Saturday, November 6, 2010

group therapy

It's no secret that a certain cowtown puppet show saved my life. I went somewhat in depth on the subject a few weeks ago on this very blog. What surprised me most was the overwhelming response I got from fellow MSTies and, even, some of the minds behind 'Mystery Science Theater' themselves. Not only was everyone receptive, it seemed that there were more than a few individuals who had experienced the same thing. One of the many who were good enough to read it commented that it was like the It Gets Better for geeks. With that in mind, I think I'd like to take it a step further.

I've always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to create or be a part of something hat would touch and inspire others...and I think this may be the opportunity I was hoping for. I want to create a book – a memoir/collection of stories and essays about how a TV show and the community that formed around it can save someone. So many of us have used this little show as a kind of therapy and I want to know about everyone's experiences, or, at least, the experiences of those who are willing to share. I want to compile and create a collection of essays, poems, tweets, blogs, postcards...anything that allows anyone to express how a collective of geeks and a little show that many people have never heard of saved them. My ultimate goal is to make a collection out of them to be published...but that will be down the road. Who knows, this idea might be terrible and crash and burn as soon as I try to act upon it...but I'm willing to give it a shot.

Take a moment and consider it, and if you'd like to be involved drop me a line at jvreeland87 AT gmail DOT com. Or you can connect to me through Twitter if you haven't already (@SpookyJanelle). Also, help me get the word out in any way you can, whether it's through Twitter, Facebook or the many MST3K-related forums and boards. There are thousands of us just waiting to find each other and share our experiences, so let's use the internets and social networks for some good, won't us?

Friday, October 8, 2010

there's a place

The more I hear about instances of online bullying the angrier and sadder I become, especially when the stories result in the deaths of depressed and lonely young adults and teenagers. Perhaps what frustrates and hurts me most is the fact that the online world can be used for so much good. It can truly be a nurturing, loving environment if one only knows where to look. This has, at least, been my experience. In fact, had I not found a refuge in the online world, I may very well have gone the way of those poor misunderstood souls who only saw one way out.

My high school experience was very much like everyone else's, at least everyone else who was an outcast in one way or another. I was smart and geeky and introverted and reflective, and none of those were qualities appreciated by anyone in my school or, really, my hometown. School was simply a series of rejections, and if I wasn't rejected I was ignored. I felt powerless to change it so I simply went along with it. I hid in over-sized clothes and behind books, sitting as close to the wall or back of the room as possible. I went largely unnoticed by everyone and was miserable. For the most part, I didn't fit in with my classmates. They cared about high school sports and parties and drugs and stuff I couldn't care less about. I felt alone and desperate.

Unfortunately, college wasn't much of a change from high school. It was partly my own fault, as I had chosen to go to a college that was basically the high school after high school. If I had the chance to do it differently, I would. But, at the time, it seemed like the best decision. For various family-related reasons, I just wanted to go to the local college and commute. I didn't realize that it would be just as painful and miserable as high school had been. Although there were some instructors that I loved, the ones I disliked far outnumbered them. I was suffocating and frustrated and so damn lonely. I had no close friends at college and the ones I had had in high school had either abandoned me or simply drifted away. I had my family, but there was only so much support they could lend. And by my third year of college, my siblings had moved out to go to college themselves. Nobody knew it, but I was in my own personal hell.

I was sick at heart. I was filled with this void that I couldn't fill, and the ache that I felt from it was too much to bear. I can't tell you how many nights I cried myself to sleep because I simply can't remember them all. My anxiety problems were getting worse and I didn't have any support outside of my family. I was dying and no one knew. And then, one day, I stumbled across something that, quite literally, saved my life. 

As silly as it may sound, 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' and the Cinematic Titanic forum saved me. A professor had renewed my interest in MST3K, which I had seen years before, but had never had access to. We didn't have cable and my collection had only consisted of a VHS copy of MST3K: The Movie that I had found for a dollar at a local antique mall. But when my prof. made mention of the MSTed version of Hamlet, it pushed me to use our newly acquired high speed connection to get some much needed MST3K in my life. It wasn't long after that that I discovered the newly launched Cinematic Titanic site and its forum. I lurked for a while and then in September of 2008 I joined the forum.

