The Emotional Downside of the Holidays

The holiday season presents hidden emotional hurdles and barriers that most don’t comprehend during this season of good cheer. Depression, fear and regret are insidious beasts that need no invitation to intrude upon our lives. For those who come from broken or distressed families, suffered abuse, abandonment, homophobia or any number of things tend to experience a resurgence of negative emotions when it comes to what typically is considered a family-centric season. It’s more than just not having a family to share the holidays with but coming to grips with another year of regret, sorrow, guilt and pain. When you’re locked into this mindset, the prospect of facing another year is a daunting task.  Some of us see a trail of failure behind us and struggle to see anything other than failure ahead. A profound sense of loneliness begins to pervade your mind and even the presence of friends can do little to alleviate these unrelenting feelings.

Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my memoir “The Demons of Plainville” to help illustrate how some of these feelings begin building in a child’s life from an early age.

 

          The weekend before Christmas, he picked me up, and I returned with him to his small second-floor apartment. Dingy piles of ice-encrusted snow clogged the sidewalks of the city as a bitterly cold wind swept down the street. I normally enjoyed the holidays because it always means I get to spend the week alone in Plymouth with my maternal grandparents. Even my mother tended to be happier during the days immediately preceding the holiday. However, the new element of my father entering my life filled me with a growing level of uncertainty that I find increasingly troublesome, though I’m unsure why.

He had set up a cot in Sam’s room for my sleeping arrangements that weekend. My stay was similar to the first few visits: just small talk but nothing out of the ordinary – until Sunday afternoon. I had just finished eating a bowl of cereal in the kitchen with Sam. I excused myself from the table and walked into Sam’s room to pack my suitcase for the return home, and it was gone.

“Dad, where is my suitcase?” I asked.

“You’re not going to need it anymore, Daniel.”

This confused me; my father was not making any sense. “How am I going to get my stuff home?”

“You’re not going home, Daniel.  You’re staying with us now.  You’re my son.”

I offered no reply; I remain in stunned silence for a moment. This was an unexpected development and suddenly I felt fear. My father seemed cold to me.  He never warmed up or got close. There was no affirming hug or inviting smile. Now suddenly I couldn’t return to my home; I was stuck in a strange place. I did not really know these people. I grew cold, and my heart began to pound. I got a sick feeling. I finally thought of the perfect excuse: “But I have to go to school!”

My father did not break his blank expression. “School is already taken care of; you’re going to school here.”

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens – First Impressions

“There has been…an awakening. Have you felt it?” – Supreme Leader Snoke

I’m going to avoid any major spoilers here and just provide my first impressions of the Star Wars movie that many of us have been eagerly anticipating for over a year. The first goal for any movie franchise must be to leave the viewer wanting to see more. Marvel has done a fantastic job with this important task. A movie franchise will only endure if there are fans who care to see where the story is heading and what will become of their favorite characters.

So, has J.J. Abrams succeeded in holding this fan’s interest? In short, yes.  When the end credits were rolling, the audience erupted in cheers and applause. I take this as a sure indicator that fans indeed want to see where things are heading.

However, this is more than a continuation of the story from “Return of the Jedi”. I think most fans of the original trilogy understand that it needs to press forward with new characters and additions to the Star Wars mythos. Therefore, our new protagonists in the form of the enigmatic force-sensitive Rey, and renegade Storm Trooper Finn needed to be compelling. For the most part, I thought their performances were solid and the chemistry between Finn and Rey was enjoyable, if not a little forced and contrived at times.

As for our antagonists, Kylo Ren is a fascinating character with a backstory the movie only just touches upon. I am left with the desire to learn more about them, even if their performances at times felt a little off the mark. Although, honestly I have the same nitpicks with “A New Hope” so I’m going to cut the performances some slack.

