Emo's Grave

     It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my  
     toils.  With an anxiety that almost accounted to agony, I collected the instruments
     of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay
     at my feet.  It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against
     the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-
     extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed
     hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs. (Shelley 56)

     It was on another dreary night in November that I beheld the accomplishment of a youthful lark, a trip near midnight, in the rain, to a cemetery to see a glimmer of half-extinguished light, and in it the form of Emo.

     There was a ritual - it involved match flame, chanting, all in threes and the sublime elements of setting and storm combined - that would culminate in sounds and images that hark back to a man holding a single lantern at the top of the Stairway to Heaven inside a vinyl album jacket.  Emo was real.

     Like Shelley's Victor Frankenstein, how could I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had called from the grave?  "Beautiful!  Great God" (Shelley 56)!  His skin was not "yellow," "the work of muscles and arteries hidden beneath" a robe, and the only thing that was of a "lustrous and flowing" or had a "pearly whiteness," was my heart.  My eyes were watery, and probably the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which Victor had set the eyes of his creation.  The only thing Emo shared with the Shelley's monster was a "shriveled complexion and straight black lips" (Shelley 56). 
The paradox, the two-sided coin of the grand and beautiful, the gloomy and sublime, where the mind, the imagination, crosses between the known and the unknown and tries to correlate the two, is what I experienced, and what many would call fear.

     "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear," states Lovecraft, "and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown" (Lovecraft 21).  I embrace fear, and fear creates a juxtaposition of stasis and mobility in my mind.  The unknown I desperately try to explain away as known.  The North American West is my home, my canvas, and it invites visitors.

     A cowboy down deep, Count Dracula asked me to "Listen to them - the children of the night.  What music they make" (Stoker 28)!  I heard that music, a wolf's howl, a coyote call, the silence of the darkness so loud in my ears; the massive expanse of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin and beyond, all surrounding me, allowing my senses to go beyond the known, to feed my imagination the truths of the unknown, and create a conflict between my own nothingness and a cyclopean belief that the truth would make me something more, even free.

     Running away in fear, my friends and I all reported variations of Emo.  We had touched an ethereal plane, gone beyond our mortal existence, perhaps only in our minds, and upon reflection, we had become one with the universe, with the wolf, the coyote, and with the unknown beyond our senses.

    Radcliffe writing On the Supernatural in Poetry could have just as easily been jotting a journal entry for Lewis or Clark, or even painting the mind of a young boy scout on his first camping trip into the unknown Rocky Mountains when she said:

     Where is now the undying spirit… that could so exquisitely perceive and feel?
     [T]hat could inspire itself with the various characters of the world, and create
     worlds of its own; to which the grand and the beautiful, the gloomy and the
     sublime of visible Nature, up-called not only corresponding feelings, but passions;
     which seemed to perceive a soul in every thing: and thus, in secret workings of its
     own characters, and in the combinations of its incidents, kept the elements and
     local scenery always in unison with them, heightening their effect.

     Safely in our car, and driving away from that gravestone that marked Emo's domain, the unknown, the fear, the "grand and the beautiful" along with "the gloomy and the sublime of visible nature," were all screaming in uncorrelated fashion in my mind.  The unknown had called me, and now it chased me away.  I realized the grand and beautiful could not exist without the gloomy and sublime.

     By day, as Radcliffe infers, the known is a grand and beautiful place, but in the dark, in the cold and rainy month of November, it changes, it writhes and convulses in its gloom, and it becomes the unknown.  For a moment, I was a child of the night, and music was blasting in my ears.

     The West is a canvas that brings the unknown into view and plays the songs that are so elusive to our adult minds.  Owen Wister, Zane Grey or Louis L'Amour fictionalize one facet, Poe, Bierce, Blackwood, or Hawthorne another without even knowing, and contemporary writers like King, continue to record the sublime and unknown of our uncataloged minds: it is in our genetic code to explore the vast expanses of the unknown, and when the unknown that our senses can perceive becomes known, we retreat into the mountains of madness and deserts of delusion in our own minds to find more.

     The horrific, terror-filled stories, whether written or told around a campfire, become immortal, timeless, and capable of breeding across multiple genres and mediums.  They are the sublime outriders on the outskirts, and in such places, they fill my need for mobility and motion, a supernatural motion: stasis and mobility in my North American West.  

