The Ghost Photographer
INTRODUCTION Stumbling into the Cosmic Wilderness
But once you have a belief system, everything that comes in either gets ignored if it doesn’t fit the belief system or gets distorted enough so that it can fit into the belief system. You gotta be continually revising your map of the world.
—ROBERT ANTON WILSON
Freedom is what’s left when the belief systems deconstruct.
Shit happens. We all have stories about events that changed our lives, but it’s the big ones—the life crises, the serious wake-up calls—that fundamentally reconstruct who we are. Grief was the dark alchemy that shook up my world. It blew open a door to the Other Side—and yes, I am talking about ghosts, spirits, and etheric creatures that looked like they’d pranced right out of a movie.
People come into their psychic powers in different ways. Some people are born with them. Others have to die first and
actually come back to life. And some folks develop psychic powers after they’re literally struck by lightning. Well, ghost photography was the lightning rod that set my previous life ablaze, but thankfully I didn’t get electrocuted in the process.
My transformation was not as dramatic as that, but it certainly was strange—and scary. I sometimes felt like I was at the summit of a giant roller coaster, looking down at the puny diorama of life on earth below and thinking: Uh, excuse me? Can you get me the hell off this thing?
Of course, there’s no turning back.
If grief was the catalyst that kick-started my journey, ghost photography was the path that led me into the cosmic wilderness. I had the good fortune of finding an exquisite psychic Sherpa who guided me through this strange wonderland, though I didn’t knowingly seek her out. And while there’s no argument now that could ever convince me that the physical world is all there is, I’m still the least likely person to be into anything “alternative” or spiritually woo-woo. I may live in La-La Land, but I grew up in rural Oklahoma—and those roots go deep, my friends.
In fact, for most of my life I didn’t even believe in ghosts. My family was not particularly religious or godly, either, though I was raised Episcopalian. (Episcopalians are the stepchildren of the Catholic Church.) I was also an acolyte, which meant that I walked down our church aisle wearing a white robe and carrying a cross. I had no idea why; my mom me told me to and I was an obedient kid. I think only boys were supposed to be acolytes back then; I had shaggy hair, and a few of the old churchgoing geezers actually thought that I was a boy. Talk about a real cross to bear.
I officially gave up on organized religion when I came out of the closet at age twenty-three. Christians didn’t seem to be big fans of the gays, so I decided not to be a big fan of Christians. We didn’t miss one another.
More important, my entire professional life is deeply rooted in the empirical world of hard numbers. I oversee the data strategy for a major motion picture studio and build data management programs that deliver insights into consumer behavior through data science, natural language processing, and analytics. I also manage complex media budgets with multiple zeros at the end of them. My official title is long and fancy: President, Chief Data Strategist, and Head of Media. (Essentially, I’m a nerd in the midst of some of the most creative people in the world.)
To say that my life didn’t exactly turn out the way I thought it would is an understatement. (I think that’s evident by the title of this book.) By all accounts I should be living in a big city in Oklahoma, married to my high school boyfriend with a few kids, and working somewhere cool like Krispy Kreme. (Okay, that’s just a sugary fantasy. How about the Tulsa World newspaper?) I thought that by overcoming stuttering and a few other childhood dramas, my battles were over. I thought that I could live a normal and peaceful life.
That’s not what happened.
I now lead a rather private—not to be confused with peaceful—life with Suzanne (my wife for more than twenty-five years) and our little furry children. My personality type doesn’t lend itself to peaceful. I am constantly doing something. In fact, I’ve gotten up at least ten times while writing this paragraph alone. I always
have a project going on, whether it’s sculpting metal, rock polishing, throwing pottery, or doing something crafty. I once beaded a wooden tissue-box cover for a friend. It was absolutely hideous, but we all have to start somewhere.
Everything in my life collapsed the day my mother died. Grief, by the way, is like Baskin-Robbins: There are at least thirty-one flavors. There’s money grief, death grief, boyfriend grief, health grief, divorce grief, sex grief, fat grief, empty-nester grief, got-fired grief, presidential-election grief (I just added this one), and even something called Christmas grief (probably because you have to spend time with all the people who participated in this list). Sadly, grief is not a delicious concoction of milk and sugar churned together with a delicious bag of Oreos. Grief makes you question why you’re even alive. Nothing matters, not even ice cream. You lose connections to other people, then ultimately to yourself, which leads to isolation. And isolation is not just abuse to the body; it’s a jail sentence for the soul. Ever wonder why solitary confinement is the harshest punishment for our most hardened criminals?
But grief is also transformative, and it eventually catapulted me on a journey. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote about the hero’s journey, a narrative that’s become a major trope for self-awareness: A hero has to lose himself before he “ventures forth from the world of common day into the region of supernatural wonder,” writes Campbell. “Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
The concept of the hero’s journey has inspired millions of
people and was partly the inspiration for George Lucas’s Star Wars, among other great tales.
My own journey was radical, transformative, and completely unexpected. That’s why I was drawn to Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Grieving the loss of her mother, Strayed hiked eleven hundred grueling miles solo across the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself. She effectively had to survive her journey in order to thrive in her life. In so doing, she changed her personal story and the story that women are told about their limitations and place in society. She grappled with her fears until she embraced her own power. “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed,” she wrote. “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” You go, girl!
I was lost and found in a different wilderness than Cheryl Strayed’s. Mine was a cosmic and spiritual wilderness that started with ghost photographs of disembodied spirits and fantastical creatures that sometimes looked like the very creatures in the movies I was marketing. In the course of finding myself, I found my sixth sense (and other senses that you’ll learn about later in these pages). I was able to communicate with spirit guides, spirit animals, and deceased loved ones. I started using magical tools like pendulums, prayers, crystals, and sage. I fought dark spirits and started to believe in God after a long breakup. I can’t turn metal into gold, but my journey through loss and grief was alchemical in its transformative power. In fact, virtually every aspect of my journey is alchemical in its transformative nature; some might even call it magical.
But like every roller coaster ride, the spirit world can be scary. I thought that I was a badass in real life, but I had to learn some hard lessons that even my spiritual tribe hadn’t prepared me for. I had to work my way through some serious dark stuff to become a real badass in the face of the unknown.
Every single fiber of my body now understands that we humans have spiritual power over disembodied spirits precisely because we inhabit bodies. This is our true, essential power, and it can protect us if we learn to harness it. You are in charge of yourself. You call the shots, not some incorporeal ghost or dark spirit. Use this knowledge from the Other Side for the good of yourself and others on this human side—in this world, on this earth—and you are protected. That is the heart of the journey I’ll share with you in these pages.