Film and horror nerd alert: Miskatonic goes online

Have you ever looked over the lecture offerings at The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies in LA, New York, or London and thought, “Damn, I wish I could go to that!” Conversely, are you going “Wait isn’t Miskatonic a fictional university from the stories of H.P. Lovecraft?” or “What the hell is she on about anyway?”

Well, if you like it when smart people say intellectual things about horror, you might like the lectures that Miskatonic hosts–and while the benefits of COVID have been well, pretty much nil, HERE IS ONE, sort of. I still much prefer things that happen in person, but it’s also cool that the lecture series is going online for the fall semester, and you can sign up for a pass for one city, all cities, or just buy by the lecture (£8 for London lectures and $10 for New York and LA lectures). I’m ridiculously excited that the terrible movie I love beyond all decency, The Dunwich Horror, will be part of a discussion on psychedelic horror, but there are also lectures on Misty and other girls’ British gothic comics, a class on the giallo, one on horror and WWI, the Spanish horror industry against the backdrop of 20th century Spanish politics–in particular the Spanish Civil War–and more. Hurry to get the all cities pass, which is only available for a few days! (Note that this time limit is only for the global pass. You can wait to buy the other tickets although obviously if you want a full pass to a single city’s program, you should buy it before the first class.)

PAY CAREFUL ATTENTION TO TIME AND TIME ZONES. Times listed are local to location, whether London, LA, or NYC.

a chat with Timothy J. Jarvis for Swan River Press

As you may know, Dublin’s Swan River Press publishes an unthemed anthology of strange and unsettling fiction known as the Uncertainties series, and I had the pleasure of editing volume 3. The talented Timothy Jarvis was the editor of Uncertainties 4, and after many delays, pandemic-related and otherwise, Tim and I sat down, virtually speaking, and had a chat about the editing process, the book and many other things. We are quite simpatico in many ways in how we approach this type of fiction, and while we’ve been acquainted in real life for several years, I don’t think we’ve ever appeared together on a panel chatting about this sort of thing, which I would absolutely love to do. Till then, here’s my interview with him in which our topics range from David Lynch to Arthur Machen, surrealist cinema to Alberto Manguel to the destabilizing effects of the pandemic and more. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Links to buy:

Uncertainties volume 1, edited by Brian Showers

Uncertainties volume 2, edited by Brian Showers

Uncertainties volume 3, edited by Lynda E. Rucker

Uncertainties volume 4, edited by Timothy J. Jarvis

on all the things you don’t have to do

Wherever humans go, there we are. We talk a lot about how online has changed us, fractured our attention spans, made us more vicious, more judgmental, (more connected? hmmmm), more more more everything, but it’s that “more more more” that’s the key. I do think we are changing but there’s nothing fundamentally new about how we behave as internet dwellers. It’s just more intense, because we have the tools to make it so.

Specifically, what I have been thinking about lately is the extent to which people can insist that you have a conversation with them, often right now, and that this is largely considered an acceptable way to behave. Until very recently, if you wanted to communicate with someone, you basically had three choices: you could call them, you could go them in person, or you could write them a letter. This created its own sort of healthy distance, in which it took some time and effort to contact another person. People still got harassed–“hate mail” was a thing before email existed and some people used to have to get their phone numbers unlisted–but the scope and scale was different.

Now it seems there’s no end to the many ways you can badger somebody: text email and a million zillion social media platforms. We have all had the experience of the unwanted interlocutor trying to insist we converse with them, either publicly or privately, through some strange sense that everyone who wants a conversation about a thing with someone else is in fact owed that conversation. It can happen between two people who know one another well over personal issues–family dysfunction, relationships shattering–same as it ever was. But today a conversation is seen as especially owed it if it is considered to be a topic with which many people are at any given moment consumed, and it is one in which there are exactly two sides: a good one or a bad one, and it is important to sort you into one bin or the other.

