Wherever I am, my head is often elsewhere – a book I’m reading, a film I’ve just watched, and most often completely else, strolling through a story I might try to write. Pay attention, watch what you’re doing, keep your eyes peeled… sorry, no-one in at the moment, please leave a message after the daydream.
This particular train of thought started when I was digging a hole – not metaphorically, but literally, with a spade, moving dirt from A to B, flat ground transformed to lump and matching dip. The aim of the hole digging was planting a tree, but for most of the time my head was elsewhere – not entirely healthy with a sharp-edged tool so close to my toes, and at some point it occurred to me that not only was my attention elsewhere but that this is almost my default state. Doing the laundry, loading the dishwasher, brushing my teeth, or planting a few hundred meters of hedgerow – it doesn’t matter where I am, it’s where my head is that matters.
I am never really alone when my head is elsewhere. Whole worlds open up, wondrous characters drop by for a chat or, on a bad day, the most fantastical bore leans on the door frame to talk me into hell. I could go back to reality, but seriously, is that any better? And what might I miss if I do come back early? Even a fantastical bore has a place in a story, perhaps even a central place depending on the tale. It’s tempting to think that head elsewhere is an essential mindset for being an author, although my suspicion is more that I am an author because my head so readily tours elsewhere.
However, I am not alone in being not alone when I’m on my own… Let me rephrase: I am convinced that I have known similar people over the years. There is a certain look and feel to them – the lights are on, someone is in, but you don’t knock on the door because you just know they are in conference with the aliens, translating Mum’s recipes from the original goblin, or disposing of a body (and there’s always room for a second one). This is only speculation, mind you, because I’ve never dared approach one of these potentially kindred voyagers and pop the question: excuse me, but is that your head, or is it elsewhere?
It’s tempting to think of the strange virtual world of the web as being elsewhere, but it’s not. Online is a different group reality, full of social communities or wild groups shouting at each other in ferocious arguments safe in the knowledge that they don’t have to look each other in the eye. Roving elsewhere, on the other hand, is a solitary exploration, no matter how densely populated elsewhere might be.
The thing about elsewhere is that it’s my fake reality. I like it there and I don’t take guests. Being an author means I that might then write about the places my head has been, either carefully sanitised (cleaned for general consumption and the really nutty bits removed) or in toe-curling detail because I feel like it and want to see eyes go wide, but whether I report it light or heavy no-one ever sees the full scope of my journey.
A few years back, on a drive home from Plymouth, in the dark (my wife was driving) I had an idea. It wasn’t much, but night driving needs concentration and, with no conversation, my head went elsewhere. I kicked the idea around, decided that it was growing on me, and wrote a story, told it to myself while I was elsewhere, edited it in my head, told it again, ran it by a receptive hedgerow. The trouble with having your head elsewhere is that even the worst drivel can sound good, but the next day I wrote it down as well as I could recall, toned down the crazy, changed the names to protect the insolent and won first place in a writing competition. Yay for me, but don’t think for one moment that the published story is really what happened when my head went wandering. It just wrote the bits that made a good story, edited for decency and skipping over the dull bits, and leaving out the embarrassing conversation with… Never mind. That’s for another story.
It’s a private business being elsewhere, full of technicolour wonder and companionship, so absorbing you can get lost for hours, only summoned back by those unstoppable forces of nature such as that cry in the distance the cat is eating your lunch, or the old-fashioned dial-up line back to reality that sends the occasional alert such as spade incoming, move your foot now.
Elsewhere. You can’t beat it, and there is so much to see. You ought to at least visit, perhaps get a season pass, and explore the boundless oddities. If you’ve got a minute I could give you some pointers to the best sights…
Sorry. Have to go. Reality calling. It’s time to put the chickens away.
My head will probably be in some other elsewhere by the time I get back. Maybe see you there. A more interesting you, of course, but that’s the nature of elsewhere.
OMP Admin Note: Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.
He has two urban fantasy novels out on Kindle – “Hell Of A Deal” (http://relinks.me/B01N94VXBC ) and “The Road To Hell” (relinks.me/B07BJLKFSS ) – and is working on a third.
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