A Humble Thomas Ligotti Tribute…

I recall a few choice moments in my life when I began to realize my own cosmic insignificance.

I distinctly recall the moment that the idea that space goes on forever actually registered with me. I recall finding a litter of puppies once and learning what “the runt of the litter” meant. The unfairness and cruelty of nature struck me, but also I got a vague sense that we’re here by chance, that no one is meant to be born.

Around the time I started college I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t believe in God, and never had. I think as a child I wanted to believe, primarily out of fear. But eventually I had to admit to myself that none of it made any sense. It was never a matter of not wanting to believe, but never being able.

I like weird fiction and cosmic horror because it puts humans in their true place in the universe: insignificance.  But when I read the works of Thomas Ligotti my worldview really gained a cohesion. I’ve never been so affected by a single writer. Ligotti infuses his work with a sense of the horror at existence itself, expressed creatively through deeply philosophical weird fiction.

For Ligotti, no one is anyone, we’re just gene-replicating bio-robots engineered by evolution with over-developed brains which give us the illusion of an independent self. Life is a force which has “infected” matter, endowing it with animation, turning the world into a giant meat grinder which rips, tears and consumes itself over and over forever, without purpose. Nothing is good or bad, there’s just matter moving around and getting recycled.  And it’s horrifying.

Perhaps he states this philosophy with the most impact in his short story “The Tsalal”:

“transformation as the only truth […] There is no nature to things […] ‘There are no faces except masks held tight against the pitching chaos behind them.’ […] there is not true growth or evolution in the life of this world but only transformations of appearance, an incessant melting and molding of surfaces without underlying essence. Above all […] there is no salvation of any being because no beings exist as such, nothing exists to be saved – everything, everyone exists only to be drawn into the slow and endless swirling of mutations that we may see every second of our lives.”

The universe is not geared for life, animate matter (“life”) is a mistake, a fluke of the existence of matter given the right conditions and enough time. Conscious life is even more rare. This is not something that was supposed to occur, it is chemistry gone awry.

Ligotti speaks of the animating force in terms of “the shadow,” a sort of universal, Schopenhauerian Will which effectively *infects* matter.

In his short story “The Shadow, The Darkness”:

“Our bodies are but one manifestation of the energy, the activating force that sets in motion all the objects, all the bodies of this world and enables them to exist as they do. This activating force is something like a shadow that is not on the outside of all the bodies of this world but is inside of everything and thoroughly pervades everything—an all-moving darkness that has no substance in itself but that moves all the objects of this world, including those objects which we call our bodies.” (The Shadow, The Darkness).

Ligotti explored this in depth in his story “The Voice of the Bones” where we witness a poetic “losing” of one’s “shadow” back into the black chaos: “And he cried out as the shadow sought his bones and as he felt his bones reaching into the blackness. Yet it was no longer his own voice that sounded in the tower, but the echoing clamor of strange shrieking multitudes.”

Two examples I will quote from Ligotti’s excellent collection “My Work Is Not Yet Done” wherein Ligotti gives the life force the name of the Great Black Swine:

“…there was nothing especially ‘roachy’ inside the roach any more than there was anything of a distinct ‘person’ inside of Lillian – once the dark interior of each had been penetrated, there was only that buzz of swinish agitation and turbulent blackness. The Great Black Swine was thrashing about inside the cockroach just as it had within Lillian Hayes, the only difference being that any sense of delusion about being some kind of thing-in-the-world was missing from the insect…”

And:

“…that Great Black Swine, that thrashing and vicious blackness which flowed like a river through every living thing […] that moved and manipulated all the created life of this world […] the shadow within all life, the thing that would live on and on as each one of us died our deaths alone. Because whatever life we had was only its life, and when our bodies, our cockroach bodies, became too damaged to accommodate it . . . this blackness flowed away, leaving behind it a dead vine, a bug’s crushed carapace, or a human corpse – things that had no life of their own, nothing real at all about them.”

What we think of as our soul, or some sort of independent life force is merely a tendril in the swirling chaos. On death our force is reabsorbed, all individuality is lost.

Another favorite image of Ligotti is that of the puppet. He discusses this in his anti-natalist tour de force The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (TCATHR):

“A sibling term of supernatural horror is the “uncanny.” […] And a puppet possessed of life would exemplify just such a horror, because it would negate all conceptions of a natural physicalism and affirm a metaphysics of chaos and nightmare. It would still be a puppet, but it would be a puppet with a mind and a will, a human puppet—a paradox more disruptive of sanity than the undead. But that is not how they would see it. Human puppets could not conceive of themselves as being puppets at all, not when they are fixed with a consciousness that excites in them the unshakable sense of being singled out from all other objects in creation. Once you begin to feel you are making a go of it on your own—that you are making moves and thinking thoughts which seem to have originated within you—it is not possible for you to believe you are anything but your own master.”

Ligotti makes much of this image of the puppet in his work, going all the way back to his very first short story collection “Songs of a Dead Dreamer.”

These are dark, nocturnal thoughts. But if I am going to be snatched out of non-existence and thrown into this sentient piece of meat, I would like to know what is going on, without illusions. The LEAST I can do is know the truth regardless how bleak, or how many illusions that view might shatter. For me, Ligotti does this.

Ligotti discusses historical examples of anti-natalist philosophy, this quote on the German philospher Julius Bahnsen struck me in particular, someone with a view similar to that of Schopenhauer:

“For Bahnsen, a purposeless force breathes a black life into everything and feasts upon it part by part, regurgitating itself into itself, ever-renewing the throbbing forms of its repast. For all others who suspect that something is amiss in the lifeblood of being, something they cannot verbalize, there are the malformed shades of suffering and death that chase them into the false light of contenting lies.”

