May 65th

The month of May has always been my favorite – primarily because of the weather, but also because I was born in May. This year I’ll reach the noteworthy milestone of turning 65, and so far, I don’t feel any different. In some cultures the count begins at conception, so I’m already there by those standards, but either way, by definition, I am now officially old.

When I was very young, this event seemed about as insurmountable as landing on the moon. The average male life expectancy was only 68, so reaching 65 would make me downright ancient. I might be confined to a wheelchair, suffer dementia, or surrender to the vapors. Thankfully, things have changed – people don’t get the vapors any more, and obviously we’ve been to the moon a few times.

In fact, according to what I’ve read, there have been more advancements during my lifetime than in any other period of history. When I was young, we didn’t even know what the word computer meant. There were no cigarettes with filters, automatic transmissions, non-stick cookware, radial tires, or watches you didn’t have to wind. We had 6-cent coke machines, penny candy, rotary telephones, push mowers, home milk delivery, and there was no such thing as The Grammys. We thought everyone from Great Britain sounded like Winston Churchill. We watched Gandhi in newsreels at 15-cent double features. There were reasonable Republicans, way too many petticoats, corner grocers, and everyone went to church.

So I figured if I made it to 65 there’d be a party, and then I’d probably be led away somewhere to die. Life would be over, or I’d opt to sit slowly rocking on someone else’s back porch comparing sunsets, smoking my pipe, and whittling until the end came. And now, none of that is going to happen. I can’t say I’m sorry either, since mentally, I feel about 40, and I’ve still got shit to do, dammit! Being this old is a whole lot less of a drag than I ever would have imagined.

But having officially reached old age also means I’ve got regular bellyaching to do, and much to the chagrin of others, I don’t give a hoot. The things that bother me the most seem to have finally achieved some sort of boiling point and I haven’t an ounce of patience for anything contrary. For instance, I don’t recommend you rub my nose in right-wing politics anymore – I’ve had enough of that selfish, short-sighted garbage, and I’m likely to go off on your tediously immature sense of morality and that self-righteous pomposity you pretend represents well considered thought. (See! I told you.) Likewise, I’m sick to death of thinly cloaked racism and homophobic fear mongering, and honestly have to fight the urge to punch people sometimes. That’s not good, of course, but the nonsense has been building up for so long that I’ve embraced the intransigence of old age as a surprising and comforting character flaw.

But life is a process with many bottom lines, and milestones aside, I still have goals that don’t involve a medical diagnosis. There are the obvious family hopes and desires – that goes without saying, but I also want to learn how to take great photographs, understand quantum physics, bake outstanding sourdough, visit London, and a thousand other things – so I’m just not ready to pack it all in yet. This is only my 65th May, and that doesn’t seem like a lot, does it?

Let’s face it. We’re all going to get old, and I’m pretty sure it’s downhill from here. So, if I had one piece of advice to offer, it would be to make the most of it while you can, but buy a rocking chair. Learn to whittle. It might come in handy any day now.
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Voices From Forever by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/ZBBmj Available on Amazon
There Is No Silence by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/U6KY7 Available on Amazon.

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The Next Level

I’ve just completed my interview for The Voices Podcast with B.J.Moylan, which is scheduled for publication today. BJ is a good friend, and he used to be my boss at PHPRS (Perry Hall Paranormal Research Society) until the team disbanded in late 2012. We don’t spend as much time together as we used to, so it was great just to be able to sit down and talk. He’s definitely a complex guy. He’ll give you the proverbial shirt off his back or his last dollar, but BJ is no shrinking violet, and he could be tough on the team from time to time.

PHPRS was his baby, so he needed to give his best and expected no less from us, but as he states in the interview, “the client comes first.” I can attest that he definitely walked that walk. He expected us to perform to some very high standards – our every move was a reflection on the team, and he insisted we comport ourselves professionally. Sound harsh? It wasn’t. Paranormal investigation is a serious matter, and there’s no good substitute for the right kind of training. Occasionally, team members were asked to leave because they weren’t able to live up to our expectations, and I always felt bad about it, but those of us who drank the Kool-Aid believe we grew in the field because of it.

