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Lovecraft and Me: Fellow wielders of weighty words

Matt CardinH.P. Lovecraft

Apparently, I talk like Lovecraft. That is to say, I use big words and sound like a walking, talking book. This is according to the longtime reports of my family, friends, coworkers, and the several hundred high school students I have taught since 2001. But it’s the comments to this effect arising out of my recent convention appearance as a guest of Mo*Con III that have really driven the point home for me. (BTW, that’s me in Maurice’s garage with fellow Mo*Conners at left above. At right is HPL himself.)

At Mo*Con I moderated and participated in a panel discussion about spirituality and horror fiction. The other panelists were Nick Mamatas, Bob Freeman, Maurice Broaddus, Mark Rainey, Kim Paffenroth, and — as an impromptu but wholly desirable addition — Gary Braunbeck. When it came my turn to describe my personal lifelong spiritual journey and the way it has played into my career as a horror writer and scholar, I described my beginnings in the Christian Church denomination and then subsequent odyssey through a plethora of writers, mentors, and attachments to various religious and spiritual traditions, including Alan Watts and Zen Buddhism, Christian mysticism, Vedantic Hinduism, classical Western-style skepticism and agnosticism, Robert Anton Wilson-inspired reality tunnel switching, and more. Apparently, I used a lot of big words. Just ask Maurice, who hosted the convention at his church, Indianapolis’s The Dwelling Place, and who in his con report and his description of the spirituality panel referred to me as somebody “who uses a lot of big words first thing in the morning.” (Of course, this impression may have been enhanced by the fact that many panelists and attendees were still recovering from the previous night’s late-ranging party party and vigorous Celtic music performance by the band Mother Grove.)

(Incidentally, you can listen to the spirituality panel yourself, if you want, since the first part of it has apparently been made available by P.I.D. Radio as a podcast that I haven’t yet had time to listen to. I don’t know if my portion appears there.)

The impression of my big-wordedness arising from that morning spirituality panel gained in scope and gravity as the day progressed into night. We all went to Maurice’s house for food, drink, and conviviality. I ended up spending most of the evening seated in lawn chairs in Maurice’s front yard with a half-dozen fellow writers and convention goers, engaged in a free-wheeling conversation that progressed from horror and SF movies (especially the classic Japanese monster movies) to horror and SF television to horror and SF fiction to religion and spirituality (especially issues of fundamentalist-literalist Christianity as contrasted with more expansive and tolerant approaches) to personal literary inspirations. During the religion phase of the conversation, I was twice told that I expressed my thoughts, impressions, and positions with especial eloquence.

Then came Sunday, when as we were all saying our goodbyes in preparation for departing for home I was approached by two people who told me in specific reference to the way I spoke on both the spirituality panel and the editor’s panel that I am amazingly smart and super-intellectual.

Then came the debacle of the canceled Sunday flight that left Nick Mamatas and me stranded in Indianapolis and crashing at Maurice’s house for what turned into Mo*Con III.2. In a blog post from two days ago titled, amusingly (or disturbingly), “Mo*Con III.2: God Hates Matt, but Jesus Loves Kelli,” Maurice wrote, “Let me tell you, nothing will make you feel dumber than being between Nick Mamatas and Matt Cardin while they are going at it about the subjectivity of how we experience reality. Those were probably the last words I understood.”

Okay, I give. My wife and son have told me for years, “You like to hear yourself talk,” by which they mean I wax excessively wordy whenever I tell stories or talk about ideas. My high school students have said that I sometimes talk over their heads, even as they have expressed amazement and fascination at the way I sound more intellectual than anybody else they’ve ever heard. Now my fellow writers and surfers of ideas are saying the same thing. The jig is up. I am a hopelessly big-worded, hyper-intellectual geek who uses two dollar terms when 10-cent ones would work just as well.

Or actually, I think I use exactly the words I mean. Without an ounce of pomposity or pretentiousness or egotism, just as a statement of innocent fact, I can say that speaking the way that I do is entirely natural to me. My native idiom in daily conversation is apparently something that sounds hyper-intellectual to a lot of people. As a writer who is innately passionate about philosophies, worldviews, and ideas, I have absorbed this pattern not only of thinking, but of speaking. I crave exact accuracy of verbal expression. Fortunately or not, this means I use words that are big and/or heavy-sounding by conventional conversational standards. I guess I’m somewhat like the 18th century Americans described by Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman recounts how European visitors reported that the majority of these Americans, not just the overt intellectuals but the everyday people, were astonishingly bookish and inclined to speak in conversational patterns shaped by this fact. In short, these observers said, Americans at that time didn’t hold conversations, they gave speeches.

