I couldn’t resist. I had to post something to do with Edgar Allan Poe. After all, what’s Halloween without some chilling prose? You might agree that this is the perfect kind of story to set the tone for Halloween. Too scared to read on? Come on. I double devil dare you.
In The Imp of the Perverse, Poe creates a character who seeks freedom because he surrenders to the cruel impulses fueled by the devil. This leads the reader down an exhilarating path which leads the to the question, what the hell is an imp and does it really have the power to drive someone mad and to drive one to kill? Now, you might say that any person with a good head on their shoulders knows that murder is immoral and wouldn’t have the drive to kill. I’d say, “Why yes, you’re right” but Poe would say you’re wrong. He would argue that you wouldn’t be able to escape the imp’s compelling attraction. The imp is what drives us to feel because it drives the individual to abandon reason and to participate in doing cruel things. This causes you to embrace and indulge in sensations and raw emotions you thought you never had. Poe’s horrific, satanic, revolting, and blasphemous prose provoke us to feel the same as what we’re reading. The imp of the perverse is a divergence from morality because it evokes perverse, murderous fantasies and induces horrific feelings and thoughts into the reader’s mind. The narrator taunts and entices the reader to feel unsettling sensations just as the ‘imp of the perverse’ entices and excites the narrator to go on with the story.
After the chilling character commits murder, the ‘imp’ begins to tear away at his psyche. He convinces himself, “I am safe- I am Safe- yes- if I be not fool enough to make open confession!” Poe uses the recognizable “I am” found in the Bible and combines it with his character’s conflicting thoughts of wanting to confess to the murder suggesting that a man evil enough to commit murder is not a moral man. The imp of the perverse alters the sadistic mind because as Poe describes, “…that single thought is enough. The impulse increases to a wish, the wish to a desire, the desire to an uncontrollable longing, and the longing, (to the deep regret and mortification of the speaker, and in defiance of all consequences,) is indulged.” The narrator describes the pinnacle moments of this mad act and the moments where he is satisfied in committing murder. This murderous act suggests his allegiance to the devil. Horror and disgust saturate the mind of the reader because Poe intends on not filling the reader’s mind with pretty things. He’s driven to displease the reader so that our senses are awakened by what we do not know. The fear of the unknown is what makes us feel perverse because we’re intrigued by what the narrator is describing and we want to know more.
Poe’s narrator explains that he is“…of the many uncounted victims of the imp of the perverse.” The narrator is suggesting that every human being has a demon living within them and has the resolve to think of or want to bestow evil acts upon another, but most aren’t willing or aren’t mad enough to proclaim to the world that they’re planning a murder or have succeeded in murdering someone. Poe doesn’t actually give away gruesome details of the murder, so the reader is forced to think of the dreadful details on their own. After the murderous act is committed the narrator explains that “The next morning he was discovered dead in his bed, and the coroner’s verdict was, death by the visitation of God.” Ironically it’s the absence of God that provokes the narrator to commit murder.
Poe’s story swallows you up to fit the sadistic mind of the murderer. The reader surrenders their morality and freedom to the perverse imp, narrator, and Poe. Death, sadism and darkness become us because it’s all we can think about and it’s pretty much all I’m thinking about at the moment. Yeah, it probably wasn’t the best idea to read this kind of stuff before bed or in the middle of a storm (like the one we’re having now). Thanks a lot Poe. Now you’ve got me worried about that imp. I’m only hoping I’ll sleep well tonight, hopeful that the perverse imp won’t get the best of…Muahaha!
…Uh oh! I think I spoke too soon.
