I have just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s new novel The Ocean At The End Of The Lane for the second time.
It’s difficult to put into words exactly what this story is about, mostly because there are so many dimensions to it. It’s rather like entering a funhouse full of mirrors: You stare at the twisty, curvy, stretched-out reflections of yourself, trying to summon the courage to admit that some of it really is you.
After reading the novel the first time, I awoke the following morning full of long-forgotten childhood memories: Of the weeping willow on my grandfather’s farm that I was convinced could talk to me. Of the painting of a man that my great-uncle meticulously created on the slanted, wooden doors of the storm cellar (replete with pencil mustache and checked shirt). Of the old-fashioned hot air register that allowed me to peer down into the living room from my bedroom, where I watched my parents argue over missed dinners and overly attentive secretaries.
These memories are so vivid they startle me.
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane teaches us that sometimes, just the act of remembering will open us up a little bit more to what the Universe has in store.
I am 52 years old and recently began a serious devotion to fiction writing.
I think I waited so long to write because I felt trapped in between the harshness of life and escape into fantasy. Writing stories about people and feelings was too difficult for me, too painful. And the perfectionist in me couldn’t allow for fantasy or escape. I pushed against my heart, keeping my guard up against creativity for fear it would make me vulnerable. Rather than harness the fear, I let it rule me.
But things have changed in the last couple of years, and I owe so much to two men: Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman.
Ray Bradbury’s stories were mine to devour, and in wanting more, I was led to his remarkable conversations with Sam Weller. I was flabbergasted by Ray’s utter joy for life, the universe, and the people who populate it. He resonated a rare truth in what he wrote and the way he lived, and it has inspired me to look at a purpose bigger than all of us.
Neil Gaiman is cut from the same humanistic cloth. He is his own man and his own writer, to be sure. But he radiates a similar sense of joy, humor, and a drive to share it with anyone who cares to read, listen, and explore along with him.
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is destined to become a timeless classic because Mr. Gaiman has done the impossible: he’s created a portal that every reader will step through and use to reflect upon his or her own life’s story. It is a novel that readers will dive into multiple times throughout their lives, knowing they will come away with yet another, deeper meaning to their time on earth.
Two nights from now, Neil Gaiman will be in Phoenix for an appearance and book signing. I will go, sit quietly, and take in what the man has to say, has to share. And I’ll enjoy absorbing some of the energy that is generated whenever he and his fans get together.
Because so many people will be waiting in line afterward for the book signing, I probably won’t say anything to Mr. Gaiman other than to thank him for his inspiration. I will hand him my already-signed copy of Ocean (my purchase from Porter Square Books). I think I will make a Post-It note with the correct spelling of my name and ask him to personalize it.
I am 52 years old and I write every day. I finally feel like a freer human being, embracing the darkness and light and joy that have been bestowed upon me by the Universe.
I’m brave in ways that can’t be described, but have their roots in Ray and Neil. Their photos hang over my desk, urging me forward.
Every day, I make good art.