Blood into Wine

They played Tool on the radio last night–yes, I still listen to radio sometimes–and I got all nostalgic. I was a big fan in college and even got to see them in concert back in the day. As my mind wandered back into the past, I remembered that Maynard James Keenan makes wine now down in Arizona. There was even a documentary about it several years ago that I never got around to seeing.

blood into wineSo I watched it this morning. It’s about seven years old now but it’s still good, a geeky and fun look at a region just getting into the wine industry. If you know nothing about wine it’s a painless introduction, and if you know something about wine it’s an unpretentious look at the subject. It also gives some interesting insight into Maynard James Keenan himself. I’d love to try some Arizona wine and tell you how it stacks up but I’ve never found any around here. Our state only sells wine in state-run stores and they usually stick to well known brands, with a smattering of local Utah products. I might have to take an actual trip to Arizona to see what its wine country has to offer.

As much as I love the music, it kind of makes me happy when famous people move on to other things. As Keenan put it in the documentary (and I paraphrase badly), you get to be a beloved rock star by screaming about your issues, and if screaming about your issues helps you should eventually feel better and move on to other things. If your music isn’t helping you feel better, how can it help anyone else feel better?

This certainly seems true in my own life. Back when I was young and struggling and full to bursting with unprocessed pain, bands like Tool were such a vital part of that process I can’t imagine making it through without them. But now that I’m older and healthier and just a tiny bit wiser, that intense need for music has faded. I miss it sometimes, but I think Keenan is right and it’s good that I’ve moved on and cultivated new talents and projects.

Semi-Goth Confessions

hobbits togetherFor reasons way too complex to explain here, I went to a very conservative university. In many ways, it was a Jesus college. I wore a lot of black, for a year I had a shaved head, I had way more piercings than my school approved of, and the only club I bothered joining was the extremely controversial campus feminist organization, but I still did a lot to placate the conservative powers at my school. I toned it down, pulled my punches, and I still sort of regret that.

The feminist club, by the way, were just as disturbed by my black nailpolish as everyone else in town. It was a real disappointment. The coolest, most liberal people I knew were still weirded out by my gothy tendencies. Which only encouraged me to give in and tone down more.

I never gave it up entirely, but I spent years at various points between mainstream and goth. I spent years in the shadowy realm of the semi-goth.

If I could have worked “semi-goth” into a good blog title, I would have. Or I could have gone with the more acceptable “Darkly Inclined Grotesquerie,” but there’s no alliteration there AT ALL!

Oh gods, I’m rambling. Perhaps I should write down some Ungoth/Semi-goth confessions to salvage this post.

Confession 1: I don’t make much distinction between Goth and “Not Goth Enough.” Maybe there should be a line, like owning 9 skulls isn’t goth enough, but buy that 10th skull and BOOM! You’re GOTH now. But I don’t know the exact number of skulls I need to own, so I just keep buying them and hoping they’re enough, you know?

Confession 2: I’m really obsessed with cooking and food history. Not just gruesome stuff like butchery or spooky cocktails, but all of it, from Australian wallaby steaks to the origins of Punjabi cuisine. I’m a great home cook, too, and when I’m not watching Stranger Things and Stan Against Evil I’m watching shows about cooking and food culture.  Whatever. I’m a food nerd.

Confession 3: I do love coffee and some red wines (I’m currently in love with Argentinian Malbec) but I have no idea why those things are supposed to be goth. None at all.

Confession 4: I love Christmas. I put up lights all over my house. I own the entire Lego Winter Village collection. I put up my tree on Thanksgiving weekend and cover it in Christmas ornaments from almost everywhere I’ve been.

Confession 5: I no longer wear corsets. I have irritable bowels that just don’t like to be squished. I love the way they look, but I don’t own even one anymore. Which leads to . . .

