Monthly Archives: October 2018

Insecticide

Although Halloween is more about spiders than insects, a real fear seems to be swirling around the latter.  For the second time in a year, a study has been published indicating a precipitous drop in the numbers of six-legged creatures worldwide.  This is alarming because everything’s connected.  Loss of insects means loss of vertebrates that feed on them and that leads to loss of species upon which we depend.  The problem with “humans first,” simply “America first” writ large, is that all species are interconnected.  The loss of one will lead to the loss of others—that’s the way connections work—until the entire picture changes.  And it won’t be prettier.  Even for lack of bugs.

Scientists aren’t sure of why this is happening, but the likely culprit seems to be global warming.  Temperatures are changing so rapidly that evolution can’t keep up.  And since those in political power don’t believe in evolution—America first!—they have difficulty seeing how global warming—a myth!—could possibly pose any threat.  Just ask the wooly mammoth.  The fact is that the very small frequently offer the answers long before it’s too late.  The problem is you have to pay attention.  And that attention must be not on America, or Trump, or Kavanaugh.  The Supreme Court is jobless if there are no people left.  We are part of an ecosystem, and the silence of that ecosystem is very loud indeed.   Decades ago Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring to warn of the dangers of pesticides.  In our short-sighted way, we responded by banning the most dangerous of them and turning up the heat.

We like to focus on the negative aspects of religion these days, but one of the overlooked benefits of it has been religions’ ability to shift focus.  Christianity, for example, has been an advocate of thinking of others before thinking of oneself.  Now certain elected officials seem constitutionally unable to think of anyone but themselves, but the fact is none of us would be here if it weren’t for the insects.  They work to keep our planet neat and tidy, even if we regard them as a sign of uncleanness in our houses.  Maybe not the lowest, they are one of the essential building blocks of the world we know and recognize.  And they are disappearing.  As Carson recognized decades ago, the loss of insects leads to a silent spring because the birds that feed on them will disappear.  And what about pollination—whose job will that become?  I suppose we could assign it to migrant workers, but we’re sending them away too.  America first will be America the silent and hungry.  Unless we listen to what the insects tell us.

October’s Monsters

Blood and vampires go together like October and, well, vampires.  Although I don’t understand manga, I do know it’s extremely popular, and a friend has been lending me the volumes of Hellsing by Kouta Hirano.  In the past couple of weeks I’ve read numbers 4 and 5.  Hellsing sets up a world where the Catholic church destroys vampires, as does the English, Protestant organization Hellsing Organization.  The latter, however, has as its secret weapon the vampire Alucard who, in nearly every number, gets dismembered in some bloody way before pulling himself back together to overcome the enemy.  In the latest issues I’ve read the Catholics and Protestants have to cooperate against the threat of neo-Nazis (and this was before Trump was elected), who also employ werewolves.  (It’s October, remember.)

Having been pondering the vampires of Maine, I decided to read the next in my own generation’s vampire hero, Barnabas Collins.  I’ve been reading the Dark Shadows series by Marilyn Ross to try to find a lost piece of my childhood.  There was a scene in one of these poorly written Gothic novels that made a strong impression on me that I finally re-encountered in Barnabas, Quentin and the Nightmare Assassin.  Interestingly, in this installment Barnabas, the gentleman vampire, is cured of his curse while traveling back in time with Carolyn Stoddard.  The story doesn’t explain how some of the characters from the twentieth century appear a hundred years earlier, but it does bring an early encounter of the vampire against the werewolf—an idea monster fans know from its many iterations such as Hellsing or, famously, Underworld.

You might think vampires and werewolves would get along.  In both the Dark Shadows and Hellsing universes the personalities of both come through clearly.  Both monsters have deep origins in folklore and people have believed in them since ancient times.  Just because they’re not human, however, is no reason to suppose they’ll get along with each other.  As soon as Universal discovered that monsters translated well to film the idea began to develop that monster versus monster would be a great spectacle.  We had vampires and werewolves clashing on cheap budgets with fog machines.  A new orthodoxy was created that the undead just don’t get along.  It’s a idea that continued into the relatively bloodless Dark Shadows series, and on into the violent and gleefully bespattered Hellsing.  And since it’s October nobody should be surprised.

Absalom v. Occam

Getting a haircut is like going to confession.  You don’t go as often as you probably should, and you feel embarrassed and awkward when they ask how much you want taken off.  The penance of looking funny several days afterward ought to be punishment enough, without your head feeling cold once shorn of its natural covering.  At least in my experience.  The truth is I like long hair.  Biblical-length hair.  The truth is also that many people think it inappropriate for a guy my age.  I always eventually bow to peer pressure, but it can take a while.  Beautician forgive me, it has been six months since my last haircut.  Absalom, after all died because of his long hair. O Absalom!

