Introductory words according to Thomas, Co-Founder, Jack of all Trades, and Creative Director of Raven Vanguard
Today, with great pleasure, and a sense of moralistic duty, we agreeably bring you another one of our commandeered Weekly Once-overs from another virtuous contributing observer, this one, from our good friend, Jennifer X.
And Jennifer, like those trailblazers who preceded her, freely accepted our invitation to speak her profoundly prophetic and philosophical words of comforting circumspection for the urgent betterment of our natural world.
Also, same as those radical pioneers who made bold and insanely provocative proclamations before her’s, the words, and thoughts expressed here today are Jennifer’s alone without any inveigling or compulsory stipulations tossed into the mix by @ravenvanguard. Moreover, Jennifer’s words and ideas are enthusiastically passed on to you without any form of filtering or censorship from us.
Words of Warning ours, not Jennifer’s: if you aren’t open to the spiritual possibilities of prayer, and the vagaries of faith and death, this Once-over may not be your thing, and you should consider looking away. I am looking at you three, in particular, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny.
However, if you are someone who enjoyed Francis Ford Coppola’s film, Rumble Fish, especially the character of Benny, as portrayed by Tom Waits, then Jennifer’s Once-over may resonate with you as a genuinely heartfelt rumination on the passage of time in the experiential sense.
Personally speaking, I find Tom Waits to have a singular manner when it comes to oratory and perspective. To me, one of the most profound observations about the passage of time was that uttered by Waits during a very brief monologue in the film. According to Waits/Benny – “Time is a funny thing. Time is a very peculiar item. You see, when you’re young, you’re a kid, you got time, you got nothing but time. Throw away a couple of years here, a couple of years there…it doesn’t matter. You know, the older you get, you say, Jesus, how much I got? I got thirty-five summers left. Think about it. Thirty-five summers.”
And, if you are someone who obsesses over the meaning of Einstein’s concept of time, or the notion that the reality of time is nothing more than a hazy mental construct, or, if like me, you are more concerned, not with the illusory nature of time, but with its flat-out and abject elusiveness, then Jennifer’s Once-over will most certainly be a cup of tea that is brewed to your liking.
So, who is this Jennifer X anyway? Here’s where things get tricky. Keep in mind that I am also a lawyer, and that like many professional confessors who are often called upon to hear the most intimate, and unbosoming of confessions, I am required to take certain confidences and secrets to the grave, no matter how weird, freaky, or inscrutable they might be. Unfortunately, with this sanitizing limitation in mind, there is very little I can tell you about Jennifer, except that she is a very dear, trusted, and faithful Friend.
Moreover, by virtue of a nitpicked and lengthy nondisclosure agreement, we cannot publish Jennifer’s last name for fear that it will create a myriad of complicated legal problems for her. You see, there are no less than three open extradition warrants that have been issued by a number of dubious foreign countries seeking her arrest and handing over, for something having to do with her ghostwritten accounting work for a human organ trafficking ring that has taken up shelter somewhere in the deep recesses of Candy Mountain. Shun the nonbelievers!
Without further adieu, here’s Jennifer:
Words according to @hellmouthhoney, also known as Jennifer by her friends, former “Girl Friday” to Tom in a previous lifetime, and no lawful connection whatsoever to Raven Vanguard
A playlist to pair with your reading:
“If you need me, me and Neil’ll be hanging out with the dream king.” - Tori Amos, Tear in Your Hand
Thank you Neil Gaiman. Also, I’m sorry, Neil Gaiman. There are plenty of beautiful tributes celebrating the 30th anniversary of the publication of The Sandman around that are surely better written than this raving. Nevertheless, I shall persist in adding my humble offering to the altar of the Endless. Lately, these anniversaries of the films and albums of my youth tend to make me either laugh or feel tired. But #Sandman30 made me do something else - think. I can’t stop thinking about it, this strange, beautiful dream that you shared with all of us. The more I think about Sandman, the more I realize how much it shaped my life.
November 1988 - I had just turned 12. And I was not so cool at 12 that I was even aware The Sandman existed. That took a few more years, but what a discovery it was at 16.
1993 - I was 16 going on 17, busy with high school, worried about college. A time when my taste in everything was evolving. Moving from boy bands to rock, hip-hop, and emo. Never really one for the metal scene, but every good chorus kid has a secret goth inside them and, without question, Tori Amos was our queen. Imagine stumbling across The Sandman in your local bookstore and meeting Morpheus, the Dream King. And suddenly, it made sense, that line from ‘Tear in Your Hand’ - this was the dream king, and this was the Neil. It was like unlocking a new level of inner goth. A revelation. My cold black heart grew two sizes that day.
The one advantage to discovering something late is that you have a far deeper catalog of material that is immediately available to explore. No wonder we’re all so in love with binge-watching, it’s simply the technical evolution of binge-reading, something comics, and graphic novels were made for. Lucky me had an entire series to now dive into.
