In an otherwise normal conversation, in a throaty voice, she said,
Sometimes if I see a chipmunk—or a squirrel, or what have you, in the road,
I’ll swerve to hit it.

They nodded, my stomach sank. I, devourer of animals, still
do not desire to crush a creature’s skull under my wheels.

Sometimes I wonder, when I’m driving, and I see, like this morning—
a bloody mess. One chunk of flesh, bright red, a deer obliterated,
anatomy slapped across the highway. What was the intent?
Did he press his foot to gas with a laugh?
Do the subsequent artists roar as they roll over its flesh?

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The horror found footage film As Above, So Below (2014) received quite a bit of attention two years ago while in theaters, and it’s oft been recommended to me since. I’m a fan of found footage, despite the usual infuriating nature of the genre, so I’d been interested in seeing this for a while. The premise of the film is intriguing, especially considering the set is actually the Catacombs, which also then means that many of the bones and skeletons are probably real. Pretty darn spooky, right? If dusty calcium scares you.

In the end, I can’t say that this is a good horror movie, but I was engaged. The beginning of the film is incredibly slow, however once it picks up it did keep my attention. The main character Scarlett is an academic wizard who thankfully is an expert in… symbology, which I suppose is the justification for how she’s able to interpret the hieroglyphics on the Catacomb walls to mean some pretty absurd things. She rattles off her interpretations in rapid-fire whispers that barely make sense, and the viewer must just accept that she is right because otherwise they’re fucked and the plot must go on, afterall. There is a moment where she attributes the phrase “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” to mythology, and as a massive literature nerd, I cringed pretty hard. I imagine most of what she says is similarly cringe-worthy. But it is a horror movie, so I accepted Scarlett’s rants and hoped for scary imagery.

The movie provided. The Catacombs look amazing, and while I didn’t find the jump scares effective and grew tired of them, the creatures are eerie-looking and the shadows and CGI worked well (meaning it was not particularly excessive). Many of the scenes are framed nicely and the overall aesthetics and appearance of everything works. I would say this is the strongest aspect of the whole movie—the visuals and setting.

As-Above-So-Below

Someone’s family, once

Eventually I began to believe the movie was self-aware and purposefully loading itself up with tropes for sheer amusement. This is not art. Some of the scenes are so ridiculous that they are laughable. A particular scene features Scarlett essentially getting a star in Mario and going back through the tunnels they just spent 45 minutes of film time traveling through, then Mario-starring it back again.

Also, the film doesn’t really try to make the camera situation make sense. Some may find this irritating.  Many found footage films attempt to explain where the footage is coming from, how they were able to get certain angles and shots, but that doesn’t really happen here in a convincing manner. I wasn’t really bothered much by this, as in the end the whole premise is ridiculous and I just wanted to see spooky things.

If you want your movies to make sense, then this isn’t really the film for you. There’s a long list of nonsensical, bad moments in this movie. But if you enjoy found footage irregardless and want to see a horror film shot in an interesting setting with some cool scenes, then this will surely entertain you—enough.

 

 

I have my mother’s chin and cheekbones—my dad’s eyes and pomposity. I need to worry about diabetes, as it runs on both sides of my family. My mother’s side of the family is riddled with mental illness, and so I have inherited that load. My mother modeled depression and anxiety for me, and from her I learned the art of worrying without cease. As I watched my dad’s bitterness develop, I inherited that as well, though I channeled it through different venues.

My grandmother—my mother’s mother—modeled the same things for my mother and her sisters and brothers. My dad is too insecure to reveal the source of his bitterness, but I imagine he learned that from somewhere as well. Maybe it was merely the fact of growing up in a poor rust-belt community, working hard at a mindless job for little pay, that did him in. I am an expert now, on bitterness, and often it emanates from me. Although I’m not having children, I speak with children daily and sometimes I find myself instructing them with the best intentions, but with advice stemming from deep-rooted acidity.

The sadness and grievances experienced by our parents do not stop with them. We inherit their problems, their poverty, their fears, their beliefs, their sadness. These things move, like a cancerous mass, through the generations. These things don’t dissipate through time. Inequality works this way as well, “a cultural force, insinuating itself into family life and classrooms and replicating across generations.” The effects of inequality are sometimes not seen until the following generation. One of the things that impressed upon me in Toni Morrison’s work was how she showed that while slavery ended, the effects of slavery did not, and that trauma is passed down.

