The Child is Star Wars

To all fellow former Infinity Warriors, and that would probably be most of you reading this, don’t read any further unless you have finished watching Season Two of The Mandalorian. Spoiler Alert.

Have you done so?

Good.

I first started watching Star Wars, the Old Trilogy, when I was about twelve. I’ve mentioned how my parents took us to Hollywood Movies, and we rented the VHS tapes. Before that, I grew up with Ewoks and Droids playing on Channel 3 Global Television whenever I went to my grandparents’ place that Saturday afternoon. Around that same time, and in that same area we would visit my uncle’s house and I would play with a giant shelved container shaped like Darth Vader’s helmet. In this container were action figures of Bossk, and IG-88, and a Snowtrooper. There were many toys missing. They looked old and, literally, from another world and another time. And I saw these labels on each alcove: Obi-Wan Kenobi and See-Threepio. It confused me, then. Was Obi-Wan a droid like Threepio?

It’s safe to say that I grew up with a lot of mysteries and a sense of magic in a world that didn’t really make sense, but seemed larger than I could even dream. And this was before I watched A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

This was before I knew anything.

The Old Trilogy exploded my mind. This space fantasy shaped my brain forever once I saw it: from the crucible of the desert world of Tatooine, to the stark terror and mythology of Dagobah’s Jedi training to the horrifying duel over Bespin, and the redemption and celebration on the forested moon of Endor where my Ewok friends lived in a live-action sense.

And they grew on me: Princess Leia with her assertive power and fierce love and determination, Han Solo overcoming his world-weary cynical nature to save his friends and be a better person, and Luke. Luke Skywalker.

So many of us, I think, from that time saw ourselves in Luke. We followed this young man, this boy, who knew nothing about the world — much like us — as he continued making mistakes, but forever showed his loyalty, always persevering, always wrestling with his emotions to do the right thing. We saw his wonder as he looked at a lightsaber for the first time, the same time that we did. We felt his pain when he saw the charred remains of his aunt and uncle, and that sense of powerlessness in realizing just how brutal the galaxy was. And we were happy when he found his friends, when he started getting better at his Jedi training, and we were worried when Obi-Wan was gone, and wondered just how someone who could barely deflect the blaster bolt of a training remote and then pull a lightsaber to him on Hoth could fight Darth Vader.

I remember just his sense of frustration, and fear. It felt so real to me. But the fear wasn’t just for his life, or the lives of his friends and those he fought for. It was the fear that all he would ever get would be these scraps of a life and a tradition — of great and beautiful arts, powerful cultural tools — that his father had, and that he might not succeed in earning. It was the actual vicarious terror of seeing that there was a chance that Luke might not achieve or realize his full potential, and that he could fail.

Being a perfectionist child with learning disabilities and clear neurodiversity and frustration over my body’s cooperation with my mind, I could feel that so hard, and it made me root for Luke whenever he succeeded, kicked shlebs, and took names.

When Obi-Wan’s spirit told him that he couldn’t — or wouldn’t — help him if went to Cloud City to face Vader before his training, after his failure understanding his vision in the Dark Side Cave, I felt Luke’s frustration. Why wouldn’t Obi-Wan, his mentor and friend, help him against his enemy? And watching Luke lose … so badly, so brutally … I’ve written about it before, how I grew up on eighties and nineties cartoons where the hero always wins their conflicts and the villain runs away to fight another day, or gets put in jail. That didn’t happen. And then the way Luke received that reveal …

Luke didn’t learn from his failure at the Cave on Dagobah. But he learned from his encounter on Cloud City. I knew that Vader was Luke’s father going into this, as it’s been so seeded into the popular consciousness for years, but I didn’t know about Leia. And I didn’t know what was going to happen on the Second Death Star: another subversion of expectations, after so much lead up that ultimately paid off. And then we see Luke at the end: rescuing his father, only to lose him, but not really lose him in a metaphysical sense.

Leia and Han succeeded in their mission on Endor. They became a couple. The Ewoks dominated. The Empire was defeated. Luke had to “pass on what he had learned” and a whole new story began after the ending of an old one. This was in 1983. I watched these in the nineties after being confused about the numbering system.

