The Curator of Schlock #196: Island of Terror

The Curator of Schlock #196 by Jeff Shuster

Island of Terror

Why don’t more movies put “terror” in the title?

Hi all. I don’t typically cuss on this blog. We try to keep things clean down here at the Museum of Schlock. But it looks like Disney decided to give me the proverbial kick to the groin with their most recent reveal. What the hell is this?

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I repeat. What the hell is this? Why is there a space gerbil in the next Star wars movie? Whose bright idea was this? I hate gerbils! And now I’m going to see every child under six years-old running around with stuffed versions of these things, their dead eyes staring right back at me. Disney is calling them Porgs.

I’ll never accept them.

I won’t do it.

I have to get off this topic. I think I was doing some ill-advised science month here at the Museum of Schlock for the month of September.

Right.

It was the Museum of Schlock’s Relativity Series, a series of movies celebrating all things science or things of science that like to kill people. This week’s entry is 1966’s Island of Terror from director Terence Fisher.

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I know, I did a Terence Fisher movie a few weeks back, and I’ll probably do another one before the end of the year because he’s awesome. This one stars Peter Cushing who is also awesome. Except for that performance he gave in last year’s Rogue One. Peter, you totally phoned in that performance.

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The movie starts out pleasant enough. There’s something about those Technicolor movies of the 50s and 60s that I find comforting. Maybe it’s their rich use of color. I don’t know.

What’s the plot? Some scientists on Petrie’s Island off the east coast of Ireland are conducting experiments. In the hopes of curing cancer, they bring forth creatures from the silicon atom, creatures that will be named silicates. These creatures eat human bones. Yes, the silicates eat human bones as well as the bones of other mammals.

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They slide across the ground like slugs until they get close enough to wrap their tongue around your leg or your arm. I guess they suck the bones out through your skin, leaving a mushy skin sack of blood and organs. That’s a bad way to go.

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You do have one defense against the silicates. The emit a creepy sound whenever they’re in the vicinity, the way crickets would sound if the came from the 8th dimension. The island doctor decides that boneless bodies are above his pay grade so he contacts Dr. Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing) and Dr. David West (Edward Judd) for their assistance. Dr. West’s girlfriend, Toni Merrill (Carole Gray) comes along for the ride. They discover the silicates, people get eaten, and solutions for stopping them may or may not be found. You know the drill.

I don’t typically plug Blu-rays, but there’s a nice edition of this title from Scream Factory if you’re so inclined.


Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

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Aesthetic Drift #16: How to Read the Entire Dark Tower Series while Still Having a Life

Aesthetic Drift #16 by Don Peteroy

How to Read the Entire Dark Tower Series while Still Having a Life

1.

I’ve already lied to you.

This essay’s title has little to do with what I’ve actually written.

I was thirty-seven when I decided I’d attempt to read every Stephen King novel. I’d made a half-ass effort to do so when I was in my early teens, but I’d abandoned three-quarters of his books after about twenty pages. At that point in my life, I hadn’t yet received my hard-earned Dyslexia Detection Award yet. I just assumed that I’m dumb. Most of my teachers held the same impression. The last King novel I’d failed to finish was his then-current Gerald’s Game.

My desire to initiate the King Marathon returned the day after my friend—I’ll call him Ken—killed himself. It happened a couple of weeks before I took my qualifying exams for PhD candidacy—a series of written and oral exams built off of a massive reading list. I’d had eight months to get through more books than most people would read in a lifetime or two.

The last time Ken and I were together, before his suicide, he’d had a book with him. That wasn’t unusual. Initially, our friendship developed out of common literary interests. He was reading Stephen King’s latest release, Dr. Sleep.

Doctor Sleep

I rolled my eyes when Ken recommended it to me. Although I didn’t think King was beneath me, I’d maintained the opinion that the Master of Horror had mastered a one-trick pony. My opinion changed. I opened Dr. Sleep on the day Ken’s father closed the casket.

A week after the funeral, I finished the novel.

I’d started it because I’d loved and missed Ken. I finished it because I loved the book.

2.

When I passed my exams —just barely—I had a genuine crisis: I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’d become too dependent on following a book list. The solution was to make more book lists. I was curious about the ancient Gnostic religion, so I made a Gnosticism list and got a suitcase full of books about it. Another list was comprised of every Stephen King novel—about five suitcases worth.

