Sunday, October 30, 2016

My New Novel, Horror Films, Self-Pormotion and War

See that little image over there to the right of the screen? It’s right below where it asks for you to subscribe to my mailing list (which I’m sure you've already done so that you can get notices of new releases and sometimes free stuff. It’s really worth it and I promise not to bother you more than once or twice a year). That picture of a book cover with the title Shell Shock signifies that I have released my 5th novel. Quite a small and unassuming little image, hidden away on an almost unknown blog-site.

And yet to me it signifies the result of all my spare energies for over a year now. It signifies a heck of a lot of research into areas that showed in gory detail some of the bleaker aspects of humanity. That’s what I do, I stare into the abyss and try to bring forth hope from it. I think that’s the essence of the horror genre, at least for me: to stare into the darkness and see something other than what our fears awaken in us. To shine the light into the dark places rather than turn away and pretend the darkness doesn’t exist.

Horror to me is not a means of distracting myself from reality. I remember as a child peering through slightly-parted fingers at many a movie that both terrified and excited me. Perhaps my favorite story was that of Frankenstein. The story has been told many times and often the creature was not always called Frankenstein, but the similarities were there. A scientist, who is blind to everything except his ability to do what no one has done before, creates an abomination. Through genius and hubris he brings to life something God and nature never intended. The creature, ill-equipped for the world, becomes a monster through no fault of its own and must be destroyed.

There were lessons to be drawn from such stories, lessons that have always stayed with me. One important lesson I learned from such stories was that the monster was not really the monster, that he was an object of pity who may have harmed others but did so not because he was evil but because he was misunderstood and ill-fashioned for the world he was brought into. I could even feel pity for the creator of such a being, because his intentions were ambitious and noble, though they were taken too far.

The other lesson I learned from the Frankenstein story—whether the monster went by the name of Godzilla, The Amazing Colossal Man, The Fly, or countless other movies—was that the use of technology always brought with it unintended consequences, that there were powers too great for man to control. They warned against the perils that our technological progress would bring with it, warned against the sin of too-great pride and self-importance.

Pity for others and humility in oneself. Not bad lessons to be learned from works of horror. You see, not all horror stories need be escapist, in fact the best ones aren’t. The best ones don’t end up distracting you from what you fear but causing you to look at what most frightens you so that you can overcome it. That’s what I try to write, about real-life problems we would rather not face head-on. That’s where horror lurks in real-life, in those problems we stuff into our subconscious because we don’t feel brave enough or strong enough to overcome them. They become monsters there, always lurking in the darkness to pounce upon us in our moment of weakness. I deal with them through fiction so that perhaps the reader will dare to chance a peek at them even as they cover their eyes. That maybe what we fear is not insurmountable and we are in fact capable of perceiving it for what it truly is and perhaps even be stronger in the end for having dared.

But I’ve strayed far from my original intention, which was to announce the release of my new novel, Shell Shock, and have you sign up for my mailing list. For all of my high-minded talk, I’m still just a writer who’d like to be read and perhaps even rewarded a little for my efforts, however modestly. But there is more to it than just that, as you will see when you crack open one of my books. The monster I deal with in Shell Shock is war, and it kills more than Jason, Freddy, Godzilla, Dracula, The Wolfman, and every-zombie-that-ever-was combined. There’s an element of Frankenstein in it too, in that man has managed to create horrors with technology he never should have toyed with.

While I have employed supernatural aspects in Shell Shock, I assure you the horror is all too real and 100% man-made. And if we try to avoid it, if we shove it deep into our sub-conscious, it will fester and grow in the darkness until one day it eats us in our sleep.

Monday, October 24, 2016

What if?

What if today we decided to act not upon our fears, our hatred or our ignorance but instead acted in love, faith, and an earnest desire to know the truth? What if we were to stop hiding and face the world as it is, knowing that however dark the situation might be, we can still bring to it our own light for others to see, however humble it might be?

