Urban Tiger

Many things are universal.  Ghosts, for example.  What ghosts do and how they behave, however, can be culturally specific.  The Jangsan Tiger is sort of a ghost and sort of a creature, and it has a religious backstory.  Of course, I’m referring to the Korean horror film, The Mimic.  I found it while looking for Mimic on Amazon Prime, but that definite article made this one free and it had received pretty good ratings.  Released by the careless trespass of a murderer, the Jangsan Tiger stalks a family that really just needs a break.  The parents, Hee-yeon and Min-ho, lost their son five years ago.  They move to Mt. Jang with their daughter (Joon-hee) and his mother, believing that the distance from Seoul will do them some good.  The Tiger, however, has other plans.

Apart from the well-timed jump-startles and stings (this movie “got” me more than once), the story is filled with pathos.  Parenting is probably the biggest emotional gamble a person can take.  The Jangsan Tiger imitates voices and convinces its victims that it is someone they love.  The children actors are particularly effective and their crying is difficult for any parent to watch.  This is horror that pulls at your heartstrings.  The family, as expected, begins to crumble under the pressure.  Religion comes into it because a shaman, ostracized from society, had summoned the Jangsan spirit in a kind of Faustian bargain.  He sacrificed his daughter and now that he’s released again, sacrifices others who are lured into the cave on Mt. Jang.

Interestingly enough, the actual mountain Jangsan—the movie is based on an urban legend—is in real life the site of an active mine field.  Somehow this moves the film from urban legend territory into that of parable.  Many of the scary stories we tell our children are intended to keep them safe from dangers they really can’t comprehend.  Adults plant minefields to make the land unsafe.  The real tiger prowling those lovely hills is one that walks on two legs.  And what that monster craves is human sacrifice.  Now, I can’t claim to understand the entire plot of the film.  Between subtitles and the lack of cultural experience, I’m merely a spectator to something that feels deeper than just a movie.  Those who spend time with horror know that it’s often sophisticated and intelligent.  It’s a genre that appeals to both the mind and to religion.  There’s a reason the shaman stands between worlds.


Sunk Costs

The other day, in a fit of post-holiday tiding up, my wife found something that she couldn’t reach to put away.  As I took the thing and dutifully began to return it to its high cubbyhole, I realized that it was something we no longer needed.  Now, we’re very careful about not just throwing things away—this attitude of disposability has led to far too many landfills and rampant pollution.  So what was this thing?  It’s a dryer vent brush. After a couple years in our house, and with the awareness that the previous owners clearly ignored things like lint build-up in dryer vents, I purchased this brush to weasel in through the outdoor vent and try to get as much lint out as I could.  The old dryer died a couple years later, and we bought a more environmentally friendly heat-pump dryer.  Heat pumps require no vents, so the brush, in its high cubby hole, had simply been forgotten until it got in the way of something else.

This is an example of a “sunk cost.”  Economists, those purveyors of the dismal science, tell us never to worry about sunk costs since you can’t get your money back.  I suppose this is the impetus behind yard sales.  We’ve always been careful with money—we have to be—so purchases like this brush are calculated to meet a current need.  An investment.  Looking around, I see a number of sunk costs—there’s an extraneous office chair just a few feet from me at the moment, made superfluous when Gorgias Press moved offices and gave away office furniture that wouldn’t fit into the new place.  That’s the chair I’m sitting in at the moment.  The other, cheaper chair, however, is still functional.  Something’s telling me a yard sale might not be a bad idea.

But do I want neighbors to see the things we’ve accumulated over the years (and there seem suddenly to have been so many years)?  Some of the stuff obviously could have a future life.  The dryer vent brush was only used for a couple of cleanings and still has much life left, for an inanimate object.  Much of the technology that we’ve sunk money into would serve only as museum pieces, however.  And those costs tend to be much higher.  We try very hard to reduce, reuse, and recycle.  We give books away to little free libraries, if it’s clear they’ll never be opened again in this house.  But I can’t help wonder if sunk costs are a plague of capitalism and consumerism.  There’s got to be a better way.  And while I’m pondering it, I have a funky blue brush to use for scratching my head.


