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From Phyllida's Desk

Medusa and Me

Classical Greek gorgoneion; fourth century BC
Classical Greek gorgoneion; fourth century BC

After I got lucky, had my bisexual romance novels published, and was still basking in the afterglow, I renounced the idea that writing has to be painful, like sitting at the typewriter and opening a vein (according to Red Smith, or Ernest Hemingway, or other great writers). If writing stops being fun, I said, I would quit.

Well, writing stopped being fun a long time ago, but I didn't quit. I just got very, very sloooooooow. On the home page of this site, below the picture of my 50-year-old self and the deceptively cheerful heading "Welcome," I give a brief explanation of what I've been working on all this time: autofiction, autobiography told as fiction. It's ideal for anyone whose life story seems too surreal to be told factually, as memoir, as well as for those of us (most of us?) who can't write anything other than our own story.

For me, as for many others, the pain or confusion of our past makes writing it like opening a vein. But we don't, can't, stop bleeding all over the (computer) keyboard because it's the only way to make sense of the senseless.

Søren Kierkegaard said life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.

In my autofiction, I am writing as the person I was, a child and young adult overwhelmed by the disparity between mind and matter, brain and body, intellect and anatomy. The story is a mishmash about a mismatch, an enormous tangle of confusion I could only begin to unravel fifty or sixty years in the future.

As I stagger onward toward The End, the meaning of what I'm saying keeps running on ahead. I strain to grasp it and it shimmies just out of reach. The insights I received as dark epiphanies yesterday, and attempted to put into words today, have become stale truisms the next time I sit down to open another vein. The glimmer of hidden revelation urges me on even as I refine and redo and reword the past.

I start and end my story with Medusa, the Gorgon with snakes for hair, who turned all who looked at her to stone. It's not my face that petrifies people, but my deformed hands, the phallic "snakes" whose effect is the temporary paralysis of discomfort. Kind people, who overlook what they perceive as merely ugly, may not understand that they are denying the real issue: disability.

My "hands" that don't grasp or grip; my unarticulated wrists and arms that don't bend or swivel, are the blocked outlets of my active creativity. I grew up feeling impotent, desexed, frustrated, and not knowing why.

When Perseus beheads Medusa, it's a castration. But for me, the idea that my obstructed generative organs could be cut open, the anger and frustration released in a collective apocalypse, feels like a liberation.

"This story is not about Medusa's face. It's about what's in her head"--The Anger B0mb.

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