Saturday, February 25, 2017
Mine is an old cigar box that I blagged off a tobacconist. It's decorated with mosaic tile, which most everyone agrees is not a success. Well, no matter. It's all right if no one likes it but me. It's my secret box, after all.
The kids sometimes look at it in fascinated bewilderment. What is this, they ask, unable to perceive meaning in the contents. What are these pebbles and scraps of paper? All these scribbled notes? Why do you have a receipt dated August of 2002? Just for some incense and a china cup? Fortune cookie fortunes? Broken jewelry and Mercury dimes? Why would you keep these things?
To which I reply, well, that's the point of a secret box, innit? It's none of your beeswax, You don't have to explain. That's the rule.
The secrets of the box remain, more or less, secret. Anyway, explanations would only disappoint. It would hardly mean anything to them that (for example) the day of the incense and china cup, the sun glinting on the Summer air made me so transcendently happy that I wanted to remember. Of course it would lack meaning to anyone else. These things are only the property of the experiencer, however sacred or mundane.
One day, they'll understand. By that time, I'm sure, they will have their own secret boxes.
In town one day, an elderly man came up and said, "If you fall, I cannot catch you, but if you fall, the OM can catch you."
It took a little while, but I finally understand what he meant.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Probably she'd meant to say shoe drop, but never mind, the idea is intriguing one
Imagine a political scandal walking, approaching like a detective or a ghost in an echoing hall.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Almost literally. It would have been a better play on words had this been a random pile of clasps, pins, rings, bezels and wires scattered on the ground, but alas.
I have no explanation for this odd little heap of rhinestones.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Yesterday, the weather was excellent. Cloudy, yes, but warm and breezy. Wind chimes ringing. Fallen leaves swirling. Mountain laurel blooms making the air smell like grape pixie sticks. Perfection!
Not today, alas. As ever on February 14, Jack Frost, or at least Jack Crappy Weather, makes his return.
No matter, at least we have candy and hearts to break up the gloom.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
One of those unexpected lucky finds. I'd been poking around, looking for that infamous, nightmare fuel-injected Someone's At The Door ad for American Gothic. Instead, I came across this marvelous little gem.
No nightmare fuel, only intrigue.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
It might be February, but the wind is murmuring eerily in the eaves, and I don't feel as if I'm quite alone here...
Downtown, where the gas company used to be, the lamps are still burning. The ones I mentioned here. The gas company moved out years ago, so the light illuminates little these days but an empty lot and the occasional passerby. Still, the lamps stay lit.
Around the corner at the Protestant church, the much fancier gas lamps shine a warm glow on parishioners leaving basement recitals and potluck suppers, but this gas lamp - my gas lamp - soldiers bravely on alone.
There is something inexpressibly beautiful about a single light in the darkness.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Riverside Park in Victoria, Texas is not exactly an inviting place, so when I came across this little anecdote over at Ghosts Of America, I felt a little chill down my spine:
|"My friend Brianna was at Riverside Park with her cousin Mary by the kayaking trail on the Guadalupe River. They were away from their family whom were in the parking lot above. Brianna, who was not a strong believer in the supernatural, was down on the bank looking for animals on the other side.|
Mary stayed on the cliff, she was very scared. All of a sudden there was a loud screaming coming from down the Riverbank. Brianna quickly looked to see what was wrong, it was a young woman who looked no older than Brianna who was 16.
She appeared to be drowning, so Brianna decided to go help but when she got there the woman was gone. There was no sign of anyone but the word RUN spelled in the sand."
Sounds just like the kind of tales we used to whisper in the girls' bathroom at school. And knowing Riverside park, it's not so hard to believe.
Whenever we spent time there, I always had the urge to keep looking over my shoulder. At the same time, I was always afraid of what I might see.
It's that kind of place.
photo source: pinterest
For our New Year's feast, inspired by this post over at Patheos, we made these delicious rune cakes. Soul cakes, really, with runes etched on.
Tyr came out a little burnt, but since that's a bit war-like for my taste, it wasn't too much of a problem. Happily, I ended up with Wunjo instead.
