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.

You can sign up by clicking here.

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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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Book Review: Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep”

Doctor Sleep BookcoverSynopsis

Doctor Sleep begins when eight year old Danny Torrance is visited by Mrs. Massey, who hails from the haunted Overlook hotel, which burned to the ground in a boiler accident. Frightened (though not entirely surprised) to discover that the Overlook’s ghosts have followed him to his new home, Danny becomes withdrawn and refuses to speak until his mother Wendy calls Dick Halloran, Danny’s friend and rescuer from The Shining, a man who shares Danny’s psychic abilities.

Halloran teaches the boy how to lock these spirits away in the back of his mind, so that they can never bother him again.

Fast forward. Danny is now Dan, a man who’s made some bad decisions. Like his father, Dan is an alcoholic with a raging temper. It isn’t until he hits rock bottom, lands in Frazier, New Hampshire, and scores a much needed job at the Teenytown Railway that he begins to piece his life back together. He admits to his boss Kingsley that he has a problem, begins attending AA meetings and vows to give up drinking.

One day, Dan’s old childhood friend Tony appears and leads him to a hospice, where he’s able to use his abilities to provide comfort to the dying. It’s here that he earns the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

The years following are good to Dan. Though he’s haunted by past sins, he now has a roof over his head and a purpose for his life. It’s during this time that Dan begins to receive telepathic messages on a blackboard in his room from a little girl named Abra Stone, who, unbeknownst to him, has befriended Tony. Like Dan, she has the shining. For a while, the messages are light-hearted in nature, and Dan contents himself by making the occasional reply.

One day, a thirteen year old Abra suddenly has a vision in which a boy with a baseball glove is tortured and murdered. She sends a frantic message to Dan, saying, “they’re killing the baseball boy!” A while later, a flyer for missing children comes in the mail with his picture. She places her hand on the image, closes her eyes and casts her mind out to where the murder took place, hoping that perhaps she can somehow send information to the boy’s family to help them find closure.

While looking, Abra inadvertently enters the mind of Rose the Hat, leader of the “True Knot.” The True feed on “steam,” the psychic energy possessed by children like Abra. Trading places, Rose finds herself abruptly shunted into the girl’s body. Shocked by her power, Rose decides that she must be hunted down soon, both for her steam and because she knows too much. Realizing the trouble she’s in, a frantic Abra reaches out to Dan for help.

After meeting with her in secret and talking about the shining as well as the murder, Dan enlists the aid of Billy, an old friend and ex co-worker of the Teenytown Railway, and John, Abra’s pediatrician as well as a fellow member of AA. Together, they concoct a plan to deal with the True before they can deal with Abra.

Plot

Doctor Sleep picks up where The Shining leaves off, creating a seamless transition from the latter to the former. Doctor Sleep stands on its own and doesn’t rely on The Shining to tell a complete story, but the two share a profound connection such that both books find their fulfillment in each other.

For a while, it seems as if the details about Danny’s childhood following his experience at the Overlook are disjoint from the rest of the story, and that they serve solely as a bridge into his adult years as Dan Torrance. But these early events, most notably the creation of mental lock boxes into which Danny traps the ghosts from his past, come back to play a major role in the novel’s conclusion, making it an integral part of the whole.

Doctor Sleep unfolds in a world that is far more advanced than the 1970’s in which The Shining takes place. When Abra and Dan begin communicating, they not only use the shining, but ordinary email, making for a perfect blend of technology and magic, a theme that King has explored before.

In the final chapters, we come full circle, to the land where the Overlook once stood. It’s now owned by the True, and it’s here that Dan and Abra fight for their lives. The conclusion is unexpected, and is (not unpleasantly) atypical of many of King’s books.

There are three surprises, each more shocking than the last. The first comes about three quarters of the way through the book, and concerns both Dan and Lucy, Abra’s mother. The second is a ghost from the past, and is related to the lock boxes we encountered in the first few chapters. The third and final revelation comes at the very end. It’s another ghost from the past, one that ultimately plays a critical and unexpected role in Dan’s and Abra’s final showdown with the True.

There were a couple of problems.

First, the True’s infection with the measles, which came from the baseball boy’s steam, was a little far-fetched. Measles is a physical ailment transmitted by an airborne virus; I fail to see how such a disease could be transmitted through a spiritual medium.

