Archive for July, 2010

Sharon, a colleague and friend, passed away on Wednesday, July 28th–her 48th birthday. She leaves behind her husband and 13-year-old twin girls. She also leaves behind a campus in shock, who will have a terrible time trying to find anyone to do what Sharon did. She essentially managed the academic life of this school, with a list of accomplishments and responsibilities that put me to absolute shame. I was always in awe of Sharon–her outward calm when everyone was hysterical, angry or irresponsible around her. She spoke when necessary and important to do so, and I never heard her say anything malicious or gossipy. I wanted to be more like Sharon. She worked harder than anyone else I know, with a commitment to this college that was far more intense than I have been able to manage.

So imagine how difficult it is to find some meaning in her death. On the face of it, this is simply an absurd twist of ugly fate, a tragedy with no silver lining or lesson for us all. There are various ways we try to make ourselves feel better: we tell ourselves that we won’t work as hard, or that we won’t let the stress of our jobs eat away at our health. We can also choose to believe that our “due date” is pre-determined, and when we die is not in our hands. If God has given you 48 years, then that is all you get. Period. If we have faith, then this is not a tragedy, but part of a plan. We may not understand that plan, we may find it cruel, absurd or pointless, but that only reflects our limitations, and the fact that we see through a glass darkly. If we lack faith, then her loss is certainly impossible to make any sense of.

I didn’t know Sharon well enough to know what her thoughts and opinions were on this matter. I don’t even know how to describe my understanding of what happened. What I know is that outrageous, unbelievable tragedy occurs on a regular basis. We insulate ourselves from it, we hide from it, we ignore it, but were we to really open our eyes, could we survive the shock of reality? If we believe that there is nothing but chaos and horror in the world, then certainly our lives will be blips on the cosmic screen, signifying nothing. I refuse to waste this life on that philosophy. I also refuse to believe that there can be real meaning without the spirit, the soul that evolves through and past death. My apologies to existentialists, nihilistic graduate students and Goth kids everywhere, but materialism and the romanticism of the Grim Reaper will not take you anywhere but in circles with yourself and the world.

Two more realities hit me in the face this week: another person I care about informed me that she is in treatment for breast cancer, and my closest friend’s 11-month old niece has inoperable stomach cancer. Beyond the initial shock, there is a struggle to bring some order to this information. My friend with breast cancer will be a force for good, educating and informing those around her about the disease. That is who she is, and she will triumph. But how to find something uplifting in the diagnosis of my friend’s niece? What could possibly assuage the grief and pain of a cancer diagnosis for a little soul who has barely started her life’s journey? What kind of God would choose to end her life in her first year?

I do not dare try to answer that question. It is not for me to attempt such a bold move. It insults those who are struggling with their pain and does nothing to ease their overwhelming sense of loss. All I can say is that my life so far has shown me that there is reason for hope, and there is a need for faith. Life and death are not random events void of all meaning or purpose; but one cannot always know the reasons behind seemingly random and cruel losses. We can only open ourselves to the possibility that everything is moving in the direction it is supposed to, whether it was all pre-planned or our life lessons come wrapped in black paper sometimes. The worst pain can lead to the greatest good; but I won’t pretend to understand why that is, or to figure out a way to explain or justify it.

I asked a friend who had passed away if she might give me a message. She did–in the form of a very clear voice that I heard while attempting to sleep. I won’t try to prove that it wasn’t me, inventing the message, because I can’t prove that. It’s enough for me to know that it came from her. Her message was simple, yet profound:

“Keep the faith”.

And I will.

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Two years ago, I decided to take my academic and personal interest in the paranormal to a different level. I joined a local group and began a process of inquiry that has taken me to several fascinating places, both literally and figuratively. Since then, I have left two groups, one of which I co-founded with three other people. I founded my soulbank.org site, floated around as an “independent investigator” and formalized the team the Paranormal Housewives, which had started as a project for a proposed television series. I have appeared on three shows and have one in the works for next year. It has been a wild ride, and I have learned more than I ever expected; but the lessons are not the ones I necessarily anticipated.

