I, Monster

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.

As with that quote I recently shared from The Sand Pebbles, every line—every word—speaks to me, identifies me, names me monster. The quote sums up much of my life.

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.

One of my favorite Bruce Cockburn tunes, Pacing the Cage, has the lyric:

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.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

21 responses to “I, Monster

  • reocochran

    The way you express yourself is very vulnerable and receiving of replies and answers. I think that is beyond any “monster” because of the open way you are reaching out. Obviously, there are idiots out there that don’t understand your genius and your talents. But you have to be part of a company of people who understand it is okay to be proud and smart.
    You have already found some loyal readers who are part friends, too.
    I notice the banter between several of them, you are sharing more than most would expect. I do not have most of your qualities, but understand them. My father was similarly shut off from some managerial positions in NASA but also felt he was never “good enough” being from the inner city, a “street punk.” At least you realize who you are. Hoping that there is some peace and sleep for you.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thank you for your kind words! It may have been my misfortune to never have found people in the “real” world with whom I have connected as well as I have with people on the internet. That’s one of the amazing things about it; the way you can find friends all over the world. It’s kept me from feeling utterly isolated since the mid-80s, and of course here the near-deafness isn’t an issue.

      I think your dad and I might have gotten along well. I’m an inner-city kid myself. Sometimes I think that’s been part of the problem in romantic relationships. Part-successful white-collar worker, part-hoodlum. Kinda tough finding someone who can embrace both!

      Thanks for being my new friend!!

  • dockfam

    wow. Definitely not the writing of a monster but of a talented, intelligent and humble (yesm humble) human being. Keep right on being who you are and do not worry about gaining approval from the masses. Jealousy runs deep and is the real monster. You sir are deserving of great things and dont be discouraged by those who would take joy in seeing you fail. It us they who need to look in the mirror and come eye to eye to the real monster!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      And thank you for your kind words! It means a lot to me to connect with others, even if only electronically. It’s a pity the technology isn’t quite to the point where we could project our holograms into some virtual reality and have a big old party!

      Both you and “R” above have been kind enough to nominate me for awards, and as I was leaving work today, I decided it would be very ungracious of me to not participate. The internet has provided me with some of the most interesting and delightful friends I’ve known, so how could I not? It might be until this weekend, I can respond, but I shall!

      Thanks for being my new friend!!

  • Jennifer S

    I absolutely hear what you’re saying and believe this is how you feel… you’ve taken many hurts from life. But I also have interacted with you sufficiently here to know you as a warm, thoughtful, sensitive… very brilliant but not in an arrogant or aggressive way… human being.

    I’m not sure how your real world self could differ so vastly from your virtual world self that others would fail to see what I see.. My IQ is kind of average, I’m afraid… but my EQ is excellent. If you struck me in any way as the “monster” unfit for a seat at the table of humanity… I wouldn’t have chosen to cultivate our friendship.

    Just my two cents. I wish you the friendships and love in your personal life that will make you happy. And I can’t help but suspect some of those who’ve criticized you are, in fact, intimidated and unable to cope with their own feelings of insecurity.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Wow, more kind words from another friend I’m thankful to have made in a brief time here! I’m a bit overwhelmed. I was expecting this post would be met with stunned shock and silence. Thank you!

      You mention EQ, and one thing I’ve come to realize is that I must have a low EQ. Life has tradeoffs, and we’re all flawed in some way. (At least, I have never met anyone who is perfect, who fires on every cylinder.)

      I don’t think my real world self is different from my virtual self so much as my experience is different. In the real world there is are constraints on who you meet, on how many people you get to meet. In the online world, there’s a whole universe of people! (It’s why, no matter how weird and bizarre your hobbies might be, you’ll find thousands of people that share it.)

      Your two cents are worth a lot to me, thank you!

