Connecting The Life With the Works of Edgar Allan Poe


The works of Edgar Allan Poe continue to be some of the most iconic pieces of American Literature to this day. He was known for his poetry, short stories, and literary criticism. It is a challenge to select which works to write about, considering there are so many of them. Naturally, most writers base varying degrees of their work on the writer’s upbringing and life experiences. There is an entire form of literary criticism devoted towards showing the relationship between the life of an author and their literary works. It is called Biographical criticism. It does not always provide definite answers to questions about the text. But, it gives insight into how the author uses their creative process in establishing things like characters, setting, and tone of the story.

Probably his most iconic work is The Raven. One aspect of the text that has been questioned with regards to its relationship with Poe’s life is it’s reference to the lost Lenore. It seems understandable that one may think Lenore could be a reference to wife Virginia Poe (Norton 733.) Virginia died just three years after the poem’s original publication in 1845. The melancholy tone of its unnamed narrator resonates with readers and poets alike. Jorie Graham indicates such in her critical piece about The Raven. She states The Raven’s uttering of nevermore serve as reminders of the fact that the death of a loved one is not only inevitable, as in without option and without another side (Jorie 238). The Raven itself is merely reminding the narrator of that fact in its croaking of nevermore. Of course, laughing at the Raven and dismissing it as a visitor turn the man into a satanic rage.

                        “Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,” I shrieked upstarting-

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian Shore!

Leave no black plue as a token of that lie thy soul has spoken!

Leave my lonliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.” (Poe 3.)

Of course, readers will find connections with Poe’s life in more than just his most notable poem The Raven. It is important to remember that biographical criticism is often tied in with historical criticism. The Pit and the Pendulum is set during the Spanish Inquisition. The unnamed male narrator managed to escape a brutal execution by a scythe hanging on the bottom of a pendulum. He was presumably sentenced to execution because he went against the teachings of the Catholic church. Poe published the poem just nine years after the Spanish Inquisition officially disbanded in 1834. He obviously did not live in Spain while the Inquisition was coming to an end. Therefore, the most likely explanation for such a brutal and graphic portrayal was to show the horrors of an execution, despite its lack of historical accuracy.

Reading the biography in the 9th edition to the Norton Anthology of American Literature might cause a reader to presume that he experienced abuse in the foster family he was adopted into after mother Elizabeth Poe died in 1811 and father David Poe abandoned his family. Some may say that despite lack of any specific indication inside of the text. It indicates there were “hostilities” between Poe and stepfather Allan after Allan’s law firm failed in 1824 (Norton 731.) Later in life, Poe’s struggles with alcohol abuse and his lack of financial stability plagued him throughout his life. University of Massachusetts alumni Jennifer Bouchard indicates that both Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado provide into the demons in the human brain (Bouchard 3.) There are several lines in the text which offer some autobiographical context into his writing style. One can see after reading Tell-Tale Heart that Poe was very meticulous with regards to crafting his characters and ensuring the reader catches the matter of fact style of writing Poe crafts for this unnamed male narrator who just committed a brutal, yet well thought out, act of murder.

If you still think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye – not even his could have detected anything wrong. There was nothing to wash out – no stain of any kind – no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all – ha ha! (Poe 3.)

As stated earlier, Poe was most widely known for writing short stories. The Fall of the House of Usher is one of his few works which would be considered the length of a novella. It is unique to his writing style because it departs from his usual gory and violent stories. Due to this, it is more challenging to find biographical contexts within the story. The unnamed male narrator is visiting the home of a childhood friend. Said friend, named Roderick, has an unspecified mental disorder. Wife Madeline dies from being seriously ill and needing constant care. The characters mental state continues to dwindle as the story goes on. Literary scholars suggest that Madeline and Roderick are caricatures of Poe and his deceased wife Virginia. The Fall Of the House of Usher was published one year after Poe’s mysterious death in 1849 (Norton 733.) One can find elements of Poe’s coping with the loss of Virginia throughout the story.