It is bad enough to become an animate form, but to be cursed with consciousness as humans are is far worse. Ligotti quotes Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe in TCATHR who believes we have developed an overabundance of consciousness, and we try to minimize it by distractions, religion, ignorance. To him this is a tragedy. We have evolved the ability to see ourselves as an independent self, separate from the world, and we are conscious of our impending death.

Ligotti sums up the implications of this philosophy in TCATHR, and in his short stories by reaching this conclusion: There is nothing to do, there is nowhere to go, there is nothing to be and there is no one to know.

 

My worldview is not quite as bleak as Ligotti’s. I think there’s some poetic truth in Julian Huxley’s idea that we are the “universe becoming conscious of itself.” Even if it goes badly, was it not better to have experienced it, even if it is painful and all amounts to the dust of death in the end? Bill Hick’s described life as “just a ride” and the pessimist philosopher E. M. Cioran said, “I’m simply an accident. Why take it all so seriously?”

As a gay man I feel comfort knowing that I won’t bring someone into this grinder. I feel I am doing someone a favor who doesn’t exist, contradictory as that sounds.

On the other hand I don’t consider myself a passionate anti-natalist.  If someone wants to have ten children I won’t be suffering for them. And besides, these ideas are not something most people are open to either listening to or accepting except as mere philosophical speculation. This is something Ligotti emphasizes in his book several times, as contrary as it may sound. He knows he’s only speaking to sympathetic minds.

Dark as all this may seem, accepting the implications has helped me to let go of many frustrations and things that do not matter. I don’t get as angry about things I can’t change, whether it’s politics or general ignorance. And why get angry at people, when they aren’t in control of themselves? Do you get angry when a machine does what it was programmed to do?

I think if life is valuable, one should try to enjoy it and not worry about what one cannot change. Avoid fruitless strife. “Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you.” Everything looks like busy work to me, but I might as well find the busy work pleasurable.

“You do not own your head.  There are so many heads in the world, wherever you go there are heads, every day there are more of them sprouting up in the blackness. At one time there was nothing at all, only blackness; and then, within the infinite space of that blackness things started to develop. But as soon as those heads came along nothing much has happened -or nothing worthy of note: the whole world reached its peak and turned into an enormous heads factory. Everyday there are more and more of them sprouting up in the blackness -which was there at the beginning -the blackness that, perhaps by chance, began to produce all these heads, and continues to produce them, always calling out for more heads to carry out the business it wants done, its black voice roaring across the infinite black spaces of its heads factory. But none of the heads has any ideas about the blackness that surrounds them, or the blackness that hides itself inside each one of them.”

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Weaning Myself Off Politics

I’m a bit of a hermit online.  I don’t use social media except for this blog. The only place I recently still interacted with people online was in YouTube comments, and one of my resolutions for this year was to stop doing even that, which I kept. I don’t need to deal with responding or debating with people I don’t know.

But I had a lot of time off work recently, almost three weeks in a row and my biggest addiction came back big time: Politics. But in my defense, with such a weird, depressing, surreal, stupid, crazy election, how could I *NOT* let the frustrating Time Vampire back into my life?

But I am making a resolution for next year right now, to get away from it.  Two main reasons:

  • I don’t like getting upset over a bunch of things which largely don’t affect me, and which I can do nothing about whatsoever. It depresses me. I can feel myself get noticeably upset after reading about it or watching political TV. Politics makes us fear the worst, and worry about things that haven’t even happened yet, and may never happen.
  • It’s a major time suck; political TV, radio shows, articles, interviews. I shudder to even think of how much time I’ve wasted on it. Compared to most people I have a lot of free time, but I’d rather spend it by getting through my to-be-read pile, taking walks or practicing my classical guitar. These are things I CAN control, things in my own life, things which are pleasurable. All that other stuff? It’s going to happen whether I get upset about it or not.

Now of course I’ve told myself all of these things before, and managed to follow my own advice for certain lengths of time. But with this election I really dove in head first.  This is something I have to actively regulate in an on-going fashion.

I’m going to start with some digital housekeeping: deleting all of my political bookmarks (over 50) and unsubscribe from any political YouTubers. This will take care of 99% of it, and since I don’t use social media I’m far ahead of most people in this fight.

(…I’ve still somehow got to stop my fingers from tuning the channel to CNN when I pick up the TV remote, it’s as automatic as forming a C chord on my guitar.  If it was up to me I’d get rid of the TV altogether, but my partner wants it.)

I’ll close by saying that I understand why many people are concerned about the outcome of the election.  This country seems determined to go through a major crisis. It’s true I am a white male and maybe have less to worry about than others, but I am gay and live in the south so I understand to some extent what it is like being in a minority.  I don’t know what the future holds, but I know what I can and can’t control in my life.

And to those who say I’m not being civic-minded, fine. Yeah, this is for my own stress-level and happiness. But if you think about it you’ll have to admit, I’m being far more realistic about my scope of influence.

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Hello Again

It has been a while, about two years. I think writing this occasionally does me good, even though I have no idea if anyone is reading it. My problem with social media like Facebook was I KNEW a lot of people were reading it, and it felt like I had to “perform” every time I got on there.

It’s amazing how little has changed in two years. I’m working the same job, live in the same house with the same partner. I’m just very content these days.  I am old enough to know that they are the kind of days one will look back on as “good old days” later in one’s life.

I started playing my classical guitar again for the first time in many years. This happened rather by accident. I was helping my partner move a generator and my foot slid off the edge of the deck and hit the ground at an angle. It was only about 4-6″ to the ground, but it was so painful that I nearly blacked out. Funny thing was, it quickly passed and I got up and raked the ground level, put bricks down and we moved the generator into place. It was only later I noticed how much pain I was in.

So I was laid up for a week or so, it healed itself. The guitar was in the same room as me, so I picked it up and started playing. I would say I am more serious about practicing and playing well now than I was years ago when I first discovered it. It’s nice to find new passions, or rekindle old ones.

