Creepy Crawlies

Creepy Crawlies

The last two months or so have kept me very busy.  This last month we completed our move up to Montana.  My Player 2 and I drove with the dogs and the movers came with our stuff a couple weeks later.  My office is set up now and I am so excited to work out of my office here.  Montana has breathtaking views and I get so much inspiration from spending time outside.

In June, my Player 2 and I went on a medical mission trip to help set up free clinics in small villages in North Africa.  (My Player 2 was the team doctor.)  It was a 10 day trip with 5 clinic days and we were able to see over 600 patients.  None of the villages we went to had any clean water and for many, this was their first time seeing or bringing their child to a doctor.  It was a life changing experience.

At the end of the trip, we had one tourist day where we went to explore sites in Egypt before the trip home.  We saw the pyramids and the Sphinx, went inside of a pyramid and climbed up into a burial chamber, rode camels by the pyramids, went on a boat ride on the Nile, and went to one of the oldest still-running marketplaces in the world.  Here are some photos from our tourist day:

I am grateful for the opportunity that we had to help so many people and forever thankful for the memories that I will always keep with me.

And now, we are back and moved.  My office is set up.  I’m ready to roll.  Work on my book’s cover will start soon and I will post here when it does.  I’m excited to share that phase of my project.

Before leaving New Mexico, I found a sizeable scorpion that got into our laundry room through the garage—a great reminder of the uncomfortable feeling brought on by today’s topic, creepy crawlies.

Of course, there can be protective benefits from not messing with insects or arachnids when we aren’t sure if they’re harmful, but for today’s purposes I am looking more at the shock seeing creepy crawlies can stir up in a person.  You know—the full jump, very humbling high pitch exclamation, one leg scrunched up in the air, and clenched fists brought in near the chest routine that an unexpected large spider can instigate in even the strongest of our friends.  On a superficial level, it can be quite funny when something so large is afraid of something so small.  It’s like the thought of an elephant being afraid of a mouse.  It seems counterintuitive.  For some though, this is a very real and strong fear.

In one of my graduate school classes, a professor was discussing phobias.  We did an exercise where the object of a phobia would be described to a person with their eyes closed.  For example, describing a spider to someone with their eyes closed.  Not a small spider.  A nice, sizeable one.  It was one of the spiders that you couldn’t easily crush.  The body is too large and it’s so round you wonder if it’s hard like a coconut shell, because it sure is round like one.  And its hair looks coarse, even on the legs—the eight large legs.  They’re much thicker than on a garden spider and the amount of hair on its legs you can watch move as it walks around.  Walks isn’t the right word.  It moves too fast to describe it as walking.  The eyes are so large that you could sit there and count them easily if you could make eye contact with it that long.  You swear it has eyelashes.  You know the fangs are there, but the eyes are so big it’s hard to look away.  Or move.  You muster up the courage though and reach out to try and pet the spider.

The description in class didn’t go on quite as long, but the effect was strong.  Moths and spiders were effective in getting people to shudder in the way where they would forcibly and quickly shake their body and head like there was something on them.  For some people, just the thought of one creepy crawly thing is enough to set them on edge.  It’s why the memes about burning down a house when you find a spider are so relatable to so many.

There are different levels of being challenged with creepy crawlies.  It can be as simple as a father asking a child to bait their own hook for fishing with a worm, to the father asking the child to put their hand in the can of worms to get their own worm out, to being dared to stick your hand in a mystery box with creepy crawlies for a challenge.

I think the effect is much more fascinating when the creepy crawlies are in full force.  A few years ago, I went into a haunted house that did this perfectly.  There was a room that you went into where surfaces in the room–the floors, the counters, the table in the room, items in the room, were all a clear plexiglass surfaces that you could see through.  The room was dimmed and the surfaces lit up.  Under the glass, there were roaches. Everywhere.  They must have put thousands of live roaches in the room and you had to walk over the glass and find your way into the next room.  A flood of roaches.  Brilliant.

