Living in a paranormal world


Ursula, my one-of-a-kind canine companion, a chow-golden retriever mix with red-gold fur, folded ears, a curly tail, lavender tongue and plump black muzzle, left her beautiful body at sunset on Friday, June 15, 2012.

In 2011, right after Thanksgiving, we got a bad diagnosis. The lump on her tongue was melanoma – a canine variety, genetically linked to the blue pigmentation. I had always been so proud of her beautiful lavender half-Chowish tongue. And now, it had become her doom. We didn’t get very good advice at first. One vet said “Nothing to be done.” Another, holistic one, recommended all sorts of supplements and herbs. Then the growth came back, worse than before, within a couple months. I went online, because I’d heard of a vaccine. I found a veterinary specialist center, and skilled, sympathetic veterinary oncologist. Yes, we could try the vaccine, but the tumor should first be removed again, and the site treated with radiation. Only 6 treatments – I thought that Ursula, the vet-phobic, could handle that much. She did. She was braver than I’d ever seen her. I knew she was trying, for us, to be healed and survive a bit longer. We all needed a little more time together. The surgery and radiation appeared successful. We took her for a weekend at Yosemite to celebrate. She pranced on the paved paths. She gloried in the scents of Spring.

She had been doing well, so it was a shock to be told that although the tongue was still healthy, the cancer had spread to her lungs. The prognosis, and the vet’s description of the final stages — the struggle to breathe, the weakness, the coughing — brought me to tears in the exam room. But weeks went by, and sh never started coughing, or gasping for breath. Every once in a while, she would gag, just a little. Her energy remained the same as ever. We went for a walk every day, and she played at fetching her collection of stuffed animals, every evening.

Things went on about the same for a few weeks after Yosemite. Then Ursula had a visit on Sunday June 10, with her puppyhood friend, Winnie the Westie. Because Winnie’s family had moved quite far away, down on the Peninsula, they hadn’t met in years, but it was delight at first sight, when we brought Ursula into my in-laws’ big, park-like back yard, where Winnie was already bouncing with excitement. They greeted each other lovingly, though not as puppies, but as the mature twelve-year-olds they had become. Ursula still had plenty of energy, and they spent over an hour, roaming and exploring every corner of the multi-level, tree-filled yard — Ursula always in the lead. Finally, she seemed tired out and settled down on the patio. We took her home so she could sleep and relax more fully, without the rest of us still being active all around her. She continued to seem tired on the following days, although she still wanted to play a little, and go for walks too, right through Thursday of that week. Only one sign appeared, that things were changing – her appetite suddenly decreased, and it was hard to find anything to tempt her, on Wednesday and Thursday.

Then that Friday, June 15, she wouldn’t eat at all. Nor would she lie down, or even sit. Hardly, would she drink. She only paced the house constantly — panting, restless, anxious, and once in a while, staggering, just a little, when her hind legs would oddly cross. The panting wasn’t pain-panting, though. I’ve seen that — too much of it — and I know the difference. This was excitement. I had no doubt the spirits of the dear departed dogs who had left us when she was still a pup, were now gathering all about her, telling her it was time, and they were here to guide and welcome her to the Other Side.

In the afternoon, she asked to go into the gated room where our other two dogs, Maeve and Jeff, had been living for some years, for protection from the random attacks that had become the one sad part of her behavior. Yes, she really asked. She had her nose stuck through the diamond opening, and when I walked by, she looked up and met my eyes, and she was asking. I said “Do you want to go in?” And I saw “Yes” — I didn’t need to hear it. So, I knew it would be okay this time, and opened the gate. She went in quietly, sniffed them both, walked all around sniffing the bed where they were lying. Then she lay down briefly between them, got up, and left without another glance back. Maeve, our black Lab mix who had adopted and raised Ursula, looked heartbroken. Jeff, the spitz, looked confused.

At dinner, I said to my husband that we should probably, this night, take her on that car ride, which we’d been talking about doing on the weekend. We got her into the car about seven, then headed across the Bay to Marin County, to Mount Tamalpais, as sacred a mountain as ever there has been. Happily, the night was mild (one of the few mild nights of 2012 here around San Francisco Bay, until this October), so I rolled down the back window all the way. Ursula loved nothing better than sniffing, and sniffing the scents of “the wild” as they poured past a slowly-moving car window, was the best.

So, she got herself close to the window, half-sitting up, to drink in the flowing odors, as the sun continued to set. The road we were on, winding slowly up the mountain, is heavily forested in most places, abounding with redwood trees. By eight, it was already almost night, there under the trees — although in this area, a week shy of Solstice, the days last till about nine in more open terrain.

The air was so mild, we left the back window open, even when it became completely dark. About this time, Ursula settled down, curled up, and dozed off, right behind me. I also fell into a trance-like sleep, occasionally swimming up into near-consciousness for a moment, only to be pulled under again. Karl just kept driving, and somehow took a wrong turn (not in character for him) which kept us on the mountain for about an extra hour.

As he drove, he saw a big stag off to the right, who turned and looked right at the car. Some way onwards, he saw a doe, a raccoon, and an egret. I came back to full consciousness when we got back onto the freeway. Ursula was quiet in the back seat. When I glanced back in the darkness, she was curled up, and seemed to be sleeping comfortably. She had always loved car rides, too.

