I’m not a believer in New Years Resolutions. A constant and critical self-monitor, when I notice a bad behavior I try to correct it right away. Sometimes I’m actually successful. Now that I’ve finally removed all books from the garage—some were being held high above the water-line on plastic boxes—I’ve started to sort through systematically what is beyond redemption. A comment of occasional visitors, however, has goaded me into a resolution; you see, people sometimes ask “Are you going to read those again?” While aching to address the mindset betrayed by that very question, I cede a point; if I’m going to the expense of replacing a non-reference book, I should want to read it again. My resolution—when I buy another copy, I will read it then and there.
One of the stinging parts of this resolution is that some of the books were read by me just this past year, or even earlier this year. Jude the Obscure, although I enjoyed it, cost me a quarter year of my life of evening reading time. On that basis alone I should replace it, but if I’m not going to reread it why should I incur the expense? (Moving is anything but cheap.) I will also face rereading old favorites that have been put aside for a while. No house, for example, should be without Emily Brönte’s Wuthering Heights, although I read it again just months back, or so it feels.
This is perhaps a way of making lemonade from a cloud. Or finding the silver lining on a lemon. Whichever it is, I sense that it will figure toward my reading goal for next year. As I’ve spent the rainy weekend unpacking books, literacy is on my mind. For those who see my literomania as some kind of disease, I was cheered to note just how many of the books on display I had indeed read. The same goes true for a number of the academic books in the study, but, I must confess, while pulling them from their boxes I thought how boring most of them are. Boring, however, doesn’t equate to useless when it comes to books. Given their price points some of them may take years to replace. That’s the point of a resolution, in any case. It can cause some pain. As I stuff the moldy, distorted tomes into their body-bags I hope that rereading their replacements will bring them back to life. After all, resolution and resurrection are not so far apart.
It’s August and I’m already starting to feel haunted. While science may declare it nonsense, there’s a feeling in the air—particularly in the early morning—that tells us the seasons are changing. While it may be different for everyone, for me it begins in the tip of my nose. I can smell the change coming. That doesn’t mean that we won’t have more hot days—a long string of them yet awaits—but the shift has begun. Autumn is perhaps the season closest to the soul. While I like all seasons for what they represent, fall has always put me in mind of melancholy rapture. It’s a difficult concept to explain, a kind of blissful evisceration. A hitching of the breath in my lungs. A sudden rush of joy followed by sadness. The ease of summer living is ending.
Summer is the growth season when we look out and see the promise of provisions that will see us through long months of cold and chill. The times we huddle down only to be blinded by the arctic beauty of the sun on a snow-covered day. The indoors time. Summer is when we can dash outside without a coat, giving no thought to whether we will be warm enough. The scent of autumn is a slight chill. It reminds me that while the crops have been growing, the monsters have too. There’s a reason horror films are released in the fall. I’m not the only one who knows they are coming.
Late summer is a liminal time. While the calendar may tell us summer lasts until the autumnal equinox, traditional cultures marked time in a different way. Equinoxes and solstices were closer to the middle of a season than its start. Most years we begin to feel summer in May, or even April. Winter cuts through November, and the thaw may begin as early as February. When I step outside just after sunrise and breathe deeply, I can feel the monsters coming. In a way I can’t explain, their lurking fills me with a frisson of anticipation. Already the days are noticeably shorter. Daylight itself seems to be fleeing before the ethereal chill that is still available in our rapidly warming world. The seasons are all about feelings. Emotions suffuse the changes of weather and human habits that accommodate to it. There are shivers and then there are shivers that the creatures of autumn bring. They’ve already begun to gather.
Posted in Consciousness, Environment, Memoirs, Monsters, Posts, Weather
Tagged August, autumn, autumnal equinox, fall, Monsters, seasons
Who am I, really? I can’t help but ponder this whenever I apply for a new form of identification. While at the Department of Motor Vehicles I observed a room full of strangers—if there’s a melting pot in the United States, it’s the DMV. Outside those cloistered in the major cities, you must drive to survive in this country (or at least to thrive) and the ritual of waiting your turn by number at the DMV is part of it. I glanced at my application while waiting. I’ve held drivers’ licenses in at least four states, but I’ve lived in at least six—how do you count where you live, really? I think I must’ve had an Illinois license at some point, but I could find no record of it. Who am I? Are the Illinois years lost? Big brother will find out, no doubt.