It was a great example of the feeling creepy crawlies give a person.  Haunted houses tend to have a lot of jump scares and some of the great ones have you search your way through almost like a puzzle room.  My favorite was figuring out that we needed to crawl through a fridge to get to the next room.  Think of this with me in a graph form.  You are at your baseline, which might be a little higher now because you are expecting in a haunted house that you will be scared, so you’re on alert.  Something jumps out or there was a loud crack and a puff of air after a few moments of near silence.  The members in your group scream.  The line on the graph has spiked with fear and quickly people laugh and moved on, bringing the curve down quickly and sharply.  If you put a group of people in a room flooded with roaches, you either have the people in your group who are oddly fascinated and impressed with what they’ve done or you have the people whose line of fear and stress on the graph have not only spiked, but have now stayed at a heightened level of fear while they shout for someone to get them out of this room.

We only have 91 days now until Halloween, so not too long until it is haunted house season again.  I’m excited to see what haunted houses are in this part of the country.  I am always open to suggestions and willing to take a weekend road trip if there is somewhere that I should go visit this fall.  In the meantime, I am very glad to have all my office furniture and supplies back and excited to make some more progress on my book.

Up next, I will be talking about the unique situation that crawling inside of a pyramid presents that I think is portrayed beautifully in some of the best horror games out there—one way in and one way out.

Until next time.

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Tight Spaces

Tight Spaces

Hello, from Montana this week.

Posting at night this time, as I am back to traveling with my Player 2 this week and this time to where we will soon be calling home.  We move here in a little over a month and came to set some things up in preparation for our move.  After this week, we have two weeks at home before traveling to Egypt for a little over a week.  The need to travel is ingrained in us.   Below are a few pictures from one of my flights here:

I draw a lot of inspiration from nature and being in places where you are completely unplugged from the world.  Being an avid hiker, I’m very ready for this summer and for the opportunity to hike in some new places and make scenic retreats my office a couple days each week.  I’ll be sure to share pictures from my hikes this summer here.

Today, we took a trip to a town nearby to walk around and ended up stopping at a small café for a treat and a brutal game of chess.  My Player 2 has no mercy.  I’m a tad bit competitive and very lacking in any chess skills.

In our new house before we left, my Player 2 asked me after several clacking sounds if I knew what the noise was.  After putting worries at ease by saying it was the ice maker, I made an Amityville Horror joke that maybe the new neighborhood was on an old burial ground.  Laughing, my Player 2 snapped back with, “Well, better not go into the crawl space then.”

Of course, this got me to thinking, what is it that people don’t like about spaces like that?  What is it that gives us the heebie-jeebies about going down in basements or tight spaces like crawl spaces?

I took my Player 2 with me on a ghost tour at the Stanley Hotel two falls ago and part of the tour briefly went by a space under a building.  The tour guide gave everyone the opportunity to stand closer to the opening and take a look if they wanted.  It was night time and dark, but the space itself was lit up.  Almost no one walked up to it.  I walked up and maybe two others.  I went back to my Player 2’s side and looked around the group.  (I’m a big people watcher.)  Most had this “nope, not happening” look on their face.

For some prone to becoming claustrophobic, small enclosed spaces are a no-go and uncomfortable situation in and of themselves.  But add a paranormal or frightening factor like a monster in a movie and now that tight space is problematic for many more.  I wonder which is worse?  Would you hate running from a ghost in a tight space or a monster in a tight space more?  The one that you can fight back, although with limited movement, or the one that running from it might not help at all?  Hmm.

Take the movie Descent, for example.  We have a group of girlfriends that are out of an exploratory adventure of an unmapped cave system.  Not all the spaces were super tight, but the caves are small in some areas, dark, enclosed, and because it’s unmapped the way out is not super clear.  Once something is chasing after them and they are now spelunking not just for fun, but for survival.  They transform from experienced adventure sportswomen to helpless prey without a clear path out.

