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January 12, 2017

An author is visited briefly by the ghost of books past and future                                                          

One Sunday night recently I awoke in the middle of the night to a voice:


There's no going back.


I was sleeping alone in our son's room, vacated by his departure for university. My wife hadn't slept well the night before and she wanted a good sleep without being disturbed by my nightly 3:00 a.m. shuffle to the washroom.


The voice came from a space several feet above me. A male voice, deep, sonorous, clear, matter-of-fact so that I sat up in bed.


There's no going back.


I don't recall another time that I've "heard" a voice in this way, one that I experienced as speaking directly to me. I wasn't afraid. I didn't doubt the voice.


I'd had a fitful sleep. There was an animal (fuckin' squirrel probably) chewing away at the rafters in the attic. I'd also recently bought a book, an impulse buy, about the experience of hearing voices.




When Self-Consciousness Breaks was in the discount bin at Caversham Bookstore, on Harbord St. in Toronto. According to the store's website, it's "North America's largest mental health bookstore. While waiting for a meeting with my literary agent a couple of doors away I perused books about anorexia, marriage counseling and depression.


It was the book's sub-title that caught my attention: Alien Voices and Inserted Thoughts.


Hearing voices is something usually addressed by psychiatrists and associated with diagnoses of schizophrenia and paranoia. But the two authors of this book were philosophy professors interested in the question of hearing voices as one of a state of mind and self.


They write that there are two key aspects to the experience of inserted voices: subjectivity and agency.


In terms of subjectivity "the issue here is distinguishing what occurs in me--within the boundary of my ego--from what occurs outside me."


Then there's the question of agency: is the voice mine? This is because we all hear voices in our heads, our inner monologue, yet the vast majority of us experience this as "talking to myself".


There's no going back.


I experienced this voice as outside of me and not mine. My guess is that I was in the sensorial borderlands between sleep and consciousness and extended a dream experience to my conscious state.


Two prompts for the experience come to mind. For the past year I've been a home hospice volunteer. Once a week I visit a client who's dying, slowly. Some weeks the client talks about this directly; other weeks I sit in a leather recliner and the client talks about the past. I listen and ask questions as the client churns over events from childhood to adolescence, parenthood to middle age and the suspended now of dying.


There's no going back.



Then the weekend before I watched part of Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child a documentary that's new to Netflix. As a teenager I listened to Hendrix's Purple Haze fill through padded headphones, and since then I've found his artistry and expression other-worldly.


In the documentary he recounts that he was self-taught, listening to radio and vinyl records.


"That's common", a musical friend tells me.


Yes, but what really struck me was Hendrix's comment that when on stage he wasn't performing, he was experiencing. He was being. It's why it's so electrifying to watch him on stage. Dancing like nobody's watching. Or, playing like 10,000 people are watching but in this he finds even greater self-expression.


Talking to my hospice client the day before I'd realized that lately I've deeply missed my communion with deep writing. For the past several months I've been dejected about the prospects of selling my latest book project, one into which I've already invested several years of work and money. So, I'd put the writing on hold as my agent pitches the book.


I'm happy to write a newspaper article or video script.


But it's in weaving together a big story--dropping into the languid, Mississippi River-wide rhythm of a book--that I find religion.


From the Latin, religio, connection. It's in doing this that I'm not performing, but experiencing. Touching the center of the universe.


There's no going back.


The voice was a gift.


I woke-up in the morning with a lightness and clarity that I hadn't felt in months. And they were back: the beautiful voices in my head suggesting connections and phrases in my latest book project.


My unconscious beginning to write, turning the neuronal soil.


I told my wife about the voice and that on this Monday morning I'd decided to begin work again writing my book.


"Oh, so you're a writer," she said with a knowing smile.

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