My friend J has been my most devoted reader, and because she's also functioned as my ideal reader for many years, I've decided to tell a little story about her. She's very important to the Bella Vista Motel characters because she helped them get through to me from the Ouija board. She's very dear to me for too many reasons to list, but some of the best are: her persistent cheerful encouragement, agreeing to watch over my beloved dead cat, and her general willingness to try almost anything.
It was J's giddy inclination to experiment that led us to discover an entity who called herself Helen.
A little back story to help orient you. After my experience in that Texas motel room, several years went by in which many things happened. I was a young single mom, doing this and that to get by. I was writing screenplays at that point, but not about the motel. I hadn't done anything more than dribble out fragmented scenes that took place in motel rooms. I wrote about a motel out in the middle of nowhere the way you would write about a place that reoccurs in your dreams. Nothing cohesive.
I was however, very involved in my own system of alternative spirituality. Which is to say that, like many people in Los Angeles in the mid 1990's, I was very New Age. Now, instead of getting sidetracked defending my crystal gemstone collection or apologizing for my regrettable, but brief foray into ethnic neo-goddess fashion, I'll just say that time period was very good for my creativity. I allowed myself to go way down deep in the cave, wake up the bats and examine both the fossils of my own memories and the artifacts of other realities. Also, a lot of aromatherapy candles got lit, and I had great fun with arts and crafts.
I bought the Ouija board with the same sort of New Age glee that led me to study Tarot Cards and Rune Stones. In fact, my board wasn't even a real Ouija board, it was some knock-off rainbow colored Psychic Circle board, meant to channel helpful spirit guides or something like that. For me – this was pre-internet everywhere time, mind you – information was out there in the ether and these were the tools to tune in with.
But the trouble with the Ouija board was that you couldn't practice solo. I tried. The planchette, the pointer thingie, just sat there. So I tried to enlist several psychic friends to help, but they were either too afraid of demon possession to try or didn't have the knack. My board gave up little more than suspiciously snarky remarks or frustratingly lucid nonsense word strings.
You are there not no. Goodbye. Hello. Find fire feather. I hat you.
And so forth. I even tried to use the board in the Chateau Marmont once with a couple of friends who were staying there. I figured that place would have spooks to spare, but not much resulted from our attempts. It might have been because one of my friends was grievously opposed to Ouija boards, though. She kept pacing around the table, smoking fiercely and saying, "What's the matter with you guys? Didn't you read Shot In The Heart?" None of us had. So she told us about the part in the book where the Gilmore brother's mother had brought death and ruin on her family by conjuring a spirit through a Ouija board. What a killjoy.
So, imagine my delight at finding that my very own J was an absolute protégé at chatting up spirits. I should have known, she can chat up anyone. But she was (and is) the least susceptible to nonsense person you'll ever meet. I'm not sure why she agreed to try it, except for her afore mentioned spirit of adventure. Whatever her reason, she approached it with an open mind, just to see what would happen.
What happened is that every time J touched that board with me, whole conversations flew out. Some of it was hard to decipher and not all of it came from the same entity, but we were hooked. And sometimes a few words can say a lot. We read messages from someone claiming to be one of my dead uncles. Funny baby ears, he said when I asked how he knew me. He'd only seen me up until I was a toddler. He checked into a motel in the late sixties and shot himself.
But it was Helen that really got us going. She said she had lived in my apartment and had been an actress in the 30's and 40's. She got my attention when she spelled out Ozona. She said she wanted to tell me about the motel I visited in Texas. She claimed she had been with me the night I visited. Later, she claimed to have led me there.
I lived in an amazing apartment in Hollywood back then. It had been built in 1918 and was just marvelous. It was sort of craftsmen style, graceful and full of period details and charming atmosphere. I had a working fireplace in my living room. I still miss that place. Best home I've ever had. The idea that a woman named Helen Fenig had lived in my apartment in 1938, struggled to get work in movies and got herself tangled up with mobsters sounded so L.A. noir, it was believable.
I drank up her story and would have driven poor J to become an over-channeled husk had it not been that she would get extremely cranky after an hour or so of Ouija board navigation. She complained that it made her shoulders ache to hold her fingers on the planchette and would just say, "Enough!"
In the heat of excitement over Helen's messages one day, we actually tore out part of a wall in my apartment because she said she had hidden letters there. She described the place, inside the bedroom closet, and when we looked, there was a small section where the plaster had been broken out, then not very skillfully repaired. That's the thing, when you want to believe anyway, and then you get some little bit of physical evidence... It wasn't enough to break into the section inside the closet. Figuring the papers might have fallen down between the lattices, we went around to the other side of the wall in the hallway and tore out a section about as big as ourselves.
Did we feel dumb when we finally stood back and looked at a ruined wall and pile of rubble? Well, yeah. But it was so much fun while we were going at it, the idea that we might find something in there that proved Helen was real and not just a figment of our imagination, made it totally worth the mess. Who can resist a mystery? Not me.
To J's credit, she did try to take a rational approach at one point. Being a genealogy buff, she suggested we go to the downtown library and look through phone books for my address to see who lived there. How sensible is that?
We found that there were indeed phone books on file for the time frame that Helen had said she lived in my apartment, 1938-1942. (Helen was vague on exact dates, she would spell out things like: no head numbers, which I took to mean, no head for numbers – can't remember, as opposed to her meaning she actually had no head. Although, if she was really a spirit, she actually wouldn't have had a head...)
On the day we visited, all of the phone books but one were missing. They were listed in the system as being there, but they weren't there. The one we found, had the page torn out where my address would have been listed. Disappointed, but undaunted, I kept at my quest for evidence that Helen was real. A story was forming and I couldn't quit before I had a grip on it.
J, becoming concerned that I was obsessed, if not possessed, cut me off. No more Ouija boarding. Having no hard feelings against her, she had been very indulgent after all, I promptly replaced her with another friend who just channeled straight up, no board needed.
Aside from finding out that I had been a homicidal maniac many, many lifetimes ago, and should work on letting go of my embedded cellular guilt, because I had paid my debts to humanity ten times over with good deeds in subsequent lifetimes... I got to flesh out Helen's story. She inspired me and eventually the Bella VIsta Motel mythology started busting out of my mind without the benefit of outside oracles.
I have to pause here and say that, now, I have mixed feelings about what Ouija boards really are and what they do. Probably, there's a whole other blog post or two in that. Even back then, I was torn between wanting to believe we were talking with spirits and trying to believe we were channeling our own higher selves, or our own creative impulses or some such. I mean, if my higher self is that tweaked, I just don't know what my on the ground self has to look up to.
I do believe in the power of characters to come forth by whatever means they can get their teeth into though, as I've said before. I had a ghost story in me and it was damn well going to come out, even if it meant using Ouija boards and going a little crazy in the process.
I'm thankful for my dear J's indulgence during that time and her continued willingness to read and discuss.
That other friend, the channeler? Lost track of her a long time ago. I think she moved to Sedona.
(Originally posted Friday, May 30, 2008)