Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Monstrous Love: My love affair with Frankenstein's Monster

When I was a little girl, I loved Frankenstein's monster. I know you're thinking I must have been a weird little girl. Maybe. But I was allowed to watch a lot of horror movies as a kid, so my friends were TV monsters.

Frank and I met after my great-grandmother's funeral. My grandmother had taken me with her to the wake. When she got tired of making me stay still and be quiet, a cousin of mine offered to watch me. I was around three. She was a teenager and took me to her room. I did not have my own room at my house and had to sleep with my mother, so this was an amazing thing. My cousin had her own closet too. While she was trying to entertain me, she opened it and I saw Frank stuffed up in a corner. She was bringing down a lot of toys to distract me, but he was the only one who held my attention. He was a Halloween present, she told me. He had a soft body but plastic hands, head and boots. When I saw him, I was amazed. Maybe it was because something I had seen on TV had materialized in front of me. Maybe it was because I had seen him playing with a little girl in the movie and hoped he would play with me too (I did not see the part where he drowned her. I saw the abridged version). I was surrounded by a bunch of girly toys, but he was the only one I wanted to play with. I sat him in my lap and held him close while I played. My cousin was so amused by the "pretty little girl and the monster" thing, she let me have him.

Okay, I know what  many of you will say. That thing was ugly. Why would you want to play with it? I know you would ask that because that was the same thing my mother asked when she saw him. Why? Well, my little girl brain did not know anything about monsters. All I saw was a wounded, hurt human being. I saw stitches and raw wounded skin. I saw someone who had been abused by the world.  I empathized. As a victim of child abuse, I saw the scars so similar to those I had suffered at my mother's hands. So, I held on tight to Frank. I would pet his head and kiss his wounds to try and make him feel better. Maybe it was a way of consoling the wounded child inside myself. I wanted to protect him from the world and stop it from hurting him the way I could not stop my mother from hurting me.

As you can foresee, my mother hated Frank. It could have been for several reasons: one because I loved him or two because of all the attention I got because he was with me. For some reason the sight of a little girl in a frilly dress clutching a Frankenstein's monster doll protectively to her heart was cause for commentary everywhere I went.

"Oh my god, look at her." "Isn't she adorable." "Look how she holds that thing. Isn't that cute?" Unfortunately,  my mother had a personality disorder with a side-order of Narcissism  so, my getting attention was her least favorite thing.
"Why do you have to take that ugly thing everywhere?" she would scream at me.
"I love him," I would yell back.
"He's ugly! It's disgusting. I'm going to throw him in the garbage."
"Don't hurt him," I would scream, "don't hurt him anymore!"
"Well, get him out of my sight or I will."
I would keep him in the bedroom or behind my back. Only when she was at work could I sit in peace with him and stroke his wounded plastic head and talk to him of better days. Our time was short though. My mother had her ways of separating me from the things I loved.

I had an asthma attack. I clung to Frank all the way to the hospital, breathing for him. I had to sit in the waiting room a long time. I fell asleep. My mother must have pulled him from my arms. I think I remember waking a few times during her attempts. When the nurse finally came, my mother scooped me up and left him on the chair while she carried me from the waiting room. The fear of getting a shot blanked my mind. I was on my way home before I remembered he was gone. He was alone, defenseless without me in a cold, cruel world that did not understand him or love him.
"We have to go back." I cried.
"You should have kept an eye on him. Some kid probably took him. You always lose things."
"Can't we turn around?"
"Can't we call and ask them to hold him till we come back?"
"NO!" She looked ahead trying not to smile, and I knew that she had gotten rid of him.

I have had a long relationship with monsters. Some I loved, and some I didn't.

Have you ever lost a beloved toy? There are actually websites that help people find them or replacements. https://www.facebook.com/TeddyBearLostAndFound  and http://www.lostmylovey.com/

I would like to add that those with great mothers should be happy they had someone to support them. For those of us who did not, nothing is guaranteed in this world. Mothers, like all people, come in every flavor. I am glad I am alive and had a chance to be born. I nearly did not survive birth or childhood, but I am strong, resilient and intelligent.  Life is a rose garden full of thorns. It, my mother and my own will have helped shape me into the person I am today, a person I am glad to be.

Candice Raquel Lee

Friday, April 24, 2015

Jane Eyre, Beauty and the Beast, Cupid and Psyche and Little-Burnt Face: The myth of the monstrous man.

Jane Eyre is quite an innocent when her tiny slipper crosses Mr. Rochester's threshold.  She has lived through much, having survived Lowood and Mr. Brocklehurst, but she is still quite new to the world. Jane has a tolerably hopeful opinion of it when she sets out to become a governess and even when she is nearly run down by a large dog and a horse. 

Jane has been surrounded by good women and good girls to a good degree. She knows about cruelty from her aunt and the man her aunt entrusted her to, but for the most part the scales are tipped toward the good in humanity in her eyes.

