Be Very Afraid. If You Really Like that Sort of Thing.

I have neither the knowhow nor the tangible resources for filmmaking, but if I did, I think my concept of the perfect horror movie subject would be the infamous occasion of Black Friday. As we Americans approach the national holiday I like the most of them all, Thanksgiving, I think with a shudder that Black Friday’s grim shadow lurks just behind it.
For if I have a tender feeling for the holiday that not only marks the anniversary of my first date with my soon-thereafter life partner and makes me immensely thankful for that gift but also marks the national celebration of gratitude in general, I have an almost antithetical feeling about the retail frenzy that follows it. The former only throws the latter into higher, less flattering relief.

I love shopping, don’t get me wrong, but I hate being told how and when to do it, and what or whom for, and to what magnificent extents. I dislike being so easily manipulated by commercial ploys and plugs as it is, and the stink of desperation mixed with hyperbolic greed on Black Friday becomes overwhelmingly off-putting to me.

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What makes us turn into beasts when we get a whiff of the hunt? When a crazy sale is advertised, do I become predator or prey? Or should I just pray?!

There are obviously large numbers of people who are not only comfortable with the event but energized and entertained by the spectacle and Olympian scaled enthusiasm packed into the post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza. I wish them all happiness and success in it. For myself, the greatest pleasure will derive from managing as successfully as I can to not even know it’s happening and staying immersed in the afterglow of my most overtly grateful time of year. Accomplishing that will be yet another reason for me to give thanks.
If I need any diversions during my quiet hideout from Black Friday, I can always work on a script for a rollicking thriller film with plenty of retail rowdiness and gruesome greed. Coming soon to a theatre near you!

Why Wait?

Digital illustration + text: Itch

I hope, at the least, that the ibex lives in Washington state or somewhere it’s been legalized, for it’s rotten enough that Irv’s being such a nuisance makes anyone prone to overindulge in anything at all, let alone that they should get locked up for it. Lousy lizard.

I do realize that it’s a long time yet until St. Patrick’s Day returns, and no, I am not Irish. But sometimes one just needs to emit a silly Limerick or two, and who can stand the suspense of holding off until mid-March? So I’ll just go with the urge—the itch, if you will—and let my Limericks out to play a little early. Or very late, as the case may be.

Digital illustration + text: Quick & the Dead

PS—Foie gras is one of those foods I never had an urge to try, if you happened by here during my Tuesday recitation this week. But it sounded funnier in the Limerick than pâté, even though the latter *looks* cooler with its accents sprinkled on top.

 

And let this be a reminder to all of us to avoid being pests and nuisances to others. As my young nephew once shouted at the screen during an epic animated film in which a number of insects were being exceedingly awful to a number of other insects, “Be NICE, Bugs!” Or you could get in big trouble. Nicer is definitely safer.

The Strangest Kind of Strangers on a Train

The old tale of complete strangers meeting in transit, discovering they have identical problems, and “solving” the problems by trading crimes to eliminate the people they see as the root of their unhappiness, makes for a striking mystery drama, in fiction. Ask Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock fans! But I was reminded recently that we give too little credit to our commonalities as a positive solution to our problems, and end up missing crucial opportunities as a result.

The filmic version takes as its thesis that the two strangers who meet can find not other, or at least no better, solution to the problem of having bad relationships with inconveniently incompatible people than to murder them, and by ‘exchanging’ murders with each other they hope to escape detection by each having no apparent connection to, or a motive for killing, the other’s nemesis.

While this makes for startling and even compelling imagined mystery, it’s horrific if imagined in real terms. Yet we do similar things all the time in this world, don’t we? Because I tend to agree with a particular point of view in general, say, a specific philosophy or political party’s policies, or my country’s traditions, does that mean it’s wise or humane or practical or generous to follow along without question, no matter what my group, party or nation says and does? We mortals are remarkably good at noticing and magnifying our differences, as genuine and large as they may be. But we’re frighteningly weak, in opposing measure, when it comes to recognizing, focusing on, and building upon our true kinship. This, I believe, easily outweighs in both quantity and importance, our separating characteristics. Digital illustration from a photo: Opening Doors

The recent train outing in Sweden that reminded me so pointedly of this also confirmed my belief that it’s an area where youth is wiser than experience. In a railcar where a young father, not a local or a native speaker of the language, was keeping his fifteen-month-old daughter occupied and contented during the trip by helping her practice her tipsy walking, she made her way with his help to where another family, also foreign but not of the same culture as father and daughter, was sitting together. That group was of two adult sisters and their four or five school-age children. The toddler was naturally attracted to the friendly and spirited older children, and as soon as they saw her, they too were enchanted. What followed was perhaps twenty minutes of delighted interaction between them all, with occasional balance aid from Papa and photo-taking by the Mamas. And barely a word was spoken, much less understood by any of the participants, during the entire episode.

The greatest among the many beauties of this endearing one-act was that the conversation essentially began, continued and ended with the kids reaching toward one another with open hands, waving and gesturing and generally putting on an elaborate pantomime together, and above all, giggling and chortling with peals and squeals of ecstatic laughter.

