Am I a Real Horror Writer?

Last night, I finally sat down to watch Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019). If you’re a horror fan and haven’t watched this amazing documentary, I highly recommend it. Based on Robin R. Means Coleman’s book, Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present (2011), the film not only discusses the historical lack of representation of black characters in horror films, but also examines the misrepresentations of black people when they appeared in them. As you might expect, the filmmakers and actors discussing the films and their historically important contexts talk about their fears and experiences with racism while trying to create art within a genre that subconsciously depicts monsters as The Other in relation to white people and culture in place of ethnic minorities.

After watching the documentary, I was inspired to watch a film from the Blaxploitation era, Sugar Hill (1974), which is about a woman, Sugar Hill, who uses Voodoo to avenge the death of her fiance. The film opens with what appears to be a Voodoo ritual with black people in traditional Haitian Voodoo garb dancing to a serious drum beat. I couldn’t help thinking of Angel Heart (1987), and expected to see Epiphany Proudfoot show up with her chicken. As the opening credits end, so does the dance and we become aware of the fact that the people dancing aren’t in a secluded location away from prying eyes, they are actually performers at a place called Club Haiti. They are performing Voodoo for a predominantly white audience. They are literally performing an aspect of blackness that is a stereotypical representation of black people in horror films. This also made me think of a similar scene in Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988).

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Typically, in horror films, Voodoo is shown as something evil, something to be feared. Depicting Voodoo practitioners as women who use their magic to hurt others, or exact vengeance, is a trope that I worried about perpetuating while writing Invisible Chains. I didn’t want to stick to the common stereotypes associated with black women, especially mambos, in horror narratives.

While Sugar is a strong female lead in a horror film, the film is still riddled with tropes like dangerous black women using magic for revenge. Her fiance, Langston, owns Club Haiti. A white gangster wants to buy it, but Langston refuses. So, he sends his henchmen to kill him. They beat him to death and leave his body in the parking lot of the club for Sugar to find.

Sugar doesn’t just use magic, she calls upon Baron Samedi who raises an army of the undead made up of former slaves who died of disease while still on slave ships. Their bodies were dumped in the water and washed up on the shore near Sugar’s childhood home. So, this movie has a lot going for it in terms of supernatural horror that looks at racism in the United States (in the past and in the present of the 1970s).

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In exchange for Baron Samedi’s help, Sugar offers up her soul, but he’s more interested in her body. But, Sugar’s final revenge is taken when Baron Samedi takes the racist girlfriend of the gangster back to the Underworld with him in place of Sugar. In my opinion, that gave the film a happy ending.

Black women in roles like Sugar are viewed as frightening and dangerous because they wield power. My protagonist struggles to accept her strengths and often downplays or hides her abilities for fear of being punished for either her knowledge or power. Her strength is a secret and she doesn’t make use of her power until she’s pushed to the limit. She protects herself and others, rather than seeking vengeance.

I worried that by writing her in this way, people wouldn’t accept her as being “authentic,” and I struggled with my decision, which I think says a lot more about me as a writer and how I see myself than it does about my character.

I also struggled with the belief that because this narrative isn’t a traditional horror story — a slave narrative with a black female protagonist — people wouldn’t recognize it as a horror novel. In fact, people challenged the notion that I was writing horror while I was in my MFA program. But, as Tananarive Due puts so succinctly in Horror Noire, ”Black history is black horror.”

I already knew that what I had written is without doubt a horror novel, but having my beliefs confirmed by another writer I respect and admire made me feel a lot better about releasing this novel into the world. Black women have plenty of horror stories to tell, and perhaps, a female slave is the most qualified protagonist for an historical horror story set in America.

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Invisible Chains will be released in a week on July 22, so my anxiety is on the rise. But after watching Horror Noire and Sugar Hill, I feel more confident about how I chose to write my protagonist, Jacqueline, and I may actually be a horror writer.

The Zen of Lawn Care

This past weekend, I decided to tackle a project I had been putting off for weeks. Saturday morning I got up early, made coffee, put on enough clothing to not be indecent, and went outside to make my backyard more presentable. If it were up to me, I might let the yard go completely wild and see what plants choose to make their home there. But, there’s a rule in my renter’s agreement that states I am responsible for cutting the grass.

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Contained wilderness.

To be fair, my lawn is not huge by any stretch of the imagination. And, my property management company provided me with a manual push mower when I moved in six years ago.

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I sharpened the blades myself and still have all of my fingers.

I think I used this potentially hazardous contraption once or twice after I moved in. That same summer, while I was working on my MFA, writing my first novel, adjusting to life in my hometown after living in a city for 16 years, learning the ropes at a new job, figuring out how to get divorced, becoming a single parent, and dealing with the inevitability of my dad’s death, I got a call from my property management company because they thought my grass was too high. No, seriously. Someone who works for them literally drives around checking to see if people are cutting their grass. After cursing a blue streak about how fucking ridiculous it is to hold ADULTS accountable for cutting grass on some imaginary timeline, I came to my senses and accepted the fact that I couldn’t possibly do all of the things I was juggling AND care about lawn maintenance. The height of your grass shouldn’t be cause for anxiety. If it is, you may want to re-examine your life and look for another source of meaning.

