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I feel silly doing this here, too…

But I am trying to save some folks trouble: Put simply, if you are seeking “Huff Paranormal” Steve Huff, you are in the wrong place. I am not that man. To my knowledge we are not blood related and I have had only the most limited interactions with him.

We are both easy to find via Google and we both are connected to heavy subjects—me to true crime and him to contacting the spirit world.

About that I will only say I’m a skeptic but I try to avoid judging others’ beliefs. And I’m not 100% skeptical, either. But enough.

Anyway, to clarify: If you are curious about the Steve Huff who says he is contacting deceased Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput via his spirit box, this is not his blog.

You’re welcome to stick around, though. I’ve transferred years of posts to this site, many of them my crime writing, and I may even update it more often, like I’ve said I’d do for like 10 years and not really done.

Plague Diary, 1.

And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands. And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city. There was no one who wept for any death, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed it was the end of the world. This situation continued [from May] until September. ~ Agnolo di Tura, Siena, 1348 

Plague_doctors'_beak_shaped_mask
A medieval Plague Doctor (Wikimedia)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Agnolo di Tura, called The Fat.

I don’t mean to be melodramatic. In fact, I very strongly doubt the world in the grip of the Coronavirus Pandemicwill be anything like the graveyard that was Europe in the wake of the Black Death. Most things will go forward. There may even be opinion pieces written later about how it was all overblown.

One hopes, anyway.

I began with the passage above because this sentence is like a prose earworm in my brain, some days: “And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands.” If you read all of Agnolo’s narrative, you’ll see this is how it begins:

The mortality in Siena began in May. It was a cruel and horrible thing. . . . It seemed that almost everyone became stupefied seeing the pain. It is impossible for the human tongue to recount the awful truth. Indeed, one who did not see such horribleness can be called blessed. The victims died almost immediately. They would swell beneath the armpits and in the groin, and fall over while talking. Father abandoned child, wife husband, one brother another; for this illness seemed to strike through breath and sight. And so they died. None could be found to bury the dead for money or friendship…

You can read the entire piece here.

There are other readings as well, but the image of Agnolo, a fat man struggling in the heat to bury his children under a merciless sun, has never quite left me. The simplicity of his narrative has always struck me as sorrowful in a timeless way. The kind of devastation that has no point in history because whatever the year on the calendar, it would be the same for anyone in similar circumstances. The words of a man writing nearly 700 years ago, and it’s almost as if you can still hear him sigh.

I’m mostly just following the brush with this post, which is being written on the kind of day that has always given me the creeps, because it is so like bad dreams I had as a child.

It is windy and a little chilly outside. Clouds are rushing by, white and gray, and the sun isn’t really out but I can see blue sky as well. The evergreens that rise behind the houses across the street are restless in the wind, which doesn’t moan so much as it murmurs.

I had a lot of wind-filled nightmares when I was a child.

One that I never forgot came shortly after watching the 1964 film version of Richard Matheson’s I Am LegendThe Last Man On Earth, starring Vincent Price. In that nightmare, I woke to a murmuring and constant wind pushing its way through my childhood home, which was in ruins. One of my sisters was just a mummy in a creaking swing on the back porch. I found myself outside then, and I stepped over two mounds in the driveway that I realized were my parents’ graves.

The wind never stopped, and I know I thought that whatever happened to everyone had come with the wind.

The dream ended at my elementary school, with me standing outside my kindergarten classroom, which was in shambles. I heard the distinctive ringing bounce of a red gym ball on the cement behind me, as if someone had just dropped one, and I turned to see a ball bouncing away, but there was no one there who could have dropped it.

And so I come back to this wind outside today, and all the coronavirus news skittering across my Twitter feeds, on my big-screen TV, and the Agnolo di Tura in my mind, hunched and sweating over the dead.

No one wants to know that kind of sorrow. No one wants to know how alone the man must have felt.

So I guess even the worst-case scenario imaginings in my mind regarding coronavirus are enough to shake me a bit, to rattle my cage.

