Rhinebeck, NY – Late Autumn, 2007

Returning from an evening’s course of class sessions, early in my studies at the Culinary Institute in upstate New York, I was driving my old Mazda truck, heading north along Route 9, which follows the Hudson River, from Hyde Park to my tiny home, a detached mother-in-law apartment in a converted house’s backyard in Rhinebeck. It was a new and transitional time in my life: I’d just some few months earlier driven this same (and something less than reliable) truck across country from Washington State and made a radical break from anything I’d ever tried before. I didn’t know if food school was a good idea, just that it was the only idea I had that was halfway coherent, and I badly needed to shake things up personally and professionally, to get out of a deep, deep rut.

The night was dark; it was sometime between 9 and 10 p.m. and either late in the autumn of 2007 or early that winter, and the road along that ten mile stretch was almost entirely unlit. Some few miles south from Rhinebeck still, I looked up to see a ball of fire arching across the highway directly overhead, heading West towards the river. It wasn’t especially high up – maybe three hundred, perhaps as far as six hundred feet above – and as I passed underneath it, I could vividly see the twinning trails of orange flame that ribboned from either side of the object and the lingering suggestion of smoke left behind it in the near-to-black sky. It seemed to have, or at least to show, no structure, no form besides that of an amorphous ball of flame. It didn’t look at all like an airplane, or any recognizable shape whatever. I had the feeling it could have been a chunk of rock, like a meteor, though I suspect it was moving too slowly for something that had fallen from outside the atmosphere; its pace through the low sky seemed almost leisurely.

The next day at school, while on break in the smoking area, I told a classmate about what I’d seen. She listened without comment, not seeming to have any response to this one way or another, but I noticed after I’d told the story that two other people standing nearby, other students whom I didn’t know, had overheard what I’d said and were looking at me with curiously intent expressions. Later on that same day I told another classmate about what happened – a woman closer to my own age than most of the other students and a longtime resident of that exact area where this had happened. “The Aerodrome is right there,” she said matter-of-factly. “You never know what you might see.” This was true enough – the Rhinebeck Aerodrome was close by. It could have been some kind of practice stunt. But for as clearly as I’d seen it, there was no aircraft there at all.

Also – and this may be more, or maybe less, to the point, as it was ultimately one of the reasons that I chose to move to that area in the first place – the specific location of my sighting is just to the other side of the Hudson from the point on the map labeled Accord, the nearest town to where Whitley Strieber had his infamous cabin in the woods, and the locus of his Communion experiences.

Knowing the Alien as Myself, Part 2

[As has been the case with other postings, yet is more specifically in evidence here, the following was originally written one year ago, in this case one year and one month, and is particularly bittersweet to read over now – less for its particular content than for the moment at which it was written. I had then just moved to a small Island in the San Juan chain of Washington State, not far from my usual locus of Whidbey, but remote enough that for the new job I’d just taken, the relocation was necessary. It seemed like a new and hopeful start. Within a week of writing this however, and for no good reason that I could see, I’d lost the job and had to pick up and move again. It meant breaking my lease and loosing a lot of money, and pissing off the owners, whom up till then I’d really liked. I’d risked a lot to do this thing and lost pretty much everything, and not for the first time. I’d kind of, after that, really just had it.]

Yesterday [i.e., a year and a month ago yesterday] more or less out of idle curiosity I looked at a website of recent crop circles in England, and found there an arrangement in barley near Avebury from the 28th of May of this year [i.e., 2011]. It’s a linear progression, containing an element similar to the crop circle-inspired design that I’ve drawn and had tattooed onto my right inner forearm. Central to the crop formation is what looks like a mirrored graphic much the same as the “beehive” signs posted all throughout Utah, the Beehive State*. Now, I can look at this and find a message that is very personal, if I want to, because at the time of its creation, I had recently moved back to Washington from Utah, where I had spent my second winter season (beehive twice), and was only days away from moving to my new, current location, a transition that was much on my mind, in part because it likely precludes my return to Utah for a third, consecutive season, and I’m rather sorry that this is the case.**

This is a connection that I am making between myself, my circumstances, and a phenomenon of ambiguous origins. The circles can be denied as man-made, as meaningless and myself as narcissistic and fantasy-prone. Or then again, the phenomenon could be something genuinely inexplicable. Taken to another level, it may contain a message that is specifically directed at me. At the same time, it may contain messages, both personal and transpersonal, directed simultaneously toward any number of people, myself among them, and it could be reaching them in a degree as or more profound as it has seemed to speak to me. If the circles were a dream image, my process of association would be the sort of amplification encouraged by psychoanalysis. So I think it is perfectly valid to approach such symbols, whatever their literal origins, and their interpretation as such, balancing their non-literalness against the imaginable spectrum of possible origins and meanings; that is, to reject no possibility out of hand, but neither to wholly accept any single possibility without a compelling reason to do so.

