Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Weird House, Post 2

Sweet reader, I would be so mortified if by my recording of my so-called paranormal experiences you form the idea that I am one of those silly women (and it usually is women) who believe that nine-tenths of the things that happen to them are haunted and who see in photos of dust motes and lens flares a world of proof and wonder! So if what I say in this post strikes you as ridiculous, think of it not as excited and breathless look-at-me (which I truly hope it is not) but as the commentary of a woman who, through a genetic disposition toward mental imbalance and the ravages of alcohol, is possibly losing her mind, and who is perhaps vaguely aware of it and subconsciously attempting to document it on the way down.

Sometime between 2:15 and 6:45 on the morning of September 23 (the time between my going to bed and getting up), there may have emerged in our house one of those spectacularly undramatic little splinters of weirdness that seem to poke us here every now and then. These events are so nearly pedestrian that they're almost indistinguishable from ordinary occurrences; my husband views them that way, I think, or at least he doesn't seem to spend too much time dwelling on them; and even the booze-riddled magic box in my own head is leaning about three-fourths of the way over on that side, and would already have slipped off the table if it weren't for the tiny catch that each of these episodes, somewhere, has: a little hook of weirdness that snags in my mind and restrains it from splattering onto the clean-scrubbed sterile linoleum of rationality.

It is so easy for our attention to be lured by distraction and diversion! There is a reason why, in the grubbiest and most soiled of human pursuits like thieving, politics, business, and war, misdirection is elevated to a pinnacle of art. And I think that for many of us who stumble blindly through the foggy meadows of the paranormal -- certainly for third-rate intellects like mine -- we all too naturally let ourselves be drawn toward the bonfire flames of the highest strangeness, the ultra weird, the most unsettling tales, partly because they are more fun to listen to (or, if you prefer, more stimulating to the intellect), but also because we may assume that, since these slashes through the cloth of the workaday world are so dramatic and so rare, they must let in a sudden light upon the truth, just as lightning on a dark night instantaneously illuminates the world (before flashing out and leaving one with light-dazed eyes, more blind than before).

But so much has been speculated about the deceptions of paranormal visitors, about the "look at me!" aspect of strange lights, or the ridiculous behavior of entities, that many students of the paranormal wonder if all the drama isn't intended to cover up or conceal something else that is happening while we're mesmerized by the theatrical waving of the magician's visible hand.

John Keel, in The Mothman Prophecies, speculates on the link between UFO lights (the possible diversion) and cattle mutilations (the possible "payoff" for whatever is running the show). I am not a conscientious enough scholar to be sure, but it does seem from the scatterings of information I've picked up (again reminding me that I am attempting to reason from ignorance and should just shut the hell up, but then again when has ignorance ever stopped anybody from exploding half-baked nonsense upon the world) that the two are occasionally paired -- some of the alleged incidents at the Skinwalker Ranch, for instance, suggest this -- but not enough that it seems to be a consistent feature. But of course livestock don't exist just everywhere any more; and who knows what is going on in places where the diversion of lights is seen but no apparent payoff is detected?

I think most of us make a very large mistake, most of the time, in assuming that we have a pretty good idea of what's going on around us; but in reality countless acts, decisions and events -- some of which may turn out to have significant impact on our lives -- are happening all the time that we never do find out about simply because we never notice them ourselves and nobody tells us about them, at least not until after the damage is done and the horse is out of the barn.

One of the biggest fallacies of modern times is believing that everything of import makes it onto the news; one of the biggest fallacies of the rationalist, when he attempts to explain away the weirdness of the world, is to assert that if there were anything to any of this science would have investigated it and everybody would know about it.

My outlook on all of these things -- on everything in fact -- not that I have any great reasons for believing it, it's just the workings of the inner shapelessness and inconsistency of my mind; but I feel that all that we know, or think we know, or perceive, is a blend of real and false, truth and lie; I think some dazzling spectacles of high weirdness likely are Baltic Concessions and German-Soviet Nonaggression Pacts, attempts to pacify and inveigle us so we lower our guard, lessen our suspicions, and close our eyes to what might be going on behind the scenes, whereas other episodes may be the paranormal equivalent of panzers clanking over the frontier.

I am interested in the history of the Soviet Union and a while ago read something that stuck in my mind. In a new biography of Joseph Stalin, the Russian historian Edvard Radzinsky, when discussing Stalin's apparent shock at Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union -- about the preparations for which Stalin had for weeks been receiving rather ominous intelligence -- mentions that Stalin had been tracking the price of mutton in Germany and noticed that the prices were not going up. In the labyrinths of that wily byzantine mind this proved that Hitler was not planning to attack, since if he meant to attack the USSR he would need to lay in a stock of sheepskin winter clothing for his soldiers, which would have diverted sheep from the table to the textile factories, which would have meant that mutton would be in more limited supply and hence more expensive. In reality, it was just that Hitler thought that he'd tear through Russia in a couple of months and be done before it got cold, so Stalin was being a little too sly for his own good; but it opened a splinter of light for me on the kinds of ways that people in intelligence agencies may go about their jobs, ignoring the brightly-lit spectaculars staged by foreign governments in favor of obscure details which on the surface seem meaningless but when collected and analyzed may point to the existence of deeper machinations.

