For the Love of Monsters

1843-Alice-in-Wonderland-Zombie A few days ago, a good friend of mine, poet and fellow fiction writer, Lana Hechtman Ayers, contacted me to let me know that she really enjoyed my new blog. She said the title reminded her of a poem she had written a few years ago. My curiosity was immediately piqued. You see, I am a fan of Lana’s poetry and fiction, so I couldn’t help wonder how my blog connected with her writing. What she sent me is a poem that spoke to me in ways that I am still processing. Internalizing. Devouring.

The poem, “Alice’s Blind Date With Frankenstein’s Monster,” which previously appeared in Eye to the Telescope, and can also be found in Lana’s poetry collection, Chicken Farmer I Still Love You, examines one of the topics I hope to address more fully in future blog posts: falling in love with monsters.

Monsters are sexy.

I recently used that line in my online dating profile, and have yet to find myself in a shallow grave along the interstate. In retrospect, it was a potentially dangerous statement to make in a public social media forum designed for people to stalk each other online and ask each other inappropriate questions about their sexual preferences. Honestly, I’m surprised I didn’t attract more weirdoes. Do I sound disappointed? Maybe I am. Just a little. Although, I’m still not convinced the guy I’ve been dating for the past year isn’t a serial killer.

I posted that line within the context of talking about the kinds of media I consume: books, comics, movies, etc. And, at the time, I was in the midst of writing my first novel, which is a supernatural slave narrative. In the novel, Invisible Chains, a young slave tells her story and how she dreams of reaching freedom. In her travels and day-to-day life, she encounters many monsters, literally and figuratively, and she must learn to navigate a very dangerous world where she is seen as a possession, an object, to be bought and sold, and used however her owner pleases. We soon discover that monsters with fangs and fur may not be as scary as the men who uphold the institution of slavery in the Antebellum South. My protagonist develops a fondness for a vampire, but is quick to let him know she never wants to become like him. She never wishes to become a monster. Eventually, she discovers that her strengths are found in the parts of her others might perceive as monstrous. By befriending and trusting monsters, she learns to trust herself.

Lots of people have written about falling in love with monsters, and most people who read horror fiction or enjoy horror films can recall at least one instance of feeling empathy for a monster due to the fact that they connected with the monster’s plight. The more we love monsters, the more we see ourselves reflected back to us, like mirror images of ourselves – distorted, transformed, fragmented – hauntingly familiar, but simultaneously alien.

Crushing on monsters can be dangerous, which may be why vampires and werewolves and other creatures of the night have become so popular in YA speculative fiction. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past nine years and haven’t heard of Stephenie Meyer’s paranormal romance series, The Twilight Saga, the novels follow the drama-filled life of misanthropic teen, Bella Swan, and her ill-advised love triangle with vampire Edward Cullen and werewolf Jacob Black. These novels are not only popular among misunderstood teens, but also confused middle-aged women still looking to fill the void that no amount of Häagen-Dazs could ever accomplish.

I don’t mean to make light of this phenomenon. In fact, I take it very seriously. Monsters have always spoken to me in a way that I find exciting and somewhat unsettling. Monsters are sexy. And scary. And a little sad. As a teen, I sought them out – in fiction, in films, and unfortunately in some of the boys I chose to date. Monsters typically have a hard time fitting in and they seek the company of others like them – dark, damaged, melancholy, missing parts. As an adult, I haven’t completely outgrown my love of monsters and probably never will. Like my protagonist in Invisible Chains, as I learn more about monsters, I learn more about myself.

I feel like I have a lot more to say on the subject, but before I get too far into things, I need to spend a bit more time meditating on why I love monsters. So, without further ado, please enjoy Lana’s poem.

Alice’s Blind Date With Frankenstein’s Monster

by Lana Hechtman Ayers

Where the personal ad read, tall,
Alice assumed dark and handsome.
Where it read, Loves moonlit walks through the cemetery,
Alice surmised, romantic.
And the bit, Firebugs need not apply,
she thought quirky charm.

So what harm could come by answering?
Only that learning reality is a bitter cake
that sometimes shrinks one’s hopes.
That he wasn’t handsome,
was an understatement.
But in his favor, he had a friendly laugh

and looked deeply into Alice’s eyes.
He didn’t bat an eyelash (in fact he had none to bat)
at her whole Looking Glass story
the way her parents had upon her return,
then sent her to bed without supper yet again.
The cemetery her blind date picked for their picnic

was wide and well-lit under the full moon
and though he was creepily patched
from mismatched skins of the dead,
his green pallor glowed a warmer hue.
He wore his fears on his ragged sleeve:
fire, villagers, dogs, and shed a few tears

telling her of his longing for a true companion.
He wasn’t the worst date she’d ever had.
Also, he seemed to completely grasp
yearning for wholeness, the very thing
Alice herself wanted, but had not the words to express
since the incidents with the older gentleman

that began when she was only six.
Her truth was that monsters
don’t always look the part.
Those that do can turn out not frightening at all
and can have quite a good heart
(even if electric shock is necessary to get it started).

Frank, he’d asked her to call him,
just Frank, and not wanting to wait
for things between them to cool too much
she did when she rang
him up the very next day
to ask him out on a second date.

Sally

Frankenstein and Alice’s love child.

While reading Lana’s poem, I couldn’t help but think of Patricia Lillie’s amazing speech, “Down the Rabbit Hole,” given back in January at Seton Hill University’s graduation ceremony for the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program. If you weren’t there, I feel sorry for you. You totally missed out.

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