ALICE HICKEY: Between Worlds by justin spring - HTML preview
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.
All seas of meaning are tied to a particular culture and time. Many words that were used in Shakespeare’s time have very different meanings for us today.
Nuances and associations are lost and sometimes much more. But we don’t have
ALICE HICKEY 65
to go back 400 years and across the Atlantic to find a different sea of meaning for the words we use every day. We can just go across town and find out we have no idea what people are talking about.
When I lived in New York as a young man, I often listened to WBLS, the black R&B station in Harlem. I remember hearing a new James Brown song containing the phrase, “Poppa got a brand new bag,” and having no idea what it meant. My mind immediately fabricated an image of a slightly tipsy, elderly black man walking down the street swinging his wife’s pocketbook.
Looking back at it now, I’m sure if I had ever mentioned that to the African-Americans I played basketball with at the time, they probably would have laid down on the court and howled. They were swimming in a much different sea of meaning than I was. What “Poppa got a brand new bag,” meant to them, I found out years later, was that Brown was declaring he had a whole new outlook on life, and in particular, on the music he was making. Musicians familiar with his work say it marks the point where Brown began to fully realize his efforts to bring black music back to its primal, percussive roots.
If I was confused by Brown’s lyrics, something similar was happening in my attempts to understand the myth. Parts of it didn’t fit into my frame of reference anymore than did “Poppa got a brand new bag.” Whenever I encountered these bewildering parts of the myth, my mind would immediately (and invisibly) produce a fabricated meaning and I was never the wiser. How I eventually figured out what was happening is hard to say, but some of the impetus came from Jane. I was close to the edge of a breakdown one evening and probably would have gone over if she hadn’t called.
“I was thinking about you,” she said.
“I’m glad somebody is. I don’t know how to say this, but I think I’m about to have a nervous breakdown.”
“You sound like it, baby. It’s the myth, isn’t it?”
“Yes. It makes sense and then, all of a sudden, it doesn’t. It’s like being crazy.”
“You are crazy, didn’t I tell you that?”
“That’s not funny, Jane”
“But you are. You know why?”
“No, tell me.”
“Because I keep telling you the myth isn’t yours, but you never listen.”
“I know, I know, but it feels like mine, I mean it came to me like any other poem.
I mean I didn’t feel anybody else; Jesus, I would have known.”
“You don’t know crap, Justin. That myth came from a dark place. I told you that once.”
“I know—it’s a swamp, it came from Joan, get rid of it and all of that, but listen, if it weren’t for Joan, I wouldn’t have the myth.”
“That’s your problem, baby, but right now, that’s not the dark I’m talking about.
66 ALICE HICKEY
I’m talking about the dark where cavemen lived.”
“I don’t know—cavemen from way back in the beginning. Anyway that’s what keeps coming to me. They look almost like apes. I keep seeing some of them coming out of a dark cave, but there are others who keep hanging back. The ones coming out keep looking back at the ones hanging back, like something’s the matter with them.”
“What the hell am I supposed to do with that?”
“You could shove it up your ass for one thing. And listen, mister, don’t get prissy with me. You’re lucky I called.”
ALICE HICKEY 67
Chapter 17: I Take the Ball from Jane And Run
September 2004, Sarasota
Jane made me so angry I snapped back to something like normal. I knew she was onto something. I knew that “cavemen from way back in the beginning” meant the very first humans. But what was she trying to say about them? Right then I saw one of the cavemen looking back at the cave and a tumbler clicked in my head: it was about knowing. They wanted to know why they had come out of the dark, become human, while some of their brothers and sisters had remained in the dark—remained animals. It must have consumed them.
Whatever genetic change had taken place with the advent of human consciousness, it was probably very tentative. It was entirely possible that some of the brothers and sisters of those very first humans would have been born without the human gene. The difference would have been obvious after a few years.
Any doubts I had about the myth were swept away, just like that. Jane’s insight had been like a laser. It had gone right to the heart of the matter. The myth was about the nature of our first consciousness; the one that formed when we changed from animal to man.
I went back to reading about preliterate cultures, especially what Julian Jaynes had to say about their stories. Somewhere in my reading, another tumbler clicked.
Not only was the myth about the first human consciousness, it also had all the characteristics of a story from preliterate times. It was concrete, immediate, straightforward, non-reflective— This happened, They appeared, We went, They said.
That is why the myth seems vague from a modern, explanatory point of view.
Preliterate stories were more concerned with passing on knowledge by imitating a truth than by logically explaining it. Thus the myth is content to present us with a simple drama in which the four players “imitate” the way our first consciousness operated. .
Our modern minds want much more explanatory detail on the four players. We never get that detail, however, because the preliterate speakers of the myth aren’t interested in explaining anything—they’re interested in imitating the essential drama of witnessing. What’s more, and here’s the kicker, the speakers are also assuming we have a preliterate mindset and are therefore familiar with the essential drama and nature of the four players.
The excellence of a preliterate poet was not based on the uniqueness of his story, but how he told it. The basic storyline of Homer’s Iliad, for example, would not 68 ALICE HICKEY
have been much different from that of the scores of competing epics about the Trojan War. Everyone knew the story. What distinguished Homer was the way he told the story.
Unfortunately we are 21st century humans (with a much different consciousness) and therefore aren’t at all familiar with either the drama or the four players in The Witnesses Log. We can only guess. If Columbus, however, had presented this myth to the preliterate tribes he encountered, they—unlike us—would have immediately recognized the four players for who they were.
The myth had come from a dark place, just like Jane said. It not only reflected what had to be the essential concern of very early humans—why they were different from the rest of creation—but the myth was also being told exactly as a preliterate human would have told it. No explanation. Just imitation.