We did not see another Star Wars film until 1999.

I want you to understand something. Many of us, and I am mostly speaking about myself though I know others felt the same way, wanted to see what happened to Luke, Leia, and Han. We wanted to see Han become a General of the Republic or continue to have adventures. We wanted to see Leia rule the New Republic, and the decisions she would make, and the life she and Han would have together.

And, most of all, I wanted to see Luke become a Jedi Master. I wanted to see him restore the Jedi Order, and what his Jedi would be like. I thought about all the enemies they could face, the challenges, and I just … I wanted to see my friends again.

I just wanted to see my friends again.

And we got that, in a way. We got it through Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, where Obi-Wan’s spirit tells Luke that he isn’t the last of the old Jedi, but the first of the new. We got more of it in further books of varying quality, comics, and video games. Not all of the continuity made sense, but we got the idea that Leia was the Chief of State of the New Republic, Han became a General, and he and Leia had children together that would carry on the legacy and burden of the Skywalkers. And Luke would become a powerful Jedi Grandmaster, and meet with all the remnants of the old Jedi and new Force-sensitives to build something entirely different: exploring the remnants of the old ways, giving us those hints of what time was like before the Empire and when the Jedi were numerous and whole, and showing us just how our hero evolved.

Luke would go on to fight many different adversaries, make mistakes, but always try to redeem those he could from Darkness. He even gets a love interest, after several disastrous relationships, who initially wants to assassinate him but has a son with her. And there were books that took place long after Luke’s time with Skywalker descendants and successor governments to the Republic and Empire, and a myriad of different ideas. There were cool books like Tales of the Jedi and Tales of the Bounty Hunters that fleshed out so much background stuff.

The thing is, this is all we had — for the most part — for literal years, and it was okay. We got to see our friends continue to struggle, but also grow. Was there a sense that nothing could happen to the Big Three? Of course. And I admit that could get tiresome. But they were … they were my friends growing up in a real world that, like I said, didn’t always make much sense. And I would have loved to see them come back in a Sequel Trilogy.

It wasn’t Disney’s fault that we didn’t get to see the Big Three together on film again. George Lucas was the one who made the decision to focus on the Prequel Trilogy. I’ve written on here before about an alternate reality where Lucas and Lucasfilm had made interquel cartoons while he perfected the technology for the Prequels. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Lucas had made the Sequel Trilogy instead of the Prequels.

Unfortunately, we learned a lot over the years about George Lucas and, while his ideas and insights were good, a lack of oversight made his narratives unwieldy and his character and actor direction even worse. George Lucas wasn’t perfect, and the Prequels certainly were not even though I will always be grateful to him and his collaborators for creating the Star Wars universe.

So when Disney bought LucasFilm and made the Sequel Trilogy instead, I knew it was too late for Leia, Han, and Luke to be the protagonists. Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill were older then, and it was a better bet to have them as mentor characters to pass on what they had learned to the next generation.

I think the unease began with me when they rendered what was the Expanded Universe — all those books, cartoons, comics, and games — into non-canon status: into Legends. At the same time, I felt like there was an opportunity there: to tell a new story, and utilize the wealth of material there to do so, which seemed to be the plan.

The Force Awakens was like a breath of fresh air: with characters that had proper dialogue, great chemistry and interactions, much more subdued CGI and just that more lived in world that we had grown up with. And J.J. Abrams set up so many possibilities and questions. What happened to this world? Why was Leia leading a Resistance? Why did Han leave on his own with Chewbacca? And just what happened to Luke’s Jedi students, and Luke himself?

I have talked about this so much. The Sequel Trilogy, I felt, was supposed to be the heir to Skywalker: literally. It was the successor part to the Skywalker Saga. It had that heritage. Even without George Lucas, it had enough material and people working on it — the company that made it — to make it official. I recall hearing about Rogue One, and Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan, and Solo, and while I felt like they would be interesting, they were films that weren’t part of the Skywalker Saga that I grew up with. I thought of them as distant cousins, or relations that could add to the context of the others, but they were cadet branches of the main line: the central heritage. Some of these films, like Rogue One and Solo happened, and they were entertaining. The other two did not. At least, not at the time.

