all weird things


This blog features a guest appearance from my friend Lynn (with her permission and cooperation) who had an experience that dovetailed with one of my own.

When Lynn was eighteen she moved into a small studio apartment above a garage in Ocean Park, a suburb of Santa Monica, California:

I think the stuff there was more about me than about the place, if that makes any sense. I had a lacquered wicker chair right by my bed. Sometimes when I was laying there, this feeling of energy would start to swirl around the room. That chair would really get to squeaking when that happened like it was being jiggled around by this energy moving through the room.

During this time, Lynn was having bouts of sleep paralysis syndrome where she would “wake up” but couldn’t move and would get panicky.

This condition is one in which, essentially, the mind “wakes up” before the body’s sleep-suppressed body movement does. In this state (called hypnopompic sleep) it’s still possible to be in a dream state and not realize it. Often times, fearful beings are perceived as being in the room with the sleeper, adding to the terror of the paralysis. These visions have intense clarity, as real as being fully awake. It’s also possible to experience these things while falling asleep (called hynagogic sleep).

Lynn’s bouts of sleep paralysis lasted from her late teens to her early twenties. Some people have this condition for years, others only occasionally or once in a lifetime. It often corresponds with stress but may also have a genetic component. Science is still figuring this out.

The paranormal community (and indeed many traditions around the world) say that although sleep paralysis explains some of these experiences, there may also be times when the visitations are real—an invasion from another dimension, et al., when we are at our most open and vulnerable in sleep.

One incident in particular was significant for Lynn:

My bed faced the open doorway to the kitchen/breakfast nook. One time I startled awake and was looking toward that doorway. A figure stood in the doorway regarding me. I kept thinking of it as an “elemental” even though I don’t really know what the heck that is and don’t know if it really fits at all. It wasn’t like a person but a very geometric blocky humanoid shape with a head, torso, limbs. And it was the darkest black I could imagine. It was like the complete absence of something rather than a solid thing. It moved towards me and didn’t move smoothly like a human or animal; it was like a series of still images of one limb out then the next limb out, like a Speed Racer animation. That’s when I freaked and woke up. Interestingly, soon after I was in the hospital to remove a very large cyst on my ovary and kept getting infections so I was in the hospital for way longer than normal for a routine surgery, like three weeks. After being there way too long, I remembered that figure and it suddenly felt like an ally and a healing force. So I imagined it visiting me in the hospital and reaching out and touching my abdomen. The infection soon disappeared and I was able to go home.

I find the illness aspect of this quite fascinating. Many years back, my mother got an infection that went undiagnosed until it reached her bloodstream and made her very sick. She almost died and was in the hospital for over a week while they pumped massive doses of antibiotics into her. She told me later that one night in the hospital she woke to see three tall, shadowy figures standing in the corner of the room. They said to her, “You can let go now if you choose and come with us, or you can choose to stay. But if you stay, things will get much harder.” My mother, ever the fighter, told them she wasn’t ready to go yet and they disappeared. Her infection finally came under control enough that she could go home and continue the antibiotics there.

But they were right. Mom had been suffering from kidney disease before this but not at the point of dialysis. That infection pushed her over the edge into end stage kidney disease and she had to start dialysis soon after. Some years later when she was in a rehab center recovering from a stroke, they appeared to her again and gave her the same message. She still wasn’t ready to give up, they disappeared, and once again, things got tougher. I’ve wondered sometimes if they appeared during her final hospice stay, but by then she was beyond communicating with me. I do know that her time in hospice was very short. She checked out quickly.

Then there’s my own experience.

Several years ago, my roommates and I (one of whom was Lynn) lived in a “haunted” apartment. We all had odd experiences there—but that’s a story for another post. While there, I often woke up sensing a dark cloud hovering over my bed, something evil reaching tentacles out for me while I lay frozen, panicking. I knew that if I could just get myself to move, just reach out to turn on the light, the menace would disappear, but I couldn’t move, couldn’t even blink, only send up fervent prayers for movement and light. Then, all at once like a bubble bursting, I could move, lunged for the light, shot out of bed, panting with terror.

Sometimes instead of the evil cloud I caught a glimpse of a figure I’ve labeled (long after the fact, when I felt safer) the shadow wench. She was a shapely woman figure that looked as if she’d dressed in a black body stocking that went completely over face and head, every speck of flesh covered, no eyes or features visible. Like Lynn’s geometric figure, she was the blackest black I’ve ever seen—no light escaping her, all light absorbed into her. She sat in a chair beside my bed (except there was no chair beside my bed). Unlike the amorphous hovering cloud, I got no sinister sense from her. More like a deep puzzlement and curiosity, perhaps a slight sense of alien judgment, as if examining a specimen. As soon as I moved and turned on the light, she disappeared like all the other phantoms.

Eventually, we moved from that apartment and went our separate ways. My roommates experienced no more weird things, and I had only one more incidence of sleep paralysis in my new place. Many months later, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The doctor said it had probably been responsible for the emotional rollercoaster I’d been on for the previous couple of years—sweeping swings of emotion that came out of nowhere and bore no relation to the events of my life. Oh, and had I been having odd dreams?

Had the shadow wench been a harbinger or just a symptom of a chemical imbalance?

