Thursday, December 18, 2008

Here We Go Again

I highly respect Dr. Ian Stevenson. Of all the authors I have read, some truly execrable, some quite respectable, Dr. Stevenson is the one person who has formed and shaped my beliefs about life and death, and the very purpose of existence. I believe that no one makes a stronger case than he does for the continuing existence of consciousness.

It doesn't matter what I think, really, since I am not a scientist but a PhD. in Hispanic literature and language. I have read a tremendous amount on the subject of existence (in some form) after physical death, and I have conducted some of my own investigations. I have had numerous personal experiences that defy a materialist mindset, but none of that makes me an expert or someone whose opinion on this weighty matter should be accepted as a matter of fact. So many of these questions must be answered on a personal level, for it is a matter of personal transformation in the end. I appreciate, however, those who dedicated their lives to amassing evidence so that people like me can feel reasonably justified for their belief in post-mortem existence. The hard, painstaking work of investigators like Dr. Stevenson allows me to draw my conclusions based on their evidence, and for that I am eternally (literally!) grateful.

There may be some interest for anyone reading this in what I have concluded, after reading over one hundred books on the subject, ranging from the purely scientific (SPR and ASPR papers) to the popular (John Edwards' and Van Praugh's accounts of the afterlife). I do have training in critical thinking and evaluation of evidence-- no one receives any kind of degree at Yale without rigorous training in both--and 22 years as a teacher and director of various academic and administrative programs certainly trains one to organize one's thought process towards results, not fantasies. After wading through so much information and history, after thinking about this issue endlessly and pondering all possible explanations, I find that the theory of reincarnation is what makes the most sense and has the strongest evidence to back it. It also, on a personal note, is what explains my experiences as a child and best fits my memories (the few that remain) of a previous existence.

All of the other information--gleaned from mediums, channelers, psychics, near-death experiencers and adults who claim to remember past lives (as opposed to children between 3 and 5 years of age) tends to suffer from wish fulfillment fantasies and self-delusion; yet even as I write that, I am quite sure that there are several authentic "experiencers" of the afterlife that I hesitate to criticize or invalidate. The problem is the mixture of real and imagined, of authentic with trickery, of pure motivations with motivation tainted by greed for money and fame. Eusapia Palladino is a good example of what I mean by that. Much of her physical mediumship was authenticated by scientists from various disciplines who set up conditions that would make fraud impossible; yet, even though she could produce amazing results ranging from apports to full materializations, she was caught cheating openly on several occasions. When she couldn't produce good material from the spirit world, she took matters into her own hands. This is the issue, then, that plagues people like John Edwards. He may be 99% authentic, but there's that nagging issue of the 1% that tarnishes his reputation. You could look at it the other way, too: he may be 99% fake and 1% authentic; in the end, you have to have some control over what you do, some method that keeps you above board and "investigatable" by objective observers with no interest in the outcomes. This is what Dr. Stevenson does, and his work taken as a whole is overwhelmingly convincing. As far as I am concerned, Dr. Stevenson has proven that reincarnation happens. He does not claim that it exists for everyone at all times; yet the fact that it exists at all blows the top off the universe and everything we think we know about human consciousness and survival of death.

When asked about the "larger purpose" behind reincarnation and current theories of the mind, here are his words:

"Do you see in reincarnation a glimpse of a larger purpose?"

Stevenson: Well, yes, I do. My idea of God is that He is evolving. I don't believe in the watchmaker God, the original creator who built the watch and then lets it tick. I believe in a "Self-maker God" who is evolving and experimenting; so are we as parts of Him. Bodies wear out; souls may need periods for rest and reflection. Afterward one may start again with a new body.

Omni: Do you disagree with most bioscientists, who hold that what we call mind or soul is actually a part of brain activity?

Stevenson: The assumption that our minds are nothing but our brains appears to receive support when you consider the effect of injury, surgery, a high fever, or one or two drinks of whiskey on our mental processes. Some neuroscientists ac knowledge that they have only just begun to show how brain processes account for mental ones. But they claim to know that they or their successors will work it all out. They are sure there can be no other explanation, therefore they consider no other. We are not pledged to follow all the received opinions of neuroscientists, however. Recently, a small number of psychologists and philosophers have begun to ask whether mind can ever be fully explained in terms of brain functioning.

The mind, apparently, is not bound by this one existence. As for the implications of this, that I leave to a later post. In the meantime, anyone with any interest in the question of survival of consciousness should read Old Souls, written by a journalist who traveled with Stevenson to India and documented the journey. It's a fascinating introduction to an amazing man and an even more amazing life's work.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


My sister is in a hospital bed in San Francisco, battling through her 20th hour of labor. She is with her husband and a midwife, and long ago gave up her oath to not receive an epidural. She's had two, as of last count. I can't, of course, imagine what her pain is like. I know what everyone says, you forget it, it's all worth it in the end, etc., but at the moment, I doubt my sister cares what the common wisdom has to say on this subject.

I'm scared, because I don't understand what is happening to her. My mother tells me that "everyone does this," but not everyone does. I didn't, and I won't. There are complicated emotions surrounding this birth for me. I can't stop thinking about Mease, but I also think about myself: the cold fact that my window of opportunity for pregnancy and birth has shut. I will never experience what she is now, which on the face of it is just grand--who wants such misery, such animal torture?--on the other hand, I will never hold my baby, my flesh and blood, and know that mysterious bond that new mothers feel with their infant. Mease and I will be separated by experience: I will never know or understand what she is going through, what she will experience over the next several months. I fear that this will separate us a little, as my divorce placed a barrier of (bitter) experience between us. She couldn't fathom what it felt like to watch a marriage dissolve, and nothing I tried to explain to her really made sense. Of course, her new life will be mostly a positive. Perhaps what will link us is this one commonality: she will know in a few short weeks what it feels like to have absolutely no control over any aspect of her life.

When her child reaches the age of six, THEN she and I will have a lot to talk about. That's when my kid came along. I missed Mosca's babyhood, and landed right in the middle of her Pokemon obsession. Since then, it's been six years of parenthood, and learning how to share her with many other interested parties, not the least of whom is her biological mother. I have learned over these six years that giving birth does not make one a parent; even missing the first six years has not mattered all that much to my relationship with Mosca. I've listened to endless stories spanning the first to the seventh grade; I've been patient when I wanted to explode; I've coaxed her to eat a million times; I've held her when she's hurt herself on the monkey bars; I've hung out with her in the mountains and cracked open hundred of acorns for no particular reason; I've had many, many, many heartfelt discussions with my husband about the best way to impose discipline when the need arises; I've anguished about how to best guide her to become a responsible, loving, compassionate and kind adult. She is well on her way. It has not been easy.

Mease and I will, shortly, have a new bond: that intense feeling of loving someone so much that you can't bear to even begin to express it, because it runs so deep that it changes your DNA. No matter how much pain she is in now, the cliche will prove its grounding in truth:

It will all be worth it in the end.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Too Close

Around a week or so ago, the usual group was wandering Camarillo. In addition to the thrill of knowing that we could be arrested for our exploratory activities, there was a new twist on the evening: Unit 44, along with others whose numbers escape me, was wide open: the Children's Ward.
It was terribly creepy. The murals were garish, out of place, oddly bright and happy for such a sad and frightening place. Marylin Monroe poses for all eternity next to Michael Jackson, the (alleged) pedophile; monkeys swing from cartoon trees above Ricardo Montalban and the the little guy that used to say, "The plane, Boss, the plane!"; then, of course, there was Satchmo, Diana Ross, Alfred Hitchcock, staggered down the hallway in out of proportion oddness, inviting visitors and inmates to endless contemplation of a popular culture that some of us recognize, and others have no reference for at all. How many children have seen an episode of "Fantasy Island"? Is that what Ward 44 pretends to be, a fantasy for sick and incarcerated children? There is no relation among the bizarre murals adorning the long, sterile hallway. These are just random images signifying nothing to no one: an apt metaphor for madness and illness. Mental illness is something like memories out of context; it's all there, the pictures of one's life that are inextricably linked to television and movies, so much so that one bleeds into the other, yet there is no narrative, no story, no language to organize or connect them.

I freely admit that I do not know what I am doing wandering through this history of abuse and despair, this building redolent of hot fungus and medicinal fluids seeping through filthy carpet. That one night, every door was open to us, an invitation: come in, see what you feel here. So we entered every room, every corridor, every wing, every unit. I was feeling brave, intrepid, daring; until the last room facing the north parking lot. It was dark, of course, but it was more than that: it was alive. The chief ghost hunter said it first: "There's a lot of activity in this room"; and so there was. I don't know what to call it, that feeling of dread, the state of being watched, the sense that something is happening all around you that you cannot see but only feel. All I do know is the result: I was instantly exhausted, drained of all energy, all light, all optimism. I sat on the floor with my head in my hands while the others conducted an EVP session. My legs felt weak and vertigo toyed with my head. Every instinct told me to leave that room as soon as possible. If I did not, it was only due to a super human effort to not appear the coward in front of people who never, ever ran away from ghosts . . . because we are all playing with death, if we were to be honest. We are hoping to contact someone who has "crossed over", who has seen what none of us have, what we all fear. Of course, our biggest fear is that after death there are no voices, no contact, no spirit energy, no paranormal communications, just silence. Just annihilation.