In the modern world so much that we do is passive, it’s nice to do something that really takes patience and time. It requires you to slow down and focus. I think this is similar for reading, but the physicality of playing an instrument, and progressive improvement on it make it a rewarding experience in a different way.

Politics…

I must confess that I’m not as liberal as I was just a few years ago. The obnoxious Social Justice Warriors have really alienated me so much that I have started to question, and reject, a lot of my previously-held political beliefs. Their perpetual victimhood and constant need to seek out something to be offended by have created a ridiculous, oppressive atmosphere. It has reached levels of stupidity I just cannot go down. Sorry.

As to the election, I am just ready for it to end. I wish we didn’t have cable because I hate it but often find I cannot turn away. I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton because I think she is a two-faced, war-loving, whore of Wall Street. I’m not voting for Trump because I don’t think he’s thin-skinned, easily distracted and I don’t want to feel any responsibility for what he might do or cause, intentionally or otherwise. But I will just say this: if you want to see who the elite, kleptocrats want, just see who is getting all the Wall Street money and good media coverage.

MOVING ON…

On a more *~*pleasant*~* note, autumn has arrived! My favorite season. It has gotten cold in quick bursts here in Georgia, then it backs off again. I’ve definitely started to notice a change in the leaf color, although peak times for that aren’t until the first week of November usually.

The arrival of the season is signaled to different people in different ways. For some people it’s simply the calendar — Labor Day, or the kids go back to school. For me it’s far more connected with nature. Probably the biggest signal for me is the way the shadows change. Some morning or afternoon you’ll notice how they play across a wall or familiar patch of ground.  Maybe how they fall across some wrinkly tree bark.

And the thing about winter is that the sun doesn’t travel directly overhead anymore as it does in summer, but closer along the southern horizon. This makes the shadows long all day, so it always feels like the day is ending, or it’s end is imminent. I think that is what has the biggest psychological impact for me, whether most people consciously take this in or not I don’t know. But I am looking forward to it for once, I like the quiet, meditative nature of it.

Autumn-Leaves-HD-Wallpaper-Widescreen

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I’m Taking A Year Off To Read Books, Because I Can

For several months now I’ve taken a step back and tried to ask myself what matters most to me in my life. When I pare away everything that doesn’t matter, the answer is dangerously close to nothing at all.

This is influenced by a number of factors. Being a gay man I don’t follow traditional life paths. I don’t have a wife and kids to worry about so I can focus on myself, but I have to take responsibility for choosing what gives me a sense of purpose instead of letting nature do it for me. Also I just turned 35. Gay men, on average, live shorter lives than everyone else, so I’m probably halfway to my dirt nap, if not further along. If I don’t ask this question now, when?

Examining the last three years, being honest with myself I’ve only gotten deep, lasting pleasure from two sources: reading and long walks. When I tire of the former, I do the latter, and both are practically free. I actually really like my job, but I’ve decided to cut my hours to 8 days a month so I can tackle a long reading list.

Maybe that sounds a little crazy, certainly unorthodox, but I’ve built up enough savings that I could live off of it for 3-4 years as it is, but I have no debts and those 8 days will prevent me from having to dip into it. This accumulation of savings isn’t because I denied myself things, but because I didn’t want anything. This goes back to what I was saying about paring things away. I live cheaply and see consumerism as a trap. Whether it’s because of depression, apathy, or just who I am, I don’t care about most of what society is offering. I eat cheap but healthy. I don’t take trips because I’ve discovered that it’s true “wherever you go, there you are.” I buy everything used that I can. I workout at home. I drive about 15 miles a week in an old, paid-for car. I don’t go to the movies, watch TV, smoke, drink or do drugs. I have a $15/month cell phone. I might eat out a few times a year. I rarely desire sex and although I get offers (not bragging, but in the gay world it’s easily attained) in the last two years I’ve had sex maybe three times.

I spend almost all of my free time reading public domain or pirated ebooks. Boring? Well, in a Thoreau-like fashion, after “paring away” all all the other crap that life is supposed to be centered around, this is what I’ve found that I get real consistent pleasure from. Regardless how long I do it, doesn’t feel like a waste of time. I can watch TV for about five minutes, listen to music for a couple of hours and watch maybe two classic films in a row before I start asking myself what I’m doing with my life. I’ve only got myself to care about, if I want to spend 2/3rds of my month reading and wandering around, who’s harmed?

Contradictorily the most powerful feeling I’ve experienced in this whole self-examination is finally not giving a shit, which comes from the realization that, in any ultimate sense, life is meaningless. It doesn’t matter what anyone does. As some people believe religion, I believe with all of my heart that we are lucky collections of matter given temporary animation through various bio-chemical processes which will decay and return to the earth and be forgotten forever. It’s one thing have a nagging suspicion this is true, but _embracing_ the meaninglessness is another. For me it is a relief, life is now wide open. Life is worth living and life can be wonderful, but we start out with too many illusions about what life is supposed to be. I find this is where much of my depression came from; pointing myself in the wrong direction for finding purpose and turning up empty. Most people are too busy to even know where to start in this process, they’re happier with ready answers given either by society or positive-minded life-coaches. They barely know what to do with a 3-day weekend, much less 10 days off at a stretch as I’ve had for the past couple months.

Speaking of comparing oneself with others, I’ve come to believe we should be just as thankful for “non-experiences” as we are for lived experiences. I think less about what I want to do, and I am grateful for the things I haven’t done; a job I hate, sitting in traffic for two hours a day and dealing with road rage so I can sit in a cubicle and answer to a boss I hate.

Then there are things that I am guaranteed to never have to deal with, ever; screaming kids, a materialist wife, paying for daycare and diapers, a second job to pay child support, a divorce that takes half of my assets and ruins my life. Regardless what else happens, none of that, _ever_ gonna happen. I’m thankful that I’m happy and content with far less than most people. That is a gift, wanting less. I’m grateful for my sexuality which I see as a gift too that kept me out of many of the traps of society which are laid for the average man. Nor have I known the pressures of living a certain type of lifestyle, since it was never an option to begin with.

