Local Color

  1. A psychogeography of hell.

I live in the poconos. It’s a loose collection of former resort towns in northeastern Pennsylvania, about 2 hours equidistant from Philadelphia and New York. I have lived here nearly my entire life. I hate it.

Wes Craven talked about how the young people that watched his films treated them as “boot camps for the psyche”. The world is a horrifying place. Even if the fictional thing gave them nightmares, damaged them in some way, it was an inoculation against the kind of violence inherent in their lives. When he was directing his torture masterpiece Ichi the Killer, Takashi Miike said —

“I don’t think my films are particularly violent. I think real life is fraught with a lot more violence. Real life people are much more violent than are people in the movies. I’m even more disturbed by the fact that people (in japan) have forgotten that they’re living in the midst of such violence.”

I contextualize my life using movies. I honestly do not know if that’s a useful thing or a distancing technique, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t mean just pretending to be in a movie, though I’ve done that, or yammering about film trivia as an excuse for a personality (tho, I mean, have you met me? Ugh). I mean that this is the lens I view the world.

I wasn’t allowed to watch horror movies as a kid… I wasn’t allowed to watch a lot as a kid which resulted in me being a media-obsessed adult. My big horror memories before 10 amount to: an “unsolved mysteries” style book about oddities giving me night terrors; watching the last 30 mins of Alien near-silent, inches away from the tv while my Dad was passed out at the kitchen table on morphine; and finally watching the Toxic Avenger sitting in the emergency room where my mom worked nights, waiting for my school bus to pick me up, next to a guy who’s leg had an exposed bone jutting out. This made for a more intense experience.

Good horror movies have a more clearly defined sense of place and temporal location compared to every other genre. Horror requires a commitment to intentionality and often pairs it with a small budget. So images are given weight and tension is built or released with purpose, but the sometimes janky way these moments are created makes them feel more intimate or more human. If I have a favorite era, it’s the “new horror” in North America in the 70s/80s, the pre-corporate slasher era. The difference between the first and second wave of the slashers is codification (Friday the 13th is a literal studio version of Halloween), and end goals. What I mean is, in the coded rules of slasher movies there is a final girl who wrests the audience perspective away from the killer and gets revenge. In the earliest wave — Last House on the Left, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, Halloween — those movies see the greatest victory as survival. Not revenge but escape.

Wes Craven was inspired to write The Hills Have Eyes after redneck kids threatened him at a gas station during a cross country road trip. They said they could kill him and push his car into a ditch and no one would ever know he was there. This was because he had long hair. I’ve been accosted by shitkickers in gas stations half a dozen times in the past year, no one’s been that eloquent. I mostly get called faggot, or just screamed at incomprehensibly because they’re on meth.

Here’s the thing about the Poconos (and rural Pennsylvania, and the Rust Belt, and well… America), it’s not one thing It’s a scattered mishmash of rich out of towners, mcmansioned small business owners, underemployed consumer box store hell, bland suburbs, college townies, redneck neonazi insanity, the poor and people all fucked up on drugs. There’s a huge heroin problem, along with meth, prescription painkillers, xans, everything. While there’s a lot of weird shit that goes on here, it’s not different than anywhere else in America that isn’t a major metropolitan area. The reasons I’m writing about it: it is an excuse to contextualize some bad personal events, I’m hypervigilant/ hyper-observant due to some of my experiences and emotional well being, and tbh I’m a weird shit magnet. And weirder shit seems to happen when I’m here. When I’m other places, the ratio of strange things seems to drop. When I’m here, it feels like the volume on everything has been turned all the way up. It’s not a good place to be sick in.

2. “Someone called me on the telephone!”

Near the end of November 2016 I get a phone call and gouge my left wrist open with a pair of scissors, I can’t stop shaking. I take some oxycontin I have saved from dental surgery to stop shaking, it doesn’t help. I ask my sister to drive me to the hospital so I can commit myself to psychiatric care. The hospital sends me to a facility out of the poconos because there are no non-private psychiatric facilities in the poconos. I spend a week there. I’m put on an SSRI and kept for observation. I am relatively zombied out while I’m there. I am given so much ativan that it takes me 30 minutes to pee. My recent weight loss (from starving myself for 2–3 weeks), means I have to hold my ballooning clothes on me, so I shuffle everywhere. I meet other residents who range from people who’ve overdosed (a large portion of the ward is there by court order) to a woman who saw jesus, who tells her to stop eating. She frequently gets down on her knees and starts praying to invisible jesus at random times. There’s a lot of religion on the ward. There’s this one asshole who’s only there the first two days, who has like… hacker glasses (?) and won’t shut the fuck up about loving Trump. Even sedated I want to throw him out a third story window. I never spoke to him but I know in my heart he has a reddit account (everyone with a reddit account should be pushed into a gorge).

I have difficulty talking with a lot of the people there, especially the ones that want to talk to me. They are: a guy who’s eroded his brain so much with bath salts that he sees patterns in the television, confuses nearly everyone as his relative in a weird reverse face blindness situation, and never ever ever ever shuts up. He tells me that I look like his brother. He also tells me that he had meth and bath salts hidden in his ceiling tiles and that’s why he’s there. The other: an overly bearded chatty metalhead who wants to hug a lot, despite his colostomy bag. As I’m leaving, he slips me his phone number and I can’t throw it away fast enough. The one guy I enjoyed talking to was my roommate, who was detoxing from heroin and slept for huge amounts of time.

I still don’t know how much this helped me. I like to think that it just a thing that happened. I didn’t die, I guess. I am glad I am now on my current medication, which I could not have afforded without going through these specific set of dehumanizing hoops. I feel like the best thing I did was not allow my family to visit.

3. “Get the spectators out of the arena.”

The night before I attempt suicide I call a crisis hotline — they’re decentralized and you never get the same call center twice. Weirdly I get routed to something local, and after about 20 mins on the phone the operator wants to send a van to pick me up at my house. Take me to their facility. She tells me over and over again that there’s a public smoking area. You get to wear street clothes! I beg off, making sure to not give them more information and worried about what I had said already. I get off the phone and google the place, and it was run by Scientology.

L. Ron Hubbard wrote Dianetics right here in the Poconos (technically across the river in his editor John W. Campbell’s house in Bay, New Jersey — Campbell wrote “Who Goes There” the definitive short story on paranoia, which John Carpenter’s masterpiece The Thing was later based on) reportedly with his then-mistress, later second wife (after the documentary Going Clear premiered, a friend of mine and I became obsessed with where the fuck a lighthouse on a lake could have been here). This was after he wrote Stagecoach, which… I mean I just like to point out that the founder of Scientology cowrote the best (only good??) John Ford movie. It’s fucking weird. I was minorly obsessed with scientology for a long time, especially in a period where I had agoraphobia and didn’t leave the house — I spent so much time looking up stories of them breaking into the CIA and IRS and using early google maps to look at that insane desert compound, which I looked up before Area 51. In the scheme of things it’s less damaging than people who get into 9/11 truthing or video games or any other brain parasite equivalent internet subculture. After the past two years, I have (semi-joking) wondered if I would have been better off being starved in a locked room for David Miscavige. I mean, maybe I could have have met Tom Cruise. I love Tom Cruise. Love jogging. Indifferent about niacin. I mean, if I hated gay people, I’d be set. I’d be cleaning a boat with a toothbrush right now.

