Tag Archives: ghosts

I Don’t Believe in Ghosts… Except for Some Ghosts

As an atheist who believes in God, paradoxes and contradictions are something I am entirely comfortable with. So, it should come as no surprise that I don’t believe in ghosts… with notable exceptions.

Cool song, right? Did you listen to it? It’s a song about ghosts. It’s a lot older than I am. And the singer here, Burl Ives, has been dead since April of 1995. Hearing it today, at random, proves that Burl Ives is a ghost I believe in.

He came back to haunt me today as I am recovering from pink-eye, reminding me of my childhood and youth when he was the snowman in Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer on TV around Christmas time.

He is also haunting me because 1995, the year he died, was the year I got married. I was married to my wife in Dallas in January. In March, we found out that we were going to have our firstborn child before the year was over. And we also found out that my grandfather was dying.

I was not able to make it from Texas to Iowa to see Grandpa Aldrich before he passed away. But he was told while he was in the hospital that we were expecting at about the same time that he got to hold my cousin’s newborn second son. Grandpa loved the music of Burl Ives. In many ways he was like Burl Ives. He even vaguely looked like Burl Ives. And we did get to attend his funeral. (My Grandpa, I mean.) And shortly after that, Burl Ives died and I saw the announcement on the news. This is one sort of ghost I believe in. He came to commune with me as I lay on my sickbed thinking about death. And on a day after finding out that my son, now in the Marines, is about to be discharged after five years and will be home next week. He is ghost of memory. A vibrant and talented spirit of the past who lives on through his work. And he brings with him the ghost of my Grandpa Aldrich, They are both no longer living, but lingering still in the echoes of memory, and still affecting life.

Dean Martin and Perry Como are also ghosts of memory.

Then, of course, there’s the whole matter of the ghost dog. Yes, I continue to see flashes and images and shadows of a brown dog in our house, larger and browner than our own dog, that disappear as soon as you look directly at them. My oldest son has said that he has seen the very same thing, so it is not merely brain damage or impending insanity on my part, unless it is something that also runs in the family. And it has been suggested to me by an elderly neighbor that two families ago, a brown family dog lived in this house and may be buried in the yard.

I believe it is possible that life and love in a family leaves its imprint in many ways on a house, a home, an inhabited place.

I know it can easily be put down to misinterpretations of things seen in peripheral vision, or even mental misinterpretations responding to subtle suggestions. I doubt that there is actually a protoplasmic or energy form that continues after death. But if there is something there, it is benevolent rather than malevolent. Ghosts, if they exist, are a good thing, not a bad one. It doesn’t scare me to live in a place that has a soul capable of absorbing and incorporating a faithful family dog.

Basically, I am insisting that the existence of ghosts is irrelevant. I do not require the artificial reassurance of belief in a life after death to make me unafraid of facing death. I am a part of everything that exists, and I will continue to be a part of it even after my body is dissolved and my consciousness is silenced. Even if life on Earth is extinguished, the fact of my existence is not erased or invalidated. The poet says, “You are a child of the universe. No less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should.” -from Disiderata by Anonymous

So, I am ill and thinking about death, for it is not very far away now. And I do not fear it. As I do not fear ghosts. For I don’t believe in them… except for the ones I do.

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Ghostly Reflections

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I do not believe in ghosts.

So, I am probably the last stupid goomer who should be writing this post.  But I do have a lot to say on the subject that will more than fill a 500-word essay.

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At my age and level of poor health, I think about ghosts a lot because I may soon be one.  In fact, my 2014 novel, Snow Babies has ghosts in it.  And some of the characters in it freeze to death and become snow ghosts.  But it doesn’t work like that in real-world science.  My ghosts are all basically metaphorical and really are more about people and people’s perception of life, love, and each other.

Ghosts really only live in the mind.  They are merely memories, un-expectedly recalled people, pains, and moments of pandemonium.

