A nerdcation, if not obvious, is a trip that some people might consider pedestrian, strange, boring. I took such a trip this winter, and I found the trip quite the opposite. Perhaps, it’s because the recipe that is me includes one-part nerd.
Anyone who knows me, understands I’m a Poe – addict. January 19th 1809 is Poe’s date of birth, making this past Monday the 206th anniversary of his birth; hence, his birthday. The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virgina, planned a celebration. I decided, almost last minute, to fly cross country to the chilled Eastern U.S. to do my very own Poe Tour.
His mothers are buried there (there were two), his first true love’s house (he was 14, she was his friend’s mother) is a landmark, his first and last fiance (Elmira), the places he grew up, schooled, played, worked, proposed. I marked all of the locations and addresses, a walk in a dead writer’s footsteps that would culminate with the day long event at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, which promised to include readings, discussions, and cake.
If some of you find this boring, you’ll find what follows probably even more banal. Unless, you’re a visual person and browse the photos
My first stop was E.A. Poe’s birth mother. Her body lies somewhere on the grounds of St. John’s Church. St. John’s is famous for Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!” speech. I’m told Henry is buried there, as well as numerous other revolutionaries.
Poe’s Father, David Jr, purportedly said, the day that ruined my life was the day my son was born. He never wanted to be a father. After Edgar’s sister, Rosalie, was born, David Poe disappeared. His parents, Elizabeth Arnold and David, were actors. By the time Edgar was two, his mother perished.
Because her profession was considered a mere step above prostitution and no respectable person would agree to be buried near an actress, she was laid in the ground without a headstone or location notation. It seems three different organizations pulled together, built and placed a marker to honor Poe’s mother.
The day I arrived, the sun shined, melting the ice from the streets. The lovely magnolia tree nearby the grave dropped melting ice, giving me my own personal rainstorm.
I meandered around the cemetery. Remembering, honoring the dead.
Across the street from the Church is Elmira Royster’s home – or what was once her home.
She was Poe’s first fiance, her father disapproved of Poe, so they met secretly at the gardens (which is now the Lindon Row Inn – where I fortuitously reserved a room. My room overlooked the back garden patio where Poe is supposed to have taken Elmira’s hand and asked her to marry him, to wait for him until he returned from college).
Poe’s letters never reached Elmira (thanks to her father); she thought she’d been abandoned and entered the marriage arranged/approved by her father.
Many years later, after she’d been widowed, her maid involved herself in an argument at the front door, refusing entry to the tall, dark, caped stranger at the front door who insisted he be allowed to see Ms. Elmira on this Sunday morning. The lady of the house admitted him, listened to his argument. Anyone who’s seen someone they once loved knows what she was feeling, understands those “no, I shouldn’t, yes, I want to,” back and forth feelings she may have been experiencing as she told him, “I have church this morning, you may return another time.” No doubt she watched him go through the window slats and hoped he’d return. His cape blew back in the wind as he walked determinedly away, formulating a plan, even then, to win back his first love.
Poe did reappear, and too soon asked for her hand in marriage. She was one of the last people to see him before he left Richmond…. She was, officially, Poe’s first and last fiance.
Poe’s first true soul love (his words) was his friend’s mother; she supported his writing whereas his adoptive father did not. Mrs. Jane Stith Craig Stanard’s house is not far from either the church or Elmira’s house.
Coming home with his friend on an average school day, he met the lovely Mrs. Stanard. Maybe they said just a few words, but Poe was smitten and returned again and again. They talked of poetry. It was a gentile relationship, an appropriate one, even if possibly it made his friend uncomfortable. (She died when Poe was 15).
It’s known as the Craig House, is privately owned and boasts the original structure, although it has been restored. The house stands as the second oldest structure in Virginia.
Poe was never officially adopted, but the Allan’s are referred to as his adoptive parents. Edgar’s middle name Allan comes from their family. His adoptive mother, Francis Allen was a great love of Poe’s. She passed in 1929. His adoptive father doesn’t come across as a nice man. He didn’t appreciate Poe’s writings, his mannerisms, reminded him often that Edgar lived off his charity. There’s some evidence that Allan cheated on his wife, he had illegitimate children with another woman (even left them $ in his will). Poe didn’t seem to respect the man, and I believe that is part of the reason why. There are some allegations that Poe involved himself with married women and single women as well; however, when he married Virginia, and loved a woman, he seemed to be wholly involved and didn’t consider turning to another.
