Handle with Care

It reminds me of that old Traveling Wilburys’ song, “Handle with Care.”  Hate is a strange and dangerous motivator.  It’s something that makes me consider demons as a real possibility.  Having experienced Zoom bombing during an online meeting about racism, I was greatly saddened.  The distress the bombers caused in just a few minutes was truly saddening.  With white supremacist comments and ideology, they seemed to have nothing better to do than to ruin the day of twenty-some people who want to make the world a better place for all.  I was reminded of a video that Arnold Schwarzenegger had posted earlier that same week.  The link is below and it is worth twelve minutes of your life.  I’ve been impressed by how Schwarzenegger has been using his influence to combat the evils of Trumpism, although himself a Republican.  Of course, he has a backbone that many elected officials lack.

As an Austrian, Schwarzenegger is aware of the damaged lives that Nazism left behind.  There’s no glamour here, just pain left behind for all.  We’ve unfortunately suffered through four years of leadership based on the rhetoric of hatred that has rubber-stamped this kind of thinking.  It will take many years to recover, if we ever do.  And the internet, for all the good it does, also offers a venue for those who find hateful activities enjoyable.  I do wish there were a way to channel such people to Schwartzenegger’s video.  It is the moral responsibility of the strong to protect the weak.  We have millennia of history to back that up.  What’s so hard about live and let live?

Opposites don’t always hold fast, but love certainly is the antithesis of hate.  One of the things watching horror movies has done for me is to reinforce what happens when hatred is allowed to take control.  The best of the genre contains morality that reinforces that those who love overcome while those who hate never end up in a happy place.  No belief system that promotes superiority is worth investing in.  There will always be those with nothing better to do than to trawl the internet to troll those who try to make the world a better place.  As a society we can reject such behavior and attempt to help those who are motivated by hatred.  The damage caused by hate is real.  Actual human beings are destroyed by it, and for no reason.  Many of us, most, I suspect, think love is the ultimate good.  We must do what we can to try to help those who disagree, no matter what certain political leaders espouse.  The Wilburys were right, all people deserve to be handled with care.

Content Creation

Those who know me know my stand on books.  I’m pretty much defined by them.  I hope my blog makes that clear.  I’m always amazed, however, when someone happens across my little fissure in the internet and offers to send me a book, if I’ll mention it here.  That’s happened probably on an average of once a year over the past dozen or so that I’ve been doing whatever it is I do here.  It’s one of the perks of being a “content creator.”  I know it may sound odd, but being a content creator is a viable career these days.  Not for me—I don’t have nearly enough followers—but for the younger, prettier, or smarter, it is a way of virtually being in the world.  Or being in the virtual world.  I don’t think that means that books are passé.

In fact, I turn down offers to read free ebooks.  I spend all day at work on a computer and when I can finally turn it off, I generally pick up a book.  (Unless the lawn requires attention, or it’s garbage day, etc.)  The  thing about reading is that you have to make time for it.  For a “content creator” I’m not in love with spending all my time online.  I don’t use my phone much at all and I find a paper book in hand to be comforting.  I’m glad to write about those I’ve read in my little fissure here.  And since I sit on the editorial side of the desk, I think that increases my appreciation of books even more.  But honestly, I wouldn’t mind making a little income on what I spend so much time doing.  Maybe reading to keep out of trouble could be a job?

Content creation is like a sponge filter feeding.  You suck in the culture around you, drawing what’s useful into your brain.  Then you make it unique to your perspective and if enough people think it’s worth seeing/watching/listening to, advertisers will begin to swarm.  Or, in my case, they might send books with the hopes that someone will actually read this blog.  And the senders obviously have—at least a little bit—so does this make me an “influencer”?  Whether or not it does (or doesn’t) I do end up, when the day is through, one book up in the equation.  And that’s a good thing, given my stand on books.

Silicon or Paper?

Most of us follow blindly through this tech jungle.  We do it, I suppose, because there are rewards for having the world of information and entertainment at your fingertips.  The problem is that the constant upgrades are expensive and as you approach retirement age—even if you can’t afford to retire—you have to keep spending in order to meet your tech needs.  A few years ago I purchased an app because apparently my laptop was running too slowly.  I do tend to have more than one app open at a time, I confess.  Maybe too many.  But apps take up so much operating memory these days that you can either constantly quit and reopen (if you have a mind like mine) or you can upgrade.  And even then you’re not sure of what you’re doing.