Oops, my kids are just about home and they’ll need my help with their math. I’ll have to do my next 5 confessions next time. 🙂








Trying Too Hard

nuclear redAll you goth and alternative lovers out there, have you ever been told you’re “trying too hard”? I’ve been asked that a few times over the years, and it recently came up again. On Facebook, that bastion of meaningful conversation. :-/ To be fair, the conversation wasn’t totally useless. But there were the comments I’ve heard time and time again: “those people think fashion is a substitute for personality,” “they’re trying too hard to be different,” “they talk about individuality but they all look the same as each other.”

Back in my babybat days I took this stuff seriously. I worried that I was just trading in one conformity for another, I worried that I was trying too hard to be unique, I worried I wasn’t deep enough or cool enough to pull off alternative fashion. Like you have to earn the right to have purple hair or black jeans. The older I get, though, the less I worry about any of that and the more confident I get that I like what I like and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I made peace with the fact that we all strike our own balance between fitting in and standing out. I accepted the fact that by mainstream standards goths aren’t that cool anyway, so not being “cool enough to be a real goth” is the stupidest thing I could possibly worry about. I realized I was never trying at all to be unique, I just was a little different from most people I knew. Even when I tried to look like everyone else and act like everyone else in this super conservative Trump state, people could sense there was something different. And not one of my friends or neighbors was surprised when I went back to black.* The only one my “normal” act was fooling was me.

Funny thing is, the older I get the more I realize how much effort it takes to look exactly like everyone else. Constant diets and hair and manicures and makeup and shopping and microblading and cosmetic surgery all too look exactly like everyone else. I’ve always had “normal” friends who spent an hour or more curling their hair and putting on their “no makeup” makeup, who agonized over which color of boring sweater and skinny jeans to buy. (Or, now that I’m a suburban housewife, which expensive yoga pants to pretend you work out in.)

I spend a lot less time and money on my nuclear red hair and color coordinated (black and red) outfits. I spend a lot less effort just being myself than they spend being “normal,” and I seem a lot happier doing it. I’m amazed that I ever believed for one second that I was the one trying too hard.

If “normal” is who you are then do it. Love it and be happy. I have an evil twin (not literally, but we share our first name and a whole lot else) who looks like a stereotypical suburban mom. Why? Because she’s too busy being an awesome jazz musician to worry about what she’s wearing. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s who you are. But putting yourself through the wringer just to fit in with a bunch of other superficial, insecure barbie dolls? If you’re doing that, please don’t tell me I’m trying too hard. I’m just trying to be happy with who I am, and you can never try too hard at that. **

*Not one was surprised, but a whole lot of them vaguely disapproved and/or pray for my soul to this day. So it goes, so it goes.

**This rant has been mostly fueled by my kids’ fall school break and a tad too much vodka and coke. I promise, though, that I think the same things when I’m stone cold sober. In fact, I think the same things better and more clearly when I’m sober, I’m just usually too busy to write them down. 🙂

Goth (Stereo)Types and Why I Love Them All

A few posts ago I wrote about tarot, and I said I loved how each artist brings something new to the same set of symbols. That and some dreaming over dark mori girls (fall always puts me in a witchy, fairy tale mood) got me thinking about the Goth Stereotypes meme.

It’s been going around a long time, but on the off chance you’re not familiar here it is: visit the site for fun description of all the types.

goth types.jpg

People sometimes act like these are hard and fast categories, like you have to pick one and be great at it. If that were the case I would clearly pick Geek Goth because it matches my blog title. But I would also be sad (and not in a fun way) to be limited like that. I am mighty and cannot be contained by one stereotype!

But seriously, I think there are two levels (at least) to stuff like this. On the one hand, it’s just fashion. I see nothing wrong with dressing like a rivethead while sipping fine wine and listening to Bach, or reading Wuthering Heights in your gothabilly pinup dress. On the other hand, I kind of do assume that a rivethead or a gothabilly will have a certain attitude and music taste, and I’d probably use that as a conversation starter.

