INSERT GHOST TO START
by T.R. Desant
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A dead penguin, a dead seal, a dead sea turtle, a dead owl, a dead starling, a dead dandelion smashed inside an envelope. Why would anyone kill a dandelion? Why choke the life out of a little sun that grows in the grass? Why keep its rays from flying away to land, root, and grow uninvited in a garden that doesn’t belong to them? Every day, in this town, when fog comes at noon, death comes scratching inside everyone’s heads, making sounds in their throats, turning the world into blurred, grainy colors that float in whiteness. Death shows itself at your feet on the sand. You lean over it to see the pierced skin, fly-covered guts, and bloody sand/sandy blood. Whiteness flowing among the marshes and leafless trees, slowly revolving inside the plastic pollution of this town.Take a deep breath while counting to six, hold for six seconds, and exhale for six more.The smell of brine, water bubbling, horizon foaming.
I’ve almost died when the fog came, too. Numerous times. Numerous times I wanted it. I felt it under my skin, crawling, licking, eating into me. Sometimes I didn’t want it, but it came after me anyway. Like a good kiss, it rolled and pushed and pulled and bounced from teeth to teeth, sucking my lungs empty, begging for me not to stop, making me beg for it not to stop. I think it wants to merge our broken pieces to form something whole, but death can’t have my broken pieces as they were or are now, for the act of needing something is the condemnation to live without it. I’ve broken and keep breaking myself in many ways and as much as I want. Each piece is now something whole, or I can fuse this and that, turn them into something else, just to merge it to other pieces and other wholes and make them be another new thing. This is how I built my forest, my plants, my animals.
When I bought this house, right after my tour, I was just planning on writing the songs for my next record. All I knew was that it needed to be in the Dolomites. How I loved the Dolomites! Beware that such detail will soon lose any importance to you because it has to me since I don’t pay attention to my surroundings anymore, just the ones I create. By the way, I only know that I was a musician because I compared the man I see everyday in the mirror to the one in every framed newspaper and magazine clippings I kept seeing on the walls in my house. His name, my name was Ryan Lawler, though I suspect it was just a stage name because some guy named Francis, who kept calling my house every week until I “disappeared”, would always call me Julian. I was never able to find any documents with my real name, so… You can call me Ryan if you want.
Have you ever tried manipulating your feelings? I had a girlfriend that was pretty good at that. Every time she wanted to sound romantic she would listen to heartbreak music. Every time she wanted to hate me she would listen to angry, heavy music. She was kind of on the right track, but not precisely. I used to do that by watching movies or TV shows. You have to act with the idea of your thoughts being like a toy or video game, something that you can manipulate. You create the emotion while imagining the object and then you stop thinking about it for a few days. It took me some time, but it all got a lot easier after the accident.
I’d gone out for a walk at the beach on October 22, 1990. It’s the only thing I remember from the life I believe I had. It was foggy, all white everywhere I looked. There was a woman with me. I don’t recall her name, or her voice, or her face, but I feel that I really, really loved her face. She lives in my forest now. What a beautiful face. Every single creature I’ve made absolutely adores her. The only thing I wasn’t able to change to what I had envisioned was her hatred for poached eggs. I love them, but she still doesn’t.
We heard someone screaming. It sounded like it was coming from the sea, but it was hard to see. It’s only easy when you make what you see, anyway. Sometimes I ask myself what it would feel like if I hadn’t run towards the ocean. Without the accident, who would I be? Would I still be able to keep creating my forest? We all can create our lives from our feelings, but I didn’t know that then.
Upon reaching the water I was able to see arms waving frantically, moving up and down among the waves. I raced into the sea, water crashing against my calves, then my knees, then I dived. Brr. My mom says, “count the brrs, and if it’s more than two you’re in serious trouble, little boy.” I was in trouble. The moment I could no longer touch the bottom of the sea with my feet I knew I would never be able to swim back home. But I kept swimming toward the screams, I swam toward those arms until they descended into the freezing ocean. The world was white sky and black water. Black and white and the smell of brine, water bubbling, horizon foaming. Bone sack in fright, another hell of mine, water bubbling, horizon foaming. I knew that I would show up at someone’s feet on the sand. Swollen, my skin pierced by seagulls’ bills, my fly-covered guts spilling outside my stomach, and bloody sand/sandy blood. Take a deep breath while counting to six, hold for six seconds, and exhale for six more.The smell of brine, water bubbling, horizon foaming, white is gone, all-black underwater.
