Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lonely Souls

I don't know that I could write a ghost story. I worry I wouldn't survive.

Writing is a visceral experience for me; I become completely wrapped up in the minds and lives of my characters, sharing their every hope and fear.

Ghosts might be too much for me.

But before we delve further into this haunted Hallo-week post, let's make an important distinction.

Ghosts = human spirits that for one reason or another haven't moved from the earthly plane to another. Ghosts remain in contact with the human world because they need some issue from their human existence resolved. They may cause harm in trying to do so but only as a result of their own desperation.

Poltergeists = malevolent spirits that are manifested by human acts of violence or sacrilege. Poltergeists are cruel and wreak havoc in human lives, like pulling little girls into televisions.

So one more time, just to be clear. Ghosts are people, poltergeists are people's fault.

Back to the writing dilemma (not so much a dilemma - I have plenty to write about - as a thorn in my paw; I don't like thinking there is something I wouldn't be able to write about). But I wonder if writing the story of a ghost wouldn't send me spiraling into a terrible depression. Human existence is so much about change, discovery, growth - all things that have been robbed from a spirit that is stuck on this plane. I can of little else that could cause more despair, to be deprived of the very essence of what makes human life so wonderful. To rely on flawed beings (uh, yeah, I'm talking about us) who you can barely communicate with to free you from that tortured liminal state.

I'm getting depressed just thinking about it.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoy reading ghost stories. Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones was one such story I found compelling. And I adore Poe's tales of ghostly vengeance. But frolicking in the worlds of other writers is a different ballgame than playing in the field you've built with your own hands.

Maybe I'll grow braver with time (side note: amazing writer and blogger Suzanne is my hero, for writing Haunting Anne, which looks to me like an astonishing, beautiful and devastating book about the world of ghosts. Suzanne you are courageous and so talented!)

Is the problem that I believe in ghosts?

Let's put a big check in the box next to I don't know.

I've had the experiences that I think most of us have. The prickling along one's neck. Glancing over your shoulder, knowing that someone is there, following, but then there isn't anyone. The flickering of movement in your peripheral vision.

All I these things make me wonder, but I don't know. The closest truth I've stumbled upon rests in the words of Emily Dickinson:

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;

The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.
Far safer, of a midnight meeting
External ghost,
Than an interior confronting
That whiter host.
Far safer through an Abbey gallop, The stones achase,
Than, moonless, one's own self encounter

In lonesome place.

Ourself, behind ourself concealed,

Should startle most;

Assassin, hid in our apartment,

Be horror's least.

The prudent carries a revolver,

He bolts the door,

O'erlooking a superior spectre More near.


  1. Ghosts are pretty intense......I find myself drawn to watching Most Haunted at this time of year. I think that I don't know if they exist or not, but I kind of think they do.

  2. Great post. I like reading ghoststories, even though they do scare me somethimes. If they exist, can't tell you that, but maybe...... :)