Stephen King Makes My Brain Want To Puke

“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud. ”

That is Stephen King classifying the different types of scares in his book Danse Macabre. I find it’s difficult for me to get a visceral, gross-out kind of reaction from reading. I typically need an aural or visual stimulus to generate those kinds of responses.

Uncle Steve rarely has to go that far down the totem pole with me.

King describes terror as the “finest emotion” and at its core, his brand of horror is real terror. This is also a reason that his works are sometimes problematic for film and television adaptations. Terror is such a cerebral emotion that it’s difficult to translate into an audiovisual medium. Books, as Carl Sagan said, are “an author […] speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.” I’ve read many of King’s works, and there have been a handful that left me exceedingly freaked out. While I read these stories, King became equal parts telepath and mad surgeon, beaming into my brain and playing around with the gray matter.

The first story that filled me with a sense of lingering dread was The Boogeyman. It’s a story about a man relaying to his psychiatrist his experiences with the boogeyman coming out of his children’s closets and killing them. It sounds like such a inane premise, but King really dishes out the dread. It’s in the short story collection Night Shift, which was one of my earliest introductions to his work. I haven’t read it in years but my skin still crawls even thinking about it. I recently discovered there is a short film adaptation that was made in the 80s, so I’ll have to watch that. In like twenty years.

The other story that embedded itself in my reptilian hindbrain is The Road Virus Heads North. Again, I haven’t read this one in years, but I seem to recall it becoming very meta as the story progresses. It’s about a man on a road trip who buys a painting at a yard sale only to notice that its subject is changing as he proceeds on his journey. The changes coincide with grisly news alerts for locations the man – and the painting – has already visited. It’s a story I started late one night and couldn’t put down. I finished it as the sun was rising and I couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes after I was done, so it literally kept me up all night.

Most horror fans get asked this from time to time: “Why would anyone enjoy being scared?” Because we’re already scared. We have fears, anxieties, our very own boogeymen we deal with day to day. Sometimes those get overwhelming simply because they’re in response to abstracts. Stories, movies, games that engage us in a frightening way give us something to direct that nervous energy toward. We see the hero come out on top or we see the realization of worst-case scenario and we ourselves emerge from the story unscathed.

I mentioned before that I don’t usually get a visceral gross-out from reading, but my brain clearly does, because when those words travel from the page through my eyes, up my optic nerves and into my brain, I imagine the white-knuckle, nail-biting, sweaty palm, wide-eyed terror I feel is just my brain being grossed out and vomiting adrenaline all over the place.

What are some of your favorite scary stories? Movies? Games?

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This is a post.

A what?

A post.

A what?

A post.

Oh, a post.

I haven’t done anything for NaNoWriMo. Not a drop in the bucket. I haven’t posted on here in around 2 years, I think. It’s insane how the time flies away. Now or never is perpetually prophetically proverbial.

Whatever you want to do, do it. Make time. Stop absentmindedly watching Netflix while scrolling through Instagram on your phone and trying to hold a conversation with your spouse. Be present. My parents always used to tell me, “people do what they want.” If you wanted to write, if you wanted to read, if you wanted to make movies, if you wanted to educate yourself on history, politics, civics, ANYTHING… you would do it instead of the nothing you always seem to find yourself doing. And don’t overplan. Planning can be another form of procrastination. So can overthinking. The way your brain works is very similar to how everyone else’s brain works, and if a stream of consciousness piece makes sense to you both as you’re writing it and as you reread it, it’ll make sense to your audience. That’s how I write stories. If something is funny to me, chances are it’ll be funny to someone else. If something is tragic, someone else will think it’s tragic. I teared up the other day because my wife and I were watching something I can’t even remember now and it made me think of the times I’ve been in a theater watching a movie I made with an audience and how for me there are few experiences that even come close to that feeling. Hearing that connection as an audience reacts to the things you thought were funny or scary or hurtful or heartwarming. That’s what storytellers are looking for. Some people call it validation, which is absolutely something that we all look for, but in a broader sense, that validation comes from connection. From feeling like you’re not alone. Like any of the other magic meat-covered skeletons hurtling through the infinite vastness of space on this galactic dirtball we call home is in some way having even a fraction of the same experience as you.

