Research into the Paranormal

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Lately, one of the ideas kicking around in my brain is about the existence of ghosts, spirits, past lives, and some of the many things that may come with these.  I’ve done some reading, which has fed both my writing and my curiosity–a lot of Michelle Belanger, to start.  I read Paranormal State‘s Ryan Buell’s book, Paranormal State: My Journey into the Unknown.  I read most of the way through Sylvia Browne’s Psychic: My Life in Two Worlds.  In my fiction writing, I’m interested in exploring how traumas can shape people for better and worse.  The way that people deal with their pasts–with a haunting, either literal or figurative–is a big draw for me.

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I’ve had my tarot cards read as a walk-in in a few different stores over the last ten years, and those readings didn’t make much of an impression.  My husband went with me when I wanted to go to a local bookstore to hear Mark Anthony, Psychic Lawyer.  Last year, I had a phone reading with a psychic I knew more about, and that experience made a big impression on me.  I spent some time in few graveyards, photographing old headstones and reading the inscriptions.  My husband laughs at me when we drive by graveyards now and mocks me (lovingly), “What graveyard is that?”

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I’m following up on my interest whenever I can.  I’ve found this to be a successful way for me to stay inspired as a writer.  I remember my college writing professor urging us to give ourselves up to our influences so that we could learn what we needed to learn.  I’m doing it, to the best of my ability.  I’ve watched every episode of Paranormal State and Animal Planet’s The Haunted that I could access on Amazon Prime.  I’ve watched a fair number of Ghost Adventures episodes, and my husband always greets the sound of Zak Bagan’s voice with a joking impression: “What the f*** was that?”  I am impressed by Lorraine Warren, and researched Ed Warren, after seeing Lorraine on Paranormal State.  I learned the word “demonologist,” how dangerous it is to play with Ouji boards or conduct endless EVP sessions, that house blessings and Benedictine medals can be helpful ghost deterrents, that negative spirits feed on negative energy, and that filling one’s life with positive things can, among other things, help with a haunting.

Recently, I discovered The Haunting of… with Kim Russo.  And is anyone else watching the new Lifetime show, Ghost inside My Child?  There was a new idea for me.  I hadn’t spent much time thinking about past lives.  The young children on this show (if we have faith in the way the show presents information to us) seem to have real memories of past lives, down to specific and obscure details which match other places, times, and people–details which seem impossible for them to have known.  My husband and I are fascinated by this show (though we were disappointed they changed their hilarious creepy child singing three notes of music intro to a less hilarious piano intro).  A girl who remembers all the symbols of an ancient culture’s alphabet?  A boy who knows which Civil War regiment he served in and the little-known battle in which he died?  There’s a new parenting challenge: helping your child to make peace with her or his past life.  (At least, if we have kids, I’ll have an awareness of this, if it comes up!)

Is anyone else following some of these shows?  Any thoughts?  My research has definitely fueled my writing, though I do suffer occasionally from nighttime nervousness.  For about a week and a half in August, I woke up at either 1am or 3am (which I know, from ghost investigation shows, seems to be a paranormal time!) and felt like something was there, while at the same time feeling that it was all very likely a symptom of watching too many ghost shows.  I did try to wake my husband up one of the times, but he has the enviable gift of being able to sleep through anything….so, on the night I woke up at 3am and needed to go to the bathroom, I woke up my sleeping dog and got him to come down the hall with me, thinking: in the shows, the animals always know if the ghost is there, so I’m good.

While I’m fascinated with all of this, most of what I write I wouldn’t put in the “paranormal” box, though I don’t like strict categories for literature anyway.  I’m interested, above all, in how humans work, and for me, that’s a focus on trauma, memory, choice, and rituals.  Ghosts in literature work well as metaphors, but they can also be characters in their own right.  Only one of my short stories has a ghost.  My first novel has one.  My current novel has more.  We’ll see what happens in the future and where this will take me.  I’m still working on my beliefs.  I’ve met a lot of people who have had paranormal experiences.  It’s an interesting lens to bring to different events.  I definitely believe there are things that we don’t understand about the world around us.  I believe that sometimes, there are connections and events that seem to rely on an explanation beyond what we commonly accept as real or possible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about these topics.  Do you believe in ghosts or spirits?  Do you believe in past lives?  Have you had a paranormal experience?

(All photos are mine, taken in the last few years in some of the cemeteries I’ve visited)

Unseen Connections: Art Articulating Life

When I first started tweeting (this summer), I underestimated Twitter as a medium for finding out all sorts of information and getting exposed to great art and ideas.  A few days ago, I encountered the work of Shuli Hallak, and I wanted to share it because I thought it was so provocative and current.  Perusing her work today also reminded me of the work of a close friend and fantastic artist, Gayla Martin, who is seemingly at the other end of the spectrum.

