What Haunts You?

What are the ghosts that follow you into your art? 

I’m sitting here listening to Rancid’s “Let the Dominoes Fall” CD. Every time I hear Tim Armstrong sing, “…there’s ghosts that follow me around everywhere I am…” (lyrics from the song, “Civilian Ways”), I get a lump in my throat. The referenced ghosts follow someone who has returned from war and it always gives me pause. It makes me think about how to be supportive to those people who come back from military service in Iraq and Afghanistan with a sense of no longer fitting into life in Roseville, Minnesota, or wherever they’re from. Today, however, I broke through to a different thought about what ghosts show up in my writing.

There are the usual things: people who have died, especially my father; sisters who no longer communicate because we disagree on our respective roles with each other and the world; partners who didn’t work out; a religion left behind. Perhaps, more importantly, are the ghosts that I work to keep out of my writing, the events that get shoved into the darkest recesses so they can’t damage anyone. Their shadows probably still show up in the work – I simply can’t see them. Others might.

Today, instead of digging further into this, I invite you to explore your ghosts and see what they push you to create. And ponder which ghosts you choose to leave out. Take a leap.


In keeping with the idea of ghosts that follow us into our art, take a look at the site for the Combat Paper Project. Veterans who get involved in the project attend workshops where they learn how to turn their old uniforms into paper and, from there, create art projects that allow them to make sense of and share their experiences. Check it out at http://www.combatpaper.org/about.html. They accept donations to help keep things going.


  1. It's interesting you mention the ghost-war connection. I visited Vietnam for a month last year, and while it's now a beautiful, friendly country, there were certain places that felt very haunted to me. It led to a lot of writing about those places and Vietnam in general; some of the best poetry I've ever produced (though, I admit, it took a ton of work and revising). I think if something affects you enough that you feel haunted by it, it can often inspire great writing if you give it a chance.


  2. No…I've been putting off submitting stuff for a while now, and I have yet to start a blog or anything like that where I can post it myself. Perhaps I should. I'll let you know 🙂


  3. I'm intrigued about the idea of pushing “ghosts” or hauntings back somewhere. This is a dance I do almost everyday in my life: “let them stay? Push them out!” I suspect that the response could be different at any given time. When do haunting things stop being productive and become a hinderance instead? Can we be haunted in a “neutral” way? I just don't know the answer but I do have a lot questions.


  4. Hey Anonymous – I think you're right that the response to what haunts us varies. Our ghosts become hinderances when we deny they're there; we waste a lot of energy dancing around whatever we need to deal with. That said, not all ghosts need to be identified in our creative work; there are boundaries that need to be maintained if a ghost is particularly damaging. Or maybe it's a matter of letting something go and being okay with that. The answer will be different for everyone. The key, though, is to know what's right for ourselves, to recognize when what haunts us has the potential to unlock another door that leads us to a new realization. As for neutral? Not sure there is such a thing.


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