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secret identity

This isn’t going to be a review of Midsommar, which I watched last night, but instead a discussion of one aspect of it. I don’t think it’ll really have anything in it that qualifies as spoilers, but on the off chance, y’know, watch out.

I didn’t love Midsommar and I didn’t hate it. I don’t think I liked it as much as Hereditary, and I don’t think it brought much that was terribly new to the folk horror table, besides a real meticulousness. But again, I said this wasn’t a review, and I don’t mean for it to be.

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The main character in Midsommar (played brilliantly by Florence Pugh) has an anxiety disorder. She has it before the traumatic events which propel her onto the ill-fated trip that makes up the meat of the movie. Probably she has always had it. Just like me.

And more so than maybe any other movie I’ve ever seen, Midsommar, in its first half-hour or so, nails what it feels like to have an anxiety disorder, at least for me.

When I got home from the theatre, I called its first 20 or 30 minutes “basically the tunnel-visioning run-up to a panic attack put on film.” I guess it would be easy to read that as “it’s scary,” but, while Midsommar is many things, it is emphatically not particularly scary.

“It’s definitely a horror movie,” one of the people I saw it with said afterward. “But it’s not a scary movie.” I’d be inclined to agree.

And yet, I took half an alprazolam about the time they got on the plane. This before the “horror” part of the movie had really kicked in.

Normally, movies don’t trigger my anxiety. Ever. At all.

My therapist used to find it ironic that I had a significant anxiety disorder and suffered from frequent panic attacks but that I also watched horror movies practically for a living. But movies–pretty much no matter how tense or shocking or disturbing–have always been my safe place. Horror movies especially.

And I didn’t pop an alprazolam because Midsommar was scary or shocking or tense. I took one because the film felt so much like the run-up to a panic attack that I could feel one of my own just starting to flutter its wings somewhere deep down in my ribcage, in the dark space behind my own eyes, tingling at the tips of my fingers.

Anxiety as a disorder–rather than simply a natural reaction that people have to traumatic or frightening situations–isn’t something that movies get right very often. Whatever your thoughts on Ari Aster’s approach to mental illness in his films so far (and I think there are a LOT of thoughts to have on the subject), this depiction of anxiety felt right to me.

(The scene of her stalking around, arms rigid, fists clenched at her sides to keep from scratching at herself, telling herself over and over again to, “Stop it. Stop it.” I have literally done that exact thing more times than I can count.)

So, if you don’t suffer from anxiety, or do and it takes a different form, and you want an idea of what it feels like to be me–sometimes more than others, of course, but never gone completely–watch the first part of Midsommar, everything up to the scene where Dani wakes up after they take the mushrooms. That’ll give you a taste.

In 1991, I was living not too far from Andover when an F5 tornado devastated the town. We could see the main tornado of the cell, which got to be around 600 yards wide. My house and the house right next to mine were largely undamaged; the house right next to that, however, was gone entirely, razed to its foundations. The only thing that was left was the dining room table, place settings still intact, with a vase sitting in the middle of the table holding roses, all their petals still on them. It’s something I would have struggled to believe if I hadn’t seen it firsthand.

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I’ve lived in Kansas all my life, and when I lived outside El Dorado, which I did for much of my childhood. tornadoes were a regular occurrence. Since moving to Kansas City, I haven’t encountered as many, but I am still somewhat accustomed to them. Last night’s was a unique experience, nevertheless.

Last night, I left the house and headed north toward the Screenland Armour theatre for a special heavy metal installment of Horror Roulette, a monthly event where a single horror movie is picked at random from a themed list. This one was co-hosted by Blair, its usual MC, and Eli, who hosts Analog Sunday, which has rapidly become one of my favorite monthly activities.

I was just crossing the river when the radio alerted me to the presence of a tornado on the ground near Lawrence, KS. I don’t expect readers to necessarily know where any of these places are, but Lawrence is maybe a half-hour drive from my house, and several of my friends live there. The tornado was headed my way.

As the night wore on, it skirted the edges of Lawrence, devastated Linwood, and hit several other small towns, making a beeline for the Kansas City metro. At present, I still haven’t heard a definitive estimate as to the scope of the tornado, but I’m hearing EF4.

At first, I was concerned for Grace and the cats, who were still at home, but once it became apparent that the tornado was going north of them, concern shifted to, well, me.

Fortunately, I was at the theatre by then, and I figured a brick building with no windows, surrounded by other people, was about the safest place I could conveniently think of. When it became clear that the storm was headed our way, the staff got all of us down into the basement for an impromptu tornado party.

None of it lasted very long, and thankfully the tornado blew itself out before it crashed into the KC metro. After a little time in the basement, we all headed back upstairs, and those of us who were there for Horror Roulette spun the wheel and watched Black Roses. It certainly made for a memorable evening.

Today, Grace was deployed by the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), of which she is a member, to help with cleanup, so she’s doing that while I’m here, working.

