The house is dim and dirty. The paint is peeling from the clapboard sides. The only sound is the wrought iron fence gate, swinging in a wind that runs through your spine. As the image sinks into your memory, you notice one more thing – up in the tower something is moving, pacing the floor as if they have a century’s worth of worry worn deep into the path on the floor.
From there, it’s pretty much as expected. Screams, murder, mayhem, and an unnecessary trip to the first floor later, it all winds up in ninety minutes. But aren’t these stories for Fall, not Spring?
Ghost stories are supposed to scare you in this culture. The dead have some kind of axe to grind, or implant, and they aren’t happy that we’re here. We’re doing something really bad just by hanging out and being teens in love or whatever it is we do. Outside of neutral treatments of the afterlife, such as Sixth Sense and Danny Phantom, or even Tim Burton’s Burtonesque Beetlejuice, it’s not pleasant to be dead. It’s not even creepy – it’s so awful you demand vengence.
The usual explanation is that only those who died in some kind of trauma are “stuck” as ghosts, and the trauma defines their experience. They aren’t just obsessive, they’re possessed – and want to posses you in turn. This is convenient because it provides a filter for what I consider to be the more obvious view of any kind of afterlife – why would ghosts be any different from you and I? Since people are generally polite and decent and stay out of other people’s lives, wouldn’t a ghost?
This is why I think Spring is a better time for a ghost story than creepy ol’ Fall. I’ve been working on fairy stories lately in order to get down a sense of Fabulation – the idea that magic really can and does happen. I want to refine the sparkle that my writing will need if I am to finish a novel about Miami and what reality means to the place. A Miami sense of reality is something stuck between a Colombian Márquez novel and a Scotch-Irish Southern fairy story. I want a little sparkle of sunshine that is the tiniest bit blinding and raw alongside a deep sense that anything can happen.
I wanted to bring this to a ghost story because I thought that I could. It’s part of a series of fairy tales, or Märchen, that I’m writing on Saint Paul as an exercise to spruce up my Celtic sense of imagination. And there’s nothing quite as Celtic as seeing the green return to the earth and see it as nothing more than the ancient spirits coming back to life. Ghosts, as it were, living on in the form that they feel most comfortable in.
To believe in ghosts is, in essence, to believe that there is an eternal realm where just about anything is possible – no matter how far beyond our imagination. The problem that ghost stories run into is that we are a people who are afraid of our past and afraid of what secret acts will beg for revenge. They wind up equated with Fall, the dying back, when possibility has to sleep through a long Winter. It’s as if we know that ignoring our past is an act of treachery in and of itself, condemning us to the repeat the torments we already know. The idea that anything is possible doesn’t exhilarate, it scares.
Our past isn’t something we should be afraid of. I have no problem with people believing in ghosts, but to think they are something to be frightened of is silly. Ghosts are all around us, in one form or another. Our past is likely to be at least partially repeated as the cycles of history move on. There’s no better time for me to think about that than Spring, and no better place to put it than in a Fairy Story of hope and enchantment. Anything less wouldn’t be American – and it wouldn’t be true to my own Celtic ghosts.
People are afraid of a lot of things – not just ghosts. They’re afraid to look deep inside themselves, too. Maybe that’s what you’re getting at here since it’s real consitant with what you usually write about.
Can’t wait to read these ‘fairy stories’ you keep talking about!
Well, yes, it’s the overall theme. It seems to me that we aren’t just ahistoric but are actually afraid of our past. The mistakes we’ve made rarely are discussed outside of some sterilized, systemitized “political correctness” that’s stripped of all emotion.
I think that anxiety about our future is the only possible result of a fear of our past. We wind up living deep in today but far less well anchored than a Taoist (or Zorba the Greek).
I would like to think that I’m wrong about this fear, but when I realized that the lack of weight given to historical arguments matched our opinion of ghosts, well, a few pieces fell into place. I hope I’m wrong, but the one thing I really fear is a fear of history.
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