Ah, well, I guess I’m in good company. After all, I’m a lifelong devotee of H.P. Lovecraft, and who can forget Lovecraft’s famous intellectual mode of speech? Friends and biographers have said that he spoke like a book. Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea illustrated this quality in their unforgettable and hugely amusing portrayal of Lovecraft in the Illuminatus! trilogy, where HPL appears as a character and speaks like the Encyclopedia Britannica. Ray Bradbury had the protagonist of his classic short story “Pillar of Fire” visit a library in an imagination-deprived, futuristic anti-utopia and ask about, among other things, the literary fate of “fine, big-worded Lovecraft.”

So forthwith, beginning immediately, I shall eschew all unnecessary agonizings over my undeniably verbose mode of discourse and shall freely employ such elephantine terminologies as arise naturally to suit the given conversational contingencies.

Or something like that.

Returning from Mo*Con III and resurrecting The Teeming Brain

What’s that? I run a blog, you say? And blogs are things that you have to update? Oh, yes. I had forgotten all about that.

Yes, it’s true, I took an unannounced and unplanned month-long vacation from The Teeming Brain. I hope the suspense wasn’t too much for those of you who tune in regularly. The reasons for the hiatus are various. Among the most prominent are the advent of summer vacation from my teaching job, which led to an unplanned but much-needed period of semi-hibernation from my public appearances, even the virtual ones here at the blog; the imminent onset of some serious changes in my living situation; my assiduous pursuit of several writing jobs, an effort that is beginning to bear fruit; and the necessity for me to devote a great deal of time, attention, and energy this summer to finishing up work on “Curse of the Daimon,” the first album from my musical project Daemonyx, and also on the revisions (sometimes extensive) for Dark Awakenings, my forthcoming fat book of fiction and nonfiction dealing with religion and horror, to be published by Mythos Books late this year. I’ll be having a lot more to say about these topics in coming weeks.

Then there’s the fact that I have been doing a lot of traveling. Three weeks ago I journeyed down to San Angelo, Texas and environs on a three-day tour for reasons that will remain unspoken for the time being. Then a couple of weeks ago I spent three days attending the Missouri Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Springfield, where my video skills were put to use just like last year. Then, most recently — as in, last weekend — I journeyed to Indianapolis as one of the guests of honor for Mo*Con III, the third installment of a convention created by the original Sinister Minister himself, Maurice Broaddus, and devoted to exploring the intersecting issues of horror fiction and spirituality.

The Mo*Con experience was great. Other guests included Mark Rainey (“the legendary Mark Rainey,” as Maurice justly referred to him), Nick Mamatas, Kim Paffenroth, Bob Freeman, Lucy Snyder, and Chesya Burke. Plus a bunch of members of the Indiana Horror Writers were there. And Lucy’s husband, the inimitable Gary Braunbeck (one of whose books I browsed in the Springfield, MO airport before flying out on Friday), was present as well. And various members of The Dwelling Place, the groovy church-in-a-strip-mall building where Maurice serves as the “facilitator” (a minister by another name).

There was a party on Friday night involving chicken marsala, fettucine Alfredo, and a Celtic band named Mother Grove. On Saturday there was a panel on spirituality, moderated by me, followed by many varieties of chili for lunch. Then there was a panel about editing, composed of editors (including me) whom Maurice lovingly referred to as “those rat bastards who keep rejecting me,” since each of us had rejected his work in the past. Then there was a panel about issues of gender, followed by a late-night party with pizza at Maurice’s welcoming house in an Indianapolis neighborhood. On Sunday morning we all went to The Dwelling Place to attend the regular service, which had been retooled in honor of all the Mo*Conners being there. The centerpiece was a playing of the DVD of Brian Keene (“We all stand in the shadow of Keene,” Maurice said) talking about his personal spiritual journey as a writer at the first Mo*Con in 2006.

There was also much selling of books and other wares. I only found out this was going to happen shortly before the weekend arrived, so I got out the few copies of my Divinations of the Deep collection that were handy and also burned off some sampler CDs of 5 Daemonyx tracks, complete with Jason Van Hollander’s wonderful cover art. I ended up selling quite a few of these, which was gratifying. N.B., I’ll make some additional Daemonyx-related announcements here soon.

