Category Archives: Lost in Self

The Ghostly Self

I’m currently working my way through Rags and Bones, an anthology of short stories written by various authors and edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt. Each contributing author was asked to take one of his or her favorite stories, strip it down to the essence—the rags and bones—and use that to write a new story. To date I have read reimaginations of “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster, “The Man who would be King” by Ruyard Kipling, and “Sleeping Beauty”.  Actually, I’m not 100 percent sure if that last one was a retelling of Sleeping Beauty or Snow White—Neil Gaiman employs both characters in “The Sleeper and the Spindle”.

One story in particular caught my interest—“The Cold Corner” by Tim Pratt, a distant cousin of “The Jolly Corner” by Henry James. Both stories explore a darker side of my theory that our experiences shape who we are. Instead of focusing on the current person, both James and Pratt focus on the “ghosts” left behind by the decisions we didn’t make and the experiences we never had.

"The Jolly Corner" and "The Cold Corner" reminded me of these houses near my grandmother's farm. The ghost of a farmhouse stands right next to a living, breathing model.

“The Jolly Corner” and “The Cold Corner” reminded me of these houses near my grandmother’s farm. The ghost of a farmhouse stands right next to a living, breathing model.

“The Jolly Corner” follows 56-year-old Spencer Brydon as he returns to his childhood home [read “mansion”] in New York City after having spent 33 years abroad. Once home, Brydon begins renovating the larger of his two (yes, two) family mansions into an apartment building. Brydon finds, much to his surprise, that he is actually pretty good at this. He becomes reacquainted with childhood friend Alice Staverton and wonders aloud what he would have been like had he chosen to remain in New York City and become a business man rather than seeing the world. Alice hints that she knows exactly what would have happened—she has seen him in her dreams, but won’t give Brydon details. Brydon becomes obsessed with the idea of who he might have been and begins prowling the Jolly Corner—the smaller boyhood mansion which is not being renovated—at night in an attempt to catch his other self. I won’t give away the ending here, but “The Jolly Corner” is in the public domain and can be downloaded or read online for free.

“The Cold Corner” takes a different approach. Tim Pratt wrote about his adaptation, “It seemed to me that, if it were possible to meet the ghosts of our possible lives, there wouldn’t be just one ghost—there would be dozens, scores, maybe hundreds, sharing some essential qualities, but radically different in other aspects” (Rags & Bones 113). Terry “TJ” Brydon is a “six-foot-three, former-high-school-football-playing, Southern-food-specializing [bisexual] chef” who returns to his small North Carolina hometown after placing fourth (a.k.a. losing) a popular reality TV cooking show in California (Rags & Bones 90). Once home, Terry finds himself face-to-face with himself not just once, but three separate times. Each apparition is slightly different from the “real” Terry—one has a beer belly, one is dressed in a flannel lumberjack shirt, and one has a wife and baby. The third apparition directs Terry to a bar called TJ’s Place. Terry does so and finds a building full of himself: pool player TJs, former pro-footballer TJs, carpenter TJs, even a meth head TJ. Terry finally gets an explanation from the bartender—yet another TJ: this is a place where all the variations of Terry “TJ” Brydon get together, compare notes, and discuss the versions who are either dead are have moved too far away. Get your hands on a copy of Rags and Bones to find out what happens next.

I found the idea of ghost selves intriguing. It also got me to thinking—what would I be like if I had grown up in a different town or attended a different college? What if I had not joined the AmeriCorps or decided to move to Green Bay? How many ghosts of me are there? How many more are to come with choices I make in the future?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

N1 + N2 = YOU

“There is not Nature versus Nurture. Nature versus Nurture is stupid. Really it’s Nature AND Nurture working together,” so said my college genetics professor.  In truth, I hated genetics class—the subject material was so microscopic and complicated that I just couldn’t get my head around it. My professor explained that in high school, we learn just enough about genetics to make us “stupid” regarding the subject.  (She REALLY liked that word.) I passed, in the end, but I swore never again would I take another “microscope class”. The whole Nature + Nurture thing actually made sense to me though. Even after graduation, I’ve thought about it a lot.

Who you are isn't just about DNA.

Who you are isn’t just about DNA.

The way I see it, Nature is a combination of your physical self and your personality. It is the part of you that cannot be controlled. For example, I am 5’2” high. I LITERALLY have a different perspective from someone who is, say 6’2”. When I say “personality,” I mean how you inherently react—like fight or flight. I would describe myself as a “by-the-book rebel,” in other words, I follow the rules, but I strive to do so in my own way. Ella from Ella Enchanted is my hero.  My classmates all thought of me as a goody-two-shoes, but my teachers didn’t see me that way. On my sixth grade report card, my teacher described me as “belligerent” and when on to say I had my “own mind—good and bad thing”. I did have my own mind.  My classmates thought I was a “good girl” because I did my homework and didn’t party. I saw myself as a quiet rebel because I did the exact opposite of everyone else. Even though I’m now in my twenties, that drive to be my own unique self hasn’t gone away.

My definition of Nurture is your environment—the place you live, the people you interact with, the things you read or watch or listen to, the way you spend each day. I grew up in a small tourist town in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Our population would double from June to August when the summer people would relocate to their cabins Up North. For a long time, I was a waitress at a year-round resort. It was through this job that I learned to cut a pineapple, clean a bathroom, properly make a bed, and interact with customers.  I went to college in the small Iowa town where my father grew up. This meant that even though I was technically on my own for the first time, I was actually surrounded by more family than I had left behind. After college, I returned Up North and became an AmeriCorps member for a school on a nearby Ojibwe reservation. I had thought, before my AmeriCorps experience, that I knew about Ojibwe culture. After one day at the school, I realized that I was completely mistaken. This epiphany opened my eyes and allowed me to become an eager learner.


The place I grew up has a big impact on who I am and who I will become.

Who I am today is not who I was in the sixth grade, or when I graduated high school, or even after I had finally earned my bachelor’s degree. Every single experience I’ve ever had has been filtered through my eyes and my ears, my heart and my soul. Someone with the exact same life experiences as me would not coalesce into the same person I am. I know this because I am the oldest of four children and even though we grew up in the same environment, we are each our own person. Sure we share similarities, but we are not identical. And so, even though I only ever half-understood anything my genetics professor said, I do agree with her that Nature and Nurture are both factors in the “making” of an individual. Moreover, because each day is different and brings with it new experiences, I believe that who we are is constantly changing. I am not exactly who I was yesterday. I am not yet quite who I will be tomorrow. All I can do is experience each day and discover who I will become.

Bring on a new day.

Bring on a new day.