Monday, June 10, 2013

Ghosts -- Just because they aren't real, does that mean they don't exist?

In the past week, I watched two shows regarding ghosts. One was the movie, “The Awakening” and the other was the hit musical, “Next to Normal.” “The Awakening” was a horror film about a skeptic who disproved the existence of spirits, though deep down inside, she wanted them to exist. In the movie she said, “We all want ghosts to be real but that doesn’t mean they are.” “Next to Normal” never made any reference to ghosts. It was about a family dealing with a Mother who suffered from psychotic delusions. She believed her son who had been dead for years, was still alive. 

Ghost stories could fall into three categories, horror, paranormal drama or realistic drama. People who love horror get off on being frightened out of their wits by malicious ghosts who have the ability to terrify them to death. Lovers of paranormal drama fall in love with ghosts, want them to be real, and are touched when the dead are reunited with their loved ones. Realistic stories such as “Next to Normal” may never mention ghosts. The ghosts are memories or hallucinations. In “Next to Normal,” a family is torn apart by a ghost they know is not real and the mother goes through a series of horrible psychiatric treatments to help her get rid of her delusions.

Btw, I love ghost stories of every kind. I feel there is always something deep and archetypal about every type of ghost. They appeal to our own wishes and dreams much like vampires do. I think it is because we truly want ghosts to be real. I can’t think of how many times my door opened on its own. I realize it was just a draft but deep down inside, I was wishing it was the spirit of my long dead Grandfather watching over me. We want to believe that there is a connection to our souls that transcends death. Also, if ghosts are real, it would mean that we aren’t alone, even during our darkest days. They are our imaginary friends.

Harry Houdini, the greatest magician that ever lived, made it his life’s mission to expose mediums to be frauds. However, his initial intent was to contact his dead mother. He offered large amounts of money to find a medium that was real, but he proved them to be frauds each time. Here we have an example of someone who knows too much about magic tricks to be fooled. However, if someone did turn out to be the real thing, he was willing to offer them large sums of money. Deep down inside, he was looking for the genuine article. He never found him or her.

Until modern times, almost every society that ever existed; from ancient pagan cultures, to native tribal cultures, to Christian religions, believed in an afterlife. Coincidentally, most cultures attribute the start of winter or the end of fall as a time for the spirits to visit the living or to move on to the afterlife. I always find it fascinating that my Pagan, Christian and Native American friends celebrate a day where they give reverence to the dead all around the same time. In American culture, children dress up in costumes and haunt other people’s houses. They get candy in exchange for not playing tricks on the members of the household. Are we training our children to become mafia leaders when they grow up? Just kidding, I digress. While Halloween is a commercialized version of all these holidays, the truth is we all seem to need one day or more to pay homage the paranormal.

So the question that arises in my creative, rambling mind is: Just because ghosts aren’t real, does that mean they don’t exist? In the musical I just watched, “Next to Normal,” a ghost that didn’t exist was able to cause trauma to a family. If he wasn’t real, how did he manage to do this? To the writer of the musical, he was very real. He even cast an actor to play him. He wasn’t just a delusion; he was a metaphor. He didn’t just haunt the psychotic woman. In the end, we see how he haunted everybody. Yet, it was very clear that he wasn’t real. At some point in the musical, the mother complained that taking the delusion out of her head didn’t work because it wasn’t in her mind.  It was in her soul. Who can blame a grieving mother for harboring a ghost of a child she loves in the deepest parts of her spirit?

In Buddhism, no one really dies. We all share the same energy. Buddhists learn to accept death as an inevitable cycle, but there is no need to let go because nothing ever leaves and nothing ever dies. Death itself is an illusion. So if death doesn’t exist, is it real?

When I went on the Ghost Tours during my visit to New Orleans, I learned that ghosts are a powerful energy of something traumatic left behind. The haunted areas were more like historical landmarks where very bad things happened. Something still existed, a horrible memory that refused to die.