I finally had a good handhold on the myth. I may not have sewn up all the loose ends, but I no longer had any doubts the myth was about early preliterate consciousness. Nor did I have any doubts that the myth was being told from the point of view of very early man. I had no idea, however, how that point of view had found its way into the myth outside of Jane’s belief that it had come from a separate intelligence (something I still couldn’t accept). Yet I suspected I was going to have to view it that way until I cracked the final code. It was just a matter of time, I kept telling myself.
Unfortunately, I kept losing my balance. At times it was like walking through a minefield. I might have understood intellectually that the myth was being told from a preliterate mindset, but I hadn’t quite grasped the full ramifications of what that meant. It wasn’t just a matter of the narrative style. It also meant that the
sea of meaning the myth swam in was very different from the one I swam in.
This meant that even though the words in the myth were ordinary enough, and had obvious contemporary meanings, the preliterate meanings of certain key words were not apparent at all. It was this conflict that was causing my mind to automatically fabricate a meaning. The problem was I couldn’t detect when it was actually happening—the fabrications were too quick for me to catch.
The one thing consciousness is truly threatened by is something it can’t comprehend—something outside of what it knows to be possible—and it will fabricate just about anything to make sure the impossible doesn’t present itself.
This is what was happening to me. My mind would kind of fuzz out and then immediately rebound with a fabricated meaning. These fabrications, by the way, are never rigorous or detailed. In fact they’re very quick and sort of hazy, just enough to get by, as they say.
What makes them especially devilish is the fabrications somehow feel true. There
ALICE HICKEY 69
is no warning sign that a fabrication has taken place, let alone that it is false.
None. It’s only when we try to explain our thoughts in some detail, or they are put under the glass of scrutiny, as in a cross-examination, that these fabrications suddenly fall apart. Otherwise they remain an unchallenged part of our memories.
Here’s another thing to think about. It didn’t matter a bit that the part of the myth I was physically looking at on the page contradicted the fabrication in my mind, because as long as I didn’t look too hard, I was momentarily blinded to what was on the page. I know that sounds like a good description of crazy, but I’m afraid that’s the way the mind works.
I know this now, but at the time the fabrications were invisible to me. All I really knew was that things I felt absolutely sure about would suddenly crumble when I tried to explain them in a rigorous manner to someone. I would suddenly become lost, confused.
Take the case of the Listeners. Whenever I encountered a passage about them that puzzled me—as I had no idea what the Listeners really represented—my mind would invisibly create a fabrication for them that conformed to how I understood the world to be.
Let me give you an example. I understood the word “listener.” It is someone who has an interest in hearing something specific as in, “I was listening for the sound of her voice.” The Oxford Dictionary suggests somewhat the same definition of
“listen”—“to make an effort to hear something, to wait alertly in order to hear a sound. ” I never questioned that basic meaning. It fits much of what the Listeners are about. But the word, as it was used in the myth, suggested other meanings or nuances or associations that didn’t fit into my worldview at all. Undoubtedly an early preliterate mind would have been aware of them, but I clearly wasn’t.
In the context of the myth, the Listeners are psychic, unknowable entities, but there is no mythological creation entity I am aware of as passive as the Listeners.
The Witnesses say they can feel that the Listeners have an interest in their feelings
(“The Listeners hear everything we feel”), but that is the only “activity” ever ascribed to them. We’re never told why they are interested in our feelings. Despite their God-like nature, the Listeners never actively enter this world to communicate with us as the Visitors do, and as all the various Gods and angels have done since the beginning of time.
Yet something in me continually (and invisibly) equated the very active Gods of literate (and preliterate) man to the completely passive Listeners in the myth . I would be looking at the passive Listeners on the page while something in me was attributing all kinds of actions to them in my mind: appearing to the Witnesses, speaking to them, sending them dreams, those kinds of things—but a warning bell never went off in my head.
70 ALICE HICKEY
That is how important it is to consciousness that its worldview not be disturbed.
Castaneda would call that view a description of the world, or perhaps a sub-description of the majestic one he says all human beings are locked into from birth—the description that makes us experience the world as we do. All of those descriptions are tenacious in maintaining their hold on consciousness. In my case, because my own worldview gave me no way of comprehending the Listeners as the myth portrayed them, my mind simply fabricated a meaning for me that made them comprehensible. For a while.
No wonder I thought I was slipping into some kind of madness. None of my thinking about the myth had any stability. Sense would suddenly become nonsense. People would simply walk away.
If I had no intellectual model for the Listeners, what made the whole enterprise even more vexing was that other characters in the myth (such as the Dreamers and Visitors) were somewhat understandable because they did have rough counterparts in other myths, i.e., they swam in similar seas of meaning as my own. For example, entities similar to the Dreamers (Moses, Ezekiel) and the Visitors (Angels) appear in the Bible.
As difficult as making sense of the myth continued to be, it was impossible for me to even consider walking away from it. It wasn’t as if somebody had walked up to me on the street and given me a quick summary of the myth’s basic concepts. In such a case, I probably would have been like anyone else—I would have listened and then forgotten about the whole thing. After all, at first glance, much of the myth seems simplistic (maybe even nonsensical)—at least to the modern mind.
The narrative poem called The Witnesses Log, however, came to me as a pure, unpremeditated poem, not as a cursory description of its concepts. Anyone who has had a truly unpremeditated poem come to them knows the feeling of being filled with its truth. It seems to be a divine gift—something from outside our normal consciousness. It doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not. It is a reflexive human reaction. That is why poets can’t stop showing you their poems.
It is what you’re supposed to do with divine gifts.
Which was why I never doubted the myth as it was coming to me. I could feel it was a true message from the soul. The possibility of it being gibberish never entered my mind. I always receive my poems emotionally, not logically, and those feelings told me I was riding the one true vein. So I kept riding.
I never let my reasoning mind interfere with a poem when it is coming to me.
