I grew up with a dangerous love of werewolves. I wanted to meet them. I wanted to run with them in the woods behind the house. I wanted them to break into my room at night and kneel at my bed and whisper all the courageous, adventurous things I could become.
I drew pictures of werewolves. I couldn’t help myself. Especially when I was 14 and living outside of Caruthersville, MO, on the levy by the Mississippi River, where my father was the pastor of a small country church–those pictures came every day into my head and just bled out of my pencils and pens. Most of these werewolves were kind, masculine, big brotherly, mentor-like werewolves. I was not clued-in to my head at the time.
These werewolves came, most likely, from my deeply embedded and hidden sexuality, a love for hairy men that I could not understand–a feeling like there was a wild side of me that I must hide away. But the werewolves at my window were always free. Free to run.
These werewolves I drew–the first one made me weep as a teenager–there was something important in that picture, something I couldn’t fully understand growing up in my deeply religious environment. I don’t regret the beautiful years of being deep in that family and faith (and I’m still a big part of my family and faith) but I regret not knowing what that was. I’d have been a much different person if I had known I was gay at 15 instead of at 34.
I appreciate the magic and wonder my ignorance left me–and that’s a strange blessing to be thankful for, but it’s a blessing nonetheless. Because I could not believe in my sexuality, I believed werewolves were real. I musta lived under some really awesome bubble of cognitive dissonance for an A+ student to believe werewolves were possible and still understand and love my science classes. But there I was–a high school student who kept a space open in my brain for the possibility of werewolves. It’s not so hard to believe. For me, son of a Southern Baptist minister, I had a world with angel-demon fights, Jesus talking to you out of the air, fiery chariots racing to the sky, resurrecting dead people, talking donkeys–that’s a world where werewolves can happen, too, isn’t it? That space I kept open–it’s a similar space open for the possibility of miracles, of faith. So why not a …sorta faith in werewolves?
What did that faith mean to me? It meant that one day I would be able to be free and run in the woods as a werewolf, and by my side would be a big hairy werewolf who loved me and taught me everything I needed to know.
I’m 48 now. I think that faith was a good faith. Just replace the word werewolf and put “husband” and you have the longing of most every young kid–to be befriended, loved, and to adventure with a partner through life. So that faith wasn’t that misguided–it was merely disguised. And now that I know what it is, I can hold on to the joy of the misdirection–and hold the practical aspects of finding a partner– together.
But faith in werewolves also left me with possibility and wonder. It left me imagination and an open mind. These have become invaluable to me as a writer. I use that sense of hope and wonder and possibility daily to see through my characters’ eyes, to understand how people can believe strongly in things that may not be true, and yet they would do anything to prove them, or keep them from being proved false. I use that possibility and wonder to think realistically about fantasy and science fiction things that have not existed or do not yet exist–I can believe in them.
I think imagination and wonder and possibility are traits we should encourage in kids and adults. Without imagination and possibility, we rigidly set our minds in place and are less open to the possibility that our original answers are wrong, or that something thought impossible could be possible, or that someone else’s point of view might be valid too. It leaves us, I think, arrogant and closed-minded and myopic when the whole point of existence–to me–is the ever widening circle of your experience, growing and cultivating a larger sense of the universe around you, the people around you.
Okay, so I may not believe in werewolves anymore–but I’ve tried to keep an open mind and this has allowed me to listen to people who have, say, seen UFOs and encounters they can’t explain. It doesn’t mean I’ll believe every UFO story I hear–but I believe the people telling me the stories. This left me open enough to write a balanced article about people in the Yukon who have had UFO encounters (upthere).
It also leaves my mind open to the possibility of miracles, of ghosts, of the insight of tarot cards, of what it would be like to live inside those bubbles of possibility and belief. I don’t have to have all the answers. I’m no James Randi and I don’t exclude different ways of knowing. Not everything can be proved. Only what we have proved can be proved–but there is knowledge outside of that, yes? Or else we know everything. I kept my mind open long after I was supposed to close it–and now I don’t want to shut it. I leave it open on purpose.
I leave it open to be surprised.
To understand someone who is not me.
To imagine what it’s like to run in the woods beside a beast who takes the time to teach you about his unbelievable world with his unfathomable point of view.
I leave it open so I can still feel wonder.
And for me as a writer, that wonder has made all the difference.