Even though for the most part I consider myself blessed to be part of this community, I have experienced rejection, anger, shock, ridicule, betrayal and true sadness in the course of my paranormal life. I have watched a certain drama play out in several groups, usually culminating in someone leaving a group or being actively excluded from it by the person in charge. I have seen fights break out on Facebook and witnessed intense conflict on investigations over methodology, interpretation of data, someone’s psychic impressions, or someone’s desire to break with group protocol. There have been hurt feelings over decisions concerning who to bring along (and who to exclude) from investigations. I have watched and experienced emotional damage from something as apparently simple as the definition of a team and that team’s rules. There are multiple opportunities for misunderstandings in our community, but I believe that there are tangible ways that we can overcome such issues through direct communication with all members of team, and clear definitions of our expectations and goals.

 I jumped into investigative work and assumed leadership positions without having adequately formalized those expectations, which we all assume everyone else understands. So, with this in mind, I came up with the following recommendations and suggestions for all of us who work in this field and have felt frustrated by the trauma and drama surrounding us (and which we create without always knowing what we are doing):

  1. 1.   Define what the term “team” means for you.

There are formal and informal teams. Some teams are part of the Meetup system, and operate fairly efficiently, usually requiring one meeting and one investigation per month as a requirement for membership. You can lose your membership for not following those guidelines, or for not showing up to an investigation for which you responded “yes” on the RSVP page. You can lose your membership for not paying your dues, for not paying your share for an investigation requiring an up-front fee or for refusing to assist in set-up or break-down of the required equipment.

There are informal teams that are little more than friends that hang out at cool places. Those teams are more like close, social units. There is no write-up on the investigation, no documentation or archiving of data collected, no posting of pictures, no formal rules on membership requirements, no meetings, few formal investigations requiring payment to a site or organization on a mass scale and nothing written or formalized regarding expectations of team members. There is no written or codified protocol for investigations, no mission statement, no updated website, no FB or other social networking site account, and so on. This is perfectly acceptable—but is this really a team? Remember that if you are not clear on the rules or have not communicated those rules effectively, you can’t accuse others of breaking them.

There are teams who fall somewhere in the middle—not simply a group of friends you have fun together, yet not quite as rigorous as some of the Meetup groups. Those groups have not necessarily formalized their mission, rules, regulations and investigative protocols, but they consist of people who have discussed these issues and are of like mind. These teams can run into trouble down the road when conflict develops—so I recommend that ALL teams who want the ability to control who investigates with them and how the data is collected, stored and used, should take the time to formulate their expectations and publicize them for all those who wish to become members.

Don’t assume that everyone sees the formation of a team the same way. Some very basic questions need to be addressed. Among them are:

  • Who controls the website? What if someone doesn’t like a post or doesn’t agree that a certain EVP should be included? What is the policy on editing others’ posts?
  • Who decides what “counts” as evidence? What process is in place for a team to decide what is worth publishing, and what isn’t? What do you do with those hours of audio and video, with the anomalous photos, with the weird ITC experiences, or any other device you use? Do you have a common storage place for all of that data? Do you require members to review their data? Can you make such a rule?
  • Are guest investigators allowed? Do you need forms, waivers, etc.? Who is going to write them? Who controls their content?
  • Do you investigate private homes? What experience do you require for that task? What is your standard procedure for initiating, carrying out and following up on that type of investigation?
  • What is your policy when a member of your team doesn’t show up to investigations? What is your procedure for “firing” someone from your team? What are your minimum participation requirements for each member?
  • How do you decide to add someone to the team? What if one person objects, but everyone else is in favor?
  • Is your team led by one or two people who make most of the decisions, or do you try to run the team as a democracy by majority vote? Is there a hierarchy in your team by years of experience or specialty? Are team members divided up by area of expertise, or does everyone do everything? Do you have specific titles for your team members?
  • What is the main GOAL or MISSION of your team? Is it to go out and have fun, or collect evidence, or both? Are you attempting to prove life after death, or do you simply prefer to hang out in cool, abandoned places? Do you consider your methodology to be scientific, or is that kind of rigor not that important to you? Are you mostly social, mainly interested in media exposure for the group, (and I am NOT saying that is a bad thing—you can decide that is your goal and work towards that) primarily looking for academic acceptance of your findings, seeking to inform/enlighten the general public, looking for publication possibilities, or are you mostly interested in technology? Which combination of the above best reflects the mission of your team? You have to know what you wish to DO with your group so that your assumptions are clear to new people who join you.


