Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Ghosts We All Are

"Writers are often ghosts to their own cherished or bedeviling childhood homes."
- Brian Kiteley

I've been writing so much about home the past few months. What is it? What has it become? What could it be? Can we ever "find" one? Is this notion of home just one more piece of American mythology that's about as accurate as the cowboy out here in my not so wild wild west?

I received my $600 tax rebate (aka economic stimulus) yesterday. I don't think for a millisecond that this plan is going to save America from itself, but nonetheless, the check arrived electronically in the middle of the night. It'll just about cover my trip back home in July, so thanks, W.; I'll use it to do some serious ghost chasing and sweet tea drinking. I'll throw it at the myth. I'll use it to do my work.

Last night I found the Kiteley quote above in a book called The 3 A.M. Epiphany. I had a particularly good and most welcome day of writing yesterday. Summer's so close I can taste it. I've finished most of my student papers. I've turned down four different freelance gigs for the summer so I can be at peace with my own voice for three beautiful months. I began to weave a book yesterday at last. If I were that gospel and blues singer I wrote about in my last post, I'd have sung "Glory, glory hallelujah/'cause I laid my burden down", but instead I had a 20 ounce iced coffee and let that drug wiggle a little in my veins. When I returned home with enough caffeine in my body to stay up until 3 A.M. reading, Kiteley's quote hit me in that "no duh" way kids have of making you feel like a moron.

Writing about ghosts isn't just about the ghosts of others. It isn't just about the literary weight of ghosts as social issues, or ghosts as ancestors, or ghosts as spirits of long faded places. Writing about ghosts is also about (and perhaps more importantly about) the places I continue to haunt. Where have I left parts of my spirit hanging out and waiting? Instead of trying to pull places and people to me, maybe I need to go back to where I've left breadcrumbs. Maybe the foundation of Gathering Ghosts is my own fractured self. Maybe it's not the red clay mud of North Carolina that I can't get out of my body. Maybe the itch is the piece of me that still hangs out at Idlewild Elementary after school with her red 10 cent notebook from Family Dollar. Maybe the itch is the fragment of my belly that hasn't left my childhood bedroom on Springfield Drive. The portion of my spleen that hangs in the willow trees over our family cemetery at Masonboro Baptist Church in Wilmington. It's time to scratch and find out.

I want to leave you with this poem that came to me today courtesy of Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac.


Would it surprise you to learn
that years beyond your longest winter
you still get letters from your bank, your old
philanthropies, cold flakes drifting
through the mail-slot with your name?
Though it's been a long time since your face
interrupted the light in my door-frame,
and the last tremblings of your voice
have drained from my telephone wire,
from the lists of the likely, your name
is not missing. It circles in the shadow-world
of the machines, a wind-blown ghost. For generosity
will be exalted, and good credit
outlasts death. Caribbean cruises, recipes,
low-interest loans. For you who asked
so much of life, who lived acutely
even in duress, the brimming world
awaits your signature. Cancer and heart disease
are still counting on you for a cure.
B'nai Brith numbers you among the blessed.
They miss you. They want you back.

"Posthumous" by Jean Nordhaus, from Innocence. © Ohio State University Press, 2006.

The places we've left ourselves linger long after we're gone. Let your writer's eye look deep enough to see where you've scattered yourselves along this life. Write about it. Bring it back to a new idea of home.


Andi said...

To gather up ourselves - what a beautiful concept - or to leave ourselves scattered to fertilize where we've been.

See my post for today (I'm about to write it) as a response.

Laraine Herring said...

I love that idea of fertilizing where we've been! Thanks for that!

Dawn Maria said...

I just blogged last week about my different identities that are scattered through the internet and whether even one is the "real" me. They all represent some part of me and my truth, but I'm where am I whole?