Brown River Queen cover art

Friday, October 19, 2012

Authors Against Bullying

Kids today have got it tough.

By now, you've probably heard the sad story of Amanda Todd, who committed suicide just 8 days ago after being targeted by a cabal of online bullies.

Amanda's story is heartbreaking, but hardly unique. Do a Google search on 'teen suicide online bullying.' Name after name pops up. Jared High. Rachel Ehmke. The list of kids goes on and on.

And kids they were. 15. 16. 14. Just kids, who should have been worried about acne and awkwardness, not  how best to end their lives.

I'm writing this blog along with a number of other authors at the behest of author Mandy M. Roth, who was also deeply touched by the suicide of Amanda Todd. You can see Mandy's blog here,along with links to all the other bloggers writing about bullying today.

I was never bullied as a kid. Keep in mind, I grew up in an era so different from this one I might as well have grown up on Mars. We had no social media. The Internet was decades away. No email. No smart phones. No texting.

All of our communication was done face-to-face, or on clunky wall-mounted telephones incapable of transmitting photos.

Bullies, in that day, had no choice but to face their victims directly. Which rendered the act of bullying a far more risk-inherent activity than it is today. The possibility of a fist in the face was quite real, as were the consequences of initiating a bullying campaign.

I had friends in all the social strata. Jocks. Nerds. Hot girls. Plain kids. I can't recall ever being in fear of any one person or group of persons; had a hand been raised against me, half a dozen classmates would have appeared in my defense. And I would have done the same for them.

I just realized something -- I grew up in Mayberry.

But Mayberry is gone. Today, from what I've seen and heard, kids live half or more of their social lives in some sort of odd rolling cybernetic mishmash of Facebook and text messages and instantly shared videos.

Which is what seems to be the environment that killed Amanda Todd.

It killed the others, too. These kids found themselves the targets of a violent, tireless mob of vicious online tormenters. Poor kids -- their every moment was scrutinized and attacked. Their appearance, their actions, their every glance and word was mocked, endlessly and without mercy.

No fifteen year old is emotionally suited to enduring prolonged exposure to that dosage of social venom.

Sure, if you need your wifi router unlocked or your email client fixed, grabbing a teenager is a smart move. They know computers.

But teenagers are still just kids. They haven't had time to grow the kind of rhinoceros hide that allows a frowning bull ape like me to respond to insult with a profound and vast indifference.  No. That takes years to learn, and years to master.

A 15 year old kid might as well be tossed into a meat grinder. They aren't coming out uninjured. They might not come out alive.

I grieve for any kid out there who is surrounded by a hateful jeering mob every hour of every day. If I wish I could bestow upon the kid just a small portion of my impenetrable middle-aged ego, which has been rendered indestructible by 48 years of coffee-fueled cynicism. My God, I'd send the jeering mobs fleeing, probably right into the arms of the nearest available therapist.

But I can't do that. I don't know who these kids are. Sadly, some of their own parents don't understand what their kids are going through. "My daughter is just playing on the computer again," I imagine some have said. "She's always online with her friends."

I'm not blaming the parents here, either. Maybe they were neighbors of mine in quaint, scenic little Mayberry,  where the worst kind of monkeyshines the young 'uns got up to was tipping apple-carts or playing in fresh mud.

But as I said, this isn't Mayberry, and the online world appears to be Mayberry's polar opposite in nearly every respect.

If you're a kid, and you're reading this, and you're being bullied, please let me give you a few words of Genuine Old Man (tm) advice.

People only have the power that you yourself give them.

Read it a couple of times. Let it sink in. I promise you -- I swear to you -- it's true.

There is no force in the Universe more awesome than one man or one woman's refusal to dance to music being forced upon you.

Look, kid, you're young. I know everything that happens right now feels deeply and unrelentingly profound. Your emotions are being yanked around. You don't know why you're here, what you're supposed to be doing here, and frankly you don't want to be here at all.

I get that. But hear me out -- give it time. Give it time, and one day in the not-so-distant future you'll realize that nothing those ignorant yammering bullies said meant anything. They're just, pardon the mild profanity, buttholes.

Do what myself and a host of other kids did when we found the world intolerable.

Leave it. No, not THAT way. I mean walk away from the mob, figuratively and literally. Get off the freaking net for a while. Lose yourself in books and music. Learn to play a guitar. Sit in the dark and write bad poetry. Take your power back. Do something.