I’m old enough, you see, to remember having to load the program you wanted to use via floppy disc when you booted up.  We all assumed the swapping of discs was the price you paid for being able to, say, type a dissertation without using white-out all the time.  Then we started hearing these rumors of an “internet” with “email.”  I found my first (and it turns out, only) full-time professorship via letter.  Delivered by the post office.  A friend wrote to me about the opening and I sent a fateful letter of inquiry to Nashotah House.  The rest, as they say, is history.  I’ve kept much of the paper of those early days.  The movers always complain that I’ve done so, but I’m between worlds.  I was born in a paper world and I don’t trust this electronic one.  That’s why I still buy physical books.  I’ve had too many devices die on me.  And now I keep only one or two apps open at a time, and forget to look at the stuff on the others—I keep them open to remind me.

It is a jungle, this virtual world.  We like to think it’s civilized but what do we really know?  So I deleted the app that pops up telling me that one app open at a time is too taxing for my computer’s memory.  Then I remembered that I pay an annual fee for such annoying reminders.  I had to reinstall and await the notices again.  Yes, some of my files are big.  I write books, and that’s just the way it works.  So I put up with those yappy reminders because, well, it’s better than swapping discs a dozen times just to type a sentence or two when I have time.

Love’s Life

One of the things about literary classics is they open themselves to reinterpretation.  It’s often a lot of fun to trace these.  Andi Marquette is obviously an educated writer.  Her The Secret of Sleepy Hollow is one of those reinterpretations that has a unique take on the tale.  Set in modern times and featuring a member of the Crane family—Abby—as a graduate student, this story brings the tale into a contemporary context.  Abby meets another graduate student—Katie—in Sleepy Hollow and the two fall in love.  It turns out that Katie is a member of the Van Tassel family, thus bringing the two main families of Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” together again.  There’s even a headless horseman.

Like the biblical book of Ruth, this is a gentle tale of women’s love.  There’s no overt violence, no heads get chopped, but two women love and care for one another.  Many of the more modern repackaged versions of Sleepy Hollow tend to go for the violent, sometimes drug-fueled tales of bored youth in a small town facing an angry ghost.  Here the interest is more literary, a gothic romance.  The fact that it’s a lesbian love story makes me wonder why so many people have trouble with others’ love lives.  People are prone to curiosity about sex—that’s a simple fact.  What isn’t so simple is that mores based on culturally specific ideas from millennia ago don’t stand the test of time and yet cause misery in modern lives because they can’t accept what we now know—sex and love are anything but simple.

Marquette’s book is marked by that anxiety.  When people discover a love that’s often misunderstood, they face ridicule or worse.  The book of Ruth provides a good guide here—the acceptance of a normally forbidden love can bring good and happiness to people in what is often a difficult world.  There’s trouble enough—there are headless horsemen out there—that we don’t need to be causing more by judging the loves of others.  Even a cisgender heterosexual can understand that.  Life is complicated and we all try to find our way through.  Love is one of those things that can help to make it more bearable.  I found The Secret of Sleepy Hollow compelling in that way.  It may not be a literary classic—few books are—but it takes on a complex topic intelligently and with heart.  It’s a new take on an old story that still fits the modern world.

Monster Bride

I’ve been taken with Ed Wood lately.  It’s quite possible, lost somewhere in my memory banks, that I saw one of his movies as a kid.  If I did it would’ve been Bride of the Monster.  Just in case I hadn’t, I decided to watch it again.  As I’ve noted about Wood before, I admire someone who persists in the face of constant criticism.  Someone who refuses to back down, even if they end up alcoholic and dying too young, in poverty.  Now he’s coming to his deserved recognition.  Even if his movies weren’t intentionally bad, when I laugh out loud I’m not laughing at Ed Wood.  No, it’s the absurdity of fame and the price it both expects and exacts.  Wood paid that price and now that it’s too late he’s grown a considerable fan base.  Or maybe it’s never too late.