Before we had texting emailing and all the platforms, anyone who used the telephone, or in-person contact, or letters in the same way would have been considered, frankly, crazy. A stalker. Imagine someone ringing your doorbell over and over at all hours of the day and night insisting you engage with them on some random point of politics or morality or philosophy, or turning up at your workplace and demanding an audience. Imagine the repeated phone calls or the deluge of letters, four or seven or ten a day all making the same demands or containing similar insults. It would be madness. It would be very clear that the person or people doing this thing were unhinged, had lost all sense of proportion and of the social contract. (This is without even touching on the weirdness of online communication: the 0-to-60 rush to rage; the sneering and dunking instead of actually exchanging ideas; the deliberate misconstruing and worst-possible-faith interpretations; the posturing for likes and retweets.)

Of course, if that was all there was to it, it would usually end fairly quickly, unpleasant though it might be while it was happening: there is always a new target. The thing is, the online environment creates an absolutely bonkers sense of immediacy and urgency, and those on the receiving end, understandably, often panic. If everyone thinks they must have this conversation and have it right now, then surely they must! Why, what will everyone think if they don’t? Everyone will think the worst. And if everyone thinks the worst, well, we know what happens next.

But you don’t have to. You don’t owe anyone anything: a conversation, an opinion, a reply to a question, information about your private life and thoughts and beliefs and experiences and actions. You are not in an episode of The Good Place or the 1990s Albert Brooks/Meryl Streep comedy Defending Your Life; you are not on trial today or any day to determine where you fall on the scale of Good Personhood and whether you will be chucked into heaven or hell as a result. (And anyway, the whole thing is really more akin to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” a question of chance: who’s going to be unlucky enough to draw the slip of paper with the black spot on it today?)

The other problem with this dynamic is that it keeps you mired in other people’s worldviews and preoccupations. Should I keep an eye on Twitter, I asked a wise friend. You know, just to keep up . . . Keep up with what? I have no idea. And my wise friend pointed out that doing that means you risk falling into a trap of thinking only in opposition to things, when maybe you want to think about other things entirely: maybe instead you could spend that time thinking about the most efficient approach to planting an organic garden, or what happened to Rome’s Ninth Legion or how you might refinish an old piece of furniture or the films of Maya Deren or what it might have been like to stroll through the ancient Nigerian city of Kano in the 11th century or how to walk the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine without dying of the heat or getting snowed in or even what the real flesh and blood people in your life–the ones who actually love you, not the ones you’re trying to impress–might need from you, or if you don’t like people very much, the animals or the trees or your beloved river or creek or bay.

I should shutter this blog; I should hide my email address; I should never look at another social media platform again. The greater my craving to engage with the tactile world, the greater my longing to build more and more barriers between this online digital world and me.

That Mary Oliver line from her poem “The Summer Day” is practically a cliche because it’s true: Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life? For myself, though, I think it’s the previous line that has more resonance: Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

 

in which I think about Anthony Bourdain and Zadie Smith and reach no satisfying conclusions for your edification

When Anthony Bourdain died, I was devastated. He was someone who really had a huge influence on me. I loved traveling and food before I discovered Bourdain in the early 00s, but he put both in a context for me, showed me a way of being in the world, that influences me to this day. Among the many things I loved about him was that mix of cynicism and black humor alongside a genuine openheartedness–let’s fact it, the only way something “life affirming” is ever going to be palatable to me is when it’s wrapped in a layer of darkness and delivered with a sardonic wink, but the work he did was life-affirming, genuinely so, not in a fake or sentimental way.

Pre-Bourdain, I already had very strong feelings about food and hospitality (in a nutshell: you accept what your hosts serve you and eat it with eagerness, whatever the hell it is); he had a worldview that aligned with mine in so many ways, so I was bound to connect with his work. I still hope I never find myself in a situation where I have to eat uncleaned warthog anus to be polite, but you know, I guess if the day ever comes I’ll just grit my teeth and summon the shade of Tony and do my best to get through it while according it, and my hosts, the dignity and respect they deserve. (You know, as I write that, it occurs to me that if you haven’t seen the episode where that happens, it probably sounds terribly exploitative, some kind of awful modern-day mondo, but it really isn’t. He does approach the entire thing with dignity and respect, understanding the honor he’s been accorded even if he did end up on antibiotics a week later.)