For most of the time I have lived in this house, I have paid a man in my neighborhood $10 a week to cut my grass. Albert, and usually one of his sons, would show up bright and early on a Saturday or Sunday morning (depending on Albert’s full-time job schedule) and mow the lawn in about 10-15 minutes. They’d cut the grass, whack weeds along the fence, and occasionally make suggestions about what should or shouldn’t be allowed to grow in my yard.

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My backyard is essentially a plush carpet of weeds.

One of my favorite plants that grows wild in my yard each year, is morning glory. According to Wikipedia, the species growing in my backyard is the Ipomoea nil, or Japanese Morning Glory.

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A staple of unintentional urban gardening.

I look forward to seeing the lush green leaves and dainty purple flowers each year. According to the website Useful Tropical Plants, “Japanese morning glory is a climbing, herbaceous annual or perennial plant producing stems that either twine into other plants for support or sprawl along the ground.”

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Not only is this plant lovely, but it obscures the view of the neighbors I dislike.

The Japanese Morning Glory lives in harmony next to another weed that grows in my yard: Pokeweed. The dark purple, almost black berries complement the purple flowers and I enjoy watching the snaking tendrils entwine themselves with the pokeweed that grows 3 – 4 feet high next to my fence.

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These berries are poisonous. No matter how delicious they look, do not eat them

One year, Albert decided that I didn’t need these beautiful wild plants and used a weed killer to destroy most of the growth. I typically don’t plant anything in my yard, except in pots — flowers or herbs. So, after he sprayed the toxic plant killer, my yard looked barren. I got really pissed about it, because he didn’t ask me if I wanted him to do it. He assumed he knew better than me and made a decision about MY yard. It was the gardening equivalent of mansplaining. The following year, I told him to just cut the grass and trim the borders of the yard. He asked me three times if I was sure.

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This year, I decided not to make use of his services. Now, it’s up to me to cut the grass, weed, rake, and whatever else I need to do to avoid a phone call from my stupid property management company.

I spent nearly 4 hours in my backyard on Saturday. Using the manual push mower was extra work, and I began to think about the fact that there isn’t anyone else in my life to share the day-to-day labor. I feel the same way every time I have to shovel the sidewalk and dig out my car after a big snow. I often think that it would be nice to have someone to help me, or just do those things for me. But, as I worked my mind wandered. It wandered through the usual things I worry about. It wandered through fears I have about possible futures. And then, my mind wandered into the realm of questions and creativity. It occurred to me that I usually drown out my own thoughts with background noise like music, audio books, or the TV. Saturday, I chose not to listen to outside noise and listened to my own thoughts instead.

I tried to remember the dreams I’d had the night before. I thought about possible story arcs for my next book. I thought about how fortunate I am to be meeting so many new and interesting people, and why I believe some of them were sent to me so I can learn more about myself and grow. (Thank you, Universe.) I thought about why I’m not making more of an effort to take better care of myself. I thought about how the hell I was going to write all the things I’ve agreed to write over the past few weeks and months. And, I thought about the fact that there are so many opportunities ahead of me — personally, professionally, and creatively. I thought about adapting a series of paranormal romances I’ve been trying to finish into a graphic novel or comic series that an artist friend of mine would illustrate. I thought about how excited I am about attending my first Camp Necon in July. I thought about what I would talk about with my friend Megan if we started a podcast. I thought about making drapes. I thought about applying what I had learned from Marie Kondo in order to lighten my material object load. I thought about first kisses and the awkwardness of being naked with someone for the first time. I thought about how wonderful and terrifying the prospect of falling in love can be.

And, I thought about my grandfather. I thought about all the hours he spent taking care of his own lawn. I thought about how much time he must have spent alone with his own thoughts. I wondered if he used that time to solve problems, or gain a better understanding of the people he loved and the world around him. I wondered if all that time working with his hands, caring for his own yard, alone with his thoughts, was the reason he always seemed to have such amazing insight into human behavior. I thought about how much I miss him, and I wondered if he would be proud of my accomplishments. I shed a few tears, and then I got back to work.

When I was done, I treated myself to a beer like my grandfather used to do, and enjoyed the beauty of my freshly mowed and weeded lawn.

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I think I inadvertently created a sacred space.

My lawn will never be immaculate enough to be featured in Better Homes and Gardens, but it’s a space where I can think and work with my hands until I am too tired to do anything else. Something I had been dreading and putting off became one of the best meditative experiences I’ve had in a long time. I made peace with my thoughts and feelings, and completed a task that left me with a real sense of accomplishment. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere about finishing writing projects.

Anxiety is the New Black

About a year ago, I had a moment of clarity in which I realized that I have been suffering from anxiety since I was a child. What sparked this moment of personal insight? The fact that my son also suffers from anxiety and I began to think back on what life was like for me at his age. I’m sure that if you asked my friends and family, many of them would tell you that my childhood was good and they have many fond memories of me growing up. My memories aren’t always in line with theirs, and that’s okay as long as I’m allowed to remember things the way they happened for me through my perception of things.

