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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 05/14/2001
Volume 2, Number 4

You'll remember that Waldemar had proposed that we sit facing each other on opposite sides of a large sketch pad, my hand holding his, as he made a stab at automatic writing. Call it a midsummer evening whim, a way to pass time and play more directly with some of the paranormal happenings we had been discussing.

The room itself was large and open, including an ample kitchen space and living room. During the day, it was awash in light from the bank of windows that looked west across a few acres of trees and meadowland. At night, in the absence of blinds, they formed a wall of darkness that allowed the stars to gaze in on us . Waldemar and I sat across from each other. With my hand on top of his writing hand, just lightly resting there, I could feel the sway of the pencil as though some uncertain force were trying to gather . After some seconds, the pencil moved, just enough to form a minute downstroke on the sketch pad. Waldemar looked at me.

"Didn't you move my hand?" he said. "How could I? I'm barely resting the tips of my fingers on your hand." He shrugged, seemed to brace himself, and then we waited, the pencil still holding the end of that first downstroke. Then, some seconds later, it moved again. Now, indistinct cursive forms began to spread in a thin, wavy line across the pad.

We looked. There was some resemblance to writing. There were loops and whorls and curlicues that might have been letters except that they lacked distinctness. It was as though Waldemar's hand was trying to learn to write without any direction from his mind. In other words, the pencil had moved independently but had created only gibberish.

"I feel as if my hand is being controlled from two places, my own nerves, and maybe, well, if it's not from you, then we're getting someone else," Waldemar said.

I studied the crabbed lines that looked like the efforts of a very old man with trembling hands. "Let's assume," I said, "that someone or something is trying to learn how to use your nervous system. How to command it to express something. Let's keep going. It probably needs time." That was Schwartz the skeptic speaking. I was really getting sucked in.

"Unless, well, it's just your hand and mine pulling in opposite directions," Waldemar said. The medium in him seemed to have withdrawn and been replaced by the skeptic I had started out as. "We don't know anything yet," I said. "Patience. You need patience." Once more, we gave the pencil its head, as it were. And once more we got the same scraggly line that couldn't seem to hold itself in a straight horizontal line across the page. It curved downward, resembling a child's early efforts at writing.

The evening wore on. The writing seemed to be getting clearer, but never clear enough to make any sense. The best I can say is that after a time, the line became more horizontal. But it was getting tiring. And late. We decided to quit for the night.

Next morning, Waldemar decided he'd better go back up the hill to Penny and Hans' place. He was their guest, after all, and maybe he'd been overly sensitive the day before.

So, the hours passed, until, shortly after dinner, there was a knock at the door. It was Waldemar, back again and fairly seething. He explained that the argument had continued, with Hans pressing him to see someone about his "homosexual neurosis." "He was giving me all that crap about the unconscious. I mean, really, when these people use a term like that, I don't have the faintest idea what they're talking about. If a thing's unconscious, it isn't there. If it's there and you don't notice it, that's because your attention isn't focused on it. All the rest is horseshit."

I was inclined to agree with him but would have put it differently. We have different levels of awareness, but they're all part of consciousness. It's a complicated subject. And for us that night, it was to get even more complicated, because, not long after, Waldemar began to suggest that maybe we should try the automatic writing again. Marjorie again backed off, but I was willing, and so, once more we took up our positions across the pad from each other and started with the pencil.

The first thing we noticed was that the lines, although still indecipherable, were now perfectly horizontal. The control was better. So we stayed with it. Maybe about a half hour passed when suddenly those indecipherable squiggles stared up at us in the form of real words. In a handwriting still weak, we both managed to read clearly the following words: "You are fun. Put out the lights."

Waldemar looked at me. "You moved my hand, didn't you?" "Come on, I can't write upside down." "You think something's really happening?" "I'm not sure," I admitted. "But what can we lose by trying? Let's put out the lights."

Waldemar made an irresolute gesture, moving his hands and shoulders a little.

"All right," he said nervously.

I got up and switched off the chandelier that illuminated the whole room. As our pupils adjusted, everything around us took on a faint patina as moonbright seeped through the unblinded windows. Waldemar was a smudgy gray shape as he sat before me. We took up the pencil again. I touched my hand to the back of his. Hardly had I done so, than the pencil began to move wildly, making what seemed like broad up and down strokes along the page, almost like waves. Then it stopped. It was too dark to read the writing. Once more, I got up and turned on the lights. As I turned back to the table, there was a loud exclamation from Waldemar.

I peered down at the strong clear loops of writing that had suddenly appeared on the pad, filling almost the whole sheet. "Greetings from the spirit of Roy Gregory. I was the brother-in-law of Waldemar. "

And at the same time, there came the following outburst from Waldemar, just two words. Even at the time and under those circumstances, considering Waldemar's earlier comments, they struck me as funny. "Oh God, my unconscious!"