But I’ve done a lot of things because of what I learned from him, not least of which is embracing a much wider palate. I learned to love sea urchin! I have, on more than one occasion, asked myself WWBD? He always made the world seem bigger and brighter to me.

I missed his last show, Parts Unknown, in its entirety, having moved out of the U.S. by the time it was airing. Now I’ve just started watching it, and while the first episode, “Sri Lanka,” was a bit underwhelming (he was ill throughout much of it), the second one, set in Los Angeles’s Koreatown, has so much that I love about Bourdain in it.

One of the biggest things that struck me is that it’s funny–funny strange, not funny haha–to think that it was just two years ago that he died, because it feels like he comes from an entirely different era. (And of course, he does. I feel we have crossed some sort of virtual Rubicon at some point in the two years since, although I am not quite sure what it is or when it happened.) His genuineness, his openness, his fullhearted embrace of every experience, his absolute conviction that we are not that different from one another as we imagine and that we can learn about each other best by sitting down and sharing meals together–it all seems like the opposite of the shouting, polarized, vicious world we all seem to inhabit 24/7 now whether we like it or not. How we relate to one another these days feels a lot more like a WWF cage match than an episode of A Cook’s Tour or No Reservations.

This morning I looked at videos of riots from Portland, my former home, now in their second month. And I thought about writing this piece, a piece that seems very far removed from all of that (but it really isn’t; the framing and the underpinning of the Koreatown episode, though it was filmed in 2013, is the LA riots of 1992), a piece the people who like to do that sort of thing might call tone-deaf, and it occurred to me that as I get older, I recognize in myself a willingness to stop and contemplate in a way that I not only was I was less able to do when I was younger, but that infuriated me when I saw it in others. How dare you. Urgency seemed like the only legitimate response. If you didn’t feel urgency, it meant you didn’t care.

I am being a little bit unfair on my younger self, who was still thoughtful and capable of taking a step back–we are never really all one thing, are we?

The style of discourse which largely involves people shouting past one another and which says if you aren’t shouting you must be indifferent isn’t a new one. The aggressive talk radio style of the 1980s–how many people today who think the world is falling to bits in some unique way have forgotten or never knew that in America in 1984, prominent Jewish liberal radio host Alan Berg was assassinated by neo-Nazis–gave way to the rise of warring talking heads on TV, the louder and more outrageous the better, while the Reagan administration eliminated the Fairness Doctrine–easily, I think, one of the most disastrous decisions of the latter half of the 20th century in terms of leading to the increasing and current political polarization in the US, right up there with the Southern Strategy and the Republican embrace of fundamental evangelical Christianity in the early 1980s.

But that’s neither here nor there. My point is that there is power in pauses, in silence, in thinking, in not rising to respond to every little thing, in sitting back and letting the words of others settle on you, really settle, in genuinely good faith, not like some kind of game in which you pluck a contextless handful of the words for the purpose of gleeful evisceration.

There is value, sometimes, in being quiet. In not forming an opinion right away and insisting that everyone needs to hear it. In stepping away and doing the practical work that still needs to be done, whatever else is happening: washing the dishes, preparing food, and continuing to make the little connections with people that remind us that we’re all human and mostly just doing our best to get by.

Bourdain, snarky and critical as he was of his fellow celebrity chefs and anything else that he saw as a sacred cow, was remarkably non-judgmental when it came to his travels, not just when encountering unfamiliar or alarming attitudes or customs but about food. He was game for anything. When his host, artist David Choe, takes him to a Sizzler in the heart of Koreatown–Anthony Bourdain in a Sizzler–he isn’t ironic or knowing; he embraces it as Choe explains, when we were growing up we didn’t go to restaurants, but if there was a really special occasions, this is where we went. Koreans love Sizzler, says Choe. He then goes on to instruct Bourdain on the specifics of making an Italian-Mexican taco from the salad bar: hard taco shell, three meatballs, guacamole, nacho cheese, etc. Bourdain digs it. He’s there, so very present in the moment. It’s the gusto with which he went after life that made his death seem so inexplicable.

