All Hallows

I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t completely into horror and Halloween art. I remember being a little kid and reading the Goosebumps books – one story about a camera taking pictures and showing people how they’d die shortly after, I remember being unnerving when I was maybe six or seven or so. But I wasn’t repelled. Instead I just couldn’t quit.

I remember being around that age and finding this old book of ghost stories and jokes. One of them was about a woman with a ribbon around her neck. This old fable type of thing. Author Carmen Maria Machado did an updated version years later and it reminded me of being a kid and just having nothing to do but read that story. It’s crazy how this stuff, even as morbid as it is, follows us through the years.

At 12, I recall going to the library near my house at night, the sun having set early, school out and all. I checked out several Stephen King books. Back then there wasn’t really any social media – I spent weeks reading over Christine, The Dead Zone, Pet Sematary, with no distractions or anything else. I remember the feeling of just reading those completely without any other influences. It was transformative. Pet Sematary in particular was an insane gruesome trip. I read King himself didn’t even want to publish it at one point. At 13 or so, this was like crack to me. I couldn’t get enough.

As kids, everybody in the neighborhood would just go on huge epic treks of trick or treating. Nothing crazy happened, but I remember that strange otherworldly feel of everybody just wandering around after dark throughout our big old neighborhood. Long walks in the cold, everyone in some costume or other. It seemed mythical. After my sister, friends and I all aged out of trick or treating by middle school, I got into these books and then into movies, costumes, parties. I was just into all of it. I was into the whole aesthetic and vibe of the season. I’d always just liked the costumes and the decor and atmosphere. It was like stepping into another world.

In college I’d dive headlong into doing haunted house attractions. I rounded up everyone to go do that, every year. Still doing it now, even. Some of the tropes and tricks they do are the same, hospitals, meat grinders, old Southern cabins. I still find it entertaining. Once a year or so, and it’s gold. I especially love these indie haunts where I can just drive out into the middle-of-nowhere country and get lost in it all. That’s fun for me. I’d like to go further. Stay in some legitimately haunted places. See what comes of it. If nothing else, art might.

And the movies have been an undercurrent of it all. I’ve always just been voracious about consuming. The older I get, the more I find that’s so good. I feel horror can be a transformative genre. Movies like The Babadook, It Follows and Us, along with the long-form TV shows recently from Mike Flanagan, are examples of taking this genre and really wringing genuine depth out of a genre sometimes thought to be nothing but silly nonsense. Human and political truths about loneliness and family and love and connection.

Ultimately, I find myself just thinking about why I’m so attracted to all this horror stuff anyway. I guess it’s just in the human element. It’s a way to articulate the most difficult, thorny parts of life, through freakish metaphor. I like the way the genre can really show what we’re all about as humans. Primal survivor-mode stuff. There are plenty of stories about evil, but also plenty of characters fighting back against it. Making it through. I watch the 1978 Halloween every year and that’s an enduring thing because it’s about that struggle, about evil coming to town and some people fighting back. I can get behind it.

Starving Artist

I saw this Tweet thread this morning, reacting to the news of the Squid Game creator, who apparently struggled for years, had to sell his laptop, got rejected, et cetera before finally breaking big with his show recently. His show is about the monstrous ills and woes of capitalism, how it eats people alive, which makes a lot of the stuff he went through seem pretty personal. Almost meta.

But then, as the Tweets say, you get this narrative where it’s inspiring. People will say “never give up.” They’ll say “follow your dreams.” It’s a good general way to go about life in that we all need stuff to keep us happy and fulfilled. And maybe once in a while you do get published. I was glad to get the stories I’ve published out in the world. It is possible.

However, there was always the slight voice in the back of my mind telling me this was a bit annoying, the whole follow your dreams narrative.

It’s just in the kind of empty-calorie optimism in that statement. “If you just keep working hard, you’ll be on Netflix or published by Penguin Random House or have your own TV show or your dream job just like that!” I don’t know. There are ways to be fulfilled and there are ways to live a fine life. But the entertainment industry, and breaking big in any way – that’s a tough thing to do. Most of us won’t, in writing or comedy or film or any of it. I’ll see comedians make Facebook pages for themselves a year or so into comedy. That just seems bizarre to me. You don’t even know what you’re selling yet. Some comics do it for 10, 20, 30 years before they really get any success. It seems like deluding yourself.

And the world is full of these stories of artists not making it for decades or something. The entertainment system’s gatekeepers pick what they want at the time and other things inevitably get left behind. Loads of the things I like, movies or bands for example, I can go on their Wikipedia pages and see the same thing like clockwork, like the refrain of a song: “initially the work was panned and critics hated it, but years later it was reassessed as a masterpiece.” It makes you wonder if maybe nothing is ever objective. And it makes you wonder who else we’re sleeping on.

As I write this I’m playing a John Lee Hooker album. This is a guy who made music for literally like 40 or 50 years before finally getting a charting album in his 70s. That’s crazy to me. Inspiring, but wow, I don’t think he was planning on it taking so long.

The industry and art are like yin and yang – we need the industry to amplify the art, but the artistic instinct is very different from a business mindset. The industry, responding to the insatiable need for entertainment, has become a gigantic money-driven machine. This isn’t to make this all some kind of ‘fuck the system’ point – I can do that any old time. I’m just saying that maybe it’s all relative who gets success and we shouldn’t base our worths off that.

Maybe social media has played a role in it, giving us all a platform to feel like we have bullhorns to say whatever. Or maybe it’s just part of human nature to want to be recognized for something, in some way. I dunno. The comedian Sara Schaefer had this podcast where she outlined the details of how TV shows get made, with all the various steps, rewrites, meetings, consultants, people it has to go through – and that sometimes, even after all that, the show still doesn’t make it to the air.

I can go on writing forums and social media threads and there are hundreds of comments all talking about their books and projects. About how far along they are and their ideas. All of them miniature universes living in minds and laptops and cell phones. It’s inspiring. I hope all of them get finished to satisfaction. And beyond that there are the mountains and mountains of published works that are not touted as masterpieces or remembered by the ages, but they’re still there, still definitively in the world. And maybe humanity is a vast and wide thing and a great mountain of experiences and the creation and expression of art is its own virtue, and it’s fine just to be happy with whatever you do have, the sheer electric experience of creating and the validation whenever you actually do accomplish something.

But yeah, it’s just Hollywood and NYC that decide everything for us – if you’re not in those cities you’re not making it, apparently. What a small thing that kind of world seems like to me.