Fool’s Gold

My wife and I watched spellbound as a strange, translucent shadow moved back and forth in the hallway outside our bedroom door. It moved inconsistently at about human height, and bore a strikingly similar shape to that of a person. We watched a while, anticipating movement; looking for clues to its identity; commenting on what we thought it might be. Eventually, I got out of bed and proceeded to the only light source available – the crack in my daughter’s bedroom door. Inside, by the glow of a night light, I found a very small balloon dancing about near a fan and reflecting a faint shadow into the hall through the barely open door. End of mystery. Certainly not paranormal, though it looked every inch the part.

Yesterday, my dog was standing in the kitchen waiting for his snack. This was a bit of a shocker, because Oliver was outside, tied up, and barking. How could he be in two places at once? Was he astral projecting? The spirit of his deceased father, perhaps? His doppelgänger? I’m a trained observer, dog-gone-it, and I know what I saw. Clear as a bell, it was. But it wasn’t. I am always amazed at how such hallucinations are possible, but this was a brief sighting, and obviously not an accurate one – my brain somehow found a way to create Oliver’s “second” and make it appear acceptably real.

This is what we face as paranormal investigators – the natural occurrences of normal life can confound us in a heartbeat, and our imaginations will trigger without any perceivable encouragement. How to recognize the validity of our observations (barring audio or video assistance) becomes a major task, because it appears painfully obvious that we’re terrible eye witnesses and simply can’t be relied upon for accuracy. Occasionally, the things we see are more difficult to dispense with – especially when they span more than a few seconds and are seen by more than one person. Other times, our paranormal experiences are fleeting. They find us alone, and while no less real to our senses, present the same problem – how do we differentiate between reality and illusion. Do we stop trusting our eyes and ears? Is this just part of what it means to be human?

Absolutely it is, but this is not a black and white issue – it is ten thousand shades of gray. Seeing my dog where he was not doesn’t deny the existence or the richness of credible paranormal experiences. The weight of one single incident has no bearing on any other. The fact that our minds are capable of manufacturing such visions does not categorically explain or discredit every unexplainable event we encounter. The truth is always found in the middle – between the obvious and the impossible; in spite of belief or doubt. Our job as investigators is to accurately recognize enough of the facts to shed a small light on what is real, while never losing sight of the false or the convincing.

Things paranormal can offer up a frustrating road to travel; can make us appear foolish and gullible, and frankly, will waste our time. The paranormal can be fool’s gold, as it cloaks the truth amid just enough glitter and shine to catch our eye and capture our imaginations. But just because we can be deceived, doesn’t mean we are. Sometimes, there truly is “gold in them thar hills” – buried between the facts and the deceptions. Ya just gotta keep looking, and learn to laugh at yourself along the way.
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Definitely Kinda Sorta

I have a problem. I’ve captured video of some thingy that travels unpredictably, is incredibly fast, changes shapes, and casts its own very bright light. I recorded it during a private daytime investigation, so duh… It’s not a bug, flashlight, or car lights. Besides, no one was even in the building. But listen, I know what it’s not – I just don’t know what it is.

At first I was disappointed to see it a second time because that suggested a naturally recurring situation, but everything about it was completely different from the first one, so I labeled both of the anomalies as temporarily unexplainable. Likewise for the third, fourth, and fifth occurrences – each different, and each completely without sensible interpretation. However, by the time number six arrived, I was pretty jaded and with much chagrin, decided that I couldn’t accept any of them as paranormal. Into the proverbial trash with them all.

No, I had to re-evaluate. I knew eventually I would have to discredit the darn things because that’s my job, so I pushed it aside for later and moved on to the final video file. And there it was – number seven. This time, it was the shape and size of a bright orange baseball. I watched transfixed; spellbound and incredulous, as it moved up the stairs casting a soft, golden glow on the far wall of the stairwell. Basically, I just stared at the screen – fully awake and focused – watching it take the shape of a perfect orb, and slowly float away.

