Some invisible fiend, I thought, struck me with his broad palm upon the back

the Imp of the Perverse

Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images

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I awoke early enough for the first time in recent memory to see the last of the sunrise spilling out over the roof of the house next door in its twee little pink mist and I thought to myself there is the sunrise. I don’t know if I was expecting a more profound thought than that but that was the size of it and before long the sky was gray and overcast again anyway and the old man next door was scurrying around fiddling with his truck getting it started and scraping the ice off of the windows and so on to go wherever it is he goes. The old man store I imagine.

Good morning he said. Good morning I said.

I went to set my ice coffee down on the little table next to my chair on the porch and I chunked the entire thing over and I watched it happen from a remove in slow motion like it was happening to someone else and I probably said goddamnit or the equivalent and then I had to deal with that. Everywhere else around the porch is covered in wet ice right now but you can’t allow wet ice in this particular spot that is just how it works. Things belong in their place.

Earlier maybe an hour or so before that I remember being in bed and reaching over to make sure M. was still there in the way I do and she was and then I remember reaching over again and she wasn’t this time she was clattering around in the bathroom getting ready for her shift at the Covid factory for children and I thought about how much effort it would take to go back to sleep again with my little videos of the ocean and the rain playing on the computer so I said fuck it and I figured I’d get up and have a nice coffee without anything bad happening to it.

A friend called that I haven’t spoken to in at least a year or maybe since the early days of Covid back when you would call your friends or Facetime them and such and they’d go like what the fuck ha ha ha and you’d go what the fuck ha ha ha before a million people died and we talked for a while and since he’s sober and we talk about that sometimes I told him that I had been trying to do dry January with a little bit of but not enough success and because he is the type of friend I can say shit like this to I said my problem is that when I do not drink I am constantly aware of the fact that I am going to die every second of the day and that someday best case scenario like thirty to forty years from now although probably less at this rate for me I am going to get sick in a way that there’s no coming back from and M. will be there and I’ll cry and cry with self pity and she’ll try to console me but it won’t work because hugging doesn’t curtail oblivion.

I think the idea of all of this living is to accumulate enough loving and having been loved experience points that you can cash them in in one fell swoop at the end there for an ameliorating effect on the descent but the prospect of that never brings me any comfort because it’s all erased on the other side of it anyway. It’s probably somewhat better to be in a plane crash whacked out on pills but the destination is the same.

No wait I don’t believe any of that I believe it is worth it to do the loving and having been loved. I have to or else and you have to or else.

Worse than that one scenario of me dying I mentioned is that instead M. will go first and I’ll have to contend with that which I am entirely incapable of I said to him or maybe I just thought that now and inserted it into the conversation retroactively.

If Covid has made nothing else clear to me it is the reality that you can get sick in such and such a way that there is nothing to be done about it even if you are under the care of a doctor that really or more likely mostly doesn’t want you to die. I know that seems like an obvious thing to realize and I am sure I always mostly already knew it but it’s not the type of thing you want to walk around being aware of all the time if that makes sense so when you do become aware of it again from time to time it hits afresh like a tossed punch. You think most days that when something bad happens they’re going to marshall the heavens and earth for your benefit like you’re the governor or whoever but that’s awfully naive. It seems more likely at best at most they give it a pretty good go. Like when your car won’t start you still try to turn it over a few times to be sure then maybe you check the oil and one other thing you know how to do and are like well fuck I’m out of ideas here.

Then you call 1-877-Kars4Kids and send the car to Hell or wherever it is they take it.

The last time I got good and drunk a couple nights ago I went into one of my obsessive jags about a particular band and in this case it was the Texas sisters Eisley who are all my wife and I’ve had one of their songs stuck in my head ever since then which is fine by me because it’s a very beautiful song called Ambulance and it goes:

I need an ambulance
I took, I took the worst of the blow
Send me a redeemer
Let me know if I'm gonna be alright
Am I gonna be alright?
Cause I know how it usually goes
I know how it usually goes

When I do drink I told my friend on the phone there I still know that I’m going to die and that we’re all going to die but it just doesn’t seem like my problem for a little while and what comfort there is in that. And then he laughed in a knowing way with that super power of self knowledge that people in recovery sometimes have and he probably said something wise or helpful but I forget what it was because I was too busy thinking about myself.

He said he had a new job and it was going pretty well and I said oh good.

I may be repeating myself here with this I’m scared to die shit but what other story is there? Not just now at this point in time for me and you during the pandemic but ever for anyone I mean.

We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots.

There are supposed to be anywhere between three and seven types of basic conflicts in literature the most common of which are man versus man man versus nature and man versus self. Then you might throw in man versus society or man versus the supernatural and a few other variations if you want to be fancy about it. The third one there though is the thing. Maybe I’m just thinking about it through that lens because I just watched the episode of Station Eleven last night that made it obvious the whole post-pandemic story has been a big dangling obvious allusion to Hamlet. I mostly came to understand that by all the explicit references in the show to the text of the famous play Hamlet.

