Thanks for the nightmares

Out of the darkness descends a shadow, unfolding from the somewhere unseen above. It curls down and drops to the gleaming metal floor below, at home in darkness, and only after it is standing at its full height do you realize it’s seven or eight feet tall.

Light glints off its edges, giving you an impression of a sleek, bony frame and sharp, shining edges carved of something jet black. It rises above you, towering like an obelisk.

You start to back away, horrified as black lips slide away from silver teeth that seem to shine with their own light, emerging slowly from the slick black head. And suddenly an entire second set of jaws explode forward like a battering ram, a living bullet, tearing through flesh.

That’s if you’re lucky.

alien Much more likely is the creature, the alien, will ambush you. You’ll never see it coming as its long, thin claws wrap around your face and chest and it rips you off the ground with incredible strength, dragging you off to its hive. There, it will secrete a glue that will bind you, cocoon you, to any hard surface. There, you’ll wait.

You’ll wait for the babies.

The alien might eat you, sure, if it feels like. But what it wants to do is feed you to its hive’s young. Imprisoned in the hive, another sort of alien, which looks like a spider, will attach itself to your face, force a tube down your throat, and lay an egg in your stomach. Where it will grow.

Before long, it’s time for the baby to be born. It’ll use its teeth. And it’ll come through your ribcage.

That’s easily the most horrifying experience I can imagine – becoming the victim of a creature that doesn’t just want to eat you, but to rape you so fully that when you finally give birth to the bastard child, it will kill you; and that you’ll help in the creation of a thing that knows nothing but murder. I’ve been captivated, and held captive, by visions – and fears – of the monster ever since I first saw Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” and even before that, when I read the novelization of writer Dan O’Bannon’s script for the film when I was around 9.

I found the novel, its cover coming loose and pages hanging half-free of the binding, in a used book store in Toronto. “Alien 3” was released just two years before and when that happened, the film series became a part of my consciousness that I’ve never been able to shake. A fan of sci-fi for the entirety of my life, I couldn’t put the book down. It was incredibly frightening – the story of a group of bored working-stiff spacemen on a tugboat dragging an interstellar mine across the galaxy. And then they were attacked by a monster that killed them all in the most vicious way possible.

225px-Dan_O'Bannon O’Bannon died on Dec. 17 at the age of 65. He was a writer and director for films, including “Return of the Living Dead,” a genre-altering zombie movie. (The zombie moaning “braaaaaiiiins” is the child of “Return.”) But O’Bannon’s work on “Alien” is what changed the worlds of science fiction, film and horror for me forever.

There are occasions when I’ll awake with a start and a cold sweat, searching the darkness in my room, convinced that one of those huge creatures is waiting just out of sight. There are few other stories that have had such a profound effect on my psyche. When I was young, I consumed all I could from the “Alien” universe – movies, novels based on the films, comics, video games, even toys.

O’Bannon’s death reminded me of how acutely this one story has affected me. The alien and its awful power and singular purpose still is one of the most original horror conceptions I’ve ever encountered – nothing I’ve seen that’s been created in last 30 years even compares. How many movie monsters have you ever had a nightmare about? Because my list is short (though it is a list, and maybe that makes me weird).

The list of things I can designate as “Made Me Want to Be a Writer” is huge, with more items that I can enumerate or probably even remember. But high on the list (really, really high) is the work of Dan O’Bannon on “Alien.” Really, it boils down to a single idea – but that single idea, that alien creature, holds the place as the scariest thing of which I’ve ever heard. That’s an incredible achievement, in my mind.

The very reason for creating something is to have a serious effect on the lives of others. O’Bannon didn’t do a ton of memorable work – the majority of his movies are some of which I’ve never heard – but just this one idea was so formative to me that the man had a serious influence on my writing in all genres, and in science fiction and horror in particular.

I wake up from bad dreams about O’Bannon’s monsters.

But it’s always a good thing.

Happiness derived of metal and plastic

cd cover I’ve been holding off writing a post about the most important aspect of my life, because I didn’t want to come off as sappy and ridiculous. In addition, who would want to read about it, I reasoned.

Alas, no longer can I refrain from pouring my heart out all over the Internet. I am absolutely, deeply, hopelessly, endlessly, ridiculously in love with Caitlin M. Foyt.

For Christmas, Caitlin got me the greatest, most thoughtful gift I’ve ever received. You can read a more in-depth description on her blog, but suffice to say, she took the mix tape idea I utilized for her birthday and as is her way, did it 100 times better than I did.

Caitlin’s extremely involved 23-track mix CD, “Songs I Never Related To Before I Met You,” is an intense and satisfying love letter. You know a person is special when she has the ability to recast multiple songs you’ve grown to hate over the years and make them relevant and fun to hear. “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer is a crap song – except in the context of Caitlin’s album, where it’s not only perfect, but enjoyable. Who knew.

And she put a Meat Loaf track on there (“I Would Do Anything For Love,” which I love to belt) despite her dislike for Mr. Loaf.

That’s not to discount the case and booklet she made me with her patented collage technique with love letter liner notes. The undertaking was massive, the quality shows, and it’s impossible for me to overstate how great it makes me feel.

Part Two of the gift: engraved Zippo lighter. I’ve always wanted one and her message on it is a constant reminder that my life is amazing.

I’m a lucky guy.

Meanwhile, Caitlin often turns to me and asks, “Why do you like me?” As if there’s a way to answer that with any kind of brevity or precision.

Why do I like her? Because she’s the most incredible person I’ve ever met; because she’s beautiful, smart, funny, interesting, and incredibly talented; because she’s the kind of person who puts together a mix CD complete with its own unique and amazing packaging.

