Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My (anti)ghost story

Some of my friends and I were talking about brushes we've had with the supernatural. While I've seen some things I don't know the precise cause of, I can't say I've ever seen anything the least bit supernatural.

This is the story, as best as I can remember it: two of my buddies and I were in an old house in the early evening. It was abandoned and condemned - I mean, it had actual "Condemned" signs on it and everything - but we went in anyway because it looked haunted and, honestly, we kind of wondered if there was any cool stuff in there.

Looking back now, I'm reasonably certain that whoever did the art for the first sections of Silent Hill must've been in the same place because it was a special kind of creepy. On the first floor, there was a bedroom that has been completely trashed. Wallpaper torn off in strips and ribbons, drywall with great long gashes in it, and a mattress in the middle of the floor stained rust-red.

The next room was, if anything, worse. It reeked of mold and decay and there were piles of rat feces all over the place. We moved through the rest of the horror-show in silence until we got to the upstairs floor. One of my buddies began to tell the story he'd heard about how a woman had been murdered by her husband in the room downstairs. As the shadows grew longer, he kept up the story, filling in gruesome details by the dozen.

Then we came to the bathroom. The boards were cracked and up at angles. The walls were thick with mildew. The roof overhead had a great gash in it and through it piss-yellow water poured into the tub, rolling out and over the floor. Here's where I saw something the other guys didn't that changed the way we saw what happened afterwards. I booked it downstairs, a shrieking scream behind me.

One of the guys yelled, "It's the ghost! It's the ghost!", and they were both running for the door. When we ran past the bedroom, the shadows about to turn to twilight, we risked a glimpse inside. My buddies later swore that they saw the outline of a woman, arm outstretched, standing in the middle of the room.

The experience was terrifying for all three of us. My two buddies spread the story of the time we ran away from a poltergeist across town. When I returned from college, I went to an event at the town high school and overheard kids talking about a haunted house on same road as this abandoned house. I'm pretty sure it was the same one.

Here's what I saw. I lagged behind the others, and I saw when the bathtub broke through the floor and lurched to the side, sending a crack from wall to wall. It had been a very rainy spring and the floor gave way, the sound of the wood cracking making a loud, high-pitched noise like a scream. When I ran past the bedroom, I saw a giant piece of plaster, about the height of a woman, falling to the ground.

It might not have been a ghost, but to this day I hate it when I step on a creak step.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spay or neuter your pets - and don't forget to vaccinate your kids

Growing up, I remember watching The Price is Right more often than is probably healthy. I rarely watched it at home. It was usually at my girlfriend's house or something, but one of the things I remember - that most people remember - is Bob Barker reminding people to spay or neuter their pets.

It was good advice. We had mostly male cats growing up, and it saved on cleaning up after spraying. What females we had, we never had to worry about ending up with a mittful of kittens we couldn't get rid of. It's a surgical procedure, and it comes at some risk to the animal, but the end results justified it. It just made life a little easier, a little more convenient.

Cats - feral cats, specifically - can be a potent vector for disease. They're also, well, cats, and packs of wild creatures roaming the city streets could get dangerous for dogs, others pets and even small children. Read any book on feral animal packs and you'll inevitably come to a chapter on the horrible things that packs of feral domestics can come up with the keep themselves entertained. In these situations, routine spaying and neutering pets doesn't just make life a little easier, it can save lives.

Vaccination has of late unfortunately become regarded as something that we do as a matter of convenience, because parents just don't want to deal with a child have measles, the mumps or chicken pox. And it's also become demonized, the risks of vaccination blown vastly out of proportion and distorted beyond recognition with the actual underlying science.

Lately, there have been reports of schools closing due to high rates of pertussis. Measles is being reported for the first time in decades. Herd immunity is being damaged by parents and caregivers who believe that vaccines cause autism, that they contain aborted fetus DNA, that they have dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

Yes, vaccination carries risk. There can be serious side effects, and you should discuss vaccination with your doctor, as should anyone seeking medical treatment for a child, but please, consider carefully whether you want the higher levels of infant mortality and child mortality of yesteryear to return.