The costume was a success! It was probably the most uncomfortable costume I have ever designed for myself and the noisiest too, but it was the most fun to wear. Despite the obnoxious crinkling noise it made at my every move, it withstood the windy and rainy weather, the occasional passer-by almost ripping it in order to maneuver around me, and of course the ridiculous questions: “Uhh like what are you? A paper bag?” or “Haha did you like lose your job? Are you a bag lady?” What’s a true Paper Bag Princess without an answer for everything? Me: “Uhh no. I’m the Paper Bag Princess. There’s a difference. And by the way, bag ladies don’t wear paper bags. They’re not durable and could rip at anytime.” Where’s the fun in dressing up without the funny questions? It also sparked a discussion about The Paper Bag Princess as a book, as a classic and of course as a character. I suppose I brought back a piece of their childhood. One very
sober guest shouted belligerently across the room: “Back in those days, they didn’t have paper so that story isn’t believable.” I giggled of course because it’s rude not to laugh at dumb jokes. What a silly, silly realist. I guess the punch he was drinking turned him into a smarty pants. So I shouted back at the ______ (not sure what he was dressed up as) and said “Most stories are not about turning make-believe into the believable, otherwise they wouldn’t be stories we cherish. Secondly it’s a story with an important lesson to be learned, so it doesn’t rely on whether dragons and all of that other make-believe stuff actually exists because it’s written on paper and it exists in our minds.” He stood there with his mustache hanging off his face and rolled his eyes. Where’s a dragon when you need one?
“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?” –John Lennon
Halloween is just around the corner and what better time to dress provocatively- kidding. This year I’ve decided to scrap the high-heeled boots, fishnets and any garment of clothing that serves only one purpose- to reveal as much skin as possible (kidding again). The film Mean Girls said it best: “In the regular world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” Although I may have been this type of girl on Halloween once upon a time, this year I’ve opted for more of a dad friendly costume. So this year there will be no Sexy Ghost, Sexy Witch, Sexy Pilot, Sexy Sailor, or Sexy Bat Girl- notice how a woman’s costume isn’t a costume unless it’s got ‘sexy’ in front of it? This year I’m going to be none other than Robert Munsch’s Paper Bag Princess. No this costume isn’t sexy, although when I searched how to make my costume I found some pretty sexed up Paper Bag Princesses. Come on now. Must we do this to even the most admirable characters we read about in books? I’m pretty sure that’s not the look Robert Munsch was going for. The original Paper Bag Princess is dirty, disheveled, and is wearing A PAPER BAG. It wasn’t a paper bag designed by some of the world’s top designers. Yeah, and it wasn’t a Gucci paper bag either. It was a simple paper bag kind of like the one you carry your lunch in, but a teenie weenie bit bigger.
The Paper Bag Princess is one of my favorite stories written by one of my favorite childhood authors. What better time to bring the characters you love to life than through the spirit of Halloween? Unlike most stories where the prince rescues his princess, this princess has got pizazz and wit and uses it to rescue her prince from a dragon, despite the danger involved in doing so. She’s virtuous, smart, imperfect and moral. Most of all she’s a hero. After she rescues the prince he’s unappreciative and judges her based on her appearance. Prince in shining armor? Not so much- more like the prince in rusty armor. What does she do next? She dumps him. Atta girl. She’s the kind of gal I like to read about in stories because she’s not like the others. She’s not the traditional damsel in distress waiting for her prince’s arrival. She’s not down with the “woe is me” or up in a freakin’ tower or missing a slipper. Now if only I had a prince to rescue, if only. Ah well, maybe one day or maybe on Halloween tehehe.
“He whom God has touched will always be a being apart: he is, whatever he may do, a stranger among men; he is marked by a sign.” -Ernest Renan
TALES FROM A COFFEE SHOP: A Story Within A Story
I often get approached by the strangest people in coffee shops. I haven’t figured out why this is the case but I assume they feel that I, a.k.a lonely girl sipping coffee by the window clearly stuck in thought, am the best candidate who will listen to their obscene analysis on anything small but enormously important to them. Today I had an entirely different experience meeting a stranger. It was what I would consider bittersweet and beautiful in its own way. It was just what I needed. You know that moment of bittersweet clarity, which makes you sigh and go “hmm”? This was one of those moments.
