Listening to Fear: “IT” by Stephen King

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IT

By Stephen King

Pp. 1,138

Viking Press 1986

 

It’s a dark and rainy evening in Portland. The kind that makes me think of gurgling storm drains, especially after finishing listening to the audiobook, IT by Stephen King.

After watching the movie trailer for the newest iteration of IT, I got the audiobook. Sure, I want to see the movie, but I can’t help but feel like I’m experiencing a visual sensory overload lately. (I love Pilobolus’ reaction to this by the way!) Scary stories are meant to be told at night, over dying coals, and in hushed voices. I wanted to tap into this very old auditory dimension of fear and let my imagination roam.

I think this would have been tough for me to read through anyway, especially quickly. A book this big says COMMITMENT. A commitment to carrying around the extra weight (yes, I think like a backpacker), to reading every day if you ever want to finish it and not lose momentum, and a commitment to not skip ahead. Audio tracks will probably never feel daunting in the way that a giant book sometimes can. I could zone out while washing a dirty dishes or folding clothes, but there is some leniency in listening.

I listened to IT for about a month, feeling comforted by being back in fictional but familiar New England town and for the channel it offered for the excess fear and loneliness that haunts the corners of my life at the moment. I didn’t get scared in the way I expected to, probably because I was expecting to. Funny how fear works like that sometimes. I was, however, surprised that I liked King’s writing so much. He flip-flopped seamlessly through the 1960s and 1980s and drew compelling parallels between adulthood and childhood for each of the characters that stretched beyond mere cause and effect or functional plot device. Most of the chapters felt like they were written as short stories which added to the novel’s slower than expected pacing and impressive depth. While I occasionally lost track of which kid in the Loser’s Club was speaking, I knew every character’s first and last name and their family histories. My interest was intense and sustained. I anxiously wondered how the past would inform the rapidly approaching present, and how the lives of the parents had shaped the lives of the children. 

I think when I decided to read a Stephen King book, I just expected the thrill of being scared and the relief that comes with being able to pause a track late at night.

*Spoiler Alert*

This book isn’t about kids and a clown. It’s about growing up, which feels especially poignant as I embark on this new stage of adulthood. Here’s one passage that stood out to me and that I wanted to share:

The energy you drew on so extravagantly when you were a kid, the energy you thought would never exhaust itself – that slipped away somewhere between eighteen and twenty-four, to be replaced by something much duller, something as bogus as coke high: purpose, maybe, or goals, or whatever rah-rah Junior Chamber of Commerce word you wanted to use. It was no big deal; it didn’t go all at once with a bang. And maybe, Richie thought, that’s the scary part. How you don’t stop being a kid all at once, with a big explosive bang, like one of that clown’s trick balloons with the Burma-Shave slogans on the sides. The kid in you just leaked out, like the air out of a tire. And one day you looked in the mirror and there was a grown up looking back at you. You could go on wearing blue jeans, you could keep going to Springsteen and Seger concerts, you could dye your hair, but that was a grown up’s face in the mirror just the same. It all happened while you were asleep, maybe, like a visit from a Tooth Fairy.

I am approaching twenty-six, which does not feel old, but it is the oldest I have ever been. When I look in the mirror, I see a kid who adored playing in the sun and laughs to the point of crying over the silliest things. But I also see a critical and curmudgeonly hey-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn type of old person.

I am tired when I come home from work but proud I pay my bills alone. I miss hiking every day but am grateful to have health insurance. While I don’t know what a coke high feels like, I remember the genuine giddiness I consistently experienced at sweet sixteens and how I feel now after a night of apizza and beers with friends. These two feelings are not the same, but I had to make the tradeoff every now and then to become not only myself but a self-sustaining adult. Being able to identify with Richie Tozier in this moment was not the scariest moment of the book for me- that would be any scene involving Patrick Hockstetter!!!- but it did give me pause. How is the kid in me surviving during this transition to Portland? How is the adult in me thriving?  