High weirdness is beyond my ken; it doesn't happen to me. But every now and then I am given the equivalent of an odd little newspaper article, or a mysterious spike in the price of a commodity, which possibly suggests that something might be occurring in the shadows that lie beyond. I think it is likely a lot of people experience such things. But, because the events are so minor and unshowy, we tend to ignore them and forget about them, and so a person like me, who has had them happen on and off throughout my life, when asked will usually say that I've had little or no paranormal experience. But if I had compiled them all I might well be able to see a pattern.

I am glad now that I made an effort earlier to set down the details of the last splinter, because now I can go back and see that it jabbed us four months ago almost to the day, and, curiously enough, again occurred one day after one of us (in this case me) had gone away for the weekend.

Like the last episode, this one occurred in our kitchen, which seems to be the room in our house in which most of the weird things occur (the runner-up is our former bedroom, which is above the kitchen).

My husband does not like having our kitchen cabinets left hanging open because he says it will mess up the hinges. Alas for his peace of mind and those poor hinges, I frequently forget to close them, which sometimes earns me a lecture. So on Monday morning I shamble into the kitchen to get the coffee started and he comes in and at some point notices the cupboard over the refrigerator and asks me why I left the door open. I look up and sure enough the cupboard is hanging wide open, but I didn't do it. I never open that cupboard because a) I can't reach it without standing on a chair, and b) there's never been anything in it but some old spraycans left there by the previous owners and some glassware wedding presents which in more than 10 years of marriage I have never had occasion to use.

Now I know doors can swing open on their own. Once we had the hall carpet taken up for a few months and the basement door is so poised that without the carpet to obstruct it, the movement of air caused by your body as you walk into the hall would cause it to drift shut as if under the action of an invisible hand. This never did stop creeping me out, since it always seemed to happen when I was home in the house alone at night, but I understood that it was a perfectly natural occurrence.

The problem with that refrigerator cupboard is that, since it is never used, the hinges are springy and tight. You have to pull it open -- it won't just swing -- and if you don't open it more than halfway it will snap closed again. I got up on a chair and messed with it for ten minutes or so trying to get it to come open on its own but I couldn't manage it.

I finally dismissed it as a fluke, but on the morning of the following Sunday my husband called me into the kitchen because the door was open AGAIN. I confess I felt rather more nervous about it than is strictly mature, particularly when I realized that with the door open you can see the brand name on the glassware box -- Mikasa -- and I wondered if something was trying to tell us "mi casa" or "my house". Not that I'd have any reason to suspect anything in this neck of the woods would be likely to know Spanish, but I suppose it is possible that on some plane of consciousness the meaning of words may eclipse the various phonetic sounds assigned by different languages to those meanings.

In any event, whatever caused that door to open up twice hasn't repeated itself as of yet, more than ten months later. And that is fine with me.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Gestapo God

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. -- Job 1:6-7

How dost thou know that some entire, living, thinking thing may not be invisibly and uninterpenetratingly standing precisely where thou now standest; aye, and standing there in thy spite? In thy most solitary hours, then, dost thou not fear eavesdroppers? -- Moby Dick, Chapter 108

...behold, ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out. -- Numbers 32:23

I am sorry for the brevity and disjointedness of this post, but I have such a hard time bringing anything to completion that if I don't move hurriedly I will never write down the random thoughts that strike me as meaningful when they clang against the inside of my skull, and in the corrosive waters of my mind random thoughts do not survive very long no matter how loud they clang.

I read or heard somewhere, once, that the frightful omniscience of the Gestapo -- its uncanny swiftness in detecting (so-called) malcontents, deviants, and enemies of the Nazi state -- was due not, as one might assume, to being so large and pervasive as to become an omnipresent entity in German society, for in reality it was almost hopelessly small for its tasks and its operatives spent most of their time at their desks. Rather it was the willingness of the average citizen to tattle on everybody else that lit up so many homes, schools, businesses, and public places with a sleepless eye and a stopless ear.

The thought comes to me (not that I give it much weight, it is just one of those ephemeral what-ifs that sometimes flash, like a poisoned fish in its death twist, through the surface scum of the swamp of my brain) whether the oft-advertised omniscience of so many deities is due not to any inherent power in the gods themselves, monitoring whatever metaphysical phone-taps and surveillance cameras are available to them in their inaccessible bureaucracies in the sky, but to a legion of spies and informers who, unbeknownst to us, travel among us and observe our behavior so they can pour their intelligences into the greedy ears of an isolated god?