I sat down with my coffee and opened up the paper to read the obituaries, as I sometimes do. Some would find this morbid but I find them interesting. I’ve been fascinated with death and stories about those who have passed since I was a kid. I always wondered where we go when we die. Do we turn into dust and nothing more? Do our souls leave our bodies and venture off to other places, or do we come back as someone else or something else? Everyone wonders about life after death. It’s why we place so much emphasis on living the one we have now, to the fullest. We are given life and then we spend the rest of our lives searching for its purpose or meaning.
So I sat down with my coffee and opened up the paper. An elderly man dressed in a beige peat coat and a hat walked by my table, smiled and said hello, as he usually did. I often saw him there alone. He’d stare out the window and smile. I never really knew what he was smiling at but I admired him for his happiness. Maybe he was deep in thought and was reminiscing about something lovely? He didn’t seem complacent or worrisome, yet there was a particular sadness that followed him, a certain kind of sadness that made me wonder what his story was. Unlike any other day, today he stopped to talk to me. When you’re a regular at a coffee shop and you see other regulars, they are bound to turn a smile into a conversation at some point or another. That’s exactly what happened today. He walked up to my table and asked me what I was reading. I looked up at him and pointed to the paper “I’m reading the obituaries.”He looked at me with sadness and asked me if I had lost someone recently. I told him I hadn’t and explained that I occasionally read them because I find them interesting. He couldn’t understand why. He said I was too young to be concerned about death. I explained that one is never too young at all because death can happen at anytime, whether you’re young or you’re old. I figured I may as well reciprocate with the same question, so I asked him if he ever read the obituaries. He replied, “Everyday.” I wondered why. He sat down and asked me if I had time to listen to a story. I smiled and said “Sure, have a seat.” It was always a pleasure to listen to a story, especially a story from someone I had never met before.
He began to tell me that the reason why he loved to read obituaries was because his heart had never completely left the woman he once loved. I was confused. Had she passed away? Had he lost the opportunity to tell her that he loved her? He began his story by describing where he had grown up and talked a lot about a lady named Eva who had grown up with him. He said that they were practically neighbors. They attended the same high school and college and became very good friends. He was always too shy to ask her out but finally after college he worked up enough courage to ask her to the graduation dance. They dated for a year after that and then her family moved away- somewhere up north. He missed her tremendously. They called and mailed letters to each other but eventually the phone calls stopped and the letters came every so often until there were none. He had hoped that she’d call or write, but she never did.
A few more years passed and he heard through a friend that she was teaching at a school in Toronto. He decided to pay her a visit at the school. He waited across the street and watched her line up the boys and girls for home time. He told me that she looked as beautiful as she did when he last saw her. He described her as having milk white skin, dark brown hair and light green eyes. He said she was absolutely divine. His conscious was at war with him as he watched her from afar. A part of him told him he was crazy and begged him to turn around and go home. The braver part of him told him to sit tight and wait. When she finally emerged from the school doors his heart started beating so fast that he thought it was going to leap out of his chest. He called out her name from across the street. He said that she turned around slowly and smiled like an angel and mouthed his name. He was so happy that she remembered who he was, even after all those years. After a long-winded explanation for how he had caught wind of her teaching there, he asked if she’d like to get a cup of coffee. She frowned at him and declined. She explained that she was engaged to be married. She said that although she appreciated the effort, it would be indecent of her to be fraternizing with an ex-boyfriend. He told me his whole world had crashed and had fallen down on him. When I asked him what he said or what he did, he replied “Nothing. I just smiled. I had to be happy for her if she was happy. I wish I had told her I loved her though. Maybe that would have changed things. Maybe not. I’ll never know.” He told me that he had never loved any other woman the way he loved Eva and that he should have listened to the skeptical voice in his head telling him to go home. He had humiliated himself out there in the street in front of the woman he loved so much. I told him that he would have always wondered about the what if. He smiled and agreed. So I asked him what his story had to do with reading obituaries. He told me that although he had never run into her after that, there was hope he’d see her or hear her name again. After all these years and old age getting the better of him he thought maybe he’d see her name one last time in an obituary. I thought this was a little alarming. Why would anyone want to hear of someone passing away or see someone they knew in an obituary? He said he wasn’t sure when his moment to pass would be and explained, “I’m getting old and I could pass away any day now but perhaps if I see her name in the obituary then maybe I’ll feel better about dying. Maybe our souls will someday re-unite and we’ll get our chance in heaven.” I looked at him in awe and with sadness. He said, “You might think I’m crazy but I’m telling you it’s better to love after than to never love at all. So tell the one you love that you love them because you may never get that chance.” After that, he got up and thanked me for listening. I was glad I listened. It’s a beautiful story that I think I’ll tell anyone I meet. After all, we all have a story to tell, whether it’s our own or a story which belongs to someone else.