4.” This is no dream, this is really happening.

Two weeks before the suicide attempt (I’ve been in a depressive spiral for months after a breakup and some ugly family shit), I go to see my physician, Doctor Frank. I’ve been seeing him for a few years, he’s what squares in William Burroughs novels call “a character”. Pushing 60 with long curly 80s hair, he was a former wrestling fight doctor. He has The Rock’s signed hot pants framed in his hallway. He never stops talking, is overly familiar, and has a right wing streak. That’s fine, I know where I live, I tell myself. Frank also gives out free samples and saw me when I didn’t have insurance. I’ve mostly seen him for respiratory stuff. This visit, I go in and speak to his nurses about being depressed and paranoid and maybe getting a prescription for an SSRI or a referral to a psychiatrist, preferably one that I can afford. This is about a week before the nazis take the white house, btw.

So I tell Frank what’s been going on with me and what I’m looking for (see a psychiatrist or hell, commit me), he proceeds to tell me regular ass platitudes you expect in this awkward situation (he is standing in the exam room with me, his nurse is in the corner and tells me with all sincerity “there are plenty of fish in the sea”). That’s fine, he calls my insurance company, also fine. Then he gets in close and says “Sean, you realize there’s a coup going on in the government right now” and then tells me I should check out Infowars dot com. In the Body Snatchers-est moment of my life, he then turns to his nurse, who is my age or younger, who smiles and nods and then adds some stupid detail. Then a third joins in.

This isn’t ironic, like when my friends and I watch that shit because of how bizarre it is. Infowars has an enormous draw that I don’t think people understood until this election. Conspiracy thought is always entertaining but I think that when you’re doing an Alex Jones impression (Alex Jones is a fun ass impression to do), you miss that what separates him and David Icke from the Art Bells of the world is the basis in antisemitism. OF COURSE it’s huge here. I see Infowars merch in the wild like once a week. I also see nazi tattoos pretty regularly. “White pride worldwide” stickers on SUVs. That’s Pennsylvania.

In 2012, my sister’s boyfriend (now fiancé) is turned away for voter ID before the law passes. He’s Cuban. Pennsylvania’s BEEN racist.

But in this moment, in this backwoods doctors office, they are serious. A receptionist with Kate Gosselin hair and a receding chin like a bad guy in a Dr. Suess book, joins the conversation. I then spend the next 30 minutes walking back all the discussion of suicide and depression like it was a prison escape, and get out of there. These are not the people I want to commit me.

Honestly, this moment is both super benign and the scariest moment of my entire life. I’ve had guns pointed at me twice since this, and neither time was as Rosemary Woodhouse in the phone booth as this moment. The scene in the movie where the body snatchers are at the door, that was a tooth in the wall, vampires are real, zombies are in the tunnels… They ARE all against you.

6 months after the suicide attempt I get my first tattoo over the scar on my forearm — ALL OF THEM WITCHES, from Rosemary’s Baby. Afterwards I immediately feel better, in full cliche mode. It’s a phrase that I said a lot to myself in slight mocking of my own paranoid thoughts. The ultimate panacea is acknowledging the craziness, no one tells you that. Just say a phrase from a movie about paranoia, that way you’re not being paranoid. Even when you are.

5. Exterminate All Rational Thought

William Burroughs described language as a virus, and I kinda believe that. Especially with things like Infowars, where you see people get caught up in the terminology of the thing. Changing language is a great way to process cult-like thinking in subjects without being alarmed. Burroughs felt that language was a separation between thought and how we manage to articulate it, which is what it feels like to try and communicate really difficult emotions and finding yourself saying the same dumb things over and over again. You are forcing something complex into something dumb, my worthless english degree vocabulary isn’t particularly useful in the moment when you need to tell your loved ones you want to claw your intestines out instead of living another day.

I have a personal theory that all the asinine code phrases we learn from Infowars and reddit and every vat-grown hateful internet slimepit we deal with constantly now, that those words are destroying our brains. Another thing about Burroughs — even after saying that, even after being one of the queerest people who ever walked on this planet, he still joined Scientology for several years. I think that’s really illustrative and important when you see artists turn on their stated values and ideas — they may not be able to see the contradictions. They’re also vulnerable. More than we’d like to admit, people that create things do it often because something is compelling them. They aren’t often aware of what.

6. “My balls are full of poison.”

While I’m detained in the psych ward my father’s uncle (Bud), who raised him, dies. He had been living with rapidly progressing dementia for the last few years of his life. He was also a pedophile, which we discover when going through his belonging after he is forced to sell his house due to constant hallucinations of “people coming to his house”. Interestingly enough, the teenage boy who lived with him when my father was a child came back and swindled him for his sizeable retirement savings from a career in publishing, which I find pretty entertaining in the face of things. My father (a gargantuan piece of shit who abused me, to whom which this essay will be returning), believes that “family is the most important thing” and spends all his savings to maintain this demented rich pedophile’s lifestyle. After a certain point my father has a relationship with the upstate New York police department because they keep arresting him for doing strange things.

When I get out of the psych ward my father walks up to me for a hug and mentions his uncle is dead. This is on his birthday, which also happens to be Thanksgiving, because nothing in my life is ever subtle. I tell him I’m not going to hug him with more disdain than anything I’ve ever done in my life. This, along with refusing family visits in the crazy house, is one of the decisions in my life I stand by the most.

The time in the looney bin was simply to stop me from killing myself. I had been in therapy for a few months before going, but therapists have jack shit to do with psychopharmacological care. I see my psychiatrist every few months for minutes at a time for medication management (as I am writing this, I receive a letter saying he is no longer covered by my insurance… ). I see my therapist as much as I can afford. If I could, I’d have her on speed dial. I don’t think at this point I had really understood the level of abuse I was talking around, I was still reeling — my exit forms from the ward read:

DIAGNOSIS: ANXIETY, MAJOR DEPRESSION
CAUSES: RELATIONSHIP, POLITICS.

It’s nice to see that professionals really weren’t listening while you talked, but, that is pretty much it. I don’t think I talked about my family very much at all in there, which is weird because it’s the major problem. Heartbreak was the reason I wanted to kill myself, Trump winning was the reason I wanted to kill myself, but… neither were the reason I was depressed. The cause was a lifetime of violence and humiliation meeting a gene pool full of suicides, UFO abductees (paternal great grandmother — wish I knew more), pedophiles, drug addicts, bipolar disorder, alcoholics, domestic abusers, autism, Down’s syndrome, anxiety disorders… it’s a good group.

