Goodness, I love this season. I already explained why in my previous post, so let’s get to the season highlights.

First, the reading. I plowed through my big Lafcadio Hearn collection, with lots of emotional peaks and valleys. This is a book to be read in portions. The Japanese ghost stories were excellent. What Hearn did, to give you a free history lesson, was collect the tales and translate them for an American audience. He did this with some Chinese ghost stories, also included in this book. Hearn wrote in the late 19th century for a variety of American newspapers before moving to Japan to lecture, and much of his work was flowery at best, purple prose at worst; the editors of this collection chose his best pieces, which still get grandiloquent at moments. But he wrote for his times, so I let it pass. The other stories include features on life in New Orleans and the Caribbean, and have nothing to do with Halloween. I enjoyed the stories nonetheless, both for the subject matter and Hearn’s narrative voice.

Now I’m reading a classic of Gothic fiction, The Monk by Matthew Lewis. Like Hear, Lewis wrote for his time, and at a red-hot pace. The Monk, unlike other Gothic tales, is rooted firmly in the supernatural. There’s vengeful ghosts, the Wandering Jew, and even Satan himself shows up. But, being a writer in the Romantic period, Lewis had to throw in a lot of poems. These are sprinkled throughout the text, showing up as songs or carved into rocks for characters to read. I’m only about a third of the way in, and haven’t gotten to the notorious scenes of rape, incest, torture and murder (funny how this stuff gets a free pass because the work is considered a classic). I’ll give a detailed recap in a later post.

So. Onto the films. First, a big shout-out to Netflix. If you use Netflix, you understand my enthusiasm. I’ve been watching three or four, sometimes five, movies a week, both rented DVDs or viewed online. Here’s the rundown on the rentals:

Survival of the Dead: the latest in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead series. I enjoy these films for the mood and atmosphere, and Romero’s social commentary. This one was about blood feuds, I guess, which take priority over the zombie apocalypse. Features a few clever zombie kills, another Romero touch.

Captivity: paint-by-numbers torture porn.  I read the reviews and rented it anyway. Curiosity and the cat, etc, etc, etc.

The Brood: an early David Cronenberg film. Dense, chilly, with some ham served up by David Reed. Also an infamous scene of an external womb and a tongue bath. You will never look at children in snow suits the same way again. I give it a B+.

Kwaidan: a 1960s Japanese horror film. Actually four short works, which show up in the Hearn book (which is why I rented this). A great example of impressive low-budget special effects, huge sets, surrealist images, and a creeping sense of dread. Highly recommended.

Interview with the Vampire: An interesting look at how to make vampires not scary. I liked it for the conflicts and characters. The only true vampire film, featuring the purest interpretation of the vampire myth, is Nosferatu.

The Fog: A John Carpenter movie before he got famous. A good setup for a ghost story, but this one falls flat. Left me feeling empty and wanting, like there should be more coming but nothing does.

Carrie: The original. Veers from the original book, but stands as a solid, separate work of art. Glad I finally got around to seeing it.

The Crazies: The remake. The original, an early George Romero piece, was all about the condemning social commentary. This one goes for a twist on the modern zombie story. Passable.

Sleepaway Camp:  a drop of water in the tidal wave of 1980s slasher flix. Lots of big 80s hair, a cook who likes children a little too much, an episodic plot, and a weak attempt to set up red herrings. Features an infamous twist at the end, which is the best reason to watch this. I knew it was coming, but it  freaked me out anyway.

Re-Animator: this is one of those trashy movies that fits into “So Bad It’s Awesome” for me. Lots of T&A, lots of blood and guts, and of course, Jeffrey Combs. See it if you haven’t, but be prepared to squirm in your seat.

The Hills Have Eyes: The remake. A disappointing experience. Feels like it was written by a computer, like the smooth jazz you hear in elevators. No characters, just ciphers. Victims #1-4 do their thing, Killers #1-4 do theirs. Ninety minutes passes, the necessary deaths occur, and we get an “Or Is it?” ending. Fail.

The Fog: The remake. You know where this is going. The Plot-o-Matic really went into overdrive with this. Selma Blair is in her underwear for a scene, but that can’t make up for this trite, CGI-laced wheel of cheese. I was actually angry at this movie, and a movie really has to be bad for me to feel insulted by the time the credits roll.