I feel so tired and angry and isolated and crowded and busy and bored and desperate and contented.

Life is not binary. It’s not black and white. It’s a mushed up ball of billions of colors of Play-Doh. And things get lost. They fall by the wayside unless you make them a priority. So whatever you’re going to do, do it fast.

Hurricane*

*I trust you’ll understand the reference to an American musical without my havin’ to name the play.

Maybe just a few of you.

That would be enough.

giphy

Today was good. Tough, full of work, but good. Wifey and I decided to make our rental house a little more home-y. Forget that I’ve never needed to hang things on plaster walls (wall anchors and special masonry drill, in case you’re interested). Forget that we have a 3-year-old daughter and an anxious border collie that both hated the loud noises coming from the drill. Forget that while putting our bed frame back together after years of box springs on the floor, I smashed my finger between two heavy pieces of steel. Forget that we were working around the mess me made as we worked. Forget all that. We were determined to make our house our home.

We hung pictures, art, and a clock.

We installed curtains to erase the mini-blinds.

We put our bed back on its frame for the first time in almost three years.

At the end of the day, after the kiddo was sawing logs in her big-girl bed and the cousin-dog who had been our weekend-long guest was safely back home, we decided to get some Taco Bell.

That’s when the storm came through.

I was sitting in the drive-thru when I saw the first big flash of lightning and Wifey texted me that we were apparently getting a big storm, like… Soon.

It was mostly lightning and some scattered rain from what I could tell. No big deal.

I paid for my order, took the bag, and drove off into more lightning and rain. It almost seemed to have eased up.

As soon as I got onto my street, someone gave the order to turn on the RAIN.

“Of course. NOW it starts raining like this,” I said as I pulled into my driveway.

It has always been my experience in rainstorms that if I’m inside, it’s raining less than when I go outside. It has also been my experience that if I’m ready to make the transition from inside to out, that the rain will just build and build until I acknowledge my defeat and trudge out into the every-type-of-rain-they-is scene from Forrest Gump.

Vietnam Rain

Tonight was no exception.

I turned off the car and grabbed the drinks and bag, and the rain came down harder. I opened the door and stepped out. The rain came down harder. I walked toward the house, and the rain came down even harder. I was regretting my decision not to wear a coat into the rainless night that had greeted me when I left the house earlier.

I was about halfway to the door when the rain shredded the paper bag in my right hand and threw all the food on the ground.

maxresdefault

PIctured: Rain

Much like the father in A Christmas Story, I wove a tapestry of obscenities that, for all we know, may still be hanging in the air over Lake Michigan. This persisted as I crouched to snatch the sabotaged sustenance, cradled it to my body like a mother protecting their child, and fished my keys out of my pocket to open the as-yet-locked side door of our house.

As soon as I was inside, I put the food and drinks down on the counter and witnessed the carnage of orange Taco Bell greasemeat all over my favorite white button-up. I now lamented my decision not to wear my nice, black coat.

Or I would have, if I hadn’t been so busy Hulking out.

I was so enraged in that moment that I literally ripped the front of my shirt open and heard buttons ricochet off the walls. I tore the shirt off, balled it up, and spat something about how the damn thing was ruined anyway before whipping it into the trash.

I had gone from “rain is sometimes inconvenient” to “SKYWATER HAS RUINED MY LIFE” in the span of maybe two minutes.

I got soaked, the bag ripped, the food got waterlogged, and my shirt got ruined; You could say things compounded.

My wife, who had been in the bedroom comforting our drill-hating border collie that also hates storms and had taken up emergency residence under our newly reformed bed, came out to see me soaked and shirtless and fuming. Naturally she asked if I was okay, and all I could do was stand there with the angry face I inherited from my mother and breathe heavily through my flaring nostrils.

This is an artist’s representation of what followed:

bettycalmshulk

Best of wives and best of women.

In hindsight, I knew it was stupid to rage. But not in the moment. Oh, no. Never in the moment.

Fast-forward to a few hours later. I was back outside with the dogs. No rain. I looked up into the sky. All stars. No clouds.