Of Ewes and Groundhogs

I need more time to prepare for Imbolc.  Or Groundhog Day, whichever you prefer.  Candlemas for you Catholic holdouts.  February 2 has the trappings of a major holiday, but it lacks the commercial potential.  Too many people are still working their way out from under Christmas overspending and tax season is just around the corner.  Still, I think it should be a national holiday.  My reasoning goes like this: since the pandemic our bosses now have our constant attention.  They’re in our bedrooms, our living rooms, our kitchens.  I see those midnight email time stamps!  We’re giving them a lot more time than we used to and seriously, can they not think about giving us a few more days off?  Some companies strictly limit holidays to ten.  

Can’t recall where I found this one…

Others, more progressive, have simply dropped the limits on paid time off.  And guess what?  The work still gets done.  I could use a day to curl up with a groundhog, or to go milk my ewes.  (Being a vegan, perhaps I could just pet them instead.)  What’s wrong with maybe two holidays a month?  (We don’t even average out to one per month, currently.)  I always look at that long stretch from March, April, and nearly all of May with some trepidation.  That’s an awful lot of “on” time.  (Our UK colleagues, of course, get Easter-related days and a variety of bank holidays.  Their bosses, I understand, would rather go with the more heartless American model, but tradition is tradition, you know.)  What if I see my shadow and get scared?  What am I to do then?

Imbolc is part of an old system for dividing the year into quarters that fall roughly half-way between equinoxes and solstices.  I go into this a bit in my book, The Wicker Man, due out in September.  That movie, of course, focuses on Beltane, or May Day, but the point is the same.  Look at what happens when you deny your people their holidays!  You’d think that the message that showing employees that you value them makes them more loyal might actually get through.  Businesses, however, have trouble thinking outside the box.  Take as much as you can and then ask for more.  What have they got to lose by giving out a few more holidays?  Otherwise each day becomes a repetition of a dulling sense of sameness.  Rather like another movie that focuses on this most peculiar holiday.


The Romantics

It takes one to know one—or so they used to say.  My current preoccupation has me learning about the Romantics.  This isn’t the same as “romance,” although both words derive from the Old French for “verse narrative.”  Novel, in German, is Roman.  In any case, Sir Walter Scott cordially embraced Washington Irving when the latter arrived unannounced at Abbotsford.  Reading the account in Irving’s own words, it sounds like a bromance, and some modern interpreters—inclined as they are to look for genital contact—have suggested Irving, a lifelong bachelor, might’ve been a homosexual.  Although there’s nothing wrong with that, I do wonder if it misunderstands the language of the Romantics.  To borrow a sentence from Andrew Burstein (more to come anon): “This had to do with intimacy, not sex as we understand it.”

I recently gave a talk about Herman Melville’s spiritual orientation.  I mentioned his close friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne.  During the discussion period the question of whether they might’ve been lovers was raised.  I’d read this before.  I don’t know what went on in Melville’s bedroom—it’s none of my business—but I think the Romantics were all about intimacy.  We’re now familiar with the genre of bromance.  Guys, usually two, pairing off for pursuits of significance to both of them.  Or two women. I think of all the great same-sex pairings throughout literary history and wonder where we’d be without them.  Since our culture has long demonized sex, our mind is constantly creeping between the sheets.  Who touched whom?  Where and when?  Isn’t intimacy enough any more?  Where’s the Romance?  I’m no prude, but I wonder if we misread sex and the Romantics.

Louis Janmot, Poem of the Soul – On the mountain, public domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Romantic Movement produced the culture I taught myself living in a run-down house with no spending money.  I borrowed recordings—actual records—of Beethoven symphonies from the library that I had to listen to with headphones because nobody else wanted to hear that kind of thing.  I read Poe.  I read about Poe.  Gothic, a subset of Romanticism, became my muse.  I had no intimate friends with which to share this.  Not until seminary—that place where such unusual, unspoken things occur.  Of course I was in Boston, the most Romantic of American cities with New Bedford to the south and Salem to the north.  To the east the boundless ocean.  We still read the Romantics.  We still read about them.  I can’t help but think we might misunderstand them.  Yes, Irving and Scott were together “from morning to night,” but thinking back to my own Romantic ideals as a teenager, I suspect they just talked.  Intimately.