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I was born in Central Pennsylvania in 1972. My mom is a white woman who grew up in a small rural community that wasn’t really thrilled about her dating choices and in many ways shunned her after she decided to marry my biological father. While living with my father’s family, a group of migrant workers living near Chambersburg, PA, my mother grew up fast. According to her, my father fancied himself a ladies man, which actually translates as pimp in the real world, and when she found out she was pregnant with me, two things occurred to her: 1) At least three other women were pregnant to my father at that time, and 2) Her unborn child deserved a better life. She told me that she sat in the dark waiting for him to come home and thought about killing him. Knowing she had to be around to take care of me changed her mind. So, she left him that night and filed for divorce soon after.

When I was born, we lived with my grandparents in the same small town where my mom grew up. To say that the town I grew up in lacked diversity is quite the understatement. Aside from my mom’s boyfriend, Gene, and his family, I don’t recall seeing other people of color, with the exception of people on TV, until I was about four or five and we moved to a larger town, Carlisle, PA.

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Carlisle was and is segregated. People who have lived here their whole lives aren’t always conscious of that fact, but when you meet people who move here, it’s one of the first things they notice about the place. Have things changed since I was a child? Yes. But to be fair, one of the changes I would be happy to point to is the fact that when I was a child, people felt completely at ease driving by in their cars and shouting “nigger lover” at my mother while she walked with me downtown.  No one has called me a nigger to my face since I was in an undergraduate in college, but I know some people were thinking  it while they spoke to me. It’s like Spidey senses, but for racists.

So, while I was growing up I experienced a multi-layered effect of racism and bigotry from strangers, teachers, friends, and family. Apparently, this isn’t uncommon for mixed race kids. I haven’t interviewed people or sent out surveys, but I know I am not the only person in the world who had this experience.

What idiot called it a human skull instead of an anxiety cabin.

— Doth (@DothTheDoth) December 2, 2018

Thanks to a series of unfortunate events in my life, I recently spent a year (August 2017 – June 2018) employed but underpaid, and lacking health insurance. During that time, when my anxiety levels were astonishingly high, I couldn’t afford medication to help with my chronic depression and anxiety. I couldn’t afford to see a therapist. Hell, I could barely afford to pay my bills.

But, Michelle, why didn’t you apply for assistance?

I did. And, I was denied assistance even though I was making $15 an hour working for a temp agency after I left another job where the owners of the business couldn’t pay me. They still owe me money, but much like the child support I keep hoping for, I doubt if I’ll ever see it.

A few weeks ago, I tried to apply for assistance again, because even though I am working full-time and have health insurance, I’m only making $0.82 more than what I was making at the temp agency. I was also working part-time as an online writing tutor for $11 an hour. Because I had made an extra $60 during the month of February from my part-time job, my income was considered too high to receive any assistance.

Yep, America is definitely great again.

I was told by a very sympathetic caseworker that if I quit my part-time job, and got a psych evaluation for my autistic child, we might qualify for assistance. So, as long as I make less money and can prove that my child is mentally ill, I’m allowed to receive help.

No wonder my anxiety levels keep rising.

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The good news is that since I have health insurance again, I can take my medication. But, even though I have access to services like therapy, the co-pays are too high for me to afford even with insurance.

Where does that leave me? At the moment, I don’t have any good answers. I keep looking for higher-paying jobs, but I no longer have a reliable car. Transportation is an issue. Fortunately, I am able to share my mother’s car and have some mobility. But using her car to drive back and forth to work every week day isn’t an option. Especially since I would most likely have to drive to Harrisburg, Hershey, Lancaster, York, or elsewhere that would require anywhere from 30-60 minutes or more of travel time to and from work. So, I’m kind of stuck.

I try to appreciate what I do have while not focusing on what I don’t. Each day gets a little better, but I’m exhausted. Frustrated. Melancholy. Angry. I’m feeling a lot of feelings all the time.

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But, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll share my good news with you later this week and you can help me celebrate brighter days ahead.

When Survival Mode Becomes a Way of Life

It’s easy to recognize when a period of transition begins, but how do you know when it ends? Are there concrete, measurable ways to know you’ve come out on the other side and accomplished what you set out to do? Or is there just a constant sense of unease over never truly recognizing you have simply stepped into a new phase of existence? If you began following a path with no real sense of what you expected to find on the other side, how would you know if you reached your destination?

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Image via Unsplash by Kelly Sikkema

For the past six years, I have been in a seemingly never-ending period of transformation. I have celebrated successes, mourned losses, floated around aimlessly trying to figure out what happens next, and have continued to set personal and professional goals for myself in the face of adversity. I keep expecting things to settle down and become more manageable, but honestly, I think I’m kidding myself. I’m beginning to think this is just my life, and good, bad, or ugly, I’m living it.