One of our ghost hunters died last Saturday. He couldn't breathe. He emptied his asthma inhaler and it didn't help. He suffocated. That is the death that most terrifies me, a fellow asthma sufferer. His death brought the possibility of my own to the forefront of my thoughts. Mostly, though, I think of his mother who lost her other son less than two years ago. Oddly, he died the same way: suffocated in his bed. All of this seems unreal, surreal, the stuff of novels and horror stories. There is no way to imagine what bizarre reality his mother is stumbling through as I write this.

He was a big kid with huge, warm hands. He loved taking pictures with odd flashes and streaks of light, thinking that he had captured evidence of the paranormal. He loved ghost hunting with all his heart. He seemed, outside of ghost hunting, lost in the world. He was happy tromping around graveyards, missions, and the Queen Mary; it gave him a mission, a purpose. I did not know him well. What I was able to see was his childlike sweetness and passion for all things paranormal. He was genuine and sincere in his enthusiasm; he made Ty and me want to take care of him, to encourage him, to nurture that innocence that he was destined to lose.

Now, of course, I have no idea where he is. His mother is probably frantic to find him, as she was with her first son. I would love to offer up some platitudes regarding his new life after death, but I have nothing to offer. There is nothing to say. In all of our many hours recording random noises that we sometimes construe to be voices of the dead, in all of our thousands of pictures that appear to show something, in our endless videos and constant attempts to reach over the edge of this life and into another one, we have no answers whatsoever.

If there is another life, we have no clue what it looks or feels like. If there is some existence after death, we are no closer now than we ever were to understanding or describing it. Anything that I said regarding the continuance of the human spirit is based on some odd audio clips, some bizarre sensations and some strange photographs. Hardly the basis to alleviate the crushing grief of losing one's son; one's last son.

There is a certain cold emptiness and weariness in the ghost hunt; we often feel that there is something there, and sometimes we can offer evidence for it, but we don't know what "it" is. We have nothing to give those who need answers. In the darkness of Camarillo, I wonder if the search might not be dangerous. If we find answers, perhaps they are not the ones his mother needs to hear. Perhaps they are not meant to be discovered at all, and every time we tempt the spirits in the corners of hospital rooms we are, in fact, giving up just a little of our souls.

I know one thing. At least that mother's kind son is not to be found in Camarillo. Wherever he is, I know there is more light for him than there was for the children staring at the lost and impossible world of Fantasy Island.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stream of Consciousness

Halloween is over. That ritual celebration of death and decay was sandwiched between fires and destruction and an historic election that shocked us all into the tiny hope that things might change.

Montecito is burning right now. Joe Biden and Dick Cheney met today at the White House for a "house tour." The misfortunes of the stock market have wiped out our little nest egg. It's the economy, stupid. Yes, yes it is. Today I found out that there is a pollution cloud that stretches from around the world, creating health problems that we don't even yet know exist. 4,000 people died from diseases related to Southern California air pollution, more than six times the number of us who died in automobile crashes. There is plastic in the ocean, billions of tons of it, floating and leeching toxins. Is Oprah's house going to survive the inferno in Montecito? I would say that my prayers are with her, but I don't give a shit. Burn, baby, burn.

My husband is sick. I've been sick since the beginning of October. I took antibiotics, but they didn't stop my lungs from burning or alleviate my shortness of breath. I feel like I've smoked a pack of Marlboros every day for the last thirty years. My sinuses ache, I feel like a damp rag, it's all I can do to teach and crawl home and collapse in bed. It's a never-ending round of Albuterol, Azmacort, Zithromax, Mucinex, Flonase, Claritin, NuvaRing and Patanol. Gee, are there any possible drug interactions here I should know about? Will I be another Southern Californian dead from lung issues the next time the Valley burns?

November is the cruelest month. Coco died last year on November 23rd; my first husband moved out in November 2002; my father is always dangerously sick every November; I couldn't swallow or eat in November 2006, and I ended up in the ER seven times; I broke my foot and severly sprained my ankle two Novembers ago; the sunlight dies every November; every November for the last three years, I've undergone tenure review; I make unwise decisions in November, motivated by anxiety, illness and dread. Oh, yes, and every November the Santa Ana winds blow hot and dry over So Cal and spark endless fires, like the one that killed six of our firemen in Pine Cove. November is the month of the serial killer, the arsonist, the abuser and the degenerate. November is always a month where the economy tanks and world news is dismal. It's the month where I end up in some nameless shrink's office, retelling old stories in the hope that the root cause of my unhappiness will shine forth from the tangled morass of my subconscious. Now, I realize, nothing I can extricate from my dramatic and sad history will explain the misery that is November. It's the time of year; nothing can be done about it.

I realize that my nephew might be born this month, and that my tremendously pregnant sister would not appreciate my dismal assessment of this month's little tragedies; however, I am crossing my fingers that Connor will not make his appearance until December 1st, since I believe him to be a child of greater sense than to be born this month.

From somewhere in October to mid-December, Kirsten is not herself. Ghosts torment her, illness shadows her, worrying her with thoughts of death and suffocation. I sleep with the phone next to my bed, in case I need to call 911. I don't go anywhere without my inhaler and my EpiPen, as if they could guarantee my safety in an emergency. I cry over the mice that Ty's snake doesn't eat and I can't save, I read endless books about life after death, since this life seems so terribly brutal and short, and I curl up in my big bed, waiting for December 21st, when the sun will begin his trip back to me and will deliver me to hope once again.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Something terrible had happened here; I just wasn't sure what.

I walked into the room and Kenny was sprawled out on the dingy carpet. His demeanor was aloof and uninterested: "nothing to see here, move along". I, however, didn't believe it. I've known him long enough to mistrust that glazed, slightly evil gaze that he fixes upon me when he is trying to feign innocence.

I suspected that the corner of the carpet by the stairs might contain a clue to the commission of the crime, since I noticed it was slightly turned up. I peeled it back, slightly ill at the thought of what I might find there. "Are these bug parts?" I asked him, knowing as I said it that he would not respond. A few shiny, black, hairy legs lay in a random, yet somehow lovely, pattern. Is God's plan revealed in the disposition of these cockroach legs? Who knows . . . for stranger truths are contained in far stranger places.

No, this was not it, not the evidence that would incarcerate him. I continued the search. There was a thin, yet active, line of ants leading to the cabinet where we keep sheets and assorted holiday items. I opened the shutter-style doors and peered inside. The ants had swarmed, forming black, moving masses of insect hysteria in pursuit of something hideous, something nameless. The stench hit my nostrils at about the same time my eyes were struggling to reconcile the horrid sight with the pleasant contents of the cabinet: lavender soap and Christmas bears, utterly defiled by mobs of biting ants, moving in a chaotic yet preordained direction. They were sharing information with the Head of the Hive, the Queen of the Nest, the Intelligence behind their stunning and terrifying assault on the innocent bag of gifts, the sweetly scented pillow cases. "What is in there, Kenny?" I queried, knowing as I said it that no answer would be forthcoming. He rolled on his back and yawned. It was going to be a long night.

I knew that I had to pull the items out of the cabinet, risk the wrath of thousands of ants soon to be disturbed, distracted from their single-minded pursuit of the Thing Without a Name. I pulled out the back of gifts, running to the back door to throw it out on the cedar chips before the tiny ant jaws ripped off particles of my skin and injected their painful venom. I then rescued the pillow cases and sheets, watching as the ants' hysteria increased exponentially. I was bitten. There was no way to avoid their panic as I relentlessly dug towards the Source. It was then, on my third incursion into the cabinet, that I saw IT: a pile of organic matter so covered in orgiastic ant life that I could not make out its true nature.

I ran upstairs and put on the thick rubber gloves reserved for only the most vile jobs. I grabbed the Windex and a roll of paper towels. I returned to the scene of the crime, spraying the ants with wild abandon, watching them slow down as the ammonia overwhelmed their lust, their lives. Finally, I was able to tear off some paper towels and grab the offensive pile of organic matter, now reeking of Windex and . . . cat crap. Kenny had crapped in the gift and pillowcase cabinet.

I whipped around, ready to face the criminal and watch him realize his colossal error: underestimating by ability to seek and find the ultimate truth. Instead of the expected look of contrition, or a grimace of deep emotional pain, or even an expression of mild remorse, I saw nothing but the back of his head moving rhythmically as he cleansed his testicle sacs. As the dying ants were crawling off the crap and biting me one last time before they expired, I decided to walk upstairs, dispose of the evidence and ponder the punishment.