Second, there were a few anachronisms in King’s description of the internet that, as a technical person, I found a little annoying. In particular, he used the terms “IMing” and “screen names,” both of which are relics of the nineties and early two thousands and are rarely used today.

Characters

In the first few chapters, Danny, though he’s only eight, seems much older, in both the language he uses and the way he thinks. I suppose this is understandable, given his ability to read minds from a very early age as well as his traumatic experience at the Overlook, both of which forced him to grow up very quickly.

Unfortunately, like Jack, Danny inherits a propensity for drinking as well as a temper, and wastes most of his young adult life in a drunken stupor. When interviewing for his job at the Teenytown Railway, Dan wonders if his experience is like his father’s, when he interviewed at the hotel after losing his teaching job due to out-of-control anger. He even uses the words “officious prick” during his initial encounter with Kingsley. Like father, like son.

Yet, we have hope for a good ending, because unlike Jack Torrance, Dan has not only the will to overcome, but also additional help from his AA meetings. Despite Dan’s initial impression of Kingsley, he goes on to befriend the man, who is himself an alcoholic and who becomes Dan’s AA sponsor. Dan’s care for his patients, and later his love for Abra and his desire to protect her, both give us hope that his own story will turn out better than Jack’s.

The revelation that Halloran was forced to endure sexual abuse as a child at the hands of his uncle was heartbreaking, paling in comparison only to the childhood experiences of Andrea Steiner (nicknamed Andi Snakebite), a member of the True Knot who, before her Turning, was repeatedly raped by her own father.

What’s fascinating about both cases are the different ways in which Halloran and Andi reacted to a similar upbringing.  While Halloran purged the demons from his life and went on to do good, Andi allowed herself to be consumed by hatred for her father, and by extension hatred for all men. Though tragic, it’s no surprise that Andi would eventually be inducted into the True Knot and become one of the bad guys.

Perhaps most heartbreaking of all is the transformation of Abra from a sweet innocent girl to a teenager who has witnessed torture and death, who has seen what no child should ever have to see. She is forever tainted by a desire for revenge. It’s one of many scars, both physical and psychological, inflicted by Rose the Hat.

Style

The writing in Doctor Sleep is just as lucid and dreamlike as that in The Shining, yet more structured and tightly controlled, especially in flashbacks and dream sequences. You can see that King’s writing, like Danny himself, has grown and evolved over the past thirty six years.

King writes from an omniscient point of view. It’s difficult for a narrator to wield so much power without crushing the unique points of view of each character, resulting in a read that falls flat and dry. But King is a master of the craft and pulls it off remarkably well. He manages to delve into the thoughts and perceptions of each character, despite the mostly detached nature of the narrator’s voice. An omniscient narrator also has the power to jump backward and forward through time, yet King only ever steps beyond the strict bounds of the present to foreshadow or add depth to the story, which only adds suspense.

While King has mastered the omniscient point of view, I will level against him one small criticism. The narrator necessarily keeps his opinions mostly to himself, and serves primarily as our eyes and ears, our window into the thoughts and actions of the characters. But on occasion, this transparent voice rises up to express its own unique political opinions in the same detached style, as if they were well established and objective facts. We read sarcastic comments about Bush’s “spectacular war in Iraq” and Ronald Reagan’s “distrustful smile.” These would be fine if they were the thoughts and feelings of the characters themselves, but are inappropriate when expressed as the opinions of an otherwise objective omniscient narrator. With the power of omniscience comes the responsibility to remain a neutral observer.

Other Thoughts

Like many of his books, King makes connections to other stories. While driving out to retrieve the baseball glove that belonged to the boy who’s murder Abra telepathically witnessed, Dan begins to explain the shining to John:

“[…]If you think the shining begins and ends with paltry shit like telepathy, you’re way short.” He paused. “There are other worlds than these.” (Page 300)

Of course, “there are other worlds than these” are the famous last words uttered by Jake Chambers in the first book of the Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, shortly before plunging to his death in an abandoned mine.

The consumption of steam by the True is reminiscent of the demon Tak from The Regulators, who feeds on the life essence of those he kills.

There’s a scene where Dan helps a dying patient named Charlie cross over. It brought tears to my eyes. I’m not sure if it was just the beauty of King’s words, the fact that I also share some of Charlie’s fears about death or both.

