Sunday, May 1, 2016

Ghost Lives

Choices…there are so many we make; what to eat or wear, who we spend time with, or even just how we spend our day.  Then, there are the big ones, like who or if to marry, what career to pursue and where to live.  Each choice leaves a path not chosen but it also brings opportunities that might otherwise be missed.   

Half of my life was on the East Coast and the other half has been on the West Coast.  When I recently spent time with family at the very opposite end of the country, I found I walked pretty comfortably between the two very different environments.  It had me wondering, what if?  What happened to those other lives or choices I could have made?   

When discussing books with a friend, she brought up the term “ghost lives” she had read about in a book.  I found the idea of ghost lives really intrigued me.  Does it refer to a different version of me living another life?  Or is it more like energy or echoes left behind from strong emotions or passions?  If the latter, there is certainly a room or two where I left my mark…

In The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer, I encountered a different version of ghost lives.  Here, the protagonist, who is severely depressed and undergoes electric shock therapy, finds herself circulating through three time periods.  In each, she is a slightly different version of herself with mostly the same circle of people around her, though they too are slightly different versions of themselves.  While impossible, as the title suggests, it is curious thing to consider.   

The book began in the autumn of 1985, a key period in my own life as it was when I made a major life decision to move far from home.  While the move was a bit daunting without family or a job, I was ready for the challenge.  All these years later, I am still happy with that choice.  When I wonder occasionally if I have a ghost life, I am curious as to who she might be.  Is she a thinner version of me, this resident of Manhattan?  Does she spend more money on designer clothes and still go out and about?  Still smoke cigarettes?  Does she just look at art instead of create it?  I’m guessing that perhaps camping, hanging with the horses and big gardening projects are not a part of her life.  

And, if there’s a version of me in NY, why not one in London or Paris?  These ghost lives can get pretty complicated.  

What I did observe in Greer’s book is that none of the versions of Greta was without life issues.  Our environment may reshape the problem somewhat but the essence is the same.

What would have happened if I had stayed or made different choices?  I don't really know.  I do know that I enjoy visiting old friends and family, but when I think about all the friends and life experiences I would not have had, I’m pretty glad I've moved here.

We are who we are no matter when or where we live...though, if there is one, I wouldn't mind visiting my ghost life in Paris!!


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Fisher King Has Left the Building

Like many, I have loved being entertained by Robin Williams.  Whenever The Birdcage comes on, I find myself watching it again and again.  It's the same with interviews he did, such as the one for The Actors Studio where he did some brilliant improvisation.  He was incredibly talented and he made me laugh.

One favorite movie was not a comedy, far from it actually.  It was The Fisher King and it was not an easy movie to watch nor was it necessarily a happy one.  In it, he plays a man whose tragic loss has sent him into homelessness and a deranged fantasy life.  There's much more to it but what drew me in was that it was a story of redemption and that by the end, one of hope as well.  I think that last part was the key.  Yes, I am a hopeless romantic and do like things to turn out well, but really, what's wrong with that? 

When he did these dramatic roles, it felt like he was tapping into some internal knowledge that made the characters more real.  I know actors are acting but there are times when it feels more tangible.  Perhaps he did tap into something, perhaps he was just that good an actor.  I'll never know.

We all have our challenges and I wonder what it is that gets some of us through and others not.  I think of people I knew who have chosen to end their lives instead of live them and I always wonder why.  I also wonder if there was a way to have helped them.  

Depression is one of those things that people don’t like to talk about.  It has a stigma attached that compels most to hide it.  Some are quite good at masking it.  You’ll see them smile and do a little light chitchat but internally, they are actually in the depths of depression and you never knew. 

What brings it on?  Is it the failure of not reaching expectations?  I’m not really sure.  I do know that once there, it’s a feeling of being lost and not knowing where to go or how to get there.  A darkened path with no apparent hope.  

One writer said he was angry that Robin Williams didn’t reach out.  I am too, but I understand a little.  When one is in its depths, it doesn’t seem like you can reach out to anyone.  It’s too far and too dark.  It’s The Stranger within – thank you Billy Joel for understanding that.  

I remember in the early 80s, I had a period of personal challenges.  Nothing in any area of my life was going right.  Some were because of bad choices, others, well, just circumstances.  I coped by numbing the pain with a little pharmaceutical help, which only made it worse.  My family was no comfort, in fact someone close made cruel comments that sent me deeper into despair.

