Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ghost in the Attic

I’ve written a lot in this space about the unwitnessed life, the uncomfortable acceptance that I have more in common with the tree that falls in the forest unheard and therefore makes no sound than my fellow humans, and the irony of sharing these observations in a manner that doesn’t go very far beyond myself as audience, surely the embodiment of Shakespeare’s tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

But that’s the problem with ghosts like me, dead since last week, last month, or last century, I still keep trying to be part of the living world, won’t believe or accept that I’m completely gone or done, even when no one seems to hear what I say, feel what I am, even when I pass through walls, or minds, or hearts, and come out the other side untouched. So here I am again, falling, telling. 

Living alone is like being a ghost in your own life. You have a heightened sense of your existence, because so much of it occurs in your mind, where past, present and future are both tightly interwoven and easily penetrable, where worlds are created from the inside out, not defined from the outside in, where there is so much clear soaring certainty alongside so many dark pitfalls of doubt. I think therefore I am. My God, if I could just stop thinking.

Because ghosts need love too. And attention. Or at least the sense that they matter, make a difference, have an effect. There’s a reason the solitary people of the world talk to themselves. We all want to be heard, even when there’s no one listening. We all want to connect, even those of us for whom connecting has not gone all that well. We are not pure consciousness drifting in space. We are human, we have voices, we have hands, we have eyes and they are designed to communicate with other beings. 

I haven’t always lived alone. I spent 29 years in my parents’ home, haunting my childhood bedroom like the ghost I was destined to become. Adding together my few brief cohabiting relationships over the decades, I managed to log 9 years in shared living spaces. And for the 16 years I’ve had no human roommates, I’ve had feline companions, who have also acquired the habit of talking to themselves. And I’m beginning to think that being such solitary creatures, cats also need to hear the sound of their own voices to make sure they are still there. My fellow solitaries out there know the feeling of being called upon to speak after long hours alone and finding your voice reluctant and rough from disuse. The mild shock when you realize you have not spoken out loud for hours, maybe days. Or when you emerge from your hermitude and someone looks you in the eye for the first time in hours, maybe days, and you’re not sure you’re even visible, much less able to make some sort of socially appropriate response. It’s like that moment in the ghost movie where the especially sensitive character can see what no one else sees and the resident spirit accustomed to being overlooked has to adjust to being recognized.  Wait, you can see me?

Two years ago I started a self portrait project, drawn from a dark lonely place of personal and creative desperation to be seen, heard, to matter. Maybe not to a large audience, maybe it was only a photographic version of talking to myself rather than risk losing my voice altogether. I needed to feel substantial, a physical being occupying space, and I went literal, using my own body as subject matter. It started with me trying on various personae, drawn from famous representations of women in art, and faltered when I switched from a year of impersonations to a year of theme shoots that ended around summertime, when I ran out of ideas, and energy, and enthusiasm, redirecting my camera to abstract subjects in the outside world. But I couldn't quite walk away from the project. And I have been waiting ever since in this invisible silence for the inspiration to bring it back to life. 

Then my regular weekly Luminous Traces assignment finally provided just what I needed with the prompt Stomping Ground, which, to my delight, I found defined as an accustomed, familiar place, or haunt. And I looked around my new attic apartment, in which I have already spent too many long hours unseen and unheard, and realized it was time to reclaim the project by doing my inaugural self portrait shoot in this space. Which results appear interspersed here, for you who can still see and hear me. Because I may be a ghost, but I’m not done or gone just yet.