Not that this is an original thought, of course -- the idea of gods, even jealous monotheistic ones, making use of numinous messengers and servants is an ancient one, at least in Europe and the Mediterranean. The only reason I have for bringing it up is that, as someone who believes (some of the time) that the numinous does exist, and that there is some kernel of truth in ancient folklore (even if it does come with the coloring of religion, which, in the minds of people smarter than me, automatically establishes anything to be 100% nonsense): if these things were true then, they must also be true now, unless we are to assume that the gods die, or that whatever presences were here to sow those seeds of folklore have long since departed for other worlds or planes.

Somehow that is the most poignant and unsettling of the possibilities to me: not that these entities are, or never were, but that they were once and are gone. Perhaps I have a fear of abandonment, or perhaps it's something else, but there must be something in my psychology that causes certain images to resonate with me when others do not. But I am not going to dive into that bottomless mucky pit today.

Why do I keep returning to all these swamp and bog metaphors?

But enough, um, caressing of the orchid, if you take my meaning. But then again, what do I write here that is not that?

Blah blah blah. It is all well and good for me to speculate facilely on folklore and the paranormal and such, but what I never seem to be able to get through my head is that if I really do believe in, or am willing to grant the plausibility of, these possibilities as I claim I do, then I should not treat them so casually as mere intellectual curiosities and matters of entertainment. If there really are entities going to and fro in the earth and monkeying around in it, that is some extremely serious business. If there is any truth to any of this, it would be wise for me to start cleansing and restoring this sadly deteriorating temple lest all brightness depart from it forever and dark things come to shriek in the rafters. It would be wise for me to do that anyway; clean living is simply a positive good, even if I am nothing more than a bag of animated meat with a bit too much marbling and some rudimentary self-awareness. But it is hard, ye gods, it is hard!

That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. -- Ecclesiastes 1:15

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I have read on more than one occasion that studies show that, among the western nations, the United States is by far the most religious.

Of course the number of times one reads an assertion should not necessarily be considered a measure of that assertion's truthfulness. I won't presume to speak for anybody else, but in my case most of my reading is on subjects that are interesting to me, written from an angle that is congenial to (or at least not hurtfully abusive of) my own point of view.

Because of this, the writers I read tend to hold common thoughts and perspectives and, since they are writing on the same subjects, often draw some of their information from shared sources or even from each other; which means that an unverified, erroneous, or false assertion made once, if it is deemed useful or interesting, is likely to be picked up and disseminated throughout the blogosphere, just as in olden times the plague crept its inexorable way from the hovels of the seething East to the barren moors of Scotland. Corrections come too late; once the error begins to spread it can no longer be contained by a lonely voice of truth posting three or four dozen comments down in the original thread, any more than the Black Death in an English port could be stuffed into a cargo box marked refused and shipped back unopened to Byzantium.

Some folks use this as a reason to criticize the modern generation who does most of its research on the Internet; and while I agree that using the Internet as one's exclusive resource is probably in most cases insufficient, at the same time I feel the criticism is perhaps tainted with a smidge of hypocrisy, since books are susceptible to exactly the same contagion of errors. On the Internet at least there is a chance to detect an error early and edit it out before much damage is done; but with a book the error is bound in perishable materials for all time. At this very moment I sit surrounded by musty old tomes many of which, we now know, are full of falsehoods: the antiquated assumptions of the tweed jacket pipe-smoking set and the obsolete science of crew-cuts and horn rims. In the bibliographies of the historical works I have sometimes amused myself, once I learn of an error (so starved do I sometimes find myself for entertainment when I am unable to indulge my grosser cravings), by going through the footnotes and identifying which of the authors sailed the plague-ship into my harbor and which merely had the ill luck of picking up his infection.

And these are only the errors we know about. Who can tell what other as-yet-unrecognized bogus junk my head is now freighted with after all the reading I have done?

Perhaps that is why (or one of the reasons why) I am so gullible and can believe almost anything, and yet can feel sure about nothing; and why science (and indeed all rational thought) has come to seem like such a scam and a shell game to me. Stable, well-balanced minds can see the tip of the iceberg of error and look beyond it to smooth sailing in the wide-open shining sea of truth; my shivering mind, gnawing its nails and cringing on the deck, can't stop fretting about the enormous mass of invisible error that may lurk unseen and deadly beneath the glassy waters. That wide-open shining sea, to me, is not lit by the blessed sun of knowledge but obscured by fogs of doubt; it is clogged with floes and the gnashing of pack ice, until I sometimes feel that, like those old whalers and seekers after the Northwest Passage, my little ship is in danger of being trapped by the winter freeze and slowly crushed to splinters. Let us hope the hold is stocked with plenty of rum to help me through my vigils in the Arctic night!

