Archive for the Essays and non-fiction Category

More Decades

Posted in Essays and non-fiction on August 8, 2014 by stantonmccaffery


I’ve been thinking about death lately. Not in the morbid way that you probably expect from someone that writes horror, but in the softer more personal way. I’ve been thinking about the time I have left in my life and what I hope to do with it. I’m only in my thirties so hopefully I’ve got a few decades to go at least, but one never really knows. I always joke about pianos falling out of windows and perhaps one day one of those jokes will come back to haunt me.

I went to the doctors the other day for strep throat and was told, a little unexpectedly, that it looks like I have chronic high blood pressure. This runs in my family but the doctor said that even considering that I’m too young for this to start. I eat like I’m still a teenager and I don’t really exercise mostly because I view it as an inconvenience. If I have to get up earlier to exercise before going to work I usually decide to get more sleep instead. Hitting the pillow is easier than hitting the concrete or the gym.

If I want to have a few more decades here on earth it looks like I’m going to have to make a compromise. I’ll probably get a gym membership and plan on putting something other than microwavable burritos in my freezer. These have both been immensely difficult conclusions for me to come to.

Aside from the news on my blood pressure I also got a frightening phone call from my father. My mother fell in their yard and broke her knee cap. She’ll need surgery to wire it together. While this is really gangster (I mean, who brakes their knee cap?) and makes me even prouder to have her as my Mom, it’s also scary. I’m reluctant to believe that my parents are at the stage in their lives where falls are something to worry about. Though this isn’t about my own physical health it has gotten me thinking even more about mortality and getting old.

This all leads to what I plan on doing with the time I have. I don’t have a specific life plan. I’m not that organized. I do, however, have a general idea. I’ve said here in a previous post that I was trying to get better at the guitar and I’m going to stick to that. I think though that I’ll be putting more effort into writing. When I think about what I want out of life I think about making an impact, and while many guitar players have certainly had an impact on me, I think I’m more likely to have an impact through writing.



Being a Monster

Posted in Essays and non-fiction with tags , , , on May 6, 2014 by stantonmccaffery


With the new Godzilla film coming out and all the amazing clips I’ve seen thus far, I’ve been thinking lately about monsters. Why do we like monsters? There are the surface level characteristics that we like: the bizarre physical features; the city smashing physical abilities; the inevitable battles they get involved in. But there is something emotional there too.

For myself at least, I can identify with monsters. I’m on prednisone right now for this nasty case of poison ivy, and, as the doctor told me would happen, as I wean off the prednisone I become incredibly irritable. I’m not sure if I could destroy Tokyo, but I’m pretty sure I could do some damage in Edison, New Jersey.

This isn’t really unique for me either.  For as long as I can remember I’ve had trouble with anger management. My mother actually recalls frequently how as a small child I would lose my shit in my play pen and fling toys across the room. Growing up was hard. I embarrassed myself with my anger and I alienated people.

I’ve gotten better with age (yeah, I’m like cheese), but it’s still there. I scream at neighbors for driving too fast in front of my house, I get in confrontations with rude people on the train, and I go batshit insane when I lose things. Sorry guys.

The first time I saw the original Godzilla movie, I cried at the end. I didn’t understand all this at the age of five or six, but I think to some degree I understood where Godzilla was coming from. He was pissed off. Maybe, he was scared. Maybe, as recent commercials have suggested, he was just hungry. Whatever it was, I think he and I are kindred spirits. We’re not hateful, just grumpy.


Worse Than Death

Posted in Essays and non-fiction with tags , , , , , , on April 24, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

Chuck Palahniuk says you should write about things that upset you. Franz Kafka hit a similar note when saying, “We ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us.” I agree with both quotes and have pondered them quite a bit, using them as motivators behind what I chose to write and read. In writing horror, upsetting is particularly important and more so, I think, is frightening.

