“Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that?”

61. Daring Greatly – Brene Brown

In a world where many people are constantly being asked to complete the workload of three people without complaint and it seems clear that the only people who truly matter are people with money, it can be hard to find solid ground mentally.

I have seen many articles about persons in my age group that maintain the sentiment that there is something wrong with my generation because we’re not all thriving. We’re not buying what we’re supposed to. We’re not behaving as our predecessors behaved. We’re finding, at a higher rate than the past few previous generations, that we will not be making more in our lifetimes than our parents did and so what monetary class we were born into is likely to be the monetary class we die in, or we can always go lower, that’s an option too. We’re not quite “daring greatly” after being saddled with large amounts of debt in order to try greatly to find gainful, full time employment.

There are some examples of people who have done really well, who are anomalies amongst the BA-having, underemployed masses. And it’s fun to have those examples pointed out to you as though because you are smart, you should be just like those examples, when that’s very unlikely to happen for you. Paring down your goals to basically just survival feels embarrassing when you graduated from college with hope, got as Master’s degree with hope, went for a Ph.D. in your research field with hope. It’s humiliating to know that even though you made serious efforts to better yourself and pursue something you found truly worthwhile, the opportunities aren’t there after you graduated and you will be greeted with comments like “You should’ve gone into engineering,” when you have no aptitude for that and there are certainly unemployed STEM graduates feeling just as embarrassed for hoping as you are.

Reading Daring Greatly was an interesting experience for me because it came at a time when I thought I was on my way to, well, daring greatly. I’d shrugged off what I thought was the baggage I needed to shrug off, surely now was the time for some minimal self-help and then lots of happy times would follow instantly. I, of course, forgot that I’m a human with depression who works in public service full time. Oops. Even still, I appreciate what Dr. Brown has to say. I think there is a lot of validity to her views on vulnerability and I was happy she showed her work because I honestly have a lot of trouble reading material that could be considered “self help” without a nice level of bitter detached cynicism. One thing though, being courageously willing to put yourself out there in some scenarios can also lead to you becoming the non-vulnerability-interested’s scapegoat, so, it also pays to remember that not everyone can face the truth of some situations.

Duncan, daring blurrily to show her sweet little giraffe nose.

Duncan, daring blurrily to show her sweet little giraffe nose.

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I still get twitchy about the question: “Who’s got my golden arm?” It’s probably why I don’t really care for precious metals.

48. Long Lankin – Lindsey Barraclough

Every once in a while, less so nowadays, someone creates (or illustrates, damnit, Stephen Gammell) a story for young people that will scare them half to death. It will stick in the back of their minds, jumping to the surface when they hear a noise, see a creepy tree, or are walking all alone, late at night, past a graveyard. Long Lankin is a scary fucking book. Reading it made me jumpy and paranoid during the daylight and frankly, a story about post-World War II era British children and folklore should not have managed to accomplish that task. The last thing that made me that jumpy was The Blair Witch Project (saw it in the theater, pre-most of the hype or at least I had no access to hype, didn’t think it was real though, still scary. No corners).

There’s a level of scarcity and secrecy in Long Lankin that just puts a damper on the mood and pushes it into a murky, stifling place. Children aren’t allowed to know what they need to know and there’s an exciting amount of dramatic tension at play as a result. Another contributor to the effectiveness are Barraclough’s lush descriptions. She does an excellent job describing how rooms feel when the windows have been nailed shut for years and I can even feel my breath hitch thinking about the stale air (of course, as an allergic-asthmatic, that’s always going to be a sticking point of terror for me). And that classic British damp is ever-present, rotting away the shingles and leaving room for creepy beasties to get through.

The one thing that didn’t work for me was the ending, but it’s quite the journey to get there, so overall it’s a worthwhile read.

Pickles dramatically reenacts my experience reading Long Lankin. Did you hear that?

Pickles dramatically reenacts my experience reading Long Lankin. Did you hear that?

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Electric blue, page 92.

31. They Thirst – Robert McCammon

Some of the territory this book covers is familiar- if only listening, and, say, heeding warnings were revered qualities. They’re not in this book and they don’t seem to be in real life either. If only.