What if, when we fall short of these goals, we permit ourselves to forgive ourselves? And when we fail, what if we were to get back on our feet, brush ourselves off, and begin again, a little wiser from our failures? In that way we would also be able to forgive others who have disappointed us, knowing that to err is human. We would then not need to believe that every time someone acted in a way that disappointed us we need take it as a personal affront. They are human, we are human. We are imperfect but capable of much good despite our imperfections. In short, we could believe in others and ourselves more than we have ever allowed ourselves to believe before.

What if we continued to focus upon a great and glorious future for mankind, knowing there is no other path that does not lead to darkness? I know, we’ve been down that path so many times and so many times we’ve been disillusioned. But that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? The path towards victory is littered with so many defeats both big and small. But it would be cynical and lazy for us to say it is hopeless to try. It is disingenuous to say we have not had our successes in making the world a better place. Perhaps we are not where we intended to be but that doesn’t mean we are not on the path. We have no way of knowing how much further we have to go but we are pretty aware of what the cost of failure will be. But knowing the dangers and the costs of failure, we need not dwell on them. If we are to succeed, we must set aside our concerns of such things and concentrate on moving forward.

The start of any accomplishment begins with a commitment. The start to a better world requires that we make a choice, and then pursue it without wavering at every small setback. The climb is rough, no doubt. But the view from the summit will be beyond any imagining.

To turn away from the fight is to turn away from the sacrifices of those who came before us. We stand on the shoulders of giants, we have in our reach the dream Martin Luther King Jr. knew he would not see but worked so valiantly and faithfully towards. So many have given their lives so that we could be where we are now, people who had a bright shining dream of what humanity is capable of, what we can be, will be someday, because we appreciated their efforts, their vision, their love of life.

But we must see such greatness within ourselves as well. We must see that we are all made of the same stuff as our heroes. They possessed nothing that we ourselves do not have, which made their accomplishments all the more remarkable. They were not idols to be worshipped but role models to be emulated. We all have a role to play, we all must do our part. Also, we must accept that others will do their part. Perhaps they need us to be their role models. Perhaps we can influence them. We must not wait around until we are certain everyone is doing their part, we must trust, we must believe. For only in trusting and believing will we ever have the strength to do our part.

This is not some adolescent fantasy I am putting forth, but in fact the very blossoming of our most mature human attributes. We’ve already tried the simplistic desire for a better world. The 1960’s was a time when we tested our immature beliefs in a better world. It has failed, it will always fail. That’s because we need to approach humanity’s future with all of the attention and commitment that we use when approaching personal goals. We must look out for each other the way we look out for family because in a very real way we are family to each other. Every day we have the opportunity to play the role of father, mother, sister or brother to those we meet.

Perhaps it is the very brightness of the possibility that causes some to turn their head away. Sometimes we are afraid to dream because we are afraid of failing. The cost of failure is so very great. The reward for success, too, is immense. We fear to begin, fear the task that is placed upon each of us as individuals. We are mere children, being pushed to stand on our own two feet. We often become frightened and wish to regress, wish to allow our parents to take care of us. But we have no parents, have no institutions nor benevolent leaders to do the hard work for us. We must do it. Ourselves. Each must stand on his own two feet.

But not alone. Each of us has each other. Each of us has a world of caring, loving, adults willing to not merely take care of their own interests but also to take care of the greater society of which we are all a part. We will each of us stumble, but others will be there to help us up. We will each of us see others stumble, but we will not permit their weakness to be a reason for us to despair or desert the path. We will find the strength within ourselves to set the example for others, even as we will surely find so many reasons to find inspiration in the actions and behavior of others. Of this one thing I assure you: you will find others whose work, effort, faith and bravery will humble you, will make whatever efforts you have put into this life seem light. But it need not be a competition, rather it will be a process of learning and discovery. We learn from the good in everyone, appreciate and celebrate the good deeds and accomplishments of the humblest among us.

