What I Learned from Wes Craven

Many people writing about Wes Craven this week refer to A Nightmare on Elm Street as the film of his that rocked their childhood. While I knew about, and feared, Freddy Kruger, Scream was the first Craven movie that really made an impression on (i.e., scared the crap out of) me.

Wes Craven and Drew Barrymore

With all the people who would go on to blame the Scream movies for their own killing sprees, and all the moral posturing that targeted Craven’s films in particular, he never apologized or allowed his work to be co-opted by anyone with bad intentions. Even Taxi Driver is known as the movie that inspired the attempted Reagan assassination and The Dark Knight is now heavily overshadowed by the Aurora shooting. Regular Joe and Joanne horror fans are so possessive of Craven’s films, however, that we’ll never let the punk-bitches who putz around with butcher knives and play murder take them away from us.

Because, in the end, these movies are all about the survivor. Us. Not them. And in his movies, the villains are ALWAYS d-bags.

“Now see! Don’t you blame the movies. Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative.”

Even though they shock us with creative, unrelenting violence, Craven’s movies took the “final girl” to a whole new level of self-aware empowerment. And as a young woman, remembering the determination that Nancy and Sidney showed in their efforts to triumph over their attackers would help me fight off whatever demons happened to be after me in my own dreams.

Wes Craven, Courtney Cox, Neve Campbell, Meryl Streep
The man himself, surrounded by ladies who dig him.

Ultimately, as an adult, it would be Wes Craven himself who really inspired me.

“I literally remember a conversation along the lines of, ‘Sean [Cunningham, producer of Last House on the Left], I don’t know anything about making a scary movie.’ And Sean said, ‘Well, you were raised as a fundamentalist, just pull all the skeletons out of your closet.'”

The result of the above conversation is one of the most brutal, hard-to-watch films of all time (Last House on the Left, 1972), but it also marked a personal change that few people are ever able to pull off successfully. Wes Craven was raised in a restrictive, Baptist household in Ohio, and that upbringing took a serious psychological toll on him (as it does on many). He went on to make his own way in life, growing in his appreciation for literature and narrative quality, and ultimately turning his childhood trauma into cathartic, thrilling stories that have affected people who may never have taken a second look at a horror movie.

And maybe that’s because he was able to find a way to help people from all different backgrounds identify their own, inner survivor.

Though his first few films were sadistic in that way that only films from the 70s can be, he continuously pressed forward to develop a unique sense of style and humor that made his films special and relatable. Due to the ravages of brain cancer, he wasn’t able to die on set at age 90 the way he wanted to, but he left behind a body of work that is both entertaining and inspiring to future artists and storytellers.

The Extrovert’s Guide to Working from Home

Depression and anxiety can trick you into thinking that your dark side, or your disease, is your true personality. You begin to imagine that other humans are the enemy and that you’re better off hiding in your home and scraping out money with as much face-to-face contact as possible. Getting treated, whether that means with talk-therapy, art-therapy, cardio, or medication, can help reveal who really lives beneath that layer of self loathing.

For me, I recovered my energetic attitude toward others after I’d already started working from home. In the midst of transition, (ie., waiting for grad school to start), I’ve developed mechanisms to keep myself happy, energized, and sane.

Go Outside in the Morning

Can we go now? Can we go now?

I’m fortunate that I have an enormous hound that needs to be taken out or he cries and cries like scalded milk in an espresso machine. First thing in the morning, even if it’s bad weather, let some vitamin D slip into your pores. Most neighborhoods at least have some sort of green landmark or destination to use as a turnaround point (unless you’re in California, then it’s probably yellow). With any luck, you’ll encounter some friendly faces out in the world, exchange some pleasantries, and hell, even meet the neighbors. If you do this, it also usually requires you to put on some clothes. Well, at least a bra and some shoes in addition to your yoga pants or whatever. Sometimes I even put on jeans. And this makes the inertia a lot less potent when opportunities to leave the house arise later in the day.