When I’m still up in the early morning (being on a nightshift schedule) and it’s 30° outside and I hear people driving to work, clutching their frozen steering wheels, people who had to get up at 5am to feed the kids breakfast, I don’t feel I’ve missed out on a thing. I touch up the spaceheater a notch in my little office and continue reading, speculate when it will be warm enough that I might go for a pleasant walk. When I’m out and about and see a mom with screaming kids, I’m able to go about my business and I’ll probably never see them again. Part of this is just dumb luck, and I am thankful for that too. So I think we should be just as grateful for non-experiences as you are for experiences.

Looking at it this way I think I’m “living the dream,” not in the future, but right now. The ever-elusive “American Dream” is something we’re told to work our entirely lives to hopefully achieve when we’re too old to enjoy it. Being humble as I am, I’m living it already. Only having to work 8 days a month at a job you like? That sounds so alien to most people they couldn’t understand it. Sure I could work and save more money this year, but it’s a year I’ll never get back. I’m comfortable, I’m doing OK. Money you can make back, time you can’t.

I don’t want to be that guy in The Twilight Zone episode who finally has time to read everything he wants after the world ends, but he breaks his glasses and can’t read a single word. No more putting things off, no more “dreams,” a dream is something you never get around to doing.

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2014, A Review of Books Read

Over the past year I managed to read 42 books; 25 novels, 17 short story collections. Several of these were books I’ve wanted to tackle for years, some were pleasant surprises that just came up spontaneously.

In order (from my Goodreads list!) with an asterisk beside the one I enjoyed most:

