Episode 26- Podcast Medley #3
You might have been expecting this episode… For one, these medley episodes have become monthly occurrences. But on the other hand, earlier this month, Miscellany Media Studios tweeted out a call for spooky podcasts suggestions, though it wasn’t explained why. Then again, this is a common thing in the podcast world, so it probably didn’t seem that out of place.
But do you know what else is commonplace in the podcast world? Unbridled enthusiasm. Which is great. And which is also true for the horror community. So I ended up with too many quality podcasts to put into one episode. Even if I wasn’t so set on keeping these medley episodes at three shows a piece, it still wasn’t going to be doable. With that in mind, despite the other holiday seasons coming, the next couple medley episodes might stay horror themed. Or I’ll add one as some sort of bonus. Or I’ll double upload one Sunday. Or I’ll figure something else out. Point being, there’s more horror podcast talk coming. So maybe subscribe if you’re interested in that.
For now, I’ve got some remarks about three of the horror podcasts I’ve come to love, two over the course of prepping for this episode. But I’m going to do this episode my own way, and by that, I mean I’m not going to push the explicit horror element too hard. I’m going to pick the more existential horror that seized me when I was listening to these shows. At the heart of it, like I’ve been alluding to all month, all monsters have an existential dread at their core if you look hard enough. Right now, I’m just going to cut right to it.
This is the question I’m asking in this episode: what is the scariest thing these podcasts show us? What’s the true horror we can’t escape?
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Hi. It’s M. Welcome to episode 26.
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The first podcast I want to talk about is The Mabel Podcast. And, well, this is an audio drama about mysteries. Also ghosts, family secrets, strange houses, and missed connections. (Pause) Oh you want something more specific? Okay, it’s about [BEEP]. Oh and then there’s the [BEEP], and the [BEEP]. Which all makes for a pretty good show.
Jokes aside, this show is about discovery. And that means, I’m not going to go to deep into the details. For your sake. If I review something on this show, count it as a recommendation, but this is especially true for these medley episodes. And if I recommend something, as an experienced recommendation generator, I want to do it in such a way that ensures you have the best experience possible, which means avoiding the proper spoilers. (Pause) I once had someone recommend a movie to me and spoil it in the same breath. I’m not even kidding. It was almost impressive how efficiently she undermined herself on that one.
But I still need to convince you to listen to it, don’t I? So let me describe a scenario that isn’t explicitly linked to the plot of the first few episodes, but the underlying currents are the same. And don’t worry, this gets to the heart of what I think is scariest about this audio drama. But I have to do it in this roundabout way.
Imagine. You are working a job that you like, overall. It has it’s difficult moments to be sure, and over the course of each project or assignment those moments get more and more frequent, a crescendo to an end that is in some ways tragic but inevitable. Okay, so it’s not a normal job. It’s a job that comes with emotional highs and lows than, for example, an office job, as you witness someone descend until the very end. There’s no coming back from this downward spiral.
The blogger, YouTuber, author, activist and mortician Caitlyn Doughty often argues that we live in a death-phobic culture. Yeah, I know she’s busy. But all those titles keep her well immersed in these issues and make her an expert. You see, we don’t want to talk about death or deal with the dead or dying. It’s difficult, uncomfortable, and dangerous—as we’ve been lead to believe.
But I would like to add that we find comfort in ignoring the one thing we cannot conquer. And that this is just part of human nature. The human experience has always been about renegotiating the boundaries that we have inherited from past generations. (Music fades out) See the device currently playing the podcast. Consider the great distances you may have traversed over the course of your life. Or see how we look longingly towards the sky for our new home. (Music restarts) We are ambitious both individually and collectively. But death is something we have yet to conquer and something we may never fully defeat. We push it back, yes, but we have yet to completely win.
It’s not just with death, but with other things as well: the things we cannot defeat or stop, and our first instinct is usually to flee. But if it’s your livelihood, your day job, you definitely can’t flee, not easily. In fact, maybe you are the person who got sent in when others left.
Being in these circumstances is revealing. It’s a mirror, I guess. It forces you to see how weak and powerless you really are and always will be despite all the time you’ve spent trying to run away from that realization.
The Mabel Podcast is, in part, about one way to deal with the eventual emotional fall out that comes from facing this mirror head on. It’s about calling out into the void desperately seeking some sort of human connection to get you through this storm, the emotions that come from a situation that is a wound that can never fully be healed or to help you piece together the mysteries in the world you have stepped into.
But calls don’t always get answered, and if you’ve ever had to call a customer support line, you’ll know that even answered calls aren’t always useful.