Still not sure about this show vis a vis “being great” by the way although I have two more episodes to watch still. There certainly are some very beautiful and wrenching moments on the matter of grief and loss throughout however and you know I am a sucker for that sort of shit.

I’m looking at a headline right now that goes “For some who recently contracted Covid, an unexpected emotion: Relief” and then the subhed is “‘We don’t have to be worrying and waiting anymore,’ one woman said. ‘The bad thing has happened, and now we can get to the work of managing it.’”

The bad thing has happened.

I’m sure part of the reason this story was written was in a manufacturing consent sort of a fashion to prep us all to submit to what is now but never should have been inevitable had our government actually done anything to stop the pandemic besides turning it into a matter of personal responsibility — like how when they had all those stories for a while there about celebrities saying they don’t shower to prime us for the inevitable water crisis — but I do sort of get the magical thinking in a way. It would be a relief to just have it all over with is an intrusive thought you might often have like me but unlike dying you can in fact keep getting Covid over and over again so now I’m not really sure the reasoning here makes sense.

Before that I read an essay by Danielle Tcholakian on Jezebel about getting sober during Covid and one thing she wrote was this: “The truth is that most of my drinking and using had one primary purpose: to allow me to feel less. To be less aware. To not have to live in my own brain or settle for the reality of living in the world as myself. To hide from how overwhelmed I was by seemingly everything.” And I thought ah come on that’s my thing that’s basically what I was planning on writing today albeit without the happy ending. I suppose there aren’t too many variations on the theme when it comes to this shit. Sometimes I’ll talk to other friends in recovery and I’ll be preemptively embarrassed by how cliche my whole thing probably sounds as if I’m describing the plot to a movie everyone in the world is already aware of. Like trying to surprise someone by telling them Darth Vader turns out to be Luke’s father and then they have to act gracious about receiving that information from you. Oh wow. And he jumped into what now? With his hand cut off? That’s wild.

I read a story just now that said around 45% of school districts in Oklahoma have pivoted to distance learning again because of Covid. I don’t know anything about Oklahoma I’m going to be honest with you here. Then I saw a tweet from a reporter there that said police in one county had taken to substituting in classrooms and there’s a bunch of pictures of some smiling unmasked pink cops standing there in classrooms in uniform with their cop forearms and their guns on their hips while kids do remote lessons on the computer anyway. It is not clear to me that if your two motivations are supposed to be helping children learn and keeping them safe from Covid how putting them in a room with some cops the single dumbest profession we have populated entirely by people who absolutely love to contract and die from Covid seems like a good idea but then again I am newsletter writer the second dumbest profession we have so I know nothing.

There was a headline going around the other day talking about a record number of deaths for police “in the line of duty” in 2021. Fox News wrote it like this:

Last year marked the deadliest for line-of-duty police and law enforcement officers since 1930, with 458 officers dying in 2021.

The startling preliminary statistic, released Tuesday by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), surpassed the 1930 record of 312 fatalities and reflects a 55% jump in line-of-duty deaths compared to the 295 officer deaths in 2020.

Then later down in the story they say that 66% of those deaths were from Covid. Just to be safe we had all better panic about rising violence in lawless cities.

Someone seems to have gotten a hold of my debit card or else hacked my Uber and delivery apps accounts and they’ve been ordering so much Chinese food in what looks like California but they also seem to have just straight up paid their rent in Arlington, Texas with it this month so you’re welcome for that I guess. On one day there were charges for like twenty Uber rides and I don’t know maybe they had a lot of errands to run that particular day or maybe they just wanted to ride around in the back of a car for free for a while just to feel what it was like to get away with something for once. I hope they are at the very least tipping well.

Speaking of getting away with it a lobbying group working against an effort to regulate how gig workers like rideshare drivers are classified in Massachusetts took in the single biggest political donation in the state’s history in the form of a $13 million windfall on December 30 the Boston Globe reported yesterday. The tech interests behind the group called Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers are hoping to defeat a bill similar to California’s Prop 22 that will likely be voted on here next year.

I got my first ever real (non at home rapid) Covid test yesterday after feeling like shit for a while. I guess they call you after a couple days if you are positive and say if you don’t hear from them then you’re good to go and I’m a little worried despite being boosted not because I’m afraid of getting sick I just don’t want to not be able to go to the gym or the pool for a week or whatever it is.

Almost immediately after I spilled the coffee it had turned to near frozen slush in the cold air and I wondered again why we torture ourselves living through this climate for three or four months a year. I keep having this daydream about moving to Florida our worst and most American state and I am not under the illusion that everything that is bad still wouldn’t be bad and in some ways worse there but at least my hands and feet would be filled with blood all of the time. The last time we went to Florida we drove up the Keys to Miami in a stupid convertible and gawked at the ocean for hours like who could ever get enough of this but that’s stupid I realize that after a while even the ocean disappears into the background when you live next to it for long enough. I remember climbing up a narrow winding staircase inside of some lighthouse and becoming struck with a fear of the height to the point of paralysis not that the structure itself was going to collapse but that in order to stop the pressure compounding in my brain that I would jump off if only to get the entire thing over with. I didn’t though. Obviously. Then after that we went to the Hemingway house and I got immediately allergic to all the fucking cats all over the place and I thought I gotta get out of here man. I thought about how much of a coward I would seem like to the old boy himself but then again he certainly doesn’t have much to offer in terms of responsible life decisions. I am going to cancel Hemingway for toxic masculinity no one else has thought of this yet. Then there will be a whole news cycle about it. Crying Dumb Shit Erases Great Man From History.

