Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Monster Mash

In college, I took a fascinating course called Monsters: Imagining the Other.  We watched monster movies each week; read novels, as well as texts by philosophers, psychologists, theorists, etc.; and explored the cultural significance of monsters. Our amazing professor bound up each class members' required monster journals and papers, and this artifact has been with me since its creation in 2002. In the spirit of the season, I found my section in the class book and pulled out some sentences here and there to stitch together a Frankenstein of monster musings. Happy Halloween!
Once the pod people invaded the body of a human,
they retained the appearance and memories of the former individual
Invasion of the Body Snatchers was allegedly made to address the Communist paranoia of the 1950s. By studying the way people are drawn to invasion stories, it becomes evident that, even when removed from the issues of the Fifties, invasion stories play an important role in today’s culture. Not only do they help relieve modern concerns, they also tell us about the function of monsters in general.

Slippery anxieties find solid form in invasion films. Invasion of the Body Snatchers features pod people who suck emotions and individuality from their prey. Even if the monster shares the same appearance and actions as us, something dangerous may lurk beneath the surface. Fearing a Communist take over, some 1950s Americans worried they were next in line.

While Invasion of the Body Snatchers examines the nature of the “enemy,” Independence Day shows the country coming together in a time of crisis. A stripper rescues the First Lady, dissolving boundaries that separate social classes. Before the final fight with the aliens, the President addresses the crowd - urging everyone to forget differences in race, gender, status – and instead focus on saving the world. Indeed, the man who ends up destroying the Mother Ship is a drunk from a trailer park – not the typical hero we so often see in films.


In his monster theses, Jeffery Jerome Cohen
states that the monster can act as
"an alter ego...an alluring projection
of (an Other) self."
Fight Club can be considered a monster movie. In his monster theses, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen states that “every monster is…two living stories: one that describes how the monster came to be and another, its testimony, detailing what cultural use the monster serves” (13). Tyler Durden fulfills the Narrator’s psychological need, and carries a cultural message.

Tyler appears when the Narrator’s apartment explodes. The Narrator can no longer define himself with possessions and material objects.  “The monster’s body…incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy, giving them life and an uncanny independence” (Cohen, 4). Tyler isn’t disgusted by living in a broken, dirty house with rusty running water. He doesn’t desire money or fear the corporate system. Tyler wears clothes the Narrator could never wear, is sexual in ways the Narrator never dared to be. Tyler doesn’t let others walk on him. He lives in the moment and acts to satisfy himself. As Tyler states, “All the ways you want to be…that’s me.”

"All the ways you want to be...that's me"
Although Tyler is created by the Narrator’s desperation to improve his life, Tyler serves as a cultural message board. This is also the role of the monster; they “demand a radical rethinking of boundary and normality” (6). Tyler’s message is simple: start thinking for yourself, stop surrounding yourself with meaningless items.

The power of Tyler’s cultural message is both liberating and frightening. Through Project Mayhem, the Narrator sees how impressionable society is. Instead of truly integrating Tyler’s lessons of independence, the members of Project Mayhem behave as if in a cult. They lose all ability to think for themselves, and eagerly await Tyler’s next orders. Instead of liberating others, Project Mayhem creates mindless drones. When something as strong as Tyler comes along, the weakness of the system is revealed, as it easily crumbles under his influence.

Although they share one body, Tyler and the Narrator are two personas. Tyler can do whatever he wants, since he exists outside society’s boundaries. The Narrator is the voice of reason, we often see him standing cautiously on the sidelines. Tyler asks us to look inside and see if we are truly happy. "Monsters ask us how we perceive the world, and how we have misrepresented what we have attempted to place. They ask us to reevaluate our cultural assumptions" (20).  The Narrator needed to realize that Tyler's ideals were a part of him, and that he could act upon them - without completely losing his voice of reason - when necessary.  At the end of the film, the Narrator symbolically shoots himself, and thus Tyler, who drops to the floor.

