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My Ghost Self: An Outline 


Zach Pieper, Ghost-notes (detail), 2023.

I.    When you carry a phantom, it lives with you, not inside of you but besides you, like a constant companion. I shuddered in the hypnagogic threshold of waking up. Another day, another temporal cavity I couldn’t escape from. 


a.    It was 2013 when I hit my head. All my muscles contracted, my disk bulged slightly, I was put in a neck brace and on a steady diet of painkillers. It took seven years to find a doctor who understood my affliction. Seven years of confusion, frustration, and pain. Seven years of psychiatrists putting me on different medications for PTSD, post-concussion syndrome, anxiety, any label they thought could offer me relief, any pill that could numb my distress. 


i.    The doctor that prescribed the painkillers had his hair gelled back and spoke like a car salesman. He rubbed my neck and would casually place his hand on my thigh.


b.    After many doctors, one rheumatologist finally named it: fibromyalgia– what I had been told was a half-fictional condition. It didn’t change anything, the pain was the same, the confusion remained. My new terminology translated to: we don’t know what’s wrong with you.


i.    Pain takes on different shapes. A woman’s pain is often invalidated by an idiom of doubt. Any grammar of illness bears opacity, breeds disbelief and miscommunication.

II.    When you carry a phantom it appears and reappears, it traces the outline of your fragile body. Outlines can be filled in or left vacant, shaded, solid, but emptied out one can imagine what is contained. It was 2013 when I hit my head and I was emptied out. 


a.    This was four years before rehab. Bed-ridden in Los Angeles, the blinding sun mocked me while I scratched at my neck brace and stared at the ceiling. The stupid-perfect weather adding a strange haze to my numbed-out monotony. I hated everyone who tried to take care of me. They made me feel useless, dependent, claustrophobic, incapacitated. More terminology amassed while I attempted to build my vocabulary. To make myself understood. I was mean and irritable. My eyes were hollow pits. 


i.    During the concussion, my brain shut off every few words, I closed the blinds. My most unbearable phase was the one that cut me off from written language. 


ii.    Once I could read again, I got a job writing a love advice column for a Hispanic women’s magazine. I used the middle name on my Spanish passport and added the endearing diminutive to become Juanita. I took on a fictional persona, someone who was me but wasn’t, a way of disassociating from the pain. I drew her outline and poured myself into it. My articles bore titles like “Como Enfrentar Los Problemas con Serenidad” or “Como Subirte la Autoestima”. My phantom took on another life. Unable to sit up, I projected the computer screen on the ceiling. 


1.    Juanita was an alternate version of myself, she offered advice and didn’t emote or feel, I embodied her sketch, her contours, as I wrote. 


a.    Como Enfrentar Los Problemas con Serenidad 

Juanita Gomis


Todas tenemos problemas, pero la diferencia está en como los afrontamos. 


Cada una de nosotras, en algún momento, se siente agobiada. Nos desbordamos. Enfrontando problemas, o varios problemas a la vez, nos quedamos congeladas, sin saber que paso dar para tirar adelante. Y a veces, más que el problema en sí, lo que realmente es aterrorizador, paralizante, es nuestra incapacidad de afrontar los problemas con tranquilidad. Debemos encontrar dentro de nosotras mismas, una serenidad desde la cual afrontar las situaciones difíciles…


2.    Juanita’s articles were accessible, the kind of thing you would find in any grocery-store magazine. She didn’t have to sound smart or impress anybody and she could help others try to do what I couldn’t. Juanita became mi tranquilidad, the state of calmness amidst the claustrophobia and chaos that had resulted from my injury.

III.    An outline is a contour, it follows a form. It provides a container, a shell. The phantom took on a new life and I began to imagine what she would look like. Her eyes caked in makeup, her hair pinned back, her ears adorned with gold hoops and sparkling gems. I imagined the sound of her voice; it was comforting, reaching out to those who suffered silently on the other side of the page, making us feel less alone. 


a.    I took out my jewellery box and picked out what I thought Juanita would wear. 

Gomis Box.jpg

b.    I heard her voice as I wrote.

c.    Every night I would encounter Juanita in my dreams. We would be sitting at a café talking about life, her hands gesticulating wildly. She was powerful and self-confident.


d.    In 2013 I constructed images to bring me comfort. To imagine different futures. I embedded my image-forming within a practice of identity, which became a public expression of what I needed to comfort myself. 


i.    Juanita allowed me to sever myself from the pain, she quieted the noise of all the confusion, she made me feel useful. She was my escape. She told me things I couldn’t tell myself.


1.    Como Subirte el Autoestima 

Juanita Gomis


Diez maneras para sentirte mejor


1.     Intenta pensar en positivo

2.    Háblate con respeto. Trátate a ti misma como tratarías a una amiga. 

3.    No te compares con otras. Céntrate en ti. 

4.    Regálate tiempo para hacer cosas que te hagan feliz. 



e.    I repeated the self-help rhetoric like mantras as I wrote, trying to believe in what Juanita was writing. Trying to remember how to feel ok. But memory is self-effacing. Memory becomes a physical inventory. The ripples stored in my body would come back to haunt me for years to come.

IV.    For many months I lived besides Juanita. She was my constant companion. A mirror, a friend. But then slowly she began to disappear. Juanita’s contours, her voice and image, became increasingly vague as I began to ‘heal’, to ‘recover’– words that suggest an end or some kind of closure that neatly puts pain away. I don’t believe in these words. Instead, pain lives with you, forms part of you, embeds itself within you like the nested form of an essay outline. 


a.    I got tired of the writing style. The rhetoric started to feel vapid. The words that once held so much force now hung limp on my screen. As I began to feel more capable, Juanita’s presence faded. But she is still with me, my ghost self.


b.    Sometimes I hear her voice come back. Certain moments or situations evoke a trace of her presence. But mostly she lives as a sort of embodied knowledge. In the moment she was born, something split inside of me, dislodged and formed a new contour of my being. 

Emma Gomis

About Emma Gomis

Emma Gomis is a Catalan American poet, essayist, and researcher. She has published four pamphlets: Canxona (Blush Lit) and X (SpamZine Press), and two cowritten with Anne Waldman: Goslings to Prophecy (The Lune) and A Punch in the Gut of a Star (Pamenar Press). She is the coeditor of New Weathers: Poetics from the Naropa Archives (Nightboat Books, 2022) and Manifold, a journal of experimental criticism. She was selected by Patricia Spears Jones as The Poetry Project’s 2020 Brannan Poetry Prize winner, holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Poetics from Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, where she was also a fellowship recipient, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in criticism and culture at the University of Cambridge on post-1960s feminist art writing.

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