27 January 2010

Why do we read horror?

I'm taking a class right now called Forms of Fiction: Horror. It's exactly what it sounds like: a literature class focusing on horror stories. Yes, I go to art school. I get to read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Dracula, The Exorcist, The Shining, and The Secret Lives of Monster Dogs, and go to class two times a week to sit around with a bunch of other horror dorks and talk about it. I expected all of this, and I've been waiting a few semesters to get into this class.

What I didn't expect to encounter hit me yesterday. Real discussions about not just writing style, plot devices, character development or effectiveness of suspense or drama, but questions being posed like, "Why do we like horror?"

I didn't have an answer. It's something I have definitely thought about, but never really forced any conclusions out of myself toward. I have been a total geek for zombie lore since I was fourteen when some fellow outcast kid on my bus loaned me a VHS copy of the original Dawn of the Dead. I watched it four times in two days, just amazed. It was like someone kicked open a door that I had always passed thinking it was spare molding on a blank wall. And over the years, I've questioned it. Why am I so drawn to zombies? Why do I buy books breaking their idealogies into metaphors for human nature, culture, and society? Is it the blood and rotting flesh? Is it the limbo between life and death? Is it simply an attraction to the unknown?

I, at some point, deduced that the commentary on human nature is really what intrigues me. The idea that our brains are shaped by the ethics and mores of the society we are reared in, but that at our core, we are animals. For all of the progress, knowledge, technology, innovation, emotion, learned restraint, traditions, expectations of civility that a few thousand years has yielded via mankind, we, as a species, are still as base as the others on our planet. We require food, we feel the urge to travel, we crave company and the need to be a part of a group, yet inherently know we are alone as sentient beings, and when it really comes down to it, we'll save our own ass first.

And of course, I didn't realize it that afternoon in my mom's living room hogging the VCR in incredulous wonder, but the meat (pun intended) of the philosophical and social commentary of zombie flicks is in the living characters, and their responses to the undead counterparts. The ideals and values that people cling to in a post-apocalyptic world versus the mindset of necessity. When manners, social graces, formalities, and preconcieved notions of human interaction have been erradicated, man becomes a science experiment, stripped to pure instinct and emotion--dirty, volatile, selfish, violent, and malevolent.

So, why do we read horror?

Burton, my professor, quoted Stephen King as a contribution, who said horror literature is a means for us to take out the monster, play with it for a while, and put it back. Who is the monster? The monster is the shadow. Burton pointed us toward some light Jung reading, which really just organized all of my thoughts on the matter into something much more concise. "The Shadow", according to Carl Jung, is basically your unconscious. It's all of the shit that makes you you, that you're not aware is even there. The idea is that fate is a myth, that things don't just happen for no reason, you're not attracted to certain people 'out of nowhere', and that when you meet someone you absolutely detest, it's really that you hate the things about them that are a part of your shadow.

I already know this. I don't really hate anyone, but I can think of a few people I completely despise. And over the years (I'm so old and wise and sage now, and the ripe old age of 21), I've learned things about myself I seriously never expected. Things I thought I was the entire opposite of. Things that people I didn't understand my attraction toward have brought out. Not all of them are good, but through this whole lifelong process of getting to know yourself (that I hope I live long enough to complete, in some form), I've figured out what it is about me that I see in those that I dislike. I have always known everyone you meet is your mirror, I suppose I just didn't grasp how effectively the mind can separate itself; how efficiently the unconscious can mislead the conscious.

We read horror out of curiosity for the darkness that lies in us all, at that inherent level, that a majority of us now accustomed to a civilized society will never fully witness firsthand. We read horror, so I have decided at this point, to satiate those urges that are a part of us. I remember in eighth grade, I decided of my own volition to go to church for about six months, because I genuinely had no idea what Christianity entailed and I wanted to know why everyone thought it was so cool. I had some qualms right off the bat, and made the decision to leave when my pastor told me I was a bad person to question the Bible, or anything it had to say. I remember one of my biggest issues was the idea that God made man in his own image, loves him unconditionally, yet curses him with grief for having natural sexual urges. It made no sense to me. Likewise, I think humans naturally have inclinations toward malice, violence, anger, sex, apathy, greed, and selfishness. I'm not saying if you got it, flaunt it. But denying the things that make one human is a denial of life. Those urges must be addressed.

Carl Jung says, "Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions."

Put quite simply, if you repress pieces of your outward being, whether they be good or bad, they unbalance you. Indeed, "the shadow" is not necessarily a bad thing. It's not that cut and dry, just as there are rarely true examples of good versus evil, rather, it's all dependent on a balance. A pure concentration is never an option. We, as humans, are amorphous shades of grey living, breathing, and interacting in a grey world. Have you ever seen a white brain or a black brain? No. That's what I thought.

