Grey on Grey_edited.jpg

Living with Ghosts
(and other reflections)

His Ghostly Presence in the Mirror: Using Creative Writing to Capture Paranormal Experiences


Hans in the Mirror | Digital Collage/Illustration | © 2021 Jacqueline Stuart for Dreams + Shadowlands

Excerpt from Chapter 9, Warrior of Peace, Blind Love During the Madness (2017; Edited, 2021)


My love for interior spaces guided the process of pointing and shooting my camera at all intersecting angles. With senses revved up on Daguerreotypes and steel sconces, a tryst between the old and the new emerged in the most peculiar spaces. I worked my way upstairs and entered the bathroom.


I snapped a photo of a framed self-portrait drawing that I had made years ago when my skin was taut and less defiant. I turned the camera toward my reflection in the mirror. The faucet curving upwards out of the stone like the chrome neck of a flamingo reflected the sun. Consumed by the details, an eerie feeling enveloped me as a tingling vibration gently moved across my back.


From an unsuspecting space, tethered like a suspended object between two worlds, Hans materialized. His face came through as shadows and highlights on the wall, then idly coalesced.

I stood erect, peering through the viewfinder aimed at my reflection in the mirror, safeguarding myself with each layer of indirect observation. I closed my eyes as I inhaled his presence. “You’re here,” I said, looking around the room behind me from the mirror, knowing his signal, his language of love.


With this acknowledgment, my awareness unfurled. From an unsuspecting space, tethered like a suspended object between two worlds, Hans materialized. His face came through as shadows and highlights on the wall, then idly coalesced. His unhurried appearance allowed me to stay composed, calmly taking in the presence of his mysterious splendor.


“I see you,” I said with unwavering eyes. “You’re in semi-profile—your blond hair’s sweptback—you’re thin—taller than me,” I observed like a play-by-play announcer, waiting for him to confirm my perceptions. Is this really happening or are my eyes playing tricks on me?


I stopped talking and took him in, peering into his unblinking stare that was pushed half shut by the subtle, upward curve of his temperate smile. I stopped breathing, concerned that if I moved in the slightest way, he’d disappear like a diffracted image in a hologram. A crow flew by the window, catching his attention.


He furrowed his eyebrows as if wondering, “Is this really happening or are my eyes playing tricks on me?” He blended back into the iridescent peonies in the wallpaper, trapping him in the endless loop of the repetitive pattern.


The unnerving slowness of his disappearance highlighted the incomprehensible moment—the magic that persists undetected in the quiet corners of a room—that rare and inexplicable wonderment—a love that soldiers on forever then is set ablaze in the heart by a hesitant departure.


Creative Writing Leads to an Unconventional Approach to Research

The preceding passage is an edited version of an excerpt from my illustrated novel Blind Love During the Madness. As I am slowly beginning the preliminary writing for what will ultimately become my dissertation, Blind Love has become a rich source of creative material that will inform aspects of my doctorate research.


My dissertation will be unorthodox in that both the research methodology and topic are rare approaches in academia. The topic is unlike anything else I have been able to find in ProQuest—a research databank where most dissertations are catalogued and stored—though I have found some dissertation gems that will add referenced material and inspiration to my paper. My research methodology is multimethod. As it stands today, I am looking to incorporate arts-based research (ABR), fiction-based research (FBR), and Poetic Inquiry—all of this under the umbrella of a transpersonal autoethnography. What this essentially means is that I am using my experiences and creativity to inform my research.


How Does Creative Writing (or Fiction-Based Research) Help Anchor Paranormal Experiences?


A Risky Endeavor

Let’s face it, writing about our personal and/or paranormal experiences, especially in forums or social media, can be a risky endeavor. This is true for any of us who are beholden to navigate physical reality by working in traditional job settings. In today’s world of internet spying and trolling, it is easy for our information to be accessed by just about anyone, including our colleagues and employers/potential employers.


This is one of the reasons why it has taken me so long to share my own paranormal experiences online—I was concerned about professional suicide. And like many of you out there, I had a lot to lose. The concern of my paranormal experiences being uncovered online by colleagues and my employer were a sticking point for me that I grappled with constantly.


A Dark and Paranormal Truth Veiled Behind a Hot-Mess-of-a-Dystopian Plot

Blind Love During the Madness became the perfect vehicle to give voice to my paranormal experiences without any dramatic consequences because it was fiction. But just below the radar of the ridiculous, hot-mess-of-a-dystopian plot, I was emotionally, historically, and psychologically processing Hans’s and my past life in Germany.


Since I was not only dealing with everyday paranormality, but also with past lives that had experienced/been a part of the blindingly fascist conditions in Germany during the 1930s and 40s, broaching such sensitive and disturbing material from a creative perspective made it safe.


The Benefits of Getting Creative with Your Story

Creative writing allows us to creatively approach our experiences through the act of descriptive embellishment. This approach is useful in two ways:


1. Have Fun and Don’t Tell, But Show Your Story

You can have fun getting creative with your story! Creative writing is an invitation for you to engage the reader with your personal experiences from a space of fiction. If you’ve ever taken a creative writing course, you probably know the adage—don’t tell, but SHOW the reader the story. Think of what you’ve experienced, now write in a way that is engaging, descriptive, and illuminating.


Sifting Truth from Fiction

The excerpt at the beginning of this blog post creatively describes my second experience in seeing Hans as a full body apparition, though from the way that I describe it gives the impression as if it was my first encounter with him. My point is that not all of what is depicted above is true.


