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

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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.
Dark Day to Dark Date

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.

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*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.

Little Black Boxes: Who Gets to be a Goth?

Calling yourself goth often comes with a lot of pressure to be all goth all the time in every way, and my interests go way beyond that. I love horror and gothic lit and black clothes, I like Tones on Tail and Sisters of Mercy, I have a taxidermy bat on a shelf in my living room. I like all of that, but I also like popular science and history, The Blues Brothers, cooking, and taking my kids swimming on a hot summer day. Oh, and that “Try Everything” song from Zootopia. Makes me all optimistic.

I feel goth enough to be goth, but that’s not all I am by a long shot. Continue reading “Little Black Boxes: Who Gets to be a Goth?”