Hitherto she had steadily borne up against the pressure of her malady, and had not betaken herself finally to the bed; but, on the closing in the evening of my arrival at the house she succumbed (as her brother told me at night with inexpressible agitation.) to the prostrating power of the destroyer; and I learned that the glimpse I had obtained of her person would thus probably be the last I should obtain – that the lady, at least while living, would be seen by me no more. (Poe 4.)

It is no secret that the works of Edgar Allan Poe continue to be read and criticized to this day. They resonate with readers because they’re reminded about how reminders of how one copes with death, wrongful execution, the demons in one’s brain and mental illness. The world didn’t get to know many of his works until after his death. Therefore, one can only use the text itself to determine which aspects of his life are relevant. It shows how even the most painful experiences in one’s life can be turned into a literary masterpiece.

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You Are A Liar! (My Thoughts About The “High Functioning” Label)


My double minority life as a gay man with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome) has more than it’s fair share of excruciating challenges. I do not demand people to feel sorry for me when I share even the most painful experiences. Not everyone is going to understand how it feels to live with my condition. Nor do I expect praise from people who are willing to read about my life. It can be easy for me to come off as such a person. However, I know I am far from the type of person who demands metals and trophies just for writing about my life. Demanding praise and adoration is only going to result in the exact opposite. 

I know there is a lot of diversity in the Autism community. People like Dr. Temple Grandin refer to Autism as a continuum, that ranges from nonverbal to traits that are more characteristic of Asperger’s Syndrome. I have never been a fan of functioning labels. I have many reasons for that. This quote below is the one which stood out to me the most. It comes from the Autism wiki and is regarding the high functioning label. 

It minimizes the need for support and may make it harder to ask for help.

http://autism.wikia.com/wiki/Functioning_Labels

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people claim that I am lying about my diagnosis only because I don’t exhibit the characteristics associated with low functioning Autism. I am not running around, screaming, throwing feces and lashing out. I have the ability to communicate verbally. I know that our society doesn’t consider that to be an acceptable way to communicate my frustrations. I cannot think of anything else that leads to such ignorance than the high functioning label. It leads to the assumption that Autism is a contest. The child with the most “severe” traits receives an “A” a grade on their Autism report card. The graders are people who simply base their perception of what constitutes as “legitimate Autism” on the one person whom they happen to know. 

I now know that Autism is a much more complex neurological disorder than our society likes to think it is. Another major problem many have with the high functioning label is that it can cause the individual to believe they are more superior others who have ASD. As indicated on the Autism wiki page, this mindset can cause the child to grow up to behave disrespectfully towards those whose struggles are different or more significant from their own. I am not proud to admit that I was guilty of such a thing back in my teenage years. I internalized the bullying and social stigma my peers subjected me to.

I used my experiences with bullying as an excuse to completely shut out those who also understand how it feels to be different. I like to think those who accuse me of lying about my diagnosis will change their minds after reading my admission of such a statement. However, I can only change the minds of those who are willing to listen to me. They say the steps towards becoming an active listener are pay attention, show that you are listening, provide feedback and respond appropriately. Such a statement should apply to one’s own words and thoughts just as much (if not more) than it does for those of others. I still have trouble doing those things when I experience depression and anxiety over situations which most people wouldn’t experience such feelings. 

I know my high functioning label never will be absolute. It changes from day to day and situation to situation. I cannot seem to come up with any other way to explain that, other than to say that it depends on the person I am dealing with and the environment that I am in on that particular day and during that particular situation. That is one of the things neurotypical I wish neurotypical people understood. Despite such ignorance, I know that to be true. I know that I will only need to prove that fact to myself. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Bought A Journal


You may tell by the title that I haven’t been writing as much as I would like to be. I have found that sitting in front of the computer, trying to come up with something that people will want to read is only going to cause my cursor to blink and blink in front of a blank document. Thus, I ordered a journal and have begun writing inside of it each day. I have found that I am much too formal when I am sitting here in front of the computer. Things like content and formatting prevent me from making progress by actually writing something. Add that with worrying about whether people will actually want to read what I have to say.