But of course, there is no punishment for such offenders; like serial killers, they have no conscience, no flickering of remorse. Later that same evening, Kenny crawled into his Grime Box. As the filthy heating pad kept him warm, he stared at me through slanted eyes.

"You can't prove I did it," he said, "so why don't you just go write about it in your 'blog' and let me sleep."

And so I did; but there would be a next time, there always is. Next time, I'll be watching.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

SARAH PALIN MAKES ME WANT TO HURL, and thoughts on the nature of reality and perception

Let me start this with a link that I think you might all find of interest:

Now let's talk. I'll begin by saying that the picture below, my total proof of the paranormal, is not a ghost, but a picture of my hand reflected in the glass. A trick of the light convinced me that I had discovered an alternate reality, which, if others only saw what I did, would change the world. It turns out that I was wrong. My perception was colored by what I wanted to see, not what was actually there.

I watched the Vice Presidential Debate tonight, and I had the occasion to ponder the issue of reality and interpretation yet again, and to question the very notion of "truth" in all areas of human inquiry. What matters, as I have discovered both in myself and in the world of politics, is not reality or truth per se, but the perception and creation of reality and truth.

Did it matter that Palin was barely able to put together a sentence? Did it matter that she refused to answer many of the questions that were posed to her? Did anyone care that she botched her facts on numerous occasions, and generally seemed unable to think for herself? She repeated the lines that had been fed to her, with no indication that she had thought in any depth at all about the issues at hand. At one point, I had to walk away: it was too painful for me to watch Biden destroy her on every single major point in the debate. It was a train wreck, I thought, and surely everyone would be lamenting her awful, pathetic performance.

But no. They barely had time to mill around on stage with family members before the talking heads and media celebs were declaring this debate a triumph for Sarah Palin. I blinked in disbelief: did these astute critics of the political scene actually WATCH THE SAME DEBATE I DID???? It simply didn't seem possible; as they gushed praise for Sarah, I felt ill. The same kind of ill I feel when someone radically disagrees with my sense of what is real. After this debate, I felt as if I had been told that today wasn't really Thursday, I am not really married, my three cats are really large hamsters, and my father is a Russian spy.

My interpretation of reality was blown apart by Mr. Tom Brokaw, a man who I thought was at least moderately objective. I trusted him to tell it like it is; and then I had to ask myself . . . do I really understand "how it is"? Is this just another case of self-delusion? When I saw the ghost in the glass, it was real--so real that it defined an entire world view for me, if only for a few weeks. Then there was that night, that fateful night, when Ty looked at the picture again and saw my hand. He traced the outline of my fingers on the computer screen, and then I saw it, too. When it became clear to me that my ghost was simply my hand holding the camera, reality shifted again--this time, away from me. My new belief, based on what I thought I had seen, dissolved so quickly it seemed never to have existed at all. Perception can change in an instant. Reality then follows; then, one's entire understanding of the world.

It occurs to me that my perception of Ms. Palin's performance tonight was not based on the reality that a huge percentage of Americans experience every day. I am watching Ms. Palin from the standpoint of someone who has a Ph.D., someone trained in critical thinking. Whereas my ghost was an exercise in lack of critical judgment, I was overly analytical when arriving at my conclusions concerning Palin. For Sarah, I am just another elite, intellectual Leftist who doesn't understand a darned thing about real Americans like her. The reality? People like Palin don't trust people like me; there is something suspicious about my education, something that distances me from the "meat and potatoes" folk that "sit around the kitchen table wondering how to put the kids through college". Of course, that entire notion of the home-spun, Main Street, common Joe is a political myth used to cover up the rampant greed for money and power that drives our politics.

Or is it a myth? Maybe I am still seeing ghosts where there are justs hands. Perhaps the hand in the window, the truth of all this, is simply that it doesn't matter if you're smart, or well educated, or know the issues that affect all of us, every day: all that really matters is that the "average Joe" looks at Sarah and sees someone they could hang out with at the hockey rink or the bar on that much-lauded Main Street, someone who thinks No Child Left Behind was a big success, and that the 4,000 + men and women who died in Iraq were necessary losses so we could "win" the "war". The words don't even make sense anymore.

If she represents the average American, then I have no idea who the average American is. If she "won" that debate, then I am the ghost in the window and no one will ever see or hear me, for truly, I do not exist.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I won't tell you what I see. Tell me what you see. I took so many pictures through windows that night, and nothing came out even remotely like this, not even the picture I took before and after through the same window.

Paranormal phenomena are doomed to be interpreted differently by everyone. It's very hard to convince people that something truly fantastic, unusual or inexplicable has happened, and even if they DO believe you, or come to the same conclusion based on the evidence, the inevitable "so what" issue creeps in and destroys all possible consensus.

I am frustrated that people don't experience what I do, or don't see what I see, or don't interpret reality the same way. Then I think, well, no one interprets reality the same way, and not even "scientific" results are universally accepted; the "lab test" that determines what is true and real often falls apart when someone else disproves it, shows the results to be tainted somehow, or it simply is ignored because no one knows what the hell to make of it.

If 20 people saw a ghost, it would create a sensation for awhile, and then all interest and curiosity would vanish; we always return to the status quo, always take refuge in what we know and understand. That is just human nature, it appears. We don't change our world view because to do so would require a new relationship to reality. That is too frightening for most of us.

I am not pretending that the above image in anything but an odd reflection in a window. I say that, but I don't believe it. I was there and I've looked at all my other pictures, and I can tell you that what I see, if it could be verified by anyone else, would change my world.

What do you see?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Crow

I watched the crow struggle to free his foot. He was high up in the eucalyptus tree, and he could not fly away. He was entangled in some kind of netting that was placed there to prevent golf balls from landing in the neighboring mushroom farm. Two enormous birds--I later discovered that they were Great Horned Owls--were flying at him, and the crow was screaming. I had never heard such a sound. It was the sound of suffering, of desperation, of impending death. The owls were ripping him apart with beaks and talons. I stared in horror as the crow continued screaming, trying to free himself with the last of his energy. Finally I walked away, leaving Ty to observe the spectacle. The screams of the crow turned raspy, breathy; then an ominous silence.

The death of the crow stayed with me for days. At night, as I was trying to fall asleep, I would hear the crow cry in pain, see the enormous wings of the owls as they circled their prey; the image of the frantic crow replayed itself again and again in my mind. We returned to the Olivas Adobe and the tree where the drama had played itself out, and was continuing to torment me. We were on a tour, a very pleasant tour, and all I could think about was my crow. I stood on the balcony overlooking the courtyard, contemplating the eucalyptus tree. The sadness I felt was reflected in the gray sky, the still air, and the scent of tired, damp dust. Everyone else was inside the adobe, and I was just about to join them, when a crow appeared; he was flying just above my head in the courtyard. He drifted in gentle circles, coasting close to me, allowing the breeze to lift him. I watched him with a sense of awe and peace: this was my crow, back to comfort me and remind me that his death was simply a passage to another life, another chance to float and dance on the currents of the ocean air. He stayed just long enough for me to understand this, and then he disappeared. The tears overflowed from behind my dark glasses, and then I felt no more pain.

The spirit of the crow had never died, nor suffered, nor vanished from the Earth. He was transformed and renewed, returned to give me the gift of his beauty, his life. Thank you for the sign. Faith should not require it, but my trembling heart thanks you all the same.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Is There Anything Out There?

