Aesthetics

I Don’t Feel If You Don’t: Emotion in Art and the Sincerity of the Cure

Art has always been, for myself and so many others, an outlet for so many deeply personal emotions. It has not only been a way of working through the trials and tribulations of human experience, but also a means of communicating these feelings to others without explicitly recounting details. Art gives us a way to articulate emotion while circumventing circumstance: a painting or poem is often a short-cut to the heart, a way of saying, “this is how it feels,” regardless of whether the audience can sympathize with the situation that prompted it. Because human emotion is a complex and varied thing, I may not feel the sadness you experience by falling out with a friend, or the frustration you have at a romantic rejection, but I have no doubt experienced them myself under other circumstances and can recognize their presence in artistic works.

That said, when it comes to light that a piece was not, in fact, composed out of its “proper” emotion, it feels like a sort of betrayal. I recall a number of times when I found out a song I deeply identified with was written from a totally different viewpoint, or exclusively pandered to radio production and popularity. My entire existence seemed to crumble when, at sixteen, I found out Robert Smith had written “Let’s Go to Bed” simply based on what got radio airplay—the song that had defined my first ‘adult’ relationship suddenly felt like a lie. I had been convinced that Smith had written from the same insecure, fugue-like daze of affection that I had experienced. I couldn’t believe those words that had actually moved me to tears had been complete fabrication.

Let's Go to Bed

However, I was also so thoroughly touched by works of fiction in literature—I wept for the doomed loves in so many Gothic novels, and thrilled at the triumph of good over evil in works so obviously fantasy. When I read urban legends (my generation’s fairytales), I found myself jumpy and unsettled for days. Never for a second did I believe these accounts were true, but I still allowed them to move me and spark very real emotions. Whether or not the authors had experienced unrequited love, or ridden dragons triumphantly into battle, or escaped the horrors of Satanic cults firsthand was irrelevant. Whether or not I had any emotional basis of comparison was also irrelevant—the work felt authentic enough to create those for me. Years later, with more of life behind me, those feelings hold true. Now, instead of reading Leroux and thinking, “that must be what love feels like,” I can examine the dynamic between Christine and Raoul and say, “that is love” and feel just as strongly with the bonus of recognition.

We can watch Leonardo DiCaprio fight bears and struggle against a historical wildness without questioning the emotional credentials he or director Alejandro González Iñárritu have behind them. We can even give them both awards of global artistic recognition. So why did I feel so betrayed by Robert Smith for his lyrical fiction?

Perhaps it’s because it caused me to question the authenticity of his other songs, songs I aspired to experience myself. If “Let’s Go to Bed” was a total fabrication, what did that mean for songs like “Just Like Heaven,” or “Icing Sugar,” songs that summed up everything I wanted out of love? Maybe, if the emotion I felt came from lyrics confessed to be fictional, the feelings I got from other songs were just as fictional, and described experiences I couldn’t possibly have. For years, I thought that may have been painfully true—real relationships, at least as far as my experience extended, did not include the dizzy euphoria or frenetic excitement of love that Smith had promised me. It pained me that the emotions they described would exist only in these musical fantasies, and my initial feelings were replaced with resentment.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized the sincerity of Smith’s lyrics were irrelevant: my emotional reaction was no less real, those feelings no less authentic, than they would be born from my own experience. Listening to those words produced in me a reaction—that alone was totally valid. And later on, they proved an invaluable base of comparison for my own feelings in response to other life experiences. Like Aristotle’s poets, Smith’s songs had taught me to recognize love in its playful, creative, joyful form, which I had no previous concept of through my own experience. Whether or not Smith had written them out of like experience made no difference: the emotions I felt listening to those songs were real, and prepared me to identify those same emotions when they came into my life organically.