Bride of the Monster brings Bela Lugosi back to the screen as a mad scientist.  Rejected and mocked (I’m sure some of this was personal), he locates an isolated swamp house from which he plans his revenge on the world.  He’s somehow managed to build a nuclear reactor in his hidden lab and he intends to make a race of giants to conquer the earth.  Naturally enough, he starts with an octopus.  As the story unfolds, we learn that he was also responsible for the Loch Ness Monster.  He’s employed a human (but somehow bullet-proof) henchman, Lobo, to help him in his quest.  When a nosy reporter and her police detective boyfriend get involved, well, you might imagine the results.

The stories behind Ed Wood films, it seems, are as entertaining as the movies themselves.  This one, for example, has as its protagonist an acting unknown (Lugosi was the name draw).  Tony McCoy was the son of the owner of a meat-packing plant.  He received the lead role as part of his father’s stipulations for funding the movie.  Another stipulation was that it had to end with an atomic explosion (which it does).  Wood would go to any length to see his movies made, even agreeing to casting choices and plot points made by those who had no other connections to the film.  That’s part of the charm of Ed Wood’s movies—they were made to order.  And they demonstrate that deepest of human desires—to tell a story.  If I didn’t see this as a kid, I would’ve loved it if I had. 

Off with Their

“Heads, I win,” is common enough as a call for flipping a coin.  That element of chance plays through Regina Janes’ Losing Our Heads: Beheadings in Literature and Culture.  You see, John the Baptist has a lasting place among the beheaded—indeed he’s featured on the cover of the book.  And since Janes is looking at the topic in literature and culture, you can’t very well leave John out.  I wonder what it says about humanity that there are so many other possible examples to include that this book is a mere sampler.  Applying literary theory to the process, it becomes, well, theoretical at points, but still it’s an eye-opening book.  Even if not always comfortable to read.  The first few chapters, which cover the development of European beheadings, aren’t sweetness and light.  There’s more happening here than meets the eye.  These heinous acts set the stage for symbolism, however.

The material on John the Baptist is fascinating and insightful.  It’s ironic, in some ways, that Jesus’ cousin is perhaps most famous for being beheaded.  He also sheds light on his more famous family member through literary parallels.  And, of course, it doesn’t end there.  The idea gets picked up and explored by others in various art forms.  You don’t really want to look, but since they’re there in the illustrations, you do.  Then the book moves on to African stories.  Playing off Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Janes gives voice to African authors who explore beheading within their own cultural contexts.  All this goes back, historically, much further than John.  Indeed, beheading is part of very early myths as well.  It does make you stop and think.

I read books like this looking for clues.  There’s a larger object in mind.  And some of the insights I found were in examples afforded only a paragraph here or there.  I read this book because of a journey of which a colleague sent me through an innocent enough discussion.  There’s a reason we talk of excitement as “losing our heads,” and for some of us that excitement is research-laden.  Naturally squeamish, I’m an odd one for watching horror.  There’s something more to find here, however.  Although gruesome at points, you learn something from wandering through this museum of heads.  And when looked at through different lenses (of course, Freud is there) new perspectives emerge.  Beheading is violent and yet it’s been a part of human culture for a very long time.  There’s much to ponder here.

I P.M. therefore I A.M.

While I seldom have occasion to count beyond ten, I sometimes think the 24-hour clock would be a better option.  Since we have to face another major time malfunction (AKA switch to Daylight Saving Time) this coming weekend, I’m thinking about time.  That, and I recently had someone ask me to set up a noon Zoom meeting.  A nooner Zoomer is fine with me, but each time I have to ask is it “a.m.” or “p.m.”?  Parsimonious websites rather snarkily (but correctly) say that it’s neither.  It’s that liminal changeover between ante-meridian and post-meridian.  It, along with midnight, stands outside the a.m. and p.m. system.  Thankfully I don’t have many meetings at midnight, but still, a 24-hour clock, such as military folk like to use, makes sense.  A meeting at 12:00 would always be noon, and 24:00 would always be midnight.

I tend to wake up around 3:00 a.m.  I admit that it’s convenient to mark 3:00 p.m. as the 12-hour awake point in my day.  I could easily adjust to do the same at 15:00.  In fact, my watch—yes, I still use one—has the 24-hour timescale in smaller print just inside the more legible 12-hour one.  I’m sure that we can all count to 24.  Wouldn’t it make sense, in the service of ending confusion about a.m./p.m.?  (Not to mention having to type in all those periods!)  The way we divide time is arbitrary.  The reason that we settled on twelve actually hearkens back to the official title of this blog, namely the ancient world.  The ancient Mesopotamians had a base-6 counting system, unlike our base-10.  When time came to be divided into hours, it was done on a base-6 system, giving us 12 hours of light and 12 hours of night.

