The Connection Between Poe's 'The Raven', a Chance Meeting Over a Parking Space, and Sto
Over one hundred and seventy years ago, on this precise day Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Raven" was published. For a storyteller/writer/observer like myself, the poem holds an obvious fascination – it is a narrative poem that tells a tale of a young man visited in the middle of the night by a raven. This young man, who is pining for his lost love – Lenore – seems to teeter on the edge of distress and dismay, and slowly lean towards mental abandonment. The scene is dark, dreary and fantastical. The raven is formidable and foreboding, the only word it speaks is 'Nevermore'.
This dramatic and fantastical poem was in the back of my mind this morning,when I came face-to-face with a very different narrative – an ordinary, regular-people-like-myself kind of story: one that could happen to almost anyone. The story goes like this – as I walked my editor back to her car, we spoke about personal things. She told me about her newly born grandchild, and I told her about my youngest son. We have known each other for many years, and our relationship goes beyond the realm of the written word.
Her car was parked in one of the many parking spaces at the side of the road. Despite the fact there were plenty of available parking spaces, it just so happened, that a car had parked on her immediate right. It was parked diagonally, in such a way that it had almost completely blocked entry to the passenger seat up front. We looked at the car with a shaking head. That's not how you park: it is unfriendly and inconsiderate. If it so happened that a passenger was travelling with my friend, how was he or she supposed to get in?
As the two of us judgementally observed the car, up came two women. They could have been us. They could have been anyone. We found ourselves staring at one another: face-to-face. They looked at us observing the car, and looked away. They didn't say a word. Neither did we. They slipped past us and made their way to their seats. The front seat passenger slipped in easily, and closed her door with a casual click. As for the driver, she began to contort and twist in order to get into her seat. Looking very carefully, anywhere, but at us, she attempted to get in at several different angles. Her car door was dangerously close to scratching my editor's car. We could see the frustration on her face. We could see her friend leaning over and trying to give her probably un-sage advice about just getting in quickly, or twisting more to the left, or shifting more to the right, or telling her to pay no mind to the fact that we were observing her little dance.
If I close my eyes, I can perfectly imagine an alternative scene in which – unobserved – the driver, without fear of being watched, flings open her door: caution be damned, and slips into her car. She slams the door behind her, leaving a metal kiss – red paint smeared on white paint, and an indelible scratch that my editor would find and wonder about for the rest of the day. But, that didn't happen. Instead, she huffed and puffed and made every effort to get into her car, leaving the other car unscathed. The effort was so intense, so immense, that we could hear an audible sigh of relief. We could see the joy with which she pulled her car door closed behind her. The driver ignited the engine and reversed at an awkward and abrupt angle from the parking space. She held to the wheel tightly. Her back was upright and tense. Her wheels screeched as the car skid out. She and her friend veered from left to right, and then back to the middle, as the car re-centered itself. The passenger caught her balance by grabbing on to the dashboard. She looked at her friend the driver and seemed to scold her. The driver shook her head, straightened up and looked at me. Her look was unapologetic, even angry, as if to say 'now look what you made me do'. And then they were gone.
My editor and briefly discussed these two women: who they were, where they were going. Why they were so angry, so aggressive. I wondered to myself whether our calm had made matters worse. I wondered whether our observation of them had made them more self-conscious, unapologetic, and cocky. But, it was immaterial, because it was time to move on. As my editor drove off, I started to walk home. Funny, I thought to myself, a face off between four women, who under other circumstances might have been friends. We might have shared a thought about a child or a grandchild. We might have spoken about books or politics. We might have discussed business opportunities in local or global markets. But the sticky situation that we found ourselves in, prevented all of that. My editor and I left calm and relieved, the two other women left irritable and worked up.
The story might have ended there – no real conclusions or parables are always necessary. There was nothing mystical or allegorical, or supernatural, it was just an ordinary incident on an otherwise regular day. However, that was not the end. A few minutes later, my editor called me.
"Hey," I said "butt call or did we forget to discuss something?"
"Nope," she said, "you know those women? The two of them? With the car and the parking...?"
"Yes," I answered, a question mark in my voice.
"I can see them. They are OK, but they have crashed their car. They are at the side of the road. The front of their car is all smashed up. Particularly the passenger side. The police are with them."
"Goodness, me," I said, "but are they OK?"
'"Yes," she said. "They are calm now."
Funny, I thought to myself. Funny that now they are calm.
When you juxtapose the two narratives: the big, dark, bold and somewhat fantastical story of Poe – a distraught lover and a midnight visit from a talking bird, versus the mundane – two random women, coming face-to-face over a parking space, with two other random women; you can see the supernatural versus the mundane, the theatrical versus the ordinary.
No matter how you dress up a story, what remains universal is the humanity – love, frustration, anger, humiliation, irony. Storytelling can take many different shapes and forms. It can be wrapped in religious, mythological, or fantastical references, or it can be unfettered and human, and clothed in trainers and house shoes. It can take place in the dark of a 'midnight dreary' or it can take place over a parking space. No matter how you dress up a narrative, the thread of humanity ties it all together.