The Hollow City, Deeply Odd and A Bad Day For Voodoo

I’m a huge reader. And reading is a very expensive addiction, especially for a self-defined book phagocyte like me. I devour books I love. If I’m really into a book, I will not be able to put it down until I finish it, and woe unto you if you come between us.

A lot of my peers (’cause, though I’m an adult, I’m still a young’un) will talk about how some band saved their life or something like that. For me, it was books. Particularly Dean Koontz. I was quite the depressed, dramatic teenager until I stumbled across Fear Nothing in my high school library.

Recently, I’ve read three excellent books by three of my favorite authors.

1) The Hollow City by Dan Wells

What I love about Dan Wells is his ability to write characters with mental disorders. In his debut book, I Am Not A Serial Killer, he did a really excellent job of getting into the mind of a sociopath (at least, from an empath’s point of view). In The Hollow City, he did it again, but with schizophrenia. It was wonderfully packed with twists and turns, trying to figure out what was reality and what was delusion. Also, it’s creepy, funny and heartbreaking—a variance of emotion, which is pretty necessary for me to love a book.

2) Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz

Koontz is my favorite author, flat-out. I bought—and finished—this book the day it came out. The latest installment in the Odd Thomas series, it may just be my favorite of them all, which is saying a lot. The villains are creepier, the ghost companion is awesomer, and there’s a character named Edie Fischer who I want to be when I get old. And it’s full of connections to Koontz’s other works, which drives people like me crazy in the best way. Once more, creepy, funny and heartbreaking, but also with the enduring optimism in humanity that Odd voices so well.

3) A Bad Day for Voodoo by Jeff Strand

Strand is an underestimated genius. Nobody manages to combine humor and horror in quite the same way he does. His style is so delightfully quirky and unexpected. Sometimes, I wish some bestselling authors (who can be a bit dull sometimes) would be more like him. Books need more humor, because a lot of them take themselves too seriously.

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Dear Women

If you want a guy to treat you like a queen, why don’t you stop treating him like your slave? Your enemy? Your potential rapist/abuser?

Women are not superior to men. They are not inferior to men. Nor do they need to be the precious little porcelain dolls for a man to protect. We’re equals.

If a guy isn’t allowed to hit you or yell at you, why are you allowed to do it to him? If you can say no, he can too. If you want to be strong and take care of yourself, don’t expect him to always protect you.

If you want him to understand you, why don’t you try understanding him first? If you want respect, try giving it.

And furthermore, ladies, stop wasting your time being “in love” with fictional characters and then complain about being single. Please. It’s just embarrassing.

(I recognize that all women aren’t like this just as I, myself, am not.)

Sticks and Stones

I’m sure we all know that one person. They can be so much fun to be around. But if you cross them, batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst, because they’re gonna tear you apart. They’re the ones we think about when we say, “It’s not me, it’s you.”

For me, it’s my sister.

Sibling abuse. Unreal, right? Siblings naturally compete. Isn’t it melodramatic to call it abuse?

No.

Since when has sibling rivalry involved arguments where the elder sibling starts beating the younger with an electric skillet lid, then says it was self defense? Dragging the younger down the sidewalk on Main Street? Following the younger in a car when they’ve walked away from an argument? Throwing objects at the younger’s head for “lying?” Refusing to leave the younger alone no matter what—after polite asking has turned to demanding has turned to threats has turned to begging?

If you think that’s all good and normal, try imagining now that the older sibling is an adult, and the younger sibling a child. Or maybe the first a man and the second a woman.

It’s wrong. It’s abuse. Nobody should be allowed to do that to another person.

But my sister has done all those to me, and much more. When I’ve walked away, not wanting to deal with her, she’s said I’m too sensitive. When I resprained my bad ankle, I was a drama queen. When we went to church together, I couldn’t sit next to a friend, because I’d talk. I hate St. Patrick’s day, so I’m a hipster. I enjoy the dramatic side of life, so I’m emo. I’m whiny, selfish and immature (yet I’m not the one to come after an annoying sister with scissors!). Our dad does so much for us that I always fail to appreciate. (But, y’know, I’m the one who’s had a more recent job. She wasn’t even looking, and had been “borrowing” money from my dad for over a year.)

She realized something was wrong with Mom before I did, so I figured she was always right. I’ve always looked up to her. So I listened to her. I can’t even count the hours I’ve spent trying to figure out why I was being such a sensitive, whiny, selfish, immature, emo, hipster drama queen.

To anyone out there who’s going through similar things with a sibling—or anyone else: you’re not the problem, so stop second-guessing yourself. Be who you want to be, not who they want you to be. Forget the old adage—words can hurt just as much as physical blows. They can damage and stunt us as we work to avoid them. They can make us doubt our reality—our sanity. But realize that the words aren’t correct just because someone we love said them.

