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Friday, October 18, 2013


A WEEK AGO, I VISITED A SCHOOL to do a couple of YA readings for Edmonton-Reads, a week long school event where writers are invited to entertain the kids and encourage reading. I chose a short story from Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales (which I co-edited two years ago). I also read from Mike Plested's Mik Murdoch: Boy Superhero (with Mike's blessing). The kids really loved the readings, and I enjoyed reading to them. Inevitably, afterwards, there was a Q and A where one of the kids asked me, "Where do you get your stories from?"

I gave him the pat answer, I can't remember exactly what I said. I think I asked the kids to consider 'what if?', ie., what if you could fly, wouldn't that be great? What kinds of problems do you think you might run into, if you really could? But this is neither here nor there. It's not the focus of what I want to talk about.

When I was waiting outside the library with two students who were assigned to accompany me (we waited a few minutes before the rest of the class showed up) one of them gave me the best gift ever. Not a 'thank you' mug filled with colored paper or a lovely book, which I also received and which were very nice. No, what he gave me was inspiration.
"You know what?" he said to me, his big brown eyes as huge as cupcakes.
"What?" I asked.
"If you wake up at 4:00 in the morning, and spin around in circles, and say 'Bloody Mary' three times, SHE'LL show up. And SHE'LL press you on the chest, like this..." he demonstrated, clapping a hand to his heart, "and you'll feel HER do it." He looked at me in horror, as if he hadn't built up the courage to try it yet, but he was going to.
"Really?" I asked, delighted.
He nodded solemnly, while my other escort (I'll call her Mary), looked at him as if he'd just exposed a trade secret.
I would have loved to have asked him more about this, to plummet whatever other strange religious/mystical ideas he had knocking about in that imagination of his, but the class showed up. We didn't have time. I've run into this before - this odd mix of religion and creepiness, of spirituality tied up with the occult. The last time it happened was over thirty years ago, when I was living in Phoenix, Arizona. My friend and I consulted a palm reader. She turned out to be an old gypsy woman with strong religious and magical leanings. After reading my palm in the presence of a pinned and be-ribboned Madonna (representing other clients' wishes and prayers), and shrewdly guessing that I hadn't married my first love (I'm sure she told all of her customers this), she pressed a piece of tin foil into my hand and told me to focus on it over the following week. It contained salt and bread - the basics of life - and she would be praying for me. In this, she seemed in earnest. Also, that I should come back. (She had her livelihood to think of, and me, my wallet. I didn't.)

For me, there was something about these two incidents that reminded me very much of a magical realism story, the least of which both boy and old gypsy were of Latin American descent, and their belief systems bordered on the fringes of what is acceptable and religiously established. But there's also a whole sub-culture out there, an underbelly that I'd like to learn more about - a strangeness that lingers just around the corner.

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone. (from Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone).

I live next door to it. I like to visit it, now and then. I wouldn't have it any other way.

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