Being Sapiens

Sometimes you need some distance to appreciate an object.  A telescope may be required if it’s a distant subject, like a rare comet (if the skies aren’t perpetually cloudy).  At other times a microscope is more helpful.  Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind made a pretty big splash a few years back.  Big name people, who presumably don’t have the time to get into the historical weeds—and yes, it’s quite overgrown out here—blurbed the book and it made it onto the New York Times Bestseller list.  It’s not a little book, and like most such works it’s  a synthesis that historians approach with trepidation.  Such projects occasionally make great observations, like the astronomer with her telescope.  But those who look up from their microscopes often say, “well, that’s not exactly right.”

How do you summarize 2.5 million years or so?  You have to be very selective and you have to keep backing up to pick out the things that help this story make sense to you.  Harari (my autocorrect keeps wanting to make him Harris, which sort of fits his overall thesis) divides human history into four parts, generally revolutions: the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, the unification of humankind, and the scientific revolution.  Along the way he tries to pick out the major developments.  One of them, of course, is religion.  While some of the details are overstated, his big picture here is helpful to read.  Religion has helped us, but it’s also hurt us.  Perhaps the latter more than the former.  For this we need a microscope.

His part on science and the economy was both insightful and disturbing.  I don’t believe, for example, that capitalism is necessary for advancement.  We too quickly claim that socialism doesn’t work without ever really giving it a fair trial.  Instead we let wealthy industrialists come up with new ways to keep us entertained and compliant while they handle all the money—leave it to the big boys.  The future comes to resemble them.  And we’ve seen where that gets us.  Summarizing a big book like this that covers many thousands of years isn’t a straightforward or easy task, just as trying to pick out the highlights of our history can’t be.  Part of the problem is that we’re still in the middle of it.  Things may happen—the Covid-19 pandemic is a notable example—that change the course of the river.  Since this book was published before that happened, who’s to say that things might not turn out quite differently than anticipated?  This is a provocative book, but I need to get back to my microscope.


Columbo

I liked Columbo.  Peter Falk was an award-winning actor, and his working-class detective character was always entertaining to watch.  Unlike other TV cops, he didn’t carry a gun.  Hearing the tragic news from California where yet another shooter killed multiple people before himself, I think about the proliferation of guns.  The New York Times runs story after story showing that nowhere else in the developed world are gun deaths remotely anywhere near what they are in the United States.  Not only do we have a super-abundance of firearms, we have politicians on the dole from the NRA who simply won’t take action because they personally stand to lose money if they do.  And apparently they can sleep at night.  As a nation, our guns outnumber people.

Estimates for the number of guns in America stand at around 466 million.  98% of them are in civilian hands, as opposed to the military.  And we have multiple mass shootings per year.  Is there any chance that these facts might be related?  Ironically, many firearms are owned by those who loudly proclaim they hate the “culture of death”promoted by those who try to make gun ownership more difficult.  I’ve written on this topic so many times before that I really don’t know what else there is to say.  Perhaps it’s time to just give up and weep.  Last year, excluding suicides, there were over 20,000 gun deaths in this country.  There have been 15,000 or more per year since 2016.  Approximately 120,000 gun deaths in just six years.  And yet nothing is done.

The public strongly favors stricter gun laws.  Government officials do not.  In fact, some Republicans are now attempting drive-by shootings of suspected Democrats.  I’m not anti-gun.  I am anti-insanity.  You see, that was the thing about Columbo.  He never pulled a gun, but he doggedly pursued those who did.  The culture of hate that has swept this country since 2016 needs to be reminded of Columbo’s message.  Guns aren’t the answer.  Pursuit of the truth is.  How a purportedly Christian movement does nothing but support the gun lobby is a mystery requiring investigation.  It has to be asked where in the Bible does this idea of arming yourself come from.  It has to be asked which commandment declares obtaining deadly force and making guns easily obtained by the mentally unstable is God’s will.  I guess that about wraps it up.  Just one more thing—what would Jesus do, really?


The Point of It

It’s not difficult to feel overwhelmed by the scope of the problem.  Race was a construct developed to oppress.  The intention was to keep those of non-European, especially non-northern European, ancestry in servitude.  The rationale for doing so was part capitalistic, but also largely religious.  Convinced that Jesus was white, and that the “New Israel” had passed to Christianized Europe, it didn’t take much theological maneuvering to get to the point that others can be—in that mindset, should be—brought into line.  And since this religion comes with a built-in body-soul dualism, it’s not difficult to claim you’re trying to save a soul by destroying a body.  That way you can still sleep at night while doing something everyone knows is wrong.