Can things be just as scary or scarier in an open space where you can run away?  Oh, I think so.  But follow me here for a second.

Before going to New York a few weeks ago (I know, I’m all over the place right now), a friend told me it makes them claustrophobic because they can’t see for miles like you can living by the mountains in New Mexico.  In a life or death situation in a very tight space, this stress is compounded.  If you are somewhere you can’t see where you are going, you can’t stand all the way up, or are forced to crawl to safety, the anxiety from restricted movement will inevitably feed into the fear already in place while running, or crawling for your life.

Think of what would happen if someone sneaks up behind you at work while you are getting coffee with a quick, “Boo.”  Do you jump?  Even slightly?  Maybe spill a little coffee if they were especially sneaky?  Now, what if you are in a crawl space only 3 feet high, putting away some storage items and minding your own business.  Unexpectedly, a voice from behind you whispers, “Boo,” and a hand lightly taps your ankle.  I’m thinking for a lot of us our muscles would tighten or we would jerk in our movement, some of us would hit our heads trying to jump up and see what it was behind us, and maybe even a few of us would shout out with such fun choice words.  Maybe a couple of you calm and collected samurai keep your cool.  Teach us your ways, sensei.

There’s a comfort in having freedom of movement and in knowing where you are going next.  I think comfort plays a big factor in this type of fear in scary stories.  That opens a whole can of worms though–slimy, mushy worms covered in goop from an old, rotting can.  Let’s talk comfort and creepy crawlies in scary stories next week?  Excellent.  Until next time.

When Realities Don’t Add Up

When Realities Don’t Add Up

It’s been about a week now since I’ve returned home from Bermuda. My Player 2 and I travel a fair amount and have really set travel and seeing the world as one of our top priorities. When traveling, heavily dependent upon the trip, I’m often not within reach of my laptop and sometimes not even my kindle/keyboard setup. I try to keep a notebook on me or nearby, but often I use the time that we are actively traveling on a plane, on a ferry, on a train, on a bus, or on a tender, to just stop and think. Having time to fully unplug and immerse myself in thoughts is so valuable to me.

Here is a picture from Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda that I took one morning at the beach while I had time to sit and think.

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On one of our flights, it was still early and dark outside. I closed my eyes and embraced the silence on board with everyone trying to squeeze in some extra sleep. Shortly after the plane took off and while my eyes were still closed, a man behind me sneezed. My body reacted with a small jolt. Why? It’s a very small reaction, but I enjoy picking these things apart. I think understanding very small reactions like a tiny jolt after hearing a sneeze, helps us to understand the bigger reactions like what terrifies someone and causes them to scream in a haunted house.

 
As humans, we have something called an orienting response. Say you are in a meeting and someone at the end of the table drops a stack of books on the floor and upon hearing the loud noise, everyone in the room quickly turns to look before they even know what has happened. This is our orienting response. No one in the room is trying to embarrass the person who dropped the books by looking at them (well, hopefully, right?) but the noise drew attention simply by our minds’ automatic response to an unexpected stimulus in our environment. Unexpected is the key term here. If you are in a busy mall, our minds have this construct that things around us will be busy and noisy and that keeps us from having to inspect each and every stimuli in that environment.

 
This brings me to the idea of expectations. Our expectations can be a driving force for a lot of different emotions. We see this a lot in movies, tv shows or in books. The man has been set up on a date. He is older, slightly goofy, but an all-around nice guy. He is told by his friends to meet the date there at 7 and so his expectation is set. He waits until the clock reads 7:30, then 8:00, and then 9:00 before accepting that the reality is that his blind date is not coming. His reality did not meet his expectations and this makes him sad and it makes the viewer or the reader feel sorry for him.