Let's Go to Bed

There are aesthetic theories that deny we, as viewers, can experience any real feelings from art. With no personal stake in the creator’s experience or the plot at hand, we go through the motions of reacting—while sitting in the dark of a theatre, watching the latest James Wan flick unfold before us, we experience what feels like a genuine stress response. Our heart may beat erratically, we may have difficulty breathing, we might even scream, but according to theorists, this isn’t really fear: at the end of the movie, we know the lights will come up and we’ll all shuffle out of the theatre safely. But those feelings stay with you. Days, weeks, months later, when you find yourself alone in the dark, that same sense of dread may creep back in and you find yourself re-living the fear you experienced in the theatre. My sister still won’t use public restrooms alone thanks to a certain Japanese horror film, and loathe as I am to admit it, I kept all my coats out of sight for days after watching the Babadook so I wouldn’t see them out of the corner of my eye as something else.

The same extends to other works of art, poetry, and music. “Let’s Go to Bed” remains an emotional song for me, whether or not it was emotional for Robert Smith. I had a genuine experience, one that I relive each time I hear that song. I believe that my emotional experiences with other pieces are authentic as well—each time I’m moved to tears or imbued with excitement, I trust the feelings that evoked the response are relatable and repeatable, whether they are insights for future experiences or recall specific emotional occurrences. Those emotions aren’t packed into a box and stored on the shelf at the end of the experience, like the record that provoked them—they’re carried with me, recalled over and over again.


The Cure – Let's go to Bed by bebepanda

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Music

Look Up Here, I’m in Heaven: Mourning David Bowie, the New York Vigil

The chorus of Manson’s “Heart-Shaped Glasses” jarred me awake just after 3AM. My phone was ringing for the second time that night–it was my sister. With one eye open, I flicked the silencer and put it back on the nightstand. I hadn’t seen the flood of text messages that was coming in, nor the countless Facebook messages and tags I had gotten. I went back to sleep like nothing had happened.

Roses for Bowie

“I’m so sorry.” It was 8AM, and my boyfriend woke me up. “It’s really bad news.” I ran down a mental list of what could have happened, bracing myself for the worst–cancelled plans, a sold-out tour, a family emergency. The death of a lifelong idol and role model never even crossed my mind. Even when I heard the news that David Bowie had passed away, it seemed unreal–his 69th birthday was days ago, he had released a brand new album and two music videos. He had never felt more alive to me than he had just days before, while I listened to Blackstar, pulling apart lyrics to analyze the occult themes and esoteric influences. It was all impossible.

Altar of Bowie

I have never been one for idol worship. I’ve never imagined myself weeping at news of a celebrity death, but there I was, laying in bed, tearing up about the passing of a man I had never met. David Bowie and I had never shared more than New York airspace, but he had touched so much in my life. If ever there had been a model for the phoenician cycle of rebirth and reinvention that I live by, it was David Bowie. From humble beginnings as a soulful saxophone player, Bowie reimagined himself as a junky astronaut, an alien messiah, a decadent schizophrenic, and a hard-edged romantic. So many identities came and went over his career, heralding new musical styles, total image overhauls, and driving philosophies, that it’s sometimes difficult to think of Bowie as a singular entity. That doesn’t even account for his film characters–the Man Who Fell to Earth recently experienced new life in the off-Broadway Lazarus, and his infamous Goblin King set my nearly-unreachable standards for romance in Labyrinth. In fact, the news of Bowie’s death felt like the final nail in the coffin for my childhood.

Thanks for making my childhood...

Staring at my ceiling this morning, it seemed ironic that Bowie’s last single was “Lazarus” (“Look up here, I’m in Heaven!/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen/I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen/Everybody knows me now/Look up here, man, I’m in danger”). In fact, Blackstar as a whole is laced with references to mortality and resurrection, spoken both plainly in vernacular and in the language of master magicians and occultists. It’s a common phenomenon to turn to religion at the end of life, and it seems Bowie was no exception in his own way–the esoteric album was specifically planned to coincide with the end of his life. The release of “Lazarus” was a very particular choice.

Idol Worship

While the a world without Bowie is difficult for my millennial brain to comprehend, the post-Bowie world is richer for the legacy he leaves. From glam to goth, David Bowie had his hands in everything. I can’t think of a single musical artist I admire who would not count him among their top influences. His finger was perpetually on the pulse of popular culture–the drug-addled space man of the 60’s, the bisexual, androgynous alien saviour of the 70’s, the global superpower of the 80’s, and now, the catacomb saint resurrected.