After all, the truth we sense in a poem comes from a very deep level of the unconscious that easily absorbs contradictions. That feeling of truth from The Witnesses Log was so strong, I didn’t have any doubts I could explain it. After all, it was my poem. And if it was my poem, it had roots somewhere in me.
ALICE HICKEY 71
But I was wrong. I kept failing. What made it especially crazy was that the fabrications allowed me to keep bouncing back, feeling that now I finally
understood the myth. What’s more, those same fabrications kept reinforcing my feeling that the myth had roots in me. As I was to find out, however, the myth didn’t have many roots in me at all.
That’s why I couldn’t walk away from the myth, as many of my acquaintances kept suggesting. I have always felt that poems are true, i.e., they express a deep, soul-driven truth that comes into time from the very roots of your being. If you can feel that truth, you can eventually feel down to its roots and explain it—even if imperfectly.
This may help explain why I felt I was becoming mentally unbalanced. It was very uncomfortable. Thinking you might be going crazy is not a nice feeling.
Those who have been there know what I’m talking about. Ironically, if I had never tried to explain the myth, just let it flow over me like rain, I probably never would have become as unhinged as I did. After all, the soul, the unconscious, can easily accommodate opposites, contradictions; it’s the conscious mind that can’t.
Our first consciousness did a much better job of accommodating contradictions, partly because it was an artistic, imitative consciousness as opposed to our modern explaining consciousness. Early humans seem to have had a very thin membrane separating their conscious and unconscious minds. They floated between the two very easily.
I wasn’t a stranger to that first form of consciousness by any means. Long before the myth came to me, the work of Julian Jaynes had pretty much convinced me that we had indeed gone through a change of consciousness about the time writing was being invented some 4,000 years ago.
So that even before Jane pointed me way back towards that dark cave, some part of me was already sensing the possibility that the myth might not be about our contemporary, self-reflective consciousness, but the older, more primal one. Here are some early journal entries about the nature of that older consciousness: The Witnesses Log is a myth about the creation and nature of our very first state of consciousness, the one that came into being when we changed from animal to man. Over the millennia, we have chosen to describe that new human consciousness many different ways: man became aware of himself as a being separate from nature; he became aware of a Supreme Being; he became a rational creature; he became a tool-maker. This myth doesn’t necessarily negate any of those descriptions, but suggests a much different way of looking at early human consciousness. The myth says that what distinguishes early humans from animals is that we are animals who somehow became storytellers. We became witnesses to creation.
72 ALICE HICKEY
Although modern western culture has tended to regard the nature of human consciousness as one that has remained essentially unchanged since our evolving into homo sapiens some 100,000–200,000 years ago, there is growing evidence that our first state of consciousness was quite different from the one we have today. The work of Julian Jaynes in this area is extensive, and suggests that preliterate man constantly heard voices generated in the right side of his brain that guided him and that he took for the voices of the Gods. Early man didn’t have a self-reflective mind space in which to plot alternatives before taking action, only the voices to guide him.
I am going to also suggest that early man not only heard the Gods, but also reflexively imitated everything he encountered—the voices, visions, the observed physical world—as a way of speaking back, of responding to the Gods. It is only when we understand this that we can begin to understand, for example, the true significance of preliterate ceremonies that involved human sacrifice. Today, we see these ceremonies as barbarous, but to preliterate man they were ceremonies that imitated, that celebrated, the essential mystery of the world: that creation and destruction were inextricably linked, and that to be human was to acknowledge this mystery by imitating it.
This is another way of saying that preliterate man was essentialy an artistic creature, an imitator at heart. This initial, imitative state of human consciousness guided us over tens of thousands of years until the advent of writing, about 4,000
years ago, at which time we seem to have developed our current, self-reflective state with its ability to endlessly replay our past and imagine our future.
We don’t listen to the Gods anymore, rather we analyze our potential and past actions and choose, we hope, the best course of action. It is this later state of consciousness that is represented in the Genesis myth when the Serpent promises Eve that eating the forbidden fruit will allow her and Adam to know what the Gods know.
Eve took the bait, of course, and that change in consciousness turned us from artistic creatures to systematical y rational creatures, and we have been enjoying the benefits and suffering the consequences ever since. You might say that our new consciousness was an evolution that favored explanation over imitation as a way of understanding the world, of knowing who we are.
It may be news to some people that we possess a different kind of consciousness today than we possessed 4,000 years ago, but a great deal of scholarly and anthropologic evidence points that way. I’m not talking about the common perception that we are smarter than stupid preliterate man could ever be, the proof being our creation of atomic bombs and the like. That type of thinking presumes that preliterate man wanted an atomic bomb in the first place. The fact of the matter is that humans at any stage of development are always smart about what is important to them. Preliterate man was always “smart” at imitation, just as we’re always “smart” at explanation.
You just have to look at the incredible colored masks and body paintings of contemporary preliterate peoples like the New Guinea tribesmen to begin to see
ALICE HICKEY 73
how proficient that first state of human consciousness was at imitation. That imitation took many forms, but primary among them was imitating the animals they took as soul guides, as totems. We may say that such face and body painting didn’t take any talent at al , that we could do it in a snap, but we’d be wrong.
If you don’t believe me, stand in front of a mirror naked with some paint and feathers and shells and leaves and vines and try to portray your deeper self, your soul, your shadow self. Besides your powers of imitation being weaker, you’l encounter the deeper problem of having very little sense of what your deeper self looks like. Oh, you’ll go ahead and do it, because you’re stubborn and modern, but no matter how often you try, the result wil look just as stupid and incomplete as the attempts of a New Guinea tribesman to build an atomic bomb.
74 ALICE HICKEY
Chapter 18: Fruitville Road
November 2004, Sarasota
Diane called. She was all over the place like she didn’t know where to start.
Finally she blurted, “Someone called Alice Hickey wants to see you.”