2012 was a busy year. In February that year, I celebrated my 40th birthday with three good friends in New Orleans: my cousin Tara, my best friend’s sister, Katie, and my friend Christina, who flew all the way from Amsterdam to celebrate my birthday. The four of us met up in the Crescent City, a magical place I believe to be my birthplace in a past life, and quickly eased into a long weekend of drinking, eating, laughing and dancing. Highlights from that weekend include:

  • Shopping at Trashy Diva
  • Eating beignets past midnight at Café du Monde
  • Getting my photo taken with a demon on Bourbon Street
  • Laughing so hard at inappropriate jokes that my sides hurt
  • Watching a Mardi Gras parade in the Garden District with floats from a Krewe in Lake Pontchartrain who wore creepy old-fashioned Mardi Gras masks
  • Getting a birthday spanking by a stranger in a bar on Decatur Street
  • Watching a man in his 70’s perform kickass R&B for a solid hour straight in a Mardi Gras Indian costume down on Frenchman Street
  • Spending time with women I love and respect

I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun. That was a magical weekend I hope to recreate in the very near future.

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Café du Monde New Orleans

Soon after that trip, several life-changing events happened. Events I had speculated about while on that magical trip. First, I was accepted to the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction Program at Seton Hill University, and I began the three-year MFA in June that year. For years, I had struggled with the notion of taking myself seriously as a writer. I had been writing fiction fairly consistently since I turned 12, and then I completed a BA and MA in English in the hopes of finding a career in writing or teaching, but neither of those things happened. Why? Well, that’s a story for another day. The point is, reading, writing, and writing about writing were some of my favorite things to do and yet somehow I wasn’t making a living doing those things.

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Image via Unsplash by Ali Yahya

A few months before my 40th birthday, I decided it was time to take myself seriously and finally write a novel. And, hey, why not earn another college degree while I was at it? That was probably one of the best decisions I ever made. During my second residency, in January of 2013, I decided to end my marriage. I sat up late one night with my good friend and fellow writer, and she and I brainstormed an exit strategy. After that weekend, I applied for a job at my alma mater, and contacted a lawyer friend about the process of getting divorced. Shortly after telling my husband I was leaving, my brother-in-law died. The key to comedy, and apparently tragedy, is timing. One of these days, I’m going to write about that experience: the sadness, the guilt, and the inexplicably delightful black comedy of the whole thing that still fills me with a sense of awe over how bizarre life can be.

Anyway, by April of 2013 I had a new job and had moved back to my hometown. I left a job that was killing my spirit and a marriage that was making me unbearably unhappy, I started a new job, became a single parent, and faced the realities of my father’s rapidly declining health. My mother had recently put my dad in a nursing home because she couldn’t leave him alone at home while she worked. He had developed dementia after fighting several life-threatening illnesses that honestly, he probably shouldn’t have survived. For years, he had battled diabetes, pulmonary hypertension, and levels of stress I can only imagine. Well, to be fair, my own current levels of stress are probably slowly killing me. By some unbelievable twist of fate, my dad received a heart transplant. I’m not sure that was best thing that could have happened. He really wasn’t healthy enough for the surgery, and after the transplant he slowly went crazy, nearly taking my mother with him in the process.

Not only did he become difficult to talk to–because he developed a pathological need to be right about everything–but he forgot to pay bills and drained my parents’ bank account buying books and online services for an imaginary business he believed he had started. My father had spent his adult life working hard to keep people with mental illness tethered to reality, yet at the end of his own life, there was no one to help him keep madness at bay. One day, my mom got a call at work from the police. They had found my dad wandering around a few blocks from home and he had no idea where her was. His hallucinations, unpredictable mood swings, and strange changes in personality were difficult enough to deal with, but after the police brought him home, she put him in a nearby nursing home to keep him safe.

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Image via Unsplash by rawpixel

After moving back to my hometown in March 2013, my son and I lived with my mom for a few months. She had the space and wanted the company. I wanted to save money and needed a safe space to deal with all the changes I was making. We gave each other support in a challenging time. She helped me look after my son, and I helped her deal with the things she didn’t want to face about my dad. There was paperwork, visits to the nursing home, and just accepting the fact that dad was never coming home. She felt guilty for leaving him there, but neither of us could quit our jobs to look after him.

At the same time, I was dealing with financial struggles that followed me from my marriage, an undiagnosed mental health issue with my then 6-year-old, anxiety over starting a new job, anxiety about starting a new job at my alma mater that I vowed to burn to the ground and salt the earth when I had left it, anxiety about being a single parent, anxiety about being single in my 40s, anxiety about what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life, anxiety about how to finish writing a novel so I could graduate from my MFA program…well, you get the idea. Most days, I was just amazed I got out of bed and made it to work without driving into oncoming traffic. Somehow, I was still functioning as an adult.

I dealt with my emotional and psychological discord by crying a lot. In fact, crying while driving to work was part of my daily routine for a while. I wrote. I went for walks. I talked to friends. I lost myself in social media. I watched Hannibal religiously. I took short trips on the weekends, sometimes alone and sometimes with my son. I went to work, built good working relationships with my co-workers, and began accomplishing career goals. Oh, and I finished writing a novel and earned my MFA.

