Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Thousand Forgotten Influences

I’ve always felt fortunate to have kind and inspirational people around me, and yet never did I feel quite as inspired by them as I did through the various people I have never met. In fact, what I love best about the people I have known, it seems, is that they have introduced me to music, movies, and literature that has moved me more deeply than I can express. Perhaps it is that people can come and go, but their creations can remain forever. I loved my older brother Bob, but when he moved out and got married, the music that he had introduced me to remained. Rick and Tom were also older and did not always have that much time to share with an 8-year old boy, but their comics were always available to me.

Books, movies, music, those were my influences. Each wove stories for me, each brought me glimpses of lives and worlds far beyond my immediate surroundings.

I led a normal enough childhood. I spent many days playing baseball and football, and exploring whatever nature was to be found in my small part of the world. I spent my nights playing hide and seek, truth or dare, and even ding dong ditch (the game where you knock on someone’s door and run like hell). I played board games with friends when the weather kept us inside and made more than my share of prank calls. When on vacation I spent all the time I could at the beach or in a boat fishing.

And yet when I think back to my childhood, some of my most intense memories are of the basement of our home where the books, magazines, and records of my older siblings were stored. There I could adventure along with explorers of ancient civilizations and distant planets. There dwelt superheroes intent on defending justice, or monsters who sought vengeance on a world that had done them wrong. There were worlds under the sea and civilizations within the planet’s crust. There were giants and Lilliputians, sentient beings with many tentacles, and kind but misunderstood swamp creatures.

As I read through literally hundreds of horror magazines and comic books, I listened to the albums and 45’s that were part of my brothers’ collections. From such gems as Walk Away Renee and She’s Not There, I learned of love and caught glimpses of the mysteries that would be revealed to me when I achieved the mythic stature of a teenager. Motown and The British Invasion taught me of romantic love and through that, of a desire to be seen as noble and true in the eyes of another. I even managed to learn a little class consciousness through some of my favorite songs: Down in the Boondocks, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, and Tobacco Road.

Perhaps the world created for me by such stories did not grow more expansive as I aged—after all, how can the world ever be larger than our imagination—but the stories grew in depth. The books I started to read kept closer to reality but showed me how truly rich the real world can be. Gone were the days of creatures from outer space, and yet somehow I recognized that in such far-flung stories of superheroes and aliens I had also learned about nobility and relating to those we considered different from ourselves. Superheroes had super powers, yes, but they were also heroes. Their powers often failed them but even in their darkest moments they retained their moral code and their passion to do what was right. Mankind might have explored far distant galaxies but they still had to deal with the same questions we on Earth ask ourselves. And while they met many a menacing alien, there were as many more who were capable of teaching us a lesson about ourselves.

And so it was that I learned many of life’s important lessons from people I had never met. A thousand obscure authors and storytellers all but forgotten now by the world. It was more difficult to translate the lessons I learned on paper or in songs into real life—things were always so much more perfect and heroic in fiction. But in the end I learned that heroism and idealism were guiding forces. I feel a debt to each of those thousands, literally thousands, of strangers that brought me into their world of imagination and passion and made me see and feel and imagine things more deeply than I ever would have otherwise.

I want the world to remember their names. I want them to know that Jim Shooter, Michael Brown, James Warren, Robert Arthur, Gardner Fox, Jean Dutourd, Anthony Phillips, and so many more lived and created and inspired. I want to introduce such influences to a new generation so that they can experience the thrill I once felt, still feel when I cast my memory back to my youth. I want to keep alive all that was once so vital to me, and so I push on in that direction, hopefully making a bit of a name for myself so that I can reflect back on those who influenced me.

But even more than keeping alive the names of those who pushed me in the story-telling direction, I want to keep their spirit alive. I want to give to others what has been given to me. Not amusement and amazement only, but a sense of heroism and possibility as well. I write for adults, not for teens or children, but I feel it is important for everyone to keep alive ideals that we too often dismiss as naïve or impractical in our later years. Achieving a better world must first begin with perceiving and believing, and there is surely a better world possible than the one we’re currently constructing. I know that it is so, I have seen it in the work of a thousand nearly anonymous creators of wonder, and I will not let their inspiration fade away.

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