The star of Dagon is its texture: dripping rain and water, damp stone carved smoother than it should be, grating mollusk shells and teeth, rotten wood and rotten skin. The CGI is a weak point; it’s a movie with flaws and foibles. And it doesn’t wink at the audience like Re:Animator, or truly transgress boundaries like From Beyond. Dagon is about something more serious, more human, something that can make people skin other people alive: worship. Just know that on the path of worship you may find gold, but you may also find your hands too changed to hold it.
From Beyond is about the skin on your face: it is thin, ready to retract, gleeful to reveal the murk underneath. You will enjoy its peeling at first. From the moist humus of the flesh below will spring your ancient glands morphed into the sense organs of the future. This is a warning. If you explore your animal nature too deeply, it will change you permanently – to be reduced to a trembling schizophrenic is a light punishment. If you’re unlucky, you will become known to the deep hungers. And to those predatory, bottomless, gooey appetites, “Humans are such easy prey.”
Re:Animator knows its purpose: it shows the ambition of men, the thirst to pierce and twist the will of others. Everything else is along for the ride and not to be dwelt on – the everyman and the love interest are rather bland, the cast is small, the sets are few. The movie’s flavor shines out like fireflies: David Gale’s eyes, Jeffrey Comb’s necromantic fluid, the doomed cat’s bright dark fur, all popping into and out of frame, never totally forgotten when absent, often funny when present, always surprising to see appear and disappear. Two words sum it up: brilliant fun.
This is a dream I had during the night of March 15, 2016. It inspired me to begin writing a novel. I still have the plans for it sitting around somewhere…
The dream felt like a movie. It was set in some 80’s world, kind of visually similarly shot to The Warriors. There was a clear protagonist, a young white male who was forming a band with his friends. They were starting to make it big (as per That Thing You Do, which I watched a little of last night) and got a gig at a concert house venue. They played there but a fire interrupted the gig, and for some reason the building was sealed to cut off the fire, but one of their band members was still inside. I remember in the dream it was 5AM and I was sitting in my car in a parking lot. I was, under the orange light on my dew-beaded windshield, waiting for something. I turned on the car and drove it. I got to the venue. I went inside with other people, maybe other members of the band.
The interior was dark, and then blue and a little smoky with the light coming in from the opening of the two big, metal doors. There was sort of a ring of wood around the interior. The ring was maybe ten feet wide with various things on it. In the middle there was a drop, and I came to see that in the hole there was water a few feet down. The band member that had been left inside had somehow been transformed into a pink rat, or maybe he had been that the whole time; but he was swimming around in this water and sort of clinging to objects that were floating in it, trying to stay up off the surface and trying to avoid something big and unseen that was swimming there. The fire had opened a portal to somewhere else; the water was lit from below with yellow light. The dream kind of ended there, but damn, it had a cool feeling of real art to it.
The brown of the wrinkled earth and the brown of the man’s clothes were close but not the same color. The boy saw this as he walked toward the man. The log on which the man sat was closely brown, too, and so was the tree trunk behind him. They were all of such dry and flat colors that the boy couldn’t know how big the man was until he walked under the shade of the tree. The man was of a normal size, it seemed. Here under the dark green leaves the boy stood and looked down at the man and the man looked down too, under the brim of a hat. The world felt empty without the crunch of the boy’s boots and the man and the boy kept looking down in some sort of shared witness to the emptiness. A tape played in the boy’s mind of the miles he’d walked across the ground’s small regular cracks and veins, and steps he’d taken while looking at this dark green tree shading its brown tenant, and the tape ended and the boy breathed and was in the moment again and saw the man still looking down.
“Hot today, isn’t it?” said the boy.
The man grunted.
“And bright,” said the boy.
The man grunted again. These were sounds of no ill-will, no agreement or disagreement. The boy thought that perhaps he was doing something wrong by talking to the man.
“That’s a nice hat,” he said, though he could only see the top side of it.
There was another grunt but the hat did not move. The bright emptiness surrounded the three of them – boy, man, and tree – and the boy felt for some sound to remind him that he was alive. There were no sounds. The sun in all its steady downward screaming made no noise; the distant hills were silhouettes without animation; the man didn’t move. The boy didn’t move either. Inhalation heated his nostrils and he held to that.
“Where did you get that hat?” the boy asked.
The man was silent.
He knows that’s not what I’m here for, the boy thought. He felt sorry for bothering the man. The man looked up. The man had a normal face under the hat, though it was dirty and unshaven. The bones cut out against his face to make sharp ridges and taut valleys. Blue eyes in their caves looked at the boy as an answer.
“I was just in that town yonder,” the boy’s arm swung back to point over the thin straight track of dusty bootprints cutting the desert, “and didn’t see no hattery. Did you get that hat from the town? I need a new hat. Where’d you get that hat?”
“I haven’t been in town in three years,” said the man in a rusted voice.
“You got that hat three years ago?”
The man didn’t answer but didn’t look down.
“It’s a nice hat.” The silence was all around them. The boy looked into the man’s eyes and saw a depth. The ground was level and unyielding but something in the world seemed to sink as the boy looked into that depth. And then he blinked and came to himself and tried again.
