Category Archives: Questions

Dreams and Dreamstuffs

“I have a quick paranormal(ish) question to ask you. The other morning, I woke up to find a man standing at my bed. He appeared to be yelling at me, but there was no sound (kinda like he was on mute). He was standing there for about 30 seconds and disappeared when I blinked. It took me a little bit to process what I had seen. His image was so vivid that I could tell you exactly what he was wearing, but there was a shadow over his face. 

My question is do you think that I was just dreaming? I’ve asked lots of people about this and I’m getting lots of conflicting answers. I thought I would ask you to see if you had any thoughts. I know it’s hard to give an answer when you weren’t the one who experienced it, but I was thinking about the blog you had about the pig man at The Stanley and how this is kinda similar.”

-K. G. 

Thought I’d toss up another reader question for your Saturday.

What got me about your question and made me want to address it in the blog was this question of “just dreaming”. It’s no surprise to me that you’re getting conflicting answers, because it’s a pretty conflicting area of thought.

The way I approached dreams for most of my life was the way I think most people do: It just makes more sense that your subconscious mind is firing off random crap because it’s kind of on drugs and bored than it is that one out of a couple hundred conflicting dream interpretation books might have tapped into something profound and deep.

That said, I still think a lot of that is true. Dreams are random, often based in reality, and can be pervasive. Pervasive in the sense that they can cross over into your reality as hallucinations if you’re in the right condition, which can be drowsy, half-asleep, or driving (if you were me this summer making what could have been the last and worst decision of my life). When I hear about many people experiencing supernatural activity around them at night, it’s easy to wonder if most of it stems from dreams.

Old Hag Syndrome is the folklore-ish title for the experience of waking in the middle of the night and being unable to move. Often this is accompanied by a myriad of different phenomena, but the term refers to the belief that an old hag, or witch, is straddling you and so keeping you from moving. We see this reported in relation to stories of the old hag, incubi and succubi, presences atop a person, strange apparitions, black masses, and alien abduction stories.

Science likes to brand all of this under the condition of sleep paralysis. The brain releases chemicals while you’re sleeping that paralyze you so that you don’t act out your dreams. When brought awake suddenly from REM sleep, the body may well still be paralyzed. Hallucinations often accompany the waking because the dreamer is still so close to the dream state.

But dreams don’t like to stay so simple. Many people have profound mystical or psychical experiences within the dream state. Many people’s experiences of nightly phenomena are validated by others at the same time, by people who later stay in the room, or by later investigation.

Indeed, there is a certain phase of the sleeping process called the hypnogogic state, which is the state that the sleeper reaches when they are essentially asleep, but one part of their brain or awareness is still paying attention. This is a state that is frequently tied to Astral projection, trance mediumship, hypnosis, meditation, and more.

This is where the doors start to fly open. Many say that when one accesses this state, they have an easier access to astral or spiritual planes of consciousness. Because the critical, physical mind is relaxed, the subject can easier experience a different and wider range of the world around us. Science would want to suggest that any experiences had in such a state would easily be dreams, and that with enough practice, the dreamer can begin to control their dreams. This would suggest then that most of the astral work, out of body experience work, or mediumship, is just a controlled dream state.

The doors fly open in that arguing to validate any one piece of these experiences is the stuff of hundreds of years study and debate in a number of separate fields. You can read justification for near death experiences, astral projection, out of body experiences, and trance mediumship and they’ll all vary in critique and support.

I, for one, think that there is something to this state and these experiences. Not only do I find the abundance of material on the subject persuasive (though there’s much still I need to read more. My focus has been on other areas of the paranormal for the past few years), but I did have an experience in the hypnagogic state myself, about two years ago.

What then is happening in these states? We don’t know. Are there spirits around us normally that we are too stubborn to see? Are these spirits on a different plane of consciousness that the subject must ease themselves into, that’s easier to access when our brains are muted? Are they only dreams?