Queue up Your Favorite Podcasts

Nothing gets you pumped up in the morning like your favorite song. Starting out your day getting dressed and listening to a favorite jam or the familiar voices of podcasts you especially like. Personally, I like to wake myself with the Last Podcast on the Left or Sword and Scale. Those are more for the horror-inclined, however, and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Something with a little bit of humor, excitement, or inspiration is best, and if you follow a regular show, you develop a little bit of familiarity with the people on the other end of the microphone.

Remember you Have Clients and Colleagues

Call them. Make appointments to meet with them. Cold calling is terrifying, and I don’t really do it. I prefer an idea proposed (by a client no less!) of pursuing “warm leads”. These are people approached via this marvelous thing called THE INTERNET via LinkedIn, MeetUp, and Facebook Pages. That way, calls are not cold and terrifying, but rather just talking to a face on your computer that you’ve already seen.

Create Missions for Yourself

It can become challenging to sit (or stand, like me) for hours straight focused on one task, but breaking up your workday into chunks makes for the opportunity to go out and run errands. Or, if you’re on of those Turn-Life-Into-An-RPG types, “complete missions”. While having a 9-5 may make it so you need to do all your errands at once, the homebound extrovert may choose to break up these tasks into different days of the week in order to get regular doses of human interaction. If you are not stuck working at a desktop computer, take your laptop to one of the more work-friendly coffee shops in your area, too.

home gym

Join a Gym

My solitary fitness pursuit of running was something that really worked for me back when I was working with victims of sexual abuse. It gave me a place to expend energy and to release the pressure inside my head. Once I started working from home though, the open road became just another place of alienation. Joining a powerlifting gym back in Santa Barbara county gave me at least four hours a week of joking around and shit-talking with like-minded people. Now, my gym isn’t as specialized and includes a lot more cardio machines, but it’s small and friendly enough that I can count on at least a few friendly words, and maybe even some jokes.

If you must work from home, implement these techniques, you extroverts, and everyone will be much, much happier. You will be happier because you’ve gone out into the world, combining a productive day of work with some invigorating human contact. And your roommate or significant other will be happier because you won’t be an energy-sucking mess that latches onto them like a Yerk as soon as they walk in the door.
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You May Not Be as Right as You Think

And enduring a dose of public shame could make you a better person.

When you go to sleep without any melatonin, Tylenol PM, or beer buzz, there’s a good chance you’ll be visited by the ghost of humiliations past. There’s the usual horror of childhood bodily functions gone awry, like the time someone I know peed their Halloween costume laughing at a class party in third grade (not me…definitely not me).

What really nags are those times when I’ve said or done something totally asinine and gotten nailed for it.

In tenth grade, I thought I was pretty damn smart. I mean, my parents and all my teachers told me I was. So when it came to working on a biology worksheet in a group, getting in a heated debate over one of the questions with my classmate seemed like a great idea.

“What are you talking about? Of course water contracts when it freezes! Everything contracts when it freezes!” I said, getting a little bit too intense, a little too loud, and drawing eyes from all over the room.

“No, it doesn’t,” he said.

“Of course it does!” I said.

He was laughing at me, with a look in his eyes that I now know was incredulity but then thought was stupidity. After class I ran out to find my eleventh grader friend who got really, really good grades to corroborate what I thought had to be true.

“Stephen,” I said. “Ice contracts when it freezes, right?”

“No, dude,” he said, “it definitely expands.”


“Yeah, when we were out in the midwest, the water would freeze into the cracks in the road, then the roads would get all messed up because the ice would expand and break the asphalt.”

ice on the road

The camera zooms in on horror creeping across my face.

“It’s because of the hydrogen bonds,” Stephen went on. “Why?”

During lunch I tracked down my classmate and, in front of his friends, apologized for being such a dumb ass. He laughed it off and said it was ok, probably thinking I was a huge weirdo for even bringing it up again. Maybe I was. Maybe he just hadn’t felt that soul-sucking horror of being so publicly wrong before. But from then I realized that, at least in the world of science, I might need to check my facts before being so vehement.