Judging by the amount of religious reflection on the subject, I would say that for many folks, assuming they too follow the above admonitions, the issue that scares them or upsets them or wounds them is death. I, honestly, have never really been afraid of death. Okay, I admit, it’s a upsetting, especially in regards to loved ones, but it’s not all that frightening. Maybe I’m still too young for it to have really hit me. It’s possible I’ve still got that youthful sense of immortality. Maybe, but probably not.

Hell and the possibility of suffering in the afterlife have something to do with it. Past the age of eleven I haven’t believed in it. As I think I’ve made clear in my posts here, Hell is place on earth. We’re already there in many ways and we’ve made it a reality.

Death, I think, is an end, which makes it sad and unfortunate. It might not be an end to everything, however, it certainly is an end to our existence as we know it. But, and to a degree I suppose I am relying on faith here, it is also the start of something new; a new life; a new experience; a new presence; a complete absence; whatevs.

Here’s what upsets me and scares the crap out of me: continuation, the sense that something could go on forever. I get a nasty case of poison ivy each year that covers my body with leprosy-like lesions. It’s uncomfortable, it hurts, and it looks awful. Every summer when I notice the damn rash I get filled with the terrible and irrational thought, not that it could kill me, but that it will never go away. Imagine that, living the rest of your life with a hideous itchy rash covering your entire body. That’s worse than death.

Also what scares me is the thought of being stuck; in a bad job or in poverty in particular. To me, that’s the absence of growth and simply plain boring. A book that truly frightened me because it so accurately captured the dread of monotony and boredom was A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The guy was stuck in a Soviet gulag filled with tedious, meaningless work that went on and on. Luckily, I’ve never been in a gulag, but the thought of it is terrifying.

Stop and smell what exactly?

Posted in Essays and non-fiction with tags , , , on April 13, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

This is a non-fiction rant I wrote after reading some magazine article telling me to stop and appreciate life.

If life is a gift then poverty is a drunk urinating on the gift before the wrapping paper is even taken off. For too many, this gift of life isn’t enjoyed not because they push themselves too hard, but because the circumstances of their individual lives are simply miserable. They struggle to survive. They’re not clocking extra time at the office to earn a raise or a bonus. They’re working a second job at Walmart because the collections agencies won’t stop calling.

You can’t swing a dead cat without finding some written work admonishing people to stop and smell the roses. How about making it a little easier for others to enjoy life?

Working too hard leadss to spiritual deprivation, no doubt. But why do we work too hard? Sure, some of us work too hard because we want too much or we want too much for our kids. Some of us though, work too hard because there ain’t no other option.

No Safe Place

Posted in Essays and non-fiction with tags , , , , , on November 23, 2013 by stantonmccaffery

(Non Fiction)

The great American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in “Good Bye,” about the cruelty of modern civilization and contemplates abandoning it for the natural world. In the piece’s opening he said, “Good bye, proud world! I’m going home. Thou art not my friend, and I’m not thine. Long through thy weary crowds I roam; a river-ark on the ocean brine, long I’ve been tossed like the driven foam: But now proud world! I’m going home.”

I’m with Emerson. The hustle and bustle of the modern world certainly seems at times to be too much. It’s like being on a tread mill; you have to run just to stand still. I only have to turn on the T.V. during this time of year and watch a few “Black Friday” commercials to feel harried and aggravated, like I’d rather live in a secluded cave than be part of such a meaningless society.

Anyway, Emerson’s poem continues:

“When I am safe in my sylvan home, I tread on the pride of Greece and Rome; and when I am stretched beneath the pines, where the evening star so holy shines, I laugh at the lore and the pride of man, at the sophist schools and the learned clan; for what are they all, in their high conceit, when man in the bush with God may meet.”

Again, I’m mostly with Emerson, but there is one thing that gives me pause. I think you have to be more than a little naïve to think you can find lasting safety in the nature world. Nature is brutal and unforgiving. In the documentary “Black Fish,” about the multiple deaths that have occurred at SeaWorld amusements parks as a result of angry and confined Orca Whales mutilating and drowning their trainers, this theme resounds throughout. You need to respect nature and even view it in awe, but you still need to keep your guard up because humans are not capable of fully understanding the world and all its creatures. They can eat us after all.