Conclusion

Stephen King is a remarkable writer. The lucidity of his vision and the prosaic nature of his writing has me head over heels every time I read one of his books. I was ecstatic when I discovered that King had written a sequel to The Shining after thirty six years, though I was also trepidatious, fearing that the second book would be incapable of doing justice to the first. I am pleased to report that Doctor Sleep is a worthy successor.

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The Puddle

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I remember standing on the playground at school after a storm, my hands numb from the cold, my nostrils filled with the scent of wet earth and asphalt. I peered down at the blacktop, made slick and shiny by the rain, and I scurried to where the water had pooled into a large sprawling puddle. I stared, transfixed by that shallow body that seemed so deep, and my breath caught. Was that just a reflection I could see, or was it, perhaps, some exceedingly rare glimpse of another world?

I felt that all I had to do was jump, and I would find myself falling, tumbling, down and down into endless blue. Or perhaps floating, flying, borne by great billowing clouds and fearsome bellowing winds, up into that vast ocean of upside down sky. Holding my breath, I took a leap of faith and jumped. But beneath my feet to break my fall were the shoes of an upside down boy.

He looked just like me. I gazed down, sad, and he gazed back up with the same doleful expression.

I stepped back, and the boy beneath my feet did the same. I waited, hoping he would go away. But when I slowly craned my neck forward to make sure my path was clear, I saw the boy had returned. I took a deep breath. If only I could slip past him. If only I could trick him into moving away. I cast another furtive glance over the edge of the puddle, but the boy was still there.

I made as if to draw away, then suddenly whirled and lunged into the air with eyes closed. I felt the rush of frigid morning wind as it whooshed and whipped over my arms and shoulders. I was certain I’d outsmarted him.

The puddle shattered as my feet struck the water, and a magnificent spray of shimmering liquid glass rained down around me. For a fraction of a second, I was certain my body would clear that thin barrier between the worlds, tumbling and falling into infinity. But when my descent was stopped short, I opened my eyes. I looked down, and there was the boy, gazing up at me. His face was set in a solemn expression. There would be no freedom that day.

I stood and stared at the boy who had denied me access to his endless world of blue. Only after the bell rang and a teacher took me by the shoulder did I go, and as I proceeded toward the dim and dreary classroom where I would be locked away for the remainder of the day, I glanced back at the puddle, that gateway into another world. The boy was gone, but it was too late.

A captive sun pushed through charcoal clouds, and throughout the day, while I sat at a desk with my head bent low in my hands, it drank up all the water. That temporary portal into another existence receded, falling into itself until at last there was hardly more than a drop. All the while, I imagined the mist that would have risen up around it, the soul of a dying world.

After school, I stood over where the puddle had once been. I mourned the loss of a world. I mourned the loss of freedom.

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Proof that Magic is Real

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Magic. The word alone conjures all kinds of extraordinary ideas. It’s the foundation of fairy tales. It’s the stuff of dreams. It’s one of the reasons I love fantasy. Magic is mysterious and otherworldly. It’s a step away from the ordinary, an exploration of the bizarre. It’s a light shone into the darkest corners of existence. Of course, magic is limited to storytelling and the imagination. Isn’t it?

On the contrary, I argue that magic is real.

Wait, hold on. Let’s define our terms. What exactly is magic?

Magic eventually boils down into two categories. There’s supernatural magic, which deals primarily with the conjuring of spirits and the manipulation of a world that lies beyond the physical universe. Then there’s natural magic, which is simply a study of nature and the laws that govern its behavior. When I speak of magic here, I refer solely to the latter.

Merlin, in the 1998 NBC mini-series Merlin, recounts his own instruction in magic thusly: “I studied day and night, learned of those unseen forces that hold this world together.” Those “unseen forces that hold this world together” sound as if they belong in the domain of physics, and why not? At its heart, physics concerns itself with the four known fundamental forces of nature and how they shape the universe.

Yes, that’s right.

Natural Magic is Science.

In any sane fictional world, magic has rules. Thus, the magician is tasked with discovering and refining his understanding of what those rules are. The studious magician of fiction is almost always a seasoned scholar, either of books or of practical experience, and has spent a lifetime probing those secret forces of nature that ordinarily remain aloof of common everyday experience.

The alchemist of old was nothing more than the ancient precursor to the modern chemist. Like the modern chemist, he sought to understand the ways in which materials interact with one another. He ran experiments, made observations and took notes.

That’s science.