Laszlo Mednyanszky Death and old manJung theorizes about the collective unconscious and the unconscious minds. He believes that the unconscious is a place where we push our unwanted thoughts and emotions. These elements can manifest suddenly, and the experience is not generally pleasant. These repressed thoughts and experiences can rise when we have our guards down, namely, during sleep. The same can be said for more spiritual elements existing in the collective unconscious, which manifest as consistent symbols, called archetypes. These repressed elements of the subconscious mind, he believed for much of his life, accounted for spirit appearances; solely dependent on the observer. It wasn’t until the end of his life that he confessed his experiences pointed to spirits being something more objective and unrelated to an individual.

Either which way, it seems something is occurring that has an easier time accessing us in the night while we sleep. Whether that’s the case with you, where what you saw was in fact a spirit, I think that depends on whether you can discount it as a dream or hallucination, given your lack of surety about it’s presence and your closeness to sleep. Are you experiencing other occurrences that would justify the appearances of a spirit? Have you ever had trouble sleeping? Have you had trouble sleeping recently? Do you dream very vividly? Have you seen apparitions before?

Weighing many of those questions against each other is important. If it seems to be an isolated incident, accompanied by sleep issues, and is otherwise unjustified as an objective spirit, you might decide to write it off. If there’s validation, coming in the form of other supernatural experiences, as well as little justification toward sleep being the cause, then perhaps it was something supernatural.

Sleep is funky and fickle. And I think the mind is a powerful thing. But I would say experience suggests something is indeed occurring around our sleeping selves, in which “just dreaming” is not so simple as we’d like to think.

Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. He won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published his first novel, Hallowtidein October of 2012. More can be found at

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Use Your Words, Dude

Today I want to talk about our Words and specificity.

Some people think it’s nerdy to be concerned about word choice or specifics. To which I say it’s everything, and fascinating, and incredibly important.

This vlog will be simple today. Only two parts.

For the first part, I want to examine the importance of being specific in your questions on a ghost hunt. Let’s take a listen again to the interaction we had with the spirit of Lucy through a cell sensor April of two years ago. In this example, we have the instance of my asking Lucy the question:

“Do some spirits feel negative energy?”

Lucy responds without an answer, indicative of a “no” response. But her answer is immediately ambiguous in the yes/no situation. Is this true that no other spirits feel negative energy? Or, I wonder, quickly adjusting my question,

“Do you KNOW if some spirits feel different energies?”

Her response is again no. So to fully clarify, I ask;

“So you don’t know?” And she then responds with a yes.

But even here in this example, there’s loads and loads of questions and clarifications I didn’t ask, that I didn’t realize at the time, being younger and put on the spot. We’d been asking Lucy about feeling our “positive energies” and then opposed them to whether she feels (or, sometimes, as we accidentally used interchangeably, “draws from”) negative energies.

See the obvious problem here? She might have understood what we meant, discussing the positive attitudes and excitement of the group, versus the negative energy put off by grumpy people. But especially when asking even pseudo-scientific interview questions, we start talking about “positive energies” and that could mean something completely different to her, or say, a scientist. Some scientists theorize that ions may contribute to paranormal phenomena, or be a factor in the manifestation. Ions are charged particles. What’s interesting is that an excessive amount of positively charged ions in the air make people feel bad. And, inversely, excessive negatively charged particles make you feel good. (This is where you get those “Ionic breeze home air filters” on infomercials. They charge the particles negatively so that your room feels better.) Some think then, that as a byproduct or condition of the spirit’s manifestation, positive ions may contribute, and may also explain the heavy, more negative feelings associated with even benevolent hauntings.

So as we sit asking about Lucy only drawing from “positive energies,” who’s to say she wasn’t referring to ionic charge, not attitudes?

You can understand how quickly, from even this one example, what seems like a simple question can be loaded, and especially difficult for a spirit to answer with just a yes or a no.

