Horror Experiment and My Newest Challenge

So this is something of a follow-up from my previous Blog entry “My Curve” that you can find by just scrolling back.

I’ve been thinking about the horror genre lately, particularly with regards to film, but being the person I am I also relate it back to horror writing. Better minds than mine have looked at horror and defined it through scholarship, or creativity. But after particularly focusing on cinematic horror, I see that there are so many different kinds of stories and storytelling, as well as production value, that make up the genre.

Some of it is psychological, or bodily, or just gore. Other parts of it are philosophical, or tacky, or just plain strange. It’s like how the comics medium has schlock and fine art, and all the variants in-between. You can find this in any genre or medium, I’m sure, but perhaps it’s because of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and its bent on what I think in my mind as “weird movies” that I tend to view cinematic horror along these lenses. I mean, the Toronto After Dark particularly focuses on independent — or indie — films, both short and long-form, but I tend to see horror cinema in that spectrum between ridiculousness and campy-themed features, and sophisticated, and nuanced with some cathartic elements that could easily have their roots in ancient tragedy. Then again, some of the antics that happen in horror film can easily be found in old Dionysian slapstick become comedy as well, and there is a reason I feel why some comedians, like Jordan Peele, can make such great horror social commentaries. I always get the feel of observing, and playing with, glorious pulp with these “weird films.”

I’m not writing anything new here. But I think maybe it’s because of the pandemic and thinking about medicine and doctors, as well as my own critical skills, that an idea occurred to me.

It began when Joe Bob Briggs said that a film had been reviewing for The Last Drive-In would soon be out of circulation on Shudder. This happens a lot, where AMC — the company that owns Shudder — will have the rights to show the films for a while, and then they will be gone. I also know that Shudder in different countries can generally only show those films in the countries where the copyright exists. So as a result some of The Last Drive-In episodes aren’t available anymore. And Shudder isn’t always clear on when they will disappear like a ghost in the rain.

So I went to watch this particular film that would soon be gone from Shudder. And … This was interesting. It was an old film, but seemed older given the terrible production value. It had a lot of great ideas, but the way they were carried out, combined with the said production value, and a “too many cooks” of characters and ideas, it just got weird, and unfocused, and out of control. Sometimes art happens by accident. Sometimes, disasters do as well. I think that’s what horror does. It makes things messy and sometimes there is order in it, and other times it can just become senseless.

So it was after watching this film, complete with commentary, that I started to really think about what worked in it, what could work in it, and what didn’t. And then I did something that I learned to do as a Humanities Graduate student, and a creator myself. I began to think more about how it could work, and how to make it work. Think of it as something of a script-doctor inclination, except I would convert it into a story. Into glorified fanfiction.

And I began to think to myself, there are other films like these out there. I’m not talking about modern ones, or ones that have their own logic. I mean ones that could have their own logic and consistency, old and forgotten films, or smaller ones that could just been tweaked in some way. And, of course — and most importantly — I would not be doing it for money, or profit.

It’s an extensive idea, to do some Horror-Doctoring. And obviously, my tastes are my own, but I would need to make the revisions or “remakes” consistent with what they are, to go back to the theme of the entire film, and the tone, and make it more cohesive, snappier, and just entertaining. Disqualified from this possible experiment would be more well-known or mainstream works, and films that are focused and cogent. I can always write separate fanfiction for those, as I always have.

I am not knocking them, and I appreciate them for what they are — flaws and all — and I would definitely not mess with something like The Room, which isn’t horror, and is so in its own league of weird reality and insanity that it needs to stay there.

But I have a candidate — or specimen — lined up already. And it’s eerie how my ideas are working. I began thinking about it before, and then I was sending these thoughts to a friend whom I got to watch it before adding more notes to myself.

I might post it up. And depending on how well it is received, I might continue with those experiments. I might also not do it. My focus is more mutable these days, but it’d be cool to post a column or section on “Horror-Doctoring” on here, or make something and then create something entirely original from the previous specimen that I can use in other places.

Basically, I am getting inspirational fuel which is a start into returning to the process of creation where I need to be. To engage both my critical and synthetic brains. To continue my experiments with the mess to make something else entirely. I will keep you posted.

My Curve

My tagline should become “it’s been a while.”

I find so many ways of saying the same thing. It’s been a hard couple of months. Sometimes, it feels like it’s been a thousand years, though I have also read some writers stating that this period in our history is an eternal present: an in-held breath that keeps going until, inevitably, there will be a release of some kind.

In my personal life, I’ve been having something of the same process. March 13 was the last time I’d been downtown. I knew about the pandemic and the quarantine on March 11, but a few days later I went back to my parents’ place, and knew I would be going into hermit-mode again.

I had few illusions about that. I knew it would be more than two or three weeks of quarantine. It was hard in the beginning as I had been going out more. For the first week, I didn’t go outside at all: not even for a walk. I had this plan that I would not go outside at all until all of this was over, or even past it. I’ve gone long stretches of time without going out of my house or wherever I was living, and I thought to go back to it. I lasted over a week like that, before it got too much.