 
This can work in horror, too. A young woman in college prepares herself for a night out with friends. Her expectation for the night is to look pretty, drink, take selfies and have fun all night. Going over to her friend’s dorm room, her immediate expectation is to find her friend there getting ready. She opens the door and finds that her friend has been brutally murdered and is looking upon a very gory scene. Her expectations, both immediate and for the night, have been pitilessly violated and drives home a cocktail of emotions for her, including fear.

 
I think that horror can go a bit further with this, though. Let’s go back to the small reaction. On the plane, my eyes were closed. We can look at this a couple of different ways. We could say that my expectation while the plane was taking off and it was completely dark, was one of a decent level of silence on board (minus the noised associated with a plane that is taking off—that’s part of the expected construct we have of the plane taking off.) So, we could say that the reality of the sudden sneeze didn’t meet that expectation causing a reaction. Or, bare with me, the two realities of my eyes being closed and only seeing darkness, did not match a sudden sounds around me that I didn’t have a person creating the stimulus to pair it with.

 
Let’s look at this in a different way to really grasp what I’m getting at here. In grad school, we went over this study of infants in one of my classes. The jist of the study was that the infants were being shown adult faces that did not match the sounds that were being heard by them. For example, the adults would be making a face portraying them making the sound “O” when actually the babies would hear the sound “EE.” The result? They would cry. It was too difficult for them to wrap their minds around the fact that the adults were not making the sounds that they seemed to physically be making. These two realities of what they could see happening with the adult’s face and what they could hear happening with their own ears, didn’t match.

 
I think on a very basic level, this is what scares people about something going bump in the night. It’s unsettling to us when two realities that we experience at once, do not add up. When something goes bump in the dark of night, the reality of what they see and the reality of what they hear do not match, and that makes their skin crawl.

 
So, what do you think? What are you reminded of when you think of times in scary movies or books where expectations don’t meet reality or maybe two realities are not adding up?

Denver Trip

For the sake of the blog, I will now lovingly refer to my spouse as my Player 2.  A couple weeks ago, my Player 2 and I went to Denver for some business and some pleasure.  We got a new car and had some time to stop by the Denver Art Museum to see the Star Wars costume exhibit.  We also went to IKEA, which is all sorts of fun when you no longer live in a town that has one.

My player 2 let me know that in the bathroom, the last guest wrote “BEHIND YOU” on the mirror and it appeared when the shower fogged up the mirror.  It was high up so that it wasn’t easy to reach or be wiped away by housekeeping.  Kudos to person who did that.  That gave us a good laugh.

We played around with the Apple Car Play in our new car and have found that our new road trip obsession is listening to audiobooks.  So much fun.  I often read books in print or on my kindle, but I guess I’ve never really given audiobooks a fair try.  I really enjoyed it.

We listened to “Nerd Do Well,” written by and narrated by Simon Pegg.  It was absolutely hilarious and made the 6 hour drive home feel very short.  After trying out another audiobook once we were home, I think the narrator makes a big difference but it’s definitely one of my new favorite things to do while driving or cleaning.

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Peek through the door or throw it open?

I thought some more about last week’s open or shut post. I think that I am undeniably on the shut the door team. I definitely would not want to be surprised by a monster walking in or not have time to hide or make a move. Shutting the door also creates somewhat of a barrier to sound even if it and the walls are thin, right?

It does leave us with another problem so I thought it would be fun to stick along the same theme this week and explore where this takes us.

The problem with shutting a door, of course, is now you must open it.

Now remember from the last post, in this scenario we are in a very large building with some type of frightening presence inside that will attack on sight. So, the question for today is do you slowly open the door to see out of the tiniest possible crack before opening it the rest of the way? Do you burst each and every door open to take whatever evil lies on the other side by surprise? Or are you completely keeping your chill and confidently opening and shutting doors like it will make no difference. Smug, much?

Kidding.

