My graduate thesis for my MFA from New England College has been approved by both my thesis advisers. For the most part I use this website to post publications, but I thought I’d share my thesis intro here for anyone who is interested in reading it. Hopefully the work that appears in the thesis (besides what has already been published–Porcelain Ghosts in [PANK] & Seeking Soul Mate at the Granada Theater in Parhelion Magazine, plus the forthcoming Torpedo in Juked) will make its way into the world through various publications and presses. Thanks to everyone who continues to follow my life journey and my life work(s).
Love & Other Ghosts: A Thesis Intro
In a writing workshop, the group talked about a piece I wrote titled “Torpedo” in which a girl was seeing her ex-lover wherever she went in the faces, intonations, and movement of other people. One student said, “Oh, I definitely thought this was a ghost story, that she was being haunted by a dead lover.” My mentor chimed in, “There are more ways than through death to be haunted.”
“There is a window that looks through me,” Cristina Rivera Garza writes in The Taiga Syndrome, “Something that bites or strangles.” In “Torpedo” a girl is haunted by her ex-lover. In “Porcelain Ghosts” the narrator is haunted and does the haunting. In “Pigeon House” a woman is being haunted by her grief in the shape of birds. In “After I Left”, a live girl is haunting. In “Grizzly”, a woman haunts and hunts, becomes the hunter and the hunted. In “Seeking Soul Mate”, the narrator is a ghost and wants to be haunted. In “Pane”, each individual is haunted by their life while they sit behind their windows, haunting. In Fever, my creative nonfiction manuscript, I am haunting my trauma and my desire, and I am being haunted, hounded. I am the ghost behind the window, seeking memory, and on the other side, in fiction, I am the observer spotting the apparition. In “Porcelain Ghosts” I write, “I can’t be sure the ghost wasn’t me.” No matter what side of the window I am on, I am the thing that bites and strangles. Throughout my thesis, Love & Other Ghosts, I circle around and through the ways that love, grief, and trauma linger. We look at them as if through glass, through a window, and our imprint is there on both sides.
While living in Texas, when I was 20, I came across a picture of me in my parent’s kitchen. At the time of the photo, unbeknownst to me, I was internally bleeding to death from an ectopic rupture pregnancy. The photo is blurry, even my face is blurry, but the background especially. I became obsessed with the idea that there was a ghost in the background wearing a white dress with long brown hair. My mom and sister, both true ghost believers, didn’t agree with me. They couldn’t see her. I pull up the picture now, to remember, and can see the background, the way that everything in it is a blurry smudge. The ghost I thought I saw is something on the wall and the lighting from the window underneath. Though still unidentifiable, it is not a ghost. Garza writes: “I was facing someone—I told myself several times, just to remember what was so obvious that it could become transparent and pass unperceived—who had managed to transform the world, at least what was around her, into the world of her desires. A trembling image, something that gleams. What is between imagining a forest and living in a forest? What brings together the writing of a forest with the lived experience of a forest?” I begin pulling up other pictures from those days before I collapsed from the rupture. Each picture has the same quality of blurriness, a ghostly white pallor to my face, almost foggy swirling light in the background, around my head. Was it me? Was I the ghost? Can film capture a spirit leaving a body, or am I, again, seeing what I know to be true. A ghost is a ghost is a ghost is me.
While crying over zoom to my therapist I said, “I love ghosts, and I don’t want to turn ghosts into a giant metaphor for my life, but I am haunted. I am haunted by my past selves. I am haunted by all the people I wanted to be; all the people I know I will never become.” As a passing able-bodied person, I often feel that I must justify the way I exist in the world to others. I find myself inserting remarks about my average of fifteen migraine days a month, or how any food can send me running to the bathroom with barely any notice. Never mind the fatigue, the anxiety, depression, health-related PTSD. But, in the same breath I use to justify my existence as a disabled person I am also quick to try and prove how capable I am. Physically, I look like a normal thirty-one-year-old. I am seemingly healthy, but my physical body often erases my experience. I become a ghost of myself.
In the beginning of Fever, the fragmentary nonfiction book that I started as my undergrad program ended with the school’s closure and my graduation, I write about the head of my program reading his commencement speech. In it he lists off the various students without using their names, and one acknowledgment to me was that as I find my body deteriorating, I discover that I can use the page to create body. The page becomes the landscape in which I can imprint a ghost of myself on, but that is what it is, only a ghost. The pages of Fever are a curated self. Garza writes: “My new method was to recount a series of events without disregarding insanity or doubt. This form of writing wasn’t about telling things how they were or how they could be or could have been; it about how they still vibrate, right now, in the imagination.” I wanted to know about my desire, I wanted to investigate the ways I desire, the things I desire, and the ways in which trauma and illness and a long-term relationship jut up against this desire, rub it, rattle it, shake it loose, cage it, shuffle it, bury it. But more than that, I wanted to worry over what haunts me and the way the things that haunt us can twist and warp our lived experiences, the way the ghosts of the pasts and the ghosts of ourselves are always present, vibrating in the here and now.
Halfway through the MFA the world found itself deep in the throes of a horrifying pandemic. At the time, Fever was still being written, functioning as a current moment meditation on desire, but when my desire evaporated, I shriveled up and became afraid to be near anyone, to touch or even kiss my own partner. I had to continue the work, and through it I had to embrace the window, the frame of Fever. People were out there, dying from a deadly disease that often announced itself first with a high fever. Garza writes: “And suddenly that moment produced the window. And the window produced the spectator. And those three elements together made the romance real. The passion. Someone longed for a freedom that was really an infernal abyss. Someone placed hands, now motionless, on the window. Someone who wanted to escape but couldn’t escape and could only watch.” My desire had to come up against, in real time, the fear that lived deep in my belly from day to day. The specter and the spectator of my trauma, the haunted thing in me, pressed up against the real-life windows of my house. The book ends very early on in the pandemic, only a few months in, and the last fragment is: “A bargaining chip: this lime-green moss.” I knew if I carried on with the book throughout the pandemic, what I thought I knew about my desire, my trauma, my loves—past and present—would alter in an irrevocable way that could steal the haunted nature of the text. I stopped it when reality was pressing but was still at arm’s length, barricaded on the other side of the windows of my house.
In a reading journal during my third semester, I wrote: “We are truly haunted by our past selves and who we become along the way; that it is memory all along that haunts us. This book calls to that shameless part of me that desires for nothing more than to experience love and be haunted by it.” My thesis, Love & Other Ghosts, captures this desire throughout, in both the creative nonfiction and fiction. It is not just that I am haunted, it’s that I want to be, and I won’t give it up.