Martin Luther King, Jr. stood up to such ideas.  His understanding of Christianity was more in alignment with what Jesus said and that threatened those in the establishment who found any challenge to profit heresy.  There can be no denying that racism is one more attempt to keep wealth centralized.  It’s something not to share, which, strangely enough, is presented as gospel.  There are many people still trying to correct this wrong.  It is wrong when a religion distorts its central message in order to exploit marginalized people.  The key word here is “people.”  Black people are people.  Their lives matter and every time this is said others try to counter with “all lives matter, ” a platitude that misses the point.  We need Martin Luther King Day.  We need to be reminded that we’re still not where we should be.  We’re still held in thrall to a capitalism that rewards those who use oppression to enrich themselves.

I was born in the civil rights era.  I suppose I mistakenly reasoned that others had learned the message as well.  All people deserve fair treatment.  Today we remember a Black leader, but we still have the blood of many oppressed peoples on our hands.  Those who first came to live in this country, whose land was stolen in the name of religion.  Those whose gender and sex put them at threat by those who believe control of resources is more important that care of fellow human beings.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but in King’s words, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”   If we believe that, and if we can act on it, there remains the possibility that we might actually achieve the reason we set this day aside to reflect.

Photo by Katt Yukawa on Unsplash

Annihilated

For a long time I resisted seeing it.  Partially I wasn’t sure if it was any good and partially—mainly—it was because of spoilers.  Annihilation came out in 2018, just as I was reading Jeff VanderMeer’s novel upon which the movie was based.  I will always remember this because I worked in a cubicle where I couldn’t see my fellow workers and the woman in the next cube was a bit of a chatterbox.  She and one of her coworkers had seen the movie and began discussing, somewhat loudly, what’d happened.  I was in the middle of the book at the time and didn’t want any spoilers.  I’d never actually met the woman in the next cube and I couldn’t go over and tell her to stop talking about the film because one of the reasons we watch movies is to talk to one another about them.  (Mostly I do this online.)

Enough time has passed, and a different woman at work, remotely, suggested I see it.  I don’t know why the movie did so poorly at the box office.  The director, Alex Garland, has said he didn’t reread the book as he was making the film because he wanted it to be impressions of the novel rather than strictly based on it.  Even as I watched, I recalled some of what I read back in 2018.  I’ll try to limit spoilers here, but if I’m talking too loudly you can just click away (and, hopefully, come back after you’ve seen it.)  It begins when a mysterious “shimmer” appears after a meteorite strike in Florida.  Those who enter the shimmer never come out.  A team of women scientists are sent in, wondering if gender might make a difference.  One of them, Lena, volunteers because her husband did make it out and almost immediately went into a coma.

A sci-fi horror movie, I wonder if it underperformed at the box office because it stars women.  The tension builds between them as they try to figure out what’s going on within the shimmer.  Species have mutated rapidly and the predatory animals are pretty frightening.  The threat, as in VanderMeer’s novel, is ecological.  The ending, I’ll say, is quite different from the book because it was intentionally written as a trilogy and the director wanted to resolve the tension in a single film before reading the other two (which I still haven’t done).  The end result is thoughtful and tense.  The acting is good and the effects are stunning.  I’d class it with Arrival as an intellectual exploration of what it means to be part of a universe we barely begin to understand.  And kudos for having women lead the way.


New Horseman

You’d think it’d be obvious, but it took me some time to realize that when a story’s being retold in a literary context, the point isn’t to restate the original in new words.  No, sometimes the vision is quite different and the result is like building a different person from the same skeleton.  I’m still on my Sleepy Hollow kick and I’m interested in what contemporary writers see in the story.  Serena Valentino’s Raising the Horseman is a feminist retelling with sensitivity to LGBTQ+ concerns.  Like some other recent Sleepy Hollow novels—Alyssa Palombo’s Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel and Christina Henry’s Horseman—she takes the point of view of either Katrina or one of her descendants.  In this case, both, as a present-day Katrina reads the diary of the original Katrina in Sleepy Hollow.