I have a long distance relationship with someone in the summer of 2016. I always went there, to New York, because I couldn’t imagine her coming here (she had actually grown up relatively close). I can’t imagine anyone coming here. I’m not going to elaborate on this relationship further in this piece. Because I don’t want to. I have to be private about at least one thing.

7. Nightmare Universe

Trump winning seemed like an inevitability to me. Back in 2016. Part of that was worst case scenario thinking / depression / apocalyptic worldview shit (I watched Hypernormalisation the night before the rapist fuck won, I was torturing myself). I was also in the heart of the thing he was feeding on. The whole “hardworking people need to be understood” thing is a fallacy, because it ignores the fear mongering and racism filling the engine. Racism doesn’t come from small town values, or working class jobs. Racism is an outgrowth of alienation and cruelty. Racism is a side effect of disenfranchisement, isolation and a nastiness that comes from bombardment of messages about exceptionalism and entitlement. I don’t know if you’ve been to America lately… but people are fucking nasty here. Americans watch conspiracy news founded in dog whistle antisemitism. Americans justify police shootings of black people. Americans scream at service workers.

When my uncle (Joe) died in 2013, he left his apartment, filled with drugs, motorcycle parts and Nazi paraphernalia, in my grandmother’s basement. Eventually some of his friends came by looking for his shit — specifically a motorcycle he built with parts he hadn’t paid off and some heroin he had stashed. My uncle has forever been a cautionary tale to me: an ex-Rolling Stones roadie (Steel Wheels-era, so who cares) with a degree in fine sculpture that introduced me to Frank Miller, Akira Kurosawa, and Blade Runner. After some unspecified turf out he moved back in with my grandparents “to go back to school” and deteriorated into a racist junkie who pretended he was more involved in both the heavy bike world and whatever busted ass local hate organization he joined. He’s buried in an unmarked grave, which I have proudly pissed on. I have some problems with how taken I was by this guy as a child when he may have always been a reprehensible piece of shit. Junkies and alcoholics often have a strong immediate rapport with children, it turns out so… I don’t know how I’m not supposed to feel swindled.

8. “Death has come to your little town.”

But when he died, strangers kept showing up. At this time my agoraphobia was at its peak. I had some pretty severe issues leaving the house after I graduated college and my grandfather died (timeline wise — my grandfather whom I loved, died 6 months before the dead nazi). But once I had a real reason to be paranoid, it was far worse. Alone for a month, I decided to watch every home invasion movie ever made, then every slasher movie. I guess to try and take control over the feeling of helplessness I was experiencing. I wrote about the movies, and to this day it’s the piece of writing I’ve received the most paid work off of.

I never was treated for agoraphobia, I mostly just was forced out of thinking my family home was a safe space as it became more threatening. I would say my anxiety issues day to day are micro versions of that instinct — which is to hide away from people. My agoraphobia got especially bad after a car accident I was in on election day 2008. Someone ran a stop sign and tore the front end off my Camry in a 4-way intersection. I left with a concussion and a scar on my shoulder, and little by little I stopped leaving the house for any reason except direct commitments. Then when I graduated college, coinciding with my (maternal) grandfather’s death, I just stopped leaving the house altogether. It’s cost me years, and it makes me feel like I’ve wasted so much of my life. At the worst of it I was pushing 400 lbs (one of the benefits of a complete collapse of your personality is you can lose a lot of weight). I worry about how being afraid has limited the things I’ve wanted to do with my life.

9. “Maybe we can all benefit from this slight misunderstanding.”

I did a lot of rote playbook stuff following my institutionalization: had a really hard time adjusting to medication, got obsessed with exercise, got tattoos, piercings, lost 120 lbs and immediately put some of it back on, threw out all my clothes and most of my belongings, dyed my hair, lost a lot of friends, cut ties with most of my family, screamed a lot, cried a lot, got a DUI.

Actually that one wasn’t rote. I was pulled over for expired tags, the officer felt my eyes were glassy, I had a panic attack in front of him, and he proceeded to haul my ass in on a DUI. I tell them I am on a single antidepressant, down to my dosage and doctors names. They say they’ll call my therapist and psychiatrist. They never do, even in the months that follow. A DUI stone tone sober, I have the blood test to prove it. I asked to be given a blood test, knowing that I wasn’t taking anything and hadn’t drank since going on my antidepressant (have since, it’s fine. I’m the one person in my family who doesn’t have substance abuse problems it turns out). It didn’t matter, my charge was pushed through and I couldn’t afford the time or the money it would take to fight it.

While I’m at the police barracks they forget to take my phone for the first hour, I take a shot of my shackles while in custody. I get interrogated in a room that stinks of ammonia and has a divot in the wall from some poor suspect’s skull very recently getting shoved into it. I take multiple humiliating sobriety tests given by a drug assessment officer who blithely tells me that I should not have tried to kill myself because “women aren’t worth it, bro”. He also loudly talks about vacationing to Costa Rica. The police station is highly indicative of 2018 policing: very expensive body armor/weapons from homeland security tax credits, decrepit building, all non-combat equipment is falling apart. I am then driven to the prison to take a blood test and be fingerprinted. I am told when I am arrested they will return me to my vehicle (which they park in an abandoned coffee shop parking lot), after the blood test I am ejected to walk home on foot. They don’t charge me for six weeks after this, just long enough that I think my blood test proved I had nothing in my system (when I receive a copy of it 2 days before my hearing MONTHS LATER, I will be proven right). They charge my ass anyway.

The final result is instead of moving on with my life after a truly devastating mental episode is that I’ve been legally in limbo for months — i went on probation, and between paying my lawyer, legal fees, medical care and therapy — all my money is gone. All the money I had borrowed and saved to finally move the fuck out of Pennsylvania, cashed out. I am also legally not allowed to move until my probation is up (which it is, I’m moving as soon as possible). Every step of the way I had the experience of someone who is a cog in this system — which is really just how police departments rake in money in this country — tell me that they’ve never seen charges pressed with a clean blood test (fun fact: they tested me for Darvon, a drug that hasn’t been manufactured in nearly a fucking DECADE). Never. These were my ARD officials and Parole officer. I haven’t been able to travel without first requesting, because the public nature of my charge I haven’t been able to find work locally. I’ve just been stuck. The most helpful thing in the world to me would to just move, and every step it has become more difficult.

10.”IS ANYONE THERE?