Anyway, this is McCammon’s take on the ensemble vampire story, and he chose a large amount of space to work with, which works to his disadvantage. It’s lengthy and wordy and a little flat in a way that reminds me of They Live (They live, they thirst. They’re doing so much!) and it’s not going to show you anything new if you’ve already read any vampire books, or, say, The Stand and Salem’s Lot. It’s one of McCammon’s early novels, and having read the later-written Swan Song first, I can see attempts at what he will achieve with an ensemble cast and a slightly out of the way supervillain. I am inclined to give some points for effort, although certain characters that become important are completely out of left field when they suddenly appear (Ratty…) and others with potential are too flat to invest in because there are so many people to follow (Andy and Solange, in particular). The main aspect that interested me was the Hammer Horror throwback of the castle.

Mortemer and Belvedere in their own ensemble drama. Father and son, scampering over a quilt on a double bed, scampering in search of a good hiding spot... to take a nap.

Mortemer and Belvedere in their own ensemble drama. Father and son, scampering over a quilt on a double bed, scampering in search of a good hiding spot… to take a nap.

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Art is a flat circle.

10. Broken Monsters – Lauren Beukes

Outsider art, taxidermy I don’t have to see, serial murder, solid female characters – well, solid characters in general, and some very unexpected surrealist imagery…it’s like Beukes had several of my reading habits in mind when she started writing.

Each character has a different angle on the central story and brings a different part of Detroit’s atmosphere in as well. It was really fun reading a book about Detroit that brought in the broken parts but also did some taking to task of the pretentious humans making artistic lemonade out of ruins.

There’s a lot to Broken Monsters. A lot of detail, a lot of tension, a lot of pieces that normally would have made me cringe treated with enough information and deference that I can tell she did a lot of research, essentially it provides a lot of reasons to follow Beukes as an author.

Merricat giving that look that means "I know you didn't say what you wanted to say about scenes that reminded you of True Detective's antler graffiti in this review."

Merricat giving that look that means “I know you didn’t say what you wanted to say about scenes that reminded you of True Detective’s antler graffiti in this review.”

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[Judge Perd is not a judge.]

3. An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamison

“A Memoir of Moods and Madness” and a stone cold classic for anyone interested in mental health, An Unquiet Mind is also an engaging read. Jamison’s experience with manic behavior was extremely interesting to me – her description of running rather endlessly around a parking lot during the process of earning her degree and using “we’re psych students” as the reason when questioned stood out in particular. It sort of suits the trope of going into psychiatry because one has psychological issues, but, that doesn’t have to be true. It’s very possible to ignore your own symptoms regardless of what you’re learning about or what level of professional development you’ve achieved. Brains are tricksy.

One thing to remember while reading An Unquiet Mind is that, especially if you don’t have anyone to catch you or clean up the giant mess you may have made while manic, this is definitely not an instructional manual for what to do if you are also experiencing manic or depressive episodes. It’s a memoir, and it has helpful examples, but it is not a self-help manual. You may recognize yourself, you may end up being a little envious of some of the things Jamison has gotten to do, you may not even care about getting to stay in England for long periods of time to write (I miss it). It always amuses me that I know the struggle to publish as an academic writer exists, but when you read material from people who have ended up with published work, when they discuss writing their proposals it’s just like a given that it’s going to happen- of course it did, but, somebody should write in one of their failed projects too, give the folks at home something to relate to on the other side because there’s a lot of failed academics out there who probably assumed their work was going to get published too… (Full disclosure, I am not an academic writer. I’ve just seen a lot of stressed out academics as a librarian and I’m guessing not all of them had a streamlined path to publish their research. And I’ve read or skimmed a crapload of extremely dry articles, so I wonder if the academic writers with stronger writing voices are getting shafted.)

Twiglet, a stone cold classic anchor pig.

Twiglet, a stone cold classic anchor pig.

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There are so many things to make us cry, or even crye, nowadays.

1. Who Made Stevie Crye? – Michael Bishop

Odd title + residence in a locked case of the library = I’m interested. In order to get to the area of the library where this book is held, you have to ask for an item (Pfft, normal patrons), or work there and have the ability to sign out a key, take the elevator up past several mezzanine floors, then unlock a door that’s just a little bit too short for your average bear with a security grating for a window. The secretive spaces of libraries are my favorites- you never know what all is in them and if you haven’t committed yourself to the work in some way, you’ll never get to see the weird stuff, or the bound volumes of Playgirl. Yes, academic libraries are hiding their porn from you, patrons; we just keep it for posterity, do not want to let it get it all sticky, and we library staff only use it for the articles. Literally. There’s this Chris Burden (you may know him as the performance artist that crucified himself on a VW Bug and let someone shoot him in a gallery, that’s how I know him) article in a 1970s issue of Playgirl that actually gets asked for a lot. It’s a pretty interesting interview and a bit of a letdown for all the staff in my department who were wondering if we were actually being asked to scan some guy’s (Chris Burden not the household name I figured someone who nailed themselves to a Bug would be) pictures from a skin mag – not so much.