Needless to say, all of us adults in the railcar grinned, giggled, chortled and otherwise became happy kids right along with them. Resistance was an impossibility and a pointless attempt, at that. And isn’t that an excellent lesson for all? Adults are too busy being territorial and fearful and downright feral to remember that the open hand of welcome and sharing is as quickly reciprocated as any gesture, and a smile of greeting and acceptance is contagious beyond any language, age, or cultural barriers. We can nurse our terrors of the unknown as supposed adults, or we can choose to laugh together like children.Digital illustration from a photo: As If in a Mirror

I’m No Coward

Would that I had the blithe wit and urbane persona of a Noël Coward, but alas, I operate on a lower and more plebeian plane. And for those who are keeping score, yes, I am a big chicken, if that’s what you were reading in today’s title. Still and all, I think of myself as being less than hideously fearful when it comes to self-exposure as an artist.graphite drawingThough the upshot of all this may be that my audiences become unwitting consumers of drivel and bilge at least part of the time, I also remind myself that there is some credible evidence, historically speaking, that the greatest masters of the many forms of art are represented in the present age only by those portions of their respective oeuvres that they or others chose to retain. Long have I wished that I might gain access to, if you will, the Rubbish Bins of the Old Masters to see something more accurately representing the whole of the bodies of work that led to the known and treasured glories. So here I am, letting all and sundry look into the underwear drawer of my art closet, so to speak. After all, I think that I’m merely admitting to what my betters may have left to the imagination.digital artworkSo I’ll keep showing off process and behind-the-curtain action from time to time, knowing as I do that not only are folk wonderfully gracious and patient with me even when critiquing but also , and more importantly, that I appreciate those of my fellow artists who are willing to share the same access to their gifts with me. We all have our weaknesses. But when it comes to showing off my work, I’m no coward.

Most Wonderful Time of the Year *

* You may think I’m warming up for my big Christmas caroling solo, but I’m not planning to torture anyone with that, just rejoicing in the anniversary of my #1 sibling’s birth. Happy Birthday, big sister!

photoYour kid sister is mighty happy to celebrate your birth for more reasons than I can begin to count. Nah, let’s go ahead and enumerate awhile.

For starters, there’s the plain friendship and sisterly guidance that have kept me centered, contented and with my head above water and showed me wonderfully how a life of excellence could be lived. There’s your being a fabulous traveling companion throughout not only life but also the world, from our expedition to Europe during our college days to places in the US as exotic as any overseas, and of course in our own hometown. There’s the delight of daily conversation, movie-watching, book-critiquing, dining out, opera-going, and many other kinds of adventures or occasionally misadventures, not all of the latter strictly of my own making, but some of them weirdly wonderful, hilarious and memorable all the same.

photoNow that I, along with flocks of cormorants this winter, have come to roost in Texas, it’s a long way from where you live and I don’t get to see you and give you squishy, ridiculously big hugs to celebrate the day, so I’ll greet you via phone, email, and blog. I’ll wish you a day of great happiness and many, many more to come. And I’ll thank you for all of the loveliness you’ve brought, and continue to bring, to my life.

This year especially, your birthday is not only a most wonderful time, but truly THE most wonderful time. Your birthday is clearly the first day of the rest of our lives for everybody, since apparently the world did not end. So glad the Mayans‘ message was just misread by all the doomsayers, because I look forward to a marvelous 2013 enjoying the marvelous wonderfulness that is my older sister–and many more such years ahead.

Real-Life Mysteries

While I’m on the subject of mystery stories (see yesterday’s post), there’s a true one that I hadn’t ever heard of until recently that almost defies imagination, even generations later. But that’s what true mystery stories do, isn’t it.

The story of a female immigrant serial killer/mass murderer, born in Norway but made in America, was a hideous and irreconcilable tale of horror and crime in the 19th Century and remains one today. Belle Gunness, who is believed to have killed all of her own children, two husbands and a handful of suitors, not to mention an accomplice or two of her own along the way–possibly executing as many as forty people in her lengthy crime spree–is surprisingly little known nowadays. I fear that this may be because we have so many other hideous and oversized monstrosities and real-life mystery stories handy to horrify and mesmerize us that many likely get pushed out of memory by the current ugly news. Undoubtedly the advent of World War I‘s dreadful specter was a factor in overshadowing a single murderer’s story rather immediately on its discovery.

All the same, once I knew of it, I found the woman a compellingly repellant subject for another mystery story illustration, being a subject worthy of an Edgar Allan Poe style drama or, yes, a true-crime cinematic epic. Though it was one of those news stories that ‘rocked the nation’ when uncovered a hundred years ago, the tale of Belle Gunness is relatively obscure nowadays. There have been a few generally tepid and mostly heavily fictionalized stories, books and movies based on the horrors wrought by this one woman’s apparent sociopathy and the trail of blood left in its wake, but it’s remarkable to me that such a grim, terrible story is scarcely known on a wider scale anymore.

Frightening, dark, and perhaps an indictment of the worst of human nature in general, yes–but I think perhaps part of the reason I find mystery stories so gripping is because I think they remind us–again in that somewhat ‘safe’ and detached format of past-history or fiction–that brilliance and the abyss are constantly in conflict in the human heart and only by understanding this and being willing to examine it in ourselves can we have a chance of rising to beauty and shunning the grotesque urges that we might have–and, if we’re truly fortunate, catching up the would-be wrongdoer in humane and forgiving and healing arms before she can ever fall so far. That’s my hopeful fiction, and I’m sticking to it.

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La Belle Dame sans Merci of the prairies, Belle Gunness. What fearful horrors shaped this woman’s inner darkness?

Today, I present Belle Gunness, a truly fallen woman and black widow whose mystery may never be fully unraveled, for your contemplation. May we never see her like again.