Perfect systems do not exist. Unless you’re talking about the 1981 Oingo Boingo song, then Perfect System is absolutely real. Otherwise, a system without flaws is only a figment of our collective imaginations.

Anything that can be institutionalized has room for error and the longer it exists, the more its defects and limitations are likely to show. Systems can be great in theory. Maybe even damn near perfect. That mere perfection vanishes the moment people get involved.

On paper, communism works. Same for capitalism. And feudalism. Orthodox churches are just as reasonable as progressive churches as long as it remains an idea. In theory, private small businesses should be as viable as publicly traded corporations. Yet human intervention hinders all of it. Corruption doesn’t come from the system - it is in us. We the people are the cause of every road to hell from every good intention. Humans have a way of breaking everything we touch.

When progressive winds of change begin to blow, those who speak first are often seen through heretical lenses. Think about the early abolitionists who spoke out against the African slave trade. Or the French revolutionaries. Even America’s founding fathers were viewed as rebels. What about the suffragettes, American civil rights leaders, the scientists who first warned us about climate change, the Indian Citizens Who gained independence from British rule, anti-apartheid demonstrators, the first kids to accuse the Catholic Church of sexual abuse, the Tibetan peoples still fighting for freedom from China, or anyone who dares to say “black lives matter. Each of these are (or were) proverbial middle fingers held up to the status quo. Each demonized in one form or another.

The heroes of history tend to be deviants. Without them, systemic changes would never happen. Unfortunately, some of these heroes were beaten, arrested, or murdered. All of them faced ridicule. These brave souls refused to accept their world as it was and demanded it do better. This thing here? It needs to change. This taxation without representation? This slaughter of indigenous people? This invasion of a sovereign nation? This widening wealth gap between the rich and the poor? This restriction of voting rights? It’s not Ok and we should do better.

There are a lot of institutions in need of systemic change. Speaking from a US centric perspective (because I am an American) these are common topics in the public square. We talk about it a lot but never do anything, and those with the most radical ideas are mocked. We need criminal justice and health care reform. We need to change the way we look at gun safety and LGBT rights. Our school systems and corporate tax structures need to be redesigned. Churches and businesses and government offices need more accountability. We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing and pretend everything is all fine.

Change is slow and difficult because people are resistant to change. Some people fear it. Yet when we talk about broken institutions, we speak in broad terms because we know we’re fighting against a system and not individuals. Still, the mention of change offends some people.

With that in mind, I’m going to be blunt.

If someone talks about the need for change within an institution, and you are personally offended, you’re part of the problem. The system is broken, and it’s broken by people like you.

We can do better. We must do better.


Light in the Darkest Hours

It was a song from an underground hip-hop collective: lo-fi beats, heavy turntablism, and cypher styled rap verses: “The Night We Called It a Day” by Deepspace5. This song (along with the rest of their debut album) helped me fall in love with the art and culture of rap music. The track opened with a melancholic acoustic guitar sample and the static of vinyl before the DJ starts scratching records. In the scratches, there’s a single spoken line, broken up with the flick of the DJ’s fingers.

“Those who need light - light-light - for those who need light in they darkest hours - in they darkest hours”
It’s like a grown up version of “This Little Light of Mine” for those who enjoy coffee shops and old school beats. Millions of kids listen to hip-hop as a means of escape. They enter it like a refuge - an oasis in the desert of urban violence. I understand them. I once used grunge and punk rock as a safe place from the torment of the bullies who verbally and physically abused me through my teen years. It was my light in my darkest hours.

Even though it’s been a while since I’ve listened to the song, I still get this Deepspace5 phrase stuck in my head, repeating like a mantra. I walk around with those nine words on repeat. For those who need light in they darkest hours. They darkest hours. Light in they darkest hours. Then I see those in their darkest hours who need some light and feel moved to speak up, to do something.

These days, those who need light in they darkest hours are easy to find. Between school shootings and police violence, natural disasters and pandemics, extreme politics and foreign wars, there’s a lot of light needed for a daunting number of people in their darkest hours.

Not everyone seeks light from darkness. Many seek light in darkness. While it seems counterintuitive, there are those who find light through scary stories. Whether told around campfires, read in pulp novels, listened to in true crime podcasts, or watched on the big screen, the elements of horror can distract us from the frights of real life. Somehow the darkness of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and aliens are brighter than homes filled with abuse and addiction.

Kids will watch a slasher movie and think “if the final girl survives the masked serial killer hunting down teenagers, then I’ll survive my abusive parents.” Those in pain will read books about an exorcism and think “if the demons can be cast out from this possessed child, perhaps I can conquer my own demons.” Laughing at jump scares in video games help some kids feel less fear when police arrive to defuse a domestic disturbance.

