Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Maybe-Not-So-Happy Halloween

I have not posted a word in this space for months, but what kind of horror writer would I be if I let Halloween pass without a blog post? Some health problems have disrupted my productivity, so when I’m able to write, I focus on work.  As a result, Preposterous Twaddlecock has been neglected.

It’s the spooky season again, and we’re doing the things we do at Halloween time — decorating the porch, watching our favorite horror movies, convincing the neighbor kids that Michael Myers is real and will be coming through the neighborhood on Halloween, just like Santa visiting on Christmas Eve, and then watching them run home screaming.  I’m noticing, however, that people do not seem quite as enthused about the holiday as usual.  They’re going through the motions, trying to get into the spirit, but I get the feeling it’s not working this year.

I don’t think it’s just me.  A number of people have expressed this feeling to me, and I have to admit, I’m experiencing it myself.  At first, I thought it was age.  I’m getting older, the years fly by faster, and it seems like we just did Halloween, didn’t we?  But the more I’ve looked around and talked to others, the more I’ve come to see that the world is not in a very good mood right now.  Things are not going well for people, no matter what happy stuff they’ve been posting on their Facebook pages.

The economy sucks and everyone has financial problems.  It seems there’s been a lot of sickness and death among the people to whom I am connected, whether personally or online.  Good friends are losing parents, siblings, lovers, and others to sickness or suicide.  The horror community has lost a painful number of talented people in the last few years.

We are inundated with bad news, and sometimes it isn’t even news at all, just rumor or speculation or a story somehow related to the Kardashians posing as news that we ABSOLUTELY MUST WATCH!  An asteroid is headed our way, or we’re on the verge of war, or Ebola has broken out somewhere and might be spreading.  And for crying out loud don’t turn on the radio or somebody will start yelling at you about politics or religion or about how the butt-probing reptilian aliens are farming Earth for meat.  Every time we turn around, someone is saying the world is about to end, or we’re facing God’s judgment because the gays are getting married, or there’s civil unrest and America’s sure to fall, or all the animals are going extinct, or all the money is gone and now Oprah has to take care of everyone.  We’re being watched, our personal information is being collected and stored and sold, privacy is a thing of the past, and, whatever you do, don’t get sick with anything too complicated because your doctor has to see 60 people a day just to stay in business and he doesn’t have time for that shit.  People are getting ruder, meaner, uglier.  In that kind of environment, it becomes difficult to enjoy much of anything.

Simply observing all of this is depressing, never mind being part of it.  I see online friends losing loved ones and the pain and sadness radiate from my screen like heat from a furnace.  I never know how to respond, what to say; nothing seems adequate or appropriate or sufficient, so I usually end up saying nothing.

I wish I had some kind of solution to offer, some balm that would make all of us feel better.  I don’t think that exists.  It’s as if the atmosphere has been poisoned and we’re all breathing it in.  (No, I’m not talking about “chemtrails,” I’m being metaphorical.)  I have no answers.  I can only tell you what I’ve been trying to do.

When I’m feeling depressed, my natural reaction is to read or watch something that reflects that feeling.  I don’t mean that I wallow in it, but in that state of mind things that are upbeat or that actively attempt to uplift can feel false, hollow, even annoying.  If I’m feeling sad and pop Requiem for a Dream into the DVD player, it doesn’t mean that I want to stay sad, it means that Requiem for a Dream is the color of the room in which I am temporarily locked and feels the most comfortable.  Lately, I’ve been trying something different by going in the other direction.  I might have felt a lot like Requiem for a Dream, but I started reaching for Caddyshack.  It did not work at first.  Not right away.  A little persistence, though, was rewarding.

I’m not saying that a comedy movie will get rid of all your problems or that laughter will make everything better.  It won’t.  But when we’re ill we need treatment.  Laughter is a good way of treating inner illnesses.  No, it’s not appropriate at any old time, and there are times when we have no laughter in us.  But at some point, we all feel the need to turn away from our pain or despair because we become exhausted by it.

Charlie Chaplin wrote “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”  I think that is true across the board.  In my own life, I’m getting better at stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.  That has not always been easy for me because I’ve lived so much of my life inside my own head.  That’s true of all writers to a certain degree, but from an early age I think I spent more time there than most.  Before one can see the bigger picture, one must first climb outside of one’s own head and look around, and I've found that takes determination and discipline — more than I have, sometimes.  But if you can get yourself into the habit of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, life is, even at its darkest, quite funny in one way or another most of the time.

I hope this doesn’t come off as trite.  All I can say is that it has helped me of late.  Depending on how I feel, I sometimes limit or temporarily sever my exposure to the media — news, or what passes for it these days, is either depressing, infuriating, insulting, or all of the above, and any valuable, useful, or encouraging information that seeps through is probably a coincidence or a mistake.  And don’t even get me started on the endless presidential election and this greedy, grasping collection of yammering con artists and buffoons being paraded in front of us to create the illusion that we have a “choice” for president.  The only thing worse than the candidates are the empty-headed, ratings-hungry, click-baiting meat puppets that have replaced our press in the United States who cover them as if they’re covering a fucking beauty pageant and wouldn’t know a substantial, relevant question if somebody wrapped one in barbed wire and shoved it right up their—

Look, just don’t get me started, OK?

All I’m saying is that I find myself looking for laughs a lot more these days.  Most of the time, in fact.  I’ve learned to look for them even when I do not feel like I want them because I know that can be changed, and I am the only one who can change it.  I sometimes find laughs in places where other people do not think they should be found, but, hey, you can’t please everybody.  I do know that laughing does things to the body and mind, all good.  It changes the way you feel, the way you see things.  Even though it may not feel like it and won’t be easy at first, you can teach yourself how to decide that you’d rather be laughing, and then do it.

We live in a time in which people who are so impoverished that they’ve been reduced to begging are demonized while we spend nearly seven billion dollars a year on a holiday that has at its center the tradition of children going door to door and essentially begging for candy.  I don’t know about you, but if I don’t laugh about stuff like that, I will never stop screaming.

If you’re going through a painful time right now, keep an eye open for that point at which you’re able to laugh, and when it comes, take advantage of it.  Don’t pay attention to others who may think you shouldn’t be laughing.  When the time is right for you, find something funny.  Being able to laugh is a sign that you’re on the road back from wherever you’ve been.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everything is bad.  It’s not.  I don’t want to get too bleak.  William Shatner’s still alive.  Star Wars fans have The Force Awakens to look forward to.  This is the best time of year for anyone who likes pumpkin spice in anything.  Stephen King has a new collection coming soon.  There are still cats and dogs.  We have some new episodes of The X-Files in our near future.  Everything is changing color for the fall, and think of all the delicious produce!  There will be a lot of candy floating around tonight, and first thing tomorrow, all the stores will start playing nothing but Christmas music all the time!  Well ... OK, I admit that last one isn’t too thrilling.  But don’t worry because Thanksgiving is right around the corner and we have that big dinner to look forward to, when we’ll see all the relatives and—

Wait, we’re going backwards, here.  Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead.

Have a happy Halloween.