Such ancient ideas as these are very difficult to change.  We can’t even seem to agree that if Daylight Saving Time is such a good idea, why don’t we keep it all year round?  I suspect most of us adjust to gradual change more easily than that sudden loss of an hour of sleep.  Even the added hour in the fall doesn’t make up for it.  If we can’t change something that’s obviously that flawed, how can we hope to agree that having 13 to 24 added to our clocks would be better?  Or maybe just round things down to 20, for our base-10 system?  Yes, hours would be longer but maybe we could negotiate fewer of them for work.  But I’m just dreaming here.  And it’s not even p.m. yet.

Just Justice

I don’t mean to be insensitive, but there’s so many injustices to address.   We need better vocabulary for the victims of patriarchy.  And patriarchy tends to be “white” in color.  February is Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month.  These are important reminders, but I have trouble focusing on an entire month, let alone a day—particularly if it’s a work day.  That doesn’t mean I don’t support my fellow human beings.  So today’s International Women’s Day.  I frequently wonder why it’s so hard for a particular type of man to see and treat women as equals.  I’m afraid that it often comes down to might making right, which we all know is wrong.  While power may not be inherently corrupting, many people are weak and are too susceptible to its blandishments.  And power likes nothing better than similar people and sycophants.  Women remind us that we can do better.

We don’t see those women elected to high political office grasping for the power to be queen for life (except queens, but that’s a different story).  Instead we find a spirit of cooperation instead of this constant atmosphere of competition that seems so testosterone-driven that it ought to be X-rated.  I don’t stereotype women as docile, but female leaders aren’t known for starting wars.  And none of us would be here if it weren’t for women.  The spirit of the times is one of wide representation—the principle of hearing all voices instead of only those of the powerful and ultra-wealthy.  I’m not sure why men feel so threatened by women that they try to deny them a place at the table.  Or pay them less for the same work.

Perhaps we fear societal change, but change finds us no matter what.  We now know that sex, gender, and race don’t make any person inferior.  Indeed, the struggle to be dominant often creates these categories in order to assert oneself over others.  As any mother of multiple siblings knows, teaching children cooperation leads to much better results than setting kids off against each other.  It’s a lesson that politics has yet to learn.  Culturally, it seems, this is well accepted.  People deserve to be treated equally.  That concept is called “justice” and our entire legal system is based on it.  Why don’t our politics match our culture?  I don’t want to stereotype, but it seems to me that far too many men are involved.  It’s International Women’s Day.  Let’s take the opportunity to rethink how half the human race is treated.

Too Haunted

It’s past the season, I know.  But I have no control on when streaming services acquire new titles.  So it was winter by the time I saw Haunt.  Maybe it was the seasonal disconnect, or maybe I’m not all that fond of slashers—whatever the cause, I found it disturbing.  As a horror watcher, I really don’t like being afraid during movies.  And Haunt has those most troubling of characters—the unpredictable kind.  So let’s set this up properly.  Six young people—four women and two men—decide to visit a haunted house attraction on Halloween.  Although they take a random turn on a rural road outside Carbondale, Illinois, they end up at a haunted house attraction, with an illuminated road sign.  I’ll admit it; I don’t like fun houses.  They scare me too much.  So when the creepy clown at the entrance indicates, nonverbally, how they get in (taking no money) and puts their cell phones in a lockbox, I’d have told the others I’d wait in the car.

As we might expect, since this is horror, after a fakey plastic skeleton and some cheap props, it turns our that the terrors are real.  One by one, the young people are killed by a group that practices extreme body modification to make themselves look like real monsters.  For an unexplained reason, they kill everyone who comes to the attraction.  Sadism, one suspects, might be behind this.  In any case, it ends up with a final girl and final boy making it out alive and seeking medical attention.  The haunted house is burned down since Harper, said final girl, and her new boyfriend end up killing most of the killers.  The creepy clown, however, survives to try to hunt Harper down.

