Monday, February 28, 2011

No Bones About It...

Almost every regular person is afraid of something. Spiders or growing old, abandonment or the dark. They range from the rational to the irrational. Some fears can be life saving while others hinder living a normal life. Yet it's something that makes us unique individuals.

You could say that I have a certain level of phasmophobia (fear of ghosts). I've been startled on more than one occasion during an investigation by something I cannot explain as 'of our natural known world.' That doesn't mean I haven't been terrified by mundane, comical reality though. A bat, boom of thunder, or a cat in the right circumstances have all made me jump. Then of course, there are some of you who are quite aware of my fear of heights (batophobia) and bridges (gephyrophobia) which has had some hilarious results.

I've heard that the best way to conquer fears is to face them. For the most part, I have, be it investigating haunted places, crossing high bridges in major cities, or looking out windows from skyscrapers. Yet there's one fear I've had since childhood (which, interestingly enough, is not a named phobia) which I have avoided at all costs... until now.


In my early years, I experienced a recurring nightmare. I was in a narrow alley, with brick walls on three sides. On the fourth side, blocking my only means of escape, was a gang of several animated, grim, menacing skeletons slowly closing me into a corner before I woke up in a panic. Cartoon skeletons or illustrations don't bother me. It's the real (or at least life-like) skulls and skeletons that give me the creeps. Technically, this should be called "osteophobia" (quite literally 'fear of bones'), but the closest category for it is necrophobia: fear of death and dead things.

It sounds absurd, I know. They're inside all of us, so you would think something as common as a skeleton (while normally covered with flesh) wouldn't be such a big deal. But for me, it can be. But now, I get a chance to face this fear daily. In my effort to gather creepy, odd, and supernatural artifacts I now have a child-sized resin skull sitting on my bookcase.

To be honest, just glancing over at it is a bit unnerving at times. Even though it's not real, I can't bring myself to face those empty eye sockets in my general direction. I'm sure that in time, it will desensitize me enough that I won't be as uncomfortable in the presence of bones. It reminds me of a conversation from the movie Clue between Professor Plum and Mrs. Peacock.
"What are you afraid of? A fate worse than death?"
"No, just death. Isn't that enough?"

What is it about our immortality that is so frightening? Death is inevitable; no one can escape it. Yet it scares us and can become an obsession. Skulls are undoubtedly the strongest symbol of our limited life span. To gaze at a skull is to face your fate. If we know it's coming, why is the knowledge unbearable for many of us? Perhaps the answer is the unknown aspect. Is it a new beginning, the door to an afterlife, or just lights out? Yet the skull will not answer the question...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dessert Can Be Deadly...

As some of you might know, Ghost Adventures recently traveled to Salem, Massachusetts; this week Travel Channel aired the episode filmed at the famous Witch House (better known as Jonathan Corwin House). It's the only remaining structure in Salem with direct connections to the world-famous Salem Witchcraft Trials. Of course, humor ensues when Zak meets witchcraft. I'm not sure asking random people on the street if they are witches is good form. But this is Ghost Adventures, after all, and we're used to an unlimited amount of intentional (and unintentional) laughs.

A lot of the places I recognized from my past trip to Salem for a book signing and pleasant stay with psychic medium Jeffrey Justice. Even before I heard this episode was coming out, I had been thinking about my trip. I do miss Essex Street and all the history. So, I did a little shopping and finally made a few postponed purchases with connections to my trip: a few herbs from Hex: Old World Witchery and some dinnerware from an artist I discovered at the delightfully morbid Life And Death in Salem. After all this time, her work still called to me.

While browsing the shop, waiting to visit Jeffrey on one of his breaks, a pair of empty eye sockets stared back at me from a dinner plate. It was part of the "Skull and Cross Utensils" design series of refurbished restaurant ware created by ceramicist Meredith Host. While the artist lives in Missouri, she received her Master of Fine Arts in Ceramics from Ohio State University in 2008. Some of her work is quite unique (if not downright comical), though I'm partial to her depictions of skulls, bones, and organs on stark white plates, bowls, and cups. There's something about serving a slice of Death By Chocolate on a plate decorated with a grinning skull that seems too fitting for me.

