Welcome to the conclusion of my six-part series, “Embracing My Inner Goth.” You can find the first five installments via the links below. Remember, it’s better to read them all in order, so you’ll understand the references to the earlier posts in subsequent sections. And for those of you who’ve been so patient on this journey with me, my deepest thanks.
Part VI: The New Black
Apparently decrepitude is the new black.
What happened to Ken Dracula can happen to anyone or anything, I suppose. He lost his partner and never recovered himself. Just like his Annie.
I remember going to a local large bookstore in Houston back when we still had more than the smattering of Barnes & Nobles and a few delightful but clinging independent stores left. It was the Alabama Bookstop, an iconic place before B&N had bought it: a bookstore carved from an old movie theater that had one screen, a balcony, and art deco murals on the walls. It was a fabulous bookstore in its day, and I performed many poetry readings and at least one book signing there in the balcony next to the café, where resided a very loud cappuccino machine. When I was in fourth grade, I had sat in that same balcony on a school field trip and saw Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for the first time.
And then one day some years back, I wandered in there by chance when Anne Rice was giving a book signing. There was a Blood Bank truck in the parking lot where people could make donations. Rice herself was seated under the giant movie screen above the extensive magazine rack — seated upon an actual throne with a little wooden desk in front of her. She was signing books for her fans who wove through the aisles of the store, snake-like, managed by store employees who were putting on a bravely appreciative face. Ken Dracula’s “Annie” had gray hair, large eyeglasses, and a crushed velvet cloak around her shoulders.
I had no idea which book she was promoting, but as I tried to reach the aisles I wanted to shop in, I repeatedly overheard the reminders by rehearsed employees that all the author would do was sign her name, and not to talk to her or ask for a personal message.
The fans themselves, at once adoring and yet morbidly curious, peered around the edges of the shelves for glimpses of the authorly diva herself.
I made my way back up to the balcony to watch it all from a great height. At one time, I knew, I would have been a squeeing fangirl down in the snaky lines. I thought about calling my friend Patricia, who had made that trip to New Orleans with me when we were twenty, but I resisted. Now, it all seemed sad. Anne Rice didn’t seem like a big deal anymore: even most of her fans didn’t seem to think so, not for more than a few minutes at a time. What had happened to her following?
At this time, no one had heard of Sookie Stackhouse. Stephenie Meyer’s dream was just a twinkle in a little girl’s eye. Vampires had gone out of the mainstream again, as they always do, hiding in the shadows for half a generation or so until someone comes around and reinvents the mythology.
And when they came back this time, they weren’t so gothic. By the gods, they sparkled.
I’m not sure people over the age of twelve really knew what to make of that.
We have a pretty big costume party every year for Hallowe’en. Adults and kids, the house and yard are full, it’s a grand old time. Last year, one of my daughter’s friends came dressed as a “vampiress.”
Orange-Belt Fairy Princess Badass seized upon this word and carried it around with her for a year, until this Hallowe’en, when she wanted her own vampiress costume for the party.
Periodically during the last year, the idea would crop up. Note this drawing of a vampiress she inked onto a styrofoam plate one day this past summer at art camp. (Please also note that she made a bunch of other really lovely paintings and mixed media pieces as well. This was just a post-lunch doodle.)
Despite the drawing, my daughter doesn’t seem to have much concept of vampires as blood drinkers or creatures of the night or otherwise-immortal beings who can be slaughtered only through decapitation or by driving a wooden stake through their hearts.
That’s okay with me. She’s seven. The longer we put off her introduction to the gothic decrepitude, the better.
I love that she’s so into vampires, though. Not because of my literary and psychological fascination with them, but because it’s not necessarily cool in second grade to like them, and she doesn’t seem to care about that.
My hope is that she and Tiny Beowulf — who has, in the last few weeks, invented his own death-metal-sounding versions of “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Up on the Housetop” — will embrace themselves, inner goths or otherwise, in whatever harmless ways they manage to surface, in whatever benign ways they manifest. Maybe it won’t always be comfortable: I’m already freaking out a little bit about what middle school will be like. But at least I can try to look upon myself with benevolence, and in so doing, perhaps teach my children by example to do the same, and then maybe, hopefully, grade school won’t be as miserable for them as it was for me. And that self-respect will, ideally, radiate in waves of respect for others, even those who are Other.
Edward Hirsch said, “Poetry begins with alienation, and speaks against our vanishing.” I was a poet exclusively for so long. There’s something in me that wants to love but it comes out wrong, wants to live but doesn’t belong. (Thank you, Smithereens.) We all just want to be noticed and accepted, fangs and all.
But we start in the mirror then still count ourselves fortunate if we find someone else who thinks our weirdness is worthwhile. As Eartha Kitt, the ground-breaking Catwoman of the 1960s, said, “It’s all about falling in love with yourself and sharing that love with someone who appreciates you, rather than looking for love to compensate for a self-love deficit.”
Look, I’m not naïve enough to imagine that all those closet doors can burst wide open. But at least maybe we can crack them a little, let enough light through to read by after bedtime and to keep the underbed monsters at bay.
But not the vampires.
No, those freaks can hang out with us all they want.