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The Need for Fear

There is a lot of scary stuff going on in the world right now. In some ways, Halloween seems silly. Why would any one want to be scared on purpose? Why would we want to celebrate this day? There is real horror in the world and no scary movie about a serial killer, or ghost, or other deadly creature is going to capture the real horrors of this world. I believe it was H.P. Lovecraft who said, “The oldest and deepest emotion humans have is fear. The oldest and deepest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

We fear what we don’t know or understand.

I do agree that horror provides a safe environment for us to be scared. Heck, my last post was all about horrific stories and how much I loved them. I can read the story and think, Man that is messed up. But then I close the book and the story stays there in the fictional world. I may think about it, but all the while I know it is not real. Same with movies. I can watch a scary movie and when it is over it stays in the fictional world.

Most of the time.

Every now and then, something will stick with me and I can’t get it out of my head. I have a near photographic memory, so when I remember something, it never goes away. (Blessing and a curse, people.) I can watch hours and hours of Criminal Minds on reruns, but I have never seen one episode of The Walking Dead. I just can’t do zombie stuff. Probably the only zombie movie I liked was Shaun of the Dead, because it was funny. But I didn’t watch it all the way through. I even watched World War Z, but they weren’t really zombies, so I didn’t feel the same. Even so, I watched through my fingers.

Zombies hit upon a real fear of mine. The idea that we are all mindless beings destined to consume. We are all monsters underneath the veil of civilization. Yeah, it gets to me. I know they are not real. I know in all reality civilization is going to last a good long time. But I still can’t put it in the “fiction” part of my brain. There was a really bad Will Smith movie a few years ago, I am Legend. Remember? There is this moment in the movie that I just can’t forget. It’s not the monsters chasing him, or when the dog died (so sad!). The part that sticks with me is early on in the movie. Smith’s character is putting his wife and daughter on a helicopter to get out of the city. Standing in line is a woman begging him to let her go too. She says, “Please. I’m not sick. I’m not sick.” But she is sick and a thin line of blood drips down her face as she begs him.

That denial. That is what scares me.

There could be a monster within us all, and we are in denial about it. So, no zombies for me. Although recently I tried to write through this fear. I tried writing a story that was a post apocalyptic with zombies and everything.

And I failed miserably.

I just can’t do it yet. I’m not sure why, but it’s not in me. I liked the story that came out. It’s a funny, somewhat sad, and a little dark, story set in LA. But society is not gone. People are not gone. Life is different, but the world keeps turning. I hope to sell it one day, but not to a zombie market.

I’ve been in plenty of scary situations. There was that time it was raining and I was going way too fast on the highway. I took one of the most dangerous exits and damn near flipped my car over. (Thank God, they have changed that exit a few years ago.) Or there was the time when I was on campus as an undergrad and a rattlesnake jumped out in front of me. And then there was the time my car battery died in the parking lot after I got out of class… Hey, I’m okay. I made it through all these scary moments.

My point is that fear in real life is okay too. It is a natural emotion and I don’t think ignoring it is healthy. Halloween can be used to sharpen that emotion in a safe way. After all, the world is still turning and there are plenty of things to fear. Screaming your head off in a movie can be cathartic for some. I know reading creepy stories is for me.

So Happy Halloween folks.

And on November 1st, let’s try and make the world a little better.

Books that Inspire Me #2

Borderlands Books 005

I found the first book in this anthology series in the UNM bookstore. Perusing the general fiction shelf, I saw it sitting in the corner. The cover was so black, I couldn’t make out the title. But when I turned it over and read the back blurb, it hooked me.

No ghosts. No maniacal slashers. Nothing that goes bump in the night. Borderlands is a horror anthology series not concerned with traditional elements of horror fiction. Borderlands is about breaking the mold and pushing the genre and its finest writers to the edge. Hailed as the anthology series of the 90’s, Borderlands will remind you that horror can indeed be horrific. Discover a vampire of an altogether different sort… a man who sows the seeds of his doom in his lawn… a dutiful son whose last duty is his parent’s murder… and more.”