Sorting out the antagonists in “The Force Awakens” is a little confusing as we’re dealing with two seemingly related or allied groups. There is “The First Order” that has stepped in to fill the power vacuum left by the fall of the Empire. Within this order exists a group of individuals known as “The Knights of Ren” that appear to have Sith powers. Their ‘Supreme Leader” Snork is also an enigma that leaves you with more questions than answers. Though one could reasonably argue that’s precisely the point for the start of a new trilogy.

I know many people (mostly adults) were disappointed with the prequels and that’s being charitable. I’m not one of those people, I actually enjoyed the prequel movies especially once the plot really got moving. The real question is whether those disappointed by the prequels will be able to recapture the original trilogy’s magic with “The Force Awakens”? I think fans of the original movies will be pleased, but it’s not a perfect film.

My roommate was hoping for more of a war movie with the kind of epic battles the original trilogy held. Unfortunately, this is one point where “The Force Awakens” falls a little short. While there is no shortage of action, it lacks some of the epic feel of the original films and I suspect some will be a little disappointed by this.

It appears J.J. Abrams wanted to focus on highly detailed smaller scale set pieces. My suspicion is that the scope will increase with subsequent movies and that the goal here was to reestablish the state of the galaxy and set off a chain of events that will carry through the series and in that effort Abrams has succeeded.

Do I recommend “The Force Awakens” to Star Wars fans? Absolutely. I enjoyed the movie and am eager for more. However, the film was certainly not perfect nor do I believe it eclipsed the original trilogy. Yet, it succeeded where it needed to and Star Wars fans can finally rejoice that the franchise is back on track and better things may yet await.

The force has awakened and yes, I’ve felt it.

This article was part of a Festive blog hop, to read other articles by authors and bloggers, click

http://francishpowellauthor.weebly.com/festive-spirit-blog-hop.html

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Interview with Tommy Wilson From ‘The Unseen Kingdom’ (Reprint)

We’re thrilled to be talking to Tommy Wilson from Daniel R. Mathews, The Unseen Kingdom.  It is a pleasure to have him with us today at Pimp That Character! Thank you for your interview, Tommy. Can you tell us your story?

My name is Tommy Wilson, I’m almost fourteen-years-old and I live on Sutter Lane in the town of Plainville, Massachusetts. I’m a pretty normal kid I think. Well, mostly normal I guess. If you don’t count the ghost boys haunting my bedroom, the inter-dimensional portal at my bathroom door and the shelves of horror movies by my dresser. Don’t tell my mom, though, she’ll blame the portal on my horror movies. It’s complicated, you know?

My best friend in the whole world is Brian. And Kevin who lives next door is like my big ‘bro. And then there’s Carlos and Jacob that live on the other side of town. They are wicked cool and we all hang out together every weekend. Things were going pretty good until I saw this weird kid when I was on the school bus. He had really old clothes, like from 1985 or something!

Anyways, that’s when things started getting scary because he kept appearing to me, and then my other friends. Kevin had found this old parchment under his floorboards with like cult stuff on it, and that’s when things really started getting crazy. But, I shouldn’t say too much more. Daniel said if I give too many spoilers he’ll send me back to the book, so I better be good. There are some pretty crazy monsters in there! Although, I think they’re pretty sweet. Well, when they’re not eating the other kids I guess.

These weird kids that call themselves “The Unseen” start taking us to a place they call The Realm of Dreams and Darkness. It’s like an island with a huge, really weird, twisted city in the middle of it. I’m pretty sure the city was once under the ocean. At the center of the city, high on the big hill, there is this huge black cathedral. That’s where HE calls to us. That’s where we belong with HIM. I guess if you want to know more about the story, you’ll need to read about us in The Unseen Kingdom!

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The Magic of the Winter Season

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As flakes of snow swirl about the silent, frozen landscape and icicles grow upon the eaves of our homes, a certain magic is released. Watch the smooth, pristine blanket of glistening crystals form graceful serpentine shapes as the wind blows across the terrain. Curtains of snow cascade down from the evergreens, a veritable sea of white waterfalls that pile into shifting drifts. There is a profound solitude when you stand outside during a snowfall. Whether you live in the inner city or a rural community, a fresh snowfall alters the environment. A layer of beauty replaces the decay of late Autumn that dampens sound and disguises the trappings of civilization.

