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BLOT: (06 Oct 2014 - 07:49:05 PM)

Something new for those friends who want to play along, the Monday Writing Prompt! First up, "The 2:43am Knock"

Something I've long wanted to experiment with, both for myself and for others who are interested, is putting out some sort of writing prompts. Well, since it is October, I figured for this and for the remainder of October Mondays, I would set up a writing prompt with a general horror theme and then anyone who wanted to play, including myself, could play along. If I get, say, two responses total for the month of October, I might keep trying to put them out later on in the year. I'll also throw in some +1 Prompts that will give potential flavor that can then be ignored if the central prompt is enough to get you going.

For October, I want to deal with two specific themes that show up in horror [say, in the workds of Ramsey Campbell]: social awkwardness and innocent things leading to bad things. And I'll start with something based on a real life story that happened not too long ago. Couple of weeks back, late at night, Sarah and myself were woken up by someone knocking on our French doors. I got up, got dressed, and then there was no one there. It has not happened again. There are a number of possible answers to the questions, "Who was it and why?," but really it does not matter too much. However, it was a bit of blood-pumper thinking of all the scary possibilities. Sticking to my themes, though, let's say the prompt is this:

At 2:43am, the protagonist is woken by a knock on his or her apartment door. The person outside is knocking for some innocent or actually positive reason, but it will end up with something bad happening.

+1 Prompt: The person at the door is someone that the protagonist does not know personally, but has some strong interest in knowing.

+1 Prompt: The protagonist has not slept well for at least a week, and tonight had his or best chance of sleeping through the night. Why the trouble sleeping? And how is that tied into the bad thing?

If you play, and want to share, and don't mind me linking them, let me know and I'll share. If you want to share but not have me link them, that's cool, too. And if you don't want to share...well, there you go.

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: October 2014


BLOT: (01 Oct 2014 - 08:27:08 PM)

Doug Responds to Things Spotted on the Internet: Someone maybe doesn't get banned book week and just one point about meat-substitutes

As a person who is a) a librarian and b) majorly anti-censorship, Banned Books Week is something I am entirely behind in principle. In reality, though, I am not 100% behind how it is handled. I am all for bringing awareness that some people think we still need to censor or ban books, and I all for bringing to light that most such activity is for "a good cause" ["That book has a sex scene! Kids don't need sex in their lives!"], and I am all for solidarity that comes from letting librarians know that people support their keeping books that have been complained about, but in some ways it feels like encouraging students in one state to read Harry Potter because a parent in another state complained about it misses some vital mark. I'm not sure what, because I understand that spreading the word of, "This is what someone considered offensive," is a good way to show that just because someone else does not like something, even for "a good cause", that it does not mean they are entirely correct. I don't know. In some ways I feel like it promotes the books where they are already promoted but maybe does not focus quite enough on promoting the books where they are actually banned. Maybe I'm wrong and I'd be glad for counter-examples.

With all that being said, this Banned Books Week "advice animals" response feels really wrongheaded:

I think the person might be agreeing with the major tenet of Banned Book Week, that we shouldn't stop people reading from what they want to read, but by staging it as a apathetic negative, they seem to have missed the postive, proactive aspects of the whole thing.

Bonus response! While I was getting ready to post this, I found an article for something pitched as "gluten-free seitan", which is kind of like saying "iron-free steel", seeing as wheat gluten is by far the major ingredient for seitan. I mean, you can make other hard-metal alloys, and you can make other protein-rich food blobs, but let's not muddle the terms so much they are without meaning, please. "Try our peanut-free peanut-butter!" I feel like I'm being cranky, here, but what I'm more-so responding to is a comment I saw about that article which I have seen elsewhere: "Why do veg*ns eat so many damned meat-substitutes?! Aren't they just proving they really miss meat?"