  • Snoring Dog Studio

    Sometimes, some of us must learn to accept being on the outside looking in. I’ve never learned the language of fitting in, either. But don’t mistake that for a lack of humanity, Wyrd. It’s there. I can tell that from your writing. Confidence vs. arrogance – often the distinction is in the eyes of the beholder who might have insecurities you don’t know about. It’s such an awkward, difficult dance this life, eh?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Aye. Nose pressed to the bakery store window, smelling the fresh bread, wishing we knew how to obtain it. It’s an awkward dance indeed when one feels one has two left feet! But we have this virtual world and each other; that’s something pretty special. I’ll be smiling all day (and for days) from the kind words from all of you.

      Thank you, my friend!

  • thegreenstudy

    I think sometimes that a sense of alienation is actually part and parcel of the human condition. It’s how you react to those feelings that make the difference. People go into situations either open or closed to the experience.
    Closed generally gives you the predictable responses (the self-fulfilling prophesies). Open is always the surprise – sometimes it doesn’t work, but when it does, you will be surprised when people show their genuine, compassionate selves.But start slow, especially in the Midwest where we freak out a little bit if you’re too friendly from the get go. Maybe that’s just me.
    Have you done any reading on neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)? I know analytical, technical people who have gotten some useful tips in terms of relating to others.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yes, I agree. Alienation is definitely something most (all?) people have some sense of. I’ve run into it in a variety of art works (books, poems, plays, paintings, etc.). A guy I knew a long time ago once said, “No matter how close you are to someone, no matter how tightly you snuggle up to them at night, in that moment when you fall asleep, you are completely alone.” But I think it’s a scale. We are spread throughout the range, and some of us are more alienated than others.

      You raise a good point about the Midwest. It’s one I’ve tried to erase from my brain to better get along. My personal life was a lot richer when I lived in Los Angeles where my personalty type was less… distinct. Among other traits, I do come on strong, and that’s a problem in the gentler Midwest. It isn’t just being over-friendly, it’s being over-assertive or even being over-smart.

      (As I’ve said before, I identify with House, M.D., more than I have with any other fictional character. One of the many reasons is how we both have a strong personality. We don’t present ourselves tentatively, and that seems to come off as aggressive or even hostile in the Midwest.)

      NLP: I’ve looked into it enough to discover I find it kind of creepy. It somehow comes off as manipulative to me, and I don’t feel comfortable with that. I learned back in high school and early college that you can manipulate and trick women into bed with you, and I decided I didn’t care for that. I want people to like me because of who I really am in my most natural state (it’s just too exhausting otherwise). If they don’t, that sucks for me, but it is what it is. Maybe I’m being idealistic thinking that’s even possible. The older I get, the less willing I am to play games, I guess.

      As always, I really do value our conversations! You’re another of my blogsphere friends!!

  • bridgesfolly

    This is a beautiful post, really beautiful. In fact, quite possibly my favorite.

  • rorypond2020

    Very heartfelt and thoughftul. I relate strongly to parts of what you have said and wish I could provide an answer. Stay strong.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thank you! I don’t think I believe there are answers anymore; it is what it is. At this point, I find I’m more bewildered than bitter. Maybe there hasn’t been people to share it with, but still I’ve had a pretty fun life!

  • onestillbreathing

    Your post struck a chord deep inside; I apologize again for misjudging you so completely earlier this week. No one can really know anyone else in here, in this virtual reality, can they? Honestly, I didn’t know the depth of the kind of human being you were on the other end. I regret that I may have been a catalyst and am sorry for your pain.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      That’s what makes this place so interesting! So few of the usual cues, and we’re known only by our words and thoughts. And no need for concern. Sometimes a storm blows through, but isn’t the air sweeter when it passes?

      Did you know that plants outside are healthier than the same plants inside? The brushing of passing creatures, the stresses of the elements, all make the plants stronger. People who live outside also risk the elements and passing contact, but can become better for it.

      You’re always welcome here, my friend.