We got home, finally, thanks to the wrong turn, a little before ten. Karl went around and opened the back passenger-side door. “I think she’s gone,” he said.

She was. Curled up, her nap had tranquilly become her eternal sleep, eyes tight shut, a little of her pretty lavender-blue tongue now extending out from between her teeth. The Ursula-body which now remained with us, showed how very peaceful had been her passing.

I laughed and cried at the same time, able to think of nothing to say, but “Oh, Ursula, you did it, you left. Good girl, you did it your way.” I had always known that she was determined to go in her own way, and that she was determined never to be euthanized. (An animal communicator had actually told me this about her, when she was still quite young.) And she chose her time with care, too — after one last visit to the Sierras, one last visit with her best friend, one visit to make peace with her canine housemates. She chose not to wait until the last, worst days. She was still nearly symptom-free, strong and enjoying just the same quality of life as she always had, with no impairment, no suffering, and no days or weeks of tormented questioning and decision-making struggles on our part. Yes indeed, she chose her moment, and it was one of the most beautiful ones of her entire life. She just stepped away, without any fuss at all. She was a dog who had always hated fuss.

Rigor was already fairly advanced at the time we got home, so we knew, we KNEW, that she had flown free of her body, there on the sacred mountain at sunset, right out the open car window, to stay behind, surrounded by redwood trees, while the wild creatures of the mountainside began gathering, to witness and honor the transition of such a remarkable soul.

So, that was the beautiful, mystical departure through the Veil, of my beloved, smart, independent-minded Ursula, my little golden curly-tailed “bear cub.” She was to me, by turns, a person in a dog suit, sometimes almost certainly a cat disguising herself as a dog, and very often, a wild animal who had chosen to come spend one lifetime seeing what this domestication thing was all about. She left us, in just same way she had come to us, and lived with us — in her own good time, and her own strong-willed way.

If you like my nonfiction writing, you might also enjoy my romantic paranormal novels. Visit my website for descriptions and purchase details:; I also have a “culture blog” (comments on films, TV series, YouTube videos, etc) at


This is a wonderful and infuriating book. First, the wonderful aspects. It’s a remarkable collection of reminiscences and anecdotes, which all have the ring of truth, being accounts of “meetings” which have been handed down largely within families over some generations. The tellers, ordinary Irish people, commonly offer as confirmation of veracity, descriptions of the exact place where the meeting occurred, and/or the name of the family (or priest!) to whom the incident happened. It feels impossible to gainsay such a sincere simplicity of belief – that if one can actually go to the spot, or identify the people involved, then this should be incontrovertible proof that the story is true. Furthermore, the entire book has a consistent, enjoyably ethnic tone, in the coloring of Irish vernacular speech, without ever becoming either densely idiomatic in the grammar, or phonetically complicated in the spelling (thanks, no doubt, to the talented editing of C.E. Green).

The general tone, with its almost matter-of-fact references to “The Other Crowd,” “The Good People,” or “Them,” characterizes Ireland as a place where ancient mysteries are still vitally alive in the hearts and souls of the people. Indeed, Mr. Lenihan, storyteller and collector of these accounts, asserts that there are “few convinced skeptics” in Ireland, even today; and that once he has broken the ice with some of his own stories, individuals from almost any walk of life can themselves often turn out to have an uncanny tale to contribute. Moreover, eschewing coyness, he states in so many words, that he himself is a believer – refreshing honesty in a chronicler of ethnographic material which deals with the paranormal.

The book has been divided into three sections, on the general topics of “Who they are and what they want,” “Fairy places and signs of their presence,” and “Gifts, punishment, and other outcomes of fairy encounters,” although these are fairly arbitrary categories, because many of the stories could easily be ascribed to at least two, if not all three. Most of the accounts are in the two-to-six page range, with a few rather longer ones, particularly the two opening tales, and the final one. Still, the longest only runs seventeen pages. So, it is convenient to pick up and read in short increments – an easy, uncomplicated read for anyone whose days tend to be rather full.

An interesting editorial choice, is the incorporation, at the end of each tale, of a commentary by Mr. Lenihan. In these, he employs an analytical, generally sociocultural tone, pointing out interesting or significant details, comparing and contrasting these to details in other accounts, and sometimes aspiring to explicate both the thinking of the person or persons having the fairy encounter, and/or the attitudes of the Fairies themselves. Less productive, in my view, is the use of introductory quotes, which, while usually having something relevant to say about Fairies, are too fragmented for my taste, and seem excerpted from interviews that have not been deemed worth complete inclusion in this volume. Without providing any story context, for me these add nothing to the credibility factor, and only serve as a tease, with no payoff.

And now for the most infuriating aspect – the very frequent referral to Christian beliefs and/or doctrine, in attempting to explain the existence of the Fairies themselves, and also their apparently arbitrary behaviors. According to the book’s information, there is a persistent Irish belief that fairies are, in fact, fallen angels – too bad for Heaven, too good for Hell. Here is the introduction to the first story: “The Other Crowd, they’re the Devil’s crowd. I wouldn’t be for saying that them’d see Heaven. No.” But like all the other top-of-story quotations, we are not told who it is asserting this. It introduces a fairy encounter on the part of a (Catholic) parish priest. A man, presumably one of Them, wants the priest to tell him, “What’s going to happen to the Good People on the Day of Judgment.” The next story is similar – a priest is asked, “Will the fallen angels ever be saved?”