In a similar regard, I’d some years ago followed a course of guided meditations posted as a series of podcasts on Whitley and Anne Strieber’s website The meditations were intended to provoke a state of mind that could invite contact with visitors (or whatever they are) and while following this course myself, I found that I was imagining a large, metallic sphere, cold and vast, that was both incredibly intelligent and seemed entirely other than me, with which I was in some kind of communication. I made regular, if brief connection to this image in my subsequent meditations until, finally, it no longer seemed to be there. Sure, I could still imagine a ball of metal, but something was lost, the spontaneity of it was gone; the living presence of the thing had seemed to have left me. Within weeks of this change, and again with the Strieber’s website and associated podcast as the source of information, I heard a news report of Linda Howe’s regarding a police officer in some Midwestern state who had spotted a gigantic sphere in the sky, having a surface the same as my image, like dull, matted aluminum. The shape had left my imaginal space*** and become something objective, and in so doing, it had relayed a very subtle communication. Not only had it manifested in a physical way and been sighted, but that sighting had been reported to an investigator to whom I had a personal connection (I’d met her once at a conference), and she’d broadcast this to a wide audience. Many people could conceivably have received a similar message, which to each of them could have a very private significance, as it did for me, and all the entity in question had to do was show up, in effect to say, “I’m here.” That “simple” act, of being first inside and then outside of somebody’s mind, has reverberations that reach deep into one’s being. For me, it served as the inspiration for my last novel, New People of the Flat Earth, and was the touchstone for a creative work, nearly 190,000 words long, the process of its writing and subsequent rewriting taking exactly four years. The event had triggered something in me, and through trying to express the nature of this communication, with something so other but at the same time deep within myself, both as image and as touchstone to the imagination, it had sprung me into a major and sustained effort, which I only hope to God will someday see publication (Hello? Like, nudge?).

*The beehive symbol emblematic to Mormonism and pretty flatly just straight-up appropriated from Freemasonry.

**As it turned out, that was not the case.

***And so here I’m just going for it and won’t, for the sake of argument, bother with all the other possibilities, despite all my just-previous intellectualization regarding relative meaning and non-literalizing. This is the one in this case that lit up all over the place and made my head, like, sing, okay?

Colorado Springs, 2008

In the summer of 2008 I was halfway through my culinary studies at a prominent school in upstate New York, working on a two year degree in baking and pastry, and I’d taken my required externship geographically two thirds of the way back West across the continent at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, CO, a huge, high-end resort within rock-throwing distance of Cheyenne Mountain and the NORAD stronghold housed within it (but throw a rock in that direction and see what happens, I dare you). This was a fact that I knew, but had forgotten at the time that I was there. More on my mind, regional-fact-wise, was the biography of Nicola Tesla I’d just read, and his experiments utilizing the frequent and easy occurrence of lightning near the mountains. He’d been in Colorado Springs for a six-month period at the turn of the Twentieth Century, and I wondered how he would’ve seen the place back then. No doubt, it would have been very different. I would be there for four months myself. And though the mountain – not so large of a one, though it loomed directly overhead – seemed to nag at me with some (literally) buried association, it simply never crossed my mind what in fact was inside of it: a covert city, some dark inversion of the sun-blasted, golf-happy daylight world that I was baking bread, frying doughnuts, and grilling crêpes for. I was aware of the various and several military bases surrounding the region, and was growing accustomed to the ubiquity of the religious talk of informal Bible study groups that I would run across just about any time I went out.