What I gleaned from skimming through Who Made Stevie Crye? (no dust jacket, academic library) the beginning and intermittent illustrations was that there’s a monkey involved, someone loses all their flesh, and there’s what appeared to be a possessed typewriter in the story. It also said “A Novel of the American South” on the title page and any long time readers, first time callers know that I lived in the South and I miss many parts of it.  I figured it was horror, and it was published in 1984, I also love 1980s horror so it seemed like I might have found a diamond in the rough, as they say.

Well, that whole “set in the South” thing kept popping into my head as I read about how cold it was and the repeated turning on of the heater in Stevie’s writing room. It’s set in Georgia, but in winter, which is something that could have been easily changed and doesn’t truly contribute to the plot beyond being confusing. The humidity makes people crazy down there, which is helpful when you’re writing a horror story; a thick atmosphere is a tense atmosphere… It is just as easy to turn on a space heater in Wisconsin (where the publisher is, and the reason why this book was behind a locked door) and have the same level of haunted typewriter and monkey involvement and not make me wonder why you set the story in the South.

What Made Stevie Crye? also reminded me of one of my least favorite things about female main characters written by dudes, they are hysterical. A lot. Stevie super needs to get some writing done (I do believe in the 1980s there’s a shred of a chance one could support two children with a freelance writing career.) and her typewriter shits the bed and she doesn’t want to pay its actual manufacturer to fix it. It’s so fun reading about customer service calls. The true horror was making me read about how much it costs to fix an electric typewriter. So, of course, she ends up taking the typewriter to some nutball genius who has a pet monkey he named Sucrets (Seriously? Somebody’s shitty at pet names and that person is Michael Bishop.) and will NOT STOP VISITING after he “fixes” her typewriter. Stevie freaks out about her kids, at her kids, about the monkey, about the monkey’s finger-blood sucking habit (Ew.), about her dreams (The one with the man body with a monkey head is worth freaking out about, also the incest one, ew.), about her typewriter becoming sentient and teleplaying her dreams, about visitors, about the heater, about the stereotypical magical fortunetelling woman she finds to help her (The fortune teller has a manual typewriter. Typewriter fight! Note, typewriter fighting is way less interesting than it sounds…at least in this book.), about her book proposal, and basically betrays the majority of the sense of competency I believe a real woman would have so she can freak out. She just didn’t ring true to me and so I didn’t really care why she was so upset about having a monkey in her house, eating an egg sandwich. The horror! Plus the “reasoning” behind the whole enchanted typewriter thing sucked and even Stevie seemed to have a sedated reaction to it, most realistic thing she did.

I did a little research and found that this was supposed to be one of those “unexpectedly funny” books, but, it really didn’t work for me. I enjoy oddness for its own sake, I’m a fan of both Splatterpunk anthologies I’ve read and they’re a great example of truly bizarre things that can elicit a smirk. Maybe it would be funnier if the setting made sense and the main character seemed a tad realistic before things started making her go off the rails. Horror and comedy do have a lot in common. Or if they gave the monkey a mint julep instead of a fondness for Sucrets and finger-blood; actually, I believe that in the South, Capuchins drink a sweating glass of sweet tea before they invade your home and tear up your daughter’s stuffed animals and unzip their monkey skins to reveal their tiny little man bodies. Afterwards they fan themselves on your porch swing.

Finny just realized he left his space heater on...but he lives in Wisconsin...and it's still winter...so that's pretty normal beyond the improbability of me letting my guinea pigs manage their own space heaters. He also left his typewriter on...

Finny just realized he left his space heater on…but he lives in Wisconsin…and it’s still winter…so that’s pretty normal beyond the improbability of me letting my guinea pigs manage their own space heaters. He also left his typewriter on…

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Woo! Lab exposition!

