So in my day job, one of my roles is to produce the quarterly digest for my college. I work with an amazing team of writers and designers and what we’ve done has really grown over the past couple years. I just wanted to share this with the interwebs, because I am proud of my team and their work.
As anyone who follows my blog knows, I usually do book reviews. However, I recently watched a short film, discovered because of my unabashed infatuation with Jason Isaacs, called Medusa’s Ankles. It was directed by Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley of Harry Potter fame), adapted from the short story of the same title by AS Byatt. You can read it here. You can, and should, also stream the film for free here on Vimeo.
Medusa’s Ankles shows Susannah, a middle aged Classicist, who is concerned about signs of aging. She wanders into a salon, owned by Lucian, because she’s drawn to the Matisse painting in the lobby. She becomes rather infatuated with him over the months she comes to his salon, eventually coming unhinged and wreaking havoc on his newly remodeled salon when she hates the style Lucian’s assistant gave her.
There was so much character development in this tiny little film. It was about 20 minutes long and in that time, we see Susannah evolve from a meek and retiring woman to someone a little bolder, and eventually to an hysterical basketcase. Of course, her fit wasn’t really because of a hairdo. It was years of worrying over her aging and feeling out of place in her own skin as well as in a society which seems to be gearing more and more towards the younger generations. She feels left behind, unattractive, unwanted, and scorned. That Lucian, the object of her fixation, is another source for these emotions contributes to her snapping at the end.
Unlike Susannah, Lucian is flighty and temperamental, never landing on one thing for long. He is essentially her complete opposite, and yet he comes to be a person she relies upon in some ways. She goes to him to help her see a younger version of herself, which will never happen, and when she realizes this, she snaps. Lucian helps her to see that younger self but it is, of course, illusory, as is his interest in her as a person. He is vain and shallow, telling Susannah that he is leaving his wife because ‘She’s let herself go. It’s her own fault. She’s let herself go altogether. She’s let her ankles get fat, they swell over her shoes, it disgusts me, it’s impossible for me.’ He is too self-absorbed to realise that his comments hit home for Susannah, who also has fat ankles now, and his comment serves as a catalyst for her destroying his salon.
The link to Greek myth is interesting. At first, it isn’t clear what Medusa has to do with anything, but it becomes clear that she – and her ankles – are a proxy for women and being weighed down by the expectations of men. Medusa was once beautiful and then she was transformed into a monster. Susannah seems to view herself in this way as well, acknowledging that she was never beautiful but was attractive, then remembering a day spent with an Italian lover when she was young. Her body, which doesn’t feel like she remembers or wants it to, brings her back to present with a jolt when she realizes that her reflection is like her mother’s had been, all fake and unreal and trying entirely too hard to look young again.
Her fit and destruction of Lucian’s salon may be a catharsis, but Lucian himself gives her permission and tells her it’s ok, the insurance will pay for it and he kind of wants out anyway. When she gets home, her husband really sees her for the first time in a long while and kisses her neck. Are both these instances freeing for Susannah, or do they reflect more of the control men have on society? Lucian essentially pats her on the head and sends her home when he should have rightfully been pissed off. Is her husband’s approval something she desires and feels good about, or is it effectively Perseus cutting off Medusa’s head? It raises a lot of interesting questions. I would love to analyze this in a proper literature course.
Also, I just want to say that I think Jason Isaacs is a seriously underrated actor. I don’t say that just because I’m currently in love with him; it’s because he can inhabit the lives of so many different people in a totally convincing way. Not all, or even most, actors can do that. Actors like Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise might be famous and popular, but they all generally play the same kind of character. Ford is usually a dorky hero, whether he’s playing Han Solo, Indiana Jones, or the President of the United States; Cruise is generally an arrogant hero. Not so with Isaacs. He has played a wide range of characters including a racist, aristocratic bully (Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies); an Irish-American mobster from Rhode Island, complete with the heavy accent (Michael Caffee in Brotherhood); an arrogant and disinterested charmer (Lucian in Medusa’s Ankles); and a morally questionable, warmongering Starfleet captain (Gabriel Lorca in Star Trek Discovery). And he doesn’t just play villains in everything. He was a super dorky yet sexy dad in The Chumscrubber, a possibly mentally ill cop in the TV series Awake, an elegant ambassador in The State Within, and a beleaguered detective in Case Histories. He is utterly believable in every single role, and not one of his villainous roles, of which there are many, are at all similar to one another. I think he is in no danger of being typecast.