Is this not a worthwhile way to live one’s life? Is this not the kind of world view that would bring out the best in all of us? What more valuable things can we pursue in life than peace, love, and understanding? Yes, the idea comes from a somewhat naïve era, but it was a very idealistic one. It was an era that was unafraid to reach out and explore new ideas, break new ground. The ideas that were born of that era were born weak and vulnerable, but they were born. Since that time, they have been battered and abused, been subject to all the nastiness that the world has to offer. They have been tested but still they endure. Though born puny and helpless, they have survived and grown stronger despite what the world has attempted to hurl at them. They survive, and they survive because they are strong and they are true. Peace. Love. Understanding. Hope, too. Let us add that because perhaps there was not enough of that the first go round. And lastly, let us add faith. Faith is the critical piece. Faith is a choice and we must choose. Faith is the piece of the puzzle only adulthood can give. Faith is commitment. Faith is living one’s life in accord with one’s beliefs and principles. Faith is choosing the road that leads to where you want to go and abandoning lesser avenues.

I have faith, in myself, and in you. I have faith in us, in humanity. I have faith because it is the only serious, mature answer one can have to the serious problems that face us. Doubt will not save us, it will only lead us back to the same bad habits that have brought us to this dangerous point we are now at. Doubt born of fear makes us abandon the idea of unity, makes us fracture into warring tribes that destroy rather than create. Doubt leads us to create walls rather than bridges. It is a juvenile reaction to the very real problems that we must deal with as mature adults. It is time.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pig Ethics

People today claim that we are now a nation without morals. A nation not only without morals but utterly lacking in ethics, principles, pride, shame, or standards. That is not true. We are not lacking in any of those, we have merely replaced the ones we once had with new ones. In place of communal values, in place of religious values, those sort of values passed down to us from generation to generation, we now have capitalist values. They are what Jack London referred to as pig-ethics, an ethical code that dictates that whatever pig can eat the most from the trough is the winner.

Let’s strip it of all makeup and finery, let’s remove the lipstick from the pig. Pure and simple, they are the ethics of the capitalists. It is the ethics of profit über alles. It justifies everything in the name of making money, opposes all values that stand in the way of profit. There is no human interaction they do not wish to make a financial transaction where someone can profit. Letting you hold your child after he or she is delivered? There’s a charge for that.

That’s why the common well has been replaced with bottled water. It is why women fifty years ago were urged to use formula rather than breast-feed. It is why marijuana is illegal while pharmaceutical companies rush to make synthetic equivalents.

The idolatry of capitalism—idolatry, it is the most accurate word I can think of to describe our relationship to capitalism—states that anything is justifiable if it was done in the pursuit of profit. Evict an old woman from her home? Hey, she was standing in the way of a business deal. Deprive health care to a child? Look, if we didn’t, the whole system would break down.

We believe that it is only under this ideology that industry can prosper. It is only by this ideology that spirituality can remain unpolluted by do-gooders and well-wishers. Not only do we need to believe in capitalism, we need to believe in it unconditionally. We need to strip from it any other consideration in the same way Hitler wished to strip from the German bloodline any traces of impurity. This will be the surest way of preserving our environment and our natural resources. It is the answer for everything.

Why do we think this way? Because capitalism is not merely an economic system, it is a values system. We cannot be capitalists without accepting the values of capitalism. They seep into our religious ideals, they affect our art, they even affect family life. We live in a society where both parents work away from their children and expect people to raise them for money. We expect commercial television to amuse them but instead it indoctrinates them into being good consumers. We are unable to give them the time and attention we know they need and so instead we buy for them the things television is telling them they need.

Take a look at look at Donald Trump as the perfect example of capitalist principles in their purest form. He is a success because he has money. There is no other reason for calling him a success. Absent money or the ability to create money from business transactions, what does he add to humanity? Does he expand human understanding? Does he do good for the environment or contribute to the arts? There is no other reason why people would invite him to party let alone consider him worthy of the presidency. In every way he personifies the crude values corporate television displays for us. People, especially females, are commoditized, their value measured in the same manner of a cut of meat in the butcher’s window.

Not only does capitalism not factor in human values, it doesn’t even factor in human beings. So long as a person does not have money, he does not exist. Democracy is based on the idea of one vote per person but capitalism states that we vote with our money. And if we have none, well I guess we’re not allowed into the voting booth.