Life as a Hoarder’s Kid

Hoarding. It’s a lot more than an amusing eccentricity that makes the character you’re writing more unique. Ever tried being the kid of a hoarder?

It’s not made of amusing eccentricity and clutter, and saying, “Hey, Mom, we need to get rid of some of this stuff,” and her saying, “You’re right.” No. You try telling my mom to get rid of some of her stuff, she yells and throws things, but she doesn’t ever get rid of anything, and it’s all your fault, and she’s going to walk out, and to hell with everything.

It never goes that far, but I really wish she would just walk out. As the useless so-called housewife, what she does is sit at home all day playing Solitaire and listening to movies, while my dad’s out, working hard. She wouldn’t last a day outside her house. She doesn’t even have a driver’s license anymore!

Anyway, being the kid of a hoarder means never inviting anyone over. Friends have to wait outside for you, and even then, you’re embarrassed, because outside’s a mess, too. Not knowing when you stink because the whole house smells bad. Not knowing how to use simple appliances like an oven, because yours hasn’t worked for as long as you can remember. Not knowing how to clean. Apprehension whenever anyone comes to the door. The fridge is on the porch, and the microwave is in the hall. You wash dishes and clothes in the bathroom, and pray the water heater doesn’t break, because it’ll never get fixed. Flies, mice, spiders, ants and silver fish are common. During the winter, you just store food on the porch—that’ll keep it plenty cold. Entire rooms have been full of stuff for so long, you can hardly remember when it was usable. You can’t walk through the house barefoot without your feet being covered in dirt, crumbs, and stepping in animal feces. When something sticky spills on the floor, you clean it up with whatever’s closest, whether it be dirty laundry or junk mail.

And you know what really sucks? Hoarding in and of itself isn’t illegal. Authorities apparently can’t step in and do something about it unless a)there are children involved, b)a disabled person is involved or c)animals are abused because of hoarding. Once upon a time, someone reported my mom, and The Almighty State could step in because my sister and I were children. Mom responded by keeping us in another city all day to avoid them, and not allowing us to go outside.

Now, I’m an adult, and my dad doesn’t and never has had the guts to stand up to my mom—like it would work, anyway. He’s not disabled. Our animals are pretty well treated. So, he’s stuck with it. As am I, when I lack the money to live somewhere else. But it doesn’t change how I’d do anything to lock her up somewhere and restore the house to what it once was.

Timshel and East of Eden

One of my favorite books is John Steinbeck’s immortal East of Eden. I watched part of the movie in a class my senior year of high school, and decided I should read the book because I identified with the character of Cal. Took me two years to actually do it, though.

(And I read it at the time in my life where I needed it most, trying to wrap my head around sibling abuse, etc. But that’s not important right now.)

Besides the prose (which I love), there’s a fantastic, biblical story. A Cain-and-Abel parallel, sometimes. All the good, just characters’ names start with an A (Adam, Aron, Abra), while the supposed villains all start with a C (Cyrus, Charles, Cathy, Caleb). Cyrus is the father of Adam and Charles, who likes Adam better, so Charles nearly kills him. Adam marries Cathy, who cheats on him with Charles, and bears him twin boys—Caleb and Aron. Aron’s the sweet one who everyone likes, and has a girlfriend named Abra. Cal’s the dark, mean one who people stay away from.

And then, in this last part detailing Cal and Aron, Steinbeck steps away from Cain and Abel. Aron is self-righteous. Holier-than-thou. He ignores what doesn’t fit into his perfect world. Cal loves his brother and gives up what he wants for Aron, and is always wondering why he’s so bad. He doesn’t ignore the bad. He’s more the one to embrace it. Stepping into it so Aron won’t have to.

One of the main themes in this book is one word—timshel. It comes from the original Hebrew version of the Bible, a word meaning thou mayest. In the story of Cain and Abel, there’s a verse where God tells Cain in the English translation “Thou shalt overcome sin.” But in the original, it’s “Thou mayest.” Timshel.

We have the power over our own lives. We may overcome, or we may not. It’s our choice. Agency. We can stand back and let God or Fate or who/whatever determine our lives for us, but it won’t get us anywhere. We’re responsible for ourselves.

So, no. We’re not going to overcome, necessarily. But we CAN, if we choose to. We can overcome whatever life throws our way.

If I were a Guy, I’d Probably be Arrested

Men are stronger than women, right? A man can always defend himself, and those around him. They don’t cry, they enjoy competition and action, and will always protect the women in their lives.

Yeah. Society’s full of crap.

I’m not denying that there are men out there like that. There are women like that too. On a good day, I fancy myself to be one of them.

Sexism is a double-ended trap. The same force that tells women that they need to be weak and submissive and emotional and soft-spoken and feminine tells men the exact opposite.

