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Interview: Rebecca Kirschbaum: Paranormal Lifestyle

Rebecca-Kirschbaum-(1)What got you into art and what are some of the styles you work on?

Rebecca: Back in college, I sat in a lecture about doodling. This successful and beautifully foul-mouthed artist said that doodling is a means of coping. She said that for an artist, there’s something about the act of doodling that brings a certain salvation. There’s something within an artist that *must* be expressed. She said she doodles because she has no choice. She doesn’t care if anyone thinks it is good because it isn’t about that. Drawing is about her own personal health and well-being. She can only make sense of certain things once those things are out in front of her.

I feel that way. I started drawing because my hand mandated it. I would draw automatically, then be horrified by the things that were coming out of me. But then I made it my own! My favorite quote for expressing why I draw is one I read in one of Colin Wilson’s books (Beyond the Occult). I was sitting at a coffee shop, drowning my sorrows in my fourth cup of coffee when I read this. Wilson quoted Robert Graves:  “Mine was no religious or philosophical theory, but a simple method of looking sideways at disorderly facts so as to make perfect sense of them.”

If automatic writing is basically allowing words from a spirit to flow through your hand without stopping them, then for me art is the same thing. I do automatic writing, too – my doodles are just a more eccentric form of that, I guess. At first I thought I was maybe just a little messed-up in the head and had a creepy brain, but then I started drawing these portraits (and some part of me attributed those portraits to living people I encountered). This started in high school, and it intensified in college. Since then, I’ve accidentally drawn pictures of many deceased loved ones, and I’ve gotten some heartfelt thank you notes that changed my life.

As for what mediums I use to create stuff: I’m a broke, close-enough-to-starving artist. I’m kind of kidding, but seriously. Most days, I’m lucky if I have five dollars to my name. So, I use whatever medium I can. Watercolor pencils are my favorite, but I’m more likely to scribble ink drawings (with a ballpoint pen) onto notebook paper (from Dollar General).

I love surrealism! I try to do that, but at the end of the day, I usually don’t control what I draw.

Of course, I do all forms of art. I write indie movies, and books, and plays, and I was once a singer, and so on!

Janel: Tell us where you are now in life and how life has changed for you since appearing on the Syfy series School Spirits?

Rebecca: I’ve been really working on my writing, one. I am making low-budget indie movies with my old roommate, Sarah Ball. I write, and Sarah produces/directs/everything else. She is just about to produce and direct a psychological horror short I wrote (Promise Me you’re Real). One of my favorite people ever, Chris Langer, just wrapped production on a short called Neighborhood Watch — I helped him with some of the writing. Michelle Belanger and I are working on a secret writing project.

My play, Plumbing, will be given its second staged reading at the end of August. This time, it will be seen at Diversionary Theatre in San Diego. Last year it was given a staged reading at Gemini Ink/ Atta Girl Productions.

Two, I’ve been working on acceptance. I still sometimes struggle with what I do on a weirdo level, and I’m trying to functionally incorporate it into my life. It took me years to acknowledge that I was an empath (can feel people’s emotions). I hated the idea! It seemed invasive, annoying, etc.! A lot of my writing is about the emotional life of people, though. So — yeah. I’m incorporating empathy and ghosts into my life and work (on purpose, this time). As far as my being an empath, I keep telling myself that everyone has something they don’t like about themselves. This is mine: the ghosts and the empathy. I go back and forth with whether or not I’ve made peace with it, and that’s progress.

What else am I doing? I’m still excessively broke. So, I’m going to start doing “readings” in order to buy necessities like bread and toilet paper. This is also something I struggled with. I never wanted to do readings because I was afraid I’d be marginalized, and I couldn’t see charging money for something that so many people need so desperately. I think I’ve finally found a formula that works for me. I give people the automatic artwork that I do, and I charge for that. Doing “readings” opens me up to donate my time to people from rural areas, people who are living beneath the poverty line, who are from the inner city, and stuff like that. That is what I prefer to do. I prefer to help grieving and struggling people access a service they ordinarily wouldn’t be able to. I’ve acted as a mediator between people from these areas and their dead loved ones, or I’ve helped their children cope with scary things like ghosts, past life memories, and other monsters beneath the bed.

Rebecca-Kirschbaum-(3)

Janel: You have made quite a few appearances? Tell us about the experiences so far and where are you heading next?

Rebecca: LA Talk Radio with Sheena Metal was AWESOME. I also work regularly with Adam Kimmell on his underground docuseries: Resident Undead. We recently did a pretty cool psychic experiment that involved being wrapped up from head to toe like a mummy. Michelle gave us the experiment. We call it the “Michelle Belanger Corpse Experiment.”

