Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Haunting


I watched a horror flick on Amazon Prime the other day called Grave Encounters. It was sort of a Ghost Hunters meets Blair Witch Project. The plot premise is that a reality show camera team (bearing a striking similarity to the real life Ghost Hunters crew) are spending the night in reportedly haunted abandoned mental hospital. They do the obligatory interviews with grounds keepers and building caretakers and get secondhand stories of odd sounds and misty figures. But nothing real concrete (just like the real Ghost Hunters).

Predictably, the crew are locked in the building overnight and set up cameras at key locations throughout the labyrinth of a building. They have all of the standard equipment -- EVP recorders, EMF meters, infrared and night vision cameras and an annoying psychic. As the night wears on, so do their nerves. They begin seeing and feeling odd things. But hey, it's an abandoned mental hospital.

Spoiler alert: none of them come out of the hospital...alive! Shocking, huh.

Okay, the film is creepy. It is filmed in the style of Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. You can sort of believe it is a documentary. But at times you wonder who is actually holding the camera. And whereas some of the scariest things are those you can't see, the movie caves and throws in some over the top ghosts including a ceiling full of arms reaching out for the scared shitless ghost hunters and a mad scientist performing lobotomies.

The scariest part of the movie is the nightmare like quality that makes it like one of your worst dreams that you can't wake up from. The dwindling band of ghost hunters wanders down hallway after hallway and through nasty room after room and they can't find the exit. The time for the caretaker to come and unlock the door and let them out passes and they still can't find the door or see daylight out of the windows.

Which leads me to the point of this post. Maybe ghosts are real, only they are our dreaming selves. Maybe those nightmare dreams where we wander aimlessly through shadowy hallways and revisit scenes from our past are real. Maybe we haunt places when we dream and are the specters other people see and hear. Maybe I walk the halls of my mother's old house or the house I lived in for 18 years before moving where I live today.  Because maybe you don't have to be dead to be a ghost.

Just a thought. Anyway, pleasant dreams?

Monday, October 20, 2014

I ain't afraid of no ghosts


Halloween is rapidly approaching. So you would think that there would be more paranormal activity going on. After all, it's a holiday for ghosts, right?

Apparently Halloween evolved from the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain (it's pronounced SAH-win..sowing...get it),  It was a day the Celts used to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. They believed that the transition day between the seasons was a bridge to the world of the supernatural. The time between sunset on October 31 and sunset on November 1 was supposed to open the door to the spirits of the dead and other supernatural beings such as fairies.

It kind of makes sense. You plant in spring (birth), the plants mature in summer, they are fully ripe in the fall and harvested, then everything is dead in the winter. Our lives are an allegory for the seasons or the seasons are an allegory for our lives.

But I see the irony that we still celebrate a harvest festival that when most of us don't harvest a single thing except maybe grass clippings. The custom of wearing costumes stemmed from either trying to fool the spirits into thinking you were one of them or to frighten them off. I think the spirits are probably pretty confused now when they encounter people dressed up as Pinky Pie from My Little Ponies or Lloyd from the Lego Movie.

I wish there were spirits or fairies. I'd love to see a genuine ghost that wasn't explained away by reflections, stray headlights or an over active imagination. Because it would give me hope that there is an afterlife. But having lived more than half a century and watched countless ghost hunter reality shows I have to conclude that there is no such thing.

If spirits did exist, why don't they communicate to us through text messages or Twitter. God knows they couldn't be any more banal or inane than the faceless souls communicating that way in the corporal world.

It's not everyday I get to use banal or inane in a sentence. But I digress.

I guess technology scares me more than ghosts. Or not so much technology as the pace in which it overtakes me and leaves me behind as I age. I took one of those stupid quizzes on Facebook the other day to see how many archaic devices I could name from the recent past (speaking of inane). And I could name all but one of them including such antiques as the rotary phone and floppy disks. I used to have anxiety dreams about trying to call someone in an emergency using a rotary phone.

One of the sad things is that I make my living as a communicator and storyteller (because you don't market products and services any more, you tell stories about them to engage people). But how do you communicate and tell stories to people when they don't have the context to understand you.

Listen to me, I sound like a broken record.

Get it? (ha, ha, ha, ha. A context joke).

The tsunami of advancing technology and my inability to keep up is what really haunts me.

So I guess I really am afraid of ghosts.




Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Hulk wasn't in touch with his emotions

"Don't make me mad. You wouldn't like me when I'm mad."
--David Banner (The Hulk)

After a week of intensive management training and using "I" language (I think...I feel), it strikes me that the Hulk didn't own his emotions. Because, in theory, no one can make you feel any way. You feel a certain way because of your reaction to something external to you.