Capital doesn’t mind if a person is replaced by a machine. If the job can be done more cheaply, so much the better. Capital doesn’t care if all people are replaced by machines while billions starve outside the artificial environment of supply and demand. Machines, after all, are much more reliable than people, much more suited to the system capitalism demands. Capital doesn’t care if it is funneled into the hands of a few wealthy individuals, doesn’t care if machines are used or if people are turned into machines. Humans have no more implicit value than animals do in a capitalist system, and a quick glance of a slaughterhouse video on YouTube will give you some indication of how much animals are valued. In fact, people are worth less than animals in a capitalist system because nobody is willing to pay money for chopped up people the way they do ground beef. Only the unborn have value, and that for their stem cells.

The mineral worth of the human body is approximately $1. That, to capitalism, is the value inherent in a human life. Beyond that a person must either have capital or be capable of producing capital for someone else. If one has capital, he is therefore a part of the system even if he does nothing good for anyone else. If one has capital, he is admired, even if his insatiable need for more disproportionately uses and poisons the limited resources of our planet.

Will capitalism and the free market have a part to play in the world to come? That is not the question we should be asking. The question is, if only the values and interests of the free market are given voice and power—and that is increasingly becoming the case—will we even have a future at all? If the health of our economy is measured by how much fuel we burn up and by how much we are able to consume, what kind of future are we headed toward?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Shell Shock: A Final Passage Before Its Release

This passage relates the horrors and madness of World War I, a horror from which we have yet to draw the appropriate conclusions:

He had read The Star Rover not long ago, a recent novel by Jack London. London had described a prisoner bound tightly by a device not unlike the one he had about himself now. The severity of his constriction forced the character in the novel to turn inwards, explore the universe within and find liberation. Whether it was insanity or revelation, he felt his capacity to rise above the body Dr. Crenshaw had sought to restrain.
Some part of Doug knew the causes for his mental state. It was some mixture of hypnotism, drugs, electric shock, and the constriction of the jacket. But the combination was squeezing him out of the body he was intended to inhabit.

Free from any identity, he was more aware of a larger consciousness. He was more than an individual. He sensed the group consciousness that existed within the asylum, like the blood of a community that dripped from solitary souls and coalesced in a draining pool.

A mass of traumatized soldiers existing in an institution that sought to cure what it did not understand. All the power of the analytical mind attempting to understand its shadow, the unconscious. The cold, calculating logic of science seeking answers to the random death and destruction of modern warfare. To that end they applied powerful drugs and electrical currents to force men to conform to the rules science sought to apply to realms it had no business contemplating. Doug could feel it, the effects of war upon the human psyche, upon its very soul. It was an illness, a bacteria that fed upon the spirit, spread like a plague throughout humanity. It tore apart men’s psyches as it did their bodies. It was not merely a phenomenon but a living, screeching demon.

And doctors sought to understand it! Better they should send witch doctors to help mend soldiers whose souls were blackened by war, men sent to deal with the problems of a world incapable of solving its own spiritual darkness.

He felt it, isolated cells containing truths no one wanted to know. For the world to hear what they had to say would be to admit the truth of its own sins. These inmates were the sacrificial lambs sent to the holocaust to appease an unholy god. They alone looked into the darkest depths of humanity’s soul, they alone were not permitted to look away. They found what redemption they could in the love of their comrades, and when they came home no one wanted to know what revelations they had seen.

He felt it, a thousand souls in anguish, augmented with the insanity that had existed at Barrett Greens Asylum since its inception. He felt, sensed it, saw it and smelled it. My God, the smell. He was surrounded by the hell experienced by others. The collective consciousness of those who had been bathed in war and would forever carry its stench.

He was floating again, gazing down upon a scene created from the synthesized subconscious of those residing in the asylum. He stared at what appeared to be a deep gash of a wound with vast amounts of blood spilling from it. Then the picture slowly altered so that the slit was the opening of a mouth, surrounded by red lips that smiled at him. The smile was terrifying, a red laugh of one whose lips were stained by blood. The mouth seemed to open and he felt himself falling towards it as it waited to devour him as it had so many others. Within the mouth he could see the desecrated bodies of others it had already chewed up and ingested.