By Christmas, I’d gone though two suitcases of King’s novels. Upon finishing It, I moved onto The Gunslinger, the first book in The Dark Tower series. I know better than to incite the rage of Stephen King fans, so I must (dramatic pause) be careful here. It took me a year to slog through that repulsive novel.

The Gunslinger

Admitting that may cost me some good friends. Admitting that may make me an enemy to legion Stephen King purists.

I’ve got justifiable grievances.

Long ago, I had a drinking problem, and now, The Gunslinger made me feel like I’d had a relapse. That novel is, in and of itself, an alcoholic with late-stage alcoholism. It’s emotionally numb; it’s sick and tired of being sick and tired; it rambles; and occasionally, it pukes a scene onto your poor, unsuspecting lap. Whether King was drunk when he wrote it, I can’t say (probably),[1] but the novel’s tone carries an air of drunken confidence and cockiness. This is an irresponsible and sophomoric way of commenting on a novel. But, having debated the aesthetic merits of this novel with others, I’ve failed time and again to justify my disdain through sophisticated, PhD-level argumentative strategies. You’re less likely to be wrong about a judgment that’s personal.

Over the course of a year, I’d read fifteen pages, put it down, start and finish a different King novel, return to The Gunslinger for a few pages, and repeat the process. I should have read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, instead. Every time opened the book again, I felt like I was banishing myself to a place drearier than hell. The novel’s hero, Roland, lives in Mid-World, a dusty, dismal wasteland. Imagine that it’s 1:30 AM, and you’re at a movie theater, watching a low-budget film. You’re alone; there’s no one else in the theater but you. Your seat smells like old cigarettes, and the floor is sticky. The air is stuffy, hot, humid, and it’s hard to breathe. That’s Mid-World. Or perhaps a better analogy is Mid-World is your sixth hour sitting on an old, musky-scented couch in a waiting room at a hospital’s cancer ward.

If you’ve seen the Dark Tower film trailers, or, alas, the film, you know that modern-day Earth is part of the story. In The Gunslinger book, however, the connection between Mid-World and Earth remains undeveloped, vague, and of questionable importance. I’m not sure if King had even known where he was heading with the Earth-connection, because, as revealed in one of the later books, he’d had no aspiration to write a follow-up to The Gunslinger. My point is this: in the book, you’ll receive no Earthly solace or respite. Our world is but an afterthought.

When I finally did complete The Gunslinger, I reasoned with myself, “Maybe I should add a proviso to King List: the Dark Tower books are optional.”

3.

I planned to move onto The Regulators, next, but that would require another trip to the bookstore. I’d just purchased a bunch of graphic novels, and I was out of book-spending-cash. At that time, I was Assistant Editor at a literary magazine. I was at the office one afternoon—reading hordes of submissions by writers who’ve been taught that a story’s greatness is inversely proportional to its use of plot—and my phone rang.

It was my sister, calling to tell me that out mother had been diagnosed with cancer. I booked a flight to New York, and decided to borrow my wife’s Nook, since I wouldn’t have time to make it to the bank and then Half-Price Books.

4.

While I sat at the boarding gate, I scrolled through the Nook’s library, looking for the e-book I swore I’d downloaded the night before: Henry Chadwick’s translation of Origen: Contra Celsum. How the second Dark Tower book, The Drawing of the Three, ended up in my library was eerie. Maybe I’d downloaded it a while back, when I was in a state of Gunslinger-induced drunkenness?

Here’s my advice for those of you who wish to read the series, but can’t find the time. If you force yourself, if you approach it as a goal, you’ll likely fail. What you need to do is wait. The timing has to be perfect. You’ve got to let the books find their way into your life.

I started The Drawing of the Three because I needed to read something, otherwise, I’d fall into morbid reflection and panic about my mother’s condition.

The Drawing of the Three

By lift off, I realized how downright amazing this second Dark Tower book is. Stephen King had done something tricky: He’d changed the rules. And he pulled it off in such a way that it seemed plausible, inevitable, real. I’d fully expected to spend 400 pages in the claustrophobic hell of Mid-World, so when King heaved Roland’s consciousness into the body of Eddie, a “modern day” heroin addict in Manhattan, I was startled. I bet King was, too. His excitement, I believe, carries over into his readers, just like his drunkenness. By making Earth the dominant setting in this novel King had effectively brought upon a massive change in air-pressure. The world had opened, and I could breathe.