Yes, we need to know the importance of sharing our writing with other people for the sake of getting honest feedback. I realize that is what professional writers do. However, I think we all need at least one place where nobody else but I will read the things I place inside of it. That is precisely why I bought a journal. I need at least one place where I don’t have to think about any of the formalities associated with submitting my writing to someone who is going to evaluate it.  Sitting in front of my computer certainly is not going to help me achieve that.

I simply take five to ten minutes each day and write whatever comes to my mind. I do it simply to achieve the task of getting my thoughts on paper. I often do think of good ideas for content when I am laying down in bed, or, on the ground playing with my dog. There is one problem with that. I tend to forget about it a few minutes later. I fall back into that rut when I sit at my computer and try to come up with something that people will actually want to read. This is why I think this journal will help me in the long run. I can refer back to it and use my entries as ideas for content.

 

 

 

 

 

I Think I Can Be That Train


I’ve grown accustomed to hearing the sound of those mighty machines when I walk through many of the towns here in Western Pennsylvania. For that reason, I don’t typically pay attention to them when I hear their rumble. I am still, however, reminded of the prominent symbolism that many cultures throughout the world share with those of us here in the United States of America. One of my favorite songs on country music singer Chely Wright’s 2013 album Lifted off the Ground is a song called “That Train.” The lyrics are simply musings about the fact that she wants to be a mighty machine “made of rivets, made of steel, and built for speed.”

I wonder what inspired Wright to pen a song where she personifies herself as a piece of machinery that has become an everyday sight for people in towns across the world. Was it the numerous movies and works of literature which symbolize trains as symbols of determination to fulfill a mission? Did she feel inspired by characters reuniting after a summer apart in the Harry Potter movies and the sense of adventure in the Polar Express are just a few examples. Or, did she see one in her dreams? It suggests the person will stop at nothing to get to that destination. No matter if it is as specific as Chicago’s Union Station or abstract as achieving success in one’s terms.

I wanna be that train
I wanna be that free
Hang onto that track is all they’ll ever ask of me
Smooth heavy wheels to roll me away
I wanna be that train

Some people might suggest that a railroad resembles restrictions of ones freedom in life. Wright makes that clear in the first line where she expresses that she could never physically do what a train is intended to do. I agree with that to a certain extent. The only way a train can travel to its destination is if it stays on the track which humans previously constructed for it to do so. Making a note of the preceding statement is one reason why I have difficulty personifying myself as a mighty locomotive. We are all bound to go through experiences where the only way we can get through it is to “hang onto the track.” I can picture how I would handle being the engineer of a train in a dark tunnel. I would move as slowly and as cautiously as possible out of fear that the “light at the end of the tunnel” would be a fiery trap disguised to look like the world outside.

I feel I must clarify the points I made in the previous paragraph. I can remember one time in my life where “hanging onto the track” was the only way I could get through it. High school was an example of such an experience. Being different and in high school can be unbearable at times. I have written about my experiences with bullying at great length in the past. I no longer desire to do so now. I merely say that because I am here now. I can do more than learn from my own experiences; I can listen to people who have experienced dark tunnels of their own. 

I’d get to see the mountains and the planes from coast to coast
Many might adore me but they wouldn’t get too close
I’d never be that lonely ’cause my engine and caboose,
Wouldn’t leave me, we’d be bound
Yeah, we’d be breakin’ loose

It may be difficult for me to picture myself as a mighty piece of machinery, made of rivets, steel and built for speed. But, there becomes a time when we all must embrace our inner train. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (Arnold Munk) immediately came to my mind when I wrote that sentence. It doesn’t matter if the ultimate reward is getting to see mountains and the planes from coast to coast, or, bringing toys and good food for children to eat. We all need to know how fulfilling it can be to hang onto that track. I say that even when dark tunnels compel us to stop dead in our tracks out of fear that our mission will not be successful.