There are probably many lessons to learn from Agnolo di Tura. The one that will not leave my thoughts today is something that first occurred to me after my brother committed suicide 20 years ago. Then again after my sister died from septic shock in 2016.

Sometimes it is a curse to survive.

Hey there, Hi there, ho there…

I’m trying a new Twitter-like interface for my WordPress site to see if it encourages me to use it more.

Basically I’m typing this right on the web page–to me, visually (you obviously can’t see it). It’s partly because I own the URL and the WordPress account so I hate not using it more. It’s also because I like Twitter for the immediacy so I wanted to see how this felt from the writer’s perspective.

Additionally, Twitter is down now and work isn’t fast-paced at the moment so I need something to do with my hands.

#blah-blah #notes-to-self

Here’s a Thought: Download Whatever the Hell You Want

There are some people—and full disclosure here, I’m one of them—who will download every new social app that comes along.

A short list of some I’ve tried:

  • Pheed
  • Ello
  • This one I forgot
  • That other one I forgot
  • The one you were probably using when you clicked through to read this
  • Google+

… and most recently, the mobile-only app, Peach.

I know I’m not alone in doing this. Here’s a funny thing I’ve noticed and I’m sure anyone reading this noticed as well—a ton of people seem embarrassed to admit it when we check these things out.

For some of us it’s just a self-effacing joke. Others still are just joking, period, because everything on the internet can seem vaguely ridiculous sometimes. But I have to believe there are a few people who genuinely feel embarrassed to be curious about whatever app caught their eye when a friend tweeted about it.

If there isn’t a sense of embarrassment, there’s an immediate skewing toward cynicism. ‘Oh what’s this bullshit app about? I’m supposed to love this now?’

This I get. I’ve felt that way too. A lot.

Today, though, it occurred to me: I’ll download and check out whatever fucking app I want. For whatever purpose. I might make fun of it after I use it, sure—I’ve been on Facebook for eight years and honestly refuse to ever stop making fun of it.

I felt kind of angry at myself because I’d downloaded Peach and posted the same sort of first post I see so many of my friends throw up on such services: “WHY AM I BOTHERING WITH ANOTHER ONE OF THESE.”

What made me angry was this sudden sense I had that there’s an element among those of us who immediately feel embarrassed or something when downloading a social app that there really must be something wrong about doing it. I joked to a friend on Twitter that I’d felt immediate shame at downloading Peach, but you know, I did feel a minor burst of that.

It occurred to me, though: why am I ashamed for wanting to be social? I live in a place I like and do a job I like but the place is over 1000 miles from old friends and extended family and I’m a freelance worker. I communicate mostly with co-workers through Slack. (A messaging app designed much like a good social app but skewed toward workplace use.) I’m also a dad and my two youngest kids still at home are on the autism spectrum. Since I have the work-from-home job I have to do a lot of the kid-related legwork that parents do as well. Why wouldn’t I want to reach beyond my everyday and chat with friends on the West Coast? Or friends in the U.K.? Or, of course, in Canada?

When I was home for a visit in Nashville recently, I told my sister Sherry I thought she and I both were by nature introverted people who had to learn at some point to be extroverted. Like, I think extroversion is to some degree acquired. Perhaps for everyone. If you met Sherry or me you’d think we were loudmouthed peas in a pod (‘Huffs are loud and talk over each other and everyone else’ is how I imagine many friends and even extended family have seen us as a group over the years), but we talked a lot about how much we like being alone sometimes.

Fact is, I did acquire both some social skills and the occasional desire to socialize. I have certainly liked talking to people in the past. Getting to know them. The older I get, the more I realize I’m stuck with that social part of me, as long as I feel I have a certain amount of choice in the matter.

And social apps provide a pretty damned safe route into doing that, on the whole.

What the hell is wrong with wanting, or even admitting to needing any sense of connection to others? Not a goddamned thing.

Think about it: in prison the most brutal thing you can do to an inmate isn’t even beating him or her. It’s prolonged solitary confinement.

Without any social connection at all, humans tend to lose their minds.

