Forming Myself in Their Image: A Tale of My Shoggoth7 min read

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As an artist and writer whose work focuses on mon­sters, I iden­tify closely with the plight of mon­sters as mis­un­der­stood and fright­ening beings. I often try to por­tray mon­sters in a pos­i­tive light in my work, and con­sider myself a “Monster Rights Advocate.”

As opposed to the spirit ani­mals many call upon to explain and embody dif­ferent traits in their lives, I find myself drawn more to “spirit mon­sters” who help me under­stand myself as being a bit dif­ferent. I also happen to be a total nerd, so it’s really no sur­prise that I’m a big fan of the work of H.P. Lovecraft.

Lovecraft’s work laid the foun­da­tion for the genre of cosmic horror and the crea­tures he cre­ated con­tinue to hor­rify. His influ­ence can even be seen in horror and sci­ence fic­tion to this day. The first of his works that I read was At the Mountains of Madness, and if you haven’t read it, I def­i­nitely sug­gest that you do. It’s a classic tale of an Antarctic expe­di­tion that dis­covers more than they bar­gained for when they uncover the remains of an ancient and alien civ­i­liza­tion. Recently I’ve been inspired by the mon­ster of  this story and found it a per­fect embod­i­ment of the way I devel­oped my iden­tity through dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.

If you don’t know the full story of At the Mountains of Madness, con­sider this your warning that spoilers lie ahead. The nature of what truly lies below is a major plot point, and if you plan to read the story, I’d rec­om­mend you do so before con­tin­uing.

It was a ter­rible, inde­scrib­able thing vaster than any subway train—a shape­less con­geries of pro­to­plasmic bub­bles, faintly self-luminous, and with myr­iads of tem­po­rary eyes forming and un-forming as pus­tules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down upon us, crushing the frantic pen­guins and slith­ering over the glis­tening floor that it and its kind had swept so evilly free of all litter.

H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness

The expe­di­tion uncovers a still living crea­ture deep beneath the ice, a mon­ster known as the Shoggoth. The Shoggoths were cre­ated by a strange elder race as a ver­sa­tile slave, able to form and reform itself to suit any task. It was itself form­less, merely a mass of organic matter made to suit the whims of the Old Ones.

I too felt as though I was born form­less, reaching ten­drils of matter out to try and operate the world around me in any useful and mean­ingful way. However, the Shoggoth is also described as “faintly self-luminous,” and I think this per­fectly describes my early inner life. I did not have a form as such, but there was, at least, a small sense of who I could become. A faint inner light that would guide me in the years to come.

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I was born into a world that was not made for me, but rather called me to be made for it. While I wasn’t diag­nosed until I was 25, I was born with autism. This made things dif­fi­cult for me in a small rural town without any notion of mental health care. I could not go to movies as a child because it was dark and loud, and even restau­rants were fre­quently inac­ces­sible to me because of the assault to my atyp­ical senses.

My par­ents were, at the time, part of a strict and legal­istic church com­mu­nity which held great sway in my house­hold of what was appro­priate. I fre­quently held out a half-formed limb from my amor­phous mass to have it slapped back and deemed unfit for use.

How could I interact with my envi­ron­ment with the eyes and ears I had grown but no limbs to interact? My hands were too blunt for play and pushed back. My mouth was too quick, too loud, and no good. Often I did not know why the forms I took were unac­cept­able. I only knew the sting of my fresh and tender flesh being whipped back towards its brooding core.

As I grew up, there were parts of me that were forced into shapes by the world around me. It was as if tight binding cloth shaped me from the out­side into some­thing vaguely humanoid. I was some­thing that obeyed, didn’t inter­rupt, kept its limbs to itself, and never dared to stray too far out­side the approved box.

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It often seemed like people around me didn’t have so much trouble learning what direc­tion to grow in. They just knew how to become a human being. They knew when to say hello and goodbye, how to jump rope, ride bikes, what to talk about, and what to wear. They were growing out of seeds with a more detailed plan imprinted in their DNA. They could water them­selves and grow into a tree. What would I grow into? I wasn’t sure.

However, out of  the ago­ra­phobic and home­schooled world I had inhab­ited, I did find at least a few places that my faint inner light called me to. I often found char­ac­ters I would borrow “parts” from. In my car­toons, movies, and video games, I could find things that res­onated with that then-pale glow. I knew I wanted to be funny. I loved making people laugh. I started absorbing “funny” char­ac­ters and per­sonas that felt like they could be a part of me. I felt adven­turous, rebel­lious, fiery, and rough around the edges.