I haven’t heard much about the scope of the damages, and haven’t seen any damage at all firsthand, but I’m grateful that myself and everyone I know seems to be okay. Living in tornado alley all of my life may have made me used to them, but it hasn’t done anything to dull my awareness of how fortunate I am each time I dodge that big, windy bullet. If anything, I think it’s keener than it might otherwise have been.

 

If anything defines semi-personal blogging in this, the far-flung future of 2019, it is opening every single post with an apology (even if veiled or joking) about how long it’s been since your last post. “Forgive me, Father,” and all that. But all joking and acquiescence to form aside, I have no idea what has happened to most of May.

If you’ve been following along on social media, where updates are somewhat less sporadic, you’ll probably have noticed that it’s mostly been nothing but pictures and links and the occasional notation of what I’ve been watching. I’d love to say that this was an explanation, but I don’t know that I have one.

I know that I’ve been busy with this and that bit of freelance work. I know that I’ve taken a couple of non-work-related out-of-town trips that haven’t required me to go very far but have sapped a fair amount of my energy. I know that my household suffered through about a week of feeling generally under-the-weather and that, in fact, 21 days is only three weeks all told, but still, it really seems like there must be something I’m leaving out.

If there is, though, I’m afraid that I am as in the dark about it as you are. Direct pre-orders closed on Revenge of Monsters from the Vault, and while we didn’t quite hit the goal we were aiming for, we got pretty close. Normal pre-orders will be up soon enough, and the book and myself will both be present at NecronomiCon Providence in a few months.

There are some story announcements in the pipeline, but nothing new to report just yet. Freelance work has been occupying most of my time, though I did recently get hired to do a bit of work that was more than usually in my wheelhouse. If you like my writing about old monster movies, a reminder that, while it is currently not available for pre-order, Revenge of Monsters from the Vault is going to be nothing but that for more than 200 pages, so keep an eye on this space!

This has been a rough year in the Grey demesne. We started 2018 on a raft of health problems that we rode well into the middle of the year. And even once they were (mostly) resolved–honestly, do health problems ever really get completely resolved?–we spent the rest of the year paying for them. I lost a big paying client. And in spite of my best efforts we still haven’t tunneled into the timeline where Howard the Duck is president.

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On the plus side, though we stand on the cusp of 2019 bruised, battered, and low on health potions, the teeth of the universe haven’t yet torn the charge from our atoms. I ran a game of Iron Kingdoms in 2018, and we just completed out last session. Two of the characters were incapacitated, and one of the two who remained standing was holding on by the narrowest thread. That’s kinda how it feels like we’re going into 2019.

Which is not to say that the year wasn’t full of good things, too. I went to Panic Fest and the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, which meant that I got to visit the Winchester Mystery House for the first time. I watched a lot of movies and made some new friends. I found a weird board game in the trash and took a picture of In the Mouth of Madness that I had always wanted to take. I became the Monster Ambassador at Signal Horizon and published stories in seven different venues, including my second appearance in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. I had a whole book come out!

Of all the things I’m proud of in 2018, however, I think I’m most proud of the small things I did that were steps outside my comfort zone. I carved jack-o-lanterns at Halloween, made a necklace that I love, and made divinity, an overly sugary candy concoction that I remember fondly from my childhood. I didn’t do any of those things entirely by myself. Grace helped me with all of them, sometimes overtly, as with the divinity, and sometimes just by giving me the confidence I needed to try something that I might not be good at right away.

I watched 269 movies in 2018, 163 of which were new to me, keeping with my goal of watching more new-to-me movies than not each year. Of those, roughly 35 were released in 2018. My biggest months were October with 39 movies and, thanks to a couple of marathon days, December with 33. My favorite movies that were released in 2018 were, in no particular order, ErrementariLowlifeTigers Are Not AfraidAvengers: Infinity WarBlack Panther, and Apostle. There were a lot of movies I really wanted to check out that I haven’t gotten a chance to watch yet. The last movie I watched in 2018 was The Boxer’s Omen (1983), which was a good way to close out this weird and crappy year.

I didn’t read very many books in 2018, but of those I did read my favorite was probably Caleb Wilson’s Polymer, which I recommend very highly. The first book I read in 2018 was Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan and the last was Matthew M. Bartlett’s Of Doomful Portent.

There’s probably a lot that I’m forgetting as I pen this end-of-the-year wrap-up, but honestly I’m just in a hurry to show this garbage year the door. Don’t let it hit you in the ass on your way out, 2018!

 

 

Thanksgiving is a problematic holiday for all sorts of reasons, but just as the agnostic in me can enjoy Christmas or any other non-secular holiday (with its own freight of both Christian and pre-Christian baggage), I can also still take a day to spend time with the people I love and remind myself to be grateful for the things that I have.

