After It’s News

We live our lives by the news cycle.  It tells us what to think about and worry about, often beyond our local, daily concerns.  And sometimes we forget about yesterday’s headliners.  If you’re curious about whatever became of actual Hurricane Ian, I can tell you.  He’s been hanging around here.  Oh, he’s a mere shadow of his former self, becoming just a low-pressure system sitting off the Atlantic coast between New York and Philadelphia.  And spinning, and spinning, and spinning.  Around here we haven’t seen the sun since last Thursday.  The rain has been intermittent, but yesterday it was pretty much all day and he’s set to continue dominating the skies here at least through today.  Your typical hurricane, if there is such a thing, just keeps moving until it reaches unpopulated areas and nobody cares any more.  This one has been a long-term guest.

With the first few days of lassitudinous rain we had maybe an inch.  Rainfall spat and sputtered and sprinkled.  Yesterday it began to really come down and as I write this it’s too dark to tell but I can hear it splashing on my windows.  The toadstools popping up in the yard are impressive.  As has been the wind and below average temperatures.  I’m wearing my winter-level protection and dodging raindrops on my morning jogs.  Some days I’ve had to delay them for the water.  Not too many other people are out taking their exercise, I notice.  The Weather Channel’s taken to calling it just a low-pressure system, but we’re on a first-name basis now.  Ian is still very much a thing.  At the end of “daylight” yesterday the rain gauge read about three inches.

The thing about these “unusual” storms is they’re becoming the norm.  Global warming has been affecting us for years now, even as we deny it exists.  Our summer around here was very hot and very dry.  The dry was okay by me, but the heat prevented any outdoor work or play for a good deal of the time.  Days when you’d stay inside and try your hardest not to move.  We had maybe one or two days of transitional weather then boom, straight to November.  The leaves around here are still mostly green although they’ve been starting to change more readily now that October’s arrived with December in it’s train.  Forecasters tell us, like Annie says, the sun will come out tomorrow.  Around here we sure hope that’s right.  I wonder what else is happening hidden behind the news?

Not Ian, but you get the picture

Subconscious Humor

It’s good to know your subconscious has a sense of humor.  What with all that’s going on in the world these days, God knows we could use a laugh or two.  At least a smirk now and then.  One of the less-anticipated aspects of becoming old and wise is disrupted sleep.  Our bodies did not evolve for the 925 schedule, and the “eight hours a night” trope is more naturally along a pattern of sleep for maybe four hours, get up for a while and get things done, then sleep for a few more hours, until dawn.  That doesn’t fit well at the office, so we try to cram all of our sleep into one unbroken stint.  When you’re young that’s often not a problem, at least in my experience.

Then you reach a certain age when, with no discernible change in habits, you have to visit the restroom in the middle of the night.  Modern people, of course, have a lot on their minds, so after that mid-night pee it’s difficult to get back to sleep.  For those of us who can’t break the long-term commuting habit, any waking after midnight is likely to be the end of a night’s sleep.  Once you get tired enough, however, you tend to overpower the full bladder and snooze on to the usual rising time.  (For some of us that’s earlier than it is for others, but that’s immaterial.)  This is where the subconscious starts to play its role as the comedian.

Mildly thalassophobic, I tend not to go out on very deep water, especially in small craft.  To be fair, I don’t live too close to the ocean and I don’t own a boat of any kind, so this often isn’t an issue.  One of my biggest traumas in college was meeting the “swim a length of the pool” requirement for graduation—I understand that’s now been abolished.  I nearly didn’t make it, but the last semester as a senior I had a private show—which must’ve been funny—for the swim coach.  So when I need to pee and I sleep through the middle of the night, I have deep water dreams.  I’m on a small boat in an ocean.  Sometimes I see paranormal geysers bursting from the surface and wonder what they are.  Then I wake up and dash for the bathroom.  Hey, it could be worse—my subconscious could find a humorless way of waking me.  Meanwhile, it probably wouldn’t hurt to take some adult swimming lessons.

All that water…

Sleepy Hollow West

You’ve got to admire those who are determined to be writers on their own terms.  As someone who’s tried and tried again to break into even indie presses, I know few established publishers will even consider fiction from someone who’s not already established.  As my regular readers know, I’ve been reading a lot about the Legend of Sleepy Hollow lately.  So I came across Austin Dragon’s Hollow Blood.  Part of a two-volume novel set, the story takes a creative approach while retaining several of the original characters, even having clever nods now and again to the wording in the original.  Although clearly self-published, Dragon is able to let his imagination go on this one.  Julian Crane, Ichabod’s nephew, is out to avenge his uncle’s death.