She is totally unprepared for the depth of deception Mr. Rochester is capable of. Mr. Brocklehurst was cruel, a children’s school despot. Brocklehurt's evils were direct and without subtlety. He did not try to hide his nature. He was too stupid to know how. Still, one may wonder why Jane would trust another man in a superior position so soon or at all? 

We know that superiority did not move Jane. She had not learned to fear it or even be a little suspicious of it, making her an innocent. Mr. Rochester is a "gentleman" in wealth and appearance. He is a gentleman who knows how to keep secrets like an illegitimate daughter, a wife and a mistress. He is of higher rank than Jane but of lower morals (since his were not trained.)

Still, Jane does not distrust Mr. Rochester even when she is warned by Mrs. Fairfax. She knows something is wrong in the house but innocently leaves Mr. Rochester blameless because he does not look the part of a villain like Grace Poole. Appearances are deceptive in this story. Nothing is as it seems, yet Jane trusts Edward. She never wonders why a man of his station would want to marry her. Her naive view of the world as a place of equality of spirit blinds her to her possible danger.
Rochester is the “lover” in the story, but he is far from a romantic ideal. In fact, he is a bit of a monster. He is cruel, calculating and manipulative, yet Jane loves him. How can that be? Aren't lovers always good? Not necessarily. As romance readers today will attest, ”everyone loves a bad boy.” 

This is not a new concept. We have "bad boys" even in ancient myth. One of the first is Cupid. In the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Cupid kidnaps Psyche and takes her to a castle where unseen hands serve her and an unseen lover services her. Psyche is informed, by  her sisters,  that her husband is a monster,  specifically a giant snake. Very phallic indeed and very familiar.

Cupid may have been one of the first monstrous lovers, but he is not the last. The fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast has many similar elements: a beastly lover, a hidden castle where the Beauty is served by invisible servants, and a prince who must be seen as other than a monster.

Sound familiar? Let's look again at Jane Eyre. Jane goes to a beautiful mysterious mansion. She is a servant, but her not-so-handsome lord and master is not what he seems. A loving eye is necessary to see Rochester truly for what he is. Only the right way of looking at this "monster" will allow Jane to recognize his pain and his misery.Seeing is essential when dealing with monstrous lovers and men.

There is a similar example in Native American Culture. It is one of my childhood favorites. It is called, “Little Burnt-Face.” Like Jane, Little Burnt-Face does not have a great childhood, as her name suggests. She is burned and beaten constantly by her sisters. One day, a Great Chief's sister comes to the village looking for a wife for her brother. She asks only, "what does he look like?"  to all the girls in the village. Some girls say, "I don't know." Others say, "he is handsome," or "he has a nice fur tunic," or " he has nice moccasins." The sister sends them away.They have not seen him.  Finally, only Little Burnt-Face is left. She drags herself into the tent. The sister is kind to her. She is asked the same question. What does he look like? Little burnt-face says that he has a rainbow as  his bow,  the stars are his eyes ,and the earth are  his shoulders. She has seen him! She is healed and marries him.

In all these stories, the art of seeing is the key (suffering of the heroine is also important because it gives her the ability to empathize with the monster's pain and recognize the inner beauty that others cannot see.)  Jane must see past rank, deception, and lies to the truth of a terrible marriage and the heartache of a desperate man. Rochester’s pain is on the inside unlike the Beast, perhaps suggested by his ugliness. When he passes through the fire, a fire that redeems him, frees, and brands him, his wounds are laid out in the open for the world to see. He is even more unacceptable to others, but Jane still sees the good man that loves her within. Seeing is an art especially when it comes to the heart. To see beyond the hideous pain of another to the real need for love and companionship that is at the heart of the monster, of the beast, of the Great Chief, of Mr. Rochester is one skill a heroine must have in order to get her happy ending.

Candice Raquel Lee


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Every Word has its Thorns

I’m afraid to write
because I know some horrible stabbing truth
is waiting for me there in between the words.
Some pure terrible light of truth is sticking
out between the innocuous dark letters.
And as I lay down my words,
as I pat them into place, I will prick my fingers on that truth
and bleed real blood.
Words are roses with thorns.
Try to write a verse. You will have to grip the dread rose with your mind,
and you will be bloodied.
Everything requires blood.
Everything has a price.
Even if I run away from words, if I curl up and refuse to write,
the thorns will be waiting for me in a song or book or movie,
one line here, a few words there of bright agonizing truth.
I cannot escape it.
Know thy self the Sibyl commands.
Pythia by Candice Raquel Lee
For this, one must have fingers of steel, a thick skin, a heart that
does not quaver at the stabbings of truth.
So, I will write because there is no hiding
the thorns on the roses in the garden of life.

Candice Raquel Lee
Author of The Innocent: A Novel