“Who’s Alice Hickey?” I asked, but either she didn’t hear me or she ignored me, because she suddenly said, “I couldn’t really see her, I was dreaming but I couldn’t see anything, it was pitch black, but I could feel her right in front of me pulling me in and then I felt something huge rising up all around me, and then it picked me up like a wave and I began hearing every sound in the world, except I could hear each of them separately, and they all felt alive, I mean alive in the same way I was, and then I could feel something inside me turning into something like light—I mean it felt like light, but I couldn’t see it, like it was too dark to be seen if you know what I mean or maybe you don’t—and then everything collapsed and there was nothing except me, but only barely, because I could feel myself disappearing like a dream I couldn’t quite hold onto and I knew I was dying and then something moved through me like a cold, wet finger and I became completely hysterical and started crying, ‘Don’t leave me, Don’t leave me,’ and then I heard a voice saying, ‘ I need you. ’ Then I woke up.
“It took me a long time,” she continued, “before I could call you. I didn’t know how to even begin to explain what had happened. After a while, I began seeing pictures in my mind of some old houses and trees and it kept coming to me they were way out on Fruitville Road, on the way to Arcadia, so I drove out that way and sure enough there it was: an old, scattered grove with three or four old frame houses threaded through it, dirt roads, pick-ups, bad dog signs, that kind of thing. I drove down one road and then another and there she was, standing by a shed, looking at me.”
“How did you know it was her?” I asked.
“It felt like her; it was just like she’d felt in the dream, in the dark.”
“What do you mean ‘felt like her’?”
“Everyone has a unique soul signature—who you are. It’s not who you think you are, but who you really are, what it feels like to be you. It’s like a smell. If you were a dog, you’d know all your fellow dogs by their signature, their smell. I’m like a dog: once I know your smell I never forget it. I could find you in a snowstorm, just like I found her.”
“But how did you know what she felt like?”
“I didn’t. Not until the dream. I could feel her in the darkness. When I did, the memory of what it feels like to be her became my memory as well.”
“Where did the memory come from?”
“I don’t know. All I know is it became a part of me.”
“What you’re telling me is that you somehow acquired a memory of her soul,
ALICE HICKEY 75
what it feels like to be her, right?”
“That’s right. It’s not that rare. Sometimes I visit Jane in my dreams and leave her with a memory, an imprint, of me.”
“What does Jane do?”
“What do you think? She calls me when she wakes up.”
“I was just asking. Can you give me a taste of what it feels like to be you, right now?’
“This isn’t the right time. We’d have to be dreaming, unconscious, and then I’d come to you. I don’t really know how I do it. I just think of you and I’m in your dream.”
“What do you look like to the dreamer; do you look like yourself?”
“I have no idea. It’s out of my control. It’s not really important though. The memory I would give you is not what I look like, but what I feel like. And that’s out of my control too. It just happens.”
She saw I was a bit confused and said, “If you’re curious, you can get a little taste of what it feels like to be you if you pay attention when you have an orgasm.
That’s something I know you’re familiar with. It’s very fast though. It comes and goes in the blink of an eye and then all you’re left with is a sense of completeness, or emptiness, depending on the situation. But for a second you can feel your essence, what it feels like to be you.
“Listen Justin, some people will tell you they know who they really are, but it’s just a mind trip, something they made up, and it’s always wrong or horribly incomplete, no matter how good their intentions. What we really are, what it feels like to be us, is all but invisible to us. That would be like your mind being able to absorb your soul. It’s not going to happen; the mind is too small. It’s only the surface of the lake—and a very thin one at that.”
“If no one really knows what it feels like to be them, how can they communicate it to you?”
“You’re not listening. I just told you no one can consciously give you that kind of memory. It just happens. That’s the mystery. But as far as I know, it only happens in dreams, or a state of altered consciousness.”
“Are those dreams, like the one you had of Alice, always terrifying?”
“I’ve never had a dream like that before and I never want to again. All the memories I’ve ever been given have slipped in unnoticed. The only sign I ever have that it’s happened, and this may be peculiar to me , is I feel very different when I wake up, like there’s something or someone in my body besides me. But that’s all I know until the memory eventually reappears.”
“What do you mean when the memory reappears?
“Sometimes it reappears when I wake up. That’s when it usually happens with Jane. But sometimes it reappears later. Something makes it rise to consciousness.”
“I don’t know. It just does. Usually I’m dreaming, or in a deep meditation, or a moment of complete stillness, or a poem starts coming to me—something like 76 ALICE HICKEY
that—and the memory appears, becomes a part of what’s happening to me.”
“But why does the memory appear then?”
“I told you I don’t really know. Some think that when the memory appears, it allows the poem or the dream to continue, maybe even complete itself. Others say that the memory itself is the cause of the dream, or the poem in the first place. It’s like the chicken and the egg.
“In the case of Alice, however, I didn’t have to wait for the memory of Alice to appear. It was sitting right on my chest when I woke up. She didn’t have to do that. All she had to do was allow who she was to become a part of my memories. But she didn’t. She almost killed me: she made me go through that horrible dying. There was no reason for that, none.”
I could tell by her voice she wanted to hang up, but I had to know what had happened when she drove over to the old woman.
“I’ll tell you what happened,” she said. “I drove over and pulled down my window and she bent down and said, ‘I’m Alice Hickey,’ that’s what happened.
Her eyes were so pale I couldn’t think. ‘I’m Diane,’ I stammered, and she nodded, but I don’t think she knew who I was, not really.”
“What happened then?”
“She kept staring at me. Jesus, Justin I’m telling you, her eyes were like pale moons, I couldn’t stop looking at them. They kept getting bigger, and then her face went slack like she was about to fall asleep and then she moved closer and then I heard a voice inside my head say, ‘ Meet me. ’ It went right up my spine.
