What do I like about horror?

I’ve been doing a sort of movie scavenger hunt the past month called HoopTober, which has several “quick easy” rules; different categories and directors and such that you have to find horror films to fit into. The event is named after Tobe Hooper, probably most well known as director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but also the nominal director of Poltergeist, and the director of one of my (non-)guilty pleasures, Lifeforce, a.k.a. “Space Vampires.”

As I’ve made my way through the month of horror movies, I’ve been disappointed to find myself enjoying far fewer movies than I didn’t. So, I’ve been trying to sort out what it is that I like about horror. I feel like most of the stuff is a hyphenate. Comedy-horror, sci-fi-horror, adventure-horror (Is that a thing? I think it is.). Most of the good stuff has to have a sense of humor, even if it’s not a comedy, per se. Monsters are great. Supernatural stuff is pretty good. But I don’t like slashers, people hurting each other, hunting people, torture porn.

I like stories that make sense, that have a solid internal logic. This is kinda like why I don’t like much of fantasy, where it likes to change its rules in mid-stream, because “magic”. Okay fine, magic works in your world, but it still has to have rules, right? Let’s set some rules at the outset and stick with them. Same for any supernatural horror. You can’t just give your monster (or protagonist) crazy new powers in the middle of the film without making me feel like they’ve earned it.

Out of my ★★★★★ rated horror films (there’s only 22 of them), what do I like? Let me try to figure this out.

Ghost Stories

  • The Conjuring 2 is a straight up old fashioned ghost story and it scared the bejesus out of me, but even then it has a sense of humor, if a very subtle one.
  • What Lies Beneath surprised me at the time with Harrison Ford playing against type, and I just like Zemeckis’ aesthetic in general. I might not rate it as high these days, and Crimson Peak is climbing up my list, so that’s probably a good replacement. Either film is a ghost story that is beautiful and surprising; even touching.
  • The Devil’s Backbone is another GDT ghost story, complex and surprising and touching. Sympathy for the monsters is a big thing in my horror love.


  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one where I’m just drawn in by the beauty of it. Definitely a recurring factor.
  • Let the Right One In is yet again beautiful, and one where you’re made to have sympathy for the monsters.

Other Supernatural / Demon / Monsters

  • The Mill at Calder’s End is a short film, made with intricate and beautiful puppets. It feels like a Poe short story, and maybe the historical drama aspect of it draws me in.
  • The Descent is almost a slasher, but the creatures in the cave aren’t really human so it feels more ok?
  • Jaws is a monster alright, but it’s getting to know the characters in the town, and more so, the characters in the boat, that make it such an incredible watch.


Most of these are monsters of some sort, but the comedy outshines the actual horror aspect of the film. If I can laugh at the monsters, or along with the protagonists, I’m usually on board.

  • The Cabin in the Woods
  • Shaun of the Dead
  • Gremlins
  • Deep Rising
  • Tremors
  • Slither
  • Army of Darkness


  • Alien is probably the first serious horror I ever saw, and getting to know the characters is again the thing that completely sells the concept here, even if they do get picked off one by one. Something that so many horror movies skip is getting you invested in the people that they’re going to off later in the film. If I don’t care about the people, I’m not going to care about what happens to them.
  • Aliens is really a military film with sci-fi and horror aspects, but once again, it’s the characters that sell everything.
  • The Thing (1982) is one where I feel like I don’t get to know the individual characters especially well, but the sci-fi concept is so good, and gives so many opportunities for inventive moments of suspense and body horror that I’d never imagined before, that it really takes a lot to top this for me.

I don’t know, what is this?

  • 28 Days Later is a movie that apparently I need to re-watch, because even thought I gave it five stars, I don’t remember hardly anything about it.


  • Psycho is the only slasher on my list. I often feel like the reason I watch horror is to get the chance for humans to come together and defeat an “other,” and feel some sense of catharsis at the end. (This may not actually be true — please see every other note for films in this list.) Pitting human against human in a film just makes me feel worse about the whole human race. Somehow, Psycho is an exception, again, mainly because we get such a good chance to know the characters, and it’s not just a bunch of people we don’t care about getting offed one-by-one for no discernible reason (hello, Friday the 13th).

So, looking back at these notes about why I liked each one, it seems like the real reason is they’re well-made films that I would like if they were any other genre. Good characters, beautiful sets and costumes, deep stories with sympathetic villains. It seems like a lot of horror fans forgive a lot in a flick if it has a good dash of gore or something else salacious, but I guess I am not so forgiving.