Wait. An orb? Oh Lord, not an orb! I don’t believe in orbs. Not even a little bit. In order for me to believe in an orb it would have to introduce itself verbally and sit in my hand while singing Handel’s Messiah and juggling. Orbs are never paranormal, dammit! And that’s final. But I dunno what this is! It was round just that once, which suggests I can probably avoid the word “orb,” so I’m calling it a light anomaly. But just because I don’t know what the phenomenon is, doesn’t mean I don’t know what I think, and I definitely kinda sorta don’t think it’s paranormal. Am I just being stubborn? I prefer prudent, cautious, and sensible, but if that’s so, then why does it feel so wrong? Well, it’s one of those things, right? Sometimes it doesn’t matter how unexplainable something appears to be, ya just can’t call it paranormal. Sometimes you just suck it up and try to muddle through.

But why? Am I actually going to ignore this just because it’s an orb? I could have been wrong all these years. Orbs might actually be paranormal. Not the silly ones that supposedly have faces and only happen at the exact same moment as lens flare, of course, but what kind of investigator refuses to recognize evidence just because it differs from his “other” world view? Either this is real or it isn’t – there’s no middle ground here. But an orb? Sigh… I’d have preferred a tap dancing T-Rex.

Well, I’ll be okay – don’t worry about me. I’ll just do a lot of shoulder shrugging and say things like, “I dunno what it is. What do you think?” My reputation will stay in tact; my credibility will come back. There’s nothing to fret about because it is sooo not an orb, but then what is it? Okay, I know. I get it! It’s a light anomaly, and there’s an explanation out there somewhere. I’ll figure it out. Geeez… Why me?
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Uninformed and Misled

This week I read a very thought provoking blog post on The Big Seance entitled “How Does the Skeptic View Paranormal Folk?” It features a stunning video from a young lady which everyone in the paranormal field should see. Truthfully, I found most of what she said to be mildly offensive, and I thought she exhibited a surprising and willing lack of intellectual faculty concerning the paranormal field. However, I won’t dwell on her unfavorable opinions of us. She is well within her rights to speak her mind, and I would never object to her expression of those ideas, but I found it eye-opening. I recommend you read this blog entry and see the video – you can draw your own conclusions.

However, even though I won’t concern myself with the negativity, I’d like to focus instead on the one area in which she and I agree. I even recorded an entire podcast episode about the same subject entitled “No Scientists.” It centers on what I feel is a fact – paranormal investigators are not scientists. That shouldn’t be a shocking revelation. I do believe we have fiercely stepped into a gaping void we call “paranormal studies,” but we’ve done so out of love for the subject, passion for the possibilities, reverence for the unknown, and because the scientific community has almost to a man, ignored it. Regardless, we’re not scientists – not by determination or default.

We don’t do things scientifically, carry out our work according to any accepted scientific methods, record and store our data in any reasonable scientific manner, or draw conclusions in an organized and sensible fashion. If we’re being honest, almost nothing about what we do is definitively scientific.

But all is not lost. There’s nothing wrong with observing accurately and reporting what we observe? That’s actually what we do. We’re reporters. That’s how I see it – we’re like this strange new kind of guerrilla journalist. A journalist, by definition, is “anyone who keeps a journal, diary, or any other record of events.” Likewise, a reporter is “anyone who reports”. Well, that’s us! We might also be able to call ourselves researchers since the dictionary states that research involves a “diligent, systematic, and often extensive inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.” That fits like a glove, no?

We shouldn’t even hint that we do science (and you know, a lot of us do) because that would be truly inaccurate, but also because scientists are forced to deal only with facts and unquestionable truths. As paranormal investigators (reporters; researchers), we deal with the exact opposite. We may believe our paranormal realities are facts, and they may indeed be quite true, but there really is no proof. Not yet. That’s what we’re looking for, right? The data we gather is incredibly, and singularly important to that end, and some day, science may find that data to be priceless in determining heretofore elusive facts and truths. One day, they may move forward into the unknown on the back of our data. An unknown, we already know exists.