Some may question why I felt the need to write about a simple song by underrated country music singer Chely Wright. Nevertheless, it is a song I can learn from as one year ends and another begins. I hope you can learn from it too.

ABC’s “The Good Doctor”


Those who have read my previous writings will know that I have been critical of Autism portrayals in Hollywood. Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. Virginia Dixon was (in my view) the worst of any Hollywood portrayal I have ever seen. I am convinced the writers based her representation on a list of symptoms from WebMD and an article about Dr. Temple Grandin. I suppose you could say that I was “triggered” by Dr. Dixon’s evident inability to recognize when the parents of a brain-dead patient might not want to be overwhelmed with all of the details as to why their beloved daughter’s life has been cut short.

Multiple publications have praised a new ABC drama titled “The Good Doctor” as a program which sheds light on Autism. The show’s protagonist is Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore.) He is a surgeon who lives with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Some articles have indicated that he also has Savant syndrome. The first five episodes of the series have made it abundantly clear that Shaun lived a troubled childhood. His father was an abusive alcoholic. His brother was tragically killed in a fall from the roof of a train car, which he and his friends were playing on. 

It is encouraging to see a positive depiction of someone who lives with a neurological condition which affects no two people in exactly the same way. I am not at all denying that people are becoming more educated and aware that Autism is real. I am genuinely grateful for the many folks who continue to fight the good fight. I am also thankful for the writer’s attempt to convey a message that it is possible for someone who is on the Autism Spectrum to pursue a successful career in a field they are passionate about. 

That being said, I can see why some people take issue with Hollywood portrayals of Autism. It all goes back to the clear difference between fantasy and reality. Hollywood loves to misrepresent neurological disorders. A high paying job like one held by Freddie Highmore’s character is merely a fantasy for many people who have an ASD. I’ve read horror stories about employers who were far from willing to make accommodations based on the person’s needs. 

Hollywood’s continued support Autism Speaks is another primary reason why some take issue with the film and television industry’s representations of the disorder. The fact is, this organization does little to nothing with regards to providing real support for individuals and their families. Their primary focus is on the highly controversial search for a cure. They primarily cater towards families with children and provide little to no support for adults. ASD does not end after high school. It is a lifelong struggle with its own set of challenges in every phase of the individual’s life. 

As stated in an earlier paragraph, there are some high points to the character that is Dr. Shaun Murphy. However, my biggest complaint thus far would be the scenes where they portray Shaun as someone with apparent social ineptitude. I can partially forgive it because he had a troubled childhood and lacked an adult figure who could teach him proper social boundaries. I am currently willing to trust the writers will not go the route of portraying him as a man who somehow thinks his diagnosis automatically entitles him to a get out of jail free card when people call him out on social behavior which violates necessary boundaries. 

(The episode “Pipes” proves my point. Shaun wakes up his landlord after midnight to give him a list of repairs to be done around his apartment.) 

There are a few things I would like to see in future episodes of “The Good Doctor.” I know several people who work in hospitals. One must have a thick skin and be able to cope with any situation that can cause stress. My question is, how would a character like Shaun respond to a crisis situation in the hospital? An answer to that question would most likely depend on what type of crisis I am referring to. Any kind of situation which disrupts the typical day to day operations of the fictional St. Bonaventure hospital would give us a glimpse into how Shaun reacts to stressful situations which disrupt his routine. 

All in all, I do look forward to seeing more episodes of The Good Doctor. I think Shaun is a likable character with tremendous potential as a surgeon. I hope the writers, and fans of this show, will take my above concerns into account. 