Tribute

This evening, my sister and I stood on Lafayette Street waiting to pay tribute to our fallen idol, clutching cameras with frozen fingers and shivering as much with emotion as cold. Strangers were crowded around the block, and I was struck by the variety of people around me–a young couple in front of us touched hands as they snapped pictures of the line on their phones, while a man behind us rubbed tearing eyes while he stared at the glitter-strewn sidewalk. A middle-aged woman in a puffy purple coat held a massive bouquet of magenta roses, and her friend carried a moon-shaped sign to lay on the pile. This afternoon, I saw newscasters and photographers buzz about to capture tourists in parkas and soccer-moms with their stacked bobs laying bouquets of pastel flowers against the wall. Flamboyant, lite-brite expressionists and conservative, steel-faced professionals alike contemplated the sprawl of prayer candles and memorial portraits with a shared sense of gravity while I snapped photos on black and white film on an antique camera. Now, somewhere down the block, “Space Oddity” played out and the crowd sang in unison, clapping together to punctuate the music: nothing unified these people except Bowie–he had touched their lives, changed their personal histories, and here they gathered to mourn their rock and roll saviour.

Tribute

 

It seems impossible that Bowie is gone–he is undoubtedly one of the most revolutionary musical minds of our time. But I can’t bring myself to join in the chorus of “rest in peace,” not because I don’t want the best for his soul, his family, his legacy, but because he was so prolific, so varied and far-reaching that I can’t help but pray for perpetual, prolonged exposure. Blackstar is fresh in the public eye, its singles still running the circuits. They’ve still got a ways to go. They still have work to do. Surely, such a driven, ambitious spirit won’t retire simply because the body that contained it for 69 years has expired. It will find a way to endure.

Tribute

–and so I leave you with that spirit’s latest expression, David Bowie’s final video, the truly genius, utterly heartbreaking, remarkably profound “Lazarus.” Godspeed, Bowie–you really are free.

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Writing

Is this Madness? Noveling in July: Camp NaNoWriMo

Caffeine buzz like a fever, hands flying over the keyboard as if controlled by an outside force, you finally get rolling halfway through your second hour in the bookstore cafe. Your word count is finally piling up, after hours of watching it slowly tick up one word after another. Things are finally starting to click. This is the National Novel Writing Month flow, the anticipated fury of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Each November that I participate, I know it will be a headache-enducing, coffee-guzzling, free-falling dive into a brave new world of plot. Sometimes, I have a strict outline–I know how things begin, what needs to happen in the middle, and how everything will end. Other times, I have a handful of characters I want to write about and find that they grow and evolve and interact almost on their own, with very little direction from me personally. Each time is incredibly rewarding, and I come out feeling like I’ve learned something about myself as a writer and an artist that I might not have learned otherwise.

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Last November, I did not participate. I had a full-time job, a photo lab that kept me in the darkroom for an extra ten hours outside of class time, and was struggling with balancing my personal problems with my professional life–adding a 50,000 words on top of it all was simply a commitment I couldn’t make. Since then, life has calmed down. I still have classes that require a lot of my time, but I quit my job which freed up a massive chunk of my schedule. Summer is usually more laid back, my schedule not quite as full, and not nearly as many challenges to meet head-on. As someone who thrives on challenge, this isn’t always a wonderful thing–I love an assignment, something to creatively think around and find my way through. When I heard about Camp NaNoWriMo, I knew I had to sign up. It’s still 50,000 words in 30 days, but it’s in July.

photo-99

So what will I be writing about? I have no idea. But I’ve got six days to figure out my genre before Cabin Assignments are made–a cute little bit of camp kitsch to pair up with like-minded writers for inspiration and encouragement. With absolutely no ideas going in, is this madness? Not at all! Some of the most exciting writing experiences have started with nothing at all. At the end of the day, this is about having fun, stretching creative muscles, and applying yourself to something new and different. It’s an excuse to listen to some new (or old favourite) music, brew up your favourite refreshments, and fall in love with a fresh project.