For me as a reader, these sorts of concepts are a real stumbling-block, since I believe in neither the Devil, nor Heaven, nor a Day of Judgment. So I think that if Fairies do exist (and I certainly feel no need to dispute their reality) then they surely have existed since long before Christian conversion overtook Ireland. No doubt, in the absence of such Bible-based beliefs as Heaven, Hell, angels, devils, and the possibility of offending one all-powerful deity and thereby “falling,” the early Celts would more likely have perceived the Fairies as a separate but equal order of beings, as natural to this planet as ourselves – not damned, not corrupt, only Other from us humans, and for that reason, diverging from us in their culture and ethos.

Of course, throughout the world, virtually all traditional cultures know of other kinds of people – who live in a world parallel to our own, who may appear in different sizes, who only seem able to cross the Veil into our world at certain times, and who may be sometimes helpful, sometimes spiteful. These other Folk include the Hawaiian Menehune, Russian Rusalkas, German Kobolds, and the Little People of the Passamaquoddy Indians (as described by Katharine Briggs, in An Encyclopedia of Fairies). Of course, in traditional, indigenous belief systems, such Folk are not believed to be corrupt, “fallen” beings – but rather, simply another race or species, with moral standing equal to ourselves. Even Scottish folklore identifies two distinctly different types of Fairies – the kindly, helpful “trooping” ones of the Seelie (Blessed) Court, and the mostly solitary, malevolent denizens of the Unseelie Court. If this is also part of the Irish belief system, yet there is no mention of any such concept anywhere in the volume. In my reading of the present volume, any idea of the Fairies as naturally-existing, earth-evolved beings, seems to have been completely subsumed by now, in this “fallen angels” superstition. All the Irish Fairies appear equally damned and malevolent.

So, in that regard, the book regrettably left me with a sense of dissatisfaction. It does provide a wealth of detail in regard to Irish Fairies’ interests (protecting the sovereignty of their own particular patches of Earthly real estate, such as “forts,” whitethorn bushes, and roads) and behaviors (speaking Irish Gaelic, dancing, playing music and games, feasting, and especially kidnapping, or “carrying,” humans to the Other Side). But for me it is far more informative about Irish sociocultural attitudes of the past two centuries, than revelatory about what might be the true nature of that Other Crowd.

Finally, in my opinion, Mr. Lenihan draws an erroneous conclusion, in supposing that due to the modernization of Ireland, and the increase of technology and urbanization, both the stories and beliefs are going to die out soon. In my view, the upsurge of a general interest in metaphysics, paranormal experience, and altered states of consciousness, which began in the 1960s, shows no sign of waning. This should mean that there are now probably more people intentionally cultivating their own awareness of other, subtle planes of existence, than there have been at any time since the start of the Spanish Inquisition. So, if the Good People are real (for which the entire book tends to argue), then surely They are not going anywhere – at least, not unless we humans manage to eradicate all other life from the planet, in the process of eradicating ourselves. And as long as The Other Crowd exist, I expect They will continue to find ways to interact with those who are open to meeting them

Meeting the Other Crowd. Eddie Lenihan & Carolyn Eve Green. 2003. Tarcher/Penguin

If you like my nonfiction writing, you might also enjoy my romantic paranormal novels. Visit my website for descriptions and purchase details:; I also have a “culture blog” (comments on films, TV series, YouTube videos, etc) at

If this book sounds interesting, readers might also like to look at my own piece on this blog, titled “The Passing of Andrew”, which has two photos posted along with it, which I believe are the spiritual energy (or ghost) of my dog Andrew.


Ghosts Caught on Film 3: Photographs of the Supernatural

Author: Gordon Rutter               Hardcover, 160 pp.        US$16.99

Publ. David & Charles


Sixty-six thought-provoking photographs comprise this slim but fascinating volume. Except for one taken by the author, it appears that all the photos come from ordinary members of the public, not professional photographers. Each image gets a page to itself, while each photo-facing page carries an evocative title (“A Pub with Spirits,” “The Ghost in the Water,” “A Ruff Day at Tantallon Castle”) and a short discussion of the most significant circumstances surrounding the picture’s existence.

The photographs are grouped into eight theme-based sections. The book begins with entries from Edinburgh, Scotland, under the heading “The world’s most haunted city?” Mobile phones rate their own category, simply because they have made it so much more possible to take a quick snap anywhere, any time.  “Orbs and lights” brings together various phenomena which seem to be largely the result of photographic anomalies, rather than spiritual ones (but readers should draw their own conclusions).

“Location, location, location” offers ghostly photos from both famous haunting sites such as Warwick Castle, and places that one might expect hauntings, such as a former mental institution and former orphanage. “Figures that shouldn’t be there” and “Heads up, it’s a ghost” present, respectively, whole-figure and head-only apparitions.

“Family gatherings and parties” is the smallest section, with only three examples, which could perhaps have been absorbed into other categories; although for myself, I feel that there is something decidedly ghostly about all three of these. The last part is “Most likely to be a ghost — the top five” which were voted on by the public, from among all the images which were submitted to a website by private individuals. (I only agreed with two of the five.)

