|Photo: bye bye balloon: Daniel Novta|
Today, the day of this post, is my father’s birthday. He would have been eighty three but unfortunately died at fifty seven, not much older than me. I mention it, because his birthday is an annual reminder of what I’ve lost but also how lucky I was to have him at all. Along with my mother, he made me feel that I could do anything I wanted to, long before the idea of following your dream became a staple of Saturday night TV. He died before I’d published anything, but without him I would never have written a word of fiction. He was a painter and so I grew up in a house in which the importance of creativity was a given; the arts were important and to participate in them a privilege. I think that concept is rarer now than it was.
Our dead are always with us. I see his echo in my children, a look in the eye, a tilt of the head, the way they, like him, drink from a beer glass tucked against their chests. Years on, I still glimpse him occasionally out of the corner of my eye walking along the High St and my heart lifts for a moment until I remember that he’s gone.
I mention this not to be mawkish, but to remind myself of the ghosts that haunt us all, the ones that inspire and those that hold us back. If we had the special insight we sometimes grant our characters, we could see the ghosts clustering around our friends and acquaintances vying for attention, prodding and poking at their vulnerabilities, whispering in their ears and clouding their vision: the ghost of an overcritical father, the spectre of an underachieving mother, the ex that said we had fat legs, the teacher who thought we were thick. These wraiths need not even be dead, just lost to us, preserved as they were when last we saw them, bobbing after us wherever we go like a bunch of helium balloons.
If I were writing a self help book, I would probably encourage you to cut their threads. I would perhaps emphasise the need for self improvement, for reinvention. I would encourage you to follow your star, exorcise everything in your life that holds you back, let go of the past, liberate your ghosts and watch them fly heavenward like seasonal spectral balloons in time for the New Year.
However, I’m not a therapist or a self help guru I’m merely a writer and I know in the marrow of my bones that to be human is to be haunted. If we free ourselves of our past, we free ourselves of ourselves. Our past, with all its phantoms is the taproot of our creativity. So instead I wish you a Happy New Year and hope that this year you will find a constructive and fruitful accommodation with your personal spectres. Here’s to the ghosts of New Year’s Past!