A great philosopher once said: “When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, looks you crooked in the eye, and asks you if you paid your dues; you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol’ Jack Burton always says at a time like that, ‘Have you paid your dues, Jack? Yessir, the check is in the mail.’” If only it were so easy for us when we confront the weight of our pasts, to just look those ghosts we drag around with us square in the eye and tell them that the check is indeed in the mail, that we’ve paid them our debts. But unfortunately, most of us can’t. Fortunately, however, this is where fiction comes in — like a hostage negotiator between us and all the guilt and regret and embarrassment that we hold on to, it tries to pry free the grip they keep tight around our throats.
Our present is often paralyzed by this disagreement between the past and our hoped for future, between the way we might have once wished our lives would be and the way they actually are, between the way we continue to anticipate things to come and the way they will actually turn out. Ghosts Vs. Your Reflexes presented five stories poised on this precipice, with characters stranded in that haunted space between desire and reality, between ambition and failure — a veteran of a future civil war hiding in the ashes of his rebellion; an anxious mother-to-be trying to navigate the perils of both her estranged family and the ways other people tell her how she should feel; a driven animator felled by a stroke, now confined to a hospital bed, confronted by her past success on the television; an art professor caught in the throes of a dangerous, addictive affair with a student, where their sex leads him quite literally to a tunnel into the nostalgia of his past and then the grief that lies ahead of him; and a bartender racing across the city to reunite a dismembered arm with its owner.
These stories were about what we can control and what we can’t, and how this is often funny. Of course, as we’ve come to realize over these last couple readings, funny can mean a lot of things, not always necessarily laughing out loud. Funny can mean a different or skewed perspective, an essential skepticism, a “funny way of looking at things.” Funny can mean that we can’t forget even if we want to, that our present gets preoccupied by dealing with the fallout of what has already been done or the dreaming of things to come, leaving little room for the life we actually lead. Which is, of course, hilarious in that horribly painful kind of way, because if we could just ignore all this shit it would be a hell of a lot easier, because, after all, in the other immortal words of Jack Burton, “It’s all in the reflexes.”
From top to bottom: Kayla Rae Whitaker, Brady Huggett, N. Michelle AuBuchon, Lynn Strong, and Maxim Loskutoff