What Are You Looking For?
As I wandered around La Purisima mission in the dead of night under a full moon, I was graced with some insights: I enjoy trespassing onto land that is not privately held, and therefore should be the patrimony of the curious public; I love ruins and abandoned places; I think that something/someone is often walking with me, or with the group, but I have no idea as to the nature of it. People react differently to not knowing the nature of certain phenomena. Some are content to think that after we die, God and angels and heaven await. The stereotypical view of Heaven strikes me as infantile and silly. Who, after the beauty and complexity of Earth and life on Earth wishes to spend eternity in a place that sounds something like a delusion of some crystal gazing, New Age, post-hippy bourgeois who now drives a mini van with a bumper sticker proclaiming that their kids were all Students of the Month at the local gifted school? Please, don't let me become one of the Angels on Key Chains crowd. I am also not the dedicated atheist/professional skeptic who delights in ripping apart all mysterious or unexplained phenomena with a wave of the Materialist wand, or the sneer of the scientist/philosopher who knows what is possible, and what isn't. Such misplaced pride is repugnant to me, since no one can presume to know what happens to the soul after death. And don't tell me that I have no soul, or that my spirit is a creation of my brain, and that when my brain dies, everything that I am or was will cease to exist in any form. I don't believe that, and my lack of belief is directly related to my experience and my research; it is not a result of rampant wish fulfillment. However, it is also true that I cannot explain what it is that I am experiencing when I wander around a place such as Camarillo or La Purisima. Members of the team send me their EVPs, and now I have a couple of my own. Often, Ty and I can't get past issues of interpretation. I hear "you can hear your voice" in a snippet of a recording that was taken while we were at La Purisima and listening to the echoes our words made when we spoke next to a certain wall. He doesn't hear it, and I do; if he did hear it, he would insist that one of us had said it. Even though I KNOW none of us made that statement (the voice sounds nothing like the others), I cannot PROVE that one of us did not. Therefore, it ends up on the dust heap of useless evidence. Another one: I say, "are you still with us?" and right after, a whispered "no". Again, not my voice or anyone else's, since we have a policy of silence between requests for communication. In Camarillo, there is the distinct sound of a child singing behind our talking. I have the audio file. Anyone can hear it. We all agree that none of us was singing, and that we do not sound like small children anyway. So there is the rub: there is no way to convince everyone of the authenticity of these voices. Even if I were totally alone and recorded a clear voice that was not mine, who would really believe me? What would I have proven? There lies the more serious rub, if you will; even if everyone, even hard-nosed academics and scientists (to whom we have given the authority in this culture to make such decisions on truth and authenticity) were to all say, "yes, that is not a voice emanating from any human or radio transmission in the area" what have I proven? Only that I have a recorded a voice for which there is no explanation. The question is, of course, WHO or WHAT is speaking to me? The skeptic will always reply that I have picked up a stray radio wave, or some freak echo effect has occurred, or simply that we don't know what it is, but that doesn't mean it's paranormal. It doesn't mean that the dead are talking. Yes . . . but . . . when a member of the team announces on his recording that he is leaving the building and some voice (not belonging to any of the three of us that were up in the abandoned building 26 in Camarillo) responds "coward" in a whispery hiss, I know something. I know that it wasn't a stray transmission, an elaborate trick by some clever voice thrower; I know how it feels to hear something like that. It sends off every alarm in your body, raises your hackles (whatever those are) and chills you to the bone. What makes these recordings so amazing is the CONTEXT in which they occur. They are often responding to YOUR questions, making relevant remarks according to the situation at hand. How do I feel about that? Conflicted. When I told my parents about these excursions and the resultant evidence of something strange going on, the reaction was interesting. My sister doesn't want me to send her any of these recordings. My parents don't want to hear them either. Why not? They are afraid of whatever it is that is responding to me. I wonder about that, too. I don't know the nature of this communication. I cannot identify the source, and I don't know what any of this means about life after death. Who is talking to us? Are they actually human? Can one still be human after death, or is humanity defined by life? What are we after death? A collection of strange voices and quickly vanishing apparitions? Are we simply a disturbance in the electrical field? What does that mean about the afterlife? Why would some of us NOT LEAVE these places? How do we perceive ourselves after death? Do we feel as real and whole as we do in life, or are we aware of our apparently tenuous reality and our vastly diminished ability to communicate with the living? Are we not SUPPOSED to be in communication with the living? Is this a dangerous interest of ours? Perhaps those who are still lingering around mental hospitals or old missions are unhealthy and unhappy souls who are not progressing, not transforming themselves into something else, not reincarnating, not enjoying a higher level of consciousness, but stuck in time and place unable to figure out what the hell happened. I don't wish to be meddling in something that is forbidden, but I don't know who would be forbidding it, or exactly why. What I do hope to learn is what is left of consciousness after death. It is a fascinating question, and I think it would give me a new perspective on the nature of life itself. Yes, it is frustrating that the answer to that question is so elusive, mysterious and difficult to interpret. I also think that many times the answers are right in our face, but we are too afraid or limited in our thinking to accept the obvious; and I do think that it is obvious that something persists of us all after death--what we can't do is define it for everyone, once and for all. That leaves us wandering in the dark asking questions to spirits that can only communicate in quick, odd sentences or strangely intoned words that appear to be traveling vast distances to reach us. Perhaps they are not "at" these locations at all; in fact, what sense does it make to say that something like a soul or a spirit "is" anywhere? They certainly can't be bound by location, or at least I don't like to think that they are. The fact that I am having such difficulty expressing myself is proof that my subject matter is ethereal and very hard to capture; and if I did somehow 'capture' the ultimate truth about the nature of consciousness, who would believe me? What would it change? Humanity would surely continue its rampage across the planet, plundering and destroying our temporary home. I doubt that we would become miraculously transformed. I fear that proof of life after death--that all could somehow accept--would only make us disregard even further the life that we have now. We would value it even less, thinking that we had infinite second chances. If we knew life was forever, why bother to cherish and value it? After all, it would be an endless commodity. We would lose what little restraint and control we possess regarding our respect and love for life, like the child who knows that there is an eternal trust fund that will pay for his every whim and caprice. It would be so wonderful to know that we'll live on and on, except that if we humans didn't fear death and nothingness, we would destroy ourselves and each other. There is, therefore, an important reason for our denial and refusal to acknowledge what we are figuring out in our little ghost hunter groups. The less we know for sure, the better for all of us. So I will "hunt" the ghosts and they will hunt me, but we have made a secret pact: I'll pretend I'm not sure you exist, and you'll pretend that you just might be a stray radio transmission. We'll all be better off for our little deception in the end.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Ghosts of Camarillo

The visit to Camarillo was intended for pleasure; not a full-fledged ghost hunt, just a sort of unauthorized tour requiring trespassing and breaking and entering. We arrived at our destination in high spirits (so to speak): Louis and Allison, the "jefes" of their respective paranormal groups, Chuck, Grant, Mike, Ty, and Leila. We scurried around what is now CSUCI, avoiding detection and cursing the camp that decided to screen "Finding Nemo" in the middle of a courtyard, thereby potentially damaging our EVP sessions (that's electronic voice phenomena, for those of you not addicted to this odd . . . hobby?). We wandered in to the first open building, one of two yet to be restored and converted to dorms for the university students. The two buildings are all that remains of Camarillo State Hospital, where the mentally ill were housed and underwent infamous treatments designed to break their will and whither their souls . . . at least until the 1980s or so, when conditions and treatments improved.

It was dank and dusty, a maze of hallways, rooms, bathrooms and larger meeting rooms or auditoriums. The overhead florescent lights had not completely died; they cast a sickly yellow glow, occasionally blinking or brightening, almost alive in their struggle to illuminate the dreary, abandoned rooms. I could smell the dirt and mold, feel and hear the broken glass under my feet, and perceive the occasional odd echo of an unidentified sound in a distant hallway. There were random items strewn about: a chair in one darkened room, with a single, dry rose reposing on the torn vinyl seat; curtains ripped from the bars over the windows; a rusted sink with water stains from 30 years ago; a sign that had fallen to the floor, its message no longer decipherable.

Some of the rooms were so black that I was overcome with vertigo, trying to orient myself in time and space. The small glow of the digital camera gave me a few seconds to figure out entrances and exits; yet there was no logic to the place, no organizing principle. It appeared to me as a jumble of rooms with obscure or forgotten purposes. What, exactly, happened here? Who was trapped here? Why was there a courtroom in the far corner? Why was the largest room painted a nauseating blue? What was the horrendous smell, acrid and overwhelming, permeating the mail room?

Our band of ghost busters wandered around from place to place, rather unsure how to proceed. Some of us stuck together, attempting to formalize the process, others wandered off alone, not disclosing their plans or intentions. I ended up in the courtroom with most of the others, conducting an EVP session and feeling both vaguely frightened and slightly silly. I wanted so badly to "catch" something: a voice, a strange shape or figure, or any anomaly that would defy rational explanation. Ty's camera was running, we all had our digital recorders at the ready, and every now and then someone would take a picture of the darkness in front of us. Knowing that the police could catch us and toss in jail for multiple infractions added to the general atmosphere of apprehension. After sitting in silence for a few minutes, Louis tried a "Frank's Box" experiment (a device that picks up all radio, cell and CB waves, creating a medium for spirit communication to occur--a controversial notion, to say the least), asking "who is here tonight". We all heard clearly the name "Mike" emanate from the box before the frequency skittered off to pick up more fragments and flashes of random transmissions. There was indeed a "Mike" with us that night, listening intently in the dark. That was all that the box revealed.

