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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 07/12/2004
Mindsets

Almost all of us live, work and move through a world we share in common, its joys, terrors, loves, activities. Millions of people flock to see the new Spidey movie because they had the capacity to make a certain kind of choice in a life whose boundaries are firm, familiar and inexorably fixed.

Spidey belongs to them, part of their environment, including their memories and the shared shape of heroic daydreams. A few depart from that pattern, sensing other kinds of facts, seeing in ways that surpass the common means-which is seeing things as solid surfaces. Even quantum theory combined with the electromagnetic properties that frame our bodies, the places where we walk, love, fight, dream are part today of the great common panorama. This is our reality, without which we really don't exist.

Yet, just the other day, I received an email from a woman in California who, in the course of talking about one of her favorite books, AN UNLIKELY PROPHET, casually dropped the line that she 'knows a fair number of people who are not of this dimension."

I thought about this for a while and felt that she was right. There are some who walk among us that are not fully here. They are partly somewhere else and somehow give off a feeling of strangeness, of distance, and odd little confusions even in ordinary exchanges.

Now, dimension is an unwieldy word to describe such people. I would prefer to express their reality as emerging from a different mindset. They see things that our world doesn't recognize. They have acquired or selected different instruments than our ordinary senses. Many are born with such senses but learn not to use them. The common mindset forces this on them, not through tyranny but through friendship and acceptance. It's a case where so many have closed their minds to anything that arises outside the precincts of social approval. More people have than we think but don't talk about. But you might say that they are in possession of a superior technology for confronting the world well outside the common bounds. When they do step beyond, there are problems with expressing what they saw and experienced. These have to be set into terms already familiar to the listener, and when that happens the essential experience is lost in a series of standardized ideas little separated from the common bounds, and they are really bounds. Don't step over this line. Don't step past this fence. Keep within it and you'll be safe, and also safe from developing the expanded mindset that the experience offers.

Take my friend of years ago, the great lithographer, Warden Day. She read auras, not to confound people but to understand them. She had the capacity to see things that are outside the common spectrum. There have been scientific measurements of brain waves that do not fit the common pattern. We know about things like that on this site because Superman had super vision. When I was writing it, I expanded that capacity or gift so that an ability to see through walls (x-ray vision) also was linked to certain ancillary skills such as microscopic vision. Supes could walk down the street and watch what was going on behind him by catching the tiniest reflection from a streetlight in front of him, or from the shiny hub cap of a moving car. Even the glinting wristwatch of a woman walking a little in front of him. His vision would then shift to microscopic mode and he'd get a clear enlarged picture of what was going on around him. And those eyes of his moved pretty fast. A complete 360 degree creature.

I think what I'm coming back to is the notion of my friend in California to the effect that there are people around us who live in different dimensions. That is, they're outside the common spectrum. Sometimes we see them and sense something foreign and vast, and we wonder what it means. And then, there are all the creative visions of our best artists. Consider the burning light that Van Goth spent his life in. Has anyone who ever visited the Basilica in Rome ever notice the strange emanations that come from Michelangelo's "Pieta". Art through the ages is full of such visions and there are some who sense the message with some part of the mind that breaks out of their own common mindset. There are even people, as we all know, who commune with alleged off worldly figures-called mediums.

If you've never met one, there is something a little strange about each one, something as my friend in California would describe as shaped by an other dimension. They show themselves here, but their real home is outside our knowledge, our beliefs and our reach.

So why not think of it this way. To exist in the common world, many people deny the reality of these eccentrics. Forgetting that John Wesley who founded a major Protestant sect was a very strange creature, a man whose perceptions were so different from the common that he appeared to some like a man in need of psychiatric care. And he wasn't the only one.

But we have mind sets, or perhaps blinders that seem to make it easy to operate in the ordinary world-to work, raise a family, buy a house-stages of the narrow straight line existence we think is demanded of it. We get our supernatural whiff by attending church or getting lifted beyond oneself in a common cause.

Now think of it all this way. The world of yesterday was far more rich in miracle workers and complex religions of which many were excluded from the Church by the Emperor Constantine whose judges selected the most common and the least subversive.

It's as though our built in tools for living, smelling seeing, understanding had to be reined in. Too much is invested in our common beliefs. It's more comfortable to put in blinkers to avoid an alienation that is more feared than real. I don't work that way. I don't live that way. Or love that way.

A new faculty is developing within me that I can't quite come to grips with yet. From time to time, when I lie down for a nap, I see color printed pages if I should happen to stare at my closed eyelids. They almost look like Web pages. And they're mostly in Times New Roman, some of it quite readable, much of it shifting into other words. No-these are not afterimages. They appear long after I have stopped working or reading. I think some new approach is being made and if I'm patient, I too will find a door into another dimension. When that happens, and I truly expect it will, I'll try to tell you what I can about it.

--Alvin

Author of the Abstract Expressionist Man.... The Blowtop, the first beat novel in America

<< 07/05/2004 | 07/12/2004 | 07/19/2004 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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