I reviewed The Force Awakens. I also reviewed Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. In retrospect, I saw my own experience paralleling this journey. I saw all the other films with other people: my family and friends. I saw The Last Jedi by myself. I saw Solo by myself.

I saw The Rise of Skywalker by myself.

The Last Jedi had some fascinating ideas, and interesting moments, but it is a controversial film, and with good reason. But it wasn’t the issue. It all comes down to the magic of Star Wars, of the Force, of the overarching story, and that sense of continuity. Yes, there were weird elements and oddities displayed throughout the cinematic series, but every scene felt like it wasn’t wasted: like they were telling their own stories, and they were just all interesting. Everything was built up to lead to a particular conclusion of some kind. But when the Sequel Trilogy went on, it became pretty clear that the plan was haphazard at best, and sometimes the message or the moral behind the story became more like transparisteel than actual character interaction, development, and storytelling. When you combine that factor with something that felt standalone added onto other material that led to a conclusion that just … didn’t have the momentum, that wasn’t earned, and felt sloppy and gimmicky, and full of special effects instead the back to basics approach of the first film, the magic was thinning. And the ending …

I think the ending of The Rise of Skywalker is emblematic of Luke Skywalker’s treatment. Because it always comes back to Luke. Imagine seeing a character you relate to, who you grow with, and you know he had a whole ton of stories where he excelled, continued and improved on an entire culture nearly wiped out through genocide, and even had a family and friends and loved ones, and then a company renders that all non-canon. It didn’t happen. And then you are left with someone who has lost everything, including his sense of redemption. And hope.

Luke Skywalker was the New Hope of Star Wars. You could argue Leia Organa was another, but Luke was that optimism despite all the odds, and defeats, that you could just … that many of us could just root for. And an interesting story could have been told about how he lost that hope, and we have a bit of it. Unfortunately … after growing up with the powerful Jedi Grandmaster who made other mistakes, but still recalled the lessons of the past, only to see him repeat them in the new canon films, basically knowing his adventures had been erased and replaced with a characterization that would strike down a boy for something he didn’t even do yet after trying to spare and redeem his mass-murderer father … You can see how it just didn’t sit right.

But around this time, after The Last Jedi and Solo, came … something else.

I didn’t know what to think about The Mandalorian, especially given how ambivalent I was to the idea of a Boba Fett film. I was still struggling with hope that the Sequel Trilogy could find its way after The Last Jedi’s sense of finality, and this series provided a distraction for me, and I imagine for many of us.

It felt … low-tech. It was rendered by Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni back to Star Wars’ roots in its Spaghetti Western influences: its weekly serials. There was just more sense of time. More pacing. So much more space to tell a story, and develop characters from simple premises and archetypes into something more. They had nods and Easter-eggs to Star Wars lore and fandom: letting us in on the Secret Club feeling that is an open secret. But it world-built, and slowly revealed mysteries and details to us about the Mandalorians and Mandalorian culture. And Din Djarin and Grogu … Grogu, the Child, was the make it, or break it element of The Mandalorian. He was an obvious reference to Yoda and his own mysterious origins, but also to the Jedi and the Force that we didn’t know would even be involved in this series. He was there for merchandising and fan service and the neoteny of his cuteness, and it could have been as blunt as a Tusken gaderffii stick to the face.

But it worked. Grogu was iconic for the magic of Star Wars. And Din himself mostly stayed in his beskar’gam, his armour. He could have just been a Boba Fett knock-off, or a video game character whose identity the audience could just assume as a surrogate in experiencing this world. But slowly, perceptively, over time we see these two characters bond. And it is endearing. Even their associations with other characters is just entertaining and heartwarming to watch. So many characters I thought would be enemies, became associates and friends. There would be a new story every week, but one that built into something bigger.