I lived about five miles from the hotel towards downtown, and on my time off, I would each day walk from my shared apartment to the chain-store bakery café at the nearby mall in order to get out of the overcrowded employee housing and work on my novel. Frankly, I was miserable. I was working long hours at hard work for very little money, crammed into some dismal apartment with a bunch of student caddies half my age, and wondering why I’d gone to such lengths to get myself into exactly this situation, out of all possible ones. Except for the book, my life had come to seem deeply pointless. The route I walked through the neighborhood, about a mile in each direction, took me past a Catholic church – really kind of a plain one, as far as such structures go, and perhaps something of the black sheep of the local Evangelical (and Protestant) religious community, notoriously fervid in that area. I’d had some dalliance with Catholicism, converting several years earlier, not out of any deep conviction but to show fealty to my wife-to-be and her family, but once I’d left the marriage, I found I no longer felt any attraction toward the religion either. On this hot afternoon – the 3rd of July, exactly – as I was walking back home, a sudden movement caught my eye above the church’s vast, empty parking lot, about twenty feet up in the air, to my left and less than fifty feet away. I glanced over just in time to see something that looked like some stylized graphic of a lick of flame, like a sort of living cartoon, made of gold leaf or foil, turn and fold up into itself and quickly disappear. There was no sound. It left a small puff of gray-brown smoke that lingered and drifted slowly away, dissipating into the windless air. I walked slowly along, my eyes fixed to the spot, and watched the smoke vanish. It had seemed like almost nothing, but at the same time so vivid, so creepily artificial; abstract and unlikely, yet intentional and also exact.

Much like almost everything else that I’m describing here, this small event came with its own deniability built into it: on the day before the fourth of July, in a town populated by military and religious conservatives, if fireworks are shot off, no one is surprised. If I describe a small explosion and puff of smoke in the air, obviously somebody’s been playing with bottle rockets, right? Or so it could be easily explained away by someone who hadn’t seen it. But if they had seen it, they would have noticed the perfectly contoured shape of the curving, stylized “flame”, the glint of crumpled foil in the sun that caught reflected light, and not fire itself, not a burst of gunpowder; and they would have puzzled over the odd, turning, curling motion of the shape, not expanding but imploding, or rather folding into an invisible space like a slit in the air. They would be struck by the extreme but subtle strangeness of the thing. And like other things I’ve described, particularly the Whidbey Island event, though containing its own deniability, it had also came with its own reality-test, its own verifiability, at least for my own benefit: the lingering smoke that I watched with such blank banality for several seconds as it drifted and slowly scattered. That had come from something as physically real as anything was. Aside from the traffic along the arterial street one block away, there was nobody else around at the time. The church was closed and looked to be empty. I saw no children from nearby lots, though I did look around to see if there were maybe anybody around who could have shot something off.

I was at the time only two weeks into my required 18 of study/employment, and things did not get any easier for quite a long time. Eventually my young roommates all moved out and I had the horrible little apartment to myself. I came to appreciate the region, finding the parts of it that I liked, and even felt reasonably at home after a while. The appearance of the cartoon flame had imparted something to me – it seemed to be telling me that my existence, specifically my existence right there at that time, was not some random fuckup; that there was a level of meaning somewhere just beneath the surface perhaps, that had just poked through, just enough for me to notice, to know that it was there. That was all that it showed me, insofar as I know: just that it was there. Maybe that’s all that I needed.

Perhaps as a remnant of my brief Catholicism – certainly not because I’m any sort of Bible scholar – I eventually recalled from somewhere (had I imagined this, I wondered?) a description of the descent of the Holy Ghost to the disciples of Jesus, post-crucifixion, post-resurrection, as tongues of flame. But this? This was a cartoon, for sweet fuck’s sake. It looked like a decoration on a cake.

Shifty Truth-Shape and the Hypnologic of Dream

The sighting of the large, luminous “cloud” of plasma, or whatever it was, from 1981, has stayed with me vividly for all of this time. I was fourteen then, I’m forty five now. That’s thirty years plus one. When I was twenty one, I had the object’s secondary shape – the “L” or boomerang shape it changed into when I wasn’t looking – tattooed onto my right shoulder. At the time, I’d thought of it as a mark by which to identify myself. I had some idea that there would be others who’d seen the same thing, and that we were supposed to find each other. Though the available lore of UFO sightings is full of boomerang- or triangle-shaped craft, I’ve never heard of anyone else who’s seen this particular, two dimensional shape. Maybe all sorts of people have, but I haven’t found or heard from them. The Phoenix Lights come close, but there are essential differences. A woman I dated for a while claimed to have seen the same thing exactly, but as she proved to be a near-pathological liar, I’m not inclined to believe her about this now. I instinctually didn’t believe her at the time. I think of it now as a mark that, though its ink has faded, is mine alone; like a brand. Or no – exactly that. It is a brand, in every sense of the word.