Actually, I think I would probably walk around and not worry about the door so much until I saw something frightening. Then, it would depend on several variables for me. For instance, am I armed? If not, I’d be on team very quietly, slowly and as sneakily as possible crack the door open to see what I’m getting into before moving anywhere else.  Go team. If I’m armed, I’d like to be bold and say I’d storm around like I own the place but I’m not that bold if I’m being honest.

I think whether or not you can defend yourself makes a world of difference in how you move around in a scary building with some out of this world threat. Or it would for me.

I can’t imagine that I would ever quickly open a door in a spooky place unless I meant to make a run for my life at the same time.

So what really would be the smarter choice? Throw the doors open and act like the alpha in each encounter or slyly move around and hope you remain undetected?

Open or Shut?

One of the many perks of married life is always having a player 2 to enjoy playing video games with you. We play all sorts of games, but really enjoy playing the scary games together. It’s been a tradition of ours for years now to buy and play scary games at Christmas time when we both tend to have some more time at home together. It also helps that the days are shorter at that time of year because we have a rule that scary games are played after dark to experience the scariness of the game in full effect.

Every once in a while, we have discussions about what we might do if it were really happening to us, much like we do when we talk about tense situations in movies. There’s one discussion in particular that comes up quite often with video games. Would you leave doors open behind you or would you shut them as you go? Let me explain.

Picture this. Something has brought you to a building that you are not familiar with and has a lot of different rooms. There is some creature or evil presence, or perhaps numerous evil beings around you. They may or may not be tracking you and will definitely attack you if they detect you. When you are sneaking around trying to get through the building, would you leave doors open behind you or would you shut them?

We often have this option in games which is how the conversation started way back when for us. But really, there are pros and cons for each.

You could leave the door open and see where you have been, leave quietly or run out quickly if you are chased. But then, maybe you are leaving a trail for whatever you are running from to find you. They can see where you’ve been. How often do we really walk around large buildings that they use in games (hotels, hospitals, schools) and all of the doors are open? What if someone or something you are hiding from comes in while you are in the room? You’ve left the door open. Will you hear them enter? Will you have time to hide? Will they walk by and see you without even coming in because you are walking around the room reading documents and searching for your next move?

You could shut the door each time you enter a room. Maybe that makes you feel safe and contained where you are. Maybe that gives you warning that something is coming if you hear the door open and possibly gives you a second to duck behind a chair or desk. Maybe it makes noise and brings attention to you. And maybe in the panic of running away from the creature or crazed person you’ve created your own barrier and fumble over trying to open the door to run away and cause your own demise.

So which is really better? Do you leave a trail of open doors to see where you have explored or shut yourself in each room for a feeling of safety and cover?

I’ll update with which I think I would be more likely to do this weekend.

NaNoWriMo 2016 – All signed up!

Today was the first day of National Novel Writing Month! This is my first time participating in NaNoWriMo.  It is very exciting and inspiring that thousands of people from all over will be working towards creating their own stories to share.

I am all signed up and ready to dive into writing horror fiction. A story that makes you think twice when you turn off the lights to go to sleep, for me, is the best kind.

This will be my first novel.  Today, I needed something for the title and synopsis sections.  I may change them later on but so far this is what I have:

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Title: The Room of Recurring Dreams

Synopsis: Once close family members work together to help each other through a difficult time. While figuring out how to move on from life’s lowest points, the distinction between reality, memories and their dreams becomes unclear for this grief stricken family.

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Once I have some more substance to the story, I plan on going back and revisiting the about page for the novel. For now, I’m just very excited to have settled on which story to tell for my first book.  I have been planning out different stories for months now and had a really hard time choosing which one to actually start writing first.

The website for NaNoWriMo has different badges that you can earn throughout the month. Today, I went through the personal achievement badges and declared myself a “plantser.” I don’t think I’m completely a planner or completely a pantser; I’m somewhere in between. I definitely have some notes and know where I want the story to go, but I also like writing and letting the story or the characters take me where it is supposed to go.

If you are reading this, how about you? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Are you a planner, pantser, or plantser like me?