“I need new boots,” said the boy, “I like your boots. Where did you get them boots?”
The man stood up from the log and his boots’ soles separated from their leather tops along the seam where they’d been sewed, tiny mouths opening in dark greeting.
“What are you talking about?” asked the man.
Their eyes were now very close together. The man was shorter than he’d looked, shorter than the boy. The man’s face was very dark under the shade of the tree and the shade of his hat. It was a nice hat, the boy thought.
The man stepped forward. “What is this about?”
The boy stepped back and the man stepped forward again. They kept stepping until the boy’s boots crunched out of the shade and the sun heated his back. The man stood behind the line of dark and with his dark face looked at the boy. The boy looked at the ground to his left and found no answers; he looked to the right and found no answers. He considered several ways they could arrive, in this conversation, on the substance he wished to discuss. He saw only one way forward and looked up, turning his head away from the strange power of the man’s eyes to instead view the small silhouettes of the distant hills. It didn’t look directly walkable, not from here. No water.
“I’m looking for the man who killed my brother,” said the boy.
“You want to take my boots?” asked the man. He had not looked away. His face had not changed at all and now the boy was looking at his eyes again and could not stop looking at his eyes. “You think these boots will fit you?”
The boy looked down and saw that the boots were enormous.
“No,” said the boy.
“Are you going to kill me?” asked the man.
“No,” said the boy, “It’s not-“
“Why are you really here?” asked the man, and stepped forward. The boy stepped back. The man stepped forward again and, impossibly, remained in the shade. The boy stepped back again to not feel surrounded by the width of the man, who seemed too broad at the shoulders to fit through a door.
“I’m looking for a man,” said the boy. He swallowed and lifted his hands palm up as if to give the phrase as a peace offering. “I’m looking a man.”
“What?” asked the man, and the boy had no answer. The question rang inside his head and he didn’t have an answer for what he wanted or why he was there or what the man’s boots or hat might have meant or if he did want to take them and perhaps was willing to commit murder to do so. The boy looked at everywhere but the man’s deep eyes. He had no answer for what it was – the thing that brought him here – or why he was an inhabitant of this desert or the larger place this desert was set in or even why there was any inhabiting to do at all.
As the man stood and looked up at the boy there was the slightest stirring of the hot air. It crossed his ear in a small breeze. He looked up at the man and into those eyes and did not fear them. He knew –
“You’re the man who killed my brother,” the boy said.
The man didn’t move from the shade in which he was wrapped and the two looked at each other.
“I’ve been looking for you,” he said, and in the aftersilence he did not flinch. “I’ve been looking for you for three years. Why did you kill him?”
“I’ve killed a lot of people,” smiled the man. “Always nice to meet one of my children.”
The boy did not look away. “Why did you kill him? What did he do?”
The man laughed. “What are you talking about?” He held out his left hand and tapped the sausage-thick fingers with a wooden thumb, counting points on the scraping-together of worn and beat nails, letting ring a voice that died in the dry air. “I’ve killed plenty. Who was your brother? And why would you think I would remember his special face, unique hair, particular scream among the thousands I’ve known? Have you ever asked yourself, boy, if he was exception or just exceptional to you? How would you even know? I took these boots and hat from men I killed and I wear them to guarantee the nightly visitations of their former owners’ faces. I have fatherly taken them out of the world just as their mothers brought them into it. The empty vessels of their bodies are in the desert beyond, collapsing into the dust onto which you and I stand, but their souls are wrapped in my personhood and thus bound to each other in a numerical and narrative greatness they could not have imagined in life. I have taken them as sustenance and inheritors.
“So you will kill me? Do you think you can wear these boots, boy?”
At this last word he leaned forward and the boots gaped open to give a peek of their dark warm interior and the enormous blood-flushed toes within.
The boy saw in the man’s eyes that his brother had been known. The man and his brother had been close.
“Why did you kill him?”
“My child,” the man said, “what is it to kill? What is it to maim?” With ring finger and wooden thumb he encircled his hat and dipped it off. He turned his head to show a pink soft wrinkled gash at the side of his head. “He took my ear,” said the man, “and ate it. And my skin-“ pointing at a square bald patch amidst the hair around his widow’s peak – “and other things.” The man smiled wetly. His face opened like a door, all its lines turning upward. Cooing: “what did he mean to you?”
“He raised me,” murmured the boy. “You’re lying. He didn’t do those things.”
The man smiled again. This time sadly.
While the boy stared at his mouth, he said, “Long ago they had something called a chimera. You ever heard of that?” The boy shook his head. “Well, for your brother it was that pink lump behind his ear. That was the part you could see. But you know there were parts you couldn’t see.”
The boy was silent.
“The lump was there upon his birth. It wasn’t him. He had encased it there. It grew roots into his head with time. I can see that he took things from you, though you’d have trouble pointing to them, and I must tell you that while I destroyed the body of your brother, I did not destroy who he was. I only consumed him in the same manner as he was consumed, controlled, and created by that lump.”
The boy’s lips were dry. He didn’t know whether to be angry or not. He did know, somehow, that the man had no gun. The boy shifted from foot to foot.