Not a single cloud.

And I realized, “Well, that’s life.”

I had a beautiful, productive, fun- and love-filled day with my family, and then a short, scattered, and furious thunderstorm whirled in and hurled my world into disarray.

I got angry, destroyed one of my favorite shirts, and injected the memory of this awesome day with a childish tantrum that I can’t un-throw.

Life is filled with storms. Storms don’t last. Weather them with as much calm and care as you can, or you can lose things that matter to you.

And remember that the skies will be clear again.

May The Odds Be Never In Your Favor

THE POWERBALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL.

Apparently

Everyone’s talking about the Powerball. And why not? We all peed our pants when it hit the $500mil+ range. Now it’s set to double that.

Like, a WEEK later.

Where does this money come from? Oh, right. TICKET SALES.

What drives ticket sales up? HAVING A GIANT JACKPOT.

What’s bigger than the jackpot? THE ODDS AGAINST YOU WINNING.

I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know. The adage that “the lottery is just a tax on people who are bad at math” has its basis in reality. MoneyMiniBlog’s article entitled 24 Things That Are More Likely to Happen Than Winning the Lottery lays out that the odds of winning either the Powerball or MegaMillions is about 1 in 176,000,000. The next most likely thing to happen is, Survey Says…

SurveySaysVendingMachine

That’s right. You’re more likely to be killed by a vending machine than you are to win the Powerball. And that’s during a regular playing period, not one with a billion dollar jackpot.

I’m willing to bet that most people don’t walk around in constant terror of being killed by a vending machine (because everyone knows it’s the ice machines you really have to watch out for)…

…but it’s more likely to happen than winning the lottery.

That people continue to play the lottery doesn’t amaze me. We’re people. We’re always ready to receive something for nothing, no matter how long of a shot it may be. In one sense, it shows the hope people have that even against mathematically astronomical odds, things might work out well for them. But to be honest, the lottery really pisses me off.

Who runs the lottery? The state. Where do the proceeds from the lottery go? To the state. Maybe it’s designated to go to education, or parks & rec, or one of other innumerable projects. What typically happens, according to a 2001 report by ABC News, is that the funds simply allow the slashing of those projects’ original budgets, the funds from which the government can allocate somewhere else.

What’s odd to me about this is that some people that play the lottery wouldn’t want to pay higher taxes in order to provide more money to the government for anything, be it education, roads, or welfare (the corporate variety is okay, just not actual people who might need it to survive, because it’s far more likely that they’re abusing the system and will leech off my money that I worked hard for and go get a job you bum illegal TRUMPTRUMPTRUMPTRUMPTRUMP), but will gladly fork over their hard-earned dollar for the chance to be the one receiving money for doing nothing.

Whether you play the lottery or not, whether you believe in welfare or not, whether you’re still reading this or not; don’t you see anything wrong with the fact that the U.S. has issues with supporting its poor, its hungry, its homeless, and sometimes even its veterans, but we have a game of chance with a jackpot nearing or surpassing A BILLION DOLLARS that comes directly from the pockets of United States citizens?

Then again, when was the last time the USA was the best at math?

2016: A Nowtrospective

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which I’ve not read, btw), author Stephen R. Covey declares one of the titular habits thusly: Begin with the End in Mind.

Real original, dude. Begin your New Year’s post with a quote from a culture-saturating motivational book.

Hey, shut up. This is my post, and I’ll do what I want with it.

*ahem*

It’s with that idea in mind that I’m doing a New Year’s restrospective, not on the year that has just ended, but rather with the year that lies ahead.

You know this whole “New Year” thing is really a misnomer. It’s just another day. You can make changes at any second of any minute of any day of any month of any year. But hey, yaaaaaaaay inspiration! Tony Robbins, blahblahblah.

HermioneDeathLook

Sorry.

new_year_2016

In 2016, I:

  1. Did All the Things I Set Out to Do.

EndofListLemon

I’m going to admit that this list is not a complete one.  In a book that I actually read this year called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (lotta Ste(v/ph)ens in this game, apparently), one of the things he talked about was not sharing your goals with everyone. The idea behind that is if you share your goals, dreams, intentions, etc., with everyone, you get a false sense of accomplishment just by laying out that list. I had always thought that spelling out your goals for others to see would make them hold you responsible should you start to slip or pull some much-needed encouragement when things get rough.