Eventually we made our way out of the first building and convened in the courtyard. I had experienced some odd sensations: a freezing cold spot in one hallway, and chills all over my entire body before I entered the courtroom. I also thought I heard some distant, small voice attempting to articulate itself over, or through, the hiss of the pipes. However, it was all so subtle, so vague, so frustratingly out of reach that I couldn't quite convince myself that anything out of the ordinary had happened. One of us was telling the story of the second building--intended for the high risk patients, and very well guarded in its time--when Louis pushed the front door and watched in amazement as it slowly swung open. Unit 28 was unlocked and completely accessible. There was a flurry of radio contact between our two groups, and I volunteered to explore the black maze with Chuck, Ty, Grant and Layla. I made it half way up the stairs before I realized that this building was nothing like the first--I turned around, frankly terrified, and descended the stairs, ending up in the fog-encased courtyard where Louis and Mike stood guard. Moments later, I tried again. I had some idea that this was going to be a vastly different experience from Unit 26. What awaited me was more than I was prepared to handle that night.

There was a grate covering the open stairway so that patients could not hurl themselves to their deaths below. The upstairs hallway led to two portals, one on each side; pigeons were nesting in the rotten eaves and the smell of damp, rotting material was everywhere. The boiler was still functioning, and the pipes made odd, metallic pings and bangs as the air moved through them. It was oppressively hot, humid and so dark that you could actually feel it, as if the atmosphere were alive or electrified. We entered the door on the left, walking into a huge room with floor to ceiling windows on each side. The wood beams and floor were from the 1920s or so, maybe ten years later that that. I kept my digital camera on so that the feeble screen light would illuminate our path through the broken glass, boxes, draperies and rotting wood. As the group navigated a long, long hallway, I was drawn to a bathroom on my right--I don't know why, but even through my fear, I was pulled to a spot in the center of the room. There were mirrors on the tiled walls, and a seemingly endless series of smaller rooms telescoping beyond my line of sight. I asked if anyone was in the room with me, and I received a response.

It was not an intelligible voice; I could not understand what it said. It was not, however, the banging or pinging of the pipes. I asked again; again I received a direct response. It is difficult to describe how I felt at that moment--I will make the attempt--my legs felt weak and paralyzed; I felt both waves of heat and cold run through me, and an instinct to run away as fast as possible. I could not move. Something had responded to me, and I don't know why. I don't know what answered my request, nor do I know how to catalog or analyze that experience. Logic and reason disappeared after that, since neither one were offering me a way to understand what had just happened. As it turned out, the group had stopped just outside of that room when I walked in there, and as I finally emerged, they told me that they had all heard the same thing I did.

The independent verification of my experience did not calm my state of mind; if anything, my need to exit the building intensified. I allowed myself to join the group in the salon at the end of that maze of hallways and rooms, but I was so scared that I actually ran back through the entire labyrinth and ended up outside with Louis, Mike and Chuck. I downplayed my panic and fear, not wishing to appear vulnerable and unprepared, which of course, I was. We talked about everything and nothing as the other group made their way through Unit 28. They emerged about 30 minutes later, and we all wandered back to our cars and ended up at Denny's in Thousand Oaks. It all seemed so pleasant and fun at that point; but something had happened in that building, and I still don't know how to talk about it.

I vacillate between two extremes: on the one hand, we were simply a bunch of adults acting like children, running around dark, abandoned buildings and scaring ourselves; on the other hand, we had found something alive in a place that should have been entirely dead and forgotten. What that "something" is keeps me up at night.

Whatever I encountered that night had no face, no body, no light. What I really want to know is if it had a soul.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Now this saddens me. I had to search high and low for a picture of me with friends. This is from college; probably 1986 or 1987. Brigitte is on the left (she was my roommate freshman year, along with Michelle) and Sheila-V is on the right (she was my co-founder and co-editor in chief of The Ivy, the first school newspaper in 50 years).I am writing this at home on a Friday night, since Ty is on his Great Miniature Boat Trip and will not return for another nine days. I realized around 3:00 today that it was Friday night, and I had no plans. I wrote a plaintive email to my brother and sister in law, but to no avail. Ty had suggested to Luke and spouse that they call me, but they didn't. I was going to call Mike, but it was too late--and he doesn't like staying out late. And that, my dear reader, is the extent of my friend network. I have latched on to Ty's friends and family; my parents are in H.B., my sister and her husband in San Francisco, and my two old friends from high school are never available: Julie, because she lives six hours away, and Chris, because Chris is never available. Even when we were best friends, we only managed to see each other once every couple of months or so.

Six years ago, I had enough friends to throw a big Halloween party--really big. Everyone would come, too. There was Gwen, who had a smile and a laugh that made me happy no matter how I was feeling before. There was Zurine, a kind and genuine person who really cared about me; Francesca, best friend material through and through; Sara, who took a very long time to really know, but who was in the sad position of having to choose between my ex and me (she chose him); Shayne, the diva opera star with a heart of gold; Tim, who I truly loved; and others who came into my life with promise and the joy of a new relationship, and for one reason or another, vanished.

I shouldn't say "for one reason or another". I know exactly what happened. A divorce forces people to take sides; there are those who can make that choice easily, and there are those who cannot handle the pain and drama of their friend's life change. Many of my old friends could not make the transition; I was half crazy with trying to save my marriage and trying to save my soul. It was a lot to ask of anyone to stick by me during that time. In truth, most of them could not; those that were willing were sacrificed to my shame and depression. I just didn't call them anymore, even after they tried multiple times to contact me.

I decided that is was less painful to be alone when family is not available. I still hide out in my room, reading endless books on life after death, or I spend hours on the computer, sending emails or commenting on Flickr pictures, because that's about as risky as I can get. I'll watch some television, or clean the house, or play with the animals, and I can easily go for days without speaking to anyone. Luckily there is Mosca, and we comfort each other, since she also faces a long summer without friends; but when she's not here, and Ty is gone, I am completely isolated. Is this my choice? Is this what I really want?

Those that don't know me terribly well would find it surprising that I am actually quite shy. It's hard for me to establish friendships, and I don't know how to behave sometimes with someone I don't know very well. It's like starting a relationship, and while I am currently pretty good at picking great spouses, I don't know how to act with a potential friend. I either scare them off because I come across too strong or needy, or I alienate them because I appear aloof and uninterested. I know that I do need friends. I see my husband and his siblings thrive in their strong friendships; I am amazed at how often my parents throw large dinner parties; I am jealous of my little sister and her vast friend network. I have to be honest here: it hurts to be so alone.

It wasn't always this way. It's only been this way since 2003. If you look at the picture above, you'll see how happy I was with Brig and Sheila-V. We took care of each other. We had fun together. We counted on each other. Most of all, we trusted each other and we truly believed we would be friends forever.

I haven't heard from either of them in 20 years. Is that the fate of all human relationships? Is that why I hide and keep to myself? It's just too hard to expose myself to loss and rejection again; yet it's even harder to be here, writing this blog alone on a Friday night.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On Losing Control (Diary of a Frustrated Teacher)

It was the perfect storm. I should have seen this coming, but I was only dimly aware of the brewing crisis. Let me start from the beginning; it's usually the best place to start. The meeting was scheduled for 3:15. The issues were, as usual, how do we collectively "deal" with our miserably unprepared students, and our unwilling faculty: unwilling to teach our charges how to read and write, for example. The debate of the day centered around the creation of a new position: Dean of Basic Skills, or something to that effect. There are two camps that weigh in on this, faculty who view administrators as unnecessary, incompetent and useless bureaucrats, and administrators who view faculty as isolated academics who need a strong leader to organize them and bring some legitimacy to our impossible mission. I knew that a fight was brewing; the opposing parties were ready for war. Do we use Basic Skills money to fund yet another Dean position? Do we make this a faculty position, thereby making use of the talent we have? I felt ill as I found my way into the room and took my seat. The tension in the air was heavy. My heart was pounding in my chest. I felt something ominous brewing in the room and in me.

An ex-dean turned full-time professor started making the arguments against the Dean position. The Vice President stopped her, and let loose with the following statements: "We need a top-notch administrator from the outside, a heavy hitter, a real leader who has done the work and the research in basic skills, someone people will respect; we need a true professional." My hands were shaking. My head was pounding. My face was red. I started to speak, my voice trembling with rage, my emotions out of control. What did I say? Something like this: "Why do you have to find someone 'from the outside'? I AM A PROFESSIONAL, as are all of us in this room. I have dedicated my entire adult life to education. I HAVE DONE THE WORK, I AM A REAL LEADER, how DARE you suggest otherwise--if your faculty doesn't have your respect, then we have an entirely different problem to address here." I went on. I don't remember everything I said, but by the time I was posing the question "how exactly is this dean supposed to help ME? What exactly do you think he will DO FOR ME???" I was in tears, and obviously unhinged.