Look at the simple difference between the questions “Can you do something?” and “Do you do something?” One speaks to potential, the other speaks to whether it actually happens. How easy would it be to ask Lucy if she can interact with the other spirits, then begin to tell the story that Lucy does interact with the spirits. There’s a jump in the facts here. Perhaps she can but doesn’t.

What I find interesting about this forms the second part of the vlog today, and that applies to real life applications of thinking about our words.

For example, I have a tattoo on my forearm of a Jack o’ lantern. Some people would say specifically that I have an “evil Jack o’ lantern” tattooed on my arm. I’d say I have a scary looking Jack o’ lantern. Now this isn’t an issue of semantics. My tattoo is supposed to be scary. And specifically so.


In fact, I got it partially because of this idea that Jack o’ lanterns were meant to scare off evil or negative spirits. So to say that my tattoo is itself an evil Jack o’ lantern is not only inaccurate, but also contradictive to it’s very purpose in a MEANINGFUL way. Having an evil Jack o’ lantern would make my ink a part of that evil rather than combating against it.

If you think about it, we see a lot of things that way. Many of us see things that are scary as inherently evil.

And I think that making that distinction between scary and evil is a very important distinction. One that horror aficionados, for example, have made for a long time. But one that a fair amount of the general public have been ignorant of. They often act under the assumption that for one: scary things are evil. And then leap to two, if you like scary things, you’re interacting with things that are evil or are romanticizing the evil.

This opens doors to different conversations, but what I want to stress is the importance of the distinction.

So I urge you to continue to make distinctions. To study those binaries we tend to group. Not just within the paranormal and the questions we ask, but with ANY distinction. In politics, in literature, in music. In social interaction. Because it’s important to clarify what you mean, what society means, and where you stand.

If you liked this vlog, feel free to check out the earlier episodes here, subscribe, and give that like button a click.

Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. He won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published his first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at

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Ghost Hunters Academy DVD Release and FAQ

If you didn’t already know, the Syfy spinoff Ghost Hunters Academy DVD hits shelves today, a couple years after the last episode aired in the second of its two six-episode seasons.

The show was the second spinoff of the pioneering success Ghost Hunters, and focused on training young, college-aged students in the art of the hunt. Though met with mixed Critical reviews, it went on to produce a second six-episode season before it finally stalled out and met with unofficial cancellation.

But it’s near and dear to my heart because I was on it. And I won the first season of it.

So if you’ve found my blog because you already follow me, because you were running a search about the show, or you tripped through a strange interwebz warp and found yourself lost, dazed, and mildly confused in this stark blogosphere landscape, I’ve written up a quick FAQ about the show to honor its release.

GhostHuntersAcademyWhat did you get for winning?

This sweet sweatshirt.

I was given a chance to work with the Ghost Hunters International team along with the other winner, Susan Slaughter. I appeared on one episode in the summer of 2010 and was given the runaround by producers after that. Though I still don’t know what happened, I’m thinking they had too many cast members and didn’t like the idea of having two winners from their spinoff show. Anticipating the coming loss of their two female leads, I think they chose Susan over me.

What are you doing now?

I came back to Colorado, finished college with my degree in Creative Writing and a focus on Religious Studies. I worked with a few local teams here and there before I wound up regularly attending the Stanley Hotel’s weekend public ghost hunts. A few months later I began working there officially, and I’ve been there ever since. That’s been about two and a half years ago now. I also lectured around the nation for a short while about the varying philosophies and approaches to ghost hunting. And just this last October, I released my first novel, Hallowtide. It’s not about ghosts or the supernatural in any of the traditional senses, but it does have a psychological and mystical component. It’s about a young man who begins having nightmares of a journey into Hell. More can be found about it here.