The story is pitched at the young adult level—a literary scene that’s thriving these days—and sets up the story this way:  Katrina Van Tassel married Brom Bones and left her vast estate to her daughter and their daughters, as long as they took her name.  This creates an unbroken succession of Katrina Van Tassels.  As might be expected, the current Kat, as a teenager, wants to follow her own path rather than staying in Sleepy Hollow for the rest of her life.  She meets a new girl in town, Isadora, who encourages her to see how her boyfriend Blake has been keeping her in an abusive relationship.  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a love triangle, and that develops here as well, moving in new directions.

Valentino has been writing a series called Villains for some time.  That series takes on the viewpoint of the antagonist rather that the hero.  Such tales are quite popular these days as we reexamine dusty assumptions that have been sitting undisturbed for far too long.  Fans of Sleepy Hollow will recognize the base story in this novel, but will be taken along a different path and will be left without a simple resolution.  Younger readers adopt a more open attitude towards life, watching, as they do, the antics of many of their elders (particularly angry white men in positions of power), and they recognize bad behavior when they see it.  The novel is a plea for tolerance, a trait that’s much needed in the world.  The Headless Horseman is still there, of course, but the real villains of the story might not be who you assume they are.


Night Mom

Kurt Vonnegut is one of those tragicomic writers that can leave you reeling.  Mother Night was never on my must-read list, although I’ve read about it many times.  Reading about a novel isn’t the same as reading it, of course.  I picked it up in a used bookstore earlier this year when I didn’t want to walk out empty handed.  I go into such stores with a list and try to limit myself to it.  If they have nothing on the list, I try to find an author I know.  Since I’ve read several Vonnegut novels, I have an idea of what I might find.  This one was pretty bleak, though, but then the subject suggests as much.  Those critics that say it’s funny are made of sterner stuff than yours truly, I guess.  

The story is the account of a Nazi propagandist who’s actually an American spy sending encoded messages through his radio broadcasts.  Throughout the novel he’s conflicted because he wants to be left out of the business of war, and yet he’s aware of the potential for evil on both sides.  It’s a chilling book to read in the light of Trump because American nazis feature pretty prominently in the plot.  Howard W. Campbell, Jr. is on everybody’s hit list—American Nazi haters/hunters, Russian Nazi haters/hunters, and Israeli Nazi haters/hunters, and even on his own hit list.  His role in the war made him look like a Nazi.  Vonnegut has some profound things to say, such as:  “Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.”

And this: “Where’s evil? It’s that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on its side.”  The book was published before I was born, and that took place about six decades ago.  The set-backs we’ve seen since then make this one of Vonnegut’s most disturbing books.  I have no doubt that he was a haunted man.  Like many who’ve been through war, he has neither luxury nor appetite for politicians and the immoral games they play to retain power.  Mother Night deals with evil and its ambiguity.  And the sad fact that as much as two people love each other and want to separate themselves from the troubles of the larger world, it’s simply not possible to do so.  The reasons for this are far too obvious but since we have difficulty seeing the obvious, novels like this are necessary.


Space Ads

So, I’ve got enough stuff to worry about down here—the chimney needs some attention, that backyard gate still doesn’t hang right, and Giant keeps on running out of the cereal I buy—to have to turn my attention to space.  I love outer space, although, unlike some people I’ve never been there.  One of the simple pleasures in life is to be outdoors at the lake and watching the night sky where there’s no light interference.  Then I learned about space advertising.  You see, as an editor you get to read about all kinds of topics, and this came up in a proposal one time.  I had no idea that companies had been proposing billboards in space to fly across our nighttime skies.  It’s hard enough to use the internet anymore without hacking your way through a jungle of ads, and now they want to clutter our view of the nighttime sky so there’s no escaping capitalism.

“Space, the final frontier.”  This is a mantra that many of us grew up with in the sixties.  Most of us can’t afford to, and really have no desire to, go into space.  Born down here, we’re content to stay down here.  That doesn’t mean we can’t look at the sky with wonder.  Already you can’t go to the beach or a stadium event without planes flying banners trying to draw your mind back to the commercial world.  Even in remote forests you can find litter stamped with some company’s logo, trying to sell you more.  It’s enough to make you want to get to space to get away from it all.  Now that companies can afford to fly people to space as tourists—this is pretty strictly limited to the top one percent, of course—they feel they have the right to clutter the nighttime skies so that you’ll have that midnight urge to go buy a Tesla.