I was fortunate.  A friend, who was off to spend the weekend with some mutual college friends, one of whom was getting married, noticed something was off before she left.  She wasn't sure what, just that things were not quite right.  It was enough that she decided to call and check in on me, a bigger deal when cell phones were not around.  Was it that call or the fact that I felt someone cared enough to check?  Was it me wondering who would take care of my beloved pet?  I'm not really sure, maybe all of it.  What I do know is that at that moment when I looked into the face of darkness, I chose light.  It was housed in a tiny speck of hope but I saw it. 

Sometimes, I still encounter a little bit of the dark.  What helps me, aside from being older, generally happier, and hopefully even somewhat a little wiser, is that I always remember that in that moment so long ago, I was strong enough.  I found my way out and chose life.  It keeps me strong still.  I’m still guilty of keeping the darkest stuff to myself and not reaching out till I’ve made that first step or two outside the shadow, probably because I think I’d scare a few people if they ever knew just how black it really gets. 

These days, I also make better choices and have found healthier ways to cope.  Instead of numbing the pain, I work through it by taking a walk, spending time writing or painting, perusing the beauty of the world I live in, and yes, even volunteering to spend time with the horses and shovel manure. Of course, a call or email from a friend always helps as well.  It all shines the light a little brighter so that I can continue to find the right path.

The Fisher King has left us.  My guess is that he was just unable to find his way out one more time.  It makes me sad that our world is just a little dimmer without him.   RIP Robin.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

I Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts...

I love October.  On the first day of the month, a friend’s daughter posted ‘Happy First Day of Halloween’ on her Facebook page, and I thought, yea, that works for me.  The trees put on their fall color costumes and the month ends with a holiday that celebrates candy.  What’s not to love?  Plus there are lots of scary activities to go explore.   

Which I did! 

Recently, I stepped out of my usual comfort zone and took in an evening ghost tour.  Pike Place Market is a famous spot that’s been around for over 100 years.  Though it is mostly a tourist attraction now, the Market has an rich old history, which was mostly what the tour was about.  Over the years, there have many interesting characters in and around the Market.  Apparently, quite a few have decided to stay in the form of spirits; just a little more color to add to Seattle’s tales.  

Fortunately, I did not come across any ghosts on my tour, at least to my knowledge.  Although I did enjoy hearing the rich stories of those who are supposedly around.  While I had been to Kells Irish Bar and Pub, I had no idea it was known to be haunted or that the building it is located in had been the Butterworth mortuary at one time.  Plenty of scary stories about Kells on my tour.  It makes me wonder how many people thought they had just had one too many when it was an actual ghost they had encountered. Would it make you stop drinking?  Or, would it be time to definitely order another?  Again, happy I haven’t come across any of these local legends yet. 

Kat Richardson is an author who delves into Seattle’s history when writing her paranormal mystery series set here.  Of course, she adds her own creativity and imagination but much of the basic underlying lore included in the books is based on real local history.  She adds the vampires, necromancers, witches and, especially in the most recent book, ghosts, but there are also some NSA/CIA spooks as well.  I’m not sure which is scarier…

The latest book in the Greywalker series, Possession, is a story based on the ghost tales of the Market area and our local waterfront.  Comatose patients around Seattle are being possessed by malevolent spirits.  They don’t seem to be related in any way other than the various weird behaviors each exhibits and the danger to their lives.  It is left to Harper Blaine, the Greywalker, to untangle this mystery before a lot of people die.  She has to this all while avoiding the evil government operatives before they discover what she is and how valuable her powers could be to them. 

A perfect book for anyone’s Halloween.  

Enjoy the candy and the costumes, along with a good book.  However, I would add that if you’re anywhere near Kells tonight, my advice would be to order a stiff drink with that side of ghost…


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Nostalgia, aka, I Knew You When

PBS had an article about how nostalgia is good for you.  I decided to look online for a definition, and I found it defined as a “sentimental longing for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.”  I like to think of it as remembering a time when life was easier or at least simpler.  Then I ask myself, was it really easier, or is it just that I seem to filter out the more challenging times?

I’m a bit nostalgic when I think of one man I briefly spent time with in my youth.  He was one of the very few Italian men I have ever dated, that not being my usual style.  Yet I couldn’t help myself as he was just so darn good looking.  The fact that he was a culinary school trained chef was an added bonus.  Our relationship, such as it was, lasted about a minute, but we’ve kept in contact over the years.
What dreams, what egos, we have when we’re young!  We feel we are special.  The very essence of youth is the belief that we’re going to conquer the world and be unique and extraordinary.  Of course, each of us as human beings is special, but not quite in the way imagined.  Few of us grow up to be renowned.  

The book, The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer, chronicles the lives of friends, each of whom has his/her own grand ideas.  They meet as teens and solidify their tight knit group during the summer of 1974 while attending at an arts camp in the New England woods.  There they perform and act out dreams of being dancers, actors and artists.  The kids, aka ‘The Interestings’, as they name themselves, remain close during the winter months and over the next couple of years. 

