Dark Tales to Die For

Thursday, October 20, 2011

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Hello, my lovelies.  I promised you a Halloween post, didn't I?  Well now... wherever shall I start?


First of all, my dear dear sissa, Sarah Franz-Wichlacz of wich-crafting, is blogging the making of her Halloween costume this year.  It's more fun than a magical bag of murder.  ;)  Hop on over to see what she's crafting.  

Now, in my last post I hinted that I'm all giddy about something, and I can't wait any longer.  I must reveal all.  In November, the man, the myth, the legend, and my all time favorite author, is coming to a town near-ish me.  And I have tickets to go see him.  Stephen King is doing a very limited tour to promote his new book, 11/22/63.  (Yes, that's the book's title.)  I, friends and fellow fiction freaks, will be sitting in the same room with one of the most influential, prolific, and genre-game-changing authors alive today.  And do you notice how calm I am?  Ah, the facade of a blog.  (If you knew me in "real life," you'd know I've been taken by fits of squeals lately, and have been blurting out, "I'm going to see Stephen King," at random and inappropriate times.) 

But, what's the most pressing matter right now?  All Hallows Read, of course!  Now's the time to spread scary books far and wide.  If you don't know what this is (because you've been clearly living under a rock, or you watch too much TV and don't read near enough books), see my post from last October.  There you'll find a full explanation and my previous book recommendations.  (You can also click the All Hallows Read link up there, and Mr. Neil Gaiman will tell you all about it... which, admittedly, might be more fun and most certainly more thorough.)

Now, if you look to your right, and down a bit, you'll see a lovely Dracula poster created by the Introverted Wife for just this occasion.  If you click the image, it will take you to her post containing all the All Hallows Read posters she's created, which she encourages using and spreading far and wide.  That talented, talented girl.  (While you're there, I would also highly recommend checking out her Doctor Who paintings.  They are superb.)

But, now you're up to speed, what oh what might you give to fulfill your horror-gifting duties?  Let me suggest some of the things I've been reading lately, along with a few old favorites.

The Passage by Justin Cronin

There's a story behind how and why I got this book signed by the author, but I think I'll tell it in another post.  What you need to know about this book for All Hallows Read, however, is that this is a scary story for the serious reader.  Do you (or does your recipient) like sweeping, epic tales where your characters are constantly in danger and it's the End of the World as We Know It?  This is your book.  Here there be monsters, but if you don't already know, I'm not going to tell you what kind.  To tell you that would be to throw this story into a sub-genre that may make you think this is one kind of a story, when really it's something else.  These are unconventional monsters, you see.  Unstoppable monsters.  But there is one who can save us.  At least, we hope.   


This dark tale is set in a place simply called the City, where you follow the footsteps of Capac Raimi, a young man who hopes to overthrow the biggest mob boss in the entire City.  He's ambitious and driven and smarter than your average thug.  Part mystery, part mafia tale, and part psychotic nightmare, this book will keep you guessing until the heart-stopping end. 




The Magicians by Lev Grossman


I have been wanting to talk about this book for MONTHS!  And finally, here we are.  Now, technically, I believe this book is considered a "fantasy," because it has, well, magicians (of the wizarding type, not to be confused with sleight of hand stage magicians, though there's a touch of that as well), and magical worlds, and generally revolves around magic.  Indeed, it tips its hat towards The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry PotterHowever, this is not, I repeat, NOT a children's tale.  This is a deep, dark rabbit hole that will drag you through hell and back again.  If Harry Potter were Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye, people.  Keep up!) and hit his magical awakening at the nearly-grown age of 17, this might be his tale.  Filled to the brim with the poignant and the profane, there are moments in this "fantasy" novel which scared me as much or more than anything I've ever read.  Pick up this book and dive in.  I promise, you won't be disappointed.



The Tommyknockers by Stephen King 

Ah, the master at work.  You know we couldn't take a trip down this dark, questionable street without stopping off at his majesty's house.  And here we have one of his earlier tales, published in the late 80s, of strange things uncovered in the woods and a town experiencing it's own private renaissance.  Until, that is, things start to go wrong.  As it is with all of King's novels, this is a horror story but it is also something more, something strange and beautiful, something that touches the very essence of the human soul.  You will be moved.  And you will be horrified.  What more could you ask from the world's premier horror writer?

And then, of course, we have short fiction.  Never underestimate the gripping power of a story you can finish in the span of an hour or two.  The following are a couple of my favorite collections of dark tales.


Skeleton Crew by Stephen King

Another earlier publication of Sai King's, this contains a few of my most dearly beloved short stories.  The Mist, which was turned into a movie not four years ago and which tells the story of a man and his son stuck in a grocery store with the rest of the store's shoppers and staff, as a sinister mist engulfs the world outside where strange, almost unimaginable creatures lurk.  Mrs. Todd's Shortcut, which will weird you out a little and make you smile a lot, which is kind of a tall order for something dubbed "horror."  Inside these pages, you'll also find a man, stranded on an island and driven to the most horrific end.  A sing-along of sorts that will make you wonder if you're losing your mind.  And then, there's Nona, who asks just one question.  Do you love?

999: Twenty-nine Original Tales of Horror and Suspense


Another collection of short stories, but this one by various authors, some big names (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oats) and some I'd not heard of before.  Many in here are short enough to read in their entirety during a short plane flight, and some take a bit longer.  I'm still digesting the tales in this collection (as I rarely read a short story collection straight through - it's something I take with me on short trips or in between novels), but what I have read so far are excellent.  My favorite, surprisingly, was a tricksy little tale called The Owl and The Pussycat, because it unfolds so brilliantly.  If you're looking for some bite-sized scary stories, this may be just the thing.

As always, if you read any of the aforementioned tomes and want to talk about it, please leave me a comment.  If there's anything I love to talk about, it's a good story.