But this is an awful lot of staggering over the doubtfulness of assertions for me to finally stumble back onto the subject of this post and to say that I see no reason to question this particular assertion about the religiosity of the United States. Not because I have done any sociological or statistical research or examined the evidence in any way, but because it fits in with my existing prejudices and opinions (which is a horrid reason for believing anything) and because it conforms to my own experience and observations (which is a right and valid reason for believing things, although I do not presume to expect anyone to believe that the experience and observations of drunken slatterns carry any meaningful weight).

I suppose I should take a moment now, since it is becoming obvious to me that I'm not going to be able to get to the point (there really is one, I promise) until I get all the tangential junk out of my head, to try to explain what I mean when I say the United States is religious, since religion is one of those sprawling Russias of a noun which contains within its borders a polyglot diversity of concepts. Traditional native American cultures, Pharaonic Egypt, Republican Rome, Medieval France, Reformation England, and modern-day Saudi Arabia are all, one way or another, religious societies, yet what a gulf lies between the religion of the Ottawa shaman and the Saudi Sheik! Nor is the religious component of American culture quite like any of these others -- in fact compared to them the US doesn't really strike me as being very religious at all, but of course we are not saying that the US is one of the most religious societies in human history but only that it is relatively the most religious when compared to the other, more anemic (religiously speaking), modern western nations.

Yet I do believe my country has a distinctive, characteristically American, religious coloring all its own.

This coloring lies not in the authoritarian dominionism that has been a part of our religious makeup since the first patriarchs landed on Plimoth Rocke, nor in the sober conservative churchgoing of the Teutons of the middle colonies, nor in the backwoods revivalist and millenarian fanaticism of the South, nor even in the panglossian mildness of Transcendentalism and Unitarianism (here let us remember that huge swaths of people in each of these regions and faiths are exempt from the unfair broad-brush characterizations of a booze-ravaged trull), although all of these strains remain in our national blood to this day and play a role in making us the most religious of the western lands.

Rather I think it lies in the same attitude of shallow laziness that defines so much of everything else we do as distinctly American. As a people we cover our obligations by flinging out a thoughtless token gesture that costs us nothing. We establish who we are and what we stand for by sticking on one of the pretty labels mass-produced for us by the panopticon of media and marketing saturation from which, like fish slowly eaten alive by the poisoned sludge of a rust belt river, we are never able to escape.

You can see this coloring in the cracked and faded yellow ribbon car magnets that prove how much the owners support our troopsTM; in the pasty face beaming with smug piety when it shows up in church twice a year on Christmas and Easter; in the arteriosclerotic red bald spot of a disgruntled blob who fancies himself linking hands with Washington and Franklin because he just sent off an angry email to his congressman!

(It is also to be seen in the vacuous mumblings of unproductive alcoholic shrews who have turned the whole track of their lives into one interminable train wreck and now pretend that they have any business saying anything to anyone about anything, but here I discretely draw a veil)

Without knowing a single thing about this survey I am going to tie on my magic blindfold and hazard a completely uninformed and ignorant guess as to why the responses were so high in America as compared to Europe:

Because in Europe if you pose the question are you religious? to a person who doesn't pray, doesn't read the Bible, doesn't belong to a church, and doesn't spend any time worrying about the existence of the numinous or what his relationship to it should be, that person is likely to answer NO.

If you pose that same question to an American who doesn't pray, doesn't read the Bible, doesn't belong to a church, and doesn't spend any time worrying about the existence of the numinous or what his relationship to it should be, that person is likely to answer YES.

(I refer to churches and the Bible because of their cultural predominance in the West, not because I mean to slight the many people whose faiths do not include one or the other of them.)

In America we say yes because here religious is the thing to be, even for people who don't take it seriously, whereas in Europe the bloom has gone off that rose. Most of us here want to be seen as spiritual and reverent even when we're not. I'm not going to waste any more of anybody's time speculating as to why this is so or, for the benefit of those who may disagree with me, making the case that it is so. This is long enough and I am hopelessly stranded as it is.

I think it goes without saying that some people, for good or ill, take their religion very seriously indeed and I am not talking about them, nor about dispassionate atheists, agnostics, or others who will have no truck whatever with religion. I am talking about treating our connection with whatever numinous presence or presences may exist (if any do) as a disposable trifle, something we bring out when we need to entertain ourselves or masturbate our egos and then carelessly toss away; about getting our religion from the metaphysical equivalent of the discount bin at Wal*Mart where we grab all the rest of the cheap Chinese slave-labor junk that infests every angle of our lives; about our apparent belief in a star-spangled super-sized Ronald McDonald god who is supposed to shower material prosperity and eternal life on a herd of spoiled self-indulgent brats who spend all day whining in the playroom while the rest of the world sinks in a deepening sea of misery and despair.

