Tag Archives: obsession

Hamlet on Acceptance: The Readiness is All

hamlethoratio

Not a whit. We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be.

(Act V, scene ii)

This may be my most often quoted passage from Hamlet, because I think of it a lot. And lately, in the wake of the election and watching social changes beginning to unfold, I once again return to Hamlet for wisdom and guidance.

By the fifth act of the play, Hamlet has been through the proverbial ringer. His entire world has crumbled around him. He has dealt with the loss of loved ones, was betrayed, struggled with thoughts of suicide, questioned his sanity, and faced “analysis paralysis” as he wrestled with whether or not he should act or respond to certain events. But now, Hamlet reaches the point of acceptance. He understands that what will be will be, regardless of what he does. I am reminded of the teachings in the Tao Teh Ching, to stop fighting against the flow and instead follow the current and allow the current to bring you to the place where you are supposed to be.

And of course: “the readiness is all.” It is pointless to obsess about what is, what was, and what may happen. The best we can do is prepare ourselves mentally and spiritually for what is to come. And what a relief it is to shed the burden of obsession and accept what is to be. And once we let go and accept, then we can be loving, caring, and supportive of others, and that is what I truly believe our purpose is in this life.

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Haunted Horror Tribute #22

hauntedhorror_22

I picked this up recently, figuring it would be fun to read and get me in the Halloween mood. It looked like something that was inspired by the old horror comics I read as a kid, but I was surprised to discover that it is actually a compilation of vignettes scanned and reprinted from the classic 1950’s horror comics. So this is NOT just an attempt to recapture the essence of the genre, this contains actual reprints of the original 1950’s tales. It’s all here—the vintage artwork, the cheesy narration, everything that I remember about these publications.

The collection is a nice size, containing eight tales of terror.

  • Robot Woman: The opening tale reminded me of “The Stepford Wives.” It explores the dark side of our culture’s obsession with physical beauty, while at the same time offering a critique of the 1950’s view of what a “perfect woman” is supposed to be.
  • Chef’s Delight: This is a story that addresses domestic violence, an issue that sadly still plagues our society today. In the end, though, the wife gets her revenge on her abusive husband.
  • Shadows of the Tomb: This is a story about a man who murders his wife to claim her inheritance. But in a twist reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, the wife is not really dead and exacts her revenge.
  • Guest of the Ghouls: This tale uses ghouls as a metaphor for individuals who violate the dead, who are like vultures feeding off the losses of the deceased. There is a great quote that warrants sharing: “We unburied the dead while we were living and stole what we wanted! You have robbed the dead of their only identity after death — their tombstones!”
  • I Killed Mary: Interesting vignette about a nerdy, dorky outcast. There was a scene about what was considered to be appropriate dinner table talk which I found to be a critique of the overly structured family life of the 50’s.
  • The Haunter: A piece about a greedy man who tries to scare his uncle to death in order to get his money.
  • The Choker: Probably my favorite in the collection. This is a very creative tale about a con job where a woman marries a man to get his money, then she and her lover kill the husband and stage it as a suicide. The brilliance of this piece is that it is written from the perspective of a necklace that the husband had given to the wife.
  • Night of Terror: The final story is about a man who stages a scenario intended to scare his wife so that he can prove himself to be brave in the face of danger, but as you can imagine, things go awry.

I really enjoyed this collection, and I am seriously considering getting more issues in the future. It is more than just a nostalgia piece; it’s a preservation of an artistic and literary genre that was a reflection of the anxiety, fear, and growing social tension that would later erupt into revolution in the 1960s. Highly recommended, even if you are not a horror buff.

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Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 1: On the Addictive Power of Books

Eugène Delacroix

Eugène Delacroix

I recently decided to read Cervantes’ famous book, Don Quixote, mainly because I am planning a trip to Spain and figured I should read it before I visit. Also, it’s been on my reading list for a long time, but I’ve put it off, mainly due to the length. But I figured, now is a good time to read it. Since it is long and probably would not work as a single blog post, I decided to do a series of posts as I work my way through the text. For my first post, I wanted to write about the addictive power of books.

Cervantes begins the book by explaining that the protagonist is a person who is addicted to books, which is something I can relate to. Someone may ask: Can you really become addicted to books? I’d say yes. Addiction is the constant search for something that changes how you feel inside and ultimately serves as an escape from reality.

As is often the case with addiction, the obsession and constant immersion in the vehicle of escape causes one to lose touch with reality, which happens to the protagonist in this book.

In short, he became so absorbed in his books that he spent his nights from sunset to sunrise, and his days from dawn to dark, poring over them; and what with little sleep and much reading his brains got so dry that he lost his wits. His fancy grew full of what he used to read about in his books, enchantments, quarrels, battles, challenges, wounds, wooings, loves, agonies, and all sorts of impossible nonsense; and it so possessed his mind that the whole fabric of invention and fancy he read of was true, that to him no history in the world had more reality in it.

