A pre-moving task I took on this October was to go through my old studio paper files and transfer anything that seemed worth keeping to a digital format. This included notes scrawled on scraps of paper and in various small notebooks.
I love coming across older writing. Sometimes it’s hysterically funny. Sometimes it’s poignant. Sometimes it’s angry in a way that surprises me. These single-serving, time-capsule snapshots of how my brain makes connections and how my creative thinking gets sparked often amaze me. Who is this person and where did this even come from?!
One of the gems I found was a tiny sketchbook that I made notes in for a BFA requirement course (circa 2007). It was a Feminist Studies class titled “Monstrous Bodies”.
Seems fitting that I should share it now, it being the season for monsters and all (grammatical errors, spelling, and run-on sentences as per original draft)…
“Looking for Monsters”
It is difficult to keep my brain wrapped around this one, because what I consider to be truly monstrous is that which tends to define “monster” in the conservative eyes of society.
Taking into consideration our “mind mapping” of what “monstrous bodies” signify (in the class) and what I already believe true of “monsters”, a “monster” would be anything or anyone who transgresses the conservative and accepted boundaries of society – those that do not conform to the norm, and who are therefore considered to be somehow less than whole (un-whole-y=profane), and abnormal.
In my mind, “monsters” are inherently feminine. Binarily speaking, they are differentiated from and defined by [hu]man – by what “man” is, and by what THEY (we) are NOT. If you cannot be defined as “man”, then you must be defined as “monster”.
Consider Grendel from Beowulf. Grendel was seen as a monster because of these differences: no clothing, no weapons, no money (especially no $$), no language. In a culture where your worth was measured by how much of a man you were, and how much of a man you were was measured by the tale you told and the gold you hold (bragging and payment for said deeds by the king), Grendel did not have a chance of surviving, did not have a chance of being seen as anything but a monster.
My search for monsters did not have to go far before I found one. I am a monster. I transgress gender boundaries. Biologically, I am female, but according to the norms of society, I am gendered male. I am the breadwinner and homeowner in my hetero relationship. I have chosen to not bear children. Because I have not taken the social position that is expected of me – I may be considered a “monster”.
Further searching led me to leaf through a stack of home design magazines that my partner wanted to get rid of I ripped out 7 or 8 ads aimed at women that I found especially monstrous in and of themselves, or were aimed at women who would like to avoid becoming “monsters”. One ad aptly illustrated how monsters are seen – or NOT seen, in this case. A homeless woman has been photoshopped to fade into the building that she leans against. The caption reads, “We see what most don’t” (Salvation Army). The truth is, if you are not seen as a ‘real’ person, you are not seen at all – you don’t exist. I like how this image recalls the scenario of a young child afraid of monsters in their closet, under their bed, et. The parent will always reassure the child that there are no such things as monsters – monsters don’t exist. For whatever reason, the woman in this photograph has been pushed to the fringes of society (a trait she shares with Grendel), and therefore she is a monster. She doesn’t exist – nobody (wants to) see her. This is not just the case for the poor. In our society you may be deemed “monstrous” if you are handicapped in some way, mentally or physically, or if you are somehow marked as different from the status quo, however minor.
My studio is full of monstrous bodies, but I think the most interesting “monster” I encountered this week was while I was on the bus, heading to my allergist for my monthly shot (to control my “monstrous” reactions with science – so typical with monsters!)
I was listening to music through headphones, so my first attraction to the “monstrous body” was through sight. This body wasn’t moving in a “normal” way, and I had a distinct visceral reaction to his body language. My fight or flight response kicked in – his gestures classified him in my mind as ‘other’. When my music ended, I could hear him talking to his companion. He was talking about his former boss, who hired “degenerates” to paint (his word, classifying himself as a degenerate). At one point the conversation was like beat poetry:
“paint…sand…scrape…tape, scrape, paint/Tape, scrape, sand, paint/Tape, scrape, sand, paint/ Tape, scrape, tape, scrape/Tape, scrape, sand, paint.”
He was, I believe, verbally trying to illustrate the simplicity and repetitiveness of the job. To me, it was a bizarre and beautiful language that maybe only another “degenerate” might understand.
As language seems to be so important in our society, both physical and verbal, I think I will choose to respond to my “bus-monster”. I will construct a performance with abnormal body language and a poetry recital of “Tape, scrape, sand, paint” (why do I always move towards performance when it stresses me out so much?)
I am not sure of the specifics, but I think it may need to be spontaneous, so I’m trying not to overthink it.
I have a very faint memory of doing the performance in class, but I might just be confabulating. Either way, finding notes makes me glad that I’ve preserved some of my early creative process – and reminds me that maybe I should be more diligent about keeping a regular journal 😉