Blogoween Day 16 – True Terror Tuesday: Growing Up

blogoween ttt

That’s it. Growing up. It’s fucking scary. End of blog.

Just kidding, I am way more long winded than that.

Did you ever play “light as a feather, still as a board” growing up? In case you’re unfamiliar, the game goes something like this:

One friend lies on the ground, arms crossed over her chest like a corpse. The rest of the friends encircle her, kneeling or sitting, and slide their middle and pointer fingers under her body (coincidentally, the Ouija planchette fingers). Sometimes, if not every time, one of the sitting friends tells a story about how the subject “died” or gives a little eulogy, and then the friends in the circle chant: “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” over and over until they are able to lift the “dead” friend off the floor.

Does it work? In my memory, abso-fucking-lutely. And you don’t question it as a kid because duh, magic is real, and all the grown ups are just keeping it from you! Or they don’t believe anymore so they can’t experience it (like Santa). But it’s right there, in your bedroom, levitation by the power of four ten-year-olds chanting a phrase that one of them learned from their big sister.

So it’s most likely that, as a group, we picked one another up, and were so caught up in the game, it felt real, and after a couple decades our memories are just fuzzy enough to let us question what happened in the wee hours of a weekend morning long ago, but there is a part of me that wants to believe there is some kind of magic going on. And there’s a bigger part of me that wishes I still had the capacity that ten year old me had to anticipate certain outcomes.

I was thinking about this game and others like it and the willingness of my childhood friends (and myself) to engage in such things. Similarly we played Bloody Mary and Candyman (whose name to this day makes me nervous) which always evoked a quick exit from the bathroom and have made me forever nervous of mirrors in dark rooms. Less “dangerous” were fortune-telling games with folded paper and asking ouija boards who you might marry when you grow up (to be clear: I do not believe ouija boards are inherently evil, Hasbro is not mass-producing portals to hell, ya’ll). There were other, let’s call them rituals that bordered on the occult like “crack an egg on your head” or guessing what words someone was tracing on your back, and even the act of braiding the hair of your friend who sat in front of you in class, now looking back on it, was almost like witchcraft, the physical embodiment of saying “this is a member of my coven.”

I wanted to find the origin of light as a feather since it seems such a shared experience, but unlike games with poems or songs like Red Rover or Ring Around The Rosie, it is often done in secret, at night, rarely spoken of outside the slumber party, and unobserved. How did it get handed down and for how long has it existed? Surely it was imagined in the last hundred or so years, maybe popularized by some movie in the seventies, and it will die off in the next few generations in favor of all the 3am games popping up all over the internet. I was surprised, however, to find the diary Samuel Pepys, a British civil servant, who wrote the following in his diary on July 31, 1665:

This evening with Mr. Brisband, speaking of enchantments and spells; I telling him some of my charms; he told me this of his owne knowledge, at Bourdeaux, in France. The words these:

Voyci un Corps mort,
Royde come un Baston,
Froid comme Marbre,
Leger come un esprit,
Levons to au nom de Jesus Christ.

He saw four little girles, very young ones, all kneeling, each of them, upon one knee; and one begun the first line, whispering in the eare of the next, and the second to the third, and the third to the fourth, and she to the first. Then the first begun the second line, and so round quite through, and, putting each one finger only to a boy that lay flat upon his back on the ground, as if he was dead; at the end of the words, they did with their four fingers raise this boy as high as they could reach, and he [Mr. Brisband] being there, and wondering at it, as also being afeard to see it, for they would have had him to have bore a part in saying the words, in the roome of one of the little girles that was so young that they could hardly make her learn to repeat the words, did, for feare there might be some sleight used in it by the boy, or that the boy might be light, call the cook of the house, a very lusty fellow, as Sir G. Carteret’s cook, who is very big, and they did raise him in just the same manner.

This is one of the strangest things I ever heard, but he tells it me of his owne knowledge, and I do heartily believe it to be true. I enquired of him whether they were Protestant or Catholique girles; and he told me they were Protestant, which made it the more strange to me.