The flaw with that plan, besides weighing everyone else down with the responsibility of keeping your divergent butt on track, you’re also surrendering the active ownership of your goals to other people.

Nobody is going to do the work I need to do for me. Nobody else can. I know several people that would love to, have asked how to help, and offered whatever they have in order to help me. The answer is simple.

I have to do the work.

I’ve never been good at doing the work. In school, once I learned how to do something, homework was useless to me because I didn’t see the point. That was from elementary school. It took me many years and thousands upon thousands of dollars in student loan debt to understand the value of doing the work and seeing it turn into good grades, opportunities, and eventually my first published academic paper.

In another book I read this year–

Why isn’t this just the list of books you read this year?

DeanRealization

–That’s not a bad idea. Maybe when I’m done waxing philosophical. On Writing by Stephen King. It’s an amazing read, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. In this guide, the creepiest dude in Maine lays it out like this: “Amateurs wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

On Writing and The War of Art have had a great influence on me this year, and what I took away from both of them was that the most important thing is to do the work. Reading these books, I felt like Bart Simpson at the chalkboard scrawling out line after line of “I will do my work.”

“I will do my work” doesn’t just apply to writing, though. I have many goals that I want to see fulfilled so I can look back on 2016 and be satisfied that I did everything I could to make those goals become realities.

One goal I had from 2015 was to read more. Now that the year is over, I’ll share with you the list of books I read in 2015.

  • On Writing – Stephen King
  • The Shining – Stephen King
  • V for Vendetta – Alan Moore
  • The Last Days of Video – Jeremy Hawkins
  • Button, Button / Uncanny Stories – Richard Matheson
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
  • Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
  • Ready Player One – Ernest Cline (previously read)
  • Ultimate Spider-Man TPBs vols. 1-22 – Brian Michael Bendis
  • Ultimate X-Men TPBs vols. 1-12 – Mark Millar, et al.
  • Tough Sh*t – Kevin Smith
  • Carrie – Stephen King
  • In the Blink of an Eye – Walter Murch
  • Deadpool Kills Deadpool – Cullen Bunn
  • TMNT/Ghostbusters – Erik Burnham & Tom Waltz
  • Gotham by Gaslight – Bryan Augustyn
  • Superior – Mark Millar & Leinil Yu
  • Tales From the Script – Peter Hanson & Paul Robert Herman
  • The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
  • Dancing Barefoot – Wil Wheaton
  • Jaws – Peter Benchley
  • Y: The Last Man Deluxe Books 1-3 – Brian K. Vaughn & Pia Guerra

Jeez, there are sure a lot of comic books–

You read through V for Vendetta and tell me it’s not a novel that happens to have pictures. But sure. Not counting comics, I still read 14 books this year. I started more than that, but I’ve only included the books I finished. I guess that could be a subheading for my one-item list up there:

In 2016, I:

  1. Finished What I Started.
It's too good to use just once.

It’s too good to use just once.

 

I’m off to a good start. I finished this post.

Happy New Year, everyone.

WE’VE SURPASSED THE FUTURE FROM BACK TO THE FUTURE AND NOW I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MY LIFE

Do the work.

Consumption vs. Creation

All artists struggle with creation. It’s grueling, terrifying, discouraging, revealing, time-consuming, and can be very expensive. All media comes with a varying amount of not only monetary expense, but also expense of time.

Really, expense of time applies to everything we do. Do you watch a movie, or read a book? Do you stay up late to do homework, or go to bed early? Do you clean the garage, or do the dishes? Everything comes at the expense of something else. Want to multitask? Too bad it’s not really possible.

Unfortunately for artists, one of the ways we acquire knowledge, experience, and ideas is the consumption of other artists’ work. You find out what works and what you like in movies, books, art, music, design, etc., by sifting through the mountains of work that have already been produced. This becomes an easy excuse not to create. “I’m studying my craft.” And there’s nothing wrong with studying. By all means, do it. But don’t let it get in the way of creating your own work. Creating your own work is invaluable. It lets you work out the kinks on your own, and you learn so much more from doing something yourself than you will ever learn by watching someone else do it.