I think I gravitated to the specific era of horror I’m obsessed by for a few reasons. First, it was easily available on television and video, horror was bolstered by vhs, especially directors like Carpenter and Romero, etc etc. The second is that as a film nerd you become obsessed with your contemporary heroes’ heroes, their influences. The way if you read enough Radiohead interviews you might start listening to Can and Scott Walker (which I did, like a good 15 year old snob). I think for me what seperated the good versions of vhs horror from the bad wasn’t craft or special effects, it was the most dangerous feeling movies came from the same collection of people — there is more ferocity in Shivers, or Day of the Dead, or Last House on the Left. Not the most gore, but there’s something else going on there. These aren’t just mechanical exercises — the secret of the slasher movie’s popularity is how you can make a pretty good one by just following the steps. Slasher screenplays are great learning tools for structure and pacing. But the few and far between examples of those films that reach beyond that, there’s a sense that rules are off the table. The tacit agreements between audience and filmmakers have been tossed. The first time I saw an ebayed bootleg of David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future, I was terrified I’d been sold something prosecutable under the guise of the director’s student films.

George Romero is really the only director who ever got Pennsylvania. I mean, certainly you can say a lot of his peers got Philadelphia. Lynch, De Palma, Landis, Demme… they all have their versions of that specific city. But Romero got the tension. It’s not a rural or an urban or a suburban experience… it’s all those things uncomfortably jostling for position. The erudite and the street smart are constantly confronted with bullet holes in the street signs. Romero’s overall project was about humanity being far more dangerous than the monsters. Rednecks with guns are always a force in his movies, retaining their camaraderie and racism and the possibility of lashing out if they are not taken as the threat they are. We poison our own well in Romero’s films. Every time. We hack at each other until we’re weak enough for the outside force to wipe us out. Romero died nearly a year ago. Wes Craven nearly three.

Craven grew up in an extremely religious family, his earliest work feels like a direct rejection of the concept of “family”. He returns again and again to the savagery of the nuclear american family when confronted with non-traditional families. Craven’s work is angry at the heart. He never seems to come to grips with the lie at the heart of “American decency”.

In his book-length interview with Gilles Boulenger, Prince of Darkness”, John Carpenter discusses growing up in Bowling Green, Kentucky; watching his friends age into horrific, violent racists without an understanding of why. One day his buddies from high school just decided to go down to the black part of town and shoot it up. His work is marked with a reticence of other people, a paranoia evident in his stories, his staging, his framing. Carpenter is a stylistic touchpoint for so many horror and action directors today, but it always feels like a facile reach. It’s like when bands try to sound like Wire but sing about like… conventional ass lovesongs. It’s so obvious. Carpenter’s politics are at the core of his work, the idea that the roles we’ve been placed in by the world around us keep us from making real connections. Geographical isolation, at first used for budgetary reasons, becomes a motif. Identity and paranoia fuse into one theme. It’s the same in his fun adventure movies as his paranoid chamber pieces, people are forced into confrontations and to trust one another. Carpenter, like Romero, is one of the few directors who never dodged racism as a basic fact of American life.

Romero’s sunsets all look like Pennsylvania. Honest it might be the number one thing I’ll miss when I leave this place and never ever look back — it’s Romero sky country. I’ve joked about being so into the aesthetics of the slasher movie because it jibes so well with my surroundings. There’s the skies, but that’s because all those movies were literally shot in Pennsylvania.

I could location scout the entire 70s here if I wanted. All the classic horror settings are within an hour of my house. Five minutes up the street is a summer camp, only in use a few months out of the year and spooky abandoned the rest. There are abandoned shacks out in the woods, a patina of weather damaged barns and trees litter the countryside. Beautiful ominous forests and bodies of water. Shitkicker bars that never progressed past 1989. Featureless planned communities. Suburban sprawl (there’s a dead end street on my commute that is identical to Laurie Strode’s block). McMansions buried back into the treeline for some Funny Games action. Ugly, abandoned churches. Guys in hunting gear with huge guns strolling through the national parks, no one asking them shit. Housing projects built in the 70s. Mountains that disappear in fog and become isolated deathtraps in the snow. Huge, ancient hotels. Resorts half torn down and left to rot. Dilapidated fluorescent whiteblue hospitals. Unpaved roads snaking into farmland (I live on one of those). Motels buried deep on nowhere streets, 20 mins away from a gas station let alone emergency services. Houses piled deep with hoarder bricabrac and mutilated toys. Rehabs that have gone bankrupt and been purchased by cults. The local college even has a brutalist library. The Poconos has it all.

11. “You’ve never seen me ‘very upset’.

I saw a lot of movies with my father, but very few that resonated hard. Like, I remember one summer we saw every shitty scifi blockbuster, as a kind of forced camaraderie ritual. The only one of these movies that impacted hard was the first Mission: Impossible. We even do this years after we despise one another. I remember seeing a revival of The French Connection with him and his pedophile uncle where both talked over the final shot. I was never more livid. That was probably the last time I got into a car with the man outside of a ride to a funeral.

I see The Master with my father in a movie theater built into a casino, in Bethlehem PA. It was a strange experience, an excuse to spend time together like many of the forced trips to the movies we’d taken since I was a child. It’s usually the one time we stop fighting. We walk out of The Master, a movie that slots into Paul Thomas Anderson’s obsessions with masculinity, trauma, fatherhood, romance, paranoia and addiction. It’s also about the birth of Scientology. Kinda. It also borrows heavily from Thomas Pynchon’s V. It is the kind of movie that will make you want to run out of the theater and burn your whole life down, do what your body needs it to do, I can see why they played it in the casino. His first words on the pavement outside — “Would it surprise you to hear I’ve read some of L. Ron Hubbard’s stuff?”. This is odd not just because we just watched The fucking Master, a movie that doesn’t exactly make that an okay aside, but because in my life the only books I’ve ever seen him read are the bible and Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlets. I have no idea why anyone would lie about this.

My father ironically looked like Master-era Joaquin in his younger pre-morphine days. Wiry and perma hungover. Now my father just looks like a fat ex cop (Incidentally Joaquin circa-2018 You Were Never Really Here-era looks like my dead heroin addict nazi uncle).

The AA thing — I’ve known a lot of people that AA has helped. My father is not one of those people. He was what they call a dry drunk. Angry, manipulative, violent. He was way more of an unknown element when sober. The worst beatings I’d ever received from him was when he was sober.

He insinuated himself into Alcoholics Anonymous, running meetings, sponsoring people, starting chapters. He treated it like a religion. He also had a high school dropout’s understanding of religion, which was bone-simple and dogmatic. He dragged me and my sisters to show us off like blue ribbon pets at his anniversary meetings, usually after screaming at us we we’re all pieces of shit on the ride over. He treated everyone around him as if they had his same chemical dependency and religious beliefs, because he was a manipulative violent narcissist.

Narcissists don’t understand other people as anything but an extension of themselves, especially family. He stopped speaking to my middle sister for a year when she switched her major from internal medicine to clinical psych. She believes he has undiagnosed bipolar disorder, I honestly don’t want to muster up enough empathy for him to even have recognizable mental issues. It’s not like he ever extended that courtesy my way.