This is a surprisingly skeptical book, given the title. It takes a strongly rational, scientific approach to making sense of the variety of apparitions presented. Of course, when one is engaged in researching in a “questionable” field, one must apply a greater degree of rigor, than much “accepted” science often requires. Author Gordon Rutter (who helped to organize a 2009 “Science of Ghosts” conference in Edinburgh, and is head of the Charles Fort Institute) takes pains to explore “rational” explanations for each photo; but his analyses also imply that when every possible aspect has been studied, and still found to be inadequate as an explanation of all known data, then what is left, is a genuine mystery, and possibly something genuinely paranormal as well.

After spending some hours with this book, I concluded for myself, that between twenty-five and thirty of the photographs probably have some claim to paranormalcy, although I would not necessarily consider all of them to be ghosts in the traditional sense. By my reading of his commentaries, the author also seems to lean toward thinking that about thirty of the pictures have some ultimately unrationalizable aspect.

(My opinions do mostly overlap with Mr. Rutter’s, although not one hundred percent. For instance, in regard to an entry titled “The Holy Ghost,” I feel there might be something otherwise causing the unusual flame-like energy that seems to be dancing about among the African congregation, than the given explanation of a “bright screen” plus long exposure.)

I was interested to learn that there is a word — paradolia — for the brain’s ability to organize random visual impressions into recognizable faces and patterns. This means, that in some photographic cases, the “ghost” is probably only light and shadow on things such as stone, tree branches, mist, or window glass. Paradolia is one of the two most common rational explanations offered by Mr. Rutter, for a number of the images in this book.

His second tool for deconstructing the potentially mystical, is his own detailed knowledge of photography and photographic science, and how various phenomena may be produced (deliberately or accidentally) with a variety of photographic equipment. He delves into such factors as sources of ambient light, length of exposure, whether the camera was film or digital, whether a flash was used, and even whether the air was likely to be very cold at the time of the photo, resulting in the photographer’s breath creating a sort of fog around the lens. For a handful of photos, the author’s third method of debunking is the most direct — he reveals that these are either deliberate hoaxes by the photographers, or poor identification of existing geographic or meteorological reality.

This is a nicely-presented hardcover book which at 160 glossy pages, and a 7×8 inch format, I would characterize as an ‘end-table book,’ for living rooms that are too small for a coffee table. With an intriguing cover it invites picking up and browsing through. All the text is printed in white or light colors on black pages, enhancing the spooky feeling. The smallish format means that my husband and I both found we needed a magnifying glass to really see some of the ghostly details; but to be fair, the amateur quality of most of the snaps, means that these images would have been much less visible if blown up for a larger format.

This could be a wonderful conversation-starter book, since the subject matter tends to evoke strong feelings (pro or con) in almost everyone. At $16.99, it seems a little pricey for a small book; I got it for about $11 with a discount coupon at a chain bookstore, and felt that it was a very good buy at that price. On the other hand, if it provokes some really interesting discussions and revelations among people who have never before shared ideas on this topic, then as that TV credit-card ad suggests, it might be priceless.

As we are fast approaching October 31, I think this would be a great book to prominently display at one’s own Halloween or Day of the Dead party, and would likewise make a great hostess-gift at someone else’s. The publishers have a handful of similar titles available, including Monsters Caught on Film, Paranormal Caught on Film, and  two earlier volumes of Ghosts Caught on Film. I so much enjoyed Ghosts … 3  that I plan to read all the others at the first opportunity.


Four (probable) UFO Sightings

One of these sightings was my own. One was my parents’. One was told to my husband by the guy who experienced it. And one was mostly someone else’s, but sort of became mine, briefly.

I was raised with a belief in Flying Saucers. My parents owned a whole shelf of books by UFO researchers. Being keen on reading, I must have read most of what was in those books by the time I was eight or nine. I particularly liked the one by the writing team of Leslie (no relation) and Adamski, in which they quoted some ancient Hindu writings, which spoke of flying vehicles called vimanas. There were also some descriptions of great ancient battles, and super-weapons, which sounded suspiciously like lasers and nukes. I’m sorry to say, the book is long-gone (as are my parents); and as a child, I didn’t have any context for remembering which Sanskrit text contained these passages. (So, if anyone reading this happens to know if those quotations were for real, I’d appreciate feedback on this.)

Moreover, some of my very earliest memories are of my parents hauling me along to some empty field in New Jersey, where, starting at dusk, they and their fellow saucer-seekers stood around for a couple of hours looking up, while I was fed upon rather unmercifully by Identified Flying Objects, the famous Jersey Mosquitoes. Well, none of those many hours of searching the skies ever produced any sightings.

But a few years later, when I was about ten, and we were living in upstate New York, I saw something in the night sky. The family was out on the lawn after dark (something people seem to do a lot more back East, where it stays hot after the sun goes down). I happened to glance up at the sky. I saw a very bright light, like a very big bright star, and it shot across the sky a very short way — perhaps the width of three of my fingers, when looking at my hand at arm’s length. Then it split into two, each one half the size of the original bright light. And both of them got smaller and smaller, until they disappeared — just like two somethings, both going farther and farther away side-by-side, very fast.

What the heck was it? Shooting stars don’t make apparent right turns. And at the risk of revealing my age, this occurred before there was any kind of Space Program (on Planet Earth at any rate). At the time I believed it could only be two alien spacecraft, flying together, taking a ninety-degree turn, and leaving the vicinity of Earth. This explanation still fits the facts of what I saw, better than any other. And according to Occam’s Razor, the simplest explanation is probably the true one.