And it wouldn’t be too much longer before I learned that lesson didn’t just apply to science.

I don’t completely remember what spurred this, possibly some racialized violence in the school, but that same year the school decided to put on a “tolerance assembly” (back before we realized “tolerance” wasn’t that high of an ideal to aspire to). Someone decided it’d be a good idea to send all the students interested in helping out with it into the band room to talk about what the best way to put on the assembly would be.

Because why wouldn’t that go well?

At one point, a very good friend of mine suggested that there be a section of the assembly, a monologue maybe, regarding gay rights.

Squeamish about sex, bitter about finding out that a (different) boy I liked was gay, and indoctrinated into a way of thinking that I had never yet questioned, I said, “Maybe we should just stick to things that people can’t control and not sexual choices.”

The look of betrayal on his face was gutting. “You think that I chose to be gay?” His voice had gotten the strangled tone I had heard only when he was very upset.

I broke out into a cold sweat and my heart started hammering, “….isn’t it?”

“NO. It’s not.” He said.

This led to a lot more arguing, with me trying to defend the stupid thing I had just said, all the while watching how much my words had crushed someone I cared so much about. The assembly took place the following week, and I don’t remember much about it because by the end of that meeting, feeling like an enormous hypocrite, I decided not to participate.

I wish that I had begun my young adulthood more enlightened, more open, and more willing to listen before blundering into something I didn’t understand. I had to learn the hard way. After school I did some ugly-crying as I apologized to my friend, and thankfully he forgave me. To this day, he’s one of my oldest and dearest friends, and someone who has taught me more than I think even he realizes.

No matter how smart or well-intentioned you are, there’s always a chance that you are completely and utterly wrong.

Maybe social media has made us more defensive and inured us to feeling the kind of shame we need to change and grow. Too often, I think, we conflate well-deserved calling-out with bullying or undeserved criticism. The fact remains that these negative experiences that haunt us as we try to lull ourselves to sleep are so ingrained for a reason. They are some of the most important moments of our lives, and teach us the importance of pausing to listen.

The Waiting Room: Where Things are Almost Happening

In a culture where “tired” or “crazy busy” is the almost mandatory answer to “how are you?”, it’s heresy to admit that stretches of quiet transition exist. So I’ll be the first to step forward and say…”Hey. I’m actually not that busy right now.”

While my husband’s new job has begun and is challenging and stimulating his mind daily, I’m having to find ways to occupy myself without slipping into depression, anxiety, or excess.

So what to do with oneself in the meantime?

John Lennon has that annoying quote: “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” To me, it has become a reproach, but I’m trying to shrug it off and prepare accordingly for plans that are already in place. Here are five activities that have been filling the interim time.

ikea standing desk
The desk was one of the first things to be set up in my baby-blue office.

1) Part-Time Blogging, SEO, and Social Media Work

A little bit of part-time work has been a life saver on the mornings I wake up and feel like I’m contributing nothing to society or the planet. I even keep a Google spreadsheet with the hours I spend working, as a reminder and calming mechanism when I start beating myself up. It’s a technique I recommend to anyone bent toward self-badgering.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to maintain some of the web work in Santa Barbara county that I was doing, contracted by a developer/SEO friend (and if you have a website you need some help with, send me a message and I’ll hook you up with him). My jobs have included managing social media accounts, ghost-writing industry specific blogs, and doing assorted e-mail newsletter and WordPress tweaks.

2)Health Restoration

Despite the fact that I had good friends and family nearby, and the fact that I had that rare privilege of meeting and marrying someone who really understands me, I was not at my happiest in the place I lived for the past four years. As many people do when they’re unhappy, I allowed myself to engage in some pretty unhealthy eating and drinking habits, gaining about thirty pounds.

