Welcome to the new home of the Odist Abettor Music Blog. It made sense to switch over from Blogger to right here on my own web site, which is already a hub of links to my other pages. If all the tech stuff works (if I can figure it all out), then when I push save and publish at the end of this, the blogs will be here now at www.odistabettormusic.com going forward. You should still be able to check out past blogs here for a while in case you’re interested in that sorta thing.
Anyways, it's been a minute.
Sorry for my absence. Turns out the longer I go between blog entries, the tougher it seems to convince myself to jump back into that mode of thought. As with most things in life, including getting up, falling asleep, or doing anything of any level of difficulty, Newton's laws of motion still apply. Like an arhythmic heartbeat, sometimes a bit of a jolt--in this case force of will--may be require to get one back into the right old pattern.
Some of it probably had to do with my spending as much of my writing energy as possible on the first draft of a novel. I must continue to convince myself that it will be written in order to push myself to continue writing it. I think most people who set out to write a novel, myself included, can be far too overcome with the fantasy of having already written some marvelous, shiny, groundbreaking new classic, to the detriment of sitting down and putting one word after the last. Procrastinating on that may be the thing that currently offers me the strength to do this.
Unfortunately, my songwriting has taken something of a hit as well this year. Over the past few weeks I've been digging back into it, though. Again, the pursuit of the perfect final draft can utterly strangle even the most exuberant efforts at putting together any sort of early form, even for something so short and contained as a single song--perhaps more so.
Once more I recall the wisdom of a vast chorus of those who have written far more and far greater than myself, that a you can edit and polish and rewrite any amount of words, but you can't re-do much of anything with a blank page. You can't skip to step two or three or ten. I suppose this probably applies to much in life besides creative output.
Further, I think we should all remember that whether in our creative, social, emotional, or work life, our output is not and should not be the defining factor by which we judge our individual capacity. It is a lie of some heartless capitalist machine that a dream must include a job or that our worth can be summed up in the same tables used to tally funds. Sure, ya gotta work so you can eat, but what are you eating for? If that energy just goes back into the work with nothing else between, then maybe we'd all just be better off without industry or technology or any sort of society that overcomplicates the relationship between the energy expended and the energy attained.
But if that were true, then why does it sometimes seem like those most close to nature have so much more distinctive a connection to their culture, to the vast spectrum of what culture can mean. Shouldn't all this advancement mean that we have even more opportunities to explore and express the vastness of human possibility. Instead of fearing that robots might take our jobs, shouldn't we be excited for the day when we no longer must labor at anything besides the abundance of our collective bliss as expressed through our individual wonder?
This might be why I continue to go back and rewrite ever-shifting outlines for all the stories in my head. All the things I want to say run amok and trample down any sense of the saying.
All this talk of labor, and I've gone so many paragraphs without declaring we seize the means of production from the bourgeoisie.
Turns out, I've spent what for me is an unusual amount of time off on the sidelines of the courts of late, learning how the justice system is anything but. Turns out, speedy trial is hardly even a suggestion, and those who deal in the daily minutia of the law can all too easily forget that for everyone else in the room, this may the be the worst day of their lives. I should say, I'm not the one who has had to deal with the courts directly, not for a while now anyway. Moreso, I've secondhand and thirdhand glimpsed cases where the powerful shine so bright, the glare of their magnificent pomposity is blinding. Those at their skim mercy are dragged by the toe-nails through every one-sided, convoluted slaughter-fest, where the butchers make the big bucks and the lambs get fleeced.
Speaking of horror pictures, the other night I had the privilege of seeing IT: Chapter Two, the followup to IT from a few years ago, based on Stephen King's famous novel. Don't worry, I won't be spoiling any of the plot or in any way attempting to transfer any of the chilling frights on to you, though they are magnificent.
I used to be hesitant toward, if not outright dismissive of all things horror. Then I got this PTSD business. While there are a few choice downsides to having your brain chemistry reshaped by trauma, turns out in my cases, my tastes in cinema, television, novels, and comics actually expanded. Part of this, I'm sure is just getting older. I'm finally old enough now to realize why I wasn't allowed to watch certain shows or movies as a little kid. Some of those prohibitions I'd still disagree with, but at this point I think I'm fine with the R-rating being a thing on certain material. More so for the discerning parent and developing adolescent to use as a way to inform their movie-going decisions than as a way to broadly restrict general audiences in any kind of uninformed fashion. For instance, the first PG-13 movies I saw in theaters were the Lord of the Rings. Yeah, the first one was kinda scary with the Ring Wraiths and the violence was more than I had been used to in live action films, but my eleven years were more than ready for it. Similarly, I had no issue when I saw the first Matrix film before I turned 17 (not in theaters though), though I was seriously f-ed up by The Passion of the Christ. Both are rated R, but the latter was something I had been encouraged to see by many of my peers and religious leaders. (I'm sure they had good intentions, but really out of the two, the Matrix had a more clear message, less gratuitous violence, and better production value.)
Anyway, now I'm almost 29 and spend far more time watching movies, both at home and in the cinema. For some reason, while my taste has grown to enjoy independent dramas, artsy period pieces, and other "intellectual" fair, it's also expanded to a certain craving for the shivering thrill of a truly gripping SCARY movie. Yeah, I'll be the first to admit that the genre(s) under that wide banner include almost as much revolting thematic trash as plenty of comedies or as much cheesy, cheap emotional flogging as inspirational films(TM), but as with any genre, it's both the story you tell and how you tell it that matter.
