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.

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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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Also visit Voices Unplugged at http://voicesblogunplugged.wordpress.com

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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Also visit Voices Unplugged at http://voicesblogunplugged.wordpress.com/

Without a Shred of Relevance

The other night, I was sitting in bed recording while my wife slept and the CPAP droned, but as soon as I stopped, she was awakened by a vivid dream. To make a very long story short, it turns out that I captured a voice saying “wake up” just seconds before she actually did.

I love it when EVP fit the situation so relevantly, and it seems to happen often. This kind of meaningful interaction is what most convinces me of their authenticity. No matter where they occur, EVP can be downright uncanny when it comes to situational significance, but lately I’ve been wondering just how often this actually occurs. I’ve been pondering a new kind of classification that reflects the relevance of these voices.

We already classify EVP as A through D to indicate strength and clarity, and personally, I use three others – N, E, and R. Huh? N designates a noise phenomenon – something I believe to rarely be paranormal (re: There Is No Silence, Chapter 4). E stands for Extreme EVP, and R represents those which need to be played in reverse to be understood. Now I want to add more! I am a bureaucrat at heart, you know.

Perhaps numbers could be used. We could start at the number one and go to five, with one denoting the most relevant EVP, and five indicating total irrelevance. Well, it needs work, but I wanted to see how many random EVP samples would actually achieve #1 status. It turns out not as many as I thought. The majority of 200 specimens were classified #3 – somewhat relevant, but not necessarily. In fact, the results made a beautiful bell curve when plotted on a graph.

Of course, this doesn’t attest to the authenticity of EVP. We’ve always been aware of how whacky some spirit comments can be, so this occasional absurdity is nothing new. Still, my test results have caused me to embrace these less lucid fellows much more than before. We should be more appreciative of the lowly #5 voices; those without a shred of relevance. I don’t know about you, but I find them infinitely more fascinating.

On July 7, 2009 I recorded a voice that said “Collins is 51 today” – a high-end, fully understandable B-class comment that related to absolutely nothing. This was quickly followed by another voice saying “caw caw caw.” (No, it wasn’t a bird – trust me.) The point is, these comments may not be relevant to situation, location, or people we know, but they’re spoken from somewhere other than here, and in that regard, they’re very important.

Statistics are important too. Indeed, statistical evidence may be the most compelling argument for the authenticity of EVP voices, but it goes much deeper than numbers, trends, or anything that fits on a chart or graph. Each individual EVP represents the expression of someone unseen, and my guess is that while they may not always be relevant to us, they’re probably very relevant elsewhere. So, happy birthday, Collins – wherever you are. You’re A number one in my book. Maybe I’ll throw a surprise birthday party this July 7th, so save the date. Do you think he’ll feel the love from so far away? I wonder how many of us it will take.

Considered Easy

Paranormal people are supposed to be skeptical. That’s the company line, and it always has been. We just accept it, and for the most part, it makes sense. Everything we don’t immediately understand can not be labeled “paranormal” – mostly because we’d be wrong, but also because we want to know the truth. Truth requires unsusceptible validation. Accepting every bump in the night, or shadow in the dark as an other worldly expression is just too cozy an answer; too easy, and since when have human beings ever been considered easy?

Our religions are insane – even on a good day, and everyone thinks their’s is the true one. Our politics is crazy as well. Forget the dictators and the megalomaniacs – even the planet’s glorious democracies are riddled with nonsense, stupidity and hypocrisy. Inter-personal relationships are a crap shoot at best. All you have to do is observe most marriages, and the horror should make the point for me. Not very much about the human condition seems easy for an excellent reason. It just isn’t.

Faith and belief are frequently comfortable situations – they don’t require much from us, and allow us to accept without reason. They speak to our humanity quite effectively, but they make us lazy and neither represent universal concepts – one man’s faith is another’s call to arms. We seem able to believe in almost anything – often to the exclusion of common sense or without a reasonable parsing of clear facts. Can you imagine investigating the paranormal with only faith and belief in your equipment bag? Skepticism absolutely has its place – especially if it’s informed and enlightened enough to fuel study and research.

But every once in awhile we have to give in to our human frailty. Sometimes, we have to believe. We need it, and resisting can lessen our chances of seeing the truth when it presents itself. For instance, It’s easy to insist that an EVP is a recording aberration no matter how loud or clear it is; simple, because all you have to do is refuse to believe. There is nothing to prove the voice in question is paranormal; there’s as much support that it is not. Without belief, we must decide that what we hear on a recorder is never the voice of a spirit – only a technological mistake. By refusing to believe, we render spirit as completely non-existent. What will we learn from that?

There will never be a way to guarantee a correct paranormal diagnosis as long as the the skeptic and the believer in us remain separate. Staunch skepticism will always win the day because the cry for proof can never be answered – no proof is possible. No “one and one is two” in the paranormal; no sun setting in the west. It will never matter what we experience – verifiable proof will always be lacking.

