THORNTON W. BLEASE
Represented by Joyce Sweeney of the Seymour Agency
Thornton Blease wants to live in a world where horses, dragons and mermaids roam free, and everyone can reach their fullest potential.
As a young teen, Thornton has won 26 gold keys and three national titles from Scholastic’s Teen Art and Writing Awards and has been published in Scholastic’s Teens’ Best Writing. As a young adult he is a judge for the same awards.
He has a BA degree from Sarah Lawrence concentrating on writing and film and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from The New School.
Conferences and school visits allow him to travel the country to hone his craft and encourage children, especially those with (dis)abilities to read and write. Thornton is a proud and active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and participated in the SCBWI mentorship program with Joyce Sweeney as his mentor. He has also attended the competitive Southampton Children’s Literature Conference, VCFA Writing for Young Peoples Retreat and Highlights.
Thornton has been published in Scholastic’s Teens’ Best Writing, The Underground, River of Words, Rewriting the Past Anthology, and Common Sense for Animals Journals.
Growing up in Stewartsville, NJ, a small rural town, he jokes that he was born in an animal hospital/shelter. While not exactly true, he grew up there and everything he needed to learn about love, devotion, sorrow, and cruelty. he learned from his experiences at the clinic.
Thornton is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College’s writing concentration and The New School in Manhattan, from which he holds an MFA in Writing for Children. He currently resides in his hometown of Stewartsville, NJ, where he visits schools with his dog Ocie to promote literacy through animals. When he’s not reading, writing or editing you can find Thornton with his two dogs, five cats, three donkeys, or riding his awe-inspiring horse, Marcus.
by Thornton Blease (age 13)
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
— Joe Darion
I squint and stare through the luminous sunlight, past the golden rays of the Inca’s most powerful deity, Inti, and see the ruins draped across the top and down the sides of a vast mountain area strung between two distinct Andean peaks. I inhale the meager murky atmosphere slowly through my nose and admire the craftsmanship of the fortress city. I look at the violent mountain peaks jutting up and around the sacred Inca city and everywhere I see steps, thousands of steps which appear to be impossible obstacles set before my tired and unconditioned legs. I am aware of every muscle, aware of the torture I will inflict on them as I force each leg ever so slightly off the ground to climb these formidable foes.
I look at the misty clouds pulsating in a slow rhythmically choreographed dance around my head as I enter the gates of Machu Picchu. The swirling clouds present a mysterious façade to the ceremonial city, pulsating to the same rhythm that pounds in my head. I wonder: Could I stay behind? Perhaps I could spend the day watching the llamas graze?
The slight breeze tickles my forehead. I can feel the air wrapping my body in a soft delicate jacket, yet I am unable to breathe as I should. My breathing shortens as I try to take in more oxygen. My family calls for me to keep up the pace. I try to focus on plodding ahead, but it seems that I am moving in slow motion while everything else around me moves in a rapid, staccato fashion away from me.
Gasping for breath as if a vise was methodically tightened across my chest, I attempt to climb the steps and tour the ruins. One step, two steps, three steps, four, I slowly climb. I look up and realize that these steps are a ladder to the heavens, to the unreachable stars. They extend way up into the puffy white clouds dancing for the sun god in the pure blue sky. My skin tingles; I can feel the presence of the Amerindians worshipping the brilliant solar orb and I embrace the mountain range with the same enthusiasm as I did my first class through the Stanford University Online High School.
My mind drifts… to a two page book list with a syllabus and pacing guide adequate in preparation for the NY scholastic marathon. Mentally I type my nineteen- letter password to log into the live virtual classroom, and my mind is engaged with hurricane force. My enthusiasm escalates as I approach my first timed and highly pressured final exam. My head pounds, my heart pulsates, my windpipe becomes very sensitive. Like balloons being squeezed inside a trash compactor, my lungs tighten and my mind freezes. It is a blank slate, wiped clean with no information available. My hard drive crashes and freezes; the computer in my mind will not reboot. I sit still, unable to move, unable to conjure information any more complex than my name. My head pounds faster and faster, my legs are numb, and my hands are shackled under the control of a malfunctioning brain.
Back on the mountain, I am frightened. I try to breathe normally but my chest is heavy and my lungs are on strike. I am lying on a terrace, a break in the steep accordion steps. I feel the clouds kissing my face, embracing my body. I see the massive peaks rising above the earth like loaves of bread awaiting the oven. I should know that I am in Peru, yet I am in a fog. My mind isn’t sure if I have altitude sickness or if I am back taking final exams. The sensations are the same, the same inability to breathe, the same pounding of my heart in my head. Gasping for breath as if I am being methodically suffocated and tortured with pins and needles around my mouth, I suspend the mission of touring the ruins for the day.
I look up and see my older brother, lithe, fit and confident ascending up the mountainside while I struggle to set myself free from my physical and mental bondage. I simultaneously see images of my classmates easily racing to the peak of success while I struggle to set myself free of my learning disabilities, the Central Auditory Processing Disorder that becomes obvious under pressure. My legs are heavy and weighted, my muscles cramping from movement in the low atmospheric pressure of the Andes Mountains, just as my brain cramps as it misfires under pressure, halting the retrieval of information bytes, reducing the speed of communication at the synaptic junctures, and keeping the information under lock and key deep within the recesses of my brain. My dream to climb to the summit of Machu Picchu seems to be an impossible dream, just as impossible as forcing the two halves of my brain to communicate with each other, and work in unison with each other rather than participate in a cerebral siege combat. I call it Helen Keller brain. My ears can hear and my eyes can see; however, my brain does both ineffectively. The path through my brain is not a yellow brick road, and neither is the ascent of Machu Picchu, a severely steep and undulating challenge, that causes my body to revolt much like my brain, resulting in an inability to move spontaneously, to organize my thoughts, or to process conversations.