If you grew up in the temperate regions of the world where snow is common, as a child, you likely experienced the wonder and magic that snowfall brings. Losing touch with those feelings as an adult is easy. As we grow older, we quickly equate snow with travel delays, automobile accidents and the burden of shoveling out our homes and cars. However, if you stand in the open and push all those grownup concerns from your mind, I’m willing to bet that childhood magic will return.

Close your eyes for just a moment and feel the chill of the winter breeze and the sting of snowflakes touching your warm flesh. Now open your eyes and listen to the muted sounds provided by the fresh snowfall. Open your mouth and catch one of the falling flakes with your tongue and tell me that you don’t feel just a little bit of that childhood magic returning. Snowfall brings a quiet, refined beauty and excites the imagination. Just watch any kid and you’ll see the smile cross their face when the snow begins. It’s more than just the prospect of school cancellations, children are uniquely attuned to embrace the wonder of the winter season that the burden of adulthood has caused many of us to forget.

There’s something a little more than just beauty and silence that snowfall brings. I think there’s a measure of hope that springs from these feelings and for just a few moments, we forget our concerns and responsibilities.  Make a snowball, build a snowman or just take a walk during a snowfall and recapture the magic of the winter season. And if you’re a parent, be sure to share this magic together with your child because the memories you make will last a lifetime.

This article was part of a Festive blog hop, to read other articles by authors and bloggers, click

http://francishpowellauthor.weebly.com/festive-spirit-blog-hop.html

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Halloween Magic – Part 2

This evening we examine Halloween a little differently. For a pair of gay teens (really for the entire group of protagonists from The Unseen Kingdom), Halloween gives them the chance to be openly together, on the one night everyone wears a mask without judgement.

What Halloween Means to Me

Photo by Paul Albertella

What Halloween Means to Me

It’s once again the season of shadow and darkness. A time when the autumnal chill brings goose bumps to the flesh, and the creatures of the night stalk the boundaries of civilization and imagination. Whether campy and fun or grim and gory, the Halloween season delights and frightens millions of Americans and the phenomenon continues to expand around the world. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, and my love for the season only grows with each passing year. Even those who are not fans of the horror genre exhibit a soft-spot for Halloween. After all, if you’re going to suffer a few scares, why not embrace the season?

As a child, Halloween had a magical connotation for me. October was the time of the year that my imagination could run amok, unrestrained and free as I glanced out at the darkness. I knew werewolves hungered for my flesh, the dead clawed at their wooden prisons and craven ghosts of lost souls passed beneath the decaying autumnal spender, looking to drag me into the shadows if given a chance. And what child hasn’t dared all these things, especially on Halloween night? The fear of that monster in the closet and under the bed becomes a rite of passage this time of year. As a species, we enjoy and even crave a good scare.

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Photo by Paul Albertella

Yet, why does Halloween appeal to me? What is it about the season that calls to me? I think there are a few reasons and I suspect that I’m not alone in some of these thoughts. I grew up something of an outcast, partially self-imposed but largely due to growing up a gay teen. In some ways, I spent years hiding behind a mask, but on Halloween night, everyone shares that mask. For one night, millions of Americans become outcasts. For those familiar with my memoir, The Demons of Plainville, you know that I also grew up in an environment that sometimes bordered on real-life horror. Again, you might think this would dissuade me from the holiday, but if anything it strengthened it. Perhaps my real experiences served as rich fodder for my imagination, or like many people, the season brought me comfort that worse things lurk in the shadows.

However, these days my rationale is different. I’m a storyteller and that’s the reason I’m here. This is the season that storytellers are embraced, perhaps more than any other time of the year. What other time do people crave tales of the twisted, otherworldly and macabre? As a ten-year-old as much as a grown adult, this is the season to liberate, celebrate and salute that dark imagination.  I’d love nothing more than to operate a professional haunted attraction. The ‘Haunted House’ industry combines elements of storytelling and filmmaking to bring lurid thrills and chills to audiences of all ages. I’d love to take on that challenge some day here in Flagstaff.

