I’m not sure why Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link and Under the Pink by Tori Amos are linked in my mind. I came to them years apart, almost a decade. I was in two completely different stages of my life, one I was in highschool with a crush on a girl that had leant me the CD (but was in love with someone else, alas), and another married and with a newborn daughter and the itch to try my hand at writing again. Both opened up worlds inside of me, and both worked on me, emotionally, in the same way.
When I read stories like The Hortlak or Catskin or The Faerie Handbag, immediately songs like Past the Mission, Icicle, or Cornflake Girl start playing in my head. And also, vice versa. Maybe it is the color blue or pink or red, or the thought of snow and walking in the dark under streetlamps. Maybe it’s the way I felt after reading/listening for the very first time and all of these possibilities opened up to me. I felt charged with imagination, and a powerful emotional landscape I hadn’t felt before.
I didn’t know stories could do this, and I didn’t know music could do that, and yet here they were. The emotions still there, inexorably tied up to the moments I lived through when first encountering them. Maybe it was because I experienced both for the first time in winter, and there is something Narnia-like about either of them. And not the weird jesus lion sequels, but that first book with a world covered in snow, and the white witch, and talking animals, and all of that.
Winters we don’t usually get anymore in Erie. Not that often, anyway. Not like we used to. Maybe, for a day or two we get a blizzard and then a week later it’s all gone. But back in those primordial years of my life, before global warming stole winter from us? It was a wild, feral thing. You came to winter with a studious brow, a staff, and a cautious glance. You never knew when it would turn on you. When it would devour you.
My dad told me of the teenage years where the whole school and city were snowed in. He had to climb out the second floor window, and escape with a friend’s snow plow. That’s how high up the snow had climbed. I remember about 8 years ago, when I first moved back to Erie, and there was a blizzard so insane that it dumped six feet of snow in a handful of days. They had to call in the national guard, everything was closed. I couldn’t even go outside my front door.
And five years before that, it happened as well. That kind of raw elemental thing that blizzards and winters could be. And for a moment you might think, that sounds horrible. And yet, there was a raw elemental beauty to it as well. A calm blue that crossed over the world, and even with the flurries and the nightmare of freezing to death, there was a comfort to the stillness. To the ice that froze trees into statues.
That kind of beauty, that. That’s what I think of when I think of Tori Amos’s Under the Pink. And that is also what I think about when I think about Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. I’ve never read or listened to anything that made me feel the same way since, but I can still return to those works, those moments, and feel that stillness. That silence that only comes from a world suffocated by snow.