I felt that what we were doing was significant stuff – he instilled that attitude in each of us, I think, and I personally appreciated the structure and discipline. I believe that without BJ’s influence and guidance I probably would have never succeeded, or understood what it means to “take it to the next level” – a mantra of his from the first day I met him. There was always so much more to learn, and it had nothing to do with our individual egos or feelings. If you wanted to play in our sandbox, you had to be good. Trust me – we were.

When the team disbanded; when he reached the end of his paranormal rope, I felt a little lost. I’ve moved on, of course – he trained me to finish, and my time’s not up just yet, but sometimes I get a little nostalgic. Even though I’ve been blessed to work with many fantastic investigators, walking the dark with BJ was both relaxed and purposeful, and I miss it. Everything seemed to go smoothly and always felt productive – even when nothing happened. We had a chemistry in there, and I have a feeling that will be tough to duplicate. That’s okay though – I know what to strive for.

PHPRS will forever represent the high bar for me. I can look back at something great as I try to become better. And I will, you know, because that was part of the culture too – constant growth, an aversion to complacency, and a strong recognition that there’s always more to learn. We take these things with us through life, you know. And it doesn’t matter how old you are, or how intelligent, how much you think you know, or how creative you happen to be, there’s always “the next level,” as the man said.

I think this might be a little too sappy for BJ. He might not even be aware of the influence he has on so many of us. Lord knows he’s not perfect, but even now, every time I step into a dark, creepy room I think of him. It’s unavoidable – the lessons have served me well; the discipline and structure have given me clarity and resolve. In a way, he still indirectly investigates, and the team still functions because the legacy is so solid. And the next level is always just ahead. Always.
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Also visit Voices Unplugged at http://voicesblogunplugged.wordpress.com/
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Voices From Forever by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/ZBBmj Available on Amazon
There Is No Silence by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/U6KY7 Available on Amazon.

Peanut Butter Is Dangerous!

On Baltimore morning radio, two blockheads, whose paranormal expertise is no better than that of a duck and a ball bearing, discuss ghosts. One boasts that he believes and points to a typical Gettysburg experience, while his buddy is having none of it. “The whole thing is just stupid,” he rants, but three days later he’s singing a different tune. Apparently over the weekend, his motion sensor hallway lights were triggered for no reason, and his garage door opened by itself. Ah, how quickly they turn.

“We’re moving,” he said. “My wife’s mad at me for angering the ghosts and now they’re driving us crazy. We’re gonna hafta move.” His amused buddy wants to know why such a harsh reaction, and proposes calling someone to help find out for sure what’s going on. “I don’t want those idiots in my house! I’d rather move.” I assume he’s kidding, but being one of those “idiots” myself, I’d rather he not call me. Well, he won’t, because the show’s producer suggests a mouse and a power surge – problem solved. This idiot concurs – I doubt the ghosts are angry.

But isn’t it kind of typical? Local media rarely seems capable of dealing with any paranormal subject seriously. They’re always filming some investigators on Halloween doing and saying completely ridiculous stuff. Or, they might feature a local witch – someone in full-Goth mode sporting a pointed hat. They ask her really dumb questions, which she always answers predictably – it’s so sad. Stereotypes and bad punch lines is how anything paranormal is handled locally. “Well Bill, it takes all kinds.” and everyone chuckles. Yes indeed, it does – unfortunately.

Two Halloweens ago, I was invited to explain EVP on the local independent station. I declined. “But it will help your book sales,” he said, thinking that would surely bring about a change in heart. I thanked him politely and also declined his next three attempts. They ran a story about “real life vampires” instead. I still thank my angels for helping me dodge that bullet.

I guess the paranormal still qualifies as one of those “it’s a whacky-world” human interest stories that local anchormen can’t resist every October. One way or another, some poor soul with good intentions is destined to become a laughing stock as he trades his credibility for two minutes of inglorious hometown stardom sandwiched between nonsense and the sports. I don’t know why we do it – I’d rather have strep throat and several staff infections, but every Halloween it’s the same. We’re like mice wandering into one of those plastic traps in search of peanut butter. I thought we would have learned by now – peanut butter is dangerous!

