An Essay on Writing by Way of The Time Traveler’s Wife

November 25, 2012

I have just finished reading The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Some months ago I co-founded a rather studious book club, and this one has been nominated a number of times without ever being selected for group discussion. I had a vague understanding of the premise, and it sounded appealing. I decided to pick up a copy and see what all the fuss was about.

My goodness, there is a lot to fuss about.

Just to emphasize my emphasis, I bought the book less than twenty-four hours ago. Fifty pages in I knew whatever else I planned to do with those twenty-four hours was going to have to be put on the back burner. I needed to see this thing through as quickly as possible.

The book was published in 2003 to rave reviews and was made into a movie I’m told I shouldn’t watch in 2009, so I imagine many of you reading this already know what it’s all about. For everyone else, the novel is about a man named Henry DeTamble with a rare genetic disorder that causes him under certain stimuli to become unstuck in time, flashing forwards or more usually backwards through a span of roughly a century to any number of places throughout the United States’ Midwest. He cannot control where or when he appears, naked and disoriented, but the journeys are guided in some way by his subconscious. More often than not he appears in the vicinity of people and places who have great importance in his life: His mother who dies in a car wreck; himself at a younger age; the Art Institute of Chicago, but most often –or at least it features most prominently in the novel– in the meadow behind the house where his future wife lives.

Clare Abshire first meets Henry at six years old, and over the next twelve years their friendship evolves from an almost imaginary friend through to a guardian angel, and then eventually and inevitably into a crush that moves through her teenage lust into something adult and mature. On her eighteenth birthday he tells her they will not see one another again for two years and two months, and the Henry she meets at that point will be the Henry in the here and now –a Henry only eight years older than her who lives in Chicago– and he begs her to have mercy on him. He isn’t the man Clare knows yet, but he will become that person with her help.

Clare does meet the contemporary Henry after beginning university in Chicago, and their life together begins in both an ordinary and extraordinary way. Throughout their lives together it is understood that at any point he might disappear almost without warning, leaving a puddle of clothes behind. Sometimes he’s gone minutes, and sometimes hours, and sometimes days. When he reappears, he often bears the scars of his misadventures. She likens the waiting to women of previous centuries who married men who went to sea and spent long periods waiting and worrying and watching the horizon for a distant sail.

More than that I will not say. Read the book. You will not regret it.

Now I entitled this blog post, “An Essay on Writing by Way of the Time Traveler’s Wife,” and I do want to talk about writing in some depth. Many of you know that I’ve written a couple of novels myself, and when I read a book now, I read it as an author admiring another author’s craft. There is a bit of armchair quarterbacking involved, of course, but there is also a deep appreciation for the process and the art. I once had a trumpet player tell me I couldn’t be a real Beatles fan because I wasn’t a musician. I find that a laughable claim, but I will admit in the same way musicians can enjoy music with a fuller understanding of the mechanics involved, so too do writers appreciate books in a different way than other readers. We ponder motive, pacing, plotting, character arcs, prose, perspective. We wonder why something was done this way and not another. We peer between the lines to look at the author on the other side and ask, ‘What are you really trying to say?’

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Chasing Atlantis: Something You Should All Know About

November 23, 2012

Hello again, everyone,

I’m going to start with an apology: Once upon a time I resolved to write on this blog regularly, making a point to have at least one entry a month, come what may. That was a pretty easy thing to commit to when I had a couple hundred readers a day –many of them personal acquaintances– but my most recent post from three months ago now has had 168,597 readers to date, and I found myself paralyzed by a feeling of inadequacy. I’ve been retweeted and reblogged and followed on Facebook to the point where I know what I write next will be read by a thousand people expecting at least a few minutes of entertainment and possibly something worth thinking upon deeply and making their own. I’ve found myself gun shy: What can I possibly say next to all of those people who are going to read this blog one more time? What would hold your attention and give you value for your visit?

And then I remembered what my friend Matt Cimone has been up to lately.

As a rule, I don’t mention my friends by name on this blog. I do so now after careful deliberation. Let me back up for a moment and give some context to what I hope is going to be a worthwhile read: I have had the great good fortune to know a man for the last twelve years who I believe will one day make a positive mark on the collective human experience. I look forward to the day when I can say with pride I knew him in his youth. After my late grandfather, I strongly suspect Matt Cimone is the finest man I’ve ever known. When I find myself confronted with an ethical or moral dilemma, I ask myself, “What would Matt Cimone do?” I rarely follow that course, but it’s an interesting question to pose for the sake of finding one’s bearings.

I could give any number of examples of why I’m fortunate to know this man, but for the sake of brevity I’ll say he was a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador in his mid-20s; he’s founded his own charitable organization that uses the micro-credit model to empower entrepreneurs in third world countries, and he’s dedicated his life to being the change he wants to see in the world, a humanitarian who speaks openly and often about how we can all contribute in our own small way to a better future.

A year and a half ago, Matt Cimone asked me to go on a road trip with him to see the very last space shuttle launch. With deep reluctance I had to decline: I’d just quit my job, and I had to commit all my efforts to finding my next step. I watched Matt pile into a car with several friends and drive to Florida to join a million spectators as Atlantis hurled itself towards the heavens. In his usual above and beyond approach, he decided to create a short documentary about his experience on a hand-held digital camcorder. But that initial vision has since grown.

“There are a hundred films about the shuttle technology, but we are more interested in the people inspired by human space flight; those like us who always stood in wonder of the night sky.” Matt told me. “It began as a simple video about our trip. I thought we could put it online. Thankfully one of the five who came with us was my friend Paul Muzzin, founder of Riptide Studios. Paul is a filmmaker, and his expertise breathed new life into the film.”

“I’ve known Matt for almost 2 decades and I saw his passion for this trip,” Paul said. “His story is compelling, and I believe will resonate with an audience. While something shot on a handicamDigital SLR and put on YouTube would have still been from the heart, I believe that with some work this documentary could have a place in festivals and theatrical exhibition. I have also been a fan of the space program and always wanted to see a launch myself. In a sense, between directing this film and seeing the shuttle, I was fulfilling two dreams.”

Space exploration has always fascinated Matt, and witnessing the last shuttle launch was a catalyst for him. Human spaceflight brings out the dreams and aspirations of people from every walk of life, and so both he and Paul started interviewing people: Witnesses of the last launch, NASA spokespeople, fans of science fiction –both Matt and Paul are huge Trekkies, and Wil Wheaton even agreed to do an interview—even the astronauts themselves. The duo asked them what they thought, what they dreamed about.

Matt calls the story Chasing Atlantis, and from the humble beginnings of a road trip video of five friends to see the shuttle launch, it is evolving into a professionally shot, edited, and scored feature-length documentary about space exploration, ambition, and the freedom to imagine a future where the best that we hope we can be is given voice.

“Initially I only dared to think we’d make it this far.” Matt said. “When we combined the initial concept with what Paul envisioned we could accomplish with his production company behind us, doors started to open. We asked if we could conduct interviews, and people said yes. Suddenly we were doing something bigger and better. I would have never thought I’d be sitting across from future ISS commander Chris Hadfield or cast members from Star Trek when we first started planning all of this…well…I hoped, but I thought it would be a long shot.”

The common thread through all those interviewed is that the end of the shuttle program is just the turning of a page in the story of human ambition, of human discovery, of human aspiration and that regardless of if your dream is to go to space, or make a film, we all must chase the “Atlantis” in our own lives.

Here’s the current trailer:

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