What was your hardest challenge on GHA? -@DimitriNesbitt

There were many. The show was boot camp for ghost hunters, not so much a classroom. And in order to get as much drama from us, we were often left in the dark. For example, the first episode, we tour Fort Mifflin, and then they say, “Alright. Go get the equipment.” We glance at each other, confused, questions on our lips before deciding to turn back to the RV and explore the nooks and crannies for the Pelican cases. Sometimes the hardest challenge was putting up with team members that you found yourself butting heads with, sometimes it was trying to feel confident about doing something you’d had no training in, but could be kicked off at any moment because you weren’t doing it right. In a lot of ways, making it through and winning. That said, though these were challenges and stressful, I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

Greatest idiot moment? -@GAC_Ninja

There were plenty of those! With cameras on you and a million people watching at home, any error feels like the biggest idiot moment. From the one time I felt the gaze of every single viewer when Jane called me out for being inconsiderate at Buffalo Central, and I knew immediately that that moment would make the episode, to the time I forgot a voice recorder in a room we were investigating at Fort Mifflin, to the time in Eastern State when I forgot to log a tape with crew and Steve chewed me out for ten minutes. You always feel like an idiot when you’re under the gun and inexperienced.

What do you think would have saved it from cancellation? -Evie Warner

I think so long as the show was such that one winner was promised a slot on the TAPS or GHI teams, it was destined to end. They have only so many open slots that they need to fill at any one time, having too many seasons would stack up winners.

People love Ghost Hunters because of the characters and the ghosts.

The formula for Academy was essentially the same framework as Ghost; Race through the setup, get down to the investigation. Here I think their meat and potatoes was in turning the lens inward toward character interaction and behind the scenes, which was what established Ghost Hunters in the first place, and was emphasized in the Academy idea of the premise. This show needed emphasis on characters and ghost hunting. I think the competition side was important for getting return viewers, but the opportunity that was lost was in the education, the down and dirty, the running back and forth between buildings at Essex County in the pouring rain and yelling down from a busted out window three stories up that you’re going to toss cable down.

What really goes bump in the night? How have your experiences on the show changed the way you think about unexplained events in real life? What location was freakiest? -Mandy Rose

What really goes bump? Mostly people’s imaginations. The show taught me that most of the locations we went to, some of the most haunted in America, can have quiet nights. Working at the Stanley since then, I’ve seen how easily people scare themselves and how badly they want to believe. As far as what we’re actually dealing with when something does come through? The list is long; human souls, angels, demons, elementals, inter-dimensional beings, animals, time slips, energetic echoes, extra-terrestrials. Which are genuine and which aren’t? I’ve yet to know.

I grew up three years in the two months it took to film the show. I learned how to live life on the road, how to put my problems second to those people I cared about, how to put my head down and get a job done no matter what, how to stay humble, how to present myself to people, how to perform, and how to be a good critical thinking ghost hunter.

Essex County Sanitarium was by far the eeriest of the places. Though the activity wasn’t the strongest, being there in the epitome of fall, the last week before Halloween, where the weather alternated between glowing orange leaves and drizzling rain, the place had power; Run down, decrepit, and creaking with sighs and sounds of what could have been supernatural. Maybe it was lying in the body slabs at the morgue that finally did it, but there was no place I’d rather have been.

You can buy Ghost Hunters Academy, the complete series, at or in stores starting today, January 15.

The Afterlife?

So Hallowtide is about Will’s journey through his personal hell. Since I’ve read the book, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the afterlife and ghosts… Do you believe that everyone has their own personal afterlife tailored specifically for them? Or does everyone have the same afterlife (according to their religion or beliefs)? Or maybe some elements are the same in everyone’s afterlife. I can’t help but think that maybe some ghosts are just living their afterlife and that’s why they haunt specific places. For example, heaven for them would be a particular place that made them the most happy and hell would be a particular place that gave them a horrible experience (where they died, where they were abused, etc.) -Kelly G

This is a great question, and one that I thought would make a good blog post to reply to. Without giving too much away, my novel Hallowtide is indeed about a young man and his journey to Hell. This journey seems to, at the most superficial, be taking place within his dreams. Dreams are a space of subconscious interaction, and many psychologists believe that this dream state is a good place to manifest the mind’s invisible. But the questions are raised within the book when it comes to the “truth” within these dreams, the “truth” of the subconscious, and the doors that opens to much of psychologist Carl Jung’s philosophy, in which there is a deeper layer of unconscious space, the Collective Unconscious, where the collective subtleties of a culture pool. Joseph Campbell took this idea and ran with it toward his search in finding universal consistencies within mythic hero stories. I bring this back in the novel to discussions about then what might be spiritually real happening within Will’s dreams.