So I came to the conclusion that all little girls are born witches, and somewhere along the way we lose that. And that’s the true terror of this Tuesday.

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Searching For Home

In moments of great stress, every life form that exists gives out a tiny subliminal signal. This signal simply communicates an exact and almost pathetic sense of how far that being is from the place of his birth.

– Douglas Adams

Husband and I are on the hunt for a new place to live. Or, more specifically, on the hunt for a town to settle down into on the outskirts of the city we’re now residing in. I end up writing a lot of fiction with location at the heart of the plot (Vacancy is no exception), so I’ve definitely internalized the significance of place, and I have a soft spot for the epic quest which you could call the exact opposite of a location-based plot. As Husband and I visit suburbs and feel places out, I’m finding myself contemplate what “home” is more and more, both where you live and where you’re from. I think I so often like to write my characters as finding purpose in their place by being impacted by it or trying to find it because I don’t know that I’ve ever really felt whatever it is that people experience as Home. In that sense, my stories, like those of so many authors, are wish fulfillment.

I find “where are you from?” a difficult question to answer. “Everywhere,” though easy, is definitely not accurate–there are people who really are “from” lots of places, but for me, listing off the specifics is tedious and really only blog post worthy, and just narrowing it down to one place feels like a disingenuous answer.

I could say I’m from New England. I was born in Massachusetts so technically my origin point, beyond my mother’s womb, is there, but I left before my second birthday. On the few occasions I’ve been back to visit, I’ve gotten this feeling, the “I’m in close range of the place I was born” feeling, but I don’t think that’s the same as Home. I was also raised by people who were born and lived almost their entire lives there, so the culture of the house I grew up in had a very New English vibe.

I could say I’m from Florida. I spent my formidable years there where my standard for everything was shaped. I learned about the world through a sandy lens, truly middle class, never saw–or wanted to see–snow. The suburb I lived in was sleepy but it was certainly not small town, nor was it anything close to urban. It just was. The defining characteristic of that city was that it had none.

I could say I’m from Ohio. I became a teenager there, a college student, an adult. But instead of being molded by the midwest, I always felt like I was just observing it. Even at twelve I found a lot of things fairly odd in Ohio, the accents, the mindset, the jargon, and while I conceptually understood that people from different places were, well, different, I never had to explain to anyone when I lived in Florida that I was not born there. Ohio never extended that courtesy, and I was perpetually an outsider by my own actions and those of others.

Once I was an adult, I moved back to Florida, and there was at the very least a small chance that I was chasing Home. I remembered being happy there and idealized it, but the reality of the state was that is was not the beachy, progressive, sunny place I remembered. Well, it certainly was sunny, but long gone were the sparsely populated beaches and the memories I had of people being happy.

So here Husband and I are in Georgia which is never a state I would have pictured myself in. Maybe we’ll live here forever, maybe it will only be a year. At this point in our lives and in the current economy, we follow job opportunities so that, perhaps, many years down the line, we can follow our hearts. But to where?

There are a couple places I feel like I would probably be happy, might feel like I fit in, couple possibly call Home, but the disappointment that was returning to Florida has really changed my perspective of that. See, I thought when I went back I’d feel like I belonged, that seeing the ocean and escaping what I thought was centralized conservatism would be comforting. That didn’t happen, (to be fair seeing the ocean still makes me cry happy tears, it’s just almost impossible to actually get to), and I realized Florida never really was–or it couldn’t have been–Home.

So maybe I’ll never have that feeling, and maybe that’s okay. My brain has figured out a way to give me phantom nostalgia every time I hear a song by Billy Joel or see a cassette tape, so it’s not like I don’t have any experience with the concept of “happy longing,” and maybe it’s better this way. Home can’t let you down if it never existed, and you can’t really miss something that was never there. Keep your heroes alive by making them fictional, right?

And when the planet gets blown to bits I won’t be nearly as sad as everyone else which puts me in prime position to snatch up the new Supreme Leader title.