I have recently been watching the new Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House.  It creeps me out because it latches on to the idea that ghosts haunt us through the revisitation in our minds of old trauma, old mistakes, old regrets… We are never truly safe from ghosts, no matter how far under the covers we go in our beds, deep in the dark and haunted night. Ghosts are always right there with us because they only live inside us.

I am haunted by ghosts of my own.  Besides the ghost dog that mysteriously wanders about our house at night and is seen only out of the corners of our eyes, there is the ghost of the sexual assault I endured at the age of ten by a fifteen-year-old neighbor.  That ghost haunts me still, though my attacker has died.  I still can’t name him.  Not because I fear he can rise up out of the grave to hurt me again, but because of what revealing what he did, and how it would injure his innocent family members who are still alive and still known to my family, will cause more hurt than healing.  That is a ghost who will never go away.  And he infects my fiction to the point that he is the secret villain of the novel I am now working on. In fact, the next four novels in a row are influenced by him.

But my ghost stories are not horror stories.

I write humorous stories that use ghosts as metaphors, to represent ideas, not to scare the reader.  In a true horror story, there has to be that lurking feeling of foreboding, that sense that, no matter what you do, or what the main character you identify with does, things probably won’t turn out all right.   Stephen King is a master of that.  H.P. Lovecraft is even better.

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But as for me, I firmly believe in the power of laughter, and that love can settle all old ghosts back in their graves.  I have forgiven the man who sexually tortured me and nearly destroyed me as a child.  And I have vowed never to reveal his name to protect those he loved as well as those I love.  If he hurt anyone else, they have remained silent for a lifetime too.  And I have never been afraid of the ghost dog in our house.  He has made me jump in the night more than once, but I don’t fear him.  If he were real, he would be the ghost of a beloved pet and a former protector of the house.  And besides, he is probably all in my stupid old head thanks to nearly blind eyes when I do not have my glasses on.

I don’t believe in ghosts.

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The Ghost Dog

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Before I begin this very confusing and confusticating tale, I need to start by stating clearly that I do not believe in ghosts.  I am firmly convinced that there is a rational scientific explanation for everything, and those things we may be tempted to see as a spirit living on after death of the body are really only misperceptions of other things… and wishful thinking.

In spite of all that, we have a ghost dog living in our house.

I know that contradicts everything I just said, but human beings are like that.  Practically everything about this life is shot full of contradictions and impossibilities.  So, let me lay out those contradictions as I encountered them.

This house we live in now was built in the 1970’s.  It was lived in by a middle-class white family.  A woman showed up here ten years ago wanting to look at the house because she grew up in it, and it had been sold when her parents died.  So this house is not young enough to be free of potential spirits of those who lived before.  But no tragic deaths, the kind that the lore says cause ghosts to walk, happened in this house.  Except for the possibility of a family pet hit by a car in this neighborhood.

The first time I saw it was when I got out of the bathtub one evening in early January.  As I opened the door to the bathroom, still not having my glasses on, I saw a dog sitting in the upstairs hallway, panting with its tongue hanging out.  Now, we do have a dog, but our dog, Jade, is a small yellow-and-white dog.  The dog I glimpsed out of the corner of my near-sighted, astigmatic eye with no corrective lens in front of it was a rather large chocolate brown dog.  I jumped a bit and looked directly at it.  It was no longer there with a speed that gave the lie to the notion that it was a real dog.  It had to be a trick of the eye and the goofy old brain.  Our mind is wired in a way that makes sense out of every visual stimulus-blob  in the best way that it can.  I must have misinterpreted some shadow or blob of color in a way that my brain instantly converted into a chocolate-brown Labrador-retriever sort of dog… with a goofy, open-mouthed dog-smile.

So, I didn’t really think anything more about it.  I investigate ghost stories and conspiracy theories all the time as a part of the kind of surrealist writing I like to do.  I always find those wedges of doubt that smugly allow me to dismiss the Don Knotts’ Mr. Chicken response.