Like the end of IT, I don’t have the most concise or clear answers to these questions. Only an understanding that if you want to remember who you are, it helps to have it written it down somewhere.

P.S.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, I also posted a gear review of the newest Sawyer filters to The Trek!

Traveling with “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”

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Like most people, middle school was a weird time for me. I was very introverted and found myself suddenly best friendless when my best friend started dating a kid in our grade who had his own band. After that, I became not so much a loner, as much as a very limited floater. Kids saw me as nice but unapproachably smart. The logic going something like this:

Because she doesn’t speak, she’s never sounded like an idiot.

So she must be really smart.

I was very self-conscious to begin with, but now people thought I was some kind of brain? That only increased the pressure to not make a fool of myself and fly quietly under the radar. Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Flipped, Walk Two Moons, Feed, House of the Scorpion, Uglies… I devoured books all day every day. I loved to read but it also took away the social pressure to try and make friends. Plus, it fit the profile I was assigned which meant that no one bothered me. I floated between a few girls who were as obsessed with Spirited Away as I was and didn’t mind how much or how little I talked, how good I was at Language Arts, or how terrible I was at Algebra.

I started reading Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants because I overheard a girl in my math class saying how much she liked the first book. I can almost remember whipping around in my plastic blue seat. Books! I could talk about books with this girl! We could be friends! And we did, we were. The library only had one copy of each book so we would take turns reading and then we had something to talk about for months. The book we’d just read, the one that was coming out, which character we were most like, how much I loved Kostos, and if our parents would ever fly us out to Greece by ourselves when we were in high school. (They didn’t.)

If you don’t know, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is about four girls: Lena, Tibby, Bridget, and Carmen. They’ve been best friends from birth. Really, from birth! Their moms met in a prenatal aerobics class! They’ve hardly spent a moment apart never mind a whole summer, until their junior year of high school. This summer the friends would be pulled apart by stepfamilies, soccer camps, and a trip to see grandparents in Greece. As fate would have it, Carmen finds a pair of thrift store jeans that fits each one of them. This would be how they stay in touch all summer. The pants would follow each girl on their adventure and be there to witness the joys and sorrows that were in store.

The girls in Sisterhood became my best friends. They were so familiar and alive to me. I found pieces of myself in every one. I was artsy and sarcastic like Tibby, as shy as Lena, emotional as Carmen, and when I felt safe I could be as spirited and charming as Bridget. During such a strange time, I had found a place where I belonged. It felt like these girls were always right where I was or where I was about to be in life. Navigating love, loss, parents, college, and death, it felt like they knew what was going to happen to me and it helped me to know it had all had happened to them too.

I loved these books so much that I began reading them every summer until sometime in high school when had required summer reading books. I can remember a few: Jane Eyre, Rebecca, My Antonia, The Jungle... My oldest friend Mary and I would spend days at her house reading through these books. We’d swim in her pool and take breaks to dramatically read passages from books we found so boring. At the end of summer, we’d watch the movie versions and talk about which was better. We usually felt both versions were confusing and uninspiring. This was the trade I had made those summers: bad books for good friends.

I ended up in a group of funny, complicated, intelligent young women who loved me for all of my weirdness, brains, and emotional outbursts during high school. I had found my sisters. We didn’t have magic pants but I think prep school was just as compelling a bonding agent.

There are a few books that I love, but none other have this true feeling of existing as a part of me like those in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. Every so often, I find myself pulling out these books when I feel farthest from home and my high school friends.

Now is one of those times! I’ve accepted a job in Oregon that features a lot of firsts for me. Like health insurance, a salary, and no end date! I am getting more excited as time goes on (and a little more anxious about finding a place to live) but I can tell you that when I wake up in the middle of the night feeling lonely or stressed out, it’s these books I go for. The girls always felt a little braver when it was their time to wear the pants and rereading these books helps me feel a little braver too.