The Other Mississippi

Salmon aren’t the only animals that head back to their ancestral homes late in life.  There’s a draw to where we’re from.  Many humans can’t physically return for socio-economic or emotional reasons, but there’s an urge that may transcend generations.  For me it’s always been traced through my maternal line to upstate New York.  My mother’s [redacted for security question purposes] family had been in the upstate region around Schenectady for generations, as traced back as far as the 1770s.  It was my maternal grandfather, branching off from his father (who made it as far as central New York) who eventually left the state, after teaching in a one-room schoolhouse, for which, in those days, you didn’t need to be a college graduate.  In any case, I have a fondness for the Hudson Valley and an interest in its history.  

Allan Keller was a journalism professor who never became famous.  His Life along the Hudson is one of those charming, dreamy books about yesteryear.  Richly illustrated, it really isn’t a history (Keller wasn’t an historian) so much as a set of vignettes illustrating the role and importance that the river has had not only for New York state, but for the United States as a whole.  There are chapters about famous residents, battles of the Revolutionary War, historic houses, quirky facts, boating, and railroads.  It’s an interesting cross-section of a forgotten part of America.  Today when we hear Hudson River we tend to think New York City.  And while that’s not wrong, it certainly isn’t the whole story.  The Hudson early on connected Albany with Manhattan as they grew to be the two major points around which the Empire State expanded.

The book was never a bestseller.  It’s not particularly rare.  It is, however, a series of snapshots.  One of those was 1976, when the book was published.  The Hudson had become so polluted that major remediation efforts had to be put in place to redefine it from a cesspool to a beautiful waterway that took the breath away from many early travelers.  This valley was once considered one of the truly scenic spaces in the United States.  Now it’s pretty much a suburb of New York City, but it retains much of its earlier appeal, if you know where to look.  I’ve tried to find jobs that would allow me to move back to this region of upstate New York, but I’ve ended up in my own immediate home state of Pennsylvania.  I’d go back a couple more generations, if I could, but even salmon sometimes never make it back home.

Bad Movies

It’s embarrassing.  No, really it is.  The other day I was posting on yet another bad movie I’d watched and I realized that I should add a new Category (although I’m likely the only one who uses them) on this blog.  Now, it’s a pain to add a new Category to a blog with over 5,000 posts.  I reasoned that my bad movie watching, although a lifetime pursuit, really only appeared on this blog recently.  I had to scroll through the existing Category, “Movies,” to remind myself of what I’d posted on.  I found a few to add to my new Category, then a few more.  Finally the number grew to embarrassing portions.  I kept scrolling until it made me dizzy.  I couldn’t remember whether I’d posted on The Room or not.  It’s not a horror film, but it is very bad.  So bad I watched a parody of it.  Using the search function “The Room” brought up just too many hits and I was already woozy.  Maybe I didn’t want to admit to that one.

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

There’s an aesthetic to watching bad movies.  In fact, there are books written justifying the practice.  I thought maybe I had started my bad movie watching posts with Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, but no.  No, it went back further than that.  As someone who writes books about movies (maybe bad books about movies?) I need to do my homework.  Not only do I write books on movies, I also write on them for Horror Homeroom on occasion.  I’m scheduled to teach a class on a movie this fall.  I’ve even presented on movies to church groups (they never invite me back to talk on that topic again, however).  I know the reason lies much deeper, though.

Part of it derives from a childhood of watching bad movies.  There’s nostalgia involved.  More than that, however, I grew up poor.  Unless you’re a rags-to-riches story (I’m not) that mentality stays with you your entire life.  I’m always trying to cut costs, but I love movies.  On weekends I look for what’s free, with or without ads, on Amazon Prime.  They cater to bad movies, it turns out.  And before long it becomes like an addiction.  There’s a fascination to watching something so obviously poor that nevertheless ended up in theaters.  In other words, hope glimmers through.  My books are far too expensive to sell well.  My name isn’t widely known.  There is, in other words, a validation in watching bad movies.  I’ve got a well-populated Category for them right here.