After that, was a string of misfortunes. The end of a relationship, and the death of a pet. Even then, I felt like I was accepting that something was changing, that I was at a shift — or we were at a shift — that once it was done we would never be the same again. And just when I felt like I was beginning to be free, to shed that past dead weight, everything else went side-ways, as a friend of mine used to say.

When Kaarina passed away, I was in this twilight place. I’d known beforehand, as I already wrote about I’m sure, but I was going to bed at seven or eight in the morning. I wasn’t sleeping. I was talking on the phone, or online in an almost drunken manner. Sometimes I could focus, and other times I was out in my own world. It was just these glittering pieces in the dark, metaphorically speaking. I felt both detached, and angry, drifting, and sad. I kept a list in my head of things I wanted to do, or say to people, before the pandemic and I fulfilled them slowly over that time as I began to become more stable again.

I talked with my therapist on the phone, something I should continue to do. My friends have been going through their own losses as well. It’s like the darkest, suckiest stuff that was waiting to happen before the pandemic decided since things were already bad they’d might as well all come out to play.

During this time, I wrote some stuff about Kaarina, did some roleplays with my friends that still can online, and not much else. I marathoned Freeform’s Sirens for a while, and then continued watching Motherland: Fort Salem. I know that for a while, I was dealing with a lot of anxiety, especially in the beginning month of all this — suffocation and being terrified of getting sick. Sometimes, I still cycle through that, and there might be some medical issues I will have to deal with that aren’t related to the plague.

I don’t know when it happened exactly. Once the suffocation, the anxiety, the despair, the empty feeling, the frenzied feeling, all wore off it began to level out. To meet a curve if you want to borrow a popular phase now.

One day, I found out Joe Bob Briggs’ and Shudder’s The Last Drive-In was coming back. I’d missed the last season, as that had been another year of turmoil. I did catch one part where one of the Halloween films was being played, and I had created a theory on Twitter that Dr. Loomis had experimented on Michael Myers already altered physiology and psychology, and that was the reason he wanted to kill him so badly. It never get quoted on the show, but I had fun that night. I’d heard of Joe Bob from James Rolfe’s Cinemassacre channel ages before, and I had to check it out. Also, Diana Prince — who plays Darcy the Mailgirl — was someone I’d started interacting with on Twitter and Instagram along with other fans from time to time.

My usual D&D game days are cancelled for the foreseeable future, and I am obviously not breaking quarantine. I decided to experiment and watch an entire run of The Last Drive-In. I liked the format of the first episode in Season One, with the film Tourist Trap with a telekinetic who likes to create wax beings, and I wanted to see what a live marathon would be like while live-Tweeting.

It was hard. I didn’t pace myself, and there were no commercial breaks. I admit that while I had fun that first episode, the five hours locked my body down, and I didn’t feel well. I considered just seeing one part of the episode next time, and looking at the rest when recorded on Shudder. But then, the next week came and after having most of my food, and some commercial breaks, as well as knowing when take some of my own, I did much better. I absolutely loved Maniac with those creepy mannequins, and it was the first time I’d seen Heathers: and I adored it.

This past week, there was Brain Damage and Deep Red as well, the former I surprisingly enjoyed and make a few good one-liners on Twitter. Deep Red was harder to follow, and I tried to make sense of it, and … maybe one day I might. I really liked interacting with the other fans on Twitter, and just the feeling of watching something, some ridiculous, sometimes awesome films with people while listening to Joe Bob’s anecdotes and facts. I don’t agree with everything Joe Bob says, and certainly I know that I loved A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night more than he seemed to in the earlier seasons — though I do have a weakness to towards “art-films” — but I can appreciate what he brings to the show.

I just, for a few moments, not only did I recapture what it was like to watch strange films, horror movies, with friends, but to have it at a fixed point, to come to that time and actually accomplish it. I know the show is on from 9 pm to 2 am on Friday evenings, and I attend them and get through it, and even interact. It’s a combination of observation, entertainment, writing, and socializing with a good meal. And it helps. It helps to feel that sense of accomplishment in doing that, and that sense of positive reinforcement.

And, whenever I watch The Last Drive-In, or any horror films, I feel like I am watching them with Kaarina: for the two of us. We used to go to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival together, and then watch Twilight Zone before bed. And I curated a whole Shudder account for her when she was in a medically-induced coma in hopes of presenting it to her when she woke up from that surgery. I think it even still exists somewhere on Shudder. I also felt like, for a moment, that I was watching horror movies with my friends again after almost two decades.

It must sound strange, to want to watch things for someone who can’t anymore, but I take comfort wherever I can, and I won’t knock this.

It’s been around this point that I began writing again. I was already feeling the need to return back to the work I began about a year ago, before real life came in. I was so busy going out and socializing that a lot of it fell to the way side to gather dust. And then, the pandemic and all these personal losses accrued. I think it also helps that I don’t feel the pressure of not having a job or still living at home, as I know many people are facing similar situations due to the current crisis. Surprisingly, I’m less hard on myself: even though I still need to sleep properly.

