Tag Archives: monster

What does it mean to unpeel a monster?

The title of my latest poetry collection – How to Unpeel a Monster – reflects something that has lifelong significance for me. It comes from a story about a child born with too many skins, who is monstrous and must be unpeeled to reclaim their human self, and the first poem in the book reflects this.

I’ve spent most of my life feeling monstrous. Too much, too difficult, too demanding, too cold, too sensitive, too emotional, too unemotional – I’ve been called all of this and more. I’ve spent much of my life feeling that I do not properly qualify as a person. As a consequence, I often see myself as someone rigid with defensive layers. I find it hard to trust, to soften myself, to open up to people.

During the period I was working on these poems, my relationships with a number of people changed in significant ways. There were several friends who started making deliberate efforts to come in and unpeel me. Offering safe space and support, accepting me as I am and not finding me monstrous, they helped me change how I think about my monster skins.

I’m still working on that. I don’t know that I need to be entirely unpeeled to reclaim some more acceptable shape. There are days when I feel good enough as I am, and days when I even enjoy being me without feeling that I need to do a lot of work on fixing and improving myself. There are also days when all I can see are my own savage teeth and claws and my unreasonable, unacceptableness.

What do any of us need to change? And are those changes for our benefit, or to comfort, ease or appease someone else? How much pressure is there to take off the unacceptable aspects of self based on what other people will allow and not who you need to be? What if there could be room for me to be all of the things? Hard and soft, furred and feathered, red in tooth, claw and tenderness, monstrous and fragile, strong and vulnerable, broken and unbreakable…

The journey into dealing with what I find monstrous about myself is increasingly a journey of finding that I just need more room for who I am. More spaces where more of me is acceptable. More people who are excited about the aspects of me that people in my history have found too difficult. I need the people who can hold those spaces of acceptance for me. I know I have them. I’m starting to see what it might be like to be able to live as my whole self, unashamed of how messy and complicated some of that can be.

All of my skins are equally real and valid. It’s just a case of what I want to share, and who it makes sense to share that with. Unpeeling is always an option. So is putting on a new and different skin. A tough and protective hide is just as acceptable as a soft, tender underbelly. I have to make space for all of it, and I do not have to make space for the people who might want me to be smaller than I am.

Thank you to everyone who has been part of this journey, unpeeling the fear and making room for the skins.

More about the poetry in this post – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2020/08/08/how-to-unpeel-a-monster/

How to Unpeel a Monster

I’ve finally got How to Unpeel a Monster up as a print version in case anyone wants a hard copy.

I gave away a fair few ecopies of this poetry collection earlier in the year. It is available for kindle should you prefer to buy it, but I’m always happy to send out free ebooks. Leave a comment if you want one of those, and I’ll pick up your email address from there.

Amazon.co.uk – https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Unpeel-Monster-Nimue-Brown/dp/B08DBZDDBL

Amazon.com – https://www.amazon.com/How-Unpeel-Monster-Nimue-Brown-ebook/dp/B08D6RX7Z7

A monstrous fairy tale

If there was a time when I did not know I was monstrous, I do not remember it. I like to imagine I was once young and tender enough to be innocent of these things, but that may be pure self indulgence. My monstrousness was apparent from early on, and I learned that without constant vigilance and careful restraint, that monstrousness would get out and do something terrible.

For years I tried to understand what it was that lurked inside me, that had to be controlled. Mostly so that I could better control it. I did not want the monster to escape and cause harm. An unwilling Miss Jekyll who is trying desperately to keep Hyde on the inside.

The only blood I have ever shed is my own. The only person I have ever wanted to kill, is me. Well, not me exactly, the Hyde on the inside. The unspeakable monstrous thing that would undoubtedly do something awful if ever I dropped my guard.

When you are a monster, it is entirely reasonable to find that people need to fight you, knock you down, punish you. When you are a monster you accept that the things done are necessary, inevitable. It’s what any decent, reasonable person would do, faced with the horror of you. And when you are knocked down again, and crying, it is not for the pain of it, but for the horror of being the sort of monster that makes this inevitable.

When you are a monster, and you make a mistake and cause harm, the fear of what must follow is huge. This is why we cower in our caves, retreat to our swamps. We know we aren’t safe to be around. We know what we deserve.

Like every monster, I want to find I am really a princess, cursed by a wicked stepmother. I want to find that there is a spell to break, and that magic exists that could turn me back into a person. How do you tell if you are terrible by nature, or in need of rescue? How do you tell if the knight errant is there to kill you, or kiss you, or both? How do you tell if the hunger that makes you monstrous in your own eyes is truly an abomination, or if you have simply been starving for years?

I do not know.

There is something unspeakable that lives inside me.

Heroes and Monsters

I suspect most of us want to be heroes. We want to be the sort of person who stands up to the bully, tells the abuser they are out of order, maybe even the person who punches Nazis. There’s a great feeling to be had when you’re fighting the good fight, righteously doing the things that need doing. It feels powerful, and exciting, and wonderful. And you get to kick someone else while holding the moral high ground.

I’ve been the monster in this scenario, several times now. I’ve been the bad and wrong thing that deserved kicking, and I’ve had people kick me when from my perspective, I was already down and bleeding. I’ve had people kick me and tell me how proud of themselves they were for standing up to me. I’ve had people attack me for talking about depression, anxiety, pain and despair. I’ve been told what an awful, mean, bullying, unfair, unreasonable sort of person I am. I’ve had people try to cost me my day job on that basis. Were they right? I wondered at the time. I tend to take criticism to heart, because I’m nasty and unreasonable like that.