A Theory

Do you remember that crazy college professor you had?  Chances are there was more than one.  As a late friend used to say, that’s why we pay good money to go to college.  I have an idea, perhaps even a theory, that the neurodiverse used to be largely institutionalized.  And I don’t mean in mental hospitals or “insane asylums.”  I mean in two well-respected social institutions: the university and the church.  Before you can object to the latter, consider that ministers, and before them priests, derived from shamans.  Nobody would doubt that shamans think differently than most people.  So, my theory is that when neurodiverse people came along in capitalist societies, they were shunted toward jobs in higher education and religion.  Out of sight to most people most of the time.  Then capitalism grew.

Both the church and the university became businesses.  Again, if you doubt me about churches, get to know a few bishops.  You’ll soon see.  In higher education, business people were hired as deans and presidents.  Not knowing how to handle their neurodiverse employee pool, they began hiring more “normal” people.  Those who, with no real insight or ambition, figure teaching is a cushy job.  It pays well, and it’s respectable.  But to do the job right you might just have to be neurodiverse.  Now, I don’t have the means to test my theory, but I suspect if you surveyed students over time as they graduated, you’d find fewer and fewer crazy professors.  As my departed friend would likely have said, they’re not getting their money’s worth.

Money doesn’t compromise.  Many people are driven by it without ever asking themselves why.  Do they want to be able to build private rockets to take them to Mars when capitalism finally destroys this planet?  Do they want private jets and the endless headaches of having to worry about getting even more money?  Studies tend to show that wealthy people are far from the happiest on the planet.  In fact, many of them are privately miserable.  They don’t have to work, true, but what do they think about?  Deeply.  I’ve never been driven by money.  I would like a bit more than I’ve been able to manage with my background and specialization.  Enough not to have sleepless nights over whether we can afford to fix the roof.  And still buy books.  It may be crazy to still read like a professor when I’m no longer in the guild.  I like to think I’m participating in a very old tradition.

Coming to History

Perhaps because I was a critical thinker at a young age, or maybe because I’ve always been insistent on fairness, I never took an interest in American history.  I cast my eyes back further, wondering how we got to where we are.  Such looking backward would lead to my doctorate.  Now, however, I’m interested.  I’d pay better attention to American history in school, were I now required to attend.  I’ve known about Kenneth C. Davis’ A Nation Rising since shortly after it was published.  My family listened to part of the recorded version when long car trips were more common.  Remembering what we’d heard, I eventually purchased the print book as well—I’m a fan of print and always will be, I’m afraid.  I only resort to ebooks when there’s no other option.

In any case, what drew me to these Untold Tales from America’s Hidden History was the information about early revivals.  Particularly those of George Whitefield.  Now, I’d learned about Whitefield in seminary (it was in United Methodist history, as it happens), but I hadn’t realized that he was America’s first superstar entertainer.  People flocked to hear him preach and he even caught the attention and friendship of Benjamin Franklin.  It’s estimated that Whitefield reached an audience of about 10 million hearers, and this was back in the eighteenth century.  He also preached in England and since the American population was just over 2 million in those days, it means he was enormously popular over here.  It was Davis’ book, not a seminary class, that made me aware of the fact.

Having grown up in one of the original thirteen colonies—Pennsylvania was a state by then; I’m not that old—you’d think I might’ve been more interested.  George Washington was in western Pennsylvania at least a time or two, and I even found a Civil War coat button poking out of the ground in our backyard once.  Nevertheless, it took adulthood, and perhaps the recognition of just how fragile our democracy is, to kickstart my interest.  Davis’ book is good for those who are interested in the lesser-known aspects of American heritage.  We aren’t always the good guys, though.  This isn’t the heavy-duty history that totters with facts and figures.  Really, it’s a set of fascinating vignettes of many people mostly forgotten these days.  And like most American histories, it shows that our political troubles today are nothing new.

Shepherding Books

One of the truths of publishing books—unless you make it to one of the big five, and even then it can’t hurt—is that you have to promote your own books.  Almost no publisher can afford to get word out that you’ve published your incredibly interesting tome with them.  So when I received an invitation from Shepherd to put together a list with one of my books on their site, naturally I said yes.  The way it works is your book page features a category of books, anchored by your own, and followed by five recommendations.  The idea is that people attracted to your subject will find this list and your book and, perhaps, just perhaps, buy a copy.  Since Nightmares with the Bible still hasn’t come out in paperback, I started my list with Holy Horror.  You can check it out here.

