Sunday, September 25, 2016

In Defense of Horror

While taking a ride through the Wisconsin countryside the other day, I was finally confronted with the reality that fall is on its way. It isn't chilly yet, but the leaves are showing their first glints of gold and the roadsides are littered with pumpkin stands as the first orange fruits make their way out of the ground.

For some people, fall is that transitional season that means time outside looking at the leaves, going back to school after a break, or switching from regular lattes to pumpkin spice lattes. I've done all these things in the fall, and I enjoy fall because of its beauty and its devotion to pumpkin spice. But for me fall is also a time when I transition into darker themes. Perhaps because I am aware of the impending darkness of winter, I will often abandon even the most golden of autumn days for a more sinister activity. No, I'm not running around killing black cats or anything like that. Usually I'm sitting inside glued to the glare of my TV screen as I try to find the newest scary thing to watch. If it's on Netflix and it falls into the category of "horror," chances are I've seen it.

I've also seen all the old classics and everything else in between. I love horror. I watch it until I feel nauseous, my eyeballs are sore from staring wide-eyed at a screen for hours, and I'm too scared to move or go to sleep for fear of getting murdered. Fall is the one and only time that I binge-watch TV, and I don't think this habit is going to change for me any time soon.

The older I get, the more I realize I am lonely in my addiction to terror. It's hard to find a buddy to watch horror movies with. Obviously there's a demand for them, since they keep being made. But I often wonder if it's a small cult of people I've never met before that like to watch them. It's very rare that I say I like the genre of horror and someone agrees with me. Most people say they can't handle it, don't want to watch it, and avoid it at all costs.

It's also a little embarrassing to admit to liking it. People think there is something wrong with you if you like horror films. I don't know why this is, but this is how it is. If you say you like horror films you might as well just say, "I like murdering people."

Needless to say, there is little similarity between murdering a person and watching a horror film, but that's beside the point. In my world, watching horror is fun, and I've accrued a long list of recommendations over the years for anyone who might be interested in, I don't know, murdering people (a.k.a. watching horror movies). Here's a list of some movies I've watched that I've enjoyed, in no particular order.

The Evil Dead (1981)
I've never seen the 2013 remake, so I can't defend that one, but the original trilogy is awesome. People often joke about the film's low budget but I'll take experimental cinematography over phony CGI any day. 

The Shining (1980)
Oddly, I usually watch this film in the winter rather than around Halloween. I think it's because it takes place in the dead of winter and TV networks used to play it around this time. Like a true horror addict, I love Stephen King, and this is the best of his book-to-film adaptations in my opinion.

Paranormal Activity (2007)
Overall, the entire Paranormal Activity series is really bad. The acting is terrible, the plot shallow, and the effects unbelievable. It's sort of like The O.C. of horror films. But after watching this movie you'll be pinned to a wall at night, unable to move out of sheer terror. There's something about watching demonic activity happen in a normal neighborhood in a boring pre-fab, cookie-cutter home that makes the whole thing feel way too real.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Although I don't find this film to be particularly scary, I do think it's a really good film, and Mia Farrow brings to life an anxiety about motherhood that is very convincing and raw. 

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
This film is a classic that is probably on everyone's favorite horror movie list, but that's because it's so freakin' good. For me it's the music and the tense chase scenes that leave you glancing backwards for the next couple of days. 

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
I watch this film probably once every two years. The whole thing is terrifying, but the scene in Buffalo Bill's basement is one of the most stressful scenes ever filmed. Not to mention Jodie Foster is a complete badass in this movie.

The House of the Devil (2009)
This film is great because it feels like a classic horror flick from the 1980s, but is actually from 2009. The scariest part is that almost nothing scary happens until the end of the film, at which point you are so exhausted from the suspense that you can barely handle the film's gruesome denouement. 

The Exorcist (1973)
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Duh. This is the best horror film ever made. There is nothing that came before or after it that even begins to compete with the unbearable torture of watching innocent Regan transform into a demon before your eyes. Not to mention the film set is known to be cursed, one of the actors turned out to be a serial killer, and it was the first film to ever use subliminals (such as a flashing devil face in the corner of the screen). Agggghhhhhh!!!!!!!