And, no, I'm not saying that kids are only as important as your pets. I know for myself that my boys are much more important to me, but it is precisely because of this that I want to do everything I can to protect them, and vaccination is a way to keep them safe that has been proven safe and effective.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Vincent and the Dweller (Doctor Who spoilers ahoy)

I started this blog, what, two days ago, and already it’s having an effect. Okay, so the effect is on my son who doesn’t know I have blog and likely wouldn’t or couldn’t read it even if he did, but it’s still pretty cool.

Graeme, my oldest boy, has been interested in Impressionists and Impressionism lately. He describes as, “painting what your mind remembers and not just what your eyes are seeing,” which is a pretty darned brilliant way of summing it up. He just likes looking through books of art right now and isn’t especially interested in knowing about technique and art history and such, which is fine as I’m pretty poor at both and I’m just happy that his interest in art is expanding out from comic books.*

In the interests of furthering his artistic education, my wife and I decided to watch “Vincent and the Doctor,” an episode from last season in which the great Vincent Van Gogh** teams up with the Doctor and his companion, Amy Pond, to stop a rampaging alien. No, really, that’s the plot.

As with many of the “Doctor Who Meets Dead Famous People” episodes, this tends to be either a much beloved or greatly hated episode without a great deal of middle ground. After about half a dozen viewings, I find myself occupying that rare middle ground – the pacing is wonky in spots and, given how few episodes they had to work with, it would’ve been nice to see the episode tie into the season’s overall plot at least a little bit. I do still love this as a portrayal of an emotionally damaged and reclusive artist, complete with depressive and manic episodes, and thought it would be good for Graeme to be able to see someone like this – talented, but deeply flawed.

He enjoyed the episode immensely, more for the Doctor’s funny lines and the alien monster than anything else, and has asked to watch more, which is something I’ll definitely consider.

Last night, as I put him down to bed, I noticed that he seemed quite upset. He wasn’t crying or anything, just a little misty-eyed and distant. The monster was decently scary and he has a limited tolerance for such things, so I began by dealing with it as directly as I could: “Graeme, was that monster a bit too scary for you?”

“No,” he said, “He was just so sad.”

I really hadn’t expected this, so I asked him to explain. Graeme did, recapping the climax of the episode when the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to stop the creature. The creature is weak, though, and old and blind besides and his attempt to stun it proves to be a fatal blow. As the creature lies dying, it says that it’s scared and along and both Vincent and the Doctor try to comfort it as it dies.

I hadn’t thought too much of the scene at the time – it’s pretty much standard, “’Twas beauty that killed the beast,” twaddle that conveniently ignores the grief felt by the families of those slain by the creature – but the Doctor’s actions had more than one unintended consequence. Graeme had a “Maris moment.”

He knew that the creature was vicious and violent, but he also knew that it was intended to be vicious and violent. It was a predator, a hunter, a killer, and when it killed it was just doing the thing that its physiology and inner nature demanded of it. He talked at some length about how the creature’s death made him feel, and talked in the manner of eight-year-olds with long run-on sentences and awkward, fumbling efforts to clearly explain complex moral conundrums, all while trying not to cry, but two things stuck out.

First was his idea for a movie about a pack of troodons being unleashed in a mall at Christmas time. This move NEEDS to happen, people. I’m thinking Corin Nemec in the lead. Working titles include “Jurassic Mall” and “Dino-Christmas.”

Second, at one point he said, “Even if it was a monster, it shouldn’t have to die alone and scared like that.”

I don’t what to do with that. As an ethical statement, it’s simplistic and na├»ve, but there’s no real substantive argument against it that I’ve been able to find. I know for myself that there are certain people that I feel, in the darker parts of my heart, should die alone and afraid, but when I look closely at those people and those feelings, I find I can’t really sustain it with anything other than the simple desire to see someone else suffer as I believe I’ve suffered. It’s transparently either vengeance or bloodthirstiness.***

I think knew this already, but it was old knowledge, the sort of thing that gets dusty and underused when one lives in a society where vengeance and bloodthirstiness are hardly a part of one’s daily waking life. I’m not talking about wanting the college kids next door to get tinnitus as punishment for their raucous, late-night festivities or your sincere desire that your neighbour’s lawn should be infested with a rare and vicious species of weevil when comes and yells at your lawn being in disrepair. I’m talking eye-for-an-eye stuff where the actual loss of eyes might seem legally appropriate.