If you look at it from a different angle, The Mabel Podcast is about uncertainty and the unhelpful ways it manifests in our lives. Not just mystery, though that is part of it. It’s about not knowing which challenge or stressor is going to make us hit our breaking points. We don’t know when it will happen, but if all things end—an inconvenient truth to be sure—that includes the things we love and cherish. Like our lives and those of our loved ones. Or even just the smaller things like circumstances or jobs or weeks or the best days we’ve had in several months.
But then there are the things that we don’t know but we feel like we need to know. We don’t know when this will happen or how we can manage once it does. But we do know that the stakes are incredibly high. How high exactly? Well, we aren’t sure about that either. And we are left wondering if our time is now or soon. We’re just waiting, asking so many questions. When things build up to the point of reckoning, when mysterious forces are revealed, are we going to be able to manage? And are the things we were counting on going to come through for us in the end? Is this person going to answer?
We just can’t know, can we?
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The second podcast I want to talk about is Station Blue, a show about a man named Matthew Leads who—because he is desperate to find meaning—takes a job as the caretaker of an Antarctic Research Facility. In doing so, he’s left in a very isolated environment, alone with his past, which includes mental illness and an absolutely shattered heart.
In other words, Station Blue is the story of a man named Matthew Leads doing what so many of us do, have done, or fantasized about doing. And personally, I did it twice: once when I left Arizona for the cornfields of the American Midwest and again when I went onto the big city.
I don’t know where we all got the idea to do this. If it came from popular culture, what was the original spark that lit the flame that is this ideal. I say flame because—well—think about how much this fantasy genuinely consumes us. Or maybe there was no spark. Maybe this is our fight or flight instinct evolving for the twenty-first century when most of us aren’t great at fighting, but we’ve invented so many things to get us from place to place.
Really, I like that latter interpretation the most. Because it always felt so natural to run from problems I knew I couldn’t fi. Rather than fight and risk what little of myself I had left. All the while, in the back of my mind, I knew orchestrating change was the more productive approach. It just wasn’t something I could do.
Or maybe you run because that’s how you think you can change. If you stay, you stay complacent, and complacency is what’s causing problems in the first place.
Either way, you run to some far off place. And you’ve got to give it to Matthew Leads: no one can top going to Antarctica. Not that we’d want to. First of all, his job seems to suck. And also, Antarctica is the sort of place that’s exciting for a little while, and then you realize that you are stuck there and—like when you’re at a mediocre party in your own house—you can’t leave whenever you want. You are, in fact, stuck there.
Which is a particularly bad problem when you realize that so much of what you ran from came with you. And now you’re all stranded. Together. Just like you didn’t want to be. And maybe you’re wondering how.
Human nature has a… sticky element to it. And that might not be the best way of explaining it, but let me explain. We do have this tendency to pick things up as we go through life and make them a part of who we are. It’s most obvious with ideas or formative memories. But it’s not just the praise or condemnation that sticks with us. To take it further, we cling to more physical things and make them part of who we are. Our dearest friends become people we’d give up our very life for despite them at one point being strangers. We pack bond with the pets that live in our home or the small Roombas that may be scuttling around under our feet.
But on the other hand, it’s not permanent. We can—in time and with effort—take off the stingers, heal our bruises, and sculpt the clay that accumulates on us into something else. Even the carvings created by the worst aspect of existence can become into something else just as a tattoo can be covered up by an expert.
We can change or grow, whichever term feels most relevant.
But that’s a fight. Which we are all—myself included—reluctant to do. According to our instincts, it’s better to run. It’s certainly easier to run. But Station Blue shows us that running just isn’t going to work. Because we take these things with us. New surroundings may help us find some distractions, but a distraction doesn’t change the room occupancy. Nothing changes, really; you just get better at ignoring it. Until you can’t.
For Matthew Leads, his attempts at escape only threw him deeper into his problems. Because these problems were things he carried with him like mental illness and childhood traumas.
For people who carry that particular weight, we can feel helpless against these things, things that are so entrenched into our minds—the thing that we cite as the root of ourselves—that we can struggle to envision ourselves without them. The line between them and our core self is hard to find. So what can we do? Besides sitting there, starting at empty hands and crying in frustration.
We want to run. But the scariest thing about Station Blue is the subtle reminder that there’s nowhere to run. If Antarctica isn’t safe, then really, nowhere is. With that in mind, you’re going to have to get ready to fight. Which—fortunately—can be done.