Thank God for BlogTalk radio and other alternative venues. Not all the hosts are exactly charismatic and some of the guests have refined the art of being tedious to a science, but that’s okay. At least Billy Bob doesn’t have to sound like an escapee from Clown College; at least he can maintain his dignity, and his family doesn’t have to cringe themselves to sleep. I suppose I shouldn’t be so hard on the local media – they’re just Lucy pulling back the football one more time. That’s their nature. It’s Charlie Brown who is to blame, you know. When will he learn?
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Also visit Voices Unplugged at http://voicesblogunplugged.wordpress.com/
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Voices From Forever by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/ZBBmj Available on Amazon
There Is No Silence by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/U6KY7 Available on Amazon.

333

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been waking up at the same time every night – at 3:33 am. At first, this was greatly amusing – I even chuckled aloud once or twice. But then, I began to wonder why, and of course I thought there might be a paranormal connection. What else, right? Oh, I realize how frequently people manage to awaken themselves like this with their own inner clocks, but that’s no fun. Given my proclivity for things paranormal, a supernatural explanation should not be unexpected. You know, I even started to look forward to it.

But last night, as I opened my eyes to the now familiar 333; stood and started on my way to the bathroom; as I reached the bedroom door, something caught my t-shirt and held me back. It was actually difficult to pull away – whatever had me used a lot of force. I checked for nails, small slivers of wood – anything out of the ordinary, and I removed the shirt to search for snags, tears, or whatever. You can imagine – there was nothing. Was this what all these 333 moments were about? Was a spirit preparing me for this small tug of war just to let me know he was there? Was this actually paranormal?

Probably not. You know, I realize that we’re not exactly on top of things in the early morning hours; that we’re groggy when we wake up, and our senses are not to be believed. But this was a hefty pull, and I was awake, dammit! I know many of you might prefer I keep this to myself – why incur further embarrassment. You don’t want to think of me as confused and blindly accepting of such esoteric explanations. But what’s the difference? Something pulled my shirt. In fact, it lasted 3 or 4 seconds before I could break free. Does it matter which explanation suits me more?

It’s not so terrible to believe a spirit has been waking me at 333, and pulled my shirt. Mankind has always believed in things that go bump in the night, so frankly, it seems more normal than a lot of rational explanations based on maybe and what if scenarios. In my little world, I reserve the right to believe this fantasy and unexplained nonsense any time I choose.

I think what gets me; what chafes my thighs the most, is that because of this I have become a sleepwalking, dream-dazed, unaware old man, whose commentary on the things he does is now completely unreliable and specious. I couldn’t possibly be getting it right because I was asleep 5 minutes earlier. It couldn’t be a ghost or a spirit. Really? But why on earth does it matter? Why can’t it be Aunt Sue here to tell me that she’s present? “Because that’s just silly!” Who cares?! I like that possibility. It pleases me to think some spirit – whoever he or she might be, went to all the trouble of tugging on my shirt. I like all the foreplay of waking me up every night at 333. And it’s never going to be explained, so I think I prefer the nonsense explanation to the “walking dead” theory.

Even if I am wrong about this, it will never matter. It’ll just be one more fascinating little piece of life that makes me smile. Forget all the serious stuff, and my betrayal of duty as a modern man in a world full of incredible, but true explanations. When I pass this plane, I’m gonna ask everyone I meet on the other side if they pulled on my shirt and woke me up at 333 every night. I’m gonna ask until I find the guy who did it, and then I expect to smile about it all over again.
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Also visit Voices Unplugged at http://voicesblogunplugged.wordpress.com/
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Voices From Forever by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/ZBBmj Available on Amazon
There Is No Silence by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/U6KY7 Available on Amazon.

The Conjuring

I was fortunate enough to see an advance screening of The Conjuring last night, and even though I promised never to write a movie review, I’m gonna do it anyway. Since the official release date is July 19, I’ll do my best not to ruin it for you.