Tyr came out a little burnt, but since that's a bit war-like for my taste, it wasn't too much of a problem. Happily, I ended up with Wunjo instead.
Saturday, December 31, 2016
It's the end of the year, a very difficult one for many. The year to come is met with trepidation. What can we do but continue to hope and work toward the best? Fatalism is tempting, but offers no solution. This isn't the time to let each other down.
This year hasn't been so bad for me, personally. Judging by my posting habits, I've managed to post here more than any other year (and would have done more if my computer hadn't chucked it). It's been about 16 months since I began regularly using brainwave entrainment to treat my anxiety and depression, and am sure this is the reason.
No, I'm not cured, nor "normal" by any means, but it's a major improvement, and for that I am grateful.
As it is, I'm going to keep chugging on, keep up with my unconventional therapies, get a new computer, hold to my responsibilities and work up the bravery to be a help to my fellow man.
With luck, we will survive living in these interesting times.
Happy New Year.
Sunday, December 25, 2016
I had to go, and quick. I was wearing a thin cotton dress, seafoam green with pink flowers. Perhaps it seems an odd choice for the season, but I was very young then and gauche, and couldn't afford many nice dresses anyway. I put on my wool coat and scarf before rushing out the door.
It was a mile to walk to work and back. The wind was icy, I remember that, even with the coat and scarf. I remember turning my collar up against the cold. I remember crossing the high bridge over the river, the one that always made me worry that I would lose my mind and jump.
But memory is a tricky thing. Sometimes I have a mental image of seeing the plaza that evening, all lit with lamps in the gloom. Other times I'm not so sure. And while I must have made it to my workplace, through the ubiquitous Christmas music and peachy-apricot scents, this no longer exists as a firm reality. But I must have done all the same, because the check was certainly in my purse, uncashed, later that night.
The next thing I remember for sure, I was standing on the edge of the street - it was grey, too, like everything else - dithering over whether I could make it to the bank before closing time. There were two men talking, not too far away. One of them had curly hair and was wearing a suit. They broke off their conversation to look at me.
I nodded at them rather distractedly. The light was fading. But I'd hardly got more than a block when a car drove up next to me.
The man in the suit said, it's so cold, do you need a ride anywhere? I said no, but thanks anyway. I made to walk on. He said, I was just going to dinner, will you join me? Please? He gestured at the restaurant across the street.
While I did like his fine suit and his rather elegant hands, I demurred. I was still thinking of the bank. I had Christmas shopping to do.
He took my hesitation as something else, though. He said, You don't have to get in the car with me. I'll be at the restaurant and you can meet me there if you like.
After he drove away, I stood on the icy, wind-blown corner and pondered my fate. Wither this way or that? In the end, I met him. It came down to practicalities, you see. I was getting a bit hungry by then, and I really wasn't sure I could cash my check in time to buy anything to eat.
He bought us dinner and we talked. He said he lived in Austin but had come here on business. He was engaging and friendly. I found him appealing despite our age difference, but was sceptical as he was the type who was usually married. He swore up and down he wasn't, and in fact this would turn out to be true. He was only what he claimed to be, really, a lonely businessman passing through town on this particular Wintery day.
When we finished our meal, he asked if he could take me out for a cappuccino. I didn't answer right away, since this was so long ago, I didn't even drink coffee yet, let alone fancy Italian drinks. The man said if I'd rather, we could have ice cream instead. I told him I wasn't sure, and this was the truth. But I was enjoying myself, and the man was nice, even if he kept staring at me funny.
"What is it you need?" he asked, with suprising sincerity. "a reference?" He offered to call an assortment of people who would vouch for him. He gave me his business card with his home address on the back. Finally, he gave me his driver's licence. He said, take this, amd if I get fresh with you, you can keep it.
By this time I was laughing, so it was easy to say yes. It wasn't that I didn't like him, or even trust him somewhat at this point. It was that I knew we would end up in a relationship, and I wasn't sure at that moment if I wanted to take that path or carry on alone.
By the time we left the restaurant, the sky had faded into night. The man was staring at me again. Feeling a bit exasperated, I asked him why he kept looking at me. Why on earth did he want to go out with me so bad? He apologized and said - with an earnest awkwardness that seemed ... maybe ... impossible to fake - "It's because you're the most beautiful person I've ever seen in real life."