Also, King had defied the narrative rules that characterized the first novel. For writers, doing something like this; that is, dismissing consistency, is akin to violating the laws of nature. Yet, it felt natural. Roland’s possession of Eddie introduced a new element into the Dark Tower world. I’m not sure if there’s a word for it, but I think “heart” will suffice. The Gunslinger the book, and Roland the character, for all their intrigue, lacked heart.

5.

A closet King-fanatic friend of mine, who carries an MA in English, an adjunct opinion,  and a sixteen-year AA medallion, told me that King intended for the first book to be emotionally cold. He insisted that I need to—that I damned well better—appreciate The Gunslinger for what it is.

Whenever I’m constipated, I don’t ever think, “I should appreciate and try to enjoy this.”

6.

Because The Drawing of the Three had heart, I started to root for Roland. The hope and I felt for the fictional character resonated outward into my nonfictional life. Up until that point, my mind had been looping with bleak, existential despair in response my mother’s condition. Roland—and his new friends—ignited the optimism in me, thereby drowning out all the defeatist noise that had been occupying my inner world. If I could root for Roland, a make-believe interdimensional cowboy, I sure as hell could root for my real and present mother.

When I care for others, imaginary or real, I start to see the contents of my own heart. That’s where the Dark Tower was taking me.

And that’s the sappiest thing I’ve ever written. I’m not going to delete it. Excessive self-consciousness is my downfall; I haven’t written anything new in three years. I need to be OK with being corny sometimes. There’s sappiness and gushy material dispersed across Stephen King’s cannon, and he doesn’t apologize.

7.

He also shows that plot is crucial, not heretical, despite the growing skepticism and disdain many writers have toward plot. How on Earth did I ever fall into the habit—or trap—of leaving half of my stories unfinished because they “rely too much on plot”? I should go finish those motherfuckers.

Mind you, the anti-plot movement is not something I imagined. Each year at the magazine I worked at, nearly 4,000 fiction submissions and 18,000 poems crossed our desks. I’d review roughly 700 to 800 of them. While reading, I’d often ask myself, “So, is something, like, going to happen?”

I know how that sounds… like my biases determined the fate of manuscripts. That is incorrect because most of the stories I passed up the chain were the most interesting stories of the tons of stories that weren’t interested in plot.

The problem with the majority of the anti-plot stories wasn’t their plotlessness, but their failure to offer some aesthetically pleasing compensation. If a story has no plot, but also banal imagery; prose that’s barely alive and doesn’t really want to be alive; television- ready dialogue; the kind of derivative narrative voice that emerges after a writer has just discovered Raymond Carver or David Foster Wallace; a dead animal—there’s a ton of “I hit a deer” or “we had to put the dog down” stories being written; a catalogue of sexual encounters; Alzheimer’s; travelling (don’t dare say vacationing) in Europe or India, then what am I supposed to make of it? Am I supposed to admire its breadth of constipation? Maybe I was reading these… vignettes and prose (anti)poems wrong. With a plotless prose piece, I cannot ask, “What will happen next?”or, “How and why is this happening?”—given the nature of this genre, such questions are as meaningless as asking how many miles are in the color orange. But since I have a reading disability, I’m going to assume that I’d been misreading these “stories” all along, that I was supposed to have been on the edge of my seat in anticipation of which element of fiction the writer will show indifference toward next.

8.

I’m nearing 2,000 words here, and I’ve done the same bothersome thing King did in The Gunslinger. He’d chosen to avoid, or merely imply, a specific and vital relationship between Mid-World and Earth. The connection had to be important because Jake, an Earth kid, lands in Mid-World. Yet, the mechanics of this transaction are treated like afterthought.

A Gunslinger advocate explained the reasoning behind the novel’s callous atmosphere. King had created compatibility between the narrative tone and Roland’s seen-it-all-and-I-don’t-care attitude. Jake’s displacement afforded me a quick glimpse of the novel’s most fascinating puzzle, but thereafter, all access to the mystery at the heart of the book is denied.

Right now, I’m in awe of my own frustration. Remember what I said about how, if you’re going to read the Dark Tower books, the timing has to be perfect? I’m considering the possibility that there actually isn’t anything wrong with The Gunslinger, that maybe I’d picked it up at the wrong time. When I’d opened that book, I was still rather beaten down by the PhD exam process, and the four years of graduate course-work leading up to them. At the time, I was experiencing existential exhaustion, and that’s precisely Roland’s major issue in that novel. Did I dislike Roland because he was—to borrow my own terminology—a reflection of the empty contents of my heart? Post-exam depression wasn’t my only problem back then. I’d allowed myself to slip into self-centeredness, a state of irritability and discontent that I embraced like a drug. In fact, I was what people in recovery from alcoholism would call a “dry drunk.”

