Monday, September 24, 2007

Why zombies?

When I was a little girl I had a recurring nightmare in which a slow, shambling creature would chase me with deadly intent. No matter where I hid, no matter what I did, it kept coming. I could not escape, and sooner or later it would get me, though I would usually wake before I could feel its cold, clammy hands rending me limb from limb. The fact that in this dream the creature was a mummy (inspired no doubt by the Universal Mummy films) doesn’t diminish the horror nor does it negate the striking similarity between this nightmare monster and the zombies we’re seeing everywhere. The shamble. The rot. The inexorable nature of the beast.

The cannibalistic dead have been around for a long time, referenced in the epic of Gilgamesh when Ishtar, enraged by Gilgamesh’ refusal of her advances, threatens to “…let the dead go up to eat the living!” They’ve waxed and waned in popularity since. Zombies first appeared in popular film in White Zombie, released in 1932 and starring Bela Lugosi. Zombies as we think of them were defined by George Romero in his Dawn of the Dead and subsequent sequels. And these days they are everywhere.

So what is it about zombies? What are we so obsessed with them?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as have lots of other people. Philosophers love zombies, because it allows for different kinds of speculation about human behavior (a human being without full consciousness allows for thought experiments against the concepts of identity and the mind).

Frankly, I think this philosophical discussion is just what film makers and social activists are engaging in, only with more gore and humor. They are exploring, and we are exploring with them, what happens when masses of people stop thinking and simply react, driven by basic, consuming needs. Zombies consume mindlessly and their need to consume is contagious. They spread fear. They are the ultimate expression of group-think without independent motivation or action beyond consume.

Let’s see, what other entities are consuming mindlessly, promoting mindless consumption, and are using fear as their weapon against those that don’t want to consume? I’ll leave that as a rhetorical question, because several entities fit that bill to one degree or another, and they all are ubiquitous, surrounding us every day and urging us to join them, stand with them, watch them, vote for them, etc.

I suspect our obsession with zombies also rises from a desire to belong. If you’re a zombie, you don’t have to think, you just shamble along with everyone else. It’s not like being a werewolf, where you have that whole lone wolf issue to contend with. If you’re a zombie you can go outside during the day or night, not like those elitist vampires. If you’re a zombie you’re part of the group. And you’re already dead, so it doesn’t matter if someone kills you. Your whole mission is to make more zombies, not hide any annoying secrets (can you imagine how much werewolves spend on clothes?) or deal with politics (the way vampires have to). It’s a simpler, more inclusive way of life. Or death.

And zombies are safe to fantasize about. They capture our fears about group think and brain washing, not to mention cannibalism and contagion, but we’re pretty sure we’d be able to beat them if they really showed up. We’re smarter than zombies right? We can use them for social commentary (nothing like shambling down the street or through a mall with a political sign accompanied by other zombies to make a point) but it’s commentary done with humor and fake blood, so it’s not too threatening to the powers that be. But bystanders see the zombies and read the signs.

Zombies are an excellent nightmare for the early 21st century. Fearful, inexorable, contagious, and visible. They are not terrorists but the fear terrorists seek to create. They are not our government but the control our government is trying to invoke. They are not our media, but the way our media sponsors try to drive us to behave. They are the perfect metaphor for these creeping, inevitable times.

But just in case: To kill a zombie you must destroy its brain. Fire won’t work, a bullet to any other part of the body won’t work. Destroy its brain and if you have the time, burn the body. If all else fails, run and don’t look back.

(c) 2007 Laura S. Packer

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Oh yeah, one other thing

So why blog beyond the purely egocentric desire to write and have readers? (Hi readers!) That's a question to be explored in detail another time, but it does lead me to this: Part of why I blog is to have a forum for different kinds of writing - essays, rants, and short pieces of more creative writing, like the piece that follows. I wrote this years ago and still like the images. And in case anyone cares, I hold the copyright to this piece of writing, and all writing on this blog.


She leaned forward, her voice low, conspiring.

“When I was a little girl,
I ate Vaseline.
I loved the smooth oiliness of it,
and the smell of a hundred million years ago.

“Later when I grew up and read
about oil workers coating their lips
with the jelly surrounding the pump piston

“I remembered the taste of it.
Thick and rich and soothing between
tongue and palate. Coating away any leftover bitterness.”

She leaned back, her lips
glistening, and

(c) 2007 Laura Packer Creative Commons License


One of my favorite words is keek. It's a Scots Gaelic word that means a quick look, a peep. I do this all the time, take a quick glance into places that are not part of my world.

I love keeking. I love the stories that are suggested by the places I see, the intimacies I inadvertently glimpse, the mysteries that are conjured up by my imagination with just these little peeks.

I go for walks at night through my neighborhood. You know how your parents always told you to close the binds? That was because of people like me. I don't care if I see you naked. I'm more interested in the glancing vision of your room as I walk by. What do you have on your walls? What music or conversation drifts out of those open windows? What did you cook for dinner dinner tonight? I don't pry, I never stop and stare (that would be a good way to attract notice) I just walk slowly by and savor the moment. And I notice.

