Well hello there, Dear Reader! These are exciting times for your ol’ pal Jerry – after talking about it for most of my life, I finally put the proverbial money and mouth together and started my first novel, Of Dreams & Angels, in the fall of 2019. It’s still in the first draft, but I thought it would be fun to start putting pieces of it (and thereby my entire f***ing soul, don’t you know!) out into the universe. Maybe you’ll get caught up in the intrigue and start following along too.
The synopsis – well, before we get to that, Stephen King, in his memoir On Writing, wrote that many of his stories can be expressed as a What-if question, and after reading that, my imagination (as it pertained to story ideas) started framing situations that way. Of Dreams is this question: What if a man started dreaming about a woman he’d never met, but who actually exists; falls in love with her based on what he sees in the dreams and sets out to find her?
Don’t ask me where it came from, and believe me when I say I’m just as shocked as you are that my first idea for a novel – ok maybe not the first idea in the grand scope of my life, but the first one to make it to fruition – was a fantastical love story. But as soon as I thought of it, *I* wanted to know what would happen, which made me think others might want to, too.
At all rates, here you have it, Dear Reader (also a not-so-subtle borrow from Mr. King, who as you may know refers to us as “Constant Reader”) – the first excerpt from Of Dreams & Angels. We find our protagonist Joe, an alone-but-not-lonely bachelor-type on a hike in the mountains, meditating on life, love, and possibilities. Enjoy.
“Hiking was deliverance from whatever the week wrought; while he didn’t love that life had at some stage taken on the properties of “working for the weekend”, his diligence and discipline had afforded him the freedom to pick up and go any weekend he chose, which was most. The mountains and trails offered a reprieve from the monotony and frustrations of the week, but mostly they offered a glimpse of a life that was more. They could “right size” Joe in a way few else things could, both literally, and spiritually.
It wasn’t that Joe carried any conscious or pervading sense of disappointment with his life; he felt happy, he felt organized, he felt most days that he was making progress… but then all at once the question would needle at the back of his mind – progressing towards what? Maybe it was simply a rite of passage that came with one’s late 30’s – maybe it was just your job to question the sanity of your choices, no matter how practical they had been. It was probably perfectly normal to wonder if there had been squandered time; if he should have followed those improbable but nonetheless exciting childhood yearnings to go into space, write novels, or become a movie star – instead of settling for paying the mortgage and taxes on time, of contributing to the employer-matched retirement accounts, of sitting on the condo board.
He rarely indulged this line of thinking, and when he did it was quickly quieted by those internal voices of reason who would say “This is just what life is about. Eventually you have to move out of Mommy and Daddy’s, and to do that, you need money, and to have money usually means you have to have a job, and to have that, you need qualifications, and to get qualifications you just keep doing the only thing you’ve ever known since the age of 5 – you go to school. You make choices based along this Continuum of Practicality where hopefully you find something that interests you but also keeps the bills paid and affords the weekends away, and it’s by no means the worst thing in the world to hit 40 and know there’s enough in the bank at 65 to stop the cycle and not eat cat food.”
But then that other voice would pipe up again – But to do what? Free, perhaps, on one level, but to spend your time (after giving up a lifetime of other time) doing what, exactly?
This is just the way it is, he told himself. There are people the world over far worse off, with honest-to-God problems that exceeded the existential ones. He had a roof. He had a career. He had a vehicle with warranty, and a mortgage on an accelerated pre-payment schedule. He was safe, he was content, and if the price for that was the occasional mental trip into the Forest of What Might Have Been, well so be it. It was probably far better to wonder what might have come to pass from a place of security, than wonder what might have been while struggling to survive.
But the mountains and the trails took away all that. Out here – at least once Joe was able to get past the tourist crowds near the front of the trailhead (but whom had invariably turned back at the first signs of serious elevation or less grooved in paths) – none of that seemed to matter. There was only the sense that somehow this was what was important – that no matter what a person wound up doing to make a living – ad executive, astronaut, au pair – in the grand scheme of things none of that would be of any consequence, because if the mountains themselves couldn’t be eternal, then neither would our short lives.
It was almost a contradiction that further exasperated Joe’s ability to reconcile, but this too was healed by the sojourns – grand or small – to the places where humans hadn’t made much of an imprint beyond the paths beneath his feet. It called to mind a sense of what was important once the minutiae and surficial had been stripped away – we need to eat, we need to sleep, we need to survive, and we need to move forward. Something about having to hike to where he would lay his head for the night, construct his own shelter, create his own heat for food – always brought him back to a sense of peace. A reminder that of all the things a person could do wrong in any given day or any given interaction, this much of life Joe could seek to conquer through these individual feats of survival, and all at once not take any of it for granted. For all the nights he had shivered himself asleep by misjudging the weather and packing the wrong weight of sleeping bag, or when he couldn’t get a fire started due to unexpected rain, rather than any consternation it usually came with a sense of peace, of humbling. This was what mattered, not the poker game talk of who had the best options package on their car. This was where life made sense, and this was where Joe had proven to himself he could not only survive, but thrive.
That reconnection with the fundamentals also went a long way to assuaging the lack of connection he felt elsewhere. Joe had always been an amiable guy; could seemingly get along with anyone of any stripe, but for most of his life he felt that true connection eluded him. He was never going to be the guy who could pass the minutes before the Monday-morning meeting talking about the football scores on the weekend, or when the writ would drop on the next election. Even amongst other hikers and outdoor “enthusiasts” he felt himself wanting for conversation once the initial talk of trails and gear had been exhausted; if anything, he felt more frustrated in these superficial bids for connection – because wasn’t one of the main reasons for hiking to be deliberately anti-social?
“Missed connections” to Joe went far beyond those Craiglist ads out there of a stolen glance or an instantly profound impromtu conversation with a stranger. While he’d had more than his fair share of these, it was the pervading sense that at the end of everything, he was still truly, irrevocably, alone. Not lonely, exactly, but alone. Solitary. Both in practice and in spirit. There had been relationships, of course – Joe wasn’t exactly an unattractive man – in fact quite the opposite, as noted by the women at work or the Co-Ed Rec Softball league who also wondered why he was still single (conspiracy theories abounded as to what might be wrong with him). To those in that same age demographic who felt trapped in their marriages to husbands who had let themselves go, young children robbing them of their sleep and debt payments on toys meant to distract them from all that frustrated them about their lives, Joe seemed an oasis and an antidote to all of that. Fit, charming, handsome, successful… and elusive.”