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Writing

Transformation, Rebirth, and Brood II

I believe in the power of Names. In their primary function of identifiers, they’re not only used to give commands but also offer insight into the thing being named. When I tell people the name of my blog (or my email address, or Twitter handle, or Instagram), they inevitably ask, “Why cicadas?” The answer is usually more than they bargained for because as much as I believe in names, I also believe in symbols–and the cicada is a powerful symbol.

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When I registered my domain, QueenCicada was simply the screen name I had been using at that point. My blog was originally titled “Metamorphosis,” tying in with my transformative theme and insect infatuation. When I decided to rebrand, I wasn’t sure anyone would understand the tie or that it would turn off potential readers–but the truth is, the cicada is a symbol of beauty and creativity too. Cicadas turn up in a fascinating myth mentioned by Plato in “Phaedrus.” According to the heartbreakingly beautiful story, cicadas were originally human beings devoted to the Muses, classic Greek personifications of the arts. They sang their love for so long and with such depth of emotion that they couldn’t stop to eat or drink, never even realizing they had died. The Muses rewarded them by transforming them into creatures that neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, able to sing and dance from the moment they are born until the moment they die. Humans enchanted by their music clearly recognize beauty in life, more susceptible to the call of the Muses than those than continue on with their lives, ignoring the insects’ song. But that’s not entirely where my cicada inspiration came from.

FX Photo Studio_image-11

When I’m in need of guidance, I often seek out a model or ideal. I’ve never been one to look to heroes or idols like celebrities as role models, so while some people aspire to the beauty of Marilyn Monroe or the charm of Audrey Hepburn, I’ve found my inspiration in more primal sources. As a child, I saw the cheetah as a guide to reconcile playfulness with grace, while I later looked to the turtle to develop a strong sense of home while learning to reach out and explore the world before me. I turned to certain animals at certain times based on what I knew of their nature and life cycle, trying to incorporate their ancient wisdom into my daily life. But the cicada came to me in a very different manner.

FX Photo Studio_image-12

Years ago, the tea shop I worked in got a ceramic tea pot in from China. It was a delicate basket-weave design, topped with a perfectly sculpted cicada on the lid. I was positively taken with it. Each day I worked, I thought about the insect on top, why it would be chosen to adorn something people would put on their table and drink tea from–in our Western society, insects are usually considered unclean and just generally icky. What little I knew about cicadas didn’t seem to clarify anything: I knew they were periodic, and shed their skins to transform their shape much like butterflies from their cocoons. What I learned was that they’ve been powerful symbols of immortality and life after death in the East. Their lifespans are remarkably long for an insect, and the shedding of their nymph skins is symbolic of a triumph over death, of life beginning again as one stage ends. It’s an incredibly powerful idea, and the more I thought about it, the more it moved me. My life, like so many others’, has been cyclical.When things seem to be incredibly difficult and impossible to move past, I’m often too frustrated and exhausted to recognize the valuable experiences that I ultimately take away.  It’s only looking back that I realize what an important period of growth I had completed and can experience the amazing rebirth as a result. I firmly believe the universe has a way of wiping the record clean when we absolutely need it: we can be reborn into new cycles.

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 4.07.24

This week has been incredibly emotional for me: my area is beginning to see the first wave of Brood II. Just days ago, I watched as dozens of cicada nymphs emerged from the ground, perching on trees, plants, decks, walls, tables, or street signs to shed their skins and take to the air. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this event coincides what I’m sure is going to be a summer of self-discovery for me, one of my greatest periods of rebirth yet. Each one of those tiny nymphs represents a hope or dream I have for my future: some will tear through their skins and emerge mature and complete, while others will be trampled before they have chance, experience snags, or form improperly. My heart breaks as I see mangled wings, missing legs, blinded eyes, but I know that nature isn’t always kind and trust that it’s part of the universal plan. As long as some of those live on to give new life, to inspire future hopes and dreams, they’ve succeeded. It’s a standard I also aspire to.