Well, some years after that, we were living in California — in Terra Linda, a northern extension of San Rafael, cut off from it by a couple of moderate-sized hills. Our home was in a condo-like complex, with small backyard patios surrounded by high fences. I was a teenager, and was out one evening — probably at a dance. It being warm out, my parents had spent some time sitting in the patio after dark (no Jersey mosquitoes in Marin County CA!).

When I came home around eleven, there was a drawing on the table. It was a sketch of what both of my parents had seen that evening, from the patio. The sketch showed a long airborne object, with a row of porthole-like lights along the side, and a rounded protrusion on top. It had come from the south (the direction of San Rafael), made a U-turn more or less overhead, and gone back towards San Rafael. It had been much too low overhead to be any kind of plane. And it didn’t make plane noises. And it made a turn that a plane could not have made.

My father was in World War Two for almost seven years, and he spent his childhood in London, during the air raids of World War One. Drunk or not, he would know an airplane — any kind of airplane — by sight and sound. And my mother never drank. But that’s what they said they saw, that night. No, they were not people with any sense of whimsy about them, and practical jokes were not a concept in their dead-serious world. They were perfectly matter-of-fact about the whole thing. They had spent years looking for UFOs, and then, one turned up, just as they expected.

The next UFO story is one that my husband Karl heard in his early twenties. It was told him by a guy he wasn’t really close to, but he did know him as a phlegmatic individual, with a degree in engineering — not a joker, not a storyteller. What the engineer (let’s call him Bob) told Karl, had the ring of truth.

The similarity of this account, to a scene in Spielberg’s Close Encounters, will be striking, but keep in mind, this event took place before that movie got made. Well, Bob owned a share in a mercury mine, in the hills east of California’s Napa Valley. He had gone up there alone (as he did every week). The route to the mine was along a fairly remote back-country road.

This road followed a creek between two ranges of hills. From beside the mine, which was at a high elevation, there was clear visibility, to a long way off. But the road led down into a heavily-forested valley. One evening, at the end of one of these trips to the  mine, Bob was looking south (towards the Bay Area) and saw a light moving across the sky. It was too bright and unvarying to be an airplane, and since he had a small-plane pilot’s license, he was quite sure it was not moving the way an aircraft could or would move.

Bob was up there alone. He got in his truck  and started driving back towards the Bay Area. In about half an hour, he was into the valley, under big oak trees, and had lost sight of the moving light. Suddenly, the whole truck was surrounded by a very bright white light, as though under a vertical-beaming searchlight. He rolled down the window, and could hear nothing but cicadas and the nearby stream. There was no sound or air movement, such as a helicopter would produce. The light stayed on the truck for what he felt was ‘a long time.’ Then, it went out.

As Bob told Karl, he just ‘sat in his truck and shook’ for some minutes. Then he put it in gear, and drove away, fast. When he got to a clearing, and looked at the sky, he saw the same light he’d seen from up at the mine — now moving away from him.

Okay, here’s the last, and weirdest, one of all. About seven or eight years ago, I spent a weekend up in the Sierras, near Nevada City, but outside of town. I was there for a training workshop, in a form of homeopathy, called flower therapy or flower essence therapy. The place where it was held, was a private property, which had a hot tub, available for use by the workshop participants. I was camping there, and on Saturday night, really wanted to sit in the hot tub for a while, before sleeping on the ground for a second night.

There turned out to be only one other woman who also wanted to hot-tub. I didn’t know her before this weekend, and the weekend course was so intensive, I hadn’t yet had a chance to talk to her. Not until we were both sitting in hot water in the dark, at the lower end of a very wide, unlighted, sloping lawn. Within a few minutes, she asked me if I believed in UFOs. I did. She immediately began telling me that she had been subject to alien abductions throughout her life. She went into a great deal of detail, about times, places, and circumstances.

Then she said, “They’re up there now. Watching us. The ship is to one side of that tall tree.” I looked, and there was a very strange-looking light up there, which did not look like a star or a satellite. However, I’m not an astronomer, so maybe it could have been “one of ours” — a shuttle, or the space station. On the other hand, this middle-aged, middle-class woman, who had the appearance of a down-to-earth homemaker, not a stoned ex-hippie or an airy-fairy New Age flower child, could not have been more convincing in the matter-of-fact way she told me about all her abductions. Especially, when she said she “wasn’t sure” whether they might be planning to come down “this time.”

She was so very convincing, that I had the most terrifying walk of my life on the way back to my tent, while crossing this large rural property entirely alone in absolute darkness, with only one small flashlight. Luckily, “they” didn’t decide to “come down.”

So, I am able to be here, writing this blog, for my readers’ entertainment. And there you go. Four sightings of UFOs. Anybody else got one?

If you like my nonfiction writing, you might also enjoy my romantic paranormal novels. Visit my website for descriptions and purchase details:; I also have a “culture blog” (comments on films, TV series, YouTube videos, etc) at

Back in the Nineties, there seemed to be a burgeoning of TV ads for the chance to phone up a real psychic for personal advice, night or day, and the anthropologist in me became curious. What, I wondered, makes this a profitable enterprise? Well, I was taking a ‘creative nonfiction’ writing course at the time and one week I was hard up for a topic for my next paper. So, I scribbled a number while watching the Sci-Fi Channel; called the next day. I’ve realized this topic fits right in on this blog, since I do want to offer a balanced perspective on the Paranormal. What follows here is a polished rewrite of that essay.

