The Ghost Athiest (Fiction)

ghost

 

This originally appeared on my Medium.com page, where I post fiction pieces.

The Ghost Athiest

“Dude, wake up.”

Paul rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms. “You’re not talking to me. I already told you ghosts aren’t real. Rather, they could be real, but there’s no evidence for or against. My non-belief is pragmatic and based on the scientific method”, he said.

“Paul, this is going to get ugly if you don’t get your stupid meatbag ass outta that bed. I have to right wrongs on Earth so I can move on, and you’ll learn something through the quest.”

Paul sighed. “This is just a side effect of my medication. I’m going back to sleep.”

“Goddamnit Paul! Even prescription-strength dandruff shampoo doesn’t cause claw-like lacerations, auditory and visual hallucinations, and fuckin’ ECTOPLASM!”

“The scratches are from inexpensive towels, the hallucinations are from being tired, and the alleged ectoplasm is sebaceous fluid from my inflamed scalp. Goodnight, to no one and nothing, because I am alone.” Paul said, glad for having stood up for himself.

The ghost shook the bed. “A common earthquake, and a pitiful one, at that.”

The ghost opened Paul’s laptop and typed “SAMSAMSAMSAMSAMSAMSAMSAM.”

“Screensaver,” Paul declared.

“Listen, jackass, I have to settle accounts” the ghost said.

“Misplaced workplace anxiety,” answered Paul.

The ghost jumped in through Paul’s solar plexus and made his head turn around three times.

“Yoga must be paying off”, a smug Paul said. “Namaste.”

“I have business with the realm of the living, and I’ve chosen you as my corporeal assistant”, the Ghost said from within Paul’s thorax.

“I have big things to do. I’m going to change the World! I believe in me, I’m a winner, and nothing can get in my way!” affirmed Paul.

The ghost swam out through the main exit, dragging a fart with him. Paul giggled.

“You screwed up big time, buddy! You could have been rich, and imbued with the power of the spirit world. You could even have been reunited with your dead dog, Sparky. I’m outta here.” The ghost said, before flying through the dreamcatcher over Paul’s window and teleporting to Arizona.

“Is he gone?” asked a voice from under the bed.

“Yeah, it’s cool. Come on out, babe”, Paul said

“Whew, that was close” said Lady Sasquatch, as she slipped under the comforter. “Tell me about Sparky” she said, spooning Paul.

Precipice

Tomorrow is the first day of my new career. I’ve had the same job for the last 15 years, and I am a bit anxious about not knowing or understanding cultural norms right away. I know it will probably be fine, and I’m excited about it, but I still worry.

Ok, so what I’m really worried about is behaving appropriately as a civilian. I was in the military for nearly half my life. I don’t want to seem uptight, or overly courteous to a point that makes people uncomfortable. I know I won’t be too causal, and I won’t have bat “veteran” habits like calling people “shitbird”, speaking exclusively in Talladega Nights quotes, or punching their sandwich.

As I said in my previous post, I’ve been without a routine. My drive is approximately 15 minutes, so I’ll leave at least half an hour early. I’m not good at mornings, so I’ll wake up 2 hours early. That means I need to go to bed at 10. I’ve already packed my lunch and set out my clothes. I still have to set the chemex up. I need to do as much prep the night before because I am a surly ogre in the morning. I haven’t had to do this in a while, so it may be painful.

I’m trying to approach this with a sense of adventure, but still, it’s just a job. My life will still be screwed up in a lot of ways, and I will remain very much a fallible person. I know this, and I’m putting it aside so I can have my moment.

 

A Late July Update

So no, in regards to my last post, we haven’t found a suitable place of worship just yet. I’m still not ready to give up, but with all the violence and BS happening around the World, I can feel my heart getting hard. I don’t want to be a bitter person. I talked to my dad last week about letting go of grudges and regrets, something I’ve been able to (mostly) do through meditative practices. He relayed he has always had trouble with it. For me, I saw it as intentionally defeating my ego and eliminating wasteful, unproductive habits and beliefs. We all program our brains differently, whether with intent or by accident. I decided I didn’t want to be mad at people who were jerks to me or constantly relive experiences where I failed to rise to the occasion. It surely won’t help me live in the present or be happy, and I think I’ve learned all there was from those experiences, so I discarded that junk like a holey old pair o’ drawers.

My first chapbook, Dravet Syndrome Blues, is written. I’m letting the poems air out and settle for a few days, then I’ll scrutinize them with red pen in hand, and revise. They won’t be too reworked- I want them to be not only GOOD, but an encapsulation of my current influences, experiences, and ability as a writer. I’ve solicited a little feedback, which has been helpful, but I have to just go or I will talk myself out of it. I’m working on layout and design at the moment. Design is not my strong suit, but that’s okay. I haven’t produced a physical product in forever (16 years or so), and I’m excited.