  1. 2.   Reach an understanding of what constitutes evidence of the paranormal, and what you consider unacceptable.

In other words, what attitude does your team take with psychics, mediums, clairvoyants, past-life specialists, and members who use dowsing rods, crystals, Ouija boards, and other tools to contact the dead or see the past or future? Does it bother you if one member or guest “sees” a ghost and describes what he/she is saying, doing or thinking, or do you accept that as evidence? If a medium makes a pronouncement, do you take that as valuable information, or not? If your team decides to take a more “scientific” approach, it’s important to understand what that means. You are not working in a laboratory, nor are your experiments necessarily repeatable in the same conditions. Perhaps there is no point in pretending to follow the scientific method when your lab is a huge, abandoned mental hospital, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a commonly accepted protocol for your EVP sessions, for example. What ARE your requirements for EVP session? Do you follow the same pattern every time, or do you try new methods? How tolerant are you, as a team, for someone who “provokes” or follows an unorthodox approach to inciting the spirits to speak? What is your team’s attitude towards demonology as an area of study? Are you willing to include a demonologist on an investigation? How do all of you feel about the assumptions of the demonologist—that evil exists and can (and does) infect homes and buildings? Do you all believe that is possible? Do you want to involve yourself in that field of inquiry, or do you wish to avoid those considerations? What do you all personally believe about God, Satan, angels, demons, and other religiously-construed entities or deities?

  1. 3.   How do you all plan to handle conflict?

In all teams there exists the possibility of power struggles, conflicts over protocol for collecting, interpreting and publicizing data/evidence, personality clashes, disagreements on website content, marketing of the team, deciding where to go and when and differing levels of commitment and interest. The more rules you make, the more you have to enforce those rules through punishment. The fewer rules you make, the less prepared you will be to handle situations that upset, annoy or offend you.

Make sure to hold a business meeting with all your members at least once per month. Have an agenda; make sure everyone contributes to it and has her say. Anticipate problems and craft solutions; don’t wait for conflict to arise before addressing an issue. Plan your investigations in advance and organize your calendar. Require a certain amount of commitment, but make sure you spell it out. Don’t assume that everyone knows what you expect.

Most of all, keep the lines of communication open among members. Don’t rely on Facebook or email or any other electronic form of communication to get your message across. If you can’t have a face-to-face conversation, then at least speak on the phone. So much damage is done on social networking sites and over email, often damage that can never be repaired. There is no substitute for dialogue, debate and discussion. This is not possible on a computer.

If you love investigating the paranormal, then do it in a way that ensures the continuity of your team. There is no limit to what we can accomplish as a community if we don’t waste our time on conflict and drama; there is so much to learn and discover. Life is brief, and soon enough we’ll have the answers we seek. In the meantime, the thrill of the journey, the passion for the mysterious, and the joys of the search should never be dampened by our frailties, insecurities and resentments. Open your hearts to possibility and prepare to be amazed. If we are too small, then our discoveries will never be grand.

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Does death lose its trauma and sting after years of paranormal investigations and data collection of afterlife evidence? I rather thought that I had undergone something of a transformation after the amazing experiences of late, the voices on tape, the strange and fleeting visions, the oddities on photographs and the apparent communication on various ITC devices. Have I? As many of you know, Ty and I recently lost our beloved cat–who was more human than cat, ask anyone who met him–Kenny. I wondered, as I came to the realization that he was truly dying, how the experience of death would be different this time. I am not going to answer that now. Soon . . .

Before I come to any conclusions, I want to answer the questions that many people have asked me: have you seen Kenny? Have you felt him in the house? Right after he died, the house seemed very dark and uninhabitable to me. There was a fog around it, a kind of heaviness. We found all kinds of reasons to stay away from the living room and Kenny’s Corner. When I finally forced myself to spend some time there, a few odd things did happen. There were loud thumps by Kenny’s box, and knockings around the house. While playing with Nod on the rug, one of our two remaining felines, I noticed her stop dead in her tracks, puff up, and follow something invisible to me across the room. She seemed confused, stopping our game for a few moments until she regained her composure. Later that night, I was standing in the bathroom and the lights dimmed dramatically and then blinked several times. Then, in spite of the extreme Valley heat, I was engulfed in a freezing cold spot where I was standing. It lasted 30 seconds or so, and then dissipated. The lights are still behaving strangely in the house, blinking and dimming for no apparent reason. There are loud thumps at night that send me running to look for the source, and I never find a cause. The noises in the house are different, new. I don’t know what any of it means.

