I don't want October to end. This has been a fine one. Three-quarters of the way through my favorite month I have to look around me and say, this is good. I have a theory that there is something, literally in the air at this time of year -- or possibly it's the lack of something. Something debilitating. Less humidity is what I arrive at immediately. It seems to facilitate the synapse connections, link those flexo-resensor nodules of creativity (that phrase is a perfect example), and conduct optimism like copper. The ordinary reality we experience some 335 days of the year seems suspended in these weeks, if only a little, as if we're allowed a glimpse of things, as if our customary blinders -- so familiar we are rarely aware of them -- have slipped temporarily and we can glimpse things through a crack of sunlight normally unavailable: October light. If telepathy were an accessible human faculty, I bet it would work best in October. Also, there is death in the air, as Hemingway said, when the boys really get their pens moving. This column should appear on October 19th, and my sole association with that date is the birthday of a former girlfriend I was mad about, and I mean mad in the mental-illness sense. That love affair was an object lesson in mid-life crisis and alcoholism meet the chemical illusion that is romantic love as well as the very real dementia of lust riddling an aging Catholic.
An actual harvest moon has passed. I saw it glowering incandescent amber over Kensington the other night. And by the time this page appears, a Friday the 13th will have passed also. Halloween is still ahead, and to prepare, I am reading a volume of short stories by Algernon Blackwood, a dark fantasist writing at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries.
The book, titled Ancient Sorceries, contains a story by that name featuring the character John Silence, a "psychic doctor" who encounters an ordinary little man named Arthur Vezin who has experienced the extraordinary. "[D]ull, ordinary folk have no right to out-of-the-way experiences and the world having been led to expect otherwise, is disappointed with them, not to say shocked. Its complacent judgment has been rudely disturbed."
Ancient Sorceries, one of Blackwood's John Silence -- Physician Extraordinary stories appeared in 1905 or 1906, when Blackwood turned to fiction after producing articles for publications like Methodist Magazine and the theosophist journal Lucifer in the late 1800s. The editor of the Penguin edition I have, S.T. Joshi, writes in his introduction, "Awe is perhaps the dominant motif; Blackwood is somehow able to invest the simplest events -- or even the characters psychological reactions to those events -- with a portentous grandeur, as if the very fabric of the universe is involved."
This is the sense I get from October, and I am happy to share it with you along with my Halloween recommended reading list. As to what it was that Arthur Vezin experienced in the Blackwood story, that would be telling, and it would be far better had you Blackwood to do that telling. While I am in the neighborhood, Blackwood's that is, and Halloween (and I did use the word list), allow me to mention Arthur Machen (rhymes, I read somewhere, with "blacken") another Victorian fantasist of the darker school. Machen was a fellow member (along with W.B. Yeats and Aleister Crowley) of The Order of the Golden Dawn or The Golden Dawn Society. The GD is a mystical secret society immersed in magic (or "magick") that survives today and appeals to whacked-out academics and intellectual drug addicts with a fascination for Satanism and the like, as well as ill-informed Goth heavy-metal fans of Black Sabbath/Ozzy and Led Zeppelin; Ozzy's one-time guitarist Randy Rhoads wrote the song Mr. Crowley about "The Great Beast," and Zeppelin's guitarist Jimmy Page lives (or lived) in Crowley's former mansion on Loch Ness, in Scotland. Stories of Machen's like "The Great God Pan" and "White Powder" are great Halloween reading fare and lend a kind of British public school class to an otherwise gaudy field of entertainment -- somewhat like Vincent Price.
This tenth month of the year is, I say, an occasion to celebrate the cat as well. With Halloween and a Friday the 13th this doubly so, and though we are put in mind specifically of the black cat, this need not be necessarily. I am, I suppose, a cat person, though I don't go around saying so. I don't own one but partly because I am not allowed to and mostly because I can't bear losing another one. My fey, pagan fascination with these animals brings me back around to Ancient Sorceries.
Giving nothing away, I will only include this passage from the story.
"There rose in him [John Silence] quite a new realisation of the mystery connected with the whole feline tribe, but especially with that common member of it, the domestic cat -- their hidden lives, their strange aloofness, their incalculable subtlety. How utterly remote from anything that human beings understood lay the sources of their elusive activities. As he watched the indescribable bearing of the little creature mincing along the strip of carpet under his eyes, coquetting with the powers of darkness, welcoming, maybe, some fearsome visitor, there stirred in his heart a feeling strangely akin to awe."
And with that, I will now compose a letter to my landlord.