Lest anyone think I am casting judgment -- well, I guess I am, but I pour the filth first on my own head. I am as guilty as anyone. In fact I'm more guilty than most because I know better than to be this way; but alas, it has become apparent to me that knowing better and going ahead anyway is the rail on which the little locomotive of my soul is grooved to run.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, none of this matters very much. Answering yes on that survey isn't like waterboarding somebody; answering no isn't going to put food in a hungry baby's stomach. But maybe it does matter just a little, even beyond the possibility that if we paid more attention to some things we might be a better people and create a better world. If the numinous does exist, I wonder sometimes whether at some point our careless unthinking lack of involvement might turn out to have consequences. I don't mean extravagantastic Cecil B. DeMille consequences like burning in a lake of fire for all time or provoking a demigod to come down out of the sky and start smacking people with a rod of iron, but, as befits elusive and inscrutable inhuman presences, something more subtle and strange.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Curious Phenomenon of Dreams

Today I would like to muse a little bit about a curious phenomenon of dreams which, somehow, I never happened to notice until just recently; which is kind of nice in a way, since it suggests that at my advanced age and stage of mental deterioration my dissolving brain can still, sometimes, find a blind acorn twice a day.

I suppose it goes without saying that these waters are too muddied and too deep for a shallow wader like me to sound, and I trust that the repeated disclaimers on this blog are thick enough that no one who stumbles across it will expect to find substantial answers to anything -- other, perhaps, than the question of just how much damage alcohol can to do a human brain.

But in case you've missed all my sleazy low-rent advertisements (like commercials for Euclid Avenue pawnbrokers broadcast by my local NBC affiliate during Soul Train at 2:00 on Sunday morning), let me say forthrightly here that I don't have any insight or knowledge at all on the nature of dreams: whether they're symbolic phone calls from our subconscious, or the data storage process of the jelly-based hard drive in our skulls, or both, or neither. In my ignorance I have no business speculating, and I know it.

But then again, in the grand scheme of the universe it is an irrelevancy either way. In a very few years nothing will be left of me but some corrupted meat tucked away out of sight and, perhaps, some memories -- mostly less than flattering ones, no doubt -- in the minds of a handful of people who will recall me less and less over time until I am forgotten completely. What will it matter, then, that I sat here scribbling tonight these nonsense pages to be sent forth into the unlistening ether?

But enough of this funereal mood! Divine Bacchus, the most unworthy of your servants beseeches you for the strength to break these sorrowful chains.

So (after a mere six paragraphs of blather) to return to this phenomenon of dreams. It is simply this: why is it, that when we see in a dream someone we know (a parent, a lover, a relative, a co-worker) or someplace we know (the house I grew up in, the house I am living in, my workplace) that, so very often, the person or place does not look anything at all like it actually looks in real life?

Surely our subconscious, or our inner hard drive, or whatever it is that manufactures our dreams, can accurately reconstruct the physical lineaments of our waking hours? In fact we know it can, because there are other times in our dreams when people and places look just like how they "really" are!

What determines, then, whether we get the 'waking reality' version of the object, or the 'dreaming freestyle' one?

One idea that has begun to interest me recently in my dabblings in the paranormal is multiplicity of truths: in other words, the idea that the different types of paranormal phenomena are not identical objects that spring from one single source, but different types of objects whose origins differ depending on the case.

For instance, when most laypeople like me (and even, apparently, some people who put a lot of time into studying these subjects) think of UFOs, we think of them as being mechanical vehicles from other planets, and that's what they are. Or else they're top secret military projects, and that's what they are. Or that ghosts are the spirits of the dead, period. Or demons trying to deceive us, period.

The more I have read and heard, the more I agree with those who think there is some degree of diversity in the paranormal, just as there is diversity in the animal kingdom, and in the plant kingdom, and among our own humble little species. So I find myself thinking that perhaps some UFOs are shadow government black ops, and some UFOs are mechanical extraterrestrial spacecraft, and some UFOs are manifestations of group consciousness, and some UFOs are as-yet-unclassified weather or electromagnetic phenomena, and some UFOs are extra-dimensional entities, and some, needless to say, are misidentifications or frauds.

Perhaps some ghosts are the spirits of the dead; others are imprints recorded on the environment; others are non-human entities of some sort (demons or otherwise); others are temporary chemical imbalances in the brain; and so on.

Alas, the paranormal is a slippery enough eel as it is, and muddying the waters with multiplicities only makes it harder to grapple with, which, no doubt, is why so many people prefer the simple, clean-cut explanations and are so reluctant to consider alternative possibilities. "I know ghosts are the spirits of the dead. Case closed!"

So I wonder if perhaps there aren't different types of dreams? Do we get the "lookalike" dreams from one source, and the "it's not at all like the real thing, but you know that's what it is" dreams from another? Perhaps some dreams are messages from our subconscious; some are data storage processes; some (since I am a woowoo and can believe anything) may be communications received from outside us; some may even be out-of-body experiences.