Once the cancerous gland was removed and I was on a stable dose of thyroid hormone, all of that disappeared. I have been cancer-free for many years, and thankfully, sleep paralysis free. Like others, I have never felt sleep paralysis syndrome an adequate explanation for all incursions of weird stuff in night. Perhaps the majority of these experiences can be explained that way, especially in the proximity of beds or comfy chairs, but sometimes weird invasions occur when they can be corroborated by others. People aren’t always in bed. Sometimes they are in their cars, or reading a book, or sitting around a campfire when the strangeness comes creeping in and about them.

And why did my experiences, and those of my roommates, stop as soon as we left that apartment? Why didn’t they continue in the months before I received treatment for my thyroid cancer? I had very intense, weird dreams after that, but only that one incident at the new place of waking up with something creepy in the room. One last farewell appearance before the carny of odd went permanently on the road. At that time, I told it I’d had enough of it’s bullshit and was able to move—I clasped its odd, bulbous white head between my hands and squeezed until it popped like a soap bubble. It got the message and didn’t return.

I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation, perhaps some borderland between illness and otherness, but I do wonder, and always will. Certainly, I have not stopped having uncanny experiences or strange dreams, but my sleep remains mostly untroubled. Thank the gods, and the body chemistry, and the spirits, and the interdimensional beings.

All Weird Things Index

My early teens were a tumultuous time, with loads of interpersonal drama. But it was also a time of “spiritual” awakening—or maybe an occult one?—when many lifetime practices began. From about the age of twelve I began to read every paranormal book in the Santa Monica County Library. I nearly succeeded, but that wasn’t as impressive as it might sound. Paranormal books were looked down upon back then (still are in many circles). The entire collection at Santa Monica consisted of one bookcase: perhaps seven tall, five feet wide, crammed full of the classic titles of the time. There was Charles Berlitz’s The Bermuda Triangle, Donald Keyhoe’s Flying Saucers Are Real, The Philadelphia Experiment, The Search for Bridey Murphy, The Interrupted Journey, books by Hans Holzer and Brad Steiger, and scads of others. Everything topic was covered, some of it profound and some sensationalist junk: ghosts, UFOs, bizarre theories, metaphysics, and reincarnation. As long as it was strange, I was into it. I also scanned the book sections of the local drug stores for “weird books” and SFF to squander my allowance on. I didn’t completely give up on critical thinking. Even back then some of this stuff seemed like junk. But I loved the mental adrenaline rush reading it gave me, the boundless what ifs.

This was also the time I began playing with the Ouija board—at first with my enthusiastic mom who bought it for us to play with and my friends. We’d have mostly hilarious, nonsense sessions. It was a lot of fun. Some “guy” kept coming through to flirt with my mom. He told her that her second husband would have the initials QZK and we spent many sessions trying to get the scoop on him. Answers on QZK never really showed up, of course. Mostly we got evasion and nonsense. Mom was still married at the time to my biological father, but they’d been estranged for years. She really wanted to believe in an afterlife of love. (She did eventually get it but not with QZK.)

I also tried working the Ouija by myself. At first the planchette was sluggish, then it moved more rapidly. I was not conscious of pushing it but I’m mostly convinced I unconsciously made it move and was mostly talking to my own right brain. I suffered no ill effects or demon possessions. The hysteria over Ouija boards conjuring demons really began in the 1970s after The Exorcist came out. Before that, it was considered a parlor game for people to fool around with. The The abominable Ed and Lorraine Warren also popularized the whole satanic panic/demon possession thing and still haunt the paranormal zeitgeist through The Conjuring movie franchise.

It didn’t take long for me to get bored with solo Ouija board sessions (no friends to play with) and I moved on to Tarot. I’ve done Tarot on and off ever since. I also tried my hand at automatic writing. Like the Ouija sessions, it began slowly and painfully, then became more fluid, then fast. The “spirits” would move the pen in big looping scrolls, taking up a whole notebook page with ten to fifteen words. The handwriting gradually got smaller, but never conformed to neat and staying within the lines. (Spirits don’t conform to the rules.) Again, I didn’t feel as if I was pushing the pen, but I believe it was an exercise in unconscious talking to conscious. Later it developed into something more profound—a way of having meaningful dialogue with my Self. When I was in therapy, trying to dive deep down and clear out the programmed junk in my psyche, my Jungian therapist encouraged me to continue with the automatic writing. I still practice it. It remains a beneficial way of talking to my Self, divining how I truly feel about things, working through the decision-making process, et al.

Except sometimes. Sometimes, even in the early days, the tone would shift into something that felt outside myself, much deeper than talking to the wayward winds inside my brain. Something channeled from Elsewhere? I dunno. I get this now and again with Tarot, too, that feeling when a reading really clicks into place and seems more than wish fulfillment or facile projection. A few years back I asked “Them” if I was talking to my ancestors. They answered along the lines of “took you long enough to figure that out.” “They” sometimes have a good sense of humor.

I continue to talk to myself and the ancestors. It’s a great comfort when I need it, a way of calming myself when I’m stressed, or working through what worries me. The messages that come through are overwhelmingly positive. If negative things come through (almost always self-critical crap, as distinctly different in tone as the profound messages are) I say a little clarification/protection prayer and ask them if the negative things are true. They usually respond with something like, “No. That’s interference from your Shadow or old negative programming.”

But it all began back there in my early teens. I really needed to believe in “cosmic friends” or better angels or a realm outside the tough times I was going through. I’m glad I found those better angels—even if they were merely the better angels of my own mind and soul finding their way to the surface. They have sustained me throughout my life.