Ok, as a note, let's have some real talk here. You know what doesn't come in slices, nuggets, patties, ground-anything, on-a-stick, sausage links, stews, steaks, cooked, seasoned, or anything outside of raw hunks, strips, hocks, and bits? Meat. All of cooking is transforming the product-as-is to the product-as-delectable. Just because you consider a disk-shape of ground protein on a bun to be somehow indelibly tied to beef does not mean that it's not a ridiculous, arbitrary distinction. Crapping on someone for taking slices of plant protein and eating it on bread is not some knock-out argument just because you spent your whole life eating waste-meat in a phallic shape on a bun and have justified it because some added salt and condiments to it to make it taste like food. Much if not the vast majority of meat is consumed in false shapes designed to enhance taste, mouth feel, visual attraction, and convenience. Claiming that veg*ns shouldn't engage in similar behavior is silly, at best, ranging all the way to delusional.

libraries, food

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: October 2014


BLOT: (29 Sep 2014 - 08:32:22 PM)

Perhaps the single best scholarly article title I have ever seen

In the midst of a half-hour reference transaction in which I tried to help a student find some answers to the question, "Why are so many iconic horror figures male?", I came across this humdinger of an article title, relevant to my interests, and maybe to yours:

For those who have access to such things, the full citation reads: HARRIS, JASON MARC. "Smiles of Oblivion: Demonic Clowns and Doomed Puppets as Fantastic Figures of Absurdity, Chaos, and Misanthropy in the Writings of Thomas Ligotti." Journal Of Popular Culture 45, no. 6 (December 2012): 1249-1265.

And, it must be said that it contains absolutely Ligottian lines like,

The clown in Ligotti is not simply a marker of reversals, disorder, and chaos in the universe but rather exemplifies the fragmenting dynamic of Ligotti's misanthropic metaphysics where entropic madness disintegrates rational identity.

...and,

Or is this question "is everything all right," a question that echoes from the empty horizons of the absurd universe to shake our minds into the maddening realization that we must ever avert our eyes from: that surely everything is not all right, much—if not all—of creation is wrong, terribly wrong.

Some interesting notions about how humor in horror is not only subversive—since it twists both the definition of "humor" AND "horror"—but how certain tropes like clowns and puppets, tied closely to children's entertainment and gentle humor, also have roots in what is much closer to horror or, at best, morality plays with their heavy-handed insistence on sin, vice, and Hell. Then it ties it to Ligotti in the way he uses puppets and clowns and gas station carnivals and sometimes silly toybox concepts—see his recent "The Plastic People"—and then tells stories about loss and despair and the death of everything loved.

Thomas Ligotti

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: September 2014


BLOT: (12 Sep 2014 - 08:29:45 PM)

Friday Horror Short 14, Still Life

I am a bit sick in the real world, so let's get this done. I found Jon Knaut's (by way of Brookstreet Pictures) short, "Still Life", through Youtube recommending to me a version posted back in 2006. This, however, is the short as linked by the studio's website. Turns out its by the company behind both Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer and The Shrine, two movies I can recommend with only a mild amount of guardedness. So, watch this, and then go and find and watch those, in the order given.

As for this one, pill-popping cross-Canada driver [played by Trevor Matthews] drives into a town at the end of his consciousness and gas-tank. When he distractedly hits someone, his panic turns to confusion when he realizes that it's a mannequin. And the people in the diner he runs inside are mannequins, too. Except, as he turns his back, the mannequins move, and they are reacting to his vehicular killing. This is only the start of his troubles.

Generally well shot with everyone's favorite scary trope—the old The Shining topiary trick now better known for being associated with the Weeping Angels—it is a nice little horror short that looks at a different sort of vulnerability, As stuff starts growing out of control, you begin to side with the man who plowed down someone on the street, plastic or not. And while it ends on perhaps the least interesting twist that such a story could set up, it does so by encroaching on real world horror that I suspect will be appreciated more by those not quite so much into Ligotti-esque weirdness as I.

Friday Horror Short

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: September 2014


BLOT: (11 Sep 2014 - 08:01:49 AM)

Day in the Life 13618, Minecraft Woes, Bathroom Wasps, and The Scary Little Girl Thing

Since it hasn't been confirmed, I won't link to it or anything, but the news came out yesterday that Microsoft was in talks to buy Mojang for two billion dollars. Since it is not confirmed, there are no details about what the talks would entail, but since no one from Mojang, a general public and vocal company, has said anything, this means it seems likely that whatever they are doing requires at least an NDA.