What purpose is there in giving me a dream in which the house I grew up in, that is apparently supposed to be the house I grew up in (since I recognize it as such in the dream), is laid out differently, and has different furniture and interior design, than the real-world house I really did grow up in? Or in showing me a person I know or have known, very intimately perhaps, and the person looks nothing at all like the real person or, indeed, like anybody else I know?

I fully accept the symbolic nature of dreams (or some dreams). Is there some kind of abstruse symbolic meaning in making an old boyfriend look slight, blond and fair instead of dark, sturdy, and Mediterranean, as he was? Or in putting the kitchen west of the living room instead of north of it? Or in painting the walls off-white instead of the "harvest gold" or "avocado" that covered every wall of the 1970s working class hovel I grew up in?

I've heard it stated by scientists that we dream in black and white. I've always had a hard time accepting this; many of my dreams do seem to have muted colors, it is true, as if seen under a cloudy sky; maybe they really were in black and white. But in other dreams it seems sure to me that there was color -- sometimes very vivid color, as in recent dreams of Cleveland on flame (which did not look much at all like Cleveland, even though it was, supposedly, Cleveland).

In any event, how do scientists know this to be true? Have they somehow managed to dissect the rods and cones in the mind's eye? Now researchers in Japan are claiming to have succeeded in pulling images out of the human brain, but this is a very recent discovery, whereas this assertion that we dream in monochrome has been around for a long time. Or did scientists, as they sometimes do, just declare it to be true to show they're smarter, as they used to declare that pets have no emotions and that silly unscientific pet-owners were simply applying subjective human interpretations to their pets' behavior?

And if it is true that we dream in monochrome -- what does it mean? What is the significance of the fact that the movie theater of our brains is still stuck somewhere in the 1940s, unlike our eyes that have upgraded to the glorious spectacle of technicolor?

Again I am forced to understand just how hopelessly out of my depth I am, and it is quite possible, probable even, that my ignorance makes me perceive sinister glooms and shadows in the sunny light of noon; but in the dull, untutored swamps of my peasant brain I cannot escape the feeling that no matter how you look at it -- and the more we learn about it -- there is something very strange, suggestive, and not altogether comforting about the nature of dreams.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I'm in Love with a Vampire

I'm so paranoid these days that I'm afraid even to use titles like this, lest they become literally true, but at the same time I like having catchy titles (or at least as close to catchy as I can get) so I'll keep it.

Dear reader, be advised, there will be no magical thinking (or any thinking at all, really) in this post! This post is purely about the brain damage end of the business. Not even the gods can be serious all the time; why should we mortals, whose lives are fleeting?

I am feeling unusually happy right now. My dear husband has treated me to a surprise, and I have just had the very pleasurable experience, which I think is really remarkable considering my long history of alcohol consumption, of tasting the most perfect beer of my life: the beautiful, ruby-hued Nosferatu from the local wizards on the mistake on the lake, at the Great Lakes Brewery.

I've tried some of the Great Lakes beers before. They're all delicious (though of course expensive compared to the Natural Lights and Red Dogs of the world, but you pay for quality) and I like the clever names with a local connection. They have a bunch of them:

  • Elliot Ness Amber Lager (my favorite, until I tried Nosferatu). This one is named after the famous Untouchable G-Man who became Cleveland's Safety Director in 1935, only to leave under a shadow for never managing to catch the Cleveland torso murderer;

  • Holy Moses White Ale named for Connecticut surveyor Moses Cleaveland (spelling correct), who, in 1796, came to the mouth of the Cuyahoga, thought it would make a great place for a city, and then (like many another person who has come to the same spot) left and never came back;

  • Burning River Pale Ale to remember the infamous episode of June 23, 1969, in which the Cuyahoga river proved to be so grotesquely polluted that it actually caught fire (but who needs clean water, if business turns a profit and politicians get a cut?);

  • Moondog Extra Special Bitter which celebrates "the 1952 Moondog Coronation Ball held at the Cleveland Arena, what many consider the first 'rock and roll' concert" (explanation stolen from Wikipedia);

  • Edmund Fitzgerald Porter to remember the Cleveland ore carrier, immortalized in the song by Canadian folkster Gordon Lightfoot, that on November 10 1975 sank with all hands on Lake Superior;

  • Commodore Perry India Pale Ale in memory of the hero of the War of 1812, who in a battle on Lake Erie became the only naval commander in history to capture an entire British fleet.

Great Lakes beers tend to have a higher alcohol content than the usual proletarian swill that dominates the American boozing scene, so they pack a nice good buzz. And Nosferatu is king of the court, tipping the scales with an alcohol content of 8%!

The problem for me, apart from the cost, is that I find them very heavy and yeasty; it's like drinking liquid bread. Not that I mind it -- in fact I like it a lot -- but they knock me right out. I drink a couple of Great Lakes beers and I go to sleep and gain five pounds.