To those of us who write fiction, we create ghosts. We use them as metaphors. They remind us of people we loved. They help us let go or deal with the unknown. Malicious ghosts represent what we abhor or can’t face. We use them as archetypes and create myths and legends around them. They help us explain concepts that can only be understood through the use of stories. We shape them out of thin air even though they aren’t real. Yet, in the worlds we create, they exist. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Hacking into Society's Code

Clliff was one of my favorite characters. I like the idea of a computer genius who is also interested in how to hack into society. I also gave him a dark past so his rational methods are not always enough to save him from himself. When we meet him, he says that his major, computers fit in really well with sociology:

“Don’t worry about her. It’s my first year as an RA. I’m a sophomore. I didn’t get too involved in stuff last year, so I really want to be a part of the school system this year. Plus, it’s free food and board. That’s probably the best reason why I’m doing it. The only thing is that I have to act like I was born to be an RA to get in. There’s a system to everything.”
“You think?”
“Take that from a sociology minor. It’s okay to act like a stingy, old RA around people like Carmen; just don’t lose your individuality.”
“I hate to break it to you, but I think that’s how she really is.” JC smiled. “What’s your major?”

“Computers. They fit in really well with sociology,” Cliff responded as he turned the corner. JC was stimulated by the articulation and quickness of Cliff’s voice. He thought that Cliff could talk forever, and it would seem like no time went by at all. As he spoke, his eyes would flutter, as if the wheels in his head were constantly turning, then he’d spurt out his ideas without delay as his brain thought of them. When he stopped talking, his eyes would rest on JC, as still as untouched water. “Computers are the great manipulators of the day. You can use them to infiltrate any system. You can learn a lot if you analyze the programming of coding and decoding. It’s sociology in the making. Society’s just one big computer.”

I like to think of Cliff as the Ian Malcolm of my story. Ian Malcolm was the mathematician in the book, "Jurassic Park," who often rambled on about the problems with with using the power of science without considering the ethics of one's motivations.
Being one of the ex cult members and a bit of a quirky genius has given Cliff the ability to see what is going on in a very objective light. This is refreshing because as the reader gets sucked into the cult, the same ways the characters are, Cliff gives the reader a chance to put their reactions into perspective. When he meets JC and tells him his theories, it provide foreshadowing for what is to come:

“So what does computer programming have to do with society? You mentioned something about it when we met, something about decoding . . .”
“Society is just a computer program. We’re taught this language, and it permeates everything in our lives. It influences our culture, morals, what we think is or isn’t important. Bring in another language, and we have to change everything we’ve been brought up to believe. Think about it—why do you think it’s so difficult to learn a foreign language after the age of ten? There’s just too much deprogramming that goes with taking in a whole new culture. If you hack into a computer program, you’ve got to know its language. Then you manipulate it. You use that language to convince the program that everything is normal, but really, you are controlling it. That’s what our media, advertisers, and politicians do. They use code words that are found in our language to hack into our minds and control us. They’re like passwords.”
“So how do you stop them from controlling us?”
“Antivirus.” JC giggled at this and Cliff noticed his reaction. He smiled and continued. “Let me explain. There are certain words or phrases that rile up emotions in you. They stand for things that you believe very strongly in like ‘patriotism.’ ‘God’ is a big one; so are ‘power’ and ‘money.’ When you hear these words, don’t let them bother you. Turn on your antivirus. Take the word out of its context. Listen to what is being said without the word being spoken. If it doesn’t make sense, then you know it’s a bug. I say, even if it does make sense, further investigation is required. See, most people only hear the key words and not the context because our emotional reaction to these words overrides our intellect.”
JC nodded. He noted the word “God.” Oh, how that word riled up Maggi the night they were in the cave. It made her angry, but JC still couldn’t understand how John could have controlled her by making her angry at him. Yet he knew that hatred was a powerful thing, and Maggi wasn’t the same after that. But if she decided that she hated John Cronus too much to ever listen to him again, how could he possibly control her? He felt that Cliff still had a lot of revising to do with his thesis. He thought of mentioning the situation to him, but decided against it. He would rather keep the subject away from such examples that were too close to home. He preferred sticking to the abstract, to the art of hacking, and the rules of the stars.