It would have been better if I phrased that, "No one can make me feel any way. I feel a certain way because of my reaction to something external to myself." I have to keep poking myself in the "I" to remember to use "I" language.

Words. I feel like a dog chasing its tail. I also feel like I'm parroting a cheesy self-help book. I've never felt overly comfortable being warm and fuzzy. Ironic isn't it.

I know that my defense mechanism is kicking in, trying to hold onto thinking patterns I've woven for decades. And I don't need a corporate psychologist to tell me my primary way of dealing with conflict is avoidance. And my number one avoidance mechanism is humor.

I resent sitting in a room with work strangers and hearing "Let's hear from the introverts" called out and having everyone stare at me. The whole point of being an introvert is not wanting attention drawn to you.  So I blurt out, "I feel labeled." To which the trainer responds, "What emotion are you feeling, right now?"

I then consult the list of "Feeling Words" and try to decide whether I'm feeling hostile, irked, miffed, vexed, edgy, unsure, or vulnerable. I opt for "giddy," which isn't even on the approved list of feelings.  At which the trainer makes some notes on notepad and moves on.

And speaking of feelings, I have been watching this series produced by Amazon (who blatantly is trying to compete with Netflix by producing original content to sell). It is called, Transparent. It is a brutally honest story of an extended Jewish family living in L.A. The plot centers around the father of the family coming out that he is a woman trapped in a man's body. He reveals himself to his three adult children one at a time. The subplots are the really messed up lives of the adult children.

I started watching the series thinking it would be a comedy because the lead is played by Jeffrey Tambor who starred in many great comedies such as Arrested Development and the Gary Shandling Show. But it is anything but a comedy. There are sadly funny moments, but most of it is gritty and painful. It is like watching a program about your own family and cringing that it is all coming out.

Not that I or my father ever announced that we were a woman trapped in a man's body. I feel more like a boy trapped in an aging man's body.

But I digress and I feel as though I've said enough.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The creator


Despite the headline, this post isn't about god or God. I just started thinking about my job and my life and wondered when I stopped being creative. Because that is one thing I always clung to as being my identity in life. I was creative.

Being creative to me means creating something...something original. Creative writing is original writing, not regurgitated prose or hackneyed plots. And even though I studied Journalism (which frowns on creative license in telling a story), I always held onto the belief that my writing was different from others. And in retrospect, maybe it is different, just not in a good way.

I blame much of the demise of my creative illusions on the Internet. Google quickly dispels the self-delusion that you've had an original idea. And I blame myself, too. How many times have I railed on myself for repeating the same theme in my posts? I have stooped to plagiarizing myself on more than one occasion (though often it is due to my faulty memory). I have also fallen victim to writing about the same subject over and over because I got positive reinforcement about it at one time or another.

At least I only wrote about happy clams that one time.

I started to fancy myself creative back in 8th grade when I took Creative Writing for the first time. I wrote this essay called, "How to survive the school cafeteria." It was my first attempt at humorous writing. It was published as part of the class booklet that I came up with the name for "Write On." I thought that was pretty creative at the time, too.  The essay was fairly well received by the 20 or 30 people who actually read it. And this included the cooks in our school cafeteria. They cut it out and pasted it on the refrigerator in the school kitchen. But this may have been just to remind them to watch for me and get some payback.

When I started writing on the college newspaper as a journalism major I was drafted to write a column for the Arts & Entertainment section. The first column I wrote was about how to survive the food at the dorm cafeteria. Sense a pattern here? The editor rejected it as being too trite and cliche. I rewrote the column, this time writing about saving slugs on campus. You see, the rain in Seattle produces some pretty massive slugs that dart across sidewalks as about as successfully as opossums dart across freeways.

The column was a hit and I milked my style of humor writing for two years until I graduated. I was a minor celebrity on the small campus of a few thousand students. Though the chair of the Journalism department never did approve of what he thought was fluff writing.

When I started writing professionally out in the real world, I still tried to inject humor into my work whenever I could get away with it. This is not easy when you write for a public transit agency.  Though I did slip through some pretty "out there" brochures. One had a headline that read, "Get the jump on rabbit transit" and had an image of a bus with bunny ears on it.

I'm not proud to admit it now.

As  bad as some of the stuff was, at least I felt as though I was being creative.  I wrote wacky slide show scripts and comic books. I created posters and ads. I ghost wrote magazine articles. I staged special events with quirky twists that went beyond boring ribbon cuttings. And I freelanced writing radio and television ads.

But somewhere along the way, it all became rote and stale. And then I started managing people and consultants who started doing all of the fun stuff and left me to basically sign off on things.


