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Be Real: Finding Authenticity this Spooky Season

Campus Scenes, photo Dawson Gutierrez

I love Halloween.

It’s my favorite time of year. I love horror movies. I love all things strange and spooky. Usually, when I tell people this, the first thing they say to me is, “why?”

I can completely understand that reaction because when someone tells you their favorite movie genre is full of jump scares, blood, and gore—a part of you has to think what is wrong with that person, right?

But I think there is something special to be found in all of the terrifyingness that is the horror genre. See, horror movies (and stories and all other types of scary art) are the one place that I feel artists are encouraged to get totally strange with their content.

Thinking about living honestly

Just speaking from my own personal experience, I can quite often feel in my professional (and even sometimes my personal life) that I need to project a certain version of myself to the world for whatever reason. Of course, at work I use my professional side pretty much exclusively. And even though it’s probably cliche at this point, it doesn’t make it any less true—who I choose to be on social media, the image of myself that I want to project to the world is often a very one dimensional version of myself.

And for me, that can become wholly exhausting. I am not just a single thing, a single trait, as no one is. I have so many sides to myself and some of those are frankly kind of strange. And I’d like to think I’ve come to enjoy that about myself. So, when I feel like I’m pretending to only be one version of myself, I kind of feel like I’m lying. The moments when I feel like I’m living as honest of an existence as I can is when I let all areas of my life be colored by each other.

Let me dive a little deeper. There are people out there who I admire as artists and as genuine people and those people are usually ones who I perceive to live honestly, unfiltered and carefree. When I think to myself, what type of person do you want to be? The answer is usually that I want to be honest. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, if I’m being honest with myself, life is messy a lot of the time.

How strangeness and honesty are connected

As a result, the art and experiences that I connect with deeply, the kind that really shake me to my core (in the best way) and make me remember them for a long time after, have this honest strangeness to them. And I think it’s really taken me until this year of my life to really understand this concept. I’m probably still trying to understand it and explore it through art.

Being a writer, my favorite breakthrough moments have been when I allowed myself to be creatively open. There is an expectation that I put on myself to write “well” or creatively express myself “well”—whatever that means. In the past, I think this has often meant that I am trying to emulate what I think “good” creative work looks like, instead of trying to be true to myself, what type of writer I think I am, and how I feel in a moment of creative expression. And honestly, this has been very hindering for me at times and this same feeling can often bleed into other areas of my life, not just creative ones, but let’s keep going down this creative exploration.

It’s really hard to sit down and write something (or create anything) that you’re truly proud of, something that you really connect with when you already have those barriers in place. I used to think if I didn’t sound exactly like my favorite authors, then I wasn’t good, or if I didn’t sound intelligent enough in my work, if my writing didn’t feel expertly polished, then I wasn’t a good writer.

Exploring strange vulnerability in art

Now, as I’ve gotten a few years older and have had more time to explore literature, movies, and other art which inspires me, I’ve realized that there is a common thread in what I am moved by, and that is strangeness or an inexplicable uniqueness. The books, movies, and visual art that draws me in year over year is the stuff that isn’t afraid to express this strange vulnerability. Let me give you an example.

I recently watched a movie, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which was based off of the 2016 novel by Iain Reid. It was the horrific and surreal elements which only acted as additional sprinkles of creative enhancement. The core of the story that drew me in was actually quite simple. A girl is taking a trip with her boyfriend to meet his parents for the first time. However, she’s got one foot out the door, as the title suggests.

We’ve all seen a breakup movie. But the one that sticks with you is one that takes this simple concept and stretches it, twists it into something we’ve never seen before or uses a filter or lens that we can look through to see it in a way which feels totally unique.

That is the best way I can describe exactly why I like horror and what I liked about this movie. It feels like an honest exploration of a subject we all understand, but tells it in a way that shocks us and makes the subject linger. Is it straight up scary? I don’t think so. But does it get under your skin and make you think harder about a feeling that all of us are familiar with? Yes. And it does that with a very surreal and earnest creepiness that I think makes it unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

At the end of the movie, I felt like I’d learned something about myself and I think that’s the sign of a work of art, scary or not, that is worth actively participating in.

So, if you’ve come this far and read this much of my rambling, I just want to sincerely say thank you, but I also want to say I’m not here to convince you to watch horror movies or all of a sudden fall in love with Halloween.

What I would love for you to take from this is that maybe try to feel more open to feeding your strange side every once in a while. Use that weirdness to fuel you creatively, don’t be ashamed of it. Your uniqueness is what makes you an honest, relatable person. Okay, and yes, I totally won’t complain if you watch The Exorcist and see it differently than you have before, maybe you kind of like it now—or not!

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