It’s been a loooooooooooong time since I wrote a ‘favorite lines from…’ kind of post. I can’t think of a better one to start back up with than Madeline Miller’s CIRCE. Miller’s prose is simply magical. Every pun intended. Assume there will be spoilers below.
When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.
That word, nymph, paced out the length and breadth of our futures. In our language, it means not just goddess, but bride.
Nothing is empty void, while air is what fills all else. It is breath and life and spirit, the words we speak.
What was I truly? In the end, I could not bear to know.
It was not a word I knew. It was not a word anyone knew, then. ‘Pharmakis,’ I said. Witch.
I thought: this is how Zeus felt when he first lifted the thunderbolt.
‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘who gives better offerings, a miserable man or a happy one?’ ‘A happy one, of course.’ ‘Wrong,’ he said. ‘A happy man is too occupied with his life. He thinks he is beholden to no one. But make him shiver, kill his wife, cripple his child, then you will hear from him. He will starve his family for a month to buy you a pure-white yearling calf. If he can afford it, he will buy you a hundred.’
Fear of failure was the worst thing for any spell.
My sister might be twice the goddess I was, but I was twice the witch.
This was how mortals found fame, I thought. Through practise and diligence, tending their skills like gardens until they glowed beneath the sun.
Whatever you do, I wanted to say, do not be too happy. It will bring down fire on your head.
But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation he was to me.
As it turned out, I did kill pigs that night after all.
When there is rot in the walls, there is only one remedy. …Tear down, I thought. Tear down and build again.
Brides, nymphs were called, but that is not really how the world saw us. We were an endless feast laid out upon a table, beautiful and renewing. And so very bad at getting away.
They never listened. The truth is, men make terrible pigs.
War has always seemed to me a foolish choice for men. Whatever they win from it, they will have only a handful of years to enjoy before they die. More likely they will perish trying.
Witches are not so delicate.
Most men, in my experience, are fools.
Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.
Would I be skimmed milk or a harpy? A foolish gull or a villainous monster? Those could not still be the only choices.
When Achilles puts on his helmet and cleaves his red path through the field, the hearts of common men swell in their chests. They think of the stories that will be told, and they long to be in them. I fought beside Achilles. I stood shield to shield with Ajax. I felt the wind and fan of their great spears.
I was a golden witch, who had no past at all.
They have wrinkles, but no wisdom. I took them to war before they could do any of those things that steady a man. … I fear I have robbed them not only of their youth, but their age as well.
Heroes are fools.
When you are in Egypt you worship Isis, when in Anatolia you kill a lamb for Cybele. It does not trespass on your Athena still at home.
I washed him and rubbed oils into his skin, as carefully as if he could still feel my fingers. I sang as I worked, a melody to keep his soul company while he waited to cross the great river to the underworld.
I touched the thought like a bruise, testing its ache.
He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend I had none.
I would look at him and feel a love so sharp it seemed my flesh lay open. I made a list of all the things I would do for him. Scald off my skin. Tear out my eyes. Walk my feet to bones, if only he would be happy and well.
Her only love was reason. And that has never been the same as wisdom.
Gods and mortals do not last together happily.
Witchcraft transforms the world. He wanted only to join it.
‘…I cannot say how I knew. It was as if…as is all this while, my eyes had been waiting for just that shape.’ I knew the feeling. It is how I had felt first looking down at him in my arms.
But perhaps no parent can truly see their child. When we look we see only the mirror of our own faults.
‘It is strange to think of a goddess needing friends.’ ‘All creatures that are not mad need them.’
I remembered what Odysseus had said about her once. That she never went astray, never made an error. I had been jealous then. Now I thought: what a burden. What an ugly weight upon your back.
‘I warned her once that grief would come of her marriage. There is no pleasure in hearing I was right.’ ‘There seldom is.’
Penelope said, ‘What makes a witch, then? If it is not divinity?’ ‘I do not know for certain. …I have come to believe it is mostly will.’ She nodded. I did not have to explain. We knew what will was.
That is how things go. You fix them, and they go awry, and then you fix them again.
Life is not so simple as a loom. What you weave, you cannot unravel with a tug.
…some people are like constellations who only touch the earth for a season.
One of us must grieve. I would not let it be him.
‘You have always been the worst of my children,’ he said. ‘Be sure you do not dishonor me.’ ‘I have a better idea. I will do as I please, and when you count your children, leave me out.’
Do not try to take my regret from me.
‘We are not our blood,’ he answered. ‘A witch once told me that.’
He does not mean that it does not hurt. He does not mean that we are not frightened. Only that: we are here. This is what it means to swim in the tide, to walk the earth and feel it touch your feet. This is what it means to be alive.