Over the half-decade or so, I've found my heart and mind drawn-in, churned-up, and expanded by those flicks deemed as HORROR or THRILLER about as often as from the ACTION FANTASY that inevitably rolls in the box office figures and ignites the wide-eyed child-like imagination within.
For a while, I thought my new love of the creepy, spine-tingling, visceral, jump-scare-laden, dimly lit fare was all about adrenaline. Life sure had gotten a lot scarier in my head and thus all around me, so my entertainment had to rise to the challenge, right? Well, maybe at first. I'll admit that it certainly felt that way during some of the binging I did a few years back to catch up on the classics or anything recommended to me by those more familiar with these films. I was having trouble feeling anything, and thankfully it was one of the more healthy ways I could drown myself in big bursts of feeling.
I certainly found some less healthy ways to force myself to feel.
Perhaps it's like all those times I came home from school as an angst-ridden teen in the throes of untamed woes only to drown it all in emo-rock and pop-punk ballads.
Anyway, as I sat there the other night enjoying the brilliance of Muschietti's adaption of King's story of a group of friends battling a literal embodiment of fear, I realized there might be another, perhaps far simpler explanation for the relationship between my own great, internalized terror and that found on the big screen (or often on the small screen of my laptop).
The fiction we love is often a fantastical externalized representation of our internal desires.
I love Spider-Man for so many reasons, but mostly because he is constantly faced with not only powerful forces of the astounding, spectacular, and amazing variety, but also the day-to-day struggles of just...life. Financial, familial, social, just trying to get by on the day-to-day. And movies that just explore that are great, but we come in massive numbers and buy over-priced tickets in crowded, sticky spaces to see him because of his constant fight to be good anyway. No matter what he faces, he's gonna try his best to do the right thing. Not only that, but he has all these cool powers and funny jokes and friends and stylish moves that go along with him both beating the bad guy and the bad day. Even if in the end he's gotta face another bad guy and another bad day tomorrow, he will be exceptional, because "with great power there must also come great responsibility". That's the fantasy of Spider-Man.
For me, the fantasy of a lot of horror films is simply the idea that this nameless, shapeless, incomprehensible, uncontainable sense of absolute terror that I can feel in my head and throughout my body sometimes--in a horror film, that becomes a real, tangible thing. Sometimes it's Michael Meyers or the Babadook or Pennywise or an ancient curse or just some bad person being bad. Oftentimes, the end result isn't all that triumphant or successful for those who must face up against this evil force. Still, the evil force has a face or a direction or a cause that can be defined to some extent in the course of about two-ish hours.
It's a fantasy. It's not a very happy fantasy, sure. It can be pretty gross and disturbing. It comes with its own hang-ups and piles of problematic genre-conventions, but it's relieving in a way that a lot of stuff just isn't.
A long ways back in my blog post "The Satan Pit", I wrote some meandering stuff about the dangers of personifying the ultimate adversary. Taking all that's wrong in the universe and putting a face to it--yes, also a fantasy--can have some VERY problematic effects on the way we relate to those we label our enemies. When we start to group together real people on the same team as the incarnation of all evil, we end up acting in ways that at the very best cloud our perception of one another's shared humanity. At worst, you have, y'know, genocide, A-bombs, holy wars, and the long-lasting ramifications of Dick Cheney's foreign policy.
Interestingly, I think a lot of horror films do a great job of exploring these same kinds of social issues, such as the consequences of the ways in which we dehumanize one another. Believe it or not, there's a lot of important allegory amidst the creepy stuff.
For me, it's not just cheesy entertainment. It's a way to soothe the nightmares a little by externalizing them onto a contained and enjoyable emotional journey. For the time I'm watching the film, I can't completely set aside my paranoia or depression, but I can imagine that the face of all my irrational fear and anxiety is a monster with a face.
Because when the credits roll, I drive back home, and the fantasy ends, I just want someone to tell me that what I feel is valid and real. That's what everyone wants, I think.
What you feel may not have a face or a tragic backstory or a simple, easily-digested plotline, but those feelings are valid and they are real. And so are you.
On a day like today, when I think back to sitting in a dim 5th grade classroom on a Tuesday as students got called out one by one for early dismissal and we learned the meaning of the word terrorist, I try to remember, these eighteen years later, that it's important we always consider how we feel. How do you feel? Why do you feel that way?
Whether the causes of our feelings have a face and a name or not, I hope we can always remember not to confuse what others do to cause our feelings and who those people are and what those feelings are. Pretending that killing some monster will make it all better is a nice fantasy and can be cathartic in its own way, but it's not a sane reason to go to war or to hate a person based on their race or culture.
It's probably overly simple and naive of me to even think this, but perhaps if more of us were told that what we feel is valid and real, and if we addressed those feelings out of empathy and love for ourselves and others, there would be less hate and less war and less terror.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. - Coming up on Monday, September 16th will be the 10th West Grove Open Mic Night at the Garage Community Youth Center. I've been hosting this open mic for the past few months, and we've been growing slowly but surely. I hope and aim to have an environment that is welcoming to everyone. We've got FREE live music and poetry on the first and third Monday of every month. All ages, all styles, all skill levels welcome. Doors and sign-ups start at 7:00pm and the show starts at 7:30pm. We would LOVE to see you there.