The original space advertising?

At this time of year we look to the nighttime sky in hopes of seeing a special star.  People with too much money cause so many unnecessary problems for the rest of us.  This has been apparent throughout history, but has been brought into sharper focus in the days of late capitalism.  Having too much only makes you want more, it seems.  And since other people have some you need to flash your company in their faces constantly.  From what I’ve read the only reason space advertising hasn’t really taken off is that it costs millions to get your ad up there.  Despite inflation it seems that these kinds of costs always come down.  And yet you can’t even get a contractor to come out and do something about that deck that’s falling apart.  And I do hope that they’ll have my cereal at the store this week.


Yule Tidings

Happy Yule!  One of the things my British colleagues find hard to believe is how Dickensian American employers are about days off around the holidays.  Corporations tend to give one day for Christmas, and you can hear them grumbling, “I suppose you must have the whole day?” even as they give it.  Christmas is, however, a season.  The twelve days begin on the 25th, but Yule starts today.  Yule marks the solstice—the fewest hours (minutes) of daylight occur today.  Tomorrow daylight will start to grow longer, although it will take many days before we begin to notice any difference.  I know this reflects a northern hemisphere bias, but having read about how less time is necessary for work, given technology, I wonder if there might not be a more equitable solution to this hemispheric focus.

What if we regularly gave generous time off around the holidays to recharge our batteries—renew our spirits—for both hemispheres?  What if we gave our southern neighbors the benefit of, say, a week off in June, after the summer solstice?  And what if we joined them as well?  Only the most uninformed believe that Jesus of Nazareth was born on December 25.  The best that those facile with calendars and history  can do is that he was likely born in the spring, so why not split the difference and offer rest and respite in both December and June?  Bean counters who equate every second in front of the screen as adding to the bottom line (a fable as sure as anything the brothers Grimm recorded) might need to be the ones leading the way.  Rest is important.  Time to think about something else.

Yule is an ancient celebration.  We don’t know how far back in history it goes because there are no records of its earliest celebration.  Before computers, before the industrial revolution, it was recognized that little truly productive outdoor work could be done during the winter months.  Obviously we can’t sit around and do nothing all the way til March, but these very short days bridging the end and beginning of what we now recognize as the new year, are custom-made for reflection and renewal.  Why not encourage it?  Perhaps the bean counters could use it to read A Christmas Carol.  Maybe they could set aside their abacuses and reflect on the wonder of the seasons that suggest to us that now is the time to rest and wait for the light to return.  Let’s truly celebrate Yule.


For the Eyes

A Welsh horror film?  Lately Euro-horror has caught my attention.  European sensibilities give horror a distinctive flavor, and The Feast doesn’t pull the usual horror tricks.  And reading the subtitles keeps you on your toes.  It’s more a slow build that manages to be unnerving from the start.  A family of four—parents and two boys in their late teens or early twenties—is hosting a feast.  A local girl, Cadi, is hired to help cater the affair.  The family is really seeking to get a neighbor to allow exploratory mineral drilling on her land.  She refuses, horrified when they mention that they’ll only drill on the rise.  The neighbor, aghast, says they know better because they’ll awaken “her.”  The unnamed her is a goddess who is within the rise and who’s been disturbed by the family’s drilling on the land adjacent to their neighbors’ property.

A number of aspects push this beyond Euro-horror.  The goddess, treated as superstition by the family, introduces religion into the horror.  (Cadi, as it turns out, died on her way to the house and the goddess inhabited her body.)  The remote location and role of the countryside also bring this into the folk horror realm.  Having an underlying ecological message, the film is eco-horror as well.  As such it has a positive message, even as all those at the feast, apart from the uncompromising neighbor, die before the evening is out.  Gods will express their wrath.  Although there’s gore, the concept is intelligent and possessed Cady’s unwillingness to speak throughout much of the film adds to the tension.

Horror films with subtitles sometimes don’t work, but The Feast manages pretty well.  Much of the disturbing atmosphere comes from the house.  A modern construction, built over what had formerly been the family’s farm, stands in stark contrast to the natural world all around.  As is often the case in eco-horror, the land is waiting to take its revenge.  It’s a message appropriate for a time when we fail to live up to our own environmental standards, and consider the checks and balances of nature itself as “superstition.”  Maybe a goddess will not awaken and kill everyone at the dinner party, but the wealthy will not be spared, as the movie prophesies.  We share the planet and the earth allows us to survive.  There’s a sense that we deserve to be reminded that living on a finite planet requires careful stewardship of it all.  If you’re going to throw a feast, at least make sure it’s not at the expense of nature.  Some goddesses are best not aroused.