 

When I was thirteen or so I invited my friend Margaret over and we spent the whole day together, had dinner with my parents, then sat around the “campfire” in the backyard. This was an old metal barbecue that my father set up on the large concrete slab at the back of our house where we could burn wood and enjoy the balmy summer night air. Margaret was a tall, gangly, unstylish girl (I was also not particularly stylish) who wore her light brown hair in a bowl cut all through junior high and high school. I don’t know if that was a decision of her parents or not (they were quite strict). She had very straight hair, which would have been totally the style in the 60s and 70s if she had just let it grow out. She got made fun of. My recollection is that her family was large and rather poor. We weren’t rich, either, but we were hospitable. I was never invited to Margaret’s house. The very idea of inviting me seemed to make her nervous. Something odd there. I never figured out what and didn’t inquire. She craved love and friendship, a refuge from the teasing and disdain of the cruel teenage years. She was often downcast and depressed but lit up whenever anyone paid her attention.

She was one of my strays. I always brought kids home who were outcasts (like me), who the cool kids shunned. Or I invited them to spend school lunches with me and my outcast friends. (Lunching rituals were extremely important in junior high and high school.) Recently, I was talking about this to another friend I’ve known since I was twelve and she said, “You were always sort of the den mother of our little group,” and I guess I was. A very old pattern going back to at least elementary school. Which is odd, since I’m an introvert who treasures my alone time.

So, Margaret and I sitting by the fire. I don’t remember if she stayed the night, but we were staring at the flames and talking well into the night. Eventually, we lapsed into a pleasant silence, each in our own reverie. And from one moment to the next, I was there in the backyard and also inside the flames. I had a vivid, absolutely realer-than-real vision of myself tied to a stake while flames rose around me. In the vision, I was screaming and looking out at the faces of the people watching me burn—a nighttime sky, their faces made pasty by the light of the flames, yelling, “Burn, witch!” Their expressions were pure hate mixed with glee at the spectacle of my punishment. Just their faces. No details of clothing except I think it was dark. I even smelled flesh burning and knew it was mine. (It smelled of burned hot dogs and, no, we didn’t roast dogs that night.) The name “Sylvia Thackby” popped into my head, and I had the complete conviction that was my name and who I was.

Then it was done. So vivid, so intense, so real. I turned to Margaret feeling the panic bubbling inside me.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

So I told her, all of it. I could see it bothered her a great deal, and why wouldn’t it? That was some crazy ass talk. (In retrospect I have to wonder if that’s why we stopped hanging around so much. She didn’t need a crazy person for a friend.) But I was full of manic enthusiasm. I wanted to research Sylvia Thackby. This was long before the internet, though, and I didn’t have the resources to travel to the kinds of libraries where I might get more information. I was just a kid. I had to let it go at the time. I have periodically fallen down the internet rabbit hole since and learned a few things.

First, accused witches in England and America were hung, not burned. The burning happened in Scotland and the Continent. So, if Sylvia existed she was probably in one of those places. My instincts even at the time of the vision told me it was the British Isles. The last legal execution of accused witches in Britain happened in the 17th century, and those accused were hung. (That doesn’t mean illegal burnings didn’t happen. They most assuredly did. In fact, a woman named Bridget Cleary was burned in Ireland in the late 19th century by her loving family who thought she was a changeling.)

Second, the name Thackby exists, but it’s not common. Most of the scraps of information I’ve found seem to settle in the Yorkshire area. Yorkshire was a hotbed of witch belief in the 17th century (probably earlier and later as well), but most legal executions there were hangings, I believe. I did find a list of servants from an estate in Warwickshire called Finham Park (from the Stoneleigh Parish Census of 1861). A young cowman named Christopher Kirby employed there  listed his birthplace in 1844 as Thackby in Oxfordshire. (An infamous unsolved murder of a supposed “wizard” occurred in Warwickshire in 1945, so it was not without its own witch hysteria.) A Google search of “Thackby Oxfordshire” brings up information on a town called Beckley, but no mention is made of Thackby in the Wikipedia article, so I don’t know what that’s all about. I do know that on July 26, 1640, Thomae Thackby baptized his daughter Maria in the Yorkshire parish of Kirk Ella, which until 1878 covered a seven mile area including part of what is now the Newington Parish of Hull and surrounds. The records of Kirk Ella stretch back to 1558. Witchcraft was made a capital offense in Britain in 1563. Also, I learned that a soldier named Levi Berry was K. I. A. in World War I in 1916. He enlisted in 1915 and his papers list his birthplace as “Thackley – Bradford – Yorkshire” where he was born on July 28, 1890. I even found one entry for a current resident of Hull with the last name of Thackby (first initial only), but I would never bother him or her with anything so foolish. This is my airy fairy obsession, after all, and nothing to do with that poor soul.

Third, the name Sylvia was not common in the British Isles until maybe the 18th century and that was mostly amongst the nobility and the rich. Sybil would have been a more likely name for a commoner and I got the distinct impression my girl was a commoner.

So I know a lot more than I did on that long ago campfire night but still not much. It has led to a lifetime fascination with witch accusations and persecutions. (The Devil in Massachusetts by Marion L. Starkey was the first nonfiction book I read cover to cover.) And I have always had a morbid fear of fire. Still, it could all be an elaborate hypnagogic vision that my neurodivergent brain turned into an obsession. I want to say that I don’t think so, that it has always from that night on carried the heavy internal weight of conviction, but who can say? That vision or dream or memory is as vivid today as it was that night.