 

 

Photo by Paul Albertella

The Halloween Horror Movie Countdown!

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Every Halloween there are certain movies I try to watch as the holiday approaches. Some of these movies have a great deal of suspense; some are rather gory, and others are laced with humor. I had originally wanted to split this list into two, but I’ve run out of time this season. However, I hope to return with another list for next season. In the meantime, here are twelve of my favorite horror movies to watch around Halloween. These movies aren’t necessarily my absolute favorites, but I am trying to rank them in order of preference with a nod towards quality. There will be some spoilers ahead, but it’s difficult to discuss these movies without highlighting some major plot points. This post is rated PG-13 due to some profanity on my part!

#12  Pontypool

pontypool-posterDirected by Bruce McDonald in 2008, Pontypool is an adaptation of a novel written by Tony Burgess. Pontypool was filmed on a 1.5 million dollar budget and takes place in Pontypool Canada. The movie stars Stephen McHattie as shock jock Grant Mazzy, and Lisa Houle as Sydney Briar, manager of the radio station that Grant works for.

The film opens with Grant struggling to drive through a blizzard when he stops for a woman babbling incoherently. The only thing Grant notices is that the woman keeps repeating certain words over and over. He starts the day normally enough, but soon reports of riots and disturbances around town begin filtering into the station’s phone lines. The only thing in common with these disturbances is that the citizens seem to be repeating certain words and phrases before turning homicidal or suicidal. As the situation deteriorates, Grant attempts to flee but the radio station is now surrounded.

Pontypool offers a unique take on the zombie genre. The premise, unfortunately, takes some people out of the movie, but if you can overlook that the concept is fascinating. The concept is that a linguistic virus has developed within the English language. Certain keywords and phrases represent a point of entry for the virus, and when the victim begins repeating those words and phrases, the virus takes control of the host. Here is the real twist, the keywords and phrases vary person to person. However, the local doctor has a theory on how to thwart the virus, and it becomes a race against time as a horde of crazed citizens and the military close in on the station. Pontypool is not a perfect movie, but I recommend it.

#11 The House of the Devil

house_of_the_devilWritten and directed by Ti West in 2009, The House of the Devil is a retro tribute to 1980s thrillers. Ti West wanted an 80s feel so much that he filmed the movie on a 16mm camera to replicate the look of the 1980s film stock. The movie stars Jocelin Donahue as Samantha, Tom Noonan as Mr. Ulman and Greta Gerwig as Megan. Samanta is a college student in dire need of rent money, so she agrees to take on a babysitting job for the Ulman family on the night of a lunar eclipse.

The House of the Devil is a classic slow-burn horror thriller that drips with increasing tension. The downside is that it takes a while for the plot to get moving, but the time is not wasted. You develop an immediate sympathy for Samantha and therefore when the situation deteriorates, you can’t help but hold your breath. When she arrives at the Ulman’s house, the first sign of trouble begins. She was initially told that she would be babysitting a young boy, but instead Mr. Ulman reveals that she will be watching his elderly mother. Her attempt to back out of the situation causes an immediate tense reaction, but a doubling of her fee settles the issue.

As the evening goes on, the movie enters a very 1980s style montage complete with music by The Fixx. As she dances around, she misses the tied-up or murdered family arranged in a pentagram in one of the darkened rooms. She knocks over a vase and finds a picture that reveals that the family that lives in the house does not appear to match the husband and wife she met earlier. One drugged pizza and murder later, Samantha soon finds herself amidst a Satanic sacrifice as the eclipse approaches.

I love this movie, despite the slow start. This film just oozes suspense that morphs into real horror as Samantha struggles to escape the crazed cultists. If you’re a fan of the 1980s style horror movies, you will love The House of the Devil.

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