You Say You Want a Revolution

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

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Gods.  Things are crazy right now, aren't they?  But it's a good kind of crazy.  Like the whole world is waking up, all at the same time.  Like the kind of crazy you see in the eyes of a battered woman who realizes, for the first time, that maybe it isn't that man's god-given right to smack her around... maybe she doesn't deserve it.  Maybe this kind of abuse isn't just the price you have to pay to have a man around to provide for you.  Maybe she can take care of herself for once.  Sure, it'll be hard, but she and the kids will make it if she just digs in her heels and doesn't give up.  Hell, she's been taking care of every want and whim that man has, plus caring for three kids (all by herself for the most part, she reminds herself), plus holding down a full time job, for as long as she can remember.  What difference would it make if she dropped the asshole?  She'd lose his income,  but it's worth it for the peace of mind.  For the sanity.  Maybe... just maybe... she doesn't need this son of a bitch after all.  And maybe she'll do whatever it takes to be rid of his lies, his laziness, and his abuse once and for all.  This, that crazy glint in her eye says, stops now.

Mmm... yeah... it's that kind of crazy.

You've seen it too, haven't you?  All the protests.  From Wall Street to Nebraska, hopping oceans to other countries, droves and droves of people saying, simply, no more.  I think it's brilliant.  I think it's about time.  We don't have time to fuck around anymore.  We're using up resources, and what resources we do have are being wasted and destroyed at a rapid rate, and still they (the Big Men On Top) sit there, doing nothing.  There are some token efforts here and there, as they scramble trying to fix things, using the same methods that have failed time and again, trying to throw money at problems, when the money means less and less.  Trying to fix a leaky, sinking boat by jumping up and down, waiving their hands.  Too little too late.  It's time to get a new boat.  It's time for a paradigm shift.



I hope this works.  I hope we, as a human race, come up with something better.  No, I don't know what that will be or how that will be accomplished.  I don't think anyone else does, either.  Not precisely.  But, I think we'll make up the rules as we go along, as any young tribe does.  The human tendency for greed will always be with us, and will always be our enemy.  People are a messy, brutal, loving, beautiful, selfish, complicated lot.  We are constantly changing, while we stay essentially the same.  We morph.  We cycle.  It's simply that time.  Time for a change.  Time for the next thing.  We've done this so many times, and yet most will say, "Bah, it'll never happen.  In a couple of months, it'll be back to business as usual."  Perhaps.  But humans have short memories.  And sometimes things change in big ways while we're looking right at them.  We just don't always notice until they poke us in the eye.  Humans are also short sighted.

So, I will watch and I will wait.  I will show solidarity with those brave humans marching for Occupy Wallstreet, marching across the country and across the world.  I will demonstrate when I have the opportunity and speak up whenever I can.  And I will live my life, work my day job, write my stories, and try to conquer my own bit of greed that sleeps inside me, and occasionally wakes up hungry.  I will do this because I know it's next.  This is the great human tendency that must be overcome.  We all need to be healthy, we all need to be happy, we all need to be comfortable.  And we all need to be challenged.  It's not All Mine anymore.  It's not all theirs, either.  It's a hard thing, as any toddler knows, learning to share.

Interested?  Curious?  Behind on any of this?  Here are some links that will lead you to what the hell I'm babbling on about now.

Occupy Wallstreet - the beginning.

Occupy Together - tracking the larger movement, all over the country, all over the world.

Common Dreams - more news and special coverage on this movement.

Update (10/18/11):  See this recent letter from Rebecca Solnit published on Common Dreams.  Letter to a Dead Man About the Occupation of Hope

In a day or two, or maybe next week, I'll  be back to talk of fun things: books and Halloween and the thing I get to do that's making me giddy.  Until then, love to you all.  I hope your world is changing, too.

Life After High School (And Other Close Calls)

Friday, September 9, 2011

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Sometimes, I’m surprised we made it out alive.  In actuality, I suppose some of us didn’t, but most of those in my immediate awareness did.  More or less.

They say angels watch over children, that it’s the only way they make it to adulthood, being as accident prone and ignorant as they inherently are.  But I think the same can be said about people when they hit 18 and on into their twenties, that age of letting-go and being a big kid… so big that your parents are no longer responsible for you and whatever choices you make from here on out are for keeps.  It’s a miracle any of us makes it to our thirties. 

I have been reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances from days gone by (let’s hear it for social networking), and the stories and memories this drudges up are clean and crisp as if they  happened just last week, not 10+ years ago.  It’s the years after high school, the dangerous times, when everyone still acts like teenagers, with all the drama and emotional instability but without the checks and balances of school hallways and parents and teachers and curfews.  There were good times and moments that sparkled with all the glory and importance of destiny.  This was who we were, this was where we were meant to be, with these friends, in this moment, the whole world, the planets, the cosmos laid before us to pick and choose our direction.  And then the other memories creep in.  The “where are they now” moments when someone asks about a certain friend.  “Hey, do you ever still talk to…?”  And the sinking feeling you get.  They don’t know, you think.  And there you are, having to explain the whole gruesome mess that you thought you’d left behind, thinking it had decomposed by now into something useful.  But, no.  These memories aren’t biodegradable.  They hang around, like so much polystyrene in the landfill of your mind.  And now, in theirs. 

He was a great friend, you muse, backstabbing at times, sure, but all in all the boy had promise.  He was funny, warm, caring when it suited him, charismatic beyond measure.  Everybody loved him.  But then, after that long string of girlfriends and working shit job after shit job, always downplaying his brilliance, always running from anything that smelled even remotely like responsibility (oh but it didn’t show right away – he seemed responsible enough… he talked a damned good game… hell, even showed up the rest of us slackers), that last girl had a child – his child.  And he ran, like a startled rabbit.  And then he came back.  And there was another child.  And he ran again.  And, as far as I know, he’s been running ever since.  He sleeps on park benches and under overpasses and at the random acquaintance’s house, from what I hear.  And it hurts the heart, because when he was around, he made you feel alive.  He made everyone feel that way.  Like you were your own supernova, and he could see it, too. 