  • wakemenow

    Monster on the hill. I can dig what you’re getting at, Try being a relatively untalented monster though. Ha Not making light of your post, just poking fun at myself for a moment. People are strange and difficult to figure out. And I agree that the Midwest is a hell of a place to make sense out of folks, especially if not originally from here. This city is cliquish and populated with bunches of people born and raised here. They seem squeamish dealing with someone…um…a bit odd and have proven easily offended (though also at times offensive, whether they realize it or not).

    I had a girl I’d been friends with for a few years end our friendship one night screaming at me that I’m weird, I have no friends, that she doesn’t need to try to understand me, and then mocked me embarrassingly as I was trying to ready myself to leave her place. Was so cruel that it still stings nearly 2 years later. Total bitch. But in her eyes she’s on the side of normal, I’m the freak, so her behavior was perfectly acceptable. Hostile events like that leave scars that threaten over time to make it trying to go back out, jump back on the horse, and give another go at making friends when one feels strange and alienated. People can be really mean — my response has been to become mean as well. Though I too cry when they’re not around (or sometimes burst into tears in their presence, which seems to almost elicit a sense of satisfaction out of some people, humiliating as that is).

    More and more I’m learning to stay away from people, and it deeply saddens me too. I feel left out and unwelcome, despite trying very hard to come across acceptably for the most part. Some say I’m naturally too controversial. A number consider me a selfish bitch, partly because I’m not always so good at picking up on and properly reacting to subtle cues and hints, partly because I’ve grown colder (more guarded) in my dealings with people. It really does suck. And yet, in the end, it’s the oddball blamed for bringing this upon him or herself. Why? Because we should be more resilient apparently. Conformity matters to a lot of people, especially up here in corn country, U.S.A. I’ve damn near given up on trying to please these people.

    So you have my deepest sympathy, Wyrd. Keep the faith though that not all people are assholes, much as it might seem that way some days. You still have time, and who knows what the future may bring? Hopefully a quality partner that you can relate to and enjoy life with and a number of friends to bond with. Screw the majority — they’re boring anyway! Ha! Good night. 🙂

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’m not surprised you can relate. Life on the fringe is very interesting, and in many ways so very rewarding, but it does have its price. Mostly I’ve been willing to pay that price; the rewards seemed worth it. But sometimes the mental balance is lost and the rooms seem so empty. Mostly I try to keep looking forward; tomorrow is much more interesting to me than yesterday.

      Chances are I’d have done better personally had I stayed in Los Angeles. There is a theory that, in the Midwest, people aren’t as transient, so they are part of friendship groups that go back to high school or grade school. That’s true for most of the people in my friendship group. It took me over ten years to be accepted as one of them–largely due, I think, to my very close friendship with one of their more popular members. And even after over twenty years of being among them, I run into occasions where I’m clearly not one of them.

      I have a story, too. For twenty years or so that close friend I just mentioned, a brother I never had, and I have been getting together one night a week to hang out, drink beer, discuss interesting things and usually go see a late movie. It’s given me a way to stay grounded and insure seeing most movies that I want to see. (I don’t hate going to a movie or restaurant alone, but it’s more fun with someone.)

      About six years ago, I opened the Weekly Movie Night to some of the others in the circle. Over time, the mix changed. I had to kick one guy out (long story), but for the last few years it’s been three regulars plus me. When The Company ended my job I was distressed enough that I didn’t feel like playing host every week (there’s enough of my mom in me that even though these are just “the guys” I feel the need to clean up a bit and play host a little). So I canceled the thing, but told my “brother” to keep coming over.

      Haven’t heard a single word from the other two. No expressions of support or condolences. Now that my career isn’t over, I’m faced with the choice of reopening the doors or not. There are other factors that complicate the choice. Both of the two have had worse job issues, and one is just as single as I am. So they may feel my distress was… not that bad or whatever. There is also the element of perhaps not having the social training I’ve had, so they may not realize the silence is hurtful. They may not understand my expectations of people I have over to my home every damn week. (That’s actually a pretty big deal for a confirmed hermit such as myself.)