Authors often have no sense of scale.  Thousands of new books (perhaps up to two million) are published each year.  Think about that for a second.  Even the big five publishers can’t promote every single book, not at that rate.  There is a real satisfaction in having written and published a book, and many authors take that as a kind of entitlement.  “I’ve done my work, now somebody else should do the advertising.”  That may be fine if you have tenure somewhere and your prestige is assured.  If you’re a mere mortal like the rest of us, however, that means using social media.  Make a webpage.  Start a blog.  Get a Twitter and Facebook account.  The fact is, unless you do these things people won’t be able to find you.  They don’t spend their weekends at the local library browsing the shelves for new books.

Photo by Tanner Yould on Unsplash

Shepherd is a free service to authors.  I know many people who write (most of whom don’t read this blog) but if you know of anyone who does, point them to Shepherd.  The homepage has a convenient “Contact Us” link at the bottom.  Some websites will promote your work for a fee.  For me, I’m still waiting for royalties to come anything near what I have to spend to write my books—so far it’s been a money-losing venture.  I’m optimistic, however, that some day my books will be published in the affordable range—not just the big five do this, but most publishers have to be persuaded, through social media presence, that you can help find readers.  Shepherd is a good place to start.

The Idea of Scripture

Although the academic field of biblical studies is slowly dying—this is something I wrote about a long while back on this blog—the Bible and its kin nevertheless continue to shape and control society.  I was recently reading that Islam takes quite a different view of the Qur’an than Christianity does of the Bible.  It’s also clear that Judaism has yet another way of looking at Scripture.  What underlies these Abrahamic faiths is, however, the idea of sacred texts.  They don’t have to be understood, let alone read, in order to alter perceptions of reality.  The idea that God wrote a book, combined with the idea that God doesn’t show Godself or intervene in the world for good in any obvious way, has transferred a kind of godhood onto sacred scripture.

People desire the second coming because of a deep-seated need for God to part the clouds and demonstrate that their way of looking at things is the correct way.  It may be influenced by Scripture or politics or a favorite news channel, but the result is the same—they want divine intervention and since it’s not forthcoming, their sacred texts become the rallying point around which they gather.  Like many people I’m puzzled how a man like Trump, known for his proud womanizing and lack of care for anyone other than himself, came to be seen as a messiah.  Perhaps the key is that moment he gassed American citizens for a photo op holding up a Bible he never reads.  How this comes to be interpreted as a kind of divine moment only makes sense when we realize it’s the idea of Scripture that becomes the reality of many.

I’ve read through the Bible many times.  I have to confess that trying to get through the Qur’an is a struggle for me, but I suspect quite a lot of that is cultural.  I’ve read a few other sacred texts over the years, and have found some wisdom in all of them.  It’s when they become divinities in their own rights that society begins to pay the price.  If a non-interventionist God remains invisible, that identity will be transferred to the divine surrogate—Scripture.  People will coalesce around the idol they can see rather than the invisible one they can’t, right Elijah?  These sacred books have survived partially because they contain old wisdom, and old wisdom is often better than new knowledge.  But they also survive because they have become, in some sense, gods.

Der Golem

The golem is a monster of fascination.  It has been the subject of movies from quite an early period.  The earliest, now mostly lost, seems to have been Paul Wegener’s Der Golem (1915).  This film became the first of a trilogy, with the second (also lost) being, The Golem and the Dancing Girl (also originally titled in German, 1917).  The third film mostly survives and is therefore often called The Golem, based on the fact that it is the one we can still see.  Der Golem: wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World, 1920) is considered a must-see early horror film, although that designation comes from the fact of there being a monster.  It’s not scary.  It is, after all, a silent film.

Having watched some recent examples of Jewish horror I realized that I’d missed this one and set out to rectify the situation.  This film is actually the prequel to the other two, with Wegener’s golem having already established a cinematic presence.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from the story, but I supposed that it would be the oppressed Jews creating a golem to protect them and that it would eventually go berserk, as soulless people generally do.  It may have helped to have seen the two missing films, I suspect.  This golem is made to protect the Jews, but the edict against them is cancelled by the fact that the golem exists.  The emperor is impressed with the Jewish magic and allows the Jews to remain in their ghetto.  The golem, however, develops feelings for Rabbi Loew’s daughter, which is an interesting twist.