Yes, it is true that I did see Hans in the mirror, but not as corporeally as described. I also was not doing a photoshoot of my house. I added that detail in the story because the protagonist loved photography and the accompanying illustration of her capturing Hans (AKA Winter as he was called in the story) in the mirror would make for interesting visual material to the story. I also used to be an avid photographer in college and wanted to find an excuse to weave photography into the story.


I was in the bathroom on a fall afternoon in 2010, standing in front of a large mirror, washing my hands when Hans “idly coalesced” behind me.

The actual experience of seeing Hans was not as dramatic, although still mind-blowing. I was in the bathroom on a fall afternoon in 2010, standing in front of a large mirror, washing my hands when Hans “idly coalesced” behind me. He was mostly in shadow form, so although I could not distinctly see all the features of his face, I was/am clairvoyant enough to “see” his physically missing features. Nevertheless, Hans’s shadow physique would have been easily perceptible to anyone because he materialized in shadow form—what was physically discernible with the naked eye to anyone without psychic skill included his thin, 5’10” physique in semi-profile that displayed a heart-shaped face with swept-back hair.***


But for the story to work and to be engaging in Blind Love, I had to make Hans’s appearance more physical so that the reader could appreciate the experience of what it is like to witness a spirit manifestation.


“Inspired by True Accounts”: Give Yourself Permission

My point here is that you must give yourself permission to tell your story in a way that is interesting and engaging, maintaining integrity, and offering footnotes as needed to pinpoint whether any “creative liberties” were taken, though the latter isn’t always necessary. Nevertheless, alerting your readers that the written material is “inspired by true accounts” lets them know that although the story is taken from actual events, you took creative liberties with how the people, places, and things are depicted.


It took years to finally walk into my courage and switch directions. In truth, I am still uncertain if this decision will have negative consequences in the long run. I just know that I could no longer ignore Hans and my intuition.

2. Creative Writing Offers a Level of Safety when Disclosing Personal and/or Difficult Material

If you are interested in writing about your experiences, consider using fiction as an option to disclose the personal details of your life. This advice is not only relevant for those of you navigating the paranormal. Some personal stories may not always be appropriate to share with just anyone. Some of your stories may be traumatic, possibly implicating and/or exposing others. This is one of the reasons why creative writing is so powerful. It offers a safe distance from which to process and disclose your lived experiences—whatever those experiences may be.


Confessional Tales Can Result in Professional Suicide

Think about it. How forthcoming would you be about sharing your intimate details of cohabitating with a ghost? My hunch is probably not very forthcoming. And who could blame you? As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it took me 10 years to finally say, “Fuck it, I’m telling my story!” But before I was able to declare this, I had to have other kinds of financial support before eventually quitting my 15+ year-long career in education and the nonprofit sector to follow my heart and my creative voice. This decision deserves its own blog post so that you can understand the level of planning and reflection that it took for me to travel down this path. In other words, my decision was neither easy nor impulsive. It took years to finally walk into my courage and switch directions. In truth, I am still uncertain if this decision will have negative consequences in the long run. I just know that I could no longer ignore Hans and my intuition.


If you are still needing to support yourself through more traditional means, or if you love your day job and don’t want to quit, then creative writing is one of the best options for sharing your story in a way that will not threaten your livelihood.


Get it Off Your Chest

Sometimes you just have this yearning that you can’t shut off until you creatively engage with it. In fact, using creativity to process difficult experiences can be cathartic. It’s not that you need to share your story with others. Simply writing or illustrating about it may satisfy the urge. In other words, bringing awareness to the experience and honoring your self-expression will often do the trick.


Community Connection through the Act of Sharing

There are some pluses to sharing your story with others. Through the act of publicly disclosing your experiences, there is the potential to meet others with similar accounts. Sharing enables a kind of kindred community to develop. This kind of sharing reminds you that no matter how unusual or difficult the experience, you are not alone. Your unique voice can also inspired others to come forward and share their experiences.


The Risk of Losing Friends and Family

It’s not easy living with ghosts. At times, it can be incredibly lonely and isolating. It is such a huge aspect of my day-to-day life, and yet, I often must keep it a secret. Sure, I am sharing my story here and elsewhere on social media, but with my neighbors, friends, and family, my website and blog posts are almost always not divulged, unless I know I can trust a person, and even then, this can backfire.


The prospect of losing loved ones over sensitive disclosures is real. I have lost some friends and family through the act of sharing about my experiences with Hans. If I had known what I know now, I would have been more careful in sharing these experiences so openly in the beginning.


Keep a Journal

If you are still uncertain about creatively writing and/or sharing your experiences through the written language with others, then consider the option of keeping a journal. Journaling has been shown to have healing effects. It is also a perfect way to get things off your chest in a private way. Journaling also offers an opportunity for you to revisit previous entries so that you can evaluate your personal progress, recall events, or even to generate new ideas for a creative project. Journaling is a safe and private way for you to express yourself without needing to worry about typos, grammar, etc.


So no matter how you go about writing your experiences, just write!



*** Over the years, Hans has fully materialized, often only in fragments. For many months, he would only materialize his eyes (picture a pair of skinless floating eyes that were corporeal enough to make out the pupils, irises, and lid folds, yet transparent enough to see the space behind them). He has appeared beside me on the bed, sleeping on his side, facing me, once, glowing white and in uniform with a blurred-out face and shocking blond hair, other times he’s appeared in shadow form with his heart-shaped face coming through clearly. Ghosts are weird.