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31 Nights of Halloween

As I scanned the display shelves in a local bookstore’s science fiction section recently, I was thrilled—rather loudly so—to find a small stack of Roger Zelazny’s long-out-of-print 1993 novel A Night in the Lonesome October. It’s a loving mash-up featuring iconic characters from the worlds of classic horror and mystery, who come together to determine the fate of the earth in a macabre game of Halloween sorcery. Reader, I bought them all. Well, there were only two left. But even so.... For many years now I’ve enjoyed my own particular October ritual. Each chapter of the book details one day of the month, so every night, lamps down, candle lit, tea and ginger snaps optional, I’ve read one chapter aloud (or listened to the author’s reading in years that demanded multitasking). I am not alone in this pursuit. Zelazny may not be a household name, but he’s a beloved figure among genre aficionados for his immense creativity, his reassuring sense of humor and the down-to-earth, hard-boiled tone of his characters, most of whom are nonchalantly involved in outrageous supernatural activities. His books have a sense of genuineness and humanity often missing from fantasy literature. Most famous for his Chronicles of Amber series, the multiple Nebula and Hugo award winner has had tremendous influence on other writers, most notably Neil Gaiman, who shares Zelazny’s love for fantastical occurrences brought into the everyday world. Lonesome October revolves around a game played every Halloween on which there is a full moon, and the action takes place in and near London in the late 19th century (and there was indeed a Halloween full moon in 1887). The occultists who gather to play include Count Dracula, Larry Talbot (a.k.a. Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolfman), a mad Russian monk, a Druid, a witch named Jill and an oddly refined, charismatic Jack the Ripper, who has to do bad things to keep worse things from happening. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and Victor Frankenstein and his creature, also show up to the party. Some of the game’s participants are openers, some are closers—the allegiances are surprising—and knocking at the door to the universe on these special occasions are the monstrous, tentacled Great Old Ones from H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional dimensions. (Nota bene: “Opening” spells extremely bad news for humans.) Each player has an animal familiar—a cat, a squirrel, a snake, an owl; in this regard, Larry is his own best friend. Jack’s watchdog, Snuff, narrates the proceedings. Snuff seems to enjoy his job more than he liked being whatever shadowy thing he was before Jack summoned him. The animals provide perspective; the tale is told through their viewpoints as they wander about, form alliances, identify the game’s other players, and which side they’re on, and where the gate between dimensions will appear, leaving their masters to prepare the complicated spells necessary for the final conflict. All this is illustrated by Gahan Wilson’s ghoulishly witty line drawings, and now in trade paperback size from Chicago Review Press. Zelazny’s love for classic monster movies and pulp horror fiction comes through not only in the book’s sweet dedication to his borrowed cast of characters, but in the respect he shows for each one’s unique abilities—particularly those of Holmes, who (obviously not a spoiler here) solves quite a few major puzzles. Our own lonesome October is quickly drawing to a close, so you’d best grab a copy of this delightful book and get caught up. As for end times, don’t worry—this month’s full moon is already past. Photo courtesy of DeusXFlorida/Flickr SHOP_A-Night-in-the-Lonesome-Oct

by Camille Cauti

Oct 22, 2014

War and Corpses Made Exquisite

If I were to take inspiration from some experimental writers and artists of the early 20th century, I’d simply rap my fingers against the keyboard without conscious control. The surrealists called this automatic writing, and they used it to tap into the subconscious “in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern,” as the poet André Breton wrote. The results were often hilarious or just laughable, but then again quite a few writers groping for lucidity achieve exactly the same effect. I don’t mean to diss the artists to whom we nod in the “Exquisite Corpse” CultureMap. Aghast at the horrors of modern warfare and set adrift as the empires and monarchies around them crumbled, they turned to bold new art forms. The period—think of smoky cafés on the Left Bank of Paris in the 1920s—has ever since been associated with bohemian romance. This legacy includes the paintings of Joan Miró and Yves Tanguy and the piano works of Erik Satie. Jean Cocteau created his transcendent Parade for Serge Diaghilev’sBallets Russes, and the genius of Pablo Picasso and René Magritte flowered. Then there’s humor. Magritte, for example, had it in spades. Only a provocateur railing against the rigid mores of his day could have made a drawing as funny as “The Puritan.” The-Puritan Of course, the times we live in are pretty harrowing, too. With each news report we hear that ISIS is coming closer to storming the gates of Baghdad. Ebola is spreading out of control. Vladimir Putin is huffing and puffing in the Kremlin. Climate change–triggered tornadoes and wildfires are ravaging the land. Which makes me wonder whether we’re reacting to any of this horror with new art forms of our own. Is there even room for such things amidst the modern media machine? Nonstop news coverage—with those annoying crawlers whipping up even more frenzy—pretty much corners the market on the horror scene. So what about comedy, that good-for-any-occasion tonic? As the late, great Joan Rivers once said, “Life is tough, darling. Life is hard. And we better laugh at everything; otherwise, we’re going down the tube.” She even managed to get in a good line about her own demise, “The fashion magazines are suggesting that women wear clothes that are ‘age appropriate.’ For me that would be a shroud.” I give Larry David credit for managing to make a respectable joke about what is probably the most momentous event to befall us in recent times. September 11th is ground where no comedian should tread, but David pulls it off. In an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, he sees a photo on his rabbi’s desk and asks who it is. That’s my brother-in-law, the rabbi says, killed on September 11th. “Gosh, he was in the building?” Larry asks. No, the rabbi explains, he was knocked down by a bicycle messenger on 57th Street. Larry, who can never keep his big mouth shut, just has to say it—that was really just a coincidence, that’s not what’s meant when you say someone died on September 11th. Yes, it’s undeniably tasteless. But for this New Yorker, the joke helps take the edge off memories of a horrific turn of events, just as those guys tried to do with all their weird paintings and automatic scribbling almost a century ago. Photo courtesy of Everett CULTUREMAP_Surrealism-Exquisite-Corpse