Then, I saw it again.  I have to get up in the night to go to the bathroom at least three times every night.  About a week ago, I was making one of these necessary nocturnal treks when I happened to look down the staircase in passing.  I saw the tail end of a big chocolate-colored dog trotting past on the way towards the garage.  My heart leaped.  And then I reminded myself we have a dog and she lives on a very different schedule than we do.  I went to the bathroom, and then went down the stairs to investigate.  The family room door was shut and blocked with a clothes-hamper.  We have been trying to keep the dog out of the family room because she has a bad habit of trying to pee on the family room carpet in the middle of the night to mark her territory.  There are certain discolored spots on the rug that we have worked very hard to keep dry.  And I found our dog asleep on the foot of my son’s bed where she always sleeps.  Whatever I saw wasn’t her.  But again, I didn’t have my glasses on.  I began mulling over the possibility of this post at that point.

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Last night made this post a necessity.  While returning from my nocturnal pee-break after midnight, I distinctly heard a dog whimpering, coming from the landing of the stairs.  I stepped into the landing, and I still heard it.  If it was not a dream sound or a misinterpretation of my own stomach growling, then I was hearing an invisible dog whimpering.  It didn’t last for more than a minute.  Again, the dog herself was nowhere near the place.

Should I be scared?  Of course not.  Ghosts don’t exist, do they?  And even if this one does exist somehow, it was a beloved family pet, more likely to protect us than hurt us.  So I was able to get back to sleep easily.  But this post became absolutely necessary.  If you read in the newspapers that a family in Carrollton, Texas was eaten by wolves in the middle of the night some night… tell somebody about my unfounded suspicions.

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The Haunting 2 ; The Wicked Witch of Creek Valley

If a horror movie is going to succeed as a movie franchise, the most serious challenge is to make a good #2,  So, for the sequel to The Haunting, I will tell you about the Wicked Witch of Creek Valley.  I hope to haunt her when I become a ghost, I really do.  And I should explain to you why.

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My first job in the Dallas Fort-Worth area was at Creek Valley Middle School.  I was hired there by Dr. Witchiepoo (most likely not her real name… though not to protect the innocent).  She was a very prim and proper sort who had a reputation as a really good principal for earning high test scores on the State tests.  When she hired me, it was because I could demonstrate from school-district records that I, as the only 7th grade English teacher in the South Texas school district, was responsible for improving writing scores, above the State targets for the increasingly difficult and high stakes writing tests.  She was good at recruiting talented people for her school.  She was not, however, very good at treating talented teachers as human beans… er, I mean human beings.

I was assigned to be the #2 English teacher in Team #2 of the Eighth grade.  I soon discovered that I was #2 because #1 was one of Witchiepoo’s favorite teachers.  Now, I don’t blame #1 for that.  She was a nice teacher who loved students and didn’t understand why she got all the best students and the best treatment at faculty meetings.  I, and two other English teachers had to handle all the thugs and discipline cases.  In fact, the History teacher on our Team was also a basketball coach, and he shared with me the fact that all the worst kids in the 8th grade were in my English classes.  Classes of not less than 24 kids and not more than 30, for two consecutive class periods (double-dipping kids in reading and writing for two of the five major tests on the all-important State tests) can be a nightmare when they are packed with discipline problems.  I had five special education students who were all emotionally disturbed.  I had a bipolar teenage girl in one class who refused to take her medications and was not even identified by the special education department.  I had to find out about that one from the mother when discussing incidents in the class room.  Juggling that many wackos is possible, but you have to be properly informed and prepared.  And I was handling them as well as it is possible to do.