But back to the positives, Great Lakes beers are the only alcoholic drinks I can enjoy these days that still give me a buzz and make me feel happy. Everything else just makes me sick and crabby.

But that's enough of this. I am going to go suck on another vampire. Nighty night!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Alien Dreams, Part I

First an explanatory note: whenever I speak of aliens on this blog, I am using the word merely as shorthand for the various kinds of entities reported by experiencers of paranormal contact or abduction phenomena; I don't pretend to have any insight or understanding of their true origin.

I know nothing is more irritatingly tedious than listening to some fool spew on about their dreams, and I promise I won't make a habit of it here. I only set these two down because I don't recall ever having dreamt of aliens before being repeatedly exposed over the past several months to accounts of contacts and abductions, and because while I don't usually believe that dreams are anything more than internal processes of our brains, sometimes I do -- at least some dreams, and these two, particularly the second, feel to me to fall into that category.

I do understand that the most probable reason for these dreams is simply that I've been listening and thinking and freaking myself out about the subject, and so my subconscious is playing around with it and my deteriorating brain is going haywire on me and that's all there is to it; but at the same time a part of me buys into the statement often expressed by explorers of the paranormal that the more you think and search and open yourself up to these things, the more they will seek out you. Again, I understand that probably the reason they're "seeking" you is just because you've predisposed your brain to interpret everything it perceives in a certain way, regardless of what's objectively there. But then again, I can't share the absolute certainty of psychologists and materialist-rationalists that the things we perceive in altered states of consciousness are mere imaginations of the mind; such reasoning strikes me as fundamentally flawed because it is based on an erroneous assumption: alien entities absolutely do not exist, nuh-uh no way; therefore anyone who sees them has to be hallucinating, misinterpreting, or lying.

Of course, most psychologists and materialist-rationalists, being educated, rational, and brilliant people who wish to appear educated, rational and brilliant, will happily admit that alien entities probably exist all over the cosmos; they just don't happen to exist in the one spot of the cosmos where their presence would be inconvenient for the beliefs of educated, rational and brilliant people.

Oh, if only I could bottle my self-loathing vitriol and drink it in its fermented state, what a happy woman I would be.

Anyway, to my mind it seems just as reasonable to assume (since that's all any of us are doing, whatever lies some people may tell themselves) that these entities really do exist, but that for some reason (and many intriguing speculations have been put forth) we are unable to perceive them in our conscious, waking state.

But I've wandered long enough for now. Onto the first dream, which strikes me as by far the less interesting of the two I've had.

As it begins I am surrounded in darkness, nestled snugly but perhaps a little anxiously in the darkness, and I know I am watching or about to watch a film, though not on a screen, or at least I can't detect the screen; it's as if I'm looking through a glassless window onto the real world. I have a very dim sense of seeing one or two lines of opening credits, though if I did I have absolutely no recollection of what they may have represented: peoples' names or the title of the film or whatever.

It opens on a farm in a rural area at night: ten o'clock, I seem to know, though it feels later. I am looking down upon the scene; low mountains in the distance, perhaps a lake or river, certainly there are many trees; and a starless sky with a pale-bright full moon, to which my eye is drawn. There is a dirt road, a fence I think, a large wooden building like a stable and perhaps a cluster of outbuildings. A house? I can't recall. I seem to remember smoke rising from a chimney, but can't say for sure. The impression is of utter isolation in a sparsely-populated region miles from nowhere; it is so difficult for me to remember, but it strikes me that my feeling was an odd mixture of cozy enchantment (because I'd love to live in a place like this) mingled with an undercurrent of anxiety (because I'd hate to be alone in such a place at night) that seems to be present throughout this dream.

I watch this scene for a few moments. Overall I think I enjoy it, I get a good feeling from it. I like the little quiet place out in the country. And now I am shown that the night wears on by a weird sequence of the moon. You've probably seen the kind of time-lapse shot or whatever it is where you are looking at the night sky, and the position of the moon gradually fades from one spot to reappear in another. In this case something odd happens; the old position of the moon doesn't seem to fade out so much as the moon seems to split itself like an amoeba, or perhaps turns to a box and then fades out and reappears as a peanut shape or as an orb that extrudes something from itself until it assumes a peanut shape. I seem to recall seeing a sharp black line briefly appear through the place where the two moons joined. I can't sort out in my mind now just exactly what happened with it. But in the end the moon became a pale-bright orb again, just a little lower in the sky directly beneath where it was before.