by Stephen Brewer

Oct 21, 2014

The Healing Power of Massage

A new spa recently opened next door to the Mediander offices, and one day when my back was killing me I decided my pain warranted a little pampering. Twenty minutes later, my aches were healed and my mind was a warm soup of happy relaxation. The experience got me thinking—instead of viewing massage as a luxury, what if we thought of it as a regular item on the self-care checklist? Inspired, I turned to two childhood friends who grew up to become massage therapists: Alicia Cramm practices in Boulder, Colorado, and Trista Carlson, based in Iowa City, Iowa, specializes in shiatsu. Both were kind enough to open up about the healing power of massage. Why did you decide to study massage? Trista: I love helping people and I think if we can lend a hand to ease another’s suffering, we should. I was blessed with large, warm hands and an open, friendly personality, so maybe this is why people trust me to touch them. Alicia: I was in a bicycle accident that resulted in a broken collarbone. The doctor told me there was nothing that could be done for me medically and I would have to wear a brace, take pain medication and rest for a month or until the pain subsided. A couple months later, my mother-in-law took us for massages. I explained to the therapist that I’d broken my collarbone and that she should avoid my left shoulder. She said that with careful attention, she might be able to free up the muscles frozen from disuse. I came out of that massage with a miraculous amount of mobility in my left arm and shoulder, and was absolutely baffled that my doctor hadn’t recommended massage therapy in the first place. What are some of the health benefits of massage? Alicia: Massage has preventative and post-traumatic benefits both physically and emotionally. It speeds up recovery time, helps eliminate toxins, eases chronic aches and pains, decreases edema, increases circulation and can help the body regenerate healthy cells. Massage can also release pent-up emotions, which reduces stress. Trista: Massage puts people in a balanced state, boosting the body’s ability to recover from injury. Shiatsu in particular activates the body’s healing systems—people sleep better, heal faster and ache less after receiving treatment. Are there any drawbacks to massage? Alicia: In my opinion, there are no negative effects of massage as long as therapists know what they’re doing. How should a person choose a massage therapist? Alicia: Make sure to find someone who really listens to your needs. Get specific with what you’re looking for and see if they respond. This may take some shopping around, but once you find a therapist you like, you’ll know it. Ask around—a good referral can go a long way. What do you think stands in the way of people getting regular massages? Trista: It’s hard to prioritize our health. It’s hard to make time for ourselves. Most people consider themselves independently capable of maintaining their health, so they don’t seek assistance. But after they start getting massaged regularly, they feel more energy and have more to offer their work and their family. Alicia: A lot of people see massage as a way to pamper themselves and don’t fully understand the healing benefits. If you’re recovering from injury or trauma, one massage could certainly help, but it’ll most likely take a number of sessions to get to the root issue. That said, the going rate is around a dollar a minute, so not everyone can afford routine massage. How often do you recommend people get massaged? Alicia: I would recommend massage at least once a month for healthy, fully functioning individuals. It’s truly a preventative health measure: You’re investing in your future health and well-being. Trista: I recommend people get treated on a monthly basis to maintain health and twice in a week after any injury so we can get them back to wellness faster. What’s the etiquette for talking during a session? Alicia: I leave that up to each individual client. Some people like to share what’s going on in their lives as a way to vent and relax. Other people prefer to silently soak it all in. Many people fall asleep during a session, and I think it’s wonderful they feel comfortable enough with me to doze off on the table. Personally, I find I’m best able to get into the zone without chitchat. And I never want people to feel like they need to carry on a conversation out of politeness. Trista: Massage therapists are trained to remain silent during sessions unless we’re spoken to or have a question about the treatment. My clients and I usually speak more during the first session to orient ourselves, and after that we have a lot more quiet time. Some rules of thumb: If you have a scar you don’t want touched, an area where you’re ticklish or any new injuries or aches, share this with your therapist beforehand. Feel free to tell your therapist if the pressure is okay or if you’d prefer more or less. A good therapist will analyze how much you need and where, so generally you won’t have to say much once you’ve found your practitioner. Is there anything else people should know? Alicia: It’s very important to drink plenty of water after getting a massage to help the body flush out any toxins that have been released. Otherwise, it could result in achiness and nausea. Also, communication with your therapist is crucial. If you have an important meeting following a session, you’ll probably want an invigorating massage that won’t leave you feeling lethargic afterward. If you’re feeling stressed and haven’t been sleeping very well, you may want a massage that encourages deep relaxation. That really is the wonder of massage—it can meet your individual needs at any given time. Spa Week begins today. Photo courtesy of Flickr CONNECTS_massage