Not really inexplicable, though, of course, and this is the other thing we learn, or we should learn, the longer we live: we are all the same and yet we are infinitely unknowable, even to those who know us best. Unspeakable reservoirs of pain run through all of us, along with an astonishing capacity for humanity. When I say we are all human–yes, of course it sounds like a self-evident and simplistic platitude but part of what I mean is that we are all a great mystery even to ourselves, wrapped in a bag of frail human-shaped meat that still needs to eat and drink and cry and craves the love or at least the attention of others. Even sociopaths need these things! What odd big-brained primates we are, simultaneously not as smart as and much smarter than we think we are. I often think we understand all the wrong things about ourselves in all the wrong ways.

I hope you weren’t reading this in search of conclusions. This is not a polemic or even an organized essay. I am not going to circle back round to Bourdain at the end and wrap this up tidily. I want, I need to be messy here. There are jagged edges. These are just my thoughts, on this day. I might change my mind tomorrow.

Maybe I shouldn’t even blog. Maybe writers should eschew public life entirely, living in those ivory towers or remote castles or whatever we once imagined them inhabiting when we were children or even later, before they all got Twitter accounts and sent us photos of their cats and their breakfasts and got into weird and embarrassing spats with other writers. (NB: Two of my favorite things to look at on social media are photos of your cats and your food.) Maybe they–we–should be less profligate with our words.

***

I don’t know that I trust anyone any longer who claims with certainty to have the right or moral answer. The novelist Zadie Smith has spoken and written about the need to be able to be wrong, often or even nearly always, and about writing books from a position of fundamental uncertainty. This, I think, is very human as well, being wrong and uncertain–and not wanting to show it. Being wrong is showing our soft underbelly. But if we swathe ourselves in armor before we launch ourselves into the world, well, then, we’re not worth much as writers, aren’t we?

“The Preacher’s Wife is a Witch”

After considering and rejecting several framings for this piece over the last few days, I’ve decided to just let Autumn Christian‘s writing speak for itself, which it is more than capable of doing. This short piece “The Preacher’s Wife is a Witch” suggests to me that she’s a writer to watch, and you can subscribe to her newsletter and get more work like this delivered straight to your inbox here.

And as you read her cautionary tale, remember: you might be very surprised, when the time comes, at just who is willing–nay eager–to whisper your name in the ear of the witchfinder general.

 

“unanimity of voices”

You do find some lovely things online while passing through the circles of hell that comprise social media, which is why I’ll probably figure out some way to keep an eye on certain corners of Twitter even after I delete my account. There are a few things I’ve read in the last few days I want to recommend to you but I’ll stick to one a day for now in the interest of keeping these posts somewhat bite-sized.

Anne Louise Avery’s Twitter feed is reason alone to gird your loins and pay a visit to that otherwise horrific platform. She posts gentle, fierce, cozy, moving, deceptively simple but in fact quite profound tweet-sized stories about the daily lives of little forest animals (who also live and thrive in cities): Old Fox, Wolf, Pine Martin, Ermine, Mouse, Grand Cub and many many more who read books, prepare lovely meals and look after each other. They take long train journeys; they open shops in Paris and remember childhoods in central Europe. If it sounds unbearably twee, it is anything but. Avery’s writing is suffused with a sense of longing, melancholy and impending loss, with an unflinching moral core at the center of it all, a resolute stance against the wrongs of the world, and her characters suffer from loneliness, from fear, from sickness, from uncertainty, from an emptiness they are not quite sure how to fill. It only now occurs to me, as I write this, that it is perhaps the only type of storytelling I have encountered that I would compare to Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories, deceptively simple tales that look like sweet, charming vignettes for children while actually being moving and mature meditations on the breadth of the human condition.