In that sense, I pick Geek Goth because fantasy novels, cult classic movies, and music of all sorts really gets me going, and fashion comes farther down on the list for me. As a geek, it seems normal to love Sisters of Mercy and Tool and Vermillion Lies and Atrium Carceri and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. We’re pretty eclectic like that. Fashionwise, I’m the same way. I’ve worn and loved stompy Doc Martens, a Bettie Page pinup dress, swirly witch skirts and slick corpgoth slacks. I like it all. Or most of it, anyway.

Goth, like tarot, is a dark theme, and each goth brings something different to it. The types are just a loose map of common variations on the basic gothic theme. They can be useful for navigating this dark and beautiful world, but once you know your way around you don’t need the map so much.  I love to look at this “goth map” every once in a while and just reminisce about where I’ve been and where I’m headed. I think that’s the best use for it.


Goth without the Music? Whatever

I don’t write much about labels or who qualifies as goth. Out of more than 60 posts so far, I’ve written maybe two on the subject. I see my blog as a scrapbook or a cabinet of curiosities, so most of my posts are about what I find beautiful and interesting. I don’t worry too much whether those things are goth or merely ‘darkly inclined.’ I don’t worry whether I’m a ‘proper goth’ or merely a goth-adjacent horror geek, and I’m way too old to let other people tell me whether I’m goth enough. I’m happy enough lumping it all together and I’m mostly content to let others do the same.

the-cure-robert-smithThere’s this idea out there that being ‘goth’ is better than being ‘darkly inclined.’ As if anyone can be darkly inclined, but being truly goth is more exclusive than that. It’s ironic, because I find the ‘darkly inclined’ to be more flexible in their interests and curious about new things than the people who worry about who’s goth or not.

That said, I think it’s weird when people who like no goth music at all want to call themselves goth. A large number of goths still like goth and darkwave and such, and still use the label to find others who like the same music, being ‘goth without the music’ gets in the way of that. You can still type ‘goth’ into instagram for fashion purposes without actually calling yourself a goth, so why not leave the label for the music lovers?*

unknown pleasuresOr better yet, give the music a chance. Be curious about new things and flexible in your interests. Back in the day you either had to know an obsessive fan or shell out money for actual cassettes or CDs, but today it costs no money and just a few minutes to try out all sorts of goth music. If you can’t be bothered to do that, you’re boring and I’d rather not know you.

To be fair, I’m equally bored by ‘gother than thou’ types who peaked in the late ’80s or ’90s (or last year, or whenever) and haven’t tried anything new since. As if trying new things will ruin their eldergoth reputation or something. It doesn’t hurt to be curious about new things and flexible in your interests. You might find a new twist on an old favorite. sisters of mercy

It’s all been said before and will all be said again, and this is why I don’t write about it. I mostly mention it now to encourage everyone to just be curious and try new things. (Did you get that theme? 😉 ) Precious few of us are interested in dark things already. I just want us all to feel free to express ourselves and find each other. Don’t just be goth, or just darkly inclined. Be interesting.

*Gothic Soul Flower had some great things to say about this on YouTube. I agree that the music makes more space for people who don’t look like Instagram perfect goth stereotypes. 

Darklings with Little Darklings

glamazon2My parents had strict standards for schoolwork, for church attendance, for what they considered good character, but they didn’t much care what their kids looked like. Their attitude was more or less “if you can get a good job looking like that, go ahead and look like that.” It’s worked pretty well for me and my siblings so far.

I raise my kids with much the same philosophy. I don’t care much for church attendance, but I expect a certain amount of responsibility and what I consider good character. As long as they meet those, I’m not too worried about what they look like or listen to or watch on TV.* My goal is to let my kids be themselves, but with enough drive and discipline to be the best versions of themselves.

halloween2016So far, my kids aren’t particularly goth. Sure, they’d look cute in all black, with stripy tights or little Wednesday Addams dresses, but they’re not into it. I guess as a parent I have every right to dress my kids in what I think is adorable–they have several friends whose mothers pick their outfits every day–but it goes against my principles. I impose a lot of things on my kids, but I draw the line at imposing a style on them. They know who I am and what I’m into, and once in a while our tastes agree, but they know they’re free to like what they like without judgment. Even if what they like is pastels and Taylor Swift.