Adam and I just teamed up with Michelle Belanger to do an occult documentary in the underground of New Orleans, and we’ve started filming lectures for Michelle’s YouTube channel.

I do paranormal fundraisers, and I had some pretty cool experiences with those. I have one coming up: Parapaws.

Janel: You work with a lot of great people including Michelle Belanger, tell us what you have learned from these intensely sacred souls?

Rebecca: Michelle changed my life, and she saved me. I could stop there.

She taught me how to cope with a gift I thought was a curse, and she taught me how to control what I can do. She calls it learning to be “less psychic.” So many people want to open themselves up to the supernatural, and I just wanted to shut it all off. She encouraged me to practice, to meditate, and to find reasons why my “abilities” were good. She’s always jokingly quoting Spiderman at me: “With great power comes great responsibility.” While I don’t consider myself particularly powerful, Michelle did teach me that I can use the one thing I thought would destroy me to help people, and to give people peace.

I’m glad she did that for me. It made it easier to see why on Earth anyone would be given a weird, disruptive quirk like mine.

Janel:  You currently have a blog and you are social networks so you share a lot of your life, is there anything that you wish you did not share?

Rebecca: For a while, I wished I could take back going public, but after the outpouring of people saying things like thank you, you helped me, and you change my life, I’m mostly okay with it.

http://rebeccakirschbaum.blogspot.com

@beccakirschbaum

Janel: Where are some of your favorite local haunts? (No pun intended)

Rebecca: I love coffee shops. I’m always on the road, and I’m a total couch surfer, so until I can put roots down (I am trying!) the city I’m going to be in changes from week to week. In Lexington, Joseph-Beth is my BFF. I’m always at the bar, drinking coffee next to day-drinkers, writing and doodling and applying for jobs and sending out my work. In the Pittsburgh area, there’s a coffee shop I adore. In very small towns, I’m sometimes at KFC or McDonald’s.

As for haunted places I frequent, there really isn’t one that I’ve adopted as a favorite. I spend a lot of time in Michelle’s basement when I’m in Ohio, reading and stuff. Sometimes she makes cookies.

Adam Kimmell’s place is one of the most haunted places ever – but then that’s what you get when you are a ghost hunter who doesn’t clean out the ghostly juju after coming home from a haunted place. That’s where I met the Villisca Axe Murderer, accidentally. Either that, or I experienced some thought-form or collection of energy that felt like pretending to be that particular murderer. All I know is I was crashing there and bam, I wake up to a ghostly axe in my face. Not cool.

Rebecca-Kirschbaum-(2)

Janel: You said you keep a notebook. I am in the habit of still being a bit “old school” scribbling on everything from tissue boxes to notebooks, what makes your writing special to you?

Rebecca: I think there is a different energy to writing things down than there is to typing things in. Not to mention, I can’t just delete something I don’t like when I’m writing it out. I have to cross it out, and thus, a lot of cool things are saved (things I would have just deleted in the middle of the writing heat).

I also do this weird automatic writing thing that may or may not be a different language. Professors from around the world have suggested it might be an old, dead language. It might be a form of glossolalia, and it might just be an artsy-farsty thing that I do. Either way, I usually do it in the margins of anything I’m writing. I can’t do that on a computer! I remember doing it at my assistantship when I was in graduate school. Like, I was working on my thesis, and then I turned the page and wrote a ton of stuff in that language, then I went back to writing like a normal person. When people asked me about it, I tried to explain it away vaguely: “It’s just this thing I do.” People were all like, “You created your own language?” I changed the subject pretty quickly, as you might imagine.

Janel: Could you tell us a little about Chasing Death? 

Rebecca: Chasing Death is the debut indie movie of my writing partner and friend, Sarah Ball. She came home one day and told me to write her a script for an indie movie, so I brainstormed with her. We went to breakfast, and I suggested this concept over bacon. We were looking for universality. What has emotional resonance?”

I said, “Go with this. Let’s go with death, and find a way to communicate the stages of grief.”

So, we chose to explore grief and death, and eventually created this screenplay that has touched quite a few people. It’s all about finding freedom through the grieving process.

I also sing at the end!  

Janel: Do you still consider yourself close to spirits? 

Rebecca: Yes. Now, let me just reiterate that when I see and communicate with spirits, it is “visionary” not “hallucinatory.” Like, my eyes aren’t misconstruing things. My brain muscles are just pretty well developed, and I can distinguish between what my mind is seeing with my imagination and what I’m picking up with a third eye. Those two things seem to process in a similar way, so it took practice to figure out how to distinguish one from the other.