 

The Adventures of Apartment Life (Quick Update Blog)


I admire the view of the street and the empty grass parking lot. I hear vehicles driving by on the street and the neighborhood children playing outside. I notice the smell of barbecue coming from the neighboring apartment complex. The noise of a siren, coming from the nearby volunteer fire station, disrupts my attention for about thirty seconds. The sound of several passing fire truck sirens soon follows after the station’s winds down from its half minute blast. I attempt to divert my attention to whatever I was doing before that blaring sound interrupted my concentration.

I am surprised that I managed to grow accustomed to those sounds in the almost seven months I have been living in my apartment. As a matter of fact, there are times when they occur in that exact order! I’ve experienced all of those sights and sounds before. I usually thought nothing of them back when I lived with mom and dad. Why do they capture my attention now? I suppose it’s because I am residing in a place that was previously unfamiliar to me. It is a place I will manage to call home until I take up residence elsewhere.

The ability to live independently is essential for someone like me. Let’s face it, we all need our space for varying reasons. Probably the most important reason for my independence is because I know I am a gay man. I could not be more grateful for my parent’s who continue to be loving and supportive of me. Many gay people consider that a luxury simply because their biological families have been everything but that. However, there becomes a time in every gay man’s life when he must go out and explore this essential aspect of who he is as a person.

I would be false to say that apartment living has turned me into a brand new man. However, I can say that it has given me the courage to stop hiding the things that make me who I am. It’s hard for anyone to talk about sexuality when they are in their parent’s house, let alone express it openly. I currently display autographed pictures of Steve Grand flaunting his chiseled physique on my bulletin board. I hope to run off some pictures of my mom, dad, sister and my adorable curly tailed dog named Cinnamon to add to my display.

With that in mind, I know that living on my own comes with its fair share of responsibilities. I now have to keep track of adult things like rent, utility bills and making sure I take out the garbage before it stinks up the whole unit. I also know that I must focus on things like finishing my English degree at community college, finding employment and exploring career opportunities. These are what make independence more rewarding.

 

 

 

Christmas Is A Sad Season For The Poor (John Cheever)


You can find the full story on this article from the New Yorker Magazine.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1949/12/24/christmas-is-a-sad-season-for-the-poor

It is also found in the New York Times Best Seller “The Stories of John Cheever.”

(Pages 128-136.) 

Some of my classmates at my community college may not share my interest in reading more of the works by the authors I have read about in American Literature class. In this class, I was required to read works by authors dating from the Age of Realism through to the Post Modern era. Most people my age are not entirely familiar with short stories written by the late John Cheever. “The Swimmer” remains to be his most notable short story. A wealthy suburbanite male decides to take an unconventional method of transportation home via swimming pools owned by residents throughout his classy New Jersey county. He thinks this journey is going to change all of his previous failings and win the approval of people who already dislike him.

Cheever’s stories are known for their portrayals of affluence and how pretentious it can make those who are fortunate enough to live with it. However, one particular story “Christmas Is A Sad Season For The Poor” introduces a man named Charlie. He works minimum wage as an elevator operator in a swanky New York City apartment building. Of course, this means he has to get up and go to work on Christmas morning. He exhibits an expression of self-pity by claiming he is “the only one” who is expected to do so. The fourth paragraph provides some insight into why Cheever chose such a title for this story. Charlie utters many variations of the following refrain when he talks with the apartment residents.

“I think Christmas is a very sad season of the year. It isn’t that people around here aint generous – I mean, I got plenty of tips—but, you see, I live alone in a furnished room and I don’t have any family or anything and Christmas isn’t much of a holiday for me.

Naturally, most people would emphasize with someone who is in a similar situation to that of Charlie’s. Christmas is a very lonely time for many people. Finding coping mechanisms for such loneliness is essential for survival in a season that is ultimately supposed to be full of good cheer. Sometimes, we deal with such loneliness by unjustifiable actions such as lying to gain sympathy from others. He does just that when he speaks to Mr. and Mrs. Fuller. He lies about having two dead children and four who are still living. All of the apartment residents who interact with Charlie are sympathetic and empathetic towards him. His feelings of loneliness and sadness do not change.