The VVitch (2016)
So. Good. I can't. Even. Handle it. If you haven't seen this movie, you are missing out on one of the best films ever made. The pacing of this film alone is enough to leave you paralyzed in your chair, but it also has top-notch acting, an ingenious soundtrack, and stunning cinematography. Some people say it's about shaming women at their coming of age. I would have to disagree. This is a celebration of women in all of their strength, glory, and wicked brutality. 

Nosferatu (1922)
The oldest film on my list is so impressive because it manages to create a sense of dread with barely any dialogue. I once watched this movie on a deserted floor of my college's library and was too scared to get up to go to the bathroom by myself.

Making a Murderer (2015)
This is the only non-fiction film on my list...or is it? This documentary hits close to home because it examines the murder of Theresa Halbach, a young woman who was murdered in my home state and was around my same age when she died. Although the documentary isn't supposed to fit in the "horror" genre, it's terrifying in so many ways, from the exposure of a corrupt local justice system to the fear that murder can happen even in small, seemingly innocent towns.

Halloween (1978)
Another classic. It's so good that every single horror film made since 1978 has tried to copy "the gaze" technique used to embody Michael Myers's stalkerish hunt for his sister, whom he tries to murder throughout the film. 

I chose these films because to me they are examples of high quality. It's frustrating that people think the horror genre is all crappy, one-star films with horrible acting and no intellectual or artistic merit. A lot of horror films are like this, but not all. There are plenty of high quality horror films, and when a horror film is done well, it can stand out by a long shot from a non-horror film. In fact, most of the films I like outside of the horror genre are still pretty dark, and at least two or three films from the list above are on my list of favorite films of all-time. Notice how I said that this is a list of films that I enjoy. Yes, I truly enjoy horror, and I think that horror done well is the highest form of filmmaking art.

To the people who say they don't like horror I ask you this: Why? What's so bad about being scared? When we look at art, any kind of art, do we want to be bored or complacent after viewing it? Doesn't good art inspire a reaction? If this reaction just so happens to be terror, why is this a bad thing? Most of us in the United States live pretty comfortable lives in the year 2016. We're rarely in danger of anything hunting us, we have good protection against weather extremes, and for the most part we always know where our food is going to come from. (Of course there are marginalized and underprivileged people in this country and in the world. I'm not stupid. I know that. I'm just saying in general). For the more paranoid, we might worry from time to time about our safety when walking alone at night, foreign and domestic terror attacks, and things like plane and car crashes. But do we really have the capacity to imagine what it would be like to have a man with knives for fingers chasing us through a foggy dream world at night, or a crazy family of Satanists locking us in a house and planning to sacrifice us to the devil at midnight? It's not like there's a huge chance that these things could ever happen to us. But they could. (Case in point, look up Henry Chase, a.k.a "The Vampire Killer" of Sacramento, CA).

Avoiding scariness is like avoiding the bitter taste of food. We purposely avoid bitter foods because they taste bad, but they're good for us. They make it easier to digest foods that aren't bitter. Scariness is the same thing. We are capable as humans of feeling the emotion of "scared," so why not feel it from time to time? When we come back from periods of scaredness, we are so much more thankful for the warm glow of the sun outside, the protection of our friends and family around us, and the fact that our world is so much less scary than the world inside a horror film. Not to mention, does it really hurt to be on your toes from time to time? The sad fact of life is that bad things happen. People get murdered, assaulted, and kidnapped, and this is never going to stop. Is it so bad to take extra precautions every once in awhile? Or to let your imagination go to a dark place so that you can avoid dark places in reality?

In defense of horror, I'm glad that it exists. Horror movies don't materialize. They are created by human minds who have experienced fear and understand how to make others feel fear. This is an important talent to preserve as we enter into the age of "trigger warnings" and "politically correct," overly-sensitive labels. Essentially, we are primping a generation of youngsters who want to avoid feeling uncomfortable at all costs. To that I say: screw that. Life is uncomfortable. I would rather say I reached into the deep, dark trenches of human emotion and prepared myself for a disruption of comfort before it catches me off guard. I am not saying that horror is going to save the world or anything like that. I'm just saying that the world is a little bit scary, and a little bit shitty from time to time, and I don't want to ignore that. Why do you?

Monday, July 25, 2016

In Progress #5

Writing a book is hard, guys!