The research and study that I did in college and my personal life while working on the novel has definitely melted into my own thoughts on the nature of the afterlife too. Obviously this is a popular topic of reflection too with my job as a ghost hunter.

While I’m actually quite taken with Jung’s mythology, I also find a certain foundation in the theory of Mystical Experiences. Much of mysticism (a broad, broad category in its own right) suggests that there are at least two levels of worlds (more often a spectrum between the two), one of which is this physical world in which we operate (the one of empiricism, the five senses, sciences, and that which we can document) and then the more Platonic world of ideals, ideas, the abstract, a space where perhaps morality and good and evil and intention are as tangible as here, the flesh. This is the spiritual world. This is the non-physical. It seems to me that the act of death is a shedding of the physical, and that whatever is at the core of our experience, this consciousness (soul, spirit, what have you) is then in this inherently non-physical, ineffable place beyond this world we know.

But it seems that these worlds intercross (a spectrum, as many mystics believe). Indeed, if we ourselves are physical and spiritual beings both, most pertinently then, within ourselves.

Emotions play an interesting role here that I haven’t come to a conclusion on. Emotions, I’ve always felt, are what help us to transcend this place. My inner romantic believes that emotions like true love, that deep, world-shaking (indeed, breaking) feelings of compassion, or utter selflessness (even hatred perhaps) transcends this world and puts us on the level of spiritual creatures. But we also find that with emotion is often material attachment. We often find ourselves most emotionally attached to things: temporary, physical, stuff. Whether that’s a person, a place, or a thing, all of which will fade in time.

Emotions then have this kind of two-fold place, where on the one hand I think that they can help us transcend to the non-physical, on the other they tie us to the physical. And I’ve found that with spirits, with these ghosts that we interact with, there always seems to be some kind of lingering attachment. And also, as might be an inherent part of this transition to the non-physical, their emotions and attachments often seem amplified.

There’s a story I like to share, the source of which has gotten fuzzy in my memory (but I think it was from Andy Coppock), of this spirit in an old run down California hospital. Creepy place. This spirit was apparently violent and angry down in the lower levels. But this team went down there, dispensed with the bull, said ‘stop yelling at us, and instead tell us why you’re so upset.’ And what they got from this spirit was that he’d been killed accidentally on the operating table when he was a patient at this hospital in the 60s. Being so upset about this, he made it his goal to try to scare everyone away from this hospital so that the same thing didn’t happen to them. But he was still seeing this hospital as functioning and running as it was the day he died.

This to me suggests a kind of correlation to the old cliches, the Sixth Sense and Casper ghosts who have unfinished business and who see what they want to see. It seems to me though that these emotions that become so pure after death, that surround these various focuses and objects of attachment, do align with a distortion of this physical reality, and the changes in ways of interaction that so go along with it.

But most importantly it suggests to me that the individual spiritual experience is a very powerful and oftentimes unique one.

And that oftentimes it’s layered with attachments, illusions (though who is to say what’s “real” when you’re operating beyond the real), and struggles.