The “woe is me” feeling is all too familiar for those of us who have gone through situations where it seems like complaining is the only way to cope. It seemed to work for Charlie. Residents shower him with all kinds of gifts as acts of kindness. The above takes place all the while being totally oblivious to the reality of his children being a pigment of his imagination. Just some of the gifts include eggnog, martinis, cocktails, a dressing gown, goose, turkey, pheasant, chicken, grouse, and pigeon. He drinks some of the drinks while he is on the job. Hilarity ensues after he begins to take Mrs. Gadshill down from the twelfth floor.

“Strap on your safety belt, Mrs. Gadshill! We’re going to make a loopty loop!”

Mrs.  Gadshill shrieked. Then, for some reason, she sat down on the floor of the elevator. Why was her face so pale; he wondered; why was she sitting on the floor? She shrieked again. He grounded the car gently, and cleverly, he thought, and opened the door. “I’m sorry if I scared you, Mrs. Gadshill,” he said meekly. “I was only fooling.” She shrieked again. Then she ran out into the lobby, screaming for the superintendent.

Drunken Charlie is now fired from his minimum wage job. This certainly does nothing for his sadness and loneliness. 

The excess of food and presents around him began to make him feel guilty and unworthy. He regretted bitterly the lie he had told about his children. He was a single man with simple needs. He had abused the goodness of the people upstairs. He was unworthy.

The final events of the story begin when he flashes back to the landlady in his apartment building. She is eating dinner with her family when Charlie knocks on the door. He offers presents to her children. He also gives her the dressing gown that was previously given to him. She accepts the offer. But, says to her children that they have received enough gifts. She encourages her children to bring the presents to the poor kids on Hudson Street. She says this as Christmas day is nearing its end. 

“Now, you kids help me get all this stuff together. Hurry, hurry, hurry,” she said, for it was benevolence for only a single day, and that day was nearly over. She was tired, but she couldn’t rest, she couldn’t rest.” 

This story can be interpreted in a few ways. The title reminds us how sad Christmas can be for people who lack the money to buy presents for their loved ones. I especially began to notice it’s portrayal of clashes between rich and poor. Charlie works a minimum wage job. Mind you, it is inside the elevator of a luxurious New York City apartment building. He has no choice but to interact with people who can afford luxuries which he can only dream of. Cheever enlightens readers about the impact it can have on one’s psyche. It made Charlie a perpetual victim who expected everyone to know about his misfortunes. Thus, it caused him to lie in a successful attempt to win the sympathy of the wealthy apartment tenants. It only provides temporary relief for his unhealthy perpetual victim complex. 

His face was blazing. He loved the world, and the world loved him. When he thought back over his life, it appeared to him in a rich and wonderful light, full of astonishing experiences and unusual friends. He thought of his job as an elevator operator – cruising up and down through hundreds of feet of perilous space – demanded the nerve and intellect of a birdman. All the contraints of his life – the green walls of his room and months of unemployment – dissolved. No one was ringing, but he got into the elevator and shot it at full speed up to the penthouse and down again, up and down, to test his wonderful mastery of space.

Finally and most importantly, those last few sentences remind me about the irony often associated with people who spend all of their time and energy to make Christmas more enjoyable for those who cannot afford it. This season only comes once a year. Like decorations, benevolence is placed in boxes and stored in the basement until next December comes around. I have tried to come up with a way, to sum up my writing about this story. All in all, I can say that reading it and interpreting it was time well spent. Charlie is a complex character. He is a con man who takes advantage of people’s kindness. Karma does come up to him. However, he looks back on his feelings of loneliness and tries to take a step in the right direction by performing an act of kindness.

 At the very least, he teaches us the right and wrong approach towards coping with the holiday blues.