In Sleepy Hollow he confronts Brom Bones with the crime, but wrongly.  It turns out that the Marshal—there are elements of the old west in this too, with cowboys and showdowns—knows where Crane has settled and offers to take the nephew to him.  So unfolds a story that feels a bit more like a western than a horror story at points.  I don’t want to give away too much since Dragon, like most of those who make their living by writing, needs to move copies to stay solvent.  The thing is, Sleepy Hollow seems to be an evergreen subject.  America keeps coming back to it.  Many writers try to take it on as the basis for more modern reboots.  Of course, I have to read the second volume to find out how it really ends.

I can’t help but think that the internet has made it difficult for writers by allowing anyone to establish him or herself as one.  If you can build a fan base, you can make a living at it.  The publishing industry faces problems of its own, of course.  Paper shortages are a problem.  Not only the pandemic, but the assumption that ebooks were going to spell the death of print led paper mills to cut production.  Funny thing—print has been seeing a resurgence of interest.  Large media seems surprised, scratching its metaphoric head and saying “People like actual books—who knew?”  But I digress.  The simple tale of a love triangle in the 1790s with a ghost on the loose has spawned a great number of offspring.  Some published the traditional way, and others on a writer’s own terms.  It’s a story worth the retelling.


More Excuses

Perhaps it was my Shingrix-addled brain—but we all know that’s an excuse—I decided to watch Creature (1985) and Attack of the Giant Leeches (timeless) over the past couple of days.  The former was a decision made when not having the energy to read, I could still search Amazon Prime for “free to me.”  I was all set to start Attack of the Giant Leeches when I scrolled over Creature only to learn it would be free for only eight hours more.  I recalled, somewhere in the haze, that a movie called Creature was on my watch list, and since time was running out, I clicked play.  Clearly a knock-off of Alien, with even a Sigourney Weaver stand-in, it was one of the most badly written films I’d seen in a long time.  I was surprised to learn it’d had a theatrical release.

A crew stranded on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, finds a creature—one that looks like a down market version of Ridley Scott’s nightmare—that feeds on unsuspecting astronauts.  Still, the surprises kept coming.  The impossibly pretty women and rugged men of the crew seemed unlikely.  And was that Klaus Kinski trying a move on the security officer that he wouldn’t have survived if he’d tried it on Sigourney?  And how was it even possible that this was nominated for the Best Horror Film of 1985 at the Saturn Awards?  Okay, granted 1985 wasn’t a banner year for horror, but Creature really doesn’t seem to hit the bill for “best of” category—but it was over 25 years after a classic.

Attack of the Giant Leeches is obviously the lesser of the two movies, but it falls into the category of “so bad it’s good.”  The leeches are clearly people in rubber suits, and the caricatures of the hooch-swillin’ swamp-dwellin’ lazy ole homeboys is just too good to pass up.  And the fact that it’s just over an hour long is a bonus when you’re having trouble keeping your eyes open.  Those black-and-white sci-fi horror films of the fifties sure take me back to more innocent times (not the fifties, and the film isn’t all that innocent).  Given that both movies were free on Prime, and given that my head was fuzzy from my vaccine, I counted this as a worthwhile effort at staying awake.  We seem to have come to a more sophisticated era, in many regards.  Such films can’t compete with their modern-day counterparts and even streaming companies are producing their own these days.  There’s something to those older films, however, and maybe it’s helped along by a shot in the arm.


Lost Day

There’s a continuity of life and we’re used to it with only small, regular interruptions, such as a night’s sleep.  Each day builds on the previous one with plans being fulfilled, projects attempted, and yes, work.  Then something happens to disrupt that and it’s like starting over again.  I imagine (and feel for), for instance, those who’ve lost everything to Hurricane Ian are going through it.  They are reassessing and rebuilding, even as around here we’re beginning to get some of its rain.  A break in continuity may be smaller, however, and on an individual scale.  I had, for example, my first Shingrix vaccine in January.  Never having reacted to any vaccine before I was completely caught off guard when the next day I couldn’t get out of bed.  But more than that, I knew this was a two-part vaccine, and I was going to face this again.

