Archive of ‘the written word’ category

this, that, & the other thing {xxiv}

molly-crabapple-geek-love-katherine-dunn-body-image-1463256483-size_1000 Why Katherine Dunn’s ‘Geek Love’ Was a Bible to Weird Kids Like Me

untitled-1-of-1Christ Consciousness, part I in Ellen Rogers’ Gnosis series, reflections on art & spirituality.

redasblood_full Red as Blood and White as Bone by Theodora Goss

belladonna3

Witchcraft, Satanism, and the Male Gaze: The Paranoid Sexual Politics of Belladonna of Sadness

1217.w529.h352Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden: A Korean Gothic Lesbian Revenge Thriller 

Follow the breadcrumbs: why fairytales are magic for modern fiction
10 strange novels of the British countryside
The Best Witch Cinema You Haven’t Seen
Riding With the Witch: Anxiety & Archetypes in Sleep Paralysis
The Haunting World of Jewish Female Demons and Spirits
Why we must burn her at once, via The Toast
How 2 Sisters and 1 Murder Inspired 500 Songs
How poetry helps us understand mental illness
Astronomers crack the secret of this gorgeous poem by Sappho
Google’s AI is writing eerie post-modern poetry
6 Sinister Podcasts to Scratch Your Eerie Itch

Dream a little dream… (of nocturnal attacks and sleep paralysis)

Henry Fuesli, The Nightmare

Henry Fuesli, The Nightmare

{This was originally written for After Dark In The Playing Fields,  in 2010.}

I struggle, but I am tied down by that dreadful feeling of helplessness that paralyzes us in our dreams. I want to cry out—but I can’t. I want to move——I can’t do it. I try, making terrible, strenuous efforts, gasping for breath, to turn on my side, to throw off this creature who is crushing me and choking me—but I can’t!

Then, suddenly, I wake up, panic-stricken, covered in sweat. I light a candle. I am alone. – Guy de Maupassant, Le Horla, 1887

When I was 11 years old, I shared a bedroom with my younger sister. We had a tiny, crowded room in a small ranch style house, on a quiet street in a little town on the east coast of Florida. Nothing much ever happened in our lives at that age – one day was very much like the day before and the one after that was not likely to be different.

In spite of our mundane existence, however, we were a very imaginative group of sisters; given to flights of fancy and outrageous story-telling, and if left to our own devices –which we often were – worked ourselves into quite a state in the absence of calming, more rational adult influences.

I do recall at that age I was enthralled with terribly lurid horror novels and more than likely regaled my sisters with gruesomely detailed synopses of the things I had read. We were also influenced by our mother’s gentleman friend who rented several horror films a week for us at the local video store, which we would gather round the television and watch, white knuckled and peeking over our pillows, late into the night during the summer months when there was no threat of school the next morning. I am sure that all of these things contributed to the particular evening’s events of which I am about to relay. Although this was not something I myself observed, I was party to the occurrence and to this day it perplexes me and causes me so small amount of unease.

The air conditioning was not working very well that summer; the ceiling fans did little more than stir the close, humid air of the hot bedroom, and we did not sleep with the windows open to let in a breeze from the outside. Our bedroom doors were always kept shut while we were sleeping, as well. Fire-prevention, my mother admonished, in the convincing-though-not-entirely-logical way that mothers do.

This night the room was stifling, though it was moonless and dark, and we eventually fell asleep. I am sure my sister and I talked about this, that, or the other thing before drifting off, as is the wont of two siblings very attached to one another. At that age, I was a very light sleeper; the slightest noise would stir me, and I was usually up and out of bed several times a night. I recall nothing unfamiliar of that night, no ominous, languid feeling stealing over me, if anything, it was heat-induced lethargy. I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep and did not wake again until it was light, my sister shaking me and crying piteously.

Even now, 20 years later, what she proceeded to impart to me chills the blood in my veins, and sends a shudder right through me “After I fell sleep” she said, “I had a bad dream which woke me up. I can’t remember what it was about. I tried to turn on the light, but I couldn’t move. I called your name over and over, but you wouldn’t wake up at all.”

