We’re All Wee Beasties: The Beauty of Halloween

Halloween

Don’t worry, this is not a rant about the plague of tarty costumes out there (although I’d like to throw Sexy Tapeworm and Sexy Rototiller into the list of options). It’s not a culinary review of trends in candy, or a cautionary tale about finding razor blades in apples.

This is an ode to Halloween, my very favourite holiday. It has the communal feel of Thanksgiving, the pageantry of Christmas, and the sugar highs of Easter. It’s easy-going and fun, just one evening of merriment and chocolate. All good things, but that’s not why I like it.

I think that on Halloween, we are at our most honest. Okay, that sounds a little weird, seeing as we run around in masks and capes, striving to look like anything but ourselves. Nonetheless, you can tell a lot about a person from their choice of theatrical garb. On Halloween, more than any other day, we dress to tell the world who we really are, or at least who we’d like to be. Over the course of my childhood, I temporarily disguised myself as a rabbit, a gypsy, a punk, a ghoul…all welcome changes from the shy, nervous little critter I was most days. When I got older, I was a glittering, winged fairy, cupid, a Star Trek officer, a cave woman, Queen of the Ocean, and Cleopatra. I think I may have once been half of Milli Vanilli, but we won’t speak of that. On each occasion, I was powerful, mystical, and unique, everything that I knew I could be the rest of the year, if only figuratively. I’m far too big to beg for candy now, but I still dress up, hoping to manifest some wonderful, but forgotten part of myself.

As for all the decorations, the spooky soundtracks, the ghost stories, the horror movies, that’s part of the honesty of Halloween too. Human beings, despite all of our good points, are just a little creepy. Most of us wear our weirdness in an innocent way. Call us amusingly quirky or eccentric. For most of the year, we strive to be “normal”, but at Halloween, we embrace our weirdness and praise others for embracing their own. For one night, we accept and celebrate that our species is far from perfect, and we dress accordingly. For me, this is what the fuss is all about.

The fun-size candy bars don’t hurt either.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Storytelling, Mystique, and the Digital Age


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Not too long ago, I heard someone (probably my age) talking about how happy they were that they were young before the days of social media. In the dark ages, we were free to be a little stupid without it being documented, circulated, and preserved for all time. Back in the day (ugh, am I really old enough to say that?), youthful adventures were preserved only through rumour, gossip, and bragging. Our stories were chock full of “if only we’d known”. If only we’d known it was past curfew. If only we’d been able to check someone’s facebook page to see if they were actually single, before we started flirting with them. If only…

We didn’t know it at the time, but we were part of a long tradition of blissful ignorance. Stories, both factual and fictional, hinged on all sorts of well-intentioned players who didn’t know squat, but went on with their business, regardless. We couldn’t text each other, google each other, and unless we were near a landline, we couldn’t call each other either. We were at the mercy of the whim of the universe.

Let me make it clear that I’m not a technophobe. I am typing this on an electronic device, and I will be using other modern technology to post it, tweet it, and generally annoy people with it. I’m all about little things that light up and make noise. But I do miss the grey areas that existed before they became part of daily existence. I think stories, both real and fictional, were a little more interesting before we knew everything about each other, all the time.

Case in point: Romeo and Juliet. If ever there were a tale with more bad-timing, misinformation, and “if only I’d known” in it, I’ve never heard it. Can you imagine it happening the way it did if Romeo had been given an unlimited data plan and a smart phone? He would have known who the strange girl at the party was, her relationship status, etc. Juliet would have known the same. They might not have bothered with one another at all. No running around behind parents’ backs, no missed messages, no death. No story, actually. Pretty flipping dull.

Come on, you’ve thought this too, at some point, maybe while watching a movie, or on those days when it seems like your whole house is buzzing with messages from people who need something from you. Haven’t you ever wanted to be goofy in public without fear of it being broadcast? People complain about their privacy having disappeared in the 21st century, but maybe the bigger loss has been our sense of mystery. Ignorance is indeed sometimes bliss, and we don’t get a whole lot of it anymore. Too often, we have the universe shoved in our faces all at once, instead of getting to sit back and letting it unfold a little at a time.

It used to be that conflict in stories fell into one of three categories: human vs. human, human vs. environment, and human vs. self. I’d like to propose a new source of conflict, one that might add a little mystique back into our existence, one that will bring back some of the excitement our stories used to have. How about human vs. missing gadgets? What if we focused on what happened when the power went out, when we ran out of minutes, or when our smart phone accidentally fell down a sewer grate?

Once upon a time, there was a person who had no clue…

The Brave Little Blogger: A Fairy Tale for Writers

Hashtag

There once was a brave little blogger with a deadline looming over her head. While she should have been toiling away, weaving her next work of online genius, she was procrastinating. The words she was supposed to be stringing together refused to be tamed, and they swarmed around her heads like flies, buzzing and mocking. Trying to write in earnest (and failing to do so) was doing little for her ego, so she decided to turn her attention to something more mundane, something she knew she could actually accomplish.