Still and all, my desires for vengeance may be petty, but they are still desires I would like to expunge. Or, failing that, understand and control. Thanks, Graeme. I look forward to learning more from you.

* Not that there’s anything wrong with liking comic books or comic book art – I am a fan myself, but comic books are only one kind of art and it’s a bad thing to be limited in one’s vision.

** Yes, Van Gogh's an Expressionist. You're very clever. Now shaddup.

*** Incidentally I understand and respect that monsters, of both the human and alien varieties, will often die alone and scare because of their nature. It’s hard for others to get close to these rude beasts, and as a consequence, they often meet their end alone. And I can’t help but think that someone truly monstrous, who regards all of reality as something that exists just for them, could be anything but terrified when their time comes. After all, if they are all that matters, then when they die, it’s the death of everything that’s real.  I’m not proposing a national Hospice for Hitler program, but someone being horrible shouldn’t automatically mean that you receive no compassion in death.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Care and Keeping of Your Dweller in Darkness - Part 1: The Synapses

The announcement of my . . . enblogification* was met with a good number of my online friends sharing stories about how hearing one song can lead them to get another song stuck in their head. This is a very, very familiar sensation.

My long-suffering wife, Christy, has become to accustomed to my sudden changes in thought pattern, and they are not limited to musical. It is not unusual at all to hear me say something like, "Oh, speaking of sugar beets, is Castle a new episode tonight?", leaving her to either just answer the question and assume that there's a perfectly logical, albeit tenuous, connection between Castle and sugar beets, or demand to know what lead from one thing to another. Some days, I still remember by the time she thinks to ask.

I'd say that I make these strange connections perhaps three or four times a day. Is this at all common

Saturday, April 2, 2011

An introduction

So, for years I've had this Xanga blog that I never updated because, well, it was a Xanga blog. I guess at some point it was cutting edge, but now trying to put up a blog post there feels like I'm hewing the thing out of raw wood, sanding it down and putting it up without having a chance to put on a coat of varnish or anything.

So, then someone mentioned Blogger having all sorts of nifty tools, and I thought, "I read blogs and I like Blogger - I can totally do this."

So I am.

The title of the blog comes from the first book I ever fell in love with. I read from an early age, but in grade two, at the tender age of eight, this was the book that I gave myself to, body and soul, the one that changed from from the inside out, from the tips of my toes to the ends of my still-atrocious hair.

The book is "Knee-Deep in Thunder," by Sheila Moon. In the perspective of time I recognize that it is not the best book in the world, but the content changed me utterly. I'd grown up in a very conservative evangelical church where it was made obvious to me from a very early age that there were two groups of people in the world: the Evil and the Good. One of these groups - the Good - would triumph and the Evil would be destroyed, thrown into a lake of fire. If someone was Evil there was nothing you could do about it but hope that by taking about God to them enough, they'd learn not to be evil. The precise mechanism by which this would occur was unclear.

In Sheila Moon's book, a young girl named Maris and her dog, Chiaroscuro, end up in a land right out of Native legend. They and a group of giant insects have to stop a group of great beasts from despoiling the land. In any other book, the plucky young girl would find the weapon that's need to destroy them. In this book, she gets captured by them, barely escapes (losing several friends in the process) and manages to capture them.

After they're captured, there's an effort made to rehabilitate them. I remember being shocked by this. The idea that someone that Evil was even worth saving was remarkable, let along that it was the responsibility of people no greater than I to do so, was a revelation.

There's a lot more I could say here about that and maybe in time I will. I don't know what this blog wants to be about, although for now it looks like it's going to be home to some philosophical meandering. Hopefully there's more exciting stuff on the horizon.

For now, welcome to Maris' Vision. Please wipe your feet on the mat.