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Writing

The Monsters in my Head

The skeletons that tormented me as a child were very real, but most of my other monstrous fears were rooted in nothing but my overactive imagination. I had a knack for throwing myself into a fear-frenzy, imagining all sorts of spine-tingling situations and allowing them to escalate to the point where every cell in my body vibrated with nervous energy. It could happen anywhere: in my room after bedtime, in the darkened hallway that separated me from my parents, in the harsh light of the bathroom that I hoped would set me at ease. In the worst situations, I would fall into a sort of paralysis, too frightened to move but terrified to remain where I was–I could only gather every last ounce of my courage to make a sudden leap forward and bolt towards my ultimate destination. It was a near-nightly occurrence for about five years. My poor parents tried everything, arming me with dream catchers, rosaries, “magic” blankets, watchdog plushes, even cable TV to protect or distract me from whatever the Fear du Jour happened to be. While their creativity is commendable, I still found ways to scare myself.

And then, it suddenly stopped. It wasn’t the protective talismans, the magic dolls, the enchanted items–it stopped the same way it began: with my imagination. In a remarkable gesture of childhood logic, I realized that my imagination was far more terrifying than anything that could possibly exist in the real world. That meant that was far more terrifying than anything I could encounter in my hallway, or my bathroom, or my bed. I was suddenly empowered. Even as I grew up, reading about serial murderers and cult  killers and plenty of very real things that could do me harm, it remained a sort of mantra. Descending the basement steps to do my laundry at night it less unnerving when I remind myself that any monsters lurking beneath couldn’t be half as terrifying as the things that live in my own head.

As May Monster Madness draws to a close, I wanted to share with you some of my own work. I wrote these snippets several years ago, as a tie-in to a novel I was working on at the time. It was about a girl devoted to a horrific, ancient god and the man who sought knowledge of it, but the pieces below are about their daughter. They’re over-written and need a lot of work, but since they didn’t really belong to anything, I didn’t worry much about them as they sat in my scrapbook. Perhaps someday, Melissa and the monsters inside her head will deserve their own story.

Blue eyes stared upwards, studying the moulded plaster ceiling as if its bouquets ribbons held news of her fate. They hid no ghouls, she reasoned, but they bore no angels, either. Melissa sat up slowly, her watery eyes rippling with disturbances: every night, the terrors gripped her. The moment she turned out her lamp, they came, brandishing their talons like swords and licking their knife-like fangs. When she was little, she could close her eyes and will them away, but no longer–their eyes had taken on a deadly phosphorescence, piercing the darkness to find her. Now they turned her inside-out, her eyes stinging with the smoke of Hell’s fires as her lids fluttered against the back of her skull. They danced for her to the primal beat of their drums, terrible instruments crudely fashioned of parts she dare not speculate the origins of. …and each morning, as the sun rose, they would clamber towards her, claws outstretched, mouths and tongues shaping words of love and devotion. On the light of the Great Star they would disappear, uttering vows of their return…and finally, exhausted, Melissa would sleep.
From the foot of her bed, the mirror glinted, beckoning. She raised a hand to touch her face: long, pianist’s fingers brushed across the smooth, alabaster surface–so different she looked with living flesh. Certainly, she was more accustomed to seeing herself as a collection of gleaming red muscle and pearly pink bone, reflected in the eyes of her monstrous bedfellows and in the muculent trails borne by the floors where they walked.
Convinced as she was of their existence, Melissa crept cautiously to the foor of her bed, avoiding any swift or heavy movements that might rouse the beasts beneath. She was fixated, still, on her eyes, heavily fringed in white and gold–she remembered a time when these lashes gave her a sleepy, tranquil appearance. Now, it was rare that she didn’t look frightened, like a rabbit that has come to feel the hot, hungry breath of the fox on his neck.

“Yes, poor dear!–blessed as you are with those big blue eyes and golden curls!” The boisterous presence of the old housekeeper caused Melissa to jump, nearly tumbling off the bed–a mistake which, to her, could prove fatal. “Sorry to frighten you, but your father is holding breakfast…”

The warmth of life stirred beneath her, a welcome albeit alien sensation. Eyelids fought anxiously to open, wishing desperately to throw off the cover of sleep. …But for the first time in her life, Melissa resisted. Never before had she awoken at her leisure, undisturbed by her ghoulish consorts and their nightmarish mummery. Rather, she recalled nothing but bliss. Through the dusky veils of intoxication, she witnessed scenes of passion, played out as tenderly as she had never imagined love could be; with a script of foreign and endearing words; a choreography of writhing flourishes. The very thought brought a smile to her rosepetal lips and she playfully flicked a fingertip over her lover’s tool, touching it to her lips and tongue searching for the now-familiar bitterness. …this taste, too, was familiar, but not the same pungent salt of last night. This was too familiar, too customary…like sacramental wine to a priest, her tongue was trained to receive…