     When I reflect on Emo, or on the tales told around campfires in the dark, Rocky Mountain nights, I see things.  There is something beyond unlucky miners, unfortunate cowboys, Indian legends, and Sasquatch, and even the night sky has a sublimity that reaches beyond extraterrestrials and Area 51.

     For moments, I see what the mountain man must have saw, even felt, and worlds without number crackle beyond my mortal perception.  The setting, the air, the darkness, the mountains, or the closeness to disaster opens vast doorways that open and close in imperceptible amounts of time.  Emo was on the other side of one of these doors, and behind him the unknown.

    "There are not many persons who know what wonders are opened to them in the stories and visions of their youth," says Lovecraft in Celephaïs. 

     [F]or when as children we listen and dream, we think but half-formed thoughts,
     and when as men we try to remember, we are dulled and prosaic with the poison
     of life. But some of us awake in the night with strange phantasms of enchanted
     hills and gardens, of fountains that sing in the sun, of golden cliffs overhanging
     murmuring seas, of plains that stretch down to sleeping cities of bronze and stone,
     and of shadowy companies of heroes that ride caparisoned white horses along the
     edges of thick forests; and then we know that we have looked back through the
     ivory gates into that world of wonder which was ours before we were wise and
     unhappy. (Lovecraft - Celephaïs)

     I think of Alice in her Wonderland, a body in motion, a soul transitioning between the child and the adult.  As a child, I would listen and dream, and as an adult, I struggle to get back to being a child.  Despite the fear of the unknown, and of the known, I find my efforts couched in the familiar, in the American Dream, another coin, heads I dream, tails I nightmare: a nightmare of the mundane. 

   "The most merciful thing in the world," states Lovecraft in the Call of Cthulhu, "is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."

     We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it
     was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own
     direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of
     dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our
     frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee
     from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. (Lovecraft - the Call of
     Cthulhu)

     If we could correlate all of the contents of our mind, buried deed, might we not find Emo?

     The cemetery is still there, but that story began in another place, many other places along the vast continuum of childhood in the West.  Emo was there, but also the Judeo-Christian Joseph and his coat of many colors, Daniel in the Lion's Den, and Moses and the ten plagues of Egypt.  They paved the way for Emo, along with Cecil B. DeMille and Charlton Heston, and an unknown man named Patterson who filmed a man dressed in an ape suit walking across a small clearing looking at a camera, or was it an unknown creature walking across a stream bed, turning to look at a camera, and then disappearing into the forest and the dark parts of my mind that would become Emo?  The unknown agitating my thoughts, mixing and convulsing the card catalogue of reason on the floor of my soul, salvation mixed with fear.

     Over the years, I have formed an emotional attachment to creatures that I do not want to believe in, but at the same time, I want them to be real, to be found: I want them to remove their cloaks of myth and legend and reveal the sublime in nature.  I know this can never be, for the moment they appear for an extended period of time the suspense and mystery, the fear, are filed away in the known folder, and the magic is gone forever.

     This land, the West, where the unknown lives gives me an earnest and whimsical frontier curiosity, not only from my childhood fears and hopes, but also as an adult who wants to gain a better understanding.  The land drives me with an unexplained eagerness to grasp its essence and its life.  It reflects mine, and I believe many of the first people who came to these lands' fascination with the bizarre, the monstrous, and the mysterious - a respect for the unknown.  In our nation, our institutions, our schools, where respect withers, the unknown is erroneously believed to be known, curiosity is a rarity, and the mundane and murderer find their way, seize the land of opportunity, and breed, their offspring mundane and murderous with a "more like us, the better" attitude.  The unknown is a fuzzy grail that positively shines with the hopes, both noble and pathetic, of the outsider, the searcher, the latter-day Linnaeus, the wannabe Darwin, or maybe Barnum.  It mirrors our almost schizoid approach to the unknown, now crying out to be believed, now dead set against belief" (Pyle 16-17).  The West, and I fear, Emo, Sasquatch, and the unknown may be done for.

     "What do we know?" asks Lovecraft in From Beyond. 