34. Parasite – Mira Grant

Mira Grant likes to write about what people are eating for breakfast. I noticed it in the Newsflesh trilogy, and I noticed it in Parasite. Also, she likes to include the possibility of cold cuts, luncheon meats as they are known in some circles, as a possibility for breakfast, which for me is as alien as the idea of eating a tapeworm to remain healthy…which is also a very basic way of describing the source of dramatic conflict in this book. The tapeworm has already been eaten, but, the person who ingested it has an entirely different personality than they did before the car accident that caused them to eat it for survival and indebted them to a giant, creepy corporation that wants everyone to have tapeworms. Gross. Post-accident Sal (nee Sally) is super scared of cars even though she doesn’t remember her accident. She also enjoys the luncheon meats and having other conflicts of personality that make her vacillate between being a super lame scaredy cat and an ingenious detective as a character. I had a hard time with this. I also had a hard time with many of the other characters. They felt manipulated to me- perhaps by their own tapeworms. Also, this book is, like, super long and it shouldn’t be.

Pammy and Thaddeus enjoyed a nice carrot, some pellets, and a helping of hay for their breakfasts. Thaddeus whistling for me to dish out said breakfast at 7:30 AM on days when I did not have to be up that early was more thrilling than the cliffhanger ending of Parasite.

Pammy and Thaddeus enjoyed a nice carrot, some pellets, and a helping of hay for their breakfasts. Thaddeus whistling for me to dish out said breakfast at 7:30 AM on days when I did not have to be up that early was more thrilling than the cliffhanger ending of Parasite.

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Class of 1984 might be our best case scenario soon.

26. Schoolhouse – Lee Duigon

1988, a time when horror paperbacks were plentiful and there were more than enough skeletons on covers to scare all the children in line at the grocery store. Schoolhouse has a skeleton teacher (with bun and pointer, but no shoes, I feel like she could’ve been wearing shoes) with both an apple and another skull on her desk. Another skull on her desk! And the background isn’t just black, there’s a chalkboard and a spider web and everything. Pinnacle getting their money’s worth out of the cover artist. It’s a full painting. There are many parts of me that wish publishing still allowed for this style of cover and for a proliferation of bizarre horror novels.
Schoolhouse’s staying power is in its weirdness. If one went to public school, one generally could be led to believe that something weird is going on…especially in the 1980s, when the something weird didn’t have to be related to state budget cuts and elected officials painting teachers as the enemy for wanting proper resources because public schools’ mission is give EVERY student an education, and they don’t actually leave any children out.  Perhaps a digression, but things were different then and if your teacher was an enemy, it was probably because they were possessed by an alien beast creature sliming its way to the surface (now those are just lots of repugnant elected officials, possessed by somebody else’s money). Schoolhouse very much treads the line between horror and science fiction and who knew that would be a preview of our educational system today – vouchers and creationist textbooks, anyone? Scary stuff.

Danger Crumples and Ozymandias have very different investigative styles. Danger leaves no pillow un-turned, Ozy knows H.P. Lovecraft-style slimy beasts don't hide under pillows.

Danger Crumples and Ozymandias have very different investigative styles. Danger leaves no pillow un-turned, Ozy knows H.P. Lovecraft-style slimy beasts don’t hide under pillows.

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My favorite sign at the Women’s March on Washington thus far just says “I’m Afraid.” Thank you, fellow ladies.

I am not looking forward to the future. It’s hard to have your viewpoint as a depressive person validated so clearly- how am I supposed to tell myself that my brain is tricking me into thinking the future’s not worth it when my country elected someone who insists on trampling everything – Everything (Who needs clean air? Or to be considered a person? Or to be paid properly? Or to have any nature left? Or PBS? Or to get an education? I saw someone mentioning their public library will probably be turned into a taco bowl dispensary, I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if that started happening.) – I care about? Who has done such awful things to women? Who thinks the Violence Against Women Act doesn’t matter? What exactly am I supposed to hope for? Oh right, time travel slash reincarnation so I can go back in time and be born rich and powerful so I don’t have to worry constantly about these things. But that’s not right. And if no one showed up at the inauguration from the past to swipe those Bibles away and yell “Psyche, this can’t happen!”, we’re totally not getting time travel. Damnit.