I feel like I could spend more time writing and reading and watching films than interacting with people as much now, but I know there are people in my life that check in on me. I’m definitely not the same as I was before March, and I know I won’t be after all of this is over or at least stabilized. I learned a lot about other people during this time. And about myself.

Right now, I am writing fanfiction but I am thinking about going back to a possible collaboration idea, and that Lovecraft work of mine. I know this seemingly limitless time is an illusion. It will end, one way or another. Life likes to change. I am going to just do the best I can, and I feel like I want to do it again.

It’s late now, for a change. I want to write down one or two more things before this night is out. I don’t know how I will deal with things when they open up again outside, but I can’t really think about that right now. All I can do is enjoy what I have now. That is all I can do.

I’m glad that you can all join me on this venture. I might add another entry after this one. It’s been a while since I’ve done something like that. Until then, my friends.

Uthark

This is a missing scene between two different stories. It also be seen as a prequel to my fanfic “A Midsummer Night’s Dance.”

Dani starts. As the adrenaline edges off, her head lolls down, from her seat and the belt holding her in place.

It takes her a moment to remember where she is as she feels the ground moving under her. She’s … in Pelle’s car. Dani remembers now. She’d begun to nod off not long after Mark began talking about a woman with three clitorises, and a news anchor killing his wife, or something. She rubs the place where the bridge of nose curves into her forehead, visualizing her heartbeat slowing down, breathing as she had taught herself to do. It’s all right. She recalls that she still has her pills, if she needs them.

It’d been so strange. She had been dreaming. It was like the painting she had at her apartment back home, or something like it. But she was in it. It was night, and she’d been in a white dress or … was she wearing flowers? Dani can’t quite remember now. She’d been … dancing? There had been flames, and people naked in the sky, and a beast. There was a beast, and they circled around each other, and it looked at her with dark glittering eyes. It was going to eat her, like the Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. That’s what she was thinking then, but she wasn’t dressed in crimson as naked people flew in the air towards chanting people dressed in white robes. But those eyes held her in place even as they danced and danced, and she sang with the white-garbed people, and the pain didn’t exist anymore, and she belonged …

But she couldn’t stop moving, and the eyes consumed her. Something kept clicking, and clacking in her brain. The sounds and eyes devoured her, so much until she …

It says a lot about her, and her mental state between numbness and panic, that she welcomes this nightmare more than … the others. She shakes her groggy head as they continue to drive down the highway to Hälsingland, and Pelle’s commune. Christian is sitting beside her, half-asleep himself, distant as usual. Josh is quiet next to him, near the right car door. Thankfully Mark has stopped talking, even though Dani has to admit that the drone of his voice with its ridiculous stories and chatter about milkmaids and pussy almost distracted her from the crushing grief inside her chest. It probably put her to sleep. Somehow, though he is also quiet, she can see Pelle through the sun visor, looking at her sympathetically. Out of all of Christian’s friends, he has been the nicest, the most sociable at least. There is a warmth to him, in his eyes. She still hurts, but not because of him, and she feels like he knows a lot more about what is going on than she does …

Perhaps he’s always known …

A strange sense of comfort fills her at that thought as she considers where they are headed, into this strange place, leagues away from her home, her own sense of home an eternity away across a continent in an exhaust-filled house that no longer exists where it is so hard to breathe … to breathe …

A house filled with smoke, and loss. A structure on fire, and a sense of relief … 

Then she looks back to the right side of the passenger area, past Christian, to Josh and his book.

The Secret Nazi Language of the Uthark.

Dani needs to take her mind off of everything. She’s about to ask Josh about the book, with its old, faded cover. But then a sense of déjà vu fills her. Josh carries the book around for his studies into European midsummer traditions, but mostly to annoy Pelle. And she knows, somehow, that it does annoy Pelle. They must have talked about it at some point. Dani’s brow furrows. Yes. Pelle told them that his commune studies the runic alphabet. Pelle’s commune, the … they use the Germanic characters, and something else. It’s no wonder that Josh’s book annoys Pelle. The Nazi Party, and their Theosophic roots appropriated a lot of Nordic and supposedly “Aryan” culture to build their brutal worldview, to claim they were returning to something “natural” through unnatural order, and the dominance of the patriarchal over …

It’s strange. Somehow, Dani recalls someone … was it Christian? No. Something she read, perhaps? She’d only had an introductory course to Jung. Maybe Pelle, again, told her what the Uthark meant. She almost remembers …

She knows that Pelle is good-natured. He takes a ribbing from his friends, and perhaps it’s not her place to do this, but something really annoys her about that book, and Josh. Josh, for all of his genuine studiousness, doesn’t seem to actually respect the content or the people of the culture he claims to be fascinated with. His intensity is not what bothers Dani. In fact, he is at least the most cordial of the group towards her, or at least apathetic to her being there at all. But his lack of respect, especially towards Pelle. She imagines if Pelle and his commune are Jewish or Roma.

