I remember the very moment I was first overwhelmed by a combination of creativity, grandeur, and beauty. I was five years old. I was in a movie theatre.

From the vantage point of a five year old boy growing up in Queens, the movie theatre was an unnaturally huge expanse of golden walls and domed ceilings and burgundy carpets. As far as I’m concerned, brass statues lined the walls, acrobats and jugglers crowded the lobby, and tuxedoed ushers escorted the group of us–and I admit, I have no idea, other than my mom, who else might have been in that group–to our seats, complete with mimosas (or freshly squeezed orange juice) and cookies for all. I know I’d been to other, less opulent theatres before, but those memories have eroded to vague images and ideas and impressions, whereas this moment, this particular day, very likely a Saturday though I cannot possible know that, sticks in my head not just because of the vast, cavernous lobby, with red and white Coca-Cola cups the size of my head and boxes of sweet, buttery popcorn even bigger, but because of what I saw next. Inside.

We were late, or so I’ve been told. We stayed, in fact, and watched the movie a second time, but that’s not what’s important here. The fact that the movie opened my mind to possibilities as yet undreamt of by a five year old boy, the fact that the movie influenced my literary direction for decades afterwards, the fact that it was a defining moment in my life–none of this is in dispute. But I remember explicitly, on that particular maybe-Saturday afternoon, in that larger-than-life movie theatre which could not possibly exist in today’s world, a single, specific image on the screen. It was a desert, the kind that stretches infinitely in all directions, the kind filled with sand-colored sands (native, in fact, to Tunisia) and purple skies and two moons low-hung on the horizon.

I was born in Manhattan. I was living in Queens. I was five years old. In all my life, I’d never seen such wide open spaces. I didn’t know such a thing existed. This wasn’t, after all, a thirteen inch television screen in the living room of a cramped apartment on Skillman Avenue, this was a landscape sprawling beyond the length of a screen as wide as the Empire State Building was tall. I mean, this was big.

I think it’s very possible that, on this maybe-Saturday, in this theatre, where I first saw Star Wars, the collision of all these events–the princess, the dark lord, the death star, the vast sands, the opulence of old Hollywood holding on in a theatre that probably never existed, the cartoonishly large cup of soda, and my five year old mentality–my imagination was first ignited, not merely sparked, and a creative path was laid out before me that would dictate everything I ever did after, everything I’m doing now, and everything waiting for me to still do.

What, I wonder, ignited your imagination?

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