Now to be fair, I did stop running and took up powerlifting. I can deadlift over 250 lbs and squat over 200. But I also worked up to drinking a bottle of wine all by myself a couple of nights a week and ate more than my share of Panda Express orange chicken. And I’m pretty sure that’s bad for me.

So I’ve added running back into the repertoire, given up anything deep-fried, and I’ve quit drinking all together. Yes. You read that right. I haven’t had alcohol in almost two weeks. That’s kind of huge for me. Don’t worry, though, after a couple of months I’ll be back to giving you reviews of these fabulous Pacific Northwest brews…just gotta drop this fifty-year-old-man beergut I’ve got first.

The coolest part is, even though it’s a beer and wine mecca up here, every bar and restaurant has non-alcoholic options that don’t suck. The tap rooms serve microbrewed kombucha, for example. Where even am I?

murakami, connor, and iced coffee

3) Books, books, and more books

Audiobooks while dog-walking and planting shasta daisies in the front yard. Books to review for the Jack the Ripper site I contribute to. And books from the enormous library that’s a mile from my house. I’ve already finished three this week.

oregon coast hike

4) Taking the Networking Plunge

In the last few weeks, “Meetup.com” that has pretty much blown my mind, and has also added some much needed signposts to the landscapes of my weeks. JT and I joined a group of 12 strangers for a gorgeous hike on the Oregon Coast last weekend, I went to a meeting for women in small business that led to coffee with a very cool lady with her own marketing business, and next week I’m going to an SEO presentation and a writer’s group meeting.

I also got lectured by some dude about how my business card was all wrong last week, but you take the bad with the good.

Moving to a new city as an adult without the immediate built-in network that school can provide is intimidating. Thank goodness for the internet, for libraries, for garden beds, and of course for my boys.

stretching with help from the hound


Do Millenials Really Have Nothing to Offer?

Millenials. We’re the scum of the earth.

It’s impossible to read a business site without seeing articles every couple of weeks about tolerating millenials, how millenials aren’t actually that good at social media after all, and other disparaging eye-roll-worthy comments and pieces on how entitled/untrainable/hard to work with/ignorant we are.

Meanwhile, I’ve watched several people close to me marginalized at work due to their being under thirty, no matter how well they perform. Instead of being seen as people with years and years of time to learn and train up to higher levels, we’re often treated like we’re still children.

I try not to let these blogs get to me. I chalk it up to business’ fear of the unknown, a scarcity mentality, or just a desire for clicks.

But last week, during a webinar, something got me good and angry.

standing desk

The webinar was with a site I consider to be one of the best websites about blogging and content marketing on the web. I’m always looking for ways to improve my work by reading their articles and listening to their podcasts. The webinar was about the mistakes people make when creating online products, and it had an hour of very useful content.

When the webinar was wrapping up, the question and answer session began regarding the course they were promoting. The course centered on creating teaching products for the web. My attention was in and out at that point. I knew it was very unlikely I’d be able to afford the course (especially since I’m heading to grad school in the fall). And was wondering whether I should just log off.

That’s when I heard:

“No. People in their twenties aren’t the target for this course. It tends to be more for people with something to offer…”

Aaaaaaand at that point I logged off.

I was much more enflamed than I would normally be by this. Maybe it was because I am such a huge fan of the site and felt betrayed, but I think a lot of it had to do with the distinct choice of words themselves. I tried to rationalize it…they were talking about creating web courses, which do require a bit of experience and knowledge to teach, right?

(Never mind that they had an entire segment on how it’s better to offer beginning courses, and that sometimes over-educated people struggle more with making an accessible product. Clearly that’s inapplicable.)

Maybe they were just joking around, or maybe in splitting my attention, I had missed some important context. For that reason, I won’t name the website. The fact remains, though, that I’ve gotten used to hearing and reading such digs (though many far less cutting) over the course of my fledgling career.

Ultimately I kept coming back with the line: “…people with something to offer…”

Do millennials really have nothing teachable to offer?

hot coffee and curlers

Now, I’ll admit, I have a hair-trigger when it comes to getting upset about this variety of poorly-chosen word. A lot of that has to do with my history of clinical depression and anxiety. One of my internal loops was (and unfortunately, often still is) literally, “You have nothing to offer.”