It's important to get to know yourself. It's important to explore your shadow, and make decisions on the kind of person you want to be based on what you've go to work with and how it relates to your world. I think it's also important to acknowledge your basic human traits, and find ways to exercise them. Reading horror literature or watching zombie flicks has worked for a lot of people for a long time, but it's not the only way. It's all a matter of balance.

Illustration 4: Jay Reatard Article



These are for class. Don't look at them.

11 January 2010

Commission: Jason M. Vawter

I recently got a commission for an illustrated portrait. Here's the original photo:

& here is my interpretation:

[click to embiggen]

How did I do?

822 v2.0

I have three numbers tattooed on my wrist

next to the image of sickly green & yellow rose. I have these three numbers that I gaze at everyday, and I forget what they mean, sometimes. I forget why I put them on my skin permanently. I have this vague notion, this memory of a feeling, this fleeting air of excitement and sawdust and rancid beer and solvents that lingers in my brain. That is all that is really there on a daily basis; what I claim to be the daily reminder of why I am still putting forth my precious spare time, my short patience, my meager extra funds into something that everyone involved defines in their own terms.

822, those are the three digits that grace my left arm. "What does 822 mean?" asks every other Circle K clerk selling me a pack of Parliaments. "Uh, it's an address.. to a warehouse that I... used to squat in?" What kind of answer is that? It's the truth. I'm too rational at times, too logical, and far too goddamned serious for my own good. Yeah yeah, it's gotten me this far. I mean, how many 21 year olds do you know that have kept a 3.0 in full-time college, held down multiple steady jobs, run a bi-weekly newspaper, and still found the time and energy to found and maintain their own arts organization? Not to toot my own horn here, but seriousness hasn't done me too wrong.

I guess I just have to remember. Isn't that why we make memories? Isn't that why we try, in so many different ways, to document them? Isn't that why my walls are covered in cards, my flickr full of photos, my skin filled with ink? I have to remember the way I felt about a time and a place, even if I'll never experience it again. I forget to remember that far too often. My explanations need amending. 822 is an address to a warehouse that I used to squat in... with a group of the most motivated, interesting, and exciting people I had ever met, that I knew from the start would be my best friends.

I have to remember that. I have to remember the night that I got this tattoo; the way I felt. I knew that night if I thought about it too much, if I made it into something more serious, that I wouldn't go through with it. I have a bad habit of remembering why things fail, detail by detail, rather than hanging on to the memories of why I did it in the first place. Rozelle Artists Guild is this hip, city-renowned group of young progressives. Rozelle Artists Guild is 5 or 6 idiots still figuring life out under the guise of an entity. Rozelle Artists Guild is a failed business. Rozelle Artists Guild is a successful collective making a difference in Memphis. Rozelle Artists Guild is still figuring it out. Rozelle Artists Guild has it more figured out than you. These things are all true to someone.

822 is where it began. But 822 is not where it ended. Losing the warehouse was like breaking up with a boyfriend you've been with for years. It wasn't fun everyday. Sometimes it was difficult, sometimes it felt like more work than I was up for, sometimes I wondered why the fuck we had ever bothered, but at the end of the day, I just had to remind myself that it was worth it. That it was such a good beginning, I wasn't ready for it to die. I knew that night, standing in Studio 42, that if I didn't do something important, something permanent, something to always remember where this started, and how motivated and excited we all were, that the memories of bonfires, full studios, the workdays when everyone pitched in, the comraderie, the ideas, the thick atmosphere of creativity and naivete and determination would fade into the criticism of how 822 was lost.

I saw 822 yesterday for the first time in over a year. I remember crying when we lost it, thinking it would be low-income apartments, or boat storage, or condemned in twelve months. But it's none of those things. As Mark put it, there is yet another crazy asshole in there, trying to transform this old piece of shit building into something good. I'm glad to see that edifice standing, and vibrating, and improving, however slowly. I am glad that what little us 5 or 10 naive assholes did to that warehouse ended up being a few less steps for the next guy, rather than a waste.

And now? What does 822 mean to me? 822 is our roots, our history. And our future lies in a new address, a new building. And I'm terrified. What are these kids thinking? Do they really think they can take some old piece of shit building and turn it into some kind of arts hub? Do they really think they have what it takes? Well, I think we do. We did it before, we can do it again. Now, 822 means something different. It means mistakes we won't repeat. It means wisdom and knowledge. It means a full rolodex of contacts. It means half a city has heard our name, regardless of the association it carries. It means that this team, having grown from 2, to 3, to 5, to 8, to 30 and 40 and up, has finally settled into 5. Five people that are up for a challenge. Five people grown wiser and older and tougher through concrete and murals.