Shoot the Piano Player by Goodis, David – A good hard-boiled pulp, no sentimentality, just a hard, often violent tale of has-beens.
I, the Jury by Spillane, Mickey – I liked this way more than I expected to, this is the lowest of the low-brow pulp, but it’s fast-paced and the plot is pretty smart.
Fast One by Cain, Paul – This is a great example of (very) hard-boiled pulp fiction. The story travels at a blistering pace, the main character is tough as nails and the story has more twists and turns than a bag of pretzels.
The Way We Live Now by Trollope, Anthony – This is a big, sprawling novel with a lot of main and minor characters, full of plots and sub-plots. I wanted to like this book, but didn’t even get very interested until half through.
*The Return of the Native by Hardy, Thomas – This was an excellent tale, evoking a thick atmosphere of life on the English moor. The third novel I’ve read by Hardy after “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” and “Jude the Obscure.”
Black Friday by Goodis, David – A claustrophobic novel about a group of hoods holed up in an apartment in the winter.
*Child of God by McCarthy, Cormac – A gritty, realistic protrayal of a hillbilly who is kicked off his land, hides out in the woods and descends into insanity.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by McCoy, Horace – Beneath the simple, almost naive veneer of this novel, it’s a quite brutal, cynical tale of a dance marathon held during the Great Depression.
*The Name of the Game Is Death by Marlowe, Dan – The hardest of the hard-boiled. A real page-turner I read in one day, one of the best noir novels I’ve ever read.
The Drowning Pool by Macdonald, Ross – The first third of this novel bored me a bit, the prose wasn’t the snappiest I’ve read, but it was still a decent private eye novel.
The Hunter by Stark, Richard – Another really nasty, hard-boiled novel about a man out for vengeance. “‘It’s Parker,’ he said, and hit her twice in the stomach. She fell retching to the floor, and he stepped on her back on the way out.”
Green Ice by Whitfield, Raoul – An over-complicated story, about characters that aren’t interesting enough to care about. Didn’t like this novel.
*The Hot Spot by Williams, Charles – A great, small town noir with a great sense of place and atmosphere. The end was a tense page turner.
*The Human Beast by Emile Zola – Starting out of the gate with a good old fashioned wife-beating and a plan for a cold-blooded murder, Zola’s “The Human Beast” is an exciting, dark ride into the depravity of the human soul.
The Deep Blue Good-By by MacDonald, John D. – Another good PI novel, Travis McGee is a bit more human and reflective than earlier PI’s. Also here it’s not about a twisting, complex plotline, this is focused far more on building tension with fewer, but more fleshed-out characters we actually care about.
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Highsmith, Patricia – Twice as long as your typical noir novel, but this feels downright literary. The plot is smart, with a gradually increasing pitch of suspense.
Jamaica Inn by Maurier, Daphne du – I read this novel because I knew it was a mystery set on a desolate moor, it delivers a decent Gothic atmosphere, but I never got as emotionally involved with the characters as I did with a novel like “Wuthering Heights,” “Jane Eyre” or “The Return of the Native.”
Pick-Up by Willeford, Charles – A bitterly dark noir about an alcoholic couple whose lives have no meaning when they’re not tilting the old glass, and when they’re sober they debate the best ways to end it all. It reminded me a little of Woolrich’s style in it’s sad, melancholy tone, but without as much melodrama.
Thieves Like Us by Anderson, Edward – A good, hard-edged on-the-run noir. I’m a big fan of the 1948 film it was made into “They Live By Night.”
The Idiot by Dostoyevsky, Fyodor – This was a great novel, long and often full of high drama in the Russian tradition. But I didn’t like it as much as “Crime and Punishment,” “The Brothers Karamazov” or “Notes From the Underground.”
Nine Ghosts by Malden, R.H. – There are few authors who write in the tradition of M. R. James, but when I heard Malden knew James, and wrote in his style, I knew I had to give this a read. I dare say he wrote some stories which are at times on par with those of the master. None of these are as good as James at his best, but they’re much better than I thought they would be.
The Woman in Black by Hill, Susan – I read this novel because, like “Nine Ghosts” it was supposed to be influenced by the stories of M. R. James. It’s got a nice sense of atmosphere and place established throughout, in a rather cozy, M R Jamesian way. There were a few genuinely good scares throughout which were noteworthy.
*The Red Tree by Kiernan, Caitlín R. – This was the best novel I read all year, and one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read. It’s disturbing and ultimately very scary at times with a brooding, melancholy undercurrent to it. The last chapter is just devastating stuff which hit me like VERY few books have.
Lost Illusions by Balzac, Honoré de – It took me a while to finish this one, but I did like it a lot. This novel explores the influence of the press, and the cynical way they shape our reality. The morality of the book can be summed up in a quote, “Success is the supreme justification of all actions whatsoever. The fact in itself is nothing; the impression that it makes upon others is everything.”
Black Wings Has My Angel by Chaze, Elliott – A classic, uber-pulpy novel, exciting and does what a pulp novel ought to do — keep me engrossed.
Crimes in Southern Indiana: Stories by Bill, Frank – This is a collection of very hard-hitting, violent stories set in rural Indiana. This feels like noir updated, given a harder, more realist edge.
The Other by Tryon, Thomas – A rather slow, but evocative, tragic horror novel about an evil twin.
Demons By Daylight by Campbell, Ramsey – I took about six months to read this collection of horror tales, returning to it was always a treat. I find Campbell’s stories are even better than his novels. Very few duds here, a few stories were among the most frightening I’ve ever read.
*The Imago Sequence and Other Stories by Barron, Laird – THIS is an author I intend to return to, and soon. I’d read some of Barron’s work in an anthology, but reading a full collection was quite an experience. Barron’s writing is always masculine, focused around corporate spies, bounty hunters, ex-CIA men. The writing can feel noir, terse, but intelligent.
Spooky New England: Tales of hauntings, strange happenings, and other local lore by Schlosser, S.E. – This is a collection of ghost stories I found at a library book sale for a dollar, not something I’d recommend for a serious collector of folklore, definitely light, “night stand” reading.
*Teatro Grottesco by Ligotti, Thomas – This was my favorite collection of short stories I read all year, Ligotti has a way of writing horror that is unsettling, yet hilarious too at times. The worlds he describes have the unreality of a 1920’s German Expressionist film, yet he describes the horror as plain as a dog walking across the road. The thing about Ligotti is he expresses a truly dark philosophical worldview, and he doesn’t seem to just be writing fiction, on some level he seems to mean it.
The Best of Weird Tales 1923 by Betancourt, John Gregory – For someone like myself who enjoys the more obscure stories from Weird Tales magazine, this was a pleasure to read.
Collected Horror Stories by Thompson, C. Hall – A collection of two stories and two novellas by a man who emulated Lovecraft’s style and themes, but was essentially stopped due to pressure by August Derleth who published Lovecraft’s works after his death. I find this unfortunate, because these are some of the better Lovecraftian stories I’ve read.
The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder by Hodgson, William Hope – These stories are often full of action and adventure, yet still manage to generate horror too. A couple even had some cosmically horrific scenes I’ve rarely read anything like it elsewhere.
The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories by Bowen, Marjorie – I’ve read a number of Victorian-era ghost and horror stories. Only a few authors manage to scare — M. R. James, comes easiest to mind. But this collection has one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read. On the whole I’d say this collection in terms of overall quality is one of the best I’ve read from that era.
At a Winter’s Fire by Capes, Bernard Edward Joseph – An obscure, varied and uneven collection of supernatural and adventure stories. A few stories inspire awe of nature, some inspire real cosmic horror, a few are just outright weird while others just fall flat.
*The Unsettled Dust by Aickman, Robert – I could put this collection above Thomas Ligotti’s without a pang of conscience, they are equally good, I just enjoyed Ligotti a little more. Aickman rarely tries to truly scare his reader, he wants to unsettle him/her. These are stories I find myself thinking about, days, weeks later. Images and situations presented really get under the skin, and stay in the mind like few others. Sometimes a story will build and build, then just end. Many concepts here feel fresh and original too. Aickman has a talent for creating a setting which I almost felt like I had settled into by the end of the tale. These are stories I could even see re-reading.
The Stoneground Ghost Tales by Swain, E. G. – I read this collection because I knew the author was a colleague of, and was influenced by M. R. James. Unfortunately, excepting a few tales, these stories were largely too mild.
The Taint and Other Novellas by Lumley, Brian – This is a pretty good collection of Lovecraftian and Lovecraft-influenced fiction. The author himself admits that much of the work here is uneven, some stories are much better than others, but a few rise to some pretty high levels in my opinion. Lumley doesn’t really frighten except in a few rare instances, these are just well-written mythos tales that are steeped in great atmosphere.
*The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales by Samuels, Mark – This collection came as a bit of a surprise to me, I’d never heard of Mark Samuels, but when I heard someone had written a book called “The Man Who Collected *Machen* and other *Weird* Tales” I knew I had to read it. Samuel’s stories were influenced by Lovecraft, Machen, M. R. James, Poe, Ligotti, Borges, even Karl Edward Wagner.
Ficciones by Borges, Jorge Luis – A mind-bending, reality-twisting collection of stories. I read this primarily because I wanted to know what Borges was all about, he’s a name several of my favorite authors have dropped.
The October Country by Bradbury, Ray – A great collection of Bradbury, focused around his horror/weird writing rather than his sci-fi.

Authors I will read again: Cormack McCarthy, Mickey Spillane, Caitlin Kiernan, Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barron

Authors I won’t read again: Raoul Whitfield

So 42 books, to me this just isn’t enough. One book a week is what I’d like to have done, but then some of these books took a couple weeks to finish, primarily the big classic tomes like “The Idiot,” “The Way We Live Now” and “Lost Illusions.” But a lot of the pulp novels took a day in some cases. I recall reading three over one long weekend.

