Everywhere I look, I see ghosts. These are not Casper the Friendly Ghost or empty sheets that silently float by, but rather not quite living, not quite dead, people. These ghosts have names and feelings, hopes and fears, but their hopes have been crushed by the world and left them shells of humans. These ghosts gave it their best, were not lazy or stupid, but they were rejected and cast aside by everybody who could fulfill their most basic human desires.
Most people know ghosts. Ghosts are that highschool friend who got mixed up in a bad crowd and is in now in prison for selling drugs, or the homeless man they see sitting on some sidewalk begging for change on a cold November night in the city, but nothing really personal. These are ghosts, not people anymore. These ghosts are living, but their life is not anything resembling the basic things we all strive to have. There is no place for ghosts in the current paradigm, so they live in the margins of society or are locked away.
When I was in the psych ward I saw dozens of ghosts housed together. These ghosts were medicated and given pudding cups and hospital food and television to pass the time. These ghosts would be visited by non-ghosts, namely their family members, every so often for an hour or two. The family members would talk to the ghosts, sometimes bring offerings to the ghosts in the form of food or snacks, but this was more for the benefit of the family members rather than the ghosts. By bringing offerings, the living humans, the humans allowed to go outside and live their life in society instead of being locked up and medicated, were able to avoid feeling bad about the living conditions of the ghosts they had blood relations to. The family members would leave and go on about their day in the real world – meanwhile the ghosts in the psych ward would return to watching mindless television and having their minds lobotomized by antipsychotics and barren, lifeless, recycled air.
I know a lot of internet ghosts, those who have tried to “make it” online and had the best years of their life siphoned away without any payoff. The human mind is not really meant to labor away in solitude for years and then fail, at least not a typical human mind. Creative work on the internet is a good way to become a ghost.
The strangest part of the internet is that ghosts here do not really disappear in the same way that ghosts disappear offline. Instead internet ghosts are never really sure that they’re ghosts until it’s far too late for them to do something else with their potential. The internet is like a slot machine of sorts, you never know if the next pull of the machine is going to be the one that turns up 777 and moves you from the status of nobody to somebody. The successful internet slot machine pulls are so spread out that it’s functionally worse to succeed sometimes than to never succeed at all, because any benefits from the first successful internet pull will wear off and leave you worse off than when you started long before you get a successful second pull.
The digital age is a malevolent one, where ghosts can no longer die, where those of us who are not ghosts – not yet – are constantly haunted by them. For me, somebody successful with my creative endeavors to some small degree, there is always a reminder that most of the people I’ve seen working on projects similar to mine will never get anywhere near to where I’ve gotten – through no fault of my own. My own success is not all that great or impressive, I’m in some sort of limbo where turning into a ghost seems just as likely at times as not turning into a ghost.
Ghosts surround me with every waking moment. They brush against my shoulder, rubbing against me. I can feel them there, but not really, reminding me that I’m not fundamentally any different than them, I’ve just lucked into a position that allows me to keep myself from being a ghost for the foreseeable future. The ghosts call to me when I’m feeling particularly abject or tired, telling me to give up and stop my struggling. The ghosts tell me to stop working on creative projects, to give up on the freedom that I’ve had tastes of, and get some bullshit job that provides me financial security and perhaps even the ability to relax in exchange for this creative endeavor that bleeds into my dreams and makes it impossible for me to ever relax.
All ages are filled with ghosts, but ours is the first one in which ghosts are forced to be around those who are not ghosts. For whatever success I eventually achieve, there will be ghosts I’m still in contact with forced to see me enjoying my success and forced to wonder why they are not the ones enjoying my success. These are the living ghosts, tortured and punished for not making some amorphous and constantly shifting, unfair and illegitimate standard. These living ghosts are haunted by us: the living who managed to hang on to some form of delusional hope or dream. These ghosts have to wake up and face every morning knowing that they took their shot – and their shot missed.
I am haunted by the ghosts that are no longer around. Friends and people in my spheres who are dead from drug overdoses or suicide periodically drift into my consciousness. These people were all dealt a bad hand in life, forgotten and not supported by society or their loved ones, or else they wouldn’t have made the choices that ultimately cut their existences short. How can I get up each day and pretend that this world that I’m living in, that we’re all living in, is worth living in? It’s obviously not. This is a slaughterhouse, not any sort of humane experience worth glorifying. There are moments of joy and affection, but these moments are drowned out by the gallons of blood that constantly wash over me when I take a shower. The good food I eat, the adoration I receive in excess, these things turn acidic and curdle in my stomach. They remind me of ghosts.