I take back everything I said earlier. The Gunslinger wasn’t a drunken novel that had made me feel like I’d relapsed; rather, I was a self-centered dry-drunk reader, secretly hoping to find a consequence-free way to start drinking again.

Ken had been a recovering alcoholic. He committed suicide after a relapse. Sometimes, addiction and recovery shows no allegiance to obeying the comforting narrative of fall and redemption. Sometimes, it doesn’t have a plot—a logical sequence of events arranged in accordance to good old Aristotle’s formula of complication, crisis, and solution.

I wanted to drink, but it had nothing to do with external “triggers.” I simply wanted to drink, and wished to blame it on exams and academic alienation and depression and existential exhaustion. Alcoholism is irrational.

I take it back. I read The Gunslinger at precisely the right time. Roland made me remember the face of my master.

9.

Three hours before the beginning of my mother’s surgery, I finished reading The Drawing of Three. At 6:00 AM that morning, I cried and said goodbye to my mother. The orderlies wheeled her off to surgery, and I went to the waiting room. There, I began reading the third book, appropriately titled The Waste Lands. Later that day, when my father and I were alone in the house, and terrified, I read for eight continuous hours.

My mother was facing death. A character in a book was given a heart, and he was only just beginning to figure out how to use it. I was confused. These Dark Tower books kept telling me to abandon my pessimism, to embrace hope.

Occasionally, when I read King, I have to flick the mental switch that powers-down the Literary Theory department of my brain. The switch labeled “PhD ABD.” That’s not hard, though sometimes, it turns itself back on again. There’s nothing wrong with Theory Brain, in and of itself—it’s not some form of demonic possession, or something I wish to be rid of entirely. But when Theory Brain is activated, it’s hard for me to escape skepticism and sarcasm.

We’d moved to a different waiting room—a special, more focalized one for post-surgery updates—and had been waiting several hours for the doctor to explain the details about chemotherapy. I was reading The Waste Lands, and Theory Brain had subconsciously switched to the “on” position. I suddenly felt repulsed by what I was reading.

The Waste Lands

I no longer have a copy of The Waste Lands, so I can’t locate and quote the exact passage, but it was one similar in sentiment to the following, which is from The Dark Tower, the seventh book. It concerns Roland’s departure from his quest companions, his best friends:

It occurred to him that if he had never loved them, he would never have felt so alone as this. Yet of all his many regrets, the re-opening of his heart was not among them, even now. (749).

My response was, “Such a sentimental idealist!”

If there’s one thing you’ll encounter over and over again in the Dark Tower series—and in pretty much all of King’s works—it’s the notion that at the core, humans are kind and loving. We’re hardwired for compassion, selflessness, and love, though we often forget that. The bitter skeptic in me insisted that human do not possess any essential qualities, whatsoever, let alone “good” ones. My mind argued, “Does he not realize that an individual’s ontological experience, as well as capacity to be compassionate and loving, are predicated upon and determined by cultural, economic, and biological conditions? That benevolence, love, and virtue are socially constructed positions for the privileged? King’s universe is awash with universals and misinformed ideals!”

I turned the switch off. I looked at my surroundings, then looked into myself. I was in a hospital waiting room. I was angry at cancer. I was scared at my helplessness. I suppressed every sob that bubbled up my throat. I missed my mother, even though she was here. I was scared of how I reacted to cancer. I was scared of how not being a pessimist made me vulnerable. I was scared that she might leave this world, and that she might not know the extent of my love. Because expressing love is good, and if I lead people to believe that, at my core, I’m good, then they might expect me to provide something I worry I’m incapable of providing with consistency. A distant part of me—as far away as all of the Dark Tower’s many realms—always wants to live in pure selfishness. It wants to alienate, drink, not feel. It wants to not care about your depression, or your relapse, your cancer. Why I wished to protect that inner waste-land is beyond me, but I knew, the minute I open my heart and show its core reality of love and connection, to myself and everyone, I might change. I might be a differ person than the one who began this quest toward humanity.

The waiting room: a place where people are forced to acknowledge, often painfully, the human capacity to love. I looked at my tense father, and then my sister, whose eyes were red. My love for my mother wasn’t my own. It was my father’s, my sister’s, my wife’s—everyone whose lives my mother touched.

10.

