– Fiction by Dolan Morgan & Drawings by Peter Max Lawrence –
As ever, the Annual Ethereal and Non-Corporeal Existence Conference (AENEC) is structured to build community among spirits, to deepen our knowledge of what it means to be un-alive, and to strengthen effective practices for making our not-way through both the non-world and the “real” world alike. We’re dead, but we’re still learning!
The packed day of sharing and ideas will feature a powerful keynote speaker unlike anything you’ve encountered before, followed by an array of morning and afternoon breakout sessions. The only requirement for participation in any portion of the conference is being thoroughly deceased. Both new and returning ghosts are encouraged to attend!
Please review the program offerings below and then complete your registration form.
DEADLINE TO REGISTER: The registration deadline exists beyond time itself and is therefore boundless, but first come, first served.
We look forward to not existing together on this plane of enrichment and learning (and in fact have already enjoyed it, as have you, which you already know, since time is no longer real and neither is distance)! See you there!
The conference opens with our fantastic keynote speaker: Death! As always, Death presides over our opening ceremony, which consists entirely of the moment you die. It’s quick but powerful, and rest assured, you’ve never seen anything like it. Afterward, when you’re ready, you’ll be ushered to the breakout sessions of your choice. Select from the options below!
Morning Session 1: New Ghost Orientation and Survival Boot Camp
So, you’re dead — now what? Whether you just became a ghost at this moment or only recently accepted your condition after a long limbo of denial, this workshop is for you. Being dead is easy (you don’t have to do anything, you’ll always be this way and in fact always have been), but it can feel overwhelming. In this foundational session, we’ll introduce the vast landscape and architecture of the afterlife, including its origins: namely, the infinite emptiness that is now pouring directly outward like a river from what you once thought of as yourself (this is how ghosts can “fly,” by directing or steering the force of this constant stream of emptiness, like riding a firehose that is also who you are, or being both the horse and the cowboy — try it if you haven’t already!) and which now is the wellspring of everything around you. Together, we will meditate on the impossibility of this circumstance — that each individual ghost is alone the sole source of all existence, a fact simultaneously true for each one of us — and we’ll unpack the underlying math of how one infinity can fit inside another. You will recall or come to realize that this is not unlike what it was like to be alive, and we will give anyone who needs it the space to process the many infinities that their small lives once contained, even on just a single afternoon in late autumn. We will review all of the abilities and constraints afforded by not having a physical body, living outside of time, the collapse of distance, etc., and will provide a basic tutorial on ghost fashion, including night clothing and void makeup. Despite the living’s common fantasy of an afterlife consisting of some vast bureaucracy of officiants, clerks, and middle managers uniquely and forever interested in tabulating the value and meaning of our choices, there is no such structure, hierarchy, or calculation, and nobody cares about any of that. There’s just you and your thoughts, forever. You are a participant in this session, of course, but in many ways, you are also its facilitator, its materials, and agenda. But you knew this already, since you are the host of this entire conference and its creator and its many guests and the grounds where it is held. By the end of this session, you’ll be thanking yourself for the orientation and getting ready to teach it again.