She is about to say something, turning to Josh, but Josh and Christian are gone. There is a boy near the window. He’s tall, but slouched over with greasy dark hair. His skin his sallow, and his nose is covered by a bandage. It looks like it’s been broken. Dani blinks, and Josh in his place again. She looks down, and the book is gone, replaced with a pile of papers. The writing is runic or children’s pictures. Dani feels dizzy as she blinks again, and the boy is there, staring out the window. Dani doesn’t know what to do, or say. They are on a journey. It’s important. It’s important to get to where they need to go, and she needs to know what’s going on.

“Excuse me?” She croaks, realizing how dry her throat is. “Excuse me?”

The boy doesn’t respond to her. He continues to look out the passenger window at the declining road.

“Pardon me.” Dani tries again, getting more spittle into the back of her throat.

The boy turns towards her. There is some confusion in his eyes.

“Hello?” He asks.

“What are you reading?” Dani finds herself asking instead.

The boy looks down at where Dani is staring. In his hand, where Josh had been holding The Secret Nazi Language of the Uthark is a manuscript titled Cocoon Man. “I … don’t know.” He says after a while. “Is this yours?”

Dani’s head aches. She rubs the bridge of her nose again. “I don’t … think so.”

“I …” Dani can see the boy becoming pale, the air around them darkening. When it did become evening? “I can’t breathe …”

Dani’s eyes widen in concern, and sympathy. “I can’t either.”

The boy’s face seems to swell in the growing shadows. “Where is she … Mom told me to take her with me. We can’t leave her alone.”

“Terri?” Dani leans forward, reaching a hand, as the interior of the car becomes even murkier.

“I can’t ,.. breathe. I … how can anyone breathe in here …”

And then, the car is filled with smoke. And fumes. The car exhaust pipe’s been reversed. Dani can’t breathe. She’s choking. She is suffocating on the toxins in the air, inside of her, and the group is back. Christian, Josh, Mark, and Pelle. They are dying, with her. She’s coughing, pounding on her door, on her window. There is a sound that is trying to fight its way out of her lungs, out of her vocal chords.

“I can’t … breathe …”

Somehow, even through the fumes and her wracking coughing, Dani can see the others have changed. It isn’t Christian’s friends. Her mother and father are sitting next to her. And Terri, Terri is staring grotesquely, covered in her own bile, into the the sun visor as she drives them right into the abyss, into hell.

“I can’t … breathe …”

Dani abruptly turns, and sees the boy, scrabbling at his own window, crying.

And then, the boy’s window is open. It is night, and they can breathe again as the smog is released outside, sucked out into the air amid clacking, shouting, laughing, and chanting. The boy’s shoulders heave, as Dani tries to catch her own breath until the hissing of the exhaust becomes buzzing, and the smoke going out are insects hovering all around her, trying to get into her lungs, into her skin, into her mind …

The boy turns around, the wind whipping against them. His head is hung out the window, but he is looking back at her. She sees his dark eyes glittering into her own. She doesn’t think.

“Spirits!” Dani exhales.“Back to the dead!”

The boy’s swelling face, or a girl’s, or a bear’s stretches out into an ‘o’ of surprise, as a telephone pole rushes past them, and clips off his head. Dani screams, as the car flips over, upside down, into the air, and falls up into the night …

Until they wake up in another place.

The Earth is Shifting On Its Axis

Dedicated to Kaarina Wilson. I wish I’d understood what you said then, Ma Petite Rouge. Or maybe, I always did. 

The earth is shifting on its axis, where one eye meets the earth, and the other the sea,
and all war nests are torn apart, fought for, to release the cackling, to let it fly free,
leaving runes, and raspberries to lie there, and grow for all eternity.

The earth is shifting on its axis, where the fox reminds you that you’re responsible, forever, for what you have tamed,
where Wonderland grows again, in outside crawls where unbirthday parties have been named,
and you get become and be yourself, and never again be blamed.

The earth is shifting on its axis, in the place where Time goes to die,
between the looking glasses where twins and doppelgangers hide in shiny corners to spy.
Here, in the centre, you know that all of them are true, and encroaching. None of them are a lie.

The earth is shifting on its axis, tilting inexorably to the end of this rhyme,
like the days of Forbidden, independent in the city, in the heat of our prime
I wish, oh I wish, you were still here, before the centre, asking me if it can still be Bed Time.

The earth is shifting on its axis, in the kaleidoscope you find the sisu — the will of the Finn — you follow it, stubborn, down a cinematic path, with a determined warrior grin.
Before the darkness, you laugh and you shout your parting words, your punctuation. “I win!”

The earth is shifting on its axis, after pointing the way that starry night, in the snow, what you already see,
beyond it you have traveled now, left its meandering ways, its pains, its aggravations, its reality.
The only one left to see the earth shift on its axis now, of the two of us, is me.

Another Year

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. That’s a sentence I’ve said a lot when posting on this Blog these days.

But I thought I would come here this morning, and write something as it is an appropriate day. It’s my birthday today. By the time you read this post, I will now be thirty-eight years old. And since I am now one year older, I thought I’d look at where I am now and update you on what is going on, and what I am doing.