Who, M.?  Oh yea, I remember how she was the girl everyone wanted.  She was fun, pretty, utterly approachable, one of the guys, and all of their fantasies.  She wanted to be a model, or a journalist, or volunteer for the Peace Corps.  But, I don’t know, things went wrong for her.  Something snapped.  I don’t know what.  But at this point she’s slept with nearly every guy we know and now has kids… four of them.  She has custody of two.  The others were taken away when she couldn’t pass her drug test.  I know.  We don’t talk much anymore.  But she was something, wasn’t she?  I just don’t get what went wrong…

These were our twenties, as I said.  A time full of lights and music and endless nights and drugs that got progressively heavier and more destructive.  The stupid shit we did… the way we loved each other and hurt each other and abandoned each other and stuck together.  We were these crazy “children of the night” who split most of our waking hours between night clubs and all-night diners.  “All roads lead to Denny’s.”  Another memory.  *sob* 

In the daytime, we worked menial jobs in food service or retail or torturous call centers (those were the worst – I did my time at one of those and became nearly petrified from boredom).  We hung out at coffee shops and each other’s apartments or houses and talked about life and love and philosophy and books and great, inspiring concepts.  We talked about the end of the world (Y2K was a hot topic then) and how we’d survive if society collapsed.  We made our plans.  And our camping trips.  And our coffee talk.  We dreamed.  And then we donned our dramatic makeup, our go go Gothic black clothes, and went dancing. 

A lot of us baled, in our own way, before we got sucked too deep.  You could say we “grew up,” whatever that means.  We got married, had kids (not necessarily in that order), settled down.  Some went to college and made something of themselves.  Some didn’t, but got “day jobs,” and we get by, always hoping to make something more of our lives.  Something creative.  (I feel like some poor schlob at a support group mix-up, “Hi, I blog and write fiction that nobody reads but me.  In the daytime I shuffle paper and wish I was anywhere but there.  What’s your gig?”)  Some moved out of town, and are presumably better for it.  Some burned out or burned bridges or both, and now rarely show their faces.  They’re outcasts, as these things go, but I’m sure someone misses them.  People can be shitty.  It’s the nature of things.

So I wonder that most of us survived.  Some, I know, eke out a day-by-day existence, but if that’s the best we can do, at least we’re doing that.  And some have been amazingly successful.  But I wonder what dreams and aspirations may still lurk in the hearts of the fallen – the ones who disappeared, leaving rumors in their wake of “drug overdose” or “junkie” or “arrested for something…” and the ones who became true bottom feeders, their current whereabouts more well known, but rarely pondered.  
 
We burned like stars then, and I think some of us just burned too hot and too fast, disintegrating under our own brilliance.  It hurts to find those memories again.  Not because they are all so painful, but because most of them are beautiful.  And you wonder, not only how did we survive, but how did we lose track of all that light. 

All Apologies and A Little Catch-up

Friday, August 5, 2011

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Well... I thought I had blog guilt before, but now of course I've gone way past tardy and right into neglect.  What do I have to say for myself?  Um... I'm still alive?  :}  I'm feeling a bit like Ron Weasley, showing back up at Harry & Hermione's camp after running out on them for weeks.  *Gulp*  So, yeah, sorry, but I have been terribly busy and things have... gotten in the way, and... 

Oh, never mind.  You know how it is.  But, honestly, with everything that's been going on, I have missed my little blog here.  I randomly check in on all the other blogs I follow and it's like peeking into a room full of friends, but you can't join the party 'cause you're supposed to be studying. 
All work and no play

I've got a minute now, though, (the barest minute) to stop and chat, so lets commence with the general catch-up we always have to do, shall we?

In the land of make-believe, yes I saw Deathly Hallows Part II, and yes, it was fantastic.  Well... I have to admit I was pretty disappointed in the final Harry/Voldemort showdown... I mean... where WAS everybody?  But the rest was superb.  And Snape... no words.  Alan Rickman was perfect.  But, you knew that, didn't you?  I mean, you have seen it by now... right?

Since then I've been waiting on tenterhooks (thanks for adding that phrase to my vocabulary, Ms. Rowling) for the release of the newest installment in the Dresden Files series: Ghost Story.  I've listened to every book in the series so far w/ my son on audiobook (I've edited some parts here and there, for his young ears... which are growing older by the day), and now we've gone back to listening to the last one again (Changes) just to keep us from freaking out in anticipation.  We should have the new one soon.  Very, very soon... (that last one left us on the world's largest cliffhanger, so I feel like we've been holding our breath ever since).  

And then, of course, I've been reading (with my eyes this time, on actual paper) The Passage by Justin Cronin every little down moment I get (which is usually fleeting - a moment in the car if my husband's driving, a few minutes between bites on my lunch break...).  I originally became aware of this tome's existence when I saw it on a Borders book shelf ages ago (ok... so about a year ago) and was completely captured by the storyline, but was too broke at the time to buy it.  Then, a few months ago, Mr. Cronin happened to come through my town for a book signing.  I heard the announcement on NPR, which prompted me to go out, buy the book finally, and get it signed.  I did, and he did, with the mysterious message, "All eyes."  I didn't know what it meant at the time (not having actually read it yet... seems odd to have a book signed that you haven't read, but I had faith it would be good... sometimes you just know), but I do now.  And I'm about halfway through.  If you've read this one, don't tell me how it ends.  I'm currently under it's spell, and hope to give a report once I'm done.  

In the really real world, my garden is growing and overgrown.  The child is now a teenager, and my husband and I are taking full responsibility for his corruption. (He's graduated to watching old Beavis & Butthead episodes which we happen to have on DVD... who says we don't have class.)