I’ve often wondered if there was anything more to the experience than what I remembered of it. My strange-seeming reaction of so mild a curiosity, soon followed by easy sleep, is consistent with so many abductees’ reports (though I really don’t think that word – abductee – at all applies to me) of relative disinterest and loss of consciousness under similar conditions – which when examined through hypnosis or other means sometimes reveals a much more extensive experience that had been, through trauma or design, occluded. At the time that I tried this experiment, hypnosis had not yet fallen into quite the current disfavor that it suffers among pundits as a reliable tool for encounter recollection, though I had my own doubts because I knew myself; I knew how badly I wanted to find something – some kernel of significant meaning. I knew how empty I felt at the time, and how something like this – an as-yet undiscovered encounter with living mystery in my past – could lend a compensatory weight to what at the time seemed an otherwise bland and disappointing life. Also I didn’t believe that I could be very deeply hypnotized. Certainly not enough to uncover anything truly shocking. Yet I was regularly seeing a psychologist at a nearby community center, for a vastly reduced rate, throughout much of late 2004 and early 2005, mostly for issues of depression and to deal with the series of significantly traumatic, though entirely ordinary, events I’d recently been through. Having barely any income, the arrangement was about as good as I could hope for, though I can’t say I exactly had the greatest rapport with my therapist. He often stifled yawns while we met, and we never much connected on any significant level. Apparently, I was just boring. But I didn’t feel that I had many options and couldn’t do much shopping around. Under these maybe less than dynamic circumstances I asked him once if he could do a hypnosis session with me, such a thing being part of his repertoire, specifically to see if there were anything more to be found within the experience, which I had told him about. One thing very much in his favor, and which I have to respect, was that he seemed unbiased toward the encounter phenomenon in general, and to my request in particular.

I don’t remember all the stages of the procedure, yet I do recall some of its results. I can’t exactly trust that they are genuine memories of anything, but they are at least in some regards interesting.

Put back into the scene of the sighting, as a fourteen-year-old on Whidbey Island alone in the night, I saw, and quite spontaneously, an image of something advancing towards me across the floor from the wide windows through which I’d seen the “cloud”, a shape like a shadow, a sharp-edged triangle shadow, its apex stretching slowly over the orange shag carpet (which I had, up till then, forgotten once covered the floor) but rather than dark, as a normal shadow would be dark, this shadow was light. In recollection, the image gets jumbled, and I don’t clearly recall if it was really a shadow made of light, or rather a cast of illumination that was somehow, paradoxically dark. Either way, I know that what I saw was the inverse of what it was supposed to be, like a photographic negative, at least in the context of what I referred to it as. I’d retreated deeper into the house and away from the windows, but the shadow/light thing advanced so that it would inevitably, eventually reach me. There was nothing more to the “memory” than this image, which as I say, I do not trust. It could so very likely be my own invention.

The other thing to come out of this hypnosis session was a sort of “summary of intent”, which was basically a statement: the being or intelligence responsible for what I’d seen that night had not physically done anything to me, it/I said, but it had reached me at the level of the unconscious, where it connected with and had a certain influence within my mind. In a sense, it had become me. This explanation – which was only a thought, though one that appeared with a certain propulsive force – satisfied me, at least in some degree, because I’d felt for a long time that something like this was the case. Was I simply supplying myself with the explanation that I needed, pretending it to be an “alien” voice in my mind? Maybe. In a way, such a distinction didn’t matter, not to me. I’d long felt myself to be a human with a partly not-human mind. If this were factually true, to get confirmation from my own imagination would be logically consistent, since that is where the other resides. Of course, that is a long ways off from proving anything. Yet I can say that if it is not valid as objective “fact”, it is true as an element of the myth of my life, in the shifty way a dream is true, as unelaborated text, the story of which I’m constructed and am at once constructing into. So long as the myth remains authentic at the level of an inner truth (whatever that may be: an image, an impulse, a means by which to relate to experience as empirically felt) and does not interfere too drastically with my ability to function in the world, whose business is it anyhow but mine?