But, Dr. Witchiepoo did not like the way I taught.  She believed good classroom discipline is a quiet classroom, and bad kids controlled completely through fear.  I normally engaged with kids, joked with kids, listened to kids, and other things that made noise.  (Oh, my gawd!  The evil-eye looks I got from the boss.)  And I had at least one young gentleman of color that Dr. Witchiepoo wanted to see expelled for poor behavior.  The thing that ground my kippers the most about that situation was that he was actually a good-natured kid, quite likeable, and trying his hardest to meet behavioral expectations.  All of my favorite kids that ill-fated year were actually black kids.  I got the distinct impression that Dr. Witchiepoo didn’t feel the same.  Bipolar girl registered some kind of complaint about the young gentleman.  Dr. Witchiepoo was on my case to punish him daily, but without telling me what he had done wrong in my classroom.  I watch kids constantly and learn a lot about them just by looking.  Whatever this invisible behavior was, it gave Dr. Witchiepoo the fuel she needed to burn me with.  The fireball came during my evaluation.  Dr. Witchiepoo came in to evaluate my teaching methods in the class in which both bipolar girl and the young gentleman were in attendance.  She told me she didn’t have enough information for her evaluation after the first period-long evaluation (I still maintain it was because she didn’t see any bad things she could use against me).  So, she came back on another random day, un-announced, and she lucked out.  It was a day when bipolar girl was on a rampage.  I knew from the usual signals, late arrival, catty comments, and brooding silence, that bipolar girl was having a bad day.  (I have since learned that special education law specifies that my ignoring any attention-getting behaviors was the proper procedure for that kind of problem.)  While the bipolar girl was ignoring my wonderful teaching all period long because I didn’t rise to any of her bait, the principal spied the colored marker drawings that bipolar girl was occupying herself with instead of interrupting my lessons.  Principal Witchiepoo marched over to bipolar’s desk and took her markers away from her.  She didn’t shout at the girl, but she said things to her that guaranteed the retaliation that followed.  Witchiepoo put the markers on my desk, indicating that bipolar girl could not expect to get them back.  Well, then bipolar girl did interrupt my lesson and quietly got out of her seat without asking permission, walked to my desk, and took her markers back.  This is when the shouting started.  Not me, mind you.  Principal Witchiepoo and bipolar girl.  I was ordered to take my class to the library for the remaining ten minutes of the period while the Principal did whatever evil thing she intended to do to bipolar girl.

My evaluation nearly ended my teaching career.  As far as I know, bipolar girl got her markers back and maybe sat for two hours in detention.  I, on the other hand, was zeroed out in two domains on my evaluation, discipline because that was the obvious one, and promoting critical thinking in the classroom, because Witchiepoo couldn’t guarantee non-renewal with just one zero.  I was doomed from that day until the Garland school district gave me another chance to be a teacher three years later.  I felt ambushed.  The human resources officer for the district I was working for was rooting for me to get another chance, probably because he was getting other similar reports of abuses by Witchiepoo, but because I made the mistake of signing the bad evaluation, he had no recourse but recommend non-renewal of my contract.

So that is why I intend to haunt Witchiepoo.  But it will be hard to find anything scarier than she is to use against her.  The one thing a bully in a position of power like that fears most is loss of control.  To accomplish that, I will have to possess a number of her students and make them defy her.  Nothing scares a bully more than when the powerless stand up to them.

But there are drawbacks to this plan.  First of all, being inside a middle-school brain is bound to be super-yucky.  Boys often have the next closest thing to raw sewage going through their imaginations at any given time.  Girls can be full of saccharine-sickly pink clouds and butterfly-farting unicorns, or they can be darker and more super-Goth than any boy.  Possessing a boy would make me feel polluted, while to possess a girl is risking complete Silence of the Lambs levels of insanity.  So, there is that.

And worse, by now, karma has probably already caught up with Dr. Witchiepoo.  She had driven twelve teachers out of her school with her demanding micro-managing by the time the first semester had ended the year I was teaching for her.  The administration was already beginning to wonder.  The last time I talked to a colleague from Team #2 about Witchiepoo, a very talented math teacher who was also looking for a new job, I was told that she was on the verge of being fired for excessive abusive behavior against teachers and students.  And that was eight years ago now.  What are the chances that the tiger traded stripes for lamb’s wool?  So once again, my haunting plan will probably not work out.

