The taxonomy of ghosts

THE WRITER’S LIFE

ghostwriter

From a CulturedVultures article: Ghostwriters: The Horror Story of the Publishing World?

Three areas of my life clashed today. I was researching a freelance article I was writing for a stage school and waiting for the client to answer a question. Having the patience of an impala (they’re very impatient), I wandered off mentally and read about something else. Given that I subscribe to the idea of some sort of afterlife based on quantum science, it was appropriate that my random Wikipedia article was about ghosts.

Random Wiki entries can be a great source of ideas for stories and at the very least, I always learn something new. I’m still writing “Cardboard Sky” in the background to all the freelance work and the Wikipedia article included types of ghosts. My latest story is taking so long to write because I’m busy with the freelance writing and I’m editing my anthology. But also because I created a rod for my back with Echo Beach being so well-received. So Cardboard Sky is definitely going to be a good story and if I get it finished in time, the 25th and final tale in The Perpetuity of Memory.

Cardboard Sky is quite a complex story, so it’s been tricky making it work without it being too challenging. As with all my stories, I want to affect the reader and make them think, but not confuse them, other than with an invitation to speculate. The story concerns a man who dies, which isn’t a spoiler, rather than one of the anchors of the story. It’s then partly told from the perspective of the ghost he becomes. One of the other anchors is a boy called George, whom our character is curious about. The magic of fiction is that this character is attending a sort of ghost school, and it was the three-way clash which made me decide to put him in a stage school, so that he can learn which role of ghost acting will suit his haunting the best. With everything else I have on my desk, Cardboard Sky is still a couple of weeks away, so have an excerpt:

First contact was somewhat fraught: We’d reached a stage at school where we needed to choose specialist subjects. We’d grasped all the foundation modules, like An Introduction to Life, Key Stage 3; Elemental Dimensions (there are four); and A foundation Course in Invisibility (“Is there anyone else in here?”). I’d read many books, including “Jamie’s How to Not Eat”, “Mr Vertigo”, by Paul Auster; and “Tales of Ordinary Madness”, by Charles Bukowski. The latter two I was familiar with from what seemed to be Life, Key Stage 2. Which made me wonder: What was Stage 1? In any case, after the foundation modules, we had to pick two more specialist ones.

Having always been a frustrated actor, I’d chosen two modules from the Performing Arts section. When it came to actually getting a job, the audition lists were many and lengthy. For my debut role, I needed to decide on my character type. Although I was growing desperate for work by then, I didn’t want to end up being type-cast. Which provided a quandary in itself: To avoid being ever associated with one kind of role, I had to be not very good in my first performance, which in itself might lose me my big break. I read through the various roll calls for the spirited, trying to find a type to fit my style:

The “Crisis Apparition” is normally a one-time event for those experiencing it. It’s when a ghost is seen at the time of it’s predecessor’s passing, as a way of saying farewell to family and friends. It would be like going about your daily business, then suddenly seeing your mother outside of normal contexts. Minutes later, you receive a call to tell you that she’s passed away. With practice, the deceased may be able to visit you more than once, to reassure you. If they do that, you might have a guardian angel. I hadn’t even been aware of my own moment of actually dying, so I figured I’d missed the train on that one.

The Reluctant Dead” are ghosts who are unaware they’re deceased. They go about their lives as if they were still living, oblivious to their passing. This innocence (or denial), can be so severe that the ghost can’t see the living but can nonetheless feel their presence: A kind of role reversal. This can be stressful, for both the haunter and the haunted. In movies, it’s usually someone moving into the home of a recently deceased person. Perhaps they lived and died alone in their twilight years. To them, the living might be invaders. These are not ghosts which need to be exorcised: Simply talking to them about their death can help them to cross over and leave your home. I might have been somewhat reluctant to be dead but I had at least accepted that I was dead. So this wasn’t for me.

Then there are ghosts who are trapped or lost: They know they’re dead but for one reason or another, they can’t cross over yet. Cross over into what? Key Stage 4? Some may fear moving on because of the person they were in life, or they fear leaving what is familiar to them. Neither really applied to me.

In the “Unfinished Business” category there were a number of roles, mainly altruistic: A father might return to make sure his children are okay. Or a lover might hang around, making sure their partner finds happiness and moves on. All of my business was completed. At the other end of the spectrum was the “Vengeful ghost”: Perhaps a murder victim, back to haunt their killer. Although the concept had some appeal, as far as I knew, I hadn’t been murdered. And I had no bones to pick with George.

Residual ghosts” usually live out their final hours over and over again. They often show no intelligence or self-awareness, and will walk straight by (or through) you. Many think that these types of ghosts left an imprint or a recording of themselves in our space time. Apart from anything else, I didn’t know my final hours.

Finally, the “Intelligent ghost”: Where the entity interacts with the living and shows a form of intelligence. I certainly wanted to communicate with George, so this seemed like the gig for me.

Like Wikipedia, I’m educational. If no-one likes the story (and I doubt that), at least they’ve learned something about the various kinds of ghosts.

So today’s clash was a pleasant one, of three things I enjoy, and furthering each: Freelance writing, fiction writing and learning through research. When most days are ruled by the ever-competing unholy trinity of anxiety, depression and insomnia, it’s nice to get a break. It’s on days like this that I remember why I made my mental health issues my friends: I’m stuck with them anyway and when I get days like this, the manic side of me drowns out the depression.

It’s that big red button again and the question of whether I’d press it (No). If my mental illness is what gives me this thirst for knowledge and the ability to write creatively, I don’t want to switch it off, even though some times are bad. I just hope I can remind myself of that every time things take a dip. And yes, smoking weed helps: It helps my anxiety but it also makes me more curious and creative. The high IQ can be a poisoned chalice but it was a contributing factor to what goes on in my head nowadays.

I’m a writer and a ghostwriter. In either role, I can be anyone I want. I can be any kind of ghost.

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