If they drew a line down the middle of the world, skeptics over here, believers over there, I would be over there, with the believers. Not that I believe indiscriminately. I do not know anyone personally who has ever spotted Elvis in the backwoods, or Jesus in a patch of wet plaster on their wall. I am pretty sure that gray aliens are not threatening U.S. security (we’re doing fine at that, all on our own). And I seriously doubt that anybody is really channeling spiritual advice from five-thousand-year-old Lemurian philosophers. Nonetheless, I do believe that there are many types of unseen energies which produce measurable effects on the physical world. Energies like, oh … gravity … electricity … magnetism … light … sound … thought … hate … love … and the immortal bits of us called ‘soul.’

So, I dialed my way into the great unknown. My Psychic Phone Experience started off with a friendly recorded female voice assuring me that I would receive a ‘free sample two minute reading,’ and that each additional minute would pack a $3.99 wallop to my phone bill. That meant the going rate for arcane mental powers was around $240 per hour. Apparently, WAY more profitable than being a psychiatrist, while offering a similar service; and without that pesky requirement to complete years of training, get licensed, and so on.

A friendly male recording greeted me next. “You are about to experience a real psychic reading … get comfortable and enjoy yourself!” it commanded. Soothing piano music followed, briefly.

“First,” instructed my twangy-voice female psychic, “Tell me your first name and when you were born.”

Aha! I think. Right away she’s going to know that I’m a Virgo. This will give her a starting point on which to base some generalizations, which will result in her seeming to know something about me.

I responded with the month and day, reluctantly. “You want the year too?” Of course she did. Age is an equally useful bit of data when making  guesses about someone’s life.

Then she got right down to business. “Have you got a specific question?”

I suppressed the urge to say, “Don’t you know? You’re supposed to be psychic.” Instead I played it straight. When being dishonest, it’s always best to tell the truth. I did, in fact, have a real question perplexing me (although not one I needed Help from Beyond to resolve). “Yes, I’m struggling with finding the right graduate school; I want to know where I should be looking.”

There was a pause, while she shuffled and dealt out Tarot cards. Don’t use up too much of my two free minutes, babe, was my prevailing thought.

“Have you been depressed lately?”

Well, no. What’s that got to do with my question, anyway? And come on, honey, how likely is it that someone planning to go to graduate school is in depression? If I were depressed, I’d be slumped in front of the TV, endlessly watching infomercials … oh. Ah. Given who is probably doing most of the phoning-up for this service, this must be a stock question they are told to ask.

“Well, just about this graduate-school thing.”

“Why? What’s the matter?” So sympathetic, right off.

It ran through my mind to come back with, Didn’t they instruct you to be a little more subtle when pumping the customers for info you can feed back to them? But I just told her there were no suitable schools in my area.

Another pause. “You know you’re going to have to travel.”

No cigar, psychic woman; I just told you that. But feigning meekness, I played along some more. “Well, I kinda thought that was a possibility.”

“You’re gonna find one that meets your needs, but it’s not gonna be around where you live.”

Gee that’s twice now, you’ve told me what I told you already, said my inner editorializer.

Now she waxed supportive. “You have a driving ambition to get where you’re going.” A safe assumption to make about anyone who had just graduated from UC Berkeley and was now looking at grad school.

“You’ll have to work very hard.”

Really? In graduate school? Thanks for the tip, Sherlock.

“After that, the world will be at your fingertips.”

Well, that’ll be nice! (The world is still eluding my fingers, by the way.) Another three-ninety-nine’s worth of banal interchanges resulted in me telling her my field was cultural anthropology.

“Oh wow! When I found out you were a Virgo, I thought your degree would be in Accounting.”

Oh, please, honey, I thought, If you’re going to be in this game, try to at least have a little imagination — can you really think that approximately one-twelfth of the world’s population are all accountants? Or would all like to be, if they had any choice in the matter?

“Oh, anthropology, that’s so cool!” Stimulated by this revelation, her psychic gifts suddenly burgeoned. “I see you travelling south — maybe to a site in Central America.”

Site — oops, I think she’s got it mixed up with archaeology. But maybe she did mean a cultural research site. I’d give her that much. On the other hand, I have never had much interest in Latin American cultures, I don’t speak Spanish, and being pretty comfortably settled in life, I had no intention of ever doing fieldwork. That’s why I was looking at a master’s in museum studies.

I considered clueing her in, but instead, let her rack up another four bucks or so rambling on about her own dream of going ‘down there,’ and about her husband having gone to Berkeley, and how all her ‘Mensa-type relatives’ living in the Bay Area. She also got around to showing a dutifully flattering interest in me, expressing admiration for my accomplishment in going to college as ‘an older person,’ and for my choice of majors.

(Yep, ‘older person,’ that’s the way to get on the mark’s good side!) Of course, all this chat was part of the job of stretching those two free minutes into five or ten four-dollar ones; but feeling generous, I finally allowed as how my region of interest was in fact the South Pacific — broadly, about as much of a ‘down there’ from where I was in California, as Central America is. So, maybe she was onto something with the ‘down there’ thing. Although I still wasn’t going to suddenly take off on a field expedition, just to keep her honest.