Ah, such words! Perhaps only another Ugly Sister could appreciate the way I felt then, in the saddest, hidden corners of her heart.
At the coffee house, we had both cappuccino and ice cream among the Christmassy lights. I was no longer so cold in my seafoam dress. We talked about how we wished we could fast forward to the future, 6 months or a year or 3. Ostensibly this is so we could say we were in love, but really we wanted to evade the challenges we knew would separate us. We were too flawed for it to be otherwise, even if we would pretend it was not so for years.
At that moment, though, in that reality, all was still potential. The man (his name was Michael, by the way, since we've already reached the point of planning our life together) asks me to come to a party at his father's house on Sunday. His whole family will be there. He says he'll pick me up at work at 6, when the store closes early that evening. By now, I've given up my token resistance. I'm happy enough to agree
And so it is three days later, I'm at work, nervously fussing around my domain. It's almost closing time. Through the wall-sized windows I can see the early darkness settling. And here now too I can see Michael, ready to take me to his father's house, with a dozen roses in arms.
Whatever happens after this is not important - well, it is, but not for the purposes of this post. It's that I promised myself then to remember this moment always, when dark comes at six and the weather is cold.
This post is my way of keeping that vow.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
A lot has been written about the plot of this book, and I'm not really equal to writing more. Still, for the purposes of this post, I'll give a brief synopsis to give some idea of why I found the book so intriguing.
(some spoilers ahead, if you haven't read it.
The story begins with a young woman, Polly, about to head back to college. While packing her things, something triggers a memory, or several memories, that she knows must be false. As she tries to puzzle it out, she unlocks a flood of recollections from her childhood, beginning with the day she met a strange man at a funeral.
The book takes us through these lost memories, her odd and somewhat sketchy relationship with the man, and the overarching, ominous hold that his ex-wife and in-laws seem to have over him.
Considering the man's name is Thomas Lynn, and each chapter of the book begins with a quote from Tam Lin or Thomas The Rhymer, it's not hard to guess this aspect of the book. It's not even hidden, really, that the book is partly a modern reworking of Tam Lin. If I remember correctly, the copy I took out of the library even had this as a blurb on the cover. But if this is all it was, I don't think it would be so interesting.
Polly's adventures with Tom ("hero business", they call it) are mixed in with ordinary life, but Polly's parents are too self-absorbed and neglectful to even notice. "One of your Mr. Nobodies" her mother calls him, before letting Polly go off to Tom's London flat without even bothering to meet him first.
That there is something sinister, even supernatural, going on with Tom is accepted by Polly without much question, the way children do. Of course, Tom won't talk about it, clearly can't talk about it - Polly is sensitive to these things due to her difficult parents - so as she grows older, she resolves to find out exactly what's going on with Mr. Lynn.
When her hidden memories of Tom come to an abrupt halt, the grown-up Polly has to figure out what terrible thing she'd done that had erased him from her life so completely.
I'll leave it there, though I don't know if that in any way captures what is so appealing about the book.
Perhaps the most technically masterful thing Jones accomplished in this novel is the way she moves Polly from child to adult in a seamless, realistic way. Polly's hidden memories move from imaginative little girl to tomboy, to fickle adolescent, to a somewhat overconfident teen, to finally a college-age woman who is unsure what she will do with her future. Yet Polly is always recognizably the same character. Looking back through these stages of her life has a haunting quality, and the once upon a time element that one expects to find in fairy tales is here present in Polly's own story.
School and home are also rendered with depth and realism, and the fantastical elements, while necessarily less realistic, are not so unbelievable in the context of the story. The weaving together of the ordinary and extraordinary is one of Jones' hallmarks, and Fire And Hemlock is probably the book where she does it best.
Which isn't to say that the story isn't opaque at points, or at least translucent, in the sense of that thick block glass that only lets you see light and shadow. For instance, you are never explicitly told why Polly is able to intuitively grasp so much of Tom's situation, or why his in-laws perceive her as such a threat. And as far as the denouement goes, Jones was almost too clever for her own good. The answers are there in the story, but Jones clearly expected the reader to do the work and figure it out themselves. Hence the tendency for fans to go at the book like archeologists on a dig. You'd think we were interpreting one of Borges more convoluted works, not a YA novel.
