I ain’t afraid of no ghost

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By John "Enger" Cheng
Cover illustration by John "Enger" Cheng
Aug 26, 2021 | 2 min read
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When talking about ghosts, it’s easy to jump to the supernatural. When I was a kid, my classmates used to tell stories about the ghosts that frequented the local Glass Chapel, and dare one another to sleep overnight in its parking lot.

But besides the tall tales, there were other, more  firsthand encounters of ghosts in my younger days: scissor-locked dreams where I  sensed a looming dark presence hovering over my body while I was trapped in a liminal space — lucid, and yet not quite awake.

Growing up, these ghosts loomed large in my mind and horrified me with their proximity. Today, a different type of ghost emerges from the shadows. But the figure of these ghosts are not quite so clear, and cannot be shaken off simply by waking up.

A painting of a ghost with a red heart outside of his body; arrows pierce his body and heart from all angles. In the background, misc. faces surround him.

We all have experiences that are difficult to name or even remember. Memories that we consciously or unconsciously try to bury. Sometimes they come back powerfully, triggered by a particular sense. Other times, try as we might, we draw a blank when we attempt to recall exactly what was said or what happened. Though they may sometimes be fleeting or vague, these past incidents shape us like folds in a piece of paper. No matter how hard you try to unfold it, the creases remain.

For me, it’s moments in my childhood when I was told that boys don’t cry when I slipped and fell. Or that I shouldn’t be too proud of my artwork that I spent hours laboring over because I would get a big head. Or when I was stripped of my ability to choose whether I wanted to participate in speech contests and was simultaneously told that I needed to handle pressure better, all while my soul crumbled in dread of public speaking.

As much as I would rather leave these experiences in the past, they replay in my mind’s eye over and over like a scene from “Minority Report”. I know that these things have played a negative role in how I handle emotional outbursts. How I downplay my abilities. How I remain unable to speak up and let my voice be heard. To even utter the word "no".

These are the ghosts we all carry. And while our instinct is to flee from them, there comes a time when we can no longer afford to run. Eventually we have to confront these hauntings and expose their roots if we’re to grow, to have mature relationships, to thrive and be healthy. Because who knows — maybe these ghosts breed ghosts of their own. And what we don’t deal with right now within us may haunt others, because of and through us, in the future.

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John "Enger" Cheng

John "Enger" Cheng serves as creative director of Inheritance. He is a Los Angeles-based artist, designer and illustrator. He graduated from the University of Southern California Roski School of Fine Arts and is co-founder of Winnow+Glean. You can see his illustrative work and store at madebyenger.com.

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