My Netflix show right now is Penny Dreadful. I’m a few episodes into the third season, and I’m already sad that my time with my new spooky pals is so close to the end. I’ve always loved a good ensemble series; it makes me so happy to be the spectator to fictional friend groups. From the relatively mundane to the actually monstrous, I really dig pretending that I’m hanging out with a close gang of television buds. I’m also super into monsters, so Penny Dreadful is the jammiest of my jams right now.
It’s nice to have a show that I’m into, because I’m pretty down right now. I’m really paranoid these days; a good, productive day must be signalling the beginning of mania, and one crummy day must mean the start of a depressive episode. I am constantly on the lookout for which phase of bipolar I’m experiencing, unable to fathom that I’m capable of having a normal mood anymore. This week feels a lot like depression. I feel despair, I feel hopeless, I feel inferior, I feel apathetic. I don’t understand the point of living.
I have no real personal drive right now, so a good Netflix binge is about the only thing for which I can muster up some enthusiasm when I’m alone in my apartment. I make myself get out into the world for work, for rehearsal, for yoga; places where people will see me, places where I fear my absence will make people categorize me as weak or lazy. But I know my monster mates in London won’t ever judge me.
Penny Dreadful is an interesting show with which to be obsessed while constantly considering the state of one’s mental health. When the show has a rare quiet moment in between horrors, there’s an eerie languid calm that settles. I’ve caught this mood dripping down into my own bones when I get up to do something in between episodes. I like to imagine I’m as devastatingly beautiful and interesting in my sadness as Vanessa Ives is when she strides down the chilly streets of London. It’s hard to feel particularly elegant as I wander my apartment, draped in a fleece Wall-E blanket and absentmindedly feasting on Trader Joe’s frozen Indian food. But I try.
Vanessa’s adventures in therapy this season certainly feel familiar. Watching Vanessa sit down in Dr. Patti LuPone’s office immediately feels me with anxiety. I know that the other vampiric shoe is probably going to drop soon, but so far Patti is a good therapist and it seems like Vanessa is doing all right. I have a lot of hope for Vanessa. Vanessa is definitely the character with whom I most want to relate. If I ever officially deem myself too burdensome to my own loved ones, I hope to forge my solitary path with as much grace and class as Vanessa Ives. But I know who I really am in the Penny Dreadful universe. I lack Vanessa’s faith. I lack the hope for myself that I hold for Vanessa.
No, at my core, I think of myself as a poetic observer and chronicler of the world who does not deem herself worthy to be a part of that world. My Penny Dreadful avatar is John Clare. Frankenstein’s Monster.
John Clare tries hard to be a good person, unfortunate penchant for murder notwithstanding. He is a hopeless and insecure romantic. He refuses to accept that someone could exist who might truly love him for who he is. At the same time, though, John Clare acknowledges goodness and beauty in the world, even if those qualities will never belong to him. He appreciates so much of the potential of humanity while seeing himself only as a monster. I get it.
I am eager to romanticize my illness. To glean poetry from my sick brain. Seeing myself in John Clare makes me sad, but also a little peaceful. Likening myself to a tragic, poetic monster is so much more literary and glamorous than being a person who takes a pill every morning to stabilize her moods. I would rather be a monster than an ill human. I want my relationship with death and darkness to feel less abnormal. I imagine that it’s typical for monsters to consider death the way I sometimes do. My therapist says that most people don’t think about death the way I do.
I would walk with you, John Clare. We could stuff our hands into the pockets of our coats and haunt the streets together. I could microwave you Trader Joe’s frozen Indian food in my apartment, while we share our favorite poems. You’ll read to me from Wordsworth, and I’ll blow your undead mind with Whitman. Maybe, as monsters and friends, we could find complete freedom from the desire to exist and fit within the wider world.
Forgive my candor, dear monster. I, too, long for beauty and for peace. When season three ends, I will miss you; your copper eyes and the Shakespearean quality of your speech. I will miss the affection that I hold for you, which I have sometimes been able to reflect back on myself.
I hope things end well for you, John Clare, but alas. We all know that show runner John Logan is the real monster here, and I fully expect you to meet a tragic and probably grisly end.
For whatever time we might have left together, then, may we find hope and serenity in the words of your poetic namesake:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.