I’m completely a social sciences kind of girl. English and History were always my favorite subjects, I took Latin as an elective and developed a deep love for mythology. I was an artist and a writer. And here was this world that appealed to all of my varying interests with a hero who looked like Robert Smith/Edward Scissorhands and its own interconnected web of mythology.
Part of what intrigued me the most about Morpheus was his family. He wasn’t the usual tragic orphan turned hero. Morpheus was just one of the Endless, and I loved them all.
Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, DeLIriUm.
All aspects of our very human reality, rendered in otherworldly mystery. Of course, Morpheus was every good little goth’s fantasy boyfriend. I have to admit though, it was really his sister I fell for. Death. The cool girl/cousin/older sister that you secretly wanted to be, and that your parents didn’t want you to hang around. And in 1993, Death got her due and a novel of her own. So, in truth, what started as a tribute to #Sandman30 is also really a tribute to #Death25.
In Sandman, Death asserts that she doesn’t meet each of us only once at the end, but that she is always there watching when we are born. I think there is also a third meeting in there as well. We may be briefly introduced at birth, but the majority of us truly meet Death for the first time later in life. That introduction comes with the first major loss that makes Death a firm reality instead of a nebulous concept.
I was lucky that I had made it all the way to high school without suffering a serious personal loss. My paternal Grandfather died a few months before I was born, my paternal Grandmother died when I was a toddler. I never knew them. The loss was so hard for my Father that he rarely spoke of them at all. Death was not something we talked about in my family. If there were deaths in our extended family, my parents firmly believed that funerals were not places for children and never brought us with them. By the time I was 17, I had two different friends who were murdered. Both events were traumatic and shocking, but murder seemed so different from death. In these cases, even though they made no sense, there was someone - a murderer - to blame which shifted the focus away from Death.
I think this is why this version of death, Death of the Endless, had such a profound effect on me. For the first time, death as a concept was brought to life in a way that made sense as opposed to a biblical Angel of Death or Grim Reaper. This Death was relatable. She had a purpose to fulfill, and she cared about her charges. When she came for you, it was done out of necessity, not malice. I still remember the panel that sparked this revelation. It was from The Sandman, Volume 7, Brief Lives 3, and Bernie is trying to bargain with Death when she replies: “You lived what anybody gets, Bernie. You got a lifetime.”
You got a lifetime — such a simple concept. But when you are young and naive, and life seems full of possibilities, and it feels like time never moves fast enough, a lifetime sounds like an eternity. And suddenly a lifetime is a gift; you can help determine its quality, but not its quantity. Years aren’t guaranteed, only this opportunity, this lifetime, whatever it is.
I surely met Death when I was a few months past 21, still a girl, also a woman, on the edge of adulthood. At times, I feel like I’m still there, part of me never left 21, I have a hard time remembering my true age, I refer to myself as a girl at times, as a woman at others. It’s as if the little hand on my internal clock stopped the moment Death entered the room. However, without the comfort of Death of the Endless, I am not certain that the big hand would have kept moving either.
The Sound of Her Wings.
January 1, 1998 - the phone call comes from my mother, my father had a heart attack and was in the hospital with heart failure. Big sisters were already on the way to pick up little sister and me to take us to Pittsburgh where my dad had temporarily relocated for work a month ago. I know we made it there in less than two hours, let along the three it normally takes. He was in the hospital, he was awake, we said what we needed to, he was scared, I could tell he knew he was dying. My godfather and Uncle arrived from Florida and Missouri. We spent the night in my father’s corporate apartment and in the morning returned to the strange hospital in this strange city.
January 2, 1998 - tired of wandering around the hospital, tired of going outside to smoke, I retreated to the quietest place I could find, the hospital chapel. I was in the chapel when I heard the code called over the intercom. I knew it was for him so I lingered avoiding the scene upstairs. My father died while I was sitting in a chapel.
January 2, 1998, was a Friday and sundown was approaching in a few hours. This was a problem because we were Jewish. Now when I say we were Jewish, I mean we were reform, go to temple on high holidays, just make your Bat Mitzvah, and you don’t have to go anymore, Jewish. Most Jewish undertakers it seems are Conservative or even Orthodox. Once sundown came, and it was officially Shabbat, we wouldn’t be able to reach anyone to make proper arrangements until the next night. Even if we did not keep that tradition of resting on the Sabbath, they did. My uncle was able to connect with someone back in Buffalo who contacted someone in Pittsburgh. However, because it was close to sundown, they couldn’t come right then to the hospital. They were connecting with one of their employees who would come to the hospital, but it might be a few hours until they could get there.