The man continued, “The truth is your brother took the lump and his taking constituted a preemption of the laws of primogeniture. Do you know how many slices of it he gave away? Do you understand what we have all suffered?”
The boy shook his head and snorted like a bull. “He raised me. He fed me. His work helped people and he kept me from dying. I had typhoid when I was seven and he was off on some doctoring and I had no other doctor for two weeks. He came and fixed me and they say I woulda died the next day if he didn’t. I saw him put mothers to sleep while birthing and they woke up to the happiest babies in the world. I saw him take off three arms at the elbow from three different carpenters in three minutes flat so clean that not one of them got gangrene. They tell stories about him and end ‘em by saying ‘that’s a man worth remembering.’ If he took your ear in a scuffle, I believe it.”
But the boy licked his lips and the man laughed coolly.
“Oh, my child,” he said, “when was the last time you saw him?”
“Three years ago December 28. He went out to pull a tooth and didn’t come back.”
“You can shoot me anytime you like.”
The boy started. The man laughed again. “Your brother needed you. He put a piece of that lump in you and I know you can feel that you’re more than one person now. Going on three years, that piece must be big. He didn’t care that it would grow, he just needed to give it out. It made him need that. He needed you and all the others for that. He needed me to kill him. Nobody needed him as he was, not except the lump. And so we’ve all played our parts up to today. The question is, do you need me or do I need you?’
The boy brushed his forearm across stinging eyes. His back felt afire under the sun. From the man’s gashed boot came a trickle and then a stream of water. The boy blinked against the pain of vision while the dirt around the boot darkened and sank softly into itself.
The boy didn’t know what to say. The man’s shoulders were so wide they seemed to wrap around and grasp the boy’s back. The boy put his hand on his gun, half just to have something to hold onto. His head lurched forward and then jerked up in unsteadiness to settle his gaze just above the man’s head. The man stood in the sun. His mouth and ear glistened and he put a hand on the boy’s, pressing it into the butt of the gun.
“You can shoot me if you want,” whispered the man, “I won’t hold it against you.”
The man’s other hand rested thumb-on-larynx and fingers-on-pulse. “Go ahead. It’s okay.”
Video games fuck up my life.
They give me a lot of pleasure: I can play them, whooping at my victories and chuckling at my defeats, for hours at a time. But I have difficulty stopping even when I know I should, so that I find myself losing sleep or putting off important projects to play them. The pleasure I get from them disappears as soon as I disengage, and into the void rushes the awareness of all the things I put off while playing them. It feels like a crash. Having crashed and recognizing the harm I’ve done to myself loathe myself and want to forget my pain by returning to the “flow” of the games. It’s a vicious cycle.
It seems to me that my relationship with video games fits all the criteria of addiction. I have difficult limiting and abstaining from the behavior, the behavior is harmful, I experience cravings for it, and it results in dysfunctional emotional responses. This pattern of behavior and emotions occurs every time I play these games.
Well, you might ask, how is this different from other behaviors and actions I perform habitually, like meditation? The key distinction is that every minute spent playing video games makes the rest of my life more difficult, dull, grey, painful, and anemic. Meditation makes the rest of my life better. It makes it more enjoyable. Video games bring me pleasure, but meditation makes me happier.
So I want to stop playing video games. I seem to go through the cycle of slipping into them and clawing my way back out every few weeks or so, which has given me a lot of practice and experience at the process. I know what systematic actions I can take to effect behavioral change (at least for those first few weeks).
Here’s an overview of the actions I take to effect systematic behavior change:
Identifying, reducing triggers
Increasing activation energy
Reminders in environment
Psychological training; changing mindset
Improving other aspects of my life
Meaningful life activities
Other stress reduction
This model is how I currently approach systematic behavioral change, but it will no doubt change over time. I’ll call this “version 1,” and as I explore these components in more detail over the next few weeks, we’ll see what changes I make to it.
It seems to me that no action stands on its own.
For example, with the rains’ return to Sebastopol over the last week I’ve been continually struck with an urge to smoke tobacco. I quit a month ago and am thoroughly committed to avoiding the stuff, but the niggling voice of temptation reminds me that the cool moist air would nicely complement a cigarette’s warm earthy taste. So why not have just one?
Because it wouldn’t be just one.
I currently have a mental barrier preventing me from smoking: I’d be breaking a month-long streak of abstinence! After I smoked the one, I would no longer have the streak to dissuade me from another. Also, I can’t buy just one cigarette. Acquiring the materials for one cigarette (papers, filters, tobacco) would leave me with the materials for a few dozen cigarettes. I could roll the second cigarette inside, without walking to the store through the rain. Finally, smoking a cigarette would refresh the craving pathway in my mind, making it just as difficult to resist another cigarette as it was on the day I decided to quit.
In other words, there are several types of barriers between the first cigarette and I. I can only overcome them by eroding them, and once I do, the habit can run wild.
I believe that the future is a landscape of probabilities and every present action shapes that landscape. Smoking doesn’t guarantee that I’ll get cancer – but it does increase the likelihood.