The rabbi does lose control of his creation, and it refused to allow him to deactivate him by removing the secret word revealed by Astaroth, under a star on his chest.  A little girl outside the ghetto, picked up by the golem, playfully pulls off the star and saves the day.  This really isn’t Jewish horror, at least not in the sense of more recent films.  It’s not very close to the Jewish golem legend and saving the Jewish community is left up to a gentile girl.  The ending clearly inspired James Whale’s Frankenstein some eleven years later, but the messaging of the film is pretty much what you might expect for a non-Jew trying to tell a Jewish story.  The fact that a demon is involved in bringing the golem to life puts us into a more Christianized view of things.  Still, this historic film, which is just over an hour in length, started something that has grown more sophisticated as Jewish horror started to come into its own.

In Pictures

Old photographs are haunting.  One thing I’ve long noticed about high school pictures from the early twentieth century is that those kids look much more grown up than today’s graduating seniors.   (Or even my graduating class, for that matter.)  We’ve extended childhood since then, now stretching it into young professional stage.  Who doesn’t want to be forever young?  It seems to me that those who spend time in bookstores know about the Images of America series of books.  These record what local historical societies collect and put them out there for public consumption.  Some day I’ll get them for all the towns I’ve called home.  For now, however, I wanted a peek at the early days of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.  If you’re by chance not familiar with the series, these books have captions and brief introductions to chapters so there’s context to explain it all. But the pictures are the draw.

One of the other features I noticed was that in a number of group photographs, a person or two is often listed as “unknown.”  It’s a fair bet that the other people in those antique images knew who these forgotten individuals were.  Photography, however, doesn’t really help those born before the mid-nineteenth century.  The photograph has a mysterious power.  It preserves a moment in history and as soon as the shutter clicks we’ve already become an older person.  In my work I have to locate people and I do so on university websites.  I’ve discovered that most faculty are far older than their pictures suggest.  Who has time to update the incremental changes every year?  Before you know it, your hair’s gone gray and you’re struggling to keep the pounds off.  We look at our younger selves and wonder.

At least I do.  I see pictures of a younger me and wonder what he might’ve done differently if he could see a picture of a present-day me.  One thing he would appreciate is my beard, such as it is.  Neither father nor step-father wore a beard, but young me always wanted one.  As life would have it, I couldn’t manage a passable one until after seminary while guys I knew in high school had heavy beards even then.  But this is a small thing.  The real changes take place in our heads.  Each day, each second, is a learning opportunity.  That’s perhaps the reason I like books like this.  Photographs of a place of fascination, even though I know none of the people or their families, are a real draw.  And they’re a form of haunting.

Kenyan Mourning

We ignore religion at our peril.  I may be a voice crying in the wilderness here, but just because church numbers are declining it doesn’t mean religion still can’t motivate.  And in large numbers.  A New York Times story tells how 179 Kenyans starved themselves to death because their preacher told them they’d meet Jesus that way.  It’s amazing how many demons pose as angels of light, even if well-meaning.  All it takes is to hold up a Bible.  People are religious by nature and they tend to believe what they’re told.  Jonestown and Waco taught us nothing about religion.  Universities continue to hack away at its study, declaring it no longer of importance.  Meanwhile useless deaths still occur because of something that “doesn’t matter.”  Religion is so easily weaponized you’d think the Pentagon might want to get in on the action.

How am I to read without an interpreter?

Our world is increasingly secular but that may not mean what it seems to.  Belief, whether in traditional religions or not, is still belief.  We may believe we know certain things, but knowledge is a lot rarer than we often suppose.  Religion evolved—co-evolved, more accurately—with our species.  We need it, even if its gods have lost their divine luster.  And if we don’t have people who can teach us about it without resorting to mere metrics we may be on our way to perdition.  You see, here in America we tend to be a pretty literalist bunch.  I don’t know what it is about our culture, but we’re uncomfortable with metaphor.  Even so we believe in all kinds of things and then deny that we do.