The rest of the meeting was fairly terrible, with all civility tossed out the window along with my dignity and professionalism. Everyone argued, no longer caring to spare each other's feelings. By the end, I had resisted the urge to flee in shame, and we had approved the Dean position; we quickly discovered the futility of our actions, since the President was going to hire someone "from the outside" regardless of how we voted. It was always a done deal. None of our debate really mattered, and my outburst only served to make me appear hysterical. The damage control stage started today; I met with the Chair of that committee for over two hours. I made my apologies, and we agreed that I needed some down time (I didn't mention that I had already enjoyed four weeks off). More importantly, we decided that I needed to jump in and take some control over these issues that vex me so intensely. Long story short, I am now leading various seminars on reading and writing skills for faculty. More work, yes--but after agreeing to work on this head on, I felt like I could breathe for the first time in awhile. I actually was able to sleep a little this afternoon. A weight lifted, and now I have to ask myself What Happened.

Truth: I am miserably underemployed. I don't use my talents outside of the classroom, or advertise to anyone my long list of accomplishments. Does anyone know, for example, that I created an entire division for adult education at the Claremont Graduate School? Does anyone know that I was the Chair of the largest program at Lawrence University? The list goes on and on, and I don't mention it because I want people to bow down in awe--the point is, I keep these things to myself. I don't build on my experience, I don't advance up any ladder; in fact, my career is a story of devolution, of maladaptation, of downward mobility. Not only do I not exploit my skills and my accomplishments, I work in isolation, obscurity and bitterness. Yup; if it weren't for my students, I'd be a nasty, angry hermit with a "fuck-you" attitude combined with an inflated sense of self that disguises a crippling need for self protection.

I want to be left alone, and I want to be praised. I don't want anyone to notice me, and I want everyone to notice me. I hide in my office, but I get really pissed off if no one invites me to campus events. Most people don't know me at all, but this meeting changed that forever. I now have an identity, but it's not one that I want. My frustration and lack of emotional control have now defined me for the campus. Now I REALLY have to lay low. Where did this dysfunction originate? God knows; the divorce didn't help matters. I learned that one must protect oneself from the cruel world filled with cruel people; that no one can be trusted, not even that husband you spent ten years nurturing. Work is a scary, awful place where people engage in destructive politics and look for the first opportunity to rip apart their colleagues.

There is enough material for years of therapy here; I can't do this topic justice here. I think that "overwhelmed" is the best word to describe me when I am at work. My frustrated promise as a leader angers me; I COULDA BEEN A CONTENDER. Instead, I squandered my vast potential attempting to insulate myself from the world. I've been scared for a long time. I've been angry for a long time. If I can't learn to jump back into the fray, I'll have plenty of regrets to mull over on my deathbed. I suppose it's time to roll around in the mud again, to fight the good fight, to carry my little torch into that vast, dark night.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Work . . .

As usual, the Chair was in his office when I arrived to work. As usual, he needed to speak with me. As usual, I didn't really know what his point was, but what I did understand I didn't care for. Nevertheless, I take this opportunity to learn something, since not all lessons are learned through praise and accolades. In fact, we many not learn anything from praise; I don't know.

I had written an email regarding the fate of our students once we really and truly force them to prove what they can do after a semester in a course (the philosophy behind the dreaded Student Learning Outcomes, very big in the state of CA at the moment). We have to abandon grade inflation, or grading based on anything other than their knowledge, skills and abilities in our classes. This opens up a Pandora's box for the unprepared student, who forms the majority of our population at Pierce. More students will fail to perform; more will receive failing grades as a consequence; fewer will be promoted to higher levels; fewer will be able to transfer to the university system.

I instituted this new policy of grading based on what students can DO instead of grading them on attendance, good will, effort and participation. A percentage of my grade does reflect such intangibles as participation and effort, but to the extent it did before. The students, as a result, are angry. They don't like the new system of mine, and I have been inundated with grade change requests and unhappy emails. I won't change their grades, and many people will not like me very much. I am trying to do what I think is right, according to what the school and the state are apparently requesting of me. But no one answers the questions I pose above--that long and thoughtful email I sent to a colleague (a VIP on campus) has gone unanswered. I suspect that no one has an answer, and no one wishes to admit it.

My Chair told me, after much hemming and hawing and beating around the bush, that I had made myself look vulnerable by writing and sending such an email, and that I should be very careful in the future how I present myself. I do not understand the politics of the campus, he said, and said politics boil down to this: the powers that be in the community college system and especially the Pierce players do not care whether or not the students actually learn anything. It's my job to make it appear that they do, and to not rock the boat. If I play along with whatever new guidelines come down the pike, I'll be fine--but let's not make this mistake of actually doing anything substantive, or trying to truly change how and what the students learn. It isn't about student success, it's about saving our collective assess from the bureaucrats in Sacramento who every now and then get their feathers ruffled about the dismal state of our schools and the pathetic lack of preparation that our students demonstrate, as they wander off to Cal State Northridge unable to write a coherent sentence.

"You are a very serious and solid person, in spite of appearances," he stated, leaving me to wonder what impression I make on him and my colleagues. Do I come across as arrogant, aloof, uncaring, frivolous, careless, uncommitted? If so, appearances are obviously deceiving. I work very hard, but I don't advertise my work; on the contrary, I try to hide out, lie low, keep to myself, and occasionally speak the truth at inopportune times to the wrong people. As my Chair pointed out, "no one likes to be reminded that the Emperor has no clothes." True enough; in my experience meetings, committees and administration in general at the college level thrive on doing nothing and talking too much. I have this tendency to point out that we are not making any progress on any issues whatsoever, that indeed we don't even agree on the issues.

What's the real dirty secret here? At Pierce, as with other institutions of higher learning, a frighteningly large percentage of the professors cannot write a coherent sentence, and are verging on illiterate themselves. This creates terror and panic in them, lest the truth get out and ruin all of our grand plans for student success. If we ourselves are not successful in the educational endeavor that we have undertaken, if we cannot look ourselves in the mirror and declare that we must continue our own education before we can enforce standards upon our students, then we will continue to do nothing and show no accountability.

The Emperor truly has no clothes; and yet, if we do not admit that fact and find him some damn clothes, our students--as usual--will lose.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Empress Kiva Addresses Her Subjects

Greetings, darlings.

I've fallen from sight recently since my sudden fame and good fortune have occasioned too much notoriety around town, and I am dreadfully allergic to "the fans". Not the true aficionados, mind you, but those who have completely misunderstood Empress Kiva's Goth Guides and taken them to be some kind of manifesto for alternative chic, which of course they are not.

For those of you who comprehend on a deeper level the kind of commitment it takes to be Goth royalty, I am throwing you a bone--you slavish, silly, drooling beasties. You live for these private an delectable morsels I am throwing your way, don't you? Well, that's understandable; so many of you lead such drab, weary little lives. So I present to you, my slobbering and adoring minions, The Man in My Life.

He's just gorgeous, isn't he? Would you have expected less from me? We met at a very dark and very exclusive enclave in the depths of this famous European capitol, whose name I shall not reveal. It's the kind of place with no address and nothing to advertise it, since if you have to search for it, you shouldn't be there. He was savoring a Cosmopolitan and a very fine Cuban (cigar, that is, I have no reason to question his preferences in that regard) when we noticed each other. Ah, my creatures of the underground, this was no casual glance, no prelude to a pick up or some casual vampiric encounter; no. This was instant erotic karma, my reward for the miseries of hundreds of painful lives. He did not have to summon me, for I was by his side in an instant. His fingers brushed mine leaving tiny trails of heat.

I will not reveal any more than that, for he is nothing if not discreet. Nothing like you silly gossip hounds that live for these details, that you make sordid in your unnerving inquisitiveness. Suffice to say that this glorious god of the darkly hip, post-Apocalyptic European alt scene is my disciple and my master. You'll all be seeing much more of us, my rotten little tomatoes, and one day I might even reveal his name . . .

In the meantime, Empress Kiva reminds you that the good life is just a matter of your powers of vision and creativity, in addition to some healthy egoism and discipline.

Take care of those who need you, love those who love you, and convert those who would harm you. Until the next time, keep the nails rusty and avoid the light of day.

Empress Kiva

Sunday, June 29, 2008


This nightmare is rapidly fading from my morning mind, so before it fades into complete vagueness, I will attempt to recapture its essence.

I was living in the back room of my parents' house. I walk into the living room, and I notice something is wrong with them--they seem possessed, automatons with some terrible intention reflected in their zombie-like expressions. I notice that my mother is carrying around what looks like a huge hose with a gaping hole at the end. She is aiming this hose at some of her most precious possessions, and as she does so, they melt in the intense heat this awful device emits. I try to make sense out of this bizarre situation, but all I can really understand is that they are getting rid of everything that they no longer want, and apparently they don't want much, since they are melting everything in their path.

I sense the danger immediately; I don't know what they did exactly, but I think it had something to do with a threat to all of my possessions, in the name of clearing out the house. I run into my room and fill a bag with socks and underwear. I have to run away. Before I do, however, I need to save two items from the house: old love letters and picture albums from my past. I run out into the living room to retrieve these things, and I see that my parents are in the process of destroying nearly everything they own; I am terrified, for clearly their intention is to harm me. I don't know how I make this leap in logic, but I escape the house pursued by my mother who loses track of me and returns to her grim chore.