I started some short story collections, but have them on the backburner for the time being. Two were collections of Lovecraftian fiction; Stephen Jone’s “Shadows Over Innsmouth” and S. T. Joshi’s “Black Wings I: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror.” I’ve read about half of those collections and, although I love my Lovecraft, I need a break.

I read about two-thirds of H. R. Wakefield’s collection “They Return At Evening” which seemed like a fairly average collection of Victorian-era ghost tales. I was hoping for something on the scale of M. R. James and was pretty underwhelmed thus far. I made a small dent in the massive, and so-far-excellent collection of weird fiction “The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories” by Jeff VanderMeer. I’ve finished about a quarter of the Wildside Press collection “The Pulp Fiction Megapack: 25 Classic Pulp Stories” which is always incredibly, outrageously pulpy in a so-bad-it’s-good way. There’s dozens of short stories from various sources too, primarily pulp magazines like Weird Tales, and some science fiction.

My full book reviews are at: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/11331153-andy

My New Year resolution is going to be a reading list. I kinda O.D.ed on pulp novels this year, I think I’ll focus a bit more on horror novels and some classics, Zola, Dostoevsky, Hardy and a few others are on the list. So much to choose from…

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Autumn Thoughts During an Autumn Graveyard Walk

There’s a really nice cemetery near where I live, but the main entrance is gained by a busy road without a sidewalk, so I’ve never explored it, despite living here for almost a decade.

On the morning of Octobert 29th, on a whim I thought I would investigate a closer, albeit hidden entrance to this graveyard that I believed to exist. As I left the house and it started to drizzle immediately. Undeterred I thought, that this was appropriate for a walk in graveyard two days before Halloween. Indeed, there is a hidden back entrance, a road dead-ends and is blocked by a large brushpile, preventing cars entrance beyond, however, for walkers there’s a little rutted path around it, then you can continue on the remnants of the road. It was densely overhung by trees dropping soggy leaves, all ripe, bright colors, and vegetation fills the cracks in the asphalt. Suddenly you come to the summit and see the skyscrapers of Atlanta in the distance, and the numerous graves lay on the rolling hill below.

It’s hard to find a combination of such beauty and silence in Atlanta at 9am (or any time), it’s a very peaceful, well-kept place. I was also surprised how recent many of the graves were, and how hard they were to spot. People buried back in the summer were as covered with grass as any grave from the 50s or 60s. There were people who died at middle age, so many stories cut short, but since they died half a century ago, who would remember anyway? Couples who died mere years apart, couples who died decades apart. Some people who carried on, others who didn’t, for long. I saw the grave of a person who died four days before I was born. The cycle continues.

As I headed out I noticed graves in the wooded area were far older and less kept-up. The oldest I saw was from 1911. I had to sweep away leaves just to see the “Died” date, the grave had sunk into the earth so deeply. Another difficulty was reading these older graves, this one having been so smoothed over by the wind, rain and snow of a century. In another century I doubt the gravestone will be legible at all, and that part of the cemetery will possibly be abandoned to nature as many old cemeteries have been.

Late this past summer my partner and I took a trip to Florida. I took a lot of walks along the beach, mostly at sunrise, sunset and after dark. I can understand why people enjoy the beach, but I found it rather depressing. Staring out over that great force of nature inspired dismal thoughts in me. I thought of how temporal life is, and how meaningless. You write your name in the sand, and it’s washed away, smoothed over, just like that gravestone. “Nothing gold can stay,” and all that. Sometimes it sucks being reflective. But after we left these thoughts smoldered and germinated in my mind and stayed with me, and I began to feel at peace with it. “Of course it’s meaningless, but don’t take it so seriously!”

To me at least it’s a relief that life doesn’t have a meaning, and that it ends forever. It’s all a matter of perspective. It free’s one up to focus on what matters, and what doesn’t. To feel that tugging, temporal-ness of it and live it on one’s own terms. But in a way I feel like at the mere age of 35 I’ve already experienced most of what I want out of life, as crazy as that might sound. I don’t want to die before I get a chance to read a lot of things I want to read (and it’s a very long list) but besides that, what I really care to do would make up a pretty short list.

from Bjork – “I’ve Seen It All”

You’ve never been to Niagara Falls?
I have seen water, its water, that’s all…
The Eiffel Tower, the Empire State?
My pulse was as high on my very first date!
Your grandson’s hand as he plays with your hair?
To be honest, I really don’t care…
I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen the dark
I’ve seen the brightness in one little spark.
I’ve seen what I chose and I’ve seen what I need,
And that is enough, to want more would be greed.

I’ve been an atheist, a non-believer in the supernatural my whole life despite growing up in a religious family. This to me is a step beyond that, it’s acceptance of the implications. This “acceptance” still scares me a little. It’s not suicidal thoughts, although I know what that’s like too. I think I don’t fear death as much, or not in the same way. It’s not depression, I know precisely what that feels like, and this isn’t boredom either. Strangely enough I feel a fulfillment, almost a contentment which I don’t entirely understand.

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Music For Those Afraid to Feel, And Those Not

About five years ago I got a telephone call from a total stranger. They were in Alabama and wanted to let me know that an ex-boyfriend and dear friend of mine had died. We had a long distance relationship for about a year and a half, but we were good friends before and after for a lot longer. It was such short notice that there wasn’t time to get to the funeral. That hit me like a ton of bricks, one of the most unique people I ever knew, someone I could talk to for hours was suddenly just erased, gone.

He did some artwork for a band called the Drive-By Truckers, and I started listening to some of their albums, and did so for weeks. At times the music probably made me more depressed, yet I reached a kind of catharsis with it and learned to let go.

The Drive-By Truckers are a southern rock band, and most of their songs are dark tales of the downtrodden, tales of murder and the seedy underbelly of the south. If you grew up here, they can really “encapsulate things” in just a few lines.