On that note, I think its time to leave this coffee shop.
“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.” -William Faulkner
There are nights where I am absolutely exhausted from writing. I feel empowered by this feeling but I can’t deny that chasing characters around in your head all day can definitely tire you out. The conversations between characters that reside in my head are enough to make a person scream “Shhhhuuutttupp” but I’m a writer and it would be absolute blasphemy to want this momentum of character dialogue to end. Instead I insist that they carry on with their conversations as if I’m not even there. They’re hard to keep up with sometimes, believe me, so I’ve acquired an apt ability to type quickly. Although my fingers feel as though they’re out of breath after long-winded pages of character dialogue and development, I sometimes feel like I’m not even there writing it. It’s as if the characters are taking on a life of their own and I’m just a fly on the wall listening in. Sometimes this is how real my characters have become to me. You have to believe that your characters are real people. If you can’t believe in your characters then neither will your reader.
I tried to develop the main character as the opposite of who I am. I wanted to delve into all of her virtues and vices and make her interesting and unfamiliar as hell. I wanted to make her someone I had never met before and someone I would love to get well acquainted with. The more I tried, the more I realized she was becoming more like me. Perhaps I was fighting it. Perhaps I didn’t want my character to be like me because it’s a part of me I don’t want to share with people I’ve never met before. Then there is a part of me that says if I’m willing to write a story that is raw, honest and passionate I’ve got to wipe away my tears of hesitation and create the character my story deserves. After all, writers write what they know.
A challenge I encountered at the very beginning was whether I should make the main character male or female. I struggled with this because a male or female character would influence the type of story I wanted to write. After some exhausting consideration I decided that the main character needed to be a young woman. It made the most sense to me. Her name is Quinn and she is someone who discovers her strength through hardship. The character that accompanies her on her journey is a male character named Eliot who is her hero but a hero we should be weary of. He’s a villain masked by heroic qualities. They find each other despite their opposite views on existence and try to take particular qualities from each other in order to grow. Somewhere amidst the chaos in the world, in their world, they found each other. It’s as if fate had magically worked itself out, as it usually does bringing two lonely strangers to a place of belonging. They both have a common question in mind: what’s in a name? They both have a name that doesn’t quite fit them; a name that doesn’t quite define who they are.
Quinn is a young woman who comes to terms with understanding that there is nothing she can do to change the cruel world she was brought into and sees suburbia as this dead-end forbidden land which is swallowing up her dreams to be something more. Her only way out is to end her life. She sees this is as empowering because it’s the one and only thing she can control- taking her life. Quinn wonders about a lot of things. She wonders about all things wild and free. She wonders about a world where things are perfect and where people and things haven’t been touched by conflict. Eliot on the other hand is a boy born and raised in the city, a concrete jungle where only danger and deceit resonate. He feels the city is a forbidden place of temptation and must seek a place of refuge after getting into some trouble. He on the other hand wants to start his life over. They become a part of each other’s journeys in the hopes of finding a heaven only to find a hell. Eventually conflict and chaos become them.