Buddhists, in focusing around the elimination of dukha, (suffering or dis-ease) are focused–you could say–in the study of happiness. And they don’t believe that true happiness is found in material objects because they are temporary. Every single thing in this world will break down. You. Me. Your loved ones. And so finding happiness within them is not true happiness because it will eventually turn to sadness. It’s dependent. True happiness should be independent, and stand on its own. So even, I expect, for a spirit finding happiness–its own kind of Heaven–in something of the material world (a loved one, a home, an object), is not, under this kind of thinking, truly happy. It’s a kind of false happiness. One that, the Buddhists would suggest, is bested by the peace of inner-happiness and of acceptance. Or, as the mystics might suggest, the kind of peace found in transcendence, in moving on, in letting go, in embracing the spiritual, the divine–whatever that indescribable non-physical pinnacle is of such a world.

I think letting go of this pure physical reality is difficult for many of us and that it’s a lifetime(s) of learning what we’re here to learn and then trying to overcome the intoxication of the pleasures (and pain) of the physical that is a real challenge, but a necessary and natural one. Why we don’t see many spirits from the past few hundred years alone suggests that there’s something to move on to. Whether that’s reincarnation or a more pure form of non-physical spirituality (divinity, as some mystics would suggest) (or both), I think that isn’t not nearly so absolute a process of life and death as we think here in our physical world.

Beyond that, to suggest what people see then in their afterlife experiences, I think can be a bit messy. If they’re “seeing” something, there’s an inherent suggestion that there’s still something physical happening there. They have eyes to ‘see’ and that there is something to “be seen.” All of these would suggest that in such a setting there is a still some tie to the physical. So I think if someone is seeing something that can be described, it might be again, some kind of focus or attachment that’s overwhelming the pure experience that is the afterlife. Whether that’s guilt, or whether that’s a kind of excitement for something specific, I think it could become hard to trust.

While researching mysticism, we find this idea of people accessing the divine, the spiritual. Indeed, this is the foundation of many of the religions that surround the globe, especially the theistic ones. A person has an experience of something beyond the physical. They want to share this experience and they want to share how they discovered it (setting grounds for a belief and a set of practices, the foundational cornerstones of any ideology). Of course they try to describe it in words. But the experience is beyond the physical world. And words are a limited construction of the physical. You cannot describe the indescribable. You can only point at it). The mystic also describes it in terms of their culture, which can also be very limited. The culture picks and chooses which elements fit their framework for viewing the world, the experience is repeated, doctrine is described, and in its sharing with thousands of people, is often changed. And so, it’s no surprise to me that we get wildly differing accounts of religious experiences across the world.

So by putting any one religious theory of the afterlife over another, or even trying to describe it in words at all, is to muddy the waters. But I hope that this gives some idea of my perspectives on it all. Certainly I come from a very mystical perspective, one that has lead to a much more pluralistic religious perspective, but one that sustains a lot of respect to all religions and belief systems.

But I certainly don’t know. Many far smarter than I have written many books on the subject. Some of which are quite good, many of which I haven’t gotten to yet. But this framework is what at the moment makes the most kind of sense to me, and ultimately, as structured the question, what found its way into the story of my first novel, Hallowtide. 

Any more questions? Disagreements? Furthering thoughts? Dive into a conversation below. But keep it cool. Religion is touchy. Death is frightening. And we’re all just trying to figure it out.

Karl Pfeiffer is the author of the novel Hallowtide. After winning the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, he went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s graduated Colorado State University with a degree in Creative Writing and an emphasis on Religious Studies. He works at the Stanley Hotel leading the weekend public ghost hunts and writes for the TAPS Paramagazine. More can be found at

Let’s Light This Candle

Blogosphere! Twitterverse! Clever internet word for group of people I’m talking to!

Had a question on Facebook earlier today I wanted to answer in case any of you were wondering the same. But first, updates: I’ll be going to California later this week for a good buddy’s wedding. His name is Chris Mccune. You might remember him from Academy. He’s a badass and I wish he had a fanpage for you all to wish him well. But if you want to leave a comment to let him know, I’ll be happy to pass them along.

We only take serious photos together. Pictures are not a time for goofing off. That’s how kittehs die.


