Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Unspeakable Horror

While the following isn't necessarily Floridia related (my story in the anthology is set in Edgar Allan Poe's fantastic 18th century Italy) but I found it appropriate nonetheless. The following is the book trailer for Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet where my short story "Cask" will be published:

For more information check out the anthology homepage.

Wonderfully Creepy

So it is that time of year again when our minds turn to the darker aspects of life, if only for fun and whimsy. I'll be starting up a regular series here that I've done elsewhere that I call "Wonderfully Creepy." A bit of an explanation:

There's a phrase that I use occasionally. It's not something that I ever thought much about until my wife pointed it out some time ago with a puzzled expression. The phrase is "wonderfully creepy", and I use it to describe all those things which send delicious chills down your spine. I strongly believe that horror is connected in some ways with a sense of awe, with the sublime, and the wonder we feel at the unknown. I've always been interested in this sensation, ever since I was very young. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, autumn my favorite season. I've mentioned Ray Bradbury often when trying to explain my seasonal fixation. I've quoted the very same passage I'm about to quote, many times before. Hell, it's even been in my userinfo, nonetheless I feel that it's about time to pull that wonderful short bit of prose out:

...that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.

That is the epigram for Bradbury's short story collection October Country and it remains something which resonates with me. It is in some ways the world I try to describe in my writing, a world that I'm entranced with.

So once again I've decided for the month of October I'm going to dedicate most of my efforts to sharing some of these bits of the wonderfully creepy. When I'm not working my arse off at school, writing my new novel, or spending the leftover time with my neglected wife, I'll be working to bring you strange fascinating things that haunt the sunshine state. Stay tuned over the next month for a number of things, some more seasonal speculations no doubt, and of course forays into the Wonderfully Creepy.

In many ways that is what this entire blog has been about, but I suppose my October coverage of the Wonderfully Creepy is just an attempt to make that a little more apparent.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

words of somewhat necessary warning

So there were varying responses from the last post, which is what I expected. While soliciting comments on the Tampa livejournal community I got one response which I find particularly noteworthy for a number of reasons. The following is a comment from that entry found here. I quote the author Darlahood a regular contributor to the Tampa lj community with her permission:

Ok, I have some critique...

I am a native Floridian. My family has been here since the 1700s. When your people have been here that long, you know the seasons, when to plant, and when to hunt. It really irks me when outlanders come down here and talk about how Florida doesn't have seasons, how the roads suck, how Florida has no history (obviously these people are really ignorant because St. Augustine was going through urban renewal when Jamestown was just getting started, but you already know that...), how Floridians are white trash... all of these comments really put me on the defensive.

Now, I realize that your blog isn't that type of blog, and I know you're trying to dig deeper into Florida than the touristy, strip mall parts. But a word of caution in the wordage you use. "Down here" for example. Whenever someone says that, it immediately puts me in awareness that they see their real home as different from Florida. More to the point, I think some people move "down here" and take advantage of Florida's resources, using our energy and water, bulldozing wetlands for McMansions, and other liberties that would never cross their mind in the ancestral memory of "back home."

This *is* my original home. There is no "down here" or "back up North" for me.

If folks cannot reconcile themselves to be in harmony with the seasons as Florida presents them, I suggest they go back to where they feel most at ease with the natural world. Yes, I'm one of
those Floridians. A Confederate descendent, a "if it's tourist season does that mean we get to shoot them?" Floridian. But individual Northerners shouldn't take offense if I generalize the lot of Yankees as a whole. Bear in mind tourists in Florida have been making fun of the natives for at least 300 years. This book has a great many observations on that matter:

I expect citrus in winter, orange blossoms in February, the oak trees to shed their leaves in Spring, seasonal rains in Summer, and the slightest hint of Fall on the breeze in Autumn... it's like the musky humidity binds with the rotting cypress meat in the swamp and wafts over the railroad tracks into town.

Also check out Losing it All to Sprawl by Bill Belleville; it's a great book

Anyway, I applaud what you're trying to do, I just don't want it to be about "down here." ;)

I think that Darlahood has some interesting points worth bearing in mind. The first is of course that there is no normative standard for seasons other than those that actually exist in that place. It is of course absurd to expect seasonal rhythms in one climate and topography to be the same as another, as though the seasons in Colorado or New England (both places I've lived) are somehow normative. The way things work in other places doesn't make the way things work here any less authentic or real or whathaveyou.

Darlahood writes "If folks cannot reconcile themselves to be in harmony with the seasons as Florida presents them, I suggest they go back to where they feel most at ease with the natural world." This makes a fair bit of sense too, but what I'm interested in here is the ways in which those who are trying to reconcile themselves do so. I am interested in the perspective of the native and I am interested in the perspective of the transplant.

