Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Video Ghosts (or, "Was T. Michael Martin Nice or Mean in High School?")

by T. Michael Martin

These videotapes, they've got ghosts on them.

And as a man who writes scary novels for teenagers, I feel grateful for those apparitions. Because what I've got captured on these fifty old Mini-DV tapes (circa 1998-2002) are the ghosts of me and all my friends, from when we were in high school.

The "Truth Question" of this blog post is simple enough: Was I nice or mean— friendly or not— in high school?

But I have to admit that answering that Question has been difficult for me. Very. 'Cause: The Question feels like it requests a conclusion about the total of who I was back then: "the sum" rather than "the parts."

But if the videotapes have taught me anything, it's that an edited "sum" is sometimes lacking for the truth.

Here's what I mean.

My friends and I made movies in high school, and I mean tons. Every weekend, almost, we filmed things. And this filmmaking endeavour was such a habit that eventually the local police stopped responding to alarmed calls in my neighborhood that "some KIDS were running 'round with GUNS." (Fake!)

Most of these projects were never completed— my friends and I were, in general, philosophically opposed to such notions as "finishing a script before beginning production." But the movies we did finish?

My gosh, I can't tell you how much they mean to me.

No one would ever accuse Martin Motions Pictures of Bridgeport, West Virginia, of having created deathless cinema. But I love those movies, yes. Ridiculous acting, ketchup-blood, and all: I just adore them.
(If you promise not to hold it against me, you can actually see one of our short films here. I star, as a World War II soldier. Cinema History, please note my performance.)

And, yet.

And yet: When I watch the raw footage from those years (which I do more and more, as time goes by), I find I treasure the strange, flashbulb instants ("parts") even more than the edited conclusions that are the finished films.

Those random moments are hilarious, sometimes. I recently watched a clip from my senior year. It was a big sleepover at my best friend's house, and everyone was feeling that giddy silliness that comes just between exhaustion and total collapse. Suddenly the idea occurred to us that we should play a game: We would all sit in chairs placed a feet away apart and throw our wallets, at each others' faces, as hard as we could. Two nosebleeds followed shortly. (God save the youth of America.)

Other times, the moments are poignant. And never moreso than in a clip of me and three friends packed in a car, driving on a country road. The snow falling through the headlights is like a billion falling stars. It's quiet. I'm operating the camera, filming apparently at random, but there's one moment when the light is just right and the camera captures a fleeting reflection of myself: a translucent ghost-image in the window. I look bored, honestly. But then my buddy Brendan yells, "SPACE MOUNTAIN!" and rams the gas down and the snow in the headlamps bends toward us, and we're all roaring and laughing at our friend to stop stop stop.

That spontaneous fun happened so much then, you know? It was such a small, common "part" of my life that, without the tape, I'm sure I wouldn't have remembered it. I certainly wouldn't have accounted for it in any attempted reckoning of who I was in those years. But watching it now, at age twenty-seven, I understand how much both that moment's comfortable quiet and unguarded joy meant: I loved those guys about as much as I would ever love anything.

Was I nice or mean— friendly or not— in high school?
So hard to say. But I am mostly proud of the Me I find on these old videotapes. Yes, more often than not, my ghost does seem friendly.

T. Michael Martin's debut novel, THE END GAMES, will be released in the summer of 2013. It was described in Publishers Weekly, as "THE STAND meets John Green." You can find THE END GAMES on Goodreads, and Mike on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/_mike_martin.

(And if you still promise not to hold it against him, you can also see a couple more of his countless high school masterpieces here.)


  1. Very SUPER 8ish! I love how brave and courageous you sounded in high school.

    Nice to meet you!

  2. Since I'm old, I had nothing to record my "parts" moments except my sometimes-untrusty memory. But reading this reminded me of a lot of things. Like, that though I'd tend to describe BEING in high school as "hellish", I actually had a lot of great moments of just feeling alive, and understood by my friends, and laughing, and being relatively worry-free. Those memories are like a little reality check to the sum I often hold as an identifier because of giving the sucky parts more weight in the whole. (Why do we do that? Hmm.) Anyway, great post

  3. P.S. I'm going to put "Watch LIONHEART" on my iPhone reminders thing and tell it to schedule that for at least once a week. It is so poignantly high-school, and so funny, all at once...

  4. Awesome to have a video record of high school!