This isn’t just idle musing on my part.  I grew up in the Evangelical tradition that is now ripping our nation apart.  One of the greatest markers of that faith is conformity.  In college I learned to call it the “Evangelical haircut.”  Any guy who had hair over his collar or ears was suspect of not being “Christian.”  I began to notice that this same mindset preferred well manicured lawns, cutting down trees and keeping outward appearances neat and tidy.  There’s no better way to mask what goes on internally than to present an outward look of a well-ordered world.  Getting a haircut always brings this back to me—it is a statement being made.  I’m not sure how to explain this to the poor girl standing there with scissors in her hand.  I don’t want to look Evangelical!

Of course, the beard helps.  Until recently Evangelicals didn’t permit beards.  The girls in college said they made men look unclean.  As if they were never washed.  And these days some Evangelicals have come to support the stubble beard—electric razors, those allies of Occam, can be purchased to keep the half-way bearded look fresh.  I prefer to get my money’s worth out of a haircut.  I also prefer to signal that I am not one of them.  Absalom may have been an overly ambitious young man, but despite Michelangelo’s famous statue, David the man was himself in all likelihood bearded and might’ve sported a mullet.  Samson wore dreds.  Uncomfortable with history, Evangelical illustrators in the ‘80s began portraying Jesus with a Roman haircut and neatly trimmed beard.  Perhaps I’m overthinking this, but now that I’ve got Samson’s fate in mind I find it difficult to open the door, knowing I’ll walk out after confession not feeling so much redeemed as just plain chilly.  Even Absalom, I remind myself, had his hair cut once a year.

The Problem with Shaving

Evil may be an abstract concept, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.  Sorry for the double negative—finding the right angle of approach is difficult sometimes.  I say that because I believe that the misattribution of evil is tearing civilization apart.  Science has rightfully taught us the tricks for understanding the material universe.  Problem is there’s more to the universe than material.  If all our minds consist of are electro-chemical signals, well, this batch swirling in my head isn’t alone in doubting itself.  (Think about that.)  So, here’s the problem—those on the opposite side of the political spectrum rending the United States into shreds aren’t evil.  They’re doing what they believe is right, just like the lefties are.  The evil comes from forces trying to tear good people on both sides apart.  The simplest solution, Mr. Occam, isn’t always the best.

Putting it out on the table, right and left have some basic disagreements.  By far the majority of them are sexual.  Both sides believe what they’ve been taught or what they’ve learned.  Sex, of course, is one of the great dividers of humankind.  It brings us together and it tears us apart.  Religions have always been very interested in sexuality—who does what to whom and what to make of the consequences.  None of it is easy to sort out.  Since the Bible voices first-century (and earlier) opinions on a matter they understood even less than we, the situation is very complex indeed.  Especially since many people wrote all the self-contradictory words within its stolid black, pigskin leather covers.

Complexity reigns in the world of explanation for both politics and sex.  Put them together and see what happens (if a Clinton, impeachment, if a Trump, nothing).  The issue with Occam’s razor is that the simplest solution doesn’t always explain things best.  It’s not evil to suggest woman plus man equals marriage.  Unenlightened, maybe, but not evil.  The truth is that things are more complicated than they seem.  A society taught, in many ways, that only one solution works could easily boil it all down to one size fits all.  Evil is the desire for political power that draws its energy from making each group think the other is evil.  I realize this courtesy often goes in only one direction.  That too is part of the evil machinations of a system that divides instead of seeks common ground.

Collinsport

Nothing is ever wasted.  That’s my economy of the soul.  I spent my tween years mooning about Maine.  I’d grown up watching Dark Shadows after school and I’d begun reading the pulp fiction based on the series by Marilyn Ross.  My mother wondered how I could waste my time on vampire nonsense when there was sun shining outside and other kids to play with.  Little did she know that I was learning valuable lessons for the future.  My fascination with Maine—still intact—led me to vacation there whenever possible and over my career I’d applied to more than one or two jobs there based primarily on the potential reward of living in the same state as Collinwood and its spooky mansion  atop the cliffs overlooking the stormy Atlantic.  Once some friends in Norwalk, Connecticut took us to see the  Lockwood–Mathews Mansion, used for Collinwood in the movie House of Dark Shadows.   Such is the draw of childhood imagination.

What were these lessons I’ve mentioned?  Well, Collinwood stands outside the quaint fishing village of Collinsport.  Both are named after the family that houses some very dark secrets, as well as shadows.  Barnabas Collins is a vampire.  He has run-ins with many supernatural creatures, including ghosts, witches, and a few Scooby-Doo kinds of cases where someone’s faking the paranormal.  But Barnabas isn’t the only monstrous Collins.  His cousin Quentin, whom I kind of remembered being his ally, was an unstable werewolf.   Of course, I’m not sure there is such  a thing as a stable werewolf, but still.  Those in the family stay loyal, despite the beasts that lurk within their walls.  Some of the early Collinses were involved in the slave trade.