by Emily Burns Morgan

Oct 20, 2014

Baseball Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used to Be

Kids today, they just don’t reminisce about baseball the way they used to. In my day, you walked to school wearing nothing but vague, sentimental longing for baseball’s golden age—both ways! Ah, nostalgia was so much purer then, and simpler. Don’t you just miss that old-time baseball nostalgia? Case in point: Derek Jeter. This past season, the media machine known as Major League Baseball gave the retiring Yankee shortstop the most hyped farewell tour in baseball history, showering him with adulation, gifts, speeches and ovations everywhere he went. And that’s nothing compared with the wardrobe stunt the Yankees pulled. For the last month of the regular season, the New York club adorned their shirts and caps with commemorative Derek Jeter tribute patches (Jeter was adorned, too). This practice is usually reserved for—let’s put it in euphemistic baseball terms—inactive players: Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Earl Weaver, Stan Musial and others who have bit the ballpark dust. Keith Olbermann called it “creepier than hell,” and rightly so. Why the premature eulogizing? This nostalgia for still-active players was designed to make fans forget about the steroid era. As revelations about performance-enhancing drugs rolled out by the rosterful in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Major League Baseball began force-feeding fans a synthetic nostalgia for the clean players still in the game. One of these planned legends was Jeter. Another was Mariano Rivera. A third, at one time, was Alex Rodriguez. (We know how that turned out.) With a conspicuous lack of modern-era reps in baseball’s sacred pantheon, Jeter’s lionization was amplified, expedited and in many ways contrived. Not to say he didn’t deserve the tributes and ovations bestowed upon him. You just have to see it for what it is: exploitation of an aging star. Jeter means more to baseball in monument than in the lineup. Why, I still remember those good old days when we would allow a player to put a period at the end of his career, even let a suspenseful ellipsis build up, before rapturing him up to baseball heaven. Let’s take a brief look at the history of baseball nostalgia. Baseball was hardly out of the womb when, in 1856, a journalist for the New York Mercury first called it America’s “national pastime.” Soon, the idea that baseball had a simple and pure past seeped into the nation’s collective subconscious. In 1868 a sentimental and possibly confused fan grumbled, “Somehow or other they don’t play ball now as they used to…with the same kinds of feeling or for the same object.” By 1915 the groan had become, “The sordid element of baseball as a business has cast a shadow over the sport. Players make too much money and become spoiled.” Lawrence Ritter hit the ball on the screws when he wrote, “The strongest thing that baseball has going for it today are its yesterdays.” And he said that half a century ago. Is this intense nostalgia specific to baseball? Sure it is. Baseball is part of American folklore, the only sport whose ultimate purpose is to remind us of our past. By contrast, basketball and football are forward-looking sports geared toward the next generation of superstars—hence ESPN’s coverage of college games and live coverage of both drafts. (Who follows college baseball?) When commentators invoke yesterday’s NBA and NFL greats, it’s usually for purpose of comparison: “I’m telling you, this kid’s the next Jordan!” No one dares proclaim the nextRuth or Gehrig—that would be like proclaiming the next God. Baseball’s past is behind glass: Look but don’t touch. Nostalgia is part of our national psyche and selective memory. The essence of every generation is to idealize the past—the MLB and its media machinery just help it along. You watch, A-Rod’s reinstatement next season will be spun out as a classic redemption tale, the prodigal son returning, now chastened and wise. The game itself, which has always been there, is secondary. America’s pastime isn’t baseball; it’s nostalgia. And I miss the way it used to be. Photo courtesy of Flickr CULTUREMAP_Birth-of-Baseball

by Gabriel Rosenberg

Oct 17, 2014