Monthly Archives: November 2012

Truth

Been seeing and hearing lots of talk about truth lately, and I wanted to reflect.

It’s a funny thing this “truth.” A quick google search suggests the definition of “true” as being “in accordance with fact or reality.”

If we’re speaking of the world around us, it seems truth is inseparable from memory. The present flickers by so quickly, that to assess it in any way other than direct passive experience, is to remember, to focus on details. Memory is fickle. Eyewitness testimony is the least likely to hold up in court. Have a discussion about what your professor or teacher was wearing in class with a few friends later, see how many different colors of shirt you come up with, and how many people are adamant that they’re correct.

I just watched a documentary movie, My Amityville Horror, which directly deals with these issues. Truth in memory. Truth in reality. I can barely remember being five years old. My memories come in flickers. Small moments and images; the crown I made in school for my fifth birthday, finding it in the basement after the party, too late to wear it. Scribbles on cardboard boxes before I knew how to write but wanted to put my signature on everything. Shoving my brother on the ground before realizing his knee was bleeding, him only hollering after I pointed it out. A bee stinging my hand between my thumb and palm when I felt an odd tickle in my hair. My twin brother saying, “what’d I do?” as I went shouting into the house. Going out to the garage one morning to ride my bike, picking up my brother’s instead because he’d already lost his training wheels, getting on, and just pedaling away. My parents remember that it was actually me who had lost my training wheels first.

We remember our traumas, but in trauma, our brain tends to shut down. We look away from the screen during the scary parts of the movie.

But we gather truth from these memories. From our chosen experiences. We can learn more about people by what they choose to remember, rather than a collection of their life as a whole. (Or what they chose to forget). We find meaning and truths in the fictions of our own lives. Despite living them ourselves, our memories are as much true or false as any book we’d pick up from a library shelf, fiction or otherwise. Yet still we find depth.

I wrote a novel that deals with memory, of the importance of finding fact, of transcending these facts.

I read an article a year ago, during the revolutions in Egypt and the middle east, about a blog that had been written by a young woman in the middle of the turmoil, fighting for women’s rights and reflecting on the circumstance of the riots and the raids. It was only after she became an international icon that she was exposed as a fraud. A creative writing masters student in America, if my memory serves correct. But we were still moved, weren’t we? We still saw something true, despite the outrage.

I wrote a blog myself for three months two summers ago from the perspective of a girl named Katie, that I’m now expanding into an experimental epistolary novel. Many readers thought she was real, many told her to rest in peace after she died. With six billion people in the world and infinite possibility, who is to say that these voices on the internet are not as real as the person who may or may not live next door?

A few weeks ago, I read the story of Dave on Wheels over at theChive.com.  I cried when he died.

I read yesterday that Dave on Wheels was a strange hoax that a few years of work went into. The perpetrator said she didn’t want fame or recognition. I’m not sure why she told this story, or what she hoped to achieve, or if it was some kind of strange outlet. But the inspiration that Dave brought was real. And the tears brought after he died were real too. And Dave wasn’t, but I’m inclined to wonder if that really matters now? If it looks like a person, moves like a person, speaks like a person, and shares wisdom like a person, at the end of the day, what’s so different?

The only difference between the reality and the truth is in the knowledge of whether it is real or a fiction. We take comfort opening a horror novel, or a romance, or a mystery thriller, and we feel secure knowing that it is not real. But we lose that security when that fiction breaks into our own world, when our emotions are heightened, when we for a moment believe. And the truths that those fictions present take on a new and more immediate meaning.

Where should these lines be drawn?

We’re in a crazy world. We have lies in politics. We have skewed statistics and everyone has a different version of the truth.

We have post-modernism and a shrinking internet-driven world, where there are as many versions of truth as there are users. Morals and ethics and cross-cultural beliefs blur, the floodgates open for discussion and realization. The world we’re living in is not so simple as we once thought.

A life is a life at conception. A life is a life at birth. People who kill other people should be killed. People who kill other people should be fixed.

Morality and decision isn’t easy. Absolute truths are dictated, but harder still to discover.