My social life has, well, opened up a great deal. Before the crisis with the coronavirus, I was going outside a lot more, socializing, spending time at Storm Crow Manor, and exploring a whole new part of Toronto: a section of it that was new to me, and one I had began to travel on my own. I’ve enjoyed the Manor, as well as Craig’s Cookies, and I have been considering doing more things.

It’s been a far cry from the time when I would lie in my bed and essentially spend most of my days and nights on my laptop, just existing, hoping nothing would tip the delicate balance, in that state of tension and anxiety. I still have to deal with the latter, of course, but I find when I am doing stuff and actually going out and focusing on other matters, it helps. It helps to facilitate that place where I am not as much in my mind.

I have also slowly been cultivating various friends, and contacts. I know it’s not something that can happen all at once, and I’ve realized that having an extrovert or two as a friend is a boon, even as I can help other introverts who aren’t as comfortable with “party manners” to socialize as well, and traverse the city with me. There was a two week or so period where I was outside a great deal — even making cookies for the first time in over a decade for an event — and I also got a considerable amount of work done.

As usual, I have not finished or even in some cases continued the creative projects that I had sought to undertake, though some still remain in the queue. I have been meaning to get back to writing a piece of fanfiction for a friend’s comic, exploring that world with similar themes, but from different perspectives. I have an Alternative Facts story or two that I want to get out there, which I suspect I’ve mentioned here before. There is also the Lovecraft Mythos story I want to compile out of my notes on paper and from my phone, and send it somewhere: possibly for some grants and scholarships, and a writer’s retreat program.

But I have mostly been writing in roleplays. I am doing a group game where I am a bard, which I am sure I have mentioned before, a Vampire: The Masquerade solo game with one of my partners, and now another D&D game that is set in the plane of Gehena. That last game is something special to me. I mean, all three of them are in different ways. I am mostly the Game Master of the Vampire game, and I create epic level songs and manipulations as my bard in the other.

But in the Gehena game, it hearkens back to when my friend and I — who is GMing this campaign — to the days in our early twenties, even earlier into our teens, when we would play in the sandboxes he created after school and all night. Because of life circumstances, we play these games all on Roll 20, with some help from DnD Beyond, and Discord. But my friend is combining elements of the group game, and my solo game with him together as they belong in a shared universe of our creation: just in different realms. I can’t wait to see the plot points converge, or run parallel.

I don’t know, I just feel like when I roleplay I’m … doing something. I’m helping to shape a world with my actions and consequences. My decisions matter. And it is close to what I always wanted to do with my friends: to create a world and game together. Once, I wanted us to work together: to create games that we would sell. It was a dream of mine, of ours, and I guess if you hold some stock with horoscopes as a Pisces it makes sense that I would be enamoured with playing in, and creating, a world of dreams. Or nightmares.

Really, aside from my socializing and the potential and energy I get from those interactions — as well as meeting new and awesome people — these role-plays are some of the things that excite me the most. They always have.

It’s not been easy for me. For almost a decade, I felt like I was asleep for the most part. I’d been depressed and anxious and holding onto attachments that were long past their time. I’m not magically cured, of course, and I know how any of these elements can quickly change especially in these uncertain times.

It’s been a bit sad knowing I would go back to being inside more often again, though hopefully it won’t be forever, and the current health situation — this pandemic — can be dealt with. I’ll also admit that I have stretched myself out a great deal, perhaps even over-extended my attention. I need to work on sleeping, which I am failing at right now even as I write to you. I should also rest more and take the time to spend it with those that have gone out of their way to do so with me, even if it can only be audio or video at the moment.

In the end, it’s funny. I went to a person once, who told me that I will lose people, but I should not take for granted the people who are still here, and love me. It’s hard, but I should listen to them. I did lose some connections, over the years, some more recently than others. But in a way, they have made me reevaluate and look at the interactions I do still have, and want to take the time to make sure I know where I stand with them and vice-versa.

I am getting better at standing up for myself. For respecting for myself. For watching for those who do not respect me. I have changed since 2012, when I first started this Blog. Where I go is beyond me. I have been thinking about doing some volunteer work, to get out of the house when that is sensible to do so, of course. And I know I am building something, in this life, I just … don’t know what it is yet. But I do think that the social aspect is important.

Perhaps, now, at this time is the moment to really focus on what it is I’m looking for, to enjoy what I have, to take care of myself, and to see where I go from there.

I’m not where I thought I would be at thirty-eight. Some of that is disappointing, but other parts of it have exceeded expectations. I’ve realized it is possible to be sad and joyful at the same time. It’s what I need to do with that energy that is the question.

Some of you have been reading my work, followed me, and have even been my friends — and more — for a long time. Some of you have changed along with me. Some of you aren’t here anymore. But I want to thank you, for taking the time you had, and have, and spending it with me: even by reading this long, rambling journal post.

Like I said, I don’t know where I am going to be. Or what will happen. But I hope I can make the momentum, and use it, to do something really constructive, and satisfying to me and the people that I care about.

