Reporter’s notebook: Possessed by an idea

For my COMM 622 Writing and Editing for Convergent Media course earlier this fall, our semester-long project was to write an explanatory article that explored in depth any topic we chose.

I couldn’t have been more lost. I was on politics overload, so that was out of the question, and no other hot topics of the day piqued my interest. I hadn’t a single idea and had no clue how I’d come up with one.

But there was something I’d been thinking of. Well, someone. Several someones.

Father Damien Karras was on my mind. So was Regan MacNeill and her mother Chris. All are characters in “The Exorcist,” the novel I’d been reading at the time. I don’t know why I was reading it. I found the Academy Award-winning movie of the same name underwhelming. Maybe it popped up on Amazon as a suggested title or maybe I’d seen a tweet from Linda Blair (who played Regan in the movie) that reminded me of it. In any case, I found myself drawn to the rich text, which I felt more poetic than frightening.

The novel’s setting spoke to me. Much of it takes place at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where my mother earned her bachelor’s degree and at whose hospital both my father and I were born. Author of “The Exorcist” William Peter Blatty also attended Georgetown. The MacNeills would frequent the Arlington, Virginia, neighborhood of Rosslyn, where I work. Each day I drove to the American University campus, I’d pass Georgetown’s famous “Exorcist Steps” from the movie. I almost felt like I was living the story alongside the characters.

As soon as I finished the book, it just so happened that the podcast “Inside the Exorcist” was released. Halloween was also approaching, a time when interest in “The Exorcist” is renewed. It was all coming together.

As a Catholic, I found myself increasingly curious about this mysterious part of my faith that I’d only been exposed to in a fictional context. How does one become possessed? How often does the Catholic Church perform exorcisms? How has the rite evolved over the years?

I couldn’t get it out of my head.

And just like that, I had an idea for my article.

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Thumbnail image caption: “The Exorcist” book cover. (HarperCollins Publishers)

Lindsey Leake