Mrs. Stanard’s headstone is closer to downtown. The cemetery is larger with long, winding, dirt roads, which supposedly are labeled A, B, C. Navigating it curiously, I found, by luck the intersection.
I must admit that in some strange way, I didn’t care to see Mr. Allan’s grave; however, his family plots were close to his the Stanards. I walked the ten feet from Mrs. Jane Stith Craig Stanard grave to the Allan’s. It further made me dislike this ghost of a man whom I could never know. Crazy, I know.
Allan married and had more children after Francis’ death. His marker is large, looming over Francis’ marker, his second wife’s marker is larger than his first wife’s. I’m not certain why that annoyed me so much, but it did. How could his first wife merit a headstone half the size of his second wife’s? Seems somehow – assholish.
The weather was getting the best of me. I’m a thin blooded creature, the eastern sun moved fast toward the west, the sky grew gray, and the sketchy neighborhood where the cemetery lies isn’t a place a woman should challenge her fears.
I searched for at a more modern venue for refreshment. Not knowing the area, unable to locate a Starbucks via my gps, I parked in the city center and opted for a 7/11 coffee.
A block to the north, much to my surprise, laid Capital Park. With another hour on my city meter, I walked up, coffee in hand, to see if I could locate the Edgar Allan Poe Statue. Although I was lead to believe the statue was difficult to find, hidden in some far off corner, I found it quite easily.
I’m searching for Poe. I’m searching for connection. To pick up the remains of the past, make certain it’s real. Fortunately, the Edgar Allen Poe Society has done much more than I.
The house Poe grew up in is long gone to a history we can only read about: wars, fire, reconstruction. The Poe Society has marked the building. The building is currently condemned.
A few weeks after Poe’s mother passed, the show went on without her. A new stage play drew in the city’s patrons which filled the seats. It grew quite warm inside. The actors took note, the patrons noticed. They turned to one another, “it’s quite warm in here tonight.” The play was exquisite. The lighting extreme, as if a real fire burned in the background. When a single actor yelled “Fire!” The audience laughed, applauded. When more actors screamed, “Fire!” The theater goers turned to one another, nodded, “quite realistic.”
Until some astute actors and patrons made for the door, then others realized that, indeed, this was not part of the play. By then, the theater was already engulfed. Both, actors and wealthy patrons, died together. They are sealed in the same crypt under the new church built over them. Monument Churchl. Poe’s adoptive family, the Allans, worshiped there.
How might it have been for the young Poe to have his mother’s friends, his adoptive parents’ friends under his feet as he sang hymns?
Next Stop – Poe Museum. They programmed a 206th Birthday Celebratioon – a day long event of readings, museum tours, music, walking tours (Poe – related spots), CAKE! and a champagne toast at midnight.
The small building on main street is easy to pass without notice, but it is the oldest residence in Virginia, built in the 1700’s. The residence became the Poe Museum in 1922 (I believe).
The museum is made up of four small buildings and an enchanted garden. The pergola in the back of the garden which houses Poe’s bust was built from the bricks from the Southern Literary Messenger where Poe once worked.
Friday, the museum was completely empty except for the curator, the director, and those who were setting up for the celebration. I had the museum to myself, completely alone with Poe.
It featured many of his personal items, a bed, vest, cane, etc, among other artifacts. It boasted portraits of the period as well as modern work. I’ll let you check out this pics on the museum website (although their pictures are not current) as I don’t think I was supposed to take pictures. 😉
Music. Tours. Art. Poe Lovers. It was a lovely day, a soul enriching day, (even if it was too chilly for my California tolerance).
There’s little in this post that you won’t find elsewhere – as far as information about Poe and his family. The pictures are mine. (please give credit if you copy them).
Why does someone leave the warm sunshine of a winter in southern California to go to the too cold city of Richmond, Virginia in January? And why?