You know, the scientific community has a history of ridiculing those who don’t quite meet their standards and criteria. Today’s breed might deny that, of course, but it’s on the record – the facts don’t lie. Some scientists spend considerable time attempting to invalidate and dismiss us all as uninformed hobbyists or unfortunately misled souls. That time would be better spent looking at our data with the unbiased eye they so humbly claim to possess, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. Partly because they’re very good at missing the forest for the trees; partly because (if the aforementioned video is any indication) they just don’t want anything to do with us. Well, it doesn’t matter. We’re not scientists anyway, so they’ll do their thing and we’ll do ours. Much respect to everyone, but I’m not sure I want to enter a pitch black abandoned mental institution with a scientist by my side anyway. I prefer my “uninformed and misled” brothers and sisters. Peace!
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“When I’m 64”

I don’t know about you, but I like to do things my own way. I don’t need a bunch of people telling me how to behave, when to go to sleep, what to eat or wear, which movies to watch, and who I can choose for friends. I’m grown! So, because Tuesday was my birthday, and since we decided to go to my favorite seafood restaurant to celebrate, I decreed that everything should be “my way.” Naturally, I wore my camouflage shorts and Voices From Forever t-shirt, ordered two entrees for myself, spilled the wife’s soda (she’s so long-suffering), and over-tipped the busboy – all of which crescendoed into an over-stuffed food stupor with an order of pitiful groaning on the side. It was glorious! And I loved doing everything my way so much, I decided to make a list of some other things I’d like to do – maybe next birthday.

I call this list “My Paranormal Bucket List,” or “Ten Paranormal-related Things I’ll Probably Never Get To Do But Really Should Be Allowed To List.” Here goes, in no particular order.

1. Investigate Buckingham Palace. Who wouldn’t want to do this considering all the spirits in that place? Queen Elizabeth must not ever get a good night’s sleep. I want a full-on, no holds barred investigation, and I don’t care how many months it takes.
2. I want a brand new, top of the line, $40,000 color FLIR all to myself. In fact, make that two! ‘Nuff said.
3. Spend several days at Stonehenge, during the summer solstice – just me and 2 other investigators… Uninterrupted… All day, all night – catered.
4. I want to attempt to record John Lennon’s spirit voice. I’m not sure how I’ll do this just yet, but “with a little help from my friends…” (Old hippies will get the reference.)
5. I wanna spend the night locked in the Louvre with enough cameras to cover every nook and cranny. Just me and one other art-loving investigator who promises not to complain about the French Impressionists.
6. I want one of those nerdy safari vests with a gazillion pockets. Just sayin’…
7. Any investigation with Barry Fitzgerald will be just fine, thank you. It’s not exactly a spectacular item, and might be the most doable thing on the list, but I’m certain it’ll be the most enjoyable. P.S. I prefer my Barry Fitzgerald with a shaved head.
8. I want to artistically photograph any allegedly haunted place I so desire. I want total access and unlimited time so that my images will be breathtaking and completely express the true nature of each location. False praise of my final product is willingly accepted, of course.
9. I want the complete run of the Gettysburg Battlefield any time I like – especially after dark. Lets throw in certain select buildings in town as well.
10. I want the Kling brothers to give me the Ghost Lab. Of course the equipment comes with it! I’m actually not certain what all is in there, but it looks incredibly cool and sometimes that’s enough.