But science is so ordinary and mundane! When has science ever produced magical results?

The magician of fantasy and the scientist of the real world have more in common than many realize. Like the magician, the scientist has learned to harness and exploit the laws of nature for technological advantage. In reality as well as fiction, this has lead to mind-blowing breakthroughs. We’ve developed nearly instantaneous visual and auditory communication over significant distances. We’ve developed a means of reliably transmitting incredible amounts of energy, capable of powering great hulking machines and lighting cities at night. We’ve developed a means of traveling by flight. We’ve even developed methods of sending men to other worlds.

Sounds magical to me.

But science is logical. It can be explained. Magic is arbitrary and irrational. It defies understanding.

Well, can the laws of nature as revealed by science be fully explained? True, larger and more general aspects of reality can always be broken down and explained by progressively smaller units of knowledge. Why does an object grow hot when it sits on a stove, for example? Because, among other things, the molecules on the stove, which are vibrating very fast, are bumping into the molecules in the object, which aren’t vibrating as fast. This causes them to bounce around more quickly, which we perceive as heat.

We could break the process of inquiry down further. We could ask why faster moving molecules speed up slower moving molecules when they collide. This would inevitably lead to a discussion of momentum and electromagnetic forces. On and on we could go, descending further and further into ever smaller units of knowledge. But at the end of this long and winding chain of questions and answers is something that must simply be accepted, a philosophical brick wall. Ultimately, why do the fundamental forces of nature exist and behave the way they do? Because they do.

And is magic really all that irrational? On the contrary, a believable system of magic must be internally consistent and obey ordered laws. True, there are concessions that must be made. But that’s nothing new. At its roots, science makes the same concessions. Without an axiomatic foundation on which to build, all of science would crumble to the ground.

The only thing that sets science apart from the magic of fiction is that science is a system of natural magic that happens to be real.

Conclusion

Arthur C. Clarke, in his book Profiles of the Future, wrote that, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I go one step further. I argue that advanced science is indistinguishable from magic because it is magic. The only reason we take science for granted is that it’s familiar. But if the roles of reality and fiction were ever reversed, and some denizen of a far off fantasy world were to stumble across the fundamental laws of nature that we accept as part of our daily lives, they would be mystified. For them, it would not be something ordinary, but something extraordinary. For them, it would be magic.

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How Your Imagination Is Like a Mirror

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I’ve always been fascinated by reflections.

On the surface, a reflection is so ordinary, so mundane, so uninteresting. And why not? We see them everywhere we go. We look at our twin in the mirror every morning. We catch glimpses of upside down skies in puddles left behind by rainstorms every Spring. And we know — have known since early childhood — that they’re nothing more than reflected rays of light. How can something so simple and so common possibly be interesting?

But what if a reflection were something more? What if, whenever you looked in the mirror, you glimpsed the doings of another world, parallel in every way to our own? Perhaps these are not merely rays of light reflected back from our universe, but rays of light projected from another. Maybe, this other universe is populated with its own people, each gazing into their own reflections, worlds stacked upon worlds. And perhaps some of them are gazing back at us.

Suddenly, by the incredible power of the imagination, something ordinary has been transformed into something extraordinary. Your vision has been forever altered. For the rest of your life, when you look in the mirror, a part of you, if only a very small part, will wonder if the man or the woman you see every morning is really just a reflection.

And that’s not all.

The sense of mystery and childlike wonder that you experience in your imagination, it bounces back. It’s reflected, like light off a mirror. You begin to see ordinary things in this new light, and you suddenly realize that they’re not so mundane and uninteresting after all.

In the case of a simple reflection, you might ponder the nature of light. You might wonder what makes it bounce from one surface to the next. Eventually, you’ll feel the need to search for answers. And when you do, you’ll discover just how surreal and otherworldly reality actually is.

Once you do, neither you nor the world around you will ever be the same.

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Who Am I?

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Hello! My name is Jeff, and I’m a writer.

Well, hold on.

I should probably lay one secret to rest before we embark on this journey together. My name isn’t really Jeff. It’s James. Jeff Coleman is a pen name that I dreamed up a few months ago, based on the initials of my first and last name. When I first decided to share my stories with the world, I was shy and unsure. I believed that a pseudonym could provide me with comfort and security, and that, to a certain extent, it could protect me from failure. But as time wore on, I began to realize that in order to forge genuine lasting relationships built on friendship and trust, I would ultimately have to put my true self out there, including my real name. I realized that failure is a part of life, and that I could grow closer to my friends and readers by being honest and open about my mistakes from the start. Though I’ve grown attached to the name Jeff and plan to continue using it, I’d like my readers to know who Jeff really is. So, let me extend to you a warm virtual hand in greeting. “Hi, my name is James, and it’s very nice to meet you!”

