Maybe I’m just projecting, but over the past few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that most people are obsessed with the supernatural, with the mysteries in this world that we can’t easily explain. Take a look at all the shows on television that address the supernatural. Take a look at bestseller lists. Religion is all about the supernatural and the unexplained and making ourselves comfortable with it. Even ultra-orthodox rationalists are obsessed with the supernatural, spending countless amounts of time and energy trying to convert others to their belief that there is a natural, scientific explanation for every single mystery in this world, and all we have to do is study it and find it. My favorite of these are relatively recent studies in which experimenters stimulate specific areas of subjects’ brains, and subjects then report seeing ghosts. Yes, this very well could mean that when certain areas of the brain are stimulated, or tapped into for whatever reason, the brain conjures up apparitions that aren’t there. But there’s another possibility. Maybe those apparitions really are there, and we just can’t see them under normal circumstances. Think of it this way, would anyone ever say, “Well, those skin cells don’t really exist. You need a microscope to see them.” Maybe the ghosts exist, but we need brain stimulation in order to be able to see them. I’m not saying I necessarily believe this. I’m far too much of a natural rationalist (dammit) not to be drawn almost automatically to the first explanation, and I don’t even want to consider what it would possibly mean for the whole concept of “hallucination,” but I am asking: couldn’t the second explanation also be a possibility?
But now we get to my problem: I’m too much of a rationalist. I write ghost stories, yet I’ve never seen a ghost. I’ve never heard a ghost. I’m extremely skeptical as to whether or not they really exist, and am far more drawn to a Henry-Jamesian-type belief that they are all in the head, than I am to an M.R.-Jamesian belief that they are walking about all over the place. I’m like an ancient scribe writing a book of the Bible describing all that God is doing without actually believing God exists. I want to believe, but I can’t, and I long for proof.
Then again, do I really? That’s the problem with ghosts. I long for proof, but not if it means some evil apparition is going to make an appearance and scare the daylights (or nightlights, as the case may be) out of me. I walk around in the cemetery out back in the early evenings, half hoping I’ll see something, and half hoping I won’t (of course, I recently came to the realization that if ghosts return to places of trauma, which is supposedly what they do, they aren’t likely to be hanging out in the cemetery that’s been part of their deaths but certainly wasn’t part of their lives. And then I had a friend who so helpfully said to me recently, “If they do exist, I’m sure they’re not going to show themselves to someone who’s eagerly out looking for them").
After the one two-inch snowstorm we had this winter, I found some extremely interesting tracks in the melting snow in the cemetery. They crossed the path and then, literally, disappeared. Even accounting for the melting, I’m pretty sure they were too big to be a bird’s tracks, unless eagles are hanging out in the cemetery, but I’ve already convinced myself that they must have been a rabbit’s tracks (because I see rabbits hopping around out there all the time), and he must have hopped out of the cemetery (a rabbit with wings, because his hop into the trees beyond the cemetery would have had to be about 25 yards long), but I just can’t believe there isn’t some sort of natural explanation. However, it’s fodder for a great ghost story, isn’t it? And that’s how my thoughts work these days: everything seems to be fodder for a great ghost story. I find myself constantly asking friends, “Do you mind if I use that in a ghost story?”
Well, Friday night, I didn’t ask permission. I just sat around and observed and now have so many ideas for stories, I’d better just quit my job and start writing full time. This was the night Bob took me to the Wine, Dine, and Séance night at the mansion at a local winery as a Valentine’s Day gift. When he presented me with this gift, about which I had no clue, as he’d discovered it on his own, my first thought was, “You don’t get anything much more perfect than this.” I love fine dinners. I love theater. I love ghosts. Dinner theater with a play about ghosts? That’s my idea of heaven. And it lived up to my expectations, with the exception of the wine (
In fact, it more than lived up to my expectations, because besides getting to watch a fun performance, we also got to interact with the actors who were obviously having a ball, and two unexpected but very interesting things happened. First, we were encouraged by the actors, in order to get in the “spirit” of it all to sit around the dinner table with the other “guests” and basically tell ghost stories, relating our own incidences of encounters with the supernatural. Well, there I was, the ghost story writer, being one of only two out of the group sitting at my table who couldn’t recall any encounters with the supernatural. However, I heard some great stories from others (including Bob’s, which I never tire of hearing. He’s got a terrific story from his days as a boarding school teacher). Where do I start? I have yet, believe it or not, to incorporate Bob’s ghostly encounter into any of my stories. Is it time I did? Or do I include the story from the woman who saw the ghost of a child at the
Secondly, an unexpected fringe benefit of the evening was a palmist who wandered around to the tables at dinner time. The first thing he said to me when he looked at my palm was “See all these random lines here? (I didn’t, as it was pretty dark, and I know absolutely nothing about which lines are important and which ones aren’t when it comes to reading palms, but that didn’t keep me from just sort of giving a noncommittal nod, as if I could see and understand.) Those represent your past lives.” (And you all think I’m joking when I say, “I must have been such and such in a past life.”) Once again, I’m obviously completely out of tune with the supernatural, as he told me that sometimes when he tells people this, their immediate response is, “Oh yes, I was in Paris during the French Revolution.” Then, he told me for most people it’s much vaguer than that, like feelings of déjà vu on a street you’re walking for what you thought was the first time (nope. Sorry. But even those sorts of feelings have eluded me all my life. If I’ve never been on a street, I’ve never been on a street. Maybe my past lives all suffer from amnesia or something).
Having my palm read, I’ve discovered, is maybe not such a good idea. He told me that I will have two major relationships in my life, not necessarily marriage, but important relationships. “Well, now that’s nice and vague, isn’t it?” Emily-the-Rationalist thinks. “Does my on-again-off-again-boyfriend-of-five-years-before-I-met-Bob count as the first, or is something terrible going to happen to Bob?” wonders Prone-to-Suggestion-Emily. He tells me I’m promised three children in my life, not necessarily my own, but three important children, like nieces and nephews. “Well, he certainly got that wrong. I only have two nieces, and if you count other important children in my life, it’s many, many more than three,” Emily-the-Rationalist thinks. “Ohmigod,” thinks Prone-to-Suggestion-Emily, “better be ultra careful with the birth control. I certainly hope this doesn’t mean headlines of ’First 45-Year-Old
It all leads back to stories, doesn’t it? I guess if I can’t have a supernatural encounter of my own, then I might as well make some up. On Saturday, some friends of mine and I (after I’d described Friday night to them) decided that some day soon, we’ll take a ghost-hunting trip to