It’s history. It’s literature. It’s a passion of mine to know more, see, touch, be in the presence of. I am filled up, revitalized. I learned more, enjoyed discovering my penchant for boutique hotels led me to the grounds of the garden where Poe once stood declaring his love for his first sweet heart. I stood where he once stood, walked a path he may have walked (yes, with thousands, possibly millions of others. but that’s okay with me).
Sometimes, one must get out of their own head, get out of their comfort zone, do something new, something questionable, something that will add to their life experience.
I’ve swam with sharks, now I’ve walked with the dead in a city rich with literary history, with American history.
If you’ve read this far – THANKS!
This is a reblog from January 2015
Some years ago, Edgar Allan Poe’s hair was tested to determine the cause of his death. The results of all tests, including the ever popular theory of drugs and alcohol, were inconclusive.
They have a collected list of theories that have been maintained since his death, 169 years ago on this date.
I’m not sure I believe it was the flu. The doctor’s would have known the symptoms of the flu, wouldn’t they?
Cooping’s a possibility; however, that negates the fact that he was sick before he left Richmond.
Rabies is a possibility; however, again, I feel the doctor may have recognized the symptoms.
I haven’t heard the tumor theory before; anything’s possible given the state of medical care in the 1840’s compared to today.
I don’t mean to be a damper on the mystery, but the average life expectancy at that time was 40 years. He lived a long and full life, according to the people of his time.
Of course, it is a shame and a loss. He was a credit to American Literature. His writing was original, authentic, intelligent and captured the attention of audiences then and now.
I had my own theory of Poe’s Death when interviewed by Dark Times – watch the full video here
Poe has affected our literature, popular culture, music, artists etc since his death. Eddy is my tribute to the inspiration I get from his work. The story is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s suicide attempt in November of 1848.
I was invited to read at the birthday celebration in January at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia. An honor and a pleasure!
Read More of My Poe Posts Here
(This is a repost from Oct 2018)
Sometimes, that’s what writing feels like.
I recently finished a particularly difficult story. I’d written it over the summer. Then life happened, and while I wrote here and there and started new things, finished other things, submitted, and even came back to this story repeatedly, it refused to be finished.
This story became the terrible twos who kept throwing a spoon down on the floor and crying for me to pick it up only to throw it down again.
When my real children did this – I left the spoon on the floor and shrugged, “guess you’re using your fingers now,” but you can’t do that with a story, huh?
But what you can do with the story – as with all writing – is keep showing up. That’s what I did. I kept putting that story in front of me and trying to work out of the kinks. We can’t give up the story when it gets hard.
One of my favorite stories is one Stephen King tells about Carrie. I’m paraphrasing here: His wife found Carrie in the trash and brought it back to him, saying something to the effect, you can’t stop just because it got hard.
(of course these are the days when we used typewriters or notebooks and were able to physically put those in the trash and not just click delete, which, by the way, don’t ever do! Ignore the story, put it elsewhere, but don’t delete it!)
And I’ve read/heard the above King/Carrie story a few different ways, so it may not be exact; however, the point is – You can’t give up a story because it’s hard.
Even if the story never gets published – I learned something by writing it, by sticking it out.
The new term in student success is “Grit.” (I know, it’s also an old John Wayne movie). It alludes to the idea that the students who struggle and push through who will become a successful student and graduate. It applies across the board – school, life, and definitely writing! (Not surprisingly, to that movie as well).
I recall another story I’d had a particularly challenging time with. And just when I thought it was finished – the dreaded blue screen! It was gone. Memory wiped. I gave it a few weeks (and a long weekend in New Orleans) and came back at it. “Psychic Surprise Party” was published six months later in The Oleander Review. (It will be republished in May online).
Even if this one is never published, I learned something by doing it. I’ve learned something in all of these not-yet-published stories and poems. We are writers. We are driven to write. It is our little corner of the puzzle-solving-world in which we exist.
The next one might be easier. And maybe it’s this challenging one that will push something out of the way for the next one. Maybe the next one will be difficult too, but we’re going somewhere, learning something – keep pushing through.
That’s what makes us writers.
And we’re all a little mad here…..