But Tyler isn't dead. He has been drawn back inside the Narrator's mind. He has been integrated. The Narrator has urges for both a domestic life and a life of revolution.  Two conflicting beings lie within him, making it hard for the viewer to ultimately separate one from the other. He won't easily fit into a category of "good" or "bad" because he is both. And this is a terrifying aspect of monsters - the realization that we all have similar capacities for both preservation and destruction.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Creating Possibilities

One of my main reasons for starting this blog was to hold myself accountable for writing on a more regular basis. Thanks to these posts, and an inspiring writing group that recently welcomed me into their midst, I returned to my Laura piece (excerpts found here and here) after a year of ignoring it within the depths of my writing desk. After polishing up some old bits and laboring over new sections, I felt comfortable enough with my work-in-progress to use Laura’s story to apply for a fellowship. Although I wasn’t selected, I did receive a nice email back stating that I was one of the top three finalists, and I received feedback specific to my submission.

Write, write, write to create more possibilites
Don’t get me wrong, this post is not about rejection. I want to focus instead on possibility. In a way, the best part of the experience was when I carefully handed the padded envelope containing my submission over to the post office clerk. It was a moment to pat myself on the back for getting my act together, meeting that application deadline in my planner. For sending my words out into the world for critique, judgment, and…possibly…award. Hearing the familiar grind of the mail truck turning the corner of our street every day. Walking up the driveway after the delivery, peering inside the murky mailbox. Hoping to find a promising-looking envelope inside. 
And since we live in a technology-driven world, there was also Inbox checking and email refreshing. 
Waiting for that message with the desired Subject line.

While I was in waiting mode, I started thinking about The Bell Jar. I remembered that Esther had applied for a summer class with “a famous writer” who would read her already submitted manuscript and decide if she was “good enough to be admitted into his class.” It’s been a while since I read the book cover to cover, but I could’ve sworn that even after she returned home from those last empty magazine days in “the dark heart of New York,” the possibility of acceptance into the writing class was the last glimmer of hope keeping her afloat for weeks, months, as she shared a lifeless house with her mother in the dull Boston suburbs.

As I skimmed through the book yesterday, I realized I hadn’t quite gotten the timeline right. She finds out about her rejection right after the train pulls into Boston, before she even sets foot in her house. Behind the wheel of the family car, her mother tosses some letters into Esther’s lap…

“I think I should tell you right away,” she said, and I could see bad news in the set of her neck, “you didn’t make that writing course.”

The air punched out of my stomach.

All through June the writing course had stretched before me like a bright, safe bridge…

Like I said, this isn’t meant to be a post about rejection. Yes, you’d have to be some kind of robot if rejection didn’t set off even the faintest siren of doubt in your mind; but isn’t the best feeling – maybe even better than actually winning – those moments in limbo, after you’ve set yourself up for consideration?

The only way to ride that high of writing possibility is to write lots, strive for more clarity in individual artistic expression, and send more submissions into the ether - all to create a multitude of “bright, safe bridges” to imagine walking over.

All quotations and italicized text in this post were taken from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


"Breathe to the boundaries of your skin."
If we remain receptive, words alight from unexpected sources.

I just recently dipped a toe into the infinite waters known as yoga. Tested the ripples for the first time. This includes a misty, outdoor class to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox, with gentle drumming and Bug Light lighthouse as the backdrop, and a Restorative class.

During this Restorative class, the instructor asked us to “Breathe to the boundaries of your skin.” Instantly my mind latched on to this phrase. Filling with breath until you start to expand, the expansion creating an awareness of the skin holding you together. 

To the edge, into the edge. To the boundary, into the boundary. Skin as a boundary - not to imply limitation, but acceptance. Acknowledgement of the miniscule, which so often goes unrecognized. 
Feel your boundary coming close to another boundary.

Just another reminder that meaningful words are all around us. Evocative language can come from any source – be it a yoga class or a walk down a busy street.