Basically, I think I may have witnessed the birth of a classic – the kind of paradigmatic film people recommend 40 years later for all the right reasons. The Exorcist and The Sixth Sense” immediately come to mind, and that’s some pretty lofty company. The Conjuring was just that good for me. It’s one of the best directed films I’ve seen in years, and the lack of CGI effects make the experience even more faithful to reality. Every technical aspect seemed wonderfully flawless to me, and the cast was perfectly selected, but that doesn’t explain why this movie works so well. That comes from its honesty, because this film tears right through your soul.

If you’re a fan of Ed and Lorraine Warren, and who isn’t really, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga do them proud with sensitive, realistic performances that can only add to the Warren legacy. And Lili Taylor was spectacular in my opinion. She righteously communicated the most difficult range of emotions to translate on film – that of growing, gripping fear, without any reliance on melodrama or forced reaction. For my money, Ms. Taylor may have turned in the best performance of her career – never over the top, but always on the edge. The entire cast was impressive, and they did it the hard way, with an obvious dedication to character and old-fashioned acting.

Unlike most modern films, The Conjuring doesn’t try too hard. Theres no window dressing or useless frills; no assaultive shock-value or cheap thrills; no bullshit paranormal mumbo-jumbo – just an unassuming but astonishing story that feels completely genuine every second of the experience. Of course there are moments sprinkled throughout the film that make you jump, but they’re natural without ever being obvious. And The Conjuring certainly doesn’t tone down the creepiness factor, but it never seems forced.

This is basically a throwback film in that it doesn’t rely on gimmicks, illogical horror, or gratuitous violence. Instead, The Conjuring commits to quality of story and just the perfect amount of suspense to seamlessly lead you down the same terrifying path of no return the Perron family is forced to endure. You share their anguish, feel their indescribably damaging and hopeless terror, and suffer every excruciating second along with them. But this film succeeds where so many others fail because it rises above the nonsense and makes you a true believer. I don’t think I spent a single moment questioning either its authenticity or plausibility.

The Conjuring is just very good filmmaking – possibly great. Certainly it is near the top of its genre. This is a must see, and well worth the trip to the theatre. This is what “the movies” are all about.
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Also visit Voices Unplugged at http://voicesblogunplugged.wordpress.com/
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Voices From Forever by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/ZBBmj Available on Amazon
There Is No Silence by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/U6KY7 Available on Amazon.

Indisputably Worthless

It has been suggested that I write the occasional movie review here on The Voices Blog. Well, it’s true that once upon a time I knew everything there is to know about film, and since I have a BFA in Cinema, I still should, right? But over the years, all the knowledge has slowly drained from my brain into an amorphous lump of unfortunate drivel usually based solely on nothing more than what I like. Since quality is no longer a major concern, I’ve obviously become one of the “great unwashed.”

To help explain this… For me, The Walking Dead isn’t good because of camera angles or point of view; character development is of incidental importance. The rhythm of the editing is meaningless, the acting inconsequential, the special effects of secondary significance, and the underlying definition of the human condition is irrelevant. The Walking Dead is good because there are cool zombies and crazy people. You see? It’s taken a lot of years, but I’ve finally forgotten every last thing I learned in college. When they told me a college education would come in handy, I didn’t think there was an expiration date. It no longer comes in handy.

These days, my usual comments about the films I watch are so pedestrian and personally indulgent that I don’t even enjoy hearing my own opinions as I state them. So, in case you’re still not convinced, here are just ten of the reasons why my opinion on film is totally and indisputably worthless.

1. I have developed an intense hatred for slasher movies. Every time someone gets cut I have to look away. I usually turn to whomever I’m with and say, “This is just stupid. Do you like this crap?”
2. I think “2001: A Space Odyssey” is ground-breaking and seminal, and I still laugh at the instructions for using a zero gravity toilet.
3. When did Monty Python stop making movies? They were just getting the hang of it!
4. I liked “Mama.”
5. I’ve seen “That Thing You Do” 27 times, and I’m not ashamed of it. I want to tell you my favorite part, but it’s too embarrassing.
6. My favorite genre is alien movies. I like ghosts and demons too, but all it takes to get my money is a Gray in his birthday suit.
7. I couldn’t sit through an entire romantic comedy if my life depended on it. Lord save me! Doesn’t matter how much sleep I’ve had the night before, I’m bagging zzzz’s well before that fool decides he can’t live without her. Sometimes I even fall asleep with popcorn still in my mouth.
8. If Bruce Willis is in it, I’m there!
9. I have actually heard myself say, upon occasion, that Tom Cruse is a good actor. When you couple this with the Bruce Willis thing…
10. The whole Jack Sparrow persona still hasn’t gotten old for me.