I also tried online dating after being “off-the-market” for more than 10 years. Dating in my 40s while dealing with nearly crippling anxiety, and battling a lifetime of poor body image and excruciating self-doubt was no small task. I amazed my friends by going on date after date after date with a laundry list of strangers. Some of the strangers were interesting, some boring, some confusing, some I liked, some I didn’t understand, and one was so psychologically damaging that I had to seek out a therapist to leave him. After my second session with her, she told me I was suffering from a mild case of Stockholm Syndrome, and that I was participating in a very dangerous relationship with a narcissist with borderline personality disorder.

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Image via Unsplash by Nicolas Picard

When she told me that, I actually breathed a sigh of relief because I thought the reason why that relationship wasn’t working was my fault. I have a complete set of steamer trunks full of issues that stem from my inability to trust people. I am no stranger to betrayal, and because I think my earliest betrayals occurred at home at a very impressionable age, as an adult, I have simply come to expect betrayal as a given. In fact, sometimes I think I actually court it. Consciously or unconsciously, I seek out relationships with people I know will eventually disappointment me. I open myself up to people who see me for what I am: a safe, warm place to rest while they put their own pieces back together. Once they figure their own issues out, they move on or continue to abuse my kindness until I say enough is enough.

I’m tired of living like that. I’m tired of building walls to protect myself from the thing I want the most: love. But not just any kind of love. I want respectful, reliable, unconditional love. Love that takes work on the part of both people involved. Love that’s worth fighting for. Love that comforts me and puts my fears to rest, or at least makes them more manageable.

My anxiety has been very active lately. But to be fair, the reasons why are no mystery. I have been consistently underemployed for the past several years. I went from living paycheck to paycheck with the saving grace of health benefits, to living without paychecks and no health insurance, to living from considerably smaller paycheck to paycheck with no health insurance. That’s where I’m at right now. In the midst of a financial crisis, trying to figure out how to get a better job, better pay, dig myself out of debt, and rebuild my credit rating. Those are all valid concerns for a single parent with unpaid bills and a late rent payment hanging over her head.

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Image via Unsplash by John Baker

You would think that would be enough to worry about, right? But, thanks to the magical gift of anxiety, I’m also worried about being a good person. Or rather, being good enough. Am I attractive enough to be appealing to potential sexual partners? Will I ever meet someone I’d like to build a life with? Am I talented enough to keep writing? Will I ever have a job that pays me enough to not only get out of debt, but also buy a house and go on vacations? Will I ever trust myself enough to dismantle the walls I’ve built to keep myself safe?

These are the questions that keep my from falling asleep at night. The fears that drive me to binge eat, skip going to the gym, and stop writing for weeks at a time. My pattern of bad habits often leads me to fantasize about a self-fulfilling prophecy that ends with me dying alone surrounded by empty bourbon bottles, ice cream containers, and the pages of an unfinished novel or memoir.

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Image via Unsplash by David Zawila

I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know what happens next. What I do know is that I am in charge of creating my future. Or, at the very least, I am in charge of making better choices so that my future is a bit brighter. All I’m really hoping for is a better job, stable pay, and access to health insurance so that my mental health needs are met through medication and therapy. I’m not asking for a lot. And, I haven’t given up hope yet either. I believe things will get better. They usually do. I’ll be sure to let you know how things turn out, so stay tuned.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Daydream About Psychotic Vampires

I don’t know about you, but Life has been kicking my ass lately. Due to some issues with my employment over the past several months, I had to start working for a temp agency to earn some money in order to dig myself out of a huge financial hole. Back in August of last year I walked away from a job after realizing that despite all my hard work and effort, I was never going to be seen as a peer or equal by the people who literally rewrote the job description I wrote for my position so that I would no longer qualify for the job I had been doing for 4 years. So, I cobbled together what little dignity I had to spare, and left.

Then I started working for a small company that was struggling financially, which meant that I was struggling financially. I liked the work and the people, but I had to borrow money and pull money out of savings in order to scrape by. I’m behind on all my bills, and I am often crippled with worry about the future.

I was invited to present a paper about vampires at an academic conference in Romania this summer that I had to pull out of, because I couldn’t afford the trip. I’m still a little broken-hearted over the fact that I can’t go, because it was a dream come true. Well, maybe next year.

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On the bright side, I sold a short story and picked up some freelance work writing web content, and I have some amazingly supportive friends and loving family in my corner. Even if they can’t bail me out of debt, they cheer me up and remind me that life isn’t just about collecting a paycheck. Although, paychecks are obviously necessary and I can’t live without them.

This morning on my way to work, a piece of gravel flew up off the road and cracked my windshield. Now I have to figure out the how the hell I’m going to pay to have it repaired, come up with the money for my son to go to summer camp, and oh yeah, pay my rent.

