Daniel Smiths newest book, Mon­key Mind: A Mem­oir of Anx­i­ety, is now avail­able. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I know a lit­tle some­thing about hear­ing voic­es. My first book, Mus­es, Mad­men, and Prophets, was about audi­to­ry hal­lu­ci­na­tions — specif­i­cal­ly, about how the expe­ri­ence trans­formed, over the course of cen­turies, from some­thing that had spir­i­tu­al and reli­gious con­no­ta­tions to some­thing that sug­gest­ed mad­ness and noth­ing more.

Dur­ing the time of Moses, the Hebrew prophets, Jesus, St. Augus­tine, St. Tere­sa, right on up to the Enlight­en­ment, hear­ing voic­es meant that you could, con­ceiv­ably, be receiv­ing mes­sages from a divine source. Peo­ple still might spit on you, humil­i­ate you, exile you, or burn you at the stake. But there was a chance that they wouldn’t, and that you would be hon­ored for your abil­i­ties. Then, some­time around the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, the med­ical estab­lish­ment grabbed hold of hal­lu­ci­na­tions and hear­ing voic­es entered the realm of pathol­o­gy. This was a shame not because peo­ple who hear voic­es are nev­er men­tal­ly ill but because not every­one who hears voic­es is men­tal­ly ill. It’s the syl­lo­gism — if you hear voic­es, then you are psy­chot­ic — that’s incor­rect and unfair. Many more peo­ple hear voic­es than need psy­chi­atric help.

I men­tion all this because when I start­ed to hear voic­es, a cou­ple of weeks ago, I should have real­ized at once that I wasn’t going crazy.

My sec­ond book, Mon­key Mind: A Mem­oir of Anx­i­ety, had just been pub­lished and I was in a Man­hat­tan stu­dio about to be inter­viewed for the Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based NPR show Talk of the Nation. The set­up was already dis­ori­ent­ing: for some­one who’s not used to it, hav­ing to talk to some­one you can’t see but can only hear through a set of enor­mous head­phones — through which you can also hear, ampli­fied sev­er­al times over, your own voice — is very strange indeed. But the whole set­up became more dis­ori­ent­ing by far when I real­ized that I could hear not only my inter­view­er — the jour­nal­ist John Don­van — but sev­er­al oth­er voic­es besides. At first I had no idea what was going on, and I became fright­ened. I have nev­er heard voic­es before in my life, but my father heard voic­es, and so did his father. So far as I know, both began to hear voic­es ear­ly on, in child­hood. I’m in my thir­ties; I fig­ured I was safe, that the trait had skipped my gen­er­a­tion. Could I have been wrong? Could I be expe­ri­enc­ing a flour­ish­ing of hal­lu­ci­na­tions right at the start of an appear­ance on a nation­al­ly syn­di­cat­ed inter­view show?

Luck­i­ly, the prob­lem wasn’t psy­chi­atric but tech­ni­cal. Some­where, some­how, wires had got­ten crossed. For a half hour, I had to strug­gle to pick out John Donvan’s ques­tions from a wel­ter of oth­er nois­es: crack­les, sta­t­ic, anoth­er inter­view piped in from anoth­er show, and what­ev­er con­ver­sa­tions were going on in the sound booth in the adja­cent room. It wasn’t insan­i­ty, and it wasn’t genet­ic des­tiny. It was just radio.

Vis­it Daniel Smith’s offi­cial web­site here.