Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A tale of a mother and a talking doll

For the past several hours I've repeatedly forgotten that I have this blog to write. Every time I've looked at the clock on my laptop, I've thought to myself 'oh, it's getting late, time to go to bed.' But alas, I cannot. Do not make this mistake, Rachel. You will regret it when you inevitably open your eyes at 3 am and remember that there is in fact no blog up for October 31, All Hollows' Eve.

I wish I had something Halloween-appropriate to write about. The truth is that my Halloween was not all that exciting. I didn't have the chance to go out and buy the costume I wanted to wear this year. I didn't have time to find any events to attend this evening to celebrate the spooky festivities. In fact, I nearly forgot that today was Halloween at all. It seemed pretty insignificant as I sat in my room all day reading books about Tudor and Stuart Britain and preparing to write a 2,500 word term paper.

When I was thinking about writing this blog, I figured I would use this opportunity to say a little something about how little time I have in London. Just over a month has passed since I arrived here and already I'm going on yet another trip to far away lands, escaping the comfortable and typical routines of my stay in London thus far. There is a lot to say about going away when you feel like you want to stay in a place that feels comfortable. This is the problem that London is constantly causing me.

But tonight I won't talk about that. Because it is, as I now remember, Halloween. And Halloween is a holiday that deserves to be written about. It is, after all, one of my favorite holidays. And it was, many years ago, my mother's absolutely favorite holiday.

It's hard for me to look at Halloween as something separate from my mother. So much of my experience with ghosts and ghouls was contingent on her being in my life for my first eleven years. She used to love everything supernatural, and in a way that passion was passed on to me. Not to the same level of enthusiasm, of course, but I do admit to having an interest in the morbid and the "unexplained." And I credit that to years of seeing my mother read ghost stories on the internet.

The traditional "scary" things didn't frighten me when I was a child. When my friends cowered away at the idea of watching the Halloween themed Disney Sing-Along Songs VHS because the imagery was too disturbing to them, I was already having my pants scared off by movies like Child's Play and Poltergeist, Halloween and The Exorcist. My mother had a love for scary movies. Her love was so prevalent, in fact, that we rarely watched anything but horror films together.

Almost every weekend we'd head to the local Hollywood Video (or Blockbuster, if we were feeling adventurous and wealthy - Blockbuster was more expensive than Hollywood Video, if I'm remembering correctly) to pick out a new movie to watch. I might stumble into the children's section and choose a new Mary Kate & Ashley flick, or perhaps I'd see what new releases were available and choose something equally mind numbing.

The next stop, though, was always Horror. My mom and I would reconvene there and look at all the same titles we'd seen time and time again, happy to find a new film to watch that could keep me up with nightmares for the rest of the week.

You'd think I would've hated it. That if there were nightmares and irrational fears associated with these films - secret beliefs in Indian burial grounds, hauntings, satanic creatures, personified dolls and other inanimate objects - I would no longer want to partake. For some reason, though, it became a kind of masochistic pleasure. I enjoyed being freaked out. It may have caused problems for me once the lights were out and I was no longer tucked in my mom's arms with a pillow fort around me, but that was inconsequential. It was fun, just for a couple of hours, to have that kind of experience.

Still, I don't think my mom and I were the same kind of people when it came to a fascination with the supernatural. For her, it was perhaps something more spiritual and powerful. She truly believed what she read. She took stock in the photos of orbs and photoshopped images of faces in windows. It made sense to her, and maybe it even comforted her.

For me it was all more false and questionable. But that didn't mean I didn't enjoy it. I think I just took it less seriously.

Taking scary things less seriously, though, does not guarantee that they won't keep you up at night. Because even though my convictions told me that there were no such thing as evil spirits or monsters or other horrible creatures, sometimes my mind would play tricks on me. I couldn't help feeling the ramifications of being slightly too immersed in fright culture.

And after all, it's always the people who deny the existence of evil forces who die first. Right?

There were always boundaries to my ability to withstand fear. I could watch the movies from the safety of my living room, surrounded by my pillows with my cat, Marie, holding a watchful eye out the window for monsters. I could even hear ghost stories, go on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland over and over again. These were not things that affected me too badly - maybe they did cause some long-term psychological issues, but not too markedly.

Where I always drew the line was immersion. The few times I've been to haunted houses or events where characters jumped out at guests, I had to step back and reassess my own threshold for fright. The thing is, I can handle what I can compartmentalize, but when it comes to things that feel real (or have a place in my reality), I can no longer deal.

This explains why the Chuckie doll from Child's Play showed up in so many of my dreams, but Freddy Krueger simply did not. A doll was a tangible part of my daily life, but some nebulous deformed monster man seemed a bit of a stretch. I can handle a stretch. I can't handle the paranoia that descends upon me when I look around at all the dolls in my room and think I see them blink or turn their heads.

Still, I've grown to be incredibly fascinated with this subculture. Horror films, haunted houses, ghost stories and sightings - all of these things interest me. If I had the time, I'd discover all of them in detail. In a way, I think of that kind of devotion as a service to my mother who, despite loving horror film, did not get the chance to live a full enough life thoroughly equipped with all the morbid research she could have dreamed of obtaining and reading.

Halloween is this wonderful holiday where we almost wish it wouldn't come around. It involves suburban fears like neighbors giving children poisoned candy or slipping blades into their trick or treat baskets. Subconsciously, many of us also think of this day as a time to forget the sins and terrors of the world in exchange for calmness and recovery.

But my association with the holiday, aside from the quintessential obsession with candy, is unlike most. It's one of nostalgia and pure positivity. Because even if I am one of the most easily frightened (I tend to yelp in fear when people jump at me or surprise me) people in the world, that does not impede on the truly enjoyable nature of this entertainment.

Horror is simply just for horror's sake. It doesn't ask to be understood completely or analyzed too much. It just asks to add a little jolt to your daily life, to pump some adrenaline and hopefully have you subconsciously begging for more.

Even though watching scary movies is something I avoid now, I look back incredibly fondly at Halloweens past. Partially for the costumes and candy - the same things that everyone becomes excited for - but also for the self-loathing pleasure of experiencing the things that inspire the most fear in me.

On this, a day when I am heavily focused and concerned about my forthcoming travels and homework assignments due very soon, I'd like to take some time to celebrate the beauty of scary cinema, and to thank my mom for showing me that there's nothing wrong with having an interest in the supernatural.

So Happy Halloween everybody. And while it may be easier to just watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or The Nightmare Before Christmas, perhaps try throwing yourself into the fray with a scary movie. If you're like me, you may have nightmares about talking serial killer dolls, but you'll also reap the benefits of a new-found enthusiasm for the macabre - and that's something worth leaving the country with, if only because it encourages you to go to the Catacombs. Cultural immersion at its finest.

And with that, however inconclusive it may be, I say "Goodnight and Happy All Hollows' Eve."

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