I think that Darlahood says some things that anyone taking up the kind of project I am should keep in mind: my perspective is one particular one amongst many, while generally I don't think a native Floridian has a better epistemological vantage point to view reality here than a transplant does, either perspective has things to add to the discourse.

More of this to come I'm sure.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Seasonal speculations

It is heading towards the tail end of September, (and indeed tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox) and elsewhere in places with colder climbs and higher altitudes the seasons are in the process of shifting. The joke has often been made that Florida does actually have four seasons: Hurricane Season, Love Bug Season, Tourist Season, and Snow Bird Season. However the absence of dramatic visible change (and less visible the further South in the state you get) is something that troubles some of us.

So now is the time of year that I, and others, begin to pine for something a little more tangible. Something a little more like this:

and less like this:

So how can one experience the seasons, the environmental rhythm in a place where the rhythm is so subtle? My good friend Samantha Holloway has been grappling with this question for awhile now. She has a blog called A Year of Living Dangerously Seasonally (for which I owe her an article about seasonal beers, I swear I'll get to it eventually!)

She describes her effort thus:

So I'm just a girl like any other, poorish, white, work in a shop in a tourist area of Florida-- but I want to be healthy and I want to see if I can manage to live a whole year only eating what's seasonal and what's meant to be eaten each month. Starting Jan 1, 2009, I'm going to try my best. Until then, this is where I'm going to post all my facts and sources so I can find them again when I write the book that will encapsulate all I go through this coming year.

Care to come with me?

That is one interesting response, but are there others?

So dear readers (who I hope and speculate are out there), what are your thoughts? Do you have any tried and true methods for observing the rhythm of the seasons? Are there things that mark seasonal change in Florida that I and others are missing? What do you do to get in the spirit of the season? I'm planning on doing a write up and response to this at some point so any comment would be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What Hath Disney Wrought?

I, like our culture in general, have a fascination with the Disney Empire. Part of that fascination comes from the Disney corporations mythic status within our national consciousness, and the way in which they have positioned themselves as cultural symbols.

There is something intensely strange about the obsession with Disney. There is the man who has nearly two thousand Disney tattoos on his body. Then there is the peculiar breed of people who settle in Celebration the town owned by the corporation. I still recall a winter visit to Orlando several years ago and seeing the billboards that read "Celebration: Snowing Nightly!" Indeed during the Christmas season tiny soap bubbles are pumped into the air to create the appearance of snow (the same thing that is done at the Disneyworld park at Yuletide).

This collapsing of geographies and climate into one another exemplifies some of the things that Karen Hellekson and Craig Jacobsen presented about at the 29th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, the annual conference of the IAFA. I didn't get a chance to see their presentation, but they've put it up online. It is a really fascinating look at the semiotics of the Disneyworld park. If you are so inclined check out:

To the Axis Mundi.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"La Llorona, or the Weeping Woman and Other Examples of Magic"

The following illustrates in some sense what I aim at with Floridia at Dusk. Its a piece of work I wrote as an undergraduate that I think did a decent job of bridging the gap between my experiences in Colorado and Florida. There are things in it that I find silly when I look at it now: the use of "magic with a k" I could do without, because really as has been said by many before me, spelling magic "magick" really demonstrates more than anything else, that you are a git who should not be paid attention to. But my questionable magical metaphysics not-withstanding here is "La Llorona, or the Weeping Woman and Other Examples of Magick" (christ that bloody k!)

The Weeping Woman and Other Examples of Magick

Every now and then Karen gets antsy and acts upon the urge to go in search of what she obsessively calls "the real Florida." I have never witnessed any of these occasions but Val has told me stories about many of these road trips to nowhere, of boring car rides through Florida potato fields and the like, and they have got me thinking. I've come to realize that in her backwards, back roads kind of way, Karen is looking for a place where magick, with a k, still exists.

I've come to find magick here, though magick in Florida is different from magick in Colorado. In Florida it takes a little effort to find, since it lies beyond the empire that Disney has forged from swampland and orange grove. Florida's magick lies in Negro folktale and everglades, salt marshes and abandoned churches, the mystery of alligator alley where one can go without trace of what most of us know as civilization. Driving through this alternate Florida I've suddenly found myself suddenly surrounded by greenery, lush and dense, wrapping itself out onto the road and around the car. In some places the trees arch over the highways and byways canopying the pavement filtering sunlight to a low flicker through branches. When I roll the window down and turn the radio of and just drive without seeing signs of a human being, every noise outside becomes important, every rustling could be some new threat or blessing. In this Florida where magick still occurs, gatormen roam the swamps and mermaids swim in the Matanzes inlet and at Weeki Wachee.