My mind keeps going back to those Kenyans who, trustfully believing, starved themselves to death.  No doubt the introduction of the Bible, without proper instruction, into their culture, meant that such interpretations would eventually arise.  Perhaps inevitably.  Religious thinking isn’t a bad thing, but taking sacred texts from thousands of years ago as roadmaps for today is.  We so want answers in black and white—we want someone to tell us that life isn’t this complex and that “it’s all really quite simple.”  But it’s not.  Religion does help us get through this complex world.  Even though he was a Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau tried the monastic approach.  It works for a while, but if we all did it there’d be untold suffering in the world.  In other words, there’s no easy answer.  There never likely will be.  Until such a time as that, we should be studying religion more, not less.  And trying to make lives better, not worse.

First Second

The thing about self-published books is that titles sometimes confuse.  I’d read Linda Zimmermann’s Hudson Valley UFOs without realizing it was a sequel.  Part of the reason is that her previous book was titled In the Night Sky.  Since I have a compulsion for completion, I knew I’d have to circle back to read the first book, even though it might take months to get on my schedule.  I realize the title of this book is based on her documentary by the same title (which seems to be unavailable for viewing these days), and the subtitle, Hudson Valley UFO Sightings from the 1930’s to the Present, does the heavy lifting of saying what the book is about.  So why am I reading about this in the first place?  Well, UFOs have continued to be in the news lately, which is interesting in its own right.  But also I’ve been reading about the Hudson Valley for some time.

Although I’ve never lived in the Hudson Valley (or New York, for that matter), I have family connections.  My maternal grandfather’s family had deep roots in the upper Hudson Valley and I’ve always wanted to move there but jobs never aligned with hopes.  That hasn’t prevented me from maintaining an active interest in the area.  Besides, I like weird stuff—if you read this blog that’s self-evident.  There do seem to be places where strange things seem to concentrate.  (I mentioned this in regard to the Denver Airport recently.)  I’m one of those people who’s always found New York City a weird place, and it’s the southern end of that corridor.

In any case, Zimmermann’s book is pretty much like her second one on the subject.  She provides accounts of UFOs from witnesses who responded to her call for reports in preparation for her documentary.  I tend to think that many people can tell what’s supposed to be in the sky from what’s not.  I’m also aware that many people don’t have the background of trying to identify whatever they see and that mistakes are often made.  It doesn’t help that Zimmermann includes some accounts that are pretty clearly crackpot cases.  Some editing would’ve helped (which is true of many self-published books).  What’s so interesting about this collection is that what many people report seeing is so similar.  For those of us who don’t live in the Hudson Valley and who’ve never seen anything odd on our trips there, this may be the closest we get to the strangeness overhead.

Spider Planet

Misnomers aren’t uncommon when it comes to click-bait.  I’ve fallen victim more than a few times.  But such misdirection is probably as old as humanity, and is perhaps part of consciousness itself.  (Some birds are known to practice deception, as are some other primates.)  Earth Vs. the Spider is drive-in-bait as a title.  In the 1958 horror-sci fi movie (also titled The Spider), the danger isn’t really to the earth but to one small town.  There is, however, a giant spider and somehow it’s not as scary as the real thing can be, writ small.  Occasionally, such as when a spider comes out into the open in the house, I ponder why this is such a deep-seated human fear.  I know spiders are beneficial to the ecosystem and that they pose very little danger, at least in places where I’ve lived.  So why are they so scary?

Scientists, including those of the mind, have proposed looking to our primate cousins for an answer.  They too are afraid of spiders, and it’s posited that since primates climb trees to escape danger and that spiders also climb, the phobia is hardwired.  For me it’s only certain body-plans that are scary.  I don’t mind the cute little jumping spiders that get in around the windows.  They don’t seem out to hurt anybody.  It’s the kind with long, grasping legs that bother me.  As a child I used to try to identify spiders with a picture book identification guide, but soon the guide started to scare me and I had to put it down.  I wasn’t cut out to be an arachnidologist, I guess.  The movie could’ve used one, however.  They kept calling the spider an insect.

