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Monstrous Agonies E100S03 Transcript
[Title music: slow, bluesy jazz.]
Monstrous Agonies: Episode One Hundred.
[The music fades out, replaced by the sound of a radio being tuned. It scrolls through pop music, a voice saying “-I love you all-”, the sound of a phone ringing and a voice saying “-and I haven’t picked it up again-” before cutting off abruptly as it reaches the correct station.]
-the forgiving embrace of the cold and silent earth.
If you’ve just tuned in, you’re right on time for our advice segment, where I answer listeners’ questions on life, love, and all thing liminal. First tonight, a listener unsure whether to act on some new emotions.
The Presenter (as First Letter Writer)
Living as a skellington isn't easy. People have all sorts of preconceptions about what it means. For example, everyone assumes that I must have been meat-bound at some point in my life – as if everyone comes to skeletisation in the same way.
But I’ve always been like this. I grew up like this. That had its own difficulties, of course. One of those difficulties lies in the fact that I don’t process emotions in the same way other genuses do.
Bones aren’t a very touchy-feely substance. It’s hard for me understand what other people are feeling. Their meat moves around so much when they’re... feeling things.
And other people never guess right when they’re trying to work out how I’m feeling. I suppose it has something to with, you know. Not having a face. I look the same whether I’m sad or excited or nervous or whatever.
When I was younger, that was a cornerstone of most of the- b-bullying I received. [sighs] The fact I couldn’t tell when someone was being serious or not. Whether they were… making fun of me. I still can't take compliments from strangers because I assume it’s more of the same.
You can imagine, then, I've always had trouble fitting in with the rest of society. But lately I've been developing new emotions I previously thought were impossible. Most notably, a strong desire for a closeness with others, platonic or otherwise.
I am at odds with myself. With my past. A part of me wants this new feeling to go away, leave me alone. I’m fine as I am and I don’t need to rock the boat by chasing after this strange new desire.
But another part of me wishes to help it grow. To tend to it, if I can, let it grow bigger and brighter until it pushes up the dead roots of my past and creates something… new.
My scales are evenly balanced on the matter. I’d like another weight to help me decide. So – what do you think?
The Presenter (as themselves)
I’m sorry the people around you have treated you so poorly, listener. Your reticence to pursue this new desire makes perfect sense in the light of these experiences.
I’m afraid I don’t feel comfortable weighing in firmly on one side or the other. I’m not here to make decisions for you. All I can offer is a little more perspective to help you find the right choice for you.
First, there is nothing wrong with choosing a more solitary existence. Many people prefer their own company, either because of the social tendencies of their genus or because they are simply built that way as an individual.
The richness and flavour that close personal relationships bring into our lives is unique to those relationships. But it is not the only source of richness in life. You are not living a lesser life for choosing to live it alone.
Fortunately, the decision to reach out and cultivate closer friendships with other people is not an irreversible one. You can always dip your toes, test the water, and decide if it’s right for you.
You might feel more comfortable starting to build new friendships over the Internet. You can find communities of people based around interests you already know you have in common, and engage as much or as little as you feel comfortable, in a time-frame that suits you.
What’s more, a text-based medium removes the obstacle of reading facial expressions or tone of voice, and might make it easier for you to express your own feelings and understand those of others. And if you aren’t sure how you’re supposed to read something, you can always ask.
Finally, there is certainly something to be said for exploring new, positive experiences in order to uproot bad memories. If you do choose to pursue these relationships, I hope you find your people quickly and painlessly, and that their friendship can help heal your past hurts.
[Background music begins: An acoustic guitar playing a blues riff]
In association with Third Site VPN. Blind the third eye and protect yourself from paranormal perception. Stay out of sight, with Third Site. Proud members of the Nightfolk Network.
[End background music]
Our second letter this evening is from a listener pushing back against unreasonable expectations.
The Presenter (as Second Letter Writer)
I take the Night Tube regularly. The empty sapio carriage has a poem on it by Guillaume Apollinaire. The poem is in French but the final lines translated are: ‘And butterflies for all their graces / Are merely caterpillars who persevere.’
I believe it’s meant to inspire. [laughs softly] But I cannot help but look at it… and slowly start to cry. I have tried sitting in different cars, taking a different route but it’s always there, waiting for me. Haunting me.
Recently my genus has gone through what we refer to as a ‘big spring’. We huddle away for many weeks, dissolve, and reform into our shape for the next stage of our life. While it’s uncomfortable, we’re supposed to come out the other side beautiful, changed and, importantly, winged.
I did not. [sighs] I don’t know what happened. I’m not sure if I burrowed wrong, or I’m just unlucky. But I just sort of came out as a… kind of very large slug. [deep inhale] Everyone was very understanding at first, how could they not be? But I suppose they forget.