For me, there is an essential whyness (I don't think that's a word, but never mind) that lies at the foundation of this story. As in, why did Jones write this particular book? I'd always had a strong sense that she hadn't done it just because it was a good story (after all, Tam Lin has been done dozens of times) or just to be clever, or because there is any particular moral in it.
I did know that she'd wanted to explore the concept of the female hero, because Jones said so herself. But that wasn't the answer I was looking for either. No, there was something else going on underneath the story, and it was mightily hard to get at.
Which brings me, at last, to the point of this post. I think I finally found it, the "why". Not in Fire And Hemlock or any of the other works referenced within, but in a short story of hers called The Master.
I had heard that Jones wrote The Master about a recurring nightmare she'd had, and then written Fire And Hemlock out of the same set of ideas, but hadn't been able to get my hands on a copy since no nearby library or bookstore carried it. So this weekend, I was thrilled to discover this book preview of Jones's Unexpected Magic that actually included it. Double thrills!
The Master is the third story when you scroll down:
(Edit - or not. Some technichal difficulties with the link. But googling Unexpected Magic book sampler brings it up just fine.)
Even though The Master and Fire And Hemlock are very different stories, if you overlay one on top of the other the similarities are clear. The eerie, otherworldy house in the woods is the basis for Hunsdon House. The vet who is called into this situation is analogous, in many ways, to Polly. Egbert has elements of Tom, including the geas laid upon him not to tell. The unsettling rose garden links to the Tam Lin tale and T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, both. The wolves and their behavior - perhaps most tellingly of all - reflect Tom's in-laws. The list could go on and on.
As for the "why" of it, that is apparent, too. Both tales spring from a dream, the kind that haunt and nag at you and beg to be exorcized by finally understanding them. Which is exactly what Jones has inspired in the most obsessive readers of Fire And Hemlock.
And if that is what Jones meant to do, then that was the most technically masterful thing she accomplished in the book.
It only took 27 years for me to work it out. It was worth it, though.
Monday, November 21, 2016
"As though of parsnips had I drunk" doesn't sound quite as poetic, though.
And here are these trees, just because I thought they looked nice.
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Looking back, I kind of admire the way I fail to exactly match the color scheme.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Sunday, October 30, 2016
My favorite Halloween memories are not of anything dramatic, but small moments infused with an ineffable...something.
The school Fall festivals and playing games under the full moon. Baking pumpkin pie.Crossing the bridge above the creek and hearing the leaves rustle ominously. And then there is my very favorite memory, the time I saw the last trick-or-treater of the night - a young girl dressed as a witch - jump the wrought iron fence on the corner. She could have walked around it, but she jumped instead, and I was so glad. She was about 11, and I knew, with a certain melancholy, that her fence-jumping days would soon be over. For that moment though, she was truly a little witch.
And as always, there is the sense that spirits are close at hand.
After midnight, when everyone has gone home, it's time to leave offerings for the dead. There is candy, fruit, and (when I can manage) bread baked in the shape of little men. Scoff all you want, but when you have guests, you should always show them hospitality. Most times the weather is warm, but sometimes cold wind whips around my ankles as I make my rounds. Regardless, it must be done, because this is the essence of it all, the point of connection between the living and the dead.
In our family, we often joke that Halloween is a more important holiday than Thanksgiving or Christmas, our equivalent, and we'll be like the family in the Ray Bradbury story, Homecoming. Perhaps this will be the day everyone will come for the holidays every year, fluttering home like bats through the moonlight.
It's not a bad idea. They know we'll always leave a light on for them.
Saturday, October 29, 2016
|A charm to ward off evil spirits and diaper rash - you know she's going to need it.|
Isabella is a young bride, a doctor's wife who is expecting a baby. She moves from her hometown to her in-laws' ranch in the Southwest, but before she does, the religious studies professor she works for gives her the charm seen above - he must know something she doesn't.