Thats it! Of course, none of these wishes will ever come true. I’m destined to end my days doing exactly what I’m doing now. That’s okay, of course, but a guy can dream, right? I feel a tad embarrassed that I didn’t include any charities on my list, and I probably should have said something about world peace or civil rights. But then, keep in mind that I’ve just recently consumed 3 lbs. of crab legs and a double portion of crab imperial – not exactly a testimonial for selflessness or common sense, so I’m probably not in my right mind just yet. Ain’t birthdays grand!
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Respect for the Medium

I’m just a weekend away from my reading with a medium. I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while, and if you are a listener of The Voices Podcast, then this is not news. Regardless of how excited I am about it, there is still a great learning experience to be had, even though I hold a life-long mistrust of mediums that has only recently softened. 
 
Lately, I’ve had some positive first-hand experiences, so now seems like the perfect time for both the reading itself and for whatever leap of faith I’ll have to take. I attended one of these things with my daughter some time ago, and I was remarkably impressed by the medium’s accuracy, even though she didn’t hit every nail on the head. Nobody’s perfect, but none of the usual stereotypes proved true either, so I decided that day that I wanted to record a personal reading for the podcast. This has been in the works for many moons.
 
I’ve been extended a number of free mini-sessions over the past few years – impromptu, short ventures of five minutes or less – probably offered because of what I do with EVP. But these have always seemed somewhat preposterous – full of Native American spirit guides, wolves that travel by my side, and old crone-like women protecting me. I don’t know what to make of this stuff, but an full-length reading should be more conclusive. The medium I have chosen is someone I know, but she is clueless about my personal history or that of my family, so if the other side chooses to communicate, almost anything they say will be unknown to her ahead of time – I’ve told her nothing. We haven’t discussed my goals or intentions, my attitude, or what I would like to hear. This is going to be a pretty cold reading, and a fair test of her gift – she’ll be completely on her own. Whatever happens, will happen – accurate or not.
 
Believe it or not, I have an odd history of skepticism, and nothing has tested it more than mediumship, but that’s primarily because you so rarely are able to prove the findings as right or wrong. Either way, my intentions are not to judge her accuracy. Her contribution to the paranormal is an important and significant aspect of the field, insofar as mediums speak to the heart and soul of the deceased. EVP seem primitive and incomplete when compared to her work, and yet they receive more universal credibility. That seems unfair to me since the medium is the ultimate conduit in spirit communication. If Dad can’t speak the language, he’ll need an interpreter; if Aunt Sue is lost, she’ll need more than my audio recorder or IR cameras. 
 
So, it seems that mediums operate completely in the realm of unbelievability. It is difficult enough for me to deal with a mouthy skeptic – I can image the flack a medium has to dodge. Therefore, my hopes are for a good reading, and even though I can promise you everything will be taken with a grain of salt, I intend to view the situation as an experience well worth both the money and the effort – no matter what. Voices Podcast listeners will get to go along for the ride, so I recommend the rest of you tag along just this once – maybe we’ll all learn something, and generate a new and much deserved respect for the medium.
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Beside Us

The lady misplaced her jacket, and they spent a portion of three months searching for it. She remembers hanging it on a hook in the hall closet, so they were certain it was not lost, but after a while, they forgot about it, and no longer cared. It would show up eventually, no doubt.

Lately, they’ve been experiencing loud, unexplainable banging sounds, and their three year old frequently complains about a strange man in his room. So, yesterday, when the jacket was found hanging on the railing, in plain sight, they were understandably disturbed. The long forgotten jacket appeared on the end piece of the railing at the bottom of the most noticeable place in the living room. Something paranormal was possibly afoot.

But here’s the interesting part, because a story about a missing jacket doesn’t typically qualify as a legitimate “paranormal” event – she found her car keys in the jacket pocket. Car keys that she has used every day while the jacket was on sabbatical. The Mister said she turned a whiter shade of pale and muttered something about seeing the “ghost hunter” down the street. That would be me, and just so we understand each other, I absolutely believe their story.