It was a slow burn. Season One was all about protecting Grogu and figuring out what the nine Corellian hells was going on. Season Two was about returning Grogu to the Jedi, whoever they were after the Empire purged most of them out of existence. We got to see different kinds of Mandalorians, disillusionment with the Republic, the general independent nature of the Outer Rim, and the genuine danger of even the Imperial Remnants. And we got to see Din’s humanity, and Grogu’s love for him. I felt more for Din and Grogu than I ended feeling for most of the characters in the Sequel Trilogy. Din was a warrior raised by a sect of Mandalorians called the Watch after his parents were killed by Separatist super-battle droids. He earned all of his skill, and even when we run into him he is still earning his beskar: his Mandalorian ore for his armour.

And Grogu? Grogu is hope. He is a child, young for being fifty years old by his species’ standards, but also something of a sacred living relic that survived the genocide of the Jedi all the way to the New Republic to be found again. He is the old, and the new. He has seen, and survived, darkness. And Din recognizes that, and yet protects him — rescues him after retrieving him for his first mission in the series because, at the end of the day, it was the right thing to do, and he was willing to risk his people’s location and turn against the Bounty Hunter Guild’s Code to do so.

The evolution of the characters these past two years, the Star Wars details and eye for continuity, and the continuing mysteries kept me going. It kept me interested. I didn’t like The Rise of Skywalker. At all. To give you an idea, I never reviewed it. Not once. It took my European friends calling me on Discord one day to even get me to talk about it, and I hadn’t said anything about it in a few days. I hadn’t wanted to talk about a Star Wars movie in a few days. I just felt … tired. Drained. Just let down. I almost didn’t even finish Season One of The Mandalorian around that same time. I was down to the last episode. I thought to myself: what was the point? The people and characters I loved for years were gone. They were desolate and disappointed by life. They were too close to what I was now. I just … didn’t want to think about it anymore. I didn’t want to deal with Star Wars anymore.

But then I watched that last episode with IG-11 heroically sacrificing himself for the Child he attempted to kill in the first episode of the whole series, the death of Kuiil the Ugnaught as he tried to protect Grogu, even Greef Karga’s redemption after the Child saved his life, and the disillusioned Republic trooper Cara Dune respecting Din enough after their first adventure and rivalry to help him save Grogu from the Imperials … I felt it then. It saved a part of me. It saved a part of me that loved that magic.

It saved a part of me that loved Star Wars.

And now, I come to the real reason I’m writing this, and reminding everyone that we were all once Infinity Warriors against the forces of Spoilers. Because I saw the last episode of Season Two.

I was already enjoying the series. Seeing Bo-Katan and Ahsoka Tano, and finding out more about Grogu already made the series great, especially with tie-ins to other potential stories in Ahsoka’s standalone live action series. That line about finding Grand Admiral Thrawn took me right back to Timothy Zahn. Hell, even the ending of the last episode and making us really look forward to “The Book of Boba Fett,” either another series or the next chapter to The Mandalorian more than I had ever been excited for a movie around him, was inspiring. The way they reintroduced Boba again, and showed us how bad ass he really was made up for a lot. And resurrecting Fennec Shand after her ignominious death in one episode of Season One, along with a whole development for the mercenary Mayfield really made me appreciate the storytelling. They could have left it there. They really could have.

But then …

They did it.

I remember seeing the X-Wing. And I knew.

I saw the black hooded figure with the green lightsaber, and I knew.

I was looking for that one black glove. And I wanted it to happen. I was downstairs in my basement, screaming at my computer screen. I was yelling at it. Please.

Please.

Please be him.

Please. Be. Him.

He moved like Darth Vader in Rogue One. But where Vader slaughtered Rebel troops, the figure destroyed insanely powerful Dark Trooper droids like they were nothing. He was the pay off of two episodes ago when Grogu was taken by Din to Tython, the supposed homeworld of the sects that led to the Jedi, to summon a Jedi Knight to protect him.

And Grogu reached for the screen, and it was only later I realized he was communicating with the figure telepathically. By the time he came in, to face Din and his companions, and Grogu …

It was him. It was the person we’d read about in books. It was the individual we’d played in games. It was the man we saw fighting alongside his friends in comics. He was young, just as we remembered him, but he had further growth. He was so much stronger. Much more skilled. He’d taken after his father’s fighting style after dueling him. There was CGI on the actor’s face portraying him but the voice was unmistakable.