66 days –
That is what a new study says it takes to form new habits. The study participants reported a range from 2 to 254, with 66 being an average.
It depends on the person. With me, it takes 3 to 4 weeks for me to stick to my commitment. And every year my teaching schedule changes, so there’s two to three months a year for me to recommit.
The holidays, however, throws many people off.
However, once the commitment is made and the habit is in place, it’s much easier to get back into the mind space. The secret is to jump right back into the habit after a holiday or change.
Also, I think you have to make an effort to guard that commitment. Don’t be tempted to make lunch plans on a writing hour, make it for later or for a different day.
Life too easily distracts us and, without habits firmly in place, we are easily swayed.
According to science, exercise can feed creativity. Before you turn away, click the unfollow button or run off screaming – oh no, she’s telling us to exercise, I knew it! – they say just getting out of the chair, walking for twenty minutes, or even (gasp) cleaning, just moving our bodies can get some juices flowing and give us a fresh outlook to come back to our writing.
So, no, you don’t have to go to the gym, learn kickboxing, or twist yourself into a pretzel, just take a deep breath and walk around in a circle for a few moments. Who knows, dizziness of the circling might give you some great ideas!
My novella, “I, Polyphemus,” is now available on Amazon.com. Writing this book has been a labor of love for me, involving a couple of years of rewrites and research. With its publication I thought I would blog an introduction into the book’s genesis.
I became fascinated with Greek mythology when I was eleven after I nearly died from a serious illness. It was also at this same time that I began to write.
The tales of gods, heroes and fantastic creatures were somehow palliative, and drew me away from my focus on my illness. Of the many tales that captured my imagination, Homer’s Odyssey was my favorite, and Odysseus was my favorite hero. He was not the strongest or greatest warrior among the Greeks, but throughout the story he is referred to with the sobriquet “Wily” Odysseus. Reluctant to go to war against the Trojans, he acquiesces, angering Poseidon, who makes his journey home after the fall of Troy a long and tormented one
In book IX of the Odyssey, the cyclops Polyphemus is introduced. Odysseus and a number of his men take harbor on Cyclops Island on their way home to Ithaca. Nearly starving, they discover a cave stocked with milk and cheeses and glut themselves, when the cave’s occupant, Polyphemus, arrives home, and, after perfunctory introductions, begins to devour the Greeks.
In the Odyssey, of all of the characters Odysseus encounters, whether it be Circe, the Sirens, Calypso or the Lotus Eaters, seemed knowable. But Polyphemus was a brute riddle. For me he represented the existential absurd, as it seemed he was put on Earth for the sole purpose of encountering Odysseus and eating his men. He is a one dimensional enigma.
As a writer, the challenge to flesh him out and make him a sympathetic character was akin to the alchemist’s feat of turning base metal into gold. But what if in my story he is a loving shepherd who feels his sheep are his children? What if in my tale, Odysseus and his men instead of eating his cheese, murder his children? And what if the violation unleashes the dormant poet within the brute?
Through the years, as I would revisit the Odyssey, and as my political world view evolved, my perception of Odysseus evolved as well. He became more nuanced and less sympathetic. His wiles now seemed deceitful and duplicitous. He was complicit in the murder of civilians in the villages surrounding the walled fortress of Troy, he was an active agent in a war of aggression and the architect of the wooden horse that brought down Troy. He could now be recast as an imperialist, sociopath and war criminal. In my story he is the antagonist provoking Polyphemus into violence and madness.
This is a novella, but stylistically it has elements of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as an epic narrative poem. The narrative is almost exclusively in the voice and point of view of Polyphemus. In portions of the story the narration weaves in and out of dreams, and enters the realms of Magical Realism and Surrealism. As in Homer’s works, the characters exist in a duplicitous world where intervention from the gods and Fates is constant.
The most central character next to Polyphemus is the centaur Chiron, who represents reason and denies the gods’ existence, and becomes a benevolent father figure to Polyphemus. Incorporating numerous characters from Greek mythology into the story was at first a challenge, but ultimately I felt I chose the right ones as my vision of Polyphemus began to take form.