I have a lot of work to do and I’m nowhere near done. I’m not even sure if I’m happy with the characters I’ve created but I know I will eventually find my way- err I mean I know they will eventually find their way. I once got asked: “What’s your story about? What are your characters like?” It’s a question I couldn’t answer. I’m not sure what this story will be about from beginning to end. I have an idea of what I want it to be about but it’s not a story that is bound to my expectations. I know that a story and its characters will change to fit the flow of ideas. A writer can’t control where new ideas will take them. They can only embrace them. I’m learning that this is the exciting part about writing. Your characters and your story are constantly evolving…unexpectedly.
Perhaps this couldn’t be a book. Perhaps this should have never been a book. It’s been written, re-written and ripped apart. This book is a representation of my life. It’s been re-written, invented, picked apart and re-structured to fit the opposite of what you think is normal. But I’m telling you, I don’t want to be normal. What is normal, anyway? I think that’s what I’m most afraid of. I’m afraid of being labeled and I’m afraid of being average. I’m afraid that this book is everything I am. Just a microcosm of what exists within me and around me. If only I wasn’t tormented by the thought of you, yeah you. I think it would have been easier to take these pages and throw them away so that not a soul would read them, not even you. Maybe you wouldn’t judge me. Maybe you’d grow to love me. Whether I want to face it or not, if I threw away these pages then I’d probably see it as a cop out- an excuse to avoid my fears. But I can’t be afraid of the power that a thought has when triggered by a memory and ignited by a pen. That alone has always been an unnerving plea to get away, go away, or just be who I always dreamed to be without actually getting away, going away or dreaming. Sometimes I’m just too damn complicated. I can’t stand the thought of figuring myself out. You should stay away, really.
They’ve already won the war.
These words on these pages and these pages in this book have already
won the war.
Absolutely lost in thought, I wrote this one night just after I had spent the night locked away in my room working on the book I’ve been writing. I wrote this as writer who is in the process of writing and a writer who has come to terms with the final product, mostly fearful of what her reader will think and fearful of her intentions as a writer. There is something eerily peaceful about writing at night. The advantage of writing when the city is asleep offers a sensation that can’t be described easily. I suppose releasing ideas onto a piece of paper stimulates a feeling of fulfillment just before sunrise before emptiness becomes a part of me again. Being alone with my thoughts in a place with dim lighting offers the kind of comfort I love.
Although writing is a lonely occupation, most writers will tell you that they are hardly ever alone. It’s their thoughts that keep them company. I always embrace these thoughts as good company. I’m sometimes interrupted by a flood of thoughts never reaching an end until this little voice in my head emerges. I’ve learned to listen to this voice and all of the other noisy chatter going on in my mind. It’s the greatest thing any writer could hope for. Insanity can strike at any time and you can never estimate at which speed these ideas will be travelling at, which is why I carry a notebook around now. There have been times where I have frantically looked for anything to write on fearful that this little voice of compiling thoughts would betray me, causing the demise of these thoughts. I’ve been so desperate at times that I’ve written on my desk, on tiny sticky notes and on anything in my path of madness. I’ve written in the smallest font known to man in order to fit all my ideas on a gum wrapper. I haven’t attacked my walls yet. Let’s hope I never have to. It’s like a high I get. My head goes numb and my eyes fixate themselves on the keyboard or on a piece of paper. I rarely even look at what I’m writing. I just write and write and write. I wouldn’t trade this feeling for anything in the world. I could spend the rest of my life in this cocoon of thought.
Is this borderline insanity? Perhaps. I can’t help it though. When insanity strikes I can’t ignore it. When these ideas invade my mind I can’t ignore them. I love the feeling when it happens. When I’m writing, I’m a million different people all at once in a million different places. It’s crazy where your mind can take you sometimes, if you allow it to. It’s liberating and lovely.