My Spooky Fascination

It’s that time of year again, when children’s minds turn to costumes and candy, and adult’s who are in touch with their inner child think about spooks and specters as well as their own opportunity to dress in costume and become someone else.

Charlie Brown and Snoopy last Halloween.

I find Halloween fascinating. I don’t usually dress up, and prefer to stay home handing out candy and commenting on costumes. But I love watching the specials about hauntings and ghost hunts.  I thrive on the spooky feelings, and often wonder what is real and what is imagined. I admit that, when my mind is too cluttered to think straight,  I will sometimes (or often) distract myself by searching for videos of ghosts caught on tape, even though I know the majority of them are lame attempts at creating something spooky. (I hate the ones with pop-ups). Still, at this time of year I can’t resist . . . and if I am to be completely honest (as I try to be) when I feel overwhelmed and need to just get out of my own head I will even look for these videos at other times of the year. It’s my guilty pleasure.

I’m not talking about horror or slasher movies. I’m talking about the videos and pictures that give you a chill and make you feel like things go bump in the night. Of course, if I watch too many of them, then I start seeing shadows move or hearing things in the night. My mind begins to play tricks on me, or perhaps I open myself up and become more sensitive to what might be out there.

I am fascinated by the psychology of it all.

What really interests me though, is that questions about the existence of ghosts and  holidays celebrating and honoring the dead exist in cultures throughout the world. While modern Halloween has become a kind of bastardization of the Druid ceremony of Samhain, the roots and traditions of these ceremonies say a lot about human psychology, our attitude toward life and death, and our fears about a natural world that functions beyond our control. (I believe that our attempts to control nature have led us down an ultimately self-destructive path). Samhain  itself was a celebration connected with the harvest and the transition into winter:

“The origin of Halloween can be found in the ancient Celtic festival of the dead, Samhain (pronounced SOW-in). From present-day Ireland to the United Kingdom to Bretagne in France, the ancient Celts celebrated October 31st as the day when the normally strict boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead became mutable, and the ghosts of those who had passed away came back to earth. The celebration coincided with the final harvests of the year, the stockpiling of stores for the cold winter months when the sun set early and rose late, and when nature itself hibernated, dying until its rebirth in the spring.” (from “Not Just Halloween: Festivals of the Dead from Around the World“)

If you click on the link above, the article gives a brief overview and comparison of festivals of the dead from around the world including the Japanese Obon festival, the Cambodian P’chun Ben, and the Mexican Los Dias de los Muertos. I’m sure if I spent more time delving into research on the topic I would uncover many other cultures who have some sort of ceremony or day that honors the dead. (I have too many other things to work on so I can’t distract myself with that research now. Focus, Lisa! Focus.)

Why does this topic fascinate me so much? There are many reasons. I’m intrigued by the very human desire to seek out understanding about life and death. Most of us seem unable to live completely in the Now, which means we want to know where we are heading. What is our purpose in life? If our purpose isn’t simply to do good and live a happy life NOW then  we seem to need the reassurance that something else happens after death.  We also, I believe, yearn for an opportunity to connect with our loved ones lost, and festivals like these make the veil between the living and the dead seem less permanent.

I’m not 100% sure that I believe in ghosts, but I do believe that we are all somehow connected through energy. Perhaps that energy retains some snippets of our personalities or our thoughts and some sensitive people can sense those moments, those memories, those thoughts. Or perhaps ghosts are merely our brains trying to send us a message. I doubt I will ever know, but I will remain fascinated by the topic. I can’t help it, it’s my Spooky Fascination.

For some of my past posts about ghosts, you might want to read these:




In Honor of Love Surpassing Time

Ashes drift swiftly
over ocean waves
to settle down
into the deep
where lovers meet.

Uncle Gene has passed
to join his beloved
Auntie Helen
in a lover’s dance over the waves.

Married after many marriages
their love grew strong
supporting each other
through unprecedented loss of a beloved daughter
and a son-in-law  who died later of a broken heart.

Their love blessed our marriage
Great Aunt Helen only approved
my marriage to her favorite niece’s son
after tasting the magic
of Mom’s applesauce spice cake
made with my nervously loving hands
in the desert of Arizona.
Together they moved to
beloved Hawaii
to spend their waning years
in beauty
in color
in peace.

But Auntie Helen
left too soon
her ashes flying
and sinking
beyond Gene’s reach.

Gene lived on
with loving hands supporting him
until the time came
for him to let go.

95 years old.

His ashes will soon
drift swiftly
over ocean waves
to settle down
into the deep
where lovers meet.

RIP Uncle Gene 1917-2012

A Walk in the Cemetery

Anger, frustration, stress, sadness, and loneliness all bubbled out of me this morning, making me snap at everyone and feel like I couldn’t breath. It led to the ranting post this morning. It led to a desire to scream.

I decided to go for a walk.

My initial plan was to walk in the zoo, but then I thought of the cemetery instead. It is near the zoo and a popular place to walk for this community. It’s huge and open and beautiful.

So I walked.

I heard the call of birds and the occasional animal cry from the zoo. I felt the sun and the cool breeze. I listened to the rhythm of my footsteps and my heartbeats.