In the meantime, I think I will use some of that time to go get some rest. So much for my birthday present being an early bedtime. This was longer than I thought it would be. Always famous last words, for one thing or another. ;p

Until another time, my friends. Take care of yourselves, and each other.

I’m Not Locked In Here With You: Todd Phillips’ Joker

So I wrote an article for Joker on Sequart a little while ago now, but while they eventually will post it, I have some other more personal thoughts on some of the themes in the film: mainly why I like it, and why I relate to it.

I tend to call this Joker, or this earlier phase of him, the Arthur Fleck Joker. He isn’t the same as the Mark Hamill, the Heath Ledger, the Jack Nicholson, or the foolish Cesar Romero depictions. He isn’t even the comics Joker, any of them. This is the phase, the dress rehearsal, before the agent of chaos that we are going to get. I’ve always been fascinated, you see, with watching something in the process of being created, or creating itself. I find the best kinds of art, or artists, are those that you can see are constantly working on themselves. Mark Twain has a quote about knowing the details behind the creation of a miracle, and how it can take away from the simple joys of just experiencing it, yet I am someone who likes to — to borrow a phrase from Neil Gaiman — see the work backstage, and how it adds to the performance that we are given.

This Joker is a moment of realization in progress, of living two different lies at least, and then finding out who he actually is. That is what I took away from this film. Let me be clear about a few things though: I do not romanticize the Joker that kills people for amusement, or is an abuser. The one in this film is very different from those other depictions, though there are some similarities with regards to his more destructive actions.

But I really, like I said, love the process. We see Arthur wearing the clown makeup when he is at his gig helping a shop sell its wares, but a man wearing a clown costume does not a Joker make. Even the nervous, involuntary laughter doesn’t make the Joker. Not even the killing of those abusive rich men out of self-preservation, or the one out of a sense of street justice makes for the Clown Prince of Crime. The flirtation with this image, the sensuality of it in the restroom with blood-splattered on his face, his wig and clown nose gone, and his ragged elemental features at that point are a start. But he’s still Arthur. He still wants to be loved. He still wants to be a comedian, and to stop hurting.

Even the white makeup he has on when he kills the person who betrayed him isn’t quite there yet, and this after he discovers what he is — where he came from, how he was betrayed far worse before — and preparing for what he is going to do. He wants revenge, but he also wants the pain to stop: for the joke that is his life to finally end. That is the tipping point.

I would even say by the time he makes it to Murray’s show — to the man he used to look up as a father-figure before he publicly humiliated his non-neurotypical behaviour on television for laughs, and didn’t think anything of it — and when he decides to kill him instead of himself on national television, he’s still not Joker. But what started as practice in that restroom, and then choreograph when he danced down those flights of stairs, and then self-awareness by putting on a clown mask to hide in the discontent of Gotham’s lower class that made his actions against the rich into a memetic force, followed by one great bellow of selfish vengeance on a man and system that failed him … ends when he gets out of that car crash, and he uses the blood coming out of him to make a bloody smile on the costume whose lipstick had already faded. It was cheap and artificial. Now, the blood makes that twisted smile real.

Watchmen is bandied about a lot in terms of comics references. Hell, it even made it into the title of this Blog post. I don’t need it to sell Joker that’s already sold its own soul to the Devil of our collective imagination. But there is this idea in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work with the vigilante Rorschach. He starts out with a troubled past of childhood abuse as well, but that doesn’t make him Rorschach. It doesn’t make him Rorschach when Kitty Genovese is brutally raped and murdered publicly and her neighbours do nothing, and he vows to become a masked hero to stop other such incidents. He’s still just Walter Kovacs, an abused child taken to foster care, wearing the mask of Rorschach. Rorschach is still his alter-ego.

It isn’t until he hunts for a kidnapped baby, and finds out that the kidnapper fed the child to his dogs, and he burns the man alive that he isn’t Walter Kovacs anymore. He realizes he is Rorschach. And when he is hiding in plain sight as that Prophet of Doom in the background, Rorschach wears Walter Kovacs as his mask, just as the Joker wears Arthur Fleck’s face as a mask at the end of Todd Phillips’ film.

We can go into how in Star Wars Darth Sidious was the real self of the man who wore the mask of the politician Palpatine, or how Batman’s secret identity is Bruce Wayne — though that last is highly debatable, though appropriate given that this article deals a great deal with his arch-nemesis. What I’m trying to illustrate is that none of these alter-egos becoming true identities happened overnight, or had always been their true selves. Parts of these personalities, these culmination of experiences, were there but there were other circumstances, and reactions to those events that precipitated the processes that made these happen.

That is how I understand a lot of what I’ve been going through this particular year. I don’t romanticize these characters. I think there are aspects of them, as archetypes, that are really fascinating and relatable, but they are not heroes. The Joker is not a good person, even if there are parts of him — of this one, and even his “burn everything bad to the ground” or “watch this flawed, disgusting world burn” attitude that my Id can sympathize with.