Then she pulled her head out of my window like she just gave me directions to Arcadia. I don’t know why, but she smelled like smoke. Anyway that’s who Alice Hickey is.”
“What does ‘ Meet me’ mean?” I asked.
“The message wasn’t for me. It was for you. I’m sure of it. It means you’re supposed to meet her.”
“Did she say where?”
“I didn’t ask. I just wanted to get out of there. I don’t know who she is, but she’s not nobody—I’ll tell you that.”
I could tell Diane didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I told her I’d let her know what happened. I could feel my body filling up with hope. There was no doubt in my mind that Alice was the old woman by the tomato bin. She’d come back.
There was a reason. But no sooner had that thought passed through my mind than an overwhelming fear paralyzed me. I tried to hold it back, but couldn’t. I opened the floodgates and let the dark water in.
ALICE HICKEY 77
Chapter 19: The Market
November 2004, Sarasota
It was almost eight in the evening when I woke up. I knew the only place Alice could have possibly meant was the market, at the tomato bin. My memory of that first meeting was it took place around eight, so I knew it was time to go. Nothing in my life had prepared me for this. Those who have experienced psychic voices know what I’m talking about. In a very real sense, they are much more compelling than the everyday voices we hear as we go about our lives.
Psychic voices often happen to those who don’t consider themselves in the least psychic. Those voices usually occur at critical times of their lives, turning points.
There is a knowing in those voices that we instinctively bend to, I don’t care who you are. If you’re a rationalist to whom only the physical world exists, the rational part of you may try to brush it off as some haywire neural discharge, but another part of you knows something extraordinary has taken place—that you’ve been spoken to by a higher intelligence over which you have absolutely no control, and no matter how much you may try to dismiss it, you’re going to take it to your grave—especially if you’re an extremely scrupulous rationalist who keeps re-examining his conclusions right down to the very last shovel of dirt.
Schizophrenics report hearing psychic voices all the time. Julian Jaynes suggests schizophrenics suffer from a neurological aberration that allows some part of our long-buried primal consciousness to reappear and compete with our modern, self-reflective consciousness. Under those circumstances, the conflict between the two can be overwhelming because our first consciousness was one in which the Gods spoke to us. And we obeyed.
In lucid moments, many schizophrenics will tell you the voices they hear are irresistible—that it is like being spoken to by a superior being, a God. That is why analysis is useless in dealing with schizophrenics: the patient’s entire sense of what is right and true and good is telling them to follow the voices, to obey them.
Intellectually they may understand what their psychiatrist is telling them—that the voices are not to be trusted—but their total feeling-intelligence tells them otherwise.
It is a lopsided battle, because all that we really have in the end to guide us through our lives is what we feel to be true. Thus schizophrenics will tell you if they didn’t follow the voices, they would be turning away from that part of themselves that had always guided them towards the truth. In short, they would cease to be fully human. They would have to rely on what others told them was true.
78 ALICE HICKEY
John Nash, the young mathematician who descended into severe schizophrenia, eventually chose this route of relying on others in order to have some semblance of a life. It is particularly poignant once you know that when he was asked why he hadn’t stopped listening to the voices much earlier, he replied, “Because the voices come from the same place as the mathematics.” When he made that sad, final choice to ignore the voices by force of will, Nash made it knowing he would never hear the whispers of the genius within him again. It would be hard to think of a crueler prison.
Fortunately, I wasn’t suffering from schizophrenia, but I was in a somewhat similar situation in terms of the effects of the psychic voice Alice had somehow brought into being. When that voice spoke to me from inside my mind, I recognized it as being above me. This wasn’t something I thought about: as soon as I heard the voice I knew it was to be listened to—that it was superior.
My own internal voices, on the other hand, while they have the same kind of authority, feel more like guides. There is a sense of companionship. The sound of the voice coming from Alice, however, was different. It had the authority of a leader, not a companion. There was no doubt in my mind that she was a light carrier of a whole different order.
As drunk as Betty Hagan had been, the psychic voice she somehow engendered had the same effect on me. Fortunately, after I left The Red Light Bar that night, I never saw Betty again. She receded into the recesses of my memory as best she could, occasionally erupting like those bits of spittle of which she seemed so fond.
But Alice was another matter. Perhaps I could have forgotten her, as I had Betty, if she had just gone away—and stayed away. Unlike Betty, though, Alice hadn’t stayed away—she’d come back. The best way I can describe how I felt going to meet her is to tell you I was filled with hope—and a mounting uneasiness.
Although I’ve had a few experiences with inexplicable messengers— strangers who have suddenly come up to me and told me something critical to my life—
Alice was a completely different case. Those strangers had spoken to me like any other person. That hadn’t been the case with Alice. I was sure she was somehow connected to the psychic voice I’d heard inside my mind. I just didn’t know how—or why.
I never confused that voice, however, with my own internal voices; I know those voices. Socrates called it his daimon. My own daimon comes to me in times of extreme stress, or extreme intellectual creativity, as it does to many. Alice’s
“voice”, however, was something else entirely.
Alice might have looked like a weird old cracker lady, but once I had heard the sound of that voice inside my head, something within me recognized it as having
ALICE HICKEY 79
a far greater authority than my normal internal voices. Let me put it to you this way: I was never able to look at Alice in quite the same way as I did everybody else.
Equally baffling to me was her sudden second appearance. It was as if she had been tracking my interior life and decided it was time to make contact again. I had no personal frame of reference for something like that, only stories and myths.
Yet her re-appearance had enough in common with those myths to make me wonder if Alice might be something else altogether: not one of us, but something I was utterly unprepared for—a Visitor.
Thousands of years ago men called these Visitors from the psychic realm angels, or Gods. Today we call those Visitors aliens, and the people who report them unfortunate victims of hallucinations. But if Alice were indeed a Visitor, she would be a very special kind—one indistinguishable from the rest of us—five foot nine, female, a hundred twenty pounds, long gray hair.