A Swedish study shows that children with parents who are experiencing depression score lower grades in school. Grades are not the be all end all, but this does show an effect on focus and motivation, factors involving stress. The data shows an impression on a social, academic and professional life venue. I certainly remember sitting on my stairs at the age of sixteen, my mother laying motionless in bed several rooms away, refusing to speak with me. I didn’t quite understand what she was going through then, but I certainly do now. But that is the thing, here—I didn’t understand, yet the experience diffused through my developing character.

I just wish a few more words had been spoken, from some source, to help nurture an understanding. Perhaps certain things would have been different for me, if only slightly. Perhaps I could have more to give now, to those I speak to and influence.

It’s very easy to be silent and cover up the issues involving our inherited grief. But, as with most things, attention and acceptance and the brutal power of honesty can help ease the burden of what moves through every family. What have we inherited? What problems do we pass on? What can possibly be helped, alleviated, soothed?

What can we do, about this sadness that moves through our families’ generations?

I hate you so—I want to touch the contour of your face,
look into those blue eyes and long lashes and hate you.
I want to disappear into the warmth and mass of your arms, hating you.
I want to curse your name and sing your name a thousand times,
hit those two syllables like I want to hit your jaw, cut my knuckles
on the smile you ever dared to use on me.

I want to bury you in the earth for hurting me, I want to dig you up,
breathe air into your lungs, bring a knife down on your chest,
over and over, replicating the wounds you left me.
I am 1000 miles away and right next you, dead and very alive.
Is it possible to talk with you, now, constantly, and never again?
Can I exist between both of these parallel universes, experience both?

Look at me—never think of me again. Talk to me, let’s never speak again.

Today I was reading a Brain Pickings article entitled Harvard Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy on Mastering the Antidote to Anxiety, Self-Consciousness, and Impostor Syndrome and the titular syndrome struck a note with me. I had never heard of it before, or at least it flew under my radar with the abundance of “syndromes” so commonly name dropped on the internet. However, in the description I recognized something that I do to myself near constantly. Wikipedia describes the thought process as an “inability to internalize… accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as ‘fraud'” in high-achieving individuals. Cuddy paints the picture that “[b]efore we even show up at the doorstep of an opportunity, we are teeming with dread and anxiety, borrowing trouble from a future that hasn’t yet unfolded.”

Now, to say “I suffer from this syndrome” is far too dramatic, but there is certainly something to the research in that I can actually describe and pinpoint a chronic problem in thought patterns, a huge benefit in the ongoing process of tackling my day-to-day anxiety. I’ve briefly (haha) talked about my generalized anxiety before, but what’s really important is that this is something that so many people deal with all the time, even at a far smaller scope than some of these articles describe. Many of them name celebrities and historical geniuses, but really we all have our successes and our achievements, and some of us cannot accept them.

I instinctively recoil at the idea of calling myself a “high-achieving individual,” but in absolute honesty, for the young person that I am, I have had a fair amount of success alongside the trials. I’ve always been a good worker, driven to academic achievement by Type A energy, obtaining extremely high grades throughout the entirety of my schooling. I’ve almost always had a job, and worked myself hard at my jobs. On a professional level, I have always received great teacher evaluations and feedback. I’ve managed to live in nice places, exactly where I wanted. I have strong and supportive long-term relationships.

I feel bad writing that stuff out. Every day, my brain tells me that I am not very intelligent, I don’t know anything really. I’m not a good writer or thinker. The jobs I’ve had are pathetic—I quit my somewhat decent teaching job to become a substitute teacher, the opposite order in which this should work. I am barraged constantly with the thought that I am not a good teacher, that I am a quack, a fake, and I’m shocked no one has called me out on my many professional failures. When people tell me I don’t look like a teacher (I’m short, young), I interpret this as them seeing through my facade. I think people don’t like me, that I’m annoying, intolerable. These constant doubts, anxieties, do affect me. I can’t recount the number of times I’ve faltered in a situation, lost my nerve because of them.

In short, I always feel like a faker—I am not successful, and it’s wrong for me to ever even think this. Others will know.

I’m self-aware enough to recognize my strengths and shortcomings, the reality of the situation (obviously I can always improve in every way), the false thoughts my brain comes up with. The problem is the internalization. No matter how sensible I can be when I am, say, writing, my constantly ticking mind is never at ease, spinning out criticism after criticism, insecurity after the next, and these do affect my life severely.

I dig holes. One thought leads to another, and before I know it, I’m miserable at the bottom of the hole chewing on my lip. I have a good morning the next day, but then fall into another hole.

So how do we internalize our success? Allow ourselves to own our successes, whatever type they may be?

