How do we document a human experience?
If you were to see a funny movie, how would you document your feelings? You might say, “I laughed out loud,” to describe the film you just saw. Or, “I laughed so hard my sides hurt.” Or maybe it was just sort-of funny, “I made a few chuckles,” you might say. But those words tell us very little about your feelings and the movie. So maybe you describe a scene from the flick and start laughing again. That would help me understand what you find funny, but your use of language may fall short in describing what you actually saw, and though you might get a good second laugh at your memory of the scene, I could find the humor lost in translation.
One problem is that we might have different senses of humor. You might like intellectual high-brow jokes, and I might like slapstick. Another problem is your mental state at the time you saw the movie—if you were already in a jovial mood, you’ll laugh easily. If you had a bad day, you may not be very receptive. A third problem is the limits of language. It’s estimated that there are just over 1 million words in the English language, but even that isn’t enough. Given practically everything is relative to everything else, we rely on an awful lot of trust when it comes to communicating with each other. For example, if you tell me, “It’s really hot out today,” I need to trust that we both have a similar sense of what constitutes “hot.”
Let’s shift the discussion to ghosts and hauntings now. How do we document the experience and the story given so much of it is tied to the emotions of the witness? It’s a question I’ve been working on answering for almost 20 years.
Some of you might think the answer is technology. Let’s measure the temperature, the EMF, and any other variables we can think of. Sure, that data is interesting, but it will never be the complete picture. So we roll video and take photos at the same time in the hopes of capturing a phenomenon as it happens. But still, the only reason we’re in a location with all of that gear is because someone had an experience, told others about it, and the story was both compelling and believable enough that other people wanted to check it out for themselves.
I’ve always said that the first-hand account of the eye witness is one of the most important items to document at a haunt. If we can get the story as soon as possible after it happened, we’ll get the most accurate account. Because the story will change. People might feel shame if they’re laughed at after saying what they experienced, and so they omit details in other versions. Or they might be prone to exaggerate if their audience leans in with rapt attention. We’re human. We can’t help it.
I’ve always viewed myself as a writer first. And successful writers tell the truth. Truth is always what I seek, and always what I work to convey with the written word, video clip, or in a lecture. But I still have to contend with the limitations of language.
Those of us who seek out the paranormal and the legends owe it to everyone we communicate with to convey the most complete picture possible, to tell the truth, but to also recognize that we will always fall short. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to get as close as we can to the experience.
Mayor of Ghostvillage.com
Facebook: Jeff Belanger
Facebook: Jeff Belanger