Since the beginning of time, men have been fooled by the apparent corporeality of the angels they’ve been forced to wrestle with. If this was the case, if Alice was my Jacob’s Angel, there was good reason for my feeling both exhilarated and afraid. I would have had to be out of my mind to have felt any other way.
My sense of Alice’s power, which was considerable, had been further heightened by what Diane had said about Alice coming to her in her dream. That dream had obviously been overwhelming for Diane, perhaps the equivalent of an intense, very disturbing vision, because after she described it to me to me she never mentioned it again. But I couldn’t let go of it. One day, I bit the bullet and asked her why Alice had come to her, and not me.
“I have no idea,” she replied.
“None at all?”
“Not that I want to talk about.”
“Because it’ll scare the living shit out of you, that’s why.”
“Try you? OK, try this: if Alice had come to you in your dreams, you’d either be dead or laced to the gills with Thorazine at Sarasota Memorial.”
“You think so?”
“I know so.”
“Jesus. Diane, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I don’t think the dream was meant for you—it was meant for me.”
“Really? And why is that?”
“When you first told me the dream, all kinds of triggers went off.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“I didn’t know what to say. You seemed so devastated. But I knew the dream was 80 ALICE HICKEY
meant for me—I was sure of it. You know what I think? I think Alice knew the dream would be too much for me, so she let you take the hit for me. She knew you’d survive and tell me the dream.”
“Could be. She’s mean enough. I’ll tell you this: I didn’t volunteer. You owe me, Justin.”
My guilt, however, didn’t stop me from wanting to know more. At first Diane resisted, but when she saw how important it was to me, she finally gave in. I wound up recording her on three different occasions. The first thing I noticed after listening to the recordings is that they were all different, and not in minor ways.
When I asked her about this, she told me she had no way—no words—to describe what had actually happened; that every attempt was at best a new try. Compare this recording with her earlier description of the dream: It was completely dark. So black I could smell it, like it was alive. I could hear something like an animal breathing, or hissing, it was very close and I knew it was female, and then I felt something like a finger entering my body and then pulling itself out, and when it did, I could feel myself disintegrating into tiny little pieces and it really scared me so I kept trying to remember each of them so I could bring them all back together, and then I heard something like a huge wave rising up behind me, but it wasn’t water, it was like every sound in the world and I could hear each of them like they were alive, it was beautiful, and then the wave swept all the little pieces of me back up together and I had an orgasm so slow and painful and beautiful I was out of my mind and then everything collapsed and I was completely alone in the dark. It was awful; I was crying, ‘Don’t leave me, Don’t leave me’ and then I suddenly felt her presence and I knew exactly who she was and what she wanted me to do and then I began to hear a low, hissing sound, like the kind waves make when they recede from the beach, and then the hissing assembled itself into ‘ I need you,’ but I already knew that, I didn’t need the words, not really. I guess they were insurance in case I was a slow one.
It is one thing to have an intense vision while you are still anchored to the reality of the physical world. It is quite another to do it with no anchor, which is what happened with Diane. She told me that while she was sleeping she must have somehow gone out of body when some part of her sensed Alice’s presence. I mentioned that Castaneda often talks about this, the danger of uncontrolled dreaming, that it can result in death or insanity. She gave me a look I won’t forget. “Castaneda,” she said, “knew what he was getting into. He had been warned. But I never knew what was going on until it was too late. Alice didn’t warn me, didn’t signal me, didn’t do anything—she just sucked me in and nearly fucking killed me.” It was with those words ringing in my head that I climbed into my car and headed for the supermarket.
When I arrived, she was standing by the tomato bin with those same pale, riveting eyes. I didn’t really know what to do. I had been getting intimations over the past
ALICE HICKEY 81
few weeks that something really ugly was about to happen, and that it involved a group of unknown women and myself, and that Alice was somehow connected with it. I began to think Diane’s dark sense of Alice might be right on the mark.
I waited for her to say something. Her pale gray eyes made me dizzy—I felt I’d lose my balance if I looked at them too long. Strangely enough, I felt very comfortable with her. I felt she could be trusted, the way a child trusts a mother, or a father. Then I suddenly became very testy.
“Why didn’t you contact me directly?” I snapped.
“I couldn’t.” she snapped back. Her voice was bone-hard.
“Why not?” I demanded. I couldn’t believe how aggressive I had become.
“Because I wasn’t directed to you, I was directed to someone else, to Diane. It just happens that way sometimes. And don’t ask me why because I don’t know.”
I shut up. She looked at me for a moment and said, “You’ve almost found it, haven’t you?”
“What, the meaning of the myth?”
“Yes, that, whatever. Something’s missing though, isn’t it? I can feel it.”
“Yes. Something’s missing, but I don’t know what.”
She moved slightly closer. All of a sudden it happened again: her eyes seemed to take me over and then a voice inside my head said very clearly, “Listen to the Witnesses. ” Before I could say anything, she snapped, “I know you want to know what’s going on, but the fact of the matter is I have no idea, so don’t waste your time. Nor do I have any idea how I did it, or why. What’s important is you accept it happened. That it was real. Just like you accept these tomatoes are real. No one knows why these things happen. No one. Oh, I could tell you a story, but it would only be a story. Here’s the real buzz, Franklin: you’re living between two worlds.
And both of them want a piece of you.”
82 ALICE HICKEY
Chapter 20: A Measured Retreat
December 2004, Tavernier
I couldn’t get over how aggressive I had been with Alice. It didn’t make any sense. The only way I can explain my conduct is to say I must have been scared out of my mind and had struck back in the only way I knew how: with words.