I still need to check alternate spellings of Thackby (there are a number) and the genealogical sites but this is a casual obsession nowadays. I don’t really expect to find Sylvia Thackby no matter the spelling. If she existed, she was probably an outcast, some poor, odd or odd-looking woman who lived on the margins. Such people don’t leave historical records. Although the Scots and English kept good records of who they persecuted, many records were lost and it’s very possible Sylvia’s execution was vigilantism rather than de jure. But I’ll probably keep searching in my haphazard way. For one thing, it’s always fascinating to look.

And what about Margaret? We hung out a lot in junior high, but when we transferred to the larger student population of Venice High we kind of lost touch. We’d see each other now and then but had different friend groups. It happens. After graduating high school I only saw her one more time. About a year and a half later she called me out of the blue and asked if she could come over and introduce me to her…baby.

I was gobsmacked, to say the least, but I said sure. She arrived with a chubby baby in tow—about 9 or 10 months I’d say—but I can’t remember if it was a boy or a girl. (I’m going to call him a him since I don’t want to say “it.”) She’d finally let her hair grow and looked much more in the mode of the day, but still hardly stylish. She said she’d gotten pregnant by some guy who declined to marry her. Maybe it was still under negotiation, maybe a done deal. I wish I remembered. I felt sorry that she had the responsibility of raising a child on her own at such a young age. That feeling was counterbalanced by her excitement over the baby and the incandescent love on her face when she looked at him. Finally, here was someone she could love with all her heart who loved her back and needed her as much as she’d always wanted. She left, we promised to call, we never did, and I never saw her again. The usual casual carelessness of youth.

Margaret is lost to my personal historical record. I could probably find a trace of her if I wanted to join Facebook (I do not) or one of those alumni associations (again, no). I don’t imagine that incandescence lasted. It rarely does in life. But I can hope it did, can’t I? I can hope that the flames of life never reached her, the burning joy remained. I feel somewhat guilty that I don’t know. Then again, maybe it’s best I don’t. Some searches are best left abandoned.

 

I have written about weird things before but for the purpose of this project I am going to repost and rework those posts under the “all weird things” tag. This is the first of those posts:

We’ve all probably had a number of things in our lives that made us go “huh.” I know I have. I embraced the weird some time back, and even though I always try to find logical explanations before accepting anything para-weird, there is always going to be stuff that skirts the edge of rational and . . . other.

One such incident happened when I was about thirteen at our old house in Venice, the one I grew up in, which was in itself a strange place full of odd corners and unusual atmospherics. We lived on a huge lot with a big house on the front of the property occupied by our landlady. Our house was a little ramshackle place with four front doors because its basic structure consisted of four beach cabins strung together to make a house. (Beach cabins: those things from the early 20th century set up on the sand where people would go to change out of their street clothes and into swimwear so they didn’t have to immodestly walk from their vehicles to the shore in “scanty” clothing.)

A prodigious backyard sat behind our little house in which my father grew a legendary vegetable garden every year. A large but very old and dilapidated shack sat at the very back of the southwest corner of the lot where my father kept tools and such. It hadn’t seen paint in centuries, it seemed, the wood chipped and splintered and that wonderful grey barnwood patina people pay big money to acquire these days. Between the back of the shack and the next property over (a dairy processing plant) was a passageway about five feet wide. My father put trellis up on the shed back there and grew banana squash, letting them crawl up the trellis rather than spread across the ground. I liked to sit back there in the summertime because it was always cool, even on the hottest days, and smelled loamy and of growing green things. It was one of many small, urbanized sacred combes I had on that property—but not a perfect spot.

We had the dairy processing plant to contend with, for one. Just across from the growing banana squash was a two-foot high concrete boundary marker topped by an enormous chain link fence—at least twenty feet high—that ran the entire length of the back end of our property. The fence was loose enough at the bottom that I could push it inward and sit on that concrete ledge to stare at and smell the growing things, wiggle my toes in the loamy earth, and think my solitary thoughts. Just the other side of the fence on the dairy property was a massive ice freezer and ice crusher machine. Again, it was at least 15-20 feet high, but seemed larger because the boundary marker was part of an elevation of the land between our property and the dairy. It towered, to say the least. Another fence sat behind the southern end of the thing, as well. A very narrow passageway ran the length of this monster, maybe three feet wide at most. A grown person would have had to walk sideways to go back there. There was a long freezer compartment (maybe 30 feet?) which held big blocks of ice, and on the front end a platform and some ice crushing machines. The dairymen hauled out these blocks of ice, crushed them (usually at about 3 a.m.), and loaded it into bags so they could pack their trucks (parked along the northern length of our property) and keep their dairy products cool while they made their early morning deliveries.

(The ice crusher was also part of a harassment campaign because the dairy wanted to force our neighbors and our landlady to sell the property cheap so they could gobble up the entire block—but that’s a separate story. Suffice it to say, it didn’t work because we were all extremely stubborn and adaptable poor people.)

Anyway, I was in the backyard proper one day, lying on the grass the other side of the garden, reading (though I don’t remember the book) but also feeling restless. That kind of restlessness that’s an itch just beneath the skin. A disease common in early adolescence, I believe. I put the book down wondering what I could do with that restlessness when I became aware of—how to put this?—another consciousness inside my brain. Yeah, I know. I’ve only experienced such a thing a few times in my life, mostly in connection with premonitions, but it’s a very distinct feeling. A restless itch of the mind, if you will. It was telling me to get up and go behind the shed to my sacred spot and if I did, something would happen. There would be a gift there for me. It scared me, frankly. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to be kidnapped by aliens or other things, but the consciousness was reassuring and insistent. So I got up, walked through the garden, and behind the shed.

