It’s Tuesday morning and I have been listening to authors pitching their books for three solid days now. Truth be told, I am a bit jealous. I’ve got a few more books in me yet, but research time simply does not exist in the world of capitalism and its discontents. Not that I envy being on the author’s side of the table—I remember how it felt to pitch Weathering the Psalms to several editors and to receive an icy “no” in response. I think now I begin to understand. Yesterday one of my appointments asked if I was “book deaf” yet. It was a term I’d never heard, but I immediately knew what he meant. Editors hear pitch after pitch. I pull out my phone and look at my calendar and see a new project every half-hour throughout the day, but no, I’m not book deaf. In fact, I have to constrain myself to keep my credit card firmly inside my wallet. Being surrounded by books is like being in a jungle teeming with deadly animals.
From the exhibitor’s booth, Tuesday is a day of relief and worry. Most of the papers are over at AAR/SBL, and most of the participants have already left. As at any conference, fair, or exhibit, we are strictly forbidden from taking down the booth before closing time. We stand about, straining our ears to hear that first transgressive ripping of strapping tape from its roll, indicating that someone in another booth is being naughty. We’re tired, weary even, but not book deaf. Never book deaf.
In my unguarded moments I sometimes think that maybe some day I’ll have a book here that others will clamber to find. Maybe someone like me will prowl to a pre-selected booth with a specific title firmly in mind, and that title will bear my name. I suppose it could happen, although it isn’t likely at this point. I hear each pitch and more. I hear the dreams and deep desires of every author. We want to be heard. We want others to think us respectable, honorable even. There are publishers out there who will publish anything. They will accept books to fill catalogues and websites and you’ll never hear from them again. Still, you’ll find some interesting things if you wander by their table. And if someone sees that you’re an editor while you’re browsing you’ll never turn a deaf ear. This is what religion scholars live for. Books are our reality.
My brother is way cooler than I ever hope to be. While I was busy learning all a tween and teen could about the Bible, he was listening to Lou Reed and David Bowie and Black Sabbath. Since the “door” between our rooms was only a curtain, I heard the forbidden sounds and, despite myself, had to admit that I liked what I heard. In fact, I once gave a lecture on Christian influence in secular rock music, and found many students staring at me in surprise for knowing so much about such debased music. In any case, when my brother recommends a book I know it will always be an adventure. Thus I came to read Corey Taylor’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Heaven: (Or, How I Made Peace with the Paranormal and Stigmatized Zealots & Cynics in the Process). I didn’t want to admit to my brother that I’d never heard of Corey Taylor and that I couldn’t identify a Slipknot song even on Spotify, but the book sounded interesting, blending as it does bad-boy attitude with ghost hunting. November seemed a perfect time to read it. It could lead to some street cred on the bus.
It is difficult to distrust people like Taylor who write with absolutely no pretension (I’m a working-class kid, too). You know that what you’re getting is the real deal. It is also clear that like my brother and many rockers, Taylor is of above-average intelligence. Being smart can sometimes feel like a curse, and Taylor lashes out in several ways during the course of his narrative. He finds it odd to be an atheist who believes in, and has personally experienced, ghosts. I’m not sure that he would find it comforting to know that such a position is not at all as rare as he seems to think it is. Science deals with neither gods nor ghosts, and the average person is left to their own devices to decide who might speak with authority on such issues. Where are we supposed to look when scientists refuse to address such things? Personal experience is a powerful influence.
As with most books by opinionated, brash extroverts, it is difficult not to find yourself liking the writer. Trust may be too strong a word, but I do believe that Taylor writes without guile. After all, people have experienced ghosts for as long back as we’re aware. Why should it be any different for a celebrity? Is Taylor’s house haunted? (Or, more accurately are his houses haunted.) That’s a question no one can answer with certainty. Ghosts are beyond our realm of knowledge. Although plumbers can use scientific instruments, until actual scientists try to explain the immaterial we will be left to choose whom to believe. A metal singer can know just as much as a priest. Or even more, depending on the context.
