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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 05/19/2003
Volume 2, #77

Reply to a Young Man's Letter

My mind slipped into a strange track this morning. It all started when I received a letter from a young man who had had a long childhood fixation on Superman. He had written to tell me how inspired he had been by my memoir, AN UNLIKELY PROPHET. He wanted to tell me how he shared my feelings about Superman, and that all through his childhood, after arriving at the age of six from strife-torn Lebanon, he had identified with the superhero from Krypton and aspired to be like him. He wanted to be empowered like Superman to help people. Something especially understandable if your early childhood was spent in the midst of Lebanon's agonies.

He also described vividly how, while his feet never left the ground, he achieved states of mind in which he experienced the miracle of being able to fly--just like the Man of Steel. He wondered too what he could do to create or find his own tulpa. Did I know any breathing exercises he could use? He seemed to be reaching for a state where he could help people--and do it with real panache. Above all, he seemed to express a fascination with the marvelous, and Superman was his vision of it.

Having mentioned that, let me point out first that it's more marvelous to me to get into my ten year old Nissan Sentra and drive into the village to buy groceries than to take it on a jaunt that deposits me back in the Sixth Avenue Cafeteria to talk with Clark Kent in 1945 as I've been doing in recent columns.

Sound strange to you? Well, think about it for a moment. The ordinary ways of daily life are so taken for granted that their marvelous aspects are forgotten. Think of the very first time in your life that you were at the wheel of a car, any car, and you stepped on the gas and the astounding thing just started moving by itself. While you just sat there steering it.

But let's take a closer look at my tale of my remarkable Nissan with its ordinary 4 cylinder reciprocating engine. There was a real concept behind it--a very important one. For starters, reciprocation is a dual set of motions, a going one way then another. Now suppose you were to add another motion to that--one that somehow slips in between all four directions--a motion that's sort of one-of-a-kind. Doesn't make sense? Think of it as another dimension, if you prefer. The most respectable of physicists are already talking about multiple dimensions. As you get into string theory, you're up to eleven. And of course, these are mathematical dimensions.

So--no--that's not so strange. The problem is that there are in reality quite a number of things in the universe that cannot be patterned, not unless you keep adding dimensions ad infinitum. And that fact is what I based my Nissan story on. In the end then, we're talking about things that I can only call absolutely one-of-a-kind. Like an individual snowflake. The same atmospheric and physical conditions that produce snowflakes in general do not explain how it is that each snowflake of the gazillions that fall each year happens to be different. Scientists talk about how processes of condensation and temperature- change, mixed with atmospheric dust, account for the variety.

But I'm not talking about variety. I'm talking about absolute difference. There's no physical formula, in other words, that accounts for the difference. In fact, as a teacher of mine once remarked, the infinite depends on the finite. Or you might say that difference is simply the self-existence of the infinite.. Try to follow me on this, because if you can grasp this idea you'll be able to understand all the other strange things I've already told you about and will proceed to tell you about today. Things that form the basis of my story about how that Nissan Sentra engine had built into it by one of the mechanical wizards at D&D Performance right here in Chesterville, the capacity to take me back into my own past and talk to Clark Kent. By way of illustrating my point today, I'll put it this way:--the mechanic saw it and grabbed at it, you might say. But he couldn't do it again, because it was one of those things that can't be done twice.

You don't, properly speaking, explain these things. But they happen all the time--in reality more than in fiction, which is why they also make good fiction.. In fact, they're rather like snowflakes. Otherwise the world couldn't really run.

Now what I'm saying is that all the laws of physics and the rules of science, the marvel of twin-helixed dioxyribonucleic acid (DNA) do not explain how life and reality work. They only outline aspects of it.

Can you create a tulpa outside its proper culture--something I never attempted--but--perhaps you could.. But you might end up with a strange distortion. Will it be good or bad? Who can say? For myself, . I simply kept my door open. Actually, only half way open, because I rejected my tulpa, Mr Thongden, on his first appearance.

Besides, what would you do with a tulpa? What, in other words, are your aims and plans for yourself? Do you need a tulpa for them?

And finally, as I've emphasized in this space before, I can only use the language and situations that are available to me. You probably wouldn't recognize my tulpa even if it were sitting on your lap. The common names for things and experiences we talk about are often misleading. They are bins for old and worked-through ideas. I worked on the Superman scripts for years which gave them that quality of not happening twice. As for the tulpa--well--that was part of a whole complex of experience which certainly includes my years of comics work as well as my inhabiting for even longer something known as "the literary world" into which I'm still attempting to co-opt pop culture images such as Superman. It's laid upon me, somehow, to show that they are not separate.

But for you--your work will take you where you need to go. As Stepan Trefimovitch says in Dostoievski's "The Idiot"--"You need to work to have experience." What is your real work, my young friend? And how will you let it find you? That's more important than breathing exercises. You can study hatha yoga for that. But what's your real goal? Doing good? To what end? Some higher purpose? Can you uncover that purpose to yourself so you can understand your real motivation? Doing good is not a motivation. Unless it's simple self-preening.

I have neighbors who happen to be evangelical Christians. They believe in the Resurrection. But I always ask them "What is the Resurrection for? What will you do with it? In other words, is it enough--just not being dead? What will you learn? How will you grow? What will you live for? Do some people have a greater talent than others for not sinning? What does this say about sin and about the meaning of Resurrection. Does the endless adoration of the Supreme Being provide any value for Him or for you? What is it? What is its meaning. Is that why you do good--as a Reward? Worse than death is not being able to answer such questions. The word is--despair.

A tulpa would be no help there. So what would you do with your tulpa--play video games? No--of course you want a tulpa to answer fundamental questions for you. But that's something you must always do for yourself.

Yes--find yourself a teacher, my friend. Maybe he'll turn out to be a tulpa--or merely some painful but enriching episode in your life. What does it matter? As long as you find your real goal.

Along the way, don't lose touch with the miracles of everyday life--like driving a car for the first time. Or making love. Or losing it. Or watching the leaves come out on the trees in spring. Ever wonder if Superman can do that?

And, oh yes, try especially to be open to those "can't happen twice" things.

--Alvin

<< 05/12/2003 | 05/19/2003 | 05/26/2003 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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