Then travel will take me to Lexington, Kentucky for SCAREFEST at the end of the month, where I’ll launch my book early for those attending, and stage the official launch for the rest of the world over the internet on the following Monday, October 1st. If you’re interested in going to SCAREFEST, you can find more at Then in October, I’ll be attending a special Halloween event at the University of Wyoming, where I’ll also be selling and signing copies of the book. More information on that event will be out as it becomes available. Other possible events are lining up throughout the next few months as well.

The question was posed though as to how to get me out to YOUR state for a signing or event. The thing is that it always comes down to money, which sucks, but that’s how it is. I’m a starving artist hoping this book will blow up enough to let me get an apartment again (preferably in a rainy, foggy section of country). And so, to go to an event, I need to get my travel paid for. But I can’t do it myself. If I did do it myself, my return would have to cover the costs, if just to break even. But that  would mean selling a couple hundred copies of my book or photos or whatever at the event. Or, if the event itself brought me out, they would have to bank that my name will bring enough ticket sales to cover my costs. At this point, I’m not really there yet. My fifteen minutes was up two years ago.

So how then, do we fix this? We make me explode. Not Doc Manhattan style (though that would solve the whole trouble with plane ticket cost), but in terms of my status. Which means this book needs to explode. So, if you want me to be able to tour or hit up these events across the country, spread the word. When the book comes out, if it sounds good, pick up a copy, write a review on amazon (even if you hated it, honest feedback is good feedback), tell your friends about it, start the conversation, pirate it (I don’t care, I’d rather it spread right now), show them pictures of Ryan Gosling and tell them that it’s actually me, paraphrase most interesting man in the world commercials when speaking of my experience. Stir the pot.

That’s how we do this thing. I’m working my end for you, trying to make this novel absolutely as good as it can be, so that it can rock your world when it’s finally out. The rest is you guys.

the Magic Show

It’s become almost a cliché, to point out that when we go to magic shows we want to be fooled.

Which pop culture television show or movie can we quote to represent this? The Prestige?

“Now you’re looking for the secret, but you won’t find it because, of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”

From fourth season of House: “How’d you do the trick?”

“Aw, if I explain, you’ll lose the actual magic.”

Actual magic?”

“The fun is in not knowing.”

“It’s meaningless until I explain it… If the wonder is gone when the truth is known, there was never any wonder.”

The magic show. The performance. One of the strange forms of entertainment where we attend for the lie. We ask to be lied to and we revel in the fact that we cannot figure it out, much as we might think we want to. We don’t want it to be fake. We want to go to the show to believe that magic is real, if just for a moment, the way we watch an illusion, to have our minds bent, to wonder for a moment, at the world not operating the way it was meant to.

We go for the lie, and in order to wonder at the lie. To hope for a moment that it might be true.

How different from any fiction? A film perhaps. A novel. Where the hero saves the day and gets the girl, that it all works out happily ever after or, should it not, there is at least meaning or reason. We watch and wonder if that might not be true in the world we’ll return to.

We’re finding meaning, truth, but a lie. We attend these movies, we attend the magic shows, knowing, however deep inside, that it’s a lie. But we want to believe. We love that we can’t see the strings. We love that no matter how hard we try, we may never know. And there’s joy in not knowing. And meaning.

Across the street from the west side of the Colorado State campus is a Planned Parenthood center, tucked behind a Qdoba and a travel agency. Outside it, on the street, when the temperature is over 45 degrees, moralists stand with signs condemning abortion.

I don’t play politics. I think politics is a hateful and toxic realm. I like constructive discussions, but even then they have to be approached casually, open-minded, and usually with some degree of meta-awareness to help keep folks from getting too heated. Most of the time I avoid opinions because 1) I usually don’t know enough about the matter or 2) because whoever I’m discussing the issue with will likely not want to change their mind, and frankly, I probably won’t want to either.

One of these moralists was standing lonely by the brick wall today with a sign reading “Be thankful that your mother chose life.”