So I slime around, as I must. Not fast. Not elegant. Taking the Night Tube and feeling more and more like an inconvenience. My friends still want to see me but they forget. “Come for a flight!” they say to me, the one without wings. So I am left behind.
Or they say, “Fly over and we’ll see you in 15 minutes,” for a journey that is several hours of slow, agonising slimeing. They don’t mean to, but I feel the disgust. The pity. The effort. The invitations come less and less.
I want to complain but friendly winged types say, ‘Oh, your wings will grow in soon,’ or, ‘You’ll get better if you keep working on it!’ And like the caterpillar on the Tube I want to scream that I cannot persevere my way into metamorphosis.
No tincture or exercise or wishing will change that I am a slug. I will be a slug forever. It is no one's fault but it does mean my life is much different than I had hoped. I am not a butterfly. I am merely... a caterpillar who must persevere.
How do I take the Night Tube and see this stupid poem every day without dissolving into goopy floods of tears?
The Presenter (as themselves)
I know the poem you’re referring to, listener, and I’m struck by the liberties taken by the translator in the version you quote here.
I am not a poet, but my understanding of the French is that a more literal translation would be, “Work leads to riches, so poets, let us work hard. The caterpillar who toils unceasingly becomes the magnificent butterfly.”
It’s nonsense. It’s absolutely nonsense, from the first line to the last. The caterpillar does not have to work for its wings any more than the rich man has to work for his wealth.
There is a comfort in believing we have earnt our places of privilege in the world. If we have earnt our riches, or our social status, or our health, then all we have to do to preserve them is… work harder.
The people who want you to “persevere” your way to wings want you to prove this belief. But you don’t have to pander to their self-deception. Push back as much as you are willing and able.
Do not allow them to reduce you to a comfortable lie. The caterpillar who toils unceasingly does nothing more productive than exhausting itself to an early grave.
It’s up to you how much and with whom you engage on this topic. For strangers and casual acquaintances, I recommend a polite but firm refusal to go along with what they’re saying and, if you feel it possible, a reassertion that you did not ask for their advice.
When it comes to closer relationships, you can offer a little more. Your friends are being inconsiderate and thoughtless, in a way that you’re very right to be upset by. It is entirely fair for you to ask them to do better.
When they invite you to come for a flight, remind them that you can’t, and ask them to come up with an activity that’s actually accessible for you. Remind them when they ask to meet you of the difference between how you move through the world, and how they do.
In short, let them know when they’re treating you badly and what to do instead. This isn’t about you taking responsibility for their behaviour. It’s about you giving your new body the attention and advocacy it deserves.
Some people will not be able to rise to this occasion. They will prove themselves small and brittle and sadly you will have to make some difficult decisions about how much they can be in your life.
I won’t tell you not to grieve those friendships. But I do believe that many more people will surprise you with their willingness to learn. They will want to show you that they care for you, and be glad of the chance to do so.
Finally, when it comes to that particular poem on the Night Tube, I recommend a more direct approach. A little precisely-applied spray paint should do the trick.
[Background music begins: An acoustic guitar playing a blues riff]
You’re listening to 131.3FM. Don’t touch that dial.
[End of background music]
It’s two o’clock on Thursday morning, and time now for another edition of our history segment. This week, we’re taking a sartorial turn as we explore the ways liminal bodies and creature cultures have influenced fashion through the ages…
[Speech fades into static as the radio is retuned. It scrolls through a voice saying “-the government says-”, a voice saying “-find my backpack, daddy-”, pop music and classical music before fading out.
Title music: slow, bluesy jazz. It plays throughout the closing credits.]
Episode One Hundred of Monstrous Agonies was written and performed by H.R. Owen.
Tonight's first letter was submitted bySkeletonhouseplant, and this week's advert was from an anonymous submitter. Thanks, friends.
Tonight’s second letter was written by Naomi Clarke, writer of The Secret of St Kilda, a fantastic podcast I’ve mentioned several times on the show and cannot recommend highly enough. Naomi is also a prolific TTRPG player and can be found playing a Cockney wizard on actual-play podcast Realms of Peril and Glory. Find more information and links in the show notes.
Hello and welcome to our latest supporters on Patreon,Gwethulu and Space Modulator. I don’t know whose name I prefer! [laughs] Join them at patreon.com/monstrousagonies, or make a one-off donation at ko-fi.com/hrowen.
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This podcast is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The theme tune is Dakota by Unheard Music Concepts.
Thanks for listening, and remember – the real monsters are the friends we made on the way.
[Fade to silence]