the two above-mentioned projects, I’ve indulged in a few unrelated novellas and short stories. It’s difficult working on the same two projects day in and day out. Exploring fresh original ideas allows me the breath of fresh air that I so desperately need. Unlike the two books above, which I may try to sell to a traditional publishing house through an agent, these I plan to publish myself, since the traditional market for short fiction seems to have dried up.

That’s it.

I don’t mean that this is all that I plan to write (I’ll create stories until the day I die.) But that’s a pretty complete rundown of what I’m working on right now. I hope to have the middle grade fantasy out in a year or two (but don’t quote me on that, particularly if I do get it traditionally published, which would make it subject to someone else’s schedule instead of my own), and the dark fantasy a year or two after that. Along the way, expect more short stories and novellas.

Want to keep up with what I’m doing?

Then you should seriously consider joining my mailing list 🙂

I only plan to send out an email once a month to keep people abreast of what’s going on with my writing, to share the occasional piece of flash fiction that you won’t find anywhere else and to let you know when I publish something new. I want to connect with my readers and to make new friends. Highly personal emails that people can directly reply to is the best way I can think of to do that. If you change your mind later, it’s easy to unsubscribe.

As a thank you for caring enough about what I’m doing to sign up, I’ll send you a free copy of my short story The Sign.

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Your Life Is More Than Ordinary

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Everyday life always seems so ordinary. We get up in the morning. We work. We go home. We eat. We sleep. We repeat this cycle five or more days a week. We might stray from the routine when we have time off from our weekly responsibilities, but even in leisure, we often settle into some kind of recurring structure. It’s so monotonous. So regular. So ordinary.

But ordinary is only a minuscule component of the great epic we call life.

For all that the tedious day-to-day grind consumes us, it’s really nothing more than the thinnest of veils, behind which lies a vast and fathomless depth of exotic beauty, of incredible wonders beyond our wildest imaginings. On every level, the ordinary aspect of reality goes only skin-deep, from the daily routine that serves as the framework in which we define ourselves, in which we eventually choose, in the fullness of time, to be the hero or the villain; all the way down to the vague and ill-defined subatomic particles that comprise our physical being, behind which hide the sublime mysteries of existence and consciousness themselves.

Our minds require the ordinary, because they need something familiar to make sense of, and our bodies require the ordinary, because they need something tangible to interact with. But ordinary is only a thin veneer, an external symbolic manifestation of a much fuller reality that’s always with us, even when we can’t see it. In the depths of the extraordinary is where we search for and discover our purpose, where we think and feel, where we love and pray, where we experience the fullness of our existence.

We must not let the everyday tedium deceive us into believing that life is nothing more than the meaningless rabble of an eight hour work day.

We must be bold enough to call ourselves explorers. We must resolve to dive head-first, as deep as we can, into this extraphysical world, to be brave enough to embark upon our journey without ever looking back. Our purpose, our reason for being, our very souls themselves, are bound up and locked away in its infinite depths, waiting for us to claim them if only we have courage enough to go after them.

If we stray too long near surface things, if we allow ourselves to grow comfortable and complacent in the skin-deep realm of the ordinary, we’ll begin to wither and fade like uprooted wildflowers. We’ll become so consumed by the shallow meaningless doings of the ordinary world that we’ll lose sight of our purpose, of the great cosmic questions and wonders that would otherwise propel us to the stars. We’ll become one with a temporary dying surface-existence so completely that we’ll come perilously close to dying ourselves.

Touring the world of Fantasy is one of many ways to explore the extraordinary.

It’s in stories that we encounter the threshold between the extraordinary and the ordinary, the line that separates thought and motivation from act, that separates purpose and meaning from their observable physical effects. In the world of the imagination, the mind is free to contemplate and dream, to chart the boundless reaches of the unseen world that usually exists just out of sight.

Fantasy teases us with external observable analogs to the otherwise abstract mysteries that lay hidden beyond the veil. We witness acts of magic; we embark upon epic quests; we take part in grand sweeping romances that move mountains in the name of love. When we travel long enough through the world of Fantasy, we’re left with an indelible mark that we take with us into the real world. We’re left with the ability to perceive and understand the true abstract essences that comprise the things we witnessed in the vistas of so many fictional worlds, and we learn to recognize them in what once seemed so plain and ordinary.

And then something marvelous happens. The thin surface that separates the world of wonder from the world of the ordinary looses its opaqueness. Ordinary life becomes transparent to the extraordinary that lies just beyond its shallow boundary, and we’re forced to confront and come to terms with the wonders that we were created to explore. Once this happens, nothing can stand in the way of our search for meaning, for purpose and for truth.

Dare to embark on this epic quest.

Seek out the extraordinary. Search for your purpose, for your soul. Search long and hard, high and low, in a world where there will never be a dull moment, where there will always be something new and exciting to discover. Do this, and you will be forever transformed.

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