I kept putting it off.  I needed to have a day when continuity could be broken so that I could recover.  That’s always tricky because I’m busy all the time.  I’ve got a book manuscript under a December deadline and I have to work every weekday.  Yesterday I took a personal day and had Shingrix 2 after work on Thursday.  Yesterday was a lost day.  Although I knew this was an important vaccine, like the various Covid vaccines I’ve had, I wasn’t ready for the consequences.  With short periods of wakefulness, I slept until 1:30 in the afternoon, unable to do anything.  Feverish, I couldn’t read without falling back asleep.  Working on my book was out of the question.  Meanwhile, emails kept coming in, asking for this or that.

The lost day takes some time for recovery.  It’s not nearly so bad as those who’ve lost their homes and communities because of this massive storm that’s tapping its outer fringes on my windows right now.  Still, I have to try to remember where I left off.  Amazingly, after sleeping for some seventeen hours, I was nevertheless ready for bed at the usual time last night.  The nurse who gave me the vaccine assured me that it was better than having the actual disease.  I don’t doubt that.  Those I know who’ve had shingles warn that it’s nothing to mess with.  Still, I sit here slightly stunned this early Saturday morning, wondering where I left off before all of this began.  The continuity has been temporarily broken, and I lost a day in there.  I’d forgotten what it’s like to sit in a chilly room before sunrise with a tabula rasa before me.  But I do recall that I have a final manuscript due in a couple months.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Roman Mythology

A recent game of Redactle led to a family discussion of Roman mythology.  I had to flex some muscles unused since my last full semester at Rutgers, but I was pleased that the old learning is still there.  One of the first things people notice about Roman mythology is its lackluster nature.  Rather like current-day politicians, the Romans mostly lacked imagination when it comes to compelling stories.  Roman religion consisted largely of cult—that is the enacting of sacrifices and learning how to read omens.  They had no “Bible” and really no other collection of myths, apart from what they borrowed from the Greeks (who borrowed, in turn, much from Semitic mythology).  They mapped their various gods—some from the Etruscans—onto the Greek pantheon and made do with other peoples’ stories.

Rome’s native myths largely focused on their own history and human characters—again, the parallels with Republican sanitized American history are apt—but also deal with serious issues.  In the words of T. P. Wiseman, “How does well-meaning authority turn into murderous tyranny?”  (I resist footnoting blog posts, but this is from the preface of his book The Myths of Rome.)  Like modern politicians, they believed their origins were divine.  The gods had chosen them to be a superpower.  We might scratch our heads and ask ourselves where the Roman Empire is today, even as Italy elects hard-right leaders.  We learn nothing from history.  Nothing.

So let’s turn to mythology instead.  Or at least religion.  Roman religious writing was often kept secret—the purview of priests only.  Some of this survived into early Roman Catholic ideas about keeping Scripture to the priests.  Religious writings are dangerous if they get out there among hoi polloi (or “hot polo” as my autocorrect suggests).  Ironically, those of us sent off to specialized schools to learn this stuff are, in these days, generally ignored.  Roman officials were often anxious to know what oracles said.  Today televangelists and their ilk seem to be the ticket.  Anyone can be an expert if they talk loud enough.  And yet the Romans admired the Greek intellectual life.  The creativity with which they handled their gods.  There was much to be emulated there.  Roman Jupiter was the protector of the military (budget, one is prompted to write—forgive me if my Muse is a little unruly this morning).  And yet it was the Roman authorities who crucified Jesus.  We may indeed still learn something from Roman mythology.

Hebert James Draper, The Lament for Icarus, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Opinion Piece

There comes a time, I hope, when the opinion of someone with over four-and-a-half decades of intensive reading experience, might matter.  I say this because I’m constantly struck by those whose opinions actually count, and how little they often are to be considered experts.  For example, I watch YouTubers young enough to be my children treated as experts.  A little probing sometimes shows that their qualifications are the ability to get people to look at them.  Click that like and share button.  If enough people do like and share, you can be an expert.  Or take opinion columns in newspapers.  I notice the headlines for some of these in the New York Times.  They are opinions only, and yet the prestige of one of the great American newspapers stands behind them.  These are opinions worth listening to.