I have another 16 titles at the top of my queue. I think I’ll have to continue observing Halloween well into November. Unlike, say, Thanksgiving and Christmas, this is one holiday that never goes stale.

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I won’t be going back to school this month. I don’t have to: I already graduated. Maybe one day when my wallet is fatter I’ll go back for grad school. Staying in school is a fine way to wait out the revival of the economy, but I don’t feel like taking on another four-figure load of debt from student loans. Now I’m in the longest class of all, and I expect to hear good things when I finally stand before the Big Man Upstairs.

I’m keeping busy in the meantime, of course. I don’t have any homework or assigned projects from school, but I do have some self-imposed ones. With classes and internships behind me, I have more free time to write. I put aside one story, something I’ve been writing at a crawling pace all year, for another, longer one, that has been sitting unfinished since the previous summer. I go to the campus library to write in the afternoons, both for the peace and quiet of an upper floor of a library, and because staying home with the air conditioning running all day really swells the electric bill.

I made goals and stipulations. At least five hundred words a day. I try to fill up a page before I check the word counter. Sometimes I write more than two thousand words. Then I feel accomplished. The story is part of a series, and I have pages and pages of notes, and another story already outlined. Soon as this old one is done and put away to cool until revising time, I’m going to start the outlined one. I spend half as much time again on research. I sit in Tempe, Arizona; but I can describe places a thousand miles away after absorbing what I want from the Internet. Google Earth is great for a writer with no travel budget or vacation time soon.

It’s how I define the way I live, aside from the routine acts of just surviving. I have a job, but I’m seeking a career. What I want is to write full-time, but that kind of luck is capricious and fickle, and meanwhile I have bills to pay.

Now that I can put more time and energy into writing, I can get a little introspective. Going for those two thousand words is easier if I just watch the page fill up rather than agonizing over the narration, the dialogue, the characterization. I’m a perfectionist, wanting everything just so, and my writing is no different. I get stuck from nitpicking as often as from writer’s block. But I’ve learned that it’s best just to write it down. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be on the page. That’s what revision is for.

Of course, a journalist can’t take such ease. But a self-imposed deadline, a self-imposed word limit (and in a minimum, not maximum) is a luxury I can partake now. I won’t describe the stories, because they aren’t finished and you probably don’t want to hear it, but I’ll add that I plan to throw them on lulu or some other online publisher by year’s end. Another goal, a more fanciful one, was to print up chapbooks and give them as Christmas presents.

In the meantime, with a part-time job and not a better-paying career, I’ve worked on other disciplines. Last week I altered the cocktail hour routine and switched the wine and liquor for ginger ale and tomato juice. I altered my whole evening routine: less music and movies, more reading. I woke up feeling as fine as I did the night before, but I realized I missed the ritual and ceremony of the violet hour. It’s almost a fetish for me. The wife doesn’t mind (much). She’d rather I stayed home and listened to Dean Martin and made martinis with a particular attention, than go out all night and end up in whatever conceivable trouble.

Of course, I’ve had to reign in the money. I’m more conscious of it now, and I’m checking the bank balance at least once a week. I cut off the frivolous spending, even on little things like books and CDs. I have plenty already. I was eyeballing a seersucker suit, something to define the summer with. I spent the money on AAA membership instead. I ration the liquor on the sideboard, because Lord knows the price of gin and whiskey won’t ever go down. And I bide my time. As for that seersucker suit, I know Joseph A. Bank will another big sale in the future. I don’t need to rush.

Why I Love Books

July 18, 2010

My bookcase is about ten feet tall, with eight shelves. Every shelf is full, and I have more books piled on top of the bookcase and in layers on the bottom shelf. I have more books on my nightstand, a rotating litany of genres, and another row on my desk shelf.

I want more.

I also have a flatscreen TV in the living room, but I only turn it on for the morning news, or for evenings with Netflix or the Cox music channels (classical and jazz especially). I prefer books. I always have. Sometimes I feel guilty about having too many clothes, or liquor bottles, or food in the fridge. I feel like I’ve bought too much, I’ll never get around to using it all.

