Thursday, February 24, 2005

Last night at around midnight,

I raced up the bedroom stairs and flung myself into the bed and under the covers, where my husband was hovering in that zone between sleep and waking, trying to finish just one more page (you know that feeling) before calling it a night. He eyed me sideways with a smirk. “You know there’s nothing down there,” he said. He knows—I’m scared of our basement. Ah, the tension, the tug. Our home computer is down there and lots of lounge space—the nice stereo, the DVD player, a great sectional. But no matter what we do to it, it is still a basement. I love to stay up until all hours of the night. There’s something compelling about the deep, deep dark. And then, all of a sudden, unexplainably, the chill, the shiver—“Someone just walked over your grave,” my dad says to me, and I pop out crying—and I am up the stairs like a shot.

Growing up in Louisiana, I never knew from basements, you know? Hell, we bury people above ground. All I knew of basements, I learned from the movies. And when do you ever see basements in the movies? That’s right—when there are ghosts in them. Now, for the first time ever, I have a basement of my own, and I can’t say it’s a terribly comforting thought.

I will admit that I come by these fears quite honestly. My mother, for her part, played musical beds with her five siblings for the better part of a decade, all because she was too scared to sleep alone once the nuns told her she had a guardian angel. Sounds like your own personal ghost, doesn’t it? I can relate.

I bring this up because, as I read Susan’s note about her professor committing suicide and as I linked to the NPR piece Tamara suggested, I also clicked on a link about an attorney’s old “haunt” being renovated to house the writing center at ASU. (As it turns out, it’s really going to house the creative writing program’s events, but you take my point.) It set me to thinking about the ghosts that inhabit our own writing centers. The student I wrote about—the one who committed suicide--is certainly one of our writing center’s spectral presences. To return to teaching after his death, I had to commit on some level (though I couldn’t have quite articulated it then) to a pedagogy of hope at least parallel to, if not wholly in place of, a pedagogy of critique. I came to see the culture of critique as more than just an academic exercise, to see it instead as a pedagogical practice in need of an exorcism.

Ghosts are culturally complicated figures. They guard and protect. They strike fear in our hearts and yet they bring us together in ritual celebration. This is the appeal of the extracurriculum. Let it permeate the boundaries of the discipline as ghosts transgress the here and beyond. Inside-outside binaries be damned.

Beth Boquet

4 Comments:

At 6:46 AM, Blogger Tamara Miles said...

Speaking of ghosts --- which makes me think of ghostwriting --- this seems like a good time to mention the unearthly art of "automatic writing" (example: see the link below).

http://www.prairieghosts.com/auto_writing.html

I'm drawn by the idea of automatic writing because of the enormous freedom it suggests to those of us who struggle to write. "Cool," we think. "Somebody from the great beyond would tell me what to write, and I'd just do it." Then, the recognition comes: "Wait a minute. It wouldn't be MY writing; that's not so cool. I'd rather do it myself and let it be mine than have it be easy." I think, deep down, most students would feel this way too --- even if their initial impulse is to let a writing consultant tell them what to write. It's their fears that keep them from letting their own inner ghost writer (holy ghost writer?) emerge. They are afraid of ghosts.

My friend who tried to kill herself by swallowing 16 Sominex, and who is a writer, wrapped herself in dry cleaning bags and lay down on her bed to die. She told me later that she "wanted to stop the stories." I guess they were ghost stories.

Check out "Toni Morrison's Good Ghosts" on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=3912464

an excerpt from Beloved:

"Counting on the stillness of her own soul, she had forgotten the other one: the soul of her baby girl. Who would have thought that a little old baby could harbor so much rage? Rutting among the stones under the eyes of the engraver's son was not enough. Not only did she have to live out her years in a house palsied by the baby's fury at having its throat cut, but those ten minutes she spent pressed up against dawn-colored stone studded with star chips, her knees wide open as the grave, were longer than life, more alive, more pulsating than the baby blood that soaked her fingers like oil.

"We could move," she suggested once to her mother-in-law.

"What'd be the point?" asked Baby Suggs. "Not a house in the country ain't packed to its rafters with some dead Negro's grief. We lucky this ghost is a baby."

Maybe the ghost in your basement is just a baby ghost. Try visualizing its small body and its rage or sadness; try to be its automatic writer. Let us know what happens.

 
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