I’m in the paranormal world. Where entertainment collides with the advancement of a new science. Entertainment straddles a thin line between truth and fiction. If one has an experience of something that exists, but that experience is not true, what is the difference? Perhaps only in the reception of it, and the implications it makes for the truth as a whole.

A strange irony then, that one lie, uncovering a larger truth, can shatter that truth altogether.

A paradox of fiction, I suppose.

Defending lies and considering the value of “truth” is a good way to get people upset. Especially if you stop trusting in absolutes. If you have thoughts, sound off in the comments.

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My Amityville Horror Review

This past week I was invited to an early screening of the new documentary My Amityville Horror in Denver Colorado before the Denver Film Society’s film festival that kicks off this month.

We all know the story. Whether we’ve seen the movies, read the books, or have heard the story through word of mouth at some point during the past forty years, the house at Amityville and the events that occurred inside are a source for many to speculate about. The reality of extreme hauntings taken to international attention and ultimately fictionalized for the horror audiences at home make for hot debate.

When any story is presented time and again, then fictionalized, then retold, then re-presented, it becomes a cultural story. An urban legend. A thing of exaggeration and conflicting reports.

After the story became a hot local news item, George Lutz and his wife Kathy went national with their story to clear the water and tell their side of what happened in the 28 days they stayed in that home. Though Christopher has come forward to speak out about his experiencesMy Amityville Horror looks in finally to Daniel Lutz, who tells his version of events for the first time in some forty years.

The movie focuses primarily on his version of the events, the narrative pieced together through a series of interviews with him now as a grown man. Leaning heavily on the questions and perspectives of Laura DiDio (and later on the perspectives of reports and psychologists to wrap out the film), the film is about Danny. There’s no shocking evidence presented. There is no “actual footage” or “recordings” or new evidence presented. What’s already been presented remains. The popular re-imagining remains. The debate laps between them.

The Lutz family story, in the way it became a pop-culture commodity, is laced with the question of truth. Daniel’s story is much the same. The filmmakers here know this. They know that they’re bringing a new perspective to a story already overburdened with perspective. What makes this one fascinating is that it’s from an eyewitness. And yet, the question of truth still remains.

Less about the specific differences in the movie versus the recalled reality of Danny Lutz, the movie calls together the power of the mind, of emotional turmoil, of trauma, of broken families and a child’s imagination, and studies these relationships. But it doesn’t outright break them down, letting the truest work be done by the engagement of the audience, subtly nodding to possibility (cock-a-doodle-doo, if you’ve seen it), but without a feeling of the overt.

And it’s scary. Indeed, the very question of memory and our human experience is a frightening one. Eyewitness testimony is the weakest kind of evidence. Ever have discussions of childhood memories with your parents that differ wildly on the details?

When the movie was over, I turned to my buddy Connor and I said, That film was so many different kinds of crazy.

And I mean that. But not crazy in the derogatory way. Crazy in the way of the unreal. And the layers of crazy in this movie is in the dialogue between what was real and what wasn’t. If you outright don’t believe in ghosts at all, the film is a dialogue about the power of the brain, about childhood trauma, and belief. If you believe that there in Amityville, some supernatural activity happened, but perhaps not to such an extreme, that line between the extreme and the subtle becomes the subject of debate, and what it is that pushes the family member’s belief one way or the other.

The most haunting question by the end of the movie though isn’t whether it was all true, but more so whether it wasn’t. It’s clear that this man is deeply scarred from his experience. It’s clear even from watching Christopher’s interview with Jeff Belanger that he’s lead a life dealing with it too. Whatever happened in that house ran deep. That is fact.

But to affirm “truth” any further opens up a realm of debate, and a fascinating one, on the nature of experience, the nature of trauma, and the nature of the spirit world itself. And for a film to delicately handle all of these elements, while tackling the big questions, is a resounding success in my book.

My Amityville Haunting is still making the film festival rounds and has yet to specify any wide release.

A

Karl Pfeiffer is the author of the novel Hallowtide. He won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy, went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team, lectures across the country, and leads the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. More can be found on his website karlpfeiffer.com