master shaman, i have come
with my dolly from the shadow side
with a demon and an englishman
Tori Amos, "Sister Janet"
Once upon a time, long ago, I knew this strange kid. His family moved around every year, and he was perpetually the "new kid" in school, reluctant to make strong attachments he knew would be broken before the end of the year. Despite this, he was never really lonely. He had friends no one else could see.
He would wander, often, into the desert; there amidst the scorpions and rattlesnakes the dust would whisper to him, and he heard voices in the wind. The ghosts of long dead Native peoples would tell him their stories. The sun and stars sang to him tales of long ago. A little bit older, his family resettled back east, and the wooded landscape of rural New York was so very different from the one he had grown up in. Still, he would often disappear for hours to wander lost in the mountains, returning from such meanderings starry-eyed, dazed, and slightly out of it. But it wasn't chemicals secretly getting him high. He was just out talking to the trees.
Then of course his family did the worst possible thing you could do with a kid like that. They gave him an old manual typewriter. And parents--let this be a warning to you. If you are concerned about your children dabbling in occult forces, don't worry about the ouija board or the Tarot cards. Whatever you do, keep them away from pens and paper and keyboards. Take away their paint brushes and their clay. Because after they gave the boy his keyboard, he no longer went out to the spirits.
The spirits now came to him.
I have often felt, when I sit down to write, that I should be beating a medicine drum, drawing chalk circles, or chanting invocations. Like any shaman, I am preparing for an out-of-body experience, a journey to the Otherside. My spirit leaves my body and flows through the clicking of the keyboard, channeled to some nether realm where the voices come and tell me their stories. I can lose hours, skip meals, forget to sleep. Screw heroin, alcohol, or sex. No one fully understands addiction the way people compelled to create do.
At times I feel certain there must be some grand celestial waiting room out there, where all the unwritten songs, the unimagined paintings, and the untold tales are all lined up waiting for some poor fool to pick up a pencil and let them out. They are there, whispering, scratching at the walls of reality, waiting to be born. "Come get me. Let me out." Because inasmuch as people concerned with commercial success will tell you something inane like "write what you know," the best stories--the real stories--just come through. They almost seem to be using you as a passage into the world. I won a playwright's competition when I was 17, and I remember the director asking me if I had personally experienced the events in the tale. I hadn't. I didn't know anyone who had. And I had no flipping clue where it came from. All I knew was that an English teacher knew I liked to write, challenged me to enter the competition, and I sat down to knock off a story. There was no plotting. No scripting. No laying out scenes. The voices just started whispering.
I am not a writer. I am a secretary who takes dictation from the ghosts in his head. And thus it is rather difficult for me to be lonely, or to even imagine what lonely feels like. Like any medium, I am not looking to fill the silence, but instead looking for silence where and when I can.