The Real Monsters
When I was a wee sprogget, I was irrationally, intensely, phobic-ly afraid of things turning to stone. I didn’t read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe until high school, and still have no desire to see the film. Pokemon: the First Movie felt like a betrayal. It still makes me nauseous.
So of course, Medusa was my personal Boogeyman. She scared me absolutely shitless. See, the White Witch at least had to decide to point her wand at you; Medusa doesn’t have to do anything. You look at her, and bam—too late.
I have vivid memories of watching an ancient Bugs Bunny cartoon when I was seven. Most of the classic monster movie references flew way over my head…but then, suddenly, unexpectedly, there she was.
A wave of coldness rolled down my throat. I started shaking. I felt sick. I turned off the TV and did not look at the clip again until right now.
That was not my first encounter with Medusa. That was an episode of Tales from the Cryptkeeper, circa 1995. I refuse to watch it, but it’s online here.
So what was the big deal? Why the persistent, overwhelming terror?
I’m not sure. It could be as simple as: I got really scared by a stupid cartoon too young, and it’s left an indelible mark on my psyche. It could be as complicated as a visceral existential horror at the prospect of oblivion and death.
(I do remember intensely debating with myself about what happened to the souls of Medusa’s victims. Can the soul turn to stone too? Was petrifaction like death? Did the soul pass on? Was it stuck in limbo? I was a weird little kid; that’s all I can say.)
So now I’m an adult (allegedly), and I still don’t like watching Medusa. But I can read about her just fine. I can read about how she was once a beautiful young woman, pledged to chastity to serve her goddess. I can read about how she was raped, betrayed, transformed. I can read about how the goddess she loved condemned and damned her for what was done to her.
I can read how, following that, she’s consistently named the most horrifying woman EVAR, the archetype of womanhood gone Wrong—and how she’s also been co-opted as a symbol of female rage.
I can read about all this, and I can look at the world we live in today: a world no less horrifying than that of the Cryptkeeper. I can read about how a young woman was taken behind a dumpster: raped, betrayed, transformed. I can read how the same story unfolds again and again and again: this inability to understand consent; this persistent paradigm that women are their bodies, and that said bodies are only valuable insofar as they are useful to men. I can read how she should’ve known better, she should’ve been more responsible, she didn’t protect herself.
I can read about these victims made into Gorgons by public shame, this brokenness deep in our culture. And I can read my own experiences: the experiences that are heartbreakingly mundane, that aren’t special, that every woman has known.
The man who ran after me when I was fifteen to inform me that I had a nice chest.
The man who inserted himself between me and my friends at the bar, cutting me off like a wounded antelope, grinding closer and closer until someone grabbed me, hauled me back into the circle, and stayed by my side until Creepy Guy left.
The man who barked at me to smile last year, and when I gaped in bewilderment, snarled, “Whatever, foureyes.”
I can write this, and feel tired. Because it happens all the time. Because it isn’t special. Because every woman has similar stories. Because I’ve never bothered to tell anyone half of it, because we all go through it.
And the rage starts boiling: slow and bubbling under my breastbone, because Jesus F****** Christ, how far do we have to go before we hit a tipping point?
I can feel this, and because I’m a writer, I tell stories about it. I find symbols. I speak in metaphor, because otherwise I would give an inarticulate scream.
And so I return, perhaps inevitably, to Medusa.
When Perseus handed Medusa’s head to Athena, the goddess put it on her shield. It became a protective object: The Gorgoneion.
I’m writing about Medusa. The story is there, itching to get out. A Gorgoneion of my own: my worst and oldest fear transformed into a weapon against the real monsters.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Something not full of rage, actually. My choir’s heading to the UK on tour soon, so I’ve been stamping music into my brain. Due to my bizarre work schedule, I’ve mostly been rehearsing with the children, and they’ve been spending lots of time on this piece.
It’s grown on me. It took a while, but now I can hear how the soloist and choir work together. There’s some fun bits throughout: the C natural at ~1:35, the passing of melody around 2:50, and that glorious high G at 3:54. If I have a money note, that’s it. Nothing better than just floating in the stratosphere. 😉