Do whatever makes YOU happy.

Let the mob rail, if they wish. Fall silent to their taunts long enough, and they'll move on to more amusing targets. Because that's all you are to them -- a target. Something they can poke with a stick, just so they can watch it squirm.

So you really care what people like that say about you? Think about you?

I don't. They are, as I'm fond of saying, persons unworthy of consideration.

Maybe you're shaking your head at my unbelievable naivety. That's fine, maybe I'm utterly and entirely wrong in everything I've said.

But so were the kids who reasoned their dilemmas out and arrived at the conclusion that suicide was the only way out.

If only they'd held on. Told a parent. Logged off the net and stayed off for a month. Thrown their phone away. Run off and joined the circus, I don't know -- anything but a bullet, or a rope.

By comparison, does becoming a devoted Tolkien geek really look so bad?

If you are being bullied, I can guarantee you this -- somebody out there cares for you. If it's becoming too much and you just cannot handle even one more minute of it, talk to someone. I'll post toll-free phone numbers at the end of this blog. Yeah, you'll be talking to a stranger if you go that route. But they're manning the phones because they care. Because they've been there. Because they muddled through, somehow, and now they want to help someone do the same.

There are people who will listen, who will understand. Give them a try.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Things That Go Bump, Chapter 2

Welcome back!

In keeping with October's theme, today's installment involves more ghostly goings-on in a couple of local cemeteries. There will be spine-tingling photographs, hair-raising EVPs, and a stern admonition not to forget the Deep Woods Off when planning a trek to far-flung boneyards (if you don't know what a chigger is, look it up. You do NOT want a couple of hundred of them gnawing on your knees).

But first, we'll begin with a location far more sinister and foreboding than even the most fog-shrouded resting place of the dead.

No, first we will face a location that has known more despair, more tragedy, than anywhere else on the University of Mississippi campus.

I refer of course to my office at work.

As you recoil in abject terror, let me explain. Campus lore states that my humble work-space was once used to store cadavers for the Medical School, in the years long ago before the Med School moved to Jackson.

That would certainly explain the odd stains in the carpet, the eerie moans, and the finger-bones the custodian keeps vacuuming up.

Okay, the eerie moans are just my stomach, usually two hours before lunch. Still, my office seemed to be the perfect spot for a quick EVP session, lest anyone get the idea all I do is tramp around old cemeteries.

So below is my brief EVP session, conducted at my desk. It's not a pristine sound environment. People are talking nearby at times. Doors open and shut. I broke down into tears when I heard the vending machine dispensing salty, salty goodness to someone who was not me.

I'll go ahead and skip to the end, on this session.

I got nothing. Nada. Not a single pitiful moan, not a cryptic whispered plea for help, nothing.

Hey, but if you want to try your ears, go ahead! the sound file is below:

Frank's Office

So, another mundane location, another lack of any possible EVP activity.

Why would that be the case? Now look, I'm still on the fence as to what EVPs are. Could they be misinterpretations of audio artifacts generated by the equipment itself?

Yeah, maybe. That's one reason I want better gear. My next acquisition will be a Zoom H1 audio recorder, which is a pro-grade setup that I can actually trust. I've heard skeptics claim EVPs vanish when you start using top shelf equipment. If that's true, then mystery solved -- EVPs were all just a mixture of high noise floors and pareidolia.

My only personal quibble with this theory is this -- if it is true, then why don't I  'catch' possible EVPs in my office, on the patio, in the warehouse, like I do in cemeteries?

Look, I have a huge problem believing that the spirits of the dead hang around graveyards all day hoping some geek with a cheap digital voice recorder comes stomping by. Day after day? Year after year? Decade after decade?

No. No way.

I never expected to catch anything when I first started trying to capture EVPs. But here I am, catching them, and only in the kinds of places that seem, to be honest, a bit cliche.

Which brings me to my first cemetery visit for yesterday, Saturday October 13. The place: Tula Cemetery. That's it, pictured in the first photo of the blog (the BOO sign is mine).

It's a quiet, out-of-the-way graveyard outside Tula, MS. As far as I know, it has no reputation whatsoever for any kind of haunting or other phenomena. It's just a cemetery.

I went in light, with only my camera, my K2, and my voice recorder. That way I can hide everything but the camera if people show up and pretend to be taking photos of headstones. I do that because I don't imagine ghost hunting, no matter how careful or respectful, will prove very popular hereabouts.

