Reading, Writing

The Monster In Jack.

It’s been a cold winter for Toronto, with wind frigid enough to freeze your nostrils together. Perfect weather to bundle up under a warm blanket, sip on some canned hot chocolate (because let’s be real, I’ll probably NEVER make anything from scratch ever), and read a cheery tale of mayhem and murder at the behest of a sentient hotel of evil.

Published in 1977, The Shining was Stephen King’s first bestselling hardcover and helped put him on the horror genre map. Three years later it was made into a movie that, upon having just finished the book, deviated greatly from the central themes of King’s actual novel. (Let’s set aside the author’s own feelings about Kubrick’s version of his story, you can sift through the Google results at your own leisure.) I’ve read enough of his work to consider myself one of his Constant Readers, and this book has jumped up my list of favorite novels to sit somewhere near the top.

Spread out on the couch in my living room with the TV playing in the background, I’m having trouble even knowing where to start. I chose The Shining for the fifth book on my 20 In 2015 list. I finished it a couple days ago and knew instantly I’d need a few days to bounce back from it. King is the master of taking otherwise unsympathetic characters and finding a way to humanize them. I never expected to see so much of myself in Jack Torrance.

It’s a simple enough concept, and I’m sure by now most people are familiar with the story: down on his luck after having been fired from his teaching job (because he lost his temper and beat the everliving shit out of a student), Jack takes a job as the winter caretaker of The Overlook hotel. Like most hotels, the place has got a few skeletons in its closet. During the winter months, the hotel gets snowed in and the only road leading into town is closed, effectively cutting the family off from civilization until spring thaws the earth. A former caretaker once went insane and murdered his wife and daughters before killing himself, a fact that the hotel manager shares with Jack during his interview. Jack assures him he can handle the long cold winter. Turns out, he can’t.

Jack struggles with a dark past. He is a recovering alcoholic, determined not to repeat past mistakes like breaking his then-three year old son’s arm while disciplining him. He’s a wounded man trying to become a better person but anger burns constantly under his surface. When describing the attack on his former student or the abuse of his son, King writes that it’s like he goes into a trance, seeing red and only partially aware of his actions. I’ve never heard consuming rage described so well. I saw my own past issues with anger manifested in Jack, and that frightened me. Seeing the world through his eyes was a disturbing look into my own psyche.

It’s hard not to have mixed feelings about him. Ultimately he wants to be a good man and take care of his family but his own twisted upbringing has tainted his worldview and added to his anger problem. He tries to keep himself under control but the evil inside the hotel senses this weakness and exploits it.

I can relate to his situation. My mind is The Overlook and I’ve spent a long winter trapped inside it with only my echoing thoughts for company. I’m prone to depression, especially in the winter, and a lot of factors in my life have led me to feel trapped within my own life. Ultimately, I seek a redemption of sorts, much like Jack at the end of the novel, when he manages to regain control over himself and stop the entity controlling him long enough for his family to escape. In his final moments, I felt bad for him. No one is ever all bad or all good and Jack is a shining example of that (see what I did there?).

Wendy desperately wants to have a normal, happy life with her husband and child and she embodies what hope looks like in a dysfunctional family. Her only option when she begins to sense the darkness in the hotel is to go stay with her mother, with whom she has a strained relationship. Her self-confidence issues stem from a lifetime of being taught that she’s not good enough and is partially to blame for her sister’s early death. Her mother has spent her life grinding her daughter’s self-esteem down until there’s barely any left and her struggles with Jack’s alcoholism have only emphasized her perceived flaws. She loves her family but recognizes when things start to go downhill and tries to convince Jack to abandon his post and flee the hotel. Again, it’s easy to sympathize with her. I’ve been in similar situations where you just want to hold on and wait until things get better. Her unwillingness to give up on her husband and the strength it takes to defend herself and her son when Jack tries to attack them are something to be admired.

There’s a moment in the book where the hotel elevator begins to run on its own and Wendy begs Jack not to leave her and Danny alone to go investigate. Jack responds that it’s his job and Wendy wails, “DON’T YOU LEAVE US HERE ALONE”, to which Jack coldly replies, “That was an incredible imitation of your mother,” and I had a moment where I froze and reread the dialogue a second time, because it packed such a punch. King has an amazing ability to write dialogue I can actually hear inside my head, and this particular exchange made my blood run cold. Jack knows how Wendy feels about her mother and still takes that dig at her. Anyone who’s spent too much time with another human being knows how much a person can become annoyed at another person. Cabin fever is a real thing, and whatever crawls inside the walls of the hotel feeds off the negative energy between Jack and Wendy.

