Writers and Ghostly Encounters


Photo taken by me in Kansas City.
This photo makes me think of ghosts. Photo taken by me in Kansas City.

When I was in college as a creative writing student, I had a professor who claimed that you could not call yourself a legitimate writer until you have had an encounter with a ghost. I’m not sure why this professor made that claim. Perhaps seeing or hearing a ghost means that you are open to possibility, that you are open to the universe. Maybe it means you are open to the stories of others or the stories of different places. Or perhaps it is more closely connected to the way that a writer connects with characters. Sometimes when I am very close to a character, he or she seems to haunt me like a ghost. I can become that person if I so desire. It’s almost like when you downshift a car, I can fall into their mannerisms and persona (if I have done my job of fleshing them out well enough). Outside of the writing experience, a ghost typically symbolizes the story of a person and a place. The story and the person who once was are closely tied to the place that they haunt. This is simply a literary analysis of the concept which may or may not be viable in the real world.

One of the phrases I used to say to myself a lot even before hearing this lecture from that professor was that I believe in possibility. What I meant was that I believed that anything was possible. Anything in life. Things outside of the normal realm of experience. Miracles. Shots out of left field. Things of that nature. And I suppose that ghosts would fall into that too. Even though life has been quite different from what I imagined it would be, I still believe in possibility in the world around me. The universe is full of potential no matter whether it be ghosts or just small-town coincidences. It makes life much more interesting. And I’d rather have an interesting life full of impossible experiences than a boring one.

Ever since that professor made this claim, I have made a habit of asking fellow writers that I meet if they’ve had a ghost encounter and what it was like (if they said yes). Some of the writers I have polled have had a ghost experience and others have not. In reality, I don’t think that the lack of a ghost encounter makes them any less of a writer. More than anything, for me it’s become a fun sort of game to play.

Today, I thought I would share my ghost experience with you.

When I was in college, I started living in my aunt’s house. It was probably a mile from my parents’ house. The house rested vacant most of the time while my aunt was living in another city, so it worked out that it was convenient and helpful to her for me to stay there. Plus, it gave me the chance to live on my own a bit. I hadn’t had much of an opportunity to live on my own since I lived with my parents through most of college and graduate school.

I slept in the downstairs bedroom. The basement was a walk-out, so there were plenty of windows. I wasn’t in any sort of creepy dark hole. The bedroom looked out onto a forested area. I had lived in the house for quite a few months without incident. I felt pretty comfortable there, despite being in a fairly large house all by myself. The house had a great vibe, calm and relaxed. Both my aunt and her husband are painters and they often fell into the rhythm of their art in the basement. The remnants of their craft were everywhere. The house smelled of acrylic and oil paints, odors I have always attributed to my aunt who has been a painter for as long as I can remember. The carpet was stained with rainbow flecks of colors.

At the time, I was working in the restaurant industry on top of college classes so my comings and goings were often at strange hours. When I did get a chance to sleep, I was so exhausted that I would hardly move at night. Early one morning, I heard someone say my name and woke with a start. I looked around the room, wide-eyed and confused. The early morning rays of sunlight were streaming in the window, illuminating my room. Nothing happened and everything was still, so I closed my eyes to go back to sleep.

Then, someone said my name again. My eyes snapped open and I started to get really nervous. I stayed in bed, too scared to move (I was living alone after all). I remember wondering what was going to happen, my body tense and ready to flee. The voice reminded me of my grandmother’s and I couldn’t figure out why it was trying to wake me up. I laid there with my eyes open, my ears straining for any sort of strange sound. When I heard my name a third time, I knew I was wide awake and hadn’t been dreaming. I decided to get out of bed and go upstairs to the kitchen, unable to stay in that room a moment longer. My heart was pounding, mostly I think because I was hearing my name in an empty house than the fact that a ghost might be there. That was the only incident I ever had in that house and, at this point, I have not had a ghostly encounter since then.

It’s a very brief encounter and I don’t know if that makes me a legitimate writer, but that’s my ghost story. I suppose it’s possible that I dreamt the whole thing. But the next time my aunt came to town, I told her about it and she said that her husband’s daughter had seen something moving around the house before too. And they too thought it was my grandmother. So I’m not alone in my ghostly experiences in that house. I like to think it was my grandmother, not that I want my grandmother to be a ghost. But she died in August of 2002 and I have always missed her since she passed away and I like to think that she is still with me.

Have you ever had a ghostly experience? Care to share the tale? Please share your experience in the comments below!

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7 thoughts on “Writers and Ghostly Encounters

  1. This was interesting, and I can imagine this was quite spooky to experience. Sadly I’ve never had a ghostly experience yet, but who knows what the future will bring!

  2. I’ve heard and read of plenty “requirements” that people need to meet to consider themselves a writer, but “see a ghost” has never been on a list LOL I like it! I think it might have something to do with being open to new experiences (or maybe having the imagination to turn a knocking sound into a moaning ghost and rattling chains). Either way, I think it’s fantastic. I also like that this is one “requirement” I actually meet 🙂

    1. Yeah I always was puzzled by what that professor said. But mostly I just attributed it the reasons you express above. What’s your ghost story? (If you don’t mind sharing!)

  3. I really liked that part in your first paragraph where you compared writing certain characters to being haunted. I completely agree. Sometimes, I feel haunted or possessed by the characters I’ve created as well (in a totally non-creepy way); even when I stop writing for the day, their perspective and their attitude lingers, almost as if they were following me around, and I find myself reacting to things or reflecting as if I were them. Of course, some characters can be a little selfish and behave like poltergeists if I try to put them aside and concentrate on something else, but that’s more a matter of obsession than anything, I think.

    As for ‘actual’ encounters, I’m not sure that I’ve had any. However there are a few times when I could not be certain that it well and truly was ‘just my imagination’. One of the more notable times was when I spent an afternoon alone at a friend’s apartment: for a good part of that day, while I was doing other things, I swear, I could feel a presence in the room… just hanging around, not a negative presence, but the impression was strong enough that at any give time I could pinpoint where the presence seemed to be in the room, and it did move a few times. Of course, my friend had warned me earlier that there was a-certain-someone that would be staying with me for the day (according to this friend, there are in fact multiple spirits in that place), so it might just have been the power of suggestion. But I do try to leave room for the possibility…

    1. Sometimes I connect to characters in the ways you describe, and sometimes not. I really like your ghost story though and the way you describe your encounter with the ghost.

      A lot of times, I will think I see things out of the corner of my eye, but when I look again, it’s always some sort of mundane object. This is an attribute I have always wanted to give a character and see what happens.

      I also like the idea of playing with the power of suggestion, as you talk about it. It could make a really interesting story!

      Thanks for your comments!!

  4. Reblogged this on momshobbies and commented:
    So true, I have always thought my imagination was over active. I had always called it crazy and would brush it off. When I was younger I would always think i seen something. Then I would hear voices. Today I feel the same, I believe my imagination is greater for it because i am open to it. I still have visits from my great grandmother especially if I am doing something wrong. She always points me in the right direction.

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