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I am a 46-year-old, divorced woman of color with three college degrees and lots of valuable work experience. I go on interviews every few months in the hopes of finding a better job, but nothing seems to pan out. I spoke to a woman yesterday on the phone about a job, and she said she was worried that I was overqualified. I explained that I’m a single mom. I’m raising my child alone with no child support. I need a job to survive and I’m looking for a stable position where I get to do work I enjoy. Oddly enough, that seemed like a novel idea to her, as if there were jobs falling out of the sky and I had my pick. We’ll see if I pass the personality test she sent me as part of the interview process. That’s right. I took an online personality test today to see if my personality, not just my education and years of experience are a good match for a job I’m overqualified for. Isn’t Life a scream?

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On top of the fact that I’m in non-stop survival mode, I’ve hit my sexual peak and haven’t dated anyone in over a year because I’m not interested in meaningless hookups. To be fair, I’m not exactly in an ideal phase of my life to attract worthy partners. By worthy, I mean single, attractive, kind, interesting, educated, financially stable men with a dark sense of humor who can laugh at themselves and make me laugh, who didn’t vote for Trump, and aren’t members of the NRA. Too specific? I don’t think so. Actually, if you think you meet these qualifications, I’ll be accepting applications later this month. Just kidding. Sort of.

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Sure, I have pleasant flirtations with friends on social media, but again I haven’t been on an actual date since early last year. Psychologically, I’m not sure I’d be very good company some days, but my friends keep telling me I’m a great catch. Whatever. My plate is kind of full with raising my ASD kid, dealing with my own issues of anxiety and depression, while trying to figure out how the hell I’m supposed to pay for everything. All while trying to work full-time and build a writing career.

Writing is one of the most important and soothing activities in my life. Before I ever even considered publishing my work, I wrote because I wanted to, needed to. Most of my life, I have dealt with times of crisis by finding solace in fiction. I read, I watch films and TV, and I write. Some people might tell you I hide in fiction. Screw them. They aren’t my friends. Fiction is a balm that allows me to escape from reality, and right now, mine is a non-stop shit show.

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Some people enjoy watching sports and reality TV shows, or reading romance novels with happily-ever-afters. Unless there are monsters or other supernatural or magically gifted characters involved, I’m not interested in watching. Don’t get me wrong. I love romance, but I like the paranormal variety, where crazy women fall in love with vampires, werewolves and demons. If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you know that I absolutely love monsters. Vampires are my favorite monsters, and have been since before I was a teenager. I like complicated characters who are a bit more villain than hero who have faced such great tragedy that they go a little crazy. So, naturally, insane vampires are at the top of my list when it comes to being entertained.

One of the craziest and most entertaining vampires ever is Franklin Mott. Over the weekend, I treated myself by watching all of the True Blood episodes Franklin appears in, so I could laugh, get creeped out, and forget about my troubles for a few hours. I indulged my love of monster soap operas and reminded myself that things could be much worse. I could be tied to a toilet in a cheap motel while being held against my will by an insane vampire who thinks he’s in love with me. Wait. Actually, that sounds like a fun weekend.

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Franklin Mott is a Grade-A psycho. We’re first introduced to Franklin, played by British actor James Frain, in episode two of the third season of True Blood, “Beautifully Broken,” in which Lafayette Reynolds prevents his cousin, Tara Thornton, from committing suicide while mourning the death of her murderous boyfriend, Eggs. Tara is not only mourning the death of her boyfriend, but the fact that the happiest she ever felt in her life was when she was being psychically controlled by a maenad. She compares the experience of being head-over-heels in love with Eggs to being a zombie. That complete lack of control scares her and further challenges her belief in the existence of true love, or at the very least, her belief that she might not be worthy of receiving it.

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Tara hasn’t had a lot of luck in the romance department, and she’s beginning to wonder if the problem is her. So, the fact that the next man she attracts is an exceptionally violent vampire, does little to boost her self-image.

Franklin comes to Bon Temps to gather intelligence on Bill Compton for the Vampire King of Mississippi, Russell Edgington, and learn more about his human companion, Sookie Stackhouse. After finding a secret dossier on Sookie hidden in Bill’s office, and disposing of a dead body Jessica has stashed in the cellar, Franklin goes in search of a little R&R at Bon Temps’ hottest night spot, Merlotte’s.

It’s Tara’s night off, but Lafayette wants to keep an eye on her after her suicide attempt. She’s feeling pretty low, but pitches in behind the bar. When Franklin asks how she’s doing, she tells him she’s trying not to kill herself. He jokingly asks how that’s going for her. She says, “I’m still alive.” He says, “That makes one of us.” Tara then gets up and offers him a bottle of True Blood.

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Later in the episode, we see Tara sitting in the parking lot behind the bar drinking Wild Turkey straight from the bottle. Two drunk rednecks stumble out the backdoor, talking shit about Eggs in less than flattering terms, and one of them takes a piss on the spot where he was shot to death. Tara confronts them and things escalate quickly. She gets into a fist fight, but is outmatched until Franklin suddenly comes to her rescue. He helps out by holding one of the men so Tara can continue punching him, releasing some of her rage and grief. While Franklin holds the man and Tara hits him, Franklin’s fangs pop out, clearly turned on by Tara’s bloodlust.