Posted in Books, Consciousness, Just for Fun, Popular Culture, Posts, Rock-n-Roll, Science
Tagged A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Heaven, atheism, Corey Taylor, ghosts, science and religion, Slipknot
I don’t have to have the latest toys. In fact, I am happy to stay with what I have as long as it works. I’ve been a frugal lad all my life. The increasing demands of technology worry me. Nobody has to tell me that I keep odd hours. Waking up between 3:00 and 3:30 is hardly normal. Since I post on this blog before I go to work, I get up and turn on the computer, ready to write. As I learned three laptops ago, if you don’t keep your updates updated, you soon find yourself unable to do anything on the web. With my last laptop, whenever an update notice came, I immediately acquiesced. “What humble work I have to do, sir, pales in comparison to your mighty plans.” Now updates begin automatically. Most often I have no say in the matter. In fact, the first thing I saw when I started up my most recent computer was a message saying that a software update was ready to install. So what does all this have to do with my insomniac habits?
Computer companies assume nobody is getting up and working at 3 a.m. While we’re sleeping our computers are making their electronic deals and sending out their electronic handshakes. We mortals need our slumber. I don’t even know what half this software on my computer does. I know that if it’s out of date, problems are sure to arise. So when I awake to find my computer’s too busy to accommodate me, I wonder how to post on my blog. Some updates politely run in the background, but others necessitate that I turn off the software I actually know how to use until it’s done updating. By the time it’s finished, I’ve forgotten what I was going to write. The computer now determines what might be expressed. When something goes wrong, we’re forced to learn its language. We’re in its country now. Technology is its national language, by law.
Once I was told that travel faster than the speed of light was impossible because of navigation. If you can’t see what’s in front of you because you’re traveling as fast as anything can, how do you know you won’t run into a planet, comet, or software update? You have no means of getting feedback in time to react. It strikes me that we’re already traveling well beyond the speed of light. I grew up writing without a typewriter. I wrote stories and articles on paper with lines, using a pen or pencil. Now I rely on my devices to store my ideas, but they’ve got other plans. I have to wait until they’re done to do my work. Of course, we must conform. At 3:30, human, you should be in bed. My advice to you, dear reader, is this: don’t wake your machine at the witching hour. You might not like what you find.
It is the time of year when respectable publications can, in a half-serious way, address the unconventional. The New York Times, for example, recently ran a story on ghost hunting in Norway. Andrew Higgins points out that Norway, among the most secular nations in the world, has come under the spell of ghosts. In a country where church attendance and religious belief seem to be endangered, there is a growing belief that people might somehow survive this mortal coil. Since such a story has to come off as bemused, we don’t get any indication that people have good reason for believing in ghosts—as one of the officials in the story says, they represent something that isn’t “generally accepted as existing at all.” But I wonder if that’s true. Scientifically, in our heads, there just doesn’t seem to be any room in this godless world for ghosts. Skeptics ask questions like “why do they wear clothes?” or “how can a soul remain behind if we have no souls?” Who told you that you have no souls?
Even with the constant materialist discourse of only physical reality, some ghosts cases have been very well documented. So have some hoaxes. People have the spirit of being tricksters, and that doesn’t always help when it comes to understanding the unseen. The point that the article is making, however, is that ghosts seem to be filling a need that the church hasn’t. Church has long been understood as being trapped in the past—concerned with issues deemed irrelevant by people who are just trying to get by in the world. I’ve heard hundreds of sermons in my life and remember less than ten. What is it that we’re trying to do?
I don’t know if ghosts exist. Many days I’m not sure what reality is, because if it is simply crawling out of a warm bed into a cold apartment before 4 a.m. so that I can go to work, I’m not sure this isn’t some kind of afterlife already. And maybe not the best kind. I know that as soon as people began to record their thoughts in writing, ghosts have been assumed to exist. Despite Ghost Hunters and other popularizers, vague traces are caught by enough people that we can legitimately wonder about the narrative we’ve been fed that says if it can’t be measured it can’t exist. There isn’t a nation in the world where people don’t see ghosts of some kind. Why should Norway be any different? And we wouldn’t even be asking this question if Halloween didn’t provide us with a buffer that makes forbidden topics chic.
Posted in Consciousness, Current Events, Holidays, Just for Fun, Popular Culture, Posts, Science
Tagged Andrew Higgins, Ghost Hunters, ghosts, New York Times, Norway, science and religion, secularism