# of pages written: 7½
# of days left to write 1st draft: 106
Yesterday, I went to the Edward Gorey House in West Yarmouth with my dear friend, Bernard. It was awesome. It’s the house where the eccentric artist and dramatist lived and worked until his death in 2000, and it’s packed full of his artwork, including illustrated books, playbills, decorated envelopes, puppets, stuffed animals, knick-knacks, you name it. Also on display is Edward Gorey’s collection of eccentric jewelry and the full-length raccoon coat he always wore. Here was a man who was not afraid to be strange, and I loved it.
I traipsed around the house, exclaiming over various delights. In the back room, they had a small table set up with Edward Gorey stamps, ink pads, and a bucket of crayons. Naturally, Bernard and I squeezed ourselves into the miniature plastic chairs and began playing with the stamps. “Ooh, look, Bernard,” I said. “They have red ink, too.”
“I like black,” he said, repetitiously stamping an entire page with the image of a mysterious man in a raccoon-fur coat.
“I went to the Edward Gorey house this weekend,” I told Stefan today. We were chatting on the phone while I folded laundry.
“You don’t know who Edward Gorey is?” I was slightly appalled. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I don’t know.”
“His artwork is sort of Victorian macabre,” I said. “Dark, but humorous. Mysterious.” I tried to describe one of Gorey’s most famous pieces: The Gashlycrumb Tinies. “It’s an alphabet rhyme telling how different children die,” I said. “Like ‘A is for Amy who fell down the stairs, B is for Basil, assaulted by bears.’ And each one has an illustration of the child dying in a gruesome and untimely way.”
“Hmm,” Stefan said.
“It’s really awesome. I can’t explain why I love it, but I do.”
In addition to not knowing about Edward Gorey, Stefan also had never heard of the Pied Piper of Hamelin (again, I was appalled), and he told me he only knew the Disney versions of fairy tales.
“I need to school you in fairy tales,” I said. I immediately launched into the Grimm’s version of Cinderella, explaining how, in order to fit into the glass slipper, one step-sister cut off her toe and another shaved off a bit of her heel. Of course, the prince noticed the blood dripping off their feet and wasn’t fooled.
“And then, at the end, the step-sisters get their eyes pecked out by some birds,” I said gleefully.
“I know. Isn’t it great?”
“I think you like gross things.” Stefan referenced two of my poems that I forced him to read, and it’s true that they are rather gross. One reminds you that when being intimate with someone, you are also becoming intimate with the mites living on his or her face, and the other describes, pretty graphically, an old woman ripping apart a chicken with her bare hands.
“You like to gross people out,” Stefan accused.
“No, I don’t think that’s true. I just like to make people think about things in different ways.”
“Disturbing ways,” he said.
He then called me a nut bag, which I took as a compliment.
What I like about Edward Gorey, I think, is that he takes something truly disturbing – like the death of children – and makes us think about it in a different way. In making it humerous and charming, he takes some of the mystery and fear out of death: something we all find truly mysterious and fearful.
And yet, he still retains some of the original mystery, some of the original creepiness. He doesn’t Disney-fy anything. His artwork is humorous, elegant, adorable, and yet also creepy. That’s what makes it good.
Yesterday, after the Edward Gorey museum, Bernard and I walked around historic West Yarmouth and happened upon a cemetery. We wandered among the gravestones, and I was excited to see two crows cawing loudly in the branches of a decrepit oak. “I love crows,” I said, doing a spontaneous crow dance.
“Do you?” Bernard asked.
“Yeah. They’re big and loud and creepy. What’s not to like?”
He laughed. “They’re known as an omen of death.”
“I know. Isn’t it perfect?”
We walked past the old tombstones. Their faces were speckled green with mold and most of the inscriptions had been ebbed away by the rain. We headed towards a massive tree with thick, low branches and scrambled up into it. I perched on a branch and surveyed the cemetery. It was late afternoon, and the sunlight filtered in sideways through the leaves in long, golden shafts.
“I don’t know why, but I love cemeteries,” I said.
“Me, too,” Bernard agreed.
“I mean, they’re creepy, I suppose, if you think about death and the coffins lying underneath us, but look – it’s also so beautiful and peaceful here. There’s something creepy about the beauty. Or something beautiful about the creepiness. I don’t know. But I like it.”
It seems in our culture we’re always trying to hide away death, trying to ignore anything that isn’t normal or pleasant. But life cannot be Disney-fied. It is sometimes disturbing or creepy. Sometimes gross or sad. And we all die at the end. Maybe, when we get scared about these things, we need to look at them in a different way.
Life can be creepily beautiful. Or beautifully creepy. And that, I guess, is why I like it.