More About Hauntings

“Bodies of Ghosts” is one of the few cases where I set out to write a haunting deliberately. Most of the time, the literal or metaphorical ghosts show up…not by accident, but without me consciously willing it. Which is just like a ghost, really.

Suddenly, a story finds itself centered around loss or grief, or a hidden presence along the margins starts to creep into the center. Or an absence pulls itself further open in exposure.

It’s October. There’s a chill in the air, with a hint of forthcoming sweetness. At the end of the month several religions and cultures will celebrate the dead. Incidentally, today is the one-year anniversary of a particular funeral. None of my stories are “about” that funeral, and I doubt I’ll ever write one that is (for one thing, it wouldn’t be appropriate; nor would it be very dramatically interesting). But you can’t say something like that has no effect on you.

Anyway, that makes this the perfect time for a ghost story.

I wrote “Bodies of Ghosts” in part to play explicitly with some of the ideas that kept coming up implicitly in other stories like “The Bitterness of Flesh” (which I’d originally considered giving “Bodies”s title), “Phone Call 3 a.m.,” and “Likeness” (“My Body is a Haunted House” came later, and as the title shows it was a bit more self-conscious). Loss. Shock, grief, and anger. People’s thoughts and actions during and after a crisis.

Sex.

Not just because everything I write is about sex, but because sex and grief fit so well together.

Well, masturbating on the floor of my new apartment in broad daylight kind of lent itself to self-consciousness.

Yet my arousal didn’t feel perverse or completely unexpected. Grief excuses a lot of things. Probably because it drives a lot of things. It’s love without means of communication, helpless caring without anything to hope or fear for. It’s passion, it’s pain, it’s wanting without a chance of ever being satisfied. Without an outlet.

“Bodies” touches on another recurring idea, religion, or at least faith, because ghosts are also about afterlives and the immaterial. But even that is ultimately rooted in the material.

Sure, we can have faith, but true belief must come from the body. We must experience something to believe in it. I’d never experienced anything supernatural.

And now it came.

The last big theme of “Bodies” is right there in the title–imagining the physicality of something that’s barely physical (which I’ll post about more next week. Music will be included). This provided the chance to create a new kind of ghost, and revisit some old favorites.

One of my favorite ghosts is from Aeschylus’s Eumenides: Clytemnestra, slaughtered by her son, haunts the collective dream of the Erinyes—the so-called Kindly Ones—and spurs them to vengeance. The vengeance part is great stuff, but I especially like the idea of a ghost as a collective hallucination.

At first, I wished I had someone to share this haunting with. Even if we were both bloodthirsty monsters. Monsters don’t scare me—in fact, I’ve found more than my share of them attractive.

I wouldn’t call ghosts monsters, though. Monsters are dangerous and they’re ugly, goes conventional wisdom, and I think both those qualities require bodies. Ghosts are only traces. You can’t really fear an echo, no more than you can find one beguiling. You can’t make love to a dream.

Can’t you?

I met the ghost—you could even say I loved the ghost—at a time when I was thinking a lot about traces.

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