“Yeah?” she perked up, “I almost said Galapalos (sic); I do know it’s definitely down.” We had gotten so chummy that I didn’t want to embarrass her, let alone call her occult powers into question, by pointing out that the Galapagos Islands are among the few locations on Earth with no indigenous humans, and the tortoises don’t have much of a culture going on.

But those late-night ads were making a lot more sense. I recollected delighted people proclaiming into the camera, “I really felt like I was talking to a friend!” “It was like she really knew me!” “I feel like I have a friend I can call any time I want to get advice and talk about what’s going on in my life!” And there it was. In an increasingly alienated society, a person who is willing to be your best friend for only four bucks a minute ws one of the best deals going.

Ever mindful that my new friend had the meter running, I gently indicated that the consultation should be winding down. “Well, what I really wanted to know, is what action I can take in order to locate the right graduate school, and whether I should expect to leave my home for some time.”

She summoned up a last smidgen of guidance for me from the cards. “You don’t know how spiritual you are … ”

Well, yes, I do, actually.

“If you start asking, you’ll get an answer,” continued my paid psychic.

True, I thought, But that’s what you were supposed to be doing for me all this time, at these prices.

“Can you get to Stanford? I’m getting a strong feeling about Stanford.”

And there we left it. Her psychic powers did not reveal to her, that I would never have Stanford-tuition kind of money in this lifetime. I had a strong psychic feeling that Stanford probably didn’t even have a museum studies program. The following year, I started at Cal State Chico — about as far a cry as you can get from Stanford, within California.

Although I actually read Tarot myself , and I have a certain confidence in astrology, and the paranormal has been a fact of my world since early childhood, I knew before I made that call, that psychic phone readings must be the province of charlatans. But at the time, I actually didn’t know how it worked. So, I did get some useful insights out of it — into how charlatans in general are able to hook people who are eager to be hooked. And I got a lot of insight into how desperately sad and lonely thousands of Americans must have been at that time.

Now, of course, we have Facebook and Twitter, and Blogs, oh my — and nobody has time to be lonely any more. And interestingly, it also seems to me, that the era of Phone Psychics has pretty much passed. I think they have largely moved on to becoming Psychic Animal Communicators — of which we are now developing an increasing abundance. After all, in that field, there’s virtually zero chance that the subject is going to suddenly say, “Wuff, hey, no, that’s not what I was thinking about, you’ve got me all wrong!”

And actually, I have encountered one or two Animal Psychics, on whom the charlatan shoe fits very neatly. They ask the exact same type of leading questions, and do just the same kind of feeding-back what you just said, mixed in with comforting generalities, as did my erstwhile Psychic Friend.

So, readers … caveat emptor. I know there are a small handful of people doing Animal Communication work who are “for real.” And there are a lot more, who are “for profit.” Anyone interested in a further, detailed exploration on the topic of Animal Communication, might like to read Animals and the Afterlife, a nonfiction book reviewed by myself, on this blogsite.

If you like my nonfiction writing, you might also enjoy my romantic paranormal novels. Visit my website for descriptions and purchase details:; I also have a “culture blog” (comments on films, TV series, YouTube videos, etc) at

My last blog was about synchronicity and coincidence. I said that there were three categories that occur in our lives: people, cultural phenomena, and thoughts. And I went on to describe some of the people-related coincidental meetings that happen regularly in my life, and my husband’s.

So, okay, now here’s a sampling from the cultural category of coincidence. Or, as we like to call them, items for the “What Are The Odds? File.” Most of these alignments of cultural phenomena are random, and they never seem to involve either omens or significant messages “from beyond.” They’re just weird alignments of random information. But the question is — how does it happen?

Hardly a week goes by, that we don’t experience some culture-related coincidence phenomena.  Here’s one. Recently, in a period of two days, I encountered three completely separate pieces of journalism about Forest Whitaker. (One in the AARP magazine, one in a PETA brochure, and I think the third was in the Screen Actors Guild magazine. None of them being remarkable places to find references to Mr. Whitaker — but for one person to see all three, in two days?)

Here’s another one. There’s a movie called Across the Universe. I never heard of it when it came out in ’07. But recently seeing a trailer for it on another DVD, I thought it looked interesting, so we put it on the Netflix queue. It came on August 6 (randomly, because it was behind a couple of “long wait” movies in the queue), and we watched it that night. On the morning of August 10, I opened the latest in an endless succession of Barnes and Noble emails, touting their latest bargains. Those included big discounts on a lot of movies. But they only put two box-cover images in that ad.  And one was — yes — Across the Universe. A four year old film, and one that can’t have been a particularly big hit (or I would have heard of it, right?), and selected for featuring in the ad, from how many hundreds that were on sale? But for me, this one obscure film emerged from the nearly-numbing background static of contemporary life, twice in less than ninety-six hours.

