The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.
Sea of Weirdness
I am enmeshed in the realm of the paranormal. While possibly not an expert, I can convincingly fake it around lay people. I spend a portion of every week catching up on the newest stories and theories, wild speculation and grounded, scientific analyses. My wife seduced me into a California honeymoon with promises of a Bigfoot Museum (hilariously disappointing) and the Winchester Mystery House (smaller and less creepy than you might expect). When she wants us to go on a trip, Amber searched for aliens, cryptids, and hauntings, knowing that this will be enough to get me enthusiastic. At each site, I appreciate the kitsch of it, but a part of me is hoping to discover the miraculous through osmosis.
I give annual talks at the Pine Bush UFO Fair. I have filled auditoriums beyond capacity so people can listen to me talk about monsters they don't know. I have several books under my belt, written partly because I know so much about the supernatural that seems otherwise hard to work into productive conversation.
Yet I stand above a sea of weirdness in which I cannot baptize myself. It is not that I want to believe as that I want enough evidence to try to believe. I doubt I would want to get abducted, but I would savor a UFO sighting that doesn't look like a Mylar balloon, aerial drone, or airplane in the distance. I might not cotton to a full haunting with broken crockery and ectoplasm, but I am more than open to witnessing a ghost that cannot be boiled down to dust in front of a flashbulb, an overactive fan, and static in a voice recorder. Let Bigfoot, just this once, be a hominid instead of trick photography and a former linebacker in a gorilla costume. I am a reluctant skeptic because I once felt nearly certain that the paranormal was true just behind the curtain, before reading enough to give me more contradictory evidence than potential proof.
The true believers don't have questions, or only have questions that presume things I will likely never be able to take as given. To quote a researcher in the area, since revealed as a fraud when trying to cowrite a book about military djinn based of service he never performed, "We know they are from another dimension. What we don't know is what we are doing here." In their belief, they have a purpose and a place in this world, even if it is only to justify the exceedingly curious to the overly logical world at large.
Yet I remain fascinated, even as I wave away anything that can be explained as infrasound, hypnagogia, or bears with alopecia. These are close to my magic words to deflate the incredible. Yet I am not militant. For the most part, I find their beliefs harmless. I have genuine fondness for many in the paranormal community. They have been kind and accommodating to my sometimes-pesky questions and I am obliged for this.
I would not like to believe purely for the sake of believing, but I would love some little nugget I cannot explain despite my efforts. I want something where I have no excuse for it, where "Yeah, it was probably a ghost" seems like the best explanation I have. I want all that would imply, how my world would all at once have a grander mystery to it. However, it needs to be earned or it is worth less than nothing, because it would distract from the glory of the world in front of me. I have no taste for delusions, even as I console myself that these are often all those who hunt ghosts or track UFOs have. The mundane world is far from bereft of majesty and is likely more frequently outside my comprehension than I realize. I have seen so little of this world yet, having traveled out of my country only once and to the other coast only a few times. I would never exhaust discovering the intricacies of the visible world, but there is less luster knowing how far I am from riding toward that horizon. The supernatural at least now gives the illusion of undiscovered land to those born too late for global exploration and too early to wander galaxies. It is a mystery that could be our backyard, basement, or brain.
More than that, the paranormal gives us a community in a world that provides fewer nourishing tribes. We do not feel a sense of belonging with our neighbors. We lack a reason to work together. Sitting outside, sharing food and drink, looking up at the summer stars and hoping we see gods, reminds us of what we used to be before we got so distracted by modernity. No matter the thermal imagining rigs and electronic field detectors now involved, telling one another ghost stories speaks to something primal in our species. It would be glib to suggest they subsume themselves in the paranormal for want of a tribe, but they certainly want a place where they can be understood. I, largely tribeless (rejecting out of hand some of my presumed tribes), do envy them their sense of belonging.
I plan to write a book of my research into those in the area who believe. It won't be about their experiences, but about them at people. What has happened to them is, if even only to themselves, fascinating, but I think they are the real story and it is one I feel uniquely equipped to tell.
Soon in Xenology: Adventures. Heermance.