Exercising Ghosts


  • American Halloween has become a surprising world export.  Costumed people, carved pumpkins, ghosts and tombstones and giant spider webs now appear in Europe and China.  Perhaps it is because these fears are so imaginary that they banish real ones for a while.  Nobody comes dressed as a crazed serial killer, drunken driver, cancer patient, religious cult maniac, or any of the other terrors truly to be feared daily, even by the most well-off.
  • Originally, I suppose, “hallowed eve”  was a sly counterpoint to “all saints day” in the Catholic European calendar, something to make the dull saints themselves more appealing.  Maybe it safely encapsulated pagan traditions of druids and ghosts and witches into one well-contained night.  But it took American ingenuity and perversity (and the imagination of Washington Irving) to turn it into candy and dress-up. Since it is one of the few holidays not associated with pompous tradition _ no commentators are spouting off about “remembering the true meaning of this day” _ folks are just glad to have a chance to celebrate being alive in a slightly crazy way. 


I don’t fear goblins, ghosts, or ghouls,
Vampire’s silent flight,
No poltergeists come haunt my dreams
I love the still of night.
Chainsaw clowns bring no alarm
Zombie hordes no dread
Nor headless horsemen swinging swords 
Giant spiders prowling webs.
I have my worries _ pain and age,
Illness striking deep
Shrinking finance, loss of home,
These all disturb my sleep
But let young children trick or treat
False terrors cause shrill screams
The real world is what bothers me

As lovely as it seems.


  • This boathouse falling into ruin is probably as close as Huntington Harbor comes to a traditional haunted castle.  It’s easy to imagine mad scientists, rats in the flooded basement, bats in the belfry.  And a sinister lightning rod raised into roaring gales some dark and stormy night.
  • Modern mad scientists don’t need abandoned mansions nor liquids bubbling ominously amidst incomprehensible apparatus.  They sit munching Cheetos and drinking cola in some dark room, as they peck away at computer code that will end civilization as we know it.  Doesn’t make nearly so good a movie, but the story is excessively frightening just the same.


“Hey, Jim, what’s new?” I asked, pausing outside the library.
“Grandkids scared me to death, making me take them to the movies.  I didn’t even know they made stuff like ‘Prince Vlad Goes Mad At Home Depot, Part III.’”
“Sounds strange enough, I admit.”
“You have no idea what can be done with the chainsaws and other stuff from the tool section during a hurricane blackout …”
“Are the kids all right?”
“Oh, them, they laughed through the whole thing.  Me, I have trouble sleeping.  What ever happened to stuff like the headless horseman or witches in the forest?  That, I could handle.”
“Maybe when you were younger,” I mused.  “I was always unable to take any suspense.”
“Strange, but I needed to know the ending.  It was not knowing how it would turn out that I couldn’t stand.”
“Well,” he laughed, “at least that made your own life easy.”
“How so?”
“You always knew , like the rest of us, the inevitable end of that story.”
“A mean, low blow, Jim,” I managed.

“Happy Halloween!” he chortled.


  • Cemeteries are haunted by ghosts, which inhabit each human mind.  Some ghosts are of the past, of times that are no more, of people who once meant much to us or to their worlds.  Some are of futures and where we might be and how we could be remembered.  Some are hopes into the vast unknown about what life really is.  All these ghosts truly accompany us amidst the stones, here in the present.
  • Depending on your outlook, cemeteries are interesting, or meditative, or depressing.  And that too is because all interpretation on Halloween, as on every other day, resides in ourselves.  Our responsibility is to achieve insight from these spaces, and apply it well to what we can affect now.


  • We believe other “higher” animals engage in play, but none so completely as humans.  We have the capacity to encapsulate all kinds of information into metaphors, tales, riddles, dreams, and songs and somehow all that helps us survive in our world.  Play is a miraculous gift, we can shape our world magically to fit our needs.
  • Tragic or triumphant tales of evil spirits, for example, are a playful way to put our lives into perspective.  We can face ghostly danger, even allow ourselves to be terrorized by it, while nevertheless retaining some control of the narrative.  Sometimes such play gets out of hand, when imaginings project balefully into our environment _ such as blaming problems on a witch or demon-possessed other .  But usually we understand that the spiritual world is truly beyond our immediate reach and control.
  • An ability to play is a survival skill for consciousness.  At Halloween, for example, we direct can pretend to be something else, to imagine a world controlled differently than our daily one, to ignore usual mundane roles. 
  • Halloween and other holidays help us realize that what is normal may not be the only way things could be.  That’s what play is all about _ imagining alternatives and sometimes using them to create a better reality.


  • Foliage mellows into subdued colorations; crisp breezes slice through patches of warmer air; ducks land with splashes as geese fly noisily overhead.  People either decide it’s time to return to the climate controlled gym or bundle up appropriately.  Fall not yet fierce, but definitely arrived.
  • I feel bewitched and kick the leaf-piles along the street, an expression of the child I still think I am.  Most people have now shed their costume, unfortunately I am still clad in mine which is bald and wrinkled and much more than skin deep.

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