But the most effective way to address such a rude, off-hand comment is with evidence. And here are just a few counter-examples from flesh-and-blood people that I actually know:

  • More than one professional graphic designer and professional actor.
  • More than one person largely responsible for making award-winning, premium wine.
  • One teacher who single-handedly brought the AP Environmental Science class to the California high school where she works.
  • A trial lawyer for a firm that regularly wins huge sums from major corporations responsible for killing or maiming innocent people.
  • A professional Chinese-English translator.
  • A professional speech-therapy clinician.
  • Several devoted victim-advocates for survivors of sexual assault.
  • Several parents in the midst of parenting very awesome kids (nothing to learn from that, I’m sure).

And again: these are just friends and acquaintances. The list also doesn’t include my friends’ myriad un-remunerated interests and specialties: people who are well-traveled, intellectually curious about a broad range of subjects, and musically or artistically gifted.

And with that, I prefer to embrace facts instead of popular click-bait lines. The under-30 crowd DOES have a lot to teach and offer, and now is about the time we’re due to start dominating.

So get used to it, biz blogs.


Five Books that Got Me Right in the Feels

One of the major reasons we’ve moved up to the Portland area is due to my love of all things literary. This fact also happens to be one of the major things that brought the hubs and I together in the first place.

On Sunday, after a week of dropping money on consignment furniture and microbrew, we made one final splurge at the Powell’s bookstore that’s about a mile from our house (I KNOW…AMAZING!). You know…one more cash-drop until we have recovered a little bit from the last month or so both financially and around the waistline.

Sales Books from PowellsOn the way to the bookstore, he and I got into a discussion of how some books stay with us emotionally and some fade away right after we finish the last page. This led to a discussion of the books that really “stuck” in one way or another. So I thought I’d share my top five (as of today), which had a major effect on my adult life and viewpoint, in no particular order.

1. East of Eden

east of eden cover
I went back and forth on this one, but have ultimately decided that it’s impact in my life has been all too apparent. It was the first one that JT and I ever really bonded over. Its full of characters that I long to know in real life, and some that I’m very glad I’ve never met (well…Kathy in particular). Most of all, it’s a book that really brought home the message that, as they say on Welcome to Nightvale, “Death is only the end if you think the story is about you.”

2. Lolita

lolita book cover
Much is made of the lush language and the transgressive subject matter in this book. For me, it spurred a profound personal transformation. I read it as a 19 year old, and was dating an older man at the time. The relationship was far from illegal or paedo, but as I read about Humbert Humbert’s manipulation and isolation of teenage Dolores, I broke out in a cold sweat on the backs of my forearms. I recognized these manipulation tactics because they were being used on me. Soon afterward, I ended the relationship. I wish I could say it was my last dysfunctional relationship, but in any case it was a very important realization for a new adult woman.

3. The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
Speaking of important books for women…I listened to this audiobook read by Claire Danes a little over a year ago.

It scared the shit out of me, and still does. Everyone needs to read it, I think, and be scared by it as well.

4. Beloved

I won’t lie. I originally picked this one up because I heard it was about a ghost baby. And that sounded awesome.

What I really got was a story that made the cultural and national baggage of slavery’s horrible, disgusting reality more than just an intellectual concept. Like whoa.

5. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible
So much in this one besides simply the sheer amazingness of Kingsolver’s language and perspective. Much like East of Eden, it showed me that a story can be satisfactorily finished without being tied in a neat little bow, and that a person can continue to live on after the dissolution of a family bond (or more than one). That’s a lesson that at some point, unfortunately, most of us have to learn.

Naturally, there are more books than these that were striking. And yes, JT, this list is a little different from what I said on Sunday. Today, however, these are the ones I look at and can vividly remember the way they made me feel and how they changed the way I think.