Friday, November 19, 2010

Holy Ghosts: Or How a (Not So) Good Catholic Boy Became a Believer of Things that Go Bump in the Night

I've always kind of believed in ghosts. I'd hear stories of people's ghosts and they'd sound believable. My mom once brought home a picture that was taken in a friend's basement and you could clearly see the silver outlining of a man in a hat holding a shovel. Then, about a year ago, the hubby and I started watching Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel. Three guys travel to some of the most haunted places in the world, get locked in overnight, walk around with night-vision cameras and high-powered digital recorders and catch shadows, lights, voices, noises, etc. If you get us going, we can talk about that show for a long time. The things these guys have experienced - intelligent conversations, scratches on their bodies, objects moving when no one is around - there's no way it could be fake. (If we're watching it before bed, we have to watch something funny afterward for a bit, or I will have ghost dreams.)

My husband found this book online, and because of our recent fandom of ghost stories, bought it and read it. He really enjoyed it, so I gave it a go, too. Author Gary Jansen is an editor at Doubleday Religion, a pretty devout Catholic (though he swears like a sailor) and is/was studying to be a deacon. So, here's a man who really believes in his Bible. And then he started feeling very weird in his own house. Electricity running over his body, cool breezes, dark shadows. His kid's toys would make noise by themselves. Weird, weird stuff.

As a natural researcher, he read as much as he could about ghosts. He wasn't convinced at first that he had ghosts (wouldn't he be a bad Catholic if he believed in ghosts?), but as he did his reading, he found there were actually more ghost stories in the Bible and religious texts than he realized. And, as more and more weird, creepy things started happening in his house, the more he couldn't deny that something "bigger" was going on than just creaks and groans of an old house and malfunctioning batteries.

He calls up the real Ghost Whisperer for some help. Now, while I think I believe in ghosts, I've never been very certain about psychics or ghost whisperers. But, this lady is the real deal. If everything Jansen writes is true, and I believe it is, this woman is amazing at what she does. She helps him, that's all I'll say.

I don't want to spoil the story by going into what/who is haunting his house, but it's pretty awesome, and the reasons why and the coincidences that appear - it seems insane, really. The book is quick. I skimmed some parts where he talks a lot about his research. While it's interesting, I just wanted to read about the present-day ghost story happening right in his own house, so I would try to hurry and get to those parts. If you like ghost stories, this is a real-life one that's pretty entertaining.

Do you believe in ghosts? Know any good ghost stories?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Things I Learned About My Dad (in therapy)

I just finished this book of essays, edited by Dooce's Heather Armstrong. Books of essays can be hit or miss, but I loved nearly every essay in this book. I either laughed or cried (or both) at each one. Some authors reminisce about their fathers, some author-fathers talk about fatherhood, some author-wives talk about their husbands as fathers. It was very entertaining. (Is it more entertaining if you have a child? Perhaps.)

The most humorous essays were those by new fathers. "10 Conclusions from Four Years of Fatherhood" discussed everything from new parents' obsession with poo (so true!) to how your home will be a disaster area for the next several years (unfortunately, so true again, but maybe I should feel better about it knowing I'm not the only parent with a messy home?). I loved how "Sam I Am" compared pregnancy to Lord of the Rings. Wife = Frodo, who has to bear the burden the entire way. Husband = Sam, who is just their for moral support but can't really do anything. I loved "The Force is With Us. Always" in which the author described her husband's love for Star Wars and how it took just two years for him to introduce it to their now-obsessed son. Why I liked it? I believe it's my future, which is great because while the kid and dad play "light saber," I get to read a book or take a bath.

Of course, the essays that made me cry? The ones about the authors' own dads. I've always had a wonderful relationship with my dad. He was very present in my life. He's proud of me, he loves me and he's not afraid to tell me. So reading about how other people love their dads...well, it pulls at the heart strings a bit, you know?

This book is quick and fun. So if fatherhood from any level interests you, or if you just like good writing, I recommend it. A couple fun/true passages:

From "Peas and Domestic Tranquility"
A couple of years ago, we spent an afternoon at the park with some friends and their three girls. While the girls sat in the sand and shared toys and bonded in a way that was only missing a few glasses of wine or some chocolate ice cream, my sons ran in noisy circles around them, trying to punch each other in the face. "Wow," my friend said. "Is that what boys are like?"
"Man. They just...Wow."
"If it makes you feel any better for me, your kids are going to mutate into teenage girls at some point, and that will make this little melee look like tea with the Queen. The boys are just going to keep hitting each other. The only thing I have to worry about is fratricide. Your girls are going to run psy-ops campaigns that would make the CIA curl into a fetal ball and cry itself to sleep."
From "Not My Problem"
I had more questions than answers. Little did I know, that would never change.

There is something to be said for the phrase "day by day." Just take it one day at a time, they say. Each day was a new adventure and we were amazed at how excited we were about little changes. Sitting up was a big deal. Crawling gave us personal entertainment. Walking was a milestone and speaking drew us into rapt attention.

In time the manual wrote itself. What they never told you is that your child will write the manual, adding a few words every day. As a father, my job was to support the author, edit the work when I could, and hope that the book would be a best seller.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters

My friend CMS loaned (Chrissy, is that the correct term?!) me this book because she read it and enjoyed it. Hunt Sisters is told completely through letters from one sister, Olivia, to a bunch of different people in her life: parents, exes, best friend, sister, brother, work folks, etc. Olivia is a newbie producer in Hollywood, trying to get a movie made. Her little sister has just been diagnosed with leukemia. The story follows Olivia over the next year as she helps her sister through her illness and also tries to get her movie made.

As always, like with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, novels written only in letter form are a bit jarring to begin with, but I always get used to them and things tend to flow. Olivia is a great writer and her letters are full of humorous language. You'd think it would be hard to tell a complete story just from the letters of one person, too, but the author, Elisabeth Robinson, makes it work. Sure, Olivia has to recreate every scene for us within letters, but it doesn't seem weird. I like her honesty (in letters to her family) and her spunk (in letters telling off her movie counterparts).

At the end, in an author's note, we learn Robinson was a movie producer in Hollywood for 10 years. And her sister was sick with leukemia. When she finally decided to fulfill her dream of writing a book, she contemplated writing a memoir vs. a novel. But when she realized with a novel she could say and be all those things she couldn't say or be in real life, that pushed her toward novel writing. So, how much is true is left up to our imagination, but I think the book comes across so truthful feeling because so much of it is in fact based in truth.

It's nothing groundbreaking, nothing fabulous, but it's a sweet, entertaining story. I found one passage on relapsing cancer that I thought was beautifully written (and could only be written by someone who knows), and I wanted to share it here, just to remember it:
Maddie relapsed. I hate to put it that way; it suggests responsibility that she did it, she relapsed, when it's the cancer that did it. There is a continual balancing act between acceptance and defiance, between being the victim and being the attacker. As a fighter, she just lost, which implies weakness, ineptitude, a lack of some crucial smarter strategy, greater strength, and this defeat would have been, should have been, a victory. You can't say, well, this enemy is just too strong for any fighter, because she is the enemy, too; the cancer is a part of her, as much as her will to conquer it is.