I’m going to tell you a story that is absolutely, positively 100% true. Gather ’round.
I first discovered Brian Froud’s book Faeries when I was in middle school. It entranced me and stimulated my dreams. Then it faded into the mists of the library in my head, until I got to college and rediscovered it. This time around, it didn’t just fascinate me, it drew me in, calling to me like a lost home. It brought an ache to my heart and strange visions to my head. I was sure that it was more than just a book, it was a reminder of some other life of mine. I’ve never really believed in past lives, but this was something else, like a parallel existence or a place I’d mostly forgotten.
One day, I was talking to my mother on the phone and my feelings about the book and faeries in general tumbled out of my mouth. I said I felt like maybe I was a changeling who had been substituted for the “real Josh.” It didn’t help that unlike either of my parents, I was born fair-haired, blue-eyed, left-handed. My mother, in a voice that sounded completely serious, replied, “Well, when you were a baby, I called you ‘the changeling.'” Oh. Okay then.
A couple of years later, just after I’d graduated from college, the role-playing game Changeling: The Dreaming came out. A game about half-faerie beings trapped in a mundane world but thriving off of creativity and imagination, my friends said it seemed like a game written just for me. Especially the “kith” the Pooka, who were described as lazy, artistic, playful shapeshifters. Some of my friends thought this was such a good description of me, they started calling me “Pooka” as a nickname (and some close friends still do to this day). The first time this happened, I suddenly remembered my parents’ pet name for me when I was a kid was “Pook.” I called my dad and asked him where this came from. “From the pooka,” he said. “You know, like in Harvey.” Sure. Okay.
This afternoon, I was reading Catherynne M. Valente’s The Boy Who Lost Fairyland and her description of changelings felt so…real, ringing true in my heart, calling up an ache I haven’t felt in a while. The ache of truly believing that witches and wizards exist in the world, casting spells and granting wishes. The bittersweet pang of knowing that everything is alive and significant yet doesn’t reply when you talk to it. Knowing deep down that you’re Not Normal but you’ve learned over the years to hide inside a coat of Normal as best you can. Yes. This.
I’m not saying I really believe I’m a changeling left in my parents’ house when I was a wee baby. I’m not saying my views of the world and the feelings in my heart were profoundly different from other children’s. I’m just saying that everything I’ve written here is as true as I know how to make it and these feelings drive and pulse through every story and poem I write. You can make of this what you will. Just like I do.
This is dedicated to Margaret Meyer.