As a character grows and begins to take shape, it is almost as if at some point the writer passes the torch to the character; the writing almost seems co-authored. For me, this happened when Polyphemus goes mad. It was as if I had become an observer merely chronicling what I saw as Polyphemus came to full, complex fruition- a mad poet, a vengeful father and a killer who kills with dark, sarcastic humor and a flamboyant joie de vivre. The complicated anti-hero Homer would never recognize was born.
I put everything I’ve learned and everything I had into this book, and my reinvented protagonist has become like a brother.
With that, let me introduce you to my one eyed friend- the cyclops Polyphemus.
My Name is Vicky Mclellan, since I was young I have always wanted to be an author. But I have also faced many challenges in my life, I am Physically Disabled; my mother gave me up at the age of nine. I was raised by my Grandmother and Aunt. Even though I cannot walk, I do not let it stop me from chasing my dreams, I have Graduated High-School, and I have become a published author.
I think my motivation comes from my heartbreaks as a child. Being left behind, feeling like I was different and out of place, I want to prove that just because a person is different and has different kinds of challenges that others cannot understand, they are still worthy, they still have a voice that deserves to be heard. No matter how many tears I’ve cried through-out my life, I have never given up, because I know that I matter, others like me matter. I want other people to feel like they can reach for their dreams, no matter what walk of life they have had, or what they face. They can fight for the life they want, as long as they never give up. Waking up in the morning is half the battle – I know those words have been said many times, and it sounds like I’m just trying to fill up space, but take it from me, a person who has felt unworthy and useless many times in my life, the will to wake up everyday, sometimes takes true strength to find.
My motivation to write also comes from wanting to give others an outlet and show them that they are never alone, their dreams matter, it does get better, and there’s always somewhere constructive to vent – The Page. And that is truly my motivation. That’s what pushes me, and feeds my drive – Pushes My Pen – if You will.
I have always tried to spin my bad situations into a positive learning experience; I find writing helps me do that. Even when I write fiction, I find it helps me put things in perspective and see a situation from all sides because most of the characters I write about have a little piece of my personality in them. There’s something about seeing something written down, staring at the words, seeing part of me on that page, really helps me find myself on days when I feel lost.
I find that writing in general, has inspired me to become more creative and kept my heart alive. When you’re not mobile, its hard to find things that stimulate the mind, The world kind of gets small, and writing has opened so many doors for me, it has really helped me to open up. I hope that when others read my material, they feel that emotion and openness. My motivation as a writer is to not only show people that there is more to me than just a metal wheelchair, but to let them hear my voice and to show others that they can speak too. My message to the world is to never stop creating.
Thanks for sharing, Vicky! Much luck!
In a writer’s group, I asked a specific person how one would use a certain program. They responded with, “I’d be glad to show you; my rates are very reasonable.”
I was shocked into silence. I asked a simple question, and they wanted to charge me for their answer?
But, then again, they have the right to earn a living by selling their knowledge.
How often have I given my knowledge for free? I could charge, I thought, for all the information and skills I’ve accumulated over the years.
But – wait a minute – writers really don’t make that much money, and we’re all struggling in the same boat of trying to get our books, articles, short stories, or other out there to larger audiences.
Think of being on a life-raft and you are the one who has the clean water, or maybe the secret to cleaning the water, would you really sell it to another passenger? Some people would.
There’s a story from a Gladwell book about how post-its came about. (To simplify:) One worker in the paper department bumped into someone from their glue department, they both talked about what they were working on and the problems there were having. If only we could…. and boom – two collaborators came up with an idea worked together to bring that to fruition by sharing their expertise and invented something we all use (and made billions for 3M!). Companies like 3M, Apple, Google, and others now use that theory to come up with new ideas, products, and solutions for every day problems!
When we all work together, we all become better humans. I want to share my ideas and experiences and share other writer’s with you, other ideas with everyone who desires to listen.
I have a job; I have many jobs. I’m not about to take advantage of others who are students in life or in writing and try to make a buck from them. I’d rather share my knowledge. I’d rather help my fellow passengers on this journey.
Thanks to all who have shared their knowledge with me. Thank you to those writers who give of themselves and their resources to make a better writing community.
When we work together, we can all benefit.