I sit alone on the steps with merely more steps in view for what seems to be an eternity until my dad and brother return from their ascent. Back at the hotel I rest, the pounding in my head eases a little, and I am able to at least enjoy the dinner and display of native dancing that evening. I decide that I do not want my impossible dream to haunt me for the rest of my life, any more than I wish to surcease challenging mental pursuits, nor ultimately my dreams of being a writer, despite the complexities of my mis-wired brain. Obstacles left unchecked can prevent success. Obstacles not approached with the vigor of a quarterback can prevent the winning touchdown in the game of life. Tomorrow, I will try again.
Climbing is no easier the second day, but I finally take some serious consecutive steps, first six or seven. And then I rest, letting a group of young adults pass me, before I wager another six or seven uneven stones jutting out like baby dragon teeth, then a third group of seven. An older woman passes by me, and smiles a warm inviting smile. An empty feeling, a sadness wallowing in the pit of my stomach wrenches my heart as I watch her long brown hair streaked with silvery-gray swing with her steps. The aroma of White Orchid perfume dances to my nose. “Mom!” If she were here she could help me climb these angry rock monsters of Peru. Renewed confidence rings through my body. I breathe in and out shallowly, but I am breathing slowly and steadily as the breathtaking land forms, the jutting rocks and the pristine gregarious green terraces come into view. I imagine I am among the Amerindians of Machu Picchu running up and down these mountains, building the sacred ceremonial “Lost City of the Incas,” almost 10,000 feet above sea level 548 years ago, and although my breathing is not any easier, I persevere one step at a time.
My mind returns from its creative drift to ancient associations, back to the violent Andes Mountains, mountains thrusting out before me, thrusting towards the sky, shouting to the sun. Self-contained, with agricultural terraces built throughout, the exacting mortarless blocks were built with the precision comparable to record-setting Michael Phelps’s Olympic physique. Both the Incas and Phelps accomplished the nearly impossible. But can I? Can I fight the unbeatable foe with tired and weary arms and legs? The words spoken by Phelps infiltrate my thoughts: “With creativity you can accomplish anything.” I wonder: Is creativity the key to success?
My progress remains limited. Slowly, step by step, I challenge the pleated ladder of the sun. Slow and steady, I approach a little closer to the unreachable star. Slow, though perhaps not always steady, can also describe my thought processes. Deep like the valleys cut by the mountains, my thoughts are personally and intellectually gratifying, yet fraught with difficulty when trying to share those mental experiences with others. While my father and brother, like two foot soldiers, approach closer and closer to the top, I stay behind on a terrace about a third of the way to the top. Sadly, sharing the experience of being on top of the world with my family, accomplishing the difficult feat of taming the monster mountain was not to be. Should I give up? If I give up climbing the mountain will that set precedence for giving up on my dreams to become a writer because of my processing disabilities?
With some more subtle creative adaptations, I am able to hike even more the third day. Crafting a story in my mind, I visualize myself alongside the character in my next novel climbing to the top with ease. Thus, by taking a different path to the solution that did not rest upon my weaknesses but my strengths, I find ways to fight back at the mountain. I take one step, then two, and few more before stopping to rest, then my body begins to joust back. My eyes focus on the green-velvet coated mountains. By concentrating on the beauty of the Andes, my mind free from the pumping pulsations, I relax and the main character of my new story begins encouraging me in my mind.
Soon, Adventure Jack, one of my evolving literary characters, is metaphorically by my side urging me to keep trying. Imagery brought Jack and I back to the days of the Incas. We were both worshipping the sun god. Soon the pounding in my head eased a bit, and I could take a few more steps into the air until I approached what could be called the Condor’s Nest, the optimal view point. As I view the green velvet towers, the peaks jutting out all around me like cotton-topped armies of green marching to the sun, I am acquainted to a simple world lost in the midst of time. I see the stone waves preserved on the ground, twisting and turning, a twining tower, arching towards the sun. Both Jack and I wonder: Did they believe as they constructed the stone temples that they could reach the sun, the circular sphere in the sky that became their god? Belief in the impossible was significant to their success and to my triumphs as well. I realized that with a creative outlook and belief in myself, I can do anything. I now can fully understand the power presented in the words spoken by Phelps: “With creativity you can accomplish anything.” Slow and steady may not have won the race to the top, but I realize that I was still able to enjoy the view. The challenge necessitated that I reinvent myself, and with the assistance of my new character Jack, that is what I was able to do.
Leaning as far to the edge as I could safely brought tears of happiness to my cornflower blue eyes. A sense of freedom trickled through my body, electrifying both my mind and my body. With this freedom came a revelation wrapped around an image of Phelps reaching his hand out to the edge of the pool, overtaking his competitors by a fraction of a second. My thoughts drifted from the image of a well-disciplined athlete trained to perfection to myself, an awkward pre-teen with two lobes of my brain refusing to communicate with one another, a brain living in a hostile neurological environment, sentenced to a purgatory called Central Auditory and Visual Processing Disorder. At that moment I realize that creativity is what has been holding me and the two halves of my brain together for years, and creativity along with perseverance will be the key to my success in the future. Climbing the steep path, trying to succeed every day, I need to reinvent myself to adjust to my internal environment rather than attempting to fit my rather unique brain into a one-size-fits-all student lifestyle, just as my body had to adjust and reinvent itself climbing Machu Picchu.