Are You Dead To The World Or Just Plain Dead? by Brian Polk | Art By Jason White

JasonWhite_B_097_Are You Dead To The World Or Just Plain Dead_BrianPolk
Art by Jason White

Are You Dead To The World Or Just Plain Dead?
By Brian Polk

Art By Jason White
Published Issue 097, January 2022

Do you feel like there are times in your life when no one notices your existence? You say words, have feelings, complete projects on time and under budget at work, and no one acknowledges any of it? You may chalk it up to the fact that people don’t give a shit about anyone other than themselves, and so of course, they’re not going to pay attention to you. So while it’s understandable that you feel dead to the world, have you ever considered you might actually be dead? After asking yourself the questions below, you will be able determine whether you just might as well be dead or you actually metamorphosed into the spiritual realm (which must mean you are an aggrieved soul with unfinished business in the physical world, but that’s not the subject of this article; at some point, I may do a part two — “What To Do Now That You’ve Realized You’re An Aggrieved Soul With Unfinished Business In The Physical World — but until then, this is all about realizing whether you feel like the walking dead or are in fact no longer living). 

When you visit your friends and relatives, do they say things like, “Sure wish [insert your name here] wasn’t so dead”? 

Since folks don’t generally say things like this about people who are still alive, this is a telltale sign that you have recently perished. For most people, another sure fire way to confirm your non-alive status is if your loved ones don’t respond after you speak, but they haven’t been responding for years, so this doesn’t apply in your case. When you hear your name mentioned in conversation, listen for additional keywords like, “goner,” “pushing up daisies,” “dead as a doornail,” or “worst funeral ever” — in which case, they’re probably talking about you. (Dead points +1)

When you wake up in the morning, do you give yourself a 15 minute buffer for your morning cry?

Since ghosts don’t usually have to fret about the worst aspects of life: traffic, guilt-inducing relatives, exes, etc., they don’t have to plan morning, afternoon, evening, or nighttime cries. Scheduling regular breaks in the day to roll up into a little ball and shed a half-gallon of tears is definitely a sign of merely feeling dead to the world and not actually being dead, yet. (Not yet dead points +1)

Do ghost hunters totally freak out when they see you?

If you decide to spend the night in an abandoned hotel in an uninhabited former mining town and a group of amateur ghost hunters loses their shit when they see you, it might be a sign that you’re no longer among those that are alive. Also, if you happen to be watching TV one day and see yourself on the show Ghost Hunters, well that’s not a good sign either. (Dead points +1)

Did no one get you a Christmas present this year?

This may not be the first Christmas no one got you anything, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have become an apparition. It might just mean the people in your life either (A) don’t subscribe to expressing love through material exchanges. Or (B) they’re kind of jerks. But you should also ask yourself, “Did I get presents for anyone this year?” If the answer is “no,” you either (C) forgot about Christmas again, which would explain why no one got you anything. Or (D) you didn’t make any purchases because ghosts can’t participate in commerce. (If you chose C = Not yet dead points +1; If you chose D = Dead points +1. Note: answers A and B are irrelevant to this quiz.)

Has anyone ever told you to “literally” get a life?

While it may sound like an insult at first, if anyone says, “Hey yo, you need to literally get a life,” it may be because you’re a disembodied spirit. After all, people rarely misuse the word “literally.” (Dead points +1)

When you’re riding the train to work, do you find yourself hoping it derails so you won’t have to put in another goddamn eight hours?

When spirits from the great beyond ride trains, they generally do it late at night, with menacing looks on their faces, and maybe some blood pouring out of their heads. They don’t usually have their earbuds in, makeup on, or defeated looks on their faces. And while ghosts may also wish for the train to derail, they do it aloud with some cackles thrown in, just to be more intimidating. If you’re still sniveling from your morning cry, and staring out the window forlornly, you’re probably clinging to life — if just by a thread. (Not yet dead points +1)

JasonWhite_C_097_Are You Dead To The World Or Just Plain Dead_BrianPolk
Art by Jason White

Is your name Malcolm Crowe and are you currently in a movie called Sixth Sense?

Although you don’t find out until the end, you’re definitely dead. Turns out, your wife is cold and distant because she’s grieving. And your new patient, Cole, is the only one who can see you, and he’s freaked out because he’s got some bitchin’ ghost radar. Anyway, don’t be shocked when you realize you’re still bleeding from a gunshot wound that killed you in the beginning of the movie. (Dead points +1)

Does the sight of a happy puppy piss you off?

Holy crap, you really are dead inside, aren’t you? This is surely a sign that things just aren’t going your way. I’d like to think — actually for the sake of my own sanity, I have to think — that even the undead relish witnessing a happy puppy play around with its cute puppy paws and cute puppy tail. So yeah, if you grumble at this, then your soul is hurting, and perhaps you should do something about that. (Not yet dead points +1)

Do you socialize with other ghosts without having to perform a seance?

Most people who are still living rarely socialize with ghosts unless they’re using some kind of spirit medium to communicate with the dead. But if you’re regularly getting drinks with Abraham Lincoln, Genghis Khan, and Billy the Kid and you are not a character in the first Bill and Ted movie (sorry, I just watched it; spoiler alert: it does not hold up), then your soul has most likely left its earthly vessel. On the bright side, most folks don’t get to have otherworldly meetings with some of history’s greatest figures, so that’s cool and all. (Dead points +1)

When you’re alone with your thoughts, do you wonder why the hell any of this shit exists in the goddamn first place?

Like I said in the introduction, ghosts are aggrieved souls with unfinished business in the physical world. Hence, they do not experience existential crises the same way you do (see next question). So all of that wondering what your purpose is, well it’s probably because you have a pulse. But don’t worry, the existence of ghosts just proves that even in death, you will not uncover the meaning of life. Not sure if that’s comforting to you or not. (Not yet dead points +1)

Does your existential crisis involve wishing you could once again have a mortal, physical embodiment?

When most folks get caught up in making wishes, they generally wish for things they don’t have — for example, a million dollars, a mansion, or respect from their coworkers. Very rarely do they wish for debt, bad habits, or a human body. But, in your state, you should be so lucky to have any one of those. Now you’re just a confused spirit who can’t tell whether or not they are dead. (Dead points +1)

When a ghost haunts you, do you say, “Take me with you”?

Since phantoms infrequently plead with themselves to become more dead, your invocations are a sure sign that the real world is crushing your will to be a part of it. But you may want to check your pulse just to be on the safe side. (Not yet dead points +1)


If you scored more “dead points” than “not yet dead points,” you are no longer among the living. Sorry for your loss. Just remember, now you don’t have to panic over misplaced keys, unpaid taxes, or if your years of boozing is finally catching up to you. Those are earthly troubles. Now is the time for you to sit back and haunt the holy hell out of people like your former roommate, who still owes you $350 for the last gas bill. If your scoring ended up the other way around, then have yourself another sigh of defeat and maybe take some time to schedule your next cry. 

Brian Polk is a Denver-based writer, publisher of The Yellow Rake, and drummer for Joy Subtraction and Simulators. He’s the author of Placement of Character and Turning Failure into Ideology. He likes writing, muck raking, yellow journalism, zines not blogs, cheap booze and punk rock.

Jason White is an artist living in the suburbs of Chicago. His favorite mediums are oil on canvas and pencil & ink drawings. When he was a kid he cried on the Bozo Show. His work varies from silly to serious and sometimes both. Check out more of his work on Instagram.

Check out Brian’s December Birdy install, My Existential Doctor Herb, Part 17, and Jason White’s companion art to Joel Tagert’s She All Right, or head to our Explore section to see more work from these talented creatives.