I am still writing. I've finished a short story but haven't gotten it published yet.  Still working on the "big" story and toying w/ the idea of expanding the short story idea into more stories.  All of which, of course, have been recently placed on the back burner as I deal with the demands of a working summer.  Autumn can't come soon enough.

In the virtual world (a sort of fiction/reality hybrid), Molly, my favorite blogger (yes, she is... the rest of you can get in line... there's nothing I can do about it, it's done.) is back in business, spinning off craziness and pure brilliance in a way only she can execute.  This is part of what brought me back here, so if you're at all glad I'm posting again, you can mostly thank her.

And then, in a virtual/really real world collision, my dear friend, GingerGirl, has been going through all kinds of adventures in Foodie Hell.  Go read.  She'll explain.  But I will say this:  it's interesting, when one of your closest friends is diagnosed with more food allergies than you ever before thought possible, how you start scrutinizing all of your own food... too see if you can still share it, or if you must keep it a safe distance, because you've seen first hand what a slip-up can do.  It sort of pulls your heart in uncomfortably odd directions, like being drawn and quartered. 

I will be back soon.  I hope some of you are still around, that you see this, and that you know how much more I want to be here than I actually am. 

A Little Spring Rain

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

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Green Spring Rain

Note:  I was supposed to post this last night, but a headache (most likely sinus induced... allergy season... springtime's special little gift) and general crankiness got the better of me and I bailed before I could find the right picture for this post.  Here it is, however, in all its glory (to be attributed to it's capturer, FrenchSelfCatering as found via Creative Commons), and now my nighttime post is complete.  So.  On with it.

Oh, I'm just so creaky and tired!  But it's been so long since my last post that I'm feeling blogger guilt (I'm sure that must be a psychoanalytical term).  So, nothing doing but to shake off my evening sleepies, take another swig off this weird banana-flavored not-real cappuccino I got from the convenience store, and sit down to have a talk.  

Actually, I can't believe how disgustingly addictive this fake cappuccino crap is.  It's made from a powder and comes in a Styrofoam cup and I surely bought my ticket to tree hugger hell with the $1.30-or-whatever I paid for this unnatural stuff.  But... it's that odd hypersweet banana flavoring (think banana Now and Laters, but creamy and vaguely coffee-flavored) that just seems to hit the spot... well, for a minute, anyway, before I get sick of it... which usually happens well before I've finished half the cup.  My friend Sarah calls this phenomenon "that good gross."

Sigh... so, where were we?  Oh yeah.  Books.  And Detroit.  And dealing with the idea of making sure the masses will always have access to information, because education is the backbone of society.  All of that lofty/messy stuff.  And now it's officially spring and everything is green and it has been raining in my neck of the woods, off and on, for nearly a week straight.  This time of year, if you let it get to you at all, is work-work-work.  There are gardens to plow, spring cleaning to attend to, school projects to construct.  Suddenly there are outings popping up everywhere.  Farmers' markets are opening, and the lawn, which hasn't troubled you for months, is suddenly screaming for attention.  And all this rain.

I think this spring snuck up on me, however prepared I thought I was.  All this activity and life going on, when the dark cloudy rain reminds me more of fall and makes me want to roll towards hibernation again.  I shall endeavor to do better, however, and relish the rainy days while I can.  As stormy and persistent as they are in their time, I know spring rains are fleeting. 

All That We Leave Behind

Monday, March 28, 2011

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detroit-28

I've been pondering degradation lately—the breakdown of systems, of decay and dissolution.  I wonder if we're really, finally coming to that point of losing something vital in our country.  

This train of thought was born from two seemingly unrelated occurrences: the downturn of book sales across the nation and a photo collection I ran across recently of the demise of Detroit, Michigan.  

First, let's take Detroit.  These images haunted me and gave me more than a moment's pause.  On first look, they are sadly beautiful.  There is a grace to decay; that inexorable slide into nonexistence.  But then there is the realization—Detroit is turning into a ghost town.  In the 1950s, it was the 4th largest city in America.  One perspective is that Detroit's decline is largely due to the fact that so much of our labor is being outsourced, and so many of the goods we purchase now come from outside our nation's borders.  We've sold our soul to China.  Unfortunately, I don't think that's too far off the mark.  

Don't get me wrong—I have nothing against China in a historical sense... but they do disappoint in their current state.  Such a rich history... such beautiful culture and art... and now the only thing we see from them is the oppression of their people, and plastic, poorly made crap from Walmart.  How depressing is that?  This is the country we are in debt to... we, the “Leaders of the Free World,” are financially beholden to a country whose politics we (as a nation) diametrically oppose.  All in the name of “they can make it cheaper.”  They undercut the world by using cheap labor, cheap materials, and lax (if not entirely nonexistent) health/safety/workmanship standards.  It's to the point that, though I'm no economics expert, I'm pretty sure our economy would collapse if we stopped getting our cheap crap from China.  Whatever would McDonald's put in the Happy Meals?  Wherever would we get our computer parts and Levi's?

Just to humor me, take a look around your house and see how many of the things you own were Made in China.  If you'd bought that same item Made in America, it would've cost more... so, we go with the Chinese version.  It might not last as long (meaning we'll have to turn around and buy another one in a few months or a year... probably another Made in China model, 'cause it'll be cheap) and it might have been made by someone whose wage is a pittance of what we pay our burger flippers here in the States, but hey, it's cheaper, and that means we can buy two for the price of one!  The really hilarious thing about all this is, while our people are being laid off right and left, and places like Detroit are on life-support, you might not be able to find an American-made version of this whatsis if you wanted one... because China has the corner on the stuff-that's-made market.  

We've entered into a lose-lose situation.  Well, I take that back.  China is winning.  China and Charlie Sheen.  Hooray for tiger blood.