I can’t help but laugh at the irony of it. The most beautiful and interesting woman I’ve ever known – the woman of my dreams, the woman I’ve wished I could be with since the first day we met – wonders why I like her.

It’s especially weird because I’ve always perceived a difference in league here. I’m not someone who’s got a ton of self-esteem and confidence when it comes matters of women as it is, and to be honest, I never really thought I had a shot with Caitlin.

Even more strange are the occasional discussions we have about how close we both came to confessing how we felt about each other more than a year ago. It’s funny to think about how different my life would be if I’d chosen a different path (read: grown a spine) two years ago before I left Michigan for six months in Chicago.

Thinking about how my life could have been different just highlights how good it is now. Receiving Caitlin’s deeply personal Christmas gift is almost as good as getting her something that she’ll love just as much. And more than anything, I love being in a relationship in which giving and creating gifts – one of my all-time most hated endeavors because I endlessly agonize over finding and obtaining worthwhile gifts in (almost) all cases – is something that I now actually have a great time doing. And I love being reminded that I love it. And I love that my life’s become something in which I find thinking and writing about stuff like this fun and interesting enough to do it.

The king of all that is unfinished

Snapshot_20091201 I had been sitting here staring at a blank blog post for a few minutes now when I was struck a painful illustration of a fact about myself that drives me crazy. (The photo is meant to represent that I’m so counterproductive as to be unshowered for the whole of the day.)

To post these blogs, I use Windows Live Writer, a program that compiles all your blogs into a single program and offers a word processor for the purpose of writing entries. It’s not exactly necessary – the program is essentially the interface on your blog, so why do you need another interface that mimics your interface? – but it does afford certain upsides, such as being able to write offline and post later with slightly less hassle, and it works like Microsoft Word, and it was free.

I mention this because one of the nicer functions is a handy quick-action bar found along the right side of the post, which lets you quickly open the blog, or its dashboard, or stuff you’ve recently posted among several blog sites (I like it when I get lazy and share things between here and Wrath of the Damned), or unfinished draft blogs you’ve started and saved.

Sadly, I have a pile of such blog posts. Among their titles:

  • The king of all that is unfinished, in which I describe my propensity for using just half my ass in any given situation.
  • Gamestop, in which I started to complain about how badly I was treated at Gamestop the other week when I bought “Left 4 Dead 2,” but ran out of steam and decided to just quietly boycott rather than bother outlining my somewhat shallow reasons for it. (Suffice to say, I feel like those clowns repeatedly and extensively rip off me and everyone in the subset known as video gamers, who deserve to be treated well given who they are and how they’re treated by everyone else, and not exploited by some fat corrupt corporate bastards.)
  • A mystery spot inside a time warp, in which I started to do some investigative journalism about some possibly wonky workings in the Village of Holly’s local government, concerning the town’s very small police force and its employ of Dodge Chargers as its police cruisers. But it was a lot of work and didn’t seem like it was going much of anywhere. I also may need to exercise the Freedom of Information Act to finish it, and we all know what a hassle that can be.
  • The journalism industry, in which I was hoping to expound on an idea I started recently, partially to complain about the state of the industry in which I am trained and no longer really wish to be a part, partially because I’m sick of people crying about losing their jobs when it seems clear to me this is both a temporary setback and a necessary function of a crappy industry cleaning out the crap.
  • The reign of the benevolent government, in which I was going to complain about members of my generation specifically and people in general and the B.S. they spew about politics, about trusting their government to “take care of them” when they should be vigilant and irritated, and stumping for politicians because they voted for them and are therefore married to them.

So that was a little depressing. In addition, I’ve been in a dumpy mood lately anyway, as it’s been 10 days or more since I wrote for National Novel Writing Month. This is significant especially because today, Nov. 30, is the last day of NaNoWriMo, and I am well below the arbitrary finished novel mark of 50,000 words.

And that also was a little depressing.

This isn’t the first time I’ve failed to finish something that formerly was important to me. I’m well-versed in the, “hey, what a great idea!” portion of writing something, but not so much in the “yes, I worked really hard and now I have something to show for it” portion. Which is interesting, because for years I was completely unable to write anything shorter than 10,000 or 15,000 words and have it be complete, and therefore always wrote long, and therefore wrote a lot of long stuff. (I’ve since fixed that problem, and I’m starting to find myself with the opposite one, as I’ve trained myself to write short and now if something stretches much more than 4,000 words, I’m sort of impressed with myself.)

The worst part of the writing business, by far, is the business part. It’s the part that irritates me with journalism and the part that keeps me (relatively) unpublished as my body of work grows larger. Every so often I’ll get the itch to try to make something of myself, edit the hell out of some stories, ship them off to magazines and have a good time waiting for rejection letters to show up in the mail. It’s both an epic pain in the ass and a fair disappointment. Which is why I don’t usually do it, which holds me back as far as making money and building writing credits.

It’s actually a pretty stupid cycle. But it’s hard to motivate yourself to do all the non-creative stuff that writing requires, especially because those things are in no way as fun as writing actually is. So that hasn’t happened in about eight months, either. I’ll get to it eventually.

There’s not really a greater point that I’m building toward here. I don’t actually have one, except that I’m in something of a bad mood because inspiration escapes me lately. And stupid NaNoWriMo is over. And here I am. I could outline at length all the numerous other projects I’ve left unfinished – I have a folder of them on my desktop here – but it’s further depressing. Most of them are old, and I was so lame and young that they’re beyond rescue. That’s a pretty good excuse for not finishing them.

Anyway. At least I can check off this week’s blog post. Check.