Even if you fail. Even if it’s terrible. Even if you feel the distinct need to spit on it, cut it in half and set it on fire.

You will learn. You will grow. You will become better and faster and more confident. You’ll find your own voice instead of clinging to someone else’s.

We are what we do.

Will you consume? Or will you create?

6 Things Nobody Gives A Shit About

It’s July. Harry Potter’s birthday is coming up.

HappeeBirthdaeHarry

“Afraid I might have sat on it at some point, but I imagine it’ll taste fine just the same.”

I turned 32 last month, and I’ve always felt my birthday acts in tandem with New Year’s as a semi-annual review and analysis of where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. This mid-2014 review has left me feeling down in the dumps. I made the dean’s list the past three semesters, which is a feat heretofore unheard of for me. I submitted a paper on metahorror to my university’s academic journal at the request of my professor. I won an award for best original score at the film festival, and was nominated in the screenplay and editing categories.

MattFoleyLahDeeFrickinDah

I was also laid off in February. That has dominated a fair amount of my mood over the past five months. I felt discounted. Expendable. Why was I so easy to let go? I’m smart. I’m nice. I’m friendly. I’m lots of adjectives.

The time I’ve had to spend with my wife and daughter has been amazing, but it’s been tainted by this looming threat of no work and no money, compounded by the inevitability of my unemployment running out. Being unemployed, mixed with my complacency and sense of righteous indignation over being (in my estimation) unfairly let go have added nothing but tension at home. Lots of late nights that only ended in frustration, fear, helplessness, indecision, and sometimes, tears.

After our most recent session, I focused on how I had gotten where I was. I remembered a Cracked article I read a couple of years ago entitled “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person“. It’s an excellent article that lives up to its title. It’s harsh. It’s true. And it helps you become a better person. For the TL;DR crowd, or those that don’t like clicking off to other pages in the middle of an article, I’ll boil down the article to its headings:

  • The World Only Cares About What It Can Get From You
  • The Hippies Were Wrong
  • What You Produce Does Not Have To Make Money, But It Does Have To Benefit People
  • You Hate Yourself Because You Don’t Do Anything
  • What You Are Inside Only Matters Because Of What It Makes You Do
  • Everything Inside You Will Fight Improvement

You’re lucky I don’t just repost the entire article here, because it’s worth it. I’ll just link the scene from Glengarry Glen Ross (Foley, 1992) that the author references multiple times. ***Fair Warning*** NSFW language in this clip.

Remember how I said I was a lot of adjectives before? We’re all a bunch of adjectives. People can’t use adjectives. People need verbs.

"Dad... Is this the no follow-through speech?"

“Dad… Is this the no follow-through speech?”

After reading that article, I was struck particularly by the sections titled “The World Only Cares About What It Can Get From You”, and “You Hate Yourself Because You Don’t Do Anything.” I thought about what shortcomings I have as far as who I am versus what I do, and was inspired to compile the titular list of…

6 THINGS NOBODY GIVES A SHIT ABOUT

1. Your Past

I’m not saying a potential employer has no interest or right to perform a background check, or that your sexual history shouldn’t matter to your future spouse. Your past may be sparkling with meritorious efforts that defy human limitation. But that’s not going to matter if you can’t deliver on those expectations now.

Think of it as a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately situation. The Sixth Sense (Shyamalan, 1999) is a taut and subtle masterpiece of terror, isolation,  and uncertainty. The last Shyamalan film I saw was The Happening (2008). The fact that The Sixth Sense is great does not make me want to see the dude’s new films.

Pass.

Pass.

Just because you’ve done great things in the past does not entitle you to do nothing in the future. You must continue proving yourself, or people will discard you.

2. Your Potential

Just like your past, your potential is not a guarantee of the quality of your future. Unlike your past, your potential may be some immeasurable, amorphous, invisible thing to everybody but you. And let’s face it, you may be lying to yourself about your potential. A jet engine has the potential to fall right out of the sky and land on you as you read this. But it’s probably not going to happen.