The popularity contest is an old and venerable tradition.  I wasn’t popular in school and wasn’t voted “most likely to” anything.  Meanwhile, those chosen as the likely leaders and novelists and beauty-pageant stars generally don’t get too far along that road.  As Bruce Springsteen sagely noted, those “Glory Days” pretty much all end up back in high school.  But as Bowling for Soup observes, “High School Never Ends.”  We like to look at the confident, the well-adjusted, the narcissists.  Their sense of entitlement carries over into hoi polloi.  The quiet and self-reflective sometimes get noticed, particularly after they’re gone.  The Thomas Mertons and Thich Nhat Hanhs.  The household names, however, are those who loudly claim they should be heard.  Just because they think they should.

Another part of this complex equation is finding a subject that interests people.  In my case, I know lots of people are interested in horror, but I also know that there are many experts out there.  Ironically, I still have people ask me about ancient West Asian religions—this is a field where you need to be immersed to stay on top of what’s going on.  The books and articles you have to keep reading are dense and heavily footnoted.  The articles are located in journals not always easily found.  Don’t get me wrong—I still miss it.  Ironically, now that I can’t keep up people are starting to ask my opinions on it.  Perhaps the same will happen with horror and monsters, but long after I’m able to respond effectively.  Experts on social media learn to monetize their interests so they can spend full-time at it.  And that does, in fact, make them experts in the very specific field of being an expert.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

The Daily Show

Long ago—over a dozen years now—I decided this blog would receive daily updates.  Some of the more successful blogs out there receive multiple daily updates, but I’m just one guy, and a working stiff at that.  When you do something every day a couple of contradictory things happen: one, you get better at it (if you’re a Gladwellian, it may take almost three decades, but the principle holds), and two, the quality varies.  I’ve long noticed this about daily ventures.  (I’ve also lately begun to realize that even daily shows take time out to refresh.)  I used to stay up to watch David Letterman (that seems impossible to believe in my current time warp).  When he was good he was very good, but when he wasn’t it was painful to watch.  You can’t be “on” every single day.  Emotions are funny that way.

Over the past year or so I’ve taken to occasionally binging on “Good Mythical Morning”—a YouTube daily show starring Rhett and Link.  These North Carolinians are inherently likable.  They’re a couple of guys who, in many ways, refuse to grow up.  They’re smart, and often funny.  And extremely popular.  Their channel has approaching 18 million subscribers.  They have off days, as do we all.  Sometimes I wake up feeling so contrary in the morning that I’m not sure I’m the same person who crawled into that bed only hours before.  Some days I don’t feel like writing a blog post.  On other days I feel like writing several.  What perhaps stands out to regular readers, if only one or two, is that some days you’re off.  So tragically human.  So wonderfully human.

I’ve often wondered if this is just a condition of life.  Pets, for example, have off days too.  I suppose the difference is that those committed to a daily show have put themselves out there so others can see them.  On one of those aptitude tests I took in high school the results suggested I should’ve been an entertainer.  Instead I took a religious and scholarly approach to things.  Maybe because I’m a middle child I always felt that nobody really paid attention to me.  So here I am, a baker’s dozen years out from writing daily on religion, ancient West Asian topics, books, and horror.  And sometimes current events, when I  feel like it.  If you’re taking the daily show route, you need to be aware that, despite the ennui, not every day will be the same.  Even someone as successful as Letterman knew that.


Hiding What?

Who are we?  Do we really show ourselves to others, or do we wear masks?  That question applies to horror films as well as to everyday life.  Alexandra Heller-Nicholas addresses this directly in the former context in Masks in Horror Cinema: Eyes without Faces.  As I write about horror films, peer reviewers suggest these more technical studies as means of adding depth to my analysis.  Most of them are revised dissertations and retain the academic language that makes such documents difficult to read in places.  Still, they contain a lot of insight.  I learned a lot from Heller-Nicholas and I was particularly impressed that she took the “shamanic imagination” as her approach to the films she analyzes.  The ritual aspect makes good use of religion and horror connections.  It’s nice to see this catching on.

Masks are more than disguises.  Yes, there’s something theatrical to them and there’s a great deal of ritual to theater.  Ritual and religion aren’t identical, but they are clearly related.  Often masks are discussed as simply a way of hiding a killer’s face.  There’s quite a lot more to it.  This is where the academic analysis comes in.  We can’t explore it in detail in the brief context of this post, but there’s a whole book out there to read on it.  Heller-Nicholas doesn’t feel constrained to major movie releases.  I did that in Holy Horror because I supposed more people would be interested in reading about movies they’d actually seen (most of them anyway).  There are a lot more examples out there.  I’m learning about more all the time.

