Not an Odalisque

If You Read This, You’ll Discover I’m A Monster

with 6 comments

I think that if you met me you would believe that I’m a nice girl. Middle class. Rather shy. Prone to thinking that everyone has read Byron and agrees on the importance of soup spoons. On the first day of my course nice women mothered me and bought me bakewell tart. That’s the girl they bought it for.

Now and again other parts slip out. I forget that in a discussion about pole dancing you shouldn’t admit that you’ve actually seen any, and especially shouldn’t admit that you were in a lesbian bar in Soho at the time. I forget that reading ‘120 Days of Sodom’ on the train will get me funny looks. Mostly, I forget that there are a number of topics you’re meant to come at sideways, and shock people with frankness where they expected allusion.

In everyday life, it isn’t too difficult to keep parts of myself separate. I remember to be nice to my granny when she asks why I haven’t got a nice boy, and don’t need to additionally remind myself not to tell her I don’t want a nice boy, but a big, nasty man who’ll do unspeakable things to me. I don’t need to talk about Kristeva’s theory of abjection when I call Estates to report a blocked toilet. I remember who I’m speaking to, and everything flows from there.

That isn’t the case with writing. When you write something down, anyone can read it, but you’ll never write that sex scene with your granny sitting on your shoulder. In fact, you’ll never write anything if you’re trying to please everyone, and everyone, you see, is your potential audience. Will Milly from the chip shop appreciate that parody of the Commedia dell’arte? I doubt it. Your old tutor, though, author of numerous books on the subject, will probably laugh at your childish attempts. It’s best to put them all out of your mind.

So I conjure an ideal reader. You, dearest, are a reader of Byron, an owner of soup spoons (possibly also a supplier, have you any spare?) and a lover of bakewell tart. You aren’t scandalised by pole dancing or kink, and you’ve read at least the first half of ‘The Powers of Horror’, you’ve met Columbine and Harlequin. You’re perfect, and you’ll reinvent yourself tomorrow when I begin another piece.

If you’re reading this and you don’t fit that description, I consider that to be your problem. There are people whose opinions matter to me very deeply, but all of them have got better things to do than read my ramblings. The rest of you will just have to take me as I am.

If only it were always that way. I’m taking a Creative Writing course. Now and again I have to sit in a room with your readers. Talk to them, lunch with them, see them drink soup from polystyrene cups. How are they going to react if my stories aren’t nice?

I’m not nice. I’m rather monstrous. If I’m to render an honest account of my experience (and it’s the only experience I have to offer) then that monstrosity is going to come out one way or another. I can’t see a way around that. I’ve found myself to be really very bad at writing poems about flowers.

You might say (although you won’t, if you’re my ideal reader) that I should try harder on the flower poems. My thinking is this: Women spend an awful lot of their time pretending not to be the monsters they are (no doubt men do, too); we pluck and shave, bite our tongues and paint our faces, and keep quiet about desire or periods or hating having to do the washing up. It hasn’t done us very much good. It’s one of the reasons we’re still stuck not only with the image of women as beautiful, good and pure, but also with having to do the dishes. To fall in with society’s expectations is to deny what we are, and, in some sense, to tell a lie. The right to write about our whole selves has been fought for in the courts and won. That means that I get the chance to read ‘Baise-Moi’ and think “fuck, yeah!”

The best story I’ve written recently includes a rape. It includes the word “purpling”. It is filled with sticky sexual anecdotes which may not be true to the letter, but are true to the spirit, of things that happened to me. I want to hand it in, but I’m gripped by this anxiety: what will people think of me?

Did Nabokov worry that people would think he was a paedophile? Shakespeare a poisoner? Dostoevsky a thief? Tolstoy an adulterer? I don’t know. It seems quite likely that, soon, all the people on my course will think I’m a weirdo. Perhaps then, in search of acceptance, I’ll begin to value you, my darling, perfect, reader.

Written by Not an Odalisque

September 28, 2010 at 7:21 pm

6 Responses

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  1. I say write what you feel like writing. That is the only way to go.

    Sometimes I worry about what I write, but in the end, I just post it anyway. Why? Because, silly, that’s the idea. Post the darkest parts of me. That is what is real, that is what is honest, and whether we like to admit it or not, we are all the same, just differently.

    As far as your story goes, I say “go for it!” I’ll be cheering you along!



    September 28, 2010 at 9:28 pm

  2. A word on monsters.

    I once had an unrequited crush on a girl who was also a good friend. She told me she was a monster, too.

    She told me of walking alone in the city park. Of being approached by a much older, very large, smelly, scary-looking man who quietly and firmly ordered her to follow him; then he turned on his heel and walked away. She followed.

    They walked some distance to his home and he opened the door and told her to go inside. Once there, he ordered her to undress. Then he told her to bend over. She did all of this without a word. He did what he wanted. Then he demanded that she perform an act that she did not want to perform. She refused. He threatened. She refused again. He beat her savagely. She left; called me. I came over to her apartment and I listened while she told me the story. She cried; I held her. She said she was a monster.

    I knew she was wrong; I was the monster. I still am.

    Wigwam Jones

    September 29, 2010 at 12:02 am

    • I don’t know what to say. I hope your friend has coped.

      When I talk about being a monster, a lot of it is about how we are meant to be different from our experiences. One of the few parts I remember of ‘Little Dorrit’ (apart from “potatoes, prunes and prism”) is her being told that it isn’t ladylike to notice poverty. It’s as if the association with the negative aspects of life reflects badly on the person who observes them. One can lose one’s purity, in the old-fashioned sense.

      All of that should be railed against. So I write.


      September 30, 2010 at 11:44 pm

  3. I suspect the hardest thing for a writer to overcome is their reluctance to put negative things in their stories, especially to put negative things into the character of one of their characters. It requires courage. Nabokov was considered a paedophile by some, and I suspect that every great author left many people wondering about their inner self. It’s as if you are judged as a bad person because of your ability to imagine bad things.

    Most people (I suspect) imagine bad things all the time, but their conscious mind steps in to sensor those things. Perhaps, with time, they are successful at training their unconscious not to even come up with such thoughts. That’s a loss, of course, because among those censored thoughts are undoubtedly great ideas that also never come to fruition.

    What would worry me is an author that wrote actual terrible things without their, within themselves, noticing that they are terrible. That would indicate a lack of judgment and perhaps the scary thought that they might enact those terrible things. But, it’s very difficult to get inside the mind of an author by reading their works.

    And then, there’s the question of what’s really a bad thing. Is the desire to give a spanking bad?

    Given all that, readers ought to be extremely careful of their judgments of authors!


    October 1, 2010 at 6:36 am

  4. Nah, you’re alright.

    I have met only few non-monsters.

    John Q Bananaboat-Monsterson

    February 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm

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