by Debra McIntyre
Monsters are real. I know. I've seen them on TV. My son knows too. They visit him in his sleep. Most people would agree that monsters are horrible and it would be simple to conclude that monsters should be automatically eschewed; but, I tend to think of monsters as little helpers. Monsters can function as angels or messengers and I believe both the medium and the message are trustworthy. Monsters give us reliable clues about how to live the good life.
Lately, I've been watching out for a particular type of monster: the zombie. In watching zombie movies I've come to the conclusion that zombies represent the state of depression which in turn illustrates humanity's fall or absence from grace. Zombies aren't difficult to spot. They are nocturnal and tend to gather in graveyards or uninhabited spaces. They look vaguely like accident victims. Most of their bodies are rotten or horribly traumatized. They appear to be in shock and shuffle along like psychiatric patients. Speech is confined to grunts. Warning: if you run into a zombie it might be best to avoid close physical contact. Zombies are cannibals and will, without provocation, attempt to consume your flesh or eat your brains. Life comes cheap to that sort. It is a rather depressing lifestyle to be sure. They seem to exist and move through space via a sheer act of human will.
Anyone who has ever been depressed can probably relate to the plight of the zombie. When you are depressed it can be nearly impossible to even get out of bed. The most simple tasks require supreme efforts. How can one be physically graceful if every movement feels like it requires enough energy to power up to escape velocity? Of course there is more than one meaning to the word 'grace.' Grace is more than just a physical state; it is also a spiritual gift. Zombies display no sense of the divine or sacred. They have no spirit and no soul to top off the unforgiveable sin of terrible rhythm. I was amused to discover that in the Surreal Dictionary zombies are described as 'glass slippers.' We can think of zombies as fragile empty shells. Qlippoth. Eliot's "hollow men."
In Christian terms zombies are abominations. They live in hell: separate from god and creation. This is true not only of movie zombies but of voodoo zombies too. According to Haitian folk belief, zombies are people whose spirits have been stolen by a boko. Traditionally, a zombie could be created as a last resort to protect a community. If a person consistently was a danger to his community he risked being unmade as a person. A zombie lives outside the community and is therefore reduced to nothing. Most traditional societies tend to refer to themselves as 'the people.' To be excluded and shunned is the worst punishment available because the victim is no longer considered human. This also is a typical symptom of depression. The depressed person often seeks to isolate himself from the human world. It is a cruel and unusual punishment. Unless you have neighbours like mine.
When I watch zombies I see creatures lost in a senseless world. Zombies don't seem to have much of a purpose. The one thing I've seen them do well is eat human flesh. They may shuffle along but no human (not even an Olympic sprinter) can outrun a zombie. How they achieve their quantum leaps through space is a mystery but well documented. They seem to prefer a diet of human brains: an unhealthy addiction not only for the victim (!) but for the zombie too. It seems to me that zombies already have too much mind and not enough sense. They represent matter without spirit: the relentless and singleminded obsession to consume. It is an act without pleasure. Pleasure seems to have passed them by. If they feel anything at all I am sure they must be overwhelmed by numb hopelessness. Though they seem to be propelled by the mind it is not a mind that is fully aware. Zombies don't even seem to be aware of whether they are alive or dead. We don't call them the undead for nothing. It is only by shooting them in the head that they can be stopped at all. Perhaps this is a clue to approaching depression. Maybe when we become depressed we need to stop thinking and start making sense. A cure for depression might include such activities as eating delicious foods and dancing. Operator: please place a emergency collect call to the Three Graces ...
One thing I've learned for sure: if your town has zombies it does no good to call an exterminator. Usually everyone will die before help can arrive. Zombies are terribly contagious. Sometimes when I am aware of being in routine spaces I am reminded of how close we all are to the teetering edge of quiet desperation. Hamlet seemed to feel as if he walked in a zombie world. Denmark, like our world, was rotten with decay and corruption. Nothing lasts. Everything has a fatal flaw. When I was a kid my dad used to lament: why can't they build things that last anymore? I wonder if 'they' ever did build things able to last. Is it reasonable to expect human engineers to do something that god couldn't? The huge rates of depression in our society may be a symptom of our awareness of the great cosmic ripoff. As Philip K. Dick once said, "It's a cardboard universe and if you lean too hard against it you fall through." Monsters are a reflection of this reality. Life will dish up the distasteful from time to time. Things horrible to face like death, the inevitablity of decay or just plain ennui. Flash your mind back to Calvin of the old comic 'Calvin and Hobbes' fame. Try to remember him sitting at the kitchen table. In front of him is dinner: the infamous monkey brain stew. His look of disbelief is one we've all felt. Is this for real? Isn't there something else on the menu?
Zombies of course lack the spirit of someone like Calvin. Calvin was spontaneous, imaginative and able to wonder. Zombies are always predictable and sleepwalk through existence. There are ways of waking sleeping beauties though. We have the technology. You can kiss the monster which just might be a princess in disguise. Or you can be like Eve in the Gnostic Apocryphon of John. Eve calls forth to the sleeping Adam in the following manner:
I entered into the midst of the dungeon which is the prison of the body. And I spoke thus: "He who hears, let him arise from the deep sleep." And then he (Adam) wept and shed tears. After he wiped away his bitter tears he spoke, asking: "Who is it that calls my name, and whence has this hope come unto me, while I am in the chains of this prison?" And I spoke thus: "I am the Pronoia of the pure light; I am the thought of the undefiled spirit. . . .Arise and remember. . . and follow your root, which is I . . . and beware of the deep sleep."
Of course that might just be a shot in the dark. Anything is worth a try though; it isn't much fun to be a monster.
Monsters can be considered our friends though when they help us to visualize realities and fears we'd rather not see. As Hamlet noticed:
O God, I could be bounded in a
nutshell and count myself a king
of infinite space, were it not
that I have bad dreams.
Bad dreams and bad monsters are like friends who speak with candour. They put us in our place and point out the things we'd perhaps rather overlook. They are not known for being discreet in word or deed. The floozies even have a tendency to overdress. With monsters, presentation is everything and they choose provocation to ensure their grand entrances can't help but be noticed. There is something visually compelling about a creature oozing slime, losing a throbbing eyeball or displaying stainless steel neck bolts. If I happen to dream of monsters I will remember such a sight even through the drear grog of morning. Even when they have nothing to say the arrival of monsters is a visually pungent reminder of the one fact most of us would like to avoid: our inevitable mortality. We are going to die and our bodies will turn to mush and decay one day. We might even wind up looking WORSE than the monsters that scare us.
That pesky second law of thermodynamics is a pretty firm boundary and we are heading toward entropy whether Oil of Olay cares to reveal it or not. Most of the time morbid thoughts are probably not helpful to walking the mental health line but a complete rejection of reality is just asking for trouble. Each of us has a time limit or expiry date to consider. I don't know about you but I seem to work best under deadlines. Well, maybe it doesn't wind up being my best work but deadlines do seem to help me complete projects. We can think of death as a deadline and monsters as muezzins letting us know what time it is. If we must die then we might as well remember to live life while the opportunity presents itself. Alarming wake up calls may not be subtle but they are effective in reminding us of time's arrow.
Debra McIntyre is an ordinary person in love with a defrocked satanic priest. Her son is rumoured to be a wee demon. When she isn't watching zombie movies she likes to steal sunflowers.
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