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Ghost Posts

I am forced to cheat a bit today.  I am ill, and I am trying hard to keep my ghost inside.  But it is only cheating a little bit.  I am posting today.  I am using old cartoons.  I am doing less than the target 500 words, but I have gone over the target all week, and it averages out.  So this is a ghost post… not because a ghost writer is posting it, but because this writer is ill and trying not to become a ghost.  So here are the ghost hunters again.  You will help them most by NOT pointing at the ghosts and screaming.  That kind of scare can’t be good for their health.

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Conversations With the Ghost of Miss M…

DSCN5148Beneath the old cottonwood tree there once stood a one-room school house.  My mother went to school there as a girl, a short walk from home along the Iowa country road.  Misty mornings on a road between cornfields and soybean fields can often conjure up ghosts.

I took this morning walk with the dog while I was visiting my old Iowegian home, and I was writing my fictional story Magical Miss Morgan in my head, not yet having had time to sit down and write.  I was reflecting on times long past and a school long gone, though Miss Morgan’s story is really about my own teaching experience.  Miss Morgan is in many ways me.  But I am not a female teacher.  I am a goofy old man.  So, why am I writing the main character as a female?

Well, the ghosts from the old school house heard that and decided to send an answer.

Miss Mennenga was my third grade and fourth grade teacher from the Rowan school.  The building I attended her classes in has been gone for thirty years.  Miss M herself has long since passed to the other side.  So when she appeared at the corner…  Yes, I know… I have said countless times that I don’t believe in ghosts, but she had the same flower-patterned dress, the glasses, the large, magnified brown eyes that could look into your soul and see all your secrets, yet love you enough to not tell them to anyone else.  Suddenly, I knew where the character of Miss Morgan had actually come from.  I also realized why I was drawn to teaching in the first place.  Teachers teach you more than just long division, lessons about the circulatory systems of frogs, and the Battle of Gettysburg…  They shape your soul.

“You remember getting in trouble for doing jokes in class when you were supposed to be studying your spelling words?”

“Yes, Miss M, but I didn’t make any noise.. they were pantomime jokes that I stole from watching Red Skelton on TV.”

“But you pulled your heart out of your chest and made it beat in your hand.  You had to know that was going to make the boys smirk and the girls giggle.”

“I did.  But making them happy was part of the reason God put me there.”

“But not during spelling.  I was trying to teach math to fourth graders.  You interrupted.”

“You made that point.  I still remember vividly.  You let me read the story to the class out loud afterwords.  You said I needed to use my talent for entertaining to help others learn, not distract them from learning.”

“I was very proud of the way you learned that lesson.”

“I tried very hard as a teacher to never miss a teachable moment like that.  It was part of the reason that God put you there.”

“And I did love to hear you read aloud to the class.  You were always such an expressive reader, Michael.  Do you remember what book it was?”

“It was Ribsy, by Beverly Cleary.   How could I have forgotten that until now?  You made me love reading out loud so much that I always did it in my own classes, at every opportunity.”

I remembered the smile above all else as the lingering image faded from my view through the eyes of memory.  She had a warm and loving smile.  I can only hope my goofy grin didn’t scare too many kids throughout my career.

10931430_1392374101067123_2624334665191497015_n I needed a post for 1000 Voices that was about reconnecting with someone.  I could’ve used any number of real life examples from everything that has happened to me since poor health forced me to retire from teaching  I could’ve written any number of things that would not make me feel all sad and goopy about retiring and would not make me cry at my keyboard again like I am doing now… like I did all through that silly novel I wrote… even during the funny parts.  But I had to choose this.  A debt had to be paid.  I love you, Miss M… and I had to pay it forward.

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