Now, with that out of the way…

Who am I? That’s not an easy question to answer. It’s not that I don’t know who I am (although I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always know the answer as well as I’d like.) I just find it difficult to figure out what to say or how to say it. Don’t worry, the irony of being a writer and having trouble describing myself is not lost on me…

Let’s start with the reason for this blog in the first place.

I love to tell stories. I’ve been writing since third grade — in fact, if you’re really lucky, I’ll post the story that started it all, a tale about a leprechaun who loves green food, in a future blog 😉 I’ve always had my “head in the clouds,” as the old cliché goes. There was a very brief period in my life between seventh and eighth grade when I believed I was too old to play and use my imagination and that it was time to start thinking and acting like an “adult.” Thank God I grew out of that!

As a kid, I was obsessed with fantasy. I loved to dream of worlds that were different from our own, and could spend hours exploring the vast and limitless vistas of the imagination. I was picked on a lot growing up, so while the other kids were out socializing or playing sports, I was indoors by myself reading books. It wasn’t great from a developmental point of view, but it did give me a unique perspective, as well as plenty of time to think and imagine.

I also came to love and appreciate the beauty of reality through the lens of science. I was fortunate enough to have a dad who could answer many of the vexing questions that kids will inevitably ask, and his ability to explain things to me in a way that I could understand sparked a fire in my heart that would only grow with time. When I wasn’t dreaming about witches and wizards or knights and dragons, I was thinking about atoms and molecules or electricity and magnetism.

As an adult, my passions began to coalesce into two branches: art and science. In college, I attended a ton of classes in English and Fine Art Photography before finally deciding to transfer into Computer Science, and along the way I had a very intense and passionate love affair with Math and Physics. It’s with both perspectives, art and science, that I’ve attempted to make sense of this strange thing we call the universe.

Interestingly enough, my upbringing was as much religious as it was scientific, and for this reason, I’ve always had a deeply spiritual outlook on life. I’m Catholic by creed, and take my faith seriously, though for many years now I’ve been deeply confused about the things I believe, and have had to ask myself a lot of very tough questions. I’ve had all of my core assumptions repeatedly called into question and have, for years, felt adrift in a sea of uncertainty and anxiety. Yet, for all the discomfort, it’s that very same doubt which has seeded my heart with a profound love of philosophy and a hunger to know and understand exactly what the world is and why it’s here.

When I was younger, I used to worry about doing everything right. I was afraid that minor mistakes could have catastrophic consequences. But now, as I look back on my life, I see just how perfectly everything fits together. I’ve come to view my life as a mosaic built from the smallest of moments which, in and of themselves, seem random and insignificant, yet when brought together form a beautifully choreographed whole. There is no doubt in my mind that we exist in this world for a reason.

And that’s where we come full circle.

I believe that my purpose is to tell stories.

I’m not delusional or arrogant enough to think that my stories are God’s gift to the world, or that without them the world would be a cold and dreary void. Writing is simply a part of who I am. I want to tell stories, and I want to share those stories with others.

What have I been working on?

I published my first short story, The Sign, a few months ago. I’ve also completed the first draft of a middle grade children’s fantasy about a boy who, with a magic wand, accidentally makes his sister disappear. Finally, I’m working on two novels for adults.

Do I have any favorite books?

I’m glad you asked 😉 There are a few books and authors which hold a special place in my heart. They are, in no particular order: “The Dark Tower” and “The Shining,” by Stephen King; “Neverwhere,” “American Gods” and “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman; “Harry Potter,” by J.K. Rowling; and “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus.

Honorable mention also goes to “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White; “The Night Circus,” by Erin Morgenstern; “Ender’s Game,” by Orson Scott Card; and “The Name of the Wind,” by Patrick Rothfuss.

Anything else?

Not really. I just wanted to give you some idea of who I am. A very special bond exists between Writer and Reader, and I believe that this bond is more easily formed when the two know each other first.

And who are you? I’d love for you to introduce yourself in the comments below.

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