I don't blog a lot about Minecraft, but it really is a life-changing game for me. I've put in hundreds of hours, probably nearing a good thousand hours, into playing it across a half-dozen worlds this past four or five years. Partially, that is from me playing podcasts and audiobooks and Big Finish audioplays and going for hours of building or digging or mining or terraforming and listening to content. Partially it is because it is a game that my wife and I play together and we'll get on and do four or five hours of mindless stuff and just hang out. While I do play other games, Minecraft is my go-to game, and the one that I look forward to playing years from now.

I'm not sure what will happen after this, but I should theoretically be able to do something like keep the current jar and files and just play it offline indefinitely. I'll keep my eye out for solutions to do this, if needed. Or this might be all for nothing. Even a buy out might leave the original Minecraft team mostly in place. C'est la vie and we'll see.

On to real life woes, Sarah's bathroom (technically the master bath and I use the hall bath which is also our guest bath) got infested with wasps as they got into the vents. Occasionally an angry wasp would fly down from the vent fixture and dive-bomb into the wall. We called it in, and I think we managed to get most of them out, but even still. It will probably be weeks before she feels comfortable showering without freaking out at every little buzz. It's the kind of thing that seems kind of funny until you spend any length of time thinking about it.

One of the modern horrors of civilization is coming to grips with the idea that right behind our facade of painted walls and picket fences are the same vermin that came before us, living in hives and warrens, getting ever better at staying out of sight. Right now, behind the dry wall of my study, how many clowns live, slithering up and down the cracks, with their horrid red noses and their oversized feet? The mind boggles.

As something of a cheer up for these two woes, we went out and got some bagels and then walked around a couple of costume stores shopping for masks. Most of the masks I like, the old school Venetian style, work alright on my face but those slightly modern variations like the solid-white-face masks are too small. I will probably have to make my own. The latex ones fit, but latex masks aren't my style. Early days yet, so we have time to keep shopping around. I want a plague doctor mask and I want a Venetian raven mask, and I think we've found me one of the latter. The former is what I may have to make for myself.

The highlight, though, was this scary little girl thing that when you activate her, she crouches down and goes, "Mommy...help me...Mommy..." and then after a random amount of time flies up and screeches and then slowly drifts back down. The first time I was looking at it, I was all, "I love her...that's amazing..." and then I realized what was about to happen because I saw the legs start to spring, but Sarah was talking and not paying as much attention and when it came up, she screamed and jumped back and flushed in the face. From that point on, she wouldn't get near any of the other displays, just in case. So...um, maybe we won't be taking her to an hardcore haunted house this Halloween.

And while I don't have footage of that first authentic jump, I do have some footage of the display because I kind of want one. Sarah is standing nearby, so you have a little teaser of what her more legit reaction was. The sound and video quality sucks, but you can get the gist from this video:

Oh, and completely unrelated to everything except it happened yesterday: I got to teach what I think is the first ever library instruction session in a philosophy class, yesterday. I think I did ok. Some of us philosophy sorts can be reticent to go through actual research, but I think it's good for us. Hopefully I helped a few.

Until next time!

Me in 2014

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: September 2014


BLOT: (09 Sep 2014 - 08:59:08 PM)

Of Anal Clefts and Alcohol in Alabama

This past Saturday we were in Earth Fare, getting some food, and then Sarah spotted some pumpkin ale and that's a big deal for her so she got her first six-pack of the season. We had a 70% full wicker basket, with stuff on the bottom, so we had the six-pack out on its own. While checking out, the cashier seemed at first confused about putting groceries into the basket, and then she really wanted to make sure the beer fit inside. It probably would have, but would have made some of the other things fit oddly, and so I said that she could leave that out. She immediately snatched it up and shoved it into a paper bag.

"It has to be bagged! It's a state law!"...and then I wondered if it was.

