Stigma Wars and a Song Case Study: “The Hollow,” by A Perfect Circle

Hello and happy Friday! I apologize for uploading this post a day later than anticipated. I got swept up in a fundraiser at one of our local bars. The event was put on by Denton MHMR, and it was a great community outreach opportunity which raised awareness for mental health and all the stigma tied to the different mental disorders. They called it: STIGMA WARS.

Stigma Wars

Retrieved from

*Cue Star Wars theme song*

I was happy to drink a couple of beers with my good friend for a great cause! Then I rounded out the night by hanging out with my triathlon teammates for our annual banquet. We shared some good laughs and got to elect the new officials for the coming school year. It was a nice way to transition from my grad school and sports club life to my next chapter as a full-time counselor. It was bittersweet, but also a powerful reminder that I’ve made some enduring friendships along the way!

Team Photo May 2016

Songs as Motifs and Symbols

Now, as promised, I’d like to present a short case study of a song I included in my latest work of fiction. I did so in order to help strengthen the overall theme and tone of said story. This is from Stalder Press to Handstand, my first venture into the land of post-apocalyptic fiction.

Opening excerpt from my book…

Part One

The Flyer and the Base

Run, desire, run

Sexual being, run him like a blade

To and through the hollow, conscience

One motive: cater to the hollow

Screaming feed me here,

Fill me up again

Temporarily pacify this hungering

–   A Perfect Circle

Now you may be thinking, This is a post-apocalyptic work, right? What does rampant sexual desire and hunger have to do with this? I’m glad you asked!

Motifs and Themes of Stalder Press to Handstand

First and foremost, SPTH is a tale about my protagonist, Rayland Mark Calderón, finding peace with himself: the grim hopeless side of him that misses his deceased father, the part of him that hates his ex-boyfriend for cheating on him before the apocalypse hit, and, perhaps most importantly, as a gay man who had far too many flings and superficial relationships to really learn how to love himself first. Rayland is a compassionate, rational, and patient athlete and acro yogi (more on that soon), but his main pitfall is that he never formed a meaningful relationship with another man that wasn’t deeply rooted in sex and intimacy first. As a result, Rayland spends much of the book kicking himself for being so difficult with all of his ex’s, and thus must find a way to stop viewing himself as just a self-deprecating and oversexed grad student.

This journey of self-remediation really kicks off when Rayland, alone and holed up in the Tri House, hears a knocking at the front door just as he’s about to kill himself. Jake Knect, his triathlon teammate and good friend, arrives to join Rayland in fending off the supernatural and wraith-like beings known as the Unseen. Together with their dead teammate’s dog, Thunder, they devise a plan to try to reach other survivors by using a CB radio in a semi truck that Rayland knows is parked two streets over from the Tri House.


Probably the strongest parallel between the song “The Hollow” and Rayland’s journey is the idea of unbridled and insatiable sexual need. Through flashbacks, we see how Rayland hooked up with numerous guys, often without paying any mind to the emotional intimacy that he was really yearning for. Rayland no longer wants to be that person, and though he’s embarrassed to open up to his only surviving friend about it, he trusts that Jake will hear him out.


Rayland comes to believe that his best bet for recovering is to practice AcroYoga with his teammate, just like they were doing before the Unseen turned their world upside down. AcroYoga is a beautiful and fluid art, one that requires immediate physical intimacy and good communication — but without the promise of any sexual culmination. But will that be enough for Rayland? Can he open up that much to Jake, who he also has a crush on? Either way, Rayland will soon discover that Jake needs help fighting his own demons, too…

Insatiable Hunger and Lack of Conscience

As far as “hollow conscience,” “screaming,” and “hungering,” those lyrics all perfectly encapsulate the nature of the Unseen themselves. They are unfeeling, calculating, and ruthless creatures that easily seek out and obliterate any and all human life. If Rayland and Jake are to survive long enough to be reunited with their family members, they’ll have to become even more cunning and determined than the Unseen.


If I’m being perfect honestly, A Perfect Circle is a damn-near flawless alt rock/progressive metal band. In “The Hollow,” the discordant guitar riffs and haunting voice of Maynard James Keenan evoke multiple layers of unrest, anger, and even desire. Its tone is so primal and raw that I instantly find myself playing the song in my head as I look back on the main points of Rayland’s and Jake’s journey. If you haven’t done so already, then I definitely recommend you scroll back up and hit that red play button!

If you’ve read this far, then I think that you’re a wonderful and kind human being! Thanks for spending some of your Friday night with me. I would love to hear about any songs or quotes that you’ve included in your own writing, or drawn upon as fuel for your muse.

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