I stood there a minute thinking, “Okay, I’m here, now what?” I walked down to the end of the passage where our property ended and the low fence of our southern neighbor started. I turned around and looked back the way I’d come but . . . nothing. Then I glanced to my left. Lying on the ground, just the other side of the chain link fence, was a black, leather-bound notebook, maybe 6×4 inches. It looked brand new so I reached under the loose links at the bottom of the fence and pulled it through. It was a spiralbound notebook and full of crisp, new ruled paper—and completely blank. No writing inside, nothing to identify an owner. Like I said, an adult would have had to walk sideways along the passage beside the ice crusher, and this notebook was deposited at the very end of the freezer compartment about a foot from the other fence that ran behind the monster. It wasn’t something someone could have dropped from the platform. They would have had to purposefully sidle down that passage for it to be there. It’s entirely possible that someone could have slithered down there to take a secret whizz (although why go so far?) or maybe someone came back there to spy on our and our neighbor’s property (given the underhanded nature of the dairy owners) but . . .?

I dunno. All I know was that I was delighted with the notebook. Although I had known I wanted to be a writer since the second grade, I was flailing around about it at that stage of my life and getting a lot a flak from my mother about how impractical my expressed career goal was and what a foolish dream and etc. That notebook seemed like an important piece of encouragement to me at the time. I wrote a lot after that, despite discouragement. I’ve never really stopped, although I have had a couple of bouts of prolonged writers’ block wherein that restless itch beneath the skin became agonizing. Writing has always been the cure for that.

And remembering this incident also reminded me of something I encountered recently in my reread of Patrick Harpur’s Daimonic Reality:

I have long thought of my art (any art, all art) as an act of worship—or if that’s too strong a word, an act of gratitude and devotion. To whom? The Universe for giving me this means of scratching that itch? Maybe. It doesn’t even matter if it’s good art or bad, whether or not you’re acknowledged publicly in galleries or publishing houses and the like, the act of doing of art shows the Universe that you have the passion and the practice of that devotion. The doing is the important part. That’s why I’m an emotional wreck when I’m not doing that work and why I’m always supremely grateful when it comes back to me.

That notebook long ago was something of a talisman. I may still have it buried somewhere around here, though I haven’t seen it in years. But like any talisman it was good for the time in which it came to me and lasted as long as I needed to look on it and be encouraged. It was indeed a gift, whether from the Universe, some mysterious being, or from some random dude taking a whizz out behind the ice crusher.

 

For as far back as I can remember whenever I’ve closed my eyes in preparation to sleep the faces of strangers appear in my mind’s eye—like on the cinema screen behind my eyelids. They stare down into my face, quite close. Sometimes they back off and I see details of their clothing—from many different eras, but mostly the 20th and 21st centuries. (As I write this the vivid memory of a blonde curly haired girl in a red fifties-style flare dress with large white polka dots comes to mind. Her hair was just above her shoulders, and she wore a white headband. She looked to be in her twenties.)

These people almost always have serious or concentrated expressions. I can’t recall an instance of them smiling, though sometimes they just have a curious neutrality. It’s as if they want something from me but I never know what. Maybe just to give them a spot of attention? They know, I’m convinced, that I see them with my eyes closed but not with my eyes open and want to get that attention while they can, though sometimes they seem genuinely surprised to be perceived. They never stay long, and I rarely feel anything menacing, just their passing flare of interest before they move on. These are people I’ve never seen before in my life or since. It isn’t a nightly occurrence, but a fairly frequent one.

I used to think this happened to everyone. Diana Gabaldon even talked about it in one of her Outlander novels. But when in my latter years I mentioned it to friends—“You know that thing where sometimes when you close your eyes you see the faces of strangers?”—they were incredulous. “No,” they said, “that’s never happened to me.”

So I realized that my eyelid friends were one of those things—like styles of thinking—that we assume are universal, a part of everyone’s experience, because we only live inside our own heads and can’t know how others perceive the world. I didn’t learn until fairly recently, for instance, that not everyone has a constant running monologue in their head.  I started seeing articles about it. I was dumbfounded. It made me think of my friend who has synesthesia. She didn’t realize when she was little that not everyone had specific colors attached to each letter in the alphabet or that sometimes words had a vague flavor to them. The chatterbox in my mind doesn’t drive me crazy because I’m used to this state of being but it is always narrating. (Okay, yeah, when I’m in a worry cycle it does drive me crazy, but I’ve developed coping mechanisms.) (And yes, my synesthesia friend also has a running monologue in her head.)

So I wasn’t worried about all those strangers clamoring for my attention. I didn’t know any better for most of my life and once I knew it wasn’t that way for everyone I was curious as to what it was but still not alarmed. I did wonder if it was some weird way of seeing spirits of the dead but didn’t really pursue that. Until I mentioned it to a witch acquaintance I had at the time (we’re no longer in communication) who practiced necromancy.

“Transient spirits,” she said. “They are attracted to you because they know you can see them, but you have to be careful. They can suck your energy, make you sick, and do other harm if you don’t protect yourself.”

For the first time in my life I became uneasy with them. She was a necromancer so she had to know more about this than I, right? Forget the fact I’d never perceived harm from these folks, I took this unsolicited advice to heart. From that point on whenever the strangers showed up I’d say, “You’re not welcome here. Go away.” Poof! They were gone. Their visits got less and less frequent then stopped altogether. But the funny thing was I missed them. I felt bereft of these “companions,” as if something essential had been taken from me. Worse, that I’d taken it from myself on the advice of someone who was just guessing.