We, the Constant Readers, get to sit back and watch as Jack mentally unravels and falls prey to the hotel’s whims. It’s a devastating process, and all through it I found it incredibly difficult to blame Jack for his choices. He’s under tremendous pressure, as we all have been, and I drew so many parallels between his life and mine that reading this book shook me to the core.

Who among us hasn’t made mistakes or taken wrong turns in life? Who is blameless in the pain of others? I’ve been down some dark roads in my time and it can be hard to keep your head on straight and your tongue still. There’s something evil inside all of us, but most of us can keep it under control. Confronted with the forces inside the hotel, any one of us might fall victim, and that’s what makes this book so terrifying. When I finally put it down, I knew I’d have to take a few days to get over the emotional punch it delivered straight to my gut.

The Shining is easily one of my absolute favorite Stephen King novels, it’s a fucking masterpiece in emotional and mental destruction. Reading it in winter seems to have only amplified its effect.

The monster isn’t the thing lurking inside The Overlook, it’s the thing lurking inside Jack Torrance.


Vacation Roundup.

I’ve been sick my entire vacation. Not sick sick, just a minor cold, but still.

October 1st, I woke up with sinus pain and a head that felt two sizes too big. I spent the first two days lying on my couch drinking orange juice and watching Breaking Bad episodes. Last weekend, in spite of my lassitude, I made the two hour trip from Toronto to Cannington to visit my mom, aunt and grandmother. My first night there, I slept right through until 2:30PM the next day. Coming home was fun — every trip north results in me being laden down with more stuff than I started out with, largely due to the fact that I left behind some of my stuff when I moved out of my Mom’s house and she took it with her when she moved in with my aunt.

I went up with a backpack and came home with a backpack, carry-on sized suitcase, and an overstuffed reusable shopping bag.

I read my family the articles I’ve written recently. My grandmother’s reaction was the best: “You just make that up in your head and then write it down?!” She seemed to be flabbergasted by my ability to fuel rage and snark from my head onto the keyboard. It was cute.

I started to feel better, so yesterday I hauled every piece of fabric I own down to the laundromat. It’s actually embarrassing how long I’d gone without washing my bedclothes. I only own one set right now, so it’s not as if I can rotate them and always have clean sheets. No, I have to strip my bed and leave it barren until I can muster the strength to haul ass down to the laundromat and over-stuff the commercial washers.

I probably should’ve bought a new set when my sis came to visit and we went shopping…

Speaking of which, on Friday Ashley came to spend the night at my apartment. Since I’ve moved in here, she’s only been by once or twice, and never alone. Don’t get me wrong — I’m fine with her boyfriend, but sometimes a girl needs some sister time. There are things we can only talk about when we’re alone, due to shared history and comfort level. We made pizza and drank nearly an entire 26er of Bacardi. I’ve never really been a rum girl myself, but turns out it mixes quite well with Coke Zero. Who’da thunk it? I had a wee bit of recreational plant matter in my apartment so we had a bit of that but wound up too knackered to play Candyland or a game of cards, so we settled for watching Californication and drooling over the much-older David Duchovny.

I also managed to burn through nearly $300 at the mall. Found myself a really nice pair of old man slippers, too! Never underestimate the power of the men’s slipper section. I just wanted a plain pair of old fashioned slip-em-on slippers, not an elaborate, appropriation of culture pair of Walmart moccasins. I love slippers, because I am actually 100 years old.

By the time I got home from Ideal Laundry yesterday, I had begun to feel like shit again. I appreciate my cold’s courtesy in letting me finish my biggest chore before springing up to ruin my day again. At least now I have an excuse for sitting around all day reading and watching movies.

On the subject of reading, in the past ten days I’ve finished both Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean At The End Of The Lane and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep and every time I finish a book, I put it down, sit for a minute processing, and then feel horribly depressed because it’s over. I have a stack of books on top of my refrigerator (I still haven’t bought any shelves) and no idea which one to read next. I tried to read E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View but couldn’t manage to get past the first chapter. Apparently I don’t have a taste for classics, with the exception of Oliver Twist or old children’s books like Heidi or Black Beauty. I felt the same way about Love In The Time Of Cholera. I don’t like it when books defeat me — I hate starting a book and then giving up on it so maybe I’ll try again.

I also managed to write a few songs. Two of them are basically finished and the other ones are nearing completion. Unfortunately, since my cold has now moved into my throat, swallowing is difficult, singing is damn near impossible, and when it is possible, it doesn’t sound good at all.

So, that was my vacation. While I wish I had been feeling top-notch for the whole of it, I’m at least grateful that I didn’t have to work while feeling ill. I go back to work Friday afternoon and I really hope this cold has cleared off by then.