You might say, well, it was a movie, and lots of movies have relatively high profiles. So, consider this next “coincident.” Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been re-watching A Bit of Fry and Laurie on DVD. I’ve also been re-reading Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman. Both decisions were random, and the pace of both watching and reading have also been quite irregular. There came an episode, when in one sketch, Stephen Fry mentioned the Essex town of Saffron Walden. The next day, I reached a page in Good Omens which had a throwaway joke, which also mentioned Saffron Walden! I mean, how many DVDs do we own? And how many books do we own? (Rhetorical questions — about three hundred and five hundred, respectively.) And of the DVDs, how many are we likely to re-watch, in , say, a year? (Thirty or forty, randomly chosen.) And how many books am I likely to re-read in that same year? (Five or six, also randomly chosen.) And of those two sets of selections, how many are likely to incorporate the name Saffron Walden, at all? So, what are the odds, that one unusual town name would show up in my conscious experience of the world, two days running?

Here’s one more — one that comes with music (we get those a lot, actually). We will go perhaps years without hearing or thinking of a particular song. Then it will turn up two or three times within a period ranging anywhere from a few days, to a couple of weeks. So, there was a moment a few months ago, when I turned on the Arts Channel, to find Anna Netrebko singing “O Mio Babbino Caro.” Not so strange. She sings a lot of opera. Except, I had never before seen Netrebko doing this aria. That very evening, I went to the Irish session night at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. And that night, a woman who had never been there before, and didn’t  know any Irish songs, got up when called on, and — yes — sang “O Mio Babbino Caro.” And to top it off, her first name was Leslie, and she was sitting next to me all evening.

So — what about you, readers? I would love to hear about the Coincidence Factor in other people’s lives. Are there people whose “What Are The Odds? Files” are even fuller and stranger than ours? In particular, anyone named Ruth?

I would very much like to know if Ruth is out there.

If you like my nonfiction writing, you might also enjoy my romantic paranormal novels. Visit my website for descriptions and purchase details:; I also have a “culture blog” (comments on films, TV series, YouTube videos, etc) at

I don’t know if everyone has the same kind of experiences that Karl (my husband) and I do — of strangely synchronous thoughts, improbable meetings, and timely coincidences.  In our lives, there are three main categories to this phenomenon:  People, Culture, and Thoughts.  In this entry, I’ll recount some examples of People-type synchronicity.  I’ll cover the others in future pieces.

I returned to Scottish Country Dancing in October 2010, having had nothing to do with it for eleven years; and before my 1998-1999 flurry of SCD activity, I had nothing to do with it for even longer than that.  After attending only a couple weekly class sessions, I went to one of the Monthly Dances — first and only one I’ve managed to attend in ten months.  And there, at this one particular dance, was Robert, a guy who was in the San Francisco class with me, back when I first was dancing.  He and his wife (another dancer) have lived on the East Coast for years now, and he only happened to be at this Bay Area dance, because he was out here for a conference related to his real-life career.  He was the only person from my early days at the dance — and vice versa.

Well, you might think that would be enough of an SCD-related coincidence.  But then, a few months ago, Karl moved up from Beginner to Intermediate (the class I attend).  On his first night in class, he discovered that one of the women who was in the same class with me all along, is someone with whom he went out a number of times in his senior year at UC Berkeley.  And her husband had been in the Beginning group with him for several months.

Okay, that’s two unusual encounters in one very small social pond. Now, here’s a third.  Just last week, we got talking to another couple, F & V, whom we’ve always liked as fellow-dancers.  (We enjoy their lighthearted pleasure in the dancing; it contrasts dramatically with a bunch of people who never crack a smile, and seem to be eternally trying to prove something.)  We’d only had occasion for brief, superficial conversations with F & V before (Scottish dancing keeps one on one’s toes — as it were — and it’s risky to become distracted.)  But that night we got talking as the last dance ended, and I immediately discovered that V has known my oldest and dearest friend, Elisabeth, for years and years.

Here’s another weird one.  During our Renaissance Faire days, Karl briefly dated R, the woman who coordinated the on-site parades, which were my own way into the Faires.  After we stopped working the Faires, we lost touch with her for a couple of decades.  So, four years ago, when we decided to take the train to Sacramento for the day, it came as quite a surprise that she turned out to be our conductor.  It was even more of a surprise, when we took the train to Sacramento for the day this past March (it being only the second time in our lives, to ride that route), that she turned out once again, to be our conductor.  Now, on these two occasions of riding the Capitol Corridor, it was pure chance that we went on the day we did, and that we caught the train we did (there being quite a few on that line every day).  To make it even more random, conductors only work three days a week, one round trip per work day.  But still, both times we managed to randomly pick the exact day and time when R was on duty.

This sort of thing is not of recent development in my life, by any means.  back in my idealistic youth, I aspired to become a Scottish Country Dance teacher, and spent a year of my life attending training sessions to that end.  It soon became apparent that I was not a good Public Speaker.  So I addressed this shortcoming, by finding in the want ads, an elderly lady named Laura McCray, who taught Public Speaking in her San Francisco apartment.  I worked with her for several months, and made reasonable progress.  About five years later, when I was newly engaged to Karl, I attended a social event at his parents’ house on the other side of the Bay, and there I re-encountered Ms. McCray, since she turned out to also be his grandmother’s oldest, dearest friend.

As Karl and I seem to say more and more frequently these days … what are the odds?

If you like my nonfiction writing, you might also enjoy my romantic paranormal novels. Visit my website for descriptions and purchase details:; I also have a “culture blog” (comments on films, TV series, YouTube videos, etc) at