I was with him when he relapsed the first time, on vacation when I was 14, and he decided that I was now his drinking caddy. I got my license, despite my clear anxiety problems, so I could ferry him to local bars. And when it escalated to coke & meth (meth and people with emotional disturbances is like taking a welding torch to the brain’s moral center), then I could pick him up at the meth lab up the street (still there as of this writing). He weaved in traffic and lost his license, then went back to AA on court order and acted like it was his decision. Drugs were never discussed in the family. Ever. When he got sober the second time, he got more violent and flew off the handle more. Often at me.

In one incident when I was 16 he kicked my bedroom door in half, gave me a black eye and made me live without a door for a month. This was because he didn’t like me walking away from him. I didn’t understand (kind of until I was 8 months deep into therapy) that this was just part of a pattern of humiliation and never responsive to either his state of inebriation or anything I’d done. He’d said he kicked the door off because he didn’t want me jerking off in his house. This was something he said to a 16 year old.

12. My father.

My father was monstrously insecure. He fed my sisters and I a frequent lecture about how he wanted us to be normal. “All he ever wanted to be was normal”. His father killed himself. His stepfather beat him so bad he has scars on his upper lip which he covered with a mustache. He’s lied and said it was a dog attack to everyone his entire life, but I spent time with him when he was drunk and heard the real story. His mother was verbally abusive/manipulative and kicked him out of her house when he was 10. He abandoned his first wife (who, funnily enough was also a lunatic and starved my half sister until she had to be taken away by the state). My father knocked up his best friend’s underage sister and married her, that’s why I’m here.

When I was about 6 years old he was bankrupted from his construction business (because he was an idiot and signed something he shouldn’t have), and developed a morphine addiction. Or in his words, “became a stay at home dad” (we lived in my grandparent’s basement until I was 13). I was taller than him by the fourth grade (right now I’m 6’5, 275lbs, I went through puberty at like 11). His jobs during my lifetime: construction worker, construction business owner (bankrupted), electrician, plumber, hvac installer, national parks maintenance worker, and now the enviable position of national parks maintenance supervisor. He’s worked his entire life to tell janitors what to do. Because of my size, he often used me like a pack animal, one instance we dropped a secondhand washer and dryer set down a flight of stairs, rupturing a disc in my spine, giving me a limp for 4 years. I had to have steroid injections in my spine, to which I had an allergic reaction and gained 40 lbs. I’ve moved a lot of drywall for free in my life. My father was routinely (and loudly) resentful “His Children” were not following in his career of “miscellaneous menial jobs”.

My mother is a reading teacher. She’s also the most codependent person who’s ever lived, who never left my father even after he wrecked cars drunk driving, did hard drugs, beat her kids, cheated around on her, got wrote up for sexual harassment at his government job, much more. That’s her problem, I don’t understand it. I’m tired of trying to understand it. But she always prioritized education. She has a double masters in education and speech therapy. My sisters both have masters, my middle sister is about 7 months away from her doctorate in Clinical Psychology. We were all smart kids. He hated that. He hated it. That we were all smarter than him by the time we could read chapter books. So he responded through ridicule, humiliation, and often violence.

13. “It’s a fucking nightmare.”

About a month after I’m arrested, Twin Peaks season 3 premieres, after 25 years off the air. I think it may be beyond the scope of this piece of writing to explain Twin Peaks — short version is it’s a tv show that jammed americana, soap opera and surrealism into a whodunnit plot into 1990 primetime. Peaks invented the multi-part dead white girl mystery genre that most American “prestige” television is based on. I spend weeks and weeks avoiding watching it. I think the reason is evident once I see the first episode: for a metaphysical tv show, this shit is just too real. Everyone tells me to watch it. I’m more concerned about the arrest at this point because they waited a month to charge me. I catastrophize, hire a lawyer I can’t afford, and proceed to make several decisions that amount to me taking a deal on a drummed up charge. It was a bad call. To be fair, all my options were bad calls. I had to take drug counselling classes, went on probation (I was such a low risk offender that they just had me check in with email). Then I watch it. After I watch the first episode, I spend a night sleeping in a parking lot with a broken street lamp, that strobes in an odd uneven pattern after I feel like I can’t stand my family for another night. These events are unrelated. But for me, I live in Twin Peaks.

New Peaks is so much better than the classic series. It’s not even a question for me. It’s weird and ugly and sad and fucked up and smart and funny and aware of David Lynch’s impact on the culture and fully willing to dismiss 25 years of pop culture and bone simple and completely abstract. It kicks ass. Everything is broken and wrong and that feels exactly correct. Peaks returning during the Trump administration — even as it took several years to make and in no way could have been made in response — feels like art arriving at the perfect time.

One of Naomi Watts’ key lines is “We live in a dark dark age”. That’s in a comedy scene, haggling with greaser LA bookies. I think it might be one of the only works of mainstream art that has acknowledged the world as it is now. It (accurately) shows America as a pretty cruel and bizarre place. Two moments really illustrate this for me — one where a police officer mocks a dead soldier for PTSD-related suicide; another where a small child finds a gun, shoots into a crowded restaurant and an obese white woman completely unrelated to the incident refuses to stop honking her horn and screaming, her excuse being her kid is sick. That makes it okay. That’s Trump’s America as fuuuuuuck. Incidentally, David Lynch is pretty hard to nail down politically, he’s obviously a bohemian in a lot of ways but he also voted for Reagan. He’s also non-ironically appeared on Infowars.

The most resonant aspects of New Peaks for me is how it seems to say that returning to the same thing over and over again can have small positive consequences or drastic, enormous terrible consequences. The final two episodes position our hero, intrepid FBI agent Dale Cooper, as someone scraping the well dry. He tries to save Laura Palmer (again), and in doing so drains all the magic out of the world. He does so only to re-traumatize a victim who had already overcome her abuse (and death?). The show makes a pretty stellar case for moving on, even as it returns to something dead for 25 years. Carol J Clover, author of the definitive horror critical text Men, Women, and Chainsaws once said of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre:

“That’s one of lessons of these films — don’t try to save girls, girls can save themselves”.

This is a lesson that we need to learn over and over again.

14. “Never wear my clothes!”

6 weeks after Twin Peaks s3 ends, the 1992 movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is re-released by the Criterion collection. Presumably to coincide/ loss lead the show’s third season on disc. Fire Walk With Me has a bad reputation, but it is a very important movie to me. I don’t think I understood exactly why until watching it recently (that’s why I’m writing about a physical media release in 2018, I know, it’s dumb). The film’s bad reputation may have a lot to do with it since being re-edited, and being a movie about well… incest. I first saw the film on television, in its theatrical form — the one everyone hates and that has since had 30 or so minutes cut from it. This was my first exposure to the series, maybe the first Lynch I’d ever seen. My family got cable when I was 13, 14 and I learned about Lynch, John Waters, Jim Jarmusch, Lisa Cholodenko, Gregg Araki without much context. Long before I ever saw a John Carpenter movie… I’d maybe seen Reservoir Dogs? Who knows. I’m pretty thankful for being exposed to queer(er) cinema early, I often think about how it’s one of the things that saved me from being one of these awful guys who loves The Goonies in his thirties.