      What do we know of the world and the universe about us? Our means of receiving
     impressions are absurdly few, and our notions of surrounding objects infinitely
     narrow. We see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no
     idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend
     the boundlessly complex cosmos, yet other beings with a wider, stronger, or
     different range of senses might not only see very differently the things we see, but
     might see and study whole worlds of matter, energy, and life which lie close at
     hand yet can never be detected with the senses we have. I have always believed
     that such strange, inaccessible worlds exist at our very elbows… We shall see that
     at which dogs howl in the dark, and that at which cats prick up their ears after
     midnight. We shall see these things, and other things which no breathing creature
     has yet seen. We shall overleap time, space, and dimensions, and without bodily
     motion peer to the bottom of creation. (Lovecraft - From Beyond)

     What makes the "dogs howl in the dark" or the cats "prick up their ears after midnight?"  I thrive on whatever it is, the unknown, the essence of Emo, Bigfoot, or the Angel of Death, and I seek it as a Muse.  I want to transfer my very soul to the written page, but as Radcliffe warns, illusions of the imagination leave only disappointment in our hearts.

     If Anne Radcliffe had been with me in that graveyard she might have said:
How much does the sublimity of these attendant circumstances heighten our idea of the power of [Emo], of the terrific grandeur of his character, and prepare and interest us for his fate.  The whole soul is roused and fixed, in the full energy of attention, upon the progress of the conspiracy against him; and had not [Fear] wisely withdrawn him from our view, there would have been no balance of passions.

    Radcliffe would add:

     The strong light which shows the mountains of a landscape in all their greatness,
     and with all their rugged sharpness, gives them nothing of interest with which a
     more gloomy tint would invest their grandeur; dignifying, though it softens, and
     magnifying, while it obscures.

     In nothing has Shakespeare [and other writers] been more successful than in this;
     and in another case somewhat more difficult - that of selecting circumstances of
     manners and appearance for his supernatural beings, which, though wild and
     remote, in the highest degree, from common apprehension, never shock the
     understanding by incompatibility with themselves - never compel us, for an
     instant, to recollect that he has a license for extravagance… …the air bites
     shrewdly; it is very cold; the recollection of a star, an unknown world, are all
     circumstances which excite forlorn, melancholy, and solemn feelings, and dispose
     us to welcome, with trembling curiosity, the awful being that draws near; and to
     indulge in that strange mixture of horror, pity, and indignation….

     Emo, Sasquatch, monsters and vampires, cats and dogs, all add to this strange mixture: they remind me to recollect, to walk with Alice, to glimpse the unseen worlds beyond my senses, and Radcliffe's words warrant repeating:

      Where is now the undying spirit… that could so exquisitely perceive and feel?
     [T]hat could inspire itself with the various characters of the world, and create
     worlds of its own; to which the grand and the beautiful, the gloomy and the
     sublime of visible Nature, up-called not only corresponding feelings, but passions;
     which seemed to perceive a soul in every thing: and thus, in secret workings of its
     own characters, and in the combinations of its incidents, kept the elements and
     local scenery always in unison with them, heightening their effect.




Works Cited

Lovecraft, Howard Phillips. The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature. New
     York: Hippocampus Press, 2000. Print.

--- "The Call of Cthulhu." The H. P. Lovecraft Archive. Web. 9 Oct.2011.
     <http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/cc.asp>.

--- "Celephais." The H. P. Lovecraft Archive. Web. 9 Oct.2011.
     <http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/c.asp>.

---  "From Beyond." The H. P. Lovecraft Archive. Web. 9 Oct.2011.
     <http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/fb.asp>.

Pyle, Robert Micheal. Where Bigfoot Walks:Crossing the Dark Divide. Boston:
     Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995. Print.

Radcliffe, Ann. "On the Supernatural in Poetry." The Literary Gothic. New Monthly
     Magazine, Vol 16, No 1, 1826, 145-152. Web. 13 Sep. 2011.
     <http://www.litgothic.com/Texts/radcliffe_sup.pdf>.

Shelley, Mary, Bram Stoker & Robert Louis Stevenson. Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr.
     Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. New York:New American Library, 1978. Print.

Stoker, Bram, Mary Shelley & Robert Louis Stevenson. Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr.
     Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. New York:New American Library, 1978. Print.
K. Scott Forman

All I can say is it's a draft, a work in progress, and I presented it at the 2011 Western Literature Association's conference in Missoula, Montana, this month.  They call it Creative Non-Fiction, I call it an essay.  Kind of like the difference between a flash novel and a novella.  ???  I've also tried to stick with some MLA formatting for my students.  Happy Reading and Happy Halloween!