So I broke down and began my collection this week with a set of four dessert plates. I'll warn you now; the dinnerware is highly addictive. Perhaps it's my odd sense of humor, but I love the idea of skull plates and zombie brain bowls laid out on a table. I'll slowly add to my collection provided I can resist the temptation of breaking the bank to fill the cupboards. Unique, well-crafted, morbidly-amusing things are so hard to find. Not only that, I'm a picky person. When I find something that screams "I must have that" it's a rare surprise.

I couldn't mention macabre dining without touching on another delight from "Professor Paranormal" himself, Loyd Auerbach. While I am eagerly anticipating his book, Haunted by Chocolate, to be released, you can find some spooky treats on the related site. His decadent "Ghost Drops" are available by mail, or you can schedule a chocolate tasting for an event or party.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Famous Paranormal History and Haunted Homesickness...

Being busy has its good and bad points. University has been a lot more work than I had anticipated. I have a few big projects for courses on the horizon (one where I worry I've bit off more than I can chew with the scope and work involved) so often when I write, it's only for class. I've even cut back on social networking, not just due to course load, but because it's a major distraction. There's only so much of Facebook and Twitter I can fit into a day. I need to make time for other things: far more important things.

Lately I've taken some time to get back into reading. My bookshelves are full of books I have every intention to read but never sit down and work into my schedule. My current reading material is a fascinating historical book, Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death by science journalist Deborah Blum. It appeals to me twofold. For one, it deals with history and early work exploring investigations into the unknown. Secondly, the topic centers around William James, one of the early founders of the science of Psychology. He is best known for writing the first official psychology textbook... his work in founding the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) is glossed over by most scholars.

In Ghost Hunters, Blum takes a look at the first (if not only) time in history when some of the greatest minds of the time gathered together to try to scientifically explain and find proof of the paranormal. Since the early days of science, looking into ghosts, ESP, telepathy, and other oddities has been scoffed at and never given the time of day by the scientific community. It was labeled as "superstition" before anyone felt it worthy of being tested. Yet science is an ever-evolving process. Before Darwin formed his theory of evolution, it was common practice for science textbooks to claim that creationism was confirmed science.

A hundred years later, the topic is still largely ignored. Experimenting with "psychical research" is as much career suicide now as it was in James' time. There has always been an underlying understanding among scientists; "If you study these things, you will be blacklisted. Your reputation will be destroyed." It's a sad truth that any research in these fields must be underground with little funding. Even some of the most astonishing scientific research into some phenomena has been ignored and buried; some scientists (including the first president of ASPR) have even labeled it all "hallucinations, mental illness, and fraud" without even reading the reports.

The paranormal has been on my mind a lot lately, mainly because I miss it. I miss the mystery of it all, digging through musty history to find information about those living in the past, trudging through old buildings in search of the fainted hint of something unexplainable. After all these years, it's still exciting to me. And while, like James, I don't believe every story or experience is proof-positive that the dead walk the earth, I still want to understand the phenomena and its causes. I feel that psychology holds some answers, and other answers are still locked away inside the brain and nervous system. Perhaps J. B. Rhine was on to something when he labeled hauntings 'recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis' (or the mind's ability to tap into the past). And there may be some physical interactions happening as well, but I don't believe it's the result of electromagnetic energy. 

There are plenty of things still worthy of exploring in our world. World mysteries have not all been explained. Dismissing things as unworthy of exploration is absurd to me. I have some hope that many things will have definite answers one day. The key is unlocking the past and its discoveries and building upon them in scientific methods instead of constantly reinventing the study of the paranormal. We need to stop with the random gadgets that beep and flash and look into what we know, the function of technology as well as findings in research experiments, and go from there. Modern ghost hunting relies of case studies and naturalistic observation, but it doesn't focus on the role of hypotheses and theories. This doesn't mean everyone needs to conduct laboratory experiments in the field. We simply need some faction of the population to take matters a bit more seriously.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Colorful Coupling...

Since it's Valentine's Day, no doubt some of you are on festive dates or celebrating your relationships. Others may commiserate and loathe this day, be it because of single life, separation from the one you love(d), or other anti-holiday feelings. Some call it a Hallmark holiday geared toward materialistic ideals. Whatever your view on today's meaning, it boils down to two thoughts: happiness and love.