Apparently a bill in Florida being pushed by governor Ron DeSantis that “would prohibit public schools and private businesses from making white people feel ‘discomfort’ when they teach students or train employees about discrimination in the nation’s past” passed its first hurdle to becoming law in the state’s Senate Education Committee yesterday. The bill which is called “Individual Freedom” explains that “An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, does not bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex. An individual should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.”

I wonder what it must be like to go through life not only not experiencing any discomfort but to believe that you should not ever be made to. I wonder why people like DeSantis seem unburdened by conscience and unperturbed by their impending mortality. What it must be like to float through life like that. Also not really entirely clear to me how the Christian politicians who are pushing for these kind of bills around the country — DeSantis is Catholic — square this American freedom to live without guilt with the concept of original sin but maybe I skipped that day at church school.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.

Do you ever lay there thinking about things you don’t want to think about and the harder you try not to the more inevitable it becomes?

“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute,” Dostoevsky wrote in 1863. That observation was extrapolated on by psychologist Daniel Wegner in the 1980s in a famous experiment you’ve likely heard of where he asked subjects to not think of a white bear and to ring a bell every time that they did. You can probably guess what happened next.

The concept came to be known as “ironic process theory” as he explained it. I always thought when I said my brain was irony poisoned it meant something else. In short the ironic tension here is the harder our brain tries not to think of something the more often it checks in to make sure we aren’t thinking of it thereby making us think of it. Sometimes I’ll think to myself hoo boy doing a great job not drinking here tonight and then a second later it’s like ahh fuck I shouldn’t have been aware of what was transpiring here.

Edgar Allan Poe was born on this day in 1809 in Boston and then he died forty years later in Baltimore drunk in the gutter as the story goes. Before that his father abandoned him and his mother died young from tuberculosis and so he was taken in by John and Frances Allan of Virginia the latter of whom died and then he married his uhhhhhhhhh thirteen year old cousin who also died of tuberculosis. Newspapers attributed Poe’s death to “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation” which I gather are euphemisms for alcoholism but also kind of funny sounding combinations of words you have to admit.

Congestion of the brain.

The point is I was just reading a piece of his this morning like I often do being a person who definitely reads literature a lot and doesn’t just scroll Twitter from dawn til dusk and I came across a weird little fucked up story called The Imp of the Perverse that I had forgotten about.

It starts out with this sort of rambling 19th century ass pseudo-scientific jargon section about phrenology and god and shit but then transitions into the confession of a murderer. The thing is there was never any need for him to confess. He clearly could have gotten away with it but he was compelled against himself to do so.

“Could I have torn out my tongue, I would have done it, but a rough voice resounded in my ears — a rougher grasp seized me by the shoulder. I turned — I gasped for breath. For a moment I experienced all the pangs of suffocation; I became blind, and deaf, and giddy; and then some invisible fiend, I thought, struck me with his broad palm upon the back. The long imprisoned secret burst forth from my soul.”

The cause of the narrator’s undoing Poe writes is that he is among the many “uncounted victims of the Imp of the Perverse.”

The themes of confession to a crime and motiveless crime itself would carry on throughout Poe’s work as well as Dostoevsky’s obviously. The general idea of this piece also comes into play in Freud’s concept of the death drive.

It’s weird by the way that you could just be some guy writing a story about some other guy you made up back then and accidentally invent a field of psychological study.

Poe’s man explains more:

We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss — we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness and dizziness and horror become merged in a cloud of unnamable feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows into palpability, a shape, far more terrible than any genius or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall — this rushing annihilation — for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination — for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore do we the most impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demonically impatient, as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a Plunge. To indulge, for a moment, in any attempt at thought, is to be inevitably lost; for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to prostrate ourselves backward from the abyss, we plunge, and are destroyed.

“Examine these similar actions as we will, we shall find them resulting solely from the spirit of the Perverse,” he writes and sorry I know we’re talking about grim stuff here but that is also a very funny phrase. The spirit of the Perverse. Sounds like a yacht some rich guy would have sad little orgies on.

There’s an important distinction in here however. It’s not the imp that inspires Poe’s narrator to commit the murder in the first place. That impulse is driven by his own human greed and cruelty. It’s the imp rather that convinces him to destroy himself because he knows that he rightfully has it coming sooner or later.

Then Poe sums up the entire thing:

We do these actions, he writes,  “because we feel that we should not.”

Ah fuck hold on I gotta go. I just got a voicemail from my town’s board of health and they want me to call back. I’m sure it’s nothing.