I had discounted Lynch in my head as someone who I’d liked in high school, but had moved on from. Brian De Palma said that he and David Lynch do the same exact thing and only one of them gets considered by critics as an artist, and I think that’s still true. But even when I was off Lynch, I still adored Fire Walk With Me. I saw the film before any other Lynch stuff, when I was extremely young (I mayyyyybe learned what eating pussy was from this movie? It’s an odd thought to have but I don’t know if I had). I’ve always connected with the movie in ways I maybe didn’t understand until this year.

I’m a big fan of artists rubbing audiences noses in it. Of giving them the thing they want until it’s not fun anymore. That’s why I love horror, because the tension of “give me this wrong thing until I feel something… but don’t ruin it!” is always there. I think a lot of my love of movies is because of that “movies are a machine designed for empathy” horseshit is kind of true. My emotional reactions feel completely broken sometimes. Even to movies, I don’t really “identify” with the people I’m supposed to. Movies like Funny Games and To Live and Die In La are great for a reason, and it’s the turn of the knife. Fire Walk With Me is an exemplary version of this — everyone wanted more Twin Peaks, well here’s what you asked for and it’s a nightmare (this is also why season 3 is so good). The movie takes this fun, dark, quirky thing and makes it unlivable.

This story is about a victim of child abuse, and instead of using the regular Lynch metaphors to allay that ugliness, it turns inward. All the extradimensional transcendental shit is used here to make Laura Palmer’s father raping her nightly more realistic and emotional, not less. Fire Walk and the third season elaborate on the idea that suffering is the draw for these extradimensional beings. They aren’t the cause, they cultivate the ugliness in people. Like in real life, you watch as the bad shit mangles the people you thought you loved and understood. This film is special to me for a lot of reasons — at times it felt like I was living inside of the movie. My court ordered ARD drug enforcement classes are located on the third floor of an hideous office building 3 blocks from the courthouse, down a hallway identical to the one David Bowie walks down in Fire Walk, warping time and reality around him. In that scene, Agent Cooper watches with horror the image of himself frozen on film. Harry Dean Stanton’s Fat Trout trailer park manager Carl looks shell-shocked when he tells the FBI, apropos of nothing “Y’see I’ve already gone places. I just wanna stay where I am”. He shakes when he says it. Again, why would anyone want to end up in a trailer park in rural America, haunted by weirdness?

Oh, and Laura Palmer is murdered on my birthday.

But the substance, as I said, is this is a movie that deals with the emotional aftermath of ritual abuse. David Lynch knows exactly the territory he’s covering (the 16 year old girl beaten into a coma by Bob? “Ronette Pulaski”. Say it out loud). Laura needs to have her veil removed in stages to see what has been going on in her life. The choice she makes at the end of movie is whether or not to become the evil spirit or sacrifice herself to it, of which she chooses the latter. Without Lynch’s cosmology, Laura dissociates that it’s her father having sex with her every night. She is told to her face — twice — that it’s her father. In both instances she can’t hear it. Laura, the homecoming queen with a coke problem sleeping with half the men in the town, many of them manipulating her as older men in positions of substantial power, hooking on the side. That character makes more sense as someone shattered by abuse, all things to all people. It feels more real that she needs to rationalize the contradictions in herself in almost real time. Once scene, late in the movie, Laura screams in terror for no reason. She then looks at James, the moron who’s in love with her who doesn’t understand a damn thing about her, and says “Your Laura disappeared. It’s just me now”, a curdled kind of depersonalization. Laura is frequently shown over men’s shoulders, her eyes gauging her control over the moment or her lack of it. She’s never as scared as when we can barely see her face.

The scene where Leland Palmer asks his daughter to sit down for dinner, then asks if she washed her hands is so resonant for me. First he traps her in a situation to avoid a conflict, then escalates nonsense into emotional violence. This is before Laura’s got it all figured out, but Leland takes dirty nails to a place where he can force the subject about Laura’s lovelife, barking to her codependent helpless mother “HOW WOULD YOU KNOW WHAT SHE LIKES”. Later that night Leland begins crying and tearfully tells Laura he loves her.

15. “Write it in your diary.

This happened so much in my life, it’s mildly embarrassing it took me so many viewings of this movie to understand what I was experiencing was recognition. Literally every stupid, staged outburst from my father about some minor infraction ended with him telling me that he loved me in overly florid terms. He spoke about the significance of respect and why family was important. Every time. It was ritualized. Thinking about it still makes me feel ill. I honestly don’t think I understood how much he had mangled that phrase to mean something else that when “I love you” from someone outside of my poison gene pool, I didn’t know how to respond.

My father beat my ass, he made me party to his alcoholism and drug abuse, he created a hostile emotional environment (in my 20s he liked to say that the women in my life were afraid of me, which is some ugly and fucked up shit to say to another human being), and he humiliated me every chance he got. It was an abusive environment and it had a deleterious effect on my emotional and mental well-being. He frequently made reference to my sexuality. I’ve heard “faggot” as a pejorative from this man so fucking often, it’s lost its menace. He, especially when he was drunk, would brag about his dick and how much sex he’d had. He would then insult me using the same metric (starting when I was VERY young). He made sexual comments toward me as well. He never molested me but I had a couple iffy situations with him, where he appeared too physical or affectionate, none of which I am not interested in detailing out in specific terms here.

This all had a pretty drastic effect on me, and I spent years ignoring it, playing it down, making excuses for it. I think he doesn’t have proper boundaries and felt weirdly threatened by a son that towered over him and he was too stupid to talk to without asserting his dominance. Like the world’s shittiest prison movie.

Now, I think my father was sexually abused or at least around sexual abuse when his Uncle was raising him. I don’t really care that much. It doesn’t justify his bizarre boundaries or his behavior towards me. I have spent two years in therapy discussing this behavior and I no longer feel the need to explain it away. This fucked me up, made me question myself and compounded my already manifesting mood disorders. I don’t think I have years of agoraphobia and anxiety without this facet of abuse. Again, it wasn’t the car accident or being dumped or anything else. This is toxic masculinity but not in a buzzword sense, it’s abuse being transferred over generations and I refuse to be a step in that chain of custody over internalized evil.