The film received pretty high ratings, but it seemed to me there wasn’t much beyond the terrors I normally experience at a fun house.  The body horror verges on torture porn, which is a sub-genre that I simply do not like.  In fact, I only watch it by accident.  My dilemma is that I don’t like to read summaries or watch trailers before seeing a movie.  I prefer to approach it fresh.  I suppose that’s why I keep a list of films that others have recommended, so I know they’re likely good.  I prefer intelligent horror rather than shock horror, although the two can overlap.  Movies that focus on the the pain humans can inflict on each other aren’t the kind I prefer.  Give me a garden-variety monster any day.  Even if it’s a winter weekend, and not Halloween.

Recalling the Story

Remembering how a story goes.  That’s one of a book’s functions, particularly if a tale’s complex.  Running a season behind, I was one of those enamored of Sleepy Hollow when it first aired from 2013 through 2017.  In fact, that was the first story that I tried to explore, somewhat academically, in the horror genre.  At the time I hadn’t realized how many spin-off media had come out, based on these new characters.  I recently read The Secret Journal of Ichabod Crane in which Alex Irvine provides the service of summarizing the first season through the conceit of the main character’s secret diary.  It has to be secret because in the series he’s never shown keeping a journal, and the title explains why we’re just finding out about this now.  (Or then, since it was published while the series was still on the air.)

Reading it reminded me of just how complex the plot was.  I suspect that’s one reason so many people were taken with it.  Week-to-week you weren’t sure where it was going.  And the plot integrated religious themes from the first episode on.  That’s what first drew me to my current research trajectory.  The show wasn’t perfect, and some plot elements grew tired after a while, but overall it was compelling.  Mixed with the natural comedy of someone from centuries past trying to learn how to get along in a rapidly technologizing world provided light moments amid the death and bloodshed.  And, of course, the pairing of the patrician but progressive white man with a young black professional in the fight against evil was novel and necessary.

Irvine’s book is rather like the novelization of a movie.  In terms of hours, however, a television series outstrips the maybe two hours of a typical film.  A lot has to be left out, including scenes in which Crane wasn’t present, although he was pretty steadily in the camera’s gaze.  Initially suspected as a criminal, he had to be kept under pretty close watch, so his was a good perspective for a journal.  Its secrecy continues the trope of hidden documents that ran throughout the series.  Another aspect was that it addressed the Hamilton era when that show was becoming immensely popular.  And Sleepy Hollow was quite literary, with references to books from early writers.  There was a lot to like about the show.  It burned itself out in four seasons, though, and after season two there would seem to be little need for any further secret journals as the story grew even more complex.  This one, however, is a good reminder of how the story goes.


God wasn’t thinking of search engine optimization (SEO) when he was writing the Bible.  First of all, he doesn’t seem to have considered that all the nice, short names he used would soon become the most common in the western world.  And he didn’t give all the characters last names.  Job is particularly egregious because you could be searching for employment and not a complaining old man (you can always find one of the latter here!).  Perhaps he wasn’t aware at the time just how popular his book would become so that just about everything in it appears on some twenty-million webpages and you need some distinctive keywords for SEO.  And this unfortunate high profile has also led to knock-on search problems.

I quite often have to search for bits of the Good Book together.  “Pentateuch” isn’t so bad because it’s a bigger word that most people don’t use every day.  But what about “historical books”?  It’s two words and search engines begin scouring the web for pages that have both words.  And there are plenty of historical books outside the Bible.  Writings?  Poetry?  Even Gospels is used all over the place.  I had to find something about the Catholic Epistles the other day.  My search engine found plenty of places with both words, but not linked together.  (I know the quotation mark trick, but bear with me here as I’m trying to make a point that will perhaps lead to divine intervention.)  I tried again with Pastoral Epistles but the same problem arose.  This is the burden of being so important that everyone copies you.

It’s the price of success.  God surely must’ve foreseen that.  The problem is that Holy Writ predates the internet by so many centuries.  Those who’ve determined how searching works have redefined our lives—have given us new commandments.  Thou shalt not put commas in titles, for example.  Thou shalt use distinctive keywords.  Pity the fool who must find information on a biblical character with only one name.  Perhaps that name is John.  Or David.  Or Mary.  Sure, you can add qualifiers but they’re all common words as well.  The Good Book is a victim of its own success.  And for containing all the prophecy that it does it is truly amazing that not even the creator of the universe didn’t see this coming.  We live in a world driven by tech and although the Bible had a direct role leading to that world, you wouldn’t know it by your standard Google search.