Could she really be my Jacob’s Angel? I had no idea. How could I? I didn’t even really know what it meant. I only knew what had happened, and it was real, not a hallucination, or derangement of some sort, at least that’s what I kept telling myself.
I needed some time out. I called Pinga, told him I’d like to visit for a few days. He mumbled something about him being out on the reefs but come on down anyway you know where the beds are. I wasn’t sure if he was saying he’d be home or on the reefs, but I knew I’d see him sooner or later. Where else could he be surrounded by the 10,000 horsepower throb of NASCAR? I could hear it humming in the background like a celestial choir as he hung up.
Before I left, I went down to the county offices and looked through the tax rolls and voter registration lists for any name resembling Alice Hickey. Nothing. Then, as a double check, I went through three years of Sarasota phone books: Alice Hickey. A. Hickey, Al Hickey, you name it. Nothing. I called 411, to see if it was a new or unlisted number. Nothing. I did the same for Arcadia, just in case.
I wasn’t surprised. It made sense: Alice seemed to be in the business of sending messages not getting them. I thought about calling Diane to see if she remembered a street address or something, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good.
Alice would do the calling. It wasn’t going to happen any other way.
I spent some time thinking about “Listen to the Witnesses. ” I knew it was important. The sound of those words had gone right through me. I also knew there wouldn’t be just one meaning. There never is. One avenue that held immediate promise was based on the fact that “hearing” and “feeling” are constantly equated with each other in the myth: “The Listeners hear everything we feel. ”
Perhaps what “Listen to the Witnesses. ” meant was that I should be feeling the myth—the emotional core of its narrators. It was good advice. The words in a poem are just the mysterious messengers (and believe me, they are mysterious), but they are not the message. Not the real message. The real message is the feeling brought by the messengers. And the myth was no exception. Maybe I was being told that the real message of the myth lay in its sound.
ALICE HICKEY 83
That sound, that feeling, had different effects on different people. Strangely enough, Joan liked the sound of the myth, found it both strangely erotic and yet comforting, and oddly, I found it to be somewhat that way as well. But why shouldn’t it be erotic? It was, after all, a myth about creation. Jane, on the other hand, didn’t like the feeling at all: too cold, too Nordic, too thinky, she kept saying to me. Jane was right in one respect: The Witnesses Log is painted in the bleak, stoic colors of a Valhalla. But supporting those gray colors were emotions we have all but discarded in our convenience store world: truth, courage, honor, longing, wonder, daring, resignation, wisdom
Yet “Listen to the Witnesses” could just as well have meant I should be paying attention to what anyone said about the myth. After all, we are all witnesses, and help does come from unexpected places. Rightly or wrongly, however, something in me kept insisting that neither of these possibilities was the real one, that the voice meant I should be focusing on people who actually knew something about the myth; that’s what witnessing represents—knowing, knowledge, those who know.
There were only three people who really knew the myth in addition to me: Diane, Joan, and Jane. Perhaps the message meant I should keep listening to what they were saying, or maybe pay more attention to what they were saying between the lines. As for Alice, I had no idea what she knew. I knew I was going to see her again. I just didn’t know where or when. I needed some time alone with the myth—a slow, cradling time. What better place than the Keys?
As I approached Tavernier, I remembered Pinga’s refrigerator was probably empty with him on the reef, so I stopped for a café cubano and some fried pork. I was a few blocks away from his house and just about to roll another big one when I saw I was almost out of smoke and I’m thinking, Jesus how the hell did that happen where the fuck does he keep his shit anyway maybe behind that goddamn bigass TV, and then I saw his Mercedes squatting in the driveway like a fat, black scarab and I knew everything was going to be fine.
When I opened the door, a familiar, pungent scent wafted out of the TV room and I heard him shouting, “Hey I’m in here,” as if I didn’t know and then I plopped down next to him and suddenly remembered there was something I had to ask him. One of my son’s friends had given me a drink; he said it was from South America. From way in the back of my mind came the memory of a drink I used to get at road stands everywhere in Brazil back in the early seventies: a very rough, cheap, cane rum with lime and sugar; it was the national mainstay, like beer or Coke is here. I immediately remembered everyone called the drink pinga.
I asked Pinga what the connection was. “I don’t know about Brazil,” he said, “I never went there. Pinga means “prick” in Portuguese. It’s a nickname I got on my first treasure dive. It stuck. Everyone calls me Pinga now. Even my mother began 84 ALICE HICKEY
calling me Pinga—like I didn’t have a real name until then.”
“Why Pinga?” I asked.
“Because I beat all the other divers to the treasure,” he said, “I was sure where it was, I just knew, and when I found it, I stuck a couple of pieces in my crotch, just for me, and then I started putting the rest in the haul-up. When I came back up, I had this big bulge in my trunks, but nobody said anything. Even the captain was cool with it. Who knows, maybe they heard the story about me biting ears off— it gets around you know. Pretty soon the Portuguese cook started calling me Pinga; he couldn’t stop laughing. That was the end of it. I became Pinga. Then Kiki started calling me Pinga, like it was my real name.”
“So what’s your real name?” I asked.
“It’s not important. It was a mistake. That’s what Kiki said. She said it wasn’t my real name; that I had to wait until I was thirty-three for someone to give me my goddamn real name.”
ALICE HICKEY 85
Chapter 21: A Distant Retreat
February 2005, Alamos, Mexico
Despite my belief that Diane and Jane and Joan were the witnesses I should be listening to, it didn’t turn out that way. Joan remained hidden away in Mexico and was almost impossible to reach. As for Diane and Jane, they said they couldn’t really add anything more. Both felt my first guess was correct— listen to the narrators of the myth, get inside their skin, to which Jane added, “And maybe after that you should begin thinking about getting on to something else.” Yep: nice and smooth, then bumpity-bump.