Because that is exactly the sort of thing that someone will claim, vehemently, is a law for a long period of time without being able to cite the actual law itself. In this case, though, it is a law about booze in Alabama and so it might be on the books. Does anyone know which law it would be? I looked through the Alabama Code and found a mention that alcohol has to say in its container, and it include words like "bag", but I think they meant more that if alcohol was sold in a bag (like bagged wine or some such) then that would count. Maybe not. Or maybe its not in the alcohol laws at all but in something about being grocers, I'm not sure.

What I found in the midst of that search, though, made the mild annoyance all worth it:

It shall be unlawful and no person shall expose to public view his or her genitals, pubic area, vulva, anus, anal cleft, or cleavage or any simulation thereof within an establishment dealing in or permitting the consumption of alcoholic beverages or within 500 feet of an establishment dealing in or permitting the consumption of alcoholic beverages. [45-35-20.04 (a)]

Heh, anal cleft. Try and think about some dude in a suit arguing with some other dude in a suit, both having law degrees, and debating this in the state capital, with some strip-club lobbyist dropping campaign funds to have someone try and imply that nothing is wrong with a little dime slot.

It's the gift that keeps on giving, Alabama law is, and thank goodness for it.

Now, note that it also says that it can't be simulated, so no fake anal clefts.

There are other bits of the law that continue to induce the giggles:

[People who sell booze, etc etc...] shall [not] allow or permit any nudity, partial nudity, erotic bikini dancing, erotic conduct while partially nude, simulated nudity, topless dancing, or any other type of similar live entertainment including, but not limited to, erotic bikini dancing, or other entertainment where the entertainers, employees, dancers, or waiters appear nude or semi-nude or in the simulation thereof. [45-35-20.04 (d)]

They said erotic bikini dancing twice. They must really like it.

And then there is the strange redundancy of not allowing cleavage to be shown in bars [look out, Sammy T's!] but then specifying, in (c), that it's not lawful in a bar to "allow or permit any female person to expose to public view any portion of her breasts below the top of the areola or any simulation thereof." So...are they not talking about breasts? Is there some sort of special kind of cleavage that my mama never told me about?

Kind of disturbing is this line:

[I]t shall be unlawful...to intentionally cause... [nudity, etc, anything where they are] not completely covered with anything other than a full and opaque covering. [45-35-20.04 (e)]

The "cause" wording, like forcing someone to expose themselves is crossing a line when you do it in a bar. From that same bit, though, comes perhaps the funniest line of them all...

Attire which is insufficient to comply with these requirements includes but is not limited to, those items known as G-strings, T-backs, dental floss, and thongs. Body paint, body dye, tattoos, latex, pasties tape, or any similar substance applied to the skin surface...is not full and opaque covering as required by this part. [ibid]

Damned dental floss1 is not good enough. Game over, man, GAME OVER!

Again, though, it's best to picture two men in suits, red faced, one backed by strip-club cash, arguing this out in an official setting.

1: Yes, I Urban Dictionary, so I know what it means, but you need to stop letting the truth get in the way of a good joke, fella.

Alabama at Large

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: September 2014


BLOT: (29 Aug 2014 - 09:16:23 PM)

Friday Horror Short #13, The Quiet

Way back in my last Friday Horror Short, I mentioned the single-female-in-an-apartment as a common metaphor for vulnerability and tension, and so I thought as I bring back the old FHS for another twelve or so shorts, I might try and focus on those twin concepts: how some horror shorts shortcut building up a creature by breaking down the protagonist into archetypal victims.

In I'm With Them's "The Quiet", we see both elements played off by the protagonist dealing with being deaf in one ear and having severely limited hearing in another as she navigates some tricky situation where even a person with full hearing would be missing some vital cues. After being taunted by classmates on the bus, Alice gets off without getting her phone. This leaves her unsure whether her mom is coming to get her. Setting off alone, she is soon confronted by a blue van and an unknown occupant inside who seems to be watching her. After the van drives off, she starts home again, only to see the van simply stopped further down the road. Running into the woods, she has her hearing aid ripped off, leaving her almost entirely deaf and trying to avoid being captured.