Is Kenny a ghost now? That would be my preferred interpretation, but I really don’t know. I am not willing to make the interpretative leap. I asked him for signs, and there have been many odd occurrences in the house–but what does any of it mean? It could be my own uncontrolled energy manifesting itself, or it could be Kenny’s energy bouncing around the walls and floors, looking for release or simply expressing itself in a rather chaotic way. I did see a Monarch butterfly the day he died, and according to a reliable source, those butterflies are not supposed to be in the San Fernando Valley this time of year. But yet again, I am confronted with the angry inner voice, the disappointed and furious child who lost her beloved pet and would trade a million lousy thumps in the night for one hour of lap sitting involving the actual, physical being that radiated such love. There is no love in blinking lights or cold spots. I hear Kenny meowing at various times when I know that’s impossible, but those meows are memories, or mind tricks, or glitches in the time/space continuum. They are not Kenny. I have no idea what I am experiencing, but all I know is that it’s not proof of anything and it doesn’t comfort me.

Death is scary and makes me sick to my stomach. That is how I’ve felt since Monday–nauseated. His burial brought the only moment of peace: his body, stiff and cold, was utterly NOT KENNY. Therefore, if Kenny is not that body, then he IS something else. That something else has either vanished, or it has taken on a different form; I do not think what made Kenny who he was–is–has evaporated. Ghost hunters know when they walk into an active place that there is “something” there. You simply KNOW, on a physical, visceral level that you are not alone. Later, you will probably discover voices on your recorder or capture strange movements on video, or carry on a conversation through ITC. You can’t say exactly what or who has contacted you, but you know that you have not invented it. The same thing has happened with this death–it is really not an absence, because there is a feeling in our house that the other cats have captured and that has enveloped me since Tuesday. I now intuit Kenny’s presence, but I can’t comprehend it or document it (yet). I am still angry that his physical self is decomposing in his grave, and that I can’t enjoy his warmth and affection. However, he seems to continue a kind of existence. I could say that all I care about his body on the sofa, but maybe I have to allow him to find his own way in a different place.

Have I lost my fear of death? No, not completely. Ty said that if he lost his daughter or me, he would simply stop breathing. That’s how I feel. I don’t know if anything can replace the physical experience of love. I don’t understand affection when it’s untouchable or unreachable. I could demand that Kenny show himself, or do something more obvious so my grief doesn’t overwhelm me so often, but one can’t make such demands of the soul. There is no burning bush, no certainty, no comfort. At least, not yet. Maybe that will come later, when all of this doesn’t hurt so much.

My grandmother died in 1999. We had a complicated relationship, but I loved her deeply. I grew up with her. Even though I’m not supposed to make an active effort to contact her in our house (Ty doesn’t think such activities are safe), I have tried. All I want is something from Nana to let me know that she is happier now than she was before. Nana doesn’t really want to communicate with me. Maybe she can’t, or maybe she’s just gone altogether, and I can’t accept that, because it’s too scary and too depressing. My faith these days seems tenuous and fragile. I was doing well until recently, and now I am starting to doubt all of my after-life philosophies. I wonder if I am deluding myself–is there really convincing evidence of anything comforting? I’m not so sure.

Do I trust my feelings, my intuition, the data that I have collected? Do I believe that I am not someone who invents things, because I’m creative and terrified of dying? Do I discount everything I have experience simply because I’m upset that Death stole my sweet companion? I think my emotions are too out of control to be objective. I want the people who abandoned me to come back. I miss my family members who disappeared into a place I can’t see and can’t visit. I feel like a teenager again, screaming at the pointlessness of life if it ultimately comes to nothing.

I know that’s not the real me. It’s just the me in pain. It’s the me that associates Kenny’s loss with all the other losses–an entire generation gone, a divorce, a realization that I am marching down a path to death along with everyone else. This mood will lift, and it will all make sense again. It would help, Kenny, if you would purr in my lap just one more time. Try hard, buddy–maybe you can still do it.

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