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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 12/29/2003
Volume 2, #106

Hey, Alvin, take it easy!

Do you know what redundancy is? In military circles, it's having more than enough backup. Just in case. In writing, it's just so much unnecessary verbiage. The dictionary describes it as "exceeding what is natural, useful or necessary..." And yet, many of us spend much of our lives chasing after redundancy, as though by making doubly, triply sure there's enough backup, nothing bad can ever happen to you. And that's when it usually does happen, in the chase after something you don't really need. In fact, I'll take that one step further. In such a chase, you will in all likelihood lose the most powerful ally you could ever have for your life.

This is very important stuff, for everyone, so let me moralize about it a bit more. In my case, I've a few books that I consider important that I've been making an all out effort to get published. I've put in hours, days, weeks, writing letters, contacting people, approaching literary agents. And for the first time in my life, I've been getting nowhere.

I'll be more specific. I've been busting my ass trying to find a publisher for what I consider my best work, something called THE SHATTERING PRESENCE. And I've been fanning the wind. In the meantime, another book, my first novel, The Blowtop, first written in 1946 and finally published in 1948, has, all on its own, been getting picked up everywhere through no effort of mine. It was a bust when it first came out because the publishing house, Dial Press, literally fell apart when the owner committed suicide. Some years passed. The Blowtop got picked up in France and became a best seller virtually behind my back. That was over fifty years ago, and today, it's again being reprinted and rediscovered as various scholars and critics and others I've never heard of have gotten to realize that this early work of mine probably started the "beat" movement. It's even beginning to find its way into the curricula of various universities. None of it's my doing. At least, that's what I believed at first. That was before I discovered that I was an important and necessary part of the whole universe.

Yes, me, that's how important I found out I really was. It didn't come all at once in one big revelation. It kind of inched up on me, bit by bit while I was fighting other battles and worrying over lots of things that after a while mostly took care of themselves. Not everything worked out that benignly, of course. There were lots of disasters mixed in. But somehow, I began to discover that the disasters were more likely when I tried too hard. When I tried, you might say, to do it all.

In a funny way, I began to become aware of all this through this column, through people who would write to me and tell me how much they dreamed they could be like Superman, or at least fly like Superman, or be superstrong like Superman. And gradually, I began to realize that if you wanted to really solve a problem, the last way you could do it was to become like Superman. Hey, Superman wouldn't even be an interesting comic strip if he didn't have so many problems we could never tell how he was ever going to get things straightened out even though it was always required that, in the end, things simply had to be straightened out.

So what am I talking about? Redundancy. And my major problem: trying to get THE SHATTERING PRESENCE published. Well, a couple of weeks ago, I decided, on reaching the age of 87, that this was all getting to be too much.

I gave up. I just quit trying. Just like that. No letters. No great marketing ideas. No new approaches to agents or publishers. The hell with it. I just didn't do anything. I relaxed. And one evening, lying relaxed on my bed and staring at the ceiling, I began to get this sense that used to come to me from time to time about being a part of the universe, in fact, how everything was a part of the universe and that in our finitude, we were also part of and even necessary to the infinite. I remembered thinking too how the infinite depended on the finite. Each mode of being, I sensed, needed the other.

Now in a way this was old stuff to me. I'd had these realizations before. But they occurred without a real context. This time, I'd just stopped participating in a major long term struggle. So it was a little bit different because now there also came with my quiet sense of the rest of the universe being connected with me, that I didn't have to do it all by myself. Because of the universe, you see. If I do some of it, my small share, why the universe will lend a hand. In short, the realization came that I really and truly didn't have to do it all by myself.

It was just a small quiet thought. But suddenly it seemed to fill the room. Then it filled the world. And I knew I'd discovered something tremendous.

It was only the next day that the real answer came, almost out of nowhere about The Shattering Presence. The whole closing third of the book struck me as missing an important point. Bang! A complete change in another direction and my entire meaning not only became infinitely clearer, but clearer in a way that I knew, from years of experience, once I made those changes, that book would suddenly start selling like crazy, almost all by itself. I knew it. And I knew it was because I'd allowed the universe to step in and do its share.

So now, I've got a few months of very hard rewriting to do. Not exactly a breeze. But the corner has been turned. There's a new rhythm in my working life. No more the breathless, pounding struggle, the push, push, push. I'll do my share. The rest will get done. I know that.

All of which brings us back to Superman. Those of you who dream of flying, of having super-powers, you're dreaming in the wrong direction. The universe already has all that. If you do your share, it'll take up the slack. I guarantee it.

Give it a try. Be patient. And then, when you realize that what I say is true and you discover you don't have to do any of the big hard stuff all by yourself, write to me. Tell me about it.

By the way, I've already started on the research for the new third of Shattering Presence. It's coming along just fine. I knew it would.

--Alvin

<< 12/22/2003 | 12/29/2003 | 01/05/2004 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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