The unblinking advocacy of DDT was the scariest part of the film.  Got a problem?  Spray chemicals all over it!  It gives me the same fear as when I see all those pallets of RoundUp every time I go to Lowes.  That stuff is deadly to the environment, and I’m kind of attached to the environment.  Spring arrived around here late this year, but it was spider season by the time I watched Earth Vs. the Spider as part of my minor quest to see the “so bad they’re good” movies.  They’re also part of the history of horror.  Apart from Psycho in 1960, horror was kind of on vacation for the fifties and into the late sixties.  Of course, movies kept being made.  It’s just that they couldn’t be taken seriously.  And even though drive-ins seem to be extinct, I still fall for drive-in bait from time to time. Even when watching alone.

Denver Memories

It may be a strange thing to say (or write, as the case may be) but I was kind of hoping to spend some extra time at the Denver Airport.  When I traveled to Denver for a conference last year, I arrived to a workload (attending AAR/SBL as an editor is all work, not play).  I had no time to hang around the airport.  I knew, however, as a recent New York Times piece states, that the airport has a reputation for the paranormal.  While the Times article focuses on Luis Jimenez’s sculpture “Mustang” to start, it quickly moves on to “conspiracy theories.”  And the parts of the airport passengers never see.  The place has a reputation for being weird.  During construction in recent years, the usually anodyne partitions that block construction from the view of passengers, housed images of aliens, bolstering rumors that Denver, and its airport, have some connection with our extraterrestrial neighbors.

The Times story points out alien graffiti in parts of the Denver Airport where travelers can’t go.  And it also points out that although the fiery red eyes of “Mustang” are to represent Jimenez’s father’s start in the neon business, they give the giant horse a demonic aspect.  The artist died working on the sculpture.  A piece fell during construction, severing an artery.  But the conspiracy theories began earlier.  The southwest has a reputation of being the home of the shapeshifting reptilians that have made it onto mainstream television.  Is it any wonder that Trump stands a possibility of getting the nomination while yet more crimes are actively stacked on his record?

Of course, I was in Denver to work.  I claimed my bag and got a taxi on a snowy southwestern morning.  While there I worked, of course.  It was cold, in any case, back in November, so getting out to see the sights didn’t particularly appeal, especially since it was getting dark by the time the book stalls were closing and I was there alone.  I always want to be on time, and since I’m an early riser, and since Thanksgiving was just a couple days away, I went to the airport three hours before my flight home.  I was thinking I might have some time to do a bit of X-Filing while waiting.  Alas, it was not to be.  The helpful flight attendant put me on an earlier flight and I ended up with a three-hour layover in Chicago.  But I also knew that several “mothman” sightings had taken place at O’Hare over the preceding months.  When you’re a traveler, however, they keep you away from the interesting parts of the airport.

Cat Nipped

Holy Horror began with movies from 1960 on.  You see, I had watched the 1982 remake of Cat People without ever watching the original from 1942.  The remake has Paul Gallier, the brother of Irena, as a religious leader.  He doesn’t cite the Bible, so the movie fell outside the limits I set for that particular book.  I recently watched the 40-year older original version and was surprised to find not only the religion intact, but also the Bible as part of the story.  Both versions integrate religion and horror and some of the scenes are very close between the two.  The original centers around Irena Dubrovna, a Serbian immigrant.  In addition to originating the The Lewton Bus technique, the film also introduced a religious origin for the horror.  When Irena meets Oliver Reed, she explains to him that in Serbia, in her home village, some witches were driven out into the woods of the surrounding mountains by the Christians.  There they formulated a curse leading to becoming cat people when aroused.

Irena, fearing sexual arousal, spends time apart from Oliver after they marry, mainly watching the black leopard at the zoo.  One of the custodians warns her it’s an evil animal, a monster as described in the book of Revelation, which he quotes.  Of course, this leopard is an ordinary big cat, and the woman to whom he quotes Scripture is a cat woman.  Irena knows inside that she’s one of the cat people, but nobody will believe her.  The film also makes use of a quote from John Donne regarding sin.  Indeed, the film makes it clear, even after Irena dies, that she had never lied.  While she’s stalking Oliver and Alice in their office one night, Oliver pulls down a T-square, the shadow of which forms a cross on the wall, and he abjures her, in the name of God, to leave them alone.  Religion, the clash of religions, makes the monster.