Another year down the drain. Where did the time go?? I must be getting old or something because it seems like 2018 was just beginning. I had a busy year but managed not to do a ton of things. I do have a few highlights, though. I am going to be better about doing a year in review post from now on, mostly to keep myself on track and see what I actually did and what I need to do better in the future. Might as well share it with the interwebs. 🙂
Things that I didn’t actually do:
My sweet girl started 3rd grade. She goes to a school that teaches a grade level ahead and she’s killing it. Math isn’t her favorite subject, but she does a good job with it. Better than I EVER did. And she loves reading, which delights me to no end. She reads wayyy above her grade level. Her favorite books are the Wings of Fire series. We also just read the first Harry Potter book and now she’s obsessed. She loves Star Trek, Dr Who, and Star Wars, so I feel like maybe I’m doing something right. She’s so smart, funny, pretty, and kind. She is also stubborn and defiant and challenging and headstrong and brave. She’s my little Viking and as frustrating as she can be at times, I wouldn’t change one single thing. She is stronger than I am in a lot of ways and I try hard to foster her individuality and teach her that it’s ok to speak up and use her voice in ways I was never allowed to do when I was little. I am so proud of her and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. Right now, though, she has a super gross cold, so I imagine what she comes up with with be some form of snot…
My mom started going to an all-women’s boxing gym in early spring and loves it, which makes me super proud of her. With the exception of probably Amy, my mom could most likely kick every one of my friends’ asses without too much trouble. That’s handy, since most of my friends could use a good ass kicking. 🙂 She got me started in on it as well, and so I’ve been going since May. I can throw some hard punches now for a little girl and am getting in pretty good shape. Thanks for talking me into trying it out, Mom!
Christopher Robin. I took my daughter to see it. We both fucking loved Eeyore. But I think this is the only movie I actually went to all year. I just don’t enjoy them like I used to. I want time to stop while I’m in the theatre so it’s the same time when I get out as it was when I went in. Since it’s not, I tend to feel like I’m wasting my time. If I went to another movie this year, damned if I can remember it.
Favorite new shows I discovered:
Star Trek: Discovery. I just got the DVDs of this for Xmas, so this is a BRAND new discovery (heh, see what I did there?) of 2018 for me. I absolutely refuse to pay for a subscription to CBS All-Access when most of the shows on CBS are, IMO, utter shit, and even the paid subscription has ads. Fuck off, CBS. I’ll wait for the DVDs. That said, this is a fantastic new addition to the Trekverse and I have a feeling I’ll be writing posts about this.
Shetland, by Netflix. It’s based on a series of novels by Ann Cleeves, which I’ve never read. I’ve found the plot itself to be fairly typical, just another police procedural. But I watch it for the cinematography. Ye GODS, it’s so fucking beautiful in the Shetland Islands! There’s no sun, no shadows, it looks cold and miserable and I have to go there immediately. It looks like a place where I would never get migraines unless it was hormonal.
Wherein I use my thinking part:
I made a concerted effort to write a review for every book I read this past year. For the most part, I managed it, but I think there were a couple I might have missed. In 2019, I’m going to work on writing better reviews than I did in 2018. I’m also going to write fewer reviews FOR other people except Discovering Diamonds, because I want to read more for my own pleasure.
I started a post-graduate certification program in Tolkien Studies through Signum University. It’s been excellent for me, getting to think again. Mostly, I feel like I’m losing my mind and my brain will start leaking out my ears any minute. Starting grad classes again has been a great kick for me, helping me to see that I do still have some brain cells, and I can still write good papers. Out of my first class (I’ve done 2 so far, and need a total of 5 to complete the program), I submitted a paper to the major Tolkien conference in England for August 2019. I don’t know yet if it’s been accepted. The CFP isn’t closed until February, so I won’t know until after that. It would be shiny if I get to present my paper, but if I don’t, that’s ok. If I don’t, it will save me a shit ton of money since I’m planning to go to Scotland in October 2019, but if I do get to present my paper, that will be cool, too. It’s about how liminal space in literature helps define character identity, using The Hobbit and Coraline as my example texts.
One of my coworkers and I started a book club at work for all the staff and faculty in our college. Really, it’s all about being able to read at work… Our first book was Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. The next is going to be Circe by Madeline Miller.