(p. 4)

As the barriers between reality and fantasy crumble, the protagonist decides to live the life described in the books he reads. He takes on the persona of Don Quixote and allows the literary realm of chivalry to become his dominant paradigm in real life.

In short, his wits being quite gone, he hit upon the strangest notion that ever madman in this world hit upon, and that was that he fancied it was right and requisite, as well for the support of his own honour as for the service of his country, that he should make a knight-errant of himself, roaming the world over in full armour and on horseback in quest of adventures, and putting in practice himself all that he had read of as being the usual practices of knights-errant; righting every kind of wrong, and exposing himself to peril and danger from which, in the issue, he was to reap eternal renown and fame.

(p. 5)

While this may seem extreme, there is a universal truth here that needs addressing. As thinking, sentient beings, we are the sum product of our experiences, and reading is an experience that directly impacts who we are as individuals. This leads to the question: Is it better to focus your reading on a single topic or idea, or should one read broadly and diversely? It appears that Cervantes is asserting that one should read broadly, that reading only one type of book will instill a myopic view of life and ultimately become a singular obsession.

As is often the case with addiction, family and friends will often attempt an intervention to help the suffering addict. This happens to Don Quixote. People close to him try to intervene by ridding Don Quixote of his books, essentially, trying to cure the addiction by taking away the drug.

But I take all the blame upon myself for never having told your worships of my uncle’s vagaries, that you might put a stop to them before things had come to pass, and burn these accursed books—for he has a great number—that richly deserve to be burned like heretics.

(p. 33)

So, at this point, I want to conclude by saying: “Hi. My name is Jeff, and I’m a book addict.” And yes, like Don Quixote, I often imagine myself in the realm of the books I read. I love losing myself in the world of imagination. But I think it’s a healthy addiction, as long as you maintain a firm foot in reality and read broadly. So to all my book-addict friends, go out and read something different and new.

Thanks for stopping by, and look for another post about Don Quixote soon.

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Doctor Who – Four Doctors: Free Comic Day Issue

DoctorWho_FCD2016

I have basically given up on the current Doctor Who comics. They really just did not hold my interest and the stories tended to drag on ad nauseam. But I picked this one up as part of the recent Free Comic Day event because, why not. It was free. And surprisingly, it was much better than any Doctor Who comic I had read in a long time.

This issue is comprised of four short vignettes, each one featuring a different Doctor. The tales were fun, quirky, and a little bit thought provoking too. Basically, everything you would expect from Doctor Who.

The story featuring the eleventh Doctor, entitled “Obsessions,” was my favorite. We all have obsessions, and they can be motivating. But obsession is a proverbial double-edged sword. Obsessions can block personal advancement just as effectively as it can foster it.

Obsessions are all very well to keep one going—but they’re also rather nifty at bringing you to a skidding halt.

I’m glad I picked this up and read it. It was good, but not good enough to entice me to start reading Doctor Who on a regular basis again. There is way too much other stuff vying for the attention of my reading obsession.

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Magneto: Issue #9

Magneto_09

This is the first part of a mini-series featuring the Red Skull. He is a pretty nasty character who runs a concentration camp for mutants. Magneto experiences a series of memories from when he was in a Nazi concentration camp. During his incarceration there, he was forced to load bodies into the furnaces. These memories cause him to act recklessly as he feels that stepping forth to challenge the Red Skull will constitute making amends for his acquiescence and his failure to fight against the Nazi atrocities.

Memories can be terrible tormentors. For a long time, I was tormented by the memories of things I did, and failed to do. It is easy to look back at our past and imagine how we could have or should have done things differently. But I eventually figured out that it serves no purpose. The past is the past. At best, we can learn from our mistakes. Obsessing about what happened serves no purpose. It is easier said than done, and I often find myself slipping back into self-obsession, but I usually recognize this when it happens and can change my thinking. The truth is, it’s much easier to change your thoughts than it is to change the past.

Cheers!

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“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe: A Hidden Anagram?

RavenLast night I volunteered to work at the Scholastic Book Fair at my daughter’s school. While I was there, I had a discussion with Laura, the school librarian, about why it’s important to re-read books and poems that you have not read in a while, how your perspective changes and you notice nuances that you missed previously. After that discussion, I knew it was high time for me to read “The Raven” again, even though I had read it so many times before. It was no surprise that I discovered things about the poem I had never noticed before.

This is the quintessential work by Poe. Whenever someone mentions Edgar Allan Poe, the image that usually is conjured is that of the raven. In fact, I would argue that “The Raven” is probably the most recognizable American poem ever written.