Given how much I love Avery’s small stories on Twitter, I was unsurprised to find that her travel/nature writing is just as breathtaking, as in this piece on walking The Cotswald Way in England at the online magazine Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, where she is also an editor. Here are just a couple of sentences to give you a sense of her gorgeous, evocative prose:

Rhythmically climbing and descending, it tumbles down through dark, still beech woods to the valleys and villages below, all cow bellows and bird song and church bells, then up steep field paths edged with willow-herb, meadowsweet and scarlet poppies, to the intoxicating wind, sun and rain of the pagan high hills, where the track winds through Iron Age forts and adder-haunted heaths. Golden, black-spiked gorse, seed pods popping in the sun, rule the uplands: standing guard in these ancient silent places.

Avery’s account is not all bird song and flora: it is marked by the all-encompassing specter of grief, the strange collision of the violence of war with the indifference of nature (this makes me think of Terence Malick’s transcendent The Thin Red Line, a film that has been on my mind a lot lately for some reason) alongside the mundane, devastating loss of a parent, all bound up in the experience of landscape.

There is a fine, long tradition of brilliant English nature writing or English nature writing twinned with travel writing, a deep understanding of and connection with landscape that I just love, and her writing feels rooted in that yet–like the best writing, of course–finding its own way and voice. They need no introduction from me, but Robert Macfarlane and Tom Cox are in this tradition as well–the latter writes some extraordinary pieces on his linked blog, I feel like there is a common thread here between this type of writing, the work of such English fantasists as Susan Cooper and Alan Garner, who are also deeply connected to landscape, and the tradition of English “folk horror.” They all chronicle a land that is ancient, and beautiful, and terrible, and extraordinary. The UK as a whole but England in particular is going through some hard times right now, but England is so much more than the incompetence and perfidy and greed of the petty and the ignorant and the small-minded. These old, magical stones and roads and ways and rivers and hills have survived* worse, and will again.

*in a manner of speaking; I really must write about Rym Kechaca’s extraordinary Dark River here at some point, a book I read last year prior to its publication earlier this year by the excellent press Unsung Stories and haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

out with the old

I am one of those people who likes symbolic fresh starts. Yes, I know that the first day of a new year, a new month, a new week is “just another day,” but they don’t feel like that to me. I want lines of demarcation. (Curiously, my own birthday is a nearly meaningless occasion to me.)

So with that in mind, I’m wondering if I could declare today, the half-year mark, as some kind of fresh start, drawing a line under the madness of the first half not because the madness has eased at all but because I think (I think) I am learning to live with it.

I considered this at midsummer as well. It ought to have been at midsummer; I like the idea of tying it to seasonal cycles more than marks on a calendar, but then my head got subsumed in a whole other cacophony of stress over something or some things–I don’t even remember what–and I lost track. I think I was sleeping very badly, which makes everything worse.

This has not been even remotely the strangest or most difficult or disorienting half-year of my life, but it has certainly been uniquely odd and challenging.

I’m starting to loathe the digital world. I realize the irony of writing those words on a blog, but this, like email, has come to seem practically old-fashioned to me. I effectively shuttered my Twitter account months ago; yesterday, I deactivated my Facebook account, and although that won’t be permanent because I do need it for a few things, it was such a relief.

I find myself almost obsessively drawn to the tactile more and more. I remember my first giddy encounters with Kindle, the ease and excitement of loading books on there that were cheap or even free (out of copyright or as part of a special offer, folks: don’t pirate books) and then the dawning realization that I look at screens all the time for work and I don’t want to look at one for leisure, plus I actually like books as objects, the heft, the look of the font on paper, the act of turning another page. I don’t enjoy reading on a Kindle. I just don’t.

I have been walking a lot and thinking a lot about walking and cycling, of going nearly everywhere under my own steam. Of what it would be like to travel the whole world like that. And about talking to people everywhere I go–actually talking, to people in front of me, not their images, and using our voices instead of words on a screen. To all kinds of different people, not just the ones who think “like me.”