The Brain Pickings article states:  “At the heart of Cuddy’s research is the idea that the opposite of powerlessness, that ultimate fuel of impostor syndrome, isn’t power but what she terms presence — the ability to inhabit and trust the integrity of one’s own values, feelings, and capabilities.” A Forbes article on the problem says: “But just as we must take responsibility for our failures in life, we must also take responsibility for our successes. Minimizing them serves no-one.”

Whatever may help, the key to accomplish an overcoming of this impostor feeling must be practice and cultivation. Every time I think I am a fraud, I must also remember that in my own way, in my own life, I am a success. It’s not the same cookie cutter success that I see in others, or expected for myself, but success nonetheless.

If I can remember that, think that more often, then maybe I can become the type of person I want to be. I’m beginning to accept that simple agonizing phrase “fake it ’til you make it,” though there are far more layers to it, aren’t there?

anais_debbie1

I am sitting square in my youth, but at the same time, growing far above it and learning more about myself now than I ever did when I was in my early twenties and felt fresh and malleable. I really wasn’t, then, and I’m probably not even as malleable as I think I am now even. One change that’s developed in the past year or so, however, is that while before I was so ready to admit how right I was about certain things, now I feel even more ready to admit how wrong and/or inexperienced I am.

I realized this  while I was clearing out an old, personal Twitter account, deleting compromising tweets so I can use it, possibly, for more personal and family connections. I was so cocky, before, so stubborn in my beliefs and ready to be spiteful. Not saying I’m free of spite now, because I certainly still enjoy a bit of spite, but not nearly to the same degree as several years ago. I was happy to delete those tweets.

Another thing that’s developed in my mind that wasn’t there to such a degree before—my gratitude for other people. I’ve realized that I would be nothing without the rich connections I’ve built in my life, this coinciding with the fact that I’ve also been very harsh toward other people during my young lifetime and have burnt many bridges. Some of my bridge burning has been cruel, but some has been as an act of self-preservation, to remove poison from my life. I can look back, now, and discern when I was right and when I was wrong. So this leaves me, a gracious mess of harsh and cynical bite and loving cling. I’m working on softening up, being more friendly. That’s an ongoing project.

But the people I’ve known. The ways they’ve helped me grow and patched up the areas of my personality that were gaping holes. I want to be the kind of person who always recognizes a good friend, so I can keep my good friends and we can continue to help each other. There are two things in this life that seem to be very Good—and those are soul-enriching music and soul-enriching conversations with other people. If I can continue to cultivate those things, maybe I’ll have an amazing life.

Once, during an extremely foolish period, I was kicked out of my apartment by an ex-boyfriend and left to scramble, cat in my arms and a car full of my possessions, for a place to live before I started my student teaching. I was at this chaotic point in my life where I was trying to kick-off my career amidst a crew of people that were either actively exploiting me or about to leave me to build their own careers. As I was in the middle of losing my mind, a friend told me to come live with her, in the apartment she was moving into. I knew she thought I was a silly, over-the-top person, but she wanted to help me. Plus, I would help with rent. After all, the apartment was a small one bedroom apartment.

So we got cozy together, sleeping together in the same small bedroom.

This action on her part made a huge impression on me. She offered her living space to me, and this allowed me to thrive. Now, whenever the situation arises, I feel I must do this for others. I let people stay with me, and offer them my things when they are in trouble. I have to, because I once benefited from such charity from a friend. Not saying that I’m all-giving, because when I sense that someone is nasty or exploitative, I still cut them off.

One of those friends who has slept on my couch, sleeping with his eyes open (literally), drinking all my booze and lighting things on fire, answered my calls when we were in the process of moving to another state. He came over with his tool bag and an electric saw and cut up all the furniture I couldn’t get rid of and couldn’t put out on the street without receiving a fine. Thinking he would leave, disappear maybe, like he always does—he didn’t. He stayed, for days, helping us pack and load the truck. We hadn’t asked for all that, but he did it anyway, and I will always be grateful for that.

Especially for his quick action during a ridiculous scene: Just as we were about to get in the Uhaul and drive away from our amazing, beautiful old apartment forever, I let the cats out of the bedroom so they could use the litter box before we put them in their carriers. My favorite cat, my big beast, bee-lined from the bedroom and opened the door under the sink with a purpose that confounds me still. He climbed right in, slinking into a hole where the pipes went, and got himself lodged under the sink. Stuck. In a matter of two seconds.