There are many different masks in horror.  This book looks at several, some metaphorical, but most literal, and what they convey.  Or conceal.  The fact is we mask ourselves for many reasons.  It’s kind of like when we dream—our subconscious seems to know more about who we are than our waking minds do, and we really don’t share our dreams with others.  The mask in horror isn’t worn just by killers.  When it is, however, it often has a shamanic effect, or, as Heller-Nicholas points out, a trickster aspect.  This is very much like how anthropologists approach shamans in traditional societies.  Religious specialists are often tricksters and they provide an important element in cultures that are otherwise beset by rules.  Rationality is important, but so is letting go of it once in a while.  Shamans get away with things the average person can’t.  And it is just one of many masks we wear all the time.


O Viy

Viy is a most unusual movie.  I’m talking about the 1967 version, of course.  Filmed and produced in the USSR, it was, by many counts, the first Soviet horror film.  There’s been a resurgence of interest in it because of the study of folk horror—and it’s certainly an example of that.  Not really known for its plot, it’s noteworthy in its early special effects.  Since it’s a story that revolves around a monk, however, it participates in religion and horror as well.  Unusual for a Soviet-Era film.  Set in an undefined period in the past—before electricity, in any case, and perhaps the Middle Ages—a class of seminarians is released for vacation.  They’re a rowdy, unruly bunch, hardly the pious priests you see associated with orthodoxy.  When three of them get lost on their way home they end up spending the night at the farm of an old woman.

The woman comes after Khoma (one of the three) that night and bewitches him.  Riding him like a horse—and this is common witch lore—when she finally releases him, he beats the old woman severely.  But she has turned into a beautiful young woman.  Khoma returns to the seminary but is sent to say prayers over a dying young woman—one guess who it is.  Between getting drunk and trying to escape, Khoma seems to guess his fate.  At the compound of a wealthy merchant, the girl’s father, he learns she has died.  The father insists he keep vigil for three nights, praying over her corpse.  In the church scary things happen, not least her return to life.

On the third night all kinds of monsters appear after she calls on the god Viy.  Viy means something like “spirit of evil.”  Each night Khoma has drawn an effective magic circle around himself, which keeps the dead witch at bay.  The last night the monsters make it through, with predictable results.  There’s so much folklore at play here that it’s easy to see why the story by Nikolai Gogol suggested itself for a film.  It was poignant to watch because it’s set in Ukraine (Gogol was a Ukrainian writer).  Gogol had a tremendous influence on other writers, but isn’t as widely cited among western authors in contemporary times.  The film is fairly easily found online, and an updated version was released in 2014.  Even in the USSR, when horror emerged in the late sixties, it was doing so with religion, even before Rosemary’s Baby.


Tuning Up

Climate change is marked by its erratic behavior.  I can relate.  Nevertheless, one of my favorite things in the whole wide world is the slow transition of summer to winter.  Autumn includes that honeymoon time between air conditioning and furnace when you have perhaps a month of reasonable utility bills.  After that hot summer we had around here, this weekend showed why we call it “fall.”  I awoke yesterday morning only to feel the indoor temperature slipping into winter range.  (Seriously.  The furnace isn’t on yet.)  It was 41 degrees outside, a full five degrees lower than projected.  There’s a subtle insidiousness to morning chills.  I tend to wake around three or four, but that’s not the coldest part of the night.  No, that comes just before sunrise.  Morning connoisseurs know that.  It’s always coldest before the dawn.

Weather forecasting is a dicey business, not for the faint of heart.  When it’s getting uncomfortably chilly, a degree or two can make a difference.  You see, I get out of bed, throw on some lounging clothes, and go into another room where I won’t disturb anybody.  That means if I underestimate how cold the house will be, I’ll spend some time shivering until those who awake on normal schedules get up.  That, or I have to wear a jacket indoors.  I’m not above that, of course, but it’s only September.  Honeymoon time.  Global warming doesn’t mean it’s going to be hot all the time.  So all of this has me thinking about winter already.  It’s only September and I’m already wearing fingerless gloves.