Without their guidance, I had no idea how to proceed. I felt like a child asked to sit in a dark room for reasons that weren’t quite clear. Yet that seemed to be the way things were going to play out, at least for a while. Somewhere in that gloom was a path. I knew I’d never find it by looking for it; it didn’t work that way. I’d have to wait for it to appear, however hazily. Weeks passed. Then Pinga called.
Maybe this is it, I thought. He told me he was about to take off for Panama again.
He wanted me to go with him, and made some outlandish promises, not to mention outright bribes regarding Mercedes, but I told him there was no way I was going back.
Then, somewhere in the middle of February, a path appeared, dimly. It was Joan.
She called from Alamos asking me to visit. I hesitated; I had made the trip before.
It was a long, cross-country trip to Arizona, then a backbreaking, fourteen-hour bus ride from the Nogales border into Mexico.
I liked the idea of Mexico, though. There isn’t a better place to wait. It may be third world physically, but I had found it to be first world spiritually, especially in small remote towns like Alamos. My last time there I had become friends with a healer and had asked her what accounted for the extraordinary sense of well being I felt in Alamos. “Everyone here, except for a few of the gringos, is living in the present, that’s why,” she said. “No one’s re-living the past or worrying about the future, anyway, that’s what you’re feeling all around you.” I liked that; I couldn’t ask for better air to breathe. Besides, I wanted to see Joan. It had been a long time.
Maybe she was her extravagant, fashionable self again.
Luckily, it was winter and I had no problems renting my place to a freezing couple from Boston and immediately splitting for Nogales. On the map, there is always a clear line dividing American Nogales and Mexican Nogales, but it’s an illusion. For about seventy-five yards, the two cultures leak into each other in the weirdest ways: signs, money, dress, language, customs, you name it. Mexico feels like a weird version of America and America feels like an equally weird version of Mexico.
86 ALICE HICKEY
One of the strangest sights I encountered was in a drugstore just over the border in the American zone. When I went to pay, I was startled by the makeup on the checkout girl’s face. She had powdered her dark Mexican face white, almost like a Kabuki actor. I didn’t know what to think until I realized that she wanted to fit in, be taken for an American.
Seeing her must have struck a hidden chord, because I was beginning to sense that the borderline between our world and the Other World, the psychic world, whatever you want to call it, is much like the Nogales border. It looks clean and straight in the books, as if the line between the two were inviolable, that each realm remains itself: here’s Heaven and here’s Earth.
But it is anything but inviolable. It’s somewhat like Nogales, in that the two worlds seem to be constantly leaking into one another. You wouldn’t think it with all the books to the contrary, but my experiences over the past five years had taught me otherwise.
Over the millennia, that porosity has turned figuring out what the psychic world is really like into pretty much a guessing game. You get things like the Mexican shop girl: you’re standing in one world and all of a sudden you’re in the other. It’s been going on forever, and as far as I can tell, no one has ever gotten the upper hand on it. All we really know, and all we have ever known, is that the psychic world is real, that it exists. Beyond that, all we have are stories.
That was my state of mind as the bus began squeezing itself through the crowded streets of Mexican Nogales. A few minutes later we were in the bleak Sonora desert. After five or six hours, day turned into dusk and then there was nothing but darkness and the dim glow of the driver’s panel and then sleep, no sleep, sleep, no sleep. Every once in a while, a two or three light bulb town would rise up through the window and then fade away into darkness, and then, right after dawn, finally, the bus pulled into the empty, dusty Mercado of Alamos. I stumbled out onto a street bench with my duffle bags and waited for Joan.
Alamos—not to be confused with the Alamo, the San Antonio fort of movie fame—is a small colonial town lodged in the low mountains of the western Sonora desert. It became the center of a huge, silver mining operation in the late 17th century, an extremely profitable effort that continued into the early twentieth century, when the mines went bust. It became a ghost town until an influx of adventurous Americans in the late 1940s set about restoring the majestic, once beautiful haciendas. It is completely isolated from its neighbors, and as far as I could tell, hasn’t changed much since its boom days. The only signs of modernity were a PEMEX gas station, a small bank, and a bedraggled basketball court right in the center of the Mercado. Everything else in the town had the dust of centuries on it.
ALICE HICKEY 87
Despite her inability to speak Spanish, Joan had somehow found a colonial house with enormous ceilings and huge doors. It was over two hundred years old and beautiful. I set about making myself busy because there was very little to do besides walk and eat and sleep. Except for an occasional gringo satellite antenna, it was very much like a small farm town in America in the nineteen twenties: if you didn’t carry your entertainment around in your head, you were going to be one bored boy.
Fortunately, my head is always full—perhaps too full. The first thing I did was try to get Joan engaged in some recordings, but she was still too depressed. I told her what she needed was a new pair of alligator heels and a long lunch with some really funny gays. She laughed, but it was a struggle. She told me she had no idea what she was doing in Alamos. “My guides brought me here, so there must be a reason,” was all she would say.
She was clearly having a rough time adapting to the kind of do-it-yourself attitude that surviving in Alamos required. A few months later, when she began to feel better, we did some recordings together and then I collaborated with a Mexican painter and some singers on a few video projects and then I looked up at the sky for I don’t know how long and suddenly decided it was time to find Alice and get some answers.
I told Joan I had to go, that I had to talk to Alice about the myth. I guess I went on a bit because I could see her becoming impatient. She didn’t like it at all that I was leaving, and almost said as much, but I told her I had no choice. She looked back at me as if I wasn’t even there. It was obvious she was still in a deep struggle with something that wouldn’t let go. I asked her what was going on. After a few seconds, she said, “I don’t know. I’m going to have to feel my way. And you are too.” That was it. Later that night, around eleven, I dragged Joan’s words and my two large duffle bags onto the all-night bus heading back to Nogales.
88 ALICE HICKEY
Chapter 22: Starbucks
March 2005, Starbucks, Sarasota