The next time we see Tara and Franklin, they’re in bed together in a cheap motel. Tara has never had sex with a vampire and the experience is eyeball-rollingly orgasmic for both of them. In the midst of the encounter, Tara tells Franklin to bite her, but he refuses. Confused, she asks why. He tells her it’s because she asked him to, and his tone is teasing, playful.

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They continue to have sex until dawn, and Franklin seems to have taken a liking to Tara. He asks her questions about herself wanting to get to know her. Curious as to where all her rage comes from. At this point, he doesn’t even know her name. Unwilling to develop any sort of attachment, Tara gets dressed and tells him she isn’t interested in forming any kind of lasting bond with him. And you get the sense that his feelings might be a little hurt when she leaves.

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Still on assignment for the Vampire King of Mississippi, Franklin continues to follow leads to gather more intel on Bill and learn more about Sookie. He tracks down Bill’s progeny, Jessica, and lets her know that he’s the one who disposed of the body she was hiding. Then he proceeds to grill her for information. In the process of learning more about Bill and Sookie, he also learns that Tara is staying at Sookie’s while she’s off trying to find Bill. Bill was kidnapped by Russell Edgington and is being held captive in Mississippi. Against his better judgment, Eric provides Sookie with a werewolf bodyguard, Alcide Herveaux, who accompanies her to Mississippi.

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Franklin shows up at Sookie’s and Tara is shocked to see him. She refuses to let him come in until he mesmerizes her and bends her to his will. She invites him in and he asks her questions about Bill and Sookie and discovers that Sookie is in Mississippi looking for Bill. Franklin then proceeds to kidnap Tara, claiming that he loves her and wants them to be together. Apparently, whether she likes it or not. This is when we begin to see just how crazy Franklin really is. We get a glimpse of his possessive, controlling nature when he tells Tara that if she keeps smiling while talking about Jason Stackhouse, he might have to get jealous.

Franklin begins exhibiting some of the classic signs of stalker/abuser behavior. He believes that if he has feelings for Tara, she should have feelings for him. It’s okay if she doesn’t right away, because he’s going to convince her that they’re meant to be together. Even if he has to resort to violence. For instance, he bounds and gags Tara in the bathroom of the cheap motel where they had what she believed was their one-night stand. When the sun goes down, Franklin shows up with flowers that he duct tapes to Tara’s bound hands before putting her in his car.

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When she demands to know where he’s taking her, because she views his actions as kidnapping, he acts offended and tells her she’ll ruin the surprise. She’s angry, confused, and terrified. Again, we get the sense that her refusal to simply enjoy the ride hurts his feelings. He imagines a relationship developing between them that is obviously one-sided.

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At one point, Tara demands to know why he keeps her tied up if he has feelings for her, and he tells her it is for her safety. He gets upset and nearly breaks down crying, because again, his feelings are hurt by her implication that he is keeping her tied up to hurt her, not protect her. His behavior becomes more erratic and confusing the more time she spends in his company. However, Tara is a pro at dealing with abusers, and soon learns how best to manipulate Franklin to protect herself and convince him to do what she wants.

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If she shows signs of being upset, he asks who made her feel that way and threatens to kill them. He apologizes for not taking better care of her when he forgets that she needs to eat regular food. He brings her gifts and tries to make her comfortable. Then, he goes a step too far and proposes to her. She obviously can’t say no, but has no desire to become a vampire. If they are wed, he plans to change her so they can be together forever. One of the obvious drawbacks of falling in love with a vampire, or becoming a vampire’s object of desire, is that in order for any long-term love affair to occur, you have to become like them.

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He loves her so much, he wants to kill her. She doesn’t want to die. In fact, she’s horrified by the thought, which is ironic given the fact that she tried to kill herself at the beginning of the episode in which they met. But, I guess the message here is that she wants to die on her own terms. She wants her death to be her own decision. She wants to be in control of her life and death, not at the mercy of a psychotic, love-sick vampire. Beyond that, Tara also realizes that just because someone desires you, that doesn’t mean they have the right to own you. And, Franklin Mott’s version of love entails ownership.

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While watching the episode in which he offers her what amounts to an eternity of slavery to her bloodlust, it wasn’t lost on me that the setting was an old plantation house in the deep South. Tara is essentially a house slave at the mercy of her owner’s desires. Franklin is not her lover, he’s her master. She’s held against her will and forced to endure his poisonous version of affection. Of course, if you tried to explain this concept to Franklin, he’d probably be so offended that he’d black out in a murderous rage and wake up in a room surrounded by body parts.

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Despite his dangerous flaws, Franklin Mott is an interesting character. He has some of the funniest and most memorable lines in season three. His gallows humor, intelligence, biting sarcasm, and taste in mostly all black clothing make him charming and interesting. Something broke inside Franklin long before he became a vampire. There was darkness in him prior to becoming one of the undead. However, even if he wasn’t a vampire, his attraction to vulnerable women who have essentially given up on life makes him a predator.