What follows are strange travel destinations; I am in Madrid, frantically calling the phone number of an ex-boyfriend (460-40-66) who apparently is the only one who can save me from all of this, yet as usual in my dreams where he appears, I cannot reach him--my fingers cannot dial the number correctly, I forget the city and country code, the pay phone doesn't work, and so on. I continue traveling, to and in places I cannot recall, and I end up back at my parents' home, this time with my stepdaughter, who I am desperately attempting to protect. I don't know why I am returning; I suppose I think that I can stop this madness of theirs, appeal to logic, bring them back to reality, anything but what I actually encounter. I am hiding in the closet with Imanya when they open it and aim the heat gun at me. In that terrible moment, I realize that they intend to kill me. The heat is intense, and if I don't so something soon, I will die. They simply stare at me with fixed eyes and a numb expression. I decide to divert their attention: "why don't you melt the car--that would be really fun!" and lo and behold, my father is convinced, and both of them head off to melt the car.

I grab Imanya, and we run like crazy out of the house and down the street. This time, I finally understand that I cannot go back, and that the situation is completely out of my control. My parents have destroyed almost the entire house, and nothing will be spared, not even me. I will have to start my life completely over, since I cannot take anything away from my house, I cannot pack anything, I cannot save anything.

This realization ends the dream.

The meaning of all this has something to do with understanding that returning to the past is not only futile, but dangerous. The people you thought you knew are irrevocably changed, and may not even know you anymore. There is nothing to salvage from the past, since you are creating your life as you live it, taking with you only that which you already possess. Saving Imanya is really about saving myself, saving the child that I was; could I go so far as to say there was something unhealthy and potentially deadly to me in my childhood home? I could; I can't and won't define it, since the specifics don't matter. What matters is the necessity of self-creation and understanding in the present.

The hoses belching intense heat, destroying anything at which they were aimed, could be seen as cleansing the past and recreating something new from its ashes, yet the process was horrifying and threatening, which makes me think that it was more about fear and anxiety. Why my parents? Were they the source of fear and anxiety in this dream? Obviously; but there is something that I am missing here, something important, and whatever it may be, it is beginning to fade along with the details of the story.

I only take away this: don't go back. Don't ever go back.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Time Away

Time away changes things. You begin a trip thinking of home, still attached to the computer and the daily rituals of taking care of animals, plants, work, and the usual round of worries: money, job, health care, the cost of living, politics, etc. Something happens though, about half way through the journey, and you notice that all of the usual angst and pontificating about aging, death, loss and illness has disappeared from your mind. You are intensely in the present moment, living life as it unfolds in front of you. Then, at some point, you realize how intensely happy you have been and are.

Something about the Grand Canyon blows out all the fluff and mental debris that accumulates over time; when you sit on a rock and look down for miles and see the ribbon of green, rushing water that created this impossible masterpiece, you feel completely tied to eternity and nothing else exists or matters but now, the now of you and the canyon, the wind, the scent of wild rosemary and the feel of the warm rocks on your thighs. A single thought hit me with the force of an epiphany: I am a part of this. I am nature, and nature is me--this is the truth, and as I let it sink in, I cried. I thanked whatever or whoever set this world in motion, so that I could sit here on this day and watch the ravens catch the updrafts from the bottom of the canyon.

Every trip changes the traveler, and this trip was no exception. The three of us solidified our family bond, knowing that once you have braved 116 degrees in Phoenix, explored a ghost town for three hours in blazing heat, petted llamas together, hunted ghosts in the Jerome Grand Hotel and ate venison at El Tovar, you are a team. Eight days of constant togetherness will either drive everyone apart, or forge stronger bonds than ever before; now I look at Imanya and Ty and realize that yet again, we are cementing a process that started over five years ago.

We spent many quiet moments lost in the grandeur of the canyons, each of us with separate experiences yet a common understanding that what we were experiencing was priceless, and was transforming us in profoundly personal ways. We will always have this trip as a point of reference, the secret code of the travelers; while I may never know exactly what Ty and Imanya were feeling or thinking as they wandered around the rim and down into the canyon, I know that we were together, and that this trip will be a point of reference in the future, never to be forgotten.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I Am, However, A VERY SUPERIOR 1930s Husband

Yes, I always knew it: I am a better husband than I am wife. Well, cool. Ty is a great wife, and I do appreciate the fact that he presses my suits and doesn't feel any jealousy towards my shapely stenographer.


As a 1930s husband, I am
Very Superior

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I Am An Average Wife

So I am an "average" 1930s wife. How utterly boring is that. I was hoping to be a terrible 1930s wife, but I am just domestic enough to earn the average rating. Let's see how I do as the husband.



As a 1930s wife, I am

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Kitty's Top Ten: Why 43 is Better than 23

After perusing the last post, I realized I not not answered my lone reader's question, to wit, "What is there to look forward to?" So, as much as I hate "Top Ten" lists, here is mine:

(caveat: I realize that there are twenty-somethings who are much more evolved than I was; in fact, there are people in their twenties who are more spiritually and emotionally mature than I will ever be. I write the following thinking of how far I have come on my personal path, and I don't assume everyone is/was like me at these various stages in life. It's possible that I am growing up very slowly)

  • You care much less what people think. You are much more likely to tell someone who is rude, cruel, stupid or simply nasty to go f*ck themselves, a la Cheney.
  • You feel a lot sexier. A lot.
  • You have arrived at a place in your career where either you are someone with power, or those with power listen to you. They're afraid NOT to, because you have lost your fear at work, too--your influence is real. You're not fighting up the ladder--you've kicked the ladder over.
  • You have enough money to live in a beautiful house and fill it with beautiful things (leaving room for your husband's/partner's/lover's collections of banjos, skulls, cameras, art, whatever).
  • You enjoy life with your husband/partner/lover much more than you would have 20 years earlier; you forgive faster, love more unconditionally, and take things much less seriously. What would have been a relationship-wrecking disaster at 23 is trivial and quickly forgotten at 43. Me at 23: "You don't like Euphoria? Oh MY GOD, HOW IS THIS GOING TO WORK???? Me at 43: "You don't like Euphoria? Pass me the headphones, then. And turn down Cliff Edwards, will you?"
  • You are less needy. If the husband/partner/boyfriend/lover doesn't call you, you either don't notice, or you make the phone call and keep it short. "Lunch?" "Yes." "Great." End of call. You don't need romance and declarations of love all of the time in order to feel secure and happy in your relationship. In fact, you treasure your time alone and allow the other person their space.
  • You don't freak out as much (unless you have some well established phobia or anxiety problem . . . ahem) in general. Emotions carry you away at 23; they rule you. With me, when I was unhappy about something at 23 it was an all-encompassing disaster, affecting everything and everyone around me. When that emotion passed and I felt good again, I didn't see that as simply a change in perception, but a change in REALITY. My emotions WERE reality, not passing moods.
  • Sex is better. I can't go into too much detail here, but trust me, it's true. Even if you think you're having mind-blowing sex in your twenties, trust me, it STILL gets better. I've noticed something interesting in my 40s that I suspect will continue to be true, according to my elders: sex becomes a more pure and intensified total physical pleasure. In other words, it's less wrapped up in emotional neediness and 'proof' of love; it starts to take on a spectacular life of its own, unencumbered by insecurity. It's still the perfect and powerful expression of love, but afterwards I can fall asleep without the nagging worries that used to invade my mind: "does he REALLY love me? Did he REALLY enjoy that? Did I do EVERYTHING he wanted?"
  • You acquire some distance and perspective on parenting and teaching. In my 20s, I wouldn't have been the patient and gently instructive parent and teacher that I am now. Now, I realize that my kid (and my students) needs guidance and discipline--she doesn't always have to be my friend. I didn't have the qualities I needed to parent her in my 20s. For those of you who want to wait, you should--you'll be a better role model, a more grounded parent.
  • Finally, you come to an understanding that where you are is a result of your choices, not other people/institutions/family FORCING you to make certain decisions that you weren't sure about. You realize that you may change your future path by consciously altering your choices. Perhaps the best thing of all about 43 is moving closer to my spiritual nature, the ageless and timeless soul of me for whom death and illness mean nothing. I have a LONG, long way to go on this one, but I recognize that I am closer to letting go of fear that I was 20 years ago; I know there is progress, although slower than I would like. I suppose another way of expressing this is: you are closer to God, however you define that concept.
So there is my Top Ten. I fully expect that 53 is better than 43, and that 63 is better than 53. I hope that life continues to evolve towards beauty, love and immortality. I see that reality in certain elders of mine, but not all--so I think what is important in the coming decades is to find mentors along the path of life, people that make the transitions easier, not harder--and so for my lone reader, I apologize for the gloom and doom, and I hope she will find some comfort in these words.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I owe someone an explanation. There are some posts here that are disillusioning, dispiriting and downright depressing. "What," she wants to know, "is there to look forward to?" The answer is, a great deal. In all honesty, the kind of negativity I indulged in here is rather narcissistic and presents a warped view of reality.