I know this: The quest to become fully human—unconditionally loving and compassionate—is terrifying and difficult. I knew very little about The Dark Tower books before I started reading them, but I sensed (correctly) they had to do with just that. I’d avoided them because of their total length, and the commitment required to read them. That’s what I’d told myself. But I think that unconsciously, I knew the books would somehow reverse the highly addictive trajectory toward alienation I was on during that moment in my life. The prospect of changing—for the better—is terrifying. Sometimes I’d persist in my alienation and destruction because it’s familiar.  But as I ventured into the forth and fifth books, I saw how Roland, too, faced the same personal obstacles, and had to chose between the uncertainty of change, and the familiarity of self-inflicted suffering. Roland, I’d come to learn, was a stand-in for everyone. I wasn’t the only person terrified of how opening the heart can change you.

 

11.

Devoting months—was it nine?—of my life to The Dark Tower wasn’t as massive a task as I’d envisioned it. I haven’t been completely honest with about how I went about it, only because I’ve wished to avoid the diversion that’d come with full disclosure.

Not long after I’d tossed The Gunslinger aside, I’d purchased the Marvel Dark Tower graphic novels, which essentially cover the story of Roland’s youth, as depicted in The Gunslinger and Wizard and Glass, the fourth book. I loved the graphic novels, and maybe it was during that time that I purchased The Drawing of the Three. I just don’t remember. But even after reading the graphic novels, I had no intention of returning to the books.

If you are a Stephen King fan, your time will come to read The Dark Tower. Don’t force it. Don’t decide. When it’s your turn to change, it will find you.

After it found me—after The Drawing of the Three—activated and inspired the part of me that wished to change, I sought everything Dark Tower-related with a fervor. Knowing that Father Callahan would become essential to the plot by the time I’d reach Wolves of the Calla, I interrupted my progress to read Salem’s Lot, of which he is a central character. Hearts In Atlantis also stands on the periphery of the Dark Tower series, and I read that prior to the final novel. In short, I sought out and read almost every story and novel connected to the series in some way.

I interpret my zeal as a sign of how deeply I seek change.

I don’t believe there’s a universally-applicable order to reading these books, and the only thing I can suggest is that you follow you heart and intuition.

12.

I suppose the big question is did I change? My answer is Yes (No). In fact, I feel like my quest has “ended” much like Roland’s. I have to be vague about that, of course, in case the books find you.

My mother survived. I told her I love her. But I’m not done telling her that. I’m doing it now, and if I’m fortunate, I’ll get to tell her again and again, in the million different ways I could never have imagined.


My editor tells me that I owe you readers something more than the evasive bullshit at the end of part 11, so here are The Twelve Steps for Reading Dark Tower Series, My Way.

  1. Begin reading the first 150 pages of The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger. This should take roughly four months.
  2. Put The Gunslinger aside for a month, unfinished. Go to your local comic-book store, or order online the graphic novels The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born, and The Dark Tower: The Long Road Home. Complete these in one to two weeks, and then take a break by reading King’s Mercedes, which is unrelated to the Dark Tower.
  3. Now that the graphic novels have provided you a deeper appreciation of the Dark Tower universe, spend three months reading the last 150 pages of The Gunslinger.
  4. Wait until disaster strikes in your life. During this period, you should be too busy to read anything. That’s when you will want to start The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three. Finish it in less than a month. Two weeks is reasonable.
  5. Begin reading The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands If you feel temptation to take a break and maybe read some Joe Hill, don’t give in. Save Joe Hill for next year. Finish The Waste Lands in three weeks, tops.
  6. You’ve earned the right to divert from the series-proper, and can now start exploring books that are related to The Dark Tower in some way or another. Consider The Eyes of the Dragon. If you are unsatisfied with it, read Salem’s Lot. One of its primary characters will play a major role in The Dark Tower. Spend no more than a month of this diversion.
  7. Read The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass. It is long, but so excellent that you won’t put it down. You will finish it in five days. You might lose some friends; you might end up using all your sick days at work, but it’s worth it.
  8. It’s time to take a relaxing diversion. Read “The Little Sisters of Eluria” from Everything’s Eventual, and then take the rest of the month off to recuperate. At this point, you might want to buy Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: A Concordance, by Robin Furth. It’s a highly-useful encyclopedia of the series, and great for people who have memory problems.
  9. Read The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole, which, although it is a Dark Tower book, King wrote it after the final novel. Chronologically, it takes place between parts IV and V. It’s short. You should finish it in a week.
  10. Read The Dark Tower V: The Wolves of the Calla. This should take you all month.
  11. Read The Dark Tower VI: Susannah, which is short. Read the novella, “Low Men in Yellow Coats” from Hearts in Atlantis. Read “Everything’s Eventual” from Everything’s Eventual That should take about five weeks, but if you’re really picky, read the non-required novel, Insomnia, and add an additional month.
  12. Brace yourself. Read The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower. That should three weeks, but you might be so into it that you’ll finish it in a week.

