This is a post I have mixed feelings about writing. One purpose this blog serves is to document my life and me. It’s a way of leaving something behind, of scrawling, “Kilroy was here,” on the walls of the interweb. There are no children to carry on a legacy, so this is what I have.
If I am to do that honestly, it means writing about the dark, hard stuff as well as the fun, light stuff. I’ve thought about writing this post for a while, but was looking for the right time (which, of course, is just a delaying tactic). Yesterday I mentioned yet another moment of life synchronicity. To the extent I believe the universe “tells” me anything, it’s not hard to imagine it’s suggesting that I post this now.
I’ve been wanting to get back to the drier, more technical stuff, but I’m finding it a challenge to write. There’s research required for one thing, double-checking facts, and sometimes diagrams to find or create. Writing technical material in a way that’s interesting and accessible is tough! The personal stuff flows much more readily. (And doesn’t require the fact-checking!)
So this post is about my alter-ego: Quasimodo.
If you know the Victor Hugo novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, you know about Quasimodo, ugly, deformed, deaf. He is a monster to the townspeople, despised and shunned. And he is of a socially low class, but he has a job (bell-ringer) that is important to the town and which he loves.
Quasimodo is a monster with a human heart. He can love; he can be hurt.
He loves the beautiful gypsy, Esméralda, who can never love him back.
The original inspiration for this post is a quote from the recent science fiction novel, Gardens of the Sun, by Paul McAuley. It’s the second novel in his The Quiet War trilogy. In the series, humans have achieved the ability to genetically modify life, including themselves. The solar system is populated, and the events of the books follow a war between those on Earth and those living in space.
The quote is about (genetic) monsters:
That’s what monsters do. They aren’t grateful for the so-called gifts they’ve been given. They may love them because they elevate them above the common herd, or they may loath them for exactly the same reason, but they’ll never, ever be grateful.
Why? Because those gifts set them apart from everyone else, including their creators. Yes, the old story, Frankenstein and his monster, the stuff of a billion tawdry serials and sagas.
But the reason it has persisted for so long is because it contains a fundamental truth: monsters are always lonely, because they can’t connect with ordinary people in any ordinary way. People fear and persecute monsters because they are different, and monsters despise and torment people because, despite their weakness and inferiority, they possess the one thing that monsters can never possess: the fellowship of the herd.
And so monsters grow contemptuous, and contempt turns to hate, and hate to rage, and then the running and the screaming and the killing and the destruction begins.
There are parts of the quote I would alter. For me it is both a love and a loathing. On many levels, I cherish the gifts I’ve been given, but I also hate how they’ve pushed me outside the warmth of humanity, how they seem to make me unfit to be among the townspeople.
I would also alter the part about never, ever being grateful. Those gifts have kept me employed in a world where that’s gotten harder and harder. To the extent my personal life has been a train wreck, my work life has mostly been a pleasure cruise. One can’t help but be grateful—thankful—for that.
I would also soften the part about despising and tormenting. For me it’s a matter of resentment because of the loneliness, because of the inability to connect. For most of my life, I’ve assumed it was my problem (that’s the message I’ve gotten time and again). At some point, I began to think is was not just my problem.
I have often been called arrogant, and I am likely guilty of the charge. But I think I have earned the right to the confidence—which often reads as arrogance—in my knowledge and abilities. When your history shows you get it right most of the time, at what point are you allowed to believe in your ability to get it right?
The last paragraph speaks to the greatest struggle for me. I deeply believe in the equality of all people as people. And I have never looked down on anyone for not knowing a thing. My background is filled with teachers and preachers, and I also believe deeply in sharing what I am, what I know and what I can do.
The contempt comes from those who close their ears, their eyes, their minds. It comes from those who mistake trying to help for trying to hurt. I believe it could be said of me that I don’t have a mean bone in my body. I can do anger or frustration; I can do hurt or bitterness; but I don’t do mean, and I try to avoid doing hostile.
And yet I am met over and over with meanness, pettiness and hostility. It is hard, oh so hard, to not become contemptuous and hateful in return. Being hurt—at least for me—tends to invoke anger.
All my working life I’ve heard the chorus, “We love your work; we don’t like you; you’re not good enough of a person.” It’s also a refrain I’ve heard in my personal life, minus the part about loving my work. Over and over I’m told I have to understand about how others are, about how others feel.
When will others try to understand about me; when do my feelings matter?
And I have tried all my life to wear the cloak of acceptable humanity. It’s always seemed a poor fit; perhaps it just doesn’t come in my size. Maybe I just don’t have the skill of picking the one that’s right for me.
I never knew what you all wanted
So I gave you everything
All that I could pillage
All the spells that I could sing;
As I look at the downward side of life’s hill, I wonder: Is this my life? Am I forever denied a place at humanity’s table? To be always outside looking in?
The answer, it seems, is yes.
Quasimodo must stay in his tower and leave the townspeople to their own lives.
But here’s the thing.
Even monsters can have broken hearts.
Even monsters cry.