Meta Morning Habits of Successful People

Since I was recently diagnosed with ADHD, my shrink suggested that I go to bed earlier, get up earlier, and have a regular morning routine. He recommended a few things, like meditating and eating a good breakfast with plenty of protein, but I thought I’d dig a little deeper, and see what the “top ten”-style lists say that you should do in the morning. I searched DuckDuckGo and from the top ten results, I tried to see what they all had in common.

You can see the full list of links below, but here are the results in order of which tips were shared most often:

  • Shared 8X: Exercise. I’m totally surprised that “wake up early” wasn’t number one! 20–30 minutes of bodyweight exercises or other movement is recommended. If nothing else, walk around the block for 10m. It reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, plus the usual exercise benefits.
  • Shared 7X: Get up early. Like, crazy early. 5:30am, 4am, you name it. Get up at least an hour earlier than you’re doing right now.
  • Tied at 7X: Plan your goals for the day. Take 10+ minutes to work out your plans, and visualize positive results for your goals. Planning longer-term goals is good too. Ask yourself, “If today was the last day of your life, would you still want to do what you’re about to do today?” (attributed to Steve Jobs) or “What good shall I do this day?” (Benjamin Franklin).
  • 6X: Meditate. It doesn’t have to be any sort of religious practice; just be still. Sit and enjoy the morning calm. Start trying to meditate for 5 minutes, and gradually increase to half an hour.
  • 5X: Listen to motivational stuff for 15+ minutes. In line with your long-term goals, create a mantra for yourself that you repeat every morning. Maybe also set your alarm with a motivating song and/or “blast jams” first thing. Listening to inspirational music (even pop!) can apparently also lower cortisol levels.
  • 5X: Start with the hardest thing, or the thing you dread doing most today. Early in the day is when you have the most willpower. “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” (attributed to Mark Twain, but more likely corrupted from Nicolas Chamfort)
  • 4X: Eat a healthy breakfast. High in protein is best for brainpower.
  • 3X: Spend time with your family and/or partner. Make it a breakfast date.
  • 3X: Go to bed earlier. The amount of sleep you get is critical. You would think this would automatically go with getting up early, but for me, I know it’s hard to break the cycle of being a night owl. I appreciate the extra nudge.
  • 2X: Coffee. Only two calls for imbibing the beverage that allows my brain to function at all‽ Must be nice not to need it.
  • 2X: Journal. Write down things you’re thankful for, ideas, strategies, progress, reminders, etc.
  • 2X: Read, study, and learn. Read things that will improve your work/life, but also “fiction or non-fiction in fields not directly related to your own” as a cross-pollination thing.

Some additional one-off tips:

  • Lay out things the night before (workout clothes, whatever), so you have less friction in the morning.
  • Pack snacks, like protein bars. Good to keep your brain energy levels up, and less temptation to give in to Pop Tarts or whatever crap is in the office snack room.
  • Get exposure to morning sunlight to reset your body’s clock and energize your brain. This certainly helps for me — and I have a wake-up light alarm clock for those dreary Seattle winter days.
  • Get rid of clutter. Throw one thing away. I like this one a lot, being a bit of a clutterbug myself.
  • Monday mornings, connect with your team face to face. You have a team, right? Get a team.
  • Only tend to urgent emails in the morning. Save the rest for later. It’s a time suck and willpower drain.
  • Start with a quick win — which seems to directly contradict the “swallow the frog” advice above, but maybe on difficult mornings, this is a good fallback for a confidence boost.
  • Make your bed every morning. This one seems to fall into the “correlation is not causation” camp, but I don’t suppose it would hurt.
  • Use rosemary, orange, or lemon scented toiletries, to “invigorate your senses.” Supposedly there’s science behind this. I think you might have more luck with caffeinated soap.
  • Some sort of dream bullshit? I don’t know. Maybe they were trying to go for visualizing successful outcomes, but it was coated in so much new age mumbo jumbo that I couldn’t suss it out.
  • Commit to leisure time on the weekend — and other weekend things from that one HuffPo article that really isn’t about weekday mornings. However, I see where they’re saying that you need time to recharge and not let yourself burn out.

Got more tips? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!

The top ten articles from my search were:

  1. Lifehack: 10 Morning Habits of Highly Successful People That Make Them Extraordinary
  2. Forbes: 10 Morning Habits Successful People Swear By
  3. Today: Steal the morning habits of the world’s most successful people — an interview with Laura Vanderkam, who wrote a whole book on the subject.
  4. Lifehack: 7 Monday Morning Habits Of Highly Successful People
  5. HuffPo: 10 Daily Habits Of Successful, Intelligent People — mostly about weekends, oddly.
  6. Business Insider: 5 habits of people who are both happy and successful — overall habits, not just mornings.
  7. CareerBuilder: 7 Morning Habits of Highly Successful People
  8. The Ladders: 5 things successful people do each morning
  9. Yahoo! Finance: 10 morning habits successful people swear by
  10. Quora: What are some examples of the morning routines and habits of successful people?

