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the haunting of hill house.

As a kid, like most of my friends, I spent time fantasizing about being able to teleport, or turn invisible, or just generally be Wolverine. Yet, more often, I imagined being able to freeze time . [[Like on Out of This World, an 80s sitcom of which the only thing I remember is that the lead girl could freeze time.]]

Those thoughts of time freezing bliss still come to me as an adult — fairly regularly, as a matter of fact — and a huge part of that fantasy is the fact that I’d have unlimited time to learn about, watch/rewatch, and read/reread everything out there that interests me. I always want to watch and read all the things. Not some of the things, or most of the things, ALL THE THINGS!! Or at least, all the things that seem to be good things.

Sadly, the superpower to stop time still eludes me, so I’m always behind on a countless number of movies, shows, and books I want to get to watching/reading. For real, it’s literally a countless number (aka, my living nightmare).

All that to say, it always feels good when I finally get around to something that’s been on my radar. Thus, recently checking The Haunting of Hill House off my unending media list would have been satisfying for that reason alone. It’s been toward the top of said list since the show debuted on Netflix, and urgency intensified as multiple friends have raved about it and told me I need to get watch sooner rather than later.

Well, at long last I’ve seen it, and boy howdy is it good! (No, I don’t know why I use strange colloquialisms on this blog that I would never use in real life, but I’m not going to stop.)

For real though, I loved this show!

I had been a little hesitant once I learned it would only be very loosely based on the source material. I love the Shirley Jackson novel (which is a wildly underrated and under-read book, by a wildly underrated and under-read author — you probably know her as the author of “The Lottery,” the chilling short story many of us had to read in school), as well as the 1963 film adaptation, The Haunting (which is a wildly underrated and under-seen horror classic).

Using the source material as a jumping off point while taking off in a new direction could be an inspired creative choice. More often, it’s a disaster. Too many producers and writers ignore everything that makes the source material great, instead using said material to lazily grasp at a pre-existing intellectual property for the sole purpose of name recognition.

This show is definitely an example of the former. It feels like creator/writer/director Mike Flanagan really cherished the novel, and the way he made allusions and homages to the original felt genuine, and not like lip service. They made sense, and revealed an understanding of what was referenced.

Flanagan’s themes were very different from Jackson’s, but still thoughtful and resonant. I loved the story he told just as much as the original, if not more. I know, I know, suggesting I may like it more than the remarkable original novel is blasphemous, but I’m just being honest. Honestly blasphemous. (Maybe put that on my tombstone? Maybe a memoir title? Either way, it’s definitely an accurate description. Anyway, back to the show.)

The Haunting of Hill House is eerie, and the kind of scary that gets in your head. I’m not sure I was ever terrified watching the show, but the tone was tense and creepy, and the creepiness lingered. Let’s just say that after bingeing the show while Emily was out of town, I had more lights on than I normally would while getting ready for bed.

I think that lingering fear is due to how effectively Flanagan and company created the atmosphere of Hill House. The creepiness felt expansive and all-encompassing. It genuinely seemed like something ghastly may be around every corner, and I found myself constantly scanning the screen for some horror lurking in the background. Turns out, part of the reason for this unease was that at least 43 ghosts are hidden in scenes at Hill House throughout the show. 43!!! There were also some narratively earned jump scares that got me good.

More than that, as is the case in so many horror films I love, the genre was a vehicle for a meaningful story. The scares were fun, but the framework of a ghost story is used to tell a bigger story about the things that really haunt us, and how those things define and enslave us if we try to pretend they aren’t there.

So many of the show’s themes resonated deeply with me. Family, grief, love, mental illness, shame, and forgiveness just to name a few. As well as how to live well and still be open, vulnerable, brave and kind in a dangerous, often cruel world full of real life monsters.

There were more themes I really loved, but mentioning them would be venturing into spoiler territory. We can save that for irl conversations, or texts, or whatever. Similarly, I could also list some storytelling devices I really enjoyed, but again, it would potentially spoil stuff by getting your head going in a direction that might help you figure shit out earlier than you may want. Ask me all about it if you want to talk about it.

One thing I will say, which doesn’t spoil anything, is that episode six is an absolutely remarkable bit of visual storytelling. Hugely impressive technical filmmaking from everyone involved, including amazing work by the actors. However, most importantly, it was in service to the story, not at the expense of it. For real, friends, the episode is so fucking good. The degree of difficulty was so high and they crushed it. It’s even more impressive that they pulled it off while filming with five child actors who also crushed it.

Anyway, I guess that’s all I can write about this show without spoilers, so I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for outside the blog. Or for a future post where I throw caution to the wind and spoil the fuck out of everything (with warnings of course). We’ll see if I make it far enough to get back into that style of writing again.

The end

jojo rabbit has a full trailer!

Even if you barely know me, there’s a good chance you know I’m in love with Taika Waititi. Speaking of which, if you haven’t seen the tv adaptation of What We Do in the Shadows, you should get on that.

Anyway, after the teaser a month or so ago, we finally have a full trailer for JOJO RABBIT. I can’t wait!!!