Growing up in Colorado magick is found in other places. Colorado's myths are things of high Rocky Mountains, low plains, a conflagration of Indian and immigrant lore. There is a town, for instance, called Manitou Springs, where sulfur water boils to the surface, a sacred space, a place that feels different from the world around it. Its the home, the neighboring tribes say, to the Manitou, spirits or gods depending on how you look at it; good, or bad depending on which tribe you ask. However, all the tribes in the area agree the place is one of power. The Ute Indians would cross the mountains through Manitou, and I have hiked those trails, which twist and turn. Gullies and hills rise along the mountain paths, and high-grass and around every rock-solid corner a spirit.

Or take the story of La Llorona, the Weeping Woman of Mexican folklore. A young woman, she, in most versions of the tale, drowned her children in a river. She now wanders from place to place, mourning what she did when blinded by rage. In some versions she wanders looking for children to replace the ones she lost.

I saw her once, or should I say I almost saw her.

I was at the Pueblo Nature Center late one night, smoking and staring out at the Arkansas river a melancholy feeling building inside of me. The wind whistled around me, current splashing with fine-tuned movement, like some elemental clockwork, sounding a vague liquid flip-flop every second or so. In this early fall the air felt cool but not yet brisk. I was probably crying, lamenting, my own lost love, not drowned or even dead, but lost into self-imposed exile from me. She had ended the relationship just a few days before and I was the worse for wear.

I looked out at the river bank, a September moon shining down. The moon's light gave everything an aspect of twilight, not too dark, but nothing clearly visible either. And there down the river was magick, down the river was La Llorona.

She was beautiful, even though her face was streaked with tears. Her jet black hair framed a face which looked architecturally feminine. Her lips bloomed full and those eyes from which those tears fell were almond shaped and as brown as her Hispanic skin. She wore a white dress, which clung to her in the wind and she walked with a kind of grace, like one trying to perform penance.

There she stood, this archetypal symbol of grief, lamenting her actions. And there I sat lamenting loss, but wasn't I also partially to blame, had I not made mistakes and committed small scale atrocities that I should be lamenting. But I did not see her, I told you, I almost saw her.

The wonderful thing about the ancient Greeks is that quite often they had several words for everything. To describe location they have two words Topos and Chora. Topos is where we get our modern word topography and it means where exactly in space a location lies. It has to do with coordinates, altitude and positions on maps. Chora on the other hand is where our word choreography comes from (to put meaning to movement I believe though I could be wrong) and deals with what a place means; what a place means to people, to them and in relationship with them.

The soul of a place, the place which is sacred, the place where magick occurs, lies somewhere other than simply topos. It is a place, not simply dependent upon physical space and maps and coordinates, just as it is not dependent on fact and literal history. Rather it is an interaction between these things and the chora. It comes from the feelings people have about a space, the stories they tell and how they interact with that space.

La Llorona for instance, is a tiny fragment of that place's soul, which is not necessarily confined to that place; there are reports of La Llorona as far as Montana. She seems to follow large migrations of Mexican Americans. However in some sense also, La Llorona will never leave the nature center in Pueblo. It is part of the magick which forms a world we sometimes forget exists, a world we feel the loss of under concrete and homogenized culture. It's still present like a ghost walking along a river bank, something you can almost see, but very rarely grasp.

Floridia at Dusk: An Introduction of Sorts

I suppose that introductions are in order:

My name is Jude Wright and I am amongst other things a graduate student, a voratious reader, a lover of cats, and a horror writer living in Florida.

I've been visiting the state since I was a child: family friends in the Panhandle; the obligatory trips to Walt Disneyworld; a visit to St. Augustine our nation's oldest city in my adolescence. I've spent some time in New England, and Maine calls itself "Vacationland." For me, and much of the nation, that name is more aptly given to Florida.

I moved to Florida at the age of eighteen to attend Flagler College in St. Augustine. While there I fell in a strange kind of love that had probably always been sitting in my sun-avoiding soul waiting patiently for to emerge. I'll not wax too poetical about all of this, its neither terribly interesting or terribly original. Suffice to say that a boy from Colorado came to appreciate the hot humidity that had seeped into his skin from his early days visiting relatives in Lousiana. While living in St. Augustine and attending school I worked as ghost tour guide (of which there are many) something that put me in touch with the realms of folklore, lived experience, and abject chicanery that this blog will more than likely be about.

"Aye, there's the rub" as the Dane would say: what exactly is this blog going to be about? Well, sometime ago, back in the erstwhile years of my undergraduate (mis)education, I began calling the state of my current residence "Floridia", adding to the word the i and the a that would distinguish it from the rest of the natural world. Years later I'm back in the state and my little silly linguistic game now stands for the nebulous place where geography meets story, where sea meets sky, and where sardonic horror writer meets bloody-fucking-sunshine-state.

Love and Hexes,