And then there are books... books that a lot of people have stopped buying, apparently.  I learned about this when all the Borders stores started closing in my town.  Granted, Borders made some mistakes and didn't really plan their business strategy too well, but I'm seeing reports of book sales falling for Barnes & Noble, too, and they're supposed to be doing just fine.  A friend of mine brought up the point that “everyone's going to Kindles now.”  This actually scared me a little.  

I'm trying to imagine a world where people... especially the lower middle class and lower class, can afford to buy Kindles or any other e-book reader on the market.  I've looked on Amazon.com... these devices all go for somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 - $300.  

Have you ever been poor?  Are you poor now?  I have been, and am pretty close to that at the present.  I remember the days when it was worse, though.  When I was on food stamps and then WIC and suddenly very aware of what government assistance won't pay for.  Things like toilet paper and cleaning supplies.  Things like Kindles.  It's been nigh on 14 years for me now, but not so long ago in the grand scheme of my life.  I can tell you, if I was there now, there's no way I'd be able to afford something as grand as a Kindle.  I wouldn't even be able to afford this laptop I'm typing away on, which is infinitely more useful than a mere e-book reader, and which, in my current financial condition, was procured by the skin of my teeth.  But I could probably afford the occasional paperback. 

So, let's say my friend's prediction is correct... let's say it's all going Kindle.  Are actual, physical books going to become as “vintage” as tape cassettes?  Or CDs, for that matter?  All the used CD shops in my town have gone or are going under.  Nobody buys them anymore.  It's all mp3s.  Are books going the same way?

Some would say this perspective is paranoid, I suppose, and normally I'd agree.  But it doesn't look that way to me anymore.  It looks a little like the gap between the haves and have-nots is widening still.  It makes me wonder how many people all of this technology is leaving behind.  

There are nights when my son has to use the internet to do his homework.  Not all the children in his school come from families who are “making it.”  Do they all have internet at home?  There's always the library, I suppose, but it gives me a sinking feeling, all the same.  

And, sure, there will probably be used books available for a long time to come... online, if all the traditional bookstores close up shop, but you can't buy things via the internet if you only operate in cash.  Many, many “disadvantaged people” (such a pompous term, but it does the trick) do not have credit cards or even bank accounts—therefore no bank cards—with which to make these internet purchases.  Why?  The reasons are various and sundry, but I used to be one of them, so just take my word for it, ok?  Perhaps you can't imagine a life without plastic money.  Or, perhaps, you can.  But it exists, either way.  And, I daresay, that portion of the population is growing, not dwindling.

So I wonder... I wonder who we're abandoning in all of this “progress”... is it ourselves?  I wonder, and I worry. 

Magenta Sun

Monday, March 7, 2011

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Once upon a time there was a little girl
whose favorite color was magenta.
Of all the crayons in her Big Box,
magenta was the most wondrous.
She colored the whole world magenta, this girl
Magic magenta people
Magenta trees
Magenta sun


Until one day, when she had grown big and strong
and wasn't a little girl anymore,
the world turned red.
Candy-apple red, the red of sports cars
and funky hats.
Red was the most wondrous of colors.
Strong and vibrant 
The color of pure conviction
The color of a dare 
The color of wildfires and will.

Her world was red, true Indian Paint Brush red,
for so long that at first she didn't notice
that her red was slowly being tinged 
with black, with purple, with dark.
The next time she looked, the red world was no longer the color of candy apples and sports cars
But the red of garnets, of blood, of wine
the red of being-all-grown-up.
Now she breathed the red of child birth and pain and regret
She walked the red of deep, real love 
The red of contradiction and betrayal
And the messy red of acceptance-- 
The deep, primal red of life.

She looked around, this blood-red woman,
this lady of deep crimson and poisoned apples
this woman of redemption,
and saw a little magenta girl
standing
right
behind her.
The red lady walked back a pace
knelt down a little
and smiled
the magenta girl took the lady's all-grown-up hand,
tinting it a bit with her own magical hue
and the two of them began to walk
into the magenta sun.


So now I have to know.  What's your favorite color(s)?  And what does it mean to you?

Ode to a Utopian Coffee House

Friday, February 25, 2011

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Coffee porn
I have been granted a few hours with nowhere to go and nothing to do, so I decided to try a new coffee shop today.  It's one I'd driven past several times and always meant to try, since I am currently without a "regular" place to go.  The problem with living somewhere for a long time is that, eventually, you get to know too much about the local scene, and while you want to support it, you also know all the dirt, so it makes who to patronize (in the good, monetary way, not the condescending, shitty way) a bit tricky.  One coffee shop has a good atmosphere, but it costs too much and the employees are snooty.  Another one has great coffee but a so-so atmosphere, so you can't quite get into the groove of the place.  There's always Starbucks (kind of like McDonald's--no matter where you go, there is always a Starbucks), but they're not local, and so they're the exception, not the standard.  And then there's that place with great coffee (shade grown, locally roasted) and great atmosphere, but who had (at least at one point; not sure about now, I haven't been back) shady employment practices... which I would only know because I knew one of their employees.  It was the little devil on my shoulder, one of my September girls (professional barista-waitress-bar-tender-Jackie-of-all-trades).  Sigh... she ruins everything.  (and I do hope she knows I'm kidding ;)

So now we're here, at this place... and I think I might have found a new home.  The coffee is good, the atmosphere is comfortable, the music is mellow--ambient and coffee-shopish without sounding like every song was written by Jack Johnson or the Indigo Girls (absolutely no offense to either artist or duo), which means it doesn't invade my thoughts if I don't want it to.  And, the best thing, I don't know any of this business's politics.  I can only hope they're good,  honest employers to those who brew my beverage.  