At first I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings, but as my inner turmoil calmed I looked around. The sea of granite and marble structures leaves few clues about the people buried here, but a lot of information about the families that buried them. For the most part, square slabs of granite or marble reveal simply the family name of the deceased. In some areas you can see that every member of the family has been buried near each other, not surprising in a community of people who grow up and die in their family homes. Monuments stand up in grandeur, scattered between the square slabs. Here and there lies a lone grave, a lonely grave in the midst of colorful flowers both real and plastic. Here and there ostentatious displays of love and grandeur lie next to a simple slab of a life long-lost.

In the midst of all of this granite and marble I found this marker that stopped me in my tracks.

The powerful story told in this metal sculpture brought tears and warmth to my heart. I don’t know who the Whitlows were, but I picture a strong man sharing the stories of his glory days as a firefighter with his grandchildren. I smell cinnamon, sugar, Christmas trees and cookies coming from the kitchen of a woman wearing her hair in a bun, a hand-stitched apron over her dress, and a warm smile on her face. I hear the family sitting on the porch on a summer evening, singing to the strumming of a guitar.
Then I looked at the markers of their individual graves.
Cecil was born on my birthday, 70 years before I was born. Mary died the year I graduated from college, 29 years after her husband had passed. These are people’s whose lives were complete before my life really began. And their family marked their memories with a story full of warmth and love, by showing the world even in a small way who that  Cecil and Mary lived.
From there I wandered into the zoo, which oddly enough was only partially open. The only real exhibit to see was Monkey Island, where the monkeys were especially active. I watched two of them have a confrontation with a peacock as the ducks cheered them on. One of the swans noticed me and swooshed over with a flurry of wings and a splash of water, demanding my attention and I assume wanting food. He (I assume it was a he, I don’t really know) stretched his neck over the rock wall and looked directly at me as if to say “Am I handsome? What are you going to give me in exchange for watching my beauty?” He snapped at the stones in an attempt to reach me as I apologized, “I’m sorry. You are a beautiful bird but I have nothing to give you except my admiration.”
Eventually he gave up, but he followed me as I walked away.
I lied to that swan. I have something else to give to him, the monkeys, the peacock, the ducks and Mary and Cecil Whitlow. I owe them thanks for the reminder that life is about one thing and one thing only, living and loving with joy.

The Culture of Bullying


Bullying on IRFE as of March 5, 2007 (the firs...

Image via Wikipedia



The word echoes through the air these days.  Every day you hear a new story or of a new death. For me, recently, each day brings a new awareness about the  pervasiveness of this issue.

I want to do something about it.

This week I conducted a workshop at a nearby high school on Performance Art. While Performance Art is not exactly my favorite type of theater, I think it is an interesting thing to introduce to high school students as it provides them an outlet to explore issues using art, theater, music, and other things to express themselves. I introduce the techniques by using a piece of literature or poetry (for this workshop I used “Ozymandias”). I also brought an extra poem to help out, this time one on bullying that I found on a WordPress blog (thank you to that blog writer).

The students were then given an assignment to create their own piece of performance art, with the only restrictions being that they respect each other and respect school rules. The results were interesting, with topics ranging from family relationships to feeling stressed about choices they needed to make in life. The majority of them, however, were about bullying.

Now, maybe that was a reaction to the poem I read them, but I think it goes deeper than that. In our discussions afterwards most of the students acknowledged that there is bullying at their school. Some of them hesitantly acknowledged to being victims.

More disturbing to me, however, were the number of people who acknowledged being witnesses to bullying, but who simply walked away.

Coincidentally, last night I was asked to adjudicate a performance at another area high school. The play they put on was Bang Bang Your Dead! by William Mastrosimone which explores the issue of bullying from the perspective of a boy who shoots 7 people (5 students and his parents). Not a light evening of theater, that’s for sure. There were two talk-backs after the performance, one for the audience and one between the adjudicators and the cast. Both were revealing.

The first showed that the parents and community are aware of the problem but feeling at a loss as to what can be done.

The second revealed what the kids had learned from this process. Many of them researched and became aware of the amount of bullying that exists in the world, and in their more immediate world. BUT, and this is a disturbing but, their understanding and new knowledge did not promote action. They shared a story that, after a school viewing of the show, some freshman started teasing and throwing food at the lead (the person who played the killer). Rather than saying something, he walked away!

How do we fix this? I know it is scary to confront bullies. I recognize that sometimes it is easier to hide our eyes and pretend we don’t see what is in front of us. But that way lies Columbine. That way lies 9/11. That way lies the Holocaust.

Now, I’m sure somebody will object to me connecting bullying with 9/11 or with the Holocaust, but what is bullying if not a form of intolerance? It is about someone showing power over weakness, or trying to pretend to have power by making others feel weak. In a way, bullying is human nature, in the sense of survival of the fittest. The strong win and the weak are destroyed. Bullying is not something that occurs just between children in school, it is just that in some ways adult bullying is more subtle. That doesn’t make it any less dangerous however.

If bullying is human nature, does that mean there is no hope of change? It has become crucial for us, as a society, to break free of this negative quality of human nature. We need to learn to respect and value diversity, otherwise there will never be an end to violence, hatred, death (by violence) and bullying.

I hope we can do it.

With more people like this hero, Joel Burns tells gay teens \”it gets better\”, we can.

Another important link about this:

And in a few short words, this person hits the nail on the head

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