To people who only use their phones as a tool, to text someone or look up a business for something they need, not people who conduct large swathes of their lives and relationships online. The impoverishment of that environment becomes clearer to me the longer we stay away from one another and the digital world reveals itself as only a sometimes-useful supplement and not at all a substitute for actually living.

It feels like social media + worldwide lockdowns are collectively driving everyone mad. Everyone is shouting at everyone else and everyone is furious, even more than usual, like people have overdosed on some kind of rage drug. It’s unbearable.

I feel desperate to be in the world, not this stupid wrong side of the mirror world mediated through Online. I’m sure that I sound like a Luddite, and I’m equally sure that I don’t care.

We are all in Omelas

Today I’ve been thinking about the classic Ursula K. Le Guin parable, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” If you haven’t read it, it essentially posits a moral dilemma: there are people who live in a utopia–a real one. Imagine, the  narrator tells you, your own idea of utopia, whatever that may be: this is your Omelas, a place where all people genuinely live in a state of bliss.

Except. When they become teenagers, they learn the truth about Omelas. Somewhere hidden away in the city, a child lives an existence of filth, misery, darkness, and torture. This is the way it must be: for Omelas to exist, a single child must always suffer dreadfully.

Most people in Omelas accept this. But a few do not. Those few walk away. It is a very short and deceptively simple little story, and it presents what is on the face of it a rather simplistic moral dilemma. Would we allow the child to suffer, or would we walk? Of course, most of us would like to imagine we would walk away. Of course I would not live in paradise at the cost of such suffering! we might think. But of course we do; in the modern Western world, we live in what is far less than paradise, at the cost of far more suffering. Short of going away to live in a cabin in the woods like the Unabomber, I think we would be hard-pressed to give up everything that involves the exploitation of another human being. Hey, in some places, like the United States and Australia, unless we’re also descended from the indigenous people, even going off to live in the woods means we’re technically living on stolen lands. There’s no escape. We’re all compromised. You could go mad thinking about it. The best we can hope to do is try to do the least harm possible, and put some good out into the world along the way.

And, I mean, Omelas is paradise. Think about what a sad and hard place the world is. Imagine if you could wave all of that away for a large group of people. The only price would be the suffering of one child. One. It would be easy enough to justify simply by pointing out that without Omelas, far more children would be suffering. The needs of the many and all that.

The story is also a bit of a cheat. It sets up a choice that is so stark, and so unrealistic. The game is rigged; the dice are loaded. There’s no such thing as the paradisaical Omelas, and there never could be. It’s a thought experiment, but of course the world is far more complex than that. Yet it’s interesting: if you think about it, the story doesn’t so much ask should Omelas exist as what would you do? The ones who walk away aren’t raising an army to come back and smash the state and rescue the child, and the story doesn’t suggest that they should. They are simply unable to reconcile their existence with this suffering. Walking away is a singular act of conscience.

Maybe it’s harder to accept the child’s torture, though, when you live in Omelas than it would be for us already morally compromised folks. It must come as a shock to the system if suffering is alien to you, and you then learn that for one human being, you are causing unimaginable suffering. I suppose that in that way, the people of Omelas are different from us. I don’t mean this as any particular indictment of us; this is the imperfect world that we inhabit.

But we do at least try to minimize harm, most of us, not consistently, but sometimes, and where we can.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about Omelas because of the enormous sacrifice we are asking of children, all children, in America right now. Not one of you go away to be tortured for all eternity but all of you put your lives on the line, every day, so some of us can preserve this one right. It’s–it’s not even a good right, it’s not, say, the right to vote–fought for so long and hard by women and black people and people who didn’t own land and essentially people who weren’t rich white men–and still denied to felons. No, it’s the right to possess a small arsenal. Why? I don’t know. I’ve yet to hear an adequate defense for it. And yet now those children have had enough. They’re rising up, they’re walking out of classrooms, they’re marching, and they don’t care if people 20 or 30 or 40 years older than them make fun of them, call them pawns, call them stupid, call them liars, call them crisis actors and worse. They have that conviction that they are going to change the world that you can only have that fervently when you are that young, and more power to them, because people do the change the world. A gunman changed their world, after all, just a week ago. They’re coming out en masse to tell the adults, who are failing to protect them every single day, that enough is enough, that they are walking away from their frankly pretty crappy version of Omelas.

