Jeff Phillips: Stuck Forces, A Meditation on What It Might Be Like To Be A Ghost

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With Halloween creeping up, I’ve been embracing my fascination with the spooky, in particular, a good ghost story. In exposing myself to both fictional and nonfictional accounts of ghosts, I find myself wondering what being a phantom might be like. The old thespian in me, that would once read a script and truly try to sink my sense memory into what it’d feel like to be in the character’s shoes, is awakening as part of my recent considerations of the ghost. I’m asking myself; without a body to incorporate input from the senses, what are some experiences in which my consciousness, clenched, dulled or stirred, got stuck in something that was difficult to step beyond, and maybe resembled a partial taste of a ghost’s mode of operation?

Looping and Looping and Looping and Looping:

There have been times where I’ve been walking down the street, turning over a thought in my head, and as the thought formulates, I’ll say it to a particular person in my head, an imagined audience. And the new thought will repeat. Again it will repeat just as I think I’m about to move onto a new idea. No, the same thought starts again, and again. A loop that needs interruption. But in the case of a spirit with something dire to express, in such a loop of cognition, there may not any form of interruption strong enough.

Too Pissed to Be Put Out:

Sometimes walking down the street I wonder what I’d do if someone held me up at gunpoint. The thought sort of stirs up a rage, and I picture myself threatening to haunt the shit out of them if they pull the trigger. If that doesn’t deter them, and they do shoot me down, or knife me, and that’s the end of it, I think I probably would commit to my threat and haunt the shit out of them.  I’d linger and stew in the offense taken at being murdered. They’d feel my physicalized fury for days, reverberations from an injury of injustice. I’d pull their hair. I’d throw plates at their head. Toss objects at their eyes and crotch, shove them and drag them and not let them sleep. No mercy. The thought is cathartic. The rage of the day slips away with this fantasy.

I sometimes think, if I was the victim of a mass shooting, I would for sure haunt the perpetrator. But these shooters tend to take their own lives, cop out of the consequences. Can you haunt another ghost? Maybe it’s easy if they were already haunted.

Compulsive Tidying:

Maybe when we die, for some, any latent tendencies toward Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, flourish and one has to shift things around, line them up, make the arrangement perfect. Check the oven. Check the door. Make sure it’s locked, and for the naive new tenant, that’s why the door rattles while they try to sleep in the dark of night.

Breathing Life into Things:

There’s the projection of feelings onto inanimate objects, say a stuffed bear. We suddenly feel sad as it sits there, looking forgotten and unloved. There are times I’ve been in line at a deli, picking out my bag of chips. I first select one, then think maybe this other bag has more chips, so I return the first pick, grab the other. It has the same weight. Then I get the feeling I’ve just caused the first bag to feel the pang of rejection. So I return the second selection and lift the original. Then I again feel the pang of imagined rejection, this time from the second one I just returned, whose joy at being chosen was just crushed. We are at those moments plucked from our point of view and bob in the despair we imagine the teddy to be feeling. When released from life, what if, for some, the lingering regrets, from having hurt some object’s feelings, rise and anchor the soul.

Spacing Out in a Groovy Space:

There was a time around one Christmas I took some magic mushrooms. An unexpected dessert to a holiday feast with friends. At one point, as it was all kicking in, I found myself quite content to observe the stillness of the kitchen. Well, the patterns of our cabinet’s wood grain, flowing fast, like a river over rapids, was not so much a stillness, but around us, everything else was calm. The hardened grease on a plate, remnants of a dinner’s liquid fat, looked especially solid. Like ice. Like an artifact of frozen time. I realized that I never really spent time in my own kitchen up to that point. I had of course used it daily, but only as I rushed in and out to put a dinner together, or take that dinner out to another room to consume that dinner. I had never really just hung out and looked around that room because I was always in a hurry, and it felt great to just be in at that room.

And what if, that is what a ghost is truly chasing after? For the first time ever they are deflated of the stimulus of worry, and are basking in the combination of relief and awe of the ambience, or even the simpleness, of their surroundings. And it feels so nice that not even centuries feel like a millisecond. Because antsiness doesn’t have a body to resound in, and the spirit can finally settle and fill a room.

Curiosities of a Potential Ghost:

I think if I was a ghost I’d like to be a wandering ghost. My soul so light and flat like an unseen sail, gliding all around with the wind, occasionally veering off to get caught in corners, taking advantage to explore every nook and cranny of strange buildings.

And if I can wiggle free from the sticky pockets of the afterlife, I’ll play pranks. You’ll put the pizza in the oven and go into the other room. You’ll come back in when it’s time. But the pizza will still be a frozen disc, and the oven will boast no warmth. You’ll think yourself an idiot for forgetting to turn on the oven. Or, are you really so careless? You won’t be able see my wide grin, in my ghostly form, there will be no dead giveaways, unless you catch a quick glimpse of my face in a reflection off the oven’s window.

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