I spent a good part of my teenage years reading Stephen King and Anne Rice, but I wasn’t really familiar with the complete horror world. This was in the 90’s before the internet and you had to go the the bookstore to find a new author. The small bookstores in my area barely had a horror section. I tended to pick up whatever looked interesting or, if the person was famous, whatever seemed to be their latest tale.

This anthology opened me up to a whole new world of authors. Although the first one came out in 1991, I didn’t find it until that day in Albuquerque in 1998. It was the only copy on the shelf and I consider it a blessing that I found it.

That semester, Spring 1998, was a real turning point in my writing career. The previous semester, I had my first creative writing class… and it was a disaster. The professor acted more interested in writing his own work rather than teach us anything. I left that class dejected and thinking that I had no business being a writer. For the first time in my life I wanted to quit. I jetted off to New Mexico (I studied in Maryland for most of my degree.) on an exchange program and figured I would just enjoy my experience and not worry about writing. After all, I wasn’t a writer anymore.

In New Mexico, I took another creative writing class (It was too much of a hassle to drop the class.) and it opened my eyes. This was a real class, with assignments and homework and a professor who worked with the students. She was so kind and thoughtful that to this day, I think she pulled me back from the edge. Finding Borderlands became another stepping stone in my growth as a writer.

For the first time I read works by Harlan Ellison, Bentley Little, Elizabeth Massie, Poppey Z. Brite, etc. This anthology showed me what the horror genre could become. What a story could become. The stories weren’t scary, they were horrific in the old fashioned sense of the world. What truly horrifies us? A run of the mill serial killer? Or maybe a lady who buys a purse made of human skin and likes it? (That’s in volume 2.) None of these stories scared me, but they stuck with me. Even today, I think about some of them, turning them over in my mind at odd moments.

Borderlands Books 003

After I read the first book, I toted it back with me to Maryland. A few years later in 2000, I was living in Virginia and found Book 2 in a dusty corner of Borders (remember them?). A couple years later, I ordered Book 3 and 4 off the internet. As I said above, the first four came out in the early 90’s, but the last edition, From the Borderlands, came out in 2005. Unfortunately, I think most of them are out of print. But if you can get your hands on one or all of them, I would snatch them up. They have sat on my bookshelf for years and I do reread some of the stories from time to time. Answering the Call by Brian James Freeman (Book 5) is one of my favorite short stories of all time.

Borderlands Books 001

Once a year, I go over to Borderlands Press website to see if there are any forthcoming. Sadly, there haven’t been any more. Maybe one day, they will put together another collection. Still, I am happy there were these five. They made a difference in my writing life and I am grateful.

Doing What You Love

A few weeks ago, classical musician Joshua Bell played at a Metro station in DC. Years ago, he played anonymously and the Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten wrote an essay on the experience. A few days ago, singer Erica Badu sang in Times Square. She made $3.60. Both of these experiences got me thinking about doing what you love.

In 1993, I was 16 and took the Strong Interest Test in high school. The result? The first career that popped up for me was Author. Scanning down the paper, I read that my salary would be $16,000. I had no idea what that would be in real world money, but I did know that was low. My classmates had careers like lawyer, or accountant. Their salaries started at $50K. Still, I stared at the paper and thought, Well it’s a start.

Since that moment, I view, any salary I get that is over $16K is a win. I don’t earn any money from my writing and don’t expect to ever get rich. (Unless I get very lucky.) Money will come in time. For now, I’m more focused on building a body of work and getting better at my craft. I’m working anonymously (without the famous reveal of course).

Just out on the corner of the internet, doing my thing.

When you do what you love, there is still hard work. You work and give so much of your time, attention and yes, sanity. Some will think you are crazy, standing out on the corner singing for three bucks. While Erica did this as a stunt, there are plenty of us who are doing for real.

Sing on I say. Not because you want the money, or the attention. You simply want to do this. Everything else is a win.