Sometimes, it would be as com­plete as dressing like a char­acter from a tele­vi­sion show for months or years. Other times, it would be as simple as taking on the comedic styling or speech pat­terns of someone in a film. Of course, It didn’t always work, or “stick.” I quickly learned by attempting to don an ill-fitting per­sona that dry wit was not my forte. In fact, it only made my mother think I was becoming a mouthy teen, when I had actu­ally simply sur­mised from tele­vi­sion that it was some­thing I could play for a few laughs.

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Formless pro­to­plasm able to mock and reflect all forms and organs and processes — vis­cous agglu­ti­na­tions of bub­bling cells — rub­bery fifteen-foot spher­oids infi­nitely plastic and duc­tile — slaves of sug­ges­tion, builders of cities — more and more sullen, more and more intel­li­gent, more and more amphibious, more and more imi­ta­tive! Great God! What mad­ness made even those blas­phe­mous Old Ones willing to use and carve such things?

H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness

I was finally able to start forming myself the right limbs out of my core first by mim­icry, but then by refine­ment. I found ways to reach out into my world that felt right. It was like having a sense of what my face looked like without having seen a mirror, and then making a pic­ture of it by piecing together images from a mag­a­zine.

Eventually the parts weren’t rec­og­niz­able as “stolen” because they became enmeshed in some­thing greater than the sum of its parts. The old per­sonas are finally just foot­notes of inspi­ra­tion for who I have become. I feel that for the most part I have a unique idea of the person I am, and can live without feeling like a rub­bing of an old design.

This adopting of dif­ferent forms or per­sonas as a means of self-expression is some­thing I’ve found not uncommon within the com­mu­nity of others on the spec­trum. It can be very hard for us to find the right voice in the world around us. We don’t form our social “parts” as easily and organ­i­cally as neu­rotyp­ical people. It’s often messy, mea­sured, frus­trating, risky, and bizarre all at once. I often had to study the social pieces I needed very care­fully before I could form those func­tions myself.

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I remember telling a friend in col­lege about my “friend­ship theory.” It was a col­lec­tion of cal­cu­la­tions and obser­va­tions I had made to be able to interact with my peers and make mean­ingful rela­tion­ships. She looked at me with the kind of pity I had grown to be accus­tomed to and uncom­fort­able with. The advice she gave me was of the variety I had often received. It was some­thing along the lines of “Just be your­self!” I nodded as I hid my tears as best I could, which wasn’t very well.

I quickly amended my for­mula to include a line on not sharing it with other people.

While it has always been given to me with the best inten­tions, I always found the neu­rotyp­ical brand of “be your­self” ide­ology very con­fusing. “How?!?” I would think to myself. Maybe a person who grew organ­i­cally like a tree could follow that advice.

They could let nature take its course and grow beau­tiful green foliage. But that simply wasn’t me. I was born having to make delib­erate choices about how I would grow if I wanted to reach out a meager ten­dril, let alone a sturdy branch. I was born a Shoggoth. Formless, searching, lumi­nous.

I am happy to have been able to shape myself. I am happy to have fol­lowed that light and let it shine brighter and brighter. When I look into that light, I know I’d rather be cov­ered in my strange, glowing green eyes that see stars for miles instead of sit­ting and let­ting leaves cover my view of the sky. I’d rather have many arms to lift up people like me who are still finding their shapes – slime and all – than have grown a big trunk straight up, nice and easy.

If that makes me a mon­ster, then I’m happy to be one.

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8 Comments

  1. Glorious. I soaked this up like a fir­gottfo sponge.

    1. for­gotten*

    2. Thank you so much for your feed­back! I’m glad this was able to reach you today.
      ‑Ra

  2. Neurotypical here who appre­ci­ates what I read on this site. I actu­ally winced at your col­lege friend’s “Just be your­self” response. What you described reminded me most of my search for my “true” self in ado­les­cence. I was for­tu­nate in that any dis­ap­proval was from within, not really from family or peers. We just really do need to learn to listen to people, and not try to make them fit into OUR tem­plate. Thanks for this post, and for the great illus­tra­tions!

    1. Thank you so much. I’m glad you took some­thing great away from the article! Thank you for being an excel­lent example of a person who lis­tens. I look for­ward to sharing more writing and illus­tra­tion with you in future.

      -Ra

  3. You are beau­tiful, and your work is beau­tiful.

  4. Thank you for sharing. This made me tear up, you hit on so many dif­ferent pieces of my life that I have never been able to artic­u­late.

    I also went back and looked at the images again after reading, and they now feel pow­erful and mag­ical, even though I didn’t like them at first glance. Next time I feel the urge to art, I think it will be a mon­ster =)

  5. Thank you for giving words and beau­tiful illus­tra­tions to the story of who I am.

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