We got to see Luke. We got to see Luke fight the way we’d always hoped. We got to see him in his process of rebuilding in a cinematic place where he wasn’t crushed by despair, or dissipating after using one momentous Force technique in a process of great metaphor.

We got to see Luke Skywalker again.

And when Din Djarin took off his helmet, against the Watch’s Code, to let Grogu see his face, and touch it when saying goodbye to him … It broke my karking heart. There was joy and sadness in that parting that will hopefully just be a farewell.

A lot of ossik — a lot of shit — has been happening in 2020. This year had been garbage. It is a far harsher crucible than Tatooine or Jakku ever was. These past four years have been pretty bad. It would be so easy to give up. To not care anymore. To just surrender to cynicism and bitterness and disappointment. To just give up hope.

But for one moment, after every Friday morning looking forward to the next episode, at 3 am in my basement I felt a sense of joy and wonder I hadn’t experienced in years. For just forty-seven minutes, I felt like a child again.

Din Djarin was called The Mandalorian, or Mando before we found out his name. And Grogu, when he wasn’t called Baby Yoda, was referred to as The Child. But The Child was not just literal. It was metaphorical. It’s in The Mandalorian that we find out the Star Wars universe has a name for those beings genetically engineered — either cloned or altered — from a previous donor: a strand-cast.

The Mandalorian is a strand-cast of the Star Wars Saga, more continuous than Rogue One and Solo, and almost a whole other species but having more in common with its originator than its supposed biological heir in the Sequel Trilogy. Grogu might be The Child, but I feel that The Mandalorian is The Child of Star Wars.

I know there will be more. It isn’t over yet. Even so, I think about how Din Djarin passed Grogu onto Luke: the Mandalorian fulfilling his almost holy quest, the child relic that is more than foregone story but a living, breathing story of possibilities. And all us — my friends that played our homebrew Star Wars game with Lego those after-school afternoons, the child I was with my old Return of the Jedi writing notebook, and my friend who met us in the park in high school wearing Jedi robes like Luke Skywalker — we got to see our hero again, in all his glory, at least one more time. It was all many of us wanted. And there he was.

So much world-building and meaning in just two seasons of an online serial about a warrior, and his child, and all the people they’ve touched along the way.

Because, in the end, as this continues I feel this truth. That this is the Way.

The Horror Doctor

So I actually did it.

I wanted to put a few more things on my Blog before linking it here, but I finally made The Horror Doctor.

I find when you make a Blog, a lot of it is about creating content, but it’s also about organizing and curating it: to make it accessible, or at the very least to know what kind of theme you are going for. In my case, I just had a lot of thoughts about horror and weird stories, and some of these just didn’t completely fit on Mythic Bios.

Or maybe that’s not entirely accurate. You see, I’ve written a lot on Mythic Bios. And I mean … a lot. So much so, that I feel like for something like the Horror Doctor, I needed something more streamlined, more specific, with which to deal with that particular content. It’s not a replacement for this Blog by any means, and it’s not meant to be.

What is interesting is that in creating The Horror Doctor, I’ve gotten to apply a few things I’ve learned over the years writing for Sequart, GeekPr0n, and this Blog. At the moment, The Horror Doctor feels like something between a review and fanzine, but it also inherits a lot from what I’ve attempted to do on Mythic Bios: in showing my creativity and analytics in process. Whereas Mythic Bios has sometimes showed my “behind the scenes” or “backstage” elements of my story writing, I kind of drifted away from it over time.

The Horror Doctor kind of reminds me of my first days making Mythic Bios into an online Blog, where I was just inspired and driven to write an article on here almost every day. It changed, of course, over time given that you need to pace yourself, and not overwork your brain to death. Even now, I’m slowly down a bit, but I have a few thoughts that I can still write down.

