Various Obsessions

Candid Photo of My Thought Contents

Candid Photo of My Thought Contents

Not to seem like a junk drawer for stuff that doesn’t fit elsewhere…but so be it. Under Various Obsessions, among the buttons, paperclips, and mysterious broken parts, you’ll find links that simply:

  • Don’t fit anywhere else;
  • Reflect my varied interests, including those that I’ve researched for my plays (the depth of one’s research roughly correspondents to the extent of one’s obsession); or
  • I find too intriguing not to include.

There’s nothing particularly useful or edifying here. You might, however, might find something amusing or curious, depending on whether our attention overlaps. In New Orleans’ parlance, consider this lagniappe.

Speaking of which….

New Orleans

Per PaulSimon, the city of my dreams. More a dreamlike city (where I used to live and which I’ve visited far too little), where life revolves around food, drink, music, and good company. Everyday things are so odd that something has to be especially weird to stand out. If anyone even says the name, the memories pour.

As WilliamS.Burroughs said: New Orleans is a ghost museum. The past so consistently lives close to the present that sometimes, it’s hard to tell one from the other. That fact I lived in a haunted apartment on in the French Quarter (which I later discovered had been slave quarters) seems less amazing than I lived in the French Quarter at all.

At the time, I worked at WSMB radio   as an ad copywriter, and my commute was an unbelievably beautiful walk through the Quarter, and then a ride up an ancient elevator to the top of the lovely Maison Blanche Building  on Canal Street. I used to say that it took a few minutes to get to work, but it could take four hours to get home. If you’ve spent time in the Big Easy, you’ll understand.

Every Mardi Gras, if possible, I tune in to WWOZ to stream the same old best music ever (Professor Longhair, anyone?); and I feel the most exquisite pain that I’m not there and that those days ever ended (even if, in retrospect, they weren’t the best of times). If you fall in love with New Orleans—and you’ll know if you do—it’ll spend the rest of your life breaking your heart, whether you live there or not.

As the late poet Everette Maddox drawled when I met him shortly after my arrival—as I shook his Bourbon-lubricated, apparently boneless hand: “Well…welcome then. You gonna’ meet some fascinating people. Have some wonderful times. And get shit done. But it’ll give you material for the rest of your life.”

Nailed it, Everette. He more or less lived at the Maple Leaf Bar, very possibly one of the best bars anywhere (for no good reason except that it’s there, and, if you visit, you’ll never forget it), and, when he died, they buried his ashes in the patio, where he used to conduct talk/drinkfests for writers. (I can still remember sitting there, just listening—the air sharp with ozone after a brief downpour.) So he’s still holding court, doling out advice, if you have the right kind of ears.

Which leads to….

Ghosts

Hauntings show up so frequently in my work that they’re beginning to throw up red flags that I’m repeating myself. Why, I have no idea. I’ve never seen a ghost. I don’t chat with them or honestly say I can feel their presence. I do, sometimes, get an odd buzz in some places, and it’s distinct from other odd feelings that occasionally plague me (and many other writers). A couple of things have “happened” that, more likely than not, mark the unconscious mind impinging on ordinary consciousness. Yet, awhile back, I read a book on Northwest ghosts, and was frankly stunned at how many places I’ve been that gave me an “odd” feeling when I had no clue that they were supposedly haunted. Curious. The Pacific Northwest and Portland seem to have more than their share of haunted sites. It’s gray here, and there’s a lot of fog, a sort of autumn three-fourths of the year; so maybe it’s environmentally linked subliminal suggestion.

That said, I have a predilection for reading “true” ghost stories—supposedly factual accounts of hauntings—the way some people read mysteries: one after the other, usually right before bed, where they can do the most good. The trouble—not to diss any earnest writers out there—is that many of the books are terrible. I’m not sure why ghost books regularly feature overheated, badly edited writing, except perhaps some people will read them indiscriminately. Before going to bed. Like mysteries—which also, at times, wobble in the quality department.

I did, however, said “many” and not all. Some good writers take a whack at the genre…or at least writers sufficiently engaging that you overlook an occasional lapse.