I’d like to think they will succeed. I’d like to believe in a world where that could happen, even though slaughtered first graders couldn’t change it, and 58 dead and more than 800 injured in 10 minutes couldn’t change it. Surely this, we’ve said over and over in America throughout the years, surely this, and a week after the massacre in Florida the state legislature decided not to ban assault weapons, despite the presence of the very kids they had failed to protect. We need more discussion, said one lawmaker on an issue we’ve been discussing for decades, to excuse his inaction in the face of teenagers who just a few days earlier had to run past the slaughtered corpses of their classmates and teachers as they fled to safety. More discussion, while a 15-year-old with more courage than every Republican lawmaker in Florida has put together lies in a hospital bed after saving the lives of 20 of his classmates by putting himself between them and the shooter and taking five bullets.

It isn’t guns, people say. It’s moral decay. It’s the decline of religion. It’s the lack of corporal punishment. To self-plagiarize from a Facebook post I made yesterday, So tell me, friends in the rest of the world. How on earth have your countries managed to avoid the bad parenting, video games, Hollywood movies, lack of personal responsibility, divorce, violent youths, abortion, inability to reach out to the sad and alienated, back-talking youngsters with no sense of right and wrong, and general moral decay that have led to mass shootings in the US becoming commonplace? Because from what I am reading, those are all the uniquely American problems that are resulting in mass shootings having become a commonplace event, and not the easy availability of guns designed to end many many lives in a matter of minutes. And one after the other, my friends in other countries said the same thing over and over again: We have those things too. What we don’t have is the guns.

Should we strive to build a better world, one where guns or no guns, things like this would never take place? Of course we should. But to further plagiarize myself from Twitter: Arguing that we have to dig down into society and figure out why mass shootings are happening before banning guns is like saying we have to solve the Problem of Evil before we can send anyone else to prison.

What an absolute disgrace it is that right now, no one is talking more sense in America at this moment than teenagers. Their strength and moral clarity and composure should be an inspiration to us all. Republican politicians–and I feel comfortable making this sweeping remark, because it is largely Republicans who are bankrolled by the NRA–would gladly see children and adults murdered for the sake of bankrolling their own reelection campaign. Here’s the thing: It isn’t even a moral dilemma for them.  It’s just business as usual.

Walk away from this extremely shitty Omelas, kids, and keep walking, and the principals and the school districts and the school superintendents better damn support you as you walk out of your classrooms and walk into the government buildings all around the country that have failed you again and again. You go. As Le Guin wrote in the final lines of her story “The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.”

a few items of possible interest

First, there is a lovely review of my second collection, You’ll Know When You Get There, at the site “See the Elephant,” written by Paul St.John Macintosh. You can, of course, purchase You’ll Know When You Get There from its publisher, Swan River Press.

Second, my Shirley-Jackson Award-winning story, “The Dying Season,” has been reprinted at Nightmare Magazine, where you can read it for free. I strongly suggest that if you like the story, you should buy the anthology it appears in, Aickman’s Heirs, which also won the Shirley Jackson and is one of the best anthologies I’ve read. (It’s available on Kindle as well.) Oh! And there is also an interview with me, largely about the story, at the same site.

Third, the writer David Surface has written a lovely piece on his blog feature, “One Great Story,” about one of my early published stories, “These Things We Have Always Known.”

Fourth, I’ve written a couple of pieces about other writers for Women in Horror month. Check out the list of recommendations at Mark West’s Women in Horror mixtape, and over at the Ginger Nuts of Horror, Jim Mcleod asked me to write about a woman horror writer who’d influenced me in the past and also a newer one that I would recommend.