Time and Monsters

Sophie, Charlotte, and I left Fisher House and began our walk into town. It was already getting dark signaling the true end of summer and the beginning of a long and dark winter. It was odd not to be wearing costumes on Halloween. I had packed mine up the day before. It had served me well at the college Halloween party, but I knew that I wouldn’t want to wear it where we were going. I wanted to be able to devote my full attention without the distraction of a rainbow wig and felt wings. I had dressed as Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony, you see.

The air was cool but it didn’t yet have the touch of icy frost that portended December and January. We were on our way to the Gala Theatre. It was the movie theatre in the centre of town. Charlotte had stumbled across tickets a week ago for a rebroadcast of a 2011 production of Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller and directed by Danny Boyle. As soon as she opened the webpage and read the description, I knew I had to go see it and on Halloween no less.

We arrived at the theatre and bought some crisps and glasses of wine. I’m still amazed when I think that you can have a beer, wine, or cider at a movie theatre here. We climbed the stairs to the balcony and took our seats in the front row. The lights dimmed and the screen sprang to life with a brief introduction to the production. Then the screen went black and the play began.

For the next two hours I was glued to the screen. It was a unique production. The two leading men had alternated parts each night when the play had been staged. I had hoped to see Benedict Cumberbatch in the role of the Monster and indeed as the performance went on, I kept imagining him in that part. I could see the nuanced ticks he would had added; hear the distorted voice he’d have spoken with. Perhaps it was made easier by the fact that the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster are quintessentially the same. At times they appear polar opposites but in truth they are different sides of the same coin, both outsiders, both driven, both childlike. In many ways it is Dr. Frankenstein who is the true monster of the piece; incapable of love and obsessed with his own brilliance and daring. Though even monsters are comforting in odd ways. They are merely the manifestations humans have come up with to represent their fears. Terrified of death we created the vampire, frightened of our inner animalism we gave birth to the werewolf, scared of our seemingly endless intelligence we created Dr. Frankenstein and his monster.

For hours after the play, I continued to process what I had seen. When faced with truly great performances I tend to need days to absorb the intricacies of it. There is also a special sort of melancholy that accompanies great performances. I wander in a bit of a daze, awestruck at the power of art to elicit, indeed wrench, emotional responses from me. It is an exhausting experience, but one that I crave. It is why I admire Benedict Cumberbatch’s performances so much. Everything I have seen him in thus far has produced the “performance coma” in me. I sit and ponder for days the smallest element of his character studies, the way he cocked his head in that one scene, the near imperceptible change in his eyes in reaction to another character’s revelation. It is the mark of a master craftsman and in many ways I envy it.

The week since Halloween has passed so quickly. I spent Sunday running around Beamish Museum with some lovely people from my course. We toured the recreated Victorian town and mining village, entering into the confectioners, the print shop, the stables, and the dentist’s office. We ate fish and chips out of newspaper cones and tried to squeeze ourselves into tiny desks at the schoolhouse. I had honey comb for the first time and gave myself a fairly good stomach ache. We rode trams and a train and ate delicious baked goods. By the end of the day we were all exhausted and we still hadn’t seen all that Beamish had to offer. It was a day when I allowed myself no thoughts other than the ones produced in the moment. It was a mental holiday before a long week.

On Monday evening I directed my first choir rehearsal in over a year. I am now conducting the Ustinov Choral Society through the Café des Arts programme. I can’t express my initial trepidation at this endeavour. I have never conducted a choir of adults let alone had to listen to four parts at once. Well sure, when I took my conducting courses during undergrad I did, but that is now over ten years ago. I was grateful to have Charlotte and Sophie in the alto section and Alex at the piano to give me a boost of confidence. It turned out that my fears, my monsters, were unnecessary. The response was tremendous. We handed out all twenty copies of music and more people are expected at the next rehearsal. The group was able to read through many of the pieces and what can I say? English choirs have built in fabulous diction. Something I had initially dreaded because I was terrified of failing has now become something I am genuinely looking forward to each week. I feel as though the failure monster was defeated. This victory has given me a bit of confidence to try to make a difference here. (The first difference to make is to try and procure a piano for the sole use of our College.)