Hans Holzer

Speaking of mysteries, HansHolzer’s ghost investigation books read a bit like procedurals. A call comes in, someone’s having trouble with odd noises, cold spots, objects moving about, and Dr.Holzer visits to conduct an investigation. He talks through the evidence with the residents, and then he brings in his medium—usually a woman—who walks about and picks up perceptions, some of which turn out to be quite detailed and, more often than not, explain or solve the haunting (sending the ghost on its way). Who knows? They make a good read, and, if you get hooked, you’re in luck because Dr.Holzer wrote a shelf full of them. He’s now passed on to the other side  and, one would think, if anybody would report back to us, it’d be him. Given, however, that his ghosts usually have suffered a trauma, a wrong, or guilt, and often don’t know they’re dead, Holzer probably would be well aware he’s passed over, and perhaps he figures his work is done. Although, he might still hanker to write about it. If so, get back to me, Hans.

Katherine Ramsland

Ms.Ramsland’s a unique writer in this field. Like Holzer, she’s often at the center of her investigations, and, though she seems thrilled to be brushing up against something potentially paranormal, she also works to build her case (probably not surprising, given she also writes accounts of true crimes). At times, she gets a little New Agey for my taste (quick note: what does one do with a spirit once one has nabbed it in the spirit catcher hanging from your rear-view mirror), but she makes good company, writes suspense effectively, and catches you up in her search. There’s one thing to write about vampires, for example; there’s another thing to write about actual cults that drink blood…and then begin stalking you while you’re investigating them. Not boring. Plus she writes an entertaining blog  for Psychology Today…you know, if you’re into cannibalistic serial killers.

Mary Roach

Ms.Roach is a fine writer, with a good eye and ear, and a knack for telling details. She’s really only written one book on ghosts, Spook, but it’s so good, funny, and clever that one can recommend to your most skeptical friends. Spook largely focuses on the scientific search for the afterlife. Not to spoil anything, but…eh: maybe yes, maybe no. Roach’s other books also make fun reads; she specializes in taking apart topics that make us uneasy—the dead, digestion, the physical mechanics of sex—and demythologizes them without somehow dissipating their transgressive qualities. It’s a gift.

Leslie Rule

If her name seems vaguely familiar, she’s true crime writer AnnRule’s daughter, and the writing gene clearly replicated itself when putting her together. Ms.Rule’s books hew closer to traditional “true” ghost books: stories of places with a reputation or where residents have reported anomalies (such as apparitions standing by their beds or appearing in their mirrors). Though she writes with an open mind, she maintains a certain skepticism and does her historical research, often turning up curious details (and being honest when details don’t materialize). I admit, she sort of loses me with books on miracles and angels (I guess I’m more comfortable with befuddled dead people, essentially yelling at people to get off their lawns), but I find her ghost books a great read.

Comics

Some of the first books I checked out of the library with my first card were collections of newspaper comics. They’d come in these huge volumes, which I could barely carry, and dated way back to the early days of the 20th Century.

Little did I know that I was exposing myself to some serious surrealist art. What else can you call Little Nemo  or Krazy Kat? When asked to spell cat, I said “K-A-T” and didn’t back down. And, in a pattern that would become familiar throughout my life, I had to read all of them. Every single one. No matter how obscure or weird (which lead me down some pretty strange alleyways, especially later, when I discovered underground comics). Then I’d ask the librarian for more.

I never really stopped reading them. At a certain age, I set aside the superhero comic books (with a certain fondness but self-realization), and, though I’d never particularly seek out the daily comics in the newspapers (the “funny pages” as my great aunt would call them), I’d stop for a read if I chanced across them. Somewhere along the line, reading the comics when I got home from work became part of my routine—a way to step outside of life, I think, if only for a few minutes.

One would think that, as newspapers suck down the digital whirlpool, comics would go with them, but they’ve found a niche online, at gocomics, where you’ll find some decent contemporary stuff (I have a particular fondness for Stephen Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine and I terribly miss Cul De Sac since Richard Thompson stepped back for health reasons). You can find some of the hoary old “legacy” strips at Comics Kingdom (if they really had it together, they’d spell Comics with a “K”), if you have a sudden craving to catch up on strips that have long outlived their creators but recycle the same jokes.

Which, granted, seems a pointless activity unless you’ve been exposed to the Comics Curmudgeon, a blog by Josh Fruhlinger that mercilessly deconstructs comics, particularly those of the legacy vintage, as do his fleet of commenters. This too may be pointless, but it can be amusing, and it’s the only reason I can possibly think of to read Mary Worth (which, in a different context, becomes delightful).

Oh, days of yore. Whatever became of Tumbleweeds?


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