Monday, May 03, 2010

(Not) Safe

"Exploring places like (the Nike Battery in Holmdel/Hazlet), perilous or not, is what kids live for, and I hate to think of a world that is made so 'safe' that no such dark, forbidden places exist anymore." -- Weird NJ #34, Author unlisted, p. 62.

My sister was visiting my parents this weekend, and we typically spend a lot of time sitting around my Mom's kitchen table shooting the breeze about everything. One thing we discussed was how overprotective society has become regarding children. When we were kids, we would come home from school, drop off our bookbags, and head out the door to play with our friends, go bike riding, or whatever. My mother's only stipulation was "be home in time for supper". We occasionally got into trouble, and occasionally were injured. On the whole, though, none of us were any worse for the wear. It was easy to develop an imagination under such circumstances--you were free to chart your own course. There were too many children in our family for my Mom to let us get too involved in extracurricular activities. But I don't think that was a loss. I'm horrified by how over-scheduled kids are today. There is no time for them to be imaginative on their own terms.

Halloween has always been a favorite time of year for me, even after I was too old to trick-or-treat. So it's rather sad to hear about how Halloween has been watered down over the years. My sister was telling me that when my nephews were young and in the school Halloween parades, they were told they could only dress up in "safe" costumes that were not scary. Even kids who dressed up as pirates weren't allowed to have cardboard swords. Finally, because so many right-wingers felt Halloween was a "Satanic" holiday (because they are "idiots"), Halloween parades and celebrations were discontinued in some schools altogether in her area. Even where I live, kids are only allowed to trick-or-treat between certain hours, in certain places--and not necessarily on Halloween itself. As far as I'm concerned, that destroys the fun of the whole thing.

But fun aside, I do think kids suffer from being kept "safe". Life is not safe--it's not realistic to pretend everything is rainbows and bunnies. Our psyches are very dark places, and the external world is a dark place, too. If kids never get to grapple with that, what are they going to do as adults when seriously bad shit happens? There needs to be an outlet for our darker impulses, and no one should be treated as psychotic for having "darker" interests. If there is no outlet, then you really DO have to worry about psychosis. Ignoring such things or pretending they don't exist doesn't make them go away, and they often appear very inconveniently and sometimes dangerously when they are repressed. When my sister lived in rural Pennsylvania, she lived in a very repressive religious neighborhood, that also had one of the highest rates of rape and murder in the state. If this surprises you, it shouldn't.

I've already blogged about fear as it is presented in film, so you know I am not a fan of movies about zombies, serial killers, or splatter-gore of any kind. I prefer what Ransom Riggs calls "The Thing Without a Name", because that is truly what we are afraid of. But I also like local legends, folklore, and the sense that a place could be different or somehow "magical". As an adult, I realize that there are plenty of scientific reasons why magical places can be just that. Still, I like the "unseen" and "unexplained" factors, and don't discount them. To take those away, in the name of either reason/science or ignorant fear, destroys part of the mystery of being human. Even when you can explain things scientifically, that doesn't take away their mystery. And to trample such things in the name of religion is just plain idiotic. It means the religious practitioners have truly forgotten what it means to have a soul, and to be a whole person.

We all have a "dark" side, and my darker thoughts or imaginings can typically be seen in my writing. I haven't yet ventured into the supernatural with my writing, though I do have some fiction that would qualify as "magical realism" that hasn't been published (nor is it yet in publishable form). But when I'm reading, I tend towards authors who write about ghostly things, particularly late 19th century and early 20th century writers like M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, H.P. Lovecraft, Sheridan Le Fanu, and Manly Wade Wellman. (I have to admit that I'm burned out on Edgar Allan Poe). It also seems like children's and young adult authors in the 1960s and 1970s wrote a lot of supernatural fiction, and some of them I still continue to re-read, like John Bellairs and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. They wear well with age, for whatever reason.

My bright spot (so to speak) today was a package in the mail containing Jack Prelutsky's "Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep", with fantastic illustrations by Arnold Lobel. I discovered this book through another blog, The Haunted Closet. You can see images from the book, and a particularly ghastly poem called "The Ghoul" at the link. I wonder if publishers would publish this kind of book for kids today. I don't know the answer--I'm just glad I was a kid in the Seventies, before the world became overprotective. I wouldn't want to be a kid now.

No comments: