Have you noticed anything weird lately? I mean besides the global pandemic and collapse of civilization as we know it? Apparently an increasing number of Americans are finding quarantine less isolating than expected, thanks to spectral roommates from the Great Beyond.
“For those whose experience of self-isolation involves what they believe to be a ghost,” wrote Molly Fitzpatrick in the NY Times, “their days are punctuated not just by Zoom meetings or home schooling, but by disembodied voices, shadowy figures, misbehaving electronics, invisible cats cozying up on couches, caresses from hands that aren’t there and even, in some cases — to borrow the technical parlance of Ghostbusters — free-floating, full-torso vaporous apparitions. Some of these people are frightened, of course. Others say they just appreciate the company.”
Reports of ghostly apparitions and hauntings are about six times higher than usual, reports paranormal researcher John E. L. Tenney. Many, he says, can be explained away by long days at home, jittery nerves, and the natural creakiness of settling houses. But in some cases, he suggests, there may be more to it. “Perhaps we’re just now starting to notice that the world is a little bit weirder than we gave it credit for.”
Americans have always loved a good ghost tale; 45% say they do believe in spooks and 30% claim they’d be open to living in a haunted house. And in 2020, it seems, more of us may be doing just that.
Some ghostly roommates seem to be reaching out with a message. Like the one in the apartment American Madison Hill rents in Florence, Italy with her boyfriend (who naturally denies all responsibility for the strange occurrences). First, the bathroom began behaving strangely, slamming doors and throwing towels on the floor. Then small objects began appearing on her bedside table in a manner she described as “mischievous.” One was a long-lost camera lens, which Hill, who’d majored in film in college, took to be a nudge to return to her craft.
Not all spectral visitors offer career guidance, but there are other upsides to hanging out with the undead, as outlined in “The benefits of being haunted during the pandemic:”
Phantoms and wraiths aren’t the only ones enlivening our lockdown routine. There’s been a 50% uptick in reports of extraterrestrial visits as well, according to UFO researcher Chris Rutkowski. "Most cases are just ordinary mistakes, misidentifications, but … last year, there was about 3 percent that remained unexplained, that didn't seem to be airplanes, stars, fireballs, all those types of things."
For decades, the US government has been accused of coverups, most famously of an alleged spaceship in Area 51. You can imagine the rapture among ufologists when, in April, the Pentagon admitted to secretly searching for UFOs since 1947, announced an official new task force to investigate “unidentified arial phenomena,” and released videos of three recent UFO sightings.
“When you think about how nuts this year has been,” said late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, “think about this: the Pentagon releases video of UFOs, it’s barely even a story.”
Are more spaceships heading our way these days? Why now? Are we extra-interesting during a global crisis? Could someone be offering cheap package tours to our corner of the universe — the intergalactic equivalent of supersaver fares to Guadalajara during spring break? Or do Americans just have more time to stare at the sky thinking, “Hey, it’s 2020; anything’s possible.”
Personally, I’m dubious about the existence of UFOs and ghosts, but I’ve heard too many stories from reliable friends and relatives to insist it’s all nonsense. Rich still talks about the strange lights inexplicably following his car late one night as he was driving to the Cleveland airport. Alien spacecraft? Road-tired eyes? Is the truth out there?
OK, let’s say we are sharing our planet — possibly our homes — with creatures from another dimension. How do we adapt to the new paranormal? It’s challenging enough sharing space with family members, roommates found through Craigslist, or your partner. (Not for me, of course, because Rich is perfect in every way, but I have heard this about others.) I Googled “getting along with quarantine companions” hoping for ideas that might help us ease non-humans into our circles of trust.
I read endless horror stories about miscommunication and bad behavior, from filthy shared bathrooms to sneaking in random, possibly infected sex partners, plus all the usual arguments over chores and who drank the last six-pack. There was sensible advice, too, such as not shaming others (no leaving them hand sanitizer with a snarky note!) and being considerate about cats, music, Zoom calls, and not leaving socks on the living room floor.
Winnowing through it all, I found three valuable concepts we should have learned from paranormal movies, had we been paying attention.
1. “In most zombie movies, there’s usually someone who endangers the lot. Don’t let that be you,” advises the NY Times. Words to live by. When survival is jeopardized, whether by zombies, Martians, or Covid-19, then safety — and comfort about safety protocols — has to be a top priority. Rich and I have agreed that if we differ on, say, how often cotton face masks require washing or whether we need to disinfect something before it comes into the house, we default to the most paranoid opinion. Somebody may have to perform a few little unnecessary tasks, but it allows us both to feel completely safe at home — no small thing these days.
2. “Nothing spreads like fear,” says the tagline for the film Contagion. Sometimes it seems every conversation ratchets up our sense of panic. I take my hat off to Amanda Feigin of Minneapolis, who lives in a house with five friends and instituted a “no repeats rule” regarding pandemic gabfests. “You can only offer up new information regarding the coronavirus,” she wrote on Instagram, “to eliminate the repetitive/echoed conversations that add stress and anxiety.”
3. “I feel like I’m living in the Twilight Zone,” my friend Marlene said. Yes, our lives have become as surreal as sci-fi. But that's not all bad. “One of the biggest roles of science fiction,” said futurist Arthur C. Clark, “is to encourage a flexibility of mind.”
Mental flexibility may turn out to be the most valuable survival tool we have. Whether or not our future involves close encounters with extraterrestrials, ghosts, zombies, or stranger things, it will require us to step up in unimaginable ways. Being open-minded will help us embrace our improbable new circumstances and find the courage to enjoy the wild ride that lies ahead of us. Good luck out there!
If aliens did show up with one of these memory erasers (as seen in Men in Black), would you want all your memories of 2020 deleted? Let me know in the comments below.
This article is part of my ongoing series of articles on surviving the pandemic, if possible while holding on to some shreds of our sanity and sense of humor. Sign up below to get it in your inbox each week.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain, to which I've just returned after a 16-month absence due to the pandemic.
As I resettle in Seville, my favorite city on the planet, I'll keep you posted on how the pandemic has reshaped the landscape and where to go to find fun, adventure, and great food in this quirky, engaging city.
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