Blood. Sticky, hot…her spine quivered as the coppery spice hit her nerves. She wanted to be repulsed, both by the taste and by herself–for she knew no monster of her nightmare world could have committed these heinous tasks, created this grotesque work of deadly art. None of her horrid consorts would have torn his flesh to reveal the pearly bone and tendon within, sucking him dry of fluid and stripping him of tender meat. No…this was the stuff of her own dark fantasy. This was her own doing.

Looking over at the husk beside her, the bag of tattered skin and bones, her blue eyes glazed, water trickling down with a heat from the back of her skull…

Brought to you as part of the May Monster Madness Blog Hop —



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Writing

Integral Fear: the Monsters of Junji Ito

Most children are afraid of the things around them, real and imagined, but I was worse than most. Halloween was a trauma that repeated every year–I couldn’t turn on a television, listen to a radio, or even follow my mother into a grocery store without being faced by some terrifying monster or another. Frankenstein’s Monster and Dracula adorned doors and windows in the form of stylized cartoon cutouts, and I often had the imprint of weekly circulars on my face from pressing them against my eyes as my mother led me around stores. But the thing that chilled me most was hardly a monster at all: it was a basic component of human life. My biggest childhood fear was the human skeleton. There was something about the proportions of it, the incompleteness of a creature full of holes and open space that gave me chills. The skeletal figures in films or cartoons moved with distorted, jerky motions that made my skin crawl. It was a monster I imagined at the end of every dark hallway, in every ill-lit closet, under every proverbial bed. My mother thought it would calm my nerves to tell me that we each hid our very own skeleton inside, but it only made things worse. That only meant there was a monster inside of me, hidden just beneath the surface of my own skin.

image by Shigeru Mizuki

image by Shigeru Mizuki

Perhaps this is why, when fear turned to fascination, I found myself obsessed with Japanese horror. There was a certain psychology to their hauntings and invasions that I was taken in by, and a sense of poetry to their direction that I couldn’t find in Western horror. As an artist, I was drawn to manga, the comic culture of Japan, and was pleased to find a decent amount of horror titles available to import. I loved authors like Senno Knife and Eiji Otsuka, but they weren’t being translated at the time and I had to rely on my own working knowledge of written Japanese to get a general feel of the stories. Luckily, I was able to find a good body of Junji Ito’s work translated for me. A true master of Japanese horror, Ito has produced about a dozen titles, some series spanning numerous volumes in length. Best known for Uzumaki and Tomie, two serials that later became films by the same name, Ito’s sense of the uncanny coupled with his distinct drawing style makes his work easy to recognize. But what drew me to his work above others was the idea that our own fear can turn us into the very monsters we try to avoid.

Ito's Mimi no Kaidan

Ito’s Mimi no Kaidan

Ito’s antagonizing forces are usually mysterious and unexplained–creatures that surface from the depths of the ocean, holes in the earth millions of years buried, plants that bear impossible fruit. Certainly, the uncanny situations in and of themselves are unsettling, but what makes his stories truly horrifying is the reaction seen in the characters and the people that surround them. Amigara Fault might be the title enigma, but the chilling part of the story is what the characters feel forced to do. While we find ourselves intrigued by the cursed village in Falling, we realize we don’t really care what happened to the sleepwalking townspeople or where the abducted group goes. What we’re really concerned with is the irrational reaction of the family members left behind to gang up on the sole survivor. In each of these stories, like so many of his others, the disturbance we are presented with is not inherently evil or bad as far as we can tell–instead, we watch the characters begin a complete psychological breakdown as they face the fears that arise within them. Their own sense of doom is what does them in–no one forces the residents of Amigara into the holes, they simply feel as if they must.