But I guess The Horror Doctor was a long time in the making. Essentially, it’s me writing reviews and creative homages to films and other horror and weird properties that I’ve watched for the first time, or had thoughts about in recent times. I’ve said it a million times already, but it’s like being Victor Frankenstein — with hopefully minus the deadbeat creator aspect — in that I am pretending to be a mad scientist without an MD (or a PhD for that matter) dissecting and reassembling different subject matter under my constantly growing auspices.

Why I made it, well … watching Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In on Shudder helped, but in a way it’s the end result of spiritual inspiration from Kaarina Wilson. I’ve wrote about her a lot. I don’t know if or when I will stop writing about her, to be honest. We were originally going to make a collaborative blog together on Blogger called twosides. In the end, she wrote more in there than I did. But after she passed away, I realized I was still logged onto there as a co-creator. I read all the stuff she made, which wasn’t much, and I remembered that she wanted us to work together on something. I also recalled how much she believed that I could write about horror: to the point of encouraging me to talk to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival about writing for them.

Neither of these things happened. Originally, I was going to write in our old Blogger account and create The Horror Doctor there. In retrospect, there are probably more than a few subconscious reasons I chose that Blog name, but the fact is Blogger was just too basic — too old — to do anything with.

Of course, WordPress has changed over time as well. I know it’s not the same as I when I started back in 2012, but it is still kept up and updated, and I know how to use it on a basic level. I decided to start fresh, to make my own domain for both my Blogs, and a place for all of my things. So even though I feel like when I watch some horror classics or obscurities for the first time, I am watching it for both myself and Kaarina, the creation is all me: this is what I have been primarily doing with my time during this Pandemic.

I don’t know what else to add. I think The Horror Doctor is a good place to practice my writing ethic. I have already taken to curating but also rewriting and editing works there, taking my time, and considering what I want to do. It’s another step towards … something.

I will be reblogging some of my horror content from this Blog onto The Horror Doctor into both my “Dissections and Speculatives” and “Strains and Mutations” Categories (reviews and fanfiction), so there will be some interlap. In the meantime, I hope that everyone is holding up well. Take care all.

There are a few of you that have followed me for a long time here, some of you who still remain, or just discovered me. If you are into horror and weird stories, graphic  explicit, and twisted things, and you like how my brain works in general — and you like all of these things — please come and read my work at The Horror Doctor. Hopefully, if you are not educated by someone still learning the genre, you will at least be entertained.

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.Laughing Me

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.

Hymn to Nautilae

Written and performed by my bard during our D&D Fifth Edition Session. 

If you listen to the chiming laugh of a brook in the wood, 
and follow where the Moon-drake winds,
you will find a cavern, and an ancient bridge, 
with a rock visited by many kinds.

Elves and Minotaurs, Satyrs and Beastmen, 
and all manner of other fey,
they’ve come, like you, to the shimmering disc above, 
where her calm waters hold sway. 

There, she comes to you, smooth and cool,
from an offering dropped into her pool.
Silver given to a silvery sheen,
the Faerie comes with intention keen,
her magic strong enough to let her glean
your wishes that are yet to be seen. 

She’s like a Nereid, a Nymph, a watery Queen,
the finest that you’ve ever seen. 
Beautiful lady, ending with a tail,
to this vision, this humble bard sings this modest hail.

Her silken hair from her head crests out in waves,
like the glimmering veins of the world hidden in secret caves.
Rocks crumble, fires die, and winds move on,
but water, Terra-life’s blood moving, is never gone.

If you are wise, and your manners are fine,
with silver presented she may grant you a blessing undine. 
For with her touch, an axe might shine,
a staff made clear of evil’s brine, 
a hallowed bow’s soul no longer confined, 
each item freed from age or taint or temporal decline.

Yet above all, if you believe only one word of mine,
the Faerie holds the guidance of the watery line.
She offers a map under temples long grass,
sunken cities that mortals can no longer pass, 
traveling down roots where no stories tell,
or to a place of lost souls through an ancient well
where hope, thought long gone, may still yet dwell. 

Such are the mysteries you might find, where rock and waters play,
if you pay homage to the underlake of night and day,
for silver to a silvered tongue is yet the best way,
to court the favour of the Good Queen, Nautilae. 

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2019.