There’s an obvious humor to many of their songs, even in the most heart-breaking moments, but they tug at the heartstrings because of their genuineness. Take the song “Box of Spiders” which explores the eccentricities of an arachnophobic great-grandmother who keeps a box of spiders and looks forward to heaven. Musically it’s an achingly beautiful affair, yet it’s implied that her husband “the general” goes to hell in the line “the general’s last words were, it’s hotter than hell in here,” and at the end he tells us she’s “too mean to die.”

“Margo and Harold” tells the seedy tale of a raunchy middle aged couple who seem to spend all of their time doing drugs and coming onto a younger couple who try to avoid them. Like “Box of Spiders,” this is a beautiful ballad, gentle even, but it’s got a sinister side. “I’m scared of the basement of Harold’s pawn shop – I’ve heard tales of what goes down there – Mid-life crises, high on Dilauded, Valium, and crystal meth – Harold and Margo, feeling no pain – Fifty and crazy, big hair and cocaine.”

In “Tornadoes,” one verse goes: “It came without no warning, said Bobbie Joe McClain – She and husband Nolan always loved to watch the rain – It sucked him out the window, he aint come home again – All she can remember’s that it sounded like a train.” It’s poking fun at how tornado witnesses on TV always talk about it “sounding like a train” yet it’s flush with a genuine melancholy.

In 2006 I drew back from listening to classical music after the death of my grandfather. I like 20th century classical, and when you’re talking about dark, emotive music, straight, no-chaser, you’ve got to talk about 20th century classical. But when you’re depressed, piling on the last movement of Mahler’s 9th isn’t exactly recommended, a piece which Bernstein said was, “the closest thing we have in any art form to the very act of dying.” Putting on a symphony of Shostakovich, inspired by personal grief and Soviet oppression isn’t something you want to do either. I had to avoid many works I had come to love deeply — Shostakovich’s anguished string quartets, Allan Pettersson’s dark, raucous symphonies, and many other works as well.

But I love music, and something had to fill the gap. By accident I found the best anti-depressant ever: jazz. No matter how sad I was, if I turned on some jazz I was instantly happier. Put on some Bill Evans, a little Coltrane or some Wes Montgomery and it’s like magic how my mood improves. It’s helped me through many a dark day and night. But I have to admit it’s not something I pay too much attention to, it’s the one genre of music I feel I can go to the bathroom and I won’t miss anything.

I think it’s OK if sometimes you just want music to make you numb, sometimes that’s what you need. Sometimes I just want something in the background, even though I don’t think that’s what music ought to be for. But then you get an urge to feel, to experience something. It’s like I know I’m going to feel bad, but taking an audiotherapy salve isn’t enough. I get an urge for something dark, I want to FEEL something, being happy just isn’t enough.

I think this is a uniquely human trait, most animals are purely pleasure-seeking beasts. They want to feel good, satiate hunger and sexual desires. But I think humans get tired of that, it’s about a need for contrast, for subtlety. Sometimes I want to feel a little sad, I want to remember my ex. Sometimes I just want a deeper experience.

“Depression, when it’s clinical, is not a metaphor. It runs in families, and it’s known to respond to medication and to counseling. However truly you believe there’s a sickness to existence that can never be cured, if you’re depressed you will sooner or later surrender and say: I just don’t want to feel bad anymore. The shift from depressive realism to tragic realism, from being immobilized by darkness to being sustained by it, thus strangely seems to require believing in the possibility of a cure.” — Jonathan Franzen

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A Farewell to Old Computers, and Brick-and-Mortar Stores Too?

I haven’t actually purchased a computer since 2006, they were getting slow and I decided it was time I upgraded. Still, when you have a thing for such a long time it becomes familiar, a part of your life. I have three main computers, I’ll start with the newest and work my way back…

My little 9″ Acer Aspire One laptop. You were given to me by my partner who upgraded, and I have to say, you’re a trooper. Remember that terrible, cringe-worthy fall you had? I turned you on to make sure you were OK, and was amazed you were fine. Then later I left you turned on on a cluttered desk for weeks while I debated reformatting you. I’m sure you were overheating the whole time, yet over a year later you’re still going. I never thought I could like using something so small, but I discovered you did everything I needed and were especially good for reading. You’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty, but we both know you’ve gotten slow. I can’t see reinstalling XP again, and you’re just not able to run anything higher. But I might give you a new lease on life with Linux…

Ah, my Compaq desktop. I got you for free when Mom got rid of you, so I used you for downloading large sets of files so it didn’t slow down my main computer. Remember how I wiped Vista and installed XP and you ran a million times better? I remember how noisy you were until I took you outside and blew all that dust out of you with an air compressor? I feel bad getting rid of you because you’ve gotten so little use and you’re still perfectly usable.

And finally, my main IBM desktop computer purchased for $280 way back in 2006! I still have the receipt! You’ve sat in the same place on my desk for 8 years, like a piece of furniture. Like…a friend? I had no idea you’d last this long, and I bet you’d last many more years to come. You weren’t even new when I bought you refurbished! I upgraded your RAM, reinstalled your OS every few years and frankly you still run great for everyday tasks. We’ve had some crashes, and I had to re-seat your hard drive connection a few times, but you still run better than any of the others (shhh! don’t tell!). But we both know your hard drives are old and I would rather migrate away before something bad happens. It’s better to part on good, fond memories, don’t you think? Still, getting rid of you feels wrong too.

This desk is going to look so empty…

All I have to fill it now is my new 11.6” ASUS laptop.

Kinda sad story about that too…

I researched until I found what I wanted, but I decided I’d buy it at a local store because it was going to cost about the same, and would be easier to return if need be.

I checked the stores website to make sure it was available, but I get there and of course, they don’t have it. I saw that coming. The sales guy was helpful, but I told him I’d just have to buy it online, I didn’t want to wait for them to order it, and then have to drive back there.

