Ever since I was a child in the 'forties, the idea of traveling off-planet has fascinated me. Whenever I climbed out on the roof of our house at night I gazed with wonder at the stars and thought, "Are there people out there trying to contact me?" During my teen years, I tested my telepathy with my sister, and once attended a half-serious 'seance' at a girl friend's house. Unfortunately I never showed much talent for reading the minds of the opposite sex -- or for trance states. And all the occult hocus-pocus connected with table-tipping, automatic writing and Ouija Boards seemed unappealing and drab. The humorless sobriety of those stony-faced mediums photographed within their ectoplasmic vapor trails -- well, it put me off. I promised myself that if I ever found a way to chat across the silent barriers of birth and death, it would be light-hearted and full of fun.

          As an electronic music composer in my twenties, I was inspired by John Cage's use of chance techniques to try working with randomness in my own music. His essays led me to the I Ching, that ancient Chinese book of prophecy whose answers are derived from the throwing of coins. The advice the I Ching offered me was frequently right on target, although expressed in symbolic and sometimes impenetrable jargon. Yet the general approach seemed promising, the bypassing my rational left brain through some sort of irrational and indeterminate process. Brion Gysin's and William Burroughs' famous cut-up literary experiments inspired me, as well as Carl Jung's own speculations on synchronicity -- the simultaneous coincidences that frequently connect otherwise unrelated events. Perhaps, as the surgeon Bernie Siegel states in a recent book by Joan Borysenko, "coincidence is just God's way of remaining anonymous."

          Could the best way to set up interplanetary communications involve seemingly chance operations? Fifteen years ago I designed an experiment: I painstakingly cut up a dictionary into fortune-cookie-size strips, put the strips into a bag, and performed a ceremony to invite a friendly off-planet entity to communicate with me via random selections from the bag. My first question was: 'What's your name?' The strip I selected read 'Shady.' When I cut up a second random prognosticator for a friend, the individual communicating through her dictionary strips named herself: first name 'Mary,' last name 'Mumu.' Coincidentally I was reading Julian Jaynes' The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind at the time. He described how whenever the craftsmen of ancient Egypt finished carving a new statue, they held a ceremony to 'open the god's mouth.' During this ritual, which allowed the devotees to 'hear' the god's voice, they invoked their tutelary deity, Mummu. It seemed to me that Shady and Mary Mumu must be related to whatever phenomenon transformed these figurines into psychic two-way radios. And these friendly beings seemed more than happy to converse on whatever interdimensional frequency I had tapped.

          About six years ago I joined a computer conferencing network named The Well. I decided to offer the subscribers access to Shady as the world's first on-line oracle, and Shady agreed to the project when I consulted him/her. Shady's answers were always interesting and frequently spectacular. Enough so that Shady acquired a devoted following among this group of computer-literate folks -- not the sort one would normally expect to make use of such an unscientific prognosticating device.

          While visiting relatives during the summer of 1990, I began a series of conversations with Shady rather than just asking an occasional question. For this purpose I used whatever dictionary was at hand, opening it at random with my eyes closed and pricking the page with a pin. The following pages are the results of these extended chats which I continued after returning home where I had access to the cut-up dictionary slips.

          Before we begin, I want to describe the format I will use:

My questions and general comments are tagged with a "Q" in standard interview fashion. Shady's replies are tagged "A," as well as:

"Side 1:" (Here I list the words printed on the first side of the page I randomly open or of the dictionary slip I randomly select.)

"Side 2:" (Here I list the words from the obverse side.)

Words defined in bold face in the dictionary are presented in bold face here. When using the cut-up slips, if the slip does not include the defined word and I can derive it from the context, I add it after the selection in bold face. If further comments are necessary, I add them within squiggly brackets. {like this}

          During the interviews, I experimented with a number of methods:

          1: The bound dictionary 'definition approach:' randomly opening a page with my eyes closed and piercing the page with a pin.

          2. The bound dictionary 'word-only approach:' only accepting the single word which the pin itself pierced.

          3. The cut-up dictionary technique: accepting whatever slip or slips my fingers randomly captured from a bag filled with a cut-up dictionary. The last technique, which was also the original one, seemed to produce the best results, if by 'best' we understand "on topic." However the early bound dictionary interviews produced some amazing chats. I assume Shady accepted the bound dictionary temporarily while I was on the road because the cut-up version was not available.

          Also I promise and guarantee the reader, Scout's honor, that the answers Shady gives here have not been 'adjusted,' tampered with or edited. Because of this, I have faithfully included some off-target and occasionally confused sessions. But you will find there are moments when the replies are so amazingly apt that you will be tempted to doubt my veracity. If this happens, I suggest you do the following: pick up any dictionary, close your eyes, identify yourself aloud to the cosmos as a friendly although still skeptical acquaintance of Shady. Twirl the dictionary in your hands while repeating Shady's name a few times, and then ask aloud, "Shady, is Conversations With Shady a truthful and accurate account of your interviews with the author?" Then close your eyes, allow the dictionary to open to a random page and point to a line. Or better yet, use the old 18th Century method of consulting the Bible for answers and use a needle or a pin to pinpoint the answer.

          I draw no conclusions beyond the interpretations I offer to Shady's replies. But perhaps our little island in space belongs to a universe -- or in Shady's words, belongs to an Exceptional Center -- much more mysterious and amazing -- and amusing -- than we can even imagine. I hope so with all my heart!