Yes, there are volumes of criticism of social media still to be written. It promotes mob behavior. It can encourage bullying and trolling. Nuanced thinking can get lost and binary thinking rules the day. Of course social apps all come with the same curses, because they come with other people using them.

Still, I’ve made friends online. Hell, I met my wife online back when people generally considered doing such a thing some kind of thrill-seeking act of self-destructive insanity (as opposed to today, when it seems like the norm). I love some of the friends I’ve made online as much as I ever loved a friend made in school, in rehearsal, or backstage at a show. It seems to take longer to feel like a friend from the internet is a real friend—I read body language and tone, and you mostly miss that—but eventually, you do.

That’s actually pretty beautiful, if occasionally a little strange to an aging Gen Xer like me.

Social media is full of silly bullshit and can often reflect the very worst sort of lazy behavior both intellectually and emotionally, but social apps are here to stay. They’ll evolve as we do. There will be new ones hitting app stores or being linked to every year.

Chances are I’ll try them all. I’ll abandon some right away. Others I’ll stick with for a time then forget. Still others I’ll stay steady with, use once a week at best. And of course there will always be mainstays I check every single day. Because that’s where I have some pretty good friends, folks I’d hang with anywhere.

There ain’t a damn thing wrong with that. For me, or you.

I hate to admit it

But I’ve actually been so busy it’s barely occurred to me to use any blog I have at all. I’m a contributing editor for Maxim magazine, editing their website on the weekend, and in October I wrote a book. I can’t tell any more about that right now because of contracts and confidentiality and just being cautious, but needless to say—I worked my ass off, man.

And I’m still working, and though I am surprised at how tired I am sometimes, I cannot complain.

I did buy a URL and may just direct it at this blog soon, because why not.

Huh…

I’m always meaning to update more. Recently I got a freelance gig writing for Maxim Magazine, though, the last week and a half has been about adjusting to that.

I haven’t had a blogging gig in a while (if you’ve only read this site recently, my bio will tell you they aren’t new for me) and realized I may have even missed it. My specialties, if I have them, have been crime and tech, but I’m re-discovering pop culture blogging with Maxim and it’s fun.

In fact it’s sort of made me re-think my old ‘writing is blogging is writing’ philosophy. On the one hand, that’s correct. Writing is a skill. If people pay you to do it in any capacity, you should work hard to be good at it. But I’m remembering how the pace of blogging is so different, compared to, say, drafting and then polishing a short story, essay or a long piece of reportage. A lot of conventional writing wisdom says you draft sloppy first, then re-draft, refine and so on. You can do a truncated version of this when blogging, but for me at least, it won’t go fast enough unless I edit on the fly. And I can do that. It doesn’t always end up in a perfect product, but it’s often one I can live with and don’t feel dumb directing friends to read.

What I’ve begun to realize is I think I had an idea that blogging might be bad for other writing. It’s not. In fact, it might be excellent practice, and a route to instilling something too many writers lack: versatility.

I can’t promise I’ll do this–I’m also a dad and since I work from home the main housekeeper/cook most weeks (my wife is a better cook than I am but we tend to save her wicked skills for holidays)–but I could see how my gig with Maxim might actually lead to me updating this blog even more. I see stuff every day that I consider pitching to post for Maxim, only to see it doesn’t quite fit what they’re going for. But I think I may start popping that stuff here–which would actually make this blog what I intended it to be when I made it: one guy’s curated newsfeed of the weird shit that interests him.

Posting more stuff here, writing about a broader range of stuff than I’ve covered so far, will only feed and add to what I do for Maxim. Blogging is writing, sure, but after doing it for the better part of 15 years I’ve come to see it is its own particular skill, and there is no shame in my mind in making a conscious effort to get better at doing it.

Is it weird?

OK, definitely not all. But maybe more.
OK, definitely not all. But maybe more.

My Twitter friend Amanda Mull, the managing editor for PurseBlog, tweeted a link at me about a strange crime yesterday, then followed up with this question:

I’ve been thinking about that question today. My answer last night was that it was less weird than it used to be, but still strange.

