One thing about being in this house: I get to encounter a variety of people. Not that my life is an echo chamber – I certainly run into plenty of people with opinions different from mine online, but in real life, I can’t just groan and click away when my woo-quotient for the day has been met. This leads to me having to explain things. Or flee back to my fortress of solitude when a proper conversation can’t be had. There’s always that option. S is pretty good at warning guests that I’m a hermit, so I don’t have to hurt any feelings by running away.
I’m not sure if he warns them that I’m a skeptic and atheist, but they surely do find out when they make the mistake of asking me for my opinion on certain subjects.
Most of them are quite able to accept the fact that I think their nonsense is nonsense. I’m direct, but I try not to be mean about it. If they’re happy and not harming themselves, they’re welcome to their woo, just so long as they don’t try to convert me. Most of them either drop the subject, or we kind of talk past each other a bit before moving on to other things.
What amuses me, though, is how many of them are surprised by my history. They assume I’ve always been a skeptical atheist. When I tell them I used to be a Christian, they’re shocked. When I share the fact I was in to UFOs and all sorts of paranormal bollocks, they’re amazed. I don’t think it ever occurs to them how much people can change.
Many of them say, “Well, I’ve had experiences, and that’s why I believe in x.”
They’re absolutely astounded when I say, “Oh, I’ve had those experiences, too.”
I mean, honestly, people, why else did you think I’ve been a member of a doomsday cult?R and I were sitting at the kitchen table when she brought up the subject and I told her I’d been there, done that. She wanted to know what those experiences were. So I told her about one particular time, with everyone asleep in the house, when I was sitting upon the porcelain throne at three in the ay-em, reading a book. All was silent as only Page, Arizona can be on the outskirts of town, aside from the dulcet tones of my dad snoring. My FSM, that man can snore. But luckily, I could only hear him faintly as I tended my business.
And then I heard, high up on the bathroom door, perfectly centered, three loud, measured knocks.
KNOCK….. KNOCK….. KNOCK.
And my dad, who can hear a pin drop in the next county when he’s trying to sleep, did not even snort. There was no creak of a floorboard, no squish of footsteps in the carpet.
I sat on that toilet for at least a solid hour, too terrified to move or make a sound. Finally, I crept out into the silent, dark, and empty hallway, and fled to my room. When I asked my mom the next day, she’d heard nothing, and hadn’t knocked on the door.
So that’s paranormal, right? Well, no. Later, I learned about auditory hallucinations, and how perfectly healthy people can have them. Brains are just odd.
And writers’ brains are especially weird. People, I have imaginary people living inside my head. They pop out with the oddest things, some of which I later find out are true. Like the time a character informed me she’d grown up during the intifada, and I told her, bollocks, she’s too young. Then I did some research on Palestine. Sure enough, there had been a second intifada, right around when she would have been a child. She was right and I was wrong. How could that be, if I’d made her up? Well, blind bloody fortune, or a half-forgotten factoid lodged in the dark corners of my brain. I mean, I did spend an appreciable amount of my college career researching Israel and Palestine, and so I tend to give any news from that region at least a quick curious glance.
But I mentioned doomsday cult, didn’t I? Perhaps I shouldn’t skip so lightly over that. Yes, I was part of a group of high school kids who didn’t plump for drugs or sex or sports to entertain ourselves in a boring town. No, we chose to read Frank Peretti and Robert Jordan novels and scare ourselves silly thinking we were the only ones to stand between the world and certain destruction by demons. We ran all over the desert saving the planet. We were really good at it. We had powers, buddy. I convinced a skeptic friend of them once by hitting her with an energy beam, even. I saw red eyes glowing from the desert. I heard creatures stalking us from the bushes. I watched a huge dark-winged form sink behind the houses once. And I saw every street lamp go out along the road we were traveling, one by one, when we were under demonic attack once.
Okay, never mind the fact that my skeptical friend also happened to be part of a charismatic church that very much believed in demonic attack and the power of prayer, and that I can be goddamned convincing when I stare into your eyes. Betcha to this day I could hit you with my super energy powers, if you’d been primed by your upbringing to believe in such things, even if you didn’t think I could bloody well wield them.
And ignore the fact that the high deserts around Page are full of little critters with reflective eyes, who probably wonder WTF a bunch of silly teenagers are doing out there stamping around and occasionally screaming, and who might rustle around either keeping an eye on us, or going for grub.
Forget that I’d been wanting to see one of those dark-winged critters really really bad, as proof this was all really-real, and that I’ve been prone to being able to put myself into a mindset where I can have vivid visual hallucinations ever since I was a wee bairn. Didn’t I mention, writers’ brains are weird? I can still do that, if I get deep into fiction mode.
And, of course, you can completely disregard the fact that those streetlamps were awfully prone to winking off and on whether demons were thought to be around or not. Faulty wiring? Vibration from passing cars plus atmospheric conditions causing something to short out or suchlike? Or just random chance: it’s not like that happened every time we crossed the dam while thinking we were chasing demons.
People often ask me to keep an open mind. I have. I was open to all of those experiences, and I stayed open while I read about statistics, and mass hysteria, and neurology, and how correlation doesn’t equal causation, and serendipity, and physics, and got to know my writer’s brain better. I stayed open as I tried to replicate things, and found that some things that should have been easy to replicate weren’t. I was open as I learned about alternate explanations for ghostly goings on, and how often we find a thoroughly mundane explanation for the paranormal. I was open until I had enough evidence, and then I decided I’d no longer waste my time with woo. The universe is too fucking interesting without chasing after bullshit, thanks.
I’m still open. I’m open to the fact that certain practices have deep meaning for people. I’m open to the idea that some forms of woo can make you feel really nice and special, because I’ve been there, and it was great. I’m super open to folks who are like, “I know this probably isn’t real, and I can’t prove it, but I enjoy it!” Get on with your chanting, crystal-magic, ghost-hunting self, then. Just so long as you’re not dodging vaccines and trying to cure your cancer with reiki alone, okay? I’m open to that. And I’m open to you bouncing up to my door with a well-designed, statistically-significant study or other proof that some of this shit’s objectively, empirically true. That would certainly be exciting!
But I’m not open to believing it’s all really-real without extraordinary evidence. Already been there. I’m not open to playing around with it anymore – the shine is off that stuff. I’ve got other things to do that don’t annoy the crap out of me, thanks.
Like, in fact, debunking woo! Like so:
So tell me your stories. Were you always skeptics, or did you come to it from woo? Are you annoyed by people insisting you keep an open mind after you told them you’ve evaluated the available evidence and found it lacking? How open, exactly, do minds have to be?