My life changed overnight.

The only way I can describe the forum to those who aren't a part of it is like this: it's a family. It was my first experience of finding people who were like me and interested in the same things as I was, and not only that, but they also liked me! (I can't stress this last point enough.) They accepted me right away and before long I was even dubbed the Official Little Sister -- a title that Mary Jo Pehl's sweet and kind husband, Ron, still uses when he talks to me. Finally, I was a part of something that was larger than my biological family. Finally, I had found the support and friendship that I had so desperately wanted for so long. Finally, I was no longer lonely.

That acceptance magnified even more when I joined Twitter a year ago and my online family expanded greatly. In fact, it was the support that this family has given me that inspired me to shake the dust from that crummy town off my feet and see the world. Or, at least, make the big move to the big city of Chicago. My online family showed me that I had a choice -- I could stay where I was and continue to suffocate, or I could take a chance, knowing that there were others out there who appreciated me, and move away knowing that I would find appreciation and kindred spirits out there somewhere.

My life has improved so much in the past two years, and that is due entirely to the love and acceptance I found online. God knows that the Internet and social networking sites can be dangerous tools, but -- at least for this outcast -- they can be lifesaving tools, as well.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

searching for spirits

The following essay was originally posted on my online portfolio. It was written for a prose style class and I felt I had something to prove. The instructor didn't like me and didn't think I deserved to be in the class. This essay was written with the intention to prove him wrong.

I got an A on it. It blew my instructor away.

Sorry if you've already read it on my online portfolio or elsewhere.

"Searching for Spirits"

About a month ago I saw the John Ford/John Wayne film The Searchers for the first time, and, oddly enough, it was for a class. Dr. Blum, my sociology professor, told us that a visiting professor was going to be discussing the film one night and there would be a screening of it the night before. Since the guest speaker had been invited by Dr. Blum, he offered to give us extra credit if we attended either the lecture or the screening.  Because the social sciences lie outside my realm of expertise, I was eager to make up for some lost points. Although the opportunity for extra credit was what originally captured my interest, my motives for attending the showing changed when I learned what the film was, and the screening suddenly became an opportunity for something much more personal.

My paternal grandfather was a film buff, but westerns were his true love. He had a deep affection for the days of the Old West, and he would have rather lived in the 19th century than in the 20th. He had and made period style rifles and participated in Old West reenactments. He was an incredible artist and craftsman as well, and often made gifts for all of us grandchildren. He could make anything, but among his finest creations were his old fashioned rocking horses. He began making rocking horses for his grandchildren before I was born, so when it came time for me to get this special gift, he made me a special horse that was much smaller than the others. In order for me to be able to ride it by the time I was a toddler, he had to design a new pattern for the horse, because he couldn’t simply shrink the preexisting pattern. I ended up receiving two rocking horses, one of which was full size, a desk, and a toy box. He named each of the horses, dated them, and branded them as property of his fictitious Oleo Acres which was “one of the cheaper spreads”. He also dated and left notes on the back of the toy box and on the bottom of my desk, including “may you think of me in the years to come”. 

He died when I was eight. He had had a long history of heart issues, including multiple heart attacks and surgeries, but his death was still sudden. My grandmother, his wife, had just recently been released from an extended hospital stay. At the time, we were not sure what had happened, but, in the years since, we have determined that she had suffered a stroke. It took months of speech and physical therapy to get her back to “normal”, and that does not include the amount of time and work that went into recovering her memory. And once she had achieved that state of normalcy, my grandfather was suddenly gone. 

He was the first grandparent I had lost, and since I lost him at such an early age, I feel like something is missing. It is as though I don’t know him, especially when compared to the amount of time I got to have with my maternal grandparents. I seem to have this yearning to connect with him though he is gone, and he is not the only one I have tried to reach.

