A chance note in a newspaper article about ghosts in people’s houses led me back to Mai-Mai Sze’s book, The Tao of Painting, this morning, in search of insight about the art of capturing specters and ghosts. In early Chinese painting, Mai-Mai Sze explains, the literal aim was to represent the spirit of beings—deceased ancestors and figures of history, religion, and legend—who could influence and aid the living. The word for portraiture, fu shên, means to depict a soul.*
Today’s newspaper continues that tradition, in a way. The author, Molly Fitzpatrick, passes along portraits of nameless dead folks, and explains how they are making contact with the living. At its best, the article depicts their souls. Note the history of the young couple in Queens: the 31-year-old man shares the small space with his 27-year-old girlfriend (fwiw: both have professions that imply education; these are not typical “nut cases”). One night, he saw a small, older Asian woman in green scrubs standing at arm’s length from him in the bathroom. She appeared to be glowing, he said. On another occasion he awoke at night with the feeling that someone was tucking in his feet. He assumed it was his girlfriend, as they often tug the comforter back and forth, but it wasn’t. He explains, “It was so weird, dude. It was so weird.” But it is a good kind of weird! As the reporter concludes: “But the incident left […] a lingering positive impression, as if whoever—or whatever—it was had been trying to make the couple feel more comfortable, or to mediate a potential conflict between them before it happened.”**
I would love to come back and haunt the living after I die too… with good karma, love and fellow-feeling. Laugh if you want, laugh if you can, but why not invest magical meaning into our daily lives? Who else will do it for us?!
Peace to you, in the pandemic.
Yesterday’s face mask production (and some cheerful driftwood art).
* Mai-Mai Sze, The Tao of Painting, p. 42-43
**Molly Fitzpatrick, “Violating Spectral Distancing Rules” New York Times (May 17, 2020): ST 7.