But we have never been satisfied with a two-dimensional acceptance of only those things that are provable, so why do we insist it be so with the paranormal? Being able to appropriately mix a little belief into the recipe allows us to understand more fully – multi-dimensionally, no matter how untenable it makes us feel. It requires courage to believe; even greater fortitude to know when to stop. By refusing to believe at all, we can never learn the whole truth – only the easy truth. And since when have human beings ever been considered easy?

Bring Some

I was sitting awake by the hard blue light of my iPad, trying to figure how best to allocate my time. More and more these days, things grab at it, and I’m left with doing my own thing hurriedly. This week, there was only one day to spend on a very long list of necessary evils, most of which did not get done. So when I turned off the light, and said “goodnight” to the understanding woman beside me, I thought maybe it would be peaceful enough to concentrate and find a solution.

I decided to tap on WavePad, and record while I sat – just because. It’s what I do. No questions to ask; no comments or requests – just the dark, cold air and my thoughts. The recent months have been a time of doubt for me, and occasionally I’ve felt as though my contribution to the paranormal field has been maximized – there’s nothing more I can contribute. But that’s tough to decide – it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

You know, EVP are a passion for me. I still have my priorities in line, but I feel close to these voices – they’ve found an indelible place on the list. I listen carefully, and my anticipation is not in hearing them so much as in understanding what is behind their words. We have become such strange friends, because we’ve formed a perfectly reciprocating relationship. Nothing unworthy in that. Isn’t that enough to continue what I arrogantly call “my work”? I can make changes, certainly. Less social networking, perhaps. Less worry about book sales. I can cut back on the number of podcasts too. There are lots of ways to solve my time issues.

I stopped the recording, anticipating nothing, but instinctively, reached for my headphones and began to listen. Some kind of whispering was there – nothing anyone could ever understand; whispers that most researchers would label as ambient sounds. I know the room well, and I know what they are, but they’re not voices until there are words. But then… there were words. “Sad,” she said – clear as a bell, and equally as expressive.

I thought she was talking about me. I thought she had gauged my mood; that possibly all the whispering had been centered around my self-absorbed need for over-analysis. Perhaps she was even carefully chosen to express a group sentiment – “sad.” Well, I was a little sad. How intuitive of her; how correctly she had assessed my demeanor. But before I could rest too comfortably in that interpretation, she spoke again. “Bring some,” she said.

Bring some? Really? Doncha just love it? How do you not fall head over heels for these voices? Not only was she not interested in my somber reflection, she didn’t make a lick of sense. I can’t walk away from this; can’t concern myself so stridently with the relevancy of “my work” or whether I’m maximized, marginalized or whatever-ized. There’s a spirit out there doing her best to entertain the bejesus out of me, and maybe someday, along the way, I’ll make some sense out of it. But until then? No need to be “sad,” I’ll just “bring some.”

Together

Someone once told me to never write anything down late at night. Apparently, reading it the next morning proves the point. What seems so profound in the very early morning becomes stupid and foolish in the light of day. But I couldn’t sleep, and frankly, I’m feeling sorry for myself.

I woke up missing those old investigations. I know, it’s weird, but how I loved it there in the quiet and the dark; sharpening my senses; preparing for anything. I miss every part of it – even setting up and tearing down the equipment. I miss all the little things too, and I suppose it makes sense, because it’s hard to replace the intensity. There’s adrenaline flowing, your mind is in full-on observation mode, and there’s this bond you form with fellow investigators; the way you rely on one another. I miss those people most of all.

Oh, it’s great to see them in other settings – on the street, in the mall, or at a restaurant, but it’s not the same. I mean, the guy texts and drives, but there’s no one I’d trust more in a dark abandoned building on a moonless night in the middle of nowhere. It’s the same with each one of my former teammates. Those times together were unique and so totally indelible. We formed a trust that was really quite visceral, and what we didn’t create in the name of friendship, we certainly forged through complete confidence in each other.

You quickly grow to realize that if you have to, you’ll brave anything to stand by their side. You’ll definitely have their back; you’ll never accept fear over their safety; will always walk into the abyss, if need be, to guarantee they’re not alone. And you understand they’ll reciprocate. But at the end of the day, when everything ends and it’s all up to technology to provide the answers, you know that you’ve done something meaningful, and more importantly, you did it together.

We share more on those investigations than is ever obvious. The experience is not dissimilar to being a member of a Super Bowl team, or the campaign staff of the newly elected candidate. You’re like a Blue Angel, a part of Delta Force, or one of The 300. You breathe rarified air, because this thing you do together, week after month after year, is just that special. You’re real spiritual warriors and come what may, you’ll handle whatever you find with grace and valiancy. And you know this because you know these people, and every ounce of your own strength and mettle comes directly from them. Even if you fail, you do so with family.

A little over the top? Will this be embarrassing in the morning? Possibly, but this is what I’m feeling, and why there’s no rest for the weary tonight. Because I miss them as much as I would miss the work. What I wouldn’t give to get the whole gang together again and go haunt some ghosts. What I wouldn’t give for just one more walk through the dark with “the team.” Our mates are so much more than brothers or sisters in arms – they’re our perfect counterparts; our better halves. So before I try to sleep again, thanks guys. I miss ya all the time. Sorry I don’t call very often, but I know you understand.