Today, I talked with ghosts.
When I was in fourth grade, two bullies named Nick and Eric convinced me that ghosts lived in rocks. Special rocks. Irregularly shaped rocks which contained the souls of the dead.
I was skeptical at first. I had been played before — teased, harassed, intimidated, pushed, shoved, called a faggot (even though I didn’t know what it meant until much later). So when Nick and Eric crept up on me on the blacktop during recess, I was on my guard.
But it was a magical idea! Something fantastical — a glimpse into other dimensions. Yes, rocks could be inhabited by ghosts and only those sensitive enough to their call — like me! — could detect them, hear their cries. For whatever reason — I bought it wholeheartedly. It was fantasy grounded in hard, rock evidence.
I have been escaping into fantasy as long as I can remember. The same year I began believing in ‘rock ghosts,’ I wrote a rip-off novella of THE LORD OF THE RINGS called THE BLUE STAR, about a blue necklace that turned a hobbit-like creature invisible. Here’s the first paragraph:
Faren looked out the window at the sparkling flowers and deepening skies. Not caring he leaned dangerously out the window trying to grab a flower, perhaps to lighten his hopes. He squinted his eyes from the bright sun that shone so brightly. Tutomor was the brighest place in all the lands of the Cheshire.
One necklace to rule all necklaces! I would rush home after-school every day to write, juice-box in hand, and created 40 single spaced pages in Microsoft Word. Finally, I wanted to show it to someone, so I took it to my school librarian, who taught me a magical new word...plagiarism! (What’s even worse is I just discovered, via the magic of Google, that there actually exists a fantasy novel called THE BLUE STAR published in 1952).
Whoops. I had been doing something bad. But wasn’t it homage? To be on the safe side, I stopped writing things down and instead began writing, in my head, a version of all the sci-fi and fantasy stories and characters I’d ever read amalgamated into one imaginary inter-galatic universe spanning 10,000 years in my imagination. An oral history of the storylines of STAR WARS, STAR TREK, NARNIA, THE HOBBIT, LORD OF THE RINGS, and DISNEY all merged into one. I would act out adventures from this universe every night, playing all the roles, hissing lightsaber sounds under the covers, picking up where last night’s story cliff-hangered, creating the most epic fan fiction imaginable. It became a ritual, a meditation, a magic carpet to take me boldly where no boy had gone before.
The ghosts became more appealing to me than reality. Even after Nick and Eric burst out laughing after a particularly long monologue I gave about the elderly dame living in a bolder, no longer able to contain their charade, I kept believing. I would play sick to get out of school, skip over to my mom’s office, and resume acting out my fantasies under her desk. I would pray every night to Yoda to come rescue me from this Earth hell-hole.
This need to escape into fantasy continued long after fourth grade, all the way into high school when I discovered a powerful new means of escape — a computer game named Everquest, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. An M.M.O.R.P.G! The virtual fantasy world I had always dreamed of. And that was where I created my alias, Aleolin, the African-American Wizard, on the Prexus Server, who would become one of the most powerful wizard in the History of Everquest.
I spent 14 hours a week glued to Everquest. I got fat and bleery and red-eyed in the real world, but in the world of Everquest, I had invented a new way to use the MANABURN spell. By invoking all my wizard friends, upwards of 30 of them, to cast the spell simultaneously, it created an explosion of magic so powerful it could kill Dragons. Dragons! Without the aid of warriors, clerics, or even a Shadowknight. I had done it with weak wizards, and the game was being overturned…that is until the makers of Everquest, a corporation known as VERANT, NERFED the Manaburn ability across the entire game. Nerfed it, meaning gone, badda boom, nadda, no more. This affected millions of users worldwide, in China and elsewhere, all because Aleolin, the Wizard from the Prexus Server, had found a way to cheat the system. Outrage ensued! Strangers wrote posts sprung up on the forums…Graffe.com, keepersofthefaith.com, Prexus.com defending Aleolin, defending me, defending my avatar. And they gave me a moniker. They started calling me The Pink Pansy. Pink, for the flaming pink robe I played dress-up in, in the game. And Pansy, for the way my delicate flower was being crushed by the man. I was…an internet wizard legend — my fantasies come true.
I no longer play video games so much or pretend to be an actual wizard, though there are some nights, especially when I can’t fall asleep, when I’ll quietly hum the sound of a lightsaber, allowing my mind to slip into the stream of imagination. It’s a little tick that relaxes my brain from all the stresses of surviving Mordor, aka NYC.
But I think of all these adventures simmering in my subconscious. Where do they live, when I’m no longer continuing their stories in my head?
The ghosts I talk with these days are entirely based on real-life things, people, events. They are mostly vapors of angry, vindictive, dramatic or traumatic events from my adult years on Earth. Memories of arguments I’ve lost, where I endlessly replay the scenario in my head to ‘win’ the conflict. Memories full of rage sometimes: fantasies of me physically punching someone or getting someone to punch me so I can sue them and live rent-free in NYC. They are all mirrors of my insecurities — the biggest one of all: the fear of functioning as a responsible adult.
When did my swashbuckling childhood ghosts morph into these adult terrors — terrors laced with ten times the emotional weight, but one tenth the imaginative story. These are ghosts of angry emails, instead of Star Destroyers. Ghosts of adult victories like winning a reimbursement from a credit card company over an outrageous fee, instead of defeating a Balrog. The Death Star is making rent. The Enterprise is surviving the 6 train at rush hour. The Ring of Power is the tab I’m twirling round my finger from the ninth beer I’ve had that night, trying to maintain a high.
The main character is always me in these stories: Philip — usually distressed over money, or petty fights, or feeling lonely, or disrespected or passed over for opportunities. I walk down the street and I make-up stories with ghosts that don’t exist any longer; I make them real again even though it doesn’t heal me or make me feel whole or end the cliffhanger; it only empowers these petty ghosts to grow stronger, to become corporeal, to weigh me down like rocks in my shoes.
My goal these days is to travel through life feeling deeply but moving lightly, and to do that I’ve gotta let go of the boring, inconsequential rocks. There’s nothing special about them.
And perhaps instead, I’ll pick up an interesting rock, a quirky one that I find in the park, and imagine it’s inhabited by the spirit of Philip the Jedi, and see what kind of story he’ll create. He’s way more fun.