The desire to be heroic can leave a person wide open to certain kinds of manipulation. I’ve seen it done. And I’ll pause and salute the courage of one person who, having realised they’d been manipulated into attacking me, came back and apologised.

It’s easy to tone police the vulnerable person whose language you dislike rather than going after the system oppressing them. A notorious problem when white feminists deal with women of colour, for example. It’s easier to go after the ally who isn’t completely perfect than to go after perpetrators of the problem. It’s easier to go after people who have no power, than to go after the ones who do. Safer, too, because the people with no power can’t really defend themselves or do you any real harm, whereas those with power, can.

It’s important to look at what we’re being persuaded to do when the opportunity comes along to be heroic. Put your body in the way of the fracking machines? That’s heroism. Call out an actual bully who has the power to harm you? That is brave. The odds are if you wade into a fight, you won’t know everything that’s going on. If you’re on the bully-kicking team, and the bully just lies there, whimpering, if you knock down without consequences, if your righteous indignation looks poised to wreck someone’s life… pause and look at that power balance. Ask whether the response is proportional. Ask whether you’re sure the person you’re taking apart really deserves that.

Taking down abusive people who are in places of power is difficult, hazardous work, and often has a high cost for those doing it. If the takedown feels safe and easy, if the ‘bully’ can’t really do anything to stop you, if you can shame and blame and hurt and humiliate them with impunity… there are questions to ask.

Of course it is true that people with no power can be mean, spiteful, horrible and so forth. Is the first port of call on discovering this to trash them in every way possible? Or should we be trying to talk to them about what the problem is? Should we consider that education, insecurity, inexperience, incompetence might be part of the mix, rather than malice? Should we try to help them not do it again rather than going for psychological warfare?

Because the thing is, it takes very little effort to call someone a bully, especially if you have no reason to fear them. I’ve been called a bully for saying no, for disagreeing, and for not co-operating. I’ve been called a bully for complaining about how I was being treated, when I found that treatment unkind. For people who are really wrapped up in their privilege, a challenge to comfort and ego will be re-branded as bullying. It is not bullying to tell men that women are afraid of being raped. It is not bullying to prevent one person using another person as a resource. But these are things that I have seen called out, because some people can’t handle discomfort and prefer to blame the messenger. Feeling discomfort is not the same as being bullied.

If we want to tackle bullying, we have to do so by not perpetrating it. It’s easy to go in guns blazing, and when you do, it is easy to blame, shame hurt and humiliate people who have been victims all along, and that really doesn’t help.

The lovely Princess and the particularly unpleasant monster

Once upon a time (well, about 2 years ago) there was a beautiful princess who found a monster in a cave, gave it the kicking it so obviously deserved and went on her way to marry her prince and do the happily ever after thing. After she had gone, the monster (merely beaten, not dead) sat with its bruises and wondered how it had come to be cast in this role.

It wasn’t that she got angry – people do get angry after all, and while I find it hard to deal with, I wouldn’t blame anyone for being cross. It wasn’t the telling off – humiliating and hurtful though that was. What did for me, was seeing her on social media announcing how proud she was of herself for standing up to me. I had no idea what I must have looked like to her; for knocking me down to be something to take pride in. She knocked me down so thoroughly it took me months to get up, but then, that’s what warrior princesses do to monsters, isn’t it? Two years on, and I’ve had a lot of being haunted by what happened.

It’s one of the experiences that have made me very wary about the degree to which I let people in. It raised for me issues about how I am in the world, and what it is reasonable to express of my own discomfort. Because for me, what lay at the back of this was the need to flag up that she’d done something that really hurt my feelings, and for her this expression read as a full frontal attack. I try not to attack people, as a general thing. I’m conscious of issues like Ahimsa (psychological violence). I try not to raise my voice, not to blame or accuse, not to demand. No doubt I get this wrong sometimes, maybe even a lot, but the general effort on my part is towards not attacking people.

Of course she’s not the first princess to take offence because I’ve been inconsiderate enough to express pain. Maybe there’s something about princesses that makes it very difficult for them to hear that someone is unhappy. My most recent princess has a great deal invested in being seen as a lovely, kind, gentle, generous sort of person. It was therefore like a pea under a hundred mattresses to be told that she may have inadvertently caused distress. Princesses are delicate creatures, and the onus tends to be on the monster not to offend that delicacy with any misplaced peas. There are things to recognise here about the difference between goodness, and an appearance of goodness.

We tell stories about ourselves. We tell stories about other people. We cast them in roles, we give ourselves roles. Hero, princess, wicked witch, rescuer, victim, dragon. Girl in the high tower, growing her hair. Woodsman in the forest looking for grandmothers with wolf fetishes. Who we think we are shapes what we do, and what we expect from others. Who we think they are shapes how we react when they do something. Our stories aren’t always accurate, or helpful. When the terrible monster roars, the lovely princess has to dust off her Kung Fu moves and do the heroic thing. Meanwhile in another story, a person who has had their nerve broken before finds all the things they fear about themselves may be true after all, and hides in their cave for months.

It’s taken me a couple of years to come up with a new story, one involving peas and over-reactions, and the entitlement of princesses who wish to be seen as good, rather than an acceptance that kicking monsters is what princesses are for. Maybe monsters are people, too. Maybe some of them are howling, not growling, or are purring, or singing. Maybe being an awkward thing in a cave is not a reason to be attacked. New stories, better options.