As promised, the second half of my one-year anniversary wrapup, forecast, and thanks.
Because thanks are the most necessary and yet easiest to forget, let me attend to them now. Thank you. I thank you especially if this is a return visit. Our lives are finite. That you should choose to share some of it with me, on more than one occasion, is very meaningful for me. It’s also humbling.
One year ago, the trailer for Tim Burton’s catastrophe really sent me over the edge. I don’t mean in a sanity sense. I just mean it in terms of my morale. In some ways, I felt like the custodian of a beloved pet that had been mistreated in someone else’s care. I could not fix or undo that damage, but I could try to give it as much love and affection I could to compensate. At least for the sake of my own conscience. So, I set to work on conducting something that was not a rewatch, it was legitimately an experiment. I had no idea where it was going to leave me, however I knew it would not be casual. No one said it out loud, but I would be amazed if many of the people in my life believed that I could actually do it.
Just as Harvey Pekar wrote “Our Movie Year,” I could easily write a graphic novel called, “My Dark Shadows Year.” Where has my year left me? I can say without hesitation that I am different. Profoundly different.
The first thing that the project allowed me to do, before I even began the viewings, was to connect with my past. I’ve lost a lot of that for someone my age. Literally. At this point, Ive buried more friends than I feel that I have. I had a pretty bad seizure back in 2005, and I’ve been medicated amply for it ever since. Memories that should be there are not. Focus that should be there is not. But what is still there? Dark Shadows. And by revisiting Dark Shadows, I was 11 again. And I was 16 again. And my mother was alive again. And I was in graduate school again. And there were women who were in love with me again. I got to relive, in the strangest way, all of those precious places and times. Are they reflective of loneliness? Of course, and one of the great comforts of Dark Shadows is that it is a universe of the lonely. But four of the loneliest wind up not so lonely after all if you watch until the very end of 1841 parallel time and do so with an open heart and mind.
And I was connecting with all of them before the experiment even began! What else did I get? A challenge. I got to learn the joy of editing video. I have learned how much I stammer as a public speaker. (Which is kind of useful if you also teach public speaking every day and are unaware that you sound like Jimmy Stewart.) I’ve learned to push my endurance to places I didn’t think I could go by the simple act of the daily discipline required. I found myself having to put this commitment above my social life. I’m not a man given to extreme sports, or sports of all, but this was and is, in its own way, an extreme sport. And once you get in the habit of driving yourself to certain places, it’s addicting. For what other reason on earth would I sign up for more of the same over the holidays?
Speaking of which, it built up muscles that allowed my confrontation with Babylon 5. I’m glad that happened. And I’m glad it’s behind me. And that’s certainly would’ve never happened without last summer. I also enjoyed noting the similarities between Star Trek and Dark Shadows. Both shows deal with a very western, American, white bread paradigm that retrains itself to overcome fear of the different.
Discovering a story that I didn’t know existed was an amazing journey, itself. I don’t understand all of it, which is a reason that I’m jumping back into the volcano this summer. But I know that I must. Discovering how much I identified with Barnabas was as intriguing and disturbing as you would expect. I’m very protective of Barnabas, now. When I hear people talk about how much they enjoyed the scary part of his early episodes, I feel a little sad. I think to myself things that, a year ago, would have seemed ludicrous. Things like, “I wish they would give Barnabas a break. He was going to a really bad spell that time. No pun intended.”
I loved realizing that the repertory nature of the show revealed the text and its characters as very symbolic. Rather than pretend that John Karlen looks like people he’s not, I simply look at the various characters he plays as different facets of an evolving man. And the same goes for the Jonathan Frid characters. The Lara Parker characters. The Nancy Barrett characters. When you look at Dark Shadows that way, it forces you to contemplate this as a self-contained text. And it forces you to re-orient your definitions of character, especially in this universe. If you have not risen to that challenge of text perception, you really should try. The show takes on qualities that will receive their own treatment in the Dark Shadows experiment of, you guessed it, 2014. Oh, I have this all planned out.