This year I have lots of things to be grateful for. After a particularly tough year in the Grey demesne, the overall health of our populace seems to be returning to something more resembling “normal.”

More than perhaps anything else, I’m thankful for the people in my life. I am lucky enough to have friends who are closer than family. Some of them live near me, and some are very far away. Some I have already seen this holiday season, and others I have never actually stood in the same room with, but to all of you, wherever you are, you are, in so many ways, the best parts of my life. If it weren’t for you folks and dumb monster movies, there’d be very little to make any of this worth doing.

I’m grateful to have Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales out in the wild, and grateful to everyone who has purchased it, read it, reviewed it, and so on. I’m particularly grateful to be working with Ross E. Lockhart and Word Horde once again and hey, on the subject, they’re having a Black Friday sale that runs through the weekend where you can get 25% off any of their very fine titles, including the aforementioned Guignol or Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts.

I’m thankful for the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird and everyone who makes it possible, which, more on that to come. I’m grateful for some story sales that I can’t announce just yet, but very soon.

I’ve recently come off a pretty good October, and I’m grateful to the local Kansas City film community for helping to make that happen. Of special note, I appreciate the folks at Screenland who host great programming all year round, and to Elijah at Magnetic Magic Rentals who always shows us a great time at Analog Sundays, and, of course, the Nerds of Nostalgia who put on the Nerdoween triple-feature, which has been my annual tradition for four years now. I’m grateful that Panic Fest is only a couple of months away, and that I live in a place that has one of the best genre film fests around!

This could go on and on, and maybe it should, but I’m going to call it a night. Basically, it can be all-too-easy to get caught up in the agonizing hellscape that our current timeline often seems to be intent on contorting itself into, so sometimes it’s good to stop and remember what I’m grateful for. Which, if you’re reading this, is mostly you.

(And monster movies.)

Sunday, we went to our adopted mom’s house where we ate Halloween-themed cookies and carved jack-o-lanterns. Everybody else carved real ones, but I carved a couple of those carvable fake ones that you can get at the store, which, let me tell you, are the way to go.

I modeled mine on a little ceramic pumpkin that I got years back because it looked like Chris Sanders had carved it and then, when that one worked out much better than I had expected, I carved a second one inspired by the one that Stitch carves with a plasma gun in the closing montage of Lilo & Stitch which, honestly, turned out even better.

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I’ve never been a very crafty sort of person. I’m clumsy, as a rule, and not great at most stuff, so I’m really proud of these two jack-o-lanterns, and looking forward to putting them out on my front steps tomorrow night, even if I’m going to have to fill them with rocks or something because, while those carvable pumpkins from the store are great for carving, they are also light. They prompted me to change my user icon on Facebook and Twitter for I think the first time ever, if that tells you how excited I am about them.

Monday night I went to the Screenland Armour to watch the Are You Afraid of the Dark? marathon. Having never seen even a single episode of the show, and mostly only being familiar with its great title graphic, I was really excited, and I had a lot of fun, even if the show is Extremely ’90s in often not great ways.

Today is my birthday and, well, I guess you all know what tomorrow is. I kind of had to miss last October because of health issues, and the intervening year has not been easy or kind. As such, I tried to really enjoy myself this October, going to as many of the local horror movie events as I could, launching a brand new short story collection, and managing to watch at least one seasonally appropriate thing every single day for the entire month!

I had a good time. This has been a good October, this is a good birthday, and hopefully it marks a bookend to what has been a pretty tough year, kinda for everyone, if we’re honest with ourselves at all. No matter what tomorrow or the day after or the day after that may bring, here’s to a new world of gods and monsters!

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It has been a tough week. I had a rough couple of days about this time last week, and on Thursday I got some bad news. The Grey household has had a couple of additional wrenches tossed into the gears of our current health situation, and, in all, things have been a little more difficult than I would prefer.

That said, on Friday night, we headed out for a semi-impromptu road trip, driving three hours west (and apparently twenty years into the past) to arrive in Salina, where we spent the night before heading on to Lindsborg, a delightful little town forgotten by time, where I saw, among other things, an actual phone booth and a card catalog. Not to mention lots of beautiful houses and spooky old buildings.

While we were in the area anyway, we stopped by Coronado Heights, a place that I visited many times as a kid. At least ostensibly the place where Francisco Vasquez de Coronado gave up on his quest to find the seven cities of gold, I was fond of it as a kid because there’s a picnic shelter there designed to look like a castle. As an adult, the castle is still neat–and still small–but the actual hill upon which it is built is probably cooler, a sandstone bluff etched with graffiti and covered in unusual-for-the-area plants.

Grace had never been, so we went out and she even climbed the stairs in the castle, in spite of her cast, so that she could look out from the rooftop over the surrounding countryside. It was a good trip.

Thanks to the one-thing-after-another nature of the last year’s worth of assorted health incidents, I remain behind on just about everything. I hope to return to relative normalcy soon, but we’ll see.

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