Over the past year, I haven’t kept up with the blog. This time last year I could blame my thesis. Since I graduated, I just haven’t been able to create much of anything. I’ve always been prone to periods of depression, and I’m this summer has probably been the worst batch of it since I was 13. It’s zapped my energy and spirit, and I haven’t been able to do much of anything but go to work, be nice to the customers, and try to keep my spirits up with fluffy things when I get home. But things are looking up, and it’s almost Halloween… my favorite non-liturgical holiday.
My depression, and the season, have made me think about one of my favorite monsters… the Phantom of the Opera. I can’t say for sure, of course, because not even my memory goes back this far, but I think he might have been the first monster I ever “met.” My dad likes to tell the story about how he took me for a walk in a city that once had storefronts, and we saw a 2-foot figure of the Lon Chaney Phantom in a window. It made a big impression on me (I was one or two at the time), and Dad told me that the Phantom was very sad. But not anymore.
It wasn’t quite the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but it was close to it. For years after that, the Phantom was the monster I was the most afraid of. I had a stuffed Frankenstein Monster since kindergarten, felt sorry for the Wolfman, had one of my first crushes on Bela Lugosi when I was in 4th grade, and thought the Mummy was really tragic and scary. But it was always the Phantom who made me feel something like fear.
Then I discovered the musical, which I still love to turn up when I have to work for a long stretch of time. I read the book, and started seeing what I could of the movies. Then I started to see some parallels. I hated the way I looked and sometimes wanted to hide my face and body. I did receive plenty of flak for my appearance, which only underscored those feelings. And the only outlets I had were through art– in my case drawing and writing. I could sing fairly well then, but it was never my big focus.
But the connection was formed. I’m not entirely sure what the tipping point was. Hell, it might have been the time I made a gory Phantom costume to myself, got to the Halloween block party, found it to be full of kindergartners, and subsequently I spent the rest of the time there hiding in the shadows, covering my face. How Phantom can you get?
But beyond the Halloween episode… part of it comes down to a line from the book. “All I ever needed to be good was to be loved.” Poor, unhappy Erik! And that might be at the heart of it. Besides the Phantom’s appearance, I think he aroused discomfort in me more so than the other monsters because I was afraid of becoming what he was… or being what he was. For years I hated the way I looked, and while I didn’t think I was a monster, it was hard to believe that anyone could be genuinely attracted to me. Sometimes it wasn’t hard to believe that some weird underground lair where I could write and paint was the only place for me.
It’s not like that now, but I keenly remember it. Most of us have probably been there at some point, and it might explain the Phantom’s enduring popularity (an easily identifiable figure despite his many flaws). He’s passionate. He’s intelligent. He’s misunderstood. He’s creative. He’s ruthless. He’s sick. There’s no place for him on the outside.
But he has something beyond that, that keeps him going and going for more than a century. We’ll see if I have that, too.
So I send Erik my love, and I hope he finds some good wherever fictional characters spend their time.