Well, no, I should rephrase that. The actual "writing" isn't that bad. It's the organizing, and the designing, and the getting people to answer to your weird emails that say "Hi I'm writing a book about RVs." That and the panicked nightmares. (Last night I had a dream that the Wisconsin Gazette edited my book and changed it to something more "marketable" which included changing the title, and the entire layout.)

I'm reallllly hoping to finish everything by the end of my stay at the Wormfarm, but it is all dependent on other people getting back to me. This is a relatively annoying position to be in, because other people are generally incompotent (at least in my experience).

In the meantime, here's one last sketch to tide you over. By the next time I write I hope I'll be saying I'M DONEZO.

P.S. Thank again to all those who contributed to my Kickstarter! As you know I'm FUNDEDDDD. However, you may still order a book if you'd like by August 4th.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

In Progress #4

Thank you to all those who donated to my Kickstarter in the first week! I feel super cool to be over halfway funded in only a week's time. I have awesome people in my life! Please continue to share the project with friends until the deadline of August 4th.

In other news, I had a great interview yesterday that I'm very excited about. Here is a super short excerpt from a section called "Community," which will focus on a group called the National African American RV'ers Association (NAARVA):

"As I tried to get ahold of NAARVA to ask them a few questions, I had a serendipitous experience and accidentally ended up on the phone with the former president of NAARVA as she was driving across the country from Las Vegas, in an RV, to the national NAARVA rally in Eustis, Florida. I kid you not, this actually happened.

Anne Shearer-Seele was more than happy to talk to me on the phone even though she was operating her rig with one hand. She told me that if she saw a cop coming she would just hang up on me and put the phone down. I told her that was okay. I was just amazed that I ended up with NAARVA's most knowledgeable member on the phone after thirty calls to their headquarters in Charlotte, NC."

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

In Progress #3

Things are still beautiful and challenging on the farm. Last night there was a huge storm and we lost power briefly. It's going to be a hot week and we had the first day of heat yesterday. Mice, spiders, coyotes, cows, continue to remind us that they are our constant companions. But the work progresses! Here is an excerpt from a cool interview I did with some "green" RVers:

"What is one place that you have visited that you wouldn’t have been able to visit without your RV?

There haven’t been places we’ve been able to visit because we have an RV. If anything, certain places are harder to visit because of the size of our RV. Rather, if we weren’t living the nomadic lifestyle, we wouldn’t be able to visit so many places because we weren’t able to dedicate so much time to traveling in our previous lifestyle. We would have said, “We’ll go to XYZ when we have X amount of time.” But the reality of it is that there are too many places to visit and too little time. With our current lifestyle, we’ve essentially created more time and opportunities to travel. In the last year, we’ve been to enough different places to account for 20 years’ worth of 2-week vacations – in a way you could say that every place we visit from now onward is a place we could not have seen otherwise."

I have also launched a Kickstarter to help me fund the printing of my RV book. You can view the full project below. Thanks to everyone who helped me get off to a great start! I'm already closer to achieving my $750 goal. Share with anyone who you think might give a hoot!

Friday, July 1, 2016

In Progress #2

How long have I been here now? I have no concept of that. The days are really unimportant. I was shocked to find out it's almost the 4th of July. The only indicator of time is that I don't have to do farm work on the weekends. Otherwise it all sort of blends. 

I've come way farther on my project in the short time that I've been here than I thought I would. I've still got lots to do, though. I've been "designing" (quotation marks because I suck at designing) a book in Blurb, trying to put all of these words into an object that people might pick up and read. 

I've also conducted a few more interviews, and am realizing all of the holes that need to be filled in this RV story. Here's another short excerpt: 

"An RV is astronomically less expensive than a house. They run anywhere from $9,000 to $100,000, with only class A motorized RVs exceeding this price. There’s no typical customer. That day at the dealership I saw everyone from older couples to single women roaming around the lot, asking questions like, “What’s the best model to buy if I’m trying to take a trip to all the National Parks?” The dealer explained with his careful patience that there is no “best” model, but the smaller ones are better to start with, because they require less repairs.

A few customers were amazed at the spacious interiors. Even smaller models can comfortably fit three beds, a table with seating, a fridge, a TV, closet, a bathroom with a shower, and a microwave. At one point, an older couple with a robust and youthful enthusiasm joined us on a tour of a standard size travel trailer. I watched the wife pick up the fake flowers on the table, circling slowly around the interior, brushing the ugly upholstery with her fingers and whisper to her husband, “I think we can do this.” RVs are essentially tiny houses. Two people can live in one comfortably year-round if they wanted to, and there are many who do.

