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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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surreal

So, last fall, I took a history class…….

……about how California came to be a part of the United States. I signed up for it in part to improve my general GPA in order to pursue a Master’s degree. I also love history and I want to incorporate what I learn to improve and to enrich the settings of my fiction writing.

Using The Elusive Eden by Bullough and Orsi, the course traced the ‘discovery’ of the region until the latter decade of the 20th century. We covered a lot of material, ranging from the encounters and conflicts between the First Americans and the Spanish and European explorers of the 16th/17th centuries to the creation of the Spanish missions. We read about the Gold Rush and the Civil War, about the Prohibition era to the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 70s. There was so much history (and at the same time, not enough), that I’m breaking this up into more than one post.

You know that saying, and I may be paraphrasing a little, “those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it”? Every week, I was reading my text book about events that happened three hundred, fifty, twenty years ago. On the news, it was playing out all over again. The players were the same, the conflict was the same, but the year was different.

What I learned about California as a republic prior to its acceptance into the United States reflects the growth and change of America as a whole. Like the state itself, the history is vast and sweeping, detailed and epic. Because of that, I will be writing about California’s history over multiple posts.

Through the prism of California, I saw how America evolved, set itself back and emerged anew, only to start the cycle all over again.

It was a surreal five months, to say the least. And it hasn’t ended.

My text book.
My text book.
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So, I love to watch scary movies……

…….and the spookier, the better, like Carnival of Souls (1962), The Haunting (1963), or Suspiria (1977). Haunting, surreal, these films engage your imagination and get under your skin. They’re scary because you’re emotionally involved with the characters and you root for them to escape until the very end.

Suspiria is an interesting film because the actors spoke their native language (English, German and Italian). Since they knew the script, they simply responded as if they understood. When the film went into post-production, the German and Italian languages were dubbed into English. The film would be dubbed in other languages for release in foreign markets.

I also discovered Japanese horror films, starting with Ringu (after seeing the American remake, The Ring) and then Ju-on (The Grudge). I was delighted – they are surreal and spooky and go in directions you don’t quite expect. Nor are the stories wrapped up in a tidy bow – there are loose ends that don’t get explained and an unsettling feeling that even happiness has an underlying sense of sorrow.

From my experience, Japanese horror films have an ambiguity to them that modern American horror films do not. I find that ambiguity fascinating, which is present in The Haunting – is the house haunted or is it Eleanor? – because with each viewing, you feel closer to uncovering the answer to the question, even as it ends. This kind of story-telling isn’t as present in American horror as it used to be, and I wish it would make a come-back.

Because I enjoy their horror films, I want to learn Japanese. This is due to the fact that a lot can get lost in translation. There may not be an English equivalent to specific word, so the line or meaning gets changed. Language is important – emphasis on the wrong syllable or vowel, and it can turn a compliment into an insult. One word can have multiple meanings, depending on context.

Thus, learning the language. Besides, it’s good for the brain, it’s a useful skill (because you never know when you’ll need it) and it makes it easier when traveling to a country where that language is spoken.

🙂

A small portion of my foreign language dictionary collection.
A small portion of my foreign language dictionary collection.

So, 2016 has been a fairly tumultuous year…..

…….and on that note, I’m going to focus on what it meant for me. There are far more articulate voices discussing the global implications of this last year, so I’ll leave it for them. I haven’t even come close to thinking about the loss of so many talented artists that I grew up listening to and how they inspired and influenced me. Reading the outpouring of love has been inspiring in and of itself. Listening to their music or reading their work or watching their performances has been a reminder that Prince and David Bowie and many others will continue to influence long after we’ve gone and turned to dust.

This post isn’t about that.

2016, for  me, was a little weird in some respects and very exciting in others. The weird aspect (and this is in a very good way) was that it resembled 1984. Not the Orwellian novel, but the year I turned 14. Return of the Jedi had come out the year before and Ghostbusters was on the horizon. I discovered another science fiction film series, seeing Star Trek III The Search for Spock seven of nine (1) showings in my local theater. I was thrilled when I discovered the TV series and the spin-offs that followed.

Following that trend, 2016 offered up a Star Trek film, a Ghostbusters film and a Star Wars film, the latter following on the heels of Episode VII. Was I a happy camper? Suffice to say, my inner 14 year old geek (nerd?) was delighted beyond words.

What was exciting about 2016?

I did a lot of traveling. I traveled to areas only a couple of hours from where I live by car, to both visit friends and to recharge. I traveled to another state to help my brother move (I came back by train, which is always a plus – trains are a great way to travel).

I fulfilled a life-long dream and traveled to Ireland, one of the many countries that my ancestors emigrated from in the nineteenth. It was a tour, starting and ending in Dublin, and I loved every minute of it. I drank more tea in a day than I’ve drunk in a month and I felt more awake and alert than I ever did with coffee. Shocking, I know, but there it is. I met some amazing people, both on the tour and among the Irish. Not surprisingly, I was asked many times if I had family in Ireland – I think I do, but I’m not sure who they are. This is a mystery I fully intend to solve over the course of the next year.

I’m feeling more secure in what I want for myself and a better vision of what I want my future to look like. I’m taking steps to follow my passion, make a plan and find a way. That’s what I know I can do, right this minute, for both the practical and the fanciful.

In a tumultuous year, making a plan and visualizing your ideal future can be the anchor you need to finally breathe.

 

(1) Star Trek Voyager reference, completely unintentional.

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