And from this I was struck, not in a political sense, but in a cosmic one, where the grandness of the universe dwarfed both moral debates, or late-night heart-pounding decisions, (or next-morning heart-pounding decisions, or next-month heart-pounding decisions).

My mother indeed chose life. As did yours. Whether it was an accident, a plan, a pleasant surprise, or a stressful decision.

But she was one of a series of decisions. Stray bullets missed, ill-timed illness dodged, a “holy shit!” moment and that kind of awkward laughter when you ran a red light and narrowly missed collision, when your horse threw your greatest grandfather and he lay, broken, wondering if he’d be found in time, a long walk on a cold night.

Further still, atoms colliding, hydrogen and helium in supernova spectacle, manifest oxygen, carbon, bubble forth this life, your parents, their parents before them, gasses of space, light years and that perfect distance from a star.

How many hundreds of trillions of voices of those who could-be and could-have-been cry out,

thousands lost in a stray bullet, the silence in the space after shrieking metal where the laugh should have been, the chill wind across cooling skin, a baby’s cries each time the deed is done or a box of contraception purchased.

I don’t know when contraception turns to abortion, where prevention becomes killing,


that death so empty,

the part that draws tears, for me, at funerals,

of what could have been,

rings in silence the same way as any other death, but more universal, more pressing,

and so surrounding, emphasizes both the

vastness, our own insignificance,

does it matter anyway, so long as we are alive, were alive, will be alive?

Because equally, from this vastness we came

by design or guide or happenstance or

from gasses we emerged, and somehow beat the odds, and someday too will be

what could have been.

Be grateful your mother chose life,

be grateful the universe so aligned, that from one ripple you rose,

you. only you.

and wonder if it would be a different you had they waited, killed, miscarried, later conceived,

and then wonder at the others until you join them anyway.

But if it makes you feel better, wonder of the ripple, study your hand or your skin or your lungs or just the fact that

you’re here at all.

What Could Have Been

What’s Wrong With This Place (part 1 of 4)

Read this article today–3862406 over at the Aiken Standard.

Not sure how many of you are familiar with the young adult novel, Ender’s Game, but it’s, in a word, fucking brilliant. (Two words. Sue me). About a kid who was genetically engineered to be a genius, taken from his home to live in a space station and learn how to become one of the greater military commanders of all time.

It’s a book about finding a deep inner will and strength of character when the entire world is out to break you. It’s about cleverness and leadership– in fact, I often argue, it’s THE book on leadership. Hands down, your one stop shop.

Many would disagree with me, finding it difficult to read about children treated in such a way, and that it’s not leadership but barbarism. A debate not for my blog, but I find it wonderful, and at least intellectually enriching.

So I read this article, which has a teacher being investigated by the police and the school board in South Carolina for reading parts of this book to his middle school class.

I’m appalled. This is ridiculous, and speaks not only to the way the school system has been forced to tiptoe around every single word they teach our kids, but in the way that we’re raising our kids to begin with.

They called this book pornography, which are concerned adult-types most favorite buzz-word. Pornography is explicit description of sexual organs or activity DESIGNED TO TITILATE. There are no sex scenes in Ender’s Game. Children run around naked, SO WHAT?

(This post is going to spawn a series of blogs this week, blogs that have demanded to be written and might now see the light of day, and I’ll link them here as I go, if you’re reading this later. But this goes back to these bigger issues of American’s terror about nudity, the way we’re coddling our children and not letting them grow any toughness at all, and the problem with our public school system)

I give you John Green, famous children’s novelist, on a similar situation of his book a few years ago:

We’re conflating minuscule and overblown issues here to instead ban books, and not only regular paper and glue books, but BRILLIANT books too, that teach our children how to be strong in this painful place that is our world. And that’s so inappropriate, it’s deeply offensive to me.

More to come on Saturday.

Something Followed Me HOME?!

Leave your comments below! I’m super curious to hear your guys’s thoughts and analysis