Per­for­mance poet and au­thor Laura Dock­rill cel­e­brates be­ing dif­fer­ent

SFX - - Free Speak -

Iadore the “freak”. It’s what I look for in art. It’s what I like to read about. It’s what I like to write about too. The odd­balls, the ob­scure, the iso­lated. The weirdos, freaks, beasts and mon­sters. And it’s not be­cause I’m be­ing voyeuris­tic or per­verse. I just think it’s re­ally cool to be dif­fer­ent. Don’t worry, I’m just as ter­ri­fied of the ghoul un­der the bed as the next per­son and not all that keen on meet­ing an ac­tual mon­ster. But I worry we are los­ing the nat­u­ral beast­li­ness that makes us hu­man – that makes us beau­ti­ful. In the past few years, I’ve vis­ited hun­dreds of schools, both pri­mary and sec­ondary, and I’ve been scar­ily struck by the pres­sure young peo­ple put on them­selves to look and be­have the same as one an­other. Erad­i­cat­ing all of the dis­tinc­tive beastly ec­cen­tric­i­ties that make us hu­man be­ings cre­ates our own ter­ri­fy­ing species of mon­ster – the nat­u­ral beauty of be­ing a unique in­di­vid­ual feels like it’s dis­solv­ing grain by grain. Mix that with the un­ob­tain­able, lofty am­bi­tions of celebrity culture and we’re at risk of young peo­ple los­ing them­selves in the at­tempt to be clones of a per­son that doesn’t ex­ist in re­al­ity.

Of course, I un­der­stand that we live in a world where “just”, “be” and “your­self” are per­haps the three scari­est and most an­noy­ing words in the uni­verse. To blend in with the crowd is cosy – es­pe­cially for teens, where com­pany is nec­es­sary, there is safety in unity, and it’s nice to not be the runt of the lit­ter. No­body wants to be scru­ti­nised or judged, or stereo­typed as that weirdo. But what makes us unique is what makes us spe­cial. And to be spe­cial is a su­per­power. We can’t help but be dif­fer­ent be­cause we all are by de­fault. We are meant to be.

As a writer for young adults, I feel like I have a se­cret pas­sage into which I can whis­per kind thoughts. But a pro­tag­o­nist can’t tell us how great it is to be dif­fer­ent, they have to show us. By cre­at­ing a mon­ster you can demon­strate some­body who was beau­ti­ful be­cause they were nat­u­rally dif­fer­ent.

Mer­maids have al­ways been seen as myth­i­cal, al­lur­ing crea­tures – a com­fort­ing dream con­jured up by sea­sick, home-starved sailors. They are the ul­ti­mate beacon of temp­ta­tion, spi­ralling pi­rates to their down­fall. We think of hair, boobs, a shim­mer­ing tail in The Lit­tle Mer­maid and Splash – and maybe the three re­ally bang­ing babes from the tri­umphant Steven Spiel­berg film Hook. But we al­ways for­get the one re­ally true im­por­tant and best bit about them… They are mon­sters. (And if you dis­agree, just for a mo­ment swap the hu­man/fish bits around... not so hot now, right?) Mer­maids make an ideal mytho­log­i­cal char­ac­ter to con­tort and play with. They are be­wil­der­ing and evoca­tive and they live in the sea!

Yes, play­ing around with mer­maids is re­ally fun and a chance to be in­ven­tive – they can use sunken cars as beds, comb their hair with forks and lust for life on land. But think about them as beasts and things can get in­ter­est­ing. An un­der­wa­ter fe­male-run world where scary stuff can re­ally hap­pen. Where hair doesn’t have to be quan­ti­fied as some­thing pretty but can be­come use­ful – rope, a net to hunt beasts, a lad­der, a cage, a noose... I can cre­ate a new set of rules where women aren’t ob­jec­ti­fied but feared, are in power. Where same sex cou­ples aren’t a mi­nor­ity, where colour or age doesn’t have to mat­ter. When the world just is be­cause it just is. Na­ture is at its best – en­hanced by its dis­tinc­tive at­tributes.

For­tu­nately, beauty can be found in any beast.


Laura Dock­rill’s Aura­bel – fea­tur­ing a mer­maid – is out now from Hot Key Books.

Even Ariel, with her per­fect hair, wants to fit in.

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