I believe that a story is defined by the character who makes the most important decision at the most important moment. Given that, I was amazed to find that the heroine of Dark Shadows is none other than Angelique. This makes the show a wildly morally ambiguous journey that confronts the vices of power and the power of the atonement. Not only that, it reveals the even more awesome power of forgiveness. Forgiveness of others. And forgiveness of the self. When Angelique died — a victim of the one part of her curse that she forgot to lift — I felt a loss that was remarkable in scope. For a fictional character, at least. And I felt a depth of pain present in Barnabas that was as poignant as that felt by any widower. Pain in romance is such a powerful literary tool. From Romeo to Cyrano, if you will. If you stop and think about it, we never see Barnabas again. The last time we are with him is when the wound of her death is so fresh and profound that its reality will only manifest itself after the storyline has prevented us from accompanying him as his friends and confidants. Because at that point, it really feels like the tables turn. We are there for the characters more than they are there for us. Irrational? Yes. And true.
After the summer was over, what amazed me was that I was ready to dive back in. Fortunately, one of the greatest and most unexpected delights from the experiment was the sense of connectedness I felt with a community I didn’t know existed. There have been many wonderful people I’ve met along the way. The roleplayers on twitter have brought me no end of happiness and mirth. What a good bunch, eh? There are certainly people who followed along during the experiment and were quite supportive. And now, a year later, there are three who deserve a few extra words.
Adriana Peña was a feisty, independent, and fiercely passionate advocate and Jiminy Cricket in equal measure. Her dynastic vision for the future of the Dark Shadows story is rich, detailed, fascinating, and draws from a well of great humor and extraordinary life experience. As the experiment was ending, and I realized that immersing myself in this narrative had changed my perspective on it, on drama, and on things with which I’m still grappling to define, Adriana was there. She seemed to innately understand that I had undergone some sort of rite of passage and served an almost shamanic role in that sense. It was more proof that this is a massive story that touches elements of the human experience deeper than any other franchise I know.
King of the Impossible, aka Wallace McBride, has to be the single most industrious man I currently know. If you ever have the chance to speak with Wallace, you’ll get a glimpse of how one man accomplishes so much in such a brief period of time. He speaks intensely, quickly, thoughtfully, authentically, and with great wit. It is my honest opinion that he could very well be the most important force responsible for branding and representing Dark Shadows in our time. I will never have enough good things to say about Jim Pierson. Stuart Manning, of course, is a hero to the franchise. But I will honestly say that the third most important person in keeping the spirit of Dark Shadows relevant and alive as Wallace McBride, who does the work of twenty auteurs for free and out of love. Wallace is also an intensely modest person (at least that’s my impression of him) so I suspect he would leave the room if I were to say the things about him in public. But he’s not in the room right now, so I can say whatever I want. On top of everything else, through his haiku contests and much, much more, Wallace has been incredibly generous by allowing others to celebrate Dark Shadows with him. Participating in the podcasts, conducting some of the interviews, and being allowed into that sandbox has been… a blast on a level I’d forgotten I could have. I am a man of very eclectic interests and tastes. During almost every communication with Wallace, I will discover some strange commonality or curiosity that makes me think, “Good God, I’m not the only one. I was starting to feel like Robert Neville for a while.”
Finally, and as an intentional finale, Alexis Latshaw. If everyone on this planet were half as insightful as she, the very concept of utopia would have to be redefined. (I’m starting to sound like James Lipton, so I should probably wrap it up.) I’ll just say this about Alexis; I may never come to understand the larger, stranger story that exists within the halls of Collinwood. But she will. And that doesn’t make me jealous. It makes me very, very grateful. She smarter than I am. She’s a better writer than I am. And every essay she writes helps me to understand this grand story far better then I would ever know it alone.
And it is on a note of gratitude that I bid you good night. I’ll talk about the Collins Chronicles in depth very soon. This summer, I will again be jumping from the sea of reality up onto Widow’s Hill. This all began as a strange aberration and stunt in the midst of my “real” life. Why is it all starting to feel like it’s now the other way around?
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My bags are packed. I’ve got a train ticket for Collinsport in my hand. By the time I get there, Maggie will have just donned that blonde wig for one of the last times and be brewing the best cup of coffee in the state of Maine. Two creams, one sugar, thanks.
Welcome to the beginning and the end of the world.