So why do I love the horror genre? I was raised in a safe community by two parents who loved each other with no darkness to escape. My parents were not abusive. Despite being poor, they fed me and kept a roof over our heads. They supported my creative endeavors. I did not endure any major adolescent trauma. I never got into legal trouble. I was socially awkward but still had a few great friends. My parents didn’t even allow me to watch scary movies. Aside from being bullied, I had a decent childhood.

And I have a good life today. My parents are still together after nearly fifty years of marriage. I am married to a woman who loves me more than I knew was possible. I have a great job. I’m DJing and writing and farming and raising kids and have a life so full I could burst. Between the dogs and the horses and the family, I am surrounded by a loving support system and many reasons to celebrate. Yet I still crave books by Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I’m enraptured by movies from Jordan Peele and Guillermo del Toro. I’m still thrilled when a creepy book or game keeps me awake all night. It seems I seek darkness in my brightest hours.

Thanks to the world of podcasts, I think I understand my unique proclivities. While driving around the INW for work, I’m listening to storytellers do what they do best. Hood Politics, Murder Myth & Mystery, The Secret Room, Haileywood. If iron sharpens iron, I hope to hone my own abilities to craft engaging tales.

In a recent episode of Morbid, Alaina Urquhart and Ashleigh Kelly shared stories of haunted lighthouses in America. One of those spooky landmarks is the Bolivar Point Lighthouse in Galveston Texas.

When a hurricane entered the Gulf of Mexico in 1900, H. C. Claiborne (the lighthouse keeper) wasn’t worried. He had purchased enough food to last through the season so he and his family could remain at Bolivar Point for a few months, and the lighthouse structure was strong. Claiborne was confident it could withstand any storm.

image courtesy of Lighthouse Friends

As you could imagine, meteorology was not as technically advanced at the beginning of the 20th century as it is today. No one was sure where the hurricane would make landfall. The big waves thrust into the shores of northeastern Texas became a spectacle with thousands of curious people crowding the beaches of Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula. Many of the onlookers ignored the warnings of local officials urging them to move inland and seek higher ground. By the time the storm surge reached land, it was too late. They were experiencing the deadliest natural disaster in American history.

It could have been deadlier - and would have if it had not been for Claiborne. The rising waters stranded a train with more than 300 passengers near the Bolivar Point lighthouse. They waded through the waters to reach the door of the tower. Claiborne opened it up and let in at least 125 of the passengers before he had to close and barricade the door.

Those who sheltered in the stairwell of the lighthouse found safety, but not comfort. Two or three people sat on every step of the spiral stairs, from the flooded entrance to the top level where Claiborne continued to perform his duties keeping the light shining to guide wayward ships into Galveston Bay. In the dark of storm and night, Claiborne rationed his family’s food supplies to make sure the storm’s refugees had something to eat, and the crowd drank rainwater to sate their thirst. What they didn’t know of until after the storm had passed were the bodies piling up outside the lighthouse door.

The Bolivar Lighthouse was a bright spot along the Texas coast. It was a beacon for sailors seeking safe harbor. Yet its greatest moment came when the tower was plunged into darkness and one selfless man saved 125 souls from a hurricane that killed 8000.

Within a week of hearing this story, I listened to a remastered episode of Lore about more lighthouses. The show focused on the reason tales of haunted lighthouses are so prevalent. These landmarks were designed to offer light, guidance, and hope. Yet throughout history, lighthouse buildings have been filled with the loneliness of isolation. They’ve been sites of grief and tragedy; homes to mental anguish, injury, and death. Ghosts may not exist but the reasons people believe they are real are valid.

Then the show’s host, Aaron Mahnke said something that was an a-ha moment for me. From this perspective, it all makes sense.
My interests and pursuits seem unlikely. A good boy raised in a stable Christian home should have never taken a liking to the horror genre. Yet I’ve found myself thriving somewhere between The Tell-Tale Heart and 30 Days of Night. I’ve lived a blessed life while reveling in the macabre.

The book I’m working on features characters enduring some dark events. When I’m done with this, I will begin working on a Christmas themed ghost story about a man haunted by his mistakes. The stories I’m crafting are filled with grief, loss, tragedy, and death - the basis of many of the monsters which lurk in the myths and fables of scary legends and modern lore. It seems Mahnke’s hypothesis is proven in me - my tales of horror come from where my light shines brightest.

In this way, I hope to become what God created me to be: a lighthouse. A place of light and a shelter in storm, often plunged into the agony, muck, and mire of human existence. Then from the darkness, continue to illuminate a way for others to survive the strife of their own lives.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, for those who need light in they darkest hours.