Morning Session 2: Wait, So There’s No Hell? How to Punish Yourself Enough to Feel Good
When you emerged from the moment of death and into the endless void of eternity, were you expecting an immediate procession of sharp, gleaming instruments designed exclusively to increase your personal suffering? Were you prepared, and in some respects even excited, to endure that unimaginable agony as recompense for some grave moral debt you believe you’ve accrued throughout your waking life? Well, you’re not alone! Many recently-arrived ghosts yearn for a grand force to remove from their shoulders the heavy yoke of their own bad decisions. But the thing is: you don’t have shoulders anymore, there is no yoke and there never was, choice is an illusion, no pain can ever undo what you have done, and hell isn’t real. In this interactive workshop, participants explore the implications of a universe devoid of judgement or moral accounting, lacking in any inherent system of punishment or retribution, but which is loaded with conscious beings starving for just such an accounting — and then everyone gets a free tote. Through a series of hands-on experiences and collaborative activities, participants will begin to answer the question, “How can I punish myself enough to feel good?” The session will 1) illuminate how the individual moments comprising a life are in fact the very procession of sharp, gleaming instruments designed exclusively for the personal suffering we seek, and 2) examine how to return to those moments and wield them against our minds most efficiently. Many people are unaware of the terrifying apparatuses they are constructing throughout their lives, and almost everyone confuses the most memorable moments for the most dangerous. Having instant access to every tiny bit of living that you ever did, you’ll soon find out that it is the much smaller, forgotten moments that are the sharpest. Together, we will explore how to find, index, and visit these moments (such as endless hours looking at screens and other bouts of doing things you didn’t have to while wishing you weren’t but then still doing them anyway); and most importantly, we will practice feeling like shit, just absolute shit, exactly how we want it and apparently always will, enough to go on with the rest of eternity. Yeah, that’ll feel good. Bring a pen!
Morning Session 3: Call Centers
Living people are always trying to talk to ghosts. You can barely walk a spiritual city block without some random medium tossing their psychic inquiries across the void into your face. Ouija boards, crystal balls, tea leaves, ritual, prayer — folks will try just about anything to make phone calls to the dead these days. But who answers? That’s where you come in! In this hands-on, experiential workshop, participants will learn the ins and outs of Mystic Call Centers by taking on the role of bonafide operators for a day — soon you’ll be standing by, answering calls, and fielding questions from desperate, lonely idiots like a pro. That’s right: we’re ditching the theory and getting straight into the action! Throughout the session, we’ll rehearse numerous ancient call scripts, troubleshoot how to handle belligerent or dangerous incantations, and reference a list of answers to commonly asked questions (“Are you in the room with us?” “Are you dead?” “Are you real?” etc). Get ready to spend this workshop talking to one miserable person after another, each soul mourning a recent loss, grieving failures and bad luck, looking for meaning in the worst kind of symbols, or just blindly seeking some brief distraction. Together, we’ll reflect on the most difficult element of manning these transcendental phones: the connection is poor, the lines are scrambled, the wires crossed. We’ll process the frustration that accompanies having instant access to any answer, but being unable to communicate it to those desperately demanding it. You call out across the void but can only make a curtain move, a light flicker, a voice tremble. Worse, we’ll reflect on the fact that, being ghosts, the difference between mind and body dissolves, the barriers between form and concept collapse, and so almost every question we get, about time and decay and pain and hope and regret, is ill-conceived, asked in error, missing the point. But, again, we can’t convey this. The frustration drives some earnest ghosts to anger and outburst. Unfortunately, this only fouls the situation further, since these outbursts come across to frightened callers as piercing screams in the dark, violent scratches on the wall, smashed plates, or snarling and possessed children. Finally, we’ll learn how it’s not just psychics and spiritualists making these calls to the dead, but anyone in a state of desperation or loneliness. For every glance into a crystal ball, there are a dozen people asleep before the glow of a Netflix account, dreaming their questions into the stream; and for each hand sliding across a ouija board, there are a thousand fingers scrolling along some infinite social media feed, dialing this number again and again. And in this workshop, we’ll take all the calls we can.
Ghosts don’t really eat, nor do we really need breaks (everything is happening all at once all of the time), but everyone likes a deal, and with proof of attendance, conference participants get 10% off at the local buffet. All you can eat! (Which is everything!)