As he neared it he saw he was falling to the earth, as if the earth itself meant to swallow him up. At last his senses adjusted until he understood what it was he saw, a trench hastily dug into the earth, a field of red poppies in bloom about it.

His senses floated slowly downward, until like fireworks exploding, they shattered into myriad pieces and fell to earth. Each of them an individual in the vast war machine that sought to grind them into the same pulp.
He was a thousand soldiers, each experiencing the same hell, each intent on survival at all costs, like gladiators in an arena. He was an underage boy who had lied to a draft board that was willing to look the other way in order to meet its quota. He was a father of seven children, who had joined in order to provide the steady income he could not find at home. He was a million men, each with a story and a reason for living. Each of them called to him, wanting to tell him his story, a story they dared not even tell themselves. The voices pulled at him, overwhelmed him until he accepted their invitations to look for a moment from each of their eyes.

Nearby birds chirped, while somewhere down the line distant artillery could be heard. The heat of a mid-morning sun had already started its work of drying the muddy ground and puddles that formed in the 
cratered earth.

His clothing was soaked from last night’s rain, unbearably sticky in the sun’s rays, his feet rotting in boots that never dried.

In front of him, had he dared look, were the bodies of his comrades who died in their last attempt at overcoming the enemy, their bodies not yet retrieved from the battlefield. So thickly did they line the ground he felt he could walk from his trench to the enemy’s without ever stepping foot on bare earth. Behind him, not more than twenty yards, were the graves of those buried from the attack before that. The trench itself had been dug through some previous graveyard, so that here and there in the trench a rotted limb or scrap of clothing could be seen in the wall, dead comrades still unable to flee the battleground.

A cloud of flies rose and drifted its way toward him in the stagnant air. They carried with them the stench of the corpse they had been feasting upon. Upon the dead soldiers armies of insects fed and bred. Flowers grew upon the shallow graves, receiving nourishment from the dead. Rats too feasted and grew fat on the carnage. Everywhere those that fed on death ate at soldiers whose lives were wasted on futile attacks.

Further down the line, where the sound of shelling was deafening. Soldiers gripping their legs tightly, the noise so loud that communication with one another was impossible. Each soldier was left alone with his own thoughts, each as isolated from each other as if they were locked away in dank dungeons. There was no action to perform to increase one’s chance of survival, one only had to endure. Looking at other soldiers he noticed them all shrunken within themselves, crying like children with no mother to comfort them.

Still further down. The call to go over the top is given, and thousands crawl out the trench they had up until then been afraid to peer over. They run into a barrage of machine gun fire, a hundred yards away from the enemy trench. They run until they drop one by one or dozens at a time. They run until all that they are is a single soldier who by some miracle of fate is left standing. He runs alone until he is caught in the barbed wire in front of the enemy’s trenches. There he sits, unable to move, awaiting the bullets that will silence the terror that is screaming in his soul.

His consciousness is in touch with the stories of all who have experienced the horror of it all. One after another they seek to tell their tale. Each screaming to be heard, to be free from the isolation the war has inflicted upon them, each a private hell. No one can understand except those who have been there, those who know. No one would ever permit themselves to understand, no one would ever willingly look.

The stories played themselves out in his mind, one after another, a limitless supply of witnesses to the ultimate madness. Each vying for his attention, each wanting to bear witness to what he had seen, voices crying out in an attempt to make themselves heard over the exploding bombs.

The noise inside his head increased. He could hear the screaming of soldiers until it became as loud as the artillery, until it became the artillery. The fear that welled up inside helpless individuals became so strong that it created a means of making itself heard. It created institutions to give itself voice, and these institutions contrived the weapons that gave them power.

But the weapons that gave power to some became the instruments of torture to those who had to face such weapons, until an ecosystem of death, not life, was created. Here the blood of soldiers dripped from bodies to collect in shell holes. Here was a chaos without explanation—one could experience but never give meaning to it. One could never understand why one’s brother died while another survived.