I started saying to the Great Whatever, “I welcome all spirits who mean me no harm,” but the damage had been done. They didn’t return. And, of course, I don’t really know if they were spirits at all. They could have been an aspect of my active imagination and I’ve wondered since if that’s a component in why I sometimes struggle more with my creative work then I used to.

I want them back, those strange transient companions. It’s not the only time I have forcefully shut down an “ability” because I got uncomfortable, but that’s a story for another day. Today I’ll just say that the mind is a curious enclosure and we all live in an illusion of the world to one degree or another. We can only perceive the world as our minds allow us and can never truly participate in the thought processes of anyone else. Perception is a closed circle—or more precisely, perhaps, a labyrinth in which we wander endlessly.

Many people suffer from body image issues—either thinking themselves fat when they’re not or perceiving flaws in themselves that others don’t see. There are a number of ways in which we fool ourselves. But I used to have a very strange perception when I was a kid. I’m sure there’s a scientific name for it but I’ve never ferreted it out. (If anyone can help me there I’d appreciate it).

From a very young age I would occasionally find myself in the body of a giant. That is, I’d be going about my daily business usually relaxing doing things—watching TV, reading, playing with my army or my Cowboys and Indians plastic figurines—and suddenly my perception would shift radically. I would feel as if I was a tiny flame of consciousness moving around inside an impossibly large flesh machine, not only massively tall but massively dense. I thought I might burst through the roof of the house at any moment; that the chair I sat upon would collapse under my massive weight at any moment. I was frozen in shock, unable and unwilling to move. When I looked at other people and kids nearby they didn’t seem to notice that anything had changed. It was frightening, startling, but fortunately it only lasted a short while (maybe thirty seconds or so) before my perception went back to normal.

You have to understand that I was a big kid. I got my growth spurt early. By second grade I was five-foot-three and solidly built—not fat, not yet, but solid. Everyone always thought me older than my chronological age. I towered over classmates and was even taller than many of the 6th graders. This had both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage, of course, was that bullies only came after me verbally. When a kid is a foot taller than your badass self you tend not to want to risk physical altercations. But sticks and stones aren’t the only things that hurt. Words sting, no matter what the proverbs tell you. The bullies referred to me as the Jolly Red Giant (I had flaming red hair), a corruption of the frozen food product, and Babe the Red Ox, a corruption of Paul Bunyan’s blue pet. But I got really, really good at verbal takedowns (a habit I had to carefully wind back down as I aged). So the bullies didn’t taunt me too much unless they wanted my mouth to strip them of flesh in front of their hangers on. I was also able to plant myself between the bullies and some of the smaller kids. “If you want to take on Orlinda, you’ve got to come through me.” They usually declined that offer.

My growth spurt continued so that by the time I finished junior high I was just shy of five foot seven. Thankfully I stopped growing soon after and my classmates caught up with me or surpassed me. But that odd body perception persisted until I was maybe sixteen or so. Once I stopped growing, it went away never to return. I have wondered since if it might have been some subconscious acknowledgement of those growth spurts, or some weird neural spasm. My body changed so rapidly, growing faster than my self-image could process, and my brain (or whatever) would have to periodically recalibrate the new image.

If you think about it, we all of us really are tiny flames of consciousness riding around in massive flesh machines. Maybe not giants who might sink into the earth at any moment, but the ratio of brain to body is disproportionate, and the growth spurts of youth reverse as we age, making us smaller and smaller. The ghost in the machine, that indefinable spark of This-Is-Me that we carry forward through space and time, is always forced to recalibrate and reconfigure just who the heck we are.

When I was four or five I woke one night in my big girl bed in my bedroom at the end of the hall in my funky old house in Venice, California. I looked to the end of my bed and there stood a tall man in a fedora wearing a trench coat. If that wasn’t frightening enough, he was composed of the darkest, densest shadow I have ever seen. He absorbed all light, including the pale street lighting filtering in from the large bedroom window behind him. I could see no features, just that intense darkness, but got the distinct feeling he was regarding me, hands in coat pockets, as if I were some lower form of life—an insect, a nothing. An overwhelming feeling of malevolence came off him, directed at me. I started screaming but he didn’t disappear, so I jumped from my big girl bed and ran screaming down the hall through the living room to be met by my mother at her bedroom door.

It took me a long time before I could tell her what I’d seen. I received the usual assurances that it was not real, just a nightmare, but I knew it wasn’t, insisted it wasn’t. Finally, my mother urged me back towards my bedroom, but I was so panicked I wouldn’t go until she reassured me that she’d sleep with me. When we returned to my bed the evil man was gone, of course. Eventually, I got back to sleep, sheltered in my mother’s arms.

My mother slept with me in my bed every night after until I was eight or nine. You may say to yourself, “That’s even weirder than the shadow, man,” and you’d be right. What I couldn’t know back then was that my mother had been looking for a rescue as surely as I had. All I knew at the time was that it was comforting to have her there protecting me from the monsters. I’m spilling the tea here, but everyone involved except me is dead so they’re beyond caring, and I spill it with intent. It explains much of the turmoil of my formative years.

Eventually, my father built a small one room bungalow in the backyard, moved in a bed, a TV, and other furniture, and began sleeping there. Once he did, my mother moved back into the bedroom they once shared. I slept with a nightlight for several more years after Mom left. My terror of darkness lasted well into my teens.