Honestly, I left sad. Not because I didn’t have a new computer, but because I thought I’d help out a local store and because I don’t want to see brick-and-mortar stores disappear. I was also sad because this store seemed a bit shabbier than last time I was there. Some shelves were empty, some were very disorganized. I don’t want to see computer stores disappear the same way we’ve seen bookstores disappear. To top it off, it’s next to a dying mall, perhaps the epitome of what I’m talking about.

But back to my computers. I hate to get rid of perfectly good things, but as I’ve said in other posts, I’m really trying to simplify my life. Keeping up with things becomes a challenge when you have three computers with 6 hard drives between them.

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Snooty Art Majors and Locking Away Arts from the Masses

Recently I attended an awards ceremony for the students majoring in literature at my sister’s college. She won an award for her senior thesis, my parents were quite proud. She and I are the first generation in our family to graduate from college.

Well, the ceremony dragged on and on, and when my parents asked my sister if she wanted to go to the “after event” my sister replied, “I don’t want to watch them sit around, drink tea, stick out their pinky fingers and brag about their interpretation of ‘Ulysses’ and the other big books they’ve read!” So long story short — we all went out and had Mexican food.

I was rather surprised at what she said; it felt like something she’d perhaps held in for a while, wanting to say?

I guess I can see people in the artsy departments of colleges being a little…”snooty?” I didn’t experience much of that in the computer science department when I went to college. I do distinctly recall attending a philosophy lecture and a guy in the back of the room wanted to comment quite frequently, and would preface everything he said with, “I submit to you professor that…” Needless to say that got some giggles and turned some heads.

I think it’s a shame those types exist; they’re very off-putting to other people who may have a genuine interest in the subject at hand, but are intimidated by this sort of person.

I’ve always felt that the arts, literature, philosophy, classical music, all of them have too much “institution” built up around them. It shuts them off from the masses, when it need not.

An example of this in my own life is when I discovered a few years ago that I really enjoyed reading classic novels. Dickens, Flaubert, Dumas, Zola, Elliot, Melville, Dostoevsky, Hardy, Tolstoy. I couldn’t wait to jump into another novel; I found these great novels not only to be profound and life-enhancing, but just downright fun as well.

But I’m convinced that the reason I put off reading such books for so many years was this institution built up around them. People don’t need to pick up on every last nuance within an 800 page book to enjoy it and take something away from it.

The same goes for classical music, which I didn’t grow up around, yet I came to have a love for it as well. I wrote about this extensively in another post.

But I had to find a love for these things all on my own. None if these institutions which wall-in these precious jewels introduced me to them. Much the opposite — they made them seem foreign.

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Gettting Rid of Things, Minimizing and Downsizing My Life

Having too much stuff is overrated and feels like a burden to me at this point in my life. A good example of this is my three computers. At home I have two main desktops, but one of these is turned on for only a few days each month when I download stuff, my main desktop is on for a few hours a week when I do my budgeting, write in my journal and do general backups. On a day-to-day basis I use a little laptop for reading, listening to music and surfing the internet. I know I don’t need this many computers, and it makes it difficult to keep up with things. My main desktop has two internal hard drives and two externals, for a sum total of 6 hard drives between them all, and stuff can sometimes be scattered far and wide.

I think we acquire stuff because it seems like a good deal at the time. Thrift store finds are a great example. I have six bookcases full of books, and 99% of them were purchased used. I’d find a book that I knew was $25 online for $1 at a thrift store and feel overjoyed. It sounds like a goo deal, but only is if I really intended on reading it to begin with! You put it on a shelf and tell yourself, “I’ll get to it.” But do I need a copy of “The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson” when they’re free online, and I rarely read them to begin with?

Having too much stuff makes moving a lot harder. It’s a burden the same way that a ball and chain is. Stuff starts to own you. If you’ve got too much stuff you know you can’t do things, so you don’t even consider certain options.

Then there’s the dilemma of, “but I paid good money for this, I can’t just get rid of it!” If the money argument doesn’t convince, a final plea might be, “I MIGHT use this bike attachment someday, even if I only ride a bike maybe ten times a year!” “Sure, this book has sat on my shelf unread for five years, but who knows?” Once you’ve acquired something, paid for it, now it’s hard to get rid of it. It’s there, staring you in the face, it becomes familiar, it’s something you have to think about.

Let’s take this in another direction, away from physical things. I’m what I call a “digital hoarder.” I’ve got around 5,000 old films, primarily recorded off TCM to DVD. I’ve got somewhere around 60,000 comic books and pulp magazines in electronic format that take up about 270 DVDs. I’ve got over 100,000 old radio dramas which fit on around 250 DVDs. Of course, these will all fit on a few thousand DVDs (often more than one film per disc) so they’re not taking up a lot of physical space, but here it’s not about the physical space. The problem is trying to keep up with and organize it all. You can start to get “information vertigo,” there’s just so much there it’s overwhelming.

I’ve always heard how liberating it is to un-clutter your life, but there comes to question: what to get rid of and what to keep? For example, even though I don’t play my classical guitar much anymore, I don’t think I could ever part with it willingly. Too many memories there. I have a large collection of folklore books that I want to keep, some of which I’ve had since I was a child. Some things are just hard to let go, they feel like such a part of your life that you would almost be losing a part of yourself by getting rid of them.

On the other hand our digital age makes getting rid of things easier. I’ve got too many CD’s, they’re all ripped to lossless format and backed up so I can listen to them on the computer. I could get rid of many of those without much thought. The same goes for a lot of books I’ve got in eBook format now.

Luckily I have far-less stuff than most American’s do, and I came to this realization about the “costs” of stuff early. I’m good about clothing, I have only a few pieces of clothing that don’t get worn at least once a year and I have only two pairs of shoes, one for every day, one for “dressing up.” I don’t own a home, so I don’t have a ton of furniture. I think it’s a process, try to pare something off on a day-to-day basis.

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