Darkness Inside

This is the time of year I go back to Susan Cooper’s series The Dark is Rising, especially the second and fourth books (The Dark is Rising and The Grey King.) Greenwich is also scary, but in different ways, and I prefer Will’s adventures on his own to those with the other children.

But something about this time of year also makes me look inside. As you can guess from some scenes in my books, especially the Cat series, I have a dark streak inside me. Not only a tendency toward depression and despair, but I have a tiger inside as well. He is not a nice monster.

I learned early on that I have to keep a hold on myself, especially when the baser passions are stirred, because what lurks inside me is vengeful, cruel, and would love to lash out. I once spent an hour walking around and around until I was absolutely certain I could stay in control of that side of me.

I’m not certain if this vicious chunk of my personality is a legacy of my years as the target-of-choice in school, and how I set my mental defenses, or if it’s part of my basic package and would be in me even if I’d had a “normal” teen experience, for introvert values of normal. I have scared people, and myself, although usually not on the same occasions. When I was stewing about the flaming idiots who chased my instructor and I out of the aerobatic practice area and lied about it, I scared other people. Someone later said, “It was like watching the Morrigan coming down the hall.” On another occasion, those in the room who could read body language were edging away from me, and there was a betting pool at the other end of the teleconference if I was going to launch across the table after someone, and if so, would it be strangulation or simple battery.

Thus far, only once have I scared myself. “The tiger” roared out before I realized it, and I managed to grab it and hold it until the potential target left the room. Then I yanked my hat off the coat-tree and went outside, in the opposite direction, until I got the tiger back under control. Because I literally saw red and was within a few millimeters of doing something—justified, in my opinion at that moment—violent. I’d read about that happening to other people, but to feel it in myself? Scared me a little. No, not scared, but spooked is a better term. I didn’t want to hurt the person in general, but at that moment I’d have slammed them into the wall and hit their head against it as punctuation, or something similar. And I could have, because I was stocky and much stronger than the other individual. They were taller but skinny. Momentum and surprise would have done wonders IF the tiger had gotten loose.

He didn’t.

There have been two later occasions when I did let the tiger off his chain, and thankfully, neither time did it come to physical blows. Just showing the tiger made the other parties back down and leave at a rapid rate. They wanted prey, not a p*ssed off predator looking for an excuse to cause mayhem.

I know the tiger’s in there. I know it hurts me a great deal when I have to grab the tiger, twist him around, and force him back into his lair, oh it hurts. The emotional pain of whipping from fury back to baseline and the energy it takes are dreadful. I’ve clenched my hands so hard that my nails cut the skin while I kept the tiger under control.

Why can I imagine some of the things that appear in my books? Because I’ve contemplated similar, and planned out in my mind how I’d do this or that. Often because I’m thinking, “OK, if Bad Guy tries to [verb] while I’m here, and if he comes in through [door] what would I do? What if he brings friends?” Then, when I need to write a scene, I just add the tiger.

As one of my best friends has said of himself, “I choose to use my powers for good.” I’m not quite as well-trained and bloody-minded as he is, but then he got paid to be ferocious and bloody-minded. I get paid to write books and to teach students history, not to scare the heebie-jeebies out of them, although apparently I have done that while play-acting in class. Not the heebie-jeebies exactly, but spooked them. Apparently I make a convincing Mafia collection agent.

I guess I need to get a pin-stripe suit with shoulder pads and wide lapels.

We all have a tiger, a monster. Some of us never, ever meet him, never have to deal with him. Others of us learn to control him, at best to guide and use him. I’m not scared of my tiger. I do not like riding him, but I know I have to. I respect and acknowledge him. But I keep him on a short chain, because I know what he might encourage me to do.


17 thoughts on “Darkness Inside

  1. “We all have a tiger, a monster.”

    I respectfully disagree. Some of us are mice, backing down at the first sign of conflict. I can count on one hand the number of times I have really stood my ground, pushed back so to speak. Every time I can recall it was to help or protect someone else. Turn on me and I will back down, retreat back into my lair and hide. Threaten someone I care about and I will move forward, if only to give them room to escape. Once they are “safe”, I back away myself and let the other person walk away.

    No tiger, no great beast, just a timid, sometimes slow, mouse who will on occasion move to protect another mouse.

      • One of my most treasured memories of my youth was when some of the “popular” girls were teasing a friend. They invited me to join them in some game, but not my friend. I wanted to be liked by these girls, to join in on what ever it was they were doing, but I told them not without my friend. We walked away and found something else to do during recess.

        No fight, hardly any words, but I didn’t let them use me to add more insult to my friend.

    • The potential is there. Otherwise your ancestors would never have survived to reproduce.

      Don’t let the story you’re telling us lull you into a false sense of security, lest you find yourself unprepared when the monster rears his head.

      My unsolicited advice would be to have someone take you hunting, or at least fishing.
      You can learn a lot about yourself that way.

      • Potential doesn’t equate to ability. If it did, we’d be up to our ears in serial killers – just look at all the mystery / crime writers. 😉

  2. “I guess I need to get a pin-stripe suit with shoulder pads and wide lapels.”

    Don’t forget the fedora.

    As I’ve gotten older, the beast inside tends to stick his head up more often. I think it’s because my fight or flight reflex has slowly been resetting itself from “flight” to “fight”. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe I’m just getting to the point where I’m less willing to tolerate, er, stuff from other people. (Yeah, “stuff”, that’s the word I was going to use.)

    • And as I get even older, the tiger is easier to control. Perhaps that’s because by now, I have a better understanding of when it may be productive to scare the sh*t out of another person and when it just destroys their ability to do what you want. (Which is most of the time, because frequently all I want is for the moron to quit repeating canned non-responses and put his brain in gear!)

    • I’ve found that getting older has helped rein in those particular impulses.
      Whether it’s from cooling passions, better perspective, or simply “this is going to hurt too much in the morning to be worth it”, I haven’t the introspection to say.

    • There’s also the black dress and the black conical hat, “me pretty!”
      I’ve never let the tiger out, but I have been known to take out my knife and my sharpener and sharpen my knife while smiling at other people.

  3. The problem is that having to rein in the tiger often prevents one using other techniques, so one ends up unable to defend oneself verbally or in any other non-violent way.

    On the bright side, it occurred to me yesterday that Captain von Trapp, Colonel Alois Podhajsky, and Karl Wojtyla’s dad are all alive and running around in your Austro-Hungarian universe! Heh!

  4. I’d more or less always assumed that my Berserker (along the lines of your Tiger) was my Monster – but an occasionally useful one, being very good at emergency driving and such. On recent reflection, though, I’ve come to realize that the Engineer (being my default persona) is actually much more dangerous, being smart, amoral, and inclined to take terror attacks as challenges – as in, “I could do better than that, and get away alive too! Hold my diet cola and watch this!”
    If the Berserker got loose, he might punch someone, or, worst case, run amok with a sword. The Engineer, unrestrained, might create and test a new chemical weapon, just as a proof of concept.
    Which means the Jew, noted mainly for keeping us all sane (-ish) by laughing at life’s absurdities, also has the important role of keeping the Engineer in line. Maybe I should start taking better care of him.
    (I’ve been meaning to write an essay on this subject on my own blog, but somehow I seldom get around to writing real essays on serious topics, especially those that involve introspection.)

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