Truth is, life runs in stages. The first stage of adulthood is followed by many, many others, each with their challenges and possibilities. One doesn't grow up all at once; in fact, the process may take much longer than any of us really are prepared to accept. My first foray into adulthood has passed, and that is what I mourn sometimes; however, it's not the fact that it's over, but that I have to fact the second stage of adulthood, and I don't know what to do. I don't know what I want to do when I grow up. So really, what I have here is a repeat of my late teens, early twenties. NOW WHAT????

My first stage was spent chasing after my father's dreams for me: a professorship in Spanish at a small, liberal arts college. So I busied myself preparing for that eventuality, spending as much time as possible in Spain, falling in love and then attempting to maintain a long, long, long distance relationship with a man much older, with a daughter. I threw myself into relationships that were doomed or impossible. That sucked up my life. Then I dragged myself through grad school, struggling through an abusive relationship; actually, several, if you count the abusive professional relationships that were sanctioned and promoted at Yale. Long story short: I received the Ph.D. in Spanish language and literature in 1992 when I was twenty-seven; I had already started my first tenure-track job by then in Appleton, WI. I was far too young to really understand what had just happened, what it meant to be a "professor" with a job for life. I was simply following the program. What program? Whose program? That's the issue I'm turning over in my head now.

Many crises followed. I left Appleton after I received tenure, something unheard of there before or since. I moved to California with my husband, changed jobs six times, experimented with alternative social arrangements, was dumped by said husband, went online and found someone called Tyger66, and the rest you all know. I moved eight times in seven years--I left that part out. Now I am very happy to be Tyger66's wife, and the (step)mother of IMS. My personal life is quite amazing. One would think that marriage and parenthood would answer the questions raised by my spiritual quest; not so. That's a huge burden to place on a husband and a child--no, the job is mine alone.

So what is the point of all this? Simply put, I'm in another stage in life; I spent my twenties chasing various goals without really and truly asking myself WHY. There wasn't enough introspection; I did what I thought I was supposed to do, without breaking away from all the influences weighing in on the issue (mostly family, but also culture and community of peers) and making a series of independent decisions. I was "successful" by any outside measure, yet I was miserable much of the time. My first marriage was based on faulty assumptions (I can make him happy) and I spent much of my time rebelling against my job choice ("forgetting" important meetings, behaving in a reckless fashion designed to provoke and piss off my colleagues, and general anti-social behavior); therefore, I was REACTING, not ACTING, to circumstances that I CREATED, without understanding my pivotal role in choosing all of this. It's as if I chose the wrong mate and the wrong job so I would have an excuse to rebel and act out, blaming other people for my dissatisfaction.

A funny thing happens when you finally get your shit together. You realize, at whatever age you may be, that the WORK HAS JUST BEGUN; and that is why my previous posts are so negative and nasty. It's because I am rebelling against that fact. I can't rest on my laurels, because no one cares what I did ten or fifteen years ago; I don't even care. It's over, time to move on. It's moving on that PISSES ME OFF. I don't want to do the work that the next stage requires. This time, there's no excuse; I can't blame parents, friends, society, whatever, for my choices. I have to make all of those choices and accept the responsibility for them. Period. There's really nothing to rebel against, so I turn inward and fall into a pit of depression and despair, which is really just unexpressed anger. I don't even know who to be angry with, and that pisses me off worse. My odd retroactive tendency--my jealousy of twenty-somethings--is about the fact that it would be easier to go backwards and behave like an older version of myself than create a new version of myself, free from the drama I created in my past.

I obsess about my physical appearance, because my face won't let me pretend I'm twenty-five; it gives me away as someone who should know better. My face forces me to behave like an adult, not the rebellious, angry drama queen with a Savior complex when it comes to men. That was my twenties' face--my forties' face should reflect that I've learned something, that I don't need strangers applauding how hot I am. The fact that I still want that disappoints me; I should be more evolved than that, but I suspect that I will always want strangers to drool over me, even at sixty. Hell, up to the day I die!! It's just that those strangers will be old strangers like me, and they'll have trouble applauding due to Parkinson's, and I'll have trouble posing due to bad hips.

In my forties, I still need external validation; but I need it less. My hope is that the core of me will become stronger and stronger over time, and that perhaps I won't need to wish for transformation; it will have already happened, and I won't remember desiring it.

Evolution is conquering fear.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Perro semihundido

Se quedaba viendome, y yo, como animal que soy, quise matarlo con la mirada de mi escopeta azul, pesada entre mis manos, pero no, no lo hice. Ese dia me dijeron que Lucinda se habia muerto dando a luz a esa pesadilla mia que ahora me consume y espanta; estoy tan lejos de ti y de todo, y solo este perro me recuerda este mundo; somos viajeros por la nada, companhero, viajeros a ningun lado. Me va a seguir el resto de esta pobre vida mia, y no mas por eso no lo puedo matar.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Heroin Addict

I had a vision last night of how I died in my last life. I don't say "dream," since there was a tremendous coherence to what I experienced; there was nothing 'dreamlike' about it; it was an answer to a question, a narration of past events from a source that had agreed to allow me to see it.

I entered a clinic where a nurse shot me up. The context is difficult to understand; it was somewhere in the late fifties, early sixties. I don't know why I went to this clinic, why the nurse was injecting me with hallucinogenic drugs, or why I wanted her to. The fact was, it was voluntary on my part. I then experienced something I have never in "real" life ever felt: the expansion of all objects around me, the altering of my consciousness, the knowledge that I was out of control of this bizarre and amazing new reality that the drug created for me, or allowed me to experience. I liked it; so much so, that I returned a second time for a similar trip.

I returned a third time to the clinic, for what was now something I needed, perhaps even more than wanted. The nurse injected me and left. I didn't feel the immediate pleasurable sensations; instead, I started to feel very cold, and my vision started fading to black. I struggled to remain conscious, but I was losing the battle. I felt colder and colder, stumbling as I reached for a blue button to call the nurse. She entered the room, and the last thing I remember was her look of worry and concern. I died.

After that, I was wandering around in a drug-induced state in something that looked like a Greek temple with columns everywhere. I was absorbed in trying to read the inscription in black on one of those columns, but I was still high from my previous life and unable to understand what I was reading. I saw Ty and Imanya in the distance, but I couldn't reach them, and I was only vaguely aware that they were important people in my future.

When I woke up and had some time to think about it, I realized some interesting things about my childhood. I have always been irrationally afraid of needles, of any creature that stings, and of drugs. At nine or ten, I discovered marijuana in my parents' drawer, and not only did I know exactly what it was, I yelled at them for possessing it; I made them swear never to smoke it (I don't think they followed my injunction). When I was even younger than that, I was furious at them for the marijuana plant they kept on the terrace. They never, ever told me about drugs at that age, but I KNEW what drugs were, and I was terrified of them. As I grew up, I would lose my mind if a friend experimented with drugs or tried to coerce me to 'try' them. I never did. I was the only kid in my high school who refused all drug use, experimental, recreational or otherwise. My reaction to drugs--illegal or prescription--was always one of sheer terror.

I drive my doctors and my family crazy with my fear of prescription medication. I hate taking it, and will only do so if it is absolutely necessary--and even then I 'chip' away at it, refusing to take the full dose. My terror of mind-altering substances has dogged me my entire life. When I panic about something it always concerns the fear that I will lose consciousness, that my sensations will be altered and I will feel my throat constrict; yes, I know that those are classic anxiety attack symptoms, and I've been to therapy, tried various methods, even medication (reluctantly). Even after all that, it seems that my panic attacks are almost like flashbacks to a very, very old trauma. In fact, it seems more and more like I am reliving the moment of my previous death instead of having some illogical and overblown reaction to a current circumstance in my life. Often, there is nothing in my life that warrants the strange reactions.

Let's suppose that this story of mine is true: I did die from a drug overdose in the early sixties, and I returned in May of sixty-five to my present parents and current life. What am I supposed to do with that? I would hope that if I really and truly had the courage to re-live what happened to me on a gut, emotional level, then I would move past that past life and fully embrace this one. I think I'm ready to take that trip, but I don't know how to proceed. It's a frightening prospect, since I didn't exactly choose a glamorous or desirable past life. How much of what I am now is a result of what/who I was then? It's impossible to tell; but I do suspect one thing: we've all been here before, and many of us will be back again.

I would like to say goodbye to the poor girl who lost her life in her twenties. It's time to honor her presence in me now, without reliving her terror.