And it is strange, but I realized today that I no longer feel so bad about that.

I started to write something much longer here about me and true crime but realized I’d just be repeating myself. So…

A while back my friend Quinn told me she was sure I’d get back to covering true crime stories in some form. I didn’t argue but I felt a little skeptical. Turns out she’d observed something I’d only been half aware of: my interest in the subject was as strong as ever. Only my desire to really dig into stories I found unusually interesting waned.

Additionally, I’ve gotten over my wariness regarding the label “true crime writer”–or in my case, blogger. I know I’m just a writer, full stop, but I no longer feel the need to try and correct anyone who wants to pigeonhole me with terminology.

I just want to write about shit I find interesting. Especially if I figure out I might have something to add to the subject, even if all I add is my own weird perspective.

That’s what I’m doing by going from maybe a post a month on this blog to, what, three in one day? I’m shaking off a bunch of old crap. Finding whatever my groove may be now.

Let’s see where this goes.

It might get dark.

Hope you’re cool with that.

On being boring

Every day I write a little in a moleskine. I date each entry. Most entries are just a paragraph, and often just things I tend to observe–the weather, something that happened with one of my kids, sometimes my exercise. Anyone finding that journal hoping to see some sort of Secrets of Steve situation would be disappointed; it’s seriously fucking boring.

I don’t do it in lieu of blogging, I just do it for me. It feels like, at this point, an oddly necessary practice. And for someone who has always prized trying to make his writing interesting, it feels almost like a zen thing: let yourself be boring.

A brake on my blogging–there are many–is that fear of being boring. I only recently realized this, and realized it was keeping me from writing at length in a way that I used to do every day. That daily or near-daily blogging, even before I had paying jobs doing it, mattered to me. I feel confident I can tweet something mildly amusing once a day–tweeting is pretty easy. But a whole blog entry? Apparently I’ve developed the attitude it must be Received Wisdom of the Ages or nothing at all. That’s arrogant bullshit, because honestly, I kept blogging after I began the practice (and blogging is a sort of practice) 15 years ago because I enjoyed it, not because I thought I was great at it. Having blogging and writing jobs later was a total surprise to me, and sometimes still is.

I think I still might do this thing on a regular basis if I just chill out and don’t worry so much. I’ve said before (I think) that I keep this space open for a reason, even though I don’t touch it for months. I think that’s true.

I recently read somewhere a good way to fuck up a goal is to tell people about it. So I’m not going to get into any goals I have re: blogging from here on out. I’m just gonna give it a go and see what happens. Practice is practice.

Ha-ha, I lied, this wasn’t funny at all. After I wrote “Digging Ditches…” about my brother’s suicide (and received a great response, which felt good), I suddenly had a goddamned hard time writing again. I have another post in draft about Richard Parker (who pled guilty to murder earlier this summer) but it has been hard to finish. I think this is because it treads across similar territory. And way back in 2004, after I’d already been blogging for 4 years, I started a blog about crime stories in the news in part because I realized I fucking hated writing about myself and my life. I tend to save all that shit for solipsistic conversations with friends, my wife and one of 2-3 different pretentious-ass Moleskine notebooks I have laying about any given time.

I have refused to admit to writer’s block since I’ve had a Twitter account, because even when I couldn’t eke out a paragraph even for a paying gig, I could still tweet. But that’s a low bar, to be honest. My Twitter feed (from my @SteveHuff account) will always be kind of ragged and discursive, because I’m not angling for a comedy writing or social media editing job, I’m experimenting, which is easily done 140 characters at a time.

All of this is to say I feel self-conscious about not updating this blog more often, yet I’ve actually kept up with it better than any personal site I’ve created in the last 5 years or so. I think I will double down on that and pay WordPress whatever to add a unique URL. We’ll see if that’ll make me feel even more obligated to make a practice of this.

Because I do feel blogging, something many writers have mixed feelings about, is a valid form of writing or if nothing else, a valid way to stay in practice as a writer. So. Stay tuned, I guess.