First of all, I’m sad to report that I’ve been laid off from my job of fifteen years. It was a good job, and I know the decision was hard for management to make, I got a good severance package from the University, and all in all it was… Well, it was painful, but I would say it was amicable. The department and I met up a couple of weeks after the event for a farewell get-together, and I feel like I got some good closure to that chapter in my life. I’m still sad, though.
What’s next? I’m not sure. Definitely looking for a new job (and if you check out my resume, you’ll get a good idea of my skill set). Waiting to see what happens next.
It’s Halloween time, of course, which is my favorite time of year. I like scary stories, Jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, all that silly stuff. And it means there’s a lot more scary stuff to consume. Specifically, lots of scary content on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Last night, in particular, I watched a few episodes of an original Netflix show called Haunted. Basically, it has people sitting with friends and family and recounting horrifying events from their pasts. For example, the first episode, entitled “The Woman in White”, was about a man’s life-long experience with the ghost of a woman from an apartment he and his family had lived in when he was a child. His telling is interspersed with reenactments of the events. The makeup on the ghost was well-done, and the way she simply appeared in the kid’s closet were really spooky. Well done as far as that goes.
It was the episode on alien abduction that really struck me, though. I’ve been fascinated by the concept of alien abductions for many years; not because I believe in aliens that abduct people in the night and perform ghastly experiments on them, but because the story of the abduction is so similar to fairy abduction stories of yore, including missing time, bright lights, similar-looking creatures, and even the occasional sexual encounter.
So I began to wonder, back in the late 90s, about these similarities, and I wrote a story called “LTM” (for Long-Term Memory) in which I tried to create a “third mythology” that would explain the two experience archetypes and unite them into a single story. It was a bad story, full of passive voice and vague characters with no agency, and I don’t intend to share it with you (and it definitely hasn’t aged well; the men in black and UFO stories are straight out of the time it was written in and all hearken back to The X-Files).
Then I began to wonder about ghosts, demons, and other paranormal entities, and about the human brain’s ability to misinterpret what’s happening around it and tell a story to itself about what it experiences when it doesn’t quite understand what it’s experiencing. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but this is a personal blog so I don’t have to. But maybe there’s something going on or something that the brain sees that it doesn’t understand so it pulls into its cultural background and assigns a story to that input. If one person sees, say, a strange face lurking above them in the dark, they may say “Ghost!” because that’s what they’re used to thinking about when it comes to such things, while another may say “Demon!”. Furthermore, even among the people who say “Ghost!” there might be those who believe the ghost they see has malevolent intention, and some will believe it’s benign.
So maybe there is some sort of external event going on that we can’t interpret, so we assign cultural archetypes to it. Perhaps there something that causes us to see flashing lights, feel like we’re floating, and like we’re seeing bizarre creatures doing awful things to us. In pre-movie times, when we had no cultural story about aliens, we would interpret such events as fairy abductions. In our modern era, where we don’t think about fairies as existing but we have aliens built into our cultural milieu at all levels, we think of alien abductions. Personally, I’m inclined to think that such events are purely phenomenological in nature: entirely within the mind. I’m open to the possibility that something external is going on, but I haven’t seen any evidence that there is.
Anyway. This is the sort of thing that my brain thinks of at this time of year (well, at any time of year, but Halloween season brings it out more fully.
What goes on in your mind during Halloween season?