I spent about 20 minutes wandering and talking. I put the recorder down on several stones and asked for comments. Here are a few of the markers I singled out:

The good Lieutenant above had nothing to say.

These poor souls were also silent. The sandstone markers and location suggest they died during a yellow fever epidemic in the early 1800s.

Mr. Hartin was equally reticent to speak.

Above we have a doctor, one Dr. Robert M. Webster. I was regaling Dr. Webster with tales of organ transplants in the hope he might express disbelief. I didn't get a voice, but I did get an odd noise (around the 8:30 mark in the full clip). Here it is, amplified just a bit for your convenience:


Right after I say "anything at all, sir" there is a weird rumbling groaning sort of noise. I didn't hear it during recording, and I'm not willing to say it's a vocalization of any kind. I just include it because it's odd.

The best odd recording I got at Tula is next. At the seven minute mark, while I was just walking about inviting anyone to speak, I said "Maybe I can understand you with the help of this instrument."

Apparently that struck someone (or, cue minor chords, something) as funny, because I recorded what sounds like a laugh.

Keep in mind I was alone. I heard nothing at the time of the recording. Here is the audio segment, unaltered:


And here is the laugh, looped so you can hear it better, especially if you are listening with PC speakers:


To me, it sounds like this: "instrument."  HA HA HA.

The HA HA HA is repeated only 3 times in the original -- I looped it out to 30 in the clip just to make it easier to hear.

Here's another oddity about this item. Look at the screen-shot below.  It's the audio clip, isolated down to "...instrument HA HA HA."

See the first burst of sound, represented on the graph above? That's me, saying 'instrument.'

The next three bursts are the HA HA HA sounds. Notice how nearly they match the first burst -- my voice --in up-and-down space?

That's called amplitude. It directly relates to the volume of a sound. As you can see, the word instrument and the subsequent noises (HA HA HA or whatever they are) and nearly the same in amplitude. And they're all well above the background noise.

So, how did I not hear three bursts of sound that were nearly as loud as my own voice?

I don't have an answer for that. I didn't hear anything at the time of recording.

Those are the only two instances of odd audio I felt were worthy of note. Interested parties might want to listen very hard at the 3:00 and 9:01 marks, because I almost heard something there, but ultimately decided it was probably just wind noise.

Now, you heard me taking a lot of photos at Tula. I saw something odd in one of them, and I'll put it below:

You may have to click on it to get the big image to see it. But there is a weird purple corona around that stone. Chromatic lens distortion, or supernatural energy emission?

I'm going with the former. But hey, it's October.

Next up is another odd Tula photo. Let's play Spot the Apparition!

Okay, I cheated and drew you an arrow. But when I saw that, on my big screen monitor, it immediately looked out of place. In fact, to me it looks like a bad cut n' paste job. The colors don't match the rest of the scene and it just seems to be stuck there.

Too, it looks like a dog wearing a button-down collar shirt peeking around a grave marker. That's not on the list of Traditional Haunting Images.

Now, I think this happens a lot among amateur ghost hunters. They get a weird photo. They post it. Everyone scratches their head.

But, if you look at this photo in context -- i.e., among other pictures taken from different places and angles -- you soon see it's NOT actually a spectral but well-dressed dog peeking about. Look below:

It's just an old foot marker. Whew.

Okay, that debunked, we leave Tula with one.



I give you the Phantom of Tula!

Do you see it?

Is that an apparition I've circled? Or is it a trick of pareidola?

You decide....

Next stop -- Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church and environs, just a few miles away. But first -- a cottonfield!

Here's Rock Hill MB Baptist Church:

The tiny cemetery is off to the right.

The cemetery is fenced in. Since I don't have anyone buried there, I didn't climb the fence, or try to open it. This is the Deep South and people take the sanctity of their dead very seriously. I take shotguns very seriously, so we're even on that point.

So I stood outside the gate and did a quick EVP session.

I got one odd result. It sounded like a whispered 'yes.' At first. then I remembered I turned to shield my mic from the wind and I'm writing that sound off as wind noise.

Note to self: No more cemetery EVP hunts on windy days without a good windscreen.

It was fun, hanging at cemeteries, snapping pictures of weathered grave-markers, talking to thin air like a loon.

Next week will be even more fun. So stick around! It's October. Who knows what might happen next?