Now, I’m not saying I think their house is haunted, but I know these people, and inventing this tale would not be their kind of thing. I like to think I have a pretty good BS detector, and everything about them screams “the truth.” Regardless, I volunteered to look into it, if they wanted – they did not. I offered to provide some equipment they could use on their own, if they felt it might help – they thanked me and said no. All I had left to offer were words of comfort, but it seems they really just wanted to talk about it; they’d be fine.

Well, I was glad I could help in some way. More often than not, it’s enough to just lend an understanding ear. People often feel better by getting it off their chest, and the simple act of saying everything out loud becomes a cleansing measure. Besides, I think there are too many people conducting investigations at the drop of a hat these days – investigations that may not be warranted or result in positive experiences for the so-called victims.

Not every odd occurrence should become part of the paranormal laboratory, you know – sometimes acceptance is the better path. On rare occasions, we miraculously realize that learning to deal with life as it is presented is the true test of who we are, and that sometimes, spirit life is permanently and intricately intertwined with our own. Sometimes, we come to the understanding that sharing our existence with what we cannot comprehend is only normal, and that truly, if we want to be left alone, we must find the will to reciprocate. Not all ghosts need to go away; some spirits belong beside us.

It’s difficult to think of such things this way, because we seem geared against coexistence, and our fear is so easily justified by peers and society. Fortunately, every now and then, one of us (perhaps even a small family) rises above the dread and apprehension in order to willingly share life’s tranquility. Peace is always more easily found when all involved are allowed to partake.
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A Little Paradise

I have had enough! I need a vacation. Respite. An intermission from life; adult recess. A reprieve, man! Now, if only all I have to do is wait until August! Well, I like the summer – 100 degree days and all, but I love the ocean. That includes the bathing suit sand, the nagging seagulls and the incessant jelly fish. Bring ’em on – they can even sting me, as long as I’m nowhere near here when they do.

I want to enjoy peaceful, lazy palms on white sands. I want to live a Corona commercial. I want my most complex decision to be whether to shoot at 1/1000 of a second or go for low depth-of-field. I want to play dominoes often enough to actually win once – maybe twice. I want to watch “The Wild Bunch” on my iPad in a beach chair under an umbrella, and not have to explain why I like it. I want the sound of crashing waves to lull me to sleep late at night and wake me very early every morning. I want to pick up stupid seashells and convince myself how totally enthralling I find them. I want to tell myself that one day I’ll move there permanently, play guitar outside without an audience, and stare aimlessly at a very blue horizon.

I don’t want to watch children, make meals, Swiffer the floors, or solve problems. I don’t want to offer words of wisdom or comfort to people who think I’m stupid, read 300 emails a day, or “go off” about how idiotic my daughter’s softball coach is. I am through with ignorant drivers, crazy religious freaks, political pundits, lazy store clerks, and all but the most basic decision-making. I don’t even want to finish this sentence – that’s how “over” things I am right now. And I deserve a vacation! Not because I work so hard, or because my boss is a fool (I’m retired), or even because my life is oppressive. It’s just time! Ya know? It is finally time to pack as much stuff as we can, get on an airplane, and breathe in a little paradise.

Below is a photo of where we are going. I understand the tv reception is pretty awful, and the Internet is hit and miss. How glorious! It’s an eight hour flight too, but I can’t wait – it’s only four months away. Four months? Good grief, that’s 1/3 of the year – over 120 days! But I can make it, and I know it’ll be worth the wait. If your vacation is going to be better than our’s, don’t tell me. I don’t need to know. It’s not about that anyway, but I know me, and if I start thinking about your lobster omelets, cracked crab for lunch, and daily full body massages, it will just fester.

I’m kidding, of course – sorta… But I do hope all of us have the chance to wind down, recharge, and basically just relax. Vacations are very important to our well-being – mental and physical, so I wish everyone as many days of sheer heavenly bliss as you can afford. So, St. Croix, here we come. Thirty feet from the Caribbean, and many hundreds of miles from home. Just look at the picture! Well, I know it’s not exactly the Taj Mahal, but it sure won’t suck.

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