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It’s Everything I Ever Was Afraid Of…

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I don’t always traumatize children, but hoo-when I do, I prefer to scar them for frickin’ life…

My publisher posted an inquiry on TZPP’s Facebook page regarding the 50 scariest books of all time. There was a photo of the cover for Stephen King’s It. I nearly crapped myself. This might have had something to do with the fact that I’m home from work dying of malaria or whatever the stomach bug that’s going around is, but probably not.

Stephen King was one of my favorite authors in my youth, and I stand by the notion that some of his earlier works will probably be canonized as literature after he passes. On Writing is without a doubt one of the most useful creative resources for would-be wordsmiths ever published, despite being mostly autobiographical. (That actually made it more inspiring, if I let out the truth.) Stephen King, thank you. You’ve given so much to me and to future generations of writers.

But I still hate your rotten guts, and I’m going to tell you why. Writing about evil immortal androgynous alien clowns in the sewer morphing into what children most fear and eating them alive was a supremely screwed up thing to do to an eight-year-old boy.

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But they all float down here, Danny-boy! Don’t you wanna float too?

My parents have to shoulder some of the blame. I mean, they let me watch the made-for-TV movie with Tim Curry pretty much right when it came out, as I recall. (I will find you in a dark alley and knee cap you, Tim Curry! You will rue the day you made me afraid of bunk beds! Unless, of course, you’re wearing clown makeup. Then I shall scream like a little girl and run for my life…)

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I guess my parents aren’t that bad. They could have ordered an It cake for my birthday–that’s right, AN IT CAKE. Who does this?! What the hell is wrong with people?!

Hold on… the stomach bug strikes again… Which means I have to go to the bathroom, which is connected to the sewer… If I die horribly while on the toilet, somebody hit the “publish post” button, please?

There was blood bubbling in the sink! I saw it! I thought grownups weren’t supposed to be able to see, Stephen King! You bastard!

See, that’s the problem with a creature feature wherein the monster can become your worst fear. Even the rules laid out in the novel/screenplay count for just about nothing because your imagination takes over. I’ve never lived in Derry, Maine, but after I saw the movie, the frickin’ clown was everywhere. At one point we went on vacation to a cabin in the woods, and every time I closed my eyes, I was sure Pennywise was looming over me. I would open my eyes and fixate on a color in the room (blood red, shock white, cat piss yellow) or an imagined color that corresponded with the monster. My brain being what it is, it began to compose twisted nursery rhymes about the different colors in the clown’s motley, identifying them with It’s freakiest features. There’s some psychology behind this–the bright, primary colors in a clown’s costume apparently make us uneasy on an instinctive level, suggesting danger. 

That wasn’t all, of course. There was a sewer grate on the playground at school where some of us swore to seeing claw marks in the cement fixture. Balloons at birthday parties began to suck. Then, of course, there was this wonderful scene from the movie:

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Pass the conditioner. So… Tell me about your nightmares. 

Which meant showers were not safe. My remedy, being the good little Catholic boy that I then was, involved bringing my little red radio into the shower with me and blaring Gospel music to ward off the evil. Hey, laugh all you want. I stand by what I did. I survived, right? And I don’t want to hear a thing about logical fallacies.

Crap, there goes the stomach again… Back to the water closet. Maybe I’ll play some Christian Pandora, just in case…

While I’m indisposed, here’s a gem for you to contemplate…

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What the serious hell?! Who does this?! What is wrong with people on the Internet?!

…Okay, so that time it was, “Kiss me, fat boy!” while I was looking at myself in the mirror. I had nearly forgotten about all of Pennywise’s stupid one-liners, which makes being so terrified of this made-for-TV movie even more embarrassing.

When I was nine years old, I decided something needed to be done. I would overcome my fear, and all would be right with the world. And so like any good knight, I had a vision of a quest that would redeem me–I would read the novel version of It, all 1,138 pages of It (see what I did there?). Being nine wasn’t much of a deterrent because I was already something of an expert in Classical Mythology by then. You see, my elementary school teachers didn’t know what the heck to do with me, so they tossed me into the library. I gravitated towards Greco-Roman myths because there were always paintings or sculptures of naked people. Perversity for the win!

