I know the word “monster” well. In middle grade and high school, I researched topics like mythology, witchcraft, and folklore. In fact, I researched them so thoroughly and so openly, that a rumor had spread that I was a witch.
I felt an odd sort of kinship with these topics. Specifically the monsters; not because I considered myself one, or even because I wanted to be one. But because I understood the feeling of it.
Middle grade was hell for me—it’s hell for everyone. Like so many other kids, I was bullied endlessly, only almost all of it had to do with my disability. It's funny how creative some kids get when they're going to do something cruel. I had a care-aide with me almost all of the time, and you would think that would deter the other kids from saying anything. But, like I said, they get creative.
The 5-minute period between classes were the easiest times for people to bully me. Six hundred kids are released from their classrooms and now have to grab their books and run across the school to the next class, swarming the corridors. My care-aide was usually at least ten steps ahead of me, and, quite frankly, it's hard to pay attention to anything when there are a hundred conversations going on all at once. It was easy to fling the words like “cripple” out the sides of mouths.
Honestly, these cruelties were easy to boil down to the insults of perpetually angry, hormonal teenagers. But still, the point was made: I was not like the others.
You expect it from the kids. It was the most surprising when it came from the adults. It was the adults in school who spread the rumor that I was a witch, concerned that I was using the fantastical or the occult to cope with my disability. But that’s where their thinking was flawed.
I was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type 2, at 11 months old. I was driving an electric wheelchair at 18 months old. I have never needed to cope with my disability. Yes, my body will progressively get weaker. Yes, it can get a bit frustrating. But I've never had to cope with my SMA. It is as much a part of me as my skin or my lungs are.
So their assumptions of me trying to cope with my inability to do things by apparently submerging myself in a fantasy world were incredibly misguided. If they had asked then I could have explained: Yes, wicca, witchcraft and new age is very interesting to me. No, it is not what they think it is. And, as for my interest in mythology, I just like the stories. Is there something so wrong in that?
I learned to listen to the way they said “witch,” to really listen. Hushed undertones of terror, a little bit of sadness. It's the same way people say “monster.” It's the same way people say “disabled.”
I have a poem in Witchcraft and Monsters comparing myself to Medusa. Specifically regarding how people try not to look at us:
People refuse to look me in the eyes.
Like somehow,Looking directly at my wheelchair, Is going to turn them into stone.
I later suggest that when people do look at me, they often react as though they are going to catch my disability—a ridiculous impossibility, of course. Such behavior is hurtful, and further drives home that point my peers made back in middle school: I am not like the others.
What people don't always understand is that the term monster has multiple definitions. My favorite one is simply otherness. A monster could just mean something different. Something that people just aren't used to seeing.
I knew Monstering magazine when it was in its very early stages. So, I took part in being a student during one of their workshops, Hollows Shout the Mountain Down, a workshop specifically for writers with disabilities. Monstering was such an amazing concept, that I knew that the workshop would be well worth it. And, well… I needed the incentive to actually try to write about myself. It was therapeutic and it allowed me to create something beautiful.
What is now Witchcraft and Monsters was created during that workshop. It allowed me to talk about myself in a way where I could still connect to the fantastical and the monstrous, all while the writing would stay beautiful and lyrical.
Maybe my poetry collection Witchcraft and Monsters is actually my spell book? Or maybe it's just your reminder to look for magic in yourself?
Witchcraft and Monsters is my heart laid out before you. It is my love letter to my humanity, as well as my divinity. My beauty and my monstrosity. My otherness, and yours. It is my demand for people to look, to actually see me. Because I am no longer small. Because I am no longer hiding.
Kala is an author living in Alberta, Canada. She lives with a physical disability and is confined to a wheelchair. She's also an occasional artist, and Halloween is her favorite holiday. She likes tattoos and chocolate, and most movies directed by Tim Burton.