Speaking of books, I finally got around to reading Cormac McCarthy’s “All the pretty horses.” What a fantastic story, and McCarthy is able to write stark, laconic cowboy prose interspersed with flourished, descriptive passages in a way which is totally natural, without an air of contrivance.He’s not trying too hard-he’s just really that good. He is a living master.

Albuquerque is still magical.

I start work next week. I’m looking forward to it, but also not. I have enjoyed having little stress and no routine, but I am a person who very much needs a rigid routine. It will be a good addition to my life.

In addition to routine, I discovered that I also like taking risks and having adventures.  I’m writing this from a hotel room outside Denver. We drove 6.5 hours here so Lindsay and the oldest kid could go see Sufjan Stevens. It wasn’t a bad drive, but prior to realizing that our lives were finite and we were in charge of the character of our lives, I don’t know we would have done this. I want awesome experiences. I don’t hate road trips like I once did, and don’t get tired driving for more than 45 minutes, as growing up on an island is prone to induce.

So things aren’t perfect. I still hold on to old crap sometimes, and sometimes I’m grumpy and snap at the kids. Sometimes I don’t sleep well, and have learned there’s no wisdom in saying “I’ve never gotten sunburn on the tops of my feet”. Still, I think I’m in a good place, literally and figuratively. Seizures, and the threat thereof, are constantly lurking, and I never thought I could feel so dried up by someone else’s condition, but this in my normal. We have abundant moments, and are making stuff happen. I’ll take it.

 

Keeping the sabbath holy

I’ve written much about the spiritual crisis I started about 2.5 years ago. It got dark at times. It’s largely resolved, but featured a period of faithlessness, and a careful examining of what I believe and what it means about how I should live my life.

Church has been a constant, notwithstanding a few weeks here and there. However, since moving to Albuquerque, it’s been difficult to find the right church. We scouted a bunch of places online before arriving, and thought we’d found *our* place. Their social media presence expresses concern in the same things I care about, they’re plugged into the community, all good things. However, after 2 visits, I was unable to see any men between 25-50. The kids were shushed by a deaf lady. Instrumental versions of several patriotic songs were played to celebrate 4th of July, which made my vehement dedication to separation of church and state itch all over.

I don’t want everyone in the world to be like me, but maybe having contemporaries in similar stages of life would be nice. I still need friends. And I understand many people experience being “the only one in the room” on a regular basis, but I don’t want to be a permanent outlier in my faith community. The nursery was in disrepair-it has been a long time since toddlers were there. As a parent of a toddler with Dravet Syndrome, this is an issue.

On the drive to lunch (after ducking out a side door to avoid mingling with the septuagenarians), we all said some variation of “What if we just don’t go to church anymore?” Over Jason’s Deli sandwiches and sweet tea, Lindsay and I both confessed we missed Ogden.

I clarified. I missed people in Ogden, our old church, and the coffee shops, which were many and excellent.

Our old church, the one where we felt so comfortable? 2 families with kids, and rarely did they attend at the same time. That’s all I needed. A few more would have been nice, but it was enough. I like older (including the elderly) people, I just don’t want to hang out exclusively with old people all the time. Not only does it make the necessary evil of small talk difficult, but there’s a disconnect in values, frames of reference, and communication styles. Though this may lead to a wider perspective and deep discussions, it might also lead to me being told hip hop is just noise, and they ain’t even heard that new Chance jawn tho.

Life will never be perfect, but I’m not ready to give up trying. It may mean casting a wider net. I went to a Buddhist meditation class on Thursday. I largely enjoyed the experience, and managed to not fall asleep, even with long stretches of silence. I was a little put off by a little of the dharma talk-there was a short portion about disembodied spirits (which cause illness because they think humans mean them harm) being assuaged by offerings of food. Though that’s not the weirdest thing I’ve heard in a religious setting, it made me uncomfortable.

You see, I grew up with a stringent dark/light binary. Either you were actively reading your bible and praisin’ the Lord, or you were being molested by demons. There was a gross fascination with the occult and Satan. Demons loomed large on my conscience, and I spent more time being afraid of being possessed or descended upon by a fanged tormentor than I was trying to live like Jesus, or the distilled version of simply trying to not be a jerk. It could happen anywhere, anytime. I had anxiety and recurring nightmares about it. Listening to a Color Me Badd song, doing yoga, teaching kids about dinosaurs, watching a movie starring Kevin Spacey were all portals to hades.*I am purposely not linking to videos or articles stating a belief in these statements, because I don’t want to. Google at your own discretion.*

I’m not expecting evil around every corner anymore. Not demons or botulism or ISIS. It is freeing to not focus on negative potential events. Sure, I still lock my doors and keep an eye out for crackheads, pyramid schemes, and wolves, but bad things that might (and totally might not too, you guys) happen don’t consume all my operating RAM. It’s taken me a long time to arrive at a place where I reclaimed the right to worry about what I want to, and use my thoughts as I see fit, and I will fiercely protect it.