Being a responsible consumer is difficult in this day and age.  Very little is cut and dried.  I want, in my Utopian daydreams, to go to a locally-owned place that has music like that which I am experiencing right now (the current song sounds a hell of a lot like Sigur Ros--they're Icelandic and if you haven't heard them before, do check them out, they're amazing--music to drown in); lots of nooks and crannies in which to sit and be alone, if that's what you want; good, comfy furniture; shade grown, organic, fair trade coffees and teas; a good behind-the-scenes business ethic (man, I don't want to hear that you stiffed your employees their fairly earned wages or that you fired someone for some reason that should get you sued, except that you know the coffee-slinging employee in question isn't gutsy enough and/or flush enough to hire an attorney to do the deed... especially not on the wages you've been paying them); and staff that doesn't treat the customers like they're not coffee-shop geek enough to be cool.  Oh, and which doesn't charge exorbitantly more than the rest of the coffee shops in town.  Is that really too much to ask?   I suppose it must be because it seems so hard to come by.  But this place will do for now.  Not enough nooks and crannies, but the rest of the atmosphere compensates for that.  And I haven't quite sussed out whether the coffee and tea are fair trade...  

Who knows?  In a few more visits, this little place might earn my absolute loyalty.  That would be nice.  I need a place to feel at home, and it's good to know where your loyalties lie.

Sharing Something Sacred

Friday, February 18, 2011

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Please go to this link and read what's written there.  If you have time, listen to the interview.  This is beautiful and important.  I don't have time to say more.  But this I had to share.

http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2011/planting-the-future/kristasjournal.shtml

A Report from the Midwestern Tundra

Monday, February 7, 2011

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A Nice Little Home by the Creek
How many of my dear readers got snowed in this past week?  (Raise your hands.)  Yup.  Me, too.  We got record levels of snowfall in my town, record cold temperatures, and I think we're now going for a record number of days in a row that public schools will close for weather conditions.  I've got money on school reopening on Friday (since we have yet another storm hurtling toward us, due to hit tomorrow evening), though some are speculating it won't be until Monday... if we're really lucky.

So, here I sit, after my first full day of being back at work, munching on black pepper popcorn and drinking cinnamon coffee (somehow this is working), wondering if this is the start of a trend of Winters Future.  Because I fear the Snow Queen has finally won, friends. It is Winter here in Oklahoma, always Winter and never Christmas.

What have I been doing with all this extra time, you ask?  Forced slack days, how I love them so.  I did some writing, though not near enough to quite justify my existence (says my irritated muse, who wasn't near inspiring enough, I'll have her know, if she's gonna' bitch about it.  But I digress...); obviously I didn't blog, though I had several false starts (say sorry).  We watched a little TV, as was inevitable.  There's nothing like old reruns of Northern Exposure to help you feel like you're not alone.  If we're snowed in again (as it looks like we may be if we get the extra 10" they keep threatening), I fully plan on rewatching Fargo and probably Escanaba in Da Moonlight, too.  Try and stop me.

I did a lot of domesticky stuff, like cleaning bits here and there, baking cookies, cooking comfort foods, and reminding my two resident felines how lucky they are to have a warm home to live in and people to feed them (as appreciation isn't one of their default perspectives, it's good to remind them how good the little beasts have it from time to time, primarily when temperatures drop into the negative digits).  I had a nearly spiritual experience with some rainbow trout I pulled out of the freezer and fried up.  Seriously, friends, it was amazing.  This is only the 2nd time I can remember having this particular iridescent fish (second time out of the same batch I bought as a substitute for Tilapia when Whole Foods ran out--best substitution ever made, just sayin'), and all I did was fry it in some light olive oil with salt and cracked pepper, skin on (as the internet advised).  Scrumptious, buttery heaven.  (Note that I did not add butter!)  If you like fish at all, you must try this--US farm raised, of course, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. (And how many of you didn't see that reference coming? Tree Hugger! you may scream.  Guilty.  And trying to be tree-huggery more and more every day.)

I also noticed, in my putterings, how important it is to keep from falling into a bored mental stupor.  It's all too easy when you can't get out, especially if you aren't a natural home-body.  To keep from going completely non-drug-induced-stoned, I did a lot of reading, of course, and the aforementioned activities, but I also did a bit if skipping around on the internet.  And I am here to report that there were, in fact, a few things of interest.

If you are still snowbound, or, like me,  are at risk of being re-snowbound within a day or two, here are some things I found to keep your wandering, cabin-feverish mind from wandering right off the deep end.

This one is a recent addition to my "followed" blogs.
Lisa Snelling at http://slaughterhousestudios.blogspot.com/ is a girl whose words and artwork are, simply put, devastating.  I'm in love.  I can't help it.  Look at those poppets!  And the blog entries are lovely, haunting, and honest.

I've been following Lady Lavona for awhile now.  Her posts are sometimes disturbing, sometimes enlightening, but always interesting.  In one of her recent entries, she posted the Youtube for Amanda Palmer's Map of Tasmania.  Occult, art, and rock n' roll.  What's not to like?  (WARNING:  Some very weird content.  I love it, but it's not for the faint of heart or the strictly unadventurous.)
http://ladylavona.blogspot.com/

If poetry is your cup of tea, I've been greatly enjoying the Jenkins Street Poetry Project.  I was particularly fond of Of Winter and Ordinary Time.  Tragically gorgeous.

Then, of course, there's the ever-present and ever-entertaining Words from a Nobody, who really does inspire me to get my crap together on a regular basis.  She was my first person-who-doesn't-know-me-from-Eve follower (and I still have no idea how she found me) and she remains, to this day, one of my hands down favorite blogs (I do not get why she doesn't have more followers, so I will continue to plug, plug, plug until I feel she has amassed the entourage she deserves).  I've decided I want to be her when I grow up, even if that means I'd have to turn back a few years (ahem).  Some call it backward, I call it progress.  She's raw, punchy, and prolific.  She puts me to shame every day.