Her junk mail folder was bulging and despite the fact that junk mail doesn’t really do much except sit there, she felt compelled to empty the folder. That was something, right?  Ugh. No, it was pathetic, but what the heck. She joked to herself about how adept she was at clearing out junk mail. She was the best darned junk mail clearer-outer ever. She could clear seven bits of junk mail with one click. Now that was amusing…so amusing that she decided to tweet about it, facetiously, of course.

#Seveninoneclick

Those who aren’t trying desperately to procrastinate have the presence of mind to know that stupid stuff like this goes viral all the time. People make all kinds of stupid assumptions about it too. One of those people was her editor, who assumed she meant she’d fired off seven posts in one click. Okay, he didn’t think she’d done it quite that quickly and efficiently, but he did take it to mean that he wasn’t giving her enough to do. So he sent her seven more posts to do…for the end of the following day.

At first, the brave little blogger was mortified. There was no way. Wasn’t gonna happen. But then she slapped herself around a little and reminded herself that this was the 21st Century, and that if you didn’t want anyone online to know that you were a fraud, then there were ways to keep up the charade. It was expected. Seven lattes later, the posts were done and sent out into the universe. Editor appeased, readers fed, happily ever after.

The big problem with going above and beyond is that it soon stops being a novelty and starts being a default setting. Seven blog posts became multiples of seven. Sure, the brave little blogger delivered every one on time, but quality quickly gave way to quantity. Instead of witty observations about life, the universe and everything, her readers were left with mindless banter about low carb diets and the latest celebrity to have a wardrobe malfunction. Sure, she still had a readership- correction, even more of a readership than before, but seven times the posts clearly did not mean she was seven times the wordsmith. She was exhausted. She was bloated and breaking out from all the lattes. She was completely uninspired.

The blogger came clean online. For a week or two, people enjoyed unliking and unfollowing her, leaving trollish comments about her being a negligent snob, but it didn’t matter. Her brain worked best when it wasn’t swatting at seven things at a time, and when she wasn’t humblebragging about things she couldn’t do. First, she’d finish her novel. Then she’d write a collection of poetry. If she wasn’t all wrung out by then, maybe a book for kids, or maybe, just maybe…a how-to manual about avoiding dangerous hashtags.

Doom And Gloom, And All That Good Stuff

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I consider myself a reasonably upbeat, happy person. That’s not to say that I don’t have my moments of pessimism and skepticism (being a philosopher will do that to you), but on the whole, I think life is good. However, I’ve become addicted to a certain genre of storytelling on television, one which seems to go against everything I practice in real life. I love the grumpy stuff, the stuff that features stories of the end of the world and the downfall of humanity. If it’s post-apocalyptic, vampire-ridden, chock full of psychos, or besought by zombies, it’s for me. If it has a healthy dose of satire thrown in (because you really should be making light of things when reality is about to implode), even better.

I know I’m not alone in this simply because of the sheer number of shows being produced in this genre. It seems a lot (maybe most) of us like watching the proverbial brown stuff hit the fan. I’ve read theories from sociologists positing that such stuff becomes popular again when the economy takes a nosedive, or when there is social strife. In such cases, we like to project our collective angst onto characters who represent the bad in us- bloodsuckers, brain-eaters and other parasites. It allows us, even in the very worst of times, to think “Well, I’m out of work, I’m living on canned spaghetti, but at least I’m not being attacked by the undead.” Maybe it’s just good old-fashioned schadenfreude. It’s always more amusing when someone else finds radioactive waste in their back yard and grows an extra spleen.

Interesting theories, but I tend to think our love of such programs stems from something a little more profound. I propose that we’re fascinated by this brand of nastiness because it raises really, really good questions. Allow me to give some examples:

  • If human beings blew up life as we know it, and we had to start over again, what would our new priorities be?
  • Given how humans sometimes behave (even without being bitten by zombies or vampires), how can we distinguish between humans and monsters?
  • What would we be willing to do in order to survive?
  • Could we still find beauty, truth, and love in the midst of so much turmoil?
  • In the face of Armageddon, could we finally get over our collective hang-ups about race, gender, age, etc.?
  • What might the world be like without humans?

This list is just a drop in the bucket. There’s really nothing like getting the crap scared out of you, even if it’s just for an hour at a time, and even if it’s just pretend, to kick-start the philosophical part of one’s brain.

But what about the fact that I’m generally a happy person? How do I reconcile this with my love of TV shows that show the very worst of people and of life in general? Margaret Laurence once said that writing was itself an act of hope, and I tend to see philosophy in the same light. When I’ve stopped questioning things and decided it isn’t worth my while to dig for big ideas, well…you’ll need to check my pulse, in addition to my sense of optimism. Watching post-apocalyptic fare and finding philosophical nuggets may be my declaration that it’s never so bad that you can’t find room to ponder a bit. Hey, if someone’s going to eat my brain, they might as well find it filling.

Here’s to the end of the world as we know it, and to all the deep thoughts it may uncover.