I think a lot of the reason I took having my heart broken to the point where I was trying to end my life was that I had failed to live up to this monster’s standard. I had made a move outside of this closed system of family (when he found out I was dating long distance, he cornered me in my underwear in the laundry room, made me have a conversation right then and there — he’s a cowardly piece of shit), it was because I thought if I could do the things I had convinced myself I couldn’t by internalizing this abuse, then everything would magically get better. In the 19 months since this has happened I’ve learned two things: that all the stuff my father said is empty and doesn’t apply to me at all no matter how much I think it does; and that there’s no magic fix for anything. Every realization is matched with an endless amount of labor to put it into practice.

I let this person colonize my brain and I now have to spend the rest of my life undoing what he’s done to me. Again, this isn’t some mastermind who wanted to destroy his son. This is a selfish barely literate piece of shit that has never had a thought for the lives of people outside of himself.

16. “I killed you by coming here.”

After my stay in the hospital, I spend a solid 2–3 weeks in a near vegetative depression. I don’t think I got settled on my medication for at least 3 months (incidentally, I didn’t see my psychiatrist for about that long). I’m missing a lot of that first month back, I did see movies though. My first three movies seen in the theater back all were a) pretty terrible, b) centered around suicide — Manchester By The Sea, Nocturnal Animals and Christine (the Christine Chubbuck biopic not the Carpenter film. Chubbuck is a personal hero, ironically, for being the only person to successfully kill themselves on live television). The first truly great movie I see after my hospitalization is the Paul Verhoeven / Isabelle Huppert rape/revenge comedy Elle. Huppert plays the daughter of a nationally famous serial killer, which has mangled her emotional wellbeing in extremely Verhoeven/Huppert ways (flippancy regarding very ugly truths about sex, violence, parenthood, marriage, friendship). The revenge portion of the film isn’t against the rapist, but against her father — the one who’s truly hurt her. Refusing to visit the man in prison her whole life, she finally stops in to find he’s killed himself as she arrived. She then blithely identifies his body, getting up in her dead father’s face “I killed you by coming here”, it’s a moment from a movie that’s carved into my heart (I guess regular people feel this way about… Star Wars?…?). She says to the warden:

“I came here because I gave the bastard too much power over me. My whole life fleeing him, fearing him. What a waste”.

I think a lot of people get into horror movies as an affectation first, like getting into punk or metal before you really know if you like the music (I did both of those). But I really don’t think that was it for me. I think it’s an extension of looking for the most extreme movies I could find. I got into John Waters very early (which I am forever thankful for).

I’ve seen and sought out cannibal movies, rape/revenge movies, korean revenge, hong kong action, lesbian vampire movies, women in prison, new french extremity. I’ve worked my way through most italian subgenres, went through the filmographies of Cronenberg, Verhoeven, Waters, Abel Ferrara, Dario Argento, Lars Von Trier, Takashi Miike, Sam Peckinpah, Michael Haneke, Kathryn Bigelow, Russ Meyer, William Friedkin, Catherine Breillat, Paul Morrissey… one of the side effects of being very into these kinds of movies is watching the “intellectual/artistic provocation” side of filmmaking run up against the 2018 truth that many in that lane just being real life perverts/sadists. If you don’t kill your idols, they’ll do it for you.

I feel a lot of ways about it, I mean… my ultimate take is that I am interested in art not just art by made good people, but I also think that no work of art excuses anything in real life. I love Roman Polanski’s films, I understand the horror of Roman Polanski’s life and how it has impacted his work… but no movie is as important as anyone’s life. Polanski is a rapist. I think anyone that is uninterested or unwilling to engage with his work because of that is 100% right. The world looks the other way and makes excuses for the most reprehensible shit, no one should ever say that a movie outstrips a person’s humanity. Anyone that prioritizes a movie over a rape victim is an inhumane piece of shit.

I think I have sought out movies like say, Cronenberg’s Crash (an all time fav), because it’s a contained version of something dangerous. Like Craven’s “boot camps for the psyche”… or the way people with undiagnosed mental illness often end up counteracting their symptoms by self medicating. I always went out of my way to see the most fucked up thing available and then said that my life was boring. My life was “boring” because If it wasn’t boring it was a lifetime of a family looking the other way while a psychopath victimized me. Even as recently as starting to write this thing, which is just a list of bizarre experiences, I was talking down my own life because who would care. In reality I chased extreme shit on film because it acted as a panacea for the dissociation I was feeling about my own life. You don’t watch every single rape/revenge movie because in some way you don’t want to see a sexual predator get beheaded. You watch them because that’s all you ever want to see.

17. “It’s coming from inside the house.”

Five weeks after I get out of the hospital, it’s xmas eve morning. I had sat out Thanksgiving, I say well ahead of time that I am sitting out xmas. My parents want to spend xmas eve morning with my grandparents and then they are leaving town for 3–4 days for the actual holiday. Before this morning I had thought that meant I could just avoid them.

I have never liked this shitty holiday, even as a kid. Too much family without a focused activity. Around 8 am my father accosts me, despite having comfortably avoided him for a month plus. He feeds me some horseshit about wanting to give me $300 dollars (my father has stolen thousands of dollars from me, so this is pure manipulation). I tell him no thank you and it turns into an hour of screaming, culminating in a full family shouting match in a narrow hallway. My father threatens to kill me, I threaten to try to kill myself again in front of him (“so you know whose fault it is, you fuck”), he punches 8 holes in the drywall and then says “Look what you made me do”.

He then chases me out of the house and down the driveway with an unregistered, unlicensed handgun. He stands in front of my sister’s Impala and points it at me as I back out the driveway, keeping my eyes on him I pull backwards into the street without looking — like the lone stunt shot in a mumblecore movie. He took this gun from his uncle’s house, and has had it stashed under the seat of his truck for months. My father has hid guns in this house for years. About two-three years before this I tell him I’m having suicidal thoughts and I don’t like that there’s guns stashed everywhere. He very pointedly shows me how a pump action shotgun works as if to say “well why don’t you fucking try it”. On the phone with my sister and mother later that day, I am told that this incident was my fault, they’ve all been my fault, and I spiral. I spend xmas eve in my best friend’s sister’s parking lot (he was there for a dinner party), crying my eyes out.

18. “Because you were home.”

10 days later, I get food poisoning. Worst case I’ve ever had. When it rains it pours. At first I don’t know what it is, I assume it’s SSRI side effects. I spend the night half naked on the floor of my bathroom, because my whole body has decided having anything inside it’s organs is gauche for this new year of 2017. Around 4 in the afternoon I finally feel well enough to eat something, and put on pants like some sort of fancy person. I go and buy chicken soup and eat it at the kitchen table (we have not used the kitchen table in this family as a location to eat at in a solid 5 years). I am extremely shaky at this moment. Eating is hard, talking is hard, emotionally I’m as low as I’ve been since the suicide attempt. My family has failed me and now my body has started in on the fun.