Ito's Thing that Drifted Ashore

Ito’s Thing that Drifted Ashore

Of course there are plenty of stories where the characters do face actual monsters: the Thing That Drifted Ashore is certainly monstrous, alien in its appearance and function. It might seem as if the most horrifying part is its belly full of hardly-digested human bodies, but one girl’s distant memory of a strange dream suggests that there’s much more at play than we immediately thought. The Thing itself is really just an object, like the carving in the Chill, that through some mysterious process transforms the ill-fated characters into monsters themselves. Through curiosity, or greed, or lust, or paranoia, the characters are changed into the worst possible versions of themselves with horrifying consequences. The Slug Girl seems to morph into the object of her revulsion simply through her fear and hatred, the same force that drives privacy-obsessed Saiko into the claustrophobic Town with no Streets.

The terrifying thing about all of Ito’s monsters is that they all began as human. We could easily have been any one of them, at the wrong place at the wrong time, equipped with the wrong set of phobias. I find myself obsessed with the imagery, the ideas he presents, and therefore find myself afraid of meeting the characters’ fates as a result. Like so many of the writers who imagine apocalyptic situations, Ito does not see a sympathetic and helpful population. Instead, he imagines our own fears will devour us, render us inhuman and transform us into monsters deserving of annihilation. His most terrifying forces are the fears within the human soul, as basic a component of life as the skeleton that hides inside every single one of us. And that thought in itself is downright chilling.

Brought to you as part of the May Monster Madness Blog Hop —



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Writing

Zombies: Our Worst Case Scenario

Image by Banana Workshop

Image by Banana Workshop

If I was to make a list of common themes in my favourite horror, the Unknown would rank pretty high. Whether it involves the supernatural in any form, Lovecraft’s Cosmic Unknowns, Poe’s mysterious psychologies, or Ito’s unexplained phenomena, the idea of a terror beyond ourselves for which we might never have an explanation is thrilling. But I have a ritual that I perform each night–I turn off the outdoor lights, lock my back door, and close all the curtains. When my door lock broke, I realize it was not some malformed Hellbeast I was afraid of, but something much more familiar. Something much more human.

The other night, while rigging the makeshift trap that serves as the lock now, a rather unwelcome vision entered my mind: a man, standing alone in the spotlight of my back porch. My instinct was to examine exactly what made the situation so chilling. In my mind, he brandished no weapon at all, and I came to realize the vision was more terrifying the more disconnected he seemed–it was more frightening to imagine him slouched and staring at the concrete below than poised to break in, or beckoning to me from behind the glass. The horror did not lie within him, but in what I would probably do in reaction: I would have to unlock the door. Every scenario I could imagine, including calling the police, involved me opening that door at some point or another. And I knew, in my all-too-human heart, I would still want to help a lost or wounded stranger.

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Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”

I’ve watched countless presentations of the apocalypse, some two, three, four times or more. It’s become a common theme in television and movies recently, where the ultimate battle for survival has us not only fighting a deadly sickness that medicine has yet to address, but also ourselves in so many ways. Zombies frighten us in the same way that my midnight vision frightened me: the humanity in us recognizes the humanity in them, even when the humanity in them is gone. As children, we’re taught to be compassionate human beings and we’re conditioned to recognize suffering so we can help where we can. We give to charities and volunteer to help people we’ve never met on the sole basis that they are also human and deserve better than what they have. It’s part of our condition. In order to effectively stave off a zombie apocalypse, we would need to deprogram ourselves and see the sick, the suffering, and the unfortunate as a threat to our lives, and as a threat to our very existence as human beings.

No amount of Doomsday Prepping, weapons training, stock piling, or escape planning can prepare us for that. Those of us who devoured Romero’s Living Dead series and later films like 28 Days Later or REC might think we’re prepared for a zombie apocalypse by counting the cases of bottled water in our garages, the number of shot gun shells we can purchase, the level of gas in our tanks. But can we ever prepare ourselves for the inevitable breakdown of our social structure? Can we complete shut our hearts to our fellow man? What happens when our loved ones fall? We might scream at our televisions and denounce our favourite characters for being soft when faced with an infected fiancée or sibling, but would we be prepared to aim our weapons at faces we once found familiarity and comfort in? Once upon a time, I thought I could. We tell children that dead things are just empty shells, that their spirits, the part that makes them the things we knew and loved, have left them. The dead hamster in the cage is no longer Fluffy–Fluffy left that body behind with that last little hamster breath. But it’s easier to believe because those bodies are no longer moving, those faces are no longer emoting, that voice has gone silent. With zombies, that isn’t the case. Is it as easy to believe that the body approaching, arms reaching, eyes staring back at you no longer belong to your best friend? I’m no longer certain.