She told me someone found me and pulled me out still alive. I wonder how. All I heard was the pitter-patter.
I feel you breathing under my skin
Crawling, licking, eating into me
Then I have this impossible dream
In which you’re mine
You beg for me to stop
And put on a smile
Let me be caterpillars and butterflies
To crawl over, to swarm through
Each corner of you
Headaches and red eyes
To get over, to skim-through
Every thought of you
I don’t know what happened when I was underwater. In one of the framed newspaper clippings, there’s a small article from the North Coast Citizen that claims that I went missing for six days and had fish bite marks all over my body and one especially deep on my nape that reached the inside of my skull.
Anyway, that is how I made my first plant. I saw it in my mind: the roots, the stem, each branch, each leaf, each eye, and its tiny little mouth inside a flower made of flesh and muscles at the top. A few days later it was there, growing under a mango tree in my forest.
Do you wanna know what ghosts truly are? They’re projections of our imagination that weren’t able to take physical form. Why weren’t they? Because they’re like craters left by explosions. When emotions, good or bad (though bad are usually easier to manipulate, right? We all know that too well), reach abnormally high levels, they leave sensory representations of ourselves that aren’t able to take physical form because they were not made with a purpose. It’s through imaginal sight, taste, sound, scent, and touch that we give our thoughts vividness, but if you don’t do that with a purpose, if you don’t have much control over your thought process and the emotions that come with your thoughts, then you leave those echoes of yourself or things, living or dead, wandering around without purpose, condemned to relive the moment they were created forever. I must also add that they are immune to the effects of time.
Ever heard of Evelyn Irvine and Bali the robot? In the eighties, Evelyn owned a company called InGhoSt — Insert Ghost To Start. She ended up working as a programmer for Apple from 1992 to 2003 after her robot killed six executives during a demonstration and they shut down the whole thing. That’s not important, though. Let me tell you what she did, she found a way to bring the dead to life. I’m not talking about zombies (well, kinda), Frankenstein’s monster, or Herbert West-Reanimator. Evelyn found a way of connecting the mind of the dead to machines. How? I don’t know. No one does. All she ever said about the process was that it had to do with finding transmissions from a deceased person’s mind and connecting them to a device that she called InGhoSt-APG, artificial pineal gland. Her mistake was to think that one of her departed father’s sensory projections, which she encountered many times at their family’s house in Manzanita, Oregon, was, in reality, his soul. She was able to successfully transfer the projection to a humanoid robot manufactured by InGhoSt, later called Bali. According to many InGhoSt employees, Evelyn interacted with Bali as if he was her real father, and even asked him many questions about her childhood and his life with her mother. However, in a matter of months, Bali reportedly began aggressively demanding Evelyn that he should be called The Barbarian. I believe it should be noted that in an interview for the LA Times in 1989, Evelyn mentioned that what she believed to be her father’s ghost always showed up at noon in her sister’s bedroom wearing a fur tunic and a loincloth.
Things really took off when InGhoSt managed to implant their artificial pineal glands into recently deceased people’s bodies (only the ones whose brains were still healthy and intact) in exchange for monthly payments to their families. Evelyn’s company had a lot of success selling its subscription-based reanimation services to millionaires and billionaires who planned on living forever. InGhoSt wasn’t able to sustain their success, though. The problem was that they were giving life to projections instead of the minds of dead people. The same thing that Evelyn mistakenly did to Bali. They were making real-life zombies that couldn’t care less about chewing on our brains.
So Bali and many of the other “reanimated” killed a bunch of people. And that was the end of InGhoSt.