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Now, I try to avoid spoilers whenever possible on this podcast. Like I said earlier in this episode, I’m essentially recommending something each review and proper recommendations come spoiler-free. However, I should point out, I’m generating reviews in a very specific way. I’m showing you what the subject matter can bring you or teach you if you give it a try. And while that’s not a universal recommendation. But when you find yourself in need of something specific, my reviews might be of use to you then.
But to get back to the point, this next review is going to be pushing that boundary a bit. Because I’m going to be reviewing an aspect of this show. Namely, a specific portion of the season 2 finale. In my opinion, it’s not that critical to the plot, and maybe it’s something you could anticipate once you listen to the first few episodes. But I can’t guarantee that, though. In part because maybe you don’t share my definition of what constitute a spoiler.
Setting that issue aside for a moment, this show is worth listening to, and I don’t want to detract from the experience or deter you from diving in. So, if you have any interest in checking out. Alice Isn’t Dead, stop this episode, and go listen to it. If it’s going to bother you that you didn’t make it through this episode: a couple of things to comfort you. One, you only need to get up to season 2 episode 10, so the wait isn’t going to be so bad. On that note, that season builds momentum very quickly, and this is for an already fast paced show, so the time is going to fly by in a flash.
Also, let me just assure you that at this point, the only thing after this review is the sign-off. And just to fill you in. There’s a thank you. I remind you about our twitter and website, @miscellanymedia and miscellanymedia.online, respectively. We’ve got more projects in the works, so keeping those places in mind would be great.
With that being said, let’s get into the actual review.
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The third podcast I want to review is Alice Isn’t Dead, the story of a truck driver who isn’t great at making deliveries on time because she’s took focused on finding the wife she had long assumed was dead. Priorities.
It’s not that she gets in any trouble for these antics, though. After all, there’s more at work than she first knows…
But I don’t want to talk about that plot right now. Yes, it’s scary, or it should be when you think about some of the implications of the story to the real. But that’s not what stuck with me, which is what this show is supposed to be about. Maybe all of that should have, but there was something about the last episode of season 2 that haunted me. It was my own personal ghost, making my small studio apartment feel all the more cramped and all the emptier simultaneously
But you may be wondering now or have been wondering why I haven’t had an episode on Alice Isn’t Dead yet. After all, I’ve done episodes on Welcome to Night Vale and Within the Wires as well as mention I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats. But to be more blunt about it, I have said repeated that I have so much trust in the capabilities of the creative team behind Welcome to Night Vale that I’m willing to give any Night Vale Presents show a try. So where was my discussion of Alice Isn’t Dead?
Honestly, when I started this podcast, the Alice Isn’t Dead novel had already been announced. And it seemed fitting to wait until the novel came out and either review both of them at the same time or have an episode talking about the way the original story was reimagined into the novel. So for the sake of this idea, I found it in me to hold off.
But that was before I decided to do these podcast medley episodes and before I decided to keep all the reviews for this month within a specific theme. With those variables in mind, it seemed likely that I’d review Alice Isn’t Dead, but still, I fought the urge to do so for the sake of the original plan. And then I started working on this particular episode. Once I decided to slant it in terms of more existential fears, well, I was stuck. I knew I had to tell this story.
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Season 2 of Alice Isn’t Dead aired new episodes every other Tuesday from April 2017 to August of that year, but I didn’t keep up with it. At the time, I was working on my own (doomed to fail) projects, and sometimes when I’m working on a project, I get tunnel vision and just forget that the rest of the world exists.
I didn’t actually get to it until late August. By then, the crash and burn of my project had already happened, and I was starting off in the job that I truly hated, the one I mentioned in my first Within the Wires episode. It wasn’t the typical job, I guess. It was a contract position, something just a step up from a temp job, but the end of the contract was open ended. So it could have been full time, but then that meant paying me a higher salary as well as covering my benefits, which they didn’t want to do.
At the time, I did think that if I did a good enough job I could convince them to keep me. In time. And like I said, this was still in the early days of this contract when I still had this sense of optimism. This would devolve into the problem I describe in my first Within the Wires episode, but at this point, we aren’t there yet. At this point, I’m starting yet another new contract. Not a full time job, which would you into some sort of ground. And it would be a little while before I decided to push for it.
It wasn’t a great situation, but this is what I liked. I liked the freedom that came from contracts and freelance work. It was enough to get my bills paid at the end of every month, even if I sometimes cut it a bit close, so why push for anything more? It helped, of course, that I deliberately kept my small, not renovated apartment from my graduate school days. And that I kept my expenses pretty low.