Don PeteroyDon Peteroy (Episode 19) is the author of the novella Wally (Burrow Press 2012). His story “The Circuit Builders” won the 2012 Playboy Magazine College Fiction Contest. His stories have appeared in Florida Review, Arcadia, Eleven Eleven, New Orleans Review, Cream City Review, Chattahoochee Review, Permafrost, Yemasssee, and others. He teaches at UC Clermont College, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is currently working on two novels.

The Lists #33: Books I’ll Regret Not Writing

The Lists #33 by John King

Books I’ll regret not writing

  1. On the Hubris of Magic Sparrows
  2. Long Night’s Journey into Happy Hour
  3. The Devil’s Pancakes
  4. Dance of the Planets
  5. Dole Whip: The Movie (A Novelization)
  6. Pawing the Chords of a Half-Remembered Violin
  7. Archaic Memories of Minnesota from the Spork Dynasty 

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John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University.

Pensive Prowler #11: I am Not Your Faggot

Pensive Prowler #11 by Dmetri Kakmi

I am Not Your Faggot

In the documentary I am Not Your Negro, James Baldwin says, “The white population of this country has to ask itself why it was necessary to have the nigger in the first place. I’m not a nigger. I’m a man. If you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it and you got to find out why.”

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James Baldwin by Allan Warren.

It’s a singular observation and it’s been on my mind a lot lately. In October, Australia will be asked whether or not the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Citizens will cast a voluntary postal vote with a Yes or a No. The poll will cost the country $122 million dollars. Furthermore, it is non-binding. If the government decides it doesn’t want to pass the law, it won’t. Thus wasting $122 million dollars of tax payers’ money. To add insult to injury, the same law was changed in 2004 to exclude same-sex couples from the marriage act, with no debate or plebiscite. So why do we need an expensive plebiscite now to rectify the situation?

The build-up to the vote has been nasty. It’s taken a toll on same-sex families, their children and on same-sex attracted people in general. Suddenly, everyone is free to publicly express an opinion on matters that do not concern them and about which they know little or nothing.

Yet again the majority is asked to vote on the legitimacy or otherwise of a minority. Does that seem fair? Is it right that in a democracy some people enjoy higher status and more rights than others? It doesn’t seem fair to me. In fact, it seems downright undemocratic.

Let me state my position in the marriage-equality debate. I don’t care for marriage. I would not marry my partner of thirty-one years if I was allowed to do so tomorrow. It is not an institution I believe in; and I always hoped same-sex attracted people would subvert expectations and find new ways of being in the world, not succumb to dominant ideologies that are, to my eyes, conservative and stifling.

But this isn’t really about marriage. It’s about equality. And so, because I believe in democratic principles of justice and equality I will vote Yes in the poll, even though it contravenes my beliefs and universal democratic principles.

It’s often observed that the disenfranchised are expected to educate the powerful. An untenable situation. The genius of Baldwin is that he asks authority to question itself. Which is why I am going to ride on his coat-tails and ask, why did the heterosexual invent the faggot or the poofter, as they say in Australia?

Over the decades, we have been killed, discriminated against, analysed, subjected to cruel experiments and sham cures. Even so, no one is closer to finding an answer to “the problem.” It does not occur to anyone that maybe homosexuality is a naturally occurring phenomenon and maybe we ought to leave well enough alone. There are far more important issues.

I’ve always maintained that I am not gay or homosexual. I don’t use the words in relation to myself, unless I have to clarify a point for a heterosexual. Like James Baldwin, I am a man first and foremost. I do not care for labels and categories, and I refuse to apply them to myself. Identity politics strikes me as reductive and headed for trouble. Nevertheless, I am boxed in, classified and categorised by society. Why?

The question brings us back to the earlier question: why did the heterosexual invent the faggot? Is it to make himself feel better? An anthropologist I know observed that this kind of behaviour is about the concentration of power. Ascendancy relies on separation and hierarchy. It is good to be at the top, setting the rules. The smaller you can make someone else feel, the better you have it. That means you have to find people to exclude. And unfortunately, black people and homosexuals take the brunt in a white, heterosexist society.