To apply for a license in Pennsylvania, as in most states, you have to prove you are who you say you are. Swapping in your old license just doesn’t work any more. While the actual “who” depends on government-issue documents (social security, birth certificates, or passports) the where question is more financial. To prove your residence you must present bills with your name and current address. You’re defined by your money. Bills demonstrate that you’re integrated into the system, the matrix. I spent one day, as a temp with Manpower, working for Detroit Electric (no, I didn’t have a Michigan license; I kept the Massachusetts one), processing requests for new service. Despite not being asked back because they had expected a woman (really!), I learned that to get service you had to prove you were part of this matrix, with a history of paying your bills.
None of these agencies ask the deeper, more philosophical questions of identity. None seem to care that each day is a struggle to define our spiritual selves in a world hopelessly secular and financial. Yes, my birth certificate “proves” I was born in Pennsylvania. The DMV records “prove” I learned to drive here and had my first license in this state. They show nothing of the real question of who I am. A reasonable facsimile of my visage appears on the plastic card that certifies my citizenship within these artificial borders. But now my home state stamps “Temporary” on the card so that a security check can be run. They want to discover if I am who my records say I am. What the powers that be don’t seem to recognize is that although where we are born influences us every day for the rest of our lives, no little plastic card, despite the amount of information it conveys, can say who it is I really am. “Temporary” may be the truest word on it.
It was a guilty pleasure read. We’d just moved and I needed a new novel for bed-time reading. Most of our undamaged books were still boxed up and, well, enough excuses: I like Dark Shadows novels. Hardly well written, these pulp potboilers are like extended, Gothic Scooby-Doo episodes. I first started finding them used at Goodwill when I was a kid and I’ve re-collected a number of them as an adult. Although they feature a vampire, and sometimes a werewolf and witch, the crisis of the story generally devolves to a hoax at Collinwood. So it was with Barnabas, Quentin and the Avenging Ghost. I hadn’t thought to write a blog post about it until I came across a passage mentioning Rocain. In context, one of the characters explains how Rocain, the son of Seth, shows that sorcery goes all the way back to Genesis.
Genesis was one of my lines of research during my academic career, although I never published anything I was working on. I didn’t, however, recall having read about Rocain. The internet quickly pointed me to Legends of Old Testament Characters by Sabine Baring-Gould, chapter 8. Clearly this was where Marilyn Ross, or his source, got his information. Baring-Gould sits on my shelf as the author of The Book of Were-Wolves. He also wrote the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” There was an era, overlapping with Baring-Gould’s lifetime, when a minister could be an independent scholar of repute. Although much that’s found in his many publications is now disputed, his was a lively and lifelong curiosity that led to several books.
Upon reflection, Sabine Baring-Gould, who was a priest fascinated by occult topics, would have fit quite well into the Dark Shadows diegesis. Although set in the late 1960s into the mod ‘70s when the television show aired, these were Victorian vignettes of a conflicted vampire and his strange, wealthy, and somewhat clueless family. All kinds of guests, some of them quite Lovecraftian, drop into the Maine mansion and its grounds. The writing of the novels is tepid at best, but the series was surprisingly literate. Dark Shadows is nevertheless undergoing a kind of revival these days, and friends sometimes tell me they’ve just discovered this oddly compelling world. I invite them in. I’ve unpacked a few more boxes since selecting this pulp novel, and one of them, I note, holds books by Sabine Baring-Gould. The guilty pleasure read?
Posted in Bible, Books, Genesis, Just for Fun, Monsters, Popular Culture, Posts
Tagged Barnabas, Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows, Legends of Old Testament Characters, Marilyn Ross, Quentin and the Avenging Ghost, Rocain, Sabine Baring-Gould, The Book of Were-Wolves