Steven King once said, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” There might be two things wrong with using that phrase for my life right now. First, I am feeling anything but scared. This new project has my hands sweaty with anticipation and excitement, but there is nothing to lose so nothing much to look around the corner for with fear.
The second part is that King was not talking about starting over, which this is. A few months ago I left a part of myself behind and gave up the ghost, so to speak. After more than ten years, without a proclamation on social media or a trumpet sound, I took down my Web site, Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads, and stopped actively seeking out and responding to inquiries about ghosts and monsters and things that live in the dark. The reasons are too abstract to explain, so I’ll leave it at there was something in my stomach telling me to stop. Seeing the stat tracker the next day screaming zero and having my information quickly removed from search engines was a shock, and I didn’t really feel the weight lift.
I had talked about the Tripping on Legends project for a while and decided to put my energies there. It is a call back to the part of the paranormal that sparked me in grade school, and college, and when I first starting using Page Builder on an archaic computer to built Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads. Although I am not seeking out the supernatural, I am looking at those same core emotions that call to us and make us keep coming back to the same themes and ideas. If ghosts cross my path, I’ll walk with them a while, but that is not the spirit of the journey.
Tripping on Legends is like skipping a stone across the country and seeing where it lands. I am looking to document hidden heroes across the country, especially the ones who may never have existed. I am making a call to each corner of the country to tell me the stories that time has forgotten, and I am hoping in the process to tell the tale of this country through those stories. We all remember Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill and John Henry, each state, each town, has their hidden Johnny Appleseed, their own folklore that has shaped their people and their landscape as much as its industry and geography. Basic crime scene investigation tells us we leave something and pick up something everywhere we go, and cultures drop and grasp through their heroes and stories.
I am looking to document the more obscure stories, the hidden Calamity Jane of towns. The story may be familiar but region specific, creepy or spooky, or just plain entertaining or important. Folklore, urban legends, or just regional legends are all fair game. I’ll be spending a week with each state, on the phone and typing blindly, trying to reach people who have the tale.
I am not expecting this to just be about the stories. I’ll be documenting who responds, from what towns and from what positions, because I am as interested in knowing who holds our pasts in their hands. Who are the people who are keeping this alive and dusting off the old books to get the facts, or at least the feel of the facts, passed down. Having been a librarian (although I know many librarians would laugh at that given what I have no degree and worked in acquisitions) I am hoping they are the gatekeepers, but I know archivists, news reporters, and educators are out there hoping someone asks them about what they do. For me, the excitement comes in the research, including trying to find the person who knows what I am looking for.
The best part of the project might be the end game. For the first time in a long time, I have none. I have no audience or editor, no footstep to trip on or shadow to overcome. This journey is for the journey, and I am as open to what happens as I am motivated by the mere directlessness of it.
Tomorrow I am off to Iowa. There is no logic as to why I would start there, other than to say I know nothing about the place. Like Tripping on Legends itself, I have never been there before and don’t know what it holds for me. There is some small town there, and I think I know enough about it to know the whole state may be small towns, that has a day dedicated to a war hero that never fought in a war or a festival where kids dress up as characters in a story they all know but that the rest of the country is ignorant to. That’s where I want to go, and I step with more passion than I’ve had in a few years.