As fictional characters go, Franklin Mott is right up my alley, but I wouldn’t want to meet someone like him in the real world.

What Dreams May Come

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The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, 1781

“Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.” ~ Edgar Cayce

I have a recurring dream. You know the one. No, not the one about being naked in public. The other one. And no, it wasn’t the one about showing up to an exam after missing every class for the semester. It was definitely a stress-related dream, like the other two, but this particular dream is a recurring one that many of you may have had at least once in your life. On a regular basis, I have the teeth falling out of my mouth dream. I say dream, but you might say nightmare. Tom-A-to…tom-AH-to. If you had some of my nightmares, or had the teeth falling out dream as often as I have, you might not be as worked up about having it.

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Image by Yingpis Kalayom via Unsplash

I’ve had variations of this dream for as long as I can remember, and it usually occurs during high-stress periods of my life. Guess what? I’m stressed. And you probably are too. If you have a pulse and are not a chronically deluding yourself about how well you’re managing things in your life, then you are stressed.

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Image via American Psychological Association

The good news is, sometimes our subconscious mind speaks to us in dreams and let’s us know we aren’t completely alone in our struggle. We have our own instincts and internal compasses to guide us through. Since having my teeth fall out is a recurring theme in dreamland, I’ve come to appreciate this dream as a sign that there is something happening in my life that I need to address immediately. And, fortunately, it is usually something I have control over and can manage with the right course of action and attention to the problem. I don’t panic when I have this dream. Oddly enough, I am comforted by it, because when the dream arrives, it tells me that I am almost ready to deal with the situation that is causing me stress.

Great, but what do these dreams actually mean, and why should you be concerned about having them? Well, according to a website dedicated to this particular type of dream, the symbol of teeth have both positive and negative meanings in our dreams.

Negative Meanings

  • Insecurities, especially about a personal loss
  • Anxiety about sexual experience
  • A compromise that is costly to you
  • Life changes and “growing pains”
  • Fear of becoming older

Positive Meanings

  • Signs of personal expansion
  • Wish or need to nurture yourself more carefully
  • An invitation to explore feelings of loss and personal growth
  • A call to look at your support system
  • The Jungian interpretation: Times of renewal and “rebirth”

I checked a lot of boxes in both the negative and positive columns. How about you? Any of these fears feel familiar? Again, are you alive?

A few years ago I was having the teeth falling out dream almost weekly. Beyond the regular stress of daily life – work, family, finances, and relationships – I lost my father and was in the process of grieving his death. He battled with a variety of health issues over an eight-year period, and spent the last two and a half years suffering with dementia and becoming a stranger to my family and me. His death was, in many ways, anticlimactic simply because I had been grieving the loss of his personality for several years as he lost his memory, developed bizarre habits, and eventually could no longer take care of himself. When my mother and I took him to the nursing home, he asked us where we were going when it was time to leave. At that point, he still had enough understanding of who he was, who we were, and that his life was about to change dramatically. It was heart breaking, and we began grieving for him that day.

Even though I did a lot of grieving during that time, obviously, my father’s death had an impact on me and I still find myself missing him at strange moments. Like when I completed my first novel, a supernatural slave narrative, I wrote as my thesis for the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction Program at Seton Hill University. Writing that novel caused me to have the teeth falling out dream on numerous occasions, but when I finished it and found out that my thesis passed,  I was one step closer to graduating. Both accomplishments filled me with a new sense of confidence about myself as a writer and also reminded me that I can achieve bigger goals if I put in the time and effort. These happy achievements were slightly tarnished by the fact that my dad, the person who encouraged me the most to be a writer and pursue my creative interests, will never be able to read my book or share in the joy I felt on graduation day.

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Image by Melanie Wasser via Unsplash

Wait. What does this have to do with the teeth falling out dream? Oh right, I was illustrating an example(s) of the kind of stress that can trigger the teeth falling out dream. But, it doesn’t take the death of a parent to make life stressful. I’m a divorced single parent who works full-time and writes part-time and is looking for a fresh start – a new job, new place to live, and maybe even a chance at a new romance. Honestly? I manage a lot of my life very well, but there are always things I can take a step back from to examine with a bit more clarity. What do I want to do to pay the bills so I can follow my dream of becoming a full-time writer? Where do I want to live? What am I looking for in a partner? Do I even need a partner?

Typically, when I have the teeth falling out dream, a bunch of teeth fall out of my mouth, or I’m yanking them out as I discover that they’ve come loose. The last time I had the dream, only one tooth was loose. When I looked at myself in the mirror, it easily came free between my fingers, but it didn’t look human. It was too big, like a great big honking horse tooth. Apparently, there was one major issue I needed to address, but my unconscious mind was already working on solving the problem. Shortly after having the dream, I found a therapist and began working toward extracting the cause of the tooth dream. I’ve since moved forward and have been managing the stress in my life a lot better. Sometimes, removing what causes stress from our lives alleviates the need for pulling teeth.

Sweet dreams.