The ruined castle in The Keep is under renovation. Howard, the owner-entrepreneur, plans to turn it into a hotel, but he has mixed feelings about erasing the castle's past. "I'll probably leave some of it like this," he says, standing in a room without a ceiling. "It's evocative. It's...history." Renovating a space is a way of asserting our ownership, but it raises a question: How do we honor the past without letting it rule us?

Anyone who has seen a therapist will tell you that a healthy take on your personal past is a cornerstone of happiness. Wiping it out doesn't work because it can't be erased—our histories are in us, they made us—and they'll find unpleasant ways of popping into the foreground of our lives to remind us of that fact. Hence the phrase, "haunted by the past." The same could be said of houses, or castles, or buildings: pristine and reassuring though it may be to wipe out the ragged reminders of a time before our own arrival, trying to erase the history of a place may awaken our deeper anxieties. At which point our selves get confused with our castles, and we've entered the gothic.

Lately, it seems to me that all San Francisco has been renovated. The technology boom transformed the city, and the 1960's and even the '70's are long gone under a sheen of refurbishing and fresh construction. Any hippies you see around now are newly minted. That old Victorian-era house of my childhood is unrecognizable, its complex details teased apart with a meticulous color scheme. Someone doubtless paid millions for it. But I can't drive by without recalling the way it looked before: raw, abandoned, empty. Even after years of this new incarnation, that old version still hangs in my mind. I guess you could say it haunts me.

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