I’m extremely sensitive to cold.  I attribute it to a case of mild frostbite I had as a teen.  The cold didn’t bother me so much before then.  My brother and I, dutifully awaiting the school bus, stood for the required half hour or so at the bus stop.  It was bitterly cold and there was no bus shelter.  When we were finally allowed to head home the pain was incredible.  My extremities are still chilled at the slightest suggestion.  On all but the hottest days my feet can count on being cold.  The  morning skies were a beautiful blue yesterday, suggesting that the predicted cloudiness of the previous night had not performed, allowing full radiational cooling.  Yes, global warming is real and all of us alive today will be dealing with it for the remainder of our time here on earth.  That doesn’t mean it’ll always be hot outside.  It does mean the honeymoon may be over. 


Ode to Auld Reekie

Edinburgh is a sizable city, although not large like New York, more like Boston, but smaller.  Like Boston, it has had an outsized influence globally, even apart from its world-class research university.  I think of the creatives that are from, or spent considerable time there (J. K. Rowling, take a bow) and the many great thinkers who’ve called it home.  Our three years there went by too quickly, but money being what it was (and is) and laws dictating how long we could linger, we had to leave it in 1992.  If you’d have asked us when we were there we’d have told you we’d’ve stay if we could’ve.  We had no money, no car, no television, but we had Edinburgh.  Somehow that seemed to be enough.

Places have great significance to people, but it’s not reciprocal.  I occasionally find out a famous person was from Edinburgh and say “I didn’t know that.”  Having spent three years and the cost of a doctorate there, I was a mere drop in the Firth of Forth.  I’m frequently in contact with faculty members at the Divinity School for work.  None know that I studied there—I suspect most university folk don’t sit around talking about long-ago post-grads.  Indeed, there may be no faculty left from the time I was there.  New names, new faces, new research agendas appear.  Indeed, you wouldn’t choose Edinburgh as a place to study Ugaritic now, even though there was once an “Edinburgh school” of thought in the discipline (and I can footnote that).

Still, when I hear “Edinburgh” my ears prick up like those of a dog who’s been called.  It is a part of me.  I’ve only been able to return once since our original stint there.  It was a strange sort of homecoming.  Familiar and foreign all at the same time.  Some shops were right where we’d left them, others now merely ghosts in our memories.  Fortunately Edinburgh hasn’t had the building mania that often causes old cities to try to reinvent themselves.  It was already great to begin with.  More and more I hear about the Edinburgh Festival, and the Fringe.  People are starting to notice this jewel in the crown of the United Kingdom.  On a molecular level there may still be a little bit of me there.  We’re constantly shedding, I suppose.  And someday perhaps we’ll be able to return.  It may not remember me, but I can’t forget her.


Fictional Truth

In honor of Banned Book Week I read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  Funny and poignant, it tells the story of Arnold Spirit Junior, a Spokane tribe boy on the reservation.  Born with a disability, he nevertheless overcomes adversity to become both a good student and excellent basketball player.  I suppose you’d classify this as young adult literature since the protagonist is a teen and many of the issues are those of kids in that age group.  Although it’s funny, and the illustrations underscore this, there’s a realism that account for various people wishing to ban it.  First of all, it reminds readers that white men put Indians on reservations and, despite our national guilt about this, we still refuse to do anything to try to lift them out of poverty.  And, like most boys his age, Junior likes to talk about sex once in a while.

Fiction can be the most nonfictional form of writing.  Junior describes the realities of reservation life.  Alcoholism, poverty, and violence are part of his everyday experience.  He attends far more funerals than his white counterparts.  This particular point gave me pause.  A New York Times article that appeared pointed out, statistically, that American Indians had much higher death rates from Covid than many other demographics.  It was like the genocidal introduction of European diseases during the “age of discovery.”  I suppose people would’ve grown curious and explored their world, regardless of the distorted Christian belief that they were to take it over.  At least we could’ve treated those we met with respect, as equals.

I think about the missionary mandate quite a lot.  Based on an undying literalism, it became an excuse for behaviors explicitly condemned by Scripture itself.  There’s a real danger when conviction comes with guns.  At least modern-day missionaries try to help those they’re attempting to convert with hospitals and medical care.  Still, that doesn’t help the American Indians.  They still struggle and our policies still ignore their problems.  Their plight stands in the way of capitalistic exploitation.  And when an Indian writes a fun book, honest about the experience of his people white critics begin to raise their voices to ban it.  How do we think the situation of the Indians will ever improve if we refuse to listen?  And what better time to get people to listen but when they’re young enough not to have been corrupted by our system of entrenched unfair treatment?