I'm picking this one because it represents so well how a short horror film can skip certain elements of establishing the monster by establishing built-in weaknesses in the protagonist [note, it is described as being part of the "Vulnerable Female" trilogy, which makes me wryly chuckle]. It does this part well, though almost entirely by playing off built-in sentiments. You see a bullied—and possibly neglected—Alice cope with her issues while initially retaining an outwardly cool demeanor, forcing a contrast to her on-display vulnerability. A distinction that crumbles as she feels her situation grow more dire. She knows that she could just walk past the van but cannot bring herself to do it. This establishes doubt in the viewer's mind that was not there before. Suddenly, the van represents conflict. If it contains a determined rapist or a child-murderer, her hearing issues would not very much matter, but since we are watching her stripped away layer by layer—first the loss of her bullying but watchful classmates, then her cell phone, and eventually her hearing aid—we buy into her notion of confrontation. As she enters into the woods, surely she knows the quickest way home, but we buy into her being disoriented and directionless. She is our guide in this film, and our guide grows increasingly flawed.

It loses some traction by a combination of a weak twist—mean-spirited at best, and easily guessable, at least for me—and a lackluster ending which mistakenly tries to pop the already deflated tension bubble with a surprise that is more a headscratcher than anything; but it does have the weird vignettes involving a doll and the phrase, "I will always love you," and the act of hair cutting that leads to the swap in the speaker's voice from female to male. Perhaps a symbol of a loss of innocence, or maybe of a loss of decorum. These odd shots essentially give the film meat it might have otherwise lacked, and make it through without any easy throwaway explanation.

Friday Horror Short

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: August 2014


BLOT: (22 Aug 2014 - 07:09:41 AM)

My first Who regeneration experience and some thoughts about the latest one...

My first regeneration experience was Tom Baker turning into Peter Davidson. I was...I don't know, young (note: this would have been something like 1986, on PBS re-runs). The Doctor is crushed by a long fall from a satellite dish, having just protected the Universe itself. "The Watcher" approaches. They blend together and form into the Fifth Doctor. At the time, I had no real grasp of what Doctor Who was. I had been watching Tom Baker since "The Face of Evil" [so something like a year and a half of Saturday night TV between the two]. I was probably too young [and it came on too late at night, being something like 9:30-10:30pm] for me to quite understand the storyline, so some of the stories ran together. I thought Cybermen were in more episodes than they were, and I remember thinking Davros was a oft-recurring character, even though I had only seen him a couple of times (during the middling "Destiny of the Daleks" episodes). My first thought on seeing the Doctor regenerate was something like "That's weird..." and it quickly changed into "That's NEAT!". A hero who can escape death by reshaping himself into a whole new body? Who becomes a cousin to his former self in exchange for the power to keep going? That's crazy talk. I remember my brother Danny not quite liking it, though he only watched a few episodes with me. For me, a person obsessed with the mercurial nature of things and the ungraspability of infinity, it filled an itch.

I partially say this because I know people are going to lose their shit tomorrow and be all "BUT HE'S NOT MATT SMITH!!!!" and I've never quite gotten the hang of these new Doctor Who fans who don't embrace one of the central weirdnesses of the show.

I am more curious to see how the show goes forward and regenerates itself, again. The subtle shifts in tone has generally been overlooked in comparison to the distinct shifts in actors, but are just as important. The show has, over the past few seasons, developed a reliance on deus ex machinas and the mythological importance of the Doctor and cosmic crisis every seasons and I'd like to see all three moved away from slightly. Part of the as-a-whole fun of Doctor Who has been that he is this uber-professor-adventurer but has limits and doubts, all the way back to Hartnell's First ready to kill a caveman in cold blood because he was scared of the complications of letting him live. I got the feeling that Matt Smith was often wanting to tap into that in ways that the story lines weren't allowing (occasionally reaching moments of brilliance in scenes that should have been cheesy). Maybe Capaldi can have a bit more luck. Or maybe not, because the show might try a completely different tack and confirm Lungbarrow, who knows...[well, presumably Moffat knows...]

Doctor Who

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: August 2014


Written by Doug Bolden

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