No.7 was originally a link to a book on Amazon, with no immediate tips, so I disqualified it. No.9 is a copy of the Forbes article, so it should really be disqualified as well, but there wasn’t much in the way of results below the articles I listed here. All the same, I only counted the Forbes tips once.

Learning to Discard

Funny how once you become focused on a thing, you start to notice occurrences of it everywhere. This week, a bit of serendipity came in the form of this letter from Nick Disabato, talking about how he’s been learning to discard things, and being more intentional about the things he chooses to be part of his life. If you’ve been struggling with how to get rid of things, like I have, I highly encourage you to give that a read.

I’ve been trying really hard to make strides in discarding lately, so that letter gave me another boost of confidence that I’m heading in the right direction. We got rid of a ton of stuff two years ago when I moved my family from Maryland to Seattle (and I’m talking rent-a-dumpster levels of stuff), but as we unpacked, and ever since, I’ve been thinking that I still didn’t get rid of enough. As I recently wrote, that thinking has extended to my email as well. I have started to realize that the root of the problem is that I’m letting too many things into my life that serve no real purpose.

Just this weekend, I finished reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. While it is — like many self-help books — about a page
and a half of decent tips expanded to book form, there were three big takeaways for me:


I had a conversation with my friend AAl on Twitter, regarding 2,051 emails in my inbox:

bobtiki-twitter-small It’s a stream from which I pluck the occasional tasty salmon. It’s not all Things I Have to Deal With.

aalgar-twitter-small So… it’s like The Den. Filled mostly with stuff you don’t need, but maybe one thing might be useful?

bobtiki-twitter-small oh god what have I done

At that moment, it hit me, what I was doing. The Den, as AAl and I have come to call it, is the personification of my clutter; a room in my house that is somehow possessed of a will of its own, compelling me to go out into the world and return with stuff with which to fill it.

It’s funny because it’s true.

I have a real problem discarding things, and I’ve tried so many ways of tricking myself into doing it, and none of them have really worked, long term. (I’m trying yet another one right now!) I certainly come by it honestly — my grandfather died, leaving a basement full to the brim of old junk, unopened mail, cobwebs, and fifty years of National Geographic. My parents rented a dumpster to clear out his house, and I’ve already rented a dumpster to clear out my own house, when we moved from Maryland to Seattle two years ago.

As fascinating as I found his basement when I was a kid, I’ve sworn that I wouldn’t leave a similar heap when I die. However, I don’t seem to really be making headway on that goal. It’s not just The Den — it’s my email and so many other areas in my life where I deal with the parts that I find interesting, and just let the rest of it flow by. The trouble is, it’s not a stream that will harmlessly find its level in the great sea, it’s a giant conveyor belt of crap that takes everything I didn’t pluck out, and dumps it in an enormous pile that someone will have to deal with eventually.

Probably that someone should be me. It is all Things I Have to Deal With.

I don’t really have the perfect solution here, or Ten Amazing Steps To Learn to Throw Crap Away, but envisioning my email inbox as a giant ugly pile of unopened letters, shitty Penny Saver magazines, and half-torn cardboard boxes really helped put things in a new perspective.

It always pays.

I realize this is a very Southern Maryland-centric request, but does anyone out there possibly have an audio or video recording of the ads for the supermarket McKay’s Food Store with their crazy earworm of a jingle? Extra bonus points if you come up with the late-80s/early-90s TV ad with jingle that consists entirely of grocery employees nodding in slow motion at customers, and shaking their hands.

The song:

It always pays to shop at McKay’s,
Where quality is discount every day!
To you and your family,
We give you this guarantee,
It always pays to shop at McKay’s!
…McKay’s Food Store!

2014 SF Tiki Crawl

This coming Tuesday, 2014-01-28, is the Bobtiki Crawl!

If you’re native to San Francisco, or just in town for Renaissance 2014 (like I am), I’d love to have you along. The generous and lovely Jen Tiki (part of the Tiki Oasis crew) will be leading us on a journey from the Tonga Room to Trader Vic’s to Smuggler’s Cove for an evening of Polynesian paradise and luxurious libations.

The plan:

Let me know if you’ll be joining us with a Twitter DM or Facebook response, if you can, but last minute drop-ins are absolutely acceptable, especially if you plan to join us at the last stop for late-evening shenanigans.

See you there!