Friday, October 21, 2005

What about ghosts?

As Halloween approaches, water cooler conversation inevitably turns to ghosts and spirits and more "Do you believe?" queries like I mentioned yesterday.

I failed to touch on that in my dissertation on not believing in Bigfoot any more.

Do I believe in ghosts?

Well on ghosts, I'm willing to say: "I don't know."

Publishers divide writing into categories. Fantasy and horror are built on magic and the supernatural. Science fiction and suspense and grounded more in--as the narrator on the fabulous old Tales from the Darkside series used to put it--what we "perceive to be reality."

Of course magic is only magic until someone develops a scientific explanation for it, whether it's fiction of folklore. The fairy abductions of which our ancestors whispered would get categorized as fantasy. Alien abductions, to which we more rational minded folk today might at least give a tip of the anxiety hat, would be classified as science fiction, if written as say a novel and not a personal experience, in which case it's Communion.

Back to ghosts
Anyway, back from that ramble -- ghosts. Right now, we don't know. Are they spirits of lost relatives or hallucinations, folk tales or phenomenon.

I've never seen one, but the newspaper where I wasted my young life was housed in an old J.C. Penny's department store building. The photography department was on the second floor. I'm not sure what it once had been. The executive offices were where my mother once browsed spring fashions and I pissed off sales clerks by playing hide-and-seek in the aisles.

On the way to the dark room
A long flight of steps led up to the dark room. I'd get winded in my twenties climbing them.

Reporters working late at night to fill column inches swore disembodies footsteps moved up and down the steps, perhaps looking for lost dressing rooms or bargain racks.

The offices of the library where I worked were in an old family home, probably a mansion back in the day. People working there swore the home's original owner breezed through the living room every now and then.

The restless departed? Tricks of the eye? The ex-J.C. Penny's settling?

I don't know. With Bigfoot, the absencse of a corpse, skull, legitmate footprint or, as biologists might put it, scat, it's pretty much a no.

Ghosts, well, they're not corporeal. Not leaving physical traces is pretty much their job.

But ultimately, it doesn't matter that much. If we get it figured out that's fine. We'll still tell ghost stories for the same reason, as I mentioned yesterday, I still read accounts of Bigfoot sightings even though I've pretty much let that one go.

It's about mystery and wonder and to borrow a cliche "What if..."

I can live as a pragmatist, a skeptic, but I can also suspend my disbelief to write and to be read to. It's fun, it's escape and it's Halloween time. As Ray Bradbury tagged it - The October Country.


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