That is how majority and minority identities are constructed by the people who hold power. That is how ‘the other’ is born. ‘Otherness’ distances, dehumanises. It says, I am human. You are not. Therefore I can say and do what I like to you and you will not feel as I do.

But these are academic theories and I’m no academic. I am a human being and for now I’d like to ask heterosexuals three questions:

How would you feel if a nation was asked to vote on whether you are a legitimate human being, worthy of equal rights?

How would you feel if you were treated like an insect, something to be studied and eventually exterminated?

And why do you need the faggot?


dmetri-kakmi

Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.

Episode 278: Brittany Perham!

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Episode 278 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On this week’s show, I talk poetry with Brittany Perham!

Brittany Perham

Photo by Lisa Beth Anderson.

TEXTS DISCUSSED

Double Portrait_978-0-393-35401-0

 

NOTES

Check out my interview with Brittany Perham’s chapbook collaborator, Kim Addonizio.

RIP, Jerry Pournelle and J. P. Donleavy.


Episode 278 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Episode 277: Jaimal Yogis!

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Episode 277 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On this week’s show, I have a fun conversation with the journalist, surfer, and Buddhist Jaimal Yogis about the provisionality of our knowledge, philosophy, zen, surfing, writing, avoiding preciousness, and the lunacy of the ego.

Jaimal Yogis

TEXTS DISCUSSED

All our Waves are Water

NOTES

Please consider donating to The Drunken Odyssey’s indiegogo fundraiser here.

Check out Carlton Melton, whose songs “Photos of Photos” and “March of the Cicadas” appear in this show.


Please let us know what you thought of this episode down below. How does your approach to spirituality influence your writing?

The Curator of Schlock #195: Life

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The Curator of Schlock #195 by Jeff Shuster

Life

More like death, lots and lots of death.

Welcome to week two of the Museum of Schlock’s Relativity Series, a range of exhibits that dare to ask what’s really out there. Each year Hollywood gives us some inspirational movie about NASA. Whether it’s Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian or The Arrival, these movies teach us about the triumph of the human spirit in the perils of space. 2017 has given us Life from director Daniel Espinosa, a film about a group of scientists discovering the first definitive proof of life outside of planet Earth.

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The title of this movie gives me hope. What’s more hopeful than life itself?

So these scientists are stationed on the International Space Station. You have two Brits, two Americans, one Japanese, and one Russian. I guess that’s international enough. Ugh. I hate movies with too many characters!

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We’ve got six scientists here. Let’s see. Rebecca Ferguson plays Dr. Miranda North, an officer with the CDC.

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Ryan Reynolds plays Rory Adams, an engineer of some kind. Hiroyuki Sanada plays Sho Murakami, another engineer. Olga Dihovichnaya plays Ekaterina Golovkina, the Mission Commander. There. I think that’s it. Crap. I’ve got two more characters. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Dr. David Johnson, a medical doctor who used to serve in the American military. Finally, you have Ariyon Bakare playing Dr. Hugh Derry, a genius exobiologist who is paralyzed from the waist down, but enjoys free movement in zero gravity.

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The space station recovers a probe NASA sent out to Mars. It contains dirt. Martian dirt! Dr. Derry is especially excited when he discovers a dormant cell in one of the samples. Dr. Derry manages to wake up the cell after some poking and prodding. A media circus ensues. A little schoolgirl wins a contest where she gets to name the organism. She names it Calvin after her elementary school, no doubt named for Calvin Coolidge, our 30th President. Calvin keeps growing in size and forms tentacles. For some reason, this doesn’t alarm anyone. A lab fire causes Calvin to go dormant again much the dismay of Dr. Derry.

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He starts poking at it with a dental scraper. Suddenly, Calvin springs to life wrapping its tentacles around Dr. Derry’s rubber gloved hand. It starts crushing Dr. Derry’s hand until every bone is broken. Only then can Dr. Derry slide it through. He passes out shortly after. Calvin then uses the scraper to puncture the glove, slipping out into the lab to devour a captive gerbil. Okay. Screw Mars!