Afternoon Session 1: Hobbies Are Not Enough: Dealing with Infinite Time and Phantom Everything
Being dead doesn’t have to mean no more fun, but it’s not easy! Do you remember the boredom of summer car rides, or staring at the clock in class, or sitting blank faced through a long meeting? Being dead is similar, but the car never arrives, the class doesn’t end, and the meeting always continues. Worse, when you’re dead, the car stretches infinitely in every direction; you’re already at your destination and also only just leaving, always. This workshop explores the fact that time and space are infinite and the unliving are in it — all of it. When a living person loses a part of their body, they can experience a phantom limb or phantom pain. For the dead, who have not only lost their body but the whole world and everything in it, we experience phantom everything. Phantom limb, yes, but also phantom home and phantom lunch and phantom friend and phantom love. You can feel them all as if they were still there, which they are, just without you. In this way, saying you have no body or form is technically incorrect; rather, you have all-body, all forms, in the worst way. Through a quick journaling exercise, we’ll reflect on how, at first, being everywhere all of the time can make it seem as if finding fun things to do is easy, and how you can be anywhere and do anything and in fact already are. You’re fishing, you’re dancing, you’re collecting trains, playing ping pong, writing a book, running this conference, learning to kayak, trying a new recipe, falling in love. You’re in New York, at the bottom of the ocean, on Saturn’s moons, in the endless dark, and in realms beyond comprehension. It’s fascinating, until it isn’t. And that’s the point of this workshop: what to do when it’s no longer fascinating, which it already won’t be. Through a series of stations, participants will explore numerous ways to no longer be everywhere all of the time. Incidentally, this is called haunting: the act of ghosts ceasing to be infinite and instead becoming briefly finite, taking shape in some random here and now. You’ll learn the pleasures of being only a white glow in the corner, just a dark shape on the wall, a mere hovering sheet in the stairwell, or nothing but an object flying across the room. You’ll feel the relief, the release. We’ll reflect on the idea that death doesn’t mean not existing but instead always existing, and that once we’re everything and everywhere, being just one thing is the closest we can ever get to being nothing, and that being in just a single place is the closest we can get to being nowhere or never. Cherish it, wherever and whenever you can. And, so, by the end of this workshop, participants will have inched just a little bit closer — to fun.
Afternoon Session 2: It’s Not Just People You Dummy, There Are All Kinds of Dead Things: A Field Trip
In this workshop, we’ll unpack a common misconception about the afterlife: that it is only filled with people. Granted, there are a lot of dead people, and they all have their ghosts, sure, but the secret is this: anything that dies has a ghost — and everything dies, one way or another. Everything. So there are a lot of non-human ghosts hanging around. Horses, squirrels, lobsters, squids, all the animals you can think of, they’re all squirting out ghosts every time they croak — and so are plants, fungi, and even inanimate objects. Landfills, for example? They emit ghosts like a constant plume of gas. And when old scraps are thrown into a garbage disposal? That’s like squeezing fresh juice from an orange, except in this case, instead of an orange, it’s garbage, and instead of 100% pure juice, it’s 100% pure ghosts. Garbage ghosts. With pulp. All headed straight for eternity. In other words, if you thought your sublimation from corporeal being into immaterial spirit would free you from the bonds of material things, you are sorely mistaken. No, there’s shit everywhere around here. Vast expanses of the afterlife are just fields littered with discarded and forgotten things, and in this workshop, we’re taking a field trip to see them where they accumulate the most. Together, we’ll ride a chartered bus to the edges of the void, wearing our matching tour group t-shirts, and step out into a sea of ghost objects, bowls and plates and stuffed animals and bikes and phones and cars and sweaters and buildings and footballs and chainsaws and sinks and printers and toys, all of them just lying there, ethereal and misty, entirely motionless and helpless, and we’ll observe together the primary difference between corporeal and immaterial objects: in addition to having no physical form, ghosts-things have something like wide open eyes. Huge eyes that are either constantly scanning their surroundings or blankly staring into some unknown middle distance. The objects are entirely immobile except for their horrible eyes. Worst of all, in each of the eyes (why are they so big? And glistening?), we can see what the objects’ now-missing physical forms once hid from us — their desires, fears, anxiety, loneliness, and longing. What the hell could an old rusty bike want, you ask? You’re going to find out. And it’s overwhelming. Without the husks of material existence, the emotions and dreams of every object are laid bare. Together, we will have a circle discussion to reflect on the imbalance between the passion of these objects’ emotions and each object’s complete inability to meaningfully address them. We will discuss how it makes us feel to see these ghosts — ghosts who want so badly to have agency over their place in the world despite the total futility of that desire — and then we will tell each other stories about how we are different. We will promise each other that we are not like this at all. Scanning our surroundings, staring off into some unknown middle distance, we will try hard to believe it.