I start wailing, thinking we’re going to need to find someone to cut the sink up and then deal with the landlord and delay everything and lose money in the process in order to save my poor stupid cat, when our bug-eyed friend appears with two-by-fours he whipped out of nowhere—I still don’t know where he got them—and used them to create a wedge. We pried the sink from the ground enough for me to lay flat on the floor and drag my cat out with one arm.

Another friend is always ready with a bottle of champagne whenever there’s something to celebrate, whether that be a Master’s degree obtained or a birthday. He’s helped me unseal my car door when it was frozen shut and -25 degrees Fahrenheit out, and no one else would come help. We trudged together in the icy, cavernous world.

Another always lets us sleep on her couch when we’re back in our home city, and always listens, no  matter how heated the rant. Her advice is stoic, solid, spectacular.

I want to absorb the positive qualities in those around me, recognize them, in the hopes of growing myself. Growing because of them, growing with them. I hope I can keep these people in my life, and obtain friends of equal caliber by nurturing a good character and being good to myself as well.

 

Those who are familiar with Shirley Jackson most likely first read her through her popular classic short story The Lottery, now a staple in high school English classes. I remember being in 10th grade and reading this short story and thinking, “Yes, finally, this is the human brutality I suspect exists in full force out in the world!” Literature is, after all, another tool for exploration as you grow older and everything becomes more twisted. When things grow more demented, we naturally seek answers to the question: What the fuck?

I love Shirley Jackson because she is, at the briefest glance, a housewife and mother of several children, but also much more than that, her concise writing revealing struggles with spiritual darkness and personality-strangling fears, her own life plagued by private demons. Her name carries weight with it in terms of horror, and it pleases me that women spearhead this favorite genre of mine. Look at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, for instance. And now, Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House is often considered one of the best literary ghost stories of the 20th century.

Most reviews of the book focus on the opening lines, and they’re just so well-written and bear such an onset of foreboding atmosphere that they grip you in that perfect cold way horror should grip a person upon first encounter:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

These opening lines also invoke that common question when it comes to fear and horror: is what we are experiencing even real? Or is it in our head, related to an ever-worsening grip on reality?

The book was published in 1959, just before the 1960s rich onslaught of now-classic horror films: Psycho (1960), Black Sunday (1960), The Birds (1963), Blood Feast (1963), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The book contains the most basic of horror film tropes, such as the psychological question of the sanity behind what’s happening, and the fault-seeking and anticipation of demise in terms of the characters.

The book has a delightful presentation of characters, similar to what one would expect from a typical horror movie. You can empathize with the characters just enough to care (poor Eleanor, alone taking care of her mother, with such a nasty sister), but their faults needle you in such a way that you can see the downfall coming, anticipate it and imagine what it could be for each character based on their own faults (Eleanor, so needy, so immature and judgmental).

The doctor in the story, the one who arranges for the characters to come visit this haunted house for a scientific experiment on psychic and supernatural activity, states this trope bluntly at one point: “I think that an atmosphere like this one can find out the flaws and faults and weaknesses in all of us, and break us apart in a matter of days.” Hello, every horror movie ever. The horror fan certainly loves to see people battle fear, as we imagine how good of a fight we could truly put up in such a situation.

The descriptions of the house are some of the strongest parts of this book, simple but vivid. The idea of movement is attributed to the hills; they are always hidden, or creeping forward, or suffocating the house. The personification is unsettling. At one point the reader discovers that the house is built in such a way that all of the angles are slightly askew by a small fraction, creating an overall sense of umheimlich and loss of direction. The idea likens to House of Leaves, except 4 decades before its time.

The ending is quick, and some things that do need some description are never explained. I don’t mind that the house is never really fully explained—the antagonist needs some mystery to it—but there are things that really do need some answering. Like what was chasing Theodora and Eleanore outside the house? Without addressing this question, the scene seems off, vague, strange. Not scary. Just a hint would have done.

But overall, lackluster ending aside (horror is so prone to lackluster endings), the book is creepy and enjoyable. Until the banter between the characters becomes too  much at the end (and I think we are supposed to think it’s too much: look at them trying so hard to impress), I enjoyed the dialogue. The question at the end of the day is how real the haunting even really is, or was it in their heads, or the grand delusions of the main character, Eleanore?

Is it the house that kills, or just people, and their paranoia, harming each other and themselves?

Also unsettling is a statement made by Eleanore near the end of the book, where she protests to leaving the house because nothing has ever happened to her before. This is the first time something has ever happened. The idea that we can be so bored with our lives that terror is inviting is not something so unrelatable. For someone who feels trapped anyway by a dull life, fear can be that inviting.

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