I guess the best way to describe it is that 2019 has been a different year for me. I’ve new people. I’ve had some new experiences, or explored them in a whole other way. I’ve been angry, and scared, and frustrated. I’ve delved into that fear. I’ve confronted it. I’ve pushed my comfort zone. I’ve worn my makeup and my masks. But I’ve realized that identities, especially those that we associate with things and events, are fluid. They change. And trauma in particular is a massive force behind some of those changes. There are ways to explore that power — trauma — in controlled environments with calculation and experimentation. Writing is one of those outlets, and the confines of the imagination. But sometimes it’s also trading stories and interactions with like-minded people. Sometimes it’s putting old selves behind you. Sometimes it’s realizing you are angry, and accepting it, and knowing that you are changing.

I think the most painful thing is trying to hold onto the person that you were, with all those experiences — good or bad — to stay in the past, because you will never be that person again. You will keep changing. That’s part of your nature. Some core tenets will remain the same, of course. But you will not have the same experiences again. We hold on out of fear, or resentment, or a genuine sense of overwhelming purposelessness. Where do we go from here? What do we do? And why is it I have this inclination to know where I can go, or what I can do, but not quite get there before … something? Right?

This year, I felt myself let go of a lot of attachments and realize some things are gone. And that they, most likely, needed to be gone. I still have to deal with more of these due to logistics, but I now understand that I don’t feel the same about them as I did. I don’t feel the way I used to, because very naturally I’m no longer that person. And that’s not a bad thing. I can still feel sad about it, even angry, but it doesn’t change anything beyond whatever it is I do next.

I’ve been busy, confronting those parts, dealing with the anxiety. I have fascinating friends and explorations. And I’m lucky. I felt my old self beginning to wane, to fade, but to also be subsumed by my new choices, and activities. It’s sad and you mourn it, but there is no other way to go on: even if you do need to remember to pace yourself. Imagine being Arthur Fleck, though, and realizing that your old self never really existed to begin with. Maybe it’s not that different, as nothing is permanent. It’s not a science, but I will argue with you that it can be art.

And that’s what I’m making. Even if I don’t write as much as I used to, or stay indoors as much in front of my computer, I am still expressing myself, and thus making art. I might have been wearing masks, but they are closer to being who I am now than where I was. And even despite that, masks aren’t false things. They are organic and we are all different people in different situations.

The New Year is coming up. I actually had myself made up as the Joker a while ago, and this great, rumbling laugh came from my chest. I’ve dressed as the Crow, but as people like to quote from that movie and perhaps even the comic from which it came “it can’t rain all the time.” The Crow isn’t supposed to smile, apparently. But I laugh. I love to laugh. But I also like to be between states, and know how the meat is made, or destroyed. I like to hide in plain sight, and plan things out. But sometimes, when I can get past the fear I just go with it accordingly.

I’ve actually liked 2019. It’s so far been a good, but challenging year. I will keep shedding more of the old as I go on, and it won’t be easy. But we all know that “laughter” has an extra letter in front of it sometimes. And it isn’t so much that I’m trapped here with my challenges.

It’s that they are trapped here with me. And, when I can, I intend to have my fun.

Aelith

Written and performed around last Halloween — or the Season of the Dead — by my bard in our Fifth Edition D&D game. 

There is a forlorn beauty within the White Pines,
filled with crumbling husks of majesty, and broken lines.
Now home to beasts, and creatures of many kinds,
it once claimed manses housing High Elven minds.

There were palatial homes almost grown from stone,
of which fabled mounds and toppled pillars are now their bone.
Numerous farms were once tiled by ancients under the trees,
but they, too these Elven farmers’ secrets, were worn away by
Time’s frigid Northern breeze.
This Kingdom, this Empire, spanned from North to West,
this flowering of High Elven civilization at its very best.

Now, there are only broken columns, and archway outlines reaching
for the sky,
as though these few still remain to beseech, and as of the world … why.
Why did this ageless, noble nation die?

This question is the breadth and width,
of the ancient tragedy of the Temple Warden,
of the High Elven warrior …
Aelith.

Long ago, before the Elves of the White Pines,
the Mountain Dwarves of Mordimeer came out from their mines,
their numbers coming forward, going forth,
to contest the High Elven nation’s claim in the North.
Perhaps it was for the sake of power, or for gold,
that the Dwarves, then, decided to be bold,
or due to eternal grudges that never go away,
for these two long-lived nations set out to, each other, mutually slay.

But in shining raiment, and majestic power,
the High Elves still maintained their longest hour,
until, from the East, came Chaos, came the Orcish Horde, to ravage
and scour.

In massive numbers, the Green-Skins invaded both races first,
but the Elven nation was attacked the worst.
Long-lived and once sedate the Elves had perhaps been too used to peace,
with the Dwarven presence just skirmishes at least,
but spread too thin they didn’t hope to stand the Hordes that never ceased.

Many died, and others hid,
while still more Elves to their Empire farewell they bid,
as they left to form other nations, other cities
into eventual decline they slid.

But that is not what Aelith did.