What does this mean? Well, for me, it means that there is really no safe place; no solace. Wherever we go there will be pitfalls and dangers and monsters that are real – whether at the shopping mall or in the middle of the woods.

This is all heavily philosophical – so much so that it may bore a reader if included in fiction – but I’m going to give it a try. I’m working on a short piece about a man who’s eaten by bugs and I want to work this idea in as a theme. We shall see.

My Captain Ahab Halloween

Posted in Essays and non-fiction with tags on September 9, 2013 by stantonmccaffery




It’s one of the earliest Halloweens I can remember. About a month or so prior, I was with my mom at our local public library. It was back in the days when you’d rent VHS’s from libraries.

They had a binder that showed images from the movies they had available. I was flipping through it while my Mom was talking to a librarian. I found a picture of some old angry dude on a ship with a fake leg holding a harpoon. I was enthralled immediately.

When I told my Mom that that’s what I wanted to rent, she said, “honey, that’s Moby Dick. Are you sure you want to watch that?”

I nodded an enthusiastic yes. The librarian looked at me – a seven year -old  –  like I had three heads.

I watched the entire movie and loved every bit of it. For weeks afterwards I walked around the house chanting, “death to Moby Dick.” I can tell you why I like that movie now, and I can tell you why I love the book it was based on, but I can’t explain why I liked it so much then. I was just drawn to it

When Halloween rolled around, I knew exactly who I wanted to be: that crazy dude with the leg made of bone; Captain Ahab.  My parents – both of whom were pretty nerdy compared to the other parents in our mostly blue-collar neighborhood – thought it was great. My Dad made me a fake whale-bone leg with cardboard and white spray-paint and a fake harpoon out of God-only-knows-what, and my Mom said on Halloween she’d dress as Ishmael – the narrator and only survivor of the story.  They bought me a top hat and a fake beard.

When Halloween finally arrived I wore my costume to school. I remember walking to school, and leaving my protective bubble, happy, but I started to feel a tinge of awkwardness when I noticed most of the other kids were wearing store bought costumes of pop culture icons such as the Ninja Turtles or Batman. I think that’s when I realized how itchy the fake beard was.

The real sweat inducing awkwardness –  the kind that makes a kid want to bust through the school doors and run home in tears – came when my first grade teacher walked from desk to desk asking each kid who they were supposed to be.

“Who are you?” she said when she got to my desk.

“Captain Ahab,” I said.

“I don’t know who that is,” she said.

“He’s from Moby Dick,” I answered, in a bit of a whisper, wishing she’d leave and talk to the girl next to me about her Care Bear costume.

“I’m sorry,” she said, sympathetically. “I’m not familiar with that show.” 

Now I’m sure many people have far more dramatic stories about their loss of innocence and when they first learned of the world’s true harshness, but this is mine. I was relieved, my interrogation was over, but I was a bit mystified. How had she not heard of Moby Dick? How does a teacher not know about Moby Dick? Did she really think I was a character from a TV show?  I swear to you this is not hindsight. I vividly remember these thoughts (even at age seven I was a bit of an asshole).

I felt out of place, misunderstood, and different from everyone else. I tried logic. She’s only one person, I thought. Surely, others would know who I was. I was wrong.

That night, my Mom and I went to a Boy Scouts’ Halloween parade and costume contest. She wore a wool hat and combat boots and kept repeatedly saying, “call me Ishmael.” I wore my costume – which was pretty drenched due to my nervous sweatiness. We walked around the inside of the old elks lodge together and then stood still for judging.

 I think I just wanted to go home and play Super Mario Brothers, so I wasn’t paying attention when my name was announced. I had won something. I smiled, which I hadn’t done all day, not since the early morning grilling from my teacher anyway. When I went forward to claim my prize – a king-sized Kit-Kat bar – I learned the category I’d won: most creative. The Boy Scouts pack leader had a microphone in his hand and when he handed me the candy bar he spoke into it and said, “the award for most creative goes to … (inaudible mutter)… for his Abraham Lincoln costume.”

The smile quickly left my face.