A little Swainson's thrush flew into my living room today. I saw it shivering on the floor and it got scared when I tried to get close. He didn’t seem to be hurt at first, but then he tried to get away and managed to fly against one of the windows. He fell to the floor with his legs spread out and his wings wide open. I got close again, but this time he didn’t fly away.
I thought he was dead, but he closed his eyes when I held him between my hands. After a little while, he began moving again. First the head, then legs, and wings. One wing, actually. I’m not good at fixing things, so I just gave him a third wing. He looked a little clumsy trying to fly with a paralyzed wing hanging from his body and crashed again, this time against my fridge. After that, I decided to imagine that he had a thicker skull and miniature ram horns.
He lives in my forest now. I still see him flying clumsily with that broken wing hanging, bones sticking out, some feathers and flesh missing. I think he’s tried to rip the wing off. I’ve thought of imagining him without it, but I’m not good at subtracting. I’m much better at adding stuff.
I once made a movie called Mescaline. It was born from an old wooden crate full of reels of stock footage and collages of black and white, seldom blurred scenes, that tell the story of a dystopian society plagued with a dream-generating virus. An overly poetic, rarely obscure narration, recounts the tales of nightmare-building and fever dream-like memories, vocally incinerating, verbally hallucinating its way through your ears. I am the narrator, by the way.
“We are one mind experiencing human life through walking and talking mirrors of ourselves, wasting time being enslaved by our own egos and fearing death,” I say at some point. Black and white scenes of idyllic astronauts at an alien desert. Debris of destroyed temples. Children strolling hand-in-hand beneath a black sky that bubbles and drips over the world. Dead animals being thrown against windows by enraged winds. Pulsating air
Too hot, too cold
Sweat sprouts and bubbles on my skin
Then freezes and cracks.
Dragon breath and absolute zero
Swirling hand in hand over the Earth’s surface
Chortling in an endless carousel
Dust singing in microscopic beats
Scratching skin, wood, cement and glass
Tearing and blinding
Burying every new corpse, every new future fossil
A big explosion
The black horizon turned into an infinite white curtain
And every person, animal, plant, and object
For a few seconds, became nothing more than their own shadows
Then blood was made and I saw the world covered in red
Another blast echoed in my ears
No light this time
The stars fell and houses and cities were erased
TVs, computers and advertising signs all gone to Hell
Blue planet swallowed by silence
Until the roar began
Giant waves rolling
The cries of those still agonizing in the streets flooded the air
Greenish yellow titan made of water
The blend of salt, decaying seaweed, and death
That was the smell
We all felt it, we all felt it
The end of everything
Bringing the Leviathan with its jaws open
To swallow us all
Then thunder hammered the clouds
And lightning ripped through the darkness
A flash of light and heat boiled my tears
And burned my eyes until I opened them
I woke up
I was aware of total reality
I had enough time
We are part of the rest of nature
Let me tell you about how I created her, the one I didn’t want to give up on. Five three; pale skin; brown, curly hair; big, dark brown eyes; no flesh so perfect; and the most delicious lips I’ve ever seen. She ignored me for a time. It was my fault, I deserved it, but it hurt, it was painful. She made me feel electric, she made me believe in electricity. I mean, we know electricity is there, but nowadays it kind of feels like it’s always been there, doesn’t it? And when we feel it, it hurts, it’s always the harmful electric shock that we think about, isn’t it? However, I’m talking about the good, orgasmic, warm and sweet feeling of electricity, human electricity.
She was the only source of human electricity for me. I used to have a hard time believing in good things, good people. She was the best, so it was hard for me to believe she truly existed. Yet she did and I made her go away for doubting how good she really was. Anyway, after the accident, I was never able to find her again and that’s why I decided to make her. I’m not talking about cloning, the one who lives in my forest is not a clone. She’s as original as the original one, but she’s the one who lived in my mind, therefore a much better, idealized version. I made her the same way I made everything else that lives in my forest, I imagined her. I’ll admit that she isn’t as fun, she’s too perfect, too passive, but at least we don’t argue, we don’t fear of losing each other. OK, I gotta confess. Things are not that good now. Don’t get me wrong, she’s great, but I’m always under the impression that she kind of mirrors my behavior.
