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A Word With Vincent van Gogh
If I could choose one member of the deceased party to talk to, it would have to be Vincent van Gogh. I’m a fan of his paintings and the surreal mood they express – and, as an amateur oil painter myself, would think it lovely to get some tips from the master himself. Our encounter would go, presumably, something like this:
I’m in an art studio somewhere deep in the Netherlands, working on a painting, with Mr. van Gogh’s ghost hovering over my shoulder. “I applaud your use of color, Samantha,” he begins, “but your brush strokes are simply too dull! Have some passion! Be livelier with the paintbrush! Ugh! And I’m the dead one.” He rubbed his temple.
I followed his advice, taking quick, jagged dabs and stabs at my canvas, when a question popped into my head. “Hey, Mr. van Gogh? What first inspired you to paint?”
“Oh, that’s easy. When I first started out as a young boy, I found painting to be as natural as breathing air, and you could say it wasn’t long before I fell in love with the art. Everyday new ideas came to me, and I got those ideas just by looking a little closer at the world I inhabit. The night sky, sunflowers, potato-eaters, anything of the sort inspired me to paint them all on canvas. From what I hear nowadays, people are quite fond of them.”
His detailed answer to one of my questions gave way to a flood of brand new ones, and I took the liberty to ask another. “It seems you really had a passion for your work. But, didn’t you eventually go sort of mad and cut one of your ears off?”
There was a pause as he thought of a way to respond. His ghost floated over to the large window-wall behind me, the view overlooking a mix of rustic buildings and passing mobiles in the streets below. I supposed, as he stood gazing silently at the scenes outside, that I had put him in a rather somber mood. “Sorry, Mr. van Gogh. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“No, not at all.” He said assuringly. The ghost of Vincent van Gogh took a seat in on of the wooden chairs in the corner; the stale, fragile frame of the wooden chair seemed unaffected under the weight of his non-existence. “I was merely searching inside my head for the right words with which to give some forlorn guidance.”
“Okay, shoot.” I said, mixing oranges and yellows together with my pallet on the side desk.
“When I cut off my ear, I was no longer well within myself. I felt myself slipping away into some deep, dark place I always knew awaited me. In short, I was overcome by psychosis; I suppose I always had it, from the very beginning. Time only made me weaker, more vulnerable, to what I had always fought back, but could no longer fight back. I couldn’t find a way out of it, and so for days and days I continued to look for an escape in all the wrong places. I had fights with esteemed colleges, family members, loved ones…”
“When their pain became my pain, I came to look at the very things that inspired me to paint with obscure, hollow eyes. Where had the beauty gone? Before long, I realized my rapidly decreasing will to live, and in frustration finally took my own life. That decision - that idiotic, repulsive decision - was the biggest mistake I ever made. For I realized in the afterlife, that the life given to me by God was not my own, that I had no right to end it.”
“Whoa, wait. They sent you to Hell?” I gasped.
“On the contrary, my dear. I sent myself to Hell, by committing the worst sin of all. It took me a while to see the wrong I had done, for I was so sure there was no other way to have resolved it. Hell hath no mercy on pathetic cowards who take their own lives – normally. However, since I was not in the right state of mind at the time – mentally ill, I believe – of my suicide, God put me on a sort of probation.”
“What kind of probation?” I asked, cautious.
“God sent me back to the world of the living as one of the dead. And that I was to serve 137 years time here. Through those years I have seen rapid changes, both in the people and in ways no one in my time would ever imagine. Yet, this existence has proven even lonelier than that of my actual life. And I would long, yearn with all my soul, to paint; to pick up a brush, to stroke color against color, to feel the radiance of my creations - that was the hardest part of my sentence.”
“Sounds tough. Dunno if I could’ve handled that.” I admitted, wiping away at the paint spilled on the side desk. “Um, I’ve finished my painting. Want to have a look?”
Vincent van Gogh’s ghost glided over to the canvas, and appraised my efforts. His dark journey through life, death, and limbo had made an impact on me, and I’m sure it was made present in my painting.
“Not bad.” He said, stroking his transparent beard, eyes burning into the canvas. “Interesting, there’s depth here. Though it is an abstract. Was I of any help to you at all this evening?”
I turned to him and smiled.
“Yes, more than you know.”