Red is the traditional color of love, but love comes in so many shades. We give different colors their meanings and form symbolic attachments to each. There are people who practice colorology—the study and interpretation of colors and their meanings—and delve into auras, astrology, and divinatory methods to seek out color explanations related to mood and personality. Color meanings have even seeped into our culture (ex: "green with envy") and in many ways we are all like the color spectrum. Our world is made up of so many hues; why should we be any different?

If you've ever taken an art class, you know a little bit about color theory. It's not just about blending different hues to make new ones. It delves into the interpretations of different colors and how colors relate to others. Warm colors (red, orange, yellow) invoke happiness as a general rule, though each color has many meanings. It's very complex, just like the world and its people. And yes, even love can be a complicated thing.

I remember being in Wollongong in December, sitting across from Sam and Deb over lunch by the harbor. In some respects, they're quite different people (aside from the obvious American and Australian cultural backgrounds). At the same time, when placed next to each other, they just fit so well together. They're like complementary colors in a spectrum. I have known other people who are similar to contrasting colors; that is, they mix as well as oil and water. Most of the time, the latter makes for a short-lived relationship.

The real key to love and happiness is finding your complementary pair. This doesn't mean look for someone who is a carbon copy of who you are. (There's little excitement in dating your twin.) Opposites can and will attract, but people who seem different can still blend well together. So many people place emphasis on outward appearance, interests, and similarities and forget that interaction, understanding, and personality play a far bigger role in longevity of any relationship. It's not about how the world views you as a couple; it's about how you both interact with each other that ultimately matters.

On this day of reds and pinks, take a little time to expand your view of the spectrum of our world. If you're with the one you love, take some time to think about what makes you happy together. Or if you find yourself solo today, ponder over what has formed barriers in the past and what you truly want in the next relationship. Would being with someone with your ideal looks and a big wallet make you happy, even if you couldn't have a decent conversation with him or her? Are your expectations too narrow or too broad? Knowing who you are and the simple keys to your own version of happiness can pave the way to a more loving and happy year ahead.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Closed to Interpretation...

We are strange creatures, human beings. Look at any animal on the planet and you see logical behavior: cause and effect. Yet people are perplexing. We murder for pleasure, cheat and steal for unnecessary objects, and behave in irrational unnatural ways. Simply put, we make no sense.

I was reminded today of my own enigmatic and often-misunderstood tendencies. Communication, as we learn in college, is a difficult process. It is impossible to convey the exact message intended to any recipient. While we can get very close to the intended message, there never is perfect communication. More often than not, it fails miserably. Often, my own skills (or lack thereof) can cause what I say and do to be interpreted in a negative sense. That leaves the last lesson of communication: it can never be un-communicated. Done is done. Gone is gone.

No one can open up a brain and see exactly what was meant or even look to see how things are received. We have to ask, to guess, and hope the intended message was transmitted. Sometimes, we're lucky and things send almost as they were intended. At other times, it has the opposite effect. But it's not just that. We have inside jokes, manner of delivery, and physical behaviors to contend with. All these things can translate into total disaster.

More often than not, I'm a complete failure with communication. That's not to say I'm intentionally rude, arrogant, ungrateful, or any one of a number of bad qualities any person can possess. Still, we're all guilty of either appearing these ways or even being that way from time to time. Error and mishap are very real human qualities. Certainly, I've never labeled myself as a saint. A puzzle, yes, but someone without flaw, never. Still, we can't change a first impression. We can't turn back clocks and say, "No, no, what I meant to say was..." or "Even though this is what you saw, this is the reality."

Perception is everything. In just a short time, we can cause irreparable damage without being aware of the full effects. Sometimes, it's foreshadowed either with some degree of awareness in change. At other times, it comes out of the blue... or at least we don't understand the full effects until the shockwave from the blast slams us to the floor. You can't make a bomb disappear after it's been detonated. You're there standing amid the fallout.

In many ways, I am a seriously flawed human being. It's days like these that remind me of just how flawed I am. And so I sit among the ruins, wishing for a DeLorean equipped with a flux capacitor and a message for the past self. Yet no amount of hoping will make that happen. In the end, really all we can do is change the future. The past... well, it's the past. Only in the future can we hope make amends and change for the better to prevent ourselves from becoming our own worst enemies.