Honestly, I was proud of my choice to put my freedom and independence over all things, even a relationship. I didn’t really seek anyone else, and it was only partially because of my unrequited and unwise crush for V. But at this point in my life, jobs could remain jobs. Friends could remain friends. And I was perfectly content because I had the power. If I ever decided that I didn’t like the details, I could change them at any time. Or it wasn’t that hard because I wasn’t attached to anything or anyone. Or it was more possible than it would be if I had picked a more traditional way of living. And as I said, I liked that sense of freedom and agency. It was completely intoxicating. I didn’t think I had it in Arizona. Now that I did, I chose to treasure it as much as I could. I swore I would never give it up again.
But honestly, I was hitting some sort of breaking point. The kind that I could ignore by keeping myself busy or working on something else or could just brush off. Like I said though, there’s only so long that you can run from your problems before you’re just falling deeper into them.
The commute to and from this job was about an hour each way. For the time being, it was a fixture in my life. And while there are other ways to spend a commute, podcasts are still number one in my book. It sure beat sitting there and thinking about my life. Which is what I was trying to avoid, but then I fell deeper into it. Because that’s how I finally got around Alice Isn’t Dead Season 2.
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Episode 10 of season two is an incredibly heartfelt one both in terms of writing and performance. It’s about the past, relative to the show of course. And it’s about falling in love. But most of all, it’s about that moment when you begin to embed roots into something or someone. And the way it shifts your life…. For the better.
There’s a reason Alice matters or why she’s worth chasing. And for the first time, we really get a glimpse into Keisha’s rationale. Okay, that’s not exactly true. Keisha tells us stories of Alice throughout the series, and you can easily start to see how intertwined they are. It just feels different in this episode. Like everything has escalated.
I distinctly remember that episode starting playing towards the end of on my bus ride home. We were pulling up onto the final stretch, as I called it, so I was about three stops away or about five minutes from my stop. Normally. That day, we weren’t moving that quickly. And someone on the stop before mine boarded with a long series of questions about the bus’s route. I remember because I was admittedly annoyed. I was stressed out, actually. I hated walking in the dark, which in this part of the world is just something you have to do in very late fall and throughout the winter season. I needed to get over it, but I hadn’t yet. It didn’t help that the walk between my bus stop and my apartment at the time was along a completely dark street. And there was never anyone on that street. Even the homes that lined the street looked empty, and that wasn’t as comforting as you might think.
There’s nothing particularly exciting about this story. It’s certainly not on par with the adventure you get in Alice Isn’t Dead. All of this just led to me walking alone in the dark listening to Keisha tell stories of a true life and a real home, shared with someone she genuinely loves above all others. And these were all things that I didn’t have.
When I got home, I opened the door to my apartment just like I had done so many times before only to see for the first time just how empty it really was. Despite being something I did hundreds of time before, despite having living in this studio apartment for well over a year, it suddenly felt like I was stepping into another dimension. One completely devoid of life, even though this was technically impossible My neighbors were loudly arguing in the next apartment over, but still, it felt like there was no sign of life anywhere.
I was completely alone and miserable. On the verge of tears but wondering who on earth I could call. It didn’t feel like I could call anyone.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt that alone in my life or ever will again. Hopefully. But the takeaway was this. Independence is nice. A solitary existence is not. And in that moment, I wasn’t sure which I had. Or—after some more thought—where that line was supposed to be.
I thought about the episode long after I finished it. It made me think about all the things I didn’t have and some of the things that in five or ten years I may very well regret. But all the same, I held onto it. I didn’t delete the download off of my phone or laptop like I normally do. I needed the dream, however problematic. Because that night as I lay in bed, wondering if I had relinquished my right to be loved by being so standoffish and deliberately isolating myself, I made a choice. And I needed to remember of why.
Because I was on the verge of a deliberate but grand shift. I was going to root myself for once. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t as afraid as I used to be. Afraid of what, you may be asking? Something like what must have happened to Keisha before she decided to go on this road trip. Look at the lengths it has taken her. And going back isn’t an option anymore. Not for her and not for me.
Honestly, the scariest thing about Alice Isn’t Dead isn’t the Thistle Men or any actual villain. It’s the dream therein. The dream Keisha had once achieved before everything came apart and the dream so many of us have. It’s the lure that pulls into what could be full destruction like the light of the anglerfish for its prey. But in our case, we can conceptualize what we can lose either when things go wrong or when we don’t go for them at all. The shards of your shattered hope can still cut you, no matter how the crash happened.
And yet, I have to push forward don’t I? I have to fight.
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