Also, this will definitely be the best performance ever by a Polynesian Jew playing Adolf Hitler.

The end

i am hope, or, the long form explanation of my new tattoo.

With any tattoo comes a number of inevitable reactions from friends, acquaintances, and strangers. From thoughtful, sweet and appreciated comments/questions, to downright irritating, out of line nonsense (and everywhere in between).

The most common and understandable reaction is curiosity as to what the tattoo means. Why on earth did I choose to get this particular thing inked onto my body forever?

Well, my friends, I finally got my second tattoo, so here is the answer to that question. [Also, excuse the bit of blood in the photo. The tattoo is in the healing stage, so this pic from immediately after is the best I’ve got at the moment.]

Since most people want a response no longer than a sentence or two, the tl;dr version is this: It comes from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, and it’s meant to remind me that hope is the most powerful thing there is.

Still here? Good. Here’s the longer version:

Sandman is Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece comic book epic, the bulk of which ran from 1989 to 1996. It’s dark, weird, and literate. It’s shaped by Gaiman’s ability to create tremendous depth in his storytelling and worldbuilding by placing his protagonists within a context of myth, history, and literary references and allusions. Norman Mailer even called Sandman “a comic strip for intellectuals.”

I love it, as I do most everything Neil Gaiman does.

It’s the saga of Morpheus, aka Dream, one of the seven endless along with Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and Destruction. They don’t rule the world as gods, but each is the personification and source of the things that make life what it is.

The story opens as Dream is taken captive by occult practitioners. They were trying to capture Death for predictably nefarious purposes, but they accidentally got Morpheus instead. They take away his three objects of power — his pouch, his ruby, and his helm — and keep him prisoner for 70 years, hoping to leverage his freedom for power and favor.

He inevitably escapes and returns to the Dreaming, the epicenter of all dreams and stories. In his absence, it has collapsed, broken down by entropy and disrepair. In order to restore it and regain his full power, Dream must reclaim his lost three objects.

His helm has come into the possession of a demon, Choronzon. To get it back, Dream must journey to hell, where he is challenged by the demon to a contest. If Dream wins, the helm will be returned to him. If Choronzon wins, Dream will become a slave of hell forever.

The rules are that each takes turns projecting a form, and one must top the other until either of the contestants fails to imagine something more powerful than the last.

Choronzon takes the first move. He imagines a vicious dire wolf. Predictably for a demon, the power of predatory violence is his style of play. Initially, Dream plays in kind, imagining forms that can kill and destroy whatever Choronzon imagines. Yet, he soon realizes the futility in letting Choronzon frame the game and shifts tactics to a more positive, life-affirming strategy.

Rather than explaining it to you, here is what comes next. It’s one of my favorite moments in anything I’ve ever read, and is meaningful enough to me that I, you know, tattooed on my body.

Choronzon, High Duke of the Eighth Circle, Captain of the Horde of Beelzebub, can imagine nothing that is more powerful than hope.

As soon as I read this the first time, I wanted this tattoo. This moment is the epitome of why I love Neil Gaiman’s work more than any other writer. It’s the hallmark of my favorite sorts of stories.

Part of the alchemy of my depression is that I can never forget “the darkness at the end of everything.” Even in my best and happiest moments, that shadow is always in my field of vision. So, hope that pretends the darkness isn’t there has nothing to offer me. The very existence of that sort of false hope leaves me feeling empty and defeated. But here, the demon reminds us of that darkness, flaunts it in Dream’s face believing it to be his trump card, and hope still wins!

Dream’s victory plants the thought in my mind that hope isn’t the most powerful thing in spite of the darkness, or if we ignore the darkness. It is the most powerful thing because of the darkness, because nothing is more beautiful or remarkable than when we stand up, look into the darkness that waits at the end of the universe, and still choose hope and life. That is the most powerful thing.

Hope isn’t logical. It’s to believe foolishly, not just when it makes sense, (and I’m far too enamored with things making sense). We all know how our stories end, but to simply lay down and give in to how often death wins — even though it is the inevitable end of our stories — is the coward’s way out. I want hope instead.

Hope is choosing to see the world as beautiful, to see meaning in the details and minutia of our lives, and to believe that meaning somehow transcends us. Even though that meaning is probably just a dream. It’s choosing to believe there is beauty in the darkness and mystery around us instead of just angry things with teeth and claws, or worse, a vacuum.

The only way I want to live the one short life I get is by holding fast to hope. That’s not easy for me. Often I don’t believe, foolishly or otherwise — but I want to. Maybe all of life is ultimately meaningless. Hell, I think that’s by far the smarter bet. But if that’s the case, then I want to make the stupid bet. I want to act like it all matters, because who knows, maybe it does? Maybe there is more than what we know for sure. Even though darkness does wait at the end of the universe, maybe that’s not all there is. I want to live and make my choices in the mystery of that maybe, because it beats the fucking alternative.

And so now my body is marked for the rest of my life to remind me to choose hope, because that’s how I want to live. I want to look into the darkness at the end of everything with my eyes wide open and say, “I am hope.”

The end