She continued her tale, detailing how, as her eyes darted frantically around the room, she glanced at the door, which was standing wide open…despite the fact that this night, like every other, we had closed it tightly. In the darkened doorway she saw the shadowy outline of someone –- or something -– looming, standing stock still. As her gaze traveled upward, her terror reached a fever pitch when she saw that the intruder’s eyes -– a baleful, glowering red -– were fixed directly upon her own. At this point the story end, more or less. She cannot remember anything after that, and must have fallen back asleep.

Was she dreaming the entire time? Or was it perhaps a form of sleep paralysis with accompanying hallucinations? Or…was something sinister indeed lurking in the threshold of our childhood bedroom?

Nikolaj Abraham Abildgaard, The Nightmare

Nikolaj Abraham Abildgaard, The Nightmare

I’ve given this quite a bit of thought since then and I’ve come to the belief that she suffered an episode of sleep paralysis – a “brief state of being unable to move ones body upon either falling asleep or waking up,” and is “usually accompanied by an ominous feeling that there is some kind of ghost or demon in the room, or even visual or auditory hallucinations.”

Research indicates that sleep paralysis is a natural state of the body. In deeper states of sleep, the brain stems engage in processes that block out certain neurotransmitters in order to stop one from physically acting out their dreams. Occasionally an individual will wake up “before their brains have completely de-activated the induced paralysis, and experience hallucinations which are thought to be either vestigial dream fragments or attempts by the brain to reconcile the waking state with the otherwise unexplainable muscular paralysis.” This hallucinatory element makes it even more likely that someone will interpret the experience as a dream, since completely fanciful or dream-like objects may appear in the room alongside one’s normal vision. Some scientists have proposed this condition as an explanation for alien abductions and ghostly encounters.

J. Allan Cheyne of the University of Waterloo speaks thusly regarding initial studies on the phenomena and how we view it today “In 1876… an American Civil War surgeon, neurologist, and writer of historical fiction, Silas Weir Mitchell reported a curious malady, which he called –night palsy, during which soldiers reported a temporary but terrifying nocturnal paralysis. Although the phenomenon was subsequently reported in the medical literature under a number of different labels, the term coined in 1928 by Samuel Wilson, ―sleep paralysis, finally stuck.” It is worth noting that this was right around the same time Guy de Maupassant wrote Le Horla (see opening quote, above).

Nightmares and sleep paralysis, or nocturnal attacks have been closely connected to myths and monsters spanning across time and cultures, language and geography. Anecdotal reporting, shared stories, etc. shows how incidents of sleep paralysis seem to manifest itself in culturally-relevant terms and mythologies; whereas today we might attribute these occurrences to aliens or alien abduction, our grandparents might have seen ghosts, and their ancestors might have chalked it up to a demon attack or a witches hexing.

Cultures around the world have their own myths and folklore surrounding this phenomena. In Newfoundland & South Carolina, when one experiences waking with a feeling of terror and being crushed, and is unable to move, one is referred to as being “hag-ridden”. (The ‘Old Hag’ was a nightmare spirit in British and also Anglophone North American folklore.) In Chinese culture, sleep paralysis is widely known as “鬼壓身/鬼压身”, or “ghost pressing on body. In Vietnamese culture, sleep paralysis is referred to as “ma đè”, meaning “held down by a ghost” or “bóng đè”, meaning “held down by a shadow”. In African culture, isolated sleep paralysis is commonly referred to as “the witch riding your back”. In Malta, folk culture attributes a sleep paralysis incident to an entity in Maltese folk culture that haunts the individual in ways similar to a poltergeist. As believed in folk culture, to rid oneself of this one must place a piece of silverware or a knife under the pillow prior to sleep. (more examples of sleep paralysis across the world can be found via Wikipedia)

An interesting bit of information provided by J. Allan Cheyne through his research is that “first episodes of sleep paralysis typically occur to adolescents”; my sister would have been right around that age, maybe a year shy, when this occurred. But although his data indicates that many people have more than one episode – some report several times in a lifetime or several times a year, one large group reports monthly attack, but weekly or nightly attacks are rare – as far as I know, this never happened to my sister again.

