Monday, March 12, 2012

Interview with a ghost hunter

Linda Zimmerman
Many of you know that my friend and author, Don Smith has just published his epic novel, The Goffle Road Murders. He introduced me to Linda Zimmerman, a real life ghost hunter!!

I was eager to speak with Linda because she experiences a job stress unlike most. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there is no doubt that someone who deals with the underworld has their share of stress. I thought it would be interesting to see how someone who works with the supernatural handles anxiety and fear.

Hi Linda. Thanks so much for doing this! Don has talked so much about you that I feel like I know you.

LZ: Hi! Thanks for the opportunity to do this.

You are a ghost hunter. What is that, exactly, and how the heck did you get in to it?

LZ: I was writing and lecturing about local history fifteen years ago, and people started asking about ghost stories. At first, I would only go to a house to interview the owners and take a few pictures. Then I realized the best way to tell a ghost story is to experience the haunting. I began getting more equipment and setting up full investigations. A ghost hunter should try to gather as much “hard evidence” (photos, video, audio, etc.) as possible, research the history of the location, and interview as many eyewitnesses as possible. You need to be able to provide as complete of a picture of the haunting as is possible, and if that means experiencing the paranormal activity firsthand, so much the better.   

I know I get really creeped out just watching a horror flick. What’s it like actually communicating with the dead? How do you overcome any initial fear?

LZ: I made a decision early on that if I ran every time something scary happened I wouldn’t get very far in ghost hunting. For the most part, encountering activity is an addictive adrenaline rush. However, when it gets nasty or threatening, that’s when it’s hard to stand your ground. I have never run from an investigation…although I have walked away rather quickly!    

Can you describe a "haunting?" How is it possible to "stand your ground" with  a ghost? What sorts of "nasty or threatening" things would make you need to?

LZ: A haunting is composed of various paranormal activity which can involve sounds, images, sensations, and even being touched. Most are benign, they are like imprints. Others are conscious or interactive, and the nasty ones seem determined to scare or harm you. It may be hard to describe in words, but it’s instantly recognizable in person.

Don mentioned that you have to basically “overcome,” your reptilian brain or “turn it off.” Can you talk some about that? I think there are times when everyone’s reptilian brain goes into overdrive. It might be useful for us, dealing with the living, to be able to control it better.

LZ: Its simply a case of stubbornness and determination. Whether dealing with ghosts or people, if you have a specific goal you are trying to reach, you have to keep that in mind under all circumstances or you’ll never reach that goal.

In my experience, the stress response produced by the reptilian brain is usually automatic, meaning it's very hard to shut it off. Is there a time when you really struggled with a fight/flight/freeze response?

There are many times when I am scared and want to run, and many more when I freeze for a moment. A lot of people can’t take it, and I don’t blame them. Not to compare what I do to combat, but as an example, why does one soldier run and another charge ahead? There’s just something that allows some people to suppress the primitive fight/flight response.

 Are the spirits or dead ever mad that you’ve wakened them?

LZ: I don’t know that I would use the term wakened, but I have often felt as though they believed I was intruding on “their” turf. And many get quite angry when you try to persuade them to move on.

Can you communicate with anyone who’s dead?

LZ: Not me personally, but there are psychics who seem to have the ability to communicate with most people who have passed on. And I tend to doubt that everyone who has died is “available for comment.” Hopefully, those spirits who are completely at peace have moved way beyond our level.

Would you say that as you've gained experience, you are less stressed out by it, since you kind of know what to expect and you've sort of already lived through the worst?

LZ: Absolutely. I was far more skittish in the beginning. I often forget how far I’ve come until I see a novice ghost hunter scream or run away.

To read more about Linda's ghost hunts, check out her book Hudson Valley Haunts on Amazon.

c. 2012

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Flex your way to success

Flexibility has never been one of my strong points. When I took ballet, I always envied the girls who had the high arabesques or grand ronde de jambs. I had the desire, even the tenacity, just not the elastic muscles, it seemed. With lots of practice and patience, I did get a lot better. I was no Gumby, though.

I no longer do ballet, but I still have the flexibility issue, except this time it’s not physical, it’s emotional. Today I envy the laid back people who aren't bothered by change or obstacles. I’d like to be able to “roll with the punches” better than I do.

I’ve been trying to improve it cognitively, but the only way to really improve it is experientially. Just like in ballet, you have to “practice,” which involves stretching yourself to get better.

One medical dictionary defines flexibility as “the quality of being readily bent without tendency to break.” Indeed, many people are broken by their lack of flexibility. In this day and age, it is not only a vital career skill, it’s a vital life skill.

Abby Kohut, or Absolutely Abby, as she’s better known, talks a lot about flexibility in the corporate world. In her post, Hurdles or Opportunities, she mentions how during interviews potential bosses will test your “The goal is for you to demonstrate your friendliness and flexibility at all times and NEVER act as if you are irritated with or impatient about their decisions, because that will take you out of the running faster than you can imagine. Instead, keep smiling and keep the stories you share during your interviews consistent. Most of all, enjoy the journey…”

It’s funny because as I was writing this post, my boyfriend happened to see what I was writing and said he disagreed. He pointed out the other evening when I was cooking dinner.

Every Friday I like to cook a new dish. It’s always an adventure, because I’m not the most experienced in the kitchen. This past Friday I made salmon. I quickly realized I didn’t have all the tools necessary for the dish. He laughed incredulously as I fumbled with a dull knife to cut off the skin. He said he watched as I made do with what I had. We wolfed it down. It turned out incredible.

I point this out not just because I’m proud of my dish, but because I think everyone can point to a time when they were more flexible than other times. Everyone has the capacity for rolling with the punches. Being relaxed and open are two of the keys I can think of. When I’m rigid and close-minded it makes it near impossible to roll with the punches. When I’m relaxed and open to new possibilities it is much easier.

Things are always going to change. The ability to take things as they come is a valuable life and career skill. I’m trying to figure out how to keep my cooking mindset. Keeping a light heart and relaxed spirit seems to be the trick.

c. 2012