Speaking of reading, I did pretty well with my reading goals this year. I topped out at 97 books, not counting ones I DNF’d. In total, I read 21,131 pages and listened to 246:45 hours of audiobooks. I averaged 8 books a month. I read 59 books by women (60%) and 38 by men (39%). I read 24 books by authors of color (not quite 25%). In 2019, I’d like to bump that up to at least 30%. I read mostly SFF (33), historical fiction (25), and literary fiction (16), with other genres falling in here and there. I didn’t finish the Read Harder 2018 challenge, but I got 19 out of 24 tasks:
A book published posthumously: NA
A book of true crime: NA
A classic of genre fiction: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (fantasy)
A comic written and illustrated by the same person: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60: Misfortune of Vision (Druids Brooch #4) by Christy Nicholas
An assigned book you hated or never finished: NA
And, really, the biggest thing of 2018 is that I was approached by an editor at Pen and Sword Books to see if I wanted to write a book about a couple medieval queens for them. Umm, YES? I’m waiting for the contract, which has been approved but not sent to me yet, so I’ll wait to share more deets, but that honestly about blew me away. I’m so excited and I am looking forward to the process.
In 2019, some goals I have, other than writing the book and doing what I can to help the Resistance put 45 and his tribe in prison, are:
Read 150 books
Start running again and do a 5k
Start journaling again
We’ll see how things pan out. 2019, let’s do this.
If you’re anything like me, books and scent go hand in hand. There is nothing like the smell of a new book, the crispness of the pages and the sharpness of the ink. I take a deep breath every time I enter a bookstore and instantly feel better about everything, no matter what. There is a special way new books smell, and it’s the same no matter where you go, and it is a comfort to me. If I am traveling and get homesick, a bookstore will still smell the same wherever I am as it would at home, and I feel more steady.
I’ve always associated places with scents, as well, and used books, too, have their own scent. Some, like ones I order from England, smell of old musty buildings and flowers, reminding me of centuries of people walking over the same stone floors and seeing much the same view as perhaps I have seen when I have visited. One, and I don’t remember where it came from except that I ordered it from one of the sellers on Amazon and it was listed as “very good condition,” reeked of cigarettes and smelled up my entire house in a matter of hours. Even setting it out directly in the heat of the desert sun didn’t kill the stink of it and I had to throw it away. That bookseller got a strongly worded email regarding the definition of “very good condition.” If only it was as strong as the stench emanating from the book they sent to me. Holy shit.
My point, of course, is that books and scent are inextricably linked for many of us. But to take it further, for me, books often make me wish I could distill the scents from the story and bottle them as a perfume. As a bit of a perfume junkie – I have dozens of bottles of perfume from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab – I would just love to be part of a project to translate some books into scents. BPAL already is literary in the extreme, and has entire lines of scents devoted to books and characters from them, so this isn’t an unrealistic dream. Maybe I should hone my networking skills…
Some books that are simply begging to be made into perfumes right now are:
The Night Circus. Rose, ice, and sugar. Caramel and autumn leaves. Roses, dew, moss, and dirt. The language of the book was full of scent-filled imagery.
Uprooted. What does a Heart tree smell like? Sickly sweet and woody? Green leafy? And Agnieszka’s spell she chants with the Dragon? She needs a scent of her own, as does Sarkan himself.
When Christ and His Saints Slept. Eleanor of Aquitaine must have something rich and complex, yet subtle. Maybe something somewhat exotic, jasmine and sandalwood with a topnote of lemon. Henry would be all male, leather and salt and perhaps a touch of cypress and lavender.
The Mists of Avalon. The Princess Bride. The Dragonriders of Pern. Just about anything written by Holly Black or Francesca Lia Block. I could go on all day long with this.
What perfumes would you make based on books you’ve read?
Recently, my daughter needed to cull her books, because, at five years old, she is a very good reader and has long outgrown many of the board books and younger story books that cluttered her bookshelves. So together, we sat down and went through them, using it as a wonderful opportunity to teach about giving to others because not everyone is as fortunate as we are to have a small home library of their own, and that some other child might really love getting her board book versions of Jane Eyre and Dracula or the 48 point font version of Pixar’s Brave. She had long since mastered those. Then we came across a book that she hadn’t read in ages, but could technically have kept but decided she wanted to get a new book instead, so she opted to part with it in return for a new one. It was The Poky Little Puppy. Before it went into the pile for Goodwill, she wanted to read it again one last time because she loves puppies. Fair enough. We settled onto the couch for a reading.
I remembered then why I never read that book to her.Read More »
I felt like writing a Star Trek something, but didn’t want to go all-out, nor did I feel like writing an actual fan fiction. So I did a drabble, and challenged myself to write only 100 words. No more, no less. It was kind of fun. Here it is.Read More »