That morning, as I listened to her tale and attempted to assuage her fears, I remember being terrified, myself. Whether or not it was real, I thought, it was awfully real to her, and if something like that could happen to her, well, couldn’t it happen to me too? Whether deeply slumbering and caught in the depths of a powerful nightmare, or trapped, immobile, by your own body and helpless against the tricks your own head is playing on you –- either way the shadowy intruder, or the ghost, or the alien is something conjured from the darker corners of your subconscious…and how can you possibly hope to escape that?

THE OCCULT ACTIVITY BOOK

Cover

Friends and fiends, foul and fair–it is finally here!

Our wee devil baby has arrived! Head on over to Munich Art Studio to nab your copy of THE OCCULT ACTIVITY BOOK.

The activity book alone is $6 and for $10 you will receive a deluxe package including the activity book, two 5X7 prints by artist Becky Munich and one sticker created by EC Steiner.
(Shipping is included for domestic orders. International friends, please reach out to us directly, and we’ll figure out shipping cost to your part of the world.)

Speaking of artists – we could not have done this without our fantastic coven of evil genius creators! Many thanks to (in no particular order of magnificence) Carisa Swenson, Dana Glover, EC Steiner, Heather Drain, Jack Shear, Tenebrous Kate and Laurel Barickman. You guys are all amazing – thank you so much!

Deluxe

15+ things I wrote in 2015

Image: Erté, bookplate

Image: Erté, bookplate

 

This was a year for some interesting opportunities and I am honored to have contributed to the following blogs/websites/publications. Thank you for having me, folks!

Death and the Maiden

Perfume of the Dead

Death Has a Voice

Heretical Sexts

Witch Women

Bloodmilk

Summer Scents For Those Who Shun the Sun

Haute Macabre

Drama Queen & Cultist of Personal Beauty: Virginia Oldini
Darkly Dreaming, part one
Darkly Dreaming, part two
Darkly Dreaming, part three

Dirge Magazine

The News Faces Of Death part one: Sarah Troop
The News Faces Of Death part two: Bess Lovejoy
The News Faces Of Death part three: Amber Carvaly
The News Faces Of Death part four: Megan Rosenbloom
The News Faces Of Death part five: Carla Valentine
Alchemical Catharsis: The Art of Alice Rogers
Emperor of Nightmares: EC Steiner
Bill Crisafi: Artist, Dreamer, Feral Mystic
* spot reserved for a thing I am excited about but which has not been published*

As a bonus, here are some of my favorite things that I wrote for my own blog this year…!

Making things weird: an interview with Tenebrous Kate
There is much that darkness knows
Hairy goat peen & other delights
On thick skin
Caftan Party Paradise

Crash Helmet, or Things That Do Not Make Sense

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This was originally written for After Dark In The Playing Fields, back in 2010. I thought I would share it here today, as I recently saw this book again at my sister’s house and it has of late been in my thoughts.

I am really at a loss as to how to properly introduce the following item from my past.  There are some memories of beloved childhood belongings that just Make Sense – a cherished stuffed animal, for example: a once sweet-faced and shiny marble-eyed bunny rabbit, worn down to rags and nubs from time spent dragging it to and fro through sandboxes, bathtubs and brambles.

Not only did I love this Bunny  -I know she loved me too.  She loved me so much, I am absolutely certain that she did not mind when, 30 years later  – just this past May – I buried her under an old oak tree with my wonderful little cat who had just died.  They had both provided comfort and companionship and happiness for me for so many years, it only made Perfect Sense to me to keep them together.

It is fitting then, one should look back at these treasured keepsakes, these fond remembrances and feel a pleasant rush of happiness and harmony.  Of feeling safe and at peace.  Of the world Making Sense.