We were Jewish, but not observant. But it still mattered enough to my father that he wanted us to be raised Jewish, and my Catholic mother converted to Judaism. I knew this was important to him, so it was important to me. And if there was ever a time to follow a tradition, it was now. The death ritual is always one of the most sacred in almost all religions. (I was currently a religion major in college, so this was my wheelhouse, knowledge has always been my balm, my salvation). And one important Jewish tradition is that we don’t leave our dead alone. From death to burial, there should always be someone with the body. That’s who was on their way over, the watcher who would stay with my father until he was released and transported to the funeral home. But someone had to keep watch until the watcher arrived. Surveying the chaos around me, my uncle making phone calls and taking care of logistics, my mother and little sister having been sent back to the apartment, both sedated, I volunteered. I would do it. I would sit in that room with my father until the professional arrived.
Sometime before Sundown, Friday, January 2, 1998. I remember that time had managed to stop when my father died. I don’t remember what the time of death even was, whether it was one hour before sundown or six. I remember it felt like an eternity and like nothing at the same time.
I am sitting in a plastic chair in an empty, dark hospital room next to a gurney. My dead father’s corpse is lying on the gurney covered by a sheet. I am holding my dead father’s hand.
I do not know what to do here. I am not trained to be a watcher. But I still intend to fulfill this sacred duty. I figure that I should pray. So I pray. I pray every prayer I can think of, from every religion I know, and then when I run out of prayers, I just repeat them again, a vigil of perpetual adoration. I know that I am supposed to be here to comfort the spirit that lingers. I can feel his hand growing colder in mine.
It was probably shock. It was probably a self-induced meditative state. My senses were on alert. The veil was stretched thin. I felt something approaching. It did not feel right or good. So I closed my eyes, tightened my grip and prayed harder until it passed by. Like that moment in a horror movie when the hero is hiding from the psycho-killer and is about to exhale when the killer suddenly stops and hesitates in front of the hiding place before, phew, moving on.
And so I went back to sitting and praying and watching. And that’s when I heard her. The sound of her wings. The overwhelming sound of a mighty conspiracy of ravens. One of those sounds that you know can only be heard inside your own head, and you know that no one else can hear, and you know that it is still real anyway. A great avian ruckus that burns away into white noise and then … perfect silence, perfect stillness. Everything stops when Death enters the room.
Death came for my father and instead of terror, I felt peace. Hello old friend. I understand why you’re here; he had his lifetime. I would rather he go with a friend.
I am one of those people who needs a soundtrack to their life. The ability to create playlists digitally makes it even easier to indulge this need. Thinking about the Sandman naturally inspired the challenge to create a playlist for the Endless.
Tear In Your Hand - Tori Amos: The one that started it all.
Blasphemous Rumors - Depeche Mode: Taking me right back to the dance party days at the Continental. One of my favorites of theirs. What a song. What a statement.
O Children - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Because when I imagine what Destiny sounds like, I imagine he would have Nick Cave’s voice.
It’s Not a Fashion Statement, It’s a Fucking Death Wish - My Chemical Romance: When I first read Sandman, I thought Morpheus reminded me of Robert Smith, but when I reread it now, I see Gerard Way. If the Vampire Lestat can be a rockstar, the Dream King can have a band, and if he did, that band would have to be My Chemical Romance. There is also a tribute to my favorite line from Brief Lives in this song (slightly modified, but you’ll know it when you hear it).
Buena - Morphine: I was introduced to Morphine by a friend my sophomore year of college, and ever since I learned that the lead singer’s last name was Sandman, I have simply always connected the two in my mind. Even if it’s a connection of my own making, there is such a dreamy quality to the music it works. I probably listened to this entire album (Cure for Pain) every night that year as I was falling asleep.
Trout Heart Replica - Amanda Palmer: Neil Gaiman’s equally amazing wife, author, Goth rock goddess, and so much more. The emotion in her voice, the line about the wizard, this song makes me cry.
It Can’t Rain All the Time - Jill Siberry: A dorm room decorated in white Christmas lights and dead roses. And The Crow soundtrack on repeat.
When Bad Does Good - Chris Cornell: This song is for Destruction. I think he would appreciate it.
If I Had A Heart - Fever Ray: A song for Desire. Mesmerizing and dangerous.
Ten Tonne Skeleton - Royal Blood: I just really like Royal Blood.
Trinity’s Crying - Coco Rosie: If Dream can be Gerard Way, DeLIriuM would certainly be CocoRosie. One of the best live shows I have ever seen, and delirious is the word to describe the feeling.
Bird Gehrl - Antony & The Johnsons: For Death - the sound of her wings. It may be a bit obvious, but a damn good song nonetheless.
The Spell - The Blackheart Procession: A song for Despair.
Fade Into You - Mazzy Star: Nothing says early 90s more than this.
We Are The Dead - David Bowie: because there must be Bowie. In truth, this entire playlist could be Bowie and still work (or even work better). So many options, but since I was only adding one, I wanted something less expected.
Disintegration - The Cure: My first thought of the Dream King was that he reminded me of Robert Smith.
The Chauffeur - Duran Duran: My very first favorite band since second grade. As Neil Gaiman literally wrote the book on them, I think it’s a fitting inclusion.
In The Air Tonight - Phil Collins: For Tom.