And lookit what I found here.  This is a fellow blogger who has somehow managed (by connection or sheer magic) to have Neil Gaiman write a myth for his blog.  Neil then tweeted that he'd written said myth, posted the link, and there I was... staring at the marvelous, glittering train wreck that is Myths RETOLD.  I'll list the link that takes you directly to Mr. Gaiman's story, too (see down there--so you don't have to hunt too hard for it).  But, please, DO take a minute or ten to look around the rest of the blog.  If Aesop was reborn today with the personality of Jay (of Jay and Silent Bob as portrayed in nearly any Kevin Smith movie), it would be this dude.  I am enthralled.  Again, quite happily NOT for the sweet and demure.
http://bettermyths.blogspot.com/2010/08/neil-gaiman-made-up-this-myth.html

I have now suggested movies, hinted that you (like me) really should get back to writing, and pointed you to a handful of blogs to keep your mind from flat-lining during your winter's house-arrest.  If you have any better ideas, I'd surely love to hear them.  Got a favorite snowed-in movie or book?  Lay it on me.  'Cause I've already done all this... and there's a storm a-comin'.  

Mirror Work

Sunday, January 9, 2011

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Mirror Moth
It's cold and quiet in the world right now—at least for those of us living in winterland.  Outside, the second snow of the season has started to fall, though we don't expect much of it.  We're not far enough north for that. 

In the quiet today, I remember that I said I would tell you my views on addiction.  And it's a cold, staying-in day.  It's a good day for talking.  But why talk about that here, on this blog?  Well, because addiction is part of the human experience, it's something nearly all of us struggle with in one form or another, and, with this blog's focus being on matters specific to being sentient, I thought it would be appropriate.  That, and all those damned New Year's resolutions everyone's been on about lately.  I'll bite—I'll put in my two cents.  Some might find it helpful to engage in this dialogue, but many will believe such a discussion is not for them—they've never been addicted to anything in their lives.  If this is you, then you're either deluding yourself, or you're some kind of saint the likes of which have scarcely been seen in this world, past or present.

But then, why should you listen to me?  I'm nobody, after all—not a doctor, psychologist, or teacher.  I have, however, had some experience with addiction and attempts to overcome bad habits, which I'd like to share.  First, the obvious.  Did you know that I quit an 11 year smoking habit 4 ½ years ago?  I did.  It was hard—one  of the hardest things I've ever done.  I didn't use the patch or any other “smoking aid,” but I made it through anyway.  It doesn't define me, it's just something I did, another struggle I had to overcome in my life, one of many, just like you.  I learned a lot, though, about the nature of addiction.  One of the biggest lessons was that, after the cigarettes were out of the way, I found that addiction didn't end there—that it's more than just the dependency on some drug, but that it can take any form, and once you “conquer” one, you start to see a whole lot of others that you never knew you had.

I'm going to take a stab at a definition here.  I'm going to tell you what I believe addiction is.  In my experience, addiction is the habitual employment of an action (often irrelevant to the given situation) or substance (drugs, food, things) to make oneself feel in control.  Addiction, by definition, by nature, is never an actual solution.  An actual solution would solve the real problem, an addiction merely makes us feel better without making any positive changes to our life.  We use these substitutions all the time.  This is, for all intents and purposes, classic psychology.  It's so basic, in fact, that nearly every human being that I've ever met has been, currently is, or will be, addicted to something—even if that something is a defense mechanism.  Getting over your habit of taking your bad day out on the people around you, for example, is no easier and essentially no different than your uncle getting over his addiction to Jack Daniels or your dad's addiction to the potato chips that are clogging his arteries.  Well, that is, once your alcoholic uncle's doctor has helped him get past the physical addiction (nothing to take lightly).

Let me stress that having an addiction does not necessarily imply substance abuse.  You've heard of people having a gambling addiction, an addiction to food, an addiction to spending money.  These are all legitimate forms of addiction, having no less a hold on the person than heroine on your typical junky.   The thing is, this is what we do.  We reach for something to make us feel in control, to make us feel right, whenever we start to feel out of control.  It's natural and nearly essential.  The only problem is how we go about regaining that control, whether we're reaching for an addiction or trying for a real solution.

Along the way I've learned that, for us sentients, a sustained feeling of being out of control leads directly to mental instability (call it “having issues” or full blown “insanity,” the difference is just a matter of degrees).  I'm being quite literal here—feel free to look it up.  We must maintain some sense of control over our lives, our moments, for us to continue to make good decisions and walk around with the rest of the free sentients (as opposed to being locked up with the criminals or the lunatics).  That's what your addiction is—it's your substitute for being in control.  Whether it be smoking, over-eating, or habitually buying a little “extra something” to make yourself feel better, it's a way of avoiding having the guts to gain real, honest control over your life.

So, let's say you made a New Year's resolution to change some bad habit—to lose some weight, to stop drinking so much caffeine, to quit rearranging your living room every other week and driving everyone in your house crazy (because all this control you're exerting is really making everyone else feel out of control).  I'm here to tell you that no amount of “will” (if by “will” you mean “stubbornness”) is going to change your habit for more than a few weeks.  Your only hope, friends and sentients, is to start to recognize when you feel out of control, and why.  It is to start working through those control issues you're having in search of real solutions.  Your boss barked at you four times that day and you're feeling stressed and you could really use a drink.  Fine, unless you always reach for the bottle in such situations, in which case maybe it's time to look for a real solution.  Try talking to your boss about it or looking for another job or doing what you need to finally start working for yourself.  I don't know.  It's not my life.  But I know that you'd need a real solution, not another band-aid, not another “something” to make yourself “feel better”.