My view drifts down to a close-up of the stable. I have the sense that something needs to be done: a few simple last-minute chores, perhaps, prior to shutting the place down for the night or the season, and there's a sense of peace and completion such as I feel when being the last one out of the office at night mingled with that same underfeeling of unease, as if I want to get out of there quickly because I'm suddenly nervous being there in the dark by myself, or am afraid that someone or something might show up soon, or will show up soon. I seem to have become part of the film now, to be the person who is involved in the plot, but as I think of these things to be done somebody else comes on scene and I split back to being a watcher again; whether she's the star or a minor character I can't tell, but it's Sigourney Weaver, apparently, in a white blouse and cream-colored jeans or riding pants. She is the one who is taking care of these last-minute things, though I don't remember seeing her actually do anything. Maybe she finished up just before coming on, or maybe it gets done behind the scenes as she's there.

She gets in the car. Do I feel that we (she, me?) are now safe, or that we waited too long and are now on the brink of disaster? It's all mixed up in my head. But as she drives along, and I seem to be floating outside the car moving along with it, looking at her in profile as the night countryside speeds by in a blur, I either see or have the sense that now Richard Gere is looking at this scene as film footage frame by frame, holding a small screen in his hands and peering intently at it, and whether I'm him or there next to him or watching him as an actor in a film on my own screen I can't say. As with most of my dreams, the details afterward are horribly confused. But I know, because it seems to be the whole point of the film, that Sigourney is going to encounter an alien; I am watching for it, waiting for it, and sure enough, as I watch the blurry black background outside the car window move past frame by frame, a grayish-white blur pops into view.

There it is! I think, and I may feel exultant at having seen it or calmly assured by what I had known was going to happen, but I'm certainly not scared or concerned in any way. The film slows even more now and I watch as the blur clicks horizontally closer toward Sigourney -- although the car was moving from left to right, and the alien blur, as I recall, did not appear at the right side of the screen and work its way to the left as you would normally expect if she were driving toward something on the roadside; as I recall the blur appeared suddenly in the middle of the screen and seemed to move toward the right faster than the car did, or maybe kept pace with the car. Still no fear. And the film slows down even more, because we want to get a really good look at this alien, and apparently in the mechanics of this dream the more you slow down the film the clearer and sharper the objects it captures will be. I am excited, athrob with anticipation; I want to see the alien!

So the film slows to a stop, and there it is, clear as a bell, staring right into the car, its elongated head and huge black eyes and tiny mouth slackly open like a confused old man's, the neck so thin and short that it's barely not even there, thin as thread, and I think I see a long flexy arm, maybe its right arm stretched impossibly behind its back to reach around on its left side toward the car window, and though I was expecting to see its face and, as I thought, prepared for it, the sudden clarity of it huge and looming at the window scared the bejesus out of me and I burst awake with a scream or some kind of violent convulsion that woke my husband, who is a dead-snoring log sleeper.

Unlike some scary dreams, the fear of this one immediately dissipated as soon as I realized I was awake and had been dreaming. It wasn't until I started meditating over it there in the dark night and conjuring up visions of them trying to get at me through wormholes in the realm of sleep that I began to work myself into a state.

I certainly don't expect anyone to see any usable significance in what is surely just another dream. But for whatever pittance it may be worth, you are welcome to it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why I Keep My Thinking to a Minimum

In my case it's like trying to drive a nail with my breasts. It hurts and the results are unsatisfactory. And now it can even make me fat:

"Caloric overcompensation following intellectual work, combined with the fact that we are less physically active when doing intellectual tasks, could contribute to the obesity epidemic currently observed in industrialized countries," said lead researcher Jean-Philippe Chaput at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada.

Now I don't pretend that I really understand any of that; I tried, but my jeans started to feel tight and it seemed wiser to abandon the attempt.

I can now appreciate, though, why legitimate science refuses to so much as consider silly sky fairy subjects like UFOs: what intelligent, rational, level-headed scientist would waste time on a nonsensical phenomenon for which there is nothing more than trace evidence, radar responses, and thousands of eyewitness reports (or, to use the proper scientific terminology: mass hypnosis, delusions and lies, and in any event eyewitness testimony is completely invalid anyway) when fascinating answers to the real mysteries of the ages are to be obtained by watching college kids work on computers and scarf tater chips?

As many a parabnormally-minded person has long known: if only we could make UFOs, ghosts, or cryptozoology as lucrative a pursuit as the weight loss industry, the Jean-Philippe Chaputs of the world would grab their laptops and microscopes and hurl themselves shrieking onto that fabulous El Dorado gravy train in the manner of, as the elegant phrase has it, stink on a monkey.

Not that I have anything against Dr. Chaput or his work; I am sure he's a fine human being and a scrupulous researcher, and of course all scientific discovery is worthwhile. I just like to bitch.

And now I drink a draft of the magical brew from my cup and uncloak my mind for the ravishment of the oracular god. HEAR AS YOUR PRIESTESS REVEALS THE ULTIMATE MYSTERIES WHICH WILL BE PROVEN BY SCIENCE AT THE END OF TIME:

1) everything makes you fat; and

2) everything also causes cancer or otherwise kills you.

The full horrifying article is available here.