# of literary mags submitted to: 2
# of pages written (now that my novel is done, I’m just working on short stories and other projects): 0
This morning I went for a walk in the early morning, my hands stuffed into the pockets of my over-sized black jacket. A cold mist fell from the low, gray clouds above, and I kicked at piles of brown leaves that lay dry and shriveled on the edges of the quiet, cul-de-sacs streets.
I rounded a corner and there, in an empty driveway, was a murder of crows, pecking violently at the asphalt. When they saw me, they lifted up into the air, the sound of their wings like the snapping of a flag in a high wind. Their feathers were a sleek, glossy black, and their cries were loud and indignant.
They gathered in a tree across the street, the limbs bowing under the weight of their large, dark bodies. They watched me closely, and I stared back at them. Crows — a sign of death.
On my way back to the house, I saw a dead cat along the side of the road.
“Oh, poor kitty,” I whispered to it.
It was a somber morning.
* * *
On my walk, I thought about how next week I’m going to DC and will get to see Cabaret Macabre, a truly wonderful “theatrical collage” by Happenstance Theater, which celebrates all things dark and gothic.
I saw it for the first time two years ago and was completely spellbound. There was a vignette in which a girl falls in love with a ghost, another where Victorian gentlefolk bludgeon each other in slow-motion, and yet another in which an evil uncle does away with his orphaned octuplet nieces one-by-one. Add to this some slow, creepy music played on a violin and a saw, and it’s no wonder that I was completely enthralled.
When it was over, I turned to my friend and began to gush about how much I had loved it. “I wish it hadn’t ended,” I said. “I want to just keep watching it forever.”
“Really?” he said. He seemed confused, and less than thrilled.
“Didn’t you like it?”
“Not really,” he said.
I was shocked. (And somewhat appalled.) How could he not have liked it? This explained why he also hadn’t appreciated the Decemberists song about a rakish father killing his own children, which I had forced him to listen to.
“I just didn’t get it,” he said, about the play. “It was so dark.”
“I know,” I said. “That’s why I liked it.”
“They were joking about little girls dying,” he said.
The more I tried to explain to him why I liked the play, the more I wondered, why, exactly, had I liked it?
My friend Nikki is a hospice nurse, so she deals with death on a daily basis. She tries to stay very positive about it. “It’s a part of life,” she says. “I’m lucky that I get to contemplate it in a very profound way. I get to help people with this important part of their journey.”
We talk sometimes about how people like to think they’ll go quietly – with acceptance and dignity. But when the time comes, all bets are off. You never know how you’re going to feel about the end until you get there.
* * *
Last night, Nikki and I were sitting in the kitchen reading the Plato dialogue “Meno.” I was reading out loud, scrolling down the webpage on the Classics Archive website. Suddenly, the dialogue just ended. “What?” I shrieked. “That’s the end?! Socrates didn’t even finish defining virtue!”
“Oh my god,” Nikki said, hurrying over to my side of the table, “that can’t be the end.”
Turns out, I just hadn’t downloaded the full dialogue. I downloaded it, and we both breathed a sigh of relief. It was our third night reading “Meno,” and I guess we were both anxious to get to the end.
Which is ironic, because this morning, Nikki and I were talking about learning, and I said, “you know, a lot of people think learning is just a means to an end – college, a certain job, an award, whatever. So then when they get to that end, they think their learning is done, and if they don’t reach the end they wanted, they feel like all their learning was worthless.”
At the end of “Meno” (spoiler alert!) Socrates finally says, of virtue, that it is not innate and that it cannot be taught. It is god-given and divine.
I found that a somewhat dissatisfying ending. Does it mean that I found reading the dialogue worthless?
No, I don’t think so.
I suppose the end can be expected or not, dignified or not. Satisfying or not. It can come slowly, or all of a sudden, like speeding headlights on a dark road at night.
Maybe I like macabre stories and dark comedy, not because they make a joke about death (although they do), but because they present death in a way that I can handle. Cabaret Macabre is dramatic and highly-stylized, but, in some ways, it’s very much the way the end really is – sometimes scary, sometimes ridiculous, and as mysterious as a murder of crows.