That said, they do indulge mommy’s obsession with halloween fun. halloween2015

*They’re still pre-teens, so I do put some limits on this stuff, but I try to be as flexible as I reasonably can. 

Plan Your Epitaph Day


There are actually two international Plan Your Epitaph days, so if this one has caught you unprepared you’ll have another chance on November 2. It’s never too early to plan for your inevitable demise.

Goths have a reputation for being “obsessed with death” but in my experience we’re really not. It’s more that non-goths are so obsessed with avoiding death that they get weird the moment you bring it up. Even goths can be more interested in abstract death and dying than our own plans for the future, but it pays to be prepared.

If I didn’t believe that before, it became all too clear a few Aprils ago when a good friend died in surgery. She, like so many people, didn’t have much of a plan and would not have approved of all the decisions made in her name. Since then, every April my thoughts turn both to her and to my own future affairs.

To that end, Mr. Robot and I have bought life insurance and written wills. We’ve discussed organ donation (hell yes) and what point we want each other to stop live-saving measures. And we’ve made basic plans for our funerals and remains. I plan to be cremated and, if I die too long before Mr. Robot, to have my ashes put in a tasteful urn (red and black preferred) and prominently placed in the living room. Mr. Robot is hoping for a green burial–one where they plant a tree over your grave–and I’d like my ashes spread and buried with him. Our kids like the idea that we’d be “in the tree,” continuing the cycling and recycling of life.

This plan doesn’t really need an epitaph, but I wouldn’t mind a tasteful plaque near our tree. I’d quite like this quote from the Mahabharata:

What is the greatest wonder? Death strikes every day, yet we live as if we were immortal.

May you live long, die well, and leave timeless last words. In the meantime, perhaps these epitaphs will entertain and inspire you.

Fashion is a Vampire

Goth isn’t fully goth without the fashion. Fashion is what separates goths from vampire lovers and Victoriana nerds with great taste in music. Clothing and makeup are often seen as shallow or silly things to care about, and alternative styles are often ridiculed as being all about “shocking people” or “just wanting attention,” but clothing and makeup are also great ways to express your creativity and find people who might share your deeper interests. Gothing up your personal style is a great way of finding out who around you might share your interests and keeping away the kind of boring, closed-minded people you’d rather not deal with.

A lot of people dial their personal style up and down according to what they’re doing (work? play? meeting new people? seeing old friends?) and who they’re with, and a lot of people are looking for their own balance between standing out and blending in. Goths are no exception, but I think goth style goes farther than that. Not to get all pretentious here, but goth fashion is also commenting on society. In my mind, at least, dressing goth says three basic things.

First, modern consumer society likes to pretend that weird and sad and painful things can and should be somehow done away with. I think (and this seems like a fairly standard goth attitude) that those things should be understood and embraced instead of swept under the rug. Dressing “like you’re going to a funeral” is a subtle but insistent reminder to the world that darkness will always be with us, no matter how much you want to pretend otherwise.

Second, goth is often a very feminine style full of rich textures and lovely jewelry and elaborate hair and makeup. But it’s very different from the soft and pliant “traditional” femininity I grew up with. It’s a very dominant and powerful sort of feminine energy. Goth fashion for men is laced with “feminine” sensual elements as well. Goth is almost the only subculture I can think of that plays up this kind of energy for all genders and I would love to see elements of it catch on with a wider range of people.