Fostering Euro-Horror

In another example of Euro-Horror, Hatching is a remarkably effective monster movie.  Filmed in Finnish, and set in Finland, it’s a remarkable parable about families and what we reveal to the world.  An affluent family consisting of Mother, Father, Tinja, and her brother Matias, live in a beautiful house in a nice neighborhood and Mother prospers with a blog about the ideal family life.  She videos the family, especially Tinja as she prepares for a gymnastics competition.  Then a crow gets into the house, causing chaos and bringing the true nature of the perfect family to the surface.  When Mother breaks the crow’s neck, reality seeps through the internet myth of perfection.  Tinja, disturbed by what happened to the bird, locates its egg and brings it home to care for it.

Mother, it turns out, has been having an affair.  Father is shown as caring, but ineffectual.  Matias has anger issues.  Meanwhile Mother drills Tinja in gymnastics practice until her daughter’s hands are raw and bleeding.  The egg grows.  Mother confesses to Tinja that she’s in love for the first time and for real.  She begins spending weekends at her lover Tero’s house.  The now huge egg hatches into a Tinja-sized bird-like creature, sparsely feathered.  As Tinja psychologically bonds with the creature, she hides it in the house and it becomes clear that what each feels what the other feels.  Over time the bird begins to become Tinja’s double, doing those things her “perfect daughter” image would never allow her to do.

The story is a parable.  Families uphold facades while the world pays to see perfection that doesn’t really exist.  Tinja isn’t terribly fond of gymnastics, but Mother drives her to compete.  Father knows about Tero, and pretends to be okay with the affair.  Mother spends her love elsewhere while her perfect family crumbles.  The monster in the movie is the revealer of truth.  The truth doesn’t broadcast well on the Internet, which prefers fiction passed off as fact.  Although the story itself could never happen, it is a probing tale that delves into psychology and the price we pay for not being honest about ourselves.  I won’t spoil the ending here, but let’s just say reality seldom works out the way that we hope it will.  Euro-horror has been producing some impressive films the past few years that demonstrate the intellectual side of horror quite well.  This may be offer body horror—without becoming slashers—because they have messages waiting to hatch.

Just Being

You know, I sometimes resent being forced to be something I’m not.  In these days of tolerance and letting people be themselves, the bullies have taken over, forcing the rest of us to clean up their messes.  Take politics, for instance.  I have no interest in it.  From the beginning of this nation to the present the political inbreeding has been obvious.  Wealthy families presuming that riches mean you know how to govern—since the beginning they have set the tone.  Voting is always important, but how can you be anything else when you need to be a constant political activist just to assure politicians are actually doing their jobs?  I’m no micromanager—in fact I’m okay with just getting by.  Still, I feel compelled to spend my time keeping an eye on corrupt politicians.  How are you supposed to write books?  Imagine what we could accomplish if they’d just do their job!

Or consider business.  It’s tax season.  Every New Year marks the time when you need to keep track of what you spend on what because accountants, backed by politicians, can’t keep their noses out of other people’s money.  You want to eat?  Find a place to sleep out of the incessant rain?  Then you have to play the capitalist game.  There’s no opt out short of heading under the bridge and going through trash cans for your next meal.  Those of us who are creative don’t really impose our wills on others.  You don’t like what I write?  Don’t buy my book.  (And I speak with authority on this particular point!)  Nobody forces you to look at art.  (Although they do force you to listen to music in many stores, even if you’d rather shop in silence.  This, I think, is a business decision.)

Image credit: Warren K. Leffler, public domain, via Library of Congress

One of the reasons a monastic vocation appealed to me even as a young Protestant was that I need time to think things through.  To contemplate.  To try to make sense of all of this.  I’m not motivated by money or power.  I want to be with others who just want to be.  I’m not lazy and I don’t mind being productive.  It’s just that, well, can’t things not be about money for a while?  Can’t politicians just act like actual adults with a moral center for a time?  The religious leaders who managed to do this were quickly commodified.  In this cloud-smitten winter I’m in the mood for lament.  Some of us want to live authenticly, but those with power and money simply won’t allow it.