If anyone wants to come over and make me some soup, you’re more than welcome.


Confessions, Life

The War On Print.

Writing is hard. Writing is not passive, it’s passionate and gut-wrenching and difficult and sometimes I just don’t want to do it. Some days I just want to read and relax and not think about putting words to paper and mentally vomit out the thoughts I’ve been collecting all week. In fact, that’s why I decided to look up WordPress’ Weekly Writing Challenge in the first place — I was stumped this week. I could make excuses about how I’ve been working 44 hours per week for the last two weeks and how I worked a 17 hour shift on Monday, rendering me useless and slightly insane, but I won’t. I will accept the challenge.

There is a certain romance involved when it comes to books. As a lifelong reader, I can assure you I was rarely seen at the dinner table without a book propped up against the ketchup bottle, much to my mother’s dismay. I was an extreme introvert for many of my formative years, and books afforded me the luxuries of escape and adventure.

I was four years old when I started kindergarten, and I had already been reading for quite a while. Both parents were on welfare and therefore they spent quite a lot of time with me as a child. I had learned how to write my name long before I ever entered a classroom, and my mother had taken great pains to teach me to read.

Books were my life, plain and simple.

Around the age of five, I taught my sister how to read a simple story from one of my workbooks. I can no longer recall the title of the story but I do remember the sound of my sister’s laughter as I imitated the owl in the book, saying “WHOOOOOOO LIKES TO READ?”

My mother was impressed when Ashley read the story to her.

In spite of my sparkling personality, I was painfully shy in school. I didn’t have many friends, preferring to spend most of my time alone with my books. I would read almost anything, and discovering Stephen King when I was eight years old pointed my life in a whole new direction.

My cousin Melissa had been reading IT, and she came to a passage in the book she told me I had to read. If you haven’t read the book yet, SPOILER ALERT: It was the part of the book where the old lady suddenly turns into Pennywise/the father and chases Beverley out of her childhood home. I was deliciously horrified and immediately read the book from the beginning, developing a taste for horror in the process.

(Side note: IT was published in 1986 — if you haven’t read it yet, what the hell are you waiting for?)

All through school, I read The Babysitter’s Club series (the characters were substitutes for real life friends), Goosebumps, the Fear Street series, more Stephen King novels, Judy Blume, you name it. In second grade I read Tiger Eyes on the recommendation of my teacher, Miss Emberley. While the spark of a lifelong reader was always there, Miss Emberley was the one who fanned it into a flame.

She would bring books to my house over the summer. I would ask to borrow the books she read aloud to the class so I could read them myself. She gave me her copy of The Secret Garden because I loved it so much.

She taught me how to spell properly, speak properly, and alphabetize. In short, I owe her everything. My Newfie accent was so thick when I transferred to her class that the other students could barely understand me. She would make me repeat myself until I was understood. I spent countless recesses inside her classroom redoing spelling tests and practicing alphabetizing. Occasionally, I hated her, but without her I wouldn’t be capable of writing at all. Without her I wouldn’t love books the way I do.

As an adult, I continue to devour books on a regular basis. I consumed two books last month, How I Became Stupid by Martin Page and Atomised by Michel Houellebecq. I’m currently making my way through Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake. I scarf down as many articles and blog posts as I can before my eyes flutter shut at night. Reading is a daily activity for many of us, and writing seems to go hand in hand with it in most cases.

With the advent of technology, books are more widely available than ever. With one piece of technology, endless titles are available and you can carry all your books with you all the time. This is exciting, especially now as kids tend to choose movies and videogames over the art of the written word at an alarming rate.

But what about the romance of holding a thick, heavy book in your hands? What about the feel of pages in your fingers, the smell of a freshly opened book? In spite of the wonders of technology, I feel there’s still a place in this futuristic world for the ways of the past. All throughout my childhood I would lug books with me wherever I went, never caring that my backpack was slightly heavier as I toted around the unabridged, unedited, one-thousand-plus page copy of King’s The Stand. That being said, I’m hardly a technophobe. I giggled aloud when I discovered the Toronto Public Library lends e-books over the internet and immediately checked out a few titles to read on my computer.

So while I always prefer paperback over digital when it comes to the novels I read, my opinion is this:

ANY WAY WE CAN GET PEOPLE READING IS GOOD. As long as you’re reading, the medium is unimportant. As digital continues to gain popularity, we can be sure of one thing: At least people are still devouring the written word.

And all the unwanted paperbacks are welcome to come live with me.

Featured Image taken by Black Coffee Poet.