The Collins family has a long association with the state of Maine.  During the groovy 1970s they seemed somewhat progressive while maintaining the aloofness of the aristocracy they’d become.  Despite Tim Burton’s spin on it, they were the undisputed lords of Collinsport.  You felt you could trust them.  Unelected though they were, they possessed an innate sense of social responsibility.  I also learned as a child that, as appealing and tortured as they might be, you could never really trust a Collins.  Barnabas was not evil, but he was a vampire.  He required blood to survive, and his victims, like those of the current Collins of Maine, Susan, were female.  Any girl who trusted a Collins was in danger, unless she was their willing servant.  I was not squandering my childhood afternoons.  I was learning lessons about trust and its costs.

Aporripsophobia

I’m proposing a new word.  Given that there are lengthy lists of phobias available on the internet, and since fear and I are well acquainted, I was surprised to discover that fear of rejection has no name.  It is simply called “fear of rejection.”  That makes it sound so juvenile that it need not be taken seriously.  Without revealing too much (I don’t know how you might use this information—you could reject me!), this is one of my lifelong fears.  I have theories as to why this may be, but if you want to hear them you have to get to know me first.  In any case, I am proposing the word “aporripsophobia” for fear of rejection.  Before you turn this down, let me assure you that I took four years of Greek in college, and even taught it for a year.  “Aporripsē” is Greek for rejection, and, of course “phobia” is fear.  The standard euphonic vowel before the o in phobia is open for grabs, but since it’s my word, I’m suggesting another o.

Unless it’s a keyboard smash, a web search on Google that brings no results is rare.  Just to be sure, I checked out aporripsophobia and the mighty search engine turned up no results.  One thing I’ve learned about the writing life is that rejection is part and parcel of it.  Almost every writer has a history of rejection slips because, until someone takes a chance on you and makes some money off you, who wants to risk it?  The first few I received nearly solidified my slavery to aporripsophobia.  My advice to other writers, however, should they want it, is keep on trying.  In the past two years I’ve been asked to write two academic articles and a book.  I’ve also been asked to contribute to some online resources.  None of these are big or visible projects, but to someone with aporripsophobia, that’s fine.

Even introverts, you see, need other people.  Many of us suffer from a form of over-stimulation when around too many people.  Some of us are extremely alert to our senses, finding it difficult to ignore strong odors or weak pains.  Lots of people around can be frightening—crowds are loud and there’s so much—too much—going on!  That doesn’t mean, however, that the quiet don’t need others.  In fact, the quiet with aporripsophobia may get into a feedback loop where the need for alone time is translated as snobbery or arrogance when in reality it’s simply a way of handling the stress of being around too many people.  The feeling of rejection then rushes in.  I have probably said too much already, but I wanted to get aporripsophobia out there before someone louder did.  I missed meteorotheology as a coined word, so, like my advice to writers, this is how I keep on trying.  Finding aporripsophobia on Google some day down the road could lead to its opposite, I think.  Its rejection, on the other hand, would be the supreme irony.

Writers Reading

A lot of misconceptions about books abound out there.  One of those misconceptions that has become clear to me is that authors write books to teach.  (Or to make money.  Ha!)  That may well be part of the motivation, but for me, the larger part has been writing books to learn.  You see, the frontiers of human knowledge cannot be reached without stretching.  Writing a book is a way of learning.  Long gone are the days when a person could read every known published work.  Indeed, there aren’t enough hours on the clock for anyone even to read all published books on the Bible, let alone the far bigger topics these days.  And so writing a book that deals with a biblical topic—let’s say demons—is the ultimate learning exercise.  It’s a very humbling one.

I recently read an article where book pirates (yes, there is such a thing!  I should explain: there are those who believe authors are ripping off society by getting royalties for their books.  These pirates, like those of galleys of yore, take ebooks and make them available for free on the internet.) call authors “elitists” for wanting to earn something from their labors.  These folks, I’d humbly suggest, have never written a book.  Most books (and I’m mainly familiar with non-fiction publishing here, but the same applies to the other kind) take years to write.  Authors read incessantly, and if they have day jobs (which many do) it is their “free time” that goes into reading and writing.  They do it for many reasons, but in my case, I do it to learn.

The doctoral dissertation is accomplished by reading as much as possible beforehand and writing up the results quick, before someone else takes your thesis.  It is the practice I also used for my second book as well, Weathering the Psalms.  The third book, Holy Horror, was a little bit different.  Yes, I read beforehand, but much of the research went on after the body of the book had largely taken form.  I had to test my assumptions, which are on ground most academics, needing and fearing tenure, tremble to tread.  I read books academic and popular, and having been classically trained, often went back and read the books that led to the first books I read.  It is a never-ending journey.  I could easily spend a lifetime writing because I’d be learning.  But like other misconceptions, those who write books don’t lead lives of luxury.  They work for a living, but they live for the chance to learn.  And that’s worth more than royalties.  Besides, the nine-to-five demands constant attention.