Cat People, despite having had a mixed reception, was an influential movie.  Like much of early horror, it’s tame by today’s standards.  And yet it’s aged well.  I didn’t expect to be drawn in as much as I ended up being.  After all, I’d seen the remake first.  America at the time had a fear of the Balkan region, where mysterious eastern Europeans still had tales of vampires, werewolves, and cat people.  Of course, the last of these was invented for the film.  The director, writer, and producer wanted to create an intelligent horror film, which they did.  Moody, atmospheric, and based on religious tension, it is worthy of a Holy Horror sequel.

Finding Yourself

Sometimes I look, fascinated.  At tracking info, that is.  I once ordered an item from Montreal, which is, I’m told, in the province of Quebec, Canada.  The estimated shipping time was five days.  It ended up being quite the tourist package.  Its first US port of call was Plattsburgh, New York, which makes sense.  The strange thing is the Canadian tracker didn’t include the states—just town names, all of them small, as if this were a covert operation.  From Plattsburgh it went to East Syracuse, because, well, who wouldn’t want to go to East Syracuse?  From there it leapt right over Pennsylvania, where I live, to Hodgkins, Illinois.  This is a town so small that you really have to be a fan of package vacations to find it.  From there it went to Maumee, Ohio.  It seemed to be heading in the right direction, in any case.  Maumee led to Middlebury Heights, still in Ohio.  Finally it reached Pennsylvania, in New Stanton, not terribly far from my childhood home.  Then Carlisle, about halfway through the state.  Finally to Easton, from which it reached me.  Surprisingly, on time.  

It’s gotta be around here somewhere…

Logistics baffle me.  I had it drilled into me as a child that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Montreal is about 400 miles from here, pretty much straight north.  I wouldn’t venture to tell UPS (the carrier in this instance) how to do its job, but when you’re ordering something carbon neutral (that, of course, you can’t get close to home) it feels kind of excessive to have to stop in so many small towns only to skip the destination state by flying from New York to Illinois so you can drive it back to Pennsylvania.  Logistics people need jobs too, I guess.

Amazon has made many people ask why things can’t arrive more quickly.  The fact is, shipping companies have their own protocols.  It’s like when you have to fly south from a regional airport to get onto a flight north.  You have to reach a hub where they know how to direct your package.  And if your item requires sea freight, well, all bets are off.  There may be no tracking points between Shanghai and Los Angeles.  No matter how much some people may say they hate it, we live in a global society.  We rely on China, and Canada, and everywhere else, to make life go in these United States.  Even following your tracking information can, in that way, be an exercise in thoughtfulness as well as a learning experience. 

The Goodreads Zone

It happened on Goodreads.  I suspect she had no idea how much that simple “like” meant to me.  Social media is too big to be everywhere, so I primarily engage with those who reach out to me (without trolling), on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Goodreads.  Even with my activity on these venues, comments are rare.  Likes a bit more common, and always appreciated.  Several months after I posted a review of her book, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling on Goodreads, Anne Serling liked it.  That may not seem like much, but this was the actual daughter of Rod Serling himself, liking something I wrote.  If you feel the way I do about The Twilight Zone this will be a personal brush with greatness.  Almost as if Serling himself approved.

I’ve met a few famous people in my time.  Mostly they are ordinary people and act like ordinary people.  Only those of us around someone famous know that millions of people have heard of one of us.  Heard of and admire.  The rest of us manage to get along, but we do so without notice.  Unless someone “likes” what we do.  It’s kind of like having someone famous blurb your book.  In any case, my childhood consisted of many snippets of things that made me who I am.  One of those snippets was The Twilight Zone.  I watched a lot of television growing up.  We were not a reading family (neither parent finished high school), so the television was the item of choice after work/school.  Much of what I watched washed off.  Not The Twilight Zone.

Like reading through the Dark Shadows novels, I’ve been slowly watching my way through The Twilight Zone alone.  Nobody else in my family cares for it and since I don’t have much free time I only get to it on rare occasions.  Now that mowing time is here, those occasions are even fewer.  I guess I feel that I have to justify why I’ve come around to writing about horror as an adult.  You don’t get to be an adult without having some kind of childhood first, and mine involved The Twilight Zone.  Anne Serling’s involved being raised by the creator of The Twilight Zone.  To me, that’s a validating kind of fame.  To be seen by someone who could, if she wanted, have an instant and ready-made audience.  A reverie, started by something that happened on Goodreads.