Crash Helmet is definitely not one of these items. Even as children, when presented with this book, I recall my sister and I wearing identical looks of abject horror while thumbing through it.   I am not sure who gifted it to us, but to this day I wonder what on earth they must have been thinking. I realize that most children’s books are full of crazy, nonsensical plots and unusual characters – that is what makes them so much fun for young people to read, and so memorable many years later.  This one however seems particularly demented, and two more wildly unattractive protagonists I have never seen.

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A story by Harry Allard and illustrated by Jean-Claude Suares, Crash Helmet follows Elmer, a suave and lonely vulture who runs a gas station in New Mexico who meets Violet, a 5000 year old mummy on a motorcycle.  Violet “is charmed by Elmer’s smooth dancing and Elmer is awed by Violet’s fearlessness.”  As the two of them try to eke out a living in the desert,  they discover “that what they lack in common sense they more than make up in imagination and daring”.

I am not sure it is often that one can trace back to the exact moment the world wobbled, tilted, and subsequently righted itself, but this is as close as it gets for me…. I believe that from that time on my perception of things were a bit skewed for it.  This is not all a bad thing, of course!  Obviously we had not encountered much weirdness in our lives up until this point, but after repeated, repulsed readings, we grew more and more appreciative of it and the absurdity contained within.  I think it probably contributed to our general eccentricities as we grew older!

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Of course, we had since lost the copy that we grew up with. I was recently lucky enough to track down another, and surprised myself by how excited I was to tear open the small package and hold the book in my hands again.  Having scanned the pages in (the rest you can find below), it is at this moment wrapped in brown paper and in the post on its way to my sister.  She is not expecting it, and I cannot imagine what she will think when she opens the package.

I hope though, she will smile and exclaim “This old thing!  This strange old thing!  How I loved it – how happy I am to see it again.”  I hope that after the unusual twists and unexpected turns our lives have taken since that time, she finds comfort in it, as perhaps A Thing That Now Makes Sense.

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Currently {September 2015}

Reading:

 

Watching:

  • Sense8; actually this is just about the only thing I am watching right now.  A slow surreal sci-fi dip into “dreamy conspiracies and chimerical fellowship”, and is apparently lauded by critics as both a masterpiece and a disaster. All I can tell you is that this show makes me feel all of the feels. Which is pretty uncomfortable for me, I don’t mind telling you. And I love it.

 

Listening:

  • Ghost, Meliora. I have been listening to this non-stop for the past month. And I will be seeing them again live next month!  I didn’t know if I was on board with this new album, but it’s pretty amazing…super catchy in a kind of syrupy, tricksy way, and this Dirge review really sums up my thoughts quite well.
  • Lana Del Rey, Honeymoon. Shut up. Whatever you are going to say, I don’t want to hear it. This album is sad and fucked up in an epic way. It is Lana gone full-Lana.

 

Smelling:

Knitting:

  • The Bitterroot Shawl, from knitty 2007 or something like that.  This is the third time I have knit this pattern, and I still love it.  I actually even added the beads on it this time, and despite that, and the fiddliness of the stupid yarn (warning: do not use knitpick’s Diadem for lace projects), I started and finished this in nine days. It will soon be off to its new home!
  • Next up: hats and scarves and wristwarmers – I’m actually getting started early on the holiday gifts this year!

Other than the above, (and the full time job which I never talk about because who wants to hear about that? Ugh) I have been busy with grandmother duty, a bit of writing and the odd guest blog here and there, the struggle with wellness and mental health, and getting ready for our trip to Portland next week. After that, there are lots of exciting things coming up in the next few months- the Ghost show, the Necromancy Art show at Gods & Monsters, Bat Boy the Musical, and Death Cafe Orlando! Though now that I see it typed out like that…it all looks rather exhausting.  And stressful.  Hm.

How is your fall shaping up? What have you been into lately and what looms on the horizon for you?  I want to hear all about it!

 

On thick skin

weirdo

My sisters jest that “Sarah had a feeling once. It made her very uncomfortable.  She didn’t like it.”