Afternoon Session 3: Should I Remember or Forget? Your Brief Life and the Rest of Eternity
In this workshop, we’ll tackle the main lines of inquiry facing every ghost: What should I do with the fact that I was once alive? Do I carry that knowledge with me? For how long? What if it hurts? And what do I do about all of these ghost hunters? Together, we will review the Application Form for either a) Remembering or b) Forgetting your life, and c) On what compounding schedule to do said forgetting, and d) The number of ghost hunters that should be deployed to chase you for all of time. Together, we’ll discuss: Should I forget all of my life at once? A few parts here and there? Can I just remember the cool summer grass and then forget all of the rest? In this workshop, we explore the pros and cons of every option. The good news is that, in the short term, it’s entirely up to you. You will fill out this form, noting your preferences, seal it in an envelope, and promptly hand the document back to yourself, since you are the only authority in the machinery of the afterlife. Together, we will review the proper procedures that follow: upon receipt of your completed template, you must delegate orders to a team of ghosts who will then doggedly hunt you through all of eternity, attempting to steal memories of your life until nothing is left, in the exact manner you outline in the questionnaire. Slowly, quickly, whatever you want. Literally, since the ghost hunters are also you. It’s like The Great Train Robbery, but you’re the train and also the bandits. But no matter what, in the end, your lived experience has to go. That’s a fact. The whole thing, not just a part of it. Because, amazingly, your life is not actually a part of you. Not in the long run. We will explore the math that demonstrates how, as a ratio of eternity, your finite life is quite literally equal to zero. No matter how much you want to hang onto it, eventually it will be taken away from you and swallowed by the depths of time, at least as a matter of percentages. This is your second death. Your ghost death. In many respects, it’s even more final than the first. And there’s no stopping it. Many ghosts have tried. In fact, the session concludes with a panel of spirits, some of whom are currently attempting to stave off this second death, uselessly — by reciting the circumstances of their life, constantly returning to the events and narrating their details, repeating them to friends, to themselves, to anyone, in one way or another, by acting them out, writing them down, turning them into dance, paintings, poems, hobbies, travel, family, anything that can contain a life or some portion of it and ultimately keep the pattern going, just a little bit longer — as well as other panelists who have already passed the point of no return. Some of these ghosts, who are also you, will ask what it was like to be alive. And if you are able to remember? Please, please tell us. Please.
The entire conference closes with our fantastic speaker: Death! As always, Death presides over our closing ceremony, which consists entirely of the moment you die, again. It’s quick but powerful, and rest assured, you’ve never seen anything like it. Afterward, when you’re ready, you’ll be ushered to the breakout sessions of your choice.
Dolan Morgan is a writer and illustrator living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and is the author of two story collections, including That’s When the Knives Come Down (A|P, 2014). Their work can be found in The Believer, The Lifted Brow, The Rumpus, Electric Literature‘s Recommended Reading, NPR, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @dolanmorgan. Photo by Peter M. Krask.
Peter Max Lawrence is a filmmaker, artist, and poet. His work has been shown at the de Young Museum, Legion of Honor, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and SOMArts. He has work in the permanent collections of SFMOMA, UC Davis Library and KQED. Raised in Kansas City, Kansas(WyCO), Lawrence currently lives in Southern Colorado in a small cabin after a wildfire destroyed his previous home and 30 year archive. Follow him on Instagram @petermaxlawrence.