As always, The Onion is on point

However, I am also inspired by seeing so many women in Washington, DC (Hi, Evelyn!) and so many sister marches. Agitate the fuck out of that illegitimate idiot. Remind him that he and his administration are the worthless ones because they aren’t capable of actually performing any public service. It’s hard to serve the public. It forces you to think that the rest of the country are people too. It forces you to confront our shared humanity and can teach people how to be kind. Elected officials, though, are not kings, are not dictators, are not truly “in charge,” their job is to serve us. Our job is to make them.

Miss Peregrine can look forward and she's one of few reasons I try to.

Miss Peregrine can look forward and she’s one of few reasons I try to.

 

Miss Ozma, about to take down some patriarchal bullshit. As usual.

Miss Ozma, about to take down some patriarchal bullshit. As usual.

I also wanted to announce that since the only things I can contemplate writing about as of yesterday are horror and mental illness, that’s what I’ll be covering for the rest of the year. I’ve read many a horror novel, and I’ve managed to not already “review” some of the books on mental illness that I’ve read. I want to be useful, it’s always been one of my goals. I know that I have been before, so I’ll continue to bring the bitter but usually also funny viewpoint I have as a member of the lost generation until I’m rounded up as Obsolete, along with the satisfyingly calming guinea pig photos.

 

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One thing I know will stay true for the next four years: Guinea pigs will still be cute.

63. Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson

Last year ended for me under a dark cloud, this year started under one, and frankly I’ve been debating a lot about what to say or to post this year. I was tempted to just cover nothing but horror novels, and they might heavily feature in my posts, but I have a hard time with that because it isn’t as easy as I’d like it to be to find horror novels by female authors that appeal to me and I like to try to be balanced in my review coverage, especially when things don’t appear to be getting any easier for so many people. We are living in a time when people think feelings matter more than facts, being reactionary is somehow applauded, and being an elected official is losing its true focus – public service – when it comes to the highest office in the U.S. because of endless tweets and indignities. When your brain already tries to trick you into thinking nothing is going to get better, it just doesn’t help to watch someone light the match to make the world burn. It’s a lot to fight against both internally and externally.

However, I also appreciate a little escapism as much as the next person who can’t believe this is reality and that’s a little bit of what I’ve been providing content-wise here for several years. So, now I’ll let you gentle readers in on another little cloud that prevented me from posting – Miss Peregrine, queen to my herd, made it clear that she had ovarian cysts and had to be spayed; her surgery took place one week ago. I have never lost a pig to surgery and I know that’s unusual because I’ve had about sixteen pigs all together and several have had surgeries. Every time I’ve noticed and researched symptoms that would lead to surgery I’ve seen accounts of people who have lost their pigs that way. I also lost Danger Crumples last January, so January and anesthesia and I are not necessarily on non-terrified terms. Peregrine made it through, I’ve spent a lot of time hand feeding and staring at her and asking her to tell me how she feels to very little interpretable response, and she is doing well now.

Her back feet remain okay. They didn't need to shave her feathery little legs and for that I am grateful.

Her back feet remain okay. They didn’t need to shave her feathery little legs and for that I am grateful.

To bring in a book, as would be tradition, I read Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson two years ago, but it surely will be helpful to people now and in the dim future. One of Lawson’s methods for dealing with depression involves a bit of funny extremism in that she will not strive to be happy, she will strive to be “furiously happy.” My version of that is being able to say “I’m actually a depressed person! I’m not just sad! I sometimes have very little will to live! Spring break!” to people who mention they’re “depressed” when their brain is not currently trying to tell them the world would be better off without them. Not that I do say those exclamations out loud – I’d never use that many exclamation points unironically. For shame, spring break, for shame. Many people are actually just temporarily sad, which is fine, but it’s not the same and should never be equivocated with depression. There are a lot of ways to be temporarily depressed, but they’re not all in need of medication or therapy and it’s not nice to equate things that will definitely alleviate with true depressive symptoms because it does tend to make people who need more significant help feel ye old stigma. Nobody needs that. Everyone’s sadness counts. Everyone’s sadness will not alleviate and you should be happy if yours does. Furiously happy.

A lot of whimsical descriptions of taxidermy appear in Furiously Happy, as does a Republican husband. I wonder about the current status of both of these, and Lawson does have a blog. It’s very popular, which is still not enough to cure depression. And if whimsical taxidermy did, I’d probably still be scared of most of it.

Peregrine eating expensive fruit. That's what queens do.

Peregrine eating expensive fruit. That’s what queens do.

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