I don’t know that I have always been this way.  I recall being very tender-hearted and sensitive at a young age, but somewhere along the way I must have learned that this is a dangerous thing, allowing oneself to feel things too deeply, and worse – letting the world see that you feel things too deeply.

I have known my fair share of people who value cleverness over kindness, those who would pride themselves on their “brutal honesty” and that they “pull no punches”. I believe you can’t have brutal honesty without a brute at the very core and I am no brute; rather than fight like with like, I learned that I must toughen up and develop a thicker skin to deal with these people and deflect their unkind cuts, their churlishness and rancor.

Over the years this thick skin has become an intangible but very organic feeling armor,  calloused in some places, worn through in others. I’ve learned not to cry, or if I must weep, I steel myself against my tears, allowing them to fall and harden and become stiff patches which I will harvest and use to mend those tears in my armor where the chinks are beginning to show. These tears, now fortifications, are protection against the very things that caused them – and those things will not make me cry again.

Later in life I am learning that this thick skin, this armor, does not always serve me well.  It has allowed me to only to half-feel, or not to feel at all…. and this lack of feeling, this numbness, this blocking of emotion and engagement, has stunted some relationships before they had time to flourish. Or perhaps it inhibits me from pursuing the friendship or relationship or opportunity at all.

I am learning that this skin is not one in which I can live in permanently…but nor is it one that I need to shed completely. I think it is something I can don when I know I will be in a situation during which I can become hurt, where there are people whose motivations are suspect, whose words are inconsiderate and thoughtless at best or harsh and hateful at worst. People with personalities that jab and poke and dig, and from whom I need protection

And yet I am realizing that to live fully and immersively, I need to be able to quietly slip this skin off, fold it up and stow it away and allow myself to be unguarded and vulnerable with those whom I feel safe. I do have these people in my life, and they are good people, and they deserve that part of me.  And I know I deserve that experience.  Of being fully loved, of crying if it comes to that, and allowing myself to feel.

Here’s to you, my thick skin. For growing and developing as I needed you, for protecting and preserving me, and for changing and adapting to fit my transformation as I move forward, feeling my way through this world.

 

 

Near Zennor

Near Zennor from ghoulnextdoor on 8tracks Radio.

A new @8tracks playlist, inspired by Elizabeth Hand’s work of short fiction, “Near Zennor”. Image via landtraces.com

Tracklist:

Prologue, Richard Moult | Oracle, Paper Dollhouse | Enchanter’s Nightshade, Eternal Tapestry | Morgiana, The Hare And The Moon | The Stone Steps, The Soulless Party | His Arm Has Grown Long, Alexander Tucker | The Wind That Cracks The Leaves, In Gowan Ring | Don’t Break The Curse, Hexvessel | The Faery Round, Drcarlsonalbion | Black Mill Tapes, Pye Corner Audio | Black Butterfly, King Dude

Summer Reading 2016

summer2016 copy

I am just now diving into the books that I gathered for last summer’s reading {standouts thus far being Errantry by Elizabeth Hand and Revenge by Yoko Ogawa}, so I thought in the grand tradition of biting off more than I can chew, I will go ahead and make a list the other items I intended on reading this summer…but will probably not pull down from the shelf until Summer 2016.

If you are keen on short stories,and tales of the weird/fantasy/speculative fiction/magical realism/horror…then you I imagine you will find a few treasures here for your own shelf. And please feel free to share what you are reading this summer…or future summertimes!

 

The Vorrh by Brian Catling

“Next to the colonial town of Essenwald sits the Vorrh, a vast—perhaps endless—forest. It is a place of demons and angels, of warriors and priests. Sentient and magical, the Vorrh bends time and wipes  memory. Legend has it that the Garden of Eden still exists at its heart. Now, a renegade English soldier aims to be the first human to traverse its expanse.”