This quonset hut... It's an awful idea. It's a repeat. It's five young idiots who have the heart but no means. It's five idiots who will want it with everything they are, but will still get distracted trying to pay bills, find health insurance, put food in the fridge, and beg for recognition for the individual talents we all have. Separate, that's what we are. Just five dumbass twenty-somethings. But for some reason, when you put us in a room, or an abandoned building full of junk, all we see are possibilities. All of the sudden, we will work for free, we will blow off dates, we will sweat and toil and beg all for what?

That, my friend, is what you must wait for. We're not through yet. Chapter two is beginning. 822 is a ghost, but I am remembering what it felt like to think, This could really work. We could really do this. And it might be a longshot. We might be naive. We might fail miserably. But I recently came to the realization that letting the fear of failure dictate your decisions is a stupid philosophy for anything. And that even if we do, we're going to win anyway. Bankrupt us, overdraft us, evict us, cave rooves in on us, burn us, bake us, we just keep going. We always have, and we will until the end, whenever that may be.

822 means I'm not giving up just yet.

06 January 2010

These are not New Years Resolutions

When I was ten years old, I went to the doctor for a cough. I still remember my doctor's face: half shrouded by a salt & pepper beard, thick round glasses, and a typically bulbous Jew nose that foreshadowed his quick and nasally speech. He asked me to look at the ceiling, then recoiled in shock at the size of the lump on my neck. He tested my blood on a hunch, and correctly diagnosed me with Hypothyroidism, a fairly common gland disorder that most don't know they have until much, much later in life.

Since then, I have made several large additions to my medical chart. I am afflicted daily with the symptoms of many illnesses, all due to genetic mutations. As a result, I'm frequently sickly, weak, tired, and sore. I'm in different kinds of pain every day, I gain weight for no reason, and during the semester, I punish my already pathetic bodily functions with stress, caffeine, and sleep deprivation.

& I'm tired of that. I'm tired of just putting up with all of the little things that compound and make my days long and arduous. I will always have more to overcome to achieve the same goals as those around me, but I have no reason to make it any harder than it already is. I have read the books, and the websites, and I am not exaggerating whatsoever when I say I have seen at least fifty different doctors in the past five years. I know my options, and I think it's time I really try to make a change, and stick to it.

Consistency is one of my biggest pitfalls, and it always has been. I am responsible, organized, motivated and hardworking. I don't miss deadlines, I don't cancel appointments, I don't skip class. But as much as I resist routine, my body is craving it, and I think it's time I reappropriate some of my time and money to taking care of it.

These are not New Years Resolutions.
These are promises I'm making to myself that I will try on a daily basis to keep.

1. I will cut down on cigarettes. I would like to reach a point where I only smoke when I drink. I'm tempted to say I will quit entirely, but I'd like to start small.

2. I will stop using deodorant with aluminum and toothpaste with flouride. It's overwhelming how many things I assume are innocuous simply because I was raised by people who assumed the same. My family are smart people but not necessarily the most vigilant healthwise. Flouride-free toothpase doesn't obliterate my stomach, and aluminum is linked with Fibromyalgia, one of my least favorite medical issues.

3. I will take time out to ride my bike, even if I don't want to. Although I'm very active, I don't actually engage in any significant cardiovascular activity, aside from taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking extensively. And I have a sweet ass bike now.

4. I will limit my alcohol intake. I am terrible with money, and I think one good step toward better money management is spending less on things that are not necessary. My body is too fragile to be a heavy drinker. One night a week is really all I should participate in.

5. I will take all of my pills everyday. I am so bad at this. After ten years with a daily pill regimen, you would think that I would have it down. But I don't. I will find my weekly pill caddy, dust it off, and fill it up every Sunday night. And I will actually take vitamins too.

6. I will up my protein intake, and curb my carbs. This is one of those basic dietary rules that really helps with my muscle pain, fatigue, and weight stabilization.

7. I will lose weight. I'm not uncomfortable with my body, but I've got this delusion that I am incapable of losing weight, and I have a feeling that it's not really as impossible as I think.

These are not New Years Resolutions, because those are made to be broken by Valentines. These are promises I'm making to myself that I will try on a daily basis to keep.

01 January 2010

Goodnight, 2009.

Here's to 2009. May you die a painful death. Hello, 2010.