Women are allowed to mock men freely (I, myself, have often engaged in such behavior and thought there was nothing wrong with it), but if a man dares to joke about women, he is automatically a sexist pig. If a woman hits a man she is strong. If a man hits a woman, he’s an evil abuser.

With women, ever notice how no doesn’t always mean no? Of course, they’ll tell you that, but then they turn around and say things like, “If I say I’m fine, you better be worried.” It’s spread across the Web in images like this one:

Lies Girls Tell

Got that? I’m never fine, I’m always jealous, and I’m never over him. We can never be friends, and it’s not okay. Ever.

Except, you know, how men aren’t mind readers. We can’t expect them to know when we really ARE fine, which is pretty much always, for me. I’ve had boyfriends constantly asking if I was okay just because I wasn’t smiling or talking. One used the memorable line (forgive the swearing), “Whose ass am I kicking?” Which he probably learned from this one:

Whose Ass am I Kicking

Except, as an introvert, I was just being me. Not smiling or laughing. Just thinking, perfectly happy in the private realm of my thoughts.

Moving beyond these hated images, I’m a girl, as I have already stated. And I’ve often wished that I was a guy. Men are perceived as stronger. When a man tries to be strong, nobody’s gonna laugh at him and say he’s cute. Nobody calls him soft and sensitive unless they want their faces smashed in. Nobody assumes that he wants to join the military to a)prove that he can do whatever other guys can do, b)meet guys. He doesn’t get odd stares when he holds the door open for other guys.

But, if I were a guy, I’d probably have been arrested. Why? Because I have an older sister whom I’ve been in physical fights with, and I always won. No, I never started any of them, but she’d be the girl—therefore weaker, and I’d be an evil abuser for touching her, even though it was only self defense. Because, obviously, if she was attacking me with scissors, I must have done something horrible to her, and I probably deserved it. I have very little doubt that in that scenario, I’d have been the one arrested for domestic violence, not her.

So, I know I’m better off as a girl. But I’m still a masculine girl, though 100% straight. I wear guys’ clothes, I communicate in a more masculine way. I prefer hanging out with guys, and really hate it when one of my bros says he likes me. The highest compliment I’ve ever received is being told that I’m more of a man than one of my guy friends will ever be. And, like a lot of guys, I’m embarrassed to admit that I enjoy a chick flick every now and then, or that I like a good romance plot. Crying in front of someone is one of the worst things I can do. Being called soft is the surest way to piss me off. I hold doors for everyone, and often joke that my dad raised me to be a gentleman.

I hate being tickled by a guy, because it’s not flirting to me—it’s war. They’re making themselves look stronger than me, and I’m expected to put up with it and giggle? HECK NO!

We have come to the end of our ramble, and you may now return to your regular scheduled programming.

Darling Sister

For as long as I can remember, my sister has been one of my best friends. She’s always been there for me, always given me advice. We’ve stayed up way too late many a night just talking, making dumb jokes, laughing. Bonding. Because Mommy sabotaged most of our friendships, we were pretty much all we had. So we made the most of it.

So how does that lead to abuse, violence, and finally arrest? I’ve stumbled over that question many times. How did we get here? Who did what wrong?

I think that the closer people are, the more they are capable of hurting one another. And sometimes we do terrible things. I can’t leave myself out of that we. It takes two to tango, and all that. I wield my younger sibling birthright just as much as any other baby of the family. I’ve blamed myself for years, as a matter of fact. I was certain that she was right, and I was wrong, no matter what. Why was I being such a hypochondriac, whiny drama queen? Why was I so childish and selfish? I’d have done anything to be able to flip a switch and be more mature, less whiny and dramatic.

But still, I can’t believe most of it was my fault anymore. I can’t let myself. When we got in fights, I was always the first to apologize. In fact, she hardly ever apologized. She was quick to say, “I’ll never forgive you,” but never once did she ask for my forgiveness. She always justified her own actions—never a doubt in her mind, while I was plagued with them.

And just last night, I got texted by her friend, telling me that my sister was blaming herself for my dad losing his job. That she blamed herself for most everything. Well, yeah. That’s typical of her. Blame herself for everything except what’s really her fault. I honestly think it’s backward and self-centered of her. Since I told this friend that, he hasn’t texted me back. I’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to jump on the My Sister’s A Victim bandwagon.

I’ve never said I’m a good person. I’m self-centered. And I revel in the drama of my life. The great tragedy of me. I’m trying to find it in me to forgive, but I’ve already done it so many times, without really understanding what was happening. Aftershock, I guess.

I know I sound hostile, when I should be a saint and Too Good For This World and rise above it all, but I’m pissed. I’ve fought against it for all these years, choosing to walk the eggshells and spare my sister’s feelings, but I’m done with that. I promised myself I would fight—stand up for myself. Voice more of my feelings and opinions. I’m not going to be walked on anymore.