The Day I Sold My Childhood Violin

Sheet Music

 

Today, I put my childhood violin up for consignment. Since the early 00’s, I’ve been lugging it from apartment to apartment. Once in a while I would open the case to make sure it wasn’t broken. I didn’t play it, but it was a part of me. The feelings were the same as the ones I held for my old pointe shoes. Both were such a part of my childhood that getting rid of them seemed unthinkable. Why would I get rid of a part of my childhood?

Then a few weeks ago, I was digging through my cedar chest looking for a purse, when I realized that I still had my violin, hadn’t played it, and wouldn’t miss it if I got rid of it. Truthfully, I even felt a little guilty because it was a beautiful instrument, probably Japanese made, that was at least fifty years old. And it just sat in my storage chest, collecting dust. I thought the violin deserved to be with someone who would use it, enjoy it, as I had.

I started playing when I was ten. I remember asking my mom, if I could start lessons, and she encouraged me. She had played as a kid and so had her father. My dad wasn’t musically inclined, but he like the idea of his daughter playing the “fiddle”. So, for the next ten years I played.

In school, I didn’t work on the newspaper or hang out with the theater kids. I was a music girl. I played in orchestra and was a flag girl for the marching band. Violin, along with dance (mostly ballet), was my creative outlet. I did write stories, but that was in secret. My writing was a private affair. But music became a wonderful outlet too. I knew I would never be a famous concert violinist, but being a part of a creative community was very fulfilling. We would laugh and joke in class. I hummed classical music, along with the pop songs of the day. I can’t really explain it, but there was something magical about drawing my bow against the strings and hearing a wonderful melody of a song. It was fun and became an area that I could focus myself. (And yeah, it saddens me that music programs are being cut. They add so much to a school experience.)

As I got older, my interest in playing waned. I took a few classes in college, but once I got deeper in my English major, the violin went into storage and floundered there for the next 17 years. Until I took it to the shop today. The same shop my parents went to and bought it for me. The owner even had the original receipt, which he kindly photocopied so I could show my mother. As I filled out the paperwork to consign the violin, one of the shop workers teased me.

Are you sure you want to sell?” Her voice was soft, like she was asking me if I wanted to end an intimate relationship.

Yes,” I said firmly. “I want it to go to someone who will love it and play it.”

Perhaps one day, in another 17 years, I will want to play again. I still set aside one pre-programmed button in my car for the classical station. I flip over every now and then when I want to get my Beethoven on. I still love live concerts and wish I went to more of them. But for now, I am content to be a listener, not a player.

I didn’t feel any sadness leaving my violin in the store. If there is one emotion I could pinpoint, it would be nostalgia. I even took a drive by my childhood home, just because I was in the neighborhood. But there was no regret, no pang of wanting my instrument back. I had loved it and let it go. Now it was time for someone else to love this violin. Maybe they will find a group of odd misfits that love Mozart, or maybe it will be a senior citizen who played as a child and wants to rekindle that love. Who ever gets it will be lucky. I think the violin is filled with positive energy. I should know. It’s from me.

The End is the Beginning is the End

Fall is upon us. The trees are just starting to turn here in the Mid-Atlantic. I’ve never really felt like fall is an ending, just a change. After all, new TV season starts now. (Btw how good is the Good Wife right now? I think it’s the best show on TV. Although Person of Interest is a close second followed by Sleepy Hollow.) In some ways nature is like a circle. It ends and begins and ends again and again. I think I’ll take this month and wrap up any outstanding projects I’m still working on.

As a writer, I’m constantly creating something new. I think up a new story, essay, or blog post. A big problem I have is finishing what I start. Heinlein’s second rule always seems to get me. So as we deepen into fall, I’m going to remember that I must finish what I start. I need to end before I can begin something else. I’m still off from work, so this is a good opportunity to write The End on a few things.

Also, I did say I wanted to finish a longer piece. So far, I’ve just stall out on the story. This is going to require a big push to get it done, but I only have a few more months to go before the end of the year. I can see the goal ahead. I’m heading toward it.

And yes, I stole the title of this post from the Smashing Pumpkins song.