"You're welcome."

“You’re welcome.”

Saying you have untapped potential is a nice way to feel better about yourself even though you’re not producing, creating, achieving, or trying anything. But nobody cares about all the amazing crap you’ve never made or done for the same reason you can’t buy anything with bars of gold-pressed latinum: they don’t exist. M. Night may not be putting butts in the seats like he used to, but he’s far more likely to get a directing job than someone who’s written and directed 17 different versions of alternate Star Wars prequels in their head.

comic-book-guy

Worst. Star Trek reference. Ever.

You want to have other people realize your potential? You have to at least partially realize it yourself first.

3. Your Insecurities

People are far too busy  to reassure you that you’re awesome, wonderful, pretty, and talented. You have to tell yourself that you’re awesome, wonderful, pretty, and talented.

"Time for our daily affirmation."

“Time for our daily affirmation.”

If you walk into an audition, an interview, a party, or a bathroom and have to ask yourself if you belong there, you don’t. Nobody is going to tell you that you belong there, they’ll just show you the door. Why should they waste time reassuring you when there are tens, hundreds, maybe thousands of people that know they belong there and will gladly and quickly take your place?

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got about interviewing/auditioning/etc. is that everybody wants you to be the one. That director? She wants you to be the perfect person to fill this role. That supervisor? She wants you to be the ideal candidate for this job. Leave your insecurities at the door and let them form their own opinion.

4. Your Opinion 

So you didn’t like Transformers 4? Nobody cares.

"I'll say hi to your mother myself."

“I’ll say hi to your mother myself.”

Your opinion doesn’t hold a lot of weight even when people want it. It holds less when it’s unsolicited. I realize that saying that in what is essentially an advice piece like this might seem conflicting. No one said you had to read this. Stop now. Or don’t. I don’t care. I’m not really doing this for you. BECAUSE I DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT YOUR OPINION.

ISeeWhatYouDidThere

Bottom line: If people want your opinion, they will ask you. And even then, they probably won’t care.

5. Your Hurt Feelings

Has someone made fun of you or something you made? Has someone rejected you, berated you, yelled at you? Has this list made you feel threatened, ridiculed, or hurt? Are you offended?

Offended

That should prepare you for how much someone out there will care that you’re offended. Or hurt. Or overlooked.

I was a senior in high school when a friend of mine ditched me and sold me out. Two years later, a mutual friend asked why it was still bothering me; the ditcher never mentioned it. I explained that if someone steps on your foot, they’re not really affected by it like you are. They keep walking while you deal with the pain.

And that sucks. But it’s the way it is. And the sooner you realize that, the sooner you can stop whining about it and direct that whining energy into something that counts.

6. Your Excuses

This is the big one. Excuses will wreck you. There’s that old adage: If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way; if not, you’ll find an excuse.

Nobody wants to hear:

  • Why you screwed up.
  • Why it’s not done.
  • Why you couldn’t get to it.
  • Why you’re late.
  • Why you’re sorry.
  • That you’re sorry.

That’s a short list of crap that people don’t want to hear. Believe me. I know. People don’t want to deal with the fact that whatever you said would happen didn’t. They don’t want to deal with an excuse on top of disappointment. They want results. Don’t make excuses, make it happen.

Cap'n optional.

Cap’n optional.

The most important person that doesn’t give a shit about your excuses should be you. We have this ability called rationalization that is both great and terrible. The great thing is it helps you feel better about yourself when there is literally nothing you could have done to affect an outcome. The terrible thing is it allows you to justify not doing absolutely everything within your power to affect an outcome.

Ten years from now, if you’ve made excuses not to do things, try things, challenge yourself, or exceed your own expectations, nobody is going to be more affected by that than you.

Ultimately, you should be your own harshest critic because your success is just one more thing nobody else is going to give a shit about.

This list was self-targeted to the point of being therapeutic. These are things I didn’t want to hear when I was younger. They’re things I didn’t want to hear when I was writing them. But they are things that I absolutely believe will benefit you if you let them.

Thanks for reading.