Putting the me in Medusa.

When I was nine, a boy called me Medusa.

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We were learning about Greek myths for the day, the only time that topic came up in our curriculum, ever.

Medusa had snakes for hair. She was the monster so grotesque that looking at her turned you to stone. She had three heads and lost one, died when Perseus defeated her.

The boy looked at Medusa and looked at me and decided my curls were serpents.

If I had been Medusa, he could not have looked me in the eye and called out in class. He wouldn’t have dared.

I knew little of the myth to which I was compared. I googled her that night, found out a little of who she was: a human turned ugly as punishment, her hair replaced with snakes. In other versions, born monstrous, a gorgon. Sometimes one head, sometimes three sisters but always grotesque and always to be killed. To be feared. Her gaze was lethal.

I’ve liked her ever since.

Perseus rode around with Medusa’s head, wielding her as a shield against his enemies. Athena, famously born of Zeus alone, wears Medusa’s head on her breastplate. She is cut up and killed, her power to be used by others.

Feminists have attempted to reclaim her as an image of female fury and power. In a short manifesto, Mary Beard describes succinctly how the classical world has and continues to have a heavy influence on our perceptions of power and who has the right to wield it. Once again, I found myself reading about my monster.

We were young. And we didn’t know what we were learning. Greek myths were fun stories about monsters and victors, gods and, you know, other old stuff. That’s all they were, surely: just stories. That was one lesson on one day in primary school, a tiny insignificant hour of my life, a comment which the boy has surely forgotten now.

But as Mary Beard points out, it is these things we take for granted that form the building blocks of our understanding of the world.Today female politicians are often compared to Medusa in an effort to ‘decapitate’ them, photoshopped on to an image of a screaming feminised monster. ‘Male mastery over female power’.

I take it as a point of pride that I’ve held on to that memory for so long. Because of him I feel an affinity with Medusa, in every form of the myth, born monstrous or punished unfairly. I understand the antagonist; I was painted as one. I will never root for Perseus.

 

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Winter by Ali Smith: a pause in the disconnect

‘Ali Smith writes about memory and truth and belief and delusion and nature and protest and distance and disbelief and lies and the possibility at once for both hope and sadness.’ These are the notes I scrawled into my notebook in a coffee shop on Saturday morning. I was up early for a rubbish reason and had carried Winter around with me in my bag all week yet barely started it. I left later on having read it furiously to the end.

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Let me start by saying that I am a big Ali Smith fan. If you met me at any point during my final year of university, you probably saw the anguish on my face as I told you about how badly my dissertation was doing or fell asleep as I raved on about Hotel World and There but for the.

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Some feminist faves

(And yes, feminism is a lens through which we critique, not something that a ‘fave’ could necessarily ‘be’, but that’s not as snappy a title, is it?)

Reading:

Rebecca Solnit’s ‘The Mother of All Questions’: On a particularly bad day, I sat down in a Waterstones, having picked this up from the gender studies section and read about 40 pages in one go. Solnit’s writing is immersive, flowing so steadily and yet always with a sharp wit. This comes through more in some essays than others; when talking about campus rape, Solnit remains persistently calm in her outrage, presenting the facts and the response, highlighting hypocrisy through mere juxtaposition. When talking about the ever-present white-maleness of the literary canon, she cracks jokes at the expense of writers and novels, knowing that this topic, however important representation in the media is, can also be picked apart for its sheer stupidity. ‘Men Explain Lolita to Me’ is one of my favourite essays I have read for the simple reason that Solnit writes about the Twitter users who tried to educate her on her opinion with the same kind of fascination that David Attenborough talks about polar bears in the Arctic.

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H.G. Wells, The Rights of Man: history repeating itself

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I checked this out weeks ago for a bit of light reading.

An act of gross cruelty or injustice that occurs in Manchura or Dunzig is as much an Englishman’s concern now, as if it occurred in Nigeria or Cardiff.”

H.G. Wells wrote the manifesto, ‘The Declaration of the Rights of Man’, in 1940 as a response to what he felt was the vacuum of reason as to why the Second World War was taking place. Urging authorities to make plain the rationale behind sending people off to fight yet another war, he and his cohorts set out just under ten clauses which all authorities globally could agree upon as the end goal, the ultimate society. These ideas would ultimately contribute to the Declaration of Human Rights by the UN in 1948. He also formed and support PEN, a society formed of international writers who were dedicated to the freedom to read for all, and the National Council for Civil Liberties, now known as Liberty, an independent council that campaigns for human rights issues in the UK.

I’ll be honest, I picked up this book because Ali Smith wrote the introduction to the Penguin reissue in 2015 and I’ve apparently made it my lifelong goal to read everything she’s ever written. It was £5 and I bought it from Lighthouse Radical Bookshop in Edinburgh. It seemed like a good fit. But why, in 2017, would a text written in 1940 about human rights still be perceived as progressive now?

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Working in a charity bookshop: the customers.

The man stormed out of the shop leaving myself and Bruce looking at each other in disbelief. Having been told in a very kind manner that, although we appreciated his donation of an old rounders bat that was falling to pieces and three tennis balls, we were in fact a bookshop, currently full to the brim with donations, and therefore it would be great if he could take it to one of our other shops five minutes away, the man became angry. He tried to get us to keep the donation, clearly not wanting to take it home but, in the end, told us we were ungrateful and left.

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LP corner, Oxfam Bookshop (Aberdeen)

For some reason, this man’s attitude towards us stays with me. For context, for three years during my degree I worked at the Oxfam Bookshop in Aberdeen. During my time there I learned that there are plenty of misconceptions floating around about charity shops – the idea that they’re rubbish tips, that volunteers have it easy and just pile up whatever donations they get, no matter the quality, and sell everything for 50p.

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‘How to Stop Time’ by Matt Haig: cyclical optimism

This book made me cry on the train there and back again.

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I’d previously read Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig’s non-fiction book about his own experiences with depression. Suffering from mental illness or poor mental health often produces more introspection, more obsession with both ourselves, but also makes us question why it is everyone around us seems content with trundling on, ignoring the end of all things and the fact that no one really knows the point of our existence.

Bit overwhelming.

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What Harry Potter means to me

My mum likes to pull out pages from the newspaper that she thinks I’ll be interested in. She usually sends a sort of blurry photo over Whatsapp where I can kind of make out a dog wearing sunglasses or something to do with Doctor Who. This time however it was a Harry Potter quiz with extremely obscure questions since the 20th anniversary of the publication of Philosopher’s Stone was a few days ago. (21 points could be won – I got 16 5/6ths.)

To the intern who put this together’s credit, the questions were pretty challenging and I couldn’t for the life of me remember Nearly Headless Nick’s full name. Whilst answering these questions it occurred to me how much useless detail about this book series I had gathered and stored away in a filing cabinet in my brain somewhere. How often for example am I going to be using the answer to the first question, who was Harry Potter’s babysitter, and for the bonus point, what is a squib? Arabella Figg and her inability to use magic despite being wizard-born seems lovely but she’s hardly going to help me on my CV.

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Alone in my room. Obviously.

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