The Doll Collection: Seventeen Brand-New Tales of Dolls

“Master anthologist Ellen Datlow has assembled a list of beautiful and terrifying stories from bestselling and critically acclaimed authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Seanan McGuire, Carrie Vaughn, Pat Cadigan, Tim Lebbon, Richard Kadrey, Genevieve Valentine, and Jeffrey Ford. The collection is illustrated with photographs of dolls taken by Datlow and other devoted doll collectors from the science fiction and fantasy field. The result is a star-studded collection exploring one of the most primal fears of readers of dark fiction everywhere, and one that every reader will want to add to their own collection.”

 

Japanese Gothic Tales by Izumi Kyoka

“Resisting the various forms of realism popular during the Meiji “enlightenment,” Izumi Kyoka (1873-1939) was among the most popular writers who continued to work in the old-fashioned genres of fantasy, mystery, and romance. Gothic Tales makes available for the first time a collection of stories by this highly influential writer, whose decadent romanticism led him to envision an idiosyncratic world–a fictive purgatory –precious and bizarre though always genuine despite its melodramatic formality. The four stories presented here are among Kyoka’s best-known works. “

 

Gifts for the One Who Comes After by Helen Marshall

“Ghost thumbs. Microscopic dogs. One very sad can of tomato soup . . . Helen Marshall’s Shirley Jackson Award-Nominee and second collection offers a series of twisted surrealities that explore the legacies we pass on to our children. A son seeks to reconnect with his father through a telescope that sees into the past. A young girl discovers what lies on the other side of her mother’s bellybutton. Death’s wife prepares for a very special funeral. In Gifts for the One Who Comes After, Marshall delivers eighteen tales of love and loss that cement her as a powerful voice in dark fantasy and the New Weird. Dazzling, disturbing, and deeply moving.”

Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck

“Enter the strange and wonderful world of Swedish sensation Karin Tidbeck with this feast of darkly fantastical stories. Whether through the falsified historical record of the uniquely weird Swedish creature known as the “Pyret” or the title story, “Jagannath,” about a biological ark in the far future, Tidbeck’s unique imagination will enthrall, amuse, and unsettle you.”

 

Short Dark Oracles by Sara Levine

“In her vivid hyper-real collection, Short Dark Oracles, Sara Levine paints her way into even sharper and more dangerous corners. The fictions are an impasto of primed primary colors, prose that cuts a swath in brilliant swatches of saturated power that pops, punches, turns every turn into a fat flat facet, hard as a side of diamond, steel still-lives, glittering, metallic, distilled. “

 

The Lord Came at Twilight by Daniel Mills

“In the foothills of the Green Mountains, a child grows up in an abandoned village, haunted by memories of his absent parents. In a wayside tavern, a murderous innkeeper raises a young girl among the ghosts of his past victims. Elsewhere the village of Whistler’s Gore is swept up in the tumult of religious fervor, while in rural Falmouth, the souls of the buried dead fall prey to a fungal infestation. This is New England as it was once envisioned by Hawthorne and Lovecraft, a twilit country of wild hills and barren farmland where madness and repression abound. The Lord Came At Twilight presents 14 stories of doubt and despair, haunter and haunted, the deranged and the devout.”

 

Nevers by Megan Martin

“Every character in Nevers is having a better time than the narrators.  And everyone, according to these narrators, is an asshole.  Megan Martin’s collection is comprised of shorts of almost uniform length and uniform theme.  Each is voiced by a narrator who has had enough.”

 

North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud

“Nathan Ballingrud’s Shirley Jackson Award winning debut collection is a shattering and luminous experience not to be missed by those who love to explore the darker parts of the human psyche. Monsters, real and imagined, external and internal, are the subject. They are us and we are them and Ballingrud’s intense focus makes these stories incredibly intense and irresistible.”

A million years ago

I’d forgotten that a million years ago, I’d made a little Amazon referral store. Well, now it’s been updated! If you’re ever interested in picking up any of the cinema, literature or music that I mention, you might find it here.

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea how it works.  But if you find something I’ve list that you have an interest in, and purchase it, and then somehow I get credit for it toward some other purchase? Well that’s pretty good.  I’m much obliged to ye.

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