And any church I might consider being involved with is just going to have to deal with it.

 

 

 

 

Appointments

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I largely grew up in the evangelical church. I volunteered at the church office, doing admin work, and provided manual labor when needed. Church was safer than home, so I was there as much as possible.

There was a “Christianese” phrase I heard a lot in the 90’s/early 2000’s, and occasionally still do. It’s “divine appointment”. The idea is that God interacts with the trajectory of your life by injecting a person, or problem, or comforting thing, from which to learn and grow, or act in a situation.

36 doves on wires, against an obscenely blue sky. If someone were to suggest God put it there for me to see and appreciate, I would protest only mildly.

 

A Poem (a fun one)  from my upcoming chapbook Dravet Syndrome Blues:

Platitudes

When life gives you lemons
And your hands are covered in dozens of unexplained, tiny cuts
You can’t make lemonade without considerable pain
But you can make apologies and excuses

When opportunity knocks
Sometimes it’s life, giving you lemons
And sometimes it’s Mormons
Even though the sign says “No Soliciting”

It takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile
And many more to make lemonade
Even more telling the Mormon kids their homophobic intergalactic sexcult is creepy
And you’re not referring to a twenty-year-old as “Elder”, but you’ll help them escape

God doesn’t give you more than you can handle
I don’t think I could handle managing a combination Taco Bell/Pizza Hut
So I guess I’m glad for that one
I just want to stay far, far away from lemons.

 

 

 

 

Ugh

I don’t think delivering bad news about someone you care about to someone else you care about gets easier. It shouldn’t. I can’t compartmentalize and detach myself from this situation, it’s real and painful. Forgive the vagueness, but I wasn’t able to deliver the message to the recipient today. I just couldn’t do it. I tried to psyche myself up and make the call, but I failed. It’s a bad one, and will require action. Again, vague-but maybe if I talk around it, I’m not keeping it all inside.

However, we bear burdens in the name of family. It’s what we do. We weather minor inconveniences and struggle with helping loved ones through sickness, addiction, dark valleys. “Bad news travels fast”, as the phrase goes, and with distance, you rarely get to share in triumphs and valiant efforts.

I will take courage and do it. It will not get better right away. It will strain tenuous relationships. It is the right thing to do. Peaks and valleys, right?

*3 deep breaths*

In an attempt to segue to a more positive note to resolve the composition, I would like to share that I reconnected with an old friend, the one my old blog post Autodidact is about. After I left Hawaii at age 20, our lives took very different trajectories, but are now moving somewhat in parallel, as far as family life, making sense of our hardscrapple upbringing, and career stuff. It’s a good thing.

I also had a really good phone conversation with one of my hanai aunts. Though we are not related by blood or marriage, and we speak infrequently, and I haven’t seen her in 15 years, we are family.

This weekend I’m going to meet some folks we met as friends-of-friends, and we’ve been talking online for a few years now. I may get to see an old friend from high school. It’s going to be weird and fantastic.

I’m choosing “weird and fantastic” as the lens through which all things are viewed. I will recognize the awful, take it in, fight it if needed, and let it go, but “weird and fantastic” is my default outlook.

 

 

Social

 

I’ve been making cold-brew coffee a lot. If I knew it was so simple and produced a mellow, delicious beverage, I would have started making it forever ago. It’s nice in the (oppressively  hot) afternoons, where hot coffee would be perhaps unwise.

We took a trip to Santa Fe a few days ago-it was wonderful. The city is beautiful, as is the area. Of course, it’s a more well-heeled city, so it was without a lot of the decay and charm. I know we’ll be visiting frequently. I could live there, but I’m still stoked on ABQ. Tonight boasted a ridiculous Lisa Frank sunset, which my phone camera didn’t attempt to do justice.

I’m still working on my poetry chapbook. I’m aiming for 35 poems, and I’m a little more than halfway there. I want them to be fresh and in the moment, so I’m not using older work. I’m choosing to not include spoken-word stuff from my first foray into that scene. I am making sure I put a fair amount of effort into the project, but I need to make sure I don’t filter myself too much. It’s my first one. I need to publish it and move on. Well, then I have to sell them, but after that, move on.

I realized I have not had a real conversation in about a month. Moving from Ogden to Albuquerque at the same time I left the military was a drastic, but welcome change. Even unfollowing military and Ogden-specific Facebook pages was exciting. Since then, I’ve been focused on making camp here-changing over insurance, new driver’s license, all that jazz. I haven’t connected with anyone here, and besides brief exchanges in stores and stuff, I haven’t talked to anyone who isn’t in my immediate family.

I don’t feel isolated or disconnected. I know it will come, but I kind of wish I could fast-forward to it. Once I get into a routine it will happen, but I am appreciating being free of the tyranny of razors and alarm clocks.

This not shaving or having good conversations is a waypoint, not a destination. It is simply where I am now, and I embrace it.