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06.16.07 7:18 p.m.

I've found that writing has freed me up in my soul - who I am, how I think. You have to know who you are before you say anything. I think it's made me a better person. It's helped me become more willing to help those just starting out.  

-Jane Candia Coleman


Songs About Ghosts

The problem seems to be telling the spirits that I intend to take a picture. Had I just snapped one, I imagine they would not have felt the need to drain all my battery power so that my camera dies with the lens still exposed. There seemed to be no issue with my exploring the boundaries of the graveyard in the stark darkness, nor my lying upon the grass to watch the stars through holes in the clouds. Perhaps they felt it a little pushy that I said, "I am going to take a picture of that gravestone. If you want me to see something, put it right there." Or perhaps killing my battery is their response, telling me effectively that there was nothing they wished to show me. Either way, I reinsert the batteries, giving me energy enough to shut the camera off properly and take their hint.

Cemeteries do not scare me, not even rural cemeteries surrounded by forests on a moonless night. I feel utterly safe among the headstones, spiritual and almost at peace. I don't find it morbid, nor do I think particularly morbid thoughts. One cannot help but note that they are walking over a field of planted corpses, but they are some of the most polite neighbors one will ever encounter. I don't think the dead are intent to rise while I am affording them a good meal of my flesh - but it would redeem my zombie preparations if they did. I don't think I will be engulfed by anything spectral that I cannot handle.

The only potential threat in the graveyard had headlights and a siren. The only time the police have harassed me for dwelling in a cemetery after hours (trespassing, if we are getting technical), I happened to be in a steamed up car with a half dressed girl. Even then, the cop just scoffed, asked for our IDs, and told us to go home. I do not and would not graffiti, break anything, harass the wildlife, or summon anything bigger than my head. I am not a threat to the grounds, even if I bend the letter of the law.

I speak to them - or whoever happens to be listening - in a fairly conversational tone. There is too little light to make out names on the markers, so I address them as a sort of unified group, the Anemia chapter of the No Longer Corporeal. I feel or imagine I feel tingles and breezes in response. It harms no one to believe that I get some reaction, even if I doubt that it is from the remains of those over whom I lightly trod. I wouldn't hang out near my body for very long, much to the chagrin of authors like Thorton Wilder, so I doubt the ghosts of these people do. But, if you are an earthbound wraith, what better place for you to while away your evenings than the nearest cemetery?

I mean, aside from the gym locker-room.

I don't come to commune with the dead or the hereafter. I come for the stories. My feeling is that I am safe from anyone not wearing a police uniform because they will have their own reasons to be in the cemetery at eleven at night. Granted, in my middling adventures walking to cemeteries under cover of dark, I have encountered maybe a dozen other people in the cemetery. I did not feel the need to disturb a single one, some mourners and the rest thrill seekers. It is enough to catch these glimpses of other people's stories.

I also sneak out of my prep school enclave because I seek to fictionalize my life. Some memoirist - I forget whom - said that a good writer of the genre has two options, either to fictionalize one's stories or their life. The latter tact is my drug of choice, forcing myself to do unusual things - go to Vegas, flirt with strangers, take strange offers - with the expectation that is will hopefully result in something entertaining that requires my written recollection. Fictionalizing my life, turning into a protagonist in this ongoing narrative instead of just a person, makes me have to be quicker, braver, wittier, and more confident otherwise my prose because turgid and useless. It also allows me a distance and perspective that helps me keep Zen. How can I really be bothered by something that is going to make a funny or insightful entry? No matter how uncomfortable or annoying something is, part of my brain is already working out the best phrasing for comedic impact.

I do not do things explicitly so I can write about them. There is madness and needless drama that way, as I would be cheating on Emily with her identical twin sister who we all thought was in a coma after the car accident when she escaped from her arraigned marriage with the Don, who was secretly a psychotropic toadstool. Knowing that I can write may guide my hand slightly and has integrated so much into my personality and thought process that I'm not sure I would quite know how to function deprived of this outlet, told that I was no longer at least contributing scribbler on this account. I hope that I would behave as I do now, since this writer's life has been so utterly fulfilling to me.

So I will visit the dead after hours. I will sing my way miles home on a street with no lights and three farms. I will say yes to any road trip my friends propose. I will smile at strangers and always hope for the best. I will act though it makes me uncomfortable in personal regions because the story rarely moves forward because of milquetoasts. It seems a small sacrifice to feel like I live the life I envision.

Soon in Xenology: Heaven and Hell.

last watched: Dead Like Me
reading: Lost Girls
listening: Avenue Q



Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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