Dark Academia

Over the weekend I “dropped” a new YouTube video on my channel (you can see it here, or by visiting my “YouTube” page in this website’s menu).  It ended up getting a little flurry of interest (1,800 views in the first three days), prompting a friend to tell me that if you pay attention to what’s hot on the internet, you can actually get attention.  That makes sense.  What’s so hot?  Dark academia.  Of course, my video really moves to dark academia adjacent, to what happens to real people when they try to teach religion and run afoul of “doctrine.”  There’s a real disconnect here because if you earn a good Ph.D. you’ll be taught to question everything.  If you’re a doctrinal believer, you’ll question nothing.

I stopped posting on YouTube a few years back because my cheap camera no longer worked.  It lost about three episodes I shot and, discouraged and too busy with writing projects, I gave it up.  I started again because I realized my phone was capable of recording and I had a holder that would stop it from slipping.  So why not?  Topics aren’t really a problem, but shooting and editing a video take a lot more than the eight minutes that result from it all.  Finding the time to edit, and learning how to edit in iMovie, are tasks in themselves.  And I’m an old dog.  Still, I miss that classroom audience.  I’ve been told that blogging is passé, and podcasts take even longer to record.

Some people make a living vlogging.  In fact, “YouTuber” can be a profession.  Those who succeed are often young.  And let’s be honest, a middle-aged white guy in a book-lined study is a tired trope.  Well, it is, in reality who I am.  A teacher at heart, I now try to imagine a virtual audience.  When I first started doing YouTube videos I had a very difficult time imagining an audience.  I fumbled a lot—I don’t script my videos.  If you’re interested in scripted I’ve got this blog right here.  The bump in interest in my dark academia post doesn’t translate to my other videos about my books or related topics.  Still, those are the things I know best and so it’s easiest to talk about them.  And possibly reinventing yourself.  I guess that’s what I’ve tried to do here.  Sloppily, stumblingly, but nevertheless, I’ve been changing my identity.  My YouTube channel’s not that active, but if there’s interest I can explore further reflections on dark academia.


Gift Books

The New York Times recently ran a story suggesting that books are not only the ideal gift, but that this has been the case for a very long time.  The article points out that treasured Roman Saturnalia gifts included scrolls, or the books of the time.  Books are the gift of knowledge—who wouldn’t want that?  Also, I’ve been reading about the fact that money can be any medium of exchange as long as it’s agreed upon.  Why not books?  Being an American, it’s often amazed me how intellectuals are held in such low esteem in this country.  We pay our teachers poorly, we mock those who read “too much” (as if such a thing were possible), and we dismiss what experts of many subjects tell us because we don’t like to admit others might be smarter than we are.

Reading, like arithmetic, doesn’t come naturally to people.  We evolved to survive and reproduce and our brains have that prime directive.  Along the way, however, we learned to communicate effectively and cooperate on large ventures.  These ambitions required wrapping our brains around things like advanced math and learning to interpret squiggles written by somebody else.  Kids, full of energy and needing to play, don’t want to sit down to learn these things.  At least most don’t.  In some parts of the world those who do take naturally to such things are celebrated.  Teachers are venerated.  Learning is revered.  Ironically, in this country where some of the best higher education is available, we want to belittle those who attain it.  We prefer to play with our guns.

Now that the holiday season is upon us, however, I think of reading.  I keep a list of books I would like to have.  It’s well over a hundred titles long.  In a good year I can read sixty or more tomes.  It’s an engine that requires a lot of fuel.  Although in all likelihood I’ll never be able to retire, I keep my books against that time when I fear I might become bored.  Or that my mind might start to slip.  Reading is mental exercise.  In my current writing project, I’ve been discovering new connections almost daily.  Often in unexpected places in books I learned about only in recent months.  I write these words surrounded by books.  There are more in the attic, and more in the next room.  I may not ever have enough money to retire, but if we ever decide that books should be currency—and even if we don’t—I’m wealthy indeed.