I bought the book from a thrift store sans the dust jacket. On the spine in blood red letters was the word, “It”. Other than that, it was black as sin and completely featureless–my perfect little necronomicon. I began reading, and the book, of course, was much better than the movie. The different things the clown morphed into to scare the children (they taste better when they’re terrified, apparently) never frightened me as much as the clown itself. Without the visuals–besides those in my head–I made pretty steady progress through the book. Then, at night, when things got scary, I would place the book on the shelf in my bedroom and climb up into my bunk bed (where I was totally cornered), always making sure that I turned the book pages out. I certainly didn’t want to wake up in the middle of the night and see the blood red letters from across the room like a sigil of death.

Of course, every time I woke up, the book was turned back around. There was It, taunting me from the darkness. It, It, IT! I never found out if it was my dad or my little brother that was screwing with me, but maybe it’s time for a witch hunt. Because that crap was NOT cool.

So as you can guess, my quest was unsuccessful. No holy grail for me, just a life time of coulrophobia.  

One of my students who is preparing a haunt for this Halloween is planning on having a room dedicated just to juggalos in an effort to scare the life out of people like me. Knowing my fear of clowns, he actually sat down and interviewed me. He even took notes! Man, I wish I could get him to do that in class when we’re studying literature. I explained about the idea of the shock white face looking dead and masking something potentially even more horrifying and deformed beneath, about the bright colors and went on a tirade about the Carnivalesque. When I was finished, he showed me the layout for the clown room.

“So what would you do layout-wise to make this even worse?” he asked.

“Put a ball pit right in the middle that has to be crossed in order to proceed, and have a clown hiding in there.”

I was shaking at the mere thought of this.

“That’s downright evil! Are you going to come out to the haunt, Mr. Pike?”

“Not on your life.”

Happy Halloween, Blogsphere. And until next time…

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Romancing the Muse

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Apollo: Daphne, no! No! And by Jovenian, why a tree?
Daphne: Oh, I think you know, poet god. I think you know…

Because from a tree comes a big, fat block. Looks like even Apollo had issues with writer’s block. Sure, if you want to get literal, you could say that Daphne wasn’t a Muse and she was definitely blocking something else, but read the subtext of the myth and you might find that Classical writers probably suffered as much as the rest of us.

In fact, our universal personification of inspiration as a beautiful thing is probably way, way off.

Stephen King says the Muse is a basement and cellar kind of guy—a paunchy, hairy, cigar-smoking fairy as opposed to these goddesses on Mt. Aeolus that doled out creativity to men like Homer and Sophocles and Aristophanes.

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You mean the Master of Horror was behind THIS? Hell, makes sense…

Poets have been romanticizing this process for as long as it’s been going on, and it’s all bulls—. I don’t believe in Deus Ex Machina, or Divine Inspiration, or any of that.

Stephen King is the only one telling the truth. The Muse is not a classical goddess. The Muse is not a shoulder fairy with pompoms and leg warmers, a benevolent spirit doing cartwheels and heel kicks on your scapula, shouting, W-R-I-T-E! Write! Write!

The truth is the Muse is a real douche bag. And if you want to get anything out of him, you have to close pin his wings together and beat him with a tack hammer.

My Muse looks like a miniaturized version of Fontaine from Bioshock. He gets around on a pair of thin, greasy wings that look like a gene-spliced job. Splicer. He’s always just out of reach, calling me boyo and threatening to deny me Rapture if I don’t feed him[1].

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Oh, what I’m going to put you through today for revealing my existence to the world, boyo. Did you actually feel like getting your 3,000 words? Now there are nothing but bunnies in your head. Happy, cutesy bunnies. Enjoy that.

Would you kindly eat this entire Dominoes pizza and side of butter? It’s unsalted. Enjoy that.

Sometimes the son of a b—- makes me do household chores, update my hygiene, pay the bills. Inspiration isn’t cheap, and he gets his due first.

Would you kindly clean the oven? Would you kindly take the car in for an oil change? Would you kindly give this donut some face time? No, the other one. Bearclaw. That’s it.

This is why artists, real artists, are either drug addicts or insane.

I should say something inspirational here, but then I’d be lying too. This isn’t about inspiration. This is a knock-down, drag-out fight between the splicer and me. This is the part where I chase the blinking cursor till my fingers pound like pneumatic pistons and my vision blurs. This is the part where I get the Muse to say, Would you kindly finish your novel and take what’s yours? 


[1] Fontaine is the villain in the critically acclaimed Sci-Fi shooter Bioshock, which takes place during the Cold War in a Neo-Atlantis called Rapture. “Splicer” is a reference to the game’s genetically altered humans. Fontaine was able to control the protagonist by using the phrase, “Would you kindly…?” 

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