Fulci's "Zombie"

Fulci’s “Zombie”

Perhaps I devalue the human survival instinct. Maybe in the face of certain death and total destruction, we throw off our own humanity as a fail-safe. Even this is no comfort, however, as it poses more problems than it solves. Without our humanity to keep us on task, we’re free to turn on each other–the still-living, the healthy, the survivors. In that scenario, the zombies are not the only inhuman monsters we’re fighting against, we’re also fighting ourselves. We wouldn’t have to worry about hurting former friends and family, but we would also have no one to trust, no one to comfort us, no one to conspire with. It would be every man for himself with little to no real endgame.

Zombies are scary enough on their own, as disease-riddled undead drones that just keep coming, but they’re terrifying in their familiarity. They were once us, and we can become them. They cause us to question what being human really means, and what it means in relation to others. While the idea of Terrors from Outer Space may be horrifying, the concept is more abstract and unlikely. Zombies are all too real: they’re our Worst Case Scenario, one that might be one wrong flu or plague away. Maybe this is why they’ve captured the attention of our television producers, our filmmakers, our novelists. Zombies are clinical monsters, all too easy to reconcile in the world of scientific and medical reality. When I lock my door at night, I can shake off the fear of some unknown creature lurking in the darkness, but I can’t always keep myself from shivering at the thought of something more familiar. Zombies are something I’m not sure I could separate myself completely from, and I’m not sure what it would mean for me if I could.

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MMM2013



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Luna

Sharing my Constants

My life has always had two constants: words and pictures. From the moment I could hold a pencil, I drew pictures and I wrote stories. It’s a bit of a chicken/egg situation because the stories and the pictures were always intertwined, one filling gaps in the other. I can still find old pieces of computer paper cut and stapled into illustrated books created at recess in grade school or earlier.

2007

Years before I registered a domain of any kind and hosted my words on LiveJournal instead of WordPress, I wrote a lot of fiction. The art always complimented the project of the time: portraits of characters, important scenes, dream sequences that might never have happened on paper. Sometimes, the words spilled onto the art as well, crowding into sketches and crushing characters with a weight of their own. This blog actually started as a sort of overflow parking for those words–a place to write about things that didn’t have a place of their own in my work, but ended up taking on a life of their own. That fact is probably why I burned out doing the swatches and look posts I did for a while–the words had no place.

I struggled for a long time with professionalism and personality. It felt like one voided out the other, and always wary of the Internet Oversharers, I kept myself out of this blog for a long time. I would show you what I was wearing, what products I was using, but not a lot more. You might see my cat, my lizard, my dining room table, but rarely anything that didn’t directly pertain to cosmetics or style. But style is more than what you’re wearing or how your makeup is done. Style surrounds everything we do. I often say that life is an art of its own–the way we live can reflect our tastes and aesthetics as much as our clothing or our lipstick. We are our own greatest work. This is how I can reconcile the new direction I’ve been taking here and the personal details I’ve begun to share.

2008

In the effort of sharing more of the Girl Behind the Blog, I’m going to be taking part once again in May Monster Madness, a blog hop for horror lovers. Last year, I struggled with my participation–what place does a beauty blog really have in the horror world? I’ve always found beauty in the strange, but readers looking for product reviews or makeup tips probably wouldn’t appreciate the sudden shift in content. Now that I’m allowing myself some freedom, I want to share love affair with the bizarre and the monstrous: my goal is to make a post each day during the week of May 11th to share some of my favourite strange and beautiful things along with a whole list of others around the ‘Net. Want to join in? I’ve included the link signup below–you can add the banner graphic to your sidebar and invite your readers to do the same!
MMM2013



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