That's how it really started. Like a typical seance in a B movie. The mysterious

relative making himself known., the startled recipient of the ghostly message, Waldemar, and his really risible comment putting the whole thing on his unconscious after having just asserted that there really wasn't any such thing. I was dubious myself. But something was happening. Maybe it was corny. Maybe even silly. Or too much like one of those comics I used to do for House of Mystery. But how had it happened? What did it mean? I asked Waldemar if the message made any sense to him.

To my surprise, he acknowledged that it made a lot of sense. Roy Gregory had indeed been his brother-on-law. While married to his sister, Roy had been an advanced philosophy student and had a teaching fellowship, Waldemar didn't mention the university, just that Roy had always impressed him, that he had suffered from tuberculosis and had died some years ago at the age of twenty-nine. "All stuff," he added, "that could obviously have come out of my unconscious."

"Well, let's at least say, your memory. Nothing unconscious about it." I got up, saying I was going to put out the lights again. "Surely, you want to see where this leads, don't you?"

With the lights out once more, I resumed my seat and had hardly touched the tips of my fingers to the back of Waldemar's hand when the pencil again started its energetic up-and-down movement, not too fast, not too slow,. but in a deliberate, sustained kind of rhythm. When it stopped, our eyes, having gotten accustomed to the moonbright from the window, were able to di stinguish the large clear letters. I should note here that the cursive writing was completely connected since the pencil never lifted from the paper. Between words, there was usually a long pencil slide to separate them. Also, for reasons never explained, each new line, whether in mid-sentence or starting a new one always opened with a large looping capital G, standing for Roy's last name, Gregory.

The handwriting itself was very plain and clear, almost beautiful in its precision. The lines themselves were almost an inch high which enhanced their clarity. That was the case so far. And, at this point in our sojourn into this realm that I was later to discover went by the name of "channelling", my precise memory fails. I remember here only that Roy, whatever he was, Waldemar's unconscious, another kind of reality, a different dimension of awareness operating through our joint psyches, invited us to continue along with him and he would show and teach us many wonderful things.

After that bit of razzmatazz, the skeptic in me surfaced once more. Those enticing promises led me to recall comments from others who had told me about their experiences at various kinds of seances. One wary old veteran had informed me "Be careful about taking any of these personalities too seriously. They all are real enough, but they all have personal reasons for appearing to you, mostly self-serving." Remembering that, I took the pencil from Waldemar and wrote in small letters across the top of the page: "What's your reason for coming to us?"

Again Waldemar took up the pencil with my fingertip accompaniment and the following answer emerged: "I have come to make Alvin my pupil."

This was too much. So I asked again: "Of my need, or yours?" "Of mine," the answer came. "A master needs a pupil." This brought a smile to Waldemar's face and a small laugh froim me. We looked at each other. "At least, he has a sense of humor. That's a good sign. Shall we continue?"

By now, we couldn't have stopped. "What do you intend to teach me?" I asked.

Suddenly, there was a surprise. The writing began in the usual way, except that it was indecipherable. Not unclear, just unreadable by us. I stared at the letters so tightly drawn together into a single unbroken line. "I think," I told Waldemar, "that this is another language. In fact, it looks a little like Greek. What do you think."

Waldemar responded with the usual "It's Greek to me." "I'm sure it's Greek, " I said. "I recognize some of the letters, like this thing that looks like a theta."

"So what do we do?"

Most fortunately, help was at hand. I explained to Waldemar that our next door neighbor who had taken over the other side of the rebuilt root cellar that Penny and Hans had had built into two units was presently occupied by a man who had formerly been president of Black Mountain College. He was also a renowned Greek scholar. (Damn it, as I write this, I can't recall his name. This happens to me often in these late years, an annoying temporary aphasia, where names drop briefly from memory only to return at a later moment when I don't need them) "Let's go see him," I said after supplying Waldemar with this piece of fortuitous information. "He's usually home in the evenings."

And that's what we did. Dr, , was indeed home. He asked us in. We showed him the pad, explained with some hesitant embarrassment that we had been conducting a kind of, er, seance, and could he read the mysterious letters?

He gave us a strange look, glanced at the page, nodded, and said. "Simple enough. Gnothe se auton. . . Know thyself. " He paused. "Anything else?"

I think that was where it began, the first step on what was to become a two year journey, mysterious, uncanny, sometimes frightening, always fascinating and, well, as I mentioned, it made it possible for me to leap free of Weisinger's clutches into a whole new life in which my comics skills always remained an essential underpinning.

More next week.

Alvin

<< 05/07/2001 | 05/14/2001 | 05/21/2001 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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