Many choices made when young, even the poor ones, generally allow for some reprieve.  Sometimes, however, there are choices that cause considerable and irreparable damage.  Such is the case with these friends.

We follow the lives of the four who remain close over the next four decades.  There is Jules, the financially challenged girl from the suburbs, who though not very pretty, has a wonderful wry sense of humor and who also very much wants to be accepted as part of the group.  Ash, delicate and pretty, is the one whose parents held high expectations of and who seems to have easier access to life’s opportunities.  Jonah is the beautiful and talented boy with too many secrets.  Then there is Ethan, a child of divorce, who was not blessed with good looks or money but was blessed with a fantastically creative mind.   

Two others were there at the start: Cathy, the energetic and lively dancer, and Goodman, the compelling yet complete screw up, but both are more like ghosts who float in and out of the story…important, yet distant.  It is the other four we get to know and watch how their friendships change over time.

I recognized the patterns of life over those forty years and how each character found, stumbled and then found themselves again.  No one escaped without pain, but all were that mix of ordinary and extraordinary that we all are.  There are the expectations of youth, followed by a change of plans when we recognize we must give up our initial, yet unrealistic dreams.  These are followed by other life changes in our thirties and forties and then again in our fifties, each decade bringing its own challenges and benefits.  I know there will be more transformations in the future but both the book and I only have only come this far.  

Recently, when I was visiting my family back east, I stopped by my friend’s restaurant.  He and his cousin made a terrific meal for me and later on, he and I met for a hot beverage.  We are now in our late fifties and, like others our age, there’s more family stuff to deal with.  Age has crept up to us both.  For me, it is the added weight; for him, it showed in the tiredness around his eyes.  Yet, he’s still handsome and he still has that quick smile.  It was good to see him to catch up and reminisce.   

We are not close friends.  We have lived separate lives over the last forty years but it is the nostalgia of shared history and friends that occasionally draw us together and keeps us in touch.   

We filter out what hasn’t gone well and celebrate what has. 

For we still survive when others have not…


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ask me no secrets, I’ll tell you no lies…

The word secret has definitions that are a variation on a theme.  There are secret paths, secret societies, secret recipes, and in one movie, there was even the secret that was in the sauce.  Essentially, though, a secret is something that is kept from knowledge or view. 

In the early 1900s, a little girl is left alone and abandoned on an Australian dock, her small suitcase her only companion.  That she came in on the ship from England is known but everything else about her is a mystery; one which we uncover in the book The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  The author takes us through three separate time periods simultaneously, each revealing a little more of the story.  While there are gardens and fairy tales, there are also some dark secrets. 

Kate Morton does family secrets well.    

Secrets, we all have them.  Some are pretty minor, like who ate the pasta out of the fridge (who me?); others are a little more daunting and life changing.  Most people are fascinated by what someone is holding back and the reasons why they do so.  Why else would the tabloids be so popular?  

Inside our families and groups of friends, there are always secrets and aspects of life that are not shared outside the circle.  Even within ourselves, we too each have secrets we keep close.  Some call it our shadow side; Billy Joel called it "The Stranger" in his song.  It is a part of us we rarely share with others, or if we do, very few, and certainly not all of what’s there. 
Sometimes, we’re the keeper of secrets that are not our own.

In the book, The Secret Keeper, also by Kate Morton, another family is revealed as we uncover layers of surreptitious lies over various time periods. 

Dorothy, aka Dolly, is a happy go lucky loving mother and wife who never talks about her earlier life or family before marriage, other than to say her family was killed during the war.  One day, someone from that unknown past shows up.  Her eldest child, Laurel, then 16, sees her mother kill the man.  To the police, Laurel has backed up her mother’s version that the man had attacked her, but she knows it wasn’t what she saw.  What led to that encounter, or frankly anything about her mother’s life in London, has never been discussed.  It is not until 50 years later, when a war time photograph of her mother and a friend elicits a queer reaction from the now frail Dorothy, does Laurel’s curiosity set her off on the journey of discovering answers to her many life-long questions.  Who was the man who showed up at the farm and why did her mother stab him?  How does this relate to her mother’s life during the war? And just who is this other women, Vivien, and how does she fit into her mother’s story?  

How much do we ever really know about our parents before we existed?  What secrets have they potentially held back?   Could they possibly have had a life before us?   

Then I wonder, just what will I say when my friends’ children begin to ask me about their parents?   
As my father would say, I think I’ll just make that chapter a mystery…