All during the time Mom and I shared the room my parents engaged in horrible fights. My father was an alcoholic, not physically abusive to either my mother or myself, but verbally nasty—an accuser of terrible crimes with no proof except his own paranoia and deeply wounded spirit. Dad was near retirement age when I was born, and Mom was much younger. I was thrown in the middle. Mom would lay next to me at night, making fun of him behind his back, turning me from a Daddy’s Girl to an I Hate Dad Girl. (This was terribly wrong of her but child me knew no better and went along.) As my attitude towards him changed, Dad turned his verbal vitriol on me. Things really ramped up when I hit puberty. I didn’t have any more malignant presences in my bedroom because I was living with one. I was in survival mode and nothing paranormal could ever compete. Dad had never provided a stable income, so Mom finally got a job with the phone company. Dad’s aggrieved male pride added fuel to the fire. He never worked another day in his life, drawing social security and not sharing any with us. My mother was for all intents a single working mom.

I’ve often wondered if that malignance in my bedroom was some kind of harbinger. Kids aren’t stupid and I was probably picking up on the strains in my parents’ marriage on a subconscious level even though before that night they’d made some attempt to shield me. But it was an old house with thin walls and small, very small.

An interesting thing to note is that although as far as I know my father never wore a trench coat, he did wear fedoras until the day he died. I’m not a big fan of the theory of retrocausality but I allow as it could be a factor. (I understand Eric Wargo makes a good case for it.)

I also learned something about five or six years ago that creeped me out as much or more than that initial sighting of Mr. Fedora. Shadow men are a commonly reported phenomenon. I knew that much, but what I didn’t know until recently is that shadow men wearing trench coats and fedoras are also a commonly reported thing. It’s also reported that he often appears to people in turmoil. (There are also shadow women, but males seem to predominate.)

So what did I see? I have (gratefully) spent most of my life free of nightmares. There was a notable period in my thirties when that was not the case but that’s a weird story for another time. I am personally familiar with sleep paralysis syndrome but I don’t think this was that. Firstly, I sat up in bed at the sight of him and had no sense of being frozen as often happens with sleep paralysis, and the whole time I was screaming he remained where he was. I don’t know what happened to him when I got out of bed because I turned my back and ran. Whatever, whoever I saw seemed very solid and very real.

Projection from the future to the past? An embodiment of the tension in the household created by my subconscious? A malignant leak through from some other dimension? I can’t possibly say.

Oh, and yes, time can heal some things. Time—and later therapy—helped me deal with the trauma of those times. I was able with a lot of work to forgive and accept and even reclaim some of the love I had for my father, so I guess that’s something of an ambivalent happy ending. He was dead by the time that happened. It’s much easier to forgive a dead person than a living one. And I don’t think everything can be forgiven by everyone—or should be. I won’t suggest for a minute that people are required to forgive but for me I just grew weary of carrying all that forward through time. I had to let it go to save myself, a different kind of survival mode. I’ve felt much lighter since I let it go. The shadows have eased up considerably.

I grew up as an only child. When I was very young, before starting kindergarten, I spent a great deal of time playing by myself. I was either a natural born introvert or I adapted to that circumstance early on (there weren’t a lot of playmates around) and was perfectly happy amusing myself. Current science on introverts

says it’s probably in our DNA. My mother was a real extrovert, but my dad was a solitary brooder. He could fake extroversion if he had to and I appear to have inherited that ability—but I am unquestionably an introvert. However, I only brood some of the time.

We lived in a strange little house on a vast lot. It consisted of four beach cabins (those turn of the nineteenth century changing/camping cabins that sat on the sand) which had been strung together to make the core of a small house: two bedrooms, one bath. Add-ons on the back gave it a kitchen, a laundry room, and later a den. Because of its origin as beach cabins the front porch sported four front doors which confused the heck out of salespeople and first-time visitors. The backyard was enormous, taken up by a huge vegetable garden on the northwest side and on the southwest side by a tumble-down pair of shacks referred to as “the garage,” though no vehicles ever parked there. Mostly it held my father’s vast collection of tools and whatever odds and ends of junk he decided to hold on to.

On the front of the lot sat a giant California bungalow style house where our landlady lived. Sandwiched between these two houses was a smallish “front yard” which I loved to play in, especially in a tight little corner (maybe ten feet square) on the northeast side where the two houses were closest to each other. This alcove had a fence on the north holding a massive cascade of yellow climbing roses and against the west side a thick growth of calla lilies underneath my bedroom window. My alcove was shaded by the proximity of the two houses and the fence, always cool in the summertime, and protected in winter. The grass seemed softer there, somehow, and hugged by the houses it was a cool, quiet, secluded place for my imagination to run free.

It was during these solitary play dates with myself that I developed a strange “ability.” I was maybe three or four at the time. I came to believe—though what magical thinking led me to this conclusion is lost to time—that if I jumped into the air with a certain attitude, a kind of unqualified belief mindset (though I could hardly have categorized it that way to myself at the time), I could float in the air until I chose to come back to earth. I used to “do” this frequently. I clearly remember this feeling of my feet leaving the ground and me hovering—usually a few feet above the ground—floating but still me, still in my body. But one day I jumped into the air and felt lighter, more insubstantial, and I just kept going up. I remember floating past the roof line, up, up until I was maybe fifteen to twenty feet above it. I looked down on the shingles in shock. Then I looked up. I could see my father in the backyard working in the garden and that made me scared. I dropped back into my body with a thud. It was the only time I’d felt like I’d been out of my body, and I stood in shock for a minute then ran inside the house to hide in my bedroom. I don’t remember doing my floating trick again after that. In fact, I forgot all about it, as young children often do. Years later when I was eight or nine I suddenly remembered that I used to do that trick and tried to recapture the mindset but I never could. I jumped and jumped but inevitably came right back down to earth.