When I started imagining her I would produce a sequence of images in my head:
BLUE SKY, NO CLOUDS, SUNLIGHT DANCING THROUGH THE LEAVES OF PINE TREES, WARM WIND, HER LEGS ON MINE, THE PORES OF HER SKIN, GOLDEN-SILVER-HONEY-ALBINO PEACH FUZZ, HER HANDS ON MY HANDS, WEDDING RINGS COLLIDING, HER SMILE, SNOW-COVERED MOUNTAINS, BLUE SKY, NO CLOUDS.
You’re a rare bird, mute when uneasy, hiding love while you slur. My eyes are burnt every time you, every time I, every time you won’t let me see you. I have an exorbitant love for looks that is undeniable. You have an exorbitant love for me, but my narration is unreliable. Is this us arguing or the other thing? The more you endeavor to efface me, the more I appear. A fortune-teller told me you’re mine, she told me what’s inside my mind.
What were we talking about? Oh yes, how I created her.
So I listed her qualities first, then I made drawings. I did that for a week or so until I started collecting pictures of celebrities trying to find someone who resembled her. I found a few and tried mixing their body parts until I found the perfect combination. Then I matched that to the memories I had of her appearance.
It started slow. I tried making her grow in my bedroom, my living room, my kitchen, etc. Nothing worked. All I could materialize were badly connected body parts. It was a mess every single time, and it was never easy to clean. I didn’t want her to live my forest, I wanted her to live in the house with me, but what else could I possibly do?
Things happened a lot faster in my forest. The only thing I hadn’t foreseen was the fact that she wasn’t being formed fast enough to feed herself. She was also unable to keep balance and would take short clumsy walks in my forest. For that reason, I had to keep her chained for a week or two.
The feeding part was a nightmare. I’d feed her a mixture of milk and water with an eyedropper, and give her oatmeal and small grains of corn. I don’t know what I hated the most about the whole process, being able to see the peristaltic contractions of her esophageal muscle or hearing the gurgling sound she made in her throat as she swallowed the food.
After a month she was complete. At first, she said she didn’t love me, but kept asking me not to go away every time I told her I had to get back in the house again. On one occasion she begged for me not to give up on her. I replied that I wouldn’t and, to my surprise, she seemed to believe my words. As soon as I noticed how much I thought of her and missed her, I tried to stay away because I kept thinking that she couldn’t be that perfect. But then, after a while, I’d go back, and she would be waiting for me with the most beautiful smile.
Then I behaved like an asshole. I told her she didn’t seem to love me enough, that it was all a facade, that she lied through her teeth and was just waiting for a better man to show up in my forest to leave me. That’s when she stopped talking to me. I’d go to my forest and she wouldn’t be in the spot I’d usually find her. Sometimes I would see her by the lemonade waterfall, in other occasions, near the Arcadian Pink. The Arcadian Pink is how I call my dream/imagination recorder/repeater. It looks like a cow-sized brain with flowers that look like Nepenthes attenboroughii coming out of its top, has two human ears, and a human mouth. I operate it by speaking out loud whatever I’m imagining near its ears. The Arcadian Pink then repeats it throughout the day. Whenever I enter my forest, especially at night, I can hear my reverberated voice from afar, like a prayer call.
Anyway, after about a year she reached out to me, forgave me, said that she missed me and that she was ready to come live with me in the house. It was great in the beginning, but as time went by she grew to be more and more like me. We got accustomed to living like a real couple until… Hey! What if that’s the reason why things are not working out for us at the moment? What if we’re not supposed to live in the house? Life just became normal again, a hallucination controlled by the senses. In my forest, I am what I like to be, a creator, the master of my imagination rather than its servant.
You can’t escape from your own vision. It’s impossible to break loose from it because that’s yourself. You become whatever you believe to be, and everything is part of you whether you like those parts or not.
END OF RECORDING #1 – Ryan Lawler
All writings here are copyright© T.R. Desant 2019-2020