The first thing that struck me on this reading is the fact that the protagonist suffers from insomnia. He is up at midnight, deep in thought, and he does not mention that he almost falls asleep. He clearly says that he nearly napped, implying that he no longer sleeps at night, but only catches brief moments of napping during his long nights of obsession.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

The long, sleepless nights and the obsessive thoughts begin to take their toll on the person’s mind. Fantasy and imagination begin to flood the psyche and affect his sense of reality. At first, it is exciting. One almost gets a sense of an adrenaline rush as the speaker succumbs to his imagination.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before:
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating;
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—

He then becomes trapped within his own mind. In the fifth stanza, he describes staring into the darkness. This darkness represents the shadow part of his consciousness, where his dark thoughts lie hidden from himself.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared dream before;

By this point in the poem, Poe has already begun using alliteration in conjunction with his rhyming, which works very well. But as the poem begins to climax near the end, the alliteration becomes more pronounced, adding to the frenzy that the protagonist is experiencing as he loses himself in the fear and obsession which he creates within his own mind.

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil! —
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted, —tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead? —tell me—tell me—I implore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

So this seems like the appropriate place to unveil what I think is the coolest discovery I made regarding this poem. As I was looking at images of covers and trying to pick one for the post, something about the word “Raven” was gnawing at me, and I kept looking at the word, trying to figure out what it was. Then it struck me—Raven spelled backwards (nevar) is phonetic for “never.” It is not a perfect anagram, but I would consider it a phonetic anagram. I have no idea whether this was intentional on the part of Poe, but it does seem more than a coincidence to me. It is like the Raven is the physical manifestation of the word Never. I feel like I have stumbled upon an aspect of this poem that has gone unnoticed. I for one have never heard a mention of this before, even when we studied this poem in my American Literature class in college.

I admit feeling ambivalent about covering this poem on my blog, since I feel it has been analyzed to death, but I am glad that I did. I feel like my understanding of this poem has reached a new level. So to conclude, I will once again quote the Raven, “Nevarmore.”

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Masonic and Number Symbolism in “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe

CaskAmontilladoIt’s October, so I’ve decided to dedicate this month to reading and writing about works that fall into the genre of horror. I’ve always been fascinated by horror films and stories, not so much the slasher stuff that dominates the genre today, but art that forces us to face our inner darkness and fear. Also, I love horror that is symbolic and addresses more profound social and psychological issues. That said, I figured I’d begin with one of my favorite short horror stories: Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado.

It had been many, many years since I read this. Of course, I remembered the general story: the protagonist, Montresor, lures unsuspecting Fortunato into the catacombs by telling him he purchased some rare wine, then chains him up and bricks him into the wall alive. I had always looked at this as a dark tale of obsession, Montresor obsessed with seeking his revenge on Fortunato for some unstated wrong and Fortunato allowing himself to become trapped as a result of blindly following his obsession, which is wine. But something struck me on this reading that I had not caught before, and that is the symbolism of the number 11 and the association with Freemasonry.

MasonicTrowelThe first clue appears about halfway through the story, when they are in the catacombs:

I broke and reached him a flagon of De Grave. He emptied it at a breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce light. He laughed and threw the bottle upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand.

I looked at him in surprise. He repeated the movement — a grotesque one.

“You do not comprehend?” he said.

“Not I,” I replied.

“Then you are not of the brotherhood.”

“How?”

“You are not of the masons.”

“Yes, yes,” I said “yes! yes.”

“You? Impossible! A mason?”

“A mason,” I replied.

“A sign,” he said.

“It is this,” I answered, producing a trowel from beneath the folds of my roquelaire.

Clearly, Fortunato is a mason, and he thinks his guide into the catacombs is one of a lesser degree, which would explain why he failed to understand the gesture. At this point I began to view the descent into the vault as symbolic of the passage one takes in the masonic rites, going deeper and deeper into the shrouded mysteries. In fact, the paragraph that follows shortly after supports this idea.

“Be it so,” I said, replacing the tool beneath the cloak, and again offering him my arm. He leaned upon it heavily. We continued our route in search of the Amontillado. We passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow than flame.

It is worth noting that the opening quote in that paragraph is very similar to the occult phrase: “So mote it be.” I strongly suspect that this was intentional and that Poe was cleverly adding more occult references.

The number 11 becomes a key component to the story as Fortunato is being bricked into the wall. Montresor lays 11 tiers of brick to seal Fortunato into the wall.

It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth tier. I had finished a portion of the last and the eleventh; there remained but a single stone to be fitted and plastered in.

In Freemasonry, there are a total of 33 degrees of initiation, bringing the mason through the 3 stages: Apprentice, Fellow/Intermediate, and Master. So 33 divided by 3 gives us the 11. So as the last brick is put in place in the story, I couldn’t help thinking that it was symbolic of the completion of one of the masonic stages.

There is also another interesting association with the number 11 that may be relevant to the story, which has to do with Christianity. There were originally 12 disciples, but after Judas, there were only The Eleven. I couldn’t help wondering if Fortunato was also a symbol for Judas. After he is sealed into the wall, Montresor hears “only a jingling of the bells.” This conjured an image of the jingling of coins associated with Judas’s betrayal of Christ.

This tale is not only macabre and downright creepy, but there is some deep symbolism woven in. I recommend sitting down tonight and reading this story again. It’s a masterpiece on so many levels. Enjoy, and we will explore more tales from the dark side soon.

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