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Things go from bad to worse. Rory rushes in to rescue Dr. Derry. He pushes Dr. Derry out, but Calvin latches onto his leg. Rory uses some kind of blowtorch on the creature, but it evades and evades until he runs out of fuel. Sealed inside with nowhere to flee, Rory is defenseless as Calvin slips down his throat and begins to devour his insides. Rory slowly coughs up globules of blood before expiring. Calvin escapes through the sprinkler system. This crew is screwed. Yes, I know I used screw twice in this review. It’s that kind of movie.

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NASA, just leave Mars alone. Please!


Jeffrey Shuster 4

Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

The Lists #32: Hurricane Safety Tips

The Lists #32 by Patrick Jehle

Hurricane Safety Tips

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1. Stand outside holding a cloth sail.
2. Bag and freeze plenty of swan burgers.
3. Spend all your money before it goes bad in the bank.
4. Consider publishing my work.
5. Think of me and only me.
6. Ask yourself: How is Patrick? What’s he doing, I hope he’s happy…
7. Let rabid stray dogs bite you to help make you strong.
8. Avoid GMO foods.
9. Catch flying bodies and build an army with them.
10. Don’t forget to floss.

_______

Patrick Jehle

Patrick Jehle (Episode 16) is a writer from Brooklyn living in Chicago. Don’t let him in your kitchen.

Episode 276: Tina Giannoukos!

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Episode 276 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Tina Giannoukos

Photo by Costa Athanassiou.

On this week’s show, I speak with the poet Tina Giannoukos about the glorious visibility and flexibility of sonnets, plus Sabrina Napolitano writes about how reading Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay changed her life.

Sabrina Napolitano

TEXTS DISCUSSED

Bull Days
kavalier-and-clay

Notes

Consider donating to The Drunken Odyssey’s indiegogo fundraiser here.

Go here for details on the 60th anniversary party for On the Road at the Kerouac House.

On the Road


Episode 276 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #194: The Earth Dies Screaming

The Curator of Schlock #194 by Jeff Shuster

The Earth Dies Screaming

I guess this one doesn’t have a happy ending.

I was at the Orlando Science Center a couple weeks back. While I busied myself with building a tall Popsicle stick tower, I tried selling a couple of visiting school children on The Museum of Schlock. Their response was not kind. I heard such gems as “We don’t care about schlock!” and “Go take a long walk off a short pier.” Now I should make the point that we’re all about science down here at The Museum of Schlock. We flippin’ love science! In fact, this month The Museum of Schlock will introduce our relativity series, a series of science-themed films for your education and enjoyment.

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Orlando Science Center by Marc Averette.

Tonight’s feature is 1964’s The Earth Dies Screaming from director Terrence Fisher. I’m familiar with Fisher from all of those gothic horror movies he made for Hammer Studios, so it was interesting to see him take on a science fiction film set in modern England.

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The movie begins with what looks like a train conductor falling asleep on the job. The train crashes a moment later. Another man driving a car falls asleep at the wheel and crashes into a brick wall. A pilot falls asleep and crashes his plane. People all around the world are passed out. Oh wait. They’re not sleeping. They’re dead. Everyone is dead! The whole world is dead!

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But there are still survivors. An American pilot by the name of Jeff Nolan (Willard Parker) meets Quinn Taggart (Dennis Price) and his wife, Peggy (Virginia Field). Jeff is the hero because he’s an American. Quinn is the villain because he pulled a gun on Jeff the moment he saw him and just comes off as weasily. Peggy is the romantic interest because she’s the last single woman on Earth (that bit about her being married to Quinn a lie). We also have a drunk named Edgar (Thorley Walters), his wife, Violet (Vanda Godsell), and a young married couple, Mel and Lorna. We have seven survivors against the world.

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Jeff determines that there must have been a gas attack, based on where everyone was when the rest of the world died, screaming I assume. The only thing coming through on the radio and the television is a strange signal. The band of survivors notices a group of men in silver space suits walking about the town. Maybe it’s the government come to look for survivors. Violet runs off to greet one of them. He turns around and what we see isn’t a man, but a robot! And this is one creepy looking robot too, not the sort you’d have a game of chess with while discussing your feelings. The robot kills Violet by touching her with its glowing hand.

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If that wasn’t bad enough, these robots have the ability to raise the dead. Violet comes back to the group, only her eyes are all puffed out and glazed over. So we’ve got robots and zombies and who knows what else.

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I assume the robots belong to some evil alien race that wants to use the Earth to create some giant space spa. This is what Stephen Hawking keeps warning us about, NASA. Stop sending those satellites out into space with those gold plated Elvis records. You’re just sewing the seeds of our destruction!


Jeff_Robot
Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.