Knowing the Alien as Myself, Part 1

In the early springtime of 1994 I was soon to graduate from design school, this time hopefully with some practical skills that I could build a livelihood out of. The use of computers in design was something fairly new, even then, so up until that time, our instruction had focused on tradition means of drafting, cut-and-paste, and other mechanical and manual means. I’d found that my heretofore immature sense of the aesthetic had suddenly opened up – the use of these materials, the juxtaposition of shapes, shades, textures, the activity of such elements within a frame had come naturally, I think as a result of being for some time free of the more destructive forms of behavior I’d struggled with. I’d felt, when younger, that these things should be natural to me, but I’d struggled ineptly. But now as I worked I felt often a sense of something trying to express itself through me, an otherness that ran at odd angles to the world as I understood it, or failed to understand it, or the world as it seemed to be regarded consensually. I was once again outside of it. At moments I would be frozen by some chance arrangement that, though perhaps lacking in beauty, held for me some profound sense of this different perspective. Toward the end of my schooling, with the introduction of this technology and the use of software, the practice of design became a different game entirely. I could think and work much faster. It was in the midst of starting to work with page layouts and arranging texts that something started to happen, that I had something like a “download” of information from somewhere else. I began to see arrangements of overlaid texts quite vividly in my imagination, and this was wildly exciting to me. I don’t know that these texts themselves held any particular meaning – they were not literal texts, just vague blocks of copy in my mind’s eye – but in their layering and positioning against one another, somehow in the spaces in between and their dynamic relation there seemed something huge, an intelligence so vast and alien that any contact with it was enough to burn my smaller, more limited mind and change me, derange me, maybe both to open up and damage me. I was, in a way, activated. It had come not in the midst of any actual work but just as I was leaving school on one particular afternoon, walking through the parking lot to my rusty old Volkswagen Beetle.

I’ve often since then felt that my best work has had something to do with the transmission of an alien perspective, that perhaps this was partly the meaning of my fourteen-year-old’s vision of the very flat, very graphic glyph over the mountains. My perspective and the alien one are often similar, if we’re not the same thing. But we are also very different, and that is why I find its perspective so fascinating.

It is important to make note of the fact that my pursuit of this particular muse has almost never brought me any success commercially. On occasion, in certain fine art contexts, it has inspired some critical acclaim. But in my career as a graphic designer, it has almost never brought me, beyond the deep personal satisfaction and the excitation of trying to experience and communicate this thing, into anything but conflict with those that I am working for, with their worldly agendas and expectations. Perhaps that is my childish inability to see beyond my own goals toward my paying clients’ or employers’ needs, toward what I have actually been employed for. Perhaps what I call this muse of the alien perspective is really something far less exotic and much more commonly neurotic. Certainly that would be my ex-wife’s way of seeing things. But despite the possibility of an overly-rich fantasy life, there may be something more complex at work. Whatever it is, it does not seem much concerned with my adaptation to the conditions of societal norms.

NOTE: In his essay by “The Path of the Numinous – Living and Working with the Creative Muse” Jonathan Zap very precisely articulates this same dynamic within the creative personality, both in terms of its (the internal Muse’s) essential otherness and need for expression through the medium of the artist, and for the sense of disregard if not outright antagonism it has for the requirements of the quotidian. I couldn’t say for sure now if I’d heard this essay previous to my writing the above entry, but probably I had. What I describe in this implied context of the alien or UFO experience is a well-worn path of the mind relating to itself, although this invalidates the approach to the alien only insofar as the alien is considered as entirely and only literally. But I think that anyone who has experienced it, in whatever form, knows there is more to it than that. In my relation to what I experience as the alien, which is largely a relationship of creative imagination, the alien may very well be literal, but it is also certainly an intrapsychic phenomenon. It is my current thread of narrative exploration (or ‘hermeneutic’ as Jeffrey Kripal expresses it) that the wholly other, which the alien by definition is, is something existing holographically within myself, the dark side of the psyche, as well as the light in the sky, the color surface, the ephemeral movement, the sense of being watched, the derangement of the real. It is potentially both/and – myself while at the same time itself, whatever either of these ‘things’ are.