I’m often asked why I include mystical elements in my writing. I usually give a one or two sentence answer about how the visible and invisible worlds interact, or talk about meeting people we feel we’ve already known for a long time.
The short answer is that my life is full of experiences that don’t fit in the “rational explanation/reproducible results” box. But today I want to share a true-life story of my own by way of longer explanation.
About a million years ago I attended the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, majoring in what was then called Classical Studies. The curriculum focused on Greek and Roman history, literature, and art and architecture. I’d always been drawn to that period but didn’t really understand why, although I found it convenient to explain my interest in esoteric terms – that is, the origin of our political concepts, artistic, philosophical and literary ideals. I was studying my intellectual and cultural roots.
One of my classes, which started at 8:30 in the morning twice a week, was a 90-minute lecture on Athenian architectural styles before Alexander. It was something of a challenge for most of us to stay awake in an early class conducted in mostly in the dark!
One morning I was watching the procession of slides feeling rather sleepy until a shot of the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion came up on the screen. With one glance I filled with an incomprehensible grief at some terrible unknown loss, and began to weep openly. I had no idea why, and I was quite embarrassed. But I couldn’t stop.
The temple was built on the headland of a long promontory east of Athens, and would have been the last thing someone on a ship sailing east would see when leaving home, and the first thing they would see on return, its columns rising from the sea majestic as Poseidon himself.
For over a decade I mused over this experience. I could slip into that grief anytime I saw a photograph of the temple. But I had no rational explanation for this sudden sense of connection with a place I had never visited and hadn’t even known about until that class in 1970.
When I married in 1982, my wife and I decided to take our honeymoon in Greece and Italy. One of the sites I wanted to see was, of course, the Temple at Sounion. From Athens we hired a car, and as we drove along the winding road its ruins became visible in the distance. Again I began to weep, much to the dismay of my new wife.
Eventually I was able to continue. I don’t know whether you can still do this, but at that time we could actually walk around in the Temple, and see where Lord Byron carved his initials long ago. As I stood between the pillars and looked out over the Aegean, I suddenly wasn’t “me” anymore. I’d become a very old man looking out to sea at a fleet of sailing ships. Persian enemy ships. Their sails were terrible. I wasn’t a priest or anyone important, just a servant who had lived his whole life attached to the temple. I was too old and tired to run. I was far more distraught at knowing the temple would be destroyed than I was knowing I was about to die.
From my studies, I knew the Persians sacked that temple in 490 BC, on their way to their famous defeat at Marathon. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me whether this experience really was a fragment of memory from a past life or not, and there’s certainly no way to prove it, one way or the other. The experience had a powerful emotional impact in my life, though, and that does matter.
What do we do with experiences that don’t make convenient, conventional sense? Do we elevate them at the complete expense of logic, or do we gracefully make room for the unknown/unknowable in our lives in a way that supports both common sense and a sense of adventure, of wonder? Do experiences like that support our awareness of being connected to all things everywhere – in ways we feel but may not understand?
In my current book, The Companion, Shepherd (the protagonist) has a recurring nightmare he believes predicts his violent death at the hands of street thugs. It turns out, however, that the dream relates to his death in a past life, which he must understand better before he can live freely in his current one. In one way or another, my stories include elements usually considered paranormal or fantasy, and I hope they serve to ignite a greater sense of wonder, of possibility, in a reader.
Psychic experiences, past life memories, simple intuition, or our sensitivity to natural forces like those in Reiki or other forms of subtle energy healing practice may not fit easily into explanations offered by traditional western paradigms, but I believe those experiences contain essential keys to living a wise and balanced life. For myself, I’m frequently reminded that to live well I must continue to broaden my sense of what is possible and real.
Blurb: Shepherd Bucknam hasn’t had a lover in more than a decade and doesn’t need one. As a Daka, he coaches men in the sacred art and mystery of sexual ecstasy all the time, and he loves his work. It’s his calling. In fact, he’s perfectly content—except for the terrors of his recurring nightmare and the ominous blood-red birthmarks on his neck. He’s convinced that together they foretell his early and violent death.
When Shepherd’s young protégé is murdered, LAPD Detective Marco Fidanza gets the case. The two men are worlds apart: Marco has fought hard for everything he’s accomplished, in sharp contrast to the apparent ease of Shepherd’s inherited wealth—but their mutual attraction is too hot for either of them to ignore.
Shepherd swears he’ll help find his protégé’s killer, but Marco warns him to stay out of it. When an influential politician is implicated, the police investigation grinds to a halt. Shepherd hires his own investigator. Marco calls it dangerous meddling. As their volatile relationship deepens, Shepherd discovers his nightmares might not relate to the future, but to the deadly legacy of a past life—a life he may have to revisit before he can fully live and love in this one.
Long ago, in a life very far from here and now, I was a minister. Now I live with my husband in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
After so many years of struggling to live as others said I should, I regularly find myself astonished at the power and beauty of living as I must. The more uncompromising I have become in navigating by the stars that are mine to follow, the more wonderful my journey has become. The Universe has been kinder and more generous to me than I had ever dared hope, let alone ask.
Although it took what has seemed a long time to find the hearth of creativity and happiness that is authentic to me, I have no regrets about the turbulent journey I traveled to find it. Now I apply myself to the disciplines, wonder, adventures, challenges and pleasures of walking my path. My heart is full of its rewards.
Most of what I write is called fantasy, but it’s the best way I know to tell my truth, the stories that are mine to tell. Everything I write turns in some way on the mystical inter-dependence of the visible and invisible worlds – spirit and form. The forces of these dimensions seek each other more passionately than lovers, and where they join in a human heart they unchain the mystery of beauty.
That heart knows, then, what seemed to be spirit or form is never exclusively only itself, what it might be without the other. In that heart the dictates of neither realm dominate alone, but together create in tidal ebb and flow between them. This, I believe, is where real magic rises, where life catches fire, and where good stories find their enduring power.
For the last several years I have been honored to serve as one of the judges in the Queer Foundation’s annual National High School Seniors Essay Contest. Finalists are selected from schools across the United States by members of the National Council of Teachers of English.
The goal of this contest is to promote effective writing by, about, and/or for queer youth, and to award scholarships to the winners.
I have found it deeply fulfilling to participate in this event. It’s inspiring to read the entries – all of them essays I would never have been able to write when I was in high school. If you are seeking a worthy project to support via donation, please consider Queer Foundation.
THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED