Gregory Frost, 2003
When I was a kid, I used to hear voices. Most nights, I would read awhile in bed, and often I’d fall asleep while reading. Somewhere in that membrane between waking and sleeping I would drop into a crowd of voices. I couldn’t see anything — it was purely an aural hallucinatory state, the voices all vying for attention as though I’d stumbled into a spectral cocktail party. Sooner or later, one voice would say my name and I’d snap awake. I found it frustrating that I could not remember anything any of the voices had been saying — there was this sense that comprehension was just beyond my grasp. I always insisted that next time it happened I would pay better attention and “bring something back.”
We talk of borders and interstices, corridors and edges. It seems to me that the very act of creating, whether it’s music or fiction or painting, sculptures or performances, is by definition to stand upon the edge.
As I grew older this phenomenon occurred less and less. I might still doze off while reading now, but I don’t land in that cocktail party anymore. If it remains there between the waking and sleeping worlds, then the original rabbit hole down which I plunged has been filled in. Used to be I’d tell this story on panels or in interviews, but nobody ever jumped up and said “Hey, that happened to me, too!” so I stopped mentioning it. I figure they have enough ammunition to put me away already. Joan of Arc heard voices. Look how that turned out.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a comic book artist. I drew my own comics and wrote them, too. Leave me alone for fifteen minutes and I was either reading Johnny Tremain or I was drawing Doctor Fate. Going through school, I was kind of a human pinball. The drawing pushed me into art classes and painting and art school. My love of reading blew the banks of English classes. Roger Zelazny and Philip K. Dick left Silas Marner heaping his gold in the dust. But I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, and painting seemed as good a direction as any. While I majored in painting and art history, I started writing fiction on the sly and soon realized that was where the creative urges had wanted to go all along. That three years of canvases and charcoal sketches went up in a blaze of glory when my apartment burned, but the short story I’d written survived the fire intact probably gave me an extra push. The art training allowed me to see places, scenes, and people in my head. I already heard voices.
The only difference for me between writing fiction and dreaming is that while writing I have some control over which voices are talking and where the spotlights are shone; it’s my little internal theatre. I’m drawn to fantasy, to the fantastic, I think, because fantasy for me is the place where the inner landscape and the outer landscape can blend, or mirror each other, or even switch places. If I pick up a piece of fiction I wrote twenty years ago, I see the same images as when I wrote it. If I read a dream that I journaled twenty years ago, it unfolds in exactly this same way. Both are false memories in a sense, but they are far more vivid than many real ones. Both are things brought back from the other side.
It’s conceivable that I came to writing fiction out of some desire to return to that traverse realm and make sense of all the babble. Maybe I’m trying to capture the voices one at a time. Now I can relate what happened to me in half-sleep to a little understood part of the the brain called Wernicke’s Area, which when stimulated in experiments produces vivid aural hallucinations in subjects — and which once upon a time might have been the source for the voices of gods, our own minds acting the part of winged Mercurys.
We talk of borders and interstices, corridors and edges. It seems to me that the very act of creating, whether it’s music or fiction or painting, sculptures or performances, is by definition to stand upon the edge, offering the world something that we’ve seen or heard on the other side. Presenting it, we become the bridge, mirror, threshold, messenger: We elect to become the in-between. I know some disembodied voices that would tell you I’ve been there all along.
About the Author
Gregory Frost is the author of numerous short stories and five novels, the most current, Fitcher’s Brides, is a recasting of the fairy tale of Bluebeard upon the landscape of 19th century New York in the grip of a millennialist frenzy. He has been a finalist for nearly every fantasy and horror literature award. A new novel, Attack of the Jazz Giants and Other Stories, is forthcoming from Golden Gryphon Press, 2005. For more information visit his website and to read an excellent interview, visit Strange Horizon.
Want more? Read Gregory Frost’s essay “Coloring Between the Lines“.