Tall, and lean, and slender,
stone could not, in good conscience, render
the high cheekbones of her face, the haughtiness of her mien,
her keen slivered eyes that many a battle, more than others of her kind,
had seen.
Her red-gold tresses shone with a beauty that was hard,
overshadowing a gaze that never, once, let down its guard.

Perhaps, once, Aelith had a family, a lover, or a spouse,
but what is known is that towards the end of her nation,
she had been married only to the War God’s House.
Aelith, Temple Warden, had guarded the Warrior Shrine
for centuries, and years,
so when the Orcish invasion came, she was not overcome by fears.

It may be that she warned her people of this day,
that their indolent lives, their complacency would not eternal stay.
But if so, very few in Aelith’s words believed,
and because of this, perhaps, their doom they did receive.

Yet, that fateful day, that fateful time, it was lives that Aelith sought to retrieve.
She and her soldiers, the War God’s children, many orc lives would reave.

With slender fingers calloused by ancient wars, and hands that grappled with her God’s demands,
Aelith, keen-eyed of ken, took her bow of moon-silver, and shot down many a marauder again,
and again.
It’s said that when she killed, her voice sang out, perfect and metallic, silvery with prayer,
as she dedicated the lives of her people’s killers to her God, as their slayer.

But deep down, perhaps Aelith sometimes wondered,
was this wrath inside her, this glory for battle, grief for her people,
or what the War God thundered?
Was it, then, that something in her, a deep surety, a steadfast belief had
gone and, and truly sundered?
For with the others, the Gods of Peace and Pax had fled,
leaving behind only Bloodlust, and inevitable Dread.
And, perhaps, something else in their stead.

Perhaps, something deeper than sentiment, and eternal myth,
had always burned in the breast of Aelith.

Aelith, whatever else, had bought her people time,
but this is not where ends the tale of this warrior archer, farsighted,
in her prime.
It would be easy, to say, that she did indeed — with her warriors — earn
a noble death,
amassing orcish skulls right down to her final breath.

Outsiders continued to terrorize her home, and ruin her lands,
and she still yet fought on, in vain, as her soldiers — too few now —
died under the invaders’ — these defilers’ — hands.

Perhaps, as these final defenders, these Elven warriors made hunters
of thinking beasts,
which blood and viscera became their only feasts,
began to starve and fall without food or game,
the fire within Aelith’s soul fed another kind of flame.
Hungry as they fought, she and her soldiers became
far past the point of any reason for it to tame
Until, driven to very few, to the corners of their Shrine at last,
a desperate spell, an evil curse, they decided upon themselves to cast.

They turned the pool beneath the Shrine, into an abattoir, the heart of a blood-smith,
for their leader to forge, there, the Doom of Aelith.
Perhaps it was their own lives that they sacrificed, through blood-stained orgies,
and profane rites,
though orcish prisoners, long-broken, would have also sufficed.

And, with this, as she tried to control their fate,
all they had left — Aelith and her soldiers — was the power of hate.

Thus with a terrible ken, that made her song more discordant, more keening,
Aelith sought — in her Shrine — to keep on dreaming
for Death their lives never to sever,
as they would defend their Temple, their Home, and fight the Enemy, in eternal war …
Forever.

And when Aelith finally died, and her blood — with others — ran like a crimson river,
it is said that her God — her spouse — by request or curse, bound her soul into her constant companion,
her moon-silver quiver.

It is said, even now, that Aelith still exists,
she and her soldiers now spectres, ghosts, and angry dead whose war continues to persist.
And, if once a year, in the Season of the Dead, lost roads in dirt and thinned veils form anew,
and outsiders find their way to the site of the Temple, of the foundations they would flee
if they only knew,
then the spirits will lure them, as they had their age-old prey,
and take them, to feed their restless bones, where they now lay.

And Aelith, a far cry from her glory,
ancient, and hideous, and far from sorry,
now a withered, and unbearable sight,
will take advantage of the outsider’s plight:
even, and especially if they too possess an Elven light.
Perhaps, long after her kin ignored what she had foretold,
for them and all, her heart had long since grown cold.

Her hunger, now, is that for souls,
as she can, and cause, for others what Death ultimately tolls.
All so she can feed herself, and almost look again alive,
to be young in corpse-light, and terrible for her ageless war
to inevitably survive.
Armed with spectral arrows, from her constant bow, that rot the body,
and assault the mind
this, and her violence, is all of her that is left behind.

For her war song now is the Song of the Banshee, the House of the Dead,
a charnel battle where all should fear to tread.

Who, now, would go so far to guard their home, their way of life, in her stead?
Or keep their lust for vengeance, for violence, perpetually fed?
Or who would dare live the life that she had led?

Who else can’t see that a Banshee’s Song
is only a war that has gone — or will happen before — far too long?

The Elven roads are gone now, beautiful manses and temples long since buried,
treasures plundered, and millennia quarried
over bones, that could have been ageless — but died young, and unmarried?
Even so, in the shadow of the White Pines, in the pall of the Fall, there are few terrestrial, even fewer viridian sith,
that will outlast the keen keening lust and hunger of the Temple Warden, the Warrior,
the Banshee Archer.
Aelith.

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2018.