Oh, this cool thing recently happened to me at my yearly visit to the gynecology office. I was sitting there in the little gyno room, waiting for my appointment in my little hospital gown when bam, there’s this tiny, little ghost girl in the corner of the room. (My appointment was on the same campus as a larger hospital). This little girl had died of cancer, and she had this little pink head scarf tied around her head.

“Hey, wanna see something cool?” she said to me.

She put her thumb up to her mouth, and then blew on it like you’d blow up a balloon. Then her head scarf popped off, and her hair grew out of her head, down past her shoulders.

I told her that was a pretty impressive trick.

  1. If you could visit any place in the whole world? Where would you go and why?

The moon because I’m always looking for a different perspective. If I could see the world from outer space, I’m pretty sure I’d feel overwhelmed by how big the world is, and somehow still at total peace because the world would be so far away and so small, I could hide it with my thumb.

I’d also like to go to Europe. London, if you please! I want to get on one of those double decker busses. Also, Seattle, Washington. Plus, somewhere in the countryside of Ireland. I’d love to stand in the middle of Stonehenge.

Wait. Was I supposed to pick one place?

Janel: You have done a few plays, do you plan on branching out and doing more?

Rebecca: I love theatre more than anything, and I am trying to keep getting my plays staged. It is my hope that Plumbing finds yet another home after Diversionary. I also have a few more plays that I’m finishing up. They’re all very close to my heart, though. It’s always hard for me to hit send when I start sending them out.

Everything I do is all over my website: www.rebeccakirschbaum.com

Janel: You visited Pennhurst, tell us about that and what did you experience?

Rebecca: That was my second time filming with Resident Undead.

www.residentundead.com

Actually, Pennhurst was weird for me. I was still trying to get a handle on this ghost hunting thing that people do, and I wasn’t accustomed to how different the ghosts can be in this context. It’s like they play into the scariness of paranormal investigations, and I felt like a lunatic at Pennhurst because I saw some pretty wacky, creepy stuff. I remember being in the car and being like, “What the heck,” when the ghosts thought they’d go all night of the living dead and crawl onto the hood. That was weird.

I drew this one picture of a girl, though — that was cool because when we showed up at Pennhurst, I didn’t even know what Pennhurst was. When we got there, I was like: “What was this? Like a college campus?” When I got home, I found a picture that matched the girl’s outfit in my drawing.

No one warned me it was a mental institution. We were literally walking around in night vision when a ghost man with bare feet and wearing a hospital gown ran at me. I finally was like, “Okay, people. Where the heck are we and why is this scary man yelling at me and looking like something right out of a horror movie?”

I also had a long conversation with a ghost doctor who didn’t understand why people kept on accusing him of being a sadist and a terrible person. From what I’ve gathered, ghost hunters with EVP recorders kept taunting him, calling him a “rapist,” and an “evil man.” As far as he was concerned, he was a man of medicine. He was a scientist, and while psychiatry did some things that we would consider sadistic now, at the time he was just doing his job. The same thing happened to me with this nurse I met. She didn’t understand why people were accusing her of harming the patients she cared for.

That was interesting to me. I think that paranormal investigators should approach subjects with caution, and with context. Like, this isn’t Hollywood, and it’s important to remember that Hollywood ghost hunting is based in entertainment. They have to entertain people. They have to provide a story arch, and character development, and context for their audiences. They have to have a climax, and sometimes that climax comes at the expense of perfect accuracy.

In real life, it’s rude and crass to just start cursing dead people out. If someone walked into my house and called me a “rapist” or a “murderer,” I can only imagine what my reaction would be. It wouldn’t be pretty. If I can contribute anything to the world of paranormal investigation, it’s responsibility and common courtesy. Just because you’re in a place where a particular thing may have happened, that doesn’t mean the perpetrators are still present, and every ghost you encounter is not going to be who you’re looking for. It doesn’t work like that. Lots of people die every day. A lot of these places are very old, and filled with people from many different time periods.

I’ve seen a lot of people just start yelling at thin air, and then create these wild ideas of who they think they’re yelling at. This one time,  I watched this poor little ghost kid scream-cry in the corner because someone said something very mean to him, thinking he was this evil murderer. You know what I mean? Ghosts are people, too. You might be able to see them, and you might not. If you were standing in one room having to yell over to the next room, not knowing who was in there, I would hope you’d at least figure out who you were talking to before you made any assumptions. Statistically speaking, the person in the next room is probably just a normal person and not a serial killer with an action-adventure-psychological-thriller backstory.

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