It's my job. I'm a writer and storyteller, and these are the details that feed my creative engine.

From these details I can construct a whole world. A picture of a house tacked to a wall becomes a long lost childhood home. A door half open with clothing tumbling out becomes a hiding place for a sprite. The blue flickery light of a television set with the volume turned off becomes a silent lullaby. Who knows what else?

Come on, I know you keek too. You look to see what the person next to you on the subway is reading, you strain to read the diary of the boy in the cafe, you listen to overheard conversations. It's human nature, we want to be connected to world around us, and just assume we're unnoticed while we spy on others.

I see you seeing. Don't worry, I won't tell. Just walk by when you see me, glance over my shoulder at what I'm typing and I'll only slow down a little when I hear you talking. For what it's worth, we're all in this together, and these little bits of connection are usually better than none at all.

(c) 2007 Laura Packer
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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11th and collective memory

The events of September 11, 2001 are inescapable, even if you want to avoid them. The media won't let us. Coworkers won't let us.

And, most relentlessly, our current politics and the history we are creating (whether or not you consider yourself a collaborator in its creation) won't let us. The events of 9/11 are relentlessly referenced by our politicians in their rhetoric and by the new context we are building for our lives.

So what does this mean to us as we move forward, as these events become our history and mythology? What does this mean as we are creating the story of 9/11 and moving past the immediacy of the event, moving it into memory? How does that traumatic event shape us and our actions, as it fades into something that happened years ago? And what do we owe our sense of history?

I've been thinking about this quite a bit, as we approached and then passed the anniversary. This year, here in Boston, 9/11 was commemorated with speeches from people who benefited from the September 11 funds, monies donated for the families of those who died. I like this, it was a good way of looking forward, of building something on the ruins of the towers, the pentagon walls, and the Pennsylvania field. It was a way of saying we are moving on, we will not be bound by fear.

It was a way of saying the terrorists haven't won.

As I write this, I'm wondering if it could also be a way of suggesting to our government that we are ready to move on, that the rhetoric of revenge and terrorist fear is just getting old. When Bush makes a speech arguing for continued war he invariably invokes September 11th. What if we, as a nation, are ready to move beyond 9/11, ready to let it be part of our story and be something bigger than the 3000 lives lost, be more than a way to invoke boogeymen, does that invalidate his war and continual crisis?

While I know this is a simplistic way of looking at things (the current war has created a far more complicated set of problems than we had before) I wonder if the storying of 9/11, its movement into memory instead of raw, current pain, means maybe it isn't a good excuse anymore.

When I think of September 11, 2001, what I remember is how achingly blue the sky was that morning. I know others on the East coast remember that. I remember standing with all my co-workers wondering what would come next. I remember being afraid, but not just of unknown terrors, but of the war I knew would come. I remember aching for my family and wanting simple comforts. And I remember knowing this, too, would become part of the past and that the decisions we made over the next few months would have long lasting repurcussions.

I wonder if people in Baghdad look at clear skies and flinch sometimes.

I have limited patience with people who blame all of their bad behavior of childhood trauma. Maybe it's time for us to stop whining about what happened and move onto how we can grow past it and build a better future. One where we aren't fighting a war that seems like it will never end. Or at least one where we are more honest about our reasons for being there.

I hate it that the actions of my government have squandered all of that good will and sympathy. I hate it that I am ashamed of actions done in my name. It's time to grow up, grow on. September 11th isn't an excuse anymore.

Maybe what we could do instead is make September 11th a day to build bridges between different cultures, find ways to eradicate hate and build new memories that will lead to peaceful action. Create new stories so children will look at brilliant September skies and think of peace, not wonder what horrors will come from them.

Or am I just too much a dreamer.

And I thought it would be difficult coming up with topics for a blog... I just need to try to confine myself to something I can write in less than a doctoral dissertation.

(c) 2007 Laura Packer
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Monday, September 10, 2007

hello world

I've been thinking about publishing a blog for some time now. Thinking and not acting.

But then it occurred to me - I write, compulsively sometimes. Why can't I channel some of that energy into writing a blog? The trick will be writing regularly without it feeling like an assigment or self-indulgent. So we'll see.

If there's anything you'd like me to muse on, questions you'd like answered, prognostications you'd like made, drop me a line. I'll see what I can do.

For now, though, I'll leave you with a story, 100 words, written for a swap on swap-bot (more on that another time).

“Do you really think we should ask the Petersons over for dinner again?”
“It seems polite; after all, they sent us such a nice apology.”
“I know, but it was such a horrible mess last time.”
“It’s not entirely their fault. We should’ve checked the calendar.”
“Hey, they should know when the moon is full.”
“I wish they’d told us ahead of time.”
“Who knew we’d have neighbors like that?”
“I guess this time, it’s steak.”
“The cat still hasn’t turned up.”
“Wonder if they ate her.”
“Can you hear them?
"Howling and prowling?”
“Everyone can.”
“Hold me.”

(c) 2007 Laura Packer

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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