Here are images (kind of fuzzy, since I’m not good at converting PDFs to jpegs) of the flyers I handed out along with goods; click them to see the slightly bigger versions:

Daemonyx flyer

Dark Awakenings flyer

Beyond all this, there was something that has become known to insiders as the Mo*Con III.2 experience, wherein Nick Mamatas and I became refugees from an inclement weather situation that prevented flights from leaving the airport. We ended up crashing at Maurice’s house on Sunday night with his pleasant and patient wife, his two delightful kids, and a handful of other Mo*Conners. Weakling that I am, I became the only one to finally abandon the party and steal a few brief hours of sleep before the early-morning flight. Given the far-ranging nature of the conversations and debates that had taken place up until then, I can only imagine what all was talked about in the wee hours of the morning while I was zonked out.

And this was all after I missed my Friday morning flight to Indianapolis because Mapquest took me to a non-existent airport. (Yes, I had been to the Springfield-Branson airport umpteen times in the past. The Mapquest route just looked like it might be more efficient. Stupid me.)

There are other reports about the con that are worth reading. You can read Mark’s. You can read Maurice’s (complete with photos). You can read Bob’s. You can read Nick’s brief comments about his and my flight delays. Good stuff, all.

So now it’s back to the real world, including The Teeming Brain, which will be significantly more active for the rest of the summer. Hope you’re all having a good one. Gas prices getting you down? Or food inflation? More gathering economic doom? Weather weirdness? Never fear. It will only get more interesting.

In the meantime, I’ve got some creative pursuits to — er — pursue. Watch this space for ongoing news about Daemonyx, Dark Awakenings, and other stuff. We may be living in the proverbial Interesting Times of the Chinese curse, but there’s no reason why that should have any other effect than to make artistic pursuits even more engaging and passionate.

I’m a guest of honor at MoCon III

I’m proud to say that I have been invited to attend as a guest of honor this June at Mo*Con III. Mo*Con is a genre convention organized by (and named after) Maurice Broaddus, who in addition to serving as the pastor/facilitator of a large nondenominational Christian church in Indianapolis is also a horror writer and cultural commentator. Hence his unofficial title, “the sinister minister.”

The two previous Mo*Cons have attracted some guests who are well known among the horror community, including Brian Keene, Wrath James White, Gary Braunbeck, and Lucy Snyder. The convention’s ongoing focus or theme is effectively expressed in the announcement for Mo*Con III at Maurice’s blog:

“Church is a communal expression of faith, to pursue spiritual formation to be the kind of people God wants us to be. To be a safe place to ask and wrestle with spiritual questions. Whose mandate should include building a sense of community, loving each other, and serving the world, all in the name of Christ. So why not have church with a bunch of horror writers?

“Continuing the tradition of exploring spirituality, art, and social issues, The Dwelling Place desires to be a refuge or sanctuary, a place of rest and freedom for people to be themselves, where we connect with God and one another by joining Jesus’ mission to bless the world. The goal of Mo*Con, pure and simple, is to continue conversations. With that in mind, I’ve invited a few friends to chat with me for the weekend.”

The huge increase in the size of this year’s guest list indicates how successful the convention has been in the past. This year’s guests of honor include Nick Mamatas, Mark Rainey, Lucy Snyder, Tina Jens, and yours truly. Additional “featured guests” will include Chesya Burke, Bob Freeman, and Kim Paffenroth, the last of whom you’ve seen me mention here at The Teeming Brain, and whose Stoker-winning exploration of religious themes in George Romero’s zombie films, Gospel of the Living Dead, you really ought to read.

I’m quite pleased to be invited to the event. This year’s theme is “the intersection of spirituality, art, and gender.” I don’t know if I’ll have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation, but I’ll certainly enjoy hearing what others have to say.

I met Maurice several years ago at a World Horror Convention — I think it was in 2002 or 2003 — and we hooked up again at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention. He’s an interesting and impressive guy who’s really into the interface between pop culture, especially horror fiction and film, and spirituality. I suppose this is why we hit it off, and why he thought to invite me to the upcoming convention: our mutual interests overlap at numerous points, as evidenced by a comparative browsing through his writings, including his blog, and my own bibliography of published works.

So here’s to the ongoing exploration of religion and horror. May the fruitful interplay of these powerful psychological, spiritual, and cultural forces never be resolved.