I’ve wondered, looking back as an adult, if during that extraordinary high air float I was actually astral projecting or having an out of body experience (OBE), but who knows?

The only other time I’ve felt something like that was when I was nineteen or twenty. I was going to college during the day and working night shifts (about thirty hours a week) in West LA at an answering service. I usually got off between 9:00 and 10:00 but this night due to a cock up in scheduling I didn’t get off until 11 or 11:30. I was exhausted. While driving home along a very familiar route that I could do in my sleep I guess I literally did it in my sleep. I was stopped at a light and realized my head and shoulders had floated through the roof of my VW Bug and was staring out at the street from a couple of feet above it. When I realized this the shock sent me plummeting back into myself with another thud. I was wide awake and adrenaline fueled after that.

Waking dreams? Astral projection? Overactive imagination? A Mystic mumbo jumbo combo? I can’t say, but those “memories” are so vivid. According to science,

one in ten people experience OBEs in their life. Some people even try to induce these experiences on purpose. But not me. Whatever I experienced was so deeply unsettling I’ve never sought to repeat it.

I’ve started an ambitious and decidedly strange project. I’ve had a lot of weird things happen in my life. Some are really crazy, most more mundane, but a steady accumulation of odd things that sometimes make for interesting stories. And I am, above all, a storyteller. I’m also of an age where if I don’t tell these stories now my personal library will burn down without them ever being shared. So, I’m going to attempt to recount all the weird things that have ever happened to me, told in roughly chronological order—or as close to that as I can remember.

Some of these stories have been told before in other venues, some have not. Some are funny, some are not. We’ll see if they’re as interesting to others as they are to me and my friends. Where possible I’ll relate them to a larger cultural context, using research into psychology, the paranormal, science, history or whatever else seems relevant. That means, thankfully, this will not be exclusively about me—because I am far from endlessly fascinating. I may invite others to tell their own weird stories, either directly or (if they’re too shy) through me. That is, of course, dependent on whether others are as willing as I to make public confessions. I’m relatively sure others have similar stories, many of them much more interesting. If anyone reading this would like to share, please contact me.

Will anyone read this series? I haven’t got a clue. It’s just something I feel the need to do even if I’m speaking in an echo chamber. Because, as I’ve said before, time is not infinite.

So, to begin.

The first odd thing I mean to share is not such a strangeness in and of itself except in context. It’s about my earliest memory and more broadly about what science has to say about memory itself:

I floated on a raft on a scorching hot day. The sun insisted on brightness in a frighteningly enormous sky, and there was not a breath of air, but I was cool near the water. And happy. The water smelled fresh, my wet clothes insulated me from the heat, and I floated at the center of the universe.

The raft bob-bob-bobbed and my father’s elbow rested on its edge near where I lay, everything from his shoulders down hidden by dark water. His voice was gentle as he talked to me, but his words have been swept away by the unrelenting tide of time.

I don’t know where my mother was. She had to have been there, but she doesn’t exist in this memory, one of the few times she didn’t loom like God Herself in the background.

My father plucked me from the raft and held me in the water. It felt right, my natural element, and I loved the wet embrace of the river. I may have purled with laughter. Or that may be something I made up later.

My mother told me I couldn’t remember any of this, not really. She said I wasn’t even one yet because they hadn’t swum at Ballona Creek past that time.

It was Ballona Creek, right?

I believe there is a picture of that raft, that river, my dad in swimming trunks, and my mother and I, but I don’t know where it is. The science of memory

says I may have used that picture to conjure up the whole confabulation of floating because I couldn’t possibly remember anything from such an early age. Certainly, my next earliest memory skips forward a few years in time, but this earliest memory is insistent, and I may have to beg to differ with my mother and the science of memory. And didn’t Jung say part of the psyche exists outside of us? This is a memory of the psyche, a pearl hidden in the tight embrace of my brain. I’m keeping it. Because I found my element that day, the water, and because it’s one of the few uncontaminated memories I have of my father.

Oh hell, that’s not true. I have a lot of good memories of my father. Memory is the trickiest son of a bitch there is and insists on presenting itself as a respectable, churchgoing truthsayer. It’s true, however, that the bad memories of Dad, coming later in the timeline, do somewhat overbalance the good. I have to root out the good memories, pull them from the muck and hose them off to recapture their likeness. But they do exist. Even in abundance.

My mother was the same way about memories. If stupid things like facts contradicted the way she remembered, they had to be wrong, and the memories of others? Not even to be considered. My mother’s version of events was the official story.

And so say all of us.

In discussing this with my friend, L., she relayed her earliest memory:

She was lying in her crib, or maybe her first “big girl” bed, and looking up at the mobile that hung over it. It was a lovely thing, a bunch of Pegasus figures flying round and round in the air currents. Later, when she mentioned this as an adult to her mother, Mom said, “We never had anything like that in your room.”

So who was misremembering?

The default prejudice is that the child must be mistaken. But where did that memory come from? Or did that dancing mobile of Pegasus figures exist—but only L. could see them? Children, they say, are able to see things adults no longer can…

But that gets into a whole other weird territory that is beyond the scope of this entry. Let’s put it down to the gossamer of memory and leave it at that.