Watching film is something I do incredibly well – probably because it’s so easy! I do a lot of it too, in one form or another – everything from television shows to movies to footage of my last investigation. I watch it on a big screen tv, iPad, computer, iPhone, and of course, in the theaters. If something has been immortalized on video, celluloid, or digitally mastered, I’m all about it and looking for a front row seat. Problem is, I might know what I like, but I’m no longer certain why. Fortunately, I haven’t lost all semblance of intelligent thought, because I’m smart enough not to attempt a movie review. I wonder what happened to me?
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Also visit Voices Unplugged at http://voicesblogunplugged.wordpress.com/
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Voices From Forever by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/ZBBmj Available on Amazon
There Is No Silence by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/U6KY7 Available on Amazon.

Physical Evidence

For each of the last three investigations in which I have participated, I’ve returned home sporting a small bruise. Each has been almost identical – on the inside of my upper right arm, smaller than a dime, and circular in shape; very dark at first, but quick to disappear. Folks, these are not major bruises and there has been no pain, itching, burning, or other annoying irritation. (Thanks for your concern, though.) It’s mind-boggling, and I wish I had an explanation.

I’d have taken a photo, but it didn’t seem important until now – three times in a row seems to defy coincidence, doesn’t it? It’s such an unusual occurrence, to say the least, and one would think the investigator in me would have chosen to document it, but frankly, I feel a little silly even mentioning it. So before you jump out of your seat trying to be the first to insist that it’s not paranormal, relax! I’m making no such claims. It’s just so odd, though; doesn’t make a lick of sense; defies all logic, and there’s nothing to make me think it’s related to the esoteric portion of the investigations in question.

But hold on a second. I can’t seem to debunk the darn things. I don’t even know where to begin! It doesn’t come from a camera strap, the clothes I wore, close proximity to chemicals or fire, or the seat belt in my car (which I don’t wear, by the way because that’s just how I roll). I’m reasonably certain a disease is not involved, and the only consistent factor is a proximity with paranormal investigations. This lack of a credible explanation has me stumped, even if there is physical evidence. I don’t bruise easily – never have, so what ever could it be?

Well, some have suggested these bruises are the possible entry points of spirits attempting to temporarily possess me. Uh huh. If it weren’t for evidence discovered in analysis, you wouldn’t even know there was activity at these locations, so I don’t think spirits entered my body and left a bruise. And likewise, I don’t believe they represent a place where a spirit touched me. I also refuse to accept alien abduction as the culprit, or an ectoplasmic allergic reaction, over-exposure to electro-magnetic fields, an outward manifestation of fear, a warning from God, or radiation poisoning from Hell.

I suppose it could be psychosomatic, but logic suggests I’d have chosen something a little more dramatic. A cry for help? I doubt it. A latent need for attention? Please. My absolute favorite suggestion included my wife’s hair iron, a deep sleep, and her subconscious need to inflict revenge of some kind. I assure you, that’s not the case either. She may have good reason, but she’s not spiteful.

However, it did occur to me that this situation is very much like the paranormal in one overwhelmingly obvious way – it’s unexplainable and will probably remain so. Of course, I’ll be ready after the next investigation. Cameras, meters, and a crack team will be poised for installment number four, but I think we all know how it will go down. Much ado will be made and nothing will happen. Just when I’m primed, prepared, well-equipped and full of my “mature” version of youthful exuberance, nothing will show. Skeptics will suggest I made it up, team members will be supportive, and friends will be polite, but I bet these incidents stop at three. Sigh… Here we go again.
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Also visit Voices Unplugged at http://voicesblogunplugged.wordpress.com/
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Voices From Forever by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/ZBBmj Available on Amazon
Theree Is No Silence by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/U6KY7 Available on Amazon.