When I quit smoking and then quit avoiding conflict and then quit lying about my feelings to make the other person feel better, the process was always the same.  I had to recognize why I was doing it.  I had to understand I couldn't change the habit, couldn't deny myself the false sense of control, until I faced the fact that I was feeling out of control in the first place.  Psychology 101—and most of us will never take the first step in conquering it.  You want to change your life?  This is the first step.  And no, it is not the easiest, because we've been running from these realizations for nearly as long as we've  been alive.  I'm still learning what makes me feel out of control and where my methods of feeling in control have been failing me—just covering over the real problems.

So this is what I want to say to you, person trying to take control of your life.  Don't you dare hop on another diet, don't deny yourself that little shopping trip, don't tell yourself you'll speak up this time, you will (you assure yourself), right after you've gained some courage by avoiding the topic for a week or two, only to find yourself back in the same boat, having changed nothing and feeling none-the-wiser.  Why don't New Year's resolutions work?  Because, most of the time, you're dedicating yourself to eradicating a symptom while never addressing the cause.  Work on your head.  It's the most fascinating place you've ever been, and I guarantee you don't know yourself as well as you think.  Become more responsible for who you are and what you do.  Once you start the process of sorting out your mental issues (we all have them; if you have a mind, you have mental issues), realizing where they come from, and taking responsibility for your actions, then you will be able to tackle the addictions, the bad habits, and all the varying degrees of pseudo-control that you employ.

It takes time and it takes honesty.  That is the path to control.  Do the deep work—the hard looking-at-yourself-in-the-mirror work.  Without that, nothing else will make any difference in the world.  You can't fake this.  It's just you and you, kid.  And, if you're feeling like you need to make some lasting changes in your life, it's probably high time you got on better terms with you.

Life in the Multiverse

Monday, January 3, 2011

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Here we are, on the very first days of 2011.  How is it finding you?  Do you feel any different?  It's kind of like a birthday, the start of a new year - you think you'll feel older, somehow, maybe wiser or stronger or mysteriously "new," but you usually don't.  This year, however, seems to be delivering a marked "something different."  Standing on this edge, I find myself thinking deeper, feeling freer, embracing harder.  Everything feels like a possibility, like hope.  And yet, the ghosts hover ever closer.

I decided to give Notes from a Sentient a face lift for the new year - something to better reflect this new frame of mind.  Do you like it?  I'm satisfied with my choice.  It's brighter, more colorful and dynamic, and it has my tree.  Yes, that one, over there - the one without any leaves, like a thing standing between worlds, between the living and dead, between the real and the imaginary, and do we really know on which side we reside?  It's a question worth pondering.  I do it all the time.  

There are lots of things I wanted to talk to you about.  With the constant babble of New Year's resolutions flying around, I thought I might talk about addiction and breaking bad habits (from my own personal perspective, since that's all any of us really has), but that's another post.  This one will have to be about writing - not the how but the why.  Why writing instead of habit-breaking, as would be so much more apropos for this time of year? Because that's where my head is at.  Sorry for the abrupt change in subject and the misplaced preposition, but that's just how it is tonight.  It's all I can do.

I was driving and thinking earlier, pondering my story, the one I've been working on, off and on, for too long now - the one that just won't shut up, never goes away, but never seems any easier to write, for all of that.  My son's head was stuck in his new manga book and a long, dark highway stretched out before me, the radio muttering just loud enough to know what song was playing, but low enough to become background noise to my thoughts.  I went away, snagged again by that other realm. (It's so close to this one, it's almost an overlay - like a nearly imperceptible caul.)

This novel won't let me be.  I've tried writing other things when I get exasperated and feel stuck with the plot, but I can't seem to get into anything else.  I think this is my Big Story - not Big in a NY Times Best Seller List kind of way, but Big in a this will gnaw at you until it's written, until it's done, kind of way.  What's funny is that it's not even the most personal story I intend to write.  That story is down the road a bit (the irony of this statement is something most of you will never get).  But this one is telling me to write, poking and prodding and whispering incessantly.  

I believe most people are like that tree (yes, that one up there), existing between worlds.  We are alive, but we're dying even as we live, will be dead some day, and weren't alive (does that mean we were dead, or simply did not exist?) before we were born.  We can be conscious, yet our mind, our attention, can be in two places (or more) at once.  We could be driving a car, for example, down a dark strip of highway while simultaneously seeing and experiencing somewhere else, another world, one that could be a memory but is more likely a figment of our quite considerable imaginations.  And this imaginative place where ideas and dreams and stories and paintings and songs come from is also a place divided, existing in and from different realms.  Our imaginations, our stories, seem to be part past experience, part anticipated future, part hopes and fears, and part the out-of-nowhere-from-nothingness that gives rise to those thoughts and ideas which we can't explain.  Not comfortably, at least.  

I think this is a piece of the puzzle, one of the core reasons why we create, why, if we are writers, we write.  (Of course, if you're a painter or an architect or a musician, you create in those way - I think it all comes to the same.)  Because these worlds, all of these realities we exist in, must be paid homage to, must be expressed.

Do you ever feel that way?  As if some fictional character, some moment in your mind, some feeling or glimmer of insight, is going to push against the confines of your being until it finally gets out?  Some people say, "I felt like I would just burst if I didn't get it all out!"  

It is like that, isn't it?  Like a living entity trying to be hatched or freed.  We, their surrogates or their creators (the jury is still out on that one), we don't have any choice, do we?  

Mmm... (as one thought leads to another) but we do, don't we?    We have a choice.  We can ignore the imagination, the other realms that are speaking to us.  We can pretend we don't hear the voices, don't see the vision.  But we know what that means.  It means the death of the soul.  Art is self preservation.  It is the soul's struggle for survival - the only sustenance there is, the only chance.  The only difference between we, the creative people of the world, and those that don't seek a creative outlet, is that we understand this one simple fact.  Art is life.  Anything else is suicide.  Or voluntary zombieism - and when it comes down to that, is there really any difference?