All Things Being

“Equal” and “night,” in their Latin forms, give us the word “equinox.”  Today we enter the darker half of the year.  Interestingly, of the so-called “quarter days”—the equinoxes and solstices—this is the only one for which we have no ancient indications of celebration.  Like a birthday that goes by unnoticed, this feels odd.  Why, among the set of only four days—longest, shortest, and two equal—did this one fail to be noticed?  Well, perhaps noticed, but not celebrated?  The failure of ancient records may be one explanation, and perhaps other, near dates of note subsumed it.  In Judaism, for instance, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come around this time.  The ancient Celts celebrated August 1 and November 1, or thereabouts.  September is a particularly busy time.

Harvesting, in many places, gets its real start in September.  In more modern times, school starts up again.  Work schedules once more take priority and those “relaxed” summer hours are a thing of the past.  It’s easy to overlook this seemingly insignificant day.  It is important nonetheless.  For those of us who watch horror, it’s now more easily explained—it’s darker and that brings on one of the most primal of fears.  Halloween is coming, and if you haven’t prepared already, discounted pricing on picked-over merchandise will begin in coming days.  More and more houses will prepare for the haunted season.  Around here leaves are just beginning to change, but in more northern latitudes they’re well on their way already.  Pumpkins are already on hand at grocery stores and farm stands.  The days of summer sweet corn are over.

Not all holidays receive equal attention, of course.  Less romantically inclined adults simply work through Valentines Day.  And who even notices May Day anymore?  If you don’t spend money on holidays they don’t seem to count.  Who goes out and buys things for the forgotten autumnal equinox?  Nevertheless, many people say that fall is their favorite time of year.  It has a trickster element to it.  You awake and have to throw on some extra layers, but by mid-afternoon short sleeves may be sufficient.  Hurricanes may come ashore.  Some days will feel like winter, and others summer.  Transitions are like that.  The autumnal equinox signals the inevitability of winter but also the yearning and melancholy of the shortening days when color springs to light once again.  Forgotten or not, today is the harbinger of things to come.


Express Yourself

Do you ever get excited by an idea only to be let down when it comes to the execution?  I suspect that’s a standard human experience.  For me it often happens with books.  Especially academic books.  I get excited about the ideas that are sure to be lurking between the covers only to discover that the author has unimaginatively fallen into bad academic habits, such as “scholar A says, but scholar B says.”  Just tell me what you say!  Reflecting on this I realize that building a case has become conflated with taking a test.  A doctoral dissertation is a years’ long test.  Your ideas are being compared to those who’ve gone before you—the fact that they’ve published has proven that—and you are expected to show your work.  Did you read Smith?  Have you struggled with Jones?  Is Anderson in more than just your bibliography?

This kind of extended citation leads to turgid writing that slays any interest in the subject by the end of page one.  I’m not alone in this critique.  Some famous academics, such as Steven Pinker, have noted this.  In a not nearly frequently enough cited article, “Why Academics Stink at Writing,” Pinker lays out the bad habits that get perpetuated throughout the modern academy.  It comes down to, in my humble opinion, the fear of the exam.  Test anxiety.  Recently my draft of The Wicker Man came back from peer review.  While the comments of the reviewers were helpful, and quite complimentary, they felt there should be more academic dialogue going on.  I push back at this: if you don’t believe I’ve done the research, why approve the book for publication?  Most academic writing stinks and there’s no reason it should.

I’m a slow reader.  My average rate is about 20 pages per hour.  I know this because my morning routine sets aside about an hour for reading each day, and I note how many pages I consume.  Lately some of the academic books I’ve read have hobbled me down to 10 pages per hour.  I keep waiting for the narrative flow to kick in, something that I can follow and absorb.  Instead I’m learning what everybody else, often except the author, thinks about each minute point of his or her thesis.  Please, just tell me what you think!  I trust that you’ve done the research.  You wouldn’t have been granted a doctorate if you hadn’t.  The last thing I would want from my, admittedly few, readers is for them to close my book and say, “I’d rather be reading something else.”