The last statement goth makes in my mind is also the most basic and general. To my mind, style should be about what an individual likes and feels good in. I feel good in black. I like skulls and blood. It shouldn’t matter whether some magazine thinks I look good in black or what some celebrity  wears or doesn’t wear. I don’t care about getting attention and I’m not interested in shock value, but I’m stubborn about my right to like what I like and wear what I want to wear.

And that brings us to what frustrates me about fashion, goth fashion included. Fashion can be such a great tool for expressing yourself, saying something to the world, finding your people, having fun and feeling good. Fashion is an art, and it takes talent and time and skill to be really good at it. And yet, sometimes it’s exactly as shallow and silly and conformist as critics say it is. Goth fashion is no exception to this. Buying status brands, whether it’s Chanel or Hellbunny or whatever is hot in your circle, is a poor substitute for creativity. Glorifying a certain (tall, thin) body type doesn’t exactly celebrate individuality and self-expression. Judging people’s gothiness based on looks alone is just . . . ironic. A subculture that gets so much judgment from mainstream folks ought not be replicating that awful system. If we bring that kind of bullshit into alternative fashion, well, that ain’t much of an alternative. And that would be a shame.


Black and Burgundy

I wear colors besides black. There, I said it. I wear gray, I wear red, I wear orange or purple once in a while. But it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes I wear royal blue or forest green or even, dare I say, brown. But not pastels. I draw the line at pastels.
Fact is, wearing all black doesn’t make you goth any more than staying up all night makes you a vampire. I’ve seen countless chic New York wannabes, tough biker chicks, beatnik musicians, and stylish soccer moms wear head-to-toe black and not look the slightest bit goth. We’ve all known goths or other unique types of people, though, who somehow capture the look no matter what they’re wearing.
When you know who you are it shows through and people can’t help but see it. Fashion is just a tool. Clothing, hair, makeup, jewelry, they help project who you are but if you have a strong personality people will see it anyway. Even if you’re wearing pastels.
black and burgundy

I have the jeans and both the tops. I love all three, especially the casual top, which I probably wear once a week. I also have the Victorian boots. Everything else is just examples, things I want or that are similar to what I wear.

Demon Fear

exorcistWhen I was a little kid, Satan was everywhere. Back in the ’80s, religious Americans saw Evil everywhere. Hidden messages on heavy metal albums led kids to Satanism. Dungeons & Dragons led kids to Satanism. Everyone had a friend-of-a-friend haunted by a ouija board. According to many conservatives, Satanic cults were everywhere preying on children, tearing apart the very fabric of society. And that’s just scratching the surface of ’80s paranoia. I haven’t even mentioned the Cold War or the many stories (many untrue) about razor blades and poison hidden in Halloween treats. It was a wild time.

Compared to a lot of middle Americans my parents were pretty sensible. My dad was a huge Tolkien fan so he rightly saw D&D as harmless fantasy instead of a portal to Satan, and while our parents didn’t like most of our music and fashion choices they didn’t put a lot of limits on us. They were (and still are) devoutly religious, though, and they more or less believed in a real Satanic force that could haunt and possess people. “Personal experiences” of possession and haunting floated around our congregation.* pinhead

No wonder I turned out the way I did–I grew up in a world full of demons and ghosts and monsters. I was always fascinated but I didn’t always love them. For a long time I was terrified. If those things were real, they were more powerful than I could imagine and I would be at their mercy. It was only near the end of high school, once I was pretty sure Satan wasn’t hiding in my closet, that I let myself really explore the world of horror.

All that demon fear gave me a late start on the road to where I am today, but it also gave me a deeper and different knowledge of darkness and a better understanding of those who fear it. I may not have been goth from the cradle, but I grew up in a gothic world.


*I grew up Mormon. Not mainstream Christian, but Christian enough to fear Satan. Mormons don’t practice exorcism in any official way, but they would perform special prayers to bless and heal you if you were afflicted by Satan. I’m sure this still happens occasionally in the church but possession stories became more rare once the ’80s panics died down.