The dealer showed me around three more models, each one more luxurious than the last. I liked the homey feel of the travel trailers, and I could see how a couple or a family could have a fun time in their little home away from home, frolicking across the country in one of these models. I noticed that despite the cold, each one was cozy and warm inside, and I lingered longer in each to avoid the wind. After a while the dealer seemed bored so I thanked him for his time and told him I would continue to think about a purchase. On the way out I glanced at the used electronics store. There are worse things that people try to sell you, I thought." 

My last update is that I'll be launching a Kickstarter or Gofundme campaign shortly to help me fund the printing of this book. Are you prepared to support an esoteric project about mobile living?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

In Progress #1

So, as many of you know, because I've talked about it a thousand million times, I'm doing a residency at the Wormfarm Institute in Reedsburg, WI this summer. I'm here as a writer/artist...whatever that means. The solitude, peace, and quiet, in combination with the cathartic farm work, has already made it easier for me to write and focus on a few projects. 

The main project I'm focusing on while I'm here is a study of RV living and culture. I've been thinking about this project for over a year now and I'm finally starting to piece some of it together. The final project will be a book of some sort, although I haven't quite figured it out yet. Below is a sample chapter that will be the intro of the book. I'll be posting more samples of work in progress throughout the summer. Thanks for reading babes. 


One summer I lived in Yellowstone National Park working a minimum wage job so I could experience the wild and untamed beauty of America’s first park. While I was there, I was introduced to the absurd and intrusive nature of RV culture. I came to associate these so-called “recreational” vehicles with a dull ache in my head, an annoying buzz in my ear, and a subtle quickening of my pulse. I thought of them as nothing more than a rude disturbance of my tranquil surroundings, like an unwanted dinner guest or a suitor that won’t take the hint. I could not fathom why Yellowstone’s visitors would sacrifice the authenticity of their park visit by hauling along their usual comforts from home in a large, bulky cabin of metal.
            Once I was out of the park, RVs weren’t as vexing to me. I would pass them aloof in driveways, parking lots, and on the road, and I didn’t think much about them unless I saw one that was particularly corpulent, in which case I would scoff in disgust.
            A few years later, I was on a camping trip at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on an unseasonably warm Labor Day weekend. The RVs were ubiquitous and inevitable at that time of year, and I accidentally chose a campsite next to a behemoth RV that towered like a skyscraper over my puny tent. It left almost no room for walking or standing in the campsite, and some trees had to sacrifice a few of their branches to accommodate its bulk. At night, when I wanted to sleep under the stars, the electric fervor of incandescent light emitting from the RV washed out the comparatively feeble glow of the entire night sky. I chanced a closer look at the interior only to find in horror that its occupants were watching TV, and had even brought a portable satellite dish that they installed in the grass outside their movable fortress.
            My heart felt broken after this encounter. I wondered if I would be able to have an organic experience ever again—if RVs would steal my peace and quiet wherever I was in the world and follow me to every National Park, campground, and back corner of the woods until I would have to succumb and buy my own RV in order to escape the noise and light pollution from other RVs.
            In short, I became obsessed with recreational vehicles, and conceived the idea to write a scathing exposé on the widespread devastation they impose upon the world.
            To my surprise, however, I did not uncover a cult of emotionally unfulfilled sloth-humans like I expected, but a culture, and a community, and a few pioneers and artists along the way. I learned that almost everyone has an RV story or experience, and a few people even convinced me that RVs might not be fully evil. They could in some cases be neutral, or even, I daresay, good. I also realized I have my own RV experience: a 1970s mobile home that my family used as a cabin in Northern Wisconsin my whole life, parked on a slice of land that will always be in my heart. For the first time I considered that RVs can have roots, too, and can be repurposed as immobile living spaces.
            My overall affirmation, however is just an echo of that feeling I had on Labor Day weekend in Pictured Rocks: RVs are ubiquitous. At this point there might even be more RVs than humans; I’m not sure. Whatever the official count is, I know undoubtedly that I can’t escape them. But I have learned that I can coexist with them. For all the “bad” they put into the world, there’s some “good” in there, too. What more can I expect from an experience that so many people have in common?