More Dark Academia

It could be that I’m not smart or sophisticated enough.  Or maybe I’ve just lived a sheltered existence, although I grew up with an alcoholic parent and among a blue-collar drug culture.  Despite this, I attended a “preppie” liberal arts college, but it wasn’t in Vermont.  All of which is to say I had a difficult time getting into Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.  There may be spoilers here, so if it’s on your reading pile, maybe wait to read this.  Then tell me if you don’t agree.  So here goes.  The narrator, a perhaps unreliable Richard, is from a working-class dysfunctional family (check).  He attends a liberal arts college on scholarship (check).  It’s modeled on Bennington (the checks start stopping here).  There he works his way into an exclusive group of five highly intelligent students in a private study Greek curriculum (this is also a partial check).

The days are filled with intensive work in Greek and the nights with alcohol and drugs and cigarettes.  So many cigarettes.  I found myself wondering how such highly intelligent students accomplished so much when they were stoned all the time outside of class.  In any case, with two of the now six students not present—including Richard—they accidentally kill a man during a Bacchanal.  Their professor covers for them.  Then the other excluded student finds out and begins blackmailing the four.  Like the rest of them he’s fond of booze and he begins to let slip what he knows.  Spoiler alert: so they kill him.  This is followed by more drugs and alcohol and when the professor finds out he simply leaves his tenured post to do something else.  A rift develops in the remaining five that ends—another spoiler—the way dark academia often does, with a suicide.

Overall the story is captivating.  Overdone on the substance use and abuse, but it does keep you engaged, once you get through the first hundred pages or so.  I like dark academia, but I also like characters with whom I can sympathize.  Like Richard, I’d gone to what was at the time a selective college from a working class family.  There was drinking even at the notoriously dry Grove City College, and there were drugs.  Perhaps those from elite families indulged.  I hung out with scions of middle-class families (I didn’t know anyone else that was poor) and they didn’t spend their hazy nights under controlled substances.  Having been a professor at a gothic school, and having studied Classics-adjacent, though, I found much of this hard to believe.  It’s a book that becomes better upon reflection than in the actual reading.  Still, I’m sure that I didn’t get it because I’m not sophisticated enough.

Weathering the Winter

Although it’s been cold out, in many ways this feels like the year without a winter.  Around here we’ve had no real measurable snowfall and temperatures have generally hovered around 40 F, mostly cloudy.  I get cold easily, however, so I need to know how to dress for jogging.  During a warm spell I looked at WeatherBug.  It’s my go-to app for such things.  It told me the current temperature was 49.  Since it’d been in the sixties the day before, that was believable.  Then I glanced at our outdoor thermometer.  It read 39.  A ten-degree difference is significant for jogging, so I called in a third party.  Weather.com said it was 40, much closer to my actual feeling of things—it was chilly inside that morning.  WeatherBug also said it was cloudy, but Weather.com disagreed.  A glance outside showed thin, hazy cloud cover.

Now, I know apps can’t cater to individual needs, but it does seem that WeatherBug was using projections rather than real-time information.  Either that, or somebody was standing too close to the thermometer at the local reporting station, and perhaps breathing on it.  I’m not one of those people who rely on my phone for everything.  I do use it for navigation and snapping quick pictures, but until today I also used it for checking the weather.  I’ve been surprised how often WeatherBug tells me it’s sunny out when I can see nothing but clouds.  Sometimes looking out the window is the best way to learn what your individual weather is like.  Weather is terribly local.

The capriciousness of weather is one of the main factors that led me to write Weathering the Psalms.  Another, of course, was the hope that an academic post might actually consider a guy like me.  The weather has always been a source of personal fascination.  The threat of severe weather, particularly in the Midwest, was a source of naked awe.  I remember standing outside in Illinois with the wide, expansive horizon all around, and staring straight up to a brewing storm cloud thousands of feet overhead.  I didn’t need an app to tell me to take shelter.  Or that time in Wisconsin when a weather system led to repeated, identical cycles of storms that lasted days, leading to localized flooding with rain following a clockwork regularity.  Even then I was a jogger, and for a jogger knowing the weather in advance is important.  These days all that majestic sky drama comes via a device that fits inside my pocket.  It seems we’ve lost something, even though we’re safer this way.  At least within ten degrees.