      My “brother” points out that they may have taken my cancellation to mean all communication rather than just not wanting to play host. (Still, don’t real friends not take being pushed away? Don’t real friends break through anyway?)

      So I’m conflicted. It’s that same thing you mention about finding it less stressful to just avoid the complications of people. I know exactly what you mean by feeling left out and unwelcome, despite trying so hard to be acceptable. I can match your “selfish bitch” with my “arrogant know-it-all.”

      I have a cousin whose credo was, “Fuck’m up the ass if they can’t take a joke,” and that’s a point of view I’ve always found… satisfying. The older I get, the more I’m inclined to that point of view. In some ways, I can hardly wait to retire, and begin my curmudgeonhood. Work is one of the last places where I am forced to “play nice.” (By which I mean, pretend I’m someone I’m so totally not. I’m so tired of smiling at idiots and mentally gritting my teeth to prevent saying what idiots they are.)

      What I have love about the internet, since the mid-80s, is that you can find those people who can truly appreciate you, who are, astonishingly, surprisingly, like you. In a world of 7+ billion people, none of us is truly alone or truly unique. We find each other, and that goes a long way to making things good! You’re part of that, you know! I very much enjoy our brief conversations! 🙂

  • Lady from Manila

    When I was younger, some folks around told me that I was different. So I went through life feeling a little more lonely than I should be because I wanted to be just like everyone else – to earn the acceptance of the majority. But the struggle in trying to fit in only brought me misery. People can be quick to project their own prejudice on others who remain outside the fence. It’s the same people who even have gotten better at “branding” – which often destroys a person’s authentic beauty and truth. I’ve also learned how the world (including our blogging world in this day and age) is capable of punishing us for our unconditional candor.
    The Internet started changing my frame of mind for the better when I discovered there are many who share my beliefs and are endowed with the same personality I have. As I get older too, I stopped needing the approval of people I couldn’t care less. How liberating. 🙂

    I like the wisdom of your words (both from the article itself and the Comments section) in the following: ”I think I have earned the right to the confidence. At what point are you allowed to believe in your ability to get it right?”
    “There may be no answers at all. It is what it is.”
    “Sometimes a storm blows through, but isn’t the air sweeter when it passes? And tomorrow is much more interesting than yesterday.” My sentiments as well, WS.

    This piece was heart-breaking for me in a meaningful way because I could feel your pain. That the harshness of our realities could tear your heart apart and somehow make you cry isn’t what I’d hope for a wonderful person like you. You have welcomed me in your blog and have shown me kindness. I could only wish you sheer happiness from that moment onward.

    Boy, am I grateful you decided to bring forth this beautiful post.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Well, thank you, Lady!! It is one very cool thing about the internet. No matter who you are, no matter where your heart is, you’ll find others like you on the internet. The connectivity is really very impressive (and as I’ve said before, a game changer in my eyes). Marshall MacLuhan’s “Global Village” is here (has been for a while)!

      And it’s very true, as it appears you’ve personally discovered, that the herd can be unforgiving of anything that is outside their “norm.” (This may actually be evolutionary in nature… the herd rejecting potential genetic abnormalities. Unfortunately, many of these evolutionary traits have two edges, and some are just plain out-dated by modern life.) I’m glad you discovered a place on the internet! Welcome!!

      Having been alone, almost literally, all my life, I’ve gotten used to it (probably too used to it; no longer really capable of sharing my life, I suspect). And through it all, I’ve found laughter and joy; often a great deal of it. The fun is often found in the small stuff. And it’s a choice… nothing can make you happy or sad… at least not for long. You can choose how you go through life. I’d rather laugh than cry, so I shoot for that.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      {{Remember we were talking about typos and how you just can’t ever seem to find them all? I noticed the last sentence of the second graph was bad (fixed now)! Sometimes I think typos grow out of nothing when you’re not looking.}}

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