Years before I was born, and before my parents got married, my uncle, once again on my father’s side, was killed in a car accident. My father was in high school and my uncle was in his twenties. It was a traumatic experience, one that I know affects my dad to this day. Unfortunately, my uncle despised having his picture taken, and as a result there are few photos of him. In some ways it is almost as though he never existed. My dad still talks about him from time to time, but it is not as though I have a mental image with which I can associate him. In my mind, he is a figure with a slender frame, but not much else. There is no face to attach to the frame and no voice to give it life. With my uncle I never had that connection.

My uncle’s death obviously had a tremendous impact on my family, my brother is named after him, but I never knew him. And as I yearn to know my grandfather, I yearn just as much to know someone who left this world long before I entered it. I have foggy memories of my grandfather, but in order to know my uncle I have to rely on the foggy memories of other people. 

It seems I have always wanted to have this connection. As strange and unsettling as it may sound, I actually remember sitting in front of his headstone when I was five years old and reading to him. I am not sure what inspired me to do it, but I was already trying to make that connection. In the years since I have tried to make that connection in other ways. My uncle loved Janis Joplin and George Carlin: both are in my C.D. collection. My grandfather loved the Beatles and M*A*S*H and both are close to my heart. He fought in the Vietnam War, and I have always been interested in the 1960s, so I decided to take the seminar that covered the war. And because my grandfather loved westerns and John Wayne, I was eager to attend the college’s showing of The Searchers. By watching it, I’m sharing something with my grandfather, doing something he enjoyed, and, as a result, I feel closer to him. Even if that feeling only lasts the duration of the movie, it is there. These experiences may be occurring years apart, but that connection is real and nearly tangible. 

As I seek out these connections, I am gradually adding pieces to a puzzle that I know I will never be able to finish, because some pieces are gone forever. I don’t let it discourage me, though.  The Searchers was an opportunity to acquire another puzzle piece. I invited my dad to come along, as he had never seen it before either. We sat in the back of Phillips Auditorium, certain that we were about to see something special. Some technical difficulties threatened to ruin the night early on, but I saw the film and fell under its spell. And from the opening frame, when Martha Edwards opens her front door to reveal the barren expanse of desert, I felt myself involuntarily shiver with goose bumps.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

a beginning

I run a risk every time I watch a film or a documentary. I shouldn't really be surprised, it happens every time listen to an album or even read a book. But every time I watch such a film I run the risk of being inspired -- fooled, even, into thinking I possess the power and talent and ability to create something with even 1/3 of the importance, emotion, and impact that was just played out before me. For that hour and a half or so that they are on screen, the stars and subjects bring me into their world. I'm let into their own little club to which I'm foolishly deluded enough to believe I belong.

It doesn't necessarily matter who is on screen or how long ago their heyday was, they only need to have had some impact on me. It could be Gilda Radner, or Willa Cather, or Gracie Allen and I would still feel just as much awe and amazement for them. But, I'd also be driven and inspired to follow their lead and make my mark on the world, however small that mark or my corner of the world may be.

I love that feeling. It's such an incredible rush to be driven to do something so great as to warrant being remembered beyond your time. Yet, it's one of the most frustrating feelings I've ever encountered. My heart is soaring higher and faster than my mind can possibly comprehend, but in reality I'm still in my little apartment building, still an unknown woman in a sea of faces and avatars.

I dream of accomplishing so much of touching others and creating a name for myself in one way or another, yet I'm tied to the ground, anchored by "reality" and the pressure that comes from being inspired by the best that has come before me. I'm spinning my wheels and every second that goes by it feels harder and harder to achieve. My heart knows it and aches in response. I'm shaking with the desire and the need to create, but I'm somehow simultaneously paralyzed.

I've told myself countless times that I have to begin before I can accomplish, so, here it is. This is a beginning. This is me showing the world what I can do, and what I can do outside the confines of 140 characters.

What can I do? Well, I can create, and I can create in a number of different mediums. But, above all else, I can write, and it's through my writing that I want to leave my mark and, perhaps, inspire or touch others. It may not always be clever, or funny, or profound, but it will always be me.

Ready? Let's begin.