At first everyone in the remote desert town seems friendly, almost overbearingly so, and soon there are signs that something is amiss. Her mother-in-law is all up in her business, her father-in-law is gropey and her husband is always away, leaving Isabella to cope on her own. What's more, there is something not right about the townsfolk. In fact, the whole town is chock full of not right. It makes Twin Peaks seem normal in comparison.
Isabella's only friend is Janelle, a battered wife who warns her that "when the light hits a certain way, the townspeople don't even look human" and that she should leave because "they're gonna get you, and for sure they're gonna get your baby."
See? Chock full of Not Right.
When Isabella sees something nasty in an outbuilding on the ranch, we know that all bets are off.
To Save A Child (Aka The Craft) 1991
Because I consider this (only slightly acerbically) to be the best TV movie ever made, I was surprised to learn that it had actually been a failed series pilot that was repurposed as a stand-alone film. Perhaps this is one of the things I like about it so much, that it's necessarily open-ended to leave room for a series that never happened. That adds something to it, I think. Despite plot similarities to The Lighting Incident, the somewhat surreal camera work and twangy guitar soundtrack owe quite a bit to Twin Peaks. Just more overtly sinister and in the desert, which is fine by me.
Some may question my taste - after all, I thought Two Moon Junction was great - but I maintain that they just DON'T UNDERSTAND.
Supernatural Domestic Gothic has fallen out of favor in recent times, replaced by hackneyed teenage vampires and more straight-up horror themes, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that one day, one day, it will come back into vogue.
When it does, I'll have the popcorn ready.
Friday, October 28, 2016
In this film, Nancy McKeon plays a pregnant sculptor who is working on an art installation meant to attract lightning in the desert. (Pity no one told her there already is one ). After she begins to have the aforementioned visions, she discovers a connection to a sinister South American cult. This is bad news for our heroine, because the cult happens to want her baby for nefarious purposes. As you can imagine, Drama ensues.
Sadly, there's no way to link to the film because the only one on youtube is private, but there is a trailer:
I liked The Lightning Incident because it delivers most everything you'd want and expect from this type of TV movie, and the desert setting is a refreshing change from the usual New England (or very occasionally Old South) locales where TV movie producers must assume these things happen.
I have to confess though, mainly I liked it because of the strong similarity it bears to my very favorite TV movie of all time, the one where the genre reaches its highest heights, the ultimate triumph of the form. That one will be the next and final post in this series, so stay tuned.
Obviously, you'll be waiting with bated breath...
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Seriously. I mean, look at that set-up in her room. No teenage occult dabbler I ever knew had gear like that. It must have cost a fortune. Girl was dedicated.
If you've ever had dark suspicions about the fumes emanating from your teen's bedroom, this is a film for you.
Midnight Offerings, 1981
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Midnight's Child, 1992
Midnight's Child is genuinely eerie and does a good job of playing on unconscious (as well as conscious) feminine fears. One issue, though, is that the heroine is so often cranky that I find myself rooting for the nanny. Then again, maybe that's what we're meant to do...
While TV shows like Desperate Housewives were big hits, I claim that Domestic Gothic reached its most perfect televised form in the Lifetime Television Movie. Back in the 90's, I was an eager consumer of such things, huddled in my darkened living room with endless bowls of popcorn. Will the heroine foil the evil plot? Will she escape in time, hopefully with the remnants of her social and/or family structure intact? Of course she will, and in a suitably dramatic fashion, too
While Domestic Gothic comes in many forms (you know you're watching Domestic Gothic by the way the camera follows the heroine around like a creepy voyeur) my favorite subtype is Supernatural Domestic Gothic, which is what I'll be highlighting in this series of posts. What could be better viewing for this spooky Autumnal season? Garden-variety psycho killers are nothing compared to fighting posses of witches or the devil himself!
First up - Pamela Sue Martin discovers there is something very strange going on in the sleepy village of Bay Cove. Why has no one been buried in the church yard since the 1700's? Who is that old man watching her? Why is there a flaming pentagram in the basement of the general store?
Bay Coven, 1987
I can't embed the video here, but please click the link for thrilling, cheesy fun. :)