Restless days of youth. Ah, yes, we all had them, didn’t we? The names of the people we knew, the places we’ve been, may be different in their locales or their syllables, but I find it hard pressed for those around me to tell me that their own teenage years were profoundly unique. Fumbling with the opposite sex in the backseat of cars on summer nights; the forbidden taste of alcohol, or perhaps the whiff of marijuana smoke; cigarettes; FM radio. Radio. Radio. All these things and more haunt our adolescence.
As a young writer – Gawd hepp me – I was the prince of daydreamers and melon heads. I eluded schoolwork, found my fellow dregs of society, my fellow teenage outcasts, hiding from the eyes of principles and teachers, and somehow disparaging our studies when, in fact, our very art cried out for us to learn. My mother found it hard to live in one place for too long, and we usually packed up and moved every year. Matter-of-fact, this vagabond lifestyle has not faded to any degree for me, although I yearn for a final resting place. My time in South Lake Tahoe ended with an abrupt move to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1981. Some years previously, my mother had been married there and had given birth to my two youngest siblings, who still remained with my former stepfather. There was a renewed custody battle in which my mother won, and rewarded. The five of use lived in low-income housing on the west side of the city where I pursued my sophomore year after having graduated 9th Grade with a measly 2.0 GPA.
I was a wizard, you know.
No one will ever truly believe it, or, in fact, truly understand it. I was the original Harry Potter. My studies in art and history and literature opened up a strange doorway in my fifteenth year. I became enamored of the occult, and supported by esoteric music and writings, began to quest for a spiritual and magical meaning to my life besides the outlet of an apprentice writer. The occult would never leave me, and though I struggled to exist in what we as everyday people could term “normal” and “subnormal,” I quested to know not HOW 2+2=4, but WHY; and if why, could I not change it? Could I somehow, if through will alone, force 2+2 to equal 5, or any other integer? Why, I wondered in my rebellion, must I limit myself to a specific norm?
My friends at school were decidedly middle-class, whose ambitions were mainly concerning church and school, that is, those who were not from the other side of the tracks. Those who were on the other side of the tracks pursued rebellion in the form of crime, drugs, alcohol, sex … I found these rebellious angels to be rather lackluster. So what? I was a Goth before Goths had evolved from the dregs of punk. I dressed and looked like Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, not Ian McCullough of Echo and the Bunnymen. I was a teenage vampire without the fangs – but what was dangerous was not only I serious about the occult ambitions I sought, but I was dangerous because I possessed the honey-voice of an evangelical preacher. I could sway those of my colleagues with half the ear for it away from their “normality” and force them to take roads untraveled by family members. The more I grew into the occult teachings, the more powerful in voice I became. My ridiculous words somehow – somehow – held weight. I could make anyone believe, or at least doubt their own reason.
I blame the writings of Carlos Castaneda, for one, for luring me along the alternative spiritual route. The Teachings of Don Juan and A Separate Reality were two of his most powerful works; I ate them up. By the time I had turned 16, I was combing the new age bookstores for anything remotely magical. Aleister Crowley seeped in with his immortal Magick in Theory and Practice; the assorted works of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; Israel Regardie; AE Waite; MacGregor Mathers. I worked magic, day and night. I pursued it as much as my classmates pursued algebra. I worked hard, daily, to bring that world into this one. I felt that I could change time; that I could readdress the perception of my spirit and brain and change the very fabric of what lay before me. I attracted followers, whose ages were not far away from my own. There were astounding experiences, and awesome nightmares.
Yet, during this time, I wrote. I wrote several interesting works, and considering my interest in the occult, these began to become redolent of fantasy. Sword and sorcery; magic; fairies and elves; witches and wizards. My second novel-length manuscript after Galleon was a story about a young man searching the sea for his lost father. A vanity press offered to publish it for $3000in 1982. I was broke, so, it never came to light. Ahem. Hmm. I decided to make a serious attempt for the market – my very first one. A short story this time. A science fiction tale concerning a space fungus that was remotely Alien meets The Day of the Triffids. The sort story was sent to Playboy Magazine as my first choice to be professional. “They’ll want to see lots of sex,” my mother advised me when I wrote it. Gleaning what experiences I’d stolen from the letters column in Hustler Magazine, I attempted an awkward scene that was reminiscent of my own fumbling in the dark with overeager teenage girls. The short story was *cough* sent back to me with my very first form rejection letter. I wrote a second attempt, a “True Drama in Nature” for Readers Digest, back when they still accepted over-the-transom fiction. The short story was another of my sea fantasies involving a SCUBA diver who had a confrontation with a shark in the Caribbean. It came back.
I slugged out a serialized novel about a young man in a magical kingdom called … hmm … something-or-rather. Hmm. I don’t remember to title – ah, wait, Dragons of Eden. Now I remember. I filled up 100-page notepads with the story which was about an evil witch? A sorceress? No, it was not inspired by Carl Sagan, although he had his own Dragons of Eden at the time. All my novel gained me was an F in most of my studies at school. I ran away; I ran away from my family to live with old friends in Phoenix Arizona, sick of it all. I began a new fantasy novel, having finally discovered Lord of the Rings. I slugged it out for a summer in 120-degree heat hitchhiking to work at a nursery to water plants out in Tempe. When the autumn came around, I found my heart growing restless for school, and headed back home. I was burned to a crisp, just like my character Michael Roadrunner from my later rock and roll series, Frost on the Desert.
I left high school, only to go back and get my diploma. I discovered Dungeons & Dragons, forgetting most of my other cares …,
… but then something strange happened. It was in the early 80s and a very windy day in East Tennessee, I took a stroll home from a friend’s house, enjoying the whirlwinds and the strong gusts of the breaths of the gods. The elms, the oaks, the poplars, on the bluff roared their derision at the weather, their late-summer leaves still green and defying the oncoming change of season; even now the wisps of clouds high in an azure sky billowed and passed by like faraway clipper ships with their sails all out. I don’t know what was on my mind then. I was out of school. I was older but definitely not old enough. The parking lot around me was filled with cars, the green meadows spread away off the little-used road beyond; one could smell the clean air there, smell the absence of taint of everyday metropolises.
When I came down the lot, I saw a peculiar-looking man. He was tall – nearly seven feet if an inch. He was moving through the air nimbly as if swimming through clear cold water, part of a whirlwind and yet was the whirlwind. I could see his semi-transparent wings, cut in fours like a dragonfly, rippling out currents of air as if they were ripples on a lake. His head was large and oval and he had large eyes. Insect eyes. Eyes that covered most of his head. At that brief moment, my shocked eyes discovered his own, and in that, he saw me, and perceived me.
A moment lost in time – lost in that of what we term past, present, and future – the man became shocked. He was shocked to see me; as shocked or even more to realize I saw him! With a wild backwards leap, the tall dragonfly man bent over as though he held no bones, and the whirlwind he was vanished into the coming twilight.
I may be many things, and I have told fictions of much gravity, but to this I swear is true.
Nowadays the winds blow hard, the whirlwinds cast up their debris and devil-may-care, and in the fastness of what we know as real or as unreal, I wonder what might dance there … and maybe the young wizard inside still wishes to see it too.