My father shows up unannounced — he doesn’t live in the house at this point, just shows up for a couple days at a time, maintaining residence even though his national parks janitorial job requires him to live first in Long Island, then in Philadelphia. He begins to make comments in an apologetic tone, then asks me what medication I’m on. I tell him that I’m not comfortable sharing that with him, he says “If you’re going to be on drugs in my house I need to know what they are”. This from the man who made me pick him up from a meth lab on multiple occasions, who once told me he’d done so much acid that he doesn’t remember the night I was conceived. He then escalates this into a screaming match, because of course he does.

He then says if I won’t tell him, he’ll flush the medication down the toilet. I tell him fuck you. He says he’s going to take my passport and burn it. He’s going to put a bullet in my head. He then chases me out of the building, I have decided I’m not going to get into another physical confrontation with this man, especially after the guns came out the last time. So I stop talking and head to my car (I can barely stand, I don’t know why I’m driving). He calls me a faggot once again, and I tell him he can eat my cunt. This is the last sentence I have ever said to him. He punches me in the back of the head a couple times. He’s 62 years old at this point, so it’s not like he hurts me. But he assaults me. When my back was turned. I tell him he can go fuck himself and drive to my sister’s house in Maryland.

This is the last time I have ever seen this man (as of this writing). He stops being my father in this moment, because everything finally culminates and I grok that this has never been a difficult relationship, these have never been “fights”, that if I don’t give him the chance to make it more about him, to say “I love you” or excuse his behavior as being related to stress, or whatever horseshit he’s peddled as rationalization for violent and inappropriately sexual and abusive behavior my whole garbage life.

19. “Has it ever occured to you that part of being a parent is trying to kill your kids?

One year to the day after my suicide attempt, on the 18th of November 2017, I drive to Philadelphia and see John Carpenter perform live in concert. This wasn’t planned, my best friend Jared Lewis spring the tickets on me last minute (Jared grew up here, went to high school with me, but can’t stand the place — he says when he drives back over the mountains to visit he hears banjos in the distance). Carpenter hasn’t directed a movie since 2010’s The Ward, a movie that notoriously opened in barely any theaters in the county. Carpenter didn’t write, score, or edit this movie and you can feel it. It doesn’t have any of his idiosyncratic rhythms, and even in it’s finest moments it reeks of compromise. His last film before that was Ghosts of Mars, an uneven movie that still felt on every level the product of a single creative voice. Carpenter had recurring difficulties trying to make his work financially successful as he was artistically, some of his best movies were flops. Working independently or in the studio system ultimately had little impact on the quality of his movies. He’d spent the last decade of his career trying to make it work and eventually retired, just as his aesthetic — both cinematically and musically — became en vogue to bite from. Synthwave and films like It Follows, The Guest and Stranger Things obviously come from Carpenter, but also more granular — you don’t get Quentin Tarantino, you don’t get Trent Reznor, you don’t get like… modern conspiracy theory without Carpenter (Don’t you hate when antisemites like a good movie?).

Carpenter is the artist that I hold in the highest esteem, after seeing the show I spend a lot of time trying to articulate to people that it’s like if Antonioni toured or something. Or if David Lynch’s music wasn’t an affectation of an artist who is given carte blanche. Or if Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone were the same person. Or Michael Mann was a member of Tangerine Dream.

Carpenter is someone who’s created his own language by controlling as many aspects of his work as he could, and he is the kind of minimalist that stems from individual sensibility rather than pretension. If his camera doesn’t move, it’s because it doesn’t move. If his characters don’t talk, it’s not to convey portent. Again it’s the horror thing where what was first a budgetary decision becomes an aesthetic strength. Single locations, synth score, pov camera, declarative dialog, silent menace, lens flare. As Brian Eno says, the weaknesses of a technology are eventually given stylistic weight. His music is propulsive and gorgeous and heartbreaking and hostile and sometimes completely emotionally blank.

Seeing him play his themes live was as close to a religious experience I’ve had in my life, at the very least it reminded me of the type of creative person I admired and why. Carpenter has found a way to create in his singular idiom even as he’s been marginalized financially over and over again. He’s made art out of the negative aspects of his interior life but still made it entertainment. He warped a genre to his sensibilities and not the other way around. If you wanted to spend your entire life making art, he’s up there as an aspirational figure.

Throughout this past two years I’ve really felt like giving up, or that I was cursed, or that it was hopeless. I still have those days. I’ve really had problems with finding things that make me feel that awe — a lot of people want a reason to keep going, fuck that. I believe that life is inherently chaotic. Nothing happens for any reason, people don’t have clear motivations for their actions a lot of the time.

Mental illness is a struggle in that it’s not linear. Some days it’s okay and some days I just want to tear the skin off my body and roll around in smashed bus windows. Maybe the only reason we have art is to see outside of our lives, the only reason we make things is to wrangle our insides into a way to communicate to others. It’s not a solve. It’s not a math problem. To see anyone that’s spent their entire life not just making art but continuing to find ways to do it successfully. Like real deal successful not making money. That’s a reason. As genuine a reason as I’ve found.

20. Orpheus has returned from the underworld, changed.

My therapist recently, after me mentioning the thirtieth pretentious thing that session (it was referring to Antonioni, obvi) said to me “Please don’t be offended by this, but your education and your situation don’t match up at all”. Which at first appears to be a compliment, but then again, it’s definitely not. It’s a true statement. I’m too smart to be the person I am right now. I’m 33 years old. I’ve ruined my whole life. I’ve spent it scared and hiding and listening to everyone else and never myself.

You’re trying to cobble together a person from behaviors, many of them in reaction to something you have no memory of. The problem with mental illness is it becomes hard to navigate what is an irrational response and what is intuition, and you have to develop new muscles to do basic shit like be brave enough to trust your own instincts in a situation. I don’t really exceed at communicating my interior life to begin with, which is partly why I’ve never written about my life in any capacity before this and even now I have to contextualize it using other things. But I don’t think I’m great at explaining my depression and anxiety symptoms — I have extremely boring repetitive thoughts about failure sometimes but I also have moments where I irrationally think about mutilating my eyes or ripping out my intestines to stop experiencing an unwanted feeling. Honestly I’m used to it, but it definitely makes extremely stressful situations more stressful, and I have had my fill of extremely stressful situations as of late.

I don’t have a solid demarcation point for this being over — this is an ongoing situation with my mental health, my financial stability, my family is still my family, I still live in fucking Pennsylvania. I said earlier that I don’t really buy redemption and recovery story arcs because so often they are just that: a narrative. It’s interesting the kinds of narratives we feel compelled to play out, especially in something as low stakes as the “personal essay”. But in life I refuse to continue to have something that has happened to me define me. I don’t get to go get some grand revenge. I’m not interested in finding spiritual solace through my struggle. There is no inherent strength to outlasting bad shit. So if I am to choose a narrative, it’s going to be the early slasher narrative. I survived this. I will continue to survive this.

  • Sean Witzke, June 1 2018 (all photos taken locally by the author)