The rest of the week has been a blur of lectures punctuated by fits of attempting to write my first essay for graduate school. My perfectionism and drive to obtain top marks has made this the most painful of experiences. Once again, my failure monster has poked its head around the corner to provide nightmare scenarios of getting anything less than perfection. I try to beat it off with reason, the only weapon which is any use against monsters. My reason has failed me in this area. I feel that I am working blind. I am unsure what level I am writing at and the English marking system does not acknowledge that perfection is achievable. Few people achieve firsts and I try to supplicate my monster by telling it that a 2:1 coupled with the plethora of extracurricular activities I am involved in will serve me tremendously well.

“A 2:1 is no first,” it says.

“No, it’s no first,” I agree.

And thus the cycle continues. I write a paragraph and then delete it. Write it again, delete it again. It’s as though I am Dr. Frankenstein endlessly pursuing my perfection monster through the arctic wilderness of grad school.

I suppose the other thing on my mind is the fact that in less than twenty-four hours I will leave my twenties behind and take up the mantle of a thirty year old. (I never said I wasn’t dramatic.) I have tried and tried to remember how turning twenty felt. Did I feel this weight of time on my shoulders then? I can’t remember. What I do remember is turning nine. I remember sitting in primary school a few months before I would be nine. A boy in my class, I remember his name was Ryan, proudly announced he turned nine that day. We were in a small reading group with the teacher. She turned to him and smiled.

“Just think,” she said wistfully, “this is your last year in single digits. Next year when you turn ten, you will never be single digits again.”

It was the first epiphany I ever had. I sat there and a wave of prickly realization came over me. You will never be single digits again. Perhaps it was because my birthday was a month away that this struck home with me. How many times have we been told as children not to grow up too fast? In one moment, my teacher had made each of us realize what growing up meant. It meant you always go forward, you can never go back. In that moment the physics of the fourth dimension were made clear to a bunch of eight and nine year olds. We were linear creatures who could only experience time in a single direction. I wonder if this is where my fascination with time began.

So now I sit here hours away from my birthday and I am thinking you will never be in your twenties again. I look at it with a different perspective than my nine year old self. I recently read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and I try whenever possible to read and watch everything I can about time, how it is perceived, what it is. The fact that time is relative and not constant, that it moves more slowly around massive objects. It is one of the most amazing things in the universe. And so I consider my thirtieth birthday. Perhaps the strangest question I had was when will I precisely turn thirty? I was born at 5:30am EST. England is five hours ahead so I’ll turn thirty at 10:30am here. I was having this conversation with Alex, the pianist from choir and a member of my course.

“Think about this though. What if you were born at 7:30pm?” he suggested, “Would your birthday be on your birthday or would it be the next morning at 12:30am? Which day were you born?”

Mind. Blown.

My thoughts turn back to the past. I consider who I have been over the last decade; an undergraduate, an educator, an international graduate student across the sea. I have been a friend, a patient, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a lover, a fighter. I have been at times a petulant child and a pillar of reason. Who will I be over the coming decade?

I will never be in my twenties again.

I smile at that for a second. I don’t think I’d want to go back. Every experience I’ve had, everything I was has gotten me to this point. Truth be told, I’m pretty happy. I’m doing amazing things at the moment despite what my perfection monster and failure monster may be trying to say at times. I have found success and perfection in unconventional ways despite their hounding. I find in this moment that I am precisely where I am supposed to be and at precisely the correct time. At no other point before this moment could I have been doing what I am doing. I have woven the threads of my life in such a way to bring me here now. The only direction to move now is forward and I’m fairly sure the next decade will be just as interesting a journey as the last. Come along my monsters, friends, and readers; the next crazy adventure is just over that hill.  

One thought on “Time and Monsters

  1. Erika Beth, the Messy Chef says:

    “during undergrad I did, but that is now over ten years ago.” You shut your mouth, Jen! Blasphemy I say! (Who am I emulating?)
    Also, when I turned 30 I was SO SO VERY happy to leave my 20s behind and turn 30. Now that I'm a month away from turning 31 I'm like, “Ew. 31. Who wants to be 31?” Maybe it's because I don't like odd numbers…


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