When is a haunting a haunting?
notes from spooky season
~ aka scorpio season ~
hello friends, this email is somewhat overdue, but I hope you are keeping well these days and had a happy halloween weekend.
I have been keeping busy this fall. The dog I was fostering was officially adopted (by my mom!) in September. I finished drafting the essay I spent most of this past year writing. I planted garlic again. A poem I wrote in the spring was published online. I've been reconnecting with friends. I submitted my chapbook (a slender collection of poems) to a small press. I watched leaves turn shades of red and golden yellow, then subsequently fall to the ground.
[image description: an autumn-toned sunflower stands in bloom in front of a house with a yard]
A few weeks ago, I attended a Banff writing residency with poets Mercedes Eng and Sachiko Murakami on "Poetry, Politics and Embodiment." Even though I couldn't travel to Banff, it was honestly just great to offer myself the space to read, think, and connect with the other writers in attendance. It felt validating to be encouraged to write a full-length collection of poetry because to be honest, that isn't something I had seriously considered before (beyond the idea of a chapbook.)
After our faculty lectures (Sachiko discussed notions of community care in CanLit, while Mercedes talked about the ethics of creative research), I asked if either of them had any reading suggestions. Mercedes followed up by sharing an article called "A Glossary of Haunting," written by Eve Tuck and C. Ree, which explores settler colonial horror and the haunting of the United States:
Haunting is the cost of subjugation. It is the price paid for violence, for genocide. Horror films in the United States have done viewers a disservice in teaching them that heroes are innocent, and that the ghouls are the trespassers. In the context of the settler colonial nation-state, the settler hero has inherited the debts of his forefathers. [...]
Erasure and defacement concoct ghosts; I don’t want to haunt you, but I will.
Of course this writing is relevant to the context of settler-colonialism in Canada, too.
"How can these lands not be haunted?" I thought while nodding and reading along to the article. I was particularly fascinated by the ways cultural interpretations of horror in film were explored, especially since I've been reading more about East Asian belief systems in contradiction/comparison to Eurocenterism lately as part of my creative research.
When is a haunting a haunting?
Does it require a purpose or acts of redemption?
I recently spoke with a friend who works as an archivist about the ethics and responsibility of her work. She had been approached by ghostbusters-type of people who wanted to film a TV production at her workplace, amidst rumours of ghosts on the premises. The collections she manages includes artifacts from both World Wars, photographs, and personal belongings of ordinary people who suffered great losses. She said no to the TV crew after giving it careful thought and out of respect for the dead and their families. I was glad to hear that. I'm grateful for community archivists with a strong moral compass.
I don't think all forms of "haunting" need to be thought of as bad or negative, persay. I can understand the sense of responsibility that may come with the kind of weightiness brought on by hauntings, particularly if someone is willing to do the difficult work of reckoning with ghosts and spirits from the past. And clearly there is so much work to be done to rectify the wrongs of our world.
The other night, while wrestling with insomnia, I wondered: how many writers (and artists) produce work from a state of feeling haunted?
You could say writers scribble our little scritch-scratch thoughts onto paper to release all those ideas that haunt us and keep us up at night. (I'm not the only one who keeps a notebook on my nightstand, right?) Perhaps these hauntings are a part of the urgency to write and to seek some kind of resolution, whether internal or otherwise.
Does the writing/art become a form of redemption, then? What do you think?
I'll be giving these questions some more thought through the rest of the season. In the meantime, I hope this e-mail doesn't haunt your inbox.
all the ghoulish love,
erica hiroko 🎃
P.S. If you wanna engage with ghost stories in a v wholesome way, I recommend City of Ghosts, a mini-series on Netflix created by Elizabeth Ito (former director of Adventure Time) that follows a group of kids in a 'Ghost Club' as they uncover histories of Los Angeles.
I'm reading... Prison Industrial Complex Explodes by Mercedes Eng (poetry), The Break by Katherena Vermette (fiction), WHITE MAGIC by Elissa Washuta (essays), among a selection of my overdue library books, which I am 100% haunted by.
I'm listening... to an old scorpio playlist I made on spotify. It's from 2020, but been on repeat this week along with "Scott Street" by Phoebe Bridgers and "Silk Chiffon" by MUNA, whose music video is inspired by the movie But I'm a Cheerleader. Also, this self-described 'alt r&b' band called DACEY from Vancouver.
A poem I wrote: "i decay, bro" is now on The Maynard. It's available to listen to or read online.