Not with books. Yes, I have books on the shelf that have sat there for months, even years. I don’t care. I’m taking my time with these books. Sometimes I rearrange them, just for the hell of it. The current system is genre, then by author. I have dozens of classic titles by Penguin and Modern Library. One of the few New Years resolutions I have kept is to read as many classics as I can, for the benefit of my mind.

The classics are arranged by fiction, general nonfiction, history, philosophy, poetry, and religious texts. I have one example of each on my nightstand, and I read from a different book each night. My goal is to eventually read every title on the shelves, author by author (or subject, for I have many compilations).

It is a very private, but rewarding activity. Sometimes I plan my whole evening around it. I set an early bedtime, so I can be showered and between the sheets, with a cup of hot tea beside me, and enjoy an hour or two with my books. My body relaxes, but my mind stays active. All the hassles and gall of the day are pushed aside in favor of something more important to me. It’s better than going to the gym or the club. It’s an experience that will never get old, because every time I do this I learn and feel something new.

And that is why I love books.

Fragment 001

March 6, 2010

I have always hesitated to move about in the countryside at night, and a recent moonlit hour’s encounter only reinforced my hesitation to step outside my door in the dark hours. I had gone out at a later hour than I wont for some business or other. And while passing on the main road (or what passes for a main road in the countryside; these bucolic lanes are most definitely not the busy paths of the cities!) with farmlands all around me, I felt a strange sadness. Perhaps it was the emptiness of the landscape. The ground had been freshly turned and presented itself to me as a single level black plane. Some miles away I could see the simple homes of the farmers, with warm yellow light coming from the windows. I could imagine the farmer and his family sitting at their table having their dinner, or relaxing under a candle with a book or game. But I was alone on the path, with not even a taper to light my way. Why, I knew these lanes so well, I did not need to light my way. That, and I will admit it, I did not want my bobbing torch to take the attention of unwanted passersby in the night. Now I know that the walkers of the night hours will pass me by whether I catch their attention or not! For this night, moving with soft footsteps on the hard earth of the path, with a half-moon draped in cottony gray clouds overhead, with the night sky the same black as my ink, and the few stars visible shining brightly, all this above, and around me the flat dark empty spaces of farms, I found another walker, going the opposite direction! I knew the creature was approaching before I saw it; a sudden clammy fear fell on my chest. It moved like the early morning mists one sees at times, after a cool nighttime monsoon. Above, the strips of clouds slid away and the intense white moonlight fell upon the lane. It illuminated the dusty footprints and scattered clods of dirt with a sort of cold and soft white light, giving an exhilarating but uneasy glow to all. It was the moonlight that revealed the creature’s eyes. The moonlight reflected off the bobbing pair of eyes, like red glinting discs, further up the lane. I admit, I did hesitate, but I continued to walk. If the creature saw my stopping for an instant I do not know. Perhaps it saw the sudden nervousness of my gait. I whispered prayers under my breath and with my right hand made the sacred signs. And then I saw the creature in its entirety! Like a wolf it was, one of those gray, lean quick-looking beasts of the hills. Its hide was a shaggy gray mixed with white. The body looked much longer than I should think a wolf should be. The beast moved with a slow, tired gait. It seemed burdened with terrible secrets and truths. And now I did not fear it. I pitied it. The sense of loneliness the spectral wolf put in me is indescribable. Here was a creature of the night, wandering empty dark paths while good men sleep in their beds. It seemed to crave solace, or solitude, but was forever walking the lanes and paths of the countryside. Perhaps it was the cursed soul of a doomed man, a mendicant? A man who walked the world to rid himself of his sins, and after death a horrible thing happened to his spirit, and he walks still. I admit, I could look at the creature for but an instant. Its wraith’s step on the lane, and the heavy sense of despair and loneliness, and the misty weightlessness of its body, and how all these things clashed against my senses, was too much for my poor frightened fool’s mind. And my heart! I looked away, and hurried on up the path. Only now do I feel guilty for having done this. For would not this lonely spirit, having encountered by chance a fellow lonely wanderer, have not felt a fleeting, glinting hope? A flash of hope for friendship? But I ran away from it. I tell myself I must go out into the lanes again. I wish to apologize for my slight, for it is an ugly thing to turn away one in such pain. But I fear this strange creature would not want to see me again, after my offense.