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Shuli Hallak’s “Servers that Write Text Data” from her photographs of Facebook Servers – used with permission

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A photograph of one of Gayla Martin’s sculptures – used with permission

Fast Company magazine recently featured Shuli Hallak’s work in a piece called “Invisible Networks: One Woman’s Fantastic Quest to Photograph the Living Internet.”  There are all sorts of images in on Hallak’s website.  She’s photographed all sorts of cables, panels, and electronics which look foreign to the eye, like something out of a sci-fi movie.  It is interesting to be able to see the internet, which can feel like a bizarre abstract concept to those who remember life before it began and then became so prevalent.  There is so much involved that we don’t see–wireless networks, data storage–the physical part of what connects us “invisibly” to people all over the world.

In the Fast Company interview, Hallak explains that there is a lot at stake when it comes to understanding the concrete dimension of the internet:

“There are a lot of implications. If we know what this stuff looks like, then we can actually speak about it and think about it. It’s not actually very complicated or difficult. We’re visual thinkers. And we can speak about things when we have a visual concept.”

This is certainly true.  Language has an intimate connection with thought.  This is why expressing ourselves and hearing others’ expressions is so important, for one thing.  Through expression we can learn about ourselves and others, and we can evolve and change.  By understanding more about how the internet works, we can better understand something that many of us use daily without considering how it works and its physical place in our world.  I like that some of Hallak’s photographs show the technology on its own as an alien thing, while some of them integrate technology with people or the environment.  Her work asks that question–is technology now a true part of our world?  Is there a way in which it is still separate?  Can we see it as organic and part of a system which includes humans and the environment?

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Shuli Hallak’s “Deep Sea Cable Recovery” – used with permission

Gayla Martin’s work at first seems very different.  She mostly works in thread and fabric, but lately has been making prints and paintings as well.  She has created organic weavings with variations in line, thickness, and light.  She’s created changes in space with large hoops suspended from the ceiling which have a rain of threads (ranging in length from two to ten feet) attached to them.  Martin hand dyes the thread and her work exudes personal energy.  The everyday materials, including a tea strainer (in the image above), remind one of home, and the processes involved in creating these pieces further add to their human feel.

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From Gayla Martin’s “Constructed Impressions” and “Weavings” – used with permission

For me, the common threads (haha–I’m not sorry for the pun, though!) are the way that lines are integral in defining space, as well as making something unseen visible and available for discussion.  With Hallak’s work, I see the straight lines of the data storage area and the curves of the cables and the way that space is defined by cables and rectangles.  There is an intricate apparatus that Hallak is making visible and available to us through her photography.  In Martin’s work, she’s added visual lines to articulate and describe invisible human ties to our surroundings.  Sometimes, her work shows our connection to our environment–places we grew up, or places that hold meaning for us.  Lines and weaving ask us to think about the very nature of connection: how are we tied to what we see and the people around us?  What if these lines are broken?  Are the  lines even?  Is the space around us rigid or fluid?

Both artists’ work, especially seen together, ask us to examine the line between the organic and the artificial.  Martin’s work uses organic, everyday use materials like thread, or even a strainer, to show us something unusual about our lives and make us consider them in a new way.  She often considers light and shadow, and when you see these pieces in an installation, part of the beauty and the experience is viewing them in context.  Hallak’s work shows how artificial objects which are part of advanced technology integrate with organic materials, like the ocean.  Hallak’s photographs, like “Multiple Subsea Cables” (below) can also show how these technological materials can imitate the organic: seeing the cables close up, they look like they could almost be vines, and we can see the fraying threads on them that remind us of weavings like the ones that Martin constructs.  There is a human element, even in very technological objects that we may imagine to be inhuman and abstract.

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Weavings by Gayla Martin – images used with permission

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Shuli Hallak’s “Mulitiple Subsea Cables” – used with permission

Both Gayla Martin and Shuli Hallak are exploring important and often abstract aspects of life through their art.  What do you think of their work?  What does it remind you of?

Special thanks to both Shuli Hallak and Gayla Martin for providing the images including here and giving their permission for their use in this blog post.  All images belong to them.  Please check out their websites: ShuliHallak.com and GaylaMartin.com; they have much more work than appears here!

Shuli  Shuli Hallak – You can also follow her on Twitter: @ShuliHallak

cupid3.jpg  Gayla Martin – You can also follow her on Twitter: @moxiegm