Friday, October 9, 2020

Paralyzed

It's been a long time since I woke up paralyzed, but this morning it happened again. In the dream someone had grabbed hold of my arm, and the guy was still there when I woke. Formless, faceless, grayed out like a phantom, but absolutely stopping me from moving a muscle.

I tried to wake up, or at least make a noise, but it felt like minutes of nothing. Even knowing my gray friend was only a dream, the sensation of being frozen in place was unsettling. And through the whole thing I kept thinking, "This is what I get for reading The Mothman Prophecies."

If you only know the story from the Richard Gere movie, you know a much cleaner, more linear version than what John Keel actually wrote. Keel's book is an unapologetic mess. Besides the infamous Mothman, the book is full of spook lights and poltergeists, UFOs and Men in Black who may actually be androids, giant birds and tulpas, and dozens of other things that don't fit neatly together.

Keel coined an umbrella term for all these phenomena -- "ultraterrestrials" -- and had his own theories about where they come from and what they want. But part of the fun of reading a book like The Mothman Prophecies is that it works so hard to resist narrative.

Things are sloppy. They're unresolved. A mystery wanders onto stage, gives a baffling performance, then wanders off never to be seen again. What's interesting here is that this is what gives these episodes a frisson of credibility. While fiction writers use tools like structure, plot, and verisimilitude to create what John Gardner called "a continuous dream," one that allows the reader to suspend disbelief, books on the paranormal sometimes follow the inverse of that formula.

For Keel, that means a lot of running around from sighting to sighting, talking to source after source, without it really adding up to anything. Most of the book is repetition. But this gives it the feeling of being an actual work of reportage. Keel is just chasing the story, and you're there with him as he finds the pieces of a repeating pattern.

I love reading books like this because they function so differently than fiction. Threads don't have to be tied off. B does not have to follow A. And Keel gets to be his own kind of contradiction, alternately fearless and terrified, skillful and hapless. In one of my favorite passages, he completely misses the Mothman because he can't find it fast enough through his binoculars. Anybody who's ever fussed with trying to get a good look at a finch on a birdfeeder understands the feeling. It's one of the most grounding details in an otherwise very weird book.

Currently Reading:
The Mothman Prophecies

Currently Listening:



People Watching

On Wednesday, I went out to meet up with a friend and do some writing. We met at the Athenaeum, a historic building in Indianapolis designed...