Maybe that's when I started blogging. Because blogging opened up a whole new world of opportunity to write about anything and everything anytime I wanted.  And I was able to incorporate images I created without having to depend upon designers who had their own vision that didn't necessarily match the one I had in my head. Blogging made me the writer, editor and designer. I was the creator, or dare I say it, the god of my blogiverse.


So maybe I still am creative (as long as you aren't a total stickler about the meaning of the word).  I just don't create as consistently as I did back in the day. And good or bad, I still cling to the hope that at least my blog is different than most.

And on the bright side, I rarely have resorted to poetry.






Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fake Blood



I finished binge watching all of the seasons of The Sopranos and I've moved on to the HBO series True Blood. There are seven seasons and 80 episodes. I figure I can watch about three a day between my commute and my daily workout.  So I figure I should have watched them all by Halloween.

Unlike The Sopranos, I had only watch a couple seasons of True Blood before being distracted by life. So, also unlike The Sopranos, the final episode (which only aired last month) should surprise me and not jump to a black screen with Journey playing in the background and everyone saying WTF happened.

Sorry if I spoiled The Sopranos finale for anyone who hasn't seen it.

Now whereas The Sopranos was a glimpse into the everyday life of a family of New Jersey mafia, True Blood gives us a glimpse into the everyday life of vampires trying to come out of the coffin and go mainstream in the white trash backwoods of Louisiana. Both series throw in lots of gratuitous sex and violence. Other than that, they don't have much in common.

I like apparently most of America, have always had a bit of a morbid fascination with vampires. I was a Anne Rice fan for a brief time and read most of her vampire chronicles until they got too stupid for even me to follow.


I found Anne Rice's vampires a bit on the effeminate side. They liked to dress up and prance around, but they couldn't have sex. But it didn't take Freud to figure out that biting people was their form of sex (penetration, etc.)  I attributed this to a female author creating male characters that acted and thought the way she thought men (or male vampires) should. But I guarantee the first thing a guy would say after being turned into a vampire and finding out he couldn't have sex anymore would be, "You are telling me I'm going to live forever but I can't have sex? Give me a stake and open the blinds."


I was actually fascinated by vampires before Anne Rice turned them into angst ridden fops. In the late 1960s I was a fan of Dark Shadows, a schlock Gothic soap opera with a British vampire named Barnabas Collins. I convinced my best friends to dress up like Dark Shadows characters and go trick or treating back in 1968. I was Barnabas Collins (second from the left in the above photo). I'm not sure if Barnabas Collins could have sex or not. I was only 10 and puberty hadn't set in yet and I was more concerned with how cool Barnabas' wolf head cane looked. I fashioned mine out of aluminum foil.

The vampires in True Blood have sex...a lot. And it usually involves biting people without changing them into vampires. But it also involves wearing lots of leather and dog collars. And the vampires in True Blood are for the most part very attractive. Which leads you to believe that either vampires only choose to make the most attractive people into other vampires or it's just Hollywood blowing smoke to boost ratings. Because who wants to watch a vampire named Bubba try to seduce someone while sporting a tank top and a beer belly and spouting such pearls as, "You got a real purty mouth, can I suck your blood?"

Although the rules for being a vampire seem to vary depending upon who is telling the story, the universal truths seem to be that a vampire can't be exposed to sunlight, they can be killed by cutting off their heads or staking them through the heart and they live forever without aging. That's the part that I wouldn't like. Oh, it would be okay for a century or so, but then I think I'd just get bored to tears. I'm not even thrilled about the prospect of living to a hundred let alone several hundred. After all, how many reruns of Friends can anyone really watch?

I'll let you know how many episodes of True Blood I can really watch.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Schrödinger's cat


An explanation of Schrodinger's cat experiment from whatis.com: 
Here's Schrödinger's (theoretical) experiment: We place a living cat into a steel chamber, along with a device containing a vial of hydrocyanic acid. There is, in the chamber, a very small amount of a radioactive substance. If even a single atom of the substance decays during the test period, a relay mechanism will trip a hammer, which will, in turn, break the vial and kill the cat. The observer cannot know whether or not an atom of the substance has decayed, and consequently, cannot know whether the vial has been broken, the hydrocyanic acid released, and the cat killed. Since we cannot know, the cat is both dead and alive according to quantum law, in a superposition of states. It is only when we break open the box and learn the condition of the cat that the superposition is lost, and the cat becomes one or the other (dead or alive). This situation is sometimes called quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox: the observation or measurement itself affects an outcome, so that it can never be known what the outcome would have been if it were not observed.
Why am I dredging up quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox again? You (whoever you are) may have recalled me posting about having my cat of 17 years euthanized back in July. A few weeks later, we received a call from the vet that I we could pick up her ashes. I numbly drove to the vet and waited as the same assistant who had put the IV to administer the drug to end my cat's life went and retrieved a small cardboard box housing the container with her ashes.

I drove home with the box and opened it at home. Inside was a small wooden box with its lid sealed with screws. My children asked me if Bailey was inside the box. I explained that after she died, they had cremated her and the box contained her ashes.

The original plan had been to scatter her ashes somewhere around the yard. But part of me wasn't too keen on the idea. Bailey had spent a bulk of her time at our house sleeping inside our bedroom. I don't think she ever actually went out in the yard. She'd been an outdoors cat years ago when I'd lived alone in a house in a different neighborhood. But I doubt if the current occupants would have been thrilled to have me show up and ask if I could scatter her ashes in their yard because my cat used to play their.

Then my wife suggested we could just bury the box with her ashes in a flower bed outside. It seemed like a reasonable option. In the meantime I placed the box on my dresser in the bedroom where she'd spent her final years. And it has remained there.

I still walk into the bedroom and expect to see Bailey curled up in her cat bed under the chair or on the bed. Occasionally I'll see a dark article of clothing at the end of the bed and think for a moment it is her.  And I have started noticing black cat imagery like the photo at the top of this post that I snapped while walking by an local art gallery.

My daughter took the death of Bailey the hardest. She told me she missed Bailey and wanted her to come back. This led to many discussions about life and death and questions about what happens to people and animals after they die. I tried to put a positive spin on it and say that our energy or spirit lives on and is reborn in other living things. It sounded good. But it prompted more questions about ghosts and spirits that I deflected with "there are no such thing as ghosts."

One day my daughter told me that she had been down in our basement playroom and she had heard Bailey meowing.  She thought it was the ghost of Bailey. Then she said she hoped Bailey came back as a kitten to live with us again.

I dismissed it. But several days later, I went downstairs to look for something in the family room next to the playroom and I distinctly thought I heard a cat meowing. It was brief and familiar.

I didn't say anything to my wife or children about it. It could have been anything. The washer and dryer are down there and they always make sounds. Or it could have been one of our living cats meowing near a heat vent upstairs.

But still...it made me think of Bailey's remains in the box on my dresser in our bedroom. And the box reminded me of Schrodinger's experiment with a cat in a box and the line: "It is only when we break open the box and learn the condition of the cat that the superposition is lost, and the cat becomes one or the other (dead or alive)."

Maybe as long as the box remains sealed on my dresser, the possibility that Bailey's spirit is with us remains intact. Because once we open the box we lose all doubt whether she is dead or alive. Who am I to mess with quantum indeterminacy?






Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What ya gonna blog about it?


Bless Amazon. Despite all of their mega corporation faults, they have provided many HBO series classics for free on Amazon Prime. And you can download and watch them. I am on season six of The Sopranos, the series that made New Jersey crime families seem like regular Joe's (regular Joe's that cut people's heads off, cheated on their wives, set fire to horses and stole indiscriminately).

I guess I'd seen all of The Sopranos episodes over the years, but nothing beats binge watching six years of a classic to maintain continuity. The thing I've always hated about watching a series on HBO or Showtime is that you never seem to be able to catch them from the beginning unless you DVR them or watch them on demand. So I think I originally watched The Sopranos in fits and starts and out of order.

Tony Soprano is my favorite character. He goes from being a lovable, teddy bear kind of a guy to a raging sociopath in a second flat. He can be caring and kind one minute and beating an employee's head in with a telephone the next. You gotta love this guy.

But the thing about Tony is that they peel away the stereotyped Mafia boss and show you a middle class New Jersey guy who has a big house in the suburbs, a wife, two kids and the normal problems of a a regular guy. He even sees a therapist to try and resolve issues with his mother. The only difference is that Tony makes all of his money illegally and now and then has somebody whacked.

I have no idea whether The Sopranos depicts a realistic view of organized crime families. All I know is that the plots and the writing was genius. I loved hating all the characters. Though the dream sequences got a bit out there. One dream Tony had was kind of like a scene from Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  In it were all of these people Tony either killed, had killed or caused to commit suicide (which seemed to happen to most of his mistresses). It got even freakier when Annette Bening shows up and makes a reference to Bugsy Segal (she starred as Bugsy Segal